(winter morning by the Sandia Mountains)
in the distance
The phrase sensitivity to language that I have used in previous posts stems from an interview with Charles Simic in which, discussing the practice of writing everyday, he notes that by doing so one maintains “a certain sensitivity to language.”
Reading these words was a paradigm-shifting moment. As a writer, one reads in order to see what is possible, to see what others have and have not done. One also reads for permission. I have for years now made writing a daily activity, but reading Simic point out this one aspect of it gave me a renewed sense of purpose.
Another such moment was reading W.H. Auden talk about what he takes to be signs of a possible poet: if the writer writes because he feels he has something to say, let him go into journalism or politics, but he will never be a poet. If the writer takes pleasure in putting two words side by side and seeing what happens, seeing how they interact, then, maybe, they have some chance of turning out a poet.
With these two thoughts as a guide – sensitivity to language and putting words side by side – I propose to make future posts that focus on short lyric poems. The lyric poem, which I will define for my purposes as usually short and personal in nature, has the ability to pack a lot of life into a few lines. This concentration is what I want to study here. The lyric also has a history spanning centuries and countries. I want to include this too.
In doing this kind of close reading and sharing, it is inevitable that my obsessions will show. In today’s short poem, for example, you have a simple enough observation. Yet, what got me going was not simply the mountains but the way you can get ‘speak’ out of ‘peaks’ by moving the letters around. I am a geek for anagrams and often keep them at hand to thrown into a poem. I love that the same letters can be recycled, the same sounds rolling over themselves and creating new meaning. Which is what poetry is all about – all the words are out there in the world: how do you mean them?
I shared the above poem with a friend of mine in a letter, complete with explanation. I share it here in the same spirit of friendship and shared fascination with words.
This morning at breakfast I shared this following anecdote about Pablo Neruda:
“To decorate his houses he has scoured antique shops and junkyards for all kinds of objects. Each object reminds him of an anecdote. “Doesn’t he look like Stalin?” he asks, pointing to a bust of the English adventurer Morgan in the dining room at Isla Negra. “The antique dealer in Paris didn’t want to sell it to me, but when he heard I was Chilean, he asked me if I knew Pablo Neruda. That’s how I persuaded him to sell it.” ”
– this excerpt is taken from here: http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/4091/the-art-of-poetry-no-14-pablo-neruda
I remarked on how great it was to be so representative of where you are from that you get associated with the country. Do we have that here these days, I asked, to which my girlfriend responded with a story about her time in Spain, how when she was there she was often asked if she knew George W. Bush. There came a point where she was even asked this question in front of a class of thirty students while doing a presentation. She told them: yes, I know him, we have tea every Thursday. They believed her for a second. Then she drew a map of the States, pointed where the president lived in comparison to where she lived at the time (Oregon). She gave me the impression that the vastness of our country blew their minds even more than the possibility of the president having tea with my lady.
And that blew my mind.
“The countdown begun” is in reference to my upcoming reading at Page One Books on May 8th. I will be the feature during the Adobe Walls open mic run by Kenneth P. Gurney, a generous human being and an outstanding poet in his own right. His website is: http://www.kpgurney.me/Poet/Welcome.html
In preparation for this feature, I went to the East of Edith open mic last week. The poems I read were well received. It had been years since I read in public – almost three. Felt good. Spotlight still blinds. And the sound of your own voice always surprises.
I will periodically post about what the countdown means: the psyche out, the preparation. Of the three poems I read this week, only one didn’t work live. You want to talk about sensitivity to language, there’s nothing like reading something out loud.
p.s. the reason america needs better poets is, of course, to haggle at foreign antique shops…
This morning as I was leaving the cafe I was stopped by one of the waitresses and asked: So, is this like your office or what – I see you come in and get lost for hours over there. Which is true: I do get lost for hours over there. Over there with scraps of paper. With notebooks. With ink. I have spent more of my life than not getting lost for hours. What my girlfriend terms: sinking into words.
Granted, this has led me to be the kind of guy who is no good at comebacks. I will stew over what someone says, look at it from every angle, think of every possible comeback, and only hours later have the thing I should have said. Which is a terrible way to be if one wants to interact socially. As a writer, however, I get to use the phrase a sensitivity to language to explain myself.
It is this sensitivity that has me hours later thinking about what else I could have said to the waitress. I believe what I did say was something along the lines of: O yeah, uhm, it’s great, sitting, writing, losing… Which, again, is true: I love to sit, write, lose.
It is the same sensitivity to language that had me earlier this week turn to my co-worker in awe when he said: I hope there is a light rain tonight so that tomorrow when I go riding in the mountains the roads are tacky. Tacky! Brilliant! I scramble and scribble each day hoping for the kind of clarity of thought that people speak in.
This is to be a blog about poetry. Soon there will be links to published poems. I will also post some original stuff every once in a while. For now, check this out: