I remember reading this week’s poem – “Special Orders” by Edward Hirsch – in a Borders back in 2008 when his book (of the same name) came out. Reading through the book, I marveled at Hirsch’s ability to navigate rich emotional territory through an engaging line. His ability to stack various worlds (work, memory, the heart) so that they live side by side left an impression on me that didn’t fully manifest itself until years later when I found myself working on the poems of my first chapbook, The Wall.
What moves me most revisiting the poem now is how this short lyric is able to charge its core word, “contain,” so that it holds so much when it comes up at the end.
Special Orders – Edward Hirsch
Give me back my father walking the halls
of Wertheimer Box and Paper Company
with sawdust clinging to his shoes.
Give me back his tape measure and his keys,
his drafting pencil and his order forms;
give me his daydreams on lined paper.
I don’t understand this uncontainable grief.
Whatever you had that never fit,
whatever else you needed, believe me,
my father, who wanted your business,
would squat down at your side
and sketch you a container for it.
Some news: I have just started as Assistant Editor at The Cincinnati Review and, as part of my duties, am beginning a column of sorts entitled “What’s Poetry Got to Do with It?” on the CR blog. Check out my first entry here.
Well, it had to happen: we’ve reached the 200th post on this blog!
To celebrate, I decided to create a cento – a patchwork poem made by selecting lines from other people’s poems to create a singular poem (citing one’s sources, of course) – by going through all the posts published since I started this blog and selecting a line from every 10th post.
200 posts = 20 lines!
Some finer points:
To stick strictly to the every 10th post guideline, I did find myself snatching a snippet or two from a post that had no poem in it. So a “line” was taken from a paragraph or two.
I’m happy to only end up in the piece a handful of times (and with good company, no less 🙂 ).
Also: I had a lot of fun putting this together. Blogging can feel like a mess sometimes, but the accumulative effect is fun. Approaching past posts for the archival potential was inspiring.
And then there’s all you good people who stop by, read, and comment! More than anything, I am humbled by the community this blog has put me in touch with. I started this off as a reader’s blog, and I’m happy to have a forum to share not only my own work but work that illuminates my world and that I hope illuminates yours. Thanks!
Cento for the 200th post
I must learn from the stars
To find out if I might love.
Under these, under our skies.
the colors of my living
will sometimes waft between my lashes
This unwelcome act of reducing
On those nights, the poet can say they tried, and did well.
to fall asleep
“I’m so tired of driving into the sky.”
I would like to step out of my heart
stumble, welcomed each day by
Horses down in the meadow, just a few degrees above snow.
instead of frost, and the tension I felt
selected to be
something imagined, not recalled?
rigid edges and all, and lines still show up
Under a cavernous, a wind-picked sky.
They slept just like the rest of us,
like sunken leaves in a pond,
quoted in the margins
p.s. Sources for the Cento:
Evening on the Farm – Bert Meyers
Brown Penny – WB Yeats
Willow – Anna Akhmatova
XIX (from The Wall) – Jose Angel Araguz
An Umbrella from Piccadilly – Jaroslav Seifert
Onions – Jose Angel Araguz
“on poetry readings” TFI post 2/15/13
The Devil on His Wedding Night – Jose Angel Araguz
“from the car: verse & such” TFI post 6/7/13
Lament – Rainer Maria Rilke
“Dog-eared” – Jose Angel Araguz
On the Night of the First Snow, Thinking About Tennessee – Charles Wright
Prosody 101 – Linda Pastan
“quick post: CantoMundo news!” TFI post 3/19/14
Epilogue – Robert Lowell
If They Hand Your Remains to Your Sister in a Chinese Takeout Box — Jamaal May
I’ve been invited to participate in the My Writing Process: Blog Tour by poet extraordinaire, Lisa Ampleman. Here’s some info on Lisa:
Lisa Ampleman is the author of a book of poetry, Full Cry (NFSPS Press, 2013), and a chapbook, I’ve Been Collecting This to Tell You (Kent State University Press, 2012). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Poetry, Kenyon Review Online, 32 Poems, Poetry Daily and Verse Daily. Check out her site here.
The tour is focused on sharing a bit about our writing process. Here are my answers to the tour’s questions:
What are you working on?
Globally, I just put the finishing touches on two full-length poetry manuscripts. Each has taught me a bit more about learning the character of a project. A little more locally, I am trying some new things in regards to my daily writing, which tends to be form-focused.
How does your work differ from others’ work in the same genre?
I believe it’s a lifetime goal to have your work differ from that of others. Or, rather, that we should be pushing ourselves closer and closer to ourselves with each poem. If there’s anything I aim for consistently is vulnerability – whether that comes through rawness of content or pushing myself into a formal structure that makes me uncomfortable and staying with it. Something James Cummins says about writing sestinas applies here, that it is a process of humiliation and perseverance.
Why do you write what you do?
I write what comes. When I work on a poem, free write or several drafts in, I see my job primarily as a mover of words, of making choices and reading into the possibilities and consequences of those choices. I suppose it’s like an inner divining rod leading to fresh water 🙂
How does your writing process work?
Time is the biggest factor. There’s the time I put in daily, at least half an hour. Merwin describes his daily writing as a listening in to see what can be heard that day. There’s also the time I let pass after I finish a notebook. I’m working on poems at the moment whose first drafts were in 2012. The time away allows me to become a different writer than when I wrote it, to read more, learn more. Anything to help me see past myself.
Tune in a week from now and check out the responses from these fellow poets:
Miriam Sagan founded and directs the creative writing program at Santa Fe Community College. Her most recent collection of poetry is SEVEN PLACES IN AMERICA: A Poetic Sojourn (Sherman Asher Publishing). She recently hung 24 hours of diary entries on a laundry line at Salem Art Works in upstate New York and this winter is headed to The Betsy Hotel in Miami to install a poem on sand. She has been in residence in national parks, sculpture gardens, and in a trailer with Center for Land Use Interpretation at the edge of a bombing range in Great Basin. She has been awarded the Santa Fe Mayor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts and this year’s Gratitude Award from New Mexico Literary Arts. Check out her blog here.
Jeannine Hall Gailey recently served as the second Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington. She is the author of four books of poetry: Becoming the Villainess, She Returns to the Floating World, Unexplained Fevers, and the upcoming The Robot Scientist’s Daughter. Her work has been featured on NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac, Verse Daily, and in The Year’s Best Horror. Her web site is here.
Sam Roderick Roxas-Chua has read for Oregon Poetry Association, Windfall Reading Series, Isangmahal Arts Collective, NW Poets Concord, Talking Earth, PoetsWest, Brigadoon Books, Fault Lines and Word Lab in Manila, Philippines. He is published by Vena Cava, Word Laboratories, Mixer Publishing, Concord, and Paw Print Publishing. His most recent work appears in The Inflectionist Review and his three-poem poster to promote his first collection, Fawn Language, is featured in the 25th Anniversary Showcase at Poets House in New York City.Fawn Language is published by Tebot Bach of Huntington Beach, California. His blog is here.
This past Tuesday night I had the pleasure of taking part in Pretty Owl Poetry’s Online Reading Series.
The reading/interview was conducted through Google+ and was a blast despite a few technical difficulties. Because of the nature of the interview – specifically the part in which I am given permission to ramble and bumble in my own awkward way – I thought I’d share the link along with some of the highlights of the reading, so folks could navigate through my loquaciousness (as can be noted in the interview, the BIG words only come out in writing).
Here is the “reading” portion of the reading. The pieces read are “Stream” (published by Pretty Owl Poetry here) as well as “Letter to Rainer Maria Rilke from NYC” (published in the Acentos Review here) and “Naos and the Spirit Picture” (published in a digital chapbook here).
from 11:08 – 14:24 = craft talk!
Here I respond to a question from editor Rose Huber about the piece “Stream” which has gone through several mutations since first being drafted in 2006.
A little into the following question, I cut out both sound-wise and image-wise. Then I’m promptly replaced by this guy:
Despite his stern look and sudden goatee, I thank this gentleman for intervening for, because of him, folks are spared from having to deal with my teeth on camera which are HUGE.
from 19:19 – 26:33 = blog! reading! astrology!
This stretch includes Kelly Andrews asking me both about the thinking behind this blog as well as reading.
Then, after mentioning the astrological underpinnings of the blog, Gordon Buchan jumps in and I totally geek out about astrology and writers.
Writers astrologically discussed:
– Kafka, Neruda (Cancer)
– Jack Gilbert (Aquarius)
– Rilke (Sagittarius)
– Charles Simic (Taurus)
– Yeats, Garrett Hongo (Gemini)
– Borges, Charles Wright, myself (Virgo)
from 28:09 – 30:47 = mas craft talk!
Lastly, here Gordon jumps right back in and asks another question about craft which leads me to discuss ideas of lyricism and personal/generative distinctions between prose and poetry.
Special thanks again to Rose, Kelly, & Gordon for inviting me to participate!
I remember when I came across this week’s poem in 2008.
I was living another life on a street called Olive. The newsprint of the journal I was subscribed to at the time was never more precious, seemingly perishable, as when I read and later copied out this lyric by hand.
I knew then the poem was doing more than I could see.
The lack of punctuation echoed what I had then read and reread of Robert Frost, how he felt the language and phrasing of speech should guide as it does here. Also: how Frost could fill in a fifty character telegraph message with one sentence and no need for punctuation.
The other thing I catch now that I didn’t then is how the poem is worked out in ten syllable lines. I have been doing this kind of syllabic counting for years, but rarely have I caught others in the act. Makes me want to go over so many poems again and reread them with sharper eyes.
Which is the hope, really, of youth: to sharpen.
Over time, I’ve seen that one does not necessarily sharpen, but things do: memories especially.
Merwin’s last line here is for the ages.
Youth – W.S. Merwin
Through all of youth I was looking for you
without knowing what I was looking for
or what to call you I think I did not
even know I was looking how would I
have known you when I saw you as I did
time after time when you appeared to me
as you did naked offering yourself
entirely at that moment and you let
me breathe you touch you taste you knowing
no more than I did and only when I
began to think of losing you did I
recognize you when you were already
part memory part distance remaining
mine in the ways that I learn to miss you
The above book and treats arrived yesterday from my friend in Australia, Catherine Baab-Muguira – poet/novelist/and overall amazing person. She has been kind enough to send along the book Poser by Claire Dederer across many miles between continents because a good book should travel far in so many senses of that phrase.
Those are also chocolate bars up there: those only have a day or two left of travel *ahem*.
Cat and I met each other in 2004 during the Bucknell Seminar for Younger Poets. I was an insufferable young poet in my twenties (mind you, I continue to be insufferable in my thirties, no slacking there) and she was one of a gang of good people with which I had the gift of a month of writing/reading/talking poetry.
The poem below, by Australia’s legendary Les Murray, came to mind as I thought about doing this post in gratitude to my friend who lives in such a faraway and cool place (her beach photos are the best). The poem came to mind because of the youthful drama of being a young poet that played out during the seminar in 2004 – a drama that still continues today.
Those last two lines:
As usual after any triumph, I was of course, inconsolable
pretty much describe me after any particularly productive writing jag.
As a poet, you are never closer to the stuff than in the writing and rewriting. The before and after, well, that’s the rest of your life.
Performance – Les Murray
I starred that night, I shone:
I was footwork and firework in one,
a rocket that wriggled up and shot
darkness with a parasol of brilliants
and a peewee descant on a flung bit;
I was busters of glitter-bombs expanding
to mantle and aurora from a crown,
I was fouettés, falls of blazing paint,
para-flares spot-welding cloudy heaven,
loose gold off fierce toeholds of white,
a finale red-tongued as a haka leap:
that too was a butt of all right!
As usual after any triumph, I was
of course, inconsolable.
Between living and dreaming there is a third thing. Guess it.
— Antonio Machado
I look at this quote and see much of the poetic craft summed up in it.
There is the living of everyday life – work, chores, relationships, food, tying your shoelaces – all the things that make up routine, the background to who we are.
Then there’s dreaming – both the idealizing of the future as well as the literal act of what is seen when we sleep. The unspoken times.
Between these two things – the background and the unspoken – we do our best to do the guessing that Machado encourages.
In the poem below, Jay Leeming takes an everyday thing – in this case, an apple – and pushes it into dream. The image of the apple’s core as a “little room” is a guess towards what the act of eating an apple suggests beyond the everyday. You get the usual connotations of Adam and Eve, the Fall – but there’s something more to it.
The turn for me here is at the end, how the poem leaves you with enough image to keep on talking inside of you. Just watch what happens when you get to the powerful compound word “tear-shaped.”
Apple – Jay Leeming **
Sometimes when eating an apple
I bite too far
and open the little room
the lovers have prepared,
and the seeds fall
onto the kitchen floor
and I see
that they are tear-shaped.
p.s. Jay Leeming is also the editor of Rowboat: Poetry in Translation, a great journal you can find out more about here.
The sun sets in the cold without friends Without reproaches after all it has done for us It goes down believing in nothing When it has gone I hear the stream running after it It has brought its flute it is a long way
This week on the Influence: W. S. Merwin!
What I love about Merwin’s poem above is how he gets in so much into a few lines. Not only the brevity but the subject matter.
We are told that the best novels throughout history deal namely with family/love relationships, that there is so much to said within those frames of humanity. Equally, poems are said to be about either love, life, or death.
What the stock objects – rain, leaves turning colors, rivers flowing, waiting in line at a grocery store – serve are to open up something everyone can identify with while following along with the poet to see how it is they see it.
That personal take on things – whether it is evoked in turns of phrase or particular images and narrative – is the fingerprint on the poem, the echo of the soul passing through the words (through the world, through the reader), what it is that teaches and awes in a poem. It is the hardest thing to achieve: singularity, an indelible presence.
Merwin’s work in translation (his Neruda’s Twenty Love Poems has been the standard for years) comes through here in the way he turns a sunset into a fable of sorts, works the images down into the emotions they evoke. The starkness created by not having punctuation cues me in as a reader to engage with the poem, to follow the logic of the phrasing as it unfolds, each turn a little surprise along the way.
The rainy season has officially begun here in Eugene. In honor, here’s one more by Merwin:
To the Rain – W. S. Merwin
You reach me out of the age of the air clear falling toward me each one new if any of you has a name it is unknown
but waited for you here that long for you to fall through it knowing nothing
hem of the garment do not wait until I can love all that I am to know for maybe that will never be
touch me this time let me love what I cannot know as the man born blind may love color until all that he loves fills him with color
I have spent the past few weeks smitten and humbled by the work of Fanny Howe. This poem holds much of what I find fascinating in her work.
There is the touch of William Carlos Williams in the phrasing of the line “us mothers were dumpy” – some of that American language he prized so much.
Then there’s her way with the line, as in “but we’re not here to” – the way the phrasing cuts off the sentence at just the point where it has its meaning complete as well as visually plays out the concept of “we’re not here”.
In this poem about disappearance of sense of self, those last two lines swallow the people in the poem and turn them into birds – all of it done in careful phrasing. I turn the last two lines here over and over in my head to watch the meanings gleam and hold.