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I’ve just finished The Wild Places by Robert MacFarlane. It’s a superbly written piece of non-fiction about his exploration of the remaining wilderness areas of the UK. His writing style is very poetic with metaphors I wish I’d written. It reminds me of another writer who has an equally poetic style, Diane Ackerman, whose Natural History of the Senses I’ve read a few times.

I think the master of poetic prose, though is Ray Bradbury. I still remember the imagery of the tennis shoes from Dandelion Wine from junior high.

At the first of the month, when I pay my bills, I make a charitable contribution first.  I have some automatic deductions, but I enjoy the hands-on process of choosing where and to whom I donate. Today I made a donation to Modest Needs.  They have a search tool that lets you find a case by location or type. I found a person asking for assistance paying a hospital bill. In the title he wrote, I feel like Sisyphus. On that alone, I made a donation. Anybody who can make a literary reference like that deserves something.  And, it could be worse — he could feel like Prometheus.

In order to be published, one must send out poems.  For me, it took a deliberate decision to submit and submit regularly. It sounds easy, but it’s not (at least for me it wasn’t).  I’m not refering to the logistics: the SASE, the big envelope, the copies, the submission check, the cover page, and whatever else they may want.  The hardest part of the decision is the risk of rejection.  They may as well as you to include a vial of blood or a non-vital organ, right?  All your friends love your writing; your writing group is supportive and encouraging.  However, they still give you feedback at a very direct and personal level. Literary journal reviewers and judges just see you as another sheaf of poems in a huge stack.  They never see your dimples and big green eyes. Their appraisal isn’t colored by the fact that you helped them move.  They read your poem and, if they like it, it goes in the pile of possbilities.  If not, it goes in the recycling bin.

I’ve read that one shouldn’t try to second-guess what the board will want — it changes frequently.  I’ve found that reading past winners only prods my insecurities.  I just look at the date it’s due, gather and print what they want and schlep over to the post office.  The other choice still stands — just write for yourself and put the poems in boxes and dressers all over your house, a la Emily Dickinson.  Don’t even show them to anyone.  But if you do show them to someone, it’s disingenuous to refrain from submitting them for publication.  You have something to say, and poetry is your megaphone.

That said, I sent a submission to The Poetry Center of Chicago last week and one to the Madison Review this week.  What have you sent out lately?

I have more difficulty writing a poem about someone very close or very dear to me than any other subject. I have been working on one person’s poem intermittently.  It’s gone through three major them shifts and viewpoint shifts.  Only one line from the original draft has survived.  I’ve learned to sacrifice lines I love for the greater good of the whole poem (damn!  there’s a poem idea…). 

I’ve been trying to understand why poems like this are such a challenge for me.  Maybe I have too much to say and can’t narrow down the viewpoint or the theme.  Maybe I’m still standing too close and can’t get far enough back to see or feel what to write.  Maybe I can’t separate the me from him yet.  You’d think I could.  In real-time, it’s been years; in my mind, well, that’s the magic of memory.

I am in awe of the greatest poets’ work like Yeats’ great poem, “When You are Old”.  I tear-up every time I read the second stanza.  Can’t touch the master.

When You are Old  by William Butler Yeats
  
When you are old and gray and full of sleep  
  And nodding by the fire, take down this book,  
  And slowly read, and dream of the soft look  
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;  
 
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
  And loved your beauty with love false or true;  
  But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,  
And loved the sorrows of your changing face.  
 
And bending down beside the glowing bars,  
  Murmur, a little sadly, how love fled
  And paced upon the mountains overhead,  
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

 

Working on my poem about stones and choices, my mind went tripping down the road of Ophelia and her drowning. I had to pull out the dumbbell-size Riverside compilation and re-read that part of Hamlet. In school I took a seminar that read the folios, but that’s been more than (cough!) twenty five years ago. Re-reading the Shakespeare made me think I might write this poem in iambic pentameter, but I got past that foolish thought quickly.

Millais' well-known Ophelia

Millais' well-known Ophelia

When the queen tells Laertes about Ophelia’s death she blames it on a combination of Ophelia’s girlish foolishness picking flowers and climbing trees when a malicious tree branch wouldn’t hold her, so she fell into the river. This was certainly a way to ensure she was buried in hallowed ground, as suicide was a sin. In the next scene, the clowns as gravediggers talk about how the rich get away with shading and spinning the truth, and the poor can’t. Of course, what’s not talked about and scholars have targeted, is whether it was murder and was Ophelia pregnant. Shakespeare gives hints with Hamlet’s treatment of Ophelia, the queen’s elaborate story, etc.

What’s missing, too, is a scene with the servant(s) who found her, pulled her body out of the river, and carried her back to the castle. I plan to build the poem on these characters and the off-stage action in the great tradition of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead. I should be so skilled!

I’m working on a poem about choices, using stones as messengers and emblems.  Unless the poem comes to me fulll-term birth, I usually write down every random thought for the idea.  

Stone with Chrysicolla vein

Stone with Chrysicolla vein

I carry a few stones with me all the time in my pack.  One is a crystal one of reading students found in Arkansas, another is a lovely, smooth stone with a vein of Chrysicolla. 

I have three geodes from Bloomington, IN (the terminal moraine), near where I used to live, that sit on the porch and are now buried under snow with the porch frog.  I have my reading rocks to manage the summer breezes.  Brad brought me back a big chunk of alfastein from Iceland.  I have a piece of slickensides I picked up at the San Andreas Fault during a college geology class, pacific plate side.   I’m remembering literary references to suicides with stones in their pockets to weigh them down in the river, overcome the survival instinct.  I’ve seen rocks piled up into cairns beside paths at Buddhist monestaries, rocks shaped into arrows, rocks formed into walls, homes, chimneys.  Stones are gravemarkers. David killed Goliath with a stone.  Stones ‘grow’ albeit very slowly.  I’m enamored of the inuksuits, but I’ve already written them into another poem.

I’m feeling that the way to go is to write about choices, rocks picked up, kept, others discarded.  As soon as I have it complete, I’ll share it.

I read Julia’s Chocolates by Cathy Lamb.  It has a wonderful opening line, “I left my wedding dress hanging in a tree somewhere in North Dakota.”  The story takes the character to Oregon where she has the normal chick lit life changes.  I kept wondering, what happened to the dress?!   She only mentioned it in passing. So, I wrote a poem about it.  In the poem, I’m showing how, when you do something completely source for yourself, it ripples out to others in a way you could never have imagined. 

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Have you thought about how you remember or how your memories are stored/retrieved?  I found out recently that I have (store? retrieve?) observer memory.  Most people have field memory.  With field memory, if you recall an incident, the viewpoint is as if you/your eyes are a camera.   As someone with observer memory, I see myself as if from a third-person point-of-view.  I can see my whole body. 

Now, I just assumed everyone’s memories looked like this.   Researchers must have assumed this as well, since identifying these different memory types is relatively new.  I found out when I asked my niece (PhD candidate in Psychology at OSU) for a term I had heard in passing (observer memory), but I thought this was just what psychologists called this third-person phenomenon for everyone.  I polled my sisters, brother and several other random people around me.  All of them have field memory.  Who knows why mine is different?  Not me.

Memory is notoriously fallible and completely point-of-view based.  As a culture we have a disconnect, we trust our own memory and, therefore, give significant weight to eye-witness testimony.  Cops, however, don’t give it a lot of value.

Here’s a link to a compilation of scholarly docs: http://www.phil.mq.edu.au/staff/jsutton/PointofView.html

Poetiosity is a word I made up. I spent a little time coming up with a name for this blog.  Certainly, I want a name that has some staying power and one that I won’t be trying to change two years from now like a morning-after tatoo.  So, we have Poetiosity — a concatenated word using the words poet and curiosity.  Curiosity is my superpower.  Poetics I’m working on.

Creating words from scratch has a real word:  logodaedaly.  Not, as some think, sesquipedalian (just someone who likes big words).