Yesterday’s poem, “Letter to Self, Somewhere Other than Here,” was Luisa Igloria’s 100th post at Via Negativa. What started as a spur-of-the-moment response to one of my Morning Porchisms at Facebook, re-posted here back on November 20, has blossomed into a regular feature — and a very impressive display of poetic virtuosity and persistence by a master poet. For the first couple of weeks, Luisa wrote poems in response to random posts from the Morning Porch archives, but soon settled into her present pattern of writing daily in response to that morning’s entry. The fact that she has been able to keep it up, with all her duties as a college administrator and a mother, and produce poems of consistently high quality is nothing short of remarkable.
I remain deeply honored, but I can’t say I feel any special burden of responsibility to write better entries as a result. Lord knows I probably should; I’ve written some stinkers! But experience has shown that Luisa is very good at making lemonade out of lemons.
Back on December 27th, I noted:
It’s interesting what this collaboration is doing to our shared geographies. The blizzard missed us here in Central Pennsylvania, and I’m not sure how many ravens are found in Luisa’s neck of the woods. But there’s no reason why poems that take the natural world for their subject should be held to a stricter standard of nonfictional reportage than other poetry. In the world of these poems, Luisa and I live on the same street.
A couple days later, Luisa added some details about her process:
I always try to respond to each post new and without premeditation, trying to keep my mind limber and not dwell too much or too long or agonize over things. I’m trying to develop a better receptivity to the things that present themselves as occasions for poetry. … Visits to The Morning Porch are helping me immensely.
She wrote a bit more about her use of “found poems” and other material in poetic composition in a note included with her January 23rd post.
[L]ike a magpie I’m drawn to shiny stuff, language winking at me. I’m inclined to think that this is really the area where we work hardest to mine that “originality” that is so highly prized. All this of course has something to do with notions of appropriation, and can often lead to the question of how comfortable writers might feel in “taking” or “taking over” lines, words, language priorly or in some other form used by others. Someone famous was once reputed to have said, “Good writers imitate; great writers steal.” It’s a tough job because all our cultural and other conversations are so rife with intersubjectivities and intertextualities. I think I much prefer what happens to my writing when an interesting bit of information, an arresting line or image that I’ve found, triggers the desire for a deeper kind of poetic engagement and I find some entry point, some latitude to invent and explore its complexities further.
One thing I’ve learned about Luisa is that she’s not terribly good at numbers. Neither am I. But who can resist their manas? Thus we mark Luisa’s 100th post… and her 108th Morning Porch poem overall (a few posts combine several poems). I copied and pasted the text of all 108 poems into a document for the sole purpose of gleaning some additional statistics. MS Word counts 13,639 words altogether, or 75,747 characters counting spaces — the equivalent of 542 tweets. Had they in fact been posted to Twitter, they probably would’ve required between 575 and 600 tweets to avoid breaks in the middle of words and lines. This is of interest as a basis of comparison with the tweet-length Morning Porch entries. It means that Luisa’s poems are on average close to six times longer than the posts that spark them, which sounds about right.
I pasted the document into WordCounter.com and asked for a list of the 100 most frequently used words (excluding a, the, to, etc., and counting different forms of the same verb as one). Here’s that list, with the number of uses in parentheses.
water (42) day (40) tree (38) know (37) how (37) one (36) through (31) snow (30) want (28) come (28) open (27) dark (26) over (26) little (25) wind (25) say (24) might (24) still (24) new (22) air (22) window (22) night (22) can’t (21) down (21) long (21) just (21) light (21) blue (20) back (20) against (20) leave (19) make (19) world (19) way (18) away (18) under (18) small (18) green (17) white (17) go (17) sometime (17) sky (17) though (17) time (17) above (17) today (16) every (16) cold (16) rain (16) hand (16) i’ve (16) once (16) see (16) thing (16) dear (15) woman (15) sun (15) walk (15) morning (15) cloud (15) ear (14) old (14) it’s (14) heart (14) find (14) shadow (14) last (14) branch (14) body (14) tell (14) thin (14) gather (13) off (13) look (13) again (13) color (13) think (12) hair (12) turn (12) three (12) bird (12) did (12) glass (12) ring (12) wing (12) read (12) closer (12) head (12) around (12) wood (11) never (11) face (11) love (11) fall (11) two (11) voice (11) much (11) part (11) paper (11) ground (11)