This week, bloggers were relatively quiet—perhaps done in by the combination of Valentine’s Day and the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. But I found some lovely book reviews and meditations on reading, writing, revising, archiving, loving, and persevering.
An opening, a hole, a window
A pale stream of greenish fluid
A small boat sinking in horror
Tock-ticking doggedly, forgetting why it’s important
Stricken, awash with grief
Risa Denenberg, Pericardium
What has been eliminated can also be illuminated. Here is the task [Tarfia] Faizullah set out for herself, to listen to the voices of the dead, those of these villages, and others, as well as her sister who died in an accident as a child, and to shine a brilliant and searching light on what has been lost as well as what remains. The notion of village here is vital, for this village is not only external but internal. There are villages of silence that must be broken. Villages of ghosts that disturb sleep. Villages of childhood, of memories, of self-doubt. Villages of tenderness and desire, as well as villages that must be renamed after atrocities are committed.
Anita Olivia Koester, Survivors’ Lyrics: Registers of Illuminated Villages by Tarfia Faizullah
While focused on a specific state, this book is full of borderlands and hinges: between poetry and photographs, between history and the present, and among races and realities. I’m fascinated by the relationship between word and image here–each poem, untitled, is coupled with a photograph, and the pairings tend to defamiliarize rather than illustrate one another. Next to “He ain’t done right to whistle,” for example, is an image of a ruin. So is the racism that led to Emmett Till’s murder a gutted edifice, still standing but increasingly fragile, doomed to be pulled down by kudzu? If so, what’s a person to do about it?–Look at it, surely. Head-on.
Lesley Wheeler, Poetry at the Border: Ann Fisher-Wirth
I saw The Post recently and was struck by the tactile nature of old typesetting. At one point the typesetter held the news in his hand, cupped it as each letter jabbed the air with its shape.
It made me yearn to run my fingers over the alphabet of my poems, to feel the jagged space between vowel and consonant, the smoothness of silence. I’ve met bookmakers who use letterpress and have wondered at their oddness and passion. I think I get it now.
I remember as a child liking to feel the raised letters on a book cover, the dimply gold of a Newbery medallion. My fingers rest now on the slippery cradles of my computer keyboard, only a tiny ridge under the F and J to let me know I’m in the proper typing position. Usually when I write, one hand is wrapped around a Bic, its hexagonal planes, but of the letters I feel nothing. Not even the dampness of fresh ink. The letter and the page become one, featureless. It’s my eye only that gives it substance.
Marilyn McCabe, That’s So Touching; or, On the Power of Words
The papers print this and that.
I’m tired of reading. Gray. Black
and white is better but no one
is. Brave enough. No one is.
Safe enough. My slug body
is getting. Droopy. Getting.
Smooshy. I’m tired of being.
Here. Here is messy. I want to ring
myself out like a sponge. I want
to make you drink my excess.
Crystal Ignatowski, An Open Poem To Big Men Up In Skies and Big Men Up On Pedestals
I cut my teeth, academically at least, on the poetry of Muriel Rukeyser, difficult and hard stuff really. And Annemarie Ní Churreáin’s poetry shares this kind of hardness for me, sung with her own distinct voice. These are the poets I think I must attend to, a poet where I stop and read perhaps one poem in a book, let it simmer and rest for a day, and then to another poem a few days later. I think they make me stronger for these times.
Jim Brock, Bloodrooting
One of my favorite things that [Twyla] Tharp does is create a box for every project. “I start every dance with a box,” she writes. “I write the project name on the box, and as the piece progresses I fill it up with every item that went into the making of that dance. This means notebooks, news clippings, CDs, videotapes of me working alone in my studio, videos of dancers rehearsing, books and photographs and pieces of art that may have inspired me.” The box is her reference, her storage and retrieval system, a place for her research and even a few tchotchkes. You must, writes Tharp, “learn to respect your box’s strange and disorderly ways.” My notebooks are Tharp’s boxes, and yes, they are strange and disorderly, repositories for candy wrappers, stickers, quotes, and words like mammogram, fire, abruptly, downtown, and permanent.
Erica Goss, Dance With Me, Part 1
Last night while doing some more of that sorting, I stumbled upon a folder mashed into the back of one of my file cabinets that contained printed copies of poems that eventually found their way into Better To Travel. Also in that folder were two handwritten poems – hastily scrawled on the backs of printed poems – that I had totally forgotten about. One of them is sonnet called “The Seer” from a long-ago workshop I took with Cecilia Woloch. The other is called “I believe…” and is an interesting little manifesto that references River Phoenix, Princess Diana and living in London. I also found – and this is the one I’m most intrigued with – a printed poem called “The empty bed,” which, if memory serves, was destined to be part of Better To Travel but was pulled at the last minute. It has a killer closing stanza, but the rest needs some serious revision, which is probably why I pulled it from the book. There’s no date on the poem, but hazy recollection puts it at around 1994 or 1995. Sometimes being a packrat pays off.
I’m curious how you, fellow poets and writers, organize your writing life? Do you use a program or an app? Do you print everything up? Keep handwritten drafts in notebooks?
Collin Kelley, Organizing your writing life
Writing beyond the ending is something I see pretty frequently in poems, usually by younger poets who can’t resist the impulse to just keep walking on down that trail. It’s also something I’m prone to myself, a lot. After I’ve put my first efforts on the page I go back and carefully feel out whether the poem went too far. Usually this requires some time or distance. I need to put it down for a few days, or read someone else in between, so I’m not hung up on my own endorphin rush from writing.
Grant Clauser, Revising is sometimes knowing when to stop writing
Readers may feel betrayed by the writer. Yes, that happens. It also happens that rather awful human beings have penned soaring, beautiful, compassionate poems, because people are complicated and flawed and society often harms us.
And perhaps writing, in some complicated way, can redeem us. I’m not entirely convinced of that; but I do know that I have written poems that basically construct an experience or type of feeling I can imagine but do not authentically know, and that the work of having written such poems has felt like an enrichment of my own experience.
Ann E. Michael, The poet’s “I”
Any writer cannot help but have a point of view. It will be determined by our race, our gender, our histories, our family, our sense of place, our faith, our biases. We have a sense of what is right and wrong, what is just or unjust. We are called upon to witness, yes. But are we called upon to try to make a better world just with our writing? Can we imagine our way to a better world? Can journalists, instead of glamorizing a shooter, tell us more about the lives of the victims? Can journalists not shove cameras in the faces of recently-traumatized children? Can we write poems that lead people to think differently about current events? Maybe. I am currently laid up, but I don’t believe I’m completely powerless.
I don’t have all the answers, but I know for sure the answer isn’t to give up, to shrug our shoulders and say “that’s just the way the world is.” That’s the opposite of making anything better. Poetry, visual art, fiction, non-fiction, journalism – all of these are forms that can influence people. We have a responsibility to try to be an influence for a better world. Let’s make a little noise in a dark universe.
Jeannine Hall Gailey, Why We Can’t Be Complacent, or What is My Responsibility as a Writer
We turn in tight circles,
we are almost formal. No
kissing, no: we dance as if
still only dreaming of each other.
We feel each other’s breathing,
our bodies’ boundaries of warmth.
Slowly we dance without music —
unless we are the music —
How else can I explain
that in such silence we don’t hear
the shot that travels farther and farther
into the past, while we dance.
Oriana, MASS SHOOTINGS: ANGER, NOT MENTAL ILLNESS; WHY WE FALL IN LOVE; THE 2-SANTA GOP STRATEGY; WHO’S AT RISK FOR DOG BITES