December 3rd, 2010 § § permalink
Hey. Howdy. Well the novel-writing thing went well! I did finish, two days ahead of time, with about 51,500 words. It’s about a 200-page paperback if you want to think of it that way. Though as you can see it left me with little excess energy for posting up some poems or any of the other randomness that goes on around here.
I did honestly learn quite a bit about writing – and about myself (yawn) – in writing that novel. Tenatively titled A Trick of the Clouds, by the way. Maybe. For now. The first thing is was finding that could do this at all. I’ve never thought of myself as much of a prose writer. Never really had an eye for dialogue or plot, but I can describe the hell out of a place, so I veered into poetry long ago. But I found that the two writing forms are not mutually exclusive and I could use my poetry chops to expand the prose into new and interesting avenues.
Also, take note: Just because you’ve come up with a great idea or line that you think will define your work, or one of your characters, doesn’t mean you’ll remember it later. This book is littered with ideas, some terrific, some that seemed terrific at the time, that never came to fruition by the end. All these little seeds that I was going to grow and tie together, but then forgot to tie together in the simple attempt to just get enough words on the page. So take notes, people.
Writing 200 pages with words on them is easy. I found it sad, seeing all the NaNoWriMo contestants who had their 50k words done by the end of the second week. It just made me think they couldn’t have possibly put that much heart or thought into it. Yes, Kerouac did it, but he was a genius. And he was on benzedrine. And it was basically nonfiction with the names changed. I’m not Kerouac, you’re not Kerouac.
I barely understood my characters at all by the end of the second week. I certainly wasn’t familiar enough with them to bring them to a satisfying resolution. Now, by the end of the fourth week, and the end of the novel, I was a quivering wreck trying to finish their story. Writing a novel is hard. Especially in a month. Writing something that is totally original might be completely impossible. You just have to take the best of what you have and put it together in a way that is as unique as possible. I got so mad at myself seeing all the passive voice and all the cliched lines pouring out of my fingers. I would moan out loud as I hit the backspace button over “the stars shined quietly” what seemed like a million times. I was almost sick to my stomach every time I wrote “he” or “she” because I felt that I had written it so goddamn many times that the words had become meaningless as descriptors. I would write something and then realize I had stolen it wholesale from another book. This is different than the mass of “inside jokes” and quotes that I included, which was fun.
But then again, this is really a rough draft. Such as it is, I’m pretty proud of it. The ending especially is pretty good. I love my last sentence. There are so many nifty things that I feel so clever for thinking of. So many great moments that feel genuine and make me smile. I think that with some work – after some serious time apart to let things settle – this could really be something. I hope the brave proofreaders who have actually requested to read this will think the same way.
November 26th, 2010 § § permalink
He changed the canaries
Fed the Mule
Stood transfixed for ½ an hour
He changed the canaries
Fed the Mule
And stood transfixed for ½ an hour
He never planned on standing transfixed for ½ an hour
It just happened
Maybe it was the pause in finishing feeding the Mule
The momentum running down
There seemed to be a natural momentum
From changing the canaries
To feeding the Mule
It just happened
It was the pause
After feeding the Mule
That stunned him
A Giant Pause
He even knew what the next thing was
He knew it very clearly
He knew the next thing was feeding himself
After feeding the Mule
But he couldn’t move
He stood transfixed for ½ an hour
Staring at the desert
Sometimes staring at his bottle house
Sometimes staring at the well pump
It depended on which direction he happened to be facing
When the transfixion struck him
It got to the point where he looked forward
To standing transfixed for ½ an hour
It was the high point of his morning
Change the canaries
Feed the Mule
Stand transfixed for ½ an hour
Homestead Valley, Ca.
~ ~ ~
From his fantastic book Motel Chronicles.
November 19th, 2010 § § permalink
Two bricklayers are setting the walls
of a cellar in a new dug out patch
of dirt behind an old house of wood
with brown gables grown over with ivy
on a shady street in Denver. It is noon
and one of them wanders off. The young
subordinate bricklayer sits idly for
a few minutes after eating a sandwich
and throwing away the paper bag. He
has on dungarees and is bare above
the waist; he has yellow hair and wears
a smudged but still bright red cap
on his head. He sits idly on top
of the wall on a ladder that is leaned
up between his spread thighs, his head
bent down, gazing uninterestedly at
the paper bag on the grass. He draws
his hand across his breast, and then
slowly rubs his knuckles across the
side of his chin, and rocks to and fro
on the wall. A small cat walks to him
along the top of the wall. He picks
it up, takes off his cap, and puts it
over the kitten’s body for a moment.
Meanwhile it is darkening as if to rain
and the wind on top of the trees in the
street comes through almost harshly.
Denver, Summer 1947
~ ~ ~
Now, the last Ginsberg post is not to say that his early stuff is not great. It is of course great, monumental and beautiful. It goes without saying. Just look at this. This scene he creates, and the way he dissolves it at the end with almost equal beauty.
November 19th, 2010 § § permalink
Annotations to Amitendranath Tagore’s Sung Poetry
“In later days, remembering this I shall certainly go mad.”
Reading Sung poems, I think of my poems to Neal
dead a few years now, Jack underground
invisible – their faces rise in my mind.
Did I write truthfully of them? In later times
I saw them little, not much difference they’re dead.
The live in books and memory, strong as on earth.
“I do not know who is hoarding all this rare work.”
Old One the dog stretches stiff legged,
soon he’ll be underground. Spring’s first fat bee
buzzes yellow over the new grass and dead leaves.
What’s this little brown insect walking zigzag
across the sunny white page of Su Tung-p’o’s poem?
Fly away, tiny mite, even your life is tender -
I lift the book and blow you into the dazzling void.
“You live apart on rivers and seas…”
You live in apartments by rivers and seas
Spring comes, waters flow murky the salt wave’s covered with oily dung
Sun rises, smokestacks cover the roofs with black mist
winds blow, city skies are clear blue all afternoon
but at night the full moon hesitates behind brick.
How will all these millions of people worship the Great Mother?
When all these millions of people die, will they recognize the Great Father?
Cherry Valley, April 20, 1973
~ ~ ~
This is absolutely one of my favorite Ginsberg poems. People tend to focus on his work of the 40s and 50s as his most vital, and it’s easy to forget that when Jack and Neal died – when many people thought beat itself was dead – men like Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti (and so many more) carried on with the Zen beat message and poetry for generations. Ginsberg is gone now too, a tiny mite blown into the void, but even today Snyder and Ferlinghetti and others are as vital today as they ever were, perhaps more so. It would be a sad mistake for poetry and beat fans to focus only on the Six Gallery days and forget the beautiful lifetimes that followed.
October 20th, 2010 § § permalink
A sweet disorder in the dress
Kindles in clothes a wantonness;
A lawn about the shoulders thrown
Into a fine distraction;
An erring lace, which here and there
Enthrals the crimson stomacher;
A cuff neglectful, and thereby
Ribands to flow confusedly;
A winning wave, deserving note,
In the tempestuous petticoat;
A careless shoe-string, in whose tie
I see a wild civility:
Do more bewitch me, than when art
Is too precise in every part.
~ ~ ~
This one’s from 1648. Yeah, look at the cool guy with his 362-year-old poetry. Seriously though, I really like this little poem and I’ll tell you why. To me this poem perfectly describes poetry itself. Poetry is an ancient thing, originally born from earth and pure emotion, out of the wild. It is humanity’s oldest way to explore and think about the natural world, our place in it, and the mysterious forces that we feel govern it. But poetry is also an art of kings and scholars; and this duality is shown here. “Sweet disorder,” “fine distraction,” and of course – so beautifully said – “wild civility.” Wild civility. If that is not poetry’s true identity I don’t know what is.
And Herrick was right to choose the word “bewitch” when he describes what this wild civility does to him, because poetry, as I said before, is about the mysterious forces – about magic. And I don’t mean magic in the cheesy, is this your card way – I mean magic in the old school way. It’s hard to say what I mean…like Tom Robbins said, “using words to describe magic is like using a screwdriver to cut roast beef.” But I think you understand just the same. Poetry is essentially a catalog of the world’s mysteries.
October 13th, 2010 § § permalink
Too many birds in one tree
Too many birds in one tree
And the sky is full of black and screaming leaves
The sky is full of black and screaming
And one more bird
Then one more bird
And one last bird
One last black bird without a place to land
One last black bird without a place to be
Turns around in hopes to find the place it last knew rest
Oh black bird, over black rain burn
This is not where you last knew rest
You fly all night to sleep on stone
The heartless rest that in the morn, we’ll be gone
You fly all night to sleep on stone, to return to the tree with too many birds
Too many birds
Too many birds
If you could
If you could only
If you could only stop
If you could only stop your
If you could only stop your heart
If you could only stop your heart beat
If you could only stop your heart beat for
If you could only stop your heart beat for one
If you could only stop your heart beat for one heart
If you could only stop your heart beat for one heart beat
~ ~ ~
This song is very beautiful on the page, especially that last section, where each line has this new nuance that carries you along. But – the song must really be heard to be loved.
October 8th, 2010 § § permalink
My handsewn leather schoolbag. Forty years.
Poet, you were nel mezzo del cammin
When I shouldtered it, half-full of blue-lined jotters,
And saw the classroom charts, the displayed bean,
The wallmap with its spray of shipping lanes
Describing arcs across the blue North Channel…
And in the middle of the road to school,
Ox-eye daisies and wild dandelions.
Learning’s easy carried! The bag is light,
Scuffed and supple and unemptiable
As an itinerant school conjuror’s hat.
So take it, for a word-hoard and a handsel,
As you step out trig and look back all at once
Like a child on his first morning leaving parents.
~ ~ ~
I really have a thing for Heaney’s poetry these days. As a reader he is constantly rewarding; I could flip to any page in any of his books and be perfectly satisfied, and more likely blown away, by the poem I found there. He’s a magician, an alchemist. I look at his poems and think, these are just words. These are simple words I know and use. And yet he shapes them into magic, over and over again. This is true poetry here friends, I hope you’re seeing it.
(from his book Seeing Things)
October 5th, 2010 § § permalink
The tightness and the nilness round that space
when the car stops in the road, the troops inspect
its make and number and, as one bends his face
towards your window, you catch sight of more
on a hill beyond, eyeing with intent
down cradled guns that hold you under cover,
and everything is pure interrogation
until a rifle motions and you move
with guarded unconcerned acceleration -
a little emptier, a little spent
as always by the quiver in the self,
subjugated, yes, and obedient.
So you drive on to the frontier of writing
where it happens again. The guns on tripods;
the sergeant with his on-off mike repeating
data about you, waiting for the squawk
of clearance; the marksman training down
out of the sun upon you like a hawk.
And suddenly you’re through, arraigned yet freed,
as if you’d passed from behind a waterfall
on the black current of a tarmac road
past armour-plated vehicles, out between
the posted soldiers flowing and receding
like tree shadows into the polished windscreen.
~ ~ ~
A beautiful and frightened thought on writing and war. The entire feeling of the work is summed up in a word in the first line of Heaney’s own making: nilness. Nilness. What a perfectly absent, hollow word. Hollow and haunted, filled with this blank blackness that permeates the rest of the poem.
December 17th, 2006 § § permalink
During my travels I started thinking about doing a weekly post chronicling some of the bigwigs of poetry. You know, those jokers your lit teacher wanted you to read but you never did. I never read them, not until college anyway. So I thought about it…and now here it is. Every Sunday—the day of rest, naturally—I’ll post a poem and whatever biographical info I can rustle up in my brain. Simple enough. No parsing or close reading. Just poems. I’d like to hear what people think, too. Don’t be afraid, it’s only poetry. It doesn’t bite.
Well first up is Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Coleridge, or “STC” as I like to call him came up in conversation last night (and really, why wouldn’t he?), with both my mom and aunt reciting the first lines from one of his most famous works, Kubla Khan. “In Xanadu did Kubla Khan / A stately pleasure-dome decree…” I don’t recall ever memorizing lines in grade school. STC was a contemporary and friend of Wordworth and Byron, and with those two helped create a new kind of poetry: English Romantic. I hold STC in particularly high regard because his poem Frost at Midnight, which I now present to you, was one of the poems I read in college that kindled my love of poetry in the first place. I hope you enjoy it.
Frost at Midnight
The Frost performs its secret ministry,
Unhelped by any wind. The owlet’s cry
Came loud—and hark, again! loud as before.
The inmates of my cottage, all at rest,
Have left me to that solitude, which suits
Abstruser musings: save that at my side
My cradled infant slumbers peacefully.
‘Tis calm indeed! so calm, that it disturbs
And vexes meditation with its strange
And extreme silentness. Sea, hill, and wood,
This populous village! Sea, and hill, and wood,
With all the numberless goings-on of life,
Inaudible as dreams! the thin blue flame
Lies on my low-burnt fire, and quivers not;
Only that film, which fluttered on the grate,
Still flutters there, the sole unquiet thing.
Methinks, its motion in this hush of nature
Gives it dim sympathies with me who live,
Making it a companionable form,
Whose puny flaps and freaks the idling Spirit
By its own moods interprets, every where
Echo or mirror seeking of itself,
And makes a toy of Thought.
But O! how oft,
How oft, at school, with most believing mind,
Presageful, have I gazed upon the bars,
To watch that fluttering stranger! and as oft
With unclosed lids, already had I dreamt
Of my sweet birth-place, and the old church-tower,
Whose bells, the poor man’s only music, rang
From morn to evening, all the hot Fair-day,
So sweetly, that they stirred and haunted me
With a wild pleasure, falling on mine ear
Most like articulate sounds of things to come!
So gazed I, till the soothing things, I dreamt,
Lulled me to sleep, and sleep prolonged my dreams!
And so I brooded all the following morn,
Awed by the stern preceptor’s face, mine eye
Fixed with mick study on my swimming book:
Save if the door half opened, and I snatched
A hasty glance, and still my heart leaped up,
For still I hoped to see the stranger’s face,
Townsman, or aunt, or sister more beloved,
My play-mate when we both were clothed alike!
Dear Babe, that sleepest cradled by my side,
Whose gentle breathings, heard in this deep calm,
Fill up the interspersed vacancies
And momentary pauses of the thought!
My babe so beautiful! it thrills my heart
With tender gladness, thus to look at thee,
And think that thou shalt learn far other lore,
And in far other scenes! For I was reared
In the great city, pent ‘mid cloisters dim,
And saw nought lovely but the sky and stars.
But thou, my babe! shalt wander like a breeze
By lakes and sandy shores, beneath the clouds,
Which image in their bulk both lakes and shores
And mountain crags: so shalt thou see and hear
The lovely shapes and sounds intelligible
Of that eternal language, which thy God
Utters, who from eternity, doth teach
Himself in all, and all things in himself.
Great universal Teacher! he shall mould
Thy spirit, and by giving make it ask.
Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether summer clothe the general earth
With greeness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.
March 7th, 2006 § § permalink
One of the earliest memories I have is watching the ticker-tape parade in downtown Minneapolis after the Twins won the World Series in 1987. It’s almost as far back as my memory can go. I was five. And I can only vaguely remember it; the sky was bright and hazy, streamers falling everywhere, Minnesotans cheering like Minnesotans had never cheered before, the banners on the skyways reading “WIN TWINS!” I didn’t remember that Kirby Puckett, the team’s star hitter and fielder, wore a huge fur coat and an aviator’s cap as he rolled down the street. But I saw that image last night, listening to the news of his sudden stroke and even more sudden death later the same day. And it seemed so perfect! Here was a guy who just won the World Series, and he was riding around in an aviator’s cap!
As a kid, I thought he was so great because he played amazing, fun to watch baseball. You knew when Bob Casey shouted “Kirbyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy Pucket!!!” over the Metrodome loudspeakers, something pretty great was going to happen. And Casey would hold on that “y” as long as he could, probably until he ran out of breath, so that by the time he got to “Puckett!” you could hardly stand it! You HAD to watch this guy hit, and you KNEW it was gonna be great. Everyone in Minnesota loved him. A Hall of Famer, a record hitter, a two-time World Series champ, one of the greatest players of his generation.