Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Progress Notes, Redux


I am still working through the body of my longer poem. I am much happier with it this morning. One of the difficulties of this entire series is writing in a credible 19th Century voice within which I can still hear my own voice. The voice of the primary speaker in these poems is somewhat more ornate than my own (fussier, might be the word) but I hope credible and quick enough to hold the un-annoyed attention of a reader of contemporary poetry.

I have a good-sized chapbook of the hummingbird poems and probably a shortish (45-50 page) full-length manuscript when these are gathered with the balance of what I've done in the past 18 months. Or rather, I should say that I have that many pages of poems. I am not sure how I would meld all this together into a collection that might, to paraphrase Kafka, "sweep one along." My plan is to write two more poems in November. Then I need to turn my attention to preparing for our panel presentation at the AWP Conference. I also have a few readings coming up. Unless I have a miracle spring, this means that I am probably a year away--at best--from a credible full-length manuscript.

Were writing a sack race, I would be hopping toward the finish line long after the picnic ended.

It occurred to me this morning that I have developed a habit of concentrating for twenty minutes or-so and then getting up, going outside and staring into the trees for a moment to collect my thoughts--or to let my brain wander--before returning to work. The opening and closing of the door delights the cats, though the dogs are bored with the squeaky hinge. During one of these pre-dawn bouts of aphasia, I had a stray thought about what I am trying to accomplish with all this and I suddenly felt a moment of peace.

At 54, to be up at 4:30 in the morning revising a poem seems absurd, but possibly not. It is a bit late to worry about what that man is doing, staring into the woodlot.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Progress Notes

My larger poem (90 lines) is nearly finished. I had a problem with the ending, which I think I've resolved. The poem had come to me "whole" in the sense that after thinking about it for many months, a window opened upon the entirety, and I wrote it through in an afternoon and evening, start to near finish. After a bit of despair over how the poem might close, it occurred to me that it does not close--the artist begins again with a new painting suggested by the last brushstrokes of this one.

This is his obsession, after all.

Once I realized this, the ending--the painter's new beginning--came rather quickly.

If two lines after a lifetime and several days of dithering is "quick."

I have some pronoun issues to address. And I will need to read the poem aloud to myself, smoothing the text, until it makes as much sense to my ears as it finally makes to my eyes.

"Opacity gives way. Transparency is the mystery."

-James Richardson

A Busy Day Ahead

Keep faith. You have good reason to keep faith.

-closing paragraph, letter from James Wright to Janice Thurn, dated May 13, 1975

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Great Essay by Dan Gerber

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Also Celebrating Birthdays...

Today is also the birthday of two of my favorite poets, each of whom met tragic ends. Have a bit of cake for them today, too.



Sylvia Plath was born on October 27, 1932, and died on February 11, 1963.


Dylan Thomas was born on October 27, 1914, and died on November 9, 1953.

Happy Birthday, S@4A.M.!


It just occurred to me that this is the first birthday of Sonnets at 4 A.M. My thanks to my regular readers and those who have stopped by to say hello and comment over the past year. My particular thanks to those fellow bloggers who have been kind enough to link here and to help make S@4A.M. part of the larger community of blogging-writers.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Draft of a New Poem




*poof!*



The painting is Madeleine in the Bois d'Amour (1888) by Emile Bernard, from the collection of the Musee d'Orsay in Paris

Benefit Poster & Event Information




DON'T FORGET! *********THIS WILL BE MEMORABLE! *********HERE ARE THE DETAILS!***********

* All-Star Poetry & Fiction Reading, Concert * and Party
To Benefit the NTAF Great Lakes Bone Marrow Transplant Fund In Honor of Poet & Writer Julie Moulds Rybicki


For Her Bone Marrow Transplant Relocation Costs

Featuring the Poetry and Fiction of:

Conrad Hilberry, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Bill Olsen, Nancy Eimers, Jack Ridl, Jackie Bartley, Rodney Torreson, Diane Seuss, David Dodd Lee, Elizabeth Kerlikowske, Andy Mozina, Danna Ephland, Gail Martin, Greg Rappleye, Nina Feirer, Dave Marlatt, Susan Ramsey, John Rybicki and Julie Moulds Rybicki

Also Featuring:

Irish music by Dave Marlatt and the Rambling Boys of Pleasure as well as American Roots Acoustic music by Solid Geometry and a Silent Auction of arts, crafts and signed books.

Where: Kraftbrau Brewery www.kraftbraubrewery.com
Located at 402 East Kalamazoo Avenue, Kalamazoo, MI 49007, 269-384-0288

When: Sunday, November 4 from 3 to 7:30 p.m.

Cash Bar. Food provided. Cost: $5

Come enjoy wonderful words, live music, revelry, mingling,
eating, drinking and dancing.

Schedule:
3-4 p.m. American Roots Acoustic music by Solid Geometry
4-5 p.m. All-Star Reading Part I
5-6 p.m. Irish music by Dave Marlatt and the Rambling Boys of Pleasure
6-7: All-Star Reading Part II
7-7:30. More revelry, auction results and wrap-up

For additional information, Email John Rybicki at jjrybick@yahoo.com

Tax-Deductible Donations Can Be Made Out To:

NTAF Great Lakes Bone Marrow Transplant Fund,
150 N. Radnor Chester Road,
Suite F-120, Radnor, PA 19087.
Print “In Honor of Julie Rybicki” in the check’s memo section.
For secure, online credit card contributions visit: www.transplantfund.org or call NTAF at 1-800-642-8399, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., EST.

Contributions are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law. This campaign is administered by the National Transplant Assistance Fund, a 501(c) (3) non-profit providing assistance to transplant and catastrophic injury patients. Information: 1-800-642-8300. Michigan registration number: MICS No. 11575.

From the Rust Belt



Jessica Jewell and Mary Biddinger have called upon the Rust Belt poets to rise from the great Midwestern scrap yard and claim their heritage.

I grew up in Jackson, Michigan.

Rust is my life.


MY COMMUNIST YEARS

On an afternoon in the fall of 1969,
the Socialist Workers came
to organize the proletariat
of Jackson, Michigan––the sweet idiots
who made brakes at Kelsey Hayes and tires
at the tire factory. As protests go,
it wasn't much: one hundred true believers
in the park across the street, stirred
by a ragged man with a bull horn.
They began to move on the Armory,
chanting One, two, three, four!
We don't want your fucking war!

My father, who spent the last days
of August, 1945, deployed to pack lettuce
under the cloudless skies of Salinas, California,
clenched his fists and I suddenly knew
life was dull compared to death
in Southeast Asia. So I ran to join the march.
My father came after me, yelling,
You goddamn commie! So yes, I am
there, in the photograph on page one
of the Citizen Patriot––the boy with the buzzy haircut,
running toward the lens,
bug-eyed, mouth open as though he is hungry.
Perhaps that is my father's arm,
behind the earnest woman in braids
raising her fist in the air,
his body lost among the other bodies.
Can you hear the voices chanting, or even
a single voice? This is the old story, it is
a dialectic, and the words
coming from my father's mouth
are wind over his teeth.




______________________________________

From A Path Between Houses by Greg Rappleye (University of Wisconsin Press, 2000)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Letter from Elizabeth Bishop to Ferris Greenslet, December 18, 1946



I was very glad to receive the check for royalties. I have been told by several friends that they have been trying to get the book for Christmas presents at Brentano's and other bookstores and were unable to––but possibly this is a good sign. However, I have been rather disappointed not to see any Christmas advertising whatever since people do often give poetry for Christmas gifts, I believe.

What I am really writing about is to explain and apologize for a liberty I took quite recently. Someone suggested to me that I might try for a Guggenheim Fellowship, as a way of possibly coping with inflation. The idea had not occurred to me and it was already past the deadline, but they were willing to accept my application if I "acted promptly." So I went ahead and used your name as a "sponsor" and only trust that it may be all right with you. I am sure you are probably greatly bothered with such requests––but I was so late that you may very well not hear from them at all. Anyway I do hope it will be all right and not a nuisance to you.

I am sending you some prose works in a few days with the hopes that you may still consider some sort of travel book by me...




________________________________

From One Art: Letters of Elizabeth Bishop, Selected and edited by Robert Giroux (Noonday Press / Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1994), p. 143

Note: And yes, Greenslet was kind enough to write on Bishop's behalf, and Bishop received a Guggenheim in 1947.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Congratulations, Paul!

A very big congratulations to poet and blogger Paul Guest, who has just been named the recipient of a Whiting Writers' Award. In addition to the honor of being tapped, Paul will receive--what?--about $50,000.

That is a good day in the poetry business!

Pressing Onward

I am continuing to work on my new poem; tightening here, expanding there, trying always not to break something important. Or at least, not to lose my way back to the unbroken object.

"What is the nature of this moment? poetry asks, and we have no rest until the question is answered."

-Jane Hirschfield

Monday, October 22, 2007

Thought for the Day

Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. The third is to be kind.

-Henry James

Weekend, with Hummingbirds


I spent the weekend working on a longish new poem. This is another--actually, the title poem--in the series that is a central concern of my manuscript-in-progress. I have been thinking about this poem for many months (if this poem fails, everything fails) and hadn't really known how to "enter" it: where to begin, what, precisely, to say. I did not want to simply explicate the painting. Over the past several days, I found both an entry to the poem (a narrative subtext, if you will, to underpin the whole) and had an opportunity to work on it--seriously and with attention.

I also took care of a little unpleasant, but necessary, writing business. God must have a far better plan that I did.

Today I begin teaching my second half-semester poetry class. New students, same books, same syllabus, etc. My first-half session ended last Wednesday with a class reading at a coffee house in Holland. It was great fun; I will miss that particular group.

And I have a full slate of work at my day job.

Onward.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

A Message from The Ice Queen


Be careful what you wish for. I know that for a fact. Wishes are brutal, unforgiving things, they burn your tongue the moment they're spoken and you can never take them back. They bruise and bake and come back to haunt you. I've made far too many wishes in my lifetime, the first when I was eight years old. Not the sort of wish for ice cream or a party dress or long, blond hair; no. The other sort, the kind that rattles your bones, then sits in the back of your throat, a greedy red toad that chokes you until you say it aloud.

The kind that can change your life in an instant, before you have time to wish you can take it back.

-Opening paragraphs of Alice Hoffman's The Ice Queen (Little, Brown and Company, 2005).

Thought for the Day

I am the magical mouse
I don't eat cheese
I eat sunsets
And the tops of trees.

-Kenneth Patchen

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Literary Life



In 1940, Elizabeth Bishop very quietly declared her intellectual and poetic independence from Marianne Moore. Their relationship fractured over Moore's criticism of Bishop's poem "The Rooster." Bishop had sent the poem to Moore in a letter dated February 19, 1940. Moore and her mother disapproved of some of the language Bishop had used in the poem (among them, her use of the term "water closet") and they took it upon themselves to rewrite Bishop's poem and to radically change its structure. After receiving the proposed revisions, Bishop wrote to Moore from the Murray Hill Hotel in New York on October 17, 1940, adopting a few minor changes suggested by Moore and her mother, but rejecting the bulk of the revisions, including the suggestion that the title of the poem be changed to "The Cock." *

Brett C. Millier writes in Elizabeth Bishop: Life and the Memory of It (University of California Press, 1993) at pp. 159-160:

"Elizabeth went on to defend her use of 'glass-headed pins' (to suggest the charting of war projects on a map) and of quotation marks around 'to see the end,' a phrase from the Bible...She defended the aspects that showed ['Rooster'] to be her first politically relevant poem and the only one that addressed World War II at all directly. But Elizabeth broke her self-defense off here, saying she felt it sounded 'decidedly cranky,' She eventually mailed the letter, but carefully distanced her poem from Moore's version: 'May I keep your poem? It is so interesting, what you have done.' From this point on, she no longer routinely sent Moore poems in draft for comment and enclosed in her letters only relatively finished work, which she announced as such. In her memoir of Moore, Elizabeth mentions the incident and remarks about having 'grown obstinate' against Moore's fastidiousness. But this was a painful transition. Elizabeth sent her own version of 'Roosters' to Edmund Wilson at the New Republic, where it was published in a special literary supplement in March, 1941."

________________________

*In her letter to Moore, Elizabeth Bishop wrote that after reading Moore's revisions, she (Bishop) felt like the figure in Paul Klee's Man of Confusion (1939), which was then on display at a show in Manhattan. Bishop invited Moore to return with her for another look at the painting. Moore did not accept the offer. The painting, currently in the collection of the St. Louis Museum of Art, is shown above.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Good News and Bad News

Today I had good news and bad news on my writing. The good news is that I received the galleys for my poems that will be appearing in the Legal Studies Forum, a law review published at West Virginia University College of Law. The editor, Professor James Elkins, does a wonderful job at LSF publishing the work of attorneys who also write poetry and prose--a far larger community than one might imagine. The galleys are beautiful, and I expect the issue of LSF will be out sometime after the New Year. My gratitude, as ever, to Jim Elkins for his friendship, support, and confidence in my work.

As for the bad news?

I think it was Wittgenstein who said, "What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence."

Something like that.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Congratulations!


Congratulations to Jack Ridl, whose collection about the travails of a small town's basketball team, Losing Season, will be published by CavanKerry Press. This book is simply amazing, and CavanKerry does such beautiful work!

As soon as I hear a publication date, I will let you know.

Just a Thought

I think the poem is finished. I will have to carry it around with me for several weeks to be sure.

To invoke the names of the dead in a poem is (in a very real sense) to call them back to life.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Progress Report

I am still here. I am paying attention. They are almost annoying––my efforts to attend. I have been working for the past several weeks to promote the book---sending out copies, writing nice letters, looking for readings, etc.,--and now I am trying to steer my thinking back to a poem.

At least the weather is helpful: October and rain, the leaves changing but not yet gone.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Thought for the Day

Broader and broader we must write our annals––from an ethical reformation, from an influx of the ever new, ever sanative conscience––if we would trulier express our central and wide-related nature, instead of this old chronology of selfishness and pride to which we have too long lent our eyes.

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Doris Lessing Wrote It, and I Am Glad She Did

This morning's New York Times features a reprint of an Op Ed piece by Noble Prize Laureate Doris Lessing* in which she argues against impenetrable, pedantic writing and political correctness. This article originally appeared in the New York Times on June 26, 1992. One would not have to look far around the poetry blogosphere to find the type of writing that Ms. Lessing is arguing against.

Here's a link. Registration may be required:

Doris Lessing in the New York Times





___________________________

*"What Should Writers Do? And Other Inane Questions," The New York Times, Saturday, October 13, 2007, p. A27

Quote for the Day

"In every conflict there are casualties. The question is, what has been lost and what has been gained?"

-Jack Nicholson as Jimmy Hoffa

I'm not sure why this is the "Quote for the Day." I suppose I just like that part of the movie.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Gee, What a Surprise

You Are 15% Left Brained, 85% Right Brained

The left side of your brain controls verbal ability, attention to detail, and reasoning.
Left brained people are good at communication and persuading others.
If you're left brained, you are likely good at math and logic.
Your left brain prefers dogs, reading, and quiet.

The right side of your brain is all about creativity and flexibility.
Daring and intuitive, right brained people see the world in their unique way.
If you're right brained, you likely have a talent for creative writing and art.
Your right brain prefers day dreaming, philosophy, and sports.



Though I must say, I prefer dogs, love to read, and am a good public speaker; if not so agile in social settings.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Reading

It was good to see Jim Harrison in fine form yesterday in Grand Rapids. Harrison read--at times poignantly--from his novel Returning to Earth and then read a number of new poems he has been working on. It was also good to see and talk to Ander Monson, Foley Schuler and Jim Straub.

I was safely home by 9:30 p.m., and that is probably for the best.

Notice! Don't Miss This Kalamazoo Event!

* All-Star Poetry & Fiction Reading, Concert * and Party
To Benefit the NTAF Great Lakes Bone Marrow Transplant Fund In Honor of Poet & Writer Julie Moulds Rybicki


For Her Bone Marrow Transplant Relocation Costs

Featuring the Poetry and Fiction of:

Conrad Hilberry, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Bill Olsen, Nancy Eimers, Jack Ridl, Jackie Bartley, Rodney Torreson, Diane Seuss, David Dodd Lee, Elizabeth Kerlikowske, Andy Mozina, Danna Ephland, Gail Martin, Greg Rappleye, Nina Feirer, Dave Marlatt, Susan Ramsey, John Rybicki and Julie Moulds Rybicki

Also Featuring:

Irish music by Dave Marlatt and the Rambling Boys of Pleasure as well as American Roots Acoustic music by Solid Geometry and a Silent Auction of arts, crafts and signed books.

Where: Kraftbrau Brewery www.kraftbraubrewery.com
Located at 402 East Kalamazoo Avenue, Kalamazoo, MI 49007, 269-384-0288

When: Sunday, November 4 from 3 to 7:30 p.m.

Cash Bar. Food provided. Cost: $5

Come enjoy wonderful words, live music, revelry, mingling,
eating, drinking and dancing.

Schedule:
3-4 p.m. American Roots Acoustic music by Solid Geometry
4-5 p.m. All-Star Reading Part I
5-6 p.m. Irish music by Dave Marlatt and the Rambling Boys of Pleasure
6-7: All-Star Reading Part II
7-7:30. More revelry, auction results and wrap-up

For additional information, Email John Rybicki at jjrybick@yahoo.com

Tax-Deductible Donations Can Be Made Out To:

NTAF Great Lakes Bone Marrow Transplant Fund,
150 N. Radnor Chester Road,
Suite F-120, Radnor, PA 19087.
Print “In Honor of Julie Rybicki” in the check’s memo section.
For secure, online credit card contributions visit: www.transplantfund.org or call NTAF at 1-800-642-8399, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., EST.

Contributions are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law. This campaign is administered by the National Transplant Assistance Fund, a 501(c) (3) non-profit providing assistance to transplant and catastrophic injury patients. Information: 1-800-642-8300. Michigan registration number: MICS No. 11575.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Jim Harrison?



When I woke up this morning, I wasn't sure whether I really wanted to drive to Grand Rapids after class to see Jim Harrison. Following the application of a vast quantity of caffeine to the cerebral cortex, I called and reserved my ticket.

Keep in mind, I am a highly trained professional. Don't try this at home.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Insomnia

Can't sleep again. I question the enduring value of a poetics based upon insomnia.

____________________

At this hour of the night, thank God for the BBC.

____________________


Now that the Yankees are out of it, we must endure the endless, boring sports-radio question: How can the broadcast industry and baseball itself possibly survive without a "major market team" (which of necessity means a New York team--preferably the Yankees) in the playoffs?

All the more reason to root for the Indians.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Thought for the Day

"Of course all poetry is prayer. Who else would we be addressing?"

-Jean Valentine

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Busy Work 3

Well, I've done what I set out to do, and can go through this week with no feelings of guilt about doing my part for the book.

_________________________

Adam Zagajewski is a wonderful poet. I also admire his essays. I don't have any answers for him tonight, but Zagajeski does have some interesting (if somewhat dispiriting) questions to ask.



He writes:

"How do poets live?" someone might ask. "Do they really toss and turn between faith and reflection?" I suspect that they usually live differently. They live defending poetry. Poets live like the defenders of a beseiged citadel, checking to see whether the enemy is approaching and where he is coming from. This isn't a healthy way of life; it often makes for lack of generosity and self-criticism. It may render poets incapable of thinking against themselves and against the age, which is generally mistaken.

Do they seek truth? Don't they too easily fall prey to frivolous prophets, chaotic philosophers, whom they can neither understand nor renounce? Poetry's poverty lies precisely in the excessive faith it places in the day's reigning thinkers--and politicians. That is what happened, after all, in the middle of the last century, whose heavy lid still presses down on us. Poets possessed by great emotion, subservient to the energies of talent, no longer perceive reality. Why did Brecht serve Stalin? Why did Neruda adore him? Why did Gottfreid Benn place his faith in Hitler for several months? Why did the French poets believe in the structualists? Why do young American poets pay so much attention to their immediate family and neglect a deeper reality? Why are there so many mediocre poets, whose triteness drives us to despair? Why do contemporary poets--those hundreds and thousands of poets--agree to spiritual tepidity, to those small, well-crafted, ironic jokes, to elegant, at times rather pleasant nihilism?

...

...I must confess (as the reader has already guessed) that I am not entirely opposed to a free, wise, splendid poetry that manages to link near and far, high and low, the earthly and the divine, a poetry that manages to transcribe the soul's motions, lovers' quarrels, the scene on a city street, and can, at the same time, attend to history's footsteps, a tyrant's lies, that won't fail in the hour of trial. I'm angered only by small poetry, meanspirited, unintelligent, a lacky poetry, slavishly intent on the promptings of the spirits of the age, that lazy bureaucrat flitting just above the earth in a dirty cloud of illusion.



From "Against Poetry" in A Defense of Ardor: Essays by Adam Zagajewski (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004) pp. 141-142

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Busy Work 2



I am keeping busy this weekend sending copies of my book off to published-book contests and similar award programs. I also have to get packets off to the good people I've asked to provide letters of support for my various projects, whims and schemes. I know that people like to poke fun at old Walt Whitman for writing his own reviews (and no, I am NOT doing that!) but Walt had at least one aspect of the poetry business right: one must get out and promote one's own work. No one else is going to do it for you, not with the same singularity of interest. Of course, this is what I am worst at. I am not a good networker, am not really a hale-fellow-well-met and I live in such an out-of-the-way place, poetry wise, that it is difficult to make a traceable blip on the literary radar screen.

Yes, the poems themselves are most important. And I would prefer to be writing poems instead of promoting a book, but I do want an audience for my work and do not want Figured Dark to disappear without finding its readership.

So all weekend, my friends, I am doing what needs to be done.

With postage and packaging and fees and copies of the book flying off left and right, it is also not cheap!

Thanks, Walt. Thanks a lot.

Friday, October 05, 2007

These Just In


My copy of Time and Materials: Poems 1997-2005 (ECCO / HarperCollins, 2007), the latest from Robert Hass, just arrived. I am a big fan and happy to have the book in my hands, but am having a difficult time finding a way into it.

It may be that I am tired.

I also have the new (October, 2007) POETRY, which includes work from Jane Mead, Carol Frost and Robert VanderMolen. It's always good when people you like and admire make you nervous.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Questions of Personality

In an entry dated September 30, John Gallaher poses an interesting series of questions, all centered on the matter of the writer's personality. Gallaher writes:

"Sometimes one reads a book of poetry and gets a feeling that the poet is the poetry. It’s an old fallacy, of course, encouraged by the 'I.' Sometimes, though, we meet a poet after reading that poet’s work, and find that the poet is exactly what we would expect from reading the work. And sometimes not.

...

"The question for me rises out of the production of the work itself: what part of the poet’s personality does the poet write from?

"What part of my personality, and how much of my personality, do I compose from out of? And why? Toward what end?"

One can hardly mention the words "personality" and "poetry" in the same sentence and not recall T.S. Eliot's admonition at the close of his essay, Tradition and the Individual Talent.* There, Eliot rejected Wordworth's argument that poetry was "the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings from emotions recollected in tranquillity," writing:

"It is not in his personal emotions, the emotions provoked by particular events in his life, that the poet is in any way remarkable or interesting. His particular emotions may be simple, or crude, or flat. The emotion in his poetry will be a very complex thing, but not with the complexity of the emotions of people who have very complex or unusual emotions in life. One error, in fact, of eccentricity in poetry is to seek for new human emotions to express; and in this search for novelty in the wrong place it discovers the perverse. The business of the poet is not to find new emotions, but to use the ordinary ones and, in working them up into poetry, to express feelings which are not in actual emotions at all.
And emotions which he has never experienced will serve his turn as well as those familiar to him. Consequently, we must believe that 'emotion recollected in tranquillity' is an inexact formula. For it is neither emotion, nor recollection, nor, without distortion of meaning, tranquillity. It is a concentration, and a new thing resulting from the concentration, of a very great number of experiences which to the practical and active person would not seem to be experiences at all; it is a concentration which does not happen consciously or of deliberation. These experiences are not 'recollected,' and they finally unite in an atmosphere which is 'tranquil' only in that it is a passive attending upon the event. Of course this is not quite the whole story. There is a great deal, in the writing of poetry, which must be conscious and deliberate. In fact, the bad poet is usually unconscious where he ought to be conscious, and conscious where he ought to be unconscious. Both errors tend to make him 'personal.' Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things." **

While I find myself (by dint of personality, I suppose) allied with Wordsworth on a daily basis, as a poet, I am more often informed by Eliot's way of thinking. I am suspicious of the very emotions and impulses that impel me to write poetry, and my work reflects a constant struggle toward the resolution of these conflicts. I prefer to think of my "poet-self" as a soul-at-work rather than as a "personality," and in my work, the notion of "persona" has far greater currency than does that of a personal-self. I have been quite deliberate about this, and many of my poems (even though written in the first person) are written about historical events or in the (largely imagined) voices of historical figures, in an effort to shift the reader's attention away from that man behind the curtain, the poet-self who is desperately struggling to manipulate the buttons and wheels and keep the illusion going.

This is almost certainly not as elegant a formulation of the poetic task as Eliot intended, but it is what I set out to do in my more recent work. Around these "non-personal" poems, I have arranged a body of poems which do seem to be written in the persona of "the poet-self" (read "Greg Rappleye," if you wish). That poet-self is a middle-aged white American male, he is sometimes funny, sometimes lost; he knows a specific geography but stumbles into others, he is often confused, too often equivocal, most often non-heroic. He is seldom tranquil. However true these traits may be as a reflection of my actual personality and location on the planet, I am in no sense trying to tell the truth about this person. Through accumulation, through the speaker's obsessions, through the poet's recurring motifs, preoccupations, and metaphors, it has been my intention to gather the whole into a sort of false-memoir, a sheaf of sworn affidavits from an unreliable witness that, in their cumulative effect, are truth-telling in the extreme. My goal (beyond the satisfaction I find in making beautiful objects) is a kind of spiritual redemption for this poet-self, hard-earned in the real world, at least insofar as that "real world" has been reenacted within the body of the poems. Why redemption? Because I am interested in speaking with God and am building (I hope) a poetic persona adequate for such encounters. I am not that interested in the glorification (or even the explication) of my own personality. And I find that I am most interested in the work of other poets, of any background and any poetic style, who are on this same quest. Were my primary concerns otherwise, I suspect that I would not be a poet. Perhaps these obsessions represent the final triumph of Wordsworth and the romantic impulse in my work. I suppose such a reading depends upon one's attitudes toward prayer, religion, the spiritual, the profane.

___________________________

*From The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism by T.S. Eliot (1922).

** Emphasis added.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Front

I am awake only because the wind is up, a front is blowing through and I can no longer sleep during such simple events.

______________________

To write a poem you must first create a pen that will write what you want to say. For better or worse, this is the work of a lifetime.

-Jim Harrison

Jim Harrison Reading at Grand Valley State University


Here is an event I must go to, even though it will be a race to get from my class at Hope (which ends at 5:50 on Wednesday) to the reading in Grand Rapids (which begins at 7):

Grand Valley State University sponsors a reading by noted Michigan author Jim Harrison, Wednesday, October 10, at 7 p.m. in Loosemore Auditorium, DeVos Center, 401 W. Fulton, on the Pew Grand Rapids Campus.

Tickets are $25 and include admission to the reading, followed by a book signing and reception, and a hand-numbered, limited edition broadside of a new Harrison poem. Ticket information is available by calling the College of Interdisciplinary Studies at (616) 331-8655 or online at www.gvsu.edu/jimharrison.

The winner of a National Endowment for the Arts grant and a Guggenheim Fellowship, Harrison’s work has been published in 27 languages. In 2005, Grand Valley acquired Harrison’s papers for use by researchers and students for many generations to come. (See related story at www.gvsu.edu/gvmagazine, winter 2007 issue.)

Harrison is the author of five volumes of novellas, The Beast God Forgot to Invent, Legends of the Fall, The Woman Lit by Fireflies, Julip, and The Summer He Didn’t Die; eight previous novels, True North, The Road Home, Wolf, A Good Day to Die, Farmer, Warlock, Sundog, and Dalva; eight collections of poetry, including Braided Creek, a collaboration with U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser, The Shape of the Journey: New and Collected Poems, and his most recent, Saving Daylight; and three works of nonfiction, the memoir Off To the Side and the collections Just Before Dark and The Raw and the Cooked: Adventures of a Roving Gourmand.

Born and raised in Michigan, Harrison now divides his time between residences in Montana and Arizona.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Good Reading!

The reading was a great time. We had a good-size audience (many people I did not know) and sold and signed many books. Dan's new book, A Primer on Parallel Lives (Copper Canyon Press, 2007), is a magnificent collection, one you'll want to read and go back to again. My special thanks to the poets and writers who appeared, including Jackie Bartley (and John!), Judith Minty, Jane Ruiter, Hank Meijer, Foley Schuler (who also did the introductions), Jim Straub, the painter Robert Michmerhuizen, and photographer-writer Jeff Cunningham. Special thanks to the Grand Haven Area Arts Council, to Jane from the Bookman and Doug as well, to Lisa Olson and Erika Rosebrook, and, of course, to Marcia.

I also want to thank the students from my poetry class who came to the event, each of whom received "A's" for the evening.

I am very grateful to Dan Gerber for a variety of reasons, not least the fact that had I never met him, I don't think I would have become a poet and writer. Dan set me on a path toward a different (and much happier) life.

When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.

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On Saturday morning, I went to the memorial service at Christ Community Church for Charlie Misner: bon vivant, great spirit, and long-time fixture at the Bookman in Grand Haven. It was a wonderful, touching service. My heart goes out to Jill and Amy and the good people at the Bookman. We will mourn the loss of Charlie for a long time.

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Yesterday I went out and threshed the grass for (no matter what happens) the last time this season. Thank God for October, though in a week or two, expect me to be bitching about all the fallen leaves.

And the Detroit Lions beat the Chicago Bears, 37-27. Sorry, Gary.