Friday, March 14, 2014

A Reader's Heart

I wonder who owned you last
who so thoughtfully wrote
in the margins
notes on this rich poetry
reminders to herself
(it's a woman's hand, I'm sure)
what a line meant

a poem is full of meanings
ascribed, but hidden
beneath the fullness of its skirt

it means to be
I wonder who owned you last
but I own you now, o tome
and I mean to own you
til the words
crumble on these pages bound
by a reader's heart

Monday, March 3, 2014

from "American Poetry in the New Century" by John Barr

When poets come to pay as much attention to how they live as to what they write, that may mark one new beginning for poetry. As a Zen tea master, long before the ceremony of making tea, prepares the garden for his guests, sweeps the walk, cleans and composes the room, so poets should give their first attention to the lives they lead. Indeed, if they do not, on what authority can they claim to be Shelley's "unacknowledged legislators of the world?" Indeed, if they do not, how can poetry be a moral act? How can poets answer for the effects of what they write on how their readers live? Poets should live broadly, then write boldly. 

Read the rest here.

30-03-03: Current thoughts on poetry

Poetry remains a mystery to me. Can it really be circumscribed by a single practitioner? It is wider and deeper than the concepts you own. Poetry is borne of traditions. Any aspiring poet must delve into a trove of work that has come before, to comb through the riches and walk away with ideas--named or unnamed--about poetry. Most poets resist tradition in small and large ways. That's what it exists for. We must always question our own assumptions of this art, as both readers and writers. 

What traditions have seeped into your writing? I supped on the cadences of the Bible, and on a national tradition that is not very experimental, though I boast of the work of local poets. They produce breath-taking poetry in a language that we have learned only in the last century. And our poetry in local languages are sometimes exact and rigid, and sometimes fun and cynical and celebratory.

I studied under an amazing local poet whose work is sensuous and rich and Modernist. I imbibed her ideas of what constituted good poetry without even realizing it. Now it is not that I seek to overturn it; I just struggle to expand my own limited tastes. I also came from a tradition where literature is always put to the question: whom do you serve? For all that I celebrate the beautiful phrases in poetry, I acknowledge that question. Art was not created in a vacuum. It contains ideas that can affect and effect. 

"A poem," in the words of Adrienne Rich, "can’t free us from the struggle for existence, but it can uncover desires and appetites buried under the accumulating emergencies of our lives, the fabricated wants and needs we have had urged on us, have accepted as our own. It’s not a philosophical or psychological blueprint; it’s an instrument for embodied experience. But we seek that experience, or recognize it when it is offered to us, because it reminds us in some way of our need. After that rearousal of desire, the task of acting on that truth, or making love, or meeting other needs, is ours."

We are in the age where poetry is decentralized, where capitalization and punctuation is primarily optional, where rhyme and meter can be archaic but is also sorely missed, where sometimes sense in the last thing you can extract from a poem. We are in flux, surrounded by a overwhelming amount of knowledge and opinions about life, about poetry, about truth, and we must be open enough to learn, and yet closed enough to remain intact, to keep our integrity.

We all seek out a space from which we can speak. A space of safety where our work can meet its readers, where we can move or be moved. I have begun a tumblr for poetry and it is not the best place for this genre, more appropriate to sound bites and gif sets and quotes bereft of context. But it is immediate and there is a sense of urgency that leads me to write more. So even though I have yet to really find a regular readership, it serves its purpose.

And yet I must guard myself against the seclusion of any institution, because only certain ideas are circulated, because I follow a certain set of people with a finite set of ideas, and I need to step back once in a while for input outside of tumblr, or outside of the internet in general, for a breath of fresh air, both literally and figuratively. I also seek a deeper engagement with poetry than is often available in social media. Reblogged and liked poems are not always read as deeply. I once put in a list of goals that I want to integrate poetry into my life in diverse ways, including reading poetry and of poetry, recording poems out loud, writing of course, and dissecting poems, writing in the margins of poetry books, underlining favorite lines, using other people's work as ideas for experimentation, and so on and so forth.

I am glad that I turn thirty today and all I can think about is the poetry I have written and I have yet to write.