Against Idealization

An easy morning, walking Leonard to the park and back, and then a slow run along the trail. It’s still cold, but the air is still and the sun reflected twice on the lake so I could imagine for a moment I was on another planet circling three stars.

Birds were still fighting. Mid-air brawls between ducks. Or loud mating, I suppose. I guess it’s time to keep an eye out for the first of the ducklings. Last year the hens kept them well-hidden.

There’s an angry finch outside my window now. A chattering non-stop like someone shaking a maraca with a manic rhythm til you want to slug him. How do birds breathe when they do that? I imagine the little guy gasping for breath now. Then flying off before anyone calls his bluff.

A colleague tells me I can’t trim the hedges yet. (As though I were itching to do garden work). The migratory birds are still nesting.

Tomorrow is my birthday and I’m going to have E. make some paleo hot chocolate and take me to the beach after work. I’m hoping the oystercatchers are back. The curlews. I’m hoping the wind is still but the sea is wild, white, and loud.

It’s been several weeks since we went to the beach. And then I was busy writing poems on stones, and thinking too much.

My new personal goal is to separate my day job from my personal work, and fold that work into the quiet, like shuffling a deck of cards.

Isn’t this the image people have in their heads of what poets do? Take things easily? Move through the world aware and in the moment, and then effortlessly shape the impressions into a written missive to convey the human experience? A recognizable experience. An idealized experience?

I don’t know. Does the general reader seek the familiar? Even Sexton and Path’s pain is idealized too often. I realize I could be wrong: my teenage preconceptions of what it is to be a writer are still lodged somewhere beneath my solar plexus, gnawing at me sometimes. I’m not living up to my own fantasy. Being the poet people say puts words to their own feelings for them. The successful poets with thousands of followers on Instagram, who self-publish and make enough money to retire at 30.

But the truth is I don’t want to do that. Not that I could either.

When I was 16 I sent some submissions to Hallmark Greeting Cards and was ignored. They were inauthentic. I was trying to “write pretty”. I am too intense for the general public. Too angular for comfort. I once told a colleague that I had a nice relationship with my step-daughter, and they asked me if she got my sense of humor. Apparently, I am an acquired taste.

This is real human experience, too, though. Even the being an acquired taste part.

I never imagined myself as the kind of person who would sit on the beach in wool socks and gloves. Who would walk through the sumps on purpose for no other reason than the inhale the smells of mud and broken branches of heather. Sheep shit.

I never aspired to be a poet who wrote about sheep shit.

Every year I try to explain to my students the differences between Romanticism, Bucolics, and Kitsch. Most of them don’t care. Maybe I do it to remind myself. I may be coming back to that separation of day job and personal work again.

I can feel my shoulders release now. I can let in the space of the ocean air – even here in my little room, fingers on the keys. Imagination is a wonderful thing when used right. Imagination stopped in its tracks just before it hardens everything into the familiar.

I am easing into a new ars poetica. That’s kind of exciting.

It will probably be an acquired taste.

During the second
war – so many wars – they ate
bread made from seaweed
Their hands and feet rotted
from the winter harvesting

Maybe anything shaped within the lines of poem becomes idealized, in the same way anything shown on television does? Anything framed in a gallery?

Just brainstorming here…

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