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I realized yesterday that I had written a lot of statements about my teaching philosophy in terms of poetry and the arts. But had never really come from the angle of why I write what I write rather than what good poetry is.
I’m a little surprised they really aren’t the same thing at all.
But in the spirit of a candid diary…
The natural world fascinates me. The seemingly altruistic mechanisms of the networks of fungi under the forest floor, and the ticking clocks of the telomeres within our dividing cells that count down each cell’s eventual, individual death—these turn the tables on poetry in my mind. I have to wonder if we are nothing but metaphors and poems written by the universe?
It’s humbling. And stunning.
Every aspect of an inherited language comes from disregarded experiences: the physicality of the word blurt when someone first blurted the word, and the referential physicality of a word like “stunned” and “stunning”.
We use the word stunned far more often than we experience it.
We dispatch and receive every word with the speed of clichès, and I believe it’s the job of poetry to slow us down. To bring us back to our bodies, to the physical world, to new understandings and new questions, not to provide reassurance for concepts we already have tucked into our pockets.
In the 1980s we learned that elephants communicate using a frequency that we humans can’t hear, but they’ve been singing all along. There is so much we don’t know. I can’t speak for the elephants. Or for the trees. Or even for the mysteries of my own body.
But I can and do question it all from my limited point of view. I can explore it all while holding the uncomfortable awareness of my own impermanence.
And I can ask you if we have these experiences in common. I can ask: Is this what it is to be human?
nature poetry, lyric poetry, narrative poetry, deep ecology poetry, buddhist poetry, existentialist poetry
I am certain that I have written on this topic before. Certain because I have had the same exact prompt for exploration of the subject again and again.
And again someone offers advice that to make myself more visible as a poet I should teach workshops on this or that (sometimes the suggestion doesn’t even involve teaching poetry). It is interesting. And it is unintentionally demoralizing. I already have a job that isn’t writing.
There seems to be this idea that if people like you personally, they will like your poetry. “They just need to get to know you.” That seems odd to me. I don’t know writers whose work I admire. And in some instances, I dislike writers whose work I admire. And I wonder if the genre writing “community” is as similar to a cult-of-personality?
I asked my Canadian publisher which of her titles sold best. She didn’t take a beat: those who are very visible on social media.
It is interesting. And perplexing. I have a full-time job. I write daily, hand-bind books and make broadsides from handmade paper. I’m writing the newest manuscript, keep two Instagram accounts, a Twitter account, and a Facebook page (I spent weeks setting up a shop there, which has yielded 1 view). I have even begun to delve into Etsy and Pinterest. I have a dog, a husband and – despite Covid – friends. The last two things I mention require me to shower, too.
Where do people find the time to do more? I am impressed!
“Serve the Community”. It’s common advice to writers – and to visual artists. The marketing advice is almost identical to the advice offered to people selling workshops about marketing. To people selling pilfered quotes on t-shirts and coffee mugs.
The word “ingratiate” keeps coming to mind. I am not saying people who are popular ingratiate themselves, but any conscious attempt to become popular on my part would be.
I have never been someone who (successfully) vies for attention. Four people in a room, and I will press myself against the wall to watch. I think it’s why I am a writer. And a writer who has on occasion had much more to drink than was wise at conferences, just to be able to make small talk.
I am naturally more of an (amateur) social scientist, watching discreetly from the corner of the room noting observations about the fascinating gaps between spoken language and body language, than I am someone who dances on the table. I can control a classroom, but when all the teachers are in the room at the same time, the only thing that tells me apart from the students is my gray hair and drooping skin.
Literally, I have been an alien for nearly 30 years. Figuratively for much longer. I tried very hard to fit in in high school. And gave up entirely my junior year. All that contorting was very painful. And I never could figure out what I would win from it. Is it possible for life to still be like a bad teen rom-com when you are over 50?
I’m not going to win any popularity contests. And I am going to be okay with that.
In 7th grade, I did win a dance contest. The hustle was on the way out, but disco was still in. All the boys were named Steve or Greg. All the girls were Rebeccas and Pams. I do remember some things. A Halloween party and I tripped and got an ironic nickname for my performance. The nickname meant I belonged – for about four months. Then moved again. To start over in another town. You can’t bring nicknames with you. Especially when they’re ironic.
It’s weird I remember that nickname. Those people.
I’ve been thinking about how I have carried on a pattern of starting over throughout my life – even when it wasn’t necessary. Sometimes I circle back. And even though I get distracted, “Ooo – wouldn’t that be fun to do!”, I do think I am moving in an ever-tightening circle. Sort of zeroing in on a kind of contentment that isn’t dependent on other people’s responses. Not there yet. But closer.
I have a tattoo on the base of my neck. It is one of those Eastern-inspired Western designs that are about life’s path. I asked my (then) teen son to design it for me. It has a strange hard turn in one of the concentric circles. I’ve never asked him what it was. I assumed it was the divorce in his mind, though it was something else to me. Or maybe: AND it was something else for me. So when the tattoo artist assumed it was a mistake and asked me if I wanted him to “fix” the design. I said no.
My older son keeps reminding me to stay true to my joy. He doesn’t use those words – I have no idea whose words those are, actually. He says, only do the marketing as long as it is fun.
I haven’t submitted work to journals in over 5 years. I want to have my head together before I do. I want to have my personal guidelines clear before I even look at the calls.
Writing is my practice. It is not my livelihood. I’m going to try to dance, not hustle.
what feels like a hard
turn – decisive and brutal
will turn back again
in time imperceptibly
softening in the distance
This morning I woke late, but we went to the lake anyway. It is feeling a lot like summer. A chill in the air, but no arctic wind. In fact, no wind to speak of this morning. While Leonard sniffed around we watched the almost-swan paddling near the bridge. I meant to look up whether there was a way to distinguish male from female without becoming invasive. “It” is still alone, at any rate. There were a few mallards keeping their distance.
A squirrel stopped halfway up the tree trunk to stare at us. Perfectly silhouetted against the blue sky, so that the silly fur-forks standing up from the tips of his ears were visible. I still have no idea if the tussle we witnessed a few weeks back was a fight for territory or some kind of mating activity. Maybe there is a second squirrel tucked away in the tree with babies.
It almost makes me sad to be so ignorant of something so close. I think maybe this summer – when school lets out in two weeks – I could pack a lunch and settle under the trees there. Bring binoculars and spy a little. Why not?
It’s odd. I actually have plans to do something similar next month. We are flying and boating all the way up to an island above the arctic circle to stay in a cabin with friends, without running water. I hope to spend a few days on the beach waiting and watching for porpoises and otters. Scanning the sky for birds of prey and trying to identify them.
Why do I feel a need to go away from home to pay close attention? It’s almost as if it is “allowed” then. It’s not indulgent, or eccentric, or peculiar. It’s a vacation.
I’ve tried my bird.net app for the past two days. Sometimes it is difficult for the app to distinguish the birds at all – it is such a cacophony. Most of the time, it manages the blackbird. I was annoyed at first. One of the three birds I know by song. And the most ubiquitous here since it overwinters, unlike most of the sparrows. But then why am I valuing rare birds over these birds that hop alongside us every morning year-round. Their familiar orange beaks shining under the lamps in the winter. They’re not showy, they’re not even iridescently black like the magpies. But they sing. Around the clock, they sing.
Maybe there is a lesson to be learned from the common blackbirds.
once we saw an owl
swoop into view from darkness
black birds sing always
I’ve switched up the mornings: writing before running – or to be honest, run/walking these days on a difficult achilles. I’m not sure I like the new routine. It’s like the pump is primed and ideas come while I am on the trail that I can’t follow through on, and that I forget.
Nothing is perfect, but things are good. Better. I do have a hard time shaking this feeling that I have missed out on these past few months. Missed spring. Nearly all the ferns have completely unfurled their tight, dark fists and the floor along the edges of the grove are lush with a new green, and fairy bells are already past their prime. I think most of all I am sad that for the past few years the ducks and the swans have been so good at hiding their hatchlings one could easily believe there were none. The only sign of renewal is the brown-tinged swan, last year’s cygnet, that has staked out the area next to the bridge. Alone, but for a few bachelor mallards.
But to be honest, I don’t think that I have actually missed out on things. My expectations have just been too high. I’ve been wanting the spring to overwhelm me in some fairy-tale fashion. I’ve been looking for signs. And that is really quite silly. What I am really waiting for is a shift in my perspective.
After a year of near-social-isolation, two gatherings in three days was a little overwhelming. Something of a deluge in a desert. Now just the thought of going to the hairdresser today is a little stressful. Chit-chat is expected, and I have never been good at that.
Now that I think about it, I have always been something of a deluge or drought kind of person. Never quite getting the balance right. Some many words come to mind: temperate, equipoise, equilibrium, symmetry. Maybe the problem is that, although symmetry is beautiful, it is predictable and so often boring. Unless it is a Wes Anderson kind of symmetry. But then the world is periodically on fire, and not everyone is comfortable with that kind of life.
In the mornings, I meditate for a few minutes on equanimity. Yellow, “Ri” on the exhale. I doubt that the articulation matters, but the vibration does. Accepting and giving. Or sometimes accepting and letting go. All the perspectives, things, concepts that clutter our lives, that come and go like respiration. That should do so easily. Effortlessly. Can they still be wild with energy? Passionate and fallow in equal turns?
The foliage doesn’t fight the winter. It doesn’t resist whatever kind of death winter brings. And it doesn’t hold back in the spring, trying to smooth the cycle into a flat kind of average life year-round. It relishes everything and then lets go.
In circular breathing, there is a moment of waiting (not holding the breath). Then a complete release, that for me feels a bit frightening in its emptiness. Then a so-longed-for, satisfying inhalation.
In another pranayama exercise there are a passive inhalations and forced, energetic exhalations in rapid succession to stimulate the body and the mind.
Leonard has zoomies. Then sleeps on the couch most of the rest of the day. Is the idea of equanimity as a steady hum of tranquility against nature really? I know I am taking Jesus entirely out of context when I say the advice from that hold is to be hot or cold but never luke warm.
I am wondering if all the advice regarding “balance” is not really aimed at a good life, but at an unobtrusive life. It’s more about social control than personal, or even inter-personal experience.
A seesaw is all about balance, after all.
it’s the almost edge
of ripe – it’s the almost void
of new beginnings