January 14, 2018.

Playwrights are poets who get lonely. –  Joy Gregory

I’ve written poetry as long as I can remember writing. And early on, I never saw a distinction between poetry-as-genre and the poetry found in a text of any genre. I intuitively understood poetry as a way to communicate something that transcends the specific, by means of the specific.

Yes, I’m aware that my definition is by no means universal. And I’m not trying to convince anyone to agree with me. I’m aware of the debate between the timely vs. timeless aspects of art, the universal vs. the specific. I respect that debate. But I’m not participating.

Neither am I precious about poetry. I don’t say that it is something I have to do, or I would die. I wouldn’t die. Though I suppose I’d be even more messed up than I am.

I aways return to it – even after having sworn if off more than a few times. I can’t avoid it – writing or reading whatever genre I stumble into.

When I ask myself what a poetry community might mean to me, I’m at a loss. When I was a child, we moved so frequently, and carried with us so many secrets, I found companionship in books. Dr. Seuss and A.A. Milne. Judy Bloom and Stephen King. Dickinson and Millay. It was a diverse community. Millay wrote plays. Helen Hayes wrote a memoir-cum-anthology-cum-love letter to the dead authors who wrote for her.

There was Shakespeare.

It’s always been about writing to the dead, I think. Even when addressing the living, I looked over their shoulder, with the faith that the people who spoke to me – I could speak back to, just as clearly. Eventually. With practice. Even if I’d landed on the wrong planet, at the wrong time to fit in. It is a comforting delusion that is difficult to walk away from.

I am the imaginative version of Emilie Dickinson – shouting from the top of the stairs. Genuinely happy for any company, desperately suspicious. Scared.

I am a Norwegian citizen. But not a Norwegian writer. I am not an American writer. A few years ago, I was excited when an American colleague wrote to tell me one of her students wrote about one of poems in her term paper. It turned out she mentioned the poem to criticise my use of formalist terminology.


What is a writing community? Am I looking for the salon, or the table where the powerful people sit and write each other into the history books? Am I looking for commiserators, or competitors by which to gauge my progress and commitment?

Am I listening with an ear to conform or with the intention to empathise and learn? Learning to what end? Why do I need/want to be seen, and why do I fear it?

I question my own decision to return to playwrighting. All this time, all these years in a chosen self-exile, comfortably writing to the dead.

And what do I want from the living? Is it that, now, at mid-life (when so little about death is theoretical) I need someone to breathe life into the words while I’m still here?

Am I losing faith?

Am I lonely?

I’ve been considering the spring reboot of This Choice.

I’ve been thinking about what I wanted when I started, what I found fulfilling, and what I didn’t.

I’d wanted conversations. And I did have some really lovely conversations. (One left me in tears!) But when I did get involved in the discussion, I would edit it out – concerned that any listener would think the project was about self-promotion.

As a result, my original idea of podcast “conversations” quickly evolved into straight interviews, in which people talked about themselves, promoted their work. When people asked me my opinion or about my experience, I’d say, “Oh, but we are talking about you” and I’d edit it out.

Several times, when saying goodbye, people thanked me for the “service” I was doing for the community.

Funny that a project I began as a way to reach out and find a sense of kinship became even more isolating for me as a writer.

Something happened lying in the hospital bed this summer. I learned it is important that I am honest with myself about how I spend my time – and why.

IMG_20171121_093440_587I want to try again.

It was never my intension to provide “a service to the community”. As crappy as that sounds – I just wanted to talk with writers I admired.

So. I am the imaginative Emilie Dickinson.

I just might suck it up–and come
down the stairs to meet you-

Week two of a new year, and still settling into a new routine. Putting every-little-thing into the google calendar, with the repeat option turned on.

I’ve been enjoying reading the posts on the poetry blog revival tour. I’ll be setting aside Thursday evenings to focus on taking part in the “conversation”.  From here–from this little desk in this little library (bibliotekette) in Norway’s little breadbasket. Perhaps it will be a way to celebrate solitude, but feel less lonely?

This week they are draining the silos. The sharp, sick-sweet smell of fermented hay cuts through the morning cold as we run past the farms. I miss the cows. We are running so early now, I miss the mornings’ convention of crows, too. I have to admit a self-congratulatory pride in beating the proverbial early bird to the trailhead. Having the chance to relish the quiet feels like a personal achievement. I hear E. breathing next to me. My own breath. And our footfalls, slightly out of sync – but pleasantly so. Like a deliberate  syncopation. It is too dark to see the lake, but I know it is there.

20180106_145518It is the inky-blackness beyond the dead rushes. Absent, and present.

I long to hear the lake sing again. It’s been nearly three years since it was frozen as far as one could see, twisting and thwanging in the dark like some goddess let loose in the dark to play her unique harp. Or to skate over the rings of ice, playing them like a warped LP.

I guess things don’t always come as cleanly as the seasons on the calendar. The goddesses keep their own schedules. Rhythms. Deliberately syncopated.

Sharing a bit of Steve Mueske‘s poem “Skating Lessons” from his book A Mnemontic for Desire. Ghost Road Press, 2006.

She is young, someone’s
mercy, bundled in the brittle cold.

She has come a long way across the ice, cutting
her own story in the intaglio

of curves and lines there. […]

Thanks for reading!

Poetry is the Unknown Guest in the House
 – according to Lawrence Ferlinghetti, in Poetry as Insurgent Art

“Stash your sell-phone” 

20180101_121700569138754.jpgIn 2017 I used an app to delete all my contacts from my Facebook account, and decided to begin blogging again. I was concerned about what social media was doing to my reading comprehension, about what it was doing to my psyche.

I have read somewhere that we humans sort the world into discrete categories as best we can, so that we can make quick (and life-saving) decisions: a creature in the shadows whose breathing is audible, whose breath smells like copper is a Predator.

(It could be a deer, but better safe than sorry in the moment.)

It seems to me that this kind of quick judgement is the norm in a social media jungle. The immediacy. The rush. People (myself included) read a headline, write a quick opinion, and move on. It began to feel more like a cut-throat game of tag than a conversation.

Am I alone in feeling as though I’ve been continually on red alert? Watching, and defending myself against threats? Trolls. People whose politics differ from mine. The 10 things I am doing wrong in regard to my toaster oven – or my pentameter.

I was thinking about The Giver last night. And Brave New World. And wondering if anyone out there has written a dystopic novel in which the People in Power had managed to invent a kind of drug that entailed no manufacturing expenses, no distribution expenses, and one which the masses self-administered – eagerly – making people’s very minds bio-billboards for products (and non-products) for sale. One-click purchases for the dopamine junkies.

Possible titles? Likes. Or Attention Economy.

I feel as though I have fallen into a post-Absurdist rabbit hole of inclusion addiction.  The thought of being irrelevant and untethered in this international, intercultural, intergenerational buzz of avatars is terrifying.

“Great poets are the antennae of the race, with more than rabbit ears.” (L.F.)

What is it to be a poet in this world? International, intercultural, intergenerational. Virtual.

My social-media life was the opposite of poetry. Since 2016, I’ve experienced it as divisive. I am tired of labels.  Even the silly ones. What kind of pizza are you? Which French philosopher? I understand that categories are useful. Scientists find use in them. But poets shouldn’t. Poets are occupied with the truth. And the truth is always a platypus.

I crave the deep work. The work of sincere attention necessary for poetry. I want to close my eyes and rediscover my senses. I want to fight against the stenciled concepts I’ve adopted.

I was surprised, and pleased to see Donna Vorreyer’s tweet about a poetry blog revival last week.

“Poetry assuages our absolute loneliness in the lonely universe.” (L.F.)

I feel less alone in my longings, though still anxious. How can I participate in a poetry community in a healthy way?

Gertrude Stein said she wrote for strangers and herself. Last year I wrote open letters to specific people, as an attempt to ground myself in virtual relationships. This year, I will write open letters on the subject of poetry – to myself.  I will be working on my relationship with poetry.

“A poem is still a knock on the door of the unknown.” (L.F.) 

They say if a writer has a website or blog, we are obligated to consider that the reader is asking themselves, “What’s in it for me?”

If you have read this far, then I suppose you are the stranger to whom I’m writing: the unknown guest. I don’t know what’s in it for you. Maybe if a word here somehow opens a door to your own deep work, we are a poetry community in this immediate virtual space.

And maybe you will write back to this stranger, and show me a bit of your unknown?

Poetry is not a “product”, it is an elementary particle. […] The poet pieces the wild beast together. (L.F.)

Thank you for reading. 

(p.s. The poetry blog revival blogs can be reached via the links page.)