Sunday, March 27, 2016

A poem by William Stafford

I've read William Stafford's work off and on throughout the years. For the past six months, I've read more of Stafford's work than ever. In the fall, I taught two of his chapbooks in an independent study and gained more appreciation for his work. His work centers me with every poem. Currently, I'm reading Stafford's The Way It Is: New & Selected Poems and each poem is a revelation to me. Take this poem, for instance: 


Notes for the Program


Just the ordinary days, please.
I wouldn't want them any better. 

About the pace of life, it seems best to have
slow, if-I-can-stand-them revelations. 

And take this message about the inevitable: 
I've decided it's all right if it comes. 


One of the things I love about this poem is it straightforward quality. Yes, I love imagery and music in poetry, both of which speak to my poet brain, but Stafford's poems speak to my heart. Stafford examines life throughout his work, whether studying a landscape and learning through the forests how to live a better life, or ruminating on days lived, as this poem does. This poem reminds us to slow down. The speaker wants ordinary days, and if something unordinary comes along ("the inevitable"), it's alright. It will be dealt with.  

Something else I love about this poem is its take-it-with-you quality. A poem to memorize, a poem to write on an index card and keep with me whenever I need a reminder that ordinary days outnumber the days of revelation, or days of news, good and bad. It's the days of routine and ordinary life which become memories. 





Thursday, March 24, 2016

Ha ha, LOL, etc.

Writing is a funny thing. Most people would laugh at what I do: thinking, writing, and talking about writing. I've had more than one non-writer tell me I think or worry about things too much. However, it's how I'm made, and I don't question it. Most of the time I try to go with the flow.

It's this "going with the flow" that always surprises me. Earlier this week, I wrote about not writing. I've been having a blast reading and watching what writers do. I expected to spend at least two or three weeks enjoying the words of others, taking notes on what interests me, and writing down quotes or passages I want to revisit.

Guess what happened yesterday? I wrote. While sitting in my office. I asked myself a question and answered it with three short, raw poems.

I did not expect that.

Today, I plan to type up those poems, continue reading, taking notes, and watching the snow (I know it's March, but it's not yet Spring in the Midwest, not by a long shot).

Did I tempt the muse by writing about not writing? Was it a poem I read yesterday that opened the door to writing? I have no idea. Writing always surprises me.

To me, this is what's funny about writing: that I can say something is happening one day and within a few days, this will change. It happens when I'm writing a poem or working on a collection, or preparing for a writing class. It's also the most wonderful part about writing that I never know what to expect. I like consistency and routine in most parts of my life, but I never expect that from writing because, even when I keep a writing routine, I know something will change.

These moments of change are moments of learning within the practice of writing. They bring me joy. They make me laugh. I continue to expect them.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

What I'm Reading: Notes on BLUETS by Maggie Nelson

I'm enamored with Maggie Nelson's style, a mixture of philosophy and nonfiction. Recently I ran across an excerpt from her book Bluets in Family Resemblance (Rose Metal Press) where Nelson also discusses her writing process. I was sold. I ordered Bluets right away.

Half poem, half lyric essay, I don't know how to categorize Bluets, and I'm glad I don't. Every short piece is numbered, allowing the reader to move at their own pace. Nelson's use of literary history is prominent, one of the reasons I love her work. She's not only a critic, but a poet, made obvious by these lines:

"The half-circle of blinding turquoise ocean is this love's primal scene. That this blue exists makes my life a remarkable one, just to have seen it. To have seen such beautiful things. To find oneself placed in their midst. Choiceless. I returned there yesterday and stood again upon the mountain."

Further on, "choice" becomes a key word when referring to Goethe: "He chose to write about color. About color and pain."

This is a collection of fragments woven together, which is like the poem, which is like the essay, which keeps me wondering where Nelson will take me next.

Newborn

I am not writing.

I have a purpose for not writing: I want distance from the work. Rather, I need distance from the work.

In my computer is a file full of poems that are raw and unpolished. I am probably in love with them. I won't send them out into the world. I cradle and feed them. They can survive in any light, but fragile like newborns, they're not ready to leave the house.

To help them grow, I'm reading. This is not to say I'm reading a poem here and there, or a magazine article once a week. Rather, I'm ravenous, devouring novels and poetry collections. I don't encourage myself to stop.

The upside is that poems are being nurtured. They will grow. But much like a mother home alone with a newborn for days on end, I doubt that I'm doing this the right way. I feel closed off from the world, alone with the baby, hoping I'm feeding her enough, hoping she'll grow up okay.

And like a mother who is home alone with a baby, I read articles on nurturing the work. I look for writers who will assure me I'm not alone and this happens to anyone who writes.

I am certain it does. The poems will grow. I will write new work. What is happening now other writers call "filling the well," so I know it's normal. But every time, it feels strange. I should put words on the page. I should finish a poem.

All of those "shoulds" won't help the poems grow. They need to be nurtured, but they also need me to be objective, and I can only get there with distance.