This week: Odd ConnectionsEdited by: Fyn
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What makes you a poet is a gift for language, an ability to see into the heart of things,
and an ability to deal with important unconscious material.
When all these things come together, you’re a poet.
But there isn’t one little gimmick that makes you a poet.
There isn’t any formula for it.~~Erica Jong
If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.~~ Emily Dickenson
Poetry, I feel, is a tyrannical discipline. You’ve got to go so far so fast in such a small space;
you’ve got to burn away all the peripherals.~~ Sylvia Plath
The genesis of a poem for me is usually a cluster of words. The only good metaphor I can think of is a scientific one: dipping a thread into a supersaturated solution to induce crystal formation. I don’t think I solve problems in my poetry; I think I uncover the problems.~~ Margaret Atwood
Consider the word shrugged. What besides a shoulder shrugs? Or, perhaps a better question: what might 'shrug'? I read a poem by Christopher P. Locke where 'mountains shouldered a rain cloud' and it (besides being a truly awesome poem,) got me thinking about odd juxtapositions of words. Although his poem, “Looking Out a Window, I am Reminded There Are Two Ways to See a Mountain” speaks (in one small part) of mountains shouldering, my brain went to all the ways that would work and ventured on to them shrugging. Shrugging off cold rain perhaps, or layered atmospheres or ... and on and on.
“Looking Out a Window, I am Reminded There Are Two Ways to See a Mountain
I like how Whiteface Mountain shoulders
a raincloud; it makes me happy enough
to forgive you. But then the clapping
of a large Japanese family in the dining
room reminds me dreams have no place
at work, so I open more bottles of wine
as the family tip their heads like sunflowers
for the guest of honor: a 90-year-old who
survived Guadalcanal. He smiles and raises
his hand and his wife cries across the table.
They all sing a song in Japanese and everyone
claps again and I feel more foreign than usual
even though I hear my chef yelling he's sick
of servers who don't punch their tickets
and leave plates to die beneath the heat lamps.
The bartender's drunk again and I smile
as his clumsy olives teeter into fogged
glasses and drink straws sliver the mahogany,
wet and abandoned. The old man stands up
and recites a poem by Basho, the one about
great soldiers and how summer grasses
are all that remain of their dreams, and I
understand and want him to reveal what
that last night was like: the mud and the stench,
the blood a river in search of a name, but know
better than to interrupt, know better than to embrace
a man lost in what it was that saved him. ~~Christopher Locke
This is what a poem should do. While in and of itself it should be that entity that portrays a thought, an emotion, a scenario, more, it should lead us down a path to the 'more' of it all. A poem should circle round and take off down unmarked paths. Mere moments of observation during a busy day at work gave birth to this special poem. Imagine what we miss and what writing we might have done had we been only paying attention!
Somewhere, buried in my port, is a poem where I describe graved stones (perhaps) being 'hunched over little men'*. Mountains shouldering brought me to shrugs and then to hunching which reminded me of the lost poem which got me thinking about mountains shrugging and all that might imply, portend, or simply, be. Of things/moments/ideas/feelings that one shrugs off and a poem is slowly working its way out of the ether. That fact that someone's poem prompted all this (and a restless night when my mind wrote line after line, now lost to dreams, is what poetry should do!
A hunched over tombstone shrugging off ... or once seeing a squared town around a common green in Scotland where each house 'round the square was shoulder to shoulder with its neighbor. My grandmother used to say 'shoulder on.' My dad would ask, "Don't you mean the term, 'soldier on?'" She'd shake her head and say that sometimes when the way wasn't clear or was blocked, you had to shoulder onward and get through. Five words of a poem have sparked so much thought. One minute image in a banquet of images is a spiderweb of ice crackling across my the lake of my mind and spreading fingers out to grasp yet even more.
Another powerful image in the poem is 'blood a river in search of a name.' BAMM. Wow. Again a multi-leveled phrasing reflecting a survived war, family blood and, in a sense, even the bottles of wine the server keeps opening. Anything searching for its name: that conjunction of word/symbol and vision.
And yet, this is what can happen when one uses or chooses to look for, the unusual pairing of words. In his case, a perfect choice to describe the mountains, and yet, tis so much more. I often will use, when writing a review, the words 'fresh descriptions.' Finding such is like coming across a treasure in an antique store or one perfect bloom in a meadow. Refreshing. It perks the mind and sends it dancing. Isn't that what we, as wordsmiths, should be doing?
Sometimes one happens across a poem that could be something truly special. The thought behind it has such potential. And yet, it is held back by the language; the thought lost in overused phrasings that reduce the sublime to the mundane. Reading Mr. Locke's work is a prime example of how to stay sublime! He clearly is, as I so often beg folks to be, an observer with a keen eye for details that he then uses to give the reader a seven-course meal in fifty lines. His imagination makes me think of a metaphorical collection in bits and pieces just waiting to be strung together in another necklace of a poem.
Against Despair (a pastoral)
When we dragged ourselves out of doors
for light, for a respite from our telling
cruelties, we went to a great field charred
pink with azalea and small fountains
of jimson weed flung wild before us,
a walking path shaved low and belting
the land as one. Then a spurt of yellow as
two bobolinks carved the sky with animal
heat and voices like a translation of water.
Later, walking home, both of us dulled by
private sorrows, last chances ruined. And
we, we always tried to make sense of it all,
even as the day turned cold and late, even as
dusk called the first stars up out of their graves.~~Christopher Locke
Lines like: 'a great field charred pink with azalea' or 'voices like a translation of water' are absolute gems. More than just how a line sounds or reads; there is that canted perspective that forces the reader to consider all that a line might imply.
When speaking with him on the phone we spoke of writing being work and he said 'how it is our job as writers to be observant, aware of all that is around us.' No one can write in a vacuum. Even the most 'interior' of emotions must be grounded in the physical. Although I didn't ask, he said the best things for writers to do is write and write and then write more AND to read poets and poetry, both old and what is new and current. We spoke of needing to write, how we must write. It is a part, a vital part of who we are. You can find Christopher P. Locke on Facebook should you be so inclined.
*(Couldn't find it; if someone goes looking and finds it, a merit badge is in the offering!)
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