I have printed off approximately 2800 lines culled from Frost's complete poems for my cento. I am now cutting up the lines and piling them on my table. This is going to take forever...
Sigur Ros' movie Heima
(It's like Searching For The Wrong-Eyed Jesus in Iceland. SO so so beautiful!)
("I'm not Carlos" - "Scary, No Scary" - "The Monster Show")
I just ordered The Man Suit.
Patrick O'Brien's Master and Commander
Books in Queue:
Deep Play - Diane Ackerman, Desert Solitaire - Edward Abbey, Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World - Rene Girard, The Fragility of Goodness - Martha Nussbaum
Ideas come from poems or books I’m reading—responding to other authors. While walking, while washing dishes: phrases, lines come. Sometimes the poems are particularly planned: ‘I want to write a poem about x.’ Journaling regularly. Or little lyrical ‘games.’
I would say that some poems are born from experience (real or imagined) and some are born of language (real or imagined)—but after that, language may find an experience and experience may lose itself in the language. It’s a wash. But I get hooked into a potential poem by voices: ‘In what world, in what emotional state, as what kind of being, would I feel my soul’s need to speak (or chant, incant) these words?’ Even the most abstract or nonsensical speech must be felt for me. An empathetic entrance, I would say.
I write mostly in my apartment, sometimes on paper, most often on the computer. I usually don’t write in public (though I have many times)—I generally need to be in a place where I can speak out loud and hear myself. When I’m working on a poem, I read it fast and slow, quiet and loud. Sometimes I read them in the reading voice of other poets—Frost, Berryman, Dylan Thomas or in strange alien voices. I prefer to do that alone.
My first draft usually comes in a long push of hours (a whole morning, a whole afternoon), sometimes two or three sessions if it’s a long poem. A lot of processing is going on, things are being tweaked, deleted, added, rearranged, relined. Much of this thinking I can’t recover later—I can’t remember exactly why I decided on option x not y, though I know I had many good reasons when it happened. (There’s always that phantom poem of all the indirections, false starts, turn-arounds.)
Fairly quickly I put my draft on my blog. I don’t know if this is a good idea or not but I think of it as comparable to the painter who stands back from his painting—changes will be made but somehow you’ve got to stand back and see the whole composition, see how it’s hanging together. Imagine—not the reader—but yourself in the audience, listening to yourself read yourself.
For the next week or so I read it obsessively—out loud mostly. I will run over lines in my head while I’m walking around or I’ll write the lines down while writing other things. It generally takes me a week to ‘get over’ a poem I’ve written. There are little one word edits after this point but for the most part I solidify it in my mind.
I find it very difficult to revise after this point—just because I’ve worked over it so long and obsessively. The lines and phrases are so ingrained in my head as ‘correct.’ However, lines or rhythms of these old poems will enter into new poems. For example, “Imagine this world is not for you.” is a line from a poem I wrote a couple of years back—but it resurfaced and reconsidered itself.
There are enough counterexamples, however, to disprove almost all I've said.
I don’t like when poets talk about the sacredness of their process—as if it’s some great mystery how the brain works and we’ve got to keep secret about it or else the magic is gone. But I do know that my inventive mind is like a talking dog—he talks to you all the time but whenever you try and show him to someone he’ll just sit there with those empty, animal eyes.
Last night I watched Dances With Wolves. It's perhaps the worst movie I've seen in a long while. It would've been amazing if they had removed all the voice-overs and subtitles. (Kevin Costner is a good actor as long as he doesn't speak--you can *imagine* him having thoughts.) But I could watch those open grasslands forever--and the bison.
Okay, so the Indians are pure hearted scalpers and the Army is inhuman and heartless (except for Costner because he's "different" than *ALL* the white people--of course, we the audience identify with him. WE aren't like THOSE Army men.)--But it ignored the more terrifying premise: that the Army was commanded by good, wholesome, upstanding Americans.
I've thought about this before, while in western Nebraska where the massacre at Ash Hollow occurred. It's really hard to imagine, standing in the time I stand in, what was going on the minds of those men--to imagine them empathetically, not just blame them with some serious moral failure. It makes me wonder if those Americans of only 100 years ago actually had different minds, that is, their brains revolved on a different axis.
I think about this because of Daniel Day-Lewis, especially in his roles in Gangs of New York and There Will Be Blood. His characters seem to have a whole different value system, they are thinking different thoughts than a 20th Century person would--their drives and motives are alien to us. I wonder if we could meet any average good person from the 1860s how disturbed and alien their reasoning might be to us.
You may have realized at this point that you have misread something very early on—the Detective Story you’ve selected is Defective Story. Or, perhaps the Mystery is not what you had expected, but something entirely obvious and ordinary. Or, your assumptions about what you were reading or what you were reading for were straight off wrong. The color of the woman’s dress you cannot get out of your head must be important, musn’t it? There will be a death, most definitely. The important things will stay the important things on to the very end of it. But now I have you thinking. The most special details, the better parts, will not figure into significance. The important words in the first half (‘my God,’ ‘myself,’ ‘my lover’) are now pointing at different things—or at least could be. (How could you know?) You were certain the setting was a parlor but now the interjection of buffalo grass has changed your mind. And then there is no one is going to die. How strange to have spent all this time trying to explain it and no one is going to die.
Shows. In the last few weeks I've been to the Chicago Symphony, the Redmoon Theatre, the Music Box Theatre, Othello at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, a Mae West film at the Gene Siskel Film Center. And I've gone to a couple poetry readings. Today the Homer-Hopper show opens at the Art Institute--! (I've heard it's a large show.) Matt and I are going to try and get some student tickets to the Lyric Opera soon.
Prose (Poems). Classes and writing have been going well. I'm taking a prose poem class with Janet and the readings have been really wonderful. I haven't set aside the collage poetry...it's just there and not moving right now. However, I am currently working on a cento made out of Robert Frost poems about the vandalizing of his summer home this last year. And that has put me back in the collaging state of mind. I recently organized all my poems since sophomore year and I have about 150 pages (not including collage poems). That's a good reminder on those 'maybe-I-suck' days. Too late, they say. Too late.
Repose. Last semester was dang hard! All my life I've situated myself in communities. But as a grad student at the Art Institute, for all its merits, there will be little of it. So, I'm learning to be independent, be who I am, relax and be confident. I'm also coming to the view that all my work is doomed to be misread and misunderstood, especially by cultural connoisseurs. (Dear Flannery, pray for me.) My current approach is this:
Everything is permissible for me—but not everything is beneficial.
Everything is permissible for me—but I will not be mastered by anything.
The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.
My generation was born
In a Columbine
(this was after
And we came of age
As the towers fell
Then we left
Anywhere it found us:
Must the peripheral
There have been
So many massacres
I cannot remember them all
(or do not care to).
The few events we
As ours occurred in seconds,
Have no name,
And leave us with no one
(though we still try).
I will not die that way.
The average life
Span remains unchanged—
I may live longer
Than ever before.
But how long,
Because I am shaken.
I was born into a world that does not need me.
I have spent many years making myself irreplaceable to someone.
The most important things in life are imagined.
I will wrap my head in the names of God.
I will leave my prayers for the wind to pray.
Everything I’ve ever learned I’ve learned again from trees.
Out of an ancient tree grows the tiniest twig
I’ve ever seen and, singing there, a bird
Ignorant of age, death and all that’s occurred
Since my kind was skittering small and hers was big,
Is frightened of me, while even now we dig
Out her terrible lizards that time’s interred:
The harrowing roar my ancestors heard,
The teeth, the claws, the implacable rig.
But might the bird, if it could comprehend,
Repent from when it came and tell me how
Fast we find ourselves on the other side
Of terror? And show me how I often tend
Unwittingly to chop the tree for now—
Even as chance makes a bird of pride.
--but not so good
a human being.
'Aren't all we like sheep?'
Sure and blood-thursty.
Tuff luck, thought Sheep,
sat and shat sadly.
The other kind of recommendation is when someone has just read or is in the middle of reading something: "Oh, Ryan, this book is so wonderful. It changed my life." Even if I don't share any of their interests, I really want to read that book and probably will.
The difference between them I think is that the only way to read a book after the first recommendation is to read as a rival, or to read it for technical/craft concerns or perhaps there's just something about the recommendation itself that is reductive--the kind of good-intentioned remark that lumps you into a category rather than finding your distinctiveness (what we're all kind of aiming for).
In the second case--rather than beginning by being a 'critical' reader (how we are taught to read in school)--I can begin by being an 'empathetic' reader: What is it about this text that makes my friend x feel so powerfully? How do I love this book? And perhaps, in the end, I won't love it--but I will have read it, and with that kind of charity that even if unrewarded leaves a reader (and perhaps the writer if s/he could watch me) with a good feeling at the end. And empathetically reading a bad book is so much more helpful than critically reading a wonderful book--certainly for writing and possibly for your own human life.
"You know what 2 million acres is?" Turner asked over a plate of bison miniburgers and transfat-free onion rings. "If my land was all connected, in one long straight line, a mile deep, it would stretch from New York to San Francisco."
Then he joked: "I've been thinking about doing some swaps. I'd be able to cut the United States in half and charge people from going from the north to the south."