Saturday, April 7, 2012

Saturday Night Poetry Reading

Tonight, in the continued absence of rain, I'll read vignette:

rain stains gray veins sheeny scene in gloomy gleam of damp lamps swamps on ramps slurping kicking muttering sputtering spluttering stuttering puttering pittering pattering chittering chattering spittering spattering splattering rap happy clap snappy drops plop pop and hop slop mops slog soaking coats floating boats sopping socks wipers slap windows tap stallion clops on rooftops never stops oceans of lotion smoky spokes in motion flares of snares tears the air a mister twister whisper whiskers hush rush wash sauce flash splash plash clash crashing the musty dust a humid humus smell as tires at high tide swell there's wet sets nets of sweat bleeding weeds and feeding reeds neon beams flee free their cells then lickety slick the thunder planes the sight of white in flight against the sky we curve we skid we swerve we slid skip slip slide glide sighing at high cries of heaven flying down like a gown to the ground with a sound of horizons pining the town is brown and rising when will this dimness end the sticky skin wane the frizzy spritz panes the main drains claimed this rain

How the Poem Happened
As an extra, I happened upon the how a poem happens, contemporary poets discuss the making of poems blog, which I took to be a way to gain exposure to some contemporary academic poets I didn’t know. To my surprise, I found that their discussions of how a poem was created and revised opened a window to who they are as people in a positive way. So I’ll approach this poem the same way, answering the same set of questions about how this poem "happened":

When was this poem composed? How did it start?

I rely on sunlight for the vision necessary for poems, so an extended period of rain last September forced me to cultivate a more strictly aural rendition of what was going on around me, and that blindness (so to speak) made me open to all kinds of sounds that could be captured as words in a narrative of tightly-connected rhymes. That formal idea struck me as having a trueness of match, in that it captured both the connective quality of water and its relentless consonance.

How many revisions did this poem undergo? How much time elapsed between the first and final drafts?

I often imagine myself as William Bronk, producing final poems (complete with punctuation) in one pre-conceptualized draft, but more often than not I’m like Charles Baudelaire, relentlessly piddling, continuing to move and alter parts even after a poem’s been “put to bed” online. “Vignette” was typical in this latter respect, in that I probably went through about 10 drafts, but even those kept getting transformed through the powers of the rain. In one sense it took me 30 years to write, as phrases like “humid humus,” “whisper whiskers” and “lickety slick” were all phrases that had been hanging around for a long time waiting for the right “occasion,” but on the other hand, the total without-a-net immersion in the rain as it happened brought out most of the unique perceptions and rhyme patterns, a process that took no more than two days. I remember this one being especially difficult to find the right rhymes for; I somehow felt the need to be exact, and that along with the somewhat uncooperative nature of rain (ie not lending itself to descriptive extravagance) made the composing of this poem a little more of a soggy slog than it normally is for me. But out of such tight challenges the fun emerges.

Do you believe in inspiration? How much of this poem was "received" and how much was the result of sweat and tears?

I don’t believe poetry can exist without inspiration. I take the question to be more about the ease of composition. “Sweat” and “tears” are always necessary (literally in this case), but if you think of them as such, you might as well throw the poem away. One fundamental premise I have about life is that one always has to work for one’s insights, that’s why they’re given, and one has to approach the service of “getting it right” with the utmost devotion and joy. It’s not work, as nothing good that is ever accomplished in the human sphere ever is. It’s just what we do.

Was there anything unusual about the way in which you wrote this poem?

Every poem is unusual to me – they’re all special needs kids. In this case, the focus on consistent word-by-word rhyme, the meaning limited to its details, the tactile obsession, the prose format, all of that is different from what I “normally” do. More specifically, I found myself on the quiet train (where I often write) almost audibly throwing out rhyming sounds hoping to get a word. I guess that gives it a certain distinction in my “oeuvre.”

How long after you finished this poem did it first appear in print?

Print? Wouldn’t it get wet?

How long do you let a poem "sit" before you send it off into the world? Do you have any rules about this or does your practice vary with every poem?

I write every day, but when this poem was written I didn’t feel the need to turn the daily work into a posted daily poem. I’ve found recently however that I can get more out of the process by “forcing” myself to complete a poem each day, as a marker of what insights happened in that day in my life. I’m not sure a poem like this could get written in that environment, but I’m not sure how much longer that environment will be operative. Poetic rules have a funny way of repealing themselves.

As for letting a poem sit, I find I need about 10 years to get enough distance from the context to see if it holds up. It’s like being a vintner, I can’t stop corking bottles just because I’m waiting on a batch to ferment.

Could you talk about fact and fiction and how this poem negotiates the two?

I always get confused about that sort of thing. Most of life is a fiction, and facts are those things we need to isolate in order to authentically feel (thank you Iyanla Vanzant). To the extent there’s a feeling here, there’s a fact behind it. The fiction is in the presentation, I suppose. I found in writing fiction the biggest difference between a factual account and a story was not so much the glue of made-up characters and events as it was the compression of time into the narrative requirements. That is very much what’s going on here, so I would say this is a work of fiction that hopefully feels like fact.

Is this a narrative poem?

All of my poems are narrative poems.

Do you remember who you were reading when you wrote this poem? Any influences you’d care to disclose?

I can’t remember what I was reading two days ago much less seven months ago, but I’ll fess to my fair share of mockingbird vapor quaffing (“The Falling” from last Sunday, for example, is a response to Paul Celan that uses his spare diction and many of his stock words). I do that to try to understand and engage rather than as a statement of who I am as a poet. Maybe it’s old-fashioned, but I’d prefer to find a voice that no one else has. “Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished,” at any rate. I wish I could be as self-assured about it as Wallace Stevens (the only influence I’ll admit to, although I think I influenced him more than the other way around), who flat out said he didn’t read other poets, for he couldn’t risk the accidental influence.

Do you have any particular audience in mind when you write, an ideal reader?

The ideal reader, for me at least, is always there hovering like an angel in the wings, gently and with the utmost of grace and tact trying to urge me to rethink the most embarrassing of premises. I’ve gotten to the point of discernment over many years of solitary confinement where I can tell the difference between the ideal reader shutting up in satisfaction and in frustration.

As for the more conventional notions of audience, I’m afraid I’m with John Keats, who expressed the following in an April 9, 1818 letter to his friend John Hamilton Reynolds: “I have not the slightest feel of humility toward the public – or to anything in existence, -- but the eternal Being, the Principle of Beauty, and the Memory of Great Men. When I am writing for myself for the mere sake of the moment’s enjoyment, perhaps nature has its course with me – but a Preface is written to the Public; a thing I cannot help looking upon as an Enemy, and which I cannot address without feelings of Hostility…I never wrote one single line of Poetry with the least Shadow of public thought.”

Did you let anyone see drafts of this poem before you finished it? Is there an individual or a group of individuals with whom you regularly share work?

No. None of my friends, family and acquaintances has the slightest interest in poetry (my next door neighbor is a poet, but we'd rather talk about football). I know people read my poems online though, and a few people actually comment, which is cool.

How does this poem differ from other poems of yours?

It’s not for me to say – to me, as I indicated, all my poems are unique.

What is American about this poem?

It was written in America about an American environment using American diction and an American accent by an American – though hopefully all of that won’t be held against it, on account of its universality. By the way, the word America derives, contrary to popular misconception, from the native people’s name for it, Amaruca, land of the serpent gods. I think I am in my own small way trying to regain a connection to the ancient consciousness reflected in that name, in this poem and in many others, where the aboriginal myths are merely gateways to a truth that we, modernized and brainwashed, have lost even the longing for.

Was this poem finished or abandoned?

The only way I can possibly answer Valery's question is with a line from the play Six Degrees of Separation, where a successful art dealer asks a pre-school art teacher how she manages to get such amazing, uncanny work from her students when he (the art dealer) can’t despite a great passion for art do anything of value. She replies “I just know when to take the painting away from them.” It's finished when it's seen, in other words, when it's born.


Rusty Kjarvik said...

Extraordinary oeuvre of elaboration, imbued with your usual consistency of creative intelligence formulated as by a bout of undogmatic illumination from your own steady following of insight gathered from the spiritual community you share in the realms beyond writerly, poetic or any Identity misplacing the artist from the eye of the stormy public, forever caught in a conundrum of folly before the all-seeing eye of those bodies born of the present moment, moving with the animate poetry of perpetual creation, always unfinished, always imperfect, yet with a glint from the serpent above, we are led to question the indifferent spires of universal continuity spiraling with outrageous perfection, forever out of reach.

Your comments are, as always, most appreciated. I'm going to send you a quick email with a link to a literary manifesto I recently came across that you may (or may not) find useful, provocative or at least worth a read.

Enjoying your recent poetic musings!

Tom King said...

Those talks were poetry disguised as football.