Saturday, August 6, 2016

From the Center of Excellence

This post will mostly be literary (as per usual) but let’s begin with music. Jennifer Higdon composes beautiful and exciting classical music. Here’s the Concerto for Orchestra, written in 2002.

During six weeks of working on other projects, such as finishing and launching my newest book, then a chrematistic technical project for a friend, all the while suffering in an eschatological heat wave of eight consecutive days of highs over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, not to mention the crazy political zeitgeist, my mind wandered and eventually went numb; I solved crossword puzzles, napped on sofas and beds and hammocks, listened to the news, and wrote little.

But when I went online to read poetry---Audre Lorde, Tony Hoagland, Amber Shockley, Anna Journey, and Camille Dungy---my imagination was revivified.  This is everyday language become exhilarating; plain, colloquial, and so carefully placed and juxtaposed that it can alter forever your way of apprehending.

In fact, a danger in reading great literature while on hiatus is that a return to your own work leads to unfavorable, dispiriting comparisons. Time again to bring current my own writing and I’m like yuck, a victim of total non-inspiration: how does the impossible suddenly become possible?

Well, as Audre Lorde wrote (and a poem of hers appears at the end of this post): “Don’t wait for inspiration…You don’t need to be inspired to write a poem. You need to reach down and touch the thing that’s boiling inside of you and make it somehow useful.”

So I’ve been hitting it, and there should be new sequences in this space beginning August 11.

Now for some Shop Talk:

  • I’ve always done my best writing in cafes named after the daughters of the owners.

  • Have you ever thought about how a poet creates a title for a poem?  One of the poets mentioned above, Anna Journey, had this to say about titles: “I like a long title. As a poet who loves narrative but writes in the lyric mode, I find I can get a lot of potentially burdensome “scene setting”—the who, what, when, where, why of the poem—out of the way by freighting a title with information. Doing so swiftly grounds a reader and establishes a framework for the dramatic context. Also, when titling a poem, I like to imagine the title printed in a hypothetical table of contents: ‘Would I flip to that poem?’ I ask myself. Many times the answer is: ‘Nope.’ So I go back to work until I arrive at a title that feels vivid and compelling enough to satisfy my demands for clarity, surprise, strong imagery, and an orienting context.”

And to bring closure to this post, let’s go back to Audre Lorde. Some readers consider her poem, “A Litany for Survival,” to be depressing. I consider it a proclamation.

A Litany for Survival

For those of us who live at the shoreline
standing upon the constant edges of decision
crucial and alone
for those of us who cannot indulge
the passing dreams of choice
who love in doorways coming and going
in the hours between dawns
looking inward and outward
at once before and after
seeking a now that can breed
like bread in our children’s mouths
so their dreams will not reflect
the death of ours:

For those of us
who were imprinted with fear
like a faint line in the center of our foreheads
learning to be afraid with our mother’s milk
for by this weapon
this illusion of some safety to be found
the heavy-footed hoped to silence us
For all of us
this instant and this triumph
We were never meant to survive.

And when the sun rises we are afraid
it might not remain
when the sun sets we are afraid
it might not rise in the morning
when our stomachs are full we are afraid
of indigestion
when our stomachs are empty we are afraid
we may never eat again
when we are loved we are afraid
love will vanish
when we are alone we are afraid
love will never return
and when we speak
we are afraid our words will not be heard
nor welcomed
but when we are silent
we are still afraid

So it is better to speak
we were never meant to survive

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