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Napa 3: Yes, There Was Writing Too

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P1000198My back yard has acquired its post-rain carpet of green.  When it first appears I can’t tell which plants will be weeds and which will be wildflowers.  I feel a bit that way about the results of my participation in the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference.  I’m sorting out my drafts of poems and my new ideas and deciding which pieces have most potential.

Many of my poems centered on the past.  Perhaps this was because I was back in California where I grew up, though the Napa Valley wasn’t part of my home turf.  Perhaps it was because when one has 20 hours to produce a poem, one goes back to basics.  Here’s one piece which may be complete in itself, having taken the shape of a tanka.  The assignment was to show passage of time:

Almond blossoms in spring,
tiger lilies in summer.  Our height
marked on the door post.
Before my brother grows tall,
the house is no longer ours.

Another piece is too short for a tanka, too long for haiku.  Perhaps it is the beginning or end of a longer poem, though right now the rest isn’t working.

Prunes, apricots,
cannery by the tracks.  I bury questions
in my grandfather’s orchard.

Since I’ve been working on a different poem about trying to put my ancestors behind me, I may put this aside for a while.  I have researched all the main lines of my ancestry and after writing John Emerson Roberts: Kansas City’s “Up-to-date” Freethought Preacher (see Books page) I thought I was done.  But here is my grandfather and his orchard once again.P1000200

Meanwhile, in a corner of my yard not as covered in new green shoots, a little clump of purple mat, my favorite local wildflower, is flourishing.  It didn’t have to wait for the rain to get started.  And I have lots of other material to work with while I decide what to do with my new pieces from Napa..

Napa Valley, Land of Sun and Wind

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Napa and its valley are known for wineries, and the territory lives up to expectations.  There are fields of grapes everywhere you look.  I even found a small plot of grapes in a small park in St. Helena, the town where our conference was held.grapes in park

There was a vineyard across the street from where our conference met.  The first day I had time to wander over for a closer look, the plants looked much like the one in the park, the grapes tucked among the leaves.  The next day I went back with my camera and found this:grapes in field

My guess is that this is to give the grapes more sun.  This would also make them easier to pick, but I think the savings in labor at that point would be balanced out by the work of pulling each laden vine down.

My hotel didn’t serve breakfast until 7:00, so I was often up and working on my writing assignments before then.  One morning I looked at the usually empty field outside my window and saw:balloon 1

Though New Mexico is famous for its balloon events, I had never seen one being filled.  A slow process, requiring patience, and from the look of the number of people walking around, considerable co-operation and precision. balloon 2

I continued to watch until the balloon left the ground.   Two people remained behind to fold up the ground cloths which had protected the balloon from the dirt. balloon up

By the time  I left for my workshop, I could find no trace of the balloon in the sky.

Going Out and Getting Back

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I’ve been off at a writers’ conference, without my laptop, and so not blogging.  My “re-entry” has been slow this week; I seem to be way off schedule.

Yesterday I baked bread and also spent time reviewing my recent poems to see what is ready to send out, what might go with what, what needs more work.  Only afterward was I reminded that it was Lammas Day, the cross-quarter day between the summer solstice and the fall equinox.  Lammas celebrates the first harvest; baking bread acknowledges the harvest.  A cross-quarter day is a time for checking on the progress of one’s goals and intentions.

Without being conscious of what I was doing, I was getting back on track with the calendar.

Stevenson Trail

I’ve been at the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference.  I stayed in Calistoga.  On one break I went for a hike in the Robert L. Stevenson State Park.  The drive up twisty Route 29 reminded me of trips along the California coast in my childhood.

Looking Down the Canyon

Looking Down the Canyon

I found a nice trail up to a monument, which marks the spot where Stevenson and his wife stayed in 1880.  There’s nothing left of the structure or any evidence of their having been there except a monument which was set up in 1911.

 Stevenson Memorial


Stevenson Memorial

There’s plenty of attention to Stevenson in the local museums as well, a curious situation considering that he only stayed in the area for a few weeks.  His writings must have been good publicity for the mineral springs of Calistoga.

Recommendation: Eliza Griswold

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Eliza Griswold’s book Wideawake Field is not new.  It was published in 2005, but it describes conditions that are as much with us nine years later as they were then.  Many of her poems are poems of witness; she is a journalist who has worked in many difficult locations.  Other poems focus on relationships, primarily their ending.  Here is one of the poems describing a harsh world:

Monkey

The soldiers are children and the monkey’s young.
He clings to my leg, heart against calf―
a throat filling, refilling with blood.
Last week, the children ate his mother―
dashed her head against the breadfruit.
A young girl soldier laughs,
tears the baby from my leg
and hurls him toward the tree.
See, she says, you have to be rough.
When she was taken, the girl’s
heart too pulsed in her throat.

This poem combines a relationship and her work context:

Hi-Lo Country

Only today did I think of your gear:
chalk bags, cam lube, harness, friends―
all lying about taking care.  You play
with death up there; the good kid’s hit,
risk’s cheap high, like whippets,
ve never done whippets,
and neither have I.  You gasp at the welts
on my back left by Congolese fleas
as if my job were an affliction.
Look at yourself on your knees
in the most beautiful place in the world,
craving fear.  That’s addiction.

She leaves it open which, the speaker or the addressee, is the more addicted.  It seems ― and is certainly appropriate ― that Griswold turned to poetry to help her work through some of the ambiguities of what she has done and what she has seen.  “Authority” describes some of these ambiguities, in remembering a past incident:

The flaming city makes it rain.
The siege has changed the weather.
We lie together on the luggage:
the generator that won’t work,
a poisoned rice sack.
This is so many years ago
and fifteen seconds.
I’m embarrassed to remember
the time before I grew
uncertain about you,
or that I had a right to say
where I had been
and what I saw there.

Griswold says a lot in short, tight poems.  I recommend this book because these poems make vivid some of the situations in the world which flood our news, yet are kept at a distance by the television or computer screen.  This is important work for poetry to do.

 

A Few Thoughts on Poetry and Science

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Galileo is said to have muttered when he was forced to recant the heresy that the earth was not the center of an Aristotelian universe, “E pur si muove.” – “And yet, it moves.”

Muriel Rukeyser, in her essay “The Life of Poetry’ asks the reader, “What is our ‘E pur si muove?’”

This question is in the context of her conviction that poetry and science are similar processes, in which we seek to learn the true relations of things.  And in both cases, she believes that the answers come in the form of questions.

Science is not static; the universe is not static: poetry is not static.  Each moves. And the motion of a poem is motion in time, like music.  Science is not, properly speaking, a study of objects.  The poem is not words or images, which can be separated for study; it is a series of relationships between words and images.

These are a few of the stimulating ideas from Rukeyser’s “The Life of Poetry” first published in 1949 and reprinted in 1996.  By her title she suggests that poetry is living, organic.  Poems do something in the world.

The poet and the scientist are on parallel paths.  I think Rukeyser’s ideas are supported by some of the developments in science since she wrote; the poets may be having trouble keeping up.

Giveaway on Goodreads Ends Soon

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Paley front coverJust a reminder that I am giving away two copies of my book, Made and Remade on Goodreads.  This pre-launch giveaway closes on July 20.

Of course, if you don’t win, you can buy a copy from me by using the contact page.

Here’s a sample from the book.  I’ve organized the poems in six sections, responding to different statements by William Paley.  One is this:

I know no better method of introducing so large a subject, than that of comparing a single thing with a single thing; an eye, for example, with a telescope. As far as the examination of the instrument goes, there is precisely the same proof that the eye was made for vision, as there is that the telescope was made for assisting it.
Natural Theology, 16

And one of my responses to that text is:

Analogies

Treasured image: curved back
of a worker bent in concentration,
watchmaker with tiny tools,

magnifying eyepiece,
or potter with clay-covered hands:
e
ach has a skill prized in its time.

When human minds are
compared to computers, no one calls
God a computer nerd, and though

bodies are treated like machines,
repaired, regulated, no one says,
We are watches.”

We break, are mended
like serviceable jars, more kin to
vulnerable clay than clipped metal.

Paul wrote “earthen
vessels” and it stuck.

Two Tanka (not a pair)

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Travelling disrupts writing just as it disrupts blog posting.  Getting back into the routine (I hope) I’m sharing two brief pieces which came from prompts.  The first was a suggestion to play with the possibilities of homonyms (two words with the same sound or spelling):

Blessings of the light:
leaves, laughter,
his even breath beside me,
the little bulb
that lifts the weight of dark.

One little bulb has a very big effect in a cottage down a dirt road far from any street lights.

Another small piece came from a suggestion to “write the spectrum,” that is, to choose one color and see where it takes you.  There could be a great deal more to say on this subject, but sometimes brevity is more fun:

The Color Purple

 

Burbly, gurgly sound,

the term purports precision:

a dye from Greek shellfish.

It purrs, in regal pose, between

red velvet and blue suede.

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