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Happy Feast of Brighid

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I thought of calling this post “Stupid Groundhog” but why be so negative?  That “Will there be six more weeks of winter?” question was meaningless back in Pennsylvania, where I knew I couldn’t get out in the garden until late March – and then only on good days.  It is equally meaningless here in the desert southwest where this is the beginning of spring.  But I suppose there must be some place where the question is worth asking.

I’ve celebrated the Feast of Brighid instead for several years now.  She is a Celtic goddess who is also a patron saint of poetry and smithcraft,  I use this date as a moment to consider what I’ve accomplished since the solstice, and ask whether there’s anything I’d like to do differently in the approximately six weeks until the spring equinox, that official start of spring.  Working for myself, I don’t have any deadlines to speak of, so a check-up point seems like a good idea.  But, since an artist never really knows where she’s going, it is all approximate.

One thing I do know.  This is the date when I realize that once again I am behind on the garden work.  So many plants should be cut back in January, I never get to them all.

Close up of rosemary branches that need to be cut back.

Close up of rosemary branches that need to be cut back.

After the Snow

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We had a serious snowstorm – for southern New Mexico – last week.  The Superintendent of Schools didn’t think it was bad enough to close schools, with the result that there were five or seven children in classes that officially numbered 20.  They ended up closing early.  Two days later, everywhere the sun could reach had melted.  The shady areas took a few days longer.

I went out to see how the garden had fared in the snow.  The parsley was very happy.  parsleyThe rosemary decided it’s time to start blooming.rosemary flowerI decided to bring a few branches indoors to add some green to my study.  rosemary in vaseI hadn’t thought about how much rosemary looks like an evergreen tree until I started working with these close-ups.  It’s leaves are like fir or spruce.  And I found one source on odors of herbs in cooking, which calls rosemary “piney.”   Looking at the vase of rosemary in my study, I started playing with these ideas.

An untitled work in progress

What’s rosemary to you?  When Ophelia
said “remembrance” I pictured
a soft leaf to brush against the cheek,
not this sturdy stiff-needled bush.
This kind of memory stays green,
refuses to go away, an ugly scene
replaying from an old movie.

Words From Mary Ruefle

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“Metaphor is not, and never has been, a mere literary term.  It is an event. . . .   If you believe that metaphor is an event, and not just a literary term denoting comparison, then you must conclude that a certain philosophy arises: the philosophy that everything in the world is connected.”
(“Madness, Rack and Honey,” p. 131)

“Altogether, I think we ought to read only books that bite and sting us.  If the book we are reading doesn’t shake us awake like a blow to the skull, why bother reading it in the first place?”
(“Someone Reading a Book Is a Sign of Order in the World,” p. 191)

“A poem is a finished work of the mind, it is not the work of a finished mind.”
(“Kangaroo Beach,” p. 222)

“I remember “remember” means to put the arms and legs back on, and sometimes the head.”
(“I Remember, I Remember,” p. 245)

SHORT LECTURE IN THE FORM OF A COURSE DESCRIPTION
My idea for a class is you just sit in the classroom and read aloud until everyone is smiling, and then you look around, and if someone is not smiling you ask them why, and then you keep reading―it may take many different books―until they start smiling, too.”
(“Twenty-two Short Lectures,” p. 255)

“When students are searching for their voice, they are searching for poetry.  When they find their voice, they will have found poetry.  When they find poetry, they will live to regret it.”
(“Twenty-two Short Lectures,” p. 259)

“I will tell you that if you think I know something or anything, I am just pretending to know as a way to pass the time.  Personally I think we should all be in our rooms writing.”
(“Lectures I Will Never Give,” p. 279)

These statements come from Mary Ruefle’s book of lectures/essays, Madness, Rack and Honey. There is plenty more in the book to savor, ponder, and even question―or to play with as a prompt, if you like.  Ruefle is a complex person, as these samples suggest, and she doesn’t worry about smoothing over complexities or contradictions.

Ruefle has published several books of poetry.  She is also known for “erasures” in which she takes a printed page and removes all but a few scattered words to make her artistic statement.  See http://www.maryruefle.com.

September Revisited II

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No pictures this time.  I shared pictures from an afternoon reading I did for my new book soon after it happened in September (see “We Had A Party” posted September 28).  There was also an evening reading, which was not so well suited to photographs.  Instead, I got a poem out of it.

The poem is in a form developed by Allison Joseph. She calls it a sweetelle.  The form is ten lines of fourteen syllables each, with the first, fifth and tenth lines identical.

Introduction

Thank you for this fine occasion to read from my new book
though this is a dark corner and the microphone will not
stay put.  I’m stalling in the hope that others will appear.
Vain hope, false promises; it’s past the time we should begin:
Thank you for this fine occasion to read from my new book.
But it’s not new to me.  More than a year in production
since I signed that contract.  No additions since.  Take a look
at the cover, another’s work.  Inside, it comes to this:
I’d like to introduce you to some friends from former years.
Thank you for this fine occasion to read from my new book.

At first, I thought the name “sweetelle” meant that the subject should be sweet – something I’m not very good at. It has since occurred to me that the name may have been chosen to point out that this is a form with repeated lines which is not to be confused with the “villa(i)nelle.”

I learned about this form through a post which Joseph mistakenly posted on her CRWROPPS list, and then explained. The acronym stands for Creative Writers Opportunities list, which can be found at: https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/CRWROPPS-B. If you are a writer, especially a poet or short fiction writer, you will find this a great resource.

Launching My New Book

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Paley front coverMy first full-length poetry book is out! I will be giving readings from it locally at the following locations:

Palacio Bar, Mesilla
Tuesday, September 16
7:30 p.m.

This is the regular monthly SPLAT open reading night, the third Tuesday of the month.  I will be featured at the beginning of the readings at 8:00 p.m.  (Come at 7:30 to get your beverage and/or sign up to read after my presentation.

Café de Mesilla
2190 Ave. de Mesilla
Saturday, September 20
3:00 p.m.

I will be reading shortly after 3:00 p.m., so be on time!  I will read a different set of poems, so if you’d like to come both times just to support me, I certainly wouldn’t mind.  I will have plenty of copies available at both events.

For those of you who aren’t in the area, I have a give-away going on Goodreads:

https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/enter_choose_address/107114-made-and-remade

It runs from now until September 20.  And you can also use the contact page here to get in touch with me about getting a copy in the mail.

I would like to schedule other readings in partnership with other poets.  They will be listed here when/if they happen.

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..

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.

Goodreads Giveaway for Made and Remade

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Paley front coverI am offering two copies of my book Made and Remade in a pre-launch giveaway on Goodreads.  Go to https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22163304-made-and-remade if you’d like to sign up.

The proper launch for the book will be in September, with readings in Las Cruces.  If you’d like to invite me to come to your area and share a reading with someone, I can do that too!  I’ll be lining things up soon.

If you don’t win the giveaway, which ends July 20, use the contact page if you’d like to get a book.

 

This is the opening poem in the collection:

Obsession

for Polly

I’m fixed on this book
like a three-year-old on trucks,
a five-year-old on dinosaurs.  You could
make it my motif, were I young
enough for birthday parties.

Language to sift and savor
artfully, skillfully portrays
a world of fixed order, art
and skilled contrivance.
This balance
wavers as I wonder
at that world’s collapse in
swings, cycles, evolving
life, shifting earth.

Mechanistic views dissolve in
reality’s wash and rub.  I
turn and read again for fragments,
museum quality gems of evidence
for a long dead argument, a fresh fix
of fine writing, proceeding
from a fine mind.

 

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