Hiding the brush strokes

 

mad menA friend forwarded an article from Matthew Weiner  (the creator of the TV series Mad Men)  on writing. He makes the point that writers often pretend there’s little work involved in creating their final piece, but that the process is slow, full of visions and revisions, false starts, painful changes.

Anyone who has ever sat down to write is faced with the gap between what they feel is good writing and what is happening on the page at that moment. I occasionally look back at old drafts of my best poems, sometimes 12 or 19 of them, which I shove in a folder called “Prev.” I am almost always shocked by how truly awful they are. One’s taste evolves, and one’s work rarely can keep pace.

The article is worth a read, but here is my favorite quote: Continue reading

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My one day as a poetry teacher

E.-E.-Cummings-150x150In tenth grade, I convinced my teacher to let me do a unit on poetry.  I started with this poem by e. e. cummings, which is labeled simply “20” in his 100 selected poems, which I still have.

It is battered and dogeared. I was very fond of it for many years, although it has now been more years since I have opened it.

20

she being Brand

-new;and you
know consequently a
little stiff I was
careful of her and (having

thoroughly oiled the universal
joint tested my gas felt of
her radiator made sure her springs were O.

K.)i went right to it flooded-the-carburetor cranked her

up,slipped the
clutch (and then somehow got into reverse she
kicked what
the hell) next
minute i was back in neutral tried and

again slo-wly;bare,ly nudg.       ing(my

lev-er Right-
oh and her gears being in
A 1 shape passed
from low through
second-in-to-high like
greasedlightning) just as we turned the corner of Divinity

avenue i touched the accelerator and give

her the juice,good

                              (it
was the first ride and believe I we was
happy to see how nice and acted right up to
the last minute coming back down by the Public
Gardens I slammed on
the Continue reading

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An exemplary sentence

Sentence DiagramHow have I missed Dennis Lehane until now? I just read (according to the book jacket) his 12th book, The Drop. It’s a stunner.

It’s hard to know which sentences to quote. Here are a few. Chovka is a Chechen mob Boss. Bob is a quiet man, an underling:

“Chovka nodded. He was concentrating on his phone, texting away like a sixteen-year-old girl during school lunch. When he finished texting, he put the phone away and stared at Bob for a very long time. If Bob had to guess, he’d say the silence went on for thee minutes, maybe four. Felt like two days. Not a soul moving in that bar, not a sound but that of six men breathing. Chovka stared into Bob’s eyes and then past his eyes and over his heart and through his blood. Continue reading

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Danusha Laméris

lamerisI was so lucky to read with Danusha Laméris at the Poetry World Series last May. This is from her book, The Moons of August. If you don’t know who Temple Grandin is, her book is worth reading, too.

Interview

for Temple Grandin

She said it was because she could think like a cow.
That maybe the autism helped her understand
how to design the curved corrals
so they’d flow more easily through the gates.

The harness that held the dairy cow waiting to be milked
made sense to her. She wanted to be inside it, to feel the world
pressing away, something not a human touch. Continue reading

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Busy, busy, busy

cat's cradle3Did you ever read Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Cat’s Cradle? It’s one I read in my early twenties, and certain phrases and coinages have entered my personal lexicon: your karass is basically your tribe–the people that you are destined to meet. A duprass is a karass of two very tightly bound people, and a granfalloon is a false karass, people who identify with something essentially trivial and meaningless. I think he uses the example “Hoosiers.” In the book, there is a religion, called Bokononism–you’ll have to read the book to get the full description. But “Busy, busy, busy” is what a Bokononist says when confronted with the mysterious, unfathomably complicated workings of life. Continue reading

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Chana Bloch

chana-imageYesterday I heard Chana read recent poems, most about her diagnosis of terminal cancer. She was incandescent and spoke of how a fatal disease can also be a gift, focusing the mind, the spirit, on what’s important. She mentioned that her first book started with a group of poems about her father’s death, and the irony that her career is completing itself with this new work, on contemplating her own death. I don’t have any of the new poems, “still a work in progress,” Chana says, but here is one about her father:

 

Marriage

Theirs was the one with the noisy bedsprings.
How does a child solve a riddle like that?
Scritchity-screech
—are they fighting again?

Theirs was a marriage of drums and cymbals,
a clashing-and-carping, nagging-and-clamoring
performed day in, day out.                      Continue reading

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A book from Larry

TsvetaevaI received a mysterious email from Larry (who is in New York), telling me he had bought and sent me a book from the Strand . It arrived today–a lovely copy of poems by Marina Tsvetaeva, a Russian poet from the early 20th century. Like her compatriots, her life was tragic–you can look it up if you like. Still, her lyrics still soar: Continue reading

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The Blue Buick

fairchildI’ve just renewed The Blue Buick from U C Library for the third time, which means I’ve had it almost three months now. Guess I need to buy a copy.

These mostly long poems of a man who grew up in Kansas, son of a machine shop owner, are unique. They have a specificity and a narrative beauty that pins me in place. Here is one of the shorter ones, to give you a hint of what they’re like:

Hearing Parker the First Time

The blue notes spiraling up from the transistor radio
tuned to WNOE, New Orleans, lifted me out of bed
in Seward County, Kansas, where the plains wind riffed
telephone wires in tones less strange than the bird songs

of Charlie Parker. I played high school tenor sax the way,
I thought, Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young might have
if they were, like me, untalented and white, but “Ornithology”
came winding up from the dark delta of blues and Dixieland Continue reading

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A late summer recipe

IMG_2949Looking at a row of jars of freshly made jam is a summer pleasure. Especially when the jam is such a lovely golden color. Each year, with pears from my friend’s tree, I make this simple and delicious recipe. The whole thing can be made in a food processor. The citrus cuts the sugar, and the ginger adds spice. Don’t stir much, and don’t overcook, the jam is done just as the pears turn translucent.

IMG_2951Mother’s Ginger Pear

4 lbs pears
1 1/2 oranges
1 small lemon
1 2/3 lb sugar
1/4 lb ginger
2 cinnamon sticks

Continue reading

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What you can do with a poem

I somehow encountered a time warp this week, and Monday is long past. Even Tuesday, and here it is Wednesday, and despite being fully “retired” I have not had the moment to sit down and put up a poem for Monday.  Time simply telescoped and disappeared.

iliadBut I have been reading a rather wonderful recreation of An Iliad by Alessandro Baricco, translated by the incomparable Anna Goldstein. Baricco had the idea of reading the entire Iliad in public, as it was done in the Homeric world. He adapted the poem for public reading, editing “to suit the patience of a modern audience.” His notes on this process are a poem in themselves, and the result was performed in fall 2004. He comments:

“For the record I’d like to say that more than ten thousand (paying) people were present at the two readings, and that Italian radio broadcast the Rome performance live, to the great satisfaction of drivers on the road and people at home. Numerous cases were confirmed of people who sat in their parked cars for hours, unwilling to turn off the radio. All right, perhaps they were sick of their families, but, anyway, this is just to say that it went very well.”

Here’s the opening, titled Chryseis: Continue reading

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