Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Words and pictures

Or word pictures. That's part of what we do, right?

I'm getting ready for our annual anniversary trip to Lummi Island—our seventh year celebrating our anniversary there and our tenth anniversary.

I thought that maybe I should get a real camera—maybe one of those disposable digital cameras, which is real but not too real—instead of relying the pictures that my cell phone takes.

Then I wondered whether I would still need poems if I had pictures. A momentary anxiety, sung to the drum of "a picture's worth a thousand words." And a face could launch a thousand ships. Anything else?

But it got me thinking about how visual images and written images play off each other and add to each other. And it led me to think about what a poem offers beyond visual images. For me, a visual image is often, or more often than not, a starting point. The poetry part comes in moving beyond that visual image—and sometimes I don't get so far. I think that in The Triggering Town, Richard Hugo calls this "writing off the subject." For me, that's the challenge.

Any tricks, tips, suggestions, or exercises for moving a poem beyond the visual?

And I'll try to get my act together and bring back some photographs.

Friday, July 27, 2007

3…2…1… Launch

My new poetry website: www.poetryonthesofa.com.

Why a website? Why a sofa?

I don't get out much. Other people—some other people—don't get out much. And some of my poems don't get out much.

I remember this wonderful commercial from the '90s in which a woman was lounging on a divan and looking languid and exotic and a salesman was trying to explain to her why she wanted wireless. She looked bored until he said, "It will bring the Internet to your sofa."
She looked up. "To my sofa?!"

I thought, "That's me!" (except for the exotic part).

So I decided to make myself a virtual sofa and supplement my publication efforts by putting some of my poems online—dance poems for my dance friends to read, proverb poems because they work best in a batch, and a few other things.

This is an early version. I plan to add more poems and even more media. I'm also hoping to make it look a little swankier.

But here it is: a little metaphor, a lot of HTML, and maybe a pillow.

Feel free to stop by anytime.

And now, it's time for me to get back to writing.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Friday, July 20, 2007

Not my person, not my personal?

This morning, while riding down the hill, I was thinking about my Camargue poems. Actually, I was thinking about a friend of ours from France and how she might enjoy reading them and maybe, when I really think they're ready, I should just throw them up on my website and skip the whole submission/rejection cycle.

I thought, "No one will want to publish these."

And then I thought, "Why not?"

A block or two later, I thought I might have found an answer: Personal experience.

I'm writing about characters—other people who aren't even real—but they still need to contain something of my real personal experience, those deep down emotions that are central to who I am, who I've become.


Fiction writers must do this all the time. I suspect that Peter has been doing it as he pounds out his novel.

Maybe it's part of that emotional arc. Or (I thought) maybe it's more like acting—specifically, method acting (specifically, the Stanislavsky method one hears, or used to hear, so much about).

Is this an integral part of writing any poem? Am I doing it already and don't realize it? Or have I been holding back, staying on the outside?

(Note: I was never a very good actress.)

I'm not sure. But if there's a flaw in these poems, I suspect this is at least a big part of it.

Do you ever feel like you're missing the personal depths?

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Pushing limits, a little bit at a time

This summer, I'm noticing a difference in my bicycling. It's an incremental (tiny) shift: I'm still the slowest thing on two wheels, but I feel stronger, less tentative, less winded.

I wish I could get that same shift in my poetry, take it up a notch or even two? How to do that, other than writing, writing, writing? Metaphorical hills?

If only my poems were as solid as my calves.

How do you stretch? How do you grow?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Orange-colored glasses

Forget rose—an orange outlook is what you want in gray weather.

This is a strange summer: rain in mid-July. I can't remember the last time this happened. But I am well-equipped.

Earlier in the year, when I bought some glasses for cycling, the pair I picked out came with three sets of lenses: dark for bright days, rose for the other days, and orange.

"What does the orange do?" I asked.

The guy at the bike store said that the orange lenses don't really do anything, except that when you wear them in the rain, they make everything look brighter and they cheer you up.

It's true.

As I rode down hill in the drizzle with my books and clothes stowed in a plastic garbage sack inside my cool-but-not-too-functional KUOW messenger bag, I felt happy. Summer still looked pretty good.

So if the rain has you feeling blue, you might want to find some orange glasses, too.

As for writing, I'm still coding HTML. And I'm getting all my best ideas for and about poetry at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning—which is when my half my brain wants to work and the other half claims that my body needs its beauty sleep. Maybe tonight, one side or the other will win.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

My next obsession

On Thursday, I became the owner of a domain name—and since then, I've been coding, coding, coding HTML. Very little reading, and less writing poetry or even here.

Smarter, or better-prepared, people have software, but I don't, so I've been building a little website in Notepad.

Stay tuned.

You know you're hot when...

you start thinking about drinking from the watering can.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

What's the story?

If last summer was my summer of reading Louise Gluck, this must be my summer for retro reading—first Frank O'Hara and now Roberta Spear. I'm experiencing something in her poetry that I can't quite name, so I'm working on that.

I thought I'd start with the Gregory Orr four elements (and throw a little rhythm analysis in).

  • Music

  • Imagination

  • Story

  • Form
I got as far as imagination and story—but as soon as I think there's a story, I want to be able to follow it. Maybe it's my secret fiction writer sneaking in again.

What do you think? If you can follow a poem, do you need to follow it to the end? Or is that inhibiting or restricting the mystery that is so much a part of so many poems?

So delicate, even in this heat

Monday, July 9, 2007

Red, red wine

I spent the weekend in the Sonoma and Napa valleys California, tagging along with my husband to wineries. We went on tours and asked questions, and I learned more about the process of making wine—especially red wine: the pump-over, and the racking, and the fining (no one ever wants to tell you much about that), the fermentation processes and yeast and barrels and temperature and most definitely aging.

Any wine maker has his or her own little tricks and variations, but the basic idea is the same: certain processes need to be done at certain times so that the grapes you crush become the wine that you want to enjoy.

I've heard people talk about putting your poems in a drawer for—oh, say, two years. I've never been good at that. When I think a poem is ready, after x number of revisions and comments from a poet friend or my poetry group, I'm ready to try it out on the real world.

What if I put it in a barrel for 18 months or a couple of years? What if I revisited it at periodic intervals and tried different things—give the poem, or myself, time to mature?

What's the rush? (That opens its own barrel of questions.)

Maybe it's time I become more patient, build the barrel time into my work.

What about you? Do you hold onto your poems, even after many revisions, and give them time to rest—or give yourself time to gain some new perspectives that you can bring to them?

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

We were talking about bacon

We were talking about photography, Alfons the Dutch photographer and I. Specifically, we were talking about food photography and all the crazy, wacky things that food photographers and stylists do to make pizza cheese look gooey or to make bacon look crisp.

(We didn't discuss how they make a lemon meringue pie look extra delectable, but I've heard that tricks are involved there, too.)

Alfons pointed out that when you're cooking bacon, you can smell it and hear it sizzle, and your brain records all of these sensory details so that when the bacon comes to you on a plate and has already begun to dull (Alfons said, "coagulate"), you look past the visual. Your nose and your ears tell you that it's all good.

I came back to that conversation suddenly, while reading "Gravity and Center" by Henri Cole. At the end of the poem, I read:

or the sound of water poured in a bowl.

and I heard it, and I felt so grateful for that.

Perhaps it was the juxtaposition of the sensory and concrete coming after more abstract images. The entire passage reads:

…I want nothing
to reveal feeling but feeling—as in freedom,
or the knowledge of peace in a realm beyond,
or the sound of water poured in a bowl.

but it made me wonder about how much I rely in my poetry on visual stimuli, at the expense of other senses.

Which senses do you use most in your poems? All of them? Which senses do you bring to your readers?


Check it out: Molly Tenenbaum's poem from Meridian on the Verse Daily website.


I've been giving some more thought to the Bemsha Swing/Jonathan Mayhew angles of approach—particularly the idea of suggesting instead of telling or even showing. I love that! I think that I probably almost never get there in my own work.

And I realized that as I'm working on this narrative, made-up-myth series, I'm spending even more images telling. It's a story. At five in the morning, when all I could find to write on was an old pizza take-out menu (why did I have a pizza take-out menu in my nightstand?), my rambling musing led me to this muse:

My secret fiction writer lives
in a shoebox under my bed. Instead
of a decoder ring or a slim self-help volume,
I have this muse I seldom use.
And she is crafty, revising
her cardboard home with silks
and stories, then sneaking into my dreams.
She wants more, wants to stir a plot,
tell all, find out how it ends.

And then:

A poem is the death of sleep—
each image dragging me toward morning,
the futile repetition of each line
building into the next,
as though I could save them
until I found a pen.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Quick trivia question

Who was the mother of Icarus?

I'm feeling nostalgic already

Yesterday, kind of on our way home from the ferry dock, Tom and I stopped at Green Lake to see what the Poetess at Green Lake was up to on her last Sunday of a year of Sundays.

We walked the labyrinth and drew our circles and pinned them on the line. Then we each drew a card for our one-question interview.

(And after we left, I realized that I forgot to get even one crummy phone picture.)

On her site, aka Allin says:

The people I have come to know at Green Lake say they will miss me, they will miss the poet, the poet's presence. Do you hear?! They will miss the poet! That means they will be looking for you.

Dear Poets,
Have you heard? The world misses you!

Dear Poets,
They need you. They want you.

Dear Poets,
Wait at the door no more. Go to them.

What are we waiting for? What cool and unusual and friendly ways can we live and work as poets not just in our writing community but in our whole community?

I don't think I can come up with any ideas that are even a tenth as inspired as hers—but I guess that shouldn't stop me from trying.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Visual, visceral

This weekend, we took the ferry and spent some time on Vashon Island. While driving around the island, I drank in all the scenes: water and mountains and marinas and cyclists and thick woods and the occasional horse or some sheep.

I tried to remember all the images that I was seeing and I thought about how—although poetry evokes all the senses—it often relies heavily on the visual, what we've seen, and what we remember we've seen. I'm pretty sure that in my own poetry, I seek to bring forth what I've seen.

Yet recently someone describe one poem that I wrote as visceral. That intrigued me, because I tend to think of visceral as both raw and physiological. It made me wonder how that translates into a poem (regardless of subject matter). Is it a word choice? Is it the sounds of the words? A Saxon versus Latin approach? Or is it an underlying feeling that surfaces just under both subject and language?

How do you go for, or bring forth, the gut?

What senses do you look for, or try to open, in a poem?