Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Absolutely subjective

And possibly rambling.

A few days ago, someone asked what I thought of A Village Life, the new book of poems by Louis Gluck. I had taken it with me on my trip, saving it until I had time to stretch out in the sun and immerse myself in it.

After a first reading, I felt a little disappointed. Like when you eat a really good meal, but it wasn't what you were hoping for. J.W. Marshall once said that a book of poems is like a record album—you might buy an album and if one or two songs are fabulous, you're happy—even if you skip most of the rest of them. That makes sense. Still, I felt something was missing.

I figured maybe I wasn't being fair. Maybe I read it through to quickly. So I started through again.

And I realized that some of the poems really took me with them. And others didn't. I took a closer look.

To me, the poems that feel strongest, the most satisfying, speak from the strongest voices. When Gluck is writing in a persona, as in "At the River," "Walking at Night," and "A Slip of Paper," the poems feel genuine, and I can feel a part of the poem.

The poems that are written more generally, such as "Pastoral," "Tributaries," and "Earthworm," first struck me as kind of detached but without any reference to the detachment, to why the poem is written in the voice of an outsider, often with an outsider's syntax. Even those poems are fierce, but the discord between their ferocity and their detachment wasn't working for me. As the speaker is outside, it put me outside of the poem.

Yes, I'm making a hell of a lot of assumptions here. Like I said, it's subjective.

And as I'm reading them over and over, they are growing on me. I'm starting to wonder whether my initial reaction was based on just a few words.

I'll keep backpedaling: It probably isn't fair for me to expect a poet, even a favorite poet, to write the poems I want him or her to. And that might be what I'm asking for—as though I hoped for the voice from Averno and the milieu of this village. Who do I think I am?

And maybe those are the poems that I need to write.

I'll keep reading through it, and I've learned a lot more about voice—or, at least, what I'm looking for in voice. Maybe even
more about the you.

Have you read it? What do you think (about the book, about voice, about expectations, about life)?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

More about You

A while back I wrote about how Linda Hull's poems invite the reader and include a "you" in a poem.

When I write my poems, I don't know who the you is. If I write in second person, the you is often a disguise for I (me), but that isn't the same as a dialogue, of telling someone a story, of sharing something. I want to explore that sharing more.

Sure, you're writing a poem. You're spilling your guts or your thoughts on the page, but that isn't the same as sharing something or confiding in someone—and hear I want to steer clear of the idea of confessional poetry, which seems to be more like the guts spilling.

But maybe not having a specific you is the most confessional poetry—a broad guts-spilling to the world. Not that that's bad, but it might be trickier, because the more people you try to talk to, the more likely you are to dilute your message. And if you (I) talk only to yourself (myself), are you excluding everyone else?

I think I write a lot of my poems with my primary reader/reviewer in mind. That might be to please her or it might be because of what I've learned from her. Is she the you, or is the you me, or the me I will be when I read the poem later? That doesn't sound like much of a conversation, and it doesn't sound specific enough to inform the writing, to strengthen it.

With the you in Hull's poems, a we grows. It's that invitation. But do all my poems need to be written this way? I also don't want this to sound formulaic. I don't think it is. At least, I don't think it needs to be, but when I talk about Hull, I worry that it's sounding like a formula, and that isn't what I mean.

I think a lot about audience. I know that some poets don't think about audience at all, and write purely for themselves. That's a choice, but it isn't mine.

Back to that question of who is the you? Is it different in each poem (even if it's currently inexplicit), and if I'm writing in a series, is it the same for each poem in the series?

If I write the same poem but with a different you—general reader, sister, daughter, husband, one friend, another friend—how will that change the poem?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

At the Viceroy

Our little home away from home, in Palm Springs.
The view from the front porch.

The view from the back patio.

The back patio.

Another look at our front yard...

Visiting the neighborhood

Where we stayed in Pasadena, with wonderful people and their dogs and their cat. We threw the balls for the dog every night we had light.
Shiloh, a member of my entourage. (We don't have a dog, but we love to visit.)
Tom walking Body, the other member of the entourage, through the neighborhood.
Welcome to Pasadena!

Just another house in the neighborhood. (I tried to get a close-up, but it's hard to take a picture while holding the leash of a strong dog.)
We walked out in search of the Blacker House, and here it is.

Pictures from an exhibition in Pasadena

Here is our booth at the Pasadena Heritage Craftsman Weekend.

Here is the crush at the neighboring pottery booth. The first fifteen minutes is always a zoo, and Tom wanted me to get a picture.
We had a fun time at the show, and then we loaded all our furniture back on the truck (in two hours, which is record time!).

Congratulations to Kelli for winning the White Pine Press Poetry Prize. Kelli's work inspires me, and I'm looking forward to reading her new book, Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Greetings from Red Bluff

Three successive Adopt-a-Highway signs:

The B'hai Faith


Part of the solution

Even before that, I saw a sign that said Jefferson State Chamber. And Tom spotted the hay barn with "The State of Jefferson" painted on the roof. I see it every trip, and was glad I didn't miss it.

What is the State of Jefferson? I'm not sure, but I love it (although earlier I kept calling it the Mythic Republic of Jefferson; I guess it's a State and not a Republic). The folks at Jefferson Public Radio probably know. It seems to straddle the Oregon-California line.

Crazy weather this trip, with blinding cloud bursts. We're both glad that I wasn't driving. But the dry patches were beautiful, especially driving through the Mount Shasta National Forest. We both remembered that last year we were driving that stretch in the dark while listening to the Presidential debates. This year, we had enough twilight to enjoy the pines and the hills and what peaks we could see amid the low-hanging clouds, the traveling mist.

Then we made a quick stop in Redding and drove that magical half hour to Red Bluff, dusk descending over grasslands and oaks, the road mostly flat and mostly straight.

I thought I'd work on poems or think about poems or read poems in the truck. I did not. Tomorrow continues to be another day.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

I'm sensing a theme

Racking the Cabernet Sauvignon that we pressed yesterday into a barrel.

Getting a little more wine out of the tank, very carefully.

Topping off the barrel.

Two full barrels = heavy.

The wand in a bin of Cabernet Franc.

The pump is on, and the level is going down...

and down...

...and the tank is filling up.

This is looking a lot like yesterday.

Jamie wants to press out the last drop.

It's looking a little surreal.

Grape cake.


Yesterday, we pressed Cabernet Sauvignon. Tom had already started when I arrived with the requested additional containers for the surplus wine.

Wine making involves a lot of cleaning.

Cranking the press.

The pressed grapes glisten through the basket slats.

Pressed juice rushing into the bucket.

A beautiful grape cake. It looks almost like some richly embroidered fabric.

A good shot of the grape cake.

The next step was to dig into that cake and load it all into bags for later composting. It's fun to break off big chunks and try to load them without spilling skins all over the ground (messy). And, that mass is warm. After our second press, I was doing this in the dark, I had cold water inside my gloves, and my feet were numb. I really looked forward to getting into the warm center of that mass of grape skins.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Inviting your reader to the poem

A while back, VioletWrites made a comment about how when she sits down to write, her muse always joins her. That made me wonder whether I ever invite my muse to a writing session. Do I? Do you?

I hope she'll show up, but do I consciously inviter her? I don't think so.

Recently I've been rereading Lynda Hull, and I've noticed that not only do her poems often
move from a present observation to a past experience, but that she often if not always has another person in the poem.

She is speaking to someone, whether it's a someone from her past or an undefined You or a clearly defined You as the reader. It's a part of her voice, a part of the way she comes to writing and sorting through the various truths. And that You, no matter who it is, helps invite me as a reader into the poem.

It's given me something to think about.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Catching up

Busy doings chez nous. Tom has been leaving early and staying late to punch down the wine. Last Tuesday and Wednesday, I made it out of the house with him.
Yes, this is in the morning.

Carbon dioxide escapes as part of the fermentation process, and bubbles up. (Sorry you can't see the bubbling action.)

Two barrels of fermenting Chardonnay.

One big bucket of fermenting Chardonnay. It has just started (and it doesn't look like wine, but it does look like fermentation).

Using the high-tech setup to pull out some Merlot for brix measurements.

Measuring the brix.

The next day, that Chardonnay is really cooking. And the shop does smell like bread rising. It's all about the yeast (for now).

This past Saturday, we crushed two more tons of grapes, a ton of Cabernet Franc and a ton of Cabernet Sauvignon. The grapes were pretty, and pretty sticky, and we were all pretty tired by the end of it. I don't have pictures because I was putting all my energy into getting it done. But maybe tomorrow I can make it to that early morning punch-down.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


Do you ever start to feel itchy when you haven't had a chance to write?