Poetry in Conversation: Come, Thief…

Poetry exists as a conversation, between the self and others, between the self and the self, between one time and other times. One of the best things about reading poetry widely and deeply is that eventually your own poetry becomes part of that conversation. You write poems that bearing “the fingerprint” of another poem.

Over the last week, the blog of the Best American Poetry series has featured Brian Boudrey conversing Jane Hirshfield. At the same time, I’ve been re-reading Jane’s new collection Come, Thief. I don’t want to give away too much about it because I’d like to write a full review later this week. I’ve always found Hirshfield’s work complex, even when that complexity is sheathed in a very simple diction. This collection is no different as it weaves topics such as illness, death, ephemeral beauty, as well as a plum tree and deer. Boudrey points out in his interview that Hirshfield is a storytelling poet, to which she responds (in part, I’ve only included a bit):

But one reason for poetry’s existence is that it expands what’s possible to be said, what’s possible to be comprehended, and also expands the ways a person has of doing those things. Stories are part of that, and also the adjective “telling”—that holds some of the intention I think you’re seeing here. A poem wants to tell something telling, wants the telling detail, wants the slip of incident that holds a world. It wants the “tell” in poker: the gesture that reveals more than the player would choose to show, yet can’t quite conceal. You hear a story that feels “telling” in that way, or learn some fact that stays with you, and it waits for its poem the way certain seeds wait for a fire before they can germinate.

Hirshfield’s playful examination of the word tell and all its implications gives you some idea of the depth that each word holds in her work. Boudrey’s interview of her is a little craft talk about diction and line-break and form, as well as intent. Please read the rest of the interview starting here: The Best American Poetry Blog.

And for those of you who haven’t read any of Jane’s work, here’s an amazing villanelle from the collection:

A Hand Is Shaped For What It Holds Or Makes

A hand is shaped for what it holds or makes.
Time takes what’s handed to it then—warm bread, a stone,
a child whose fingers touch the page to keep her place.

Beloved, grown old separately, your face
shows me the changes on my own.
I see the histories it holds, the argument it makes

against the thresh of trees, the racing clouds, the race
of birds and sky birds always lose:
the lines have ranged, but not the cheek’s strong bone.
My fingers touching there recall that place.

Once we were one. Then what time did, and hands, erased
us from the future we had owned.
For some, the future holds what hands release, not make.

We made a bridge. We walked it. Laced
night’s sounds with passion.
Owls’ pennywhistles, after, took our place.

Wasps leave their nest. Wind takes the papery case.
Our wooden house, less easily undone,
now houses others. A life is shaped by what it holds or makes.
I make these words for what they can’t replace.

~Jane Hirshfield

Fireweed – harbinger of change

The fireweed is blossoming. In Alaska, fireweed is the measure of summer’s longevity. When the blossoms reach the top of the spire, the season is officially over. Even though the sides of the road a beautiful smudge of brilliant purple blossoms, the weather has already turned a bit. The dark comes a little earlier. I’ve been awake for sunset for the past few nights.

Usually August 1st is my cue to get serious about planning for the upcoming school year. This year, I won’t be returning to the classroom (yet, I’m teaching adjunct at the local college but not until next semester). This year, I’m deeming August 1st my deadline to start getting serious about submitting my work to journals for publication. This month, I’m going to set up a schedule for revising and submitting and make it a habit.

Without a steady work schedule, I fear that I won’t get anything done. In the great book Art & Fear, authors David Bayles and Ted Orland admit that “the hardest part of artmaking is living your life in a such a way that your work gets done, over and over – and that means, among other things, finding a host of practices that are just plain useful.” And so, I am considering what practices are useful to my own style of artmaking.

I’ve been an “evening” writer because my day job precluded writing in the mornings – I was always mentally at my day gig as soon as I got up. These days, mornings are quiet encounters of contract work, reading, and tea and toast on the front porch. As many other poets, I do best when I read a little published poetry as a warm-up and then proceed to my drafting notebook. So, for August, whenever possible, I will start the day with tea, poetry and drafting, which I hope will gracefully segue into some revision. I will use Friday mornings for submitting for publication.

I’ll let you know if this practice is “just plain useful” in helping me get the work done, over and over. I highly recommend Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking; I’m half-way through the book and almost every page has some sort of annotation enthusiastically scribbled onto it.

Confession Tuesday – the glass vessel version

Tomorrow at 5:30pm, the gracious and talented Linda Martin and I will be reading poetry at the Bunnell Street Art Center in Homer. I encourage those of you who live nearby to come listen, and those of you who don’t to lend us some mental support and check out the Bunnell’s webpage because it’s an amazing organization.

I confess that even though I seem like an extrovert to most people, an impending public reading exacerbates all my introversion. I sent my reading list to Linda about a week ago, but now, what I’d really like to do is cut it in half. Get up there, get out, not talk to anyone, go home, sit on the porch and watch the cottonwood seeds drift about in the wind.

I confess that part of me is afraid that no one will come, which is foolish because Linda is a beloved local person and I’m sure that many of her friends will be in attendance to support her. However, I am not a beloved local person, so I suspect that some folks are going to see me as an impediment to the main act. Linda was so gracious to invite me join her in this reading; I hope her generosity doesn’t backfire.

I confess that some day I’d like a single person in the audience to feel half as transported as I felt during Li-Young Lee’s poetry reading. I’d like one person to feel the hairs on his/her scalp rise like I did during Rita Dove’s reading. Maybe even one day, someone will shed a few tears of recognition as I did during Naomi Shihab Nye’s reading. Writing without an audience is half of an act – the connection between poet and audience (present or via the printed word) is culmination of the act.

In order to make connections, we need to risk exposure. In other words, drop our protection and be open to view. My goal tomorrow is to be a transparent vessel for my poetry so that one person in the audience might find something worthwhile to take with them. Wish me luck.