18 October, 2006


I have violated three Wednesdays in a row in the name of business. The first was a freelance pr piece, because I needed the money. The second was a make-up day with my regular client, because I needed the money. Last Wednesday started out with a round of essay submissions to various editors, and working on the new banner design for my non-fiction prose blog, Notes to Self.

I woke up this morning with a grim determination to Write Poems. Then I popped over to Keri's place on a recommendation from friend, and was reminded that it doesn't work that way. My poetself is sick and starving at the moment. You can count her rib bones. I could probably wring something out of her with the sweatshop approach, but she'd eventually collapse, escape or stage a mutiny.

Keri writes, "Oh, how we pressure ourselves...Who would you be if you stopped trying so hard? Contemplate that just for a moment. Sit with it if you dare. What if you didn't produce a thing for the next while? "

Reading this, I felt like tipping my head to one side. I was like the dog in the old Gary Larson cartoon, "What Dogs Hear". "Blah blah blah Ginger. Blah blah Ginger. Blah blah." I could recognize my name in it, but the rest was foreign. Not produce? Like, intentionally, without guilt?

It might take me a while.

In the meantime, Keri's mention of filling her house with the smells of curry and incense inspired me. That I can do. And, come to think of it, need to do.

I have been struggling these past few months, with ego, ambition, expectations and desire. I'm not done struggling. I am going to clutch those things a little longer, maybe until my palms bleed. I don't know yet how to release them. I have felt terrible about it, too, because I "should" know better. (Apparently, the same sweatshop boss who runs my creative life doubles as my spiritual director). I castigate myself for coming down with this soulsickness, when what I need to do is nurture myself while it runs its course.

I can't heal it. But I can be healed.

So today I am invoking the kitchen gods. The curry is simmering. I have baked almond cookies. Sunshine is streaming over the sink. In a moment I will set the table for two, and invite Patrick to take a lunch break with me.

Then I might go for a long, long walk, with Keri's suggestion folded up carefully in my heart like a note from a schoolmate written in secret code.

07 October, 2006

Has it really been ten days since my last post? God, I feel like I do when I realize I haven't fed the hermit crabs in days. Are any of you still there?

I have been far, far away, both geographically and internally, but I'm back now. I find I am starting to move into poetmind again, which involves a certain degree of drift. Bear with me. Eventually, I look up and follow the needle back north.

I have been sketching a little (see photographic evidence above). I am a very painterly poet in terms of my work habit. I like to start in freehand, preferably black felt tip ink. I jot down images and ideas in a very loose, barely legible scrawl, because I am not ready to commit to any one of them just yet. I like either a ruled, white pad or a folded piece of computer paper, but the backside of anything will do. The notes above are made on the back of another poem I had hanging around in my purse. When people learn I am a poet, they often bring me books of poems and fancy notebooks. I am grateful for the gesture, but actually both those items are terrible creative blocks for me. The poetry books because they pile up unread, and make me feel guilty. I do read other people's poetry, but I generally have to come to it in my own way. And the notebooks go likewise untouched, because they suggest a kind of permanance and importance that is like lead in my hand.

As the poem begins to take shape, I move to the word processor, where I still have fluidity, but the typed words are at arm's length, and I can edit and shape more objectively. The process is one of expansion and contraction, where I start with a lot of loose, raw material and then start distilling it down to the essence. What can be cut? What has to stay? What is asking coming into the foreground, and what needs to fade back? Most difficult and necessary of all, what must I sacrifice altogether? In my best poems, there is one line, one idea or image that I cling to for as long as possible before finally, painfully, cutting it loose. As with painting, there is a lot of layering that is not visible at the surface level, because I have overwritten it, but I believe it adds depth that is perceptible. At least when it works.

My poems need to work lyrically, so I do a lot of reading aloud as I go. Something that looks fine on paper doesn't necessarily succeed orally. In the final ajudacation, I go with mouth feel.

I will usually continue to tweak and nitpit for days after the so-called final draft. I will move a single word or punctuation mark around obsessively. I am a perfectionist, an afflicition which runs more rampantly over my prose. I am rarely completely satisfied with an essay. It could always be better. With the poems, however, there is a kind of alchemy that takes over. At some point the poem either takes breath and moves off away from me, or it doesn't. And even some of the poems that don't, just need some incubation time. My father used to tell me to never throw anything away; that some poems ripen in the darkness of your desk drawer. This has been very good advice. Even a few weeks ago, going through old files, I was surprised to find several old "works in progress" that had gone ahead and finished themselves in the privacy of their manila folders.

I haven't had any experience writing fiction, but this difference in my own ego-alignment with respect to the work seems to be the key contrast between writing poetry and prose. The essays require a kind of arrogance to get made. I have to believe, at least while I am writing them, that I have a point to get across. There is a sense of ownership, of attachment.

But poetry is different. I no more own them than I own my children. Both simply pass through me to come here, on their way to their own lives.