if it doesn't come bursting out of you in spite of everything, don't do it. unless it comes unasked out of your heart and your mind and your mouth and your gut, don't do it. if you have to sit for hours staring at your computer screen or hunched over your typewriter searching for words, don't do it. if you're doing it for money or fame, don't do it. if you're doing it because you want women in your bed, don't do it. if you have to sit there and rewrite it again and again, don't do it. if it's hard work just thinking about doing it, don't do it. if you're trying to write like somebody else, forget about it.
if you have to wait for it to roar out of you, then wait patiently. if it never does roar out of you, do something else.
if you first have to read it to your wife or your girlfriend or your boyfriend or your parents or to anybody at all, you're not ready.
don't be like so many writers, don't be like so many thousands of people who call themselves writers, don't be dull and boring and pretentious, don't be consumed with self- love. the libraries of the world have yawned themselves to sleep over your kind. don't add to that. don't do it.
unless it comes out of your soul like a rocket, unless being still would drive you to madness or suicide or murder, don't do it. unless the sun inside you is burning your gut, don't do it.
when it is truly time, and if you have been chosen, it will do it by itself and it will keep on doing it until you die or it dies in you.
That floating, tooth-shaped thing and the wiggle beneath it are
murmurations of starlings. Yes, that really is the collective noun for
starlings: nice, isn't it? There was a beautiful photo essay about Rome's starlings in the NYT a couple of years ago that's well worth checking out: go here.
Of course, we don't have "Black Friday" in Rome, since we don't have Thanksgiving, but I thought I'd post some pictures that feature black in honor of the day. I'm not going shopping, no. Are you?
But we did have Thanksgiving dinner. Did you see that New Yorker essay about expat Thanksgivings? (Very funny, all too true, but I think I want to introduce Jane Kramer to our butchers.) One serious advantage to living abroad, though, is that you can decide on Wednesday to have Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday (we just sorta forgot it was coming up, being really busy lately, and not being bombarded by images of turkeys and pilgrims, etc.) but we said, Hey, yeah, let's do it.
[Vegetarians might want to skip the first paragraph after the jump.]
All poetry is personal. All poetry is experimental poetry. All experiments are failed experiments. The experiment was a success but the surgeon died. All confessional poetry is admissible, the doctor said. The lawyer said he was losing his patience. The defense maintained that it is admissible as evidence but not as sex. The jury debated the meaning of "it." The philosopher debated the meaning of it. The judge threw out the confession, saying confessions are invariably exaggerated. All exaggerations are true. No evidence is confessional. Poetry is evidence of sex. Sex is exaggeration. Confession is to sex as belching is to a fine meal in a friendly home when you are two middle-aged couples who have forgotten their lines. No evidence is required. Sex is not evidence. All sex is personal. All politics is impersonal. Sex is impersonal politics. I'm confessin' that I love you. Do you [word or words missing here] love me too?
You, stranger, who only see us happy and free of care, If you knew the horrors we often have to live through you would understand our love of eating and singing and
dancing. There is not one among us who hasn’t lived through a winter of bad hunting when many people starved to death. We are never surprised to hear that someone has died of starvation – we are used to it. And they are not to blame: Sickness comes, or bad weather ruins hunting, as when a blizzard of snow hides the breathing holes.
I once saw a wise old man hang himself because he was starving to death and preferred to die in his ownway. But before he died he filled his mouth with seal bones, for that way he was sure to get plenty of meat in the land of the dead.
Once during the winter famine a woman gave birth to a child while people lay round about her dying of hunger. What could the baby want with life here on earth? And how could it live when its mother herself was dried up with starvation? So she strangled it and let it freeze. And later on ate it to keep alive— Then a seal was caught and the famine was over, so the mother survived. But from that time on she was paralyzed because she had eaten part of herself.
This is what can happen to people. We have gone through it ourselves And know what one may come to, so we do not judge them. And how would anyone who has eaten his fill and is well be able to understand the madness of hunger?
Happy Thanksgiving! I'm sorry I've missed a few weeks posts. I'd explain how sometimes even just a once a week blog can be too challenging to manage without some breaks, but I figure most of you have blogs of your own and know about such things as well as I. In my case, and perhaps many other cases, maybe even the whole crate, I have things to say, I just find myself not saying them. The mind, I am reminded, will go on forever, but the body sometimes goes and lies down.
Since it is the day before Thanksgiving I thought I'd share a poem I wrote about the day after Thanksgiving. I posted it last year with some commentary, so I'll just give the poem here. It is a somewhat light piece, having been commissioned by the New York Times.
Thanksgiving was my birthday this year and I find two holidays in one is not efficient.In fact, barely anything gets done; neither the bird nor the passage of the year is digested.Luckily, Black Friday offers new pleasures while remaining a stolen day; a day after.There is shopping, the streets, or the hilarious malls, but I will stay home with the leftovers and use
the time to rethink, turkey leg in hand like a king.Pumpkin pie, solid soup of pummeled end-of-summer. Chestnuts and sausage chunks from stuffing plucked regally, like an ape leisurely denuding a blueberry bush of its fruit.Maybe I mean Cleopatra’s teeth accepting red grapes from a solicitous lunk of nubility.Same image. The hand feeds, the mouth gets fed.You
too?Mother ate turkey in the maternity? Imagine, you not-born in late Novembers, if every few years a bird adjoined your candles. Think, too, who comes to eat that bird.Those whose faces look like yours; those nearly-yous and knew you whens; those have your same ill eases. How’s the sciatica?Fine, how’s yours? The world is old.Cleopatra might
have liked Black Friday.It’s as engaging as a barge with a fast gold sofa.She also might have liked aging. At least preferred it to the asp.Yellow leaf patterned sunlight dazzles the wall with its dapple. It’s all happening now, as I write. This is journalism.No part of the memoir is untrue.Though I probably will go to the mall, if everyone else goes.
I hope you have a wonderful holiday this year. I hope you enjoy seeing the family or avoiding doing so. Either, if done properly, will entail a measure of guilt -- but offset the bitter with some pie and get through it. There will likely be at least three moments of joy -- keep your eyes open for them and make a note for later redemption. May I also suggest reading or rereading the lovely post by Laura Orem (it is here on this site, just a few posts down, but I figured I'd link anyway) which includes a sweet killer of a poem by Eleanor Lerman, called "Starfish." It gave me pause, and if you are anything like me, you could use some.
Well that's about it, but will you forgive the honey if I tell you I am thankful for you? I am. Thank you.
Eat well and if they drive you insane, just say "My poet told me not to listen to you" and then keep eating.
ps the turkey above is a real one, mounted on a board and for sale at the flea market under the Bridge on weekends in Brooklyn. Gruesome aint it? wink. Also wrote a new post at Dear Fonzie.
I've just finished reading P. D. James's Talking About Detective Fiction (Knopf). The best sentence in the book is the one in which she defines the England in which she grew up, "an ordered society in which virtue was regarded as normal, crime an aberration": << As I was born in 1920, it was an England I knew, a cohesive world, overwhelmingly white and united by a common belief in a religious and moral code based on the Judeo-Christian inheritance -- even if this belief was not invariably reflected in practice -- and buttressed by social and political institutions which, although they might be criticized, attracted general allegiance, and were accepted as necessary to the well-being of the state: the monarchy, the Empire, the Church, the criminal justice system, the City, the ancient universities. >> DL
I'm drawn to Mark Bibbins' work because he is not a confessional poet, and also because linear narratives do not seem to be exceedingly important to him. He is, of course, not the first contemporary poet to move away from confessional narrative, but what stands out about Bibbins' work (at least for me) are three things: his attention to and aptitude with sound/rhyme, his use of word play, and the unexpected forms his poems take. Here the author answers questions about his new book, The Dance of No Hard Feelings (Copper Canyon 2009).
MS: You state in your 2009 BAP contributor note that
“Concerning the Land to the South of Our Neighbors to the North” gained its
foothold when the final line of the poem (“Connecticut! We’re sawing you in
half.”) popped into your head. Is it common for you to get first (or
last) lines in your head, triggers that coalesce into poems? Or do poems come
to you elsewise?
MB: For me a poem starts with a phrase or a sentence that arrives, usually without warning or preparation, then the rest grows around that. Some wind up as titles, others beginnings or endings; most change their minds and move around as it’s coming together. I certainly wouldn’t have sat down to write a poem “about” America, as my level of ambition is pretty low. I prefer to let something besides that direct a poem toward or around its subject(s).
MS: Speaking of “Concerning the Land . . .,” it’s a
wonderful poem on the first go, but, at least for me, it only gets better
with each re-reading. Can you share a bit about the making of this poem? Did
the Necco wafers and New Jersey’s queer shoulder come quickly to you, or did it
take several throws to get each state just right? Also, how conscious were you
that each state’s stanza is gazelle-ishly distinct? Did anyone read a rough
draft, and if so were there any suggestions for revision?
MB: A handful of states came during a train ride through the Nutmeg State, and I picked up again after returning home a few days later—it happened quickly, and the conceit really hustled it along. I like hearing of odd events and foods and landmarks that places are “known for.” It’s preposterous and sweet, sometimes creepy. Also arbitrary, which is why I felt entitled to fabricate, and why it didn’t always matter what information was attached to which state (New Jersey and Ginsberg being, as they so often are, exceptions).
Nobody saw a draft of it. The wonderful
Danielle Pafunda had offered to consider something of mine for La Petite
Zine, which she was coediting, and I’m grateful for her consideration. I
usually don’t show poems to anyone until I feel I’ve finished writing and
revising them, which isn’t to imply that I haven’t been given good advice in
the past. Nor do I mean to separate the processes of writing and revision.
MS: The Dance of No Hard Feelings is a
delightful read, mainly because of its striking use of language (“ice javelins
our throats”), its word play (we fly [fly] / will fly / should fly /will have
flown / are flying apart”), and its gritty/urban walking-around-on-a-golf-course
feel. There’s so much fire and ice in this book—boiling seas and firey angels;
snow and ice and freezing. Is the world going to end in fire or in ice?
MB: Right now I suspect it will end in paperwork.
That, or water—abundance and/or lack thereof. But the earth won't be ending. It
will be editing.
MS: In these poems you seem to continually resist
and give into narrative, into a speaker with a past, present and future. What’s
your relationship with narrative poetry? Is the confessional poem, or the I
poem in general, an old, hairy, dead beast to back away from as quickly as
MB: A quick look at my bookshelves reveals very
little narrative or confessional poetry, assuming I understand what you mean by
those terms—is “The Day Lady Died” narrative poetry? an I poem? I like
it when poems surprise me, and a lot of what falls into the above categories
doesn’t do that, mainly because of the style in which they’re executed, not
their content. As old as this debate is, it seems the dead beast isn’t going
anywhere; that doesn’t mean I want to hover over it, sniffing it and describing
MS: Explain your use of brackets.
MB: Phantom opportunities.
MS: I enjoyed “Forcefield”—it’s hard to write about
breaking up, and you do it well here ([no succor / no syntax / no sleep]. I
have to be honest, though: I don’t think I would have enjoyed an entire book of
these space-ful, language-y-conscious type poems. A few good ones of this ilk,
okay, I’m fine with that. And yet, you seem comfy wearing many different
aesthetic hats. Incidentally, are you and Ashbery tight? Which poets have
influenced you the most?
MB: I wouldn't want a whole book of those
either—thanks? To me they seem less about breaking up than enacting or
embodying a kind of brokenness. I have no idea who or what's influenced me the
most; there are so many people and things, and I don’t like to rank them, but I
enjoy Gertrude Stein and My Bloody Valentine a great deal (whenever I’m asked
that question, I can’t help naming bands). John Ashbery’s writing has amazed me
for many years, and I’m happy to call him a friend.
MS: How did LIT magazine come about? Do you
enjoy that part of being a poet? Who reads the slush pile? Does being an editor
hinder or help your own writing?
MS: We hatched it when I was a student at The New
School; the faculty and administration were very supportive in getting it
going. We drummed up work for the first two issues mostly by solicitation, and
my tenure as poetry editor officially ended before there was much of a slush
pile. Current graduate students and the alumni who serve as editors now read
the submissions, and I remain safely “at large.” My editorial experiences have
mostly been helpful, although I edited fiction reviews at a magazine for a
couple of years, which wasn’t.
MS: Finally, the $10,000 question: How did you go
from being a kid in love with words (correct me if I’m wrong on that) to Best
American Poet? What’s the recipe for best-ness?
MB: You’re certainly not wrong, although a lot of
the time I still feel like a kid (not always a great thing). Not following
recipes has informed both my successes and failures. Sorry if that’s a $10
answer. Do you need change?
Ed note: Read another interview with Mark Bibbins here.Find a schedule of his upcoming readings here.