Time, so they say, flies when you are having fun. Does that mean it goes excruciatingly slow when you are sad or suffering? I would have to say that the answer to this is a resounding yes.
A good friend of mine recently told me that when she feels sad, she feels really stuck. Every aspect of her life feels absolutely lousy: failed relationships, dwindling finances, unsatisfying employment. At those times, the whole ball of wax that is her life is one big, sticky, yucky mess. And the worst part of it is that—when she feels this way—it seems as though that general yuckishness is simply her natural state of being. In those moments, she is pretty much convinced that life is going to feel that way forever.
Then, she gets some sleep, dreams a little dream, wakes up, takes a shower, goes for a nice bike ride, has coffee and a sweet roll down by the lake, listens to something on the radio that makes her laugh. The next thing she knows, she feels good again. She remembers that she has many things for which to be grateful. Then, she feels even happier. Suddenly, time’s pretty ponies speed up. The race is on. Just like the wind, time again flies.
I think about time all the time. I am always trying to jam more things into it. I am always trying to do “one more thing.” As all my friends and relations will tell you, this habit of mine makes me invariably late for things. Furthermore, I do way too much multi-tasking on any given day. On a typical evening when I get home from work, you might find me folding laundry, paying bills, eating dinner, answering emails, checking Facebook, and writing a paper for school all at the same time.
Really? At the same time? Okay, not literally in the very same instant. But I have gotten really adept at sprinkling my instances around. Tonight, a case in point. First, I fold a couple shirts and pair up a few sets of socks. Then, I open a bill and decide if I need to pay it now or can put it on the pile to be dealt with after pay day. Then, I take a bite of the eggplant sandwich I made from left-over roasted eggplant, a slather of horseradish, and two nice, thick slabs of melted mozzarella on an old crust of bread that I almost threw out this morning. But I saved this heel because it had not gone moldy yet and boy, am I ever glad I did. This sandwich I am washing down with a glass of Merlot is making me exceedingly cheery right now. Must be the horseradish.
Email, Facebook. Check and check. I’m not writing a paper for school, but I did a bit of reading and now I’m writing this blog-entry so I can post it first thing in the morning before I go to work. And the race with time will begin again.
I am reminded of the young girl I saw riding her bike past the middle school last week. She was riding fast enough that her long auburn hair was trailing behind her. She was riding no-handed, this because she was texting as she pedaled. She was pretty good at it, too. (When I told this story to a friend of mine, he reported a recent sighting of a teenage boy riding down the street with a pizza box in hand. The young lad, as it turned out, was enjoying a couple of slices of pepperoni and sausage on his way home from football practice.) What has the world come to?
Being that it is now the autumn of the year, I am thinking quite a lot about time passing, and how often I forget to savor it by doing too many things at once. It is now the time of year that an elderly gentleman I know refers to as “sweater weather.” I love this moment, when leaves fall off trees, the air chills, and the world prepares to go dormant for awhile. It is a dying, melancholy time, but it is also the time of Sunday afternoons devoted to the making of soups, to the raking of leaves, and to the anticipation of Halloween, the holiday that marks the beginning of the descent into the year’s bright end.
Well, it is late now, and I should sleep. I will only do one more thing, and that is leave you with a poem. It is by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889), and it is one of my most favorite poems about the passing of time. May it remind me, tomorrow, when I wake up and read my blog to myself, not to try to do so much all at once, but rather, to do one precious thing at a time. The best way not to mourn myself is to remember I am still here, and my two hands are always free to do the work that is right in front of me.
Spring and Fall
to a young child
Margaret, are you grieving Over Goldengrove unleaving? Leaves, like the things of man, you With your fresh thoughts care for, can you? Ah! as the heart grows older It will come to such sights colder By and by, nor spare a sigh Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie; And yet you will weep and know why. Now no matter, child, the name: Sorrow's springs are the same. Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed What héart héard of, ghóst guéssed: It is the blight man was born for, It is Margaret you mourn for.
I’ll be reading on Friday September 30th at the Susquehanna Center for Creative Arts in Columbia, PA with David Mura and Jesse Waters at 6:00 PM. This is part of a continuing series of readings and art exhibitions for The Handprint Identity Project, organized by sculptor Milton Friedly of Elizabethtown College. Professor Friedly paired ten poets with ten fine artists in 2008, asking them to collaborate on the subject of the handprint and its relation to identity. First exhibited in 2009, the Handprint Identity Project continues to grow and exhibit at various venues. If you’re in the area, please come out and look at the exhibit, listen to some poetry, and meet us.
And the James Merrill House is now accepting applications for Writers-in-Residence for 2012. We've added a couple of brief residency (2-6 weeks) options beginning next year, as well as the longer 4.5 month residency. Promising and accomplished writers in fiction, poetry, and nonfiction who receive a James Merrill residency live in a furnished apartment across the hall from Merrill's own apartment (now a museum) in the seaside village of Stonington, CT. The writers-in-residence also receive a generous stipend. For more information and to download an application, go to:
The Best American Poetry 2011 Guest Editor Kevin Young (left) with Major Jackson and Cyrus Cassells. photo(c)Star Black
The BAP 2011 launch on September 22, 2011 was a huge success, with knockout readings by all of the participants. You can read about it here. Following the reading, we repaired to the nearby Cafe Loup where Star Black took pictures. You can view her photographs here. Star Black's most recent book of poems is Velleity's Shade, Saturnalia Books, 2010. She is a visiting assistant professor at Stony Brook University and will be teaching a graduate poetry workshop this spring at Stony Brook Southampton's MFA Program in Creative Writing and Literature.
In Psychopathology: Foundations for a Contemporary Understanding, edited by James E. Maddux and Barbara A. Winstead, I have come across some interesting tidbits during these first few weeks of fall semester that I have been eager to share with someone. How about you, Best American Poetry blog reader, out there?
First, let us consider that pathological behavior is both outside the statistical norm and also maladaptive. By maladaptive, we mean behavior that does not help a person do better. By outside the statistical norm, we mean infrequent in the general population. However, we usually only think of something negative. “To say that someone is ‘pathologically intelligent’ or ‘pathologically well-adjusted’ seems contradictory because it flies in the face of the commonsense use of these words.” (Maddux and Winstead).
This statement, as you can well imagine, got me thinking. What would it mean to be pathologically poetic? What would a pathologically poetic person look like and what would his or her day-to-day existence entail? Would this person speak in iambic pentameter every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, trochees and spondees on Tuesday/Thursday and save the weekend for nothing but speaking in haiku?
Would a poetic psychopath see the entire world in a grain of sand, and metaphorical significance in everything from the delivery of the day’s mail to the mowing of the lawn? How does one who is pathologically poetic deal with such mundane tasks as folding laundry, going grocery shopping, dropping children off at soccer, and emptying the litter box?
Don’t even mention cleaning a toilet bowl or unclogging a drain. Those chores require someone more pathologically inclined toward plumbing. Research in this realm is begging to be undertaken, but funding is scarce for this kind of endeavor.
A poetic psychopath is not able to go anywhere without a small notebook and pen, tools needed to jot down interesting ideas. Those in the real throes of the disease will take to carrying a small digital recorder in which to speak ideas and snippets for poems. This person is marked by an uncanny ability to see connections between all things (living and non-living) and would be able to describe the shortest line between a bride and a waterfall, a tree and a unicorn, a banana and a bayonet.
The pathologically poetic individual will often be found staring out of bus windows, laying in the grass looking at clouds, or whistling in the dark. These types are enamoured of the alphabet, idiomatic phrases, foreign languages, synonyms, homonyms, and oxymorons. They also tend to be gourmands and to enjoy a nice glass of wine with supper.
Last but not least, the poetic psychopath hears the sad note in every happy chord, and sees the beauty in that which is least pleasing to the eye. There is hope for those who are able to get these contradictory thoughts down on paper. For the rest--those who ignore their illness--there is only madness and despair; marked by a feeling of impending doom complete with arsenic lobsters falling from the sky.
If you know such a person, or if you are such a person, the best thing the experts can offer by way of relief at this time is to suggest total acceptance of the situation. Resistance is futile. Do not fall prey to the temptation of medication, unless it is in the form of ice cream. Let be be finale of seem. Find a red wheelbarrow, a summer’s day, or the road less traveled by. Go there, taste it, smell it, embrace it. Trust me, dear reader, that will make all the difference.
Poetry, as Ezra Pound asserted in an unpublished letter to Sloan, is "elegance in its most aggressive form," and whether this is a phrase charged with meaning or merely a slogan that a car company might want to apporopriate with the terms inverted, the fact is --
"The only work that really brings enjoyment / is the kind that is for girl and boy meant," as Ira Gershwin wrote in the verse lead in to "Nice Work If You Can Get It" --
and poetry is work in that lovely way, elegant when the occasion calls for white tie and tails, aggressive when Marciano, behind on points, lands a crushing right on Jersey Joe's jaw with A J.. Liebling in the crowd to record the shock of the moment.
So what's in store?
Kathy Ossip and Susan Wheeler kick off the new KGB season on Monday evening the 26th (85 East 4th Street -- near NW corner of 4th St and 2nd Ave). KGB ringleaders Megin Jimenez and Matthew Yeager have created an elegant program -- which gains a dimension when you take into account that once upon a time Ms Ossip was Ms Wheeler's student. At 7:30. But if you get there at 7 you can hold a Y-shaped glass with a cold clear or cloudy liquid while listening to Bach and grabbing a choice seat.
AND Ben Lerner, on Tuesday evening the 27th, will be the center of attention at a poetry forum hosted by Mark Bibbins at the New School (66 West 12 Street, Room 505). 6:30 PM. You will hear Ben read for thirty minutes or so and then field questions from the moderator and the audience (you) for an equal length of time.
What does the singer pictured at left have to do with any of this? Nothing except that I am listening to her take on "All the Things You Are" as I type up this note. Mention her name (and her birth name) and we'll clink glasses Monday evening. -- DL
Greetings, all. I am happy to be here as your guest blogger starting today and for the coming week. Yesterday was a big day; one I had been planning since April. September 24th was designated by poets the world-over as the day to celebrate 100 Thousand Poets for Change. Were you there?
Poems can change the world, as they point to what is true. Poems can be hammers, splitting rock, or rich ground where we locate compassion. When poets join forces, the energy that is generated leads to amazing things.
Store window in Guerneville, CA, the heart of 100TPC
In helping to organize the 100 Thousand Poets for Change activities these past five months, I made friends on Facebook with poets in Greece, Nigeria, South Africa, and all around the United States. I was reminded very directly in this process that there are many places around the globe where poets cannot congregate and do what they want to do. They cannot simply stand up and read poems in a library or a garden or a coffee house like we did in Sheboygan, Wisconsin yesterday. In some places, poems must be checked by a government agency before being read in public. In Turkmenistan, poetry cannot be read in public at all. As I looked out over the audience yesterday, I felt compelled to remind us that the freedom we have in America to congregate and to "use our words" as we see fit, should not be taken lightly.
The Sheboyan contribution to 100 Thousand Poets for Change was a success from the standpoint of connection. People in our community crossed some lines and got to know one another a little better, all through the reading of poems. We had narrative free versers, rhymers, and straight-up rappers. We had the poet laureate of Wisconsin, Bruce Dethlefsen; we had Karl Elder, Cathryn Cofell, Chuck Rybak and many others. We had children, young adults, and seniors. We had friends and strangers writing poems while they were listening to the open mic, then standing up to share what they had just written. (Actually, there were no strangers. Everyone became a friend in the process.)
We had teenagers lying on couches in the coffee house glued to their iTouches suddenly paying attention. We had a gentleman reading the work of his adult daughter with great pride. We had audience members sharing favorite poems from books. We had small children reading Mother Goose and other verse that spoke to their experience. All in all, I accomplished what I set out to do months ago: to make people fall in love, again or for the first time, with poetry. To fall in love and pay attention.
I woke up yesterday morning to a poem by Oscar Wilde coming through on a website called Your Daily Poem. Pantheais old-fashioned, yes, I know. There are words I did not at first recognize, “hymeneal” (of or pertaining to a wedding or marriage) and “daedal-fashioned” (made by Daedelus, the legendary artist and inventor, the builder of the Labyrinth). Then, there were other lines that came in loud and clear, sounding very 21st century to my ear: “…all life is one, and all is change.”
All pathetic fallacies aside, when I practiced the poem at 7:30 yesterday morning and I got to these lines, “The yellow buttercups that shake for mirth/At daybreak know a pleasure not less real/Than we do…” I welled up with tears. I hate when that happens. Crying while reading a poem. What the heck? I thought perhaps it would be a bad idea to read a poem at an open mic if it was going to make me bawl in public; especially over something as cornball as recognizing how myself and a flower are, at some atomic level, one and the same.
But, I did read the poem, twice. Once at the open mic at the library, and much later in the day to a different crowd at the coffee house. At neither point did the offending words make me cry. However, when I looked out at the audience, I saw wet eyes, closed eyes, longing eyes, bright eyes. In that moment, I knew that the world was in good order. Poetry slows us down to look with our eyes, inward and outward, to pay attention, to revel in what is important. A poem can threaten a despot, shake a woman to her core, or touch a man’s heart. A rhyme can delight the ear of a child, no matter if the child is 3 or 93. The energy we put out into the world matters. And it does not go away. Wilde put it well when he said, “The Universe itself shall be our immortality.”
What do we want our immortality to look like? From Wall Street to whatever streets we live on, change is upon us. You may be a buttercup or a hammer. You may be ears or eyes or both. If you are like me, you are a poet. And as poets, we will be here.
This week we welcome back Lisa Vihos as our guest blogger. Lisa is the director of alumni relations at Lakeland College in Plymouth, Wisconsin, where she is also pursuing a Masters of Counseling degree. She is an associate editor of Stoneboat and just published her first chapbook, A Brief History of Mail. She has been busy of late helping to organize the mega-event, 100 Thousand Poets for Change. Her work has appeared in numerous journals and has been recognized by the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets and the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters. You can read her poems here.
In other news . . .
Monday, October 3, 2011 6:30 PM: Poetry Forum with James Fenton, Moderated by David Lehman. The New School, 66 W. 12th Street, 7th Floor. More here.
For my last trick this week, I’m going to write about some ideas I had when at Toad Hall. I think we were talking about Flarf and Language poetry when one of us—or maybe I thought of this after the fact . . . I can’t remember—voiced a unique theory on their origins: so many resources and years and years of traditions and movements had become available to us poets, we suddenly had to dump the excess. That is to say—we had to use the excess, even if it was garbage, because it was there and we could. These movements, then, arose less as rebellion than as corollary. They weren’t commentaries but consequences.
While I appreciate the original Language poets for their innovation and application of theory and politics to political practice, I don’t often love their poems. I enjoy the experiment—and have learned from it—but I find much of the emotion in that poetry stilted, and that’s just not my personal preference. Whether the poems are accessible, so to speak, is inconsequential. Generally I can’t (and shouldn’t) approach an Armantrout piece with the same lens I use for a Collins poem, so I’m not bothered when I don’t get it—anyway that’s rarely the point of any poem. As for Flarf, I think—so what? When things are new, they’re exciting and sharp. Over time, much sloppiness ensues.
At the same time I can’t help but think how wonderful it is we live during these (according to theory) excessive, extravagant years in which movements like Flarf can germinate and be popularized, in which we can grant time for these art forms, to not tax the rich, to have lockouts over the salaries of professional athletes, to afford personal computers in all shapes and sizes and—nearly—in all things, to market almost any extravagantly unnecessary item and, in an ironic twist, deem it a must-have even in these dire times because well—why not? If we want, we need. If we can, we must. It’s a basic, underlying proposition of the United States of America.
This brief report on last night's successful launch reading of The Best American Poetry 2011 will be followed in days ahead with some photographic magic from Start Black. It was the eighth straight year the New School Writing Program hosted the event in the spacious confines of Tishman Auditorium on 12th Street. Kevin Young, the guest editor of the 2011 volume, came up from Atlanta. And these contributors to the book joined Kevin and me on stage: Cara Benson, Michael Cirelli, Michael Dickman, Alan Feldman, Farrah Field, Major Jackson, Jennifer L. Knox, Katha Pollitt, James Richardson, Patricia Smith, Gerald Stern, Bianca Stone, Mark Strand, Lee Upton. I concluded my opening remarks by reading "Time Pieces," the late Rachel Wetzsteon's haiku sequence, a tour de force. At my urging Kevin Young read one of his own poems -- the greatly admired "Expecting," which ran in The New Yorker last winter -- as well as two of the poems he chose for BAP 2011: John Ashbery's "Postlude and Prequel" and Erin Belieu's "When at a Certain Party in NYC." The poets then took the lectern in alphabetical order. The poetry on display was wonderfully varied in form (haiku, aphorisms, a crown of sonnets, a pantoum, prose poem, free verse), tone, and subject matter. More than one observer noted that the poets prepared the audience, with admirable pith, for what they were about to hear. They read their poems with verve and conviction. The effect, in Leah Iannone's words, was a "subdued awesomeness." You could hear the audience listening.
Dominique Nabokov was there with her camera, and other cameras were in evidence. We will post Star Black's photos of post-reading revelers anon. -- DL