May 24, 2010

Alejandra Pizarnik

I love this fragment from poet Alejandra Pizarnik, from Argentina (1936-1972):

“dije you, perio me referia al alba luminosa…”

“I said I but I was referring to the luminous dawn…”

This is from her work, "Pathways of the Mirror, " from Poems for the Millenium: The Univ of California Book of Modern and Post-Modern Poetry. (1998)

Alejandra Pizarnik:  "If only I were able to live solely in ecstasy, making the body of the poem with my body, redeeming each phrase with my days and weeks, infusing the poem with my breath for each word that has been sacrificed in the ceremonies of living.

"Poetry is the place where everything happens. Similar to love, humor, suicide and every profoundly subversive act, poetry is not interested in that which is not its freedom or truth. To say freedom or truth and refer these words to the world we live in or do not live in is to tell a lie. It isn't when they are attributed to poetry: the place where all is possible."

More information about Pizarnik

This is the work that inspired my poem "I Said I" in Cloud Birds. It echoed the Finnish women poets whose metaphor was woman as landscape.

May 13, 2010

Why is Poetry Important?

Art strengthens both community and diversity.  Whatever we write about makes it stronger.  Naming is very powerful.   An investment in the arts, in your own and that of others, is an investment in the soul.  Writing and poetry help people during times of transition to see ourselves in a larger context.

Poetry is a pattern language.  It is similar to visual art because it employs image but it creates an auditory or sound environment.

Poems have taught me important things.   They are a way of knowing.   My poems tend to have a voice that is located outside in the landscape as opposed to inside a domestic space.   I draw meaning from the natural world, from rivers and migrations.  

"River begins in the other world/ without time."   (from Undertow)

"near shore another story / places that no longer know me..." (from Echo & Lightning)

My collections of poems, in chapbooks or books or in performances, are mosaics.  The individual poems are arranged in a way to create a larger story.  My stories are not escapist.  Instead of going away from reality, they go into it in ways that alter it for me.

May 11, 2010

What Do Poems Do?

It's hard to describe exactly what a great poem does. Here are some thoughts: 
"If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry."
--Emily Dickinson

"Energy within the poet goes into the poem, but then must go from the poem to a reader or listener. There has to be this transfer of energy."
—Muriel Rukeyser

"Imaginative work is not dropped like a pebble upon the ground; it is like a spider web attached ever so lightly, but attached to all four corners of the earth."
—Virginia Woolf

"Like a piece of ice on a hot stove, the poem must ride on its own melting."
—Robert Frost

"Truth is not an unveiling which destroys the secret, but a revelation that does it justice."
—Walter Benjamin

May 1, 2010

Listening to the Work: Thoughts on Writing Fiction and Poetry

Re-vision is an important part of the writing process.     I like to break the syllable to emphasize the word, vision: to see the work again, to see what it can be.   

"I try to make writers actually see what they have written, where the strength is. Usually in fiction there’s something that leaps out—an image or a moment that is strong enough to center the story. If they can see it, they can exploit it, enhance it, and build a fiction that is subtle and new. I don’t try to teach technique, because frankly most technical problems go away when a writer realizes where the life of a story lies. I don’t see any reason in fine-tuning something that’s essentially not going anywhere anyway. What they have to do first is interact in a serious way with what they’re putting on a page. When people are fully engaged with what they’re writing, a striking change occurs, a discipline of language and imagination."  Marilynne Robinson, author of Housekeeping, Gilead and Home.

This is an excerpt of an interview in The Paris Review.  This advice works well when you are writing poetry too.  Something leaps out that is strong enough to build the poem around.    This is how you "listen to the work."      It begins by building on the strengths:  enhance the image or the moment.  Create a pattern that emphasizes the strengths.   Take out anything that isn't needed.    Read it aloud.   Listen.   Read it to somebody else.  Listen.    If you have gone deep enough into the poem and become fully engaged, then you will reach the discipline of language and imagination that Robinson mentions. 

Lately, I've been meditating on the fact that poems are small, but they contain memoir, music, and sometimes myth.    Often they capture a moment, a story, a particular set of sounds, a pattern.  Sometimes the pattern is internal to the poem.....a metrical scheme, a stanzaic pattern.  Sometimes this pattern connects to another pattern, a mythic or larger cultural story.   The author Marilynne Robinson has joined the novels to archetype and sacred stories.  The poet can do this too. Poems are very small, but they contain a voice, a landscape, a world, an eternity. 

If you want to read the interview with Marilynne Robinson, go to