Sunday, August 07, 2005

Landlocked sky

Tonight after rain the sky went sepia, the green grass and green trees reflecting back a blackish shade. Sepia, then wet copper, then deep to blue to black.

I'm quite addicted to pandacams these days. There's a baby at the National Zoo (if that camera is at capacity, try here) and another even younger one in San Diego. Baby pandas are just the cutest little boogers imaginable. Ssssh, don't tell my cats (they think that title is theirs and theirs alone).

Dear World: I am feeling quite determined to apply to low-residency MFA programs in the near future. There is no need to continue testing said determination by making more things fall apart in expensive fashion. There's "making sure I have to jump over hurdles so I appreciate it" and there's ridiculous, and we're closing in on the ridiculous here. Just cut it out now. Thank you very much.

I am reading Rachel Zucker's The Last Clear Narrative. It is giving me some ideas about how to proceed with a couple of long poems I'm working on (one I've already got a version of on paper, and one that so far exists mostly in a framework in my head). One thing I have found over the past few years is that my reading and my writing mature in parallel -- being willing to take risks in reading, digging into poets whose form & language is very different from my own and who maybe even mystify me a bit at first, leads directly into a greater capacity for risk-taking in my own work. And god only knows risk-taking is important. Essential, even. I am only beginning to understand this, after over thirty years of writing. When I took a class with Cathy Bowman a couple of years ago, she had us read very broadly, for which I am still grateful; one of the poets we read, Stephanie Strickland, is someone I probably wouldn't have attempted on my own and that would have been my loss, as I enjoyed her work a great deal. It is also good to spend time reading poets you immediately enjoy and identify with and feel comfortable with, but I think your own writing (or my own, anyway; I shouldn't presume to speak for anyone else) benefits most from the effort to grasp what is not immediately lovable: the different, the strange, the (to use a loaded word here) difficult. (Or, to read poets who foreground clarity in the ways that your own work is difficult. Read stuff that doesn't sound like you, is the point.)

I didn't get that until a couple of years ago, and now that is one thing I always want from teachers -- introduce me to poets I might not otherwise read or know about. Cathy Bowman & D.A. Powell both gave me some of that (Powell was the one who recommended Rachel Zucker) and that has helped my writing at least as much as anything either of them ever said about my own poems. When I think about doing an MFA, about half of what excites me is the thought of having teachers giving me reading suggestions for a couple of years. There's just so much out there that I could spend eight hours a day reading and still miss out on good stuff.

I don't always have the critical vocabulary to put into words what someone else is doing. I couldn't, right now, write a paper about what Rachel Zucker's book tells us about the concept of "narrative." There is value in doing that kind of critical work, of course, but right now what works best for me is just to read the work fairly closely without trying to explain it to myself. Where are the gaps, how does she get from Point A to Point B. "Look at what she's doing here" more than "this is why she's doing this." One of my long poems is about the experience of being a spinster (I love that word) and I know that it is not going to be a Point-A-to-Point-B narrative, and unlike a lot of what I write it's probably not going to have so much of a beginning and a middle and an end. It's not going to make a big old "spinsterhood is powerful" statement, which is what I probably would have written two or three years ago. I'm not sure exactly what it is going to do, but I'll find that out as I go along. (See Charlie's excellent post on "Process and Product" for some thoughts along those lines, by the way. I know a lot of times I feel as though I'm just writing instinctively, but later on when I look back at what I've done I can figure out what I was doing and why -- but I sure couldn't have told you what my plans were before the words were on the page.)

When I got together with my friend S. last week I gave her a couple of my very recent poems, and she was astonished at how much my voice has changed since the last time she read much of my work (probably about three years ago). I am pretty sure I'm still the same person (more or less) and I suspect you can still tell the poems were written by the same person, but yes, there has been a change. For the better, I think... I hope.

As with many things, I suppose time will tell.


the machinist said...

I've been reading the Zucker book, as well, Anne. I'm going to go out today, get some coffee, and go cover to cover with that one one last time. Maybe I'll figure out something to say about it.

Have you seen her poem in the new Canary?

early hours of sky said...

Rachel is coming here to read in a month or so. I am looking forward to it. It will be great to talk to her.

Suzanne said...

'Tonight after rain the sky went sepia, the green grass and green trees reflecting back a blackish shade. Sepia, then wet copper, then deep to blue to black.'

Beautiful, Anne.

Charles said...

Thanks for the link. :)

I think the narrative referenced in her title is pregnancy. But what is so disturbingly wonderful about the book is the collision of pregnancy with the Holocaust and 9/11 imagery. It's truly an amazing book--one I'll need to read again, I think.

One great way to widen your reading circle is to ask poets you love who they love to read, or look for people they've mentored or edited posthumously. That's how I found Tim Dlugos (through David Trinidad), Rachel Zucker (through Powell), etc.

jenni said...

i'll have to check out zucker--from you and charles comments, sounds like i'd like her.

Anne said...

Woody, no, I haven't seen the Canary poem -- I should probably track it down, hm? Her book is definitely one that will bear at least a couple of readings. Man, I wish I had more time to read.

T, I hope you'll blog about the reading -- I'm curious what she's like!

Suzanne, thanks! :) It really was the most unusual sunset.

Charlie, yeah, I think even beyond the pregnancy/Holocaust/911 stuff she is making a statement about how the "personal" narrative fits into the communal/world/historical narrative. I think I need to read some critical stuff about "narrative" now. I'm having one of those "I should be in grad school" moments. (Eek!)

Jenni, I haven't finished the book yet, but so far I think you might like her!

Pris said...

I love the interactive way The Sand and Harry Soot is presented. Thanks for the links.