Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Counting the obsessions, one by one

I've been thinking about the concept of obsession and what it has to do with poetry (and lo & behold, Diane Lockward had a nice post the other day about one of her own long-term obsessions).

I go through phases with my obsessions. On the one hand, sometimes it looks like I get really really serious about things and then I lose interest in them. As a kid and early teen I was obsessed with horses, like many girls that age, and had a bunch of model horses -- all of whom had names, life stories, in some cases genealogy. I was a serious, dedicated practitioner of karate for a number of years in my late teens through mid-twenties or so; I ate, breathed, and slept the Kyokushin Way. Since 2000 or so I've been fascinated by whales, and have gone great distances (Maui!) for the primary purpose of seeing them. And currently, of course, I'm chasing Bruce Springsteen around the country just as much as my limited finances will allow.

So what of this? Am I just a flake who can't stick with anything for more than a decade or so? I don't think so. I think I mine my obsessions, and now that I've got 30 years of serious writing under my belt, I'm learning how to do so more productively. My first book ms. (the one that's currently visiting various editors' desks and trying to make big "me! pick me!" puppydog eyes) has a ton (whale joke haha) of whale poems in it, as well as poems strongly influenced by what I learned from whale-watching -- connections between humans & animals, gorgeous distances, thinking globally, etc. And of course my second ms., the one I'm so (whether justifiably or not, time will tell) in love with right now, is heavily influenced by Springsteen & my running around chasing those perfect concert moments. It's actually perfect that his tour will most likely be ending after November and the band will most likely take a hiatus for a little while at that point (not that he's said anything of the sort for certain, but cobbling together various hints & comments, that is what looks most likely); once I finish with this manuscript, I think it's possible that I won't be quite as compelled to go quite so far out of my way to see the E Streeters. There's been something I've needed from the experience of being obsessed, and I've just about got most of what I needed, I think.

But as I read through the new manuscript, I am beginning to realize something. It's not the whales or the rockstars that are my obsession, really. There's a deeper vein, things I've been writing about for thirty (gah!) years now. Light, the various qualities of light; darkness, how it can be both threat & comfort. Distances. Regret. Breath. Music in general.

But hey, what poet isn't obsessed with most of those? So, hmm.

I do write a hell of a lot about light, though. Some people remember the smell of places they've been in; I remember the quality of light. Provincetown, the unbelievable clarity. The shifting cloud-sun-cloud-sun afternoon light through the windows of my early childhood. Stagelight, how the technicians use a spotlight to carve the performers out of the darkness.


* * * * *

I really love this poem from today's Poetry Daily -- like, "suck in your breath and hold it for a minute while your heart breaks a little" love it:


Goodbye again. Say there is a little song in my head

and because of it I can't sleep or change my mind
about the future. Now the song runs all the way down

to the beach where I sit as if the sky

were my room now. No one, not even you,
can hear me singing. Not even me.

As if the music rose from the mouth of the ocean.

No mouth. Like rain before it reaches us.
Like wind twirling dresses on the clothesline.

Who has no one has the history of the ocean.

Lord, give me two more days. So that
the last moments may be with someone.

--Jason Shinder


Jessie Carty said...

My sister one called it "the cycle of boredom" how you become fascinated with one thing - a book, a game, a musical genre - until you have your fill of it then you switch gears, but perhaps you will switch back to it again at some point.

I think it is more of being inquisitive. And perhaps once you have truly delved the waters of a subject you are ready to move on to something else for a time.

This is a great post though! I might have to borrow and discuss it myself :)

Radish King said...

Do you think perhaps what you call obsession is in fact passion? Can you tell the difference in your own life between passion and obsession? Does your obsession ever become dangerous for you?

Perhaps your true obsession/passion is poetry, perhaps that is what drives your seeking out. Except for the horse thing of course. I think most girls go through a horse stage. I didn't but that was only because I had horses. My young obsession was pirates to the point of dragging around a giant wooden sword at the time other girls my age were obsessed with Barbie. I know now that was simply my young burning weird love eventually brought me to poetry, a place and, god forbid, a community, where such weirdnesses were and are still perfectly acceptable.

I think about this a lot. I've become dangerously obsessed, mostly about music, losing so much of myself in it. I've learned to watch for signs that my passion is turning to obsession. But that's just me.


Jessie Carty said...

Ah Radish King I bow to you :) What a beautiful post!

And I had forgotten, I also went through a pirate phase, in 2nd grade I was obsessed with Blackbeard. Still can't turn away from a documentary about my favorite pirate :)

RJGibson said...

Anne: I'm with you in regards to light. I can still remember the quality of a ray of light crossing my dashboard as I drove to work one morning more than 10 years ago.

It's one of the things I love best about Schuyler's poems--he seems to understand light and sky and how to articulate it better than anyone.