Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Poetry & mystery & a bit about Twitter

For a few months now I've been on hiatus from the poetry group I belong to. When I first stepped out, I wasn't writing much at all; now I'm writing again, though a bit slowly - weekends mostly, usually drafting one or two poem(-ish thing)s. I haven't been going back to revise much, and the poems feel a little different to me. Anyway, I've realized that, right now, I just want to trust the poems to do their own thing; I don't want to go back to the group for critique just yet. I don't want to interrogate the poems yet. I don't want someone trying to make sense of them - it feels like "sense" isn't the point of these particular poems, at least not yet. It's a new place for me to be, although in a way it's a lot like where I was with poems back when I first started writing, in my teens.

That whole paragraph was more than a little self-indulgent, but that's how it goes sometimes.

The new poems seem to be about memory. I say "seem to be" but since one of them is titled "What Memory Is" I guess it's a little more than "seem" huh? It feels like the very beginning stages of a new project(-ish thing). There's the first manuscript, Land Mammal, which has been making the rounds as they say and will probably get revised some more between now and whenever; there's the second one, Chasing Angels, which I seem to have stepped away from for a while but which I'd like to go back to over the summer and pound it into some kind of readable shape; and now there is this new thing. Which may or may not actually be a thing. I'd like to get one of the first two manuscripts accepted somewhere before I push too far on the new thing, just because I can only juggle so many balls at one time... well, we'll see.

Memory seems like an appropriate thing for me to be thinking about and writing about these days. I've lived in this town for almost thirty-one years now, and there are a lot of ghosts here. I'm comfortable with most of them but they are still, you know, ghosts. And on Friday I begin the one-year countdown to my fiftieth birthday - which seems crazy to me.

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Don't even know what to say about the awfulness in the Gulf. It's as if someone decided we weren't turning the ocean into toxic sludge quite fast enough, and figured we should speed up the process. And I know it's not going to help at all (especially since my little Corolla only eats about five gallons of gas a week), and I know none of the oil companies are particularly ethical or worthy of support, but I can't bring myself to buy gas from BP now, even though it's the most convenient place for me.

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While I'm busy letting the new poems just sit there and be mysterious, I've been reasonably industrious about sending out the old ones. I'm pleased to note that Rattle took one for their winter issue. I suppose it's self-indulgent to announce acceptances here on this blog, but isn't that what the Internet is for anyway? Well, that and cute kitten pictures.

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Really enjoying Twitter lately. It doesn't replace the extended musings of a blog, or the conversation of real life. It's more kinda like sitting in a room with a bunch of people, all puttering around or reading or watching tv or listening to music or whatever, and occasionally piping up with an observation, which maybe makes a couple of people say "Hmmm, interesting" or tell you about the time that same thing happened to them. And then someone will read you something interesting that they stumbled across, and maybe that will make you go look up something to find out a little more about that something. It's a low-key, ongoing multiple connectedness that appeals to me. Plus, you occasionally get to exchange remarks with people you'd probably never have the chance to chat with in real life, like the great writer Margaret Atwood, journalist Luke Russert, or terrific writer/musician Rosanne Cash (who has a memoir coming out soonish, and I can't wait to read it). I've gotten a tremendous amount of professional information from the librarians I follow, and I know that if there's any news from the Springsteen world someone will tweet about it. For someone like me who practically has a phobia about "what if something interesting happens in the world and I don't know about it??" (yeah, why do you think I went to library school anyway?) - it's pretty great. Twitter isn't everybody's cup of tea, and that's fine; I'm following as many people as I can manage right now anyway and I don't need more! But it has taken me by surprise to realize it's become an important resource for me, both personally and professionally.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Letting the world intrude

Over the weekend I spent several hours at the mega-chain coffee place near campus (I know, I know... but now that many of the students have left for the summer, it's a pleasant novelty to be able to go there and actually find a seat), reading and writing. And it occurred to me that lately, say for the past couple of years, I've found it much easier to draft poems when I'm somewhere other than home. Looking over the poems I drafted this weekend, I realized why - it's that when I'm out in public, things happen. People walk past, the weather changes, unexpected music comes on the radio. Things I didn't choose and can't control.

Allowing those things to drop into the poem when they feel like they belong, without trying to overexplain what they're doing there, is a technique I've been enjoying lately. Sure, I could do it at home, but (despite my cats' best efforts) home is a lot more predictable. I love hearing a snippet of conversation, or a ringtone, or seeing a girl wearing a shiny blouse with butterflies printed all over it - and letting that image fall into the poem. I love letting go of the need for tight control over the poem's arc enough to let unexpected things fall in and shift it. Most of my writing life I've written fairly linearly (is that a word?), this happened and then this happened and then this; or at least, I saw this and it made me think of that. For years and years I kept a tight rein on my poems, tried hard to steer them. (Who me, control freak? Uh...) And I overexplained, that's for sure. Learning to let the world intrude and let unexpected details fall in and just be there has been, I think, a great exercise for me.

I was first aware of doing this in Provincetown a few years back - now there's a great place to find some interesting details to fall into your poems! I'll share a poem that was pretty heavily shaped by this kind of attention, which turned out to be one of my favorite writing-process experiences. I started writing it while sitting at a table in the window of the Adams Pharmacy, watching it rain outside, watching cranky wet tourists go by - and then some people with a dog walked by. The dog had his head high, carrying a toy of some sort, looking absolutely and utterly delighted with himself. A dog with treasure in its mouth. And that moment of serendipity & unexpected joy completely changed the direction of the poem as I was writing it.

When I left the Adams Pharmacy I had a prose paragraph thingie. Here's an early draft:

There are things that are mine, and things that never will be. You for one, with the wet loam of your gaze turning away. This day, just past the turn of summer, minutes shorter now than yesterday. It’s cliché to say how quickly a life can pass, but on this morning in my forty-fourth year it’s a question I can taste, the salt sweet shore of it. The time we take to turn away when we could be absolutely still. A red car on a rainy day, driving slow on Gosnold Street. A dog with treasure in its mouth. Everything that passes by : I want to wave my arms and make it halt : just hold there for one moment, hold. Weathered blue framed windows, voices saying yes, the words that water says. Rain comes down harder, generous, saying yes, yes to the black and shining street.

I left the pharmacy then, intending to go get some clam chowder at the Lobster Pot for lunch, but they weren't open yet - so I wandered over to the Provincetown Public Library (which I adore) and settled in to work on revising for a while. My hair was damp from the rain and I had to take my rain-spattered glasses off to work, which became I've salt in my eyes, in my hair. I'd briefly picked up Lucille Clifton's Blessing the Boats when I first got to the library, and something about the tone of the title poem was resonating in my mind as I worked. Other things in the poem had been poking at my attention for the time I'd been in Provincetown - cormorants, the blue frames around the windows of a B&B across the way from the one where I was staying - and those details found their way into the poem as well. I didn't walk out of the library with the poem in its final form that morning, but it was pretty close, actually.

Here's the finished poem as it appeared in my chapbook Breach:


Everything I’ve lost, refused, or left behind
comes flooding in like dead things on the tide.
What is ever really gone? The name for this light is yes.
Drifting ghost nets, lost at sea, entangle the unwary beasts
that thrash against the current and the dream
and I’ve salt in my eyes, in my hair.
There are things that are mine and things
that never will be. You for one,
with the wet loam of your gaze turning towards home.
On this fogged-in morning in my forty-fourth year
it’s a question I can taste, the salt sweet shore of it,
the time we take to turn away.
A red car on a rainy day, driving slow on Gosnold Street,
a dog with treasure in its mouth.
Everything that passes by: I want to wave my arms,
to hold them wide like cormorants’ wings:
just hold there for one moment, hold.
Weathered blue framed windows, voices saying yes,
the words that water says.
Rain comes down hard now, generous, saying
yes, yes to the distant shore,
to the black and shining street.

-Anne Haines July 2005

Sunday, May 16, 2010

And I wonder, still I wonder, who'll stop the rain?

Quickie linkage on a damp and grayish day; I have a more substantial post brewing in the back of my mind (honest!).

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Some of you (if there's anyone still reading this blog, that is...) will appreciate this site: Hot Guys Reading Books. It's exactly what it says it is. :)

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It's true: Bruce Springsteen, Lady Gaga (who is, as it turns out, a huge Springsteen fan), Sting, Elton John, Debbie Harry, and Shirley Bassey recently got together at a rainforest benefit in NYC and performed that Journey song, "Don't Stop Believing." The awful proof lies in the video herewith embedded. I'm sorry. (Okay, not really.)

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And on a more verifiably classic note: here's the great Miles Davis with his quintet, performing "So What" in 1959. It doesn't get much better than this. My poem based on this tune appeared recently in the online journal shaking like a mountain.

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Finally, the happy news that my poem "What This Poem Will Do" has been picked up by Rattle. It'll appear in the December issue. Yay!

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Stormy weather

I think I've now heard from all my Tennessee friends, and all are safe and relatively high & dry. It's crazy out there! Floods in Tennessee, oil washing up in the Gulf, busted pipes & dirty water in Boston, car bombs in NYC, tornadoes in the South... it all makes the noisy thunderstorms that have awakened me the past two nights seem pretty tame by comparison.

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Watched the Kentucky Derby yesterday and, as I do pretty much every year about this time, remembered the time I got to meet the great Secretariat. It was about a year after he'd retired. I was a horse-crazy thirteen-year-old, and we took a family vacation to the bluegrass country of Kentucky. After making a pilgrimage to Churchill Downs, we went to the farm where Secretariat was at stud, only to find it had been closed to the public. But my parents made a phone call and pleaded our case, and they let us in and gave us a tour of the stud barn. There are pictures (I need to scan them someday & post them online!) of a nerdy little me standing next to that huge glossy red stallion, touching his shoulder, looking up at him in awe. I also got to meet his stablemate Riva Ridge and several other stallions whose names and histories I knew well. I remember that Secretariat was enormous and stunningly beautiful; though he was no longer in peak racing condition, he'd been off the track less than a year and still looked like the tremendous athlete he was. It was a great, great day for me.

This amuses me greatly: the list of celebrities I have patted on the shoulder consists of Secretariat and Bruce Springsteen. Hee! :)