Poetry is a practice. We don't learn to make poems, we develop a practice that makes space in our lives for poetry. Poems are a visible result of that practice, but not the only result, and maybe not the best result. A strong practice once developed can weather slow periods, slumber through quiet times and spring to life when we need it. Like any other practice we may not know what it is for until we need it. Then suddenly the years and hours focused on the work give wings to our creativity and it all makes sense. Practice becomes us.
SECOND NATURE from my second book "Natural History" speaks to the nature of practice:
It takes a long time, years
of practice. Make the moves
over and over—slowly
at first then faster. Memorize
patterns, train ear and hand,
learn to play with sound
and sense. Harvest
silence from crowded corridors,
rage from empty meadows.
Drill cadences deep,
carry them everywhere.
Then, when you are threatened,
when you have to move fast,
your body will know what to do.
Motions unfold like breath,
well-worn pathways channel
the moment into song,
and—never doubt it--
making that one poem
will save your life.
[Addendum, June 2015: The poems mentioned herein are no longer available on the website, but are in the collection, "Swallowing the World," new this month from Lost Arts Design.]
I put seven new poems in the “Uncollected” section of the website today. A wide range, new and old.
CATKINS is the newest, celebrating the Hazelnut catkins. Hazels hold the ground north and south of the house. In January and February their soft subtle flowers are a welcome visual and textural delight when everything else seems scattered, chaotic, broken or skeletal.
You’ll find two Northeast Florida poems, HOLY VISION and WINDFALL. I get down there a lot to see my father, who is in decline, but stable, and not in much pain. His body and mind just don’t work as well as they used to. So we all get down more often, to help him out.
Dad lives in assisted living, but still has the house he and my mother lived in for the ten years or so before her death, in 2009. This house is sited on a beautiful curve of the intercoastal waterway on the landward side of Amelia Island, the northernmost barrier island on Florida’s Atlantic coast. The next island north is Cumberland Island, in Georgia.
The back deck of the house practically overhangs a wide salt marsh, rife with birds, bordering the river, where great barges, layer-cake tug boats, and all manner of pleasure craft travel by day and night. Eagles, Osprey, Kingfisher, and all sorts of wading birds nest nearby. The place provides a remarkable and inspiring residence and retreat. HOLY VISION and WINDFALL were triggered by experiences in that rich, tropical landscape, where I always seem to be about to go, or just back from these days.
The other four newly posted poems are AFTER DARK, CONFLUENCE, AT THE SCULPTURE PARK, and WEIGHTLESS.
Let me know what you like, or what you would like to hear at the reading, March 21.
Big snowfall during the night. Big for Puget Sound country. It's not light yet, but the blanket softens everything. I woke up thinking of Liam Rector's poem "In Snow", and David Broza's beautiful rendition [click here]. I found a performance clip—unfortunately not the whole song, but it gives a sweet taste. Ah Liam, we miss ye, lad.
The one word poem in my previous post was "YOU." Read the 12/30 posting for context. I suspect that in another context the one word poem would require a very large—perhaps infinite—title. That's the way of these things.
In a dream this morning, I was one-poem-in to a poetry reading. Large, well-lit room, an audience of about forty. It was a relaxed scene—I knew some of the people; many of them had heard me read before.
I was giving the first poem a little space when someone about half-way back on the right raised his hand. I nodded and he said “That poem only adds clarity to a narrow slice of existence. I want the poem that explains it all.”
Without missing a beat I said “I can give you that poem in one word.” The one word poem that explains it all had just come to me. Go figure.
I met the man’s eyes, and just as I was about to pronounce the one word, a series of unrelated interruptions broke through the room—a door opened admitting four or five people in animated conversation, a PA system somewhere crackled to life in the middle of an announcement—it was as if a tempest blew through the room, as if papers were flying everywhere. The audience looked around, distracted, the moment seemed broken.
But the man and I were still holding the gaze, and I said the word. We both smiled. No one but he and I heard it. The tempest blew itself out and everything settled. I cleared my throat, shuffled pages, and went on with the reading. No one else seemed to notice.
I remember the word that was for me and him the necessary explanation at that moment. Can you guess it?
I have often sent out a poem from the year as a solstice or New Year greeting in the form of a small broadside, or card. Not every year but every few. This year I wrote “Thanksgiving (occupy this)” on the day after Thanksgiving—it came together quickly and right away had the feel of the holiday poem for this year.
I took a picture of the Olympics that morning and put together the broadside, sent it to a few friends.
A few days later I began to take the message of the poem to heart and realized it was time to give access to all the poems. I already had the URL. Debi Bodett of 33 Image Design helped me build the site.