Thinking about poetry

Sometimes I just get tired of poetry altogether and need a break. I had a period like that this month–no writiing, reading nothing that seemed worth the trouble. Then I went to see the wonderful claymation film: Shaun the Sheep Movie. It made me laugh out loud, restored my good spirits and opened me to whatever poem might find me next, which was this one, from a sequence about the end of a long drought.

redstaretmuddy boots
lined up inside
the barn door
cows miserable
in the lee
of the hill
it’s all I do
now he said–
holding the bucket
in one hand
stripping tit
with the other–
and I know each
one by its humid
eye–the ground
outside plopping
it’s deafening–say
what? say–cow
cocking an ear–the rain’s
falling pretty
healthy it
smells like
heaven in here

from Redstart
by Forrest Gander and John Kinsella

And while I’m at it, here’s a bit of Forrest’s essay on his personal poetics, from “The Transparency of a Faithful Existence. from the book A Faithful Existence

“What I want is simple enough: to combine spiritual, intellectual, emotional, and technical elements into a resistant musical form.” I just have to note here that my reaction when I read this was this is one of the least simple efforts I can imagine! But to go on: “To summon the social and political meanings of sound and rhythm as well as meanings whose force lies beneath or above our syntax. As Thelonious Monk put it succinctly: “Just how to use the notes differently. That’s it.”

…”I follow those poems whose rhythms and syntax draw me away from what is already familiar, secure, agreed upon. The thorn-bug and her nymphs clustered on a green stem, the woman at the nursing home stirring her tea with a frozen Charlotte, the flight attendants deadheading back to Pittsburg, the boy in the dog’s bed curled into a question mark, starlight bending near the limb of the sun, coffee cut with honeysuckle, lagoons of coal slurry leaking into an abandoned strip mine, the faces in foreign newspapers of those we have bombed, tomatoes ripened with ethylene gas, two 300-plus-pound men in a canoe fishing for alligator gar, fingerling birches, the thrushes already quiet by mid-morning and my dead friend and his dog Charlie Parker peeing together in the snow: these are the insurmountable a priori of my poems. Exposed, I close my eyes. Listening. Open. Cored Out.”

alligatorgarThat makes a pretty amazing poem in itself, and as I read through these essays and look up the words I don’t know, my own vision of the world is enhanced. I can see the heavy men in the canoe stalking the prehistoric fish, the old woman stirring her tea with “a dessert consisting of a filling (as of fruit, whipped cream, or custard) layered with or placed in a mold lined with strips of bread, ladyfingers, or biscuits.”

And the essay “If Not a Writer,” in A Faithful Existence expresses perfectly my experience of hospitals, but you’ll have to get the book and read it for yourself. Oh, and Thelonious Monk also said this, a quote I love: Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.


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