I realize I haven’t been blogging much at all since the end of Poetry Month. But this past week I’ve been reading.

And what a week it’s been–a perfect marriage of image and intellect. I’ve been reading Anne Carson’s Plainwater. This collection also pairs poetry and essay–with the essays sometimes bordering on prose poems, or a diary, or a meditation. For me, not knowing exactly what I’m reading, not being able to box it into a known form, is part of the delicious pleasure.

The book is divided into five sections: Mimnermos: The Brainsex paintings (poem fragments and essay), Short Talks (are they poems, or brief essays; does it matter?), Canicula di Anna (time and identity shifting and bending), The Life of Towns (poems, I think), and The Anthropology of Water (essays in three sections). All woven with Greek and Chinese history and Japanese poets. All studded with spare and gorgeous imagery, its recurrences.

The essays especially grabbed me. I’d think that part of their power was in their lack of trickery or contortion–and then I’d realize that their acrobatics are just that subtle. I’m reading a long and wham, there’s that badger again.

Now for a sample: Here is a link to some of the poems from The Life of Towns. For a sip of the essays, see this excerpt from The Anthropology of Water.

Enjoy.

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I’ve been a supporter of Copper Canyon Press for several years, and every once in a while they send me something in the mail. A few years ago, it was Rabindranath Tagore’s The Lover of God. I didn’t read it right away (for whatever distracting reason), and then it was buried under a pile of other books. But when I moved into the writing studio, I put it on the books-to-read shelf.

And what a delight! I was captivated both by the imagery and the story–as well as the story of Randranath Tagore himself (which made me think of Pessoa). (I confess: I skimmed the front matter and didn’t get to the postscript. Perhaps on a second reading.)

Have you read these? Two voices speak in them–the older mentor consoling and chiding, the young lover passionate and inconsolable.

And the images! From my favorite,

“Too late for embarrassment, shy doe
nibbling at the forest’s edge,
shawled in deep blue shadows.”

and

“Black bees carry the moon’s luster
from flower to flower.”

You can read the whole poem on the Copper Canyon Press site.

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This week I was lucky enough to have an advance copy of Kathryn Rantala’s book In the State I’m In, from Ravenna Press. I was so excited to read this book, after enjoying some of the poems at Cascadia Review. These poems explore geographical regions in Washington State, starting West, moving Along the Columbia, and ending in the East.

The spare nature of the poems gives me room and time to imagine myself in each place.

From “Okanogan”:

“signs of the familiars
the high house peaked
barns
rubbed bright
where light gets hold of them”

From “Sun and Gorge”:

“And if on horseback knoll
or ridge or plain
or on the iron of a high butte

it draws the adorations out of you”

From “Down the Road Toward Tekoa”:

“What the guidebook says to bring off-road
may be extinguished
sometimes that is hope”s

The space around the images opens up landscapes–especially in the East section’s poems, where I can imagine the expanse and the wind blowing over the small details of stones, birds, a red car.

Reading these poems, I want to get in my red car and drive east, over the Cascades, stay on I90 past the turnoff to Yakima, be in that space. And part of me feels as though I already have.

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In the past, after NaPoWriMo was over, I’ve listed the titles of the poems I wrote. This year, I’d rather spend a few minutes thinking about what I learned, and asking you what you learned from writing a persona poem a day–or any poem a day.

I realized and admitted that writing a poem a day is contrary to the way I work. Writing a draft? Sure. But I tend to work even on early drafts over days and days–expanding them out, paring them out. Most things I write in one day feel like thin facsimiles.

And I got behind. You’d think that devoting 20 minutes a day to writing a poem wouldn’t be hard. I want to elevate poetry, and elevating it for 20 minutes seems completely reasonable. But I confess that sometimes I gave the actual writing much less time than that (which means more rewriting later). Sometimes, I was actually writing the poem at 5:00 am the next day (sorry!). And some of that not writing time was taken up by research, which leads me to the next thing I learned, or re-learned.

Research is hard. You’d think I’d remember this from last year’s prompts. Even though I knew my persona before I publicly revealed the theme of this year’s prompts, I didn’t research ahead. That meant a lot of early mornings looking things up on the Internet. Between misreading or misremembering some things and the general diciness of Internet information paired with scholars’ conflicting interpretations, I sometimes found it hard to keep my facts straight.

I also found it hard to balance fact with poem. What does the reader need to know? How much context is required? I love the title of my first poem, “Goodbye, Eddie”–but the poem is about leaving Springfield for Lincoln’s first term as president. I don’t want the poem to have to explain that Eddie is their first son who had died and was buried in Springfield. But without that information, the title doesn’t make sense. Notes, anyone?

And I found it hard to balance the persona’s voice with a poem’s syntax. I’m speaking in a voice, so I feel compelled to make the poem sound like speaking, but then it drifts perilously toward prose.

What did you learn from your month of writing?

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This week, I’ve been reading feminine gospels by Carol Ann Duffy. These poems explore the lives of women in various context and roles, often as archetypes that shift. Is it Eve, or…? The poem “Beautiful” moves from Helen of Troy to Cleopatra to Marilyn Monroe–and I don’t know who the last person is, if it’s someone specific (maybe you can tell me).

Some poems spin off into the surreal, including “The Diet,” “The Woman Who Shops,” and “Work,” start with the everyday and push it beyond, building a new physical reality on the emotional experience.

The shifts can keep the reader delightfully unbalanced. The language is musical, with an abundance of internal rhyme–but all that beauty masks the edge that is creeping behind it, ready to pounce.

One of my favorite poems in the book is “The Laughter of Stafford Girls’ High”–and I’ll admit I was daunted at first by its length–19 pages. But it quickly became addictive. (I did want to find out more about Miss Barrett–did I miss that?).

Here’s another poem from the book:

Wish

But what if, in the clammy soil, her limbs
grew warmer, shifted, stirred, kicked off
the covering of earth, the drowsing corms,
the sly worms, what if her arms reached out
to grab the stone, the grooves of her dates
under her thumb, and pulled her up? I wish.
Her bare feet walk along the gravel path
between the graves, her shroud like washing
blown onto the grass, the petals of her wreath
kissed for a bride. Nobody died. Nobody
wept. Nobody slept who couldn’t be woken
by the light. If I can only push open this heavy door
she’ll be standing there in the sun, dirty, tired,
wondering why do I shout, why do I run.

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