Adrienne Rich gave us a compass. She held up a lantern. Her passing leaves a huge gap for me.
In the early 1980s, I picked an anthology called Rising Tides and found poems by Adrienne Rich. An introduction, and it took me out of the poems I’d been writing, into a new way to write and to consider–writing and living. A new way to think about this journey and the courage to take each step. I’ve faltered plenty, and I’ve been grateful for that compass, that lantern.
A week ago, I was at the Emily Dickinson house. I felt a sense of wonder standing in the hallway–maybe there more than anywhere, because I could imagine people bustling through the house. The hallway, with its pale green wall paper of delicate swirls, and the stairs, truly held that sense of possibility. And then upstairs, Emily’s room–so perfect for light.
And the white dress–because we have only the one picture of Emily (when she was 16!) and it’s very dark. But now I can imagine her managing the household or sitting at her writing table in her corner room (such a perfect room for light) in her white dress.
We took the full tour, walking across to The Evergreens, where Austin and Susan lived. Such a different house! (And shambling–and the stories of that house!). There, we got to see the dining room and the kitchen and climb upstairs (hoping the stairs would hold) to see the nursery.
Then the moment that sears me–Emily coming across to the Evergreens, like another ghost the night her nephew Gilbert died, and collapsing beneath the trees. I come back to that image and then I return to the hallway, with it’s pale wallpaper, its flood of sunlight, and everything hasn’t happened yet.
In one of the rooms of the Dickinson homestead, the museum has set up an interactive display to show Emily’s variants. According to the tour guide, it isn’t known whether these were revisions (a process of changing) or just options to switch in and out.
But what really struck me was the poem they used to show these. Here it is in a slightly different version than in the museum:
I dwell in Possibility–
A fairer house than Prose–
More numerous of Windows–
Of Chambers as the Cedars–
Impregnable of Eye–
And for an Everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky–
Of Visitors–the fairest–
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise–
I’ve been struggling with poemness–what makes a poem a poem and not just lines broken. What differentiates a poem from prose. The other day, I was driving to the store and hearing someone on the radio and it sounded maybe like a poem, but maybe like a story, and because it had already started I didn’t know. It was lovely–so vivid and poignant–and it turned out that it was a poem. But I couldn’t tell just by listening. I suspect that if I heard this poem on the radio, I’d know immediately that it was a poem.
Poetry has room for all kinds of voices and all kinds of writing, but in my current quest for poemness, this poem helped a lot.Now I need to get a Franklin edition so that I can read truer versions of Emily Dickinson’s poems.
My daughter tells me about her friend–how he uses Facebook to get the word out about his upcoming spoken word performances.
He creates a new Facebook profile picture and he asks his friends to use it for their profile pictures. The idea is that it starts to show up a lot–and when other friends ask about it, they get a link to the event.
I don’t know, but my daughter says I should try it, and this seems like a prime time. If you have friends in the New York area, can you help me get the word out? (And help with this experiment? It could be brilliant–or it could be the fastest way to lose Facebook friends ever.)
New shoes: Nope, not yet. (All my shoes are clunky, old, and not good for long walks–a triple whammy. I need style plus comfort if I’m going to Gotham.)
And the ups and downs: Today I found out that one of the papers I’d sent p.r. didn’t, in the end, have room to fit us into their calendar. On the one hand (always that one hand!), I was glad they at least showed an interest. But it was still disappointing.
I’ve been trying to stay philosophical. Lately, disappointments seem to be followed (even at a length) by… what’s the antonym of “disappointment”? It seems to even out.
And another sneak preview–Sarah Sarai’s poem “Like Wings”:
What can be said. Speed is
a calling. Desire is a bidding.
Judgment rises from steam
and then where?
Fortune is the heart of
two chambers like wings
and the instinct to soar,
migrate, see the world
and its topographical
gestures. Topography is
the back of a woman seen as
desert or a reptile’s spine
seen as disco hall of mirrors
as glitter and gold lamé.
You have not learned to trust
(the muted instinct).
I’m leading sessions at 10:00 and 11:00 on breaking up the narrative. Here’s the description:
Starting with images and seed texts, we’ll fly through rapid-fire prompts–a fast way to get out of our comfort zones and generate fragments and sections. Then we’ll take some time to collage those parts into poems or prose pieces that tell a story in or out of sequence.
And Karen Finneyfrock will lead a session at noon on using broken form.