In my non -poetry life, I have an “identity” that doesn’t really change from day to day. I “am” a gardener, a poet, a runner, a father, a lover, an investment manager, a brother, a walker in the woods, an appreciator of naps, a geek (nerd?), and Poppy (grandpa to you). Of course, there are perturbations and wrinkles in this fabric of identity. But the above list is largely unchanged from the one over the last 6 years (poet and Poppy having been added).
But with poems it is different. A poem I wrote last week was written by a different “me” than one I might write today. I contemplate this as my first short collection, a chapbook responding to Russia’s war on Ukraine, is due for release. The poems I wrote in late February marked not just a different time in the war but were written by a poet open to different epiphanies. The poetic doors I chose to walk through – or even made themselves evident to me – were different then than now.
As I give the obligatory (and joyful) readings promoting the book, I’ll have in the back of my mind the thought: “Yes. But don’t you want to hear the poem I wrote today?” I love reading fresh work out loud – both as I draft and revise it and at readings. It’s then that the work seems most honest and surprising – to me and so, I imagine, to you the reader or listener.
I’d be interested in hearing what you think – as both a poet and a reader of/listener to poetry.
It’s been a while since I’ve posted. Lots of poems have gone out into the wild, but few I’ve written have elicited as much thoughtful response as “The Miracle of Naming,” up today on Rattle. When I sent it out, I was not as confident in its quality as I often am. But I have gotten so many insights into the poem from readers who dug deep into the piece.
That’s the thing about poetry for me. If I abandon myself to the process and writing, I am always surprised. In this case, most of the “work” was preparatory – re-reading the myths surrounding Icarus (which led to his father who built the labyrinth, which led to Ariadne whose string helped Theseus escape the man-beast-Minotaur), learning that dandelions have been around for 30,000,000 years, to finding out more about cooking brisket, and, of course, reading all of the news articles and elegiac and celebratory posts about Fern.
There is no improving on Wendell Berry’s adage from Given. “There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places.”
150 years old. 100 feet tall. Senseless and brutal destruction of this stalwart right over our property line. Our relationship with this oak and her dozens of sister oaks taken from these neighboring woods goes back 45 years. We’ve run or walked our trails nearby 1000s of times. We’ve observed Yom Kippur afternoon with our kids every year when they were younger – pairs of us sitting at the base of this very tree (and others) seeking and giving forgiveness.
No one will seek our forgiveness for this desecration. But I know we will seek forgiveness from these old ones every time we walk by.
I felt I could have done a better job discussing how the poem only worked for me after I abandoned all my preconceived biases against Facebook and Mr. Zuckerberg. It was only after reflecting on the effects such terms as “metaverse” have on how we experience the world that I was free to write a poem that surprised me as I wrote it.
The signs of autumn are piling up. Given how freakishly warm it has been up until the last few days, much of what I think of as Fall has been held at bay. Most of the leaves are still green, no hint of frost has come our way, and I’ve only worn long sleeves for my daily run a couple of times.
But yesterday, we finally gave in to switching on the furnace for a few hours. Our old(er) bones were not up to the 60° temps the house held onto for a couple of days. And today, this: I pealed, cubed, and roasted my first butternut squash of the season. Every dinner (and lunch?) from now until April will have some sweet orange goodness – squash or sweet potatoes – as part of the recipe. I am already warmed by the thought.
I am a picky eater when it comes to peppers and chilis. Red is ripe and I am as disinclined to eat a green one as an unripe pawpaw. That mean we get increasing pepper harvests right up to frost and end up preserving as much as we eat fresh. The dehydrator is working overtime and we’ve trays flash freezing in the deep freeze – all in service of color, tang and heat in our cooking this winter.
We’ve grown sweet potatoes for the last 45 years here on the farm. Out goal is to grow enough (along with winter storage squash) that we can eat them in every meal from early November until April or early May – when it will seem too warm to eat them. It is certainly a labor of love – “labor” being the operative word. From mid-May when we raise the hills to plant them in through a summer of keeping down weeds, fending off dear, and wrangling their rangy vines to fall when we dig, clean, cure, and store, I estimate we spend 25 or 30 hours nursing this crop. But, as with much of the work we do in the garden, every step has its own satisfaction. It is much like a sand mandala – the labor is as much of the joy as is the final product – which vanishes by the time we begin again, next spring.
Once a month, I sit to write Haiku. It is the closest I get to the practice of meditation in my media mediated life. I turn off all my normal tools of writing and just stare out of my little office window until something happening “out there” works its way into my imagination. Yesterday, I noted a few reddening leaves blazing in the still-green silver maple, I recalled the field-corn stalks withering in the sun, heard a few walnuts bounce off a nearby steel roof, thought about harvesting a ripe butternut squash for dinner. As predictable as these things are when I think about what early October should look like, to just sit and take it all in felt simultaneously surprising and comforting – and a little alarming given the preternaturally warm weather we’ve experienced this fall.
Kevin and his son worked here two days, preparing the rusted deck of tractor mower. Twenty years of me neglecting to wash wet grass from its underside caught up with me and the thing practically broke in half the last time I took it to the fields.
Two days and a pocket full of cash and an inspiring amount of inventiveness and hard work later, it’s good as new. Watching Kevin figure out what needed to be done, watching his experience our into an idea multiplied by 16 hours of tedious labor seemed like I was watching a hero quest – as a good ole boy and his troubled adult son healed the world, right before my eyes.
After picking blackberries in the heavy morning dew (my feet are still soaked from the walk to and from the blackberry patch), I tuned into the Westheimer Peace Symposium this morning and heard the incomparable George Lakey speak about the difference between demonstrating ones commitment to a cause and mobilizing in support of that cause.