Monthly Archives: March 2011

Christine Hume comments on my portfolio

This is very fine work—the extraordinary emotional and linguistic precision of these poems is stunning. They vibrate between playful and brutal so deftly that each line seems to be a sharp shard of some fantastic and fatally wounded planet. You have a deep understanding of the revision process […] and the capacity to both expand and cut back serves you well. You narrator(s)’s simmering insinuations and speculations play themselves out in Technicolor; thoughts here seem motivated by emotions and vis-versa. The “I” seems decidedly grammatical and rhetorical, but never loses the grit and gamble of personhood. That is, it doesn’t feel like a mere abstraction or theoretical stance, even if it is. “Young Writers” enacts struggle for and fear of writerly confidence, and the opposition the narrator seeks to set up between first person and “young writers” clearly is a foil, a desperate attempt at distancing. Aesthetics is at stake here—solipsism, naturalism (organic poetry), subjectivity, linguistic modes of expression are all on the line—but the poem ends on a call for dialogism. This call is complex because it argues for being in dialogue with someone outside the self and for thinking/hearing everything in the world as a direct response. “Disaster” is a very Dickinsonesque piece, with its hesitancies, sonic links, and movement between the seen and the spiritual. The way ruin turns into stories which turn into “lines lost” seems to be commenting on the editorial process (Dickinson’s trouble with editors; the lost lines of ancient verse found stuffed into mummies etc; revising or cutting one’s own work), and turns from concrete to ephemeral.

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Of Things Lost

I wanted

to write

myself away

and

back

to you.


This note is for you.

I wanted

to take what’s lost

and write

of things lost and

thrown away—

 

still I haven’t found the way

back

and

that’s not what I wanted—I wanted

to write

myself back to you

 

before all names for you

lost—before I’ve lost the way

to write

to you.

I wanted

to say everything I’ve found and

 

that the snow is melting and

come back

home—that’s what I wanted

to say in a way

—you

can see I can’t write

 

of anything else or write

of things that won’t break and

fall apart in the margins. You

are away

and that’s not what I wanted—

 

I can’t write myself back—

and I’m still looking for a way

to reach you—this is what I want.

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Six Word Memoirs 5

Writing:

the impossibility

of being true.

 

The words

came out

all wrong.

 

I am

all I’m

comfortable with.

 

Can’t perfect

the whispers

of want.

 

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Six Word Memoirs 4

I need

to write

to remember.

 

Our dreams

understand

the heart

breaks.

 

 

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Six Word Memoirs 3

I can’t say

where it hurts—

 

I can’t say

what breaks feeling—

 

Sorrow never parts

from its content.

 

 

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Six Word Memoir 2

Live to write—

write

to live.

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Six Word Memoir

Write yer heart—

there’s nothing

else.

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Of Becoming Horizontal

(formally “I Misremember”)

I couldn’t tear or

break a language

 

beyond the terror

of the hollow earth.

 

I mis(remember) feeling nothing,

eye forgets too easily

what the weather looked like

 

(how long it took to find anything on TV)—

what angles planes entered

exited, sounds produced as bodies Pollocked pavement—

 

the suddenness of becoming horizontal

but the dogs continued to eat,

piss, shit and sleep as I did

to remember there’s something flowing, moving inside.

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three small words

Who isn’t trying to glimpse

the horror to record

the sounds

we know

of love—

mere hopes it’ll spill over

 

in three small words which can’t cover

or glimpse

what it is—love

won’t allow any record.

What I need to know

is what it sounds

 

like—whatever it sounds

like—don’t tell me when it’s over.

I need to know

just enough to glimpse

and record

the distances. I don’t want love

 

to follow—I want love

to match the sounds

and accord

with what I’ve written over

the glimpse

of it—I’ve come to know

 

it gnaws at the things I know

I can’t admit—I’d love

to glimpse

and sound

out a syllable of yer name—before it’s over

let me record

 

my own version of it. I’ll record

what I’ve come to know

over

this distance and write only syllables I love

as sounds

allow me to glimpse

 

only what I record and love

I know just spare me the sounds

and cover the words I can’t glimpse.

 

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On Artistic Intent

Hello,

 

I forgot to mention this, but when you copy edit, make sure you keep in mind artistic intent.  The piece I’m thinking of it [title of the piece] all those changes you made are actually part of the style of the piece, and to change them would undo the whole point.  Remember- anyone who has submitted their piece to us has probably gone over it three or four times at least to make sure it’s right, and if it got accepted, it meant the judges thought something in it was working.  Only change things that you absolutely think are error- typos, spelling, spacing between words, etc.  When in doubt, point it out but don’t necessarily change it.

 

Thanks,

 

[Editor-in-Chief]

 

Hello,

 

Here are some notes on “artistic intent.” The changes I made to the piece “Summer Again in the Township” only helped it out. It was an awfully written piece, and awfully dreadful to read through. There is a point when “artistic intent” becomes an excuse to become sloppy with language and in effect, it disregards the reader, as anyone who reads it would be able to see how un-artful that “artistic intent” is. Yes, it’s style is its lack of punctuation and it is one sentence. And that’s cute and all but if there were a few artful line breaks thrown in there it would only improve the piece. Since any person who has any history of reading poetry knows a couple extra spaces or a line break indicates pause.

Let’s take a look at the original piece “Summer Again in the Township”:

Arriving in an empty home they laugh and jest a flight of stairs away the authority stumbled back just before he had consumed for the first time in months they didn’t help nor console the man emptying his heart into the bowl they poked him with sticks and screeched with delight every time he retched their wicked tongues called her name to each other recounting the embarrassment of her company calligraphic language and embezzled behavior was enough to wreck the evening and the moon was

no where

to be found her mind turned to soldiers and anarchists yet her phone sat humbly by her hands the vacant floor did nothing but echo each insulting syllable throughout each corner and crevice and every picture was faked each smile suggesting something she couldn’t see something she never felt a fraud posing as a memory each image and vibrating word enough to justify each step back out the door until his hand lashed out and

blocked

her path she ran barefoot for miles through the dark and winding suburban streets constricting her as much as their fingers slinking around her throat she could hear the voices and slaps of feet behind her toying with her space like a game needled teeth reaching out to her bubble claustrophobia speckled the cement with red disgust boiled over to rage in one hand she flicks her blade open

and shut

in the other she dials a number one she has withheld for months he answers the phone in silence his breaths are deep and dream-like but they don’t respond to her sniffles they refuse to answer her desperate voice the breathing does nothing but listen the steady warmth escaping lungs and esophagus too far away to even imagine touching skin quiet and calm to the screams across the wires and she slams the receiver against her leg crying

Fuck.

 

And here are some suggestions without adding punctuation but indicating pauses and adding capitalization so the reader can see what’s going on:

Arriving in an empty home

they laugh and jest

a flight of stairs away

The authority stumbled back

just before

he had consumed

for the first time in months

They didn’t help

nor console the man

emptying his heart into the bowl

They poked him

with sticks

and screeched with delight

every time he retched

Their wicked tongues called her name

to each other

recounting the embarrassment of her company

calligraphic language

and embezzled behavior was enough to wreck

the evening

and the moon was

no where

to be found

Her mind turned

to soldiers

and anarchists

yet her phone sat humbly

by her hands

The vacant floor did nothing

but echo

each insulting syllable

throughout each corner

and crevice

and every picture was faked

each smile

suggesting something she couldn’t see

something she never felt

A fraud

posing as a memory

each image

and vibrating word

enough to justify each step back

out the door

until his hand lashed out

and blocked

her path

She ran barefoot for miles

through the dark and winding suburban streets

constricting her as much as their fingers

slinking around her throat

She could hear the voices

and slaps of feet

behind her

toying with her space

like a game

needled teeth

reaching out to her bubble

claustrophobia

speckled the cement with red disgust

boiled over

to rage

In one hand

she flicks her blade open

and shut

In the other

she dials a number

one she has withheld for months

He answers the phone in silence

His breaths are deep

and dream-like

but they don’t respond

to her sniffles

They refuse to answer

her desperate voice

The breathing does nothing

but listen

the steady warmth

escaping lungs and esophagus

too far away

to even imagine touching skin

quiet and calm

to the screams

across the wires

and she slams the receiver against her leg

crying

Fuck.

 

And so on…

‘All those changes you made are actually part of the style of the piece, and to change them would undo the whole point.’

The idea of “artistic intent” is not permission to be sloppy or utterly disregard the reader. Certainly, there are contemporary writers and writers in the world’s history whose style was evident in their work. For example, W. S. Merwin, e. e. cummings, Gertrude Stein, George Oppen, and so on.

Somewhere in our society, we have forgotten that poetry is communication. There’s already enough resistance towards poetry in our society, and most of the blame is to be placed on the poets. No doubt that as writers we have the freedom of choosing what to write about, but we have to keep in the back of our minds the possibility, if the poem is published, that there will be someone else reading our work. We have to keep in mind, as Ted Kooser wrote in The Poetry Home Repair Manual, that our poems are invited guests into their day, or lives, or bathrooms:

A poem is the invited guest of its reader. As readers we open the door of the book or magazine, look into the face of the poem, and decide whether or not to invite it into our lives. No poem has ever entered a reader’s life without an invitation; no poem has the power to force the door open. No one is going to read your poem just because it’s there. Because most of our early experience with poems happened in classrooms where we had to try to make sense of a poem, we’ve gotten the impression that people are going to sit still for a half hour sweating over the poems we write, trying to understand and enjoy them. Not so! […]. If your poem doesn’t grab them at once, they’re turning the page (22-3).

Throughout my history of writing and reading and attending workshops, one thing has become more and more evident that some writers forget that our readers only have so much patience and we have to grab their attention quick and gracefully or they will turn the page. No one is going to read your poem just because it’s there.

And, as Kooser suggests, we need to also think like businessmen or businesswomen when writing our poems and examine the poem with a cost-benefit analysis:

In business, executives make cost-benefit analyses. […]. They never want the cost to exceed the benefit. Every choice you make in a poem, thinking to make it better, can also have a corresponding cost. If you want to make a line look shorter by using an ampersand or an abbreviation of a word, you face the cost of drawing the reader’s attention back to the surface while he or she wonders why you decided to us Sgn for surgeon. […]. The cost is the risk, however slight, that your reader will be drawn back to the surface to puzzle over your usage when you want his or her attention to be beyond the surface, peering down into the beautiful underwater garden of the poem. […]. Each of us must make a thousand choices in every poem. Nobody is going to take away your poetic license for playing with typography or punctuation or spelling. It can be lots of fun to write a poem about a flying seagull in the shape of a flying seagull, but you need to understand that that bird shape will interfere to some degree with the ability of the reader to pass through the surface into the poem behind that clever silhouette. […] It may seem cool to leave out commas, to come up with a new spelling for a word, or to use an esoteric word, but if any of this forces your readers to back up and read a line again to see if they’ve understood, it costs you something. It may seem cool to allude to other literary works, to put in the name of a character from a Finnish sage, like Ilmarinen from The Kalevala, but if your reader has to put down the poem and go online to search Google for Imarinen, poof! there goes the transparency (68-70).

Now let’s examine this with the cost-benefit analysis. I assume most readers don’t like to have a dictionary next to them while they’re reading a poem. I don’t mind it so much. But it is extremely irritating to scan through a dictionary while reading a poem that’s not interesting. Take for example, “jest” in the first paragraph on page one—besides being a synonym for laugh or joke, I am wondering why “jest” is there. Already in the first paragraph my attention is being guided somewhere else: to a dictionary and also wondering why the writer is being redundant since he or she could’ve wrote it as: “Arriving in an empty home, they laugh and jest a flight of stairs away….”.

And then there’s the phrase “their wicked tongues called her name to each other recounting the embarrassment of her company calligraphic language and embezzled behavior was enough to wreck the evening” […]. Two things really stick out here—“embarrassment of her company calligraphic language” and “embezzled behavior”. Of course in our writing we use certain devices such as alliteration, consonance, assonance, repetition, etc. since poetry is musically driven. There’s a problem with writers who abuse these devices and with those who do not look at their work critically enough and take out anything that might distract the reader—the writer who keeps a line in there, even though it does not fit with the poem, just because he or she wrote it.

Remember- anyone who has submitted their piece to us has probably gone over it three or four times at least to make sure it’s right, and if it got accepted, it meant the judges thought something in it was working.

I’ll suggest the writer should go over it three or four or five times more, or throw it in the trash. The only thing that’s possibly working in the poem is “they didn’t help nor console the man emptying his heart into the bowl” or “and the moon was nowhere to be found.” Or the writer read more poetry and write more poetry and just keep it in a journal until he or she has looked over it twenty times.

I like experimentation and I don’t because too often writers think readers will read their work just because it’s there. As Raymond Carver wrote in his essay “On Writing”:

Too often “experimentation” is a license to be careless, silly or imitative in the writing. Even worse, a license to try to brutalize or alienate the reader. Too often such writing gives us no news of the world, or else describes a desert landscape and that’s all—a few dunes and lizards here and there, but no people; a place uninhabited by anything recognizably human, a place of interest only to a few scientific specialists (14-15).

 

We have to remember that poetry is communication, readers invite us into their lives, and if we annoy them, or alienate them, or bore them. We have to remember that no one is going to read our poems just because it’s there.

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