Tuesday, April 27, 2010

More on why I love poetry, and/or: I told my students I'd write a poem.


ELA State Test=done. Winter=over.

It. is. time. to. teach. [and live in] poetry.

I realized that I haven't written poetry on this blog in a long time.  (It typically comes up a lot, mine or someone else's.) I think that poetry's disappearance aligns with winter and state tests and the process of moving or any of the other crazy things that have stolen my time.  If you've been reading lately, I'm finally beginning to notice beauty and the small details again, which is perfect for teaching this unit and what drives my own poetic voice: I just want to uncover what we miss way too often, and I love how poetry can capture teeny, fleeting moments that would otherwise disappear. I love how the choice and arrangement of words can so much more than lengthy prose can sometimes.

Roberto Bolano has become one of my favorite authors. He considered himself a poet before a novelist and I love the way he describes what can be attained in the shortest kind of literature: "The novel is an imperfect art. It may be the most imperfect of all literary arts. And the more pages you write, the more possibility there is of revealing imperfections...It isn't the same to build a house as it is to build a skyscraper..." Bolano knew the precision and control that could go into a poem; but, as with any piece of art, the control only exists until you hand it over to a reader.

Anyway. I'll probably be writing much more on poetry in the weeks to come. And please, don't judge too hard: it is almost my bedtime and this one hasn't been through a proper round of revision...and oh, how I believe in revision (and writing first drafts in near-prose and whittling away).

smashed in the swinging bathroom door,
one could feel my pulse
in the square centimeter of
my middle finger's nail.

sometimes I wish the rest of the hurt
could feel so pronounced and even
so nearly vomit inducing

after some ice from the school nurse
and just an hour or so
it all went away and i forgot
it ever happened.

Monday, April 19, 2010

the small details which are actually huge.

I'm beginning to re-remember that the best things in the world are not something I can grasp onto with my hands: though the handful of pink spring petals I swiped from a windswept pile on the sidewalk the other day comes pretty close.  I was on the verge of finishing The Evidence of Things Unseen by Marianne Wiggins as I was watching them all float out of my hand and had a realization that they were evidence of things unseen; the ache of beauty and springtime right in front of me.

 It is a book intricate in its details and rich in the scientific and literary research that must have been compiled for the layers of meaning inside.  It was a book that rambled through its words so slowly and deliberately that at times and I wanted to put it down, despite my love of poetic language. But as I reached the end, I found myself wishing I had a professor telling me to go back and trace the repeated references and symbols, to stop and look at each of the characters and what they represent in its historical setting of the New Deal, the Atomic age and the Tennessee Valley Authority. And, to trace the evidence of things unseen, which is translated differently throughout the book.  Sometimes it is the mystery of science: atoms and light, and sometimes it is the mystery of life itself: love.

I loved how tiny, seemingly insignificant details, like springtime details in Brooklyn, provoked such deep emotion within the characters: "...in a narrow cubicle behind a curtain were her things, all neatly folded. When he bent to lift her shoes he was so unaccountably overcome with grief he had to lean against the wall to compose himself.  Her shoes, he realized, triggered the emotion.  The fact that they were empty, that he so rarely touched an article of clothing of hers she wasn't wearing. And her shoes triggered the memory, sudden, clear as daylight, of the first time he had seen her, the first time he had seen her footprints in the sandy track that led to Conway's furnace and the house she'd lived in."

It just breaks my heart to read that and realize that such tiny details can reveal the depth of the human heart. I need to keep watching for them.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

a story about time, and. unapologetically, a story about love.

March was filled with two weekends of packing and moving, a favorite friend in town, the annual trek to Washington, DC with students and no internet at home for the past week. But. I am now moved in and attempting to have a normal-looking life again.

That being said, I've finished some books since I last typed on here: Lost Illusions by Balzac, Special by Bella Bathurst, Until You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson and The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger.  I have dreams to backtrack and write about them all in the coming weeks since I've skipped out on my Saturday morning ritual for almost two months.  Hate that. We shall see. I most recently finished The Time Traveler's Wife, so I will start there.

I started out reading this because I wanted a quick, engaging read for spring break.  Many evenings were spent reading well into the morning. Henry is a time traveler who is not able to control when or where he goes.  In his twenties, after he meets Clare, his wife, he begins to travel back to her childhood.  Therefore, Clare always has memories of Henry, but Henry does not have memories of her until after they have met in real time, but is able to go back to other times of their lives with the perspective from the future (and yes, despite my Lost-watching, time travel is a difficult concept to wrap my mind around.)  Time and love are the two major themes I considered while reading.

Time is a funny thing that I can't stop thinking about lately, especially the relationship between time and self. When Henry visits from the future, young Clare isn't the same as the Clare in his present. When he meets 18-year-old Clare, he misses the depth that is the 33-year-old Clare. It is interesting to think about how time changes us and how it happens without us necessarily realizing it until we step out of it.  The core of me is the same, but I have changed so much in the nearly seven years I've lived in New York.  Though I can't plot out the exact moments that changed me, it is interesting to track our own stories of becoming...and to realize that I don't want to go back to my 23 year old self, as uneasy as I am to turn 30 this year.

I find myself always skeptical and sometimes cynical of saccharin literary love stories.  Because of the popularity of this book, I carried this attitude into my reading, but as it turns out, Henry and Clare's love story was beautiful in its complexity and imperfections and passion.

Time travel worked as a metaphor: in the present time Clare and Henry face incredible loss and it wears on their marriage.  Henry though, is able to revisit the times in their relationship when poetry was personified and was able to remember why love is worth fighting for.  I think that this concept is often lost on many of my own generation: things get difficult and the overriding belief is that it's easier to quit than to work through it--be it a relationship, a job, a dream. Remembering the good and true can completely change one's perspective.

What impressed me the most--or maybe what I connected to the most--about Niffenegger's book was her incorporation of poetry into the most emotionally charged moments.  I am a firm believer that poetry can encapsulate any moment better than prose or conversation or dialogue.  I am most often drawn to modern  and post modern poetry, but I was completely wrapped up in the verses from Homer's "The Odyssey" that Niffeneger leaves the reader with:

Now from his breast into his eyes the ache
of longing mounted, and he wept at last,
his dear wife, clear and faithful in his arms,
longed for as the sunwarmed earth is longed for by a swimmer
spent in rough water where his ship went down
under Poseidon's blows, gale winds and tons of sea. 
Few men can keep alive through a big surf
to crawl, clotted with brine, on kindly beaches
in joy, in joy, knowing the abyss behind:
and so she too rejoiced, her gaze upon her husband,
her white arms round him pressed as though forever.
(translated by Robert Fitzgerald)

I could write about this excerpt from the Odyssey and draw comparison's about travel, difficult journey's and hardship, but I will spare you (unless you want to come over to the new apartment for a book talk, please do). But in a rare moment in which I will not apologize for waxing romantic, or in the back of my mind judge myself for being saccharin (because its not a good idea to mock the Beautiful) I will say this:  the idea of having a person as a metaphor for home, the idea that through all of the hardships there is someone who will fight for you and wait for you, someone who cares about where you are and who you are and whose eyes will light up the minute that they see you, that is a beautiful thing.

Finally beginning to feel at home.

Let us look for secret things
somewhere in the world,
on the blue shore of silence
or where the storm has passed,
rampaging like a train.
-Pablo Neruda, from "Forget About Me"

It's funny how life changes affect your ordinary rhythms of life. I started selling my furniture on craigslist in mid February, and since then I have felt like a bit of a nomad. As much as I think I would sometimes like to be a wandering traveler, the truth is that the concept of home is one of my anchors in life: whether it is the house I grew up in and its Bradford Pear trees and hill in the front, or my family's weekend rituals Saturday eggs and toast and newspaper reading, or my need to have a space carved out in my apartment that reminds me of the things I love and who I am.

It took me a full two years of living in New York City to feel ready to commit to it as home; to stop thinking about where I was going to be the next year and to let some of my newer roots reach out and grasp onto life here.  The trouble is that I'm living in my 5th apartment in New York, my second in Brooklyn.  Each time I've moved, I have attempted to make my new space feel like home as quickly as possible, my current studio is no different. Today is the first weekend morning where I have sat down to engage in my old rhythms that make me feel at home: making tea, listening to good music, reading and writing.  It's funny how it makes me feel like a person again and how these small little things finally make me feel at home.

I wrote about this nearly a month ago: looking forward to when I would be able to start the rhythms that keep me sane anew.  This week I made it to Prospect Park a few times in the evening to "look for the secret things in the world," as Neruda would say, to find the things that move my heart.   Because sometimes it feels like a storm has passed and nothing of beauty avails, but. When I open my eyes and breathe and look for the secret things, I find them. And breathe deeply.