Sunday, August 2, 2015

Poetry and the Selfie

Yesterday, thanks to a Facebook post by Shape&Nature Press, I read a great post on Literary Hub. In Poet Selfies: Searching for the Thing-In-Itselfie, 39 poets respond to questions about selfies. The answers range from surrealist and goofy to heartfelt and thought provoking. It was also cool to see the non-traditional selfies that some of the poets supplied and I felt inspired by their responses to write one of my own. I was at first surprised and then not surprised by my answer, which I’m sharing below. 

Question: What is the relationship between poetry and the selfie?

I don't like my selfies when I'm the only person in them. I've tried and failed to take a solo selfie I like, even in awesome situations like at concerts or while rock climbing. And it's not because I don't like how I look. It's because I don't like seeing myself alone.

I'm an only child, but I didn't mind that until I was 8 and my parents moved us from a New York City apartment building that served as my neighborhood to a small town in Pennsylvania where the kids on the street thought I was weird and made fun of me (for being tall or Episcopalian or a bookworm or something—and later for having purple hair).

I made friends at school and at the church where my mom worked, but something in me never got over the loneliness of the next 10 years spent without any neighborhood friends. For the first year or so, I had imaginary friends. Tracy lived three blocks down the hill and was always sitting on her front porch swing when I walked by to get her on my way to the corner store. David hung out in the yard that bordered ours in the back and would hop the fence to climb part way up the spruce tree and then just sit with me.

When those friends faded away I turned to nature and books. These have been my refuge and my sources of inspiration, poetic and otherwise, ever since.

I take selfies with other people to capture moments, and also to prove to myself that I'm not alone. Look, I have a friend, she's not imaginary, she shows up in pixels! 

Answer: The poem explores what the selfie avoids.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Finding Poetry at the Music Festival

Last weekend I was at the Green River Festival, enduring the hot sun for the sake of some awesome live music. I’ve been going to the festival for years and it’s the main way I either discover or develop a deeper appreciation for all kinds of musical artists. This year, my favorites were: for dancing, Red Baraat and Bela’s Bartok; for lyrical melodiousness, Milk Carton Kids and Sean Rowe; and for downright amazing stage presence and powerful singing, Valerie June and Steve Earle

I’ve been in quite a dry spell (or blocked place, for a different metaphor… I’m not sure which I like worse) with creative writing—but while listening to Steve Earle, two poem ideas came to me and I typed them into my phone to work on later, and when I got home I made this found poem using the festival program and an article from Rock and Ice titled "The Unnatural Way to Climb."

So Deep It Seems Simple

You can take one thing for granted:
you're going to be candid.
This could bring back memories
of staring down the crux
having fallen off the last move
which figuratively refers to scrambling
and literally means out of balance.
The key is to remember
this is not a natural way to write
and for anyone transitioning
from velvet glove to split fingertip,
year after year has the effect 
of narrowing vision, carrying you
from Tennessee to Baghdad,
wondering how this primal response
can cause the most irritating
and easily avoided failures.
There's no audience, but
on a wildly overhanging wall
most of us learn to hold back.
For no good reason
we want to approximate
the unnatural way
to put a smile on a face.
The most important performance skill
is cranking out brilliant comparisons. 

Here I am doing the collage with my “assistant” Dylan. 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Winter Solstice Poem

Prayer in Winter
Luminous paper bags show the way
to parsnips, carrots, beets

summer radiance transformed
for sale at the farm stand.

May this food
shine through me

let my words light the path
for people trying to find

food on a cold night,
nothing but paper in their fists.

The horizon is heavy
the future is leaden

but still we push back
with our little lights.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Poetry Garden Party, or “Forever is composed of Nows...”

If there's poetry in heaven, I think it looks like the garden party I attended a few weeks ago. Walking from the sidewalk into a yard artfully scattered with sculpture, paintings, musicians, and refreshments I thought—I've come to the Elysian Fields. The sun shown gently and the hosts welcomed everyone generously.

The main attractions were three houses from "The Little White House Project: Dwell in Possibility" by Peter Krasznekewicz.

Paintings by Sandy Denis hung on the fence. Good thing it didn't rain that day! This one says, "To tell the Beauty would decrease / To state the spell demean" - Emily Dickinson

Mary Clare and Vi's granddaughter, Lily, made sure that everyone got a "happy happy stone." I snuck a blue one home for Jen, too.

They'd also paired poems by Emily Dickinson with various features in the yard, so poems about flowers stood beside flowers and poems about stones stood beside stones. This one begins, "How happy is the little Stone / That rambles in the Road alone, / And doesn't care about Careers / And Exigencies never fears—"

Here's the poem I wrote from prompts that were available on the table, culled from Emily Dickinson and other poets.

Now’s to Be a New Road 
The grass does not appear afraid
of me. It does not accuse me of anything.
Why are all these stems so generous?
Echinacea, barley, oats and tansy
sing the sun song and rain song each day.
In the gourd birdhouses, no passenger
was ever known to dissemble or dismiss.
The everyday weight and business of life
is one fact by our side.
This summer’s monotony of blooming
is another.

The party is also described in more luxurious detail by Trish Crapo in this Greenfield Recorder article

Thanks to Mary Clare and Violet for a beautiful and inspiring afternoon!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Summer Solstice Poem

I wrote this poem a year ago, and I remembered it today while I picked strawberries at the farm down the street. Today is warm, dry, and sunny — quite the opposite of the damp berry-picking day I wrote about last summer. I don't have a picture of the strawberry patch, so I'm including one of my backyard roses.

Wish You Were Here

in the strawberry patch
under the mountain
on a dewy morning
getting in the last quart
of berries before the rain
just me and the slugs
looking for sweetness

in the downtown millpond
among the cattails
gliding a kayak
past red-winged blackbirds
snapping turtles lurking
somewhere below

in the front yard
near the silver maple
on a wide-open night
asking all the unanswered
questions of the stars
as the moon dips its ladle
into the last house

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Birds Playing Guitars

It's a double April Fool's—I'm posting to the blog for the first time in months, and birds are playing guitars. Actually, both of these are not tricks at all. Here's a piece I wrote in response to an amazing installation that I recently saw in Salem.

Birds playing guitars? That is something to see—and hear. When my friend told me about From Here to Ear at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA, I didn’t really believe her. She said, “There are musical instruments, and birds, and they interact somehow.”

It was the “somehow” that perplexed me. How can you play a guitar without hands? I imagined a complicated set-up. Maybe the guitars were attached to something that reacted to the birds’ actions, like a cable or another apparatus. I couldn’t picture the interaction between bird and guitar happening without an intermediary of some kind in the system. But that’s exactly what we saw: birds playing guitars. When it was 10:20 a.m. and the guards let us into the gallery, we saw small, colorful zebra finches going about their normal bird business—eating, preening, flying, perching—and thereby playing guitar.

I’d made a lot of assumptions about what it means to “play” a guitar. The instruments weren’t oriented in a typical, vertical guitar-playing position. Instead, they were mounted horizontally on drum stands so they provided an ideal surface for the tiny birds to perch on. Expensive guitars doubled as tree branches and finch feet became guitar picks. The birds’ tiniest movements became sources of melody, electronic but peaceful. The guitars were tuned in harmony with each other, and there was nothing dissonant in the random, reverberating notes.

The effect was an odd but affecting combination of nature and industry. My friend pointed out how noisy it was in the gallery and that the finches didn’t seem to mind it. They also weren’t bothered by having a group of people gawking at them. They just flew around, ate, perched, and sang their own songs—much as I imagine they would amid ambient sounds in nature, especially if they lived near a particular source of noise, such as a waterfall or a highway.

I wanted to spend the whole day there. I wanted to live in there. I wanted to be tiny and have a finch’s eye view of the world. But soon our 15 minutes were up and we were ushered out of the gallery, birdsong and guitar chords reverberating in our minds. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Garden Man

I wrote this poem in response to the sculpture "Garden Man" by Bob Turan at Art in the Orchard. What I love about this piece is how the figure's body becomes whatever is behind him. He's solid yet transparent. He's static, but when something moves in him, he seems to move, too. He's also making an opposite gesture from Mount Tom (seen in the background), which makes him seem to me like another mountain watching over the valley.

The Garden Man

Today a dog and three people
passed through my heart.
The apples were ripe
and they’d come to pick.
They didn’t see me:
I am everything they already know
but I welcomed their motion
in my stasis of green.
I was made to shelter growing things,
not to move them.
And in the sheltering
I become them.
My arms are squash blossoms
and the apple-laden orchard.
My legs are the soil,
my shoulders the mountain.
The blue above is an opposing force
as I lean into the road, the grass.
My head is the sky.
Transparent to the valley, I breathe
green life. Yet even though
my muscles are made of air,
everything with wings
seems beyond my reach.
After sunset
I change completely,
become a bone—
starlight for marrow.
The moon crosses my mind
once in a while.
Fireflies and bats
keep their distance.
What we are made of defines us:
for me more than most.
Usually I’m a lens—a frame—a container.
But today a dog and three people
passed through my heart.
The dog ran, the people gathered fruit.
They didn’t see me
or know me
or need me
and in those moments
I was free.