Monday, December 22, 2008

Inaugural Poems on the Way

There were few things that interrupted the regular schedule of classes while I was in high school. One of them was Bill Clinton's inauguration. I have a very clear memory of sitting in the small school's library, watching Maya Angelou read On the Pulse of Morning. I was 14 years old, and a bit confused as to why this famous poet was there, reading about a rock and a river and a tree. But it was a good confusion, brought on by wonderful things not normally seen in our nation's public life.

Luckily, we'll again have a similar experience, when Elizabeth Alexander reads her inaugural poem. The New York Times quotes her as saying, “Writing an occasional poem has to attend to the moment itself, but what you hope for, as an artist, is to create something that has integrity and life that goes beyond the moment.” Read the article.

For those of you who are local, the Florence Poets Society is also putting on a poetry reading in celebration of the inauguration. Western MA poets will celebrate Obama's inauguration by reading and listening to original inaugural poems.

Inaugural Poetry Day Celebration
Tuesday, January 20, 7:00pm - 9:00pm
Updated information: Leslea Newman will be hosting the celebration at the Yellow Sofa instead of at Thornes. It is sponsored by Leslea, Florence Poets Society, and the Northampton Arts Council. Please keep working on those inaugural poems!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Private in Public

I recently heard Philip Seymour Hoffman being interviewed by Terri Gross on Fresh Air. He is one of my favorite actors, because he plays the downtrodden guy so frickin’ well, and also because even when he’s not the star of a film, you can tell he’s putting all his energy into his part.

Hoffman said a couple things that I found interesting in particular. He compared acting to being an athlete, saying the performance or the game comes from a similar place, from the ability to be private in public. I thought that really made sense in terms of the boundaries a creative person must set in order to be able to create—whether the creation is a monologue or a physical achievement. I would imagine that Michael Phelps’s headphones helped him be private in public before his races.

One of my writing teachers in college was very demanding, and could be harsh, but he was one of the best teachers I’ve ever had because he held high standards and expected us to meet them. While in the classroom, he was on, he was present, he was intense. When he read and wrote comments on my essays, he was focused and insightful. But when he walked around campus, I was no one to him. He didn’t seem to ever look up at anyone—he just walked quickly from one place to another, inviting no interaction. I guess that was his way of being private in public.

I’m still trying to find my own way of being private in public. As Hoffman pointed out, a creative person experiences all sorts of messy highs and lows when working on an intense piece of creation. He talked about working with a certain director and the level of trust necessary in order for him to really work. I have found this level of trust and support in some of my writing groups and workshops. Having a witness to one’s creation can really help with going deep. To me, working alone is scarier—but, of course, still necessary.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Reading Girls / Girls Reading

I've been trying to read Twilight to see what all the hype is about. So far, I'm not really enjoying it but haven't stopped reading because I want to see what happens. I'm doing the skim-until-you-don't-know-what's-happening-then-go-back-and-
see-what-happened thing.

Fascination with fantasy and creatures of other worlds is, to me, explained by this quote, which arrived in my inbox this morning: "Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality." - Jules de Gautier

There's an excellent review of Twilight in this month's Atlantic Monthly that I think is a fabulous description of the pull of reading on certain girls (of which I certainly was one). Here's an excerpt:

"The salient fact of an adolescent girl’s existence is her need for a secret emotional life—one that she slips into during her sulks and silences, during her endless hours alone in her room, or even just when she’s gazing out the classroom window while all of Modern European History, or the niceties of the passé composé, sluice past her. This means that she is a creature designed for reading in a way no boy or man, or even grown woman, could ever be so exactly designed, because she is a creature whose most elemental psychological needs—to be undisturbed while she works out the big questions of her life, to be hidden from view while still in plain sight, to enter profoundly into the emotional lives of others—are met precisely by the act of reading."

Read the full article here.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

For Mumbai

candle wax puddles
where blood spattered and pooled
the trains cannot take us away now

raise your hand in prayer
unlike jasmine and marigolds
these memories will not wilt

On Keeping Going

This morning was one of those times when I sat down and scribbled on a blank piece of paper words that seemed to have no purpose or meaning or need for existence. But I kept going anyway because it's the only way to keep the channel open, to keep the pump primed, as they say. Writing is often an experience of delayed gratification, work and work and even boredom before something happens again. I think of it as exercise, meditation, discipline in the wee dawn hours.

Then I got to my office, looked at my Poetry Speaks daily calendar, and came across this quote (it was dated November 28 ... I'm still playing catch up from vacation last week):

"I think that poetry is the voice of the soul, whispering, celebrating, singing even ... poetry is the consciousness which gives rise to voice.... You have to keep writing and writing until the poem emerges from your soul." - Carolyn Forche