Sunday, June 28, 2009

Extreme Reading

For today's post, I bring you an essay by prose poet John Olson. While at first I found "Extreme Reading" difficult to get into - it really reads as more of a prose poem at the beginning - I was soon able to drop into Olson's particular and illuminating logic that zooms around in a nonlinear, beehive fashion.

He writes:

"Reading is a form of hallucination. The images and people we encounter among the letters are not there. The reality they acquire in our mind is equal to the effort we make in building them in our mind. Sufficient training will help understand the meaning of someone waving semaphores up and down but true reading requires something more of you than knowing how to spell or understanding the relationship between a sign and its referent. The letters invite a cooperation greater than the peremptory commands of a traffic light. Whoever came up with the idea of separating green from red with the happy ambiguity of yellow was clearly someone who enjoyed reading."

I have to admit, I needed to look up two of the words in this paragraph... but that's also part of extreme reading.

Read the entire essay here.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Bear Details

If you are anywhere in the area of Easthampton, MA, between now and October, you really should walk around and see the bears. You can download a map here.

All the bears were created by local artists, and they are wonderfully varied in their themes. Some are serious, some are whimsical, some abstract, some historical. The best part of this display is the great attention to detail paid by so many of the artists. A goal of this event is to get people out and walking, and the bears truly reward those who stroll and look closely. Driving through town and seeing all the bears is fun, but walking from bear to bear and viewing them up close is the way to truly appreciate them and the craft that went into making them.
Plus, a lot of the bears have backside surprises that are not visible from the street!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Visiting Emily Dickinson

There comes a time in every young poet's life (at least for those of us who live in my part of the world) - a time to visit the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst. For me that time was last Saturday, and I had a beautiful experience on the guided tour (the only way you're allowed to see the Dickinson house), which was really like walking through a talking book about Emily and the Dickinson family.

Emily Dickinson's poems are so sparse, so clenched, and they give up so little in terms of explanation, that I've always found them to be greatly enhanced by their social and historical context. The poems are Biblical, or scriptural, in terms of the intensity of their images and the dense, sometimes opaque, nature of their content. The tour, which our guide had animated by selecting many quotes from Dickinson's letters, provided this kind of illuminating context.

It was amazing to stand in the room where those verses were born, to look out of the large sunny windows at nearby trees and the road. It was easy to imagine that space being enough of a world for a poet with such a rich inner life.

One thing I really appreciated was a display used to convey how word choices affect the meaning and nuance of a poem. Dickinson often chose alternate verbs or nouns or adverbs for a poem, and instead of crossing out and replacing one with another in her manuscripts, she let them stand, indicated with asterisks. Editors have had to choose one word when preparing Dickinson's poems for publication, but the display board in the museum had sliding pieces that allowed one to change which word was included in any given line. I had visions of an interactive book where the poem is still alive, given its final incarnation not by an editor but by each reader.

If you go to the museum, make sure to take the extended tour, which includes the Evergreens. The Dickinson Homestead has been redecorated, cleaned, and somewhat updated. The Evergreens, where Emily's brother and sister-in-law lived, still contains many of their possessions. It smells of age and dust, and echoes with history.

After a tour of the museum, I went with my friend to find Emily Dickinson's gravesite, a short walk away in the West Cemetery. Instead of "died" or "deceased," her gravestone says "called back." People have left offerings of coins, flowers, and pencil stubs on top of the unassuming white marble marker. And close to her gravestone, the grass has (intentionally or unintentionally) been left to grow, wild and tall, a fitting tribute to this local and domestic, yet wild and spiritual, poet.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Earth is Hiring

It's the time of year for sitting through graduation ceremonies. Education is such a big part of the economy where I live, I think that people here have a much higher than average chance of sitting through at least one or two addresses. It's too bad that the two graduations I attended this year didn't feature this inspired speech, given by Paul Hawken at the University of Portland. Here's an excerpt:

"You are Brilliant, and the Earth is Hiring. The earth couldn't afford to send recruiters or limos to your school. It sent you rain, sunsets, ripe cherries, night blooming jasmine, and that unbelievably cute person you are dating. Take the hint. And here's the deal: Forget that this task of planet-saving is not possible in the time required. Don't be put off by people who know what is not possible. Do what needs to be done, and check to see if it was impossible only after you are done."