It occurred to me today, that if I were really smart, I would’ve called yesterday’s poem 4’33 (for John Cage), left the page blank, and called it good. But, rule #2 again. No Bullshit. Rule #2 is also the reason tonight’s poem isn’t called “10 Reasons I Want to Return My Dog To Doggie Jail” (I won’t, but if anyone knows Cesar Millan personally, we’d like a meeting). I’ve needed frequent pep talks lately, and luckily, I am married to a….well, actually, he’s terrible at pep talks. Really awful. Well-meaning, but awful. Nearly everything he tells me in order to make me feel better actually makes things worse. That’s why his pep talk tonight was so wonderfully surprising. He actually arrived at the exact right thing to encourage me without me having to raise my eyebrows, glare at him, and ask, “HOW IS THIS MAKING ME FEEL BETTER??!!”. What he said was that he thinks that I’m happier when I’m writing every day, and he’s right. He also said that he thinks I’m doing a good job, and that when I look back over the year’s poems, I’ll be proud.
Sometimes, too, my pep talks come from outside. Today I got one from my friend Lorie, who wrote a post about angst on her great blog Love Hope Trust. She mentioned Ingenious Torture on her blog, and it made me happy. Also, though, Lorie is stronger than mountains and she has some wisdom to give you. You should read it.
I got to wondering today what makes a great poem. What makes it something that I have to teach, else be remiss in my responsibilities as English Instructor? All the Martin Luther King, Jr quotes yesterday made me want to write something really great, capital G great, but all I did was write about slipping on the ice. But then, why is it that I want to write a great poem all of a sudden? Surely W.B. Yeats wrote a lot of crummy poems before The Second Coming. And probably even then he didn’t think that it would be the poem used to describe the modern era (unless he was a stuck-up buttface, I guess). And even though by all accounts T.S. Eliot was way more than just a buttface, he probably didn’t know that I’d be using The Wasteland to make my seniors cry in frustration (and for teaching them stuff too, but the crying part is okay with me).
That isn’t to say that I think that some day I could write a “great” poem, but it does mean that I should stop focusing on the future and aim to do what my friend Kally tells her art students, “Show up, be present, try your best, and don’t be attached to the outcome”. That last part is hard. The outcome is easy to get attached to, especially if you, like me, like to imagine fantastic futures for yourselves. For me, it is a world where poets are treated like rock stars and I have my own spaceship.
In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott, who I adore, writes that “to be engrossed by something outside ourselves is a powerful antidote for the rational mind, the mind that so frequently has its head up its own ass–seeing things in such a narrow and darkly narcissistic way that it presents a colo-rectal theology, offering up hope to no one”.
So, even though I’ve not had a single fragment of a poetic thought all day, that is to say any thought at all that made me feel poemy, I’m going to pull my head out of my ass and get to poemin’.
The Talc Hill
In the woods they build endless cities of sticks and come to know the landmarks well. A big rock, turn right at the witches hair tree, climb down the ravine, then back up, and arrive at the talc hill.
Rarely are the games equitable. Each has to bend and become the baby, the robber behind bars, the blind man, or the butler.
When they arrive the wind is hot and it coats their tanned arms in pale powder. Their mother doesn’t want them to play there,
and that is gleeful knowledge.
Their hands will never look as tender as they do shaping earthenware with mud made out of talc, and water that they have hauled in a green plastic bucket, past each twig homestead, the pine-branch store with kinnikinnicks for sale from the creek, and the jail made of two fallen tamaraks and some birch branches.
The vessels are placed on a hot flat rock and harden quickly, just in time for the town supper, where they sit, mother and child, king and servant, robber and warden.
It is the trees that tell them when to abandon their play, the particular diagonal of light, and the way the needles grow deeper green. By tomorrow their thumbprint cups and snakey bowls will have crumbled and fallen.
In an endless summer of tomorrows, they will return to their props to find the breeze lifting the chalky ash,
and it looks like mist as it rises,
the too-fine dust of childhood.
So. I just read that according to St. Mary’s College, good poetry should be “informed by a form”, which I’m not very good at yet. So tomorrow, if I’m feeling ambitious, I’m going to try a cinquain. Happy Tuesday!