Auld Lang Syne

Friday, June 10, 2011

so, how 'bout them Sox?

You will think this post is going to be about baseball... OK so it is a little about baseball...and just a little about ferns... and a little about weather.  My point is that poetry, in its natural state is about all of these things and more. We live IN this world and WITH all its "stuff," and can no more divorce ourselves from that than we can fly on our own. I keep going back to two issues: the signified and the signifier along with when is life a copy of a copy or is all of it a copy of some original text, some slice of the Divine? When does the "stuff" of life become poetry on the page?

Take baseball for instance:

I stayed up until 145 AM to watch it. It was the Sox and the Yankees. Most if not all sane people went to bed at a normal hour, leaving the game to itself, to its eventual swan (black or otherwise). Not me. I was fully awake and engaged until the last out. This is in part the "stuff" that makes me, well, ME. Who knows when a baseball game became a poem for me, but it did. Its sounds, its delays (last night a 3.5 hour rain delay), its gestures and habits, its energy or lack of energy. To me it is the same as my writing. Same elements, including more often than not, its late hour. Both sides in any given baseball game believe God is watching, God cares, God will come through and nudge that ball out of the park. You see Big Papi strike his chest, raise his hands to the heavenly realm whenever he gets a homer. And there are those aforementioned rain delays... didn't the Almighty Himself send down big weather to throw off one team and give the other a chance to regroup? Well, in my writing practice it is the same, kinda. I often feel that there is some opposing force (team?) out there waiting to do in my efforts. Could be the editor/publisher ultimately, but it's unfair to blame some blurry "other" with a big red pen. Mostly it is me blocking me. It is the little evil editor Carol sitting on the poet Carol's right shoulder (on the side of my "good ear" of course) doing her worst. When the writing is really in the zone however, I am like Big Papi, fist pumps to the sky and a big grin on my face. I've made meaning (for myself) and made art (for you). I've hit on a bit of ephemera that makes us teammates. Is it a poem inspired from On High? Not so much. It is likely a very common thing, like planting ferns in the heat, or daring to go outside in a thunderstorm to measure the angle of the lighting forks.

What of the "stuff" anyway? I planted ferns this morning, stifled by the heat rising up from the wet garden after last night's boomer storm. Surely these are not the only ferns ever planted, nor the only steamy day we have had or will have. Are these events mere copies of others just like them? Or, by writing about this planting thing, am I leaping the mundane, the copy mentality, and growing something unique?  If I focus the poem on the regenerative spores on the undersides of the fronds, if I see whole worlds living therein, am I in partnership with the Creator, just a step away from understanding the Divine? I think so. If I am more interested in the poetry of lightning than worried about being struck by it, do I therefore inhabit Lorca's world of the Duende? I might just. And I'm okay with that really. I like the danger that lurks around poetry, especially poetry where the person of the poem, or the poet him/herself is not just a copy of every other poet or poetical stance that has come before.

I enjoy reading what others say about "confessional" poetry, the subversive ideology of "I removal." These folks are passionate about avoiding themselves in their poems. But to be honest, do we not have to admit that if we were to take ourselves OUT of our poetry, we'd be like the androids in Blade Runner, not even knowing we were not human. I enjoy my humanity, relish it, live happily in the very messy realm of it. If I were to avoid myself, divorce me from me, I suspect my poetry would be some freakish language game, and not at all ready to touch YOU and your humanity. I want to feel your eyes on me as you read, I want the scrutiny of your wondering if the person in any given poem might just be the real me. I like to think I am unique, but I admit to being a little bit like the android Deckerd, a copy of me. I shed my outermost self frequently, keeping what seems valuable at the moment. I think my funny little verse bio says it all:

Bio, Schmio
When I was five, alive
in a little body, when I was six
picking up sticks, when I was seven, seventeen
maybe, eighteen, no seventeen, I was a version of me.
When I sat at the kitchen table, tabling
conversations too hard for my parents to accept,
tables like arithmetic were hard 
for the me I wanted to be. No bright star was shining
over the place I called home when I left,
no one waved good-bye, come again soon,
you’ll always have your room here. No one
but me on that bus, fishbowl in my lap
watching the mama fish eat her babies one by one.
Where did I go then
instead of off into normal? 
When I was seventeen, seven, five, 
alive meant towing the line, 
sitting straight, being seen not heard, 
kleenex bobby-pinned to my head
like a hat for church, 
rain pounding the windows,
caterpillars raining on the tent at Sebago Lake.
When I was 35, I’d reached my five year old’s goal:
to be 35. What was left? A world of other people
thinking they knew me, thinking they were right
about me, and me thinking the five year old me was still 
sitting under a tree on a smooth white sheet
playing teacher, making the dolls write in verse.
But even though I am a copied and remade "me," I am NOT a copy of you. So in the world of knock-togethers, intersections, pairings, poetry serves to make the human connection. Like baseball, like ferns, like weather.
And the stuff of both our lives intersects when you read a poem and think oh that has happened to me too or when a tear grows in the corner of your eye. If I am touched by that, if that makes me want to touch you again and again with more and more poems, I am not like Deckerd. I am the real me.

The beauty of poetry, poetry of real people, is that we each bring a chunk of our human experience to it. Readers or writers, we all have a stake in the reasons the poem exists on the page. We all have an interest in seeing how this life is going to come out in the end, and by what means we will arrive at that moment.

When we write about visual art, as I love to do, we get to put ourselves and our ferns and ballgames and weather into the art. We ruffle about in the images we see and ideas come, mostly from a spark of something, some "stuff" we have in our own lives. We see one of Peter Ralston's photographs, for example,  and feel a jab in the gut or an arrow to the temple. We do not have HIM there to interpret, to let us know his mood or method of seeing, or even where the photo was taken in many instances. We must enter into an asynchronous partnership with him and figure it out on our own, hoping that the copy of the copy (the poem about his photo about the place he was depicting) is somehow real, somehow not an android.

So, how 'bout them Sox? I felt every raindrop and heard every bolt of lightning, got a major headache when they were behind. I knew I was going to have my love affair with baseball, Red Sox baseball, justified. I also knew I was no android, that the game, like poetry would satisfy and parallel my writing, even in the worst of it.

Post-game note: Sox 8 - Yankees 3. Copy that.

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