Auld Lang Syne

Friday, March 9, 2012

Wind and writing

NOTE: This blog was begun earlier and abandoned due to... well, some interruption or distraction.

Last night was full moon and fully windy. I was blown out of a deep sleep by it. After going outside to my porch to lay the rocking chairs on their sides, I spent a little time thinking about wind and the fact that it gets to us via all our senses but one: sight.

I think that writing is like that in reverse. It is providing sight to the reader, allowing her/him to see what I see. It may be a motion or a sound or a feeling, but I can give it a body. I can imbue it with shape and texture. When I write, I have a desire to place an object in sight, to put an orange on a blue plate on a white tablecloth. I want the dripping juice from the orange on my reader's chin, the smell of it in her/his nostrils. That orange cannot be an idea of an orange or an abstraction of it. It is it.

When I teach writers (poets especially) I aim to get them finely-tuned to concretes. I reject "tree" in favor of "oak" for example. When we write, there is the draft version where abstractions spring up like weeds. OK of course to have these in your drafts as they are OPPORTUNITIES for revision. Get it down on paper (or screen) and then be ready to up the ante in revision. The real work of poetry is found here.

I encourage a deeper kind of revision that encourages replacement of the generic with the specific. Hat is less specific than bowler or beanie or baseball cap. Why leave it to the reader to figure out?

Why not paint the poem with a specific brush of a specific color. What is YOUR idea of "red?" Mine might be carmine, or maybe scarlet. It might be the color of a sunset that is just off being a true red, tinged with prussian blue. If I want you to see that sunset with me, should I leave it so vague that we are not seeing it together? I think not.

Of course not every line or phrase is total concreteness, nor should that be the case. Pairing ideas (abstractions like happiness) with concretes rachets up the heat and makes things come alive on the page. Here is an example from a poem in my 3rd collection: I Write in the Greenhouse (2011). Note the abstractions (scent and happiness) are quickly followed by its concrete (orchids) and by a concrete action (bending). This strategy puts clarity into the mind of the reader and invites her/him INTO the poem as an experience.

The scent of happiness
is in the orchids
you tend, bending...

Think for a moment about how to embody the abstraction of love, perhaps one of the most badly used abstractions. Consider this contrast:

The young man loved her and could not stop thinking of her.


What young man carved his first flute here,
sang his courting song?

Which is more appealing to a reader, will likely be remembered? And speaking of memory, how do we possibly treat this abstraction in a concrete way?

Consider this example from my latest collection, Native Moons, Native Days:

Pond Water

It gets up your nose

when you roll the kayak,

gets in your blood after summers at the pond.

It will always call to you,

will always know when you return.

Maybe there’s a splinter from the dock, still

deep in your heel, a small sliver

that seemed healed over. Maybe once a year

the spot reddens, pinches a little, a signal

to pack your shorts and bathing suit,

get in your car and head back

where even in midsummer, it gets dark

early, save for the light the pond makes.

This poem is all about memory. Nowhere in the poem is the abstract word, memory, used. But the poem, as a whole and in all its parts is memory of another time, a calling back to that time. One thing you might do when writing a memory as a poem is to do the whole first draft in prose. I like this method for students as it makes a comfort zone of material out of which to extract specifics and extrapolate on them. Once the details are down on paper, right there to see, it is time to pull out the abstractions and mix in the concrete. Like making a building out of raw materials. It's YOUR building. Make it beautiful. Make it real. Make it easily visited by others.

So, let the wind blow beneath the full moon. Let it be a mover of willows and tulip heads. Let the moon cast shivers of ivory on the whole place, the fox in the hedgerow and the mourning dove hovering on the phone wire leading to your sage green victorian house. Let is be as much itself as it appears to you. Your reader will be happy to experience it all through your SIGHT.

No comments:

Post a Comment