So I love to play this game with the poems at the Poetry Foundation. This is how the game goes. On days when I’m feeling something, especially something I cannot entirely articulate, like today, a muddle of anxiety and mild resentment (or at least, it would be resentment if I let myself think about it for long enough, but I don’t, I mostly almost don’t...), about how much there is to do in the day, and none of it yet, says the to-do list, none of it any time soon, has anything to do with the thing I want most to be doing. But then there is that lovely fragment from Jalina, of Mary Oliver on my responsibility (not to the ordinary, or the timely...). But then again and all over, the sense of March slipping away—even March, the month that always feels longer than it could be. Even March is almost gone.
In the search box, I type in the word “late.” I look among what comes. Click on the very second thing (it must have been the question-mark). A poem by David Rivard.
—for George Shelton
Sometimes everything feels like a trick.
Some days things seem to have been stolen from you.
Cash to pay the bills, your sense of humor, friendship.
You could almost believe those are what you look for
as you walk around your neighborhood. But, no, instead, you get
splashes of zinnias against stucco, cactus wrens,
a pack of kids who ignore the sodium amber streetlights
which just stuttered on, because it means their mothers
want them home right this minute. And, on the corner variety
store’s wall, a crude, sun-washed mural of the angel Gabriel
defaced by thick black sideburns so he looks like a street punk,
a strutting cholo, so he seems the only creature on earth
who hasn’t heard the news that everything can be lost.
His strong upper arms curving naked and graceful
as the tan thighs of a slender, athletic girl.
A girl he’s after, though she’s gotten bored waiting
on the stoop and watching the sun set behind the foothills.
Sky reddening until it slams into a blue that blesses
anyone oblivious to all the negations,
including the one, pal, where you think it’s possible
to step out of your heart and leave it empty as
an egg shell or a cardboard box.
When you finally return home
the tint of sky more or less matches the flash
of a thrush as it swoops from limb to branch,
acacia to willow. Standing at the kitchen counter,
you pick through a carton of strawberries.
Good juicy ones from the moldy and over-ripe.
Choices that are easy. What do you trust anymore?
The aproned man in the mercado said California strawberries,
they’re the best this time of year. In bed, later,
you remember the grocer, round belly under his apron,
but as you start, nearly asleep, to tell your wife about him,
how he talked about his deals, she starts
reading aloud from a tattered bird guide, that the wood thrush
is “essentially useful and worthwhile.”
What is worthwhile? Now, remember.
I think of Virginia Woolf’s gig-lamps of consciousness. (Some day soon, I will tell it more properly.) I think of what waking up is like in my life these days. My alarm clock which, for a significant price, is meant to be anything but alarming. The murmur of the middle-schoolers from down the street at the Scuola Machiavelli—because of course this is Florence, and we would have a school named after Machiavelli. The cat, hungry for her morning love.
[Santo Spirito, Firenze]
[martedì 26 marzo 2019 ore 11:35:00] [¶]
Today I come across this, saved years ago, from a Paris Review Interview with John Ashbery:
I have always been averse to talking about myself, and so I don’t write about my life the way the confessional poets do. I don’t want to bore people with experiences of mine that are simply versions of what everybody goes through. For me, poetry starts after that point. I write with experiences in mind, but I don’t write about them, I write out of them.
I feel like there’s so much here. First, when he says, “I don’t want to bore people with experiences of mine that are simply versions of what everybody goes through.” Is that humble arrogance, or arrogant humility, or what? And whatever it is, what then are we to do with the six-tenths of every other writing class in existence, that celebrates the personal as universal?
Then, when he says, “For me, poetry starts after that point. I write with experiences in mind, but I don’t write about them, I write out of them.”
I think of a line from that essay by Robert Hass, on Rilke: He wanted to write poems, he said, “not about feelings, but about things he had felt.”
I think of how, in reading that, you have to remember that this was Rilke. And so, very likely, the emphasis was on the word things. Very likely, the word things was not a carelessly redundant synonym for feelings, the way a bad pop song might describe one's feelings as the things one feels... Rilke meant Things. Die Dinge. He meant the panther, the palm, the buddha and the rain.
I think of this too: The idea that you don’t revise a poem. You till it.
And the more I research the word till—with all its other meanings, as in ‘a box, drawer, or tray in a receptacle (such as a cabinet or chest) used especially for valuables;’ with its etymological roots in ‘aiming’ and ‘striving;’ and with its geological meaning too, as a kind of ‘glacial drift;’—the more I love this happenstance...
The idea that a poem is not a rendering of experience or feeling. It is a tilling.
[Santo Spirito, Firenze]
[domenica 10 marzo 2019 ore 13:11:00] [¶]
It’s easy to have learned from the things
You are no longer living.
[Santo Spirito, Firenze]
[lunedì 04 marzo 2019 ore 10:10:03] [¶]