Poetry

No Rest for the Writer

the-day-after-1895

weary reader rest
not for too long when you pick
your head up rejoice

****

In celebration of National Poetry Month and in response to Time For Poetry, a haiku by this tired writer and reader who is trying to muster up some stamina for two book reviews that are due to editors soon (books I still haven’t finished reading) and trying to look at my own manuscript with its final 10,000-20,000 words being narrowed in on. I can’t help but feel like this perfect Edvard Munch painting.

National Poetry Month – To Roanoke With Johnny Cash by Bob Hicok

April is National Poetry Month in the US, which is meant to illuminate the importance of poetry in our culture. Below is my selection to add to this month of poem appreciation: “To Roanoke with Johnny Cash” by Bob Hicok. I am particularly taken with the odd rhythm produced by the enjambment and the final line, even though left unpunctuated, is a stark punctuation to the entire poem. Are there any poems that are your favorites? For a few more selections, check out what other poems have been posted here in the past.

Johnny-Cash_1972

 

To Roanoke with Johnny Cash

Mist became rain became fog was mist
reborn every few miles on a road
made of s and z, of switchback

and falling into mountains of night
would have been easy and who
would have been known until flames

and nobody, even then. I played his life
over and over, not so  much song
as moan of a needle and the bite,

the hole it eats through the arm
and drove faster to the murmur
of this dead and crow-dressed man,

voice of prison and heroin and the bible
as turned by murdering hands.
And the road was the color of him


**Top photo from Wikipedia.

 

Unfinished Masterpieces

I recently watched the 2012 BBC documentary program, Unfinished Masterpieces with Alastair Sooke.* The host begins with the eternally frustrating predicament of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, the Charles Dickens novel that was never finished, because Dickens famously died during the writing of it, leaving very few clues to the intended outcome of the narrative. Biographers, historians, and artists have endlessly tried to anticipate Dickens’ wishes by both speculating about the novel’s unfinished portion and even going so far as to invent possible endings in different mediums like theatre, radio, and film, as well as boldly attempting to finish the task of writing the novel.

Alastair Sooke also looked at other unfinished works and pondered the reasons behind the unfinishedness of these respective works. Like Dickens, Jane Austen also has an unfinished novel, Sanditon, which was left incomplete because of her death. A dozen “continuations” have been penned, all trying to capture Austen’s specific voice and her intended path for the remainder of the book. When Sooke separately asked a handful of complete strangers which they would rather have, all chose to stick with Austen’s original unfinished work.

The program also took a look at works that might have been purposefully suppressed by their creators. For example, the famous portrait of US President George Washington, which is the basis for the image on the $1 bill, was left unfinished by the portraitist Gilbert Stuart. What started off as a difficult portrait, the fact that it was unfinished was a financial benefit to Stuart, who sold replicas for $100 a pop. The notoriety of its incomplete presentation might have been more lucrative for him than otherwise.  This, of course, is reminiscent to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s explanation for his unfinished poem, “Kubla Khan.” He purports of wild inspiration from an opium haze and begins writing the famous poem when he is suddenly interrupted; when he returns to the poem, all inspiration is gone and “Kubla Khan” remains unfinished. Perhaps, the story behind it is more exciting than having an actual completed work.

There are other works that Sooke investigates including newly discovered poems from English poet Siegfried Sassoon, who was known for his WWI poems that captured the horrors of the war, but whose unpublished poems have a tinge of romanticizing. This conundrum of including them in Sassoon’s canon is questioned. Perhaps, the poet didn’t feel these were up to snuff and didn’t intend them to see the light of day, beside being out of step with his known views. This idea was reminiscent of other writers (who were not featured in the doc) like Franz Kafka, who famously asked that all of his documents be burned and left The Castle incomplete with the final written line ending mid-sentence and David Foster Wallace, who upon his death left an incomplete manuscript and notes on his computer. This was all gathered together by his widow, agent, and other literary folk to become The Pale King.

The question of whether we should finish something or bring to the masses an unknown work once the creator dies is debated and Sooke presents authorities with equally good arguments. Would The Garden of Eden really be a novel Ernest Hemingway would have written himself or could it only be imagined by editors after his death? Kafka wrote that he had an idea for the ending of The Castle, but who knows if it would have still been the same by the time he got there. He leaves the novel mid-sentence and incomplete, almost a perfect final note to a book so concerned with bureaucracy and never-ending frustrations. Sassoon’s poetry could have been just for himself, an attempt at a new form that didn’t quite fit with his other poems or maybe, they were simply something he was not proud of. Thus, choosing to let them go unpublished.

A whole other dilemma–the one of continuing a series–I shall leave to the documentary, but I’ll give you this small bit. Think of the long-dead novelists, Ian Fleming and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, whose characters–James Bond and Sherlock Holmes–are still appearing in new releases, albeit, by different authors. What an entirely different conundrum. For some reason, we are ill-at-ease when it comes to the unfinished. We like wholes, a feeling of sturdy completeness. Although, I do not count myself among them, this might be why so many people had a hard time connecting to Julian Barnes’ A Sense of an Ending. People generally dislike ambiguity and residing in the liminal.

Have you seen this documentary? Are there other famous incomplete works out there? It seems like a strange debate that I find myself on both sides of. I’m curious if anyone has additional thoughts.

 ***

*The 50 minute program can be watched in its entirety on the BBC’s website here; I don’t know how long it will be available, so step on it.

World Poetry Day – “Blurbs” by Julianna Baggott

Today is World Poetry Day according to UNESCO,

Poetry reaffirms our common humanity by revealing to us that individuals, everywhere in the world, share the same questions and feelings…UNESCO recognizes the unique ability of poetry to capture the creative spirit of the human mind.

There are so many great poems out there, both published and spoken, lost and remembered, but today I choose “Blurbs” by Julianna Baggott because it hits on the desire that many of us have: we want to be embraced by our audience, even if it is just one person; we don’t want to be labelled with broad, pedestrian strokes. “Blurbs” appears in Baggott’s poetry collection, This Country of Mothers. According to her website, this “collection of poems…arose from the betrayal of motherhood.” Also, I very highly recommend her collection, Lizzie Borden in Love, a collection that “often focus on a particular moment in life: Katherine Hepburn discovers the dead body of her brother in an attic, or painter Mary Cassatt mourns the failure of her eyesight.”

Blurbs

I don’t want to be a national treasure,
too old-codgery, something wheeled out
of a closet to cut ribbon. I prefer
resident genius, or for the genius
to be at least undeniable.
I’d like to steer away from the declaration
by far the best. Too easily I read,
the predecessors were weary immigrant stock.
The same goes for working at the height
of her powers, as if it’s obvious
I’m teetering on the edge of senility.
I don’t want to have to look things up:
lapidary style? I’d prefer not to be a talent;
as if my mother has dressed me
in a spangled leotard, tap shoes,
my hair in Bo-Peep pin curls.
But I like sexy, even if unearned.
I like elegance, bite. I want someone
to confess they’ve fallen in love with me
and another to say, No, she’s mine.
And a third to just come out with it:
she will go directly to heaven.

**The photo and book covers are from Goodreads.

e.e. cummings on valentine’s day

I admit that I’m a bit of a curmudgeon and cringe at those saccharinely-sweet jewelry ads that pound the television this time of year. Today, I would much prefer to binge watch the new season of House of Cards than to eat another stale slice of red velvet cake, but with that all said, I do love me some e.e. cummings poetry.

This past issue of Vanity Fair features as an excellent excerpt from Susan Cheever’s new book about the poet, who was also a friend of her father, novelist John Cheever. E.E. Cummings wrote some of our best modern love poetry. I share with you one of his most well-known and a personal favorite.

***

[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
                                                 i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)
***
further reading…

Variation on the Word Sleep by Margaret Atwood

“Variation on the Word Sleep” by Margaret Atwood is one of those poems that every time you read it, it’s like reading it for the first time. Last night, I felt inclined to pick up my copy of 180 more: Extraordinary Poems for Every Day selected by Former US Poet Laureate Billy Collins. I read the poem last night before I went to sleep and again this morning; I’m reading it now in between the sentences that I write here.

With each word lulling forward into each new sentence and stanza, the movement feels dreamy and fluid, but somehow still provides vivid images. Atwood has captured that altered state of movement one feels in dreams (are we in our own bodies or floating above them?; how fast can I run from one point to the other?; it feels like ages but I’ve walked two feet). The images she describes are so perfectly constructed. They are very specific and unique, but we can all imagine these moments happening in a dream.

I once had a Shakespeare professor in college say to the class, “If you have no poetry in your life, you have no life!” So, without further ado, I share this poem with you to start your week off right.

Variation on the Word Sleep
by Margaret Atwood

 

I would like to watch you sleeping,
which may not happen.
I would like to watch you,
sleeping. I would like to sleep
with you, to enter
your sleep as its smooth dark wave
slides over my head

and walk with you through that lucent
wavering forest of bluegreen leaves
with its watery sun & three moons
towards the cave where you must descend,
towards your worst fear

I would like to give you the silver
branch, the small white flower, the one
word that will protect you
from the grief at the center
of your dream, from the grief
at the center I would like to follow
you up the long stairway
again & become
the boat that would row you back
carefully, a flame
in two cupped hands
to where your body lies
beside me, and as you enter
it as easily as breathing in

I would like to be the air
that inhabits you for a moment
only. I would like to be that unnoticed
& that necessary.

(courtesy of poets.org)

Sylvia Plath: Drawings

“It gives me such a sense of peace to draw.”

sylvia plath coverWith the recent release of Sylvia Plath’s drawings, we get a glimpse at a side of the writer that was previously a mystery to most. The book is a collection of the author’s drawings and sketches, along with letters and diary entries edited and with an introduction by her daughter, Frieda Hughes. Frieda states, “She had dreams of grandeur in hoping that the New Yorker might use her illustrations alongside her written work, as the Christian Science Monitor did.”

Paired with the personal letters and diaries, one can track Plath’s progression as a secret visual artist. The book is divided into four sections, each titled ‘Drawings from…’ [insert England, France, Spain, USA]. The correspondences and diary entries that precede the drawings are a curious thing. They, of course, give insight into one of our favorite American authors. She speaks gushingly of her courses and scholarship, along with her husband, poet Ted Hughes. To see the subjects and point of views change ever so slightly when she is in a new locale at a new point her life is where I find most pleasure.

Drawings is a brief book and by the end, I was unhappily reminded of a great writer who left us with too little. The book closes with a timeline of her life, which was a stark comparison to the jovial letters and diary entries that were included.

In the gallery below, I’ve chosen some of my favorites. Also, included is the article with illustration that Sylvia Plath had accepted by the Christian Science Monitor. 

Federico García Lorca, Poet in New York

lorcaYou still have two days left to see the fantastic and free exhibition at the New York Public Library dedicated to Spanish poet Federico García Lorca’s time he spent in NYC in 1929. Since April, a celebration of the writer has been going on in NYC. If you are unable to visit the exhibition, the Lorca in NY website is a plethora of illuminating images and information (the interactive map is worth a click alone but prepared to be distracted from any other business you were conducting–you were warned!).

The Lorca exhibition focuses on his time spent in NYC. He initially came to the US to study English at Columbia University but soon gave that up to work on his book of poetry. He communicated either in Spanish or in a less than stellar French. What I found most interesting about the exhibition was the fact that Lorca was so enthralled by Harlem. Usually, when reading works about Manhattan during this time period the lower part of the island gets the limelight with the upper neighborhoods being confined to the Harlem Renaissance. Lorca was a European who lived in a dormitory on Columbia’s campus. He was a hop, skip, and a jump a way from Harlem, a neighborhood that butts up against the university. He found friendship and inspiration from the people of Harlem and the neighborhood itself.

lorca2Besides having his words inspired by the city, the exhibition also exhibits Lorca’s artwork. It definitely had that Spanish Surrealism quality about it with its drooping figures and looping lines. Prior to his trip to NYC, Lorca was friends with Salvador Dali and Luis Bunuel who had criticized his earlier poetry as being too traditional.

The exhibition is a lovely mash of Lorca’s letters to his family in Granada, artwork, information about his time spent at Columbia and NYC in general, his friendships with different writers in the city, and the overall influence New York had on him.

The exhibition is titled, “Back Tomorrow.” When handing in his manuscript for Poet in New York, Lorca left a note with these words to his Madrid publisher. Unfortunately, “he never returned. Weeks later, at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, he was brutally murdered by fascist elements in Granada, his body thrown into an unmarked mass grave.” Like all book blurbs these day, the entire exhibition was haunting. I think this was due to the surreal portraits he created and his enthusiasm and longing for the city mixed with his unfortunate and brutal death. If you’re able to see it, go immediately before the exhibition closes!

Acid Free Roundup

I’ve been pulled in a few too many directions as of late but I thought I would lay out what’s been happening recently and some of my to-do’s.

  1. New poem up at Translations of Dead German Poets.
  2. NO MORE BOOK REVIEWS! I swear this time. They take up too much of my free brain space. No more (well, at least not in the foreseeable future). A published book review really takes a lot of time. You have an initial draft, edits/back and forth with an editor, and also the time it took to read the book. My desire for my own writing and book choices certainly outranks that of publishing a measly review. Only books I have chosen for myself so be prepared for more write-ups for fiction coming soon
  3. Playing catch up on my favorite blogs. I’ve been a bit quiet lately. I’m not a big fan of the way that WordPress organizes the blogs I follow; plus I am sometimes negligent in pressing the ‘Follow’ button. I’ve always used Google Reader but now with its demise, I must find something new to organize everything. Suggestions greatly appreciated.
  4. Things I’m happy with: Writing! Yes, I’ve finally gotten some more words down on the page for a book I’m writing. This plot is a bit twisty, so may I share my new favorite virtual corkboard that helps me stay organized and it’s free? Definitely recommended. www.stixy.com/
  5. Even with all of this mind-stretching-in-different-directions, I still try to put up a few interesting writerly, bookish things on the ole Twitter feed even if I can’t get to the blog. www.twitter.com/AcidFreePulp

Translating Dead German Poets

Translations of Dead German Poets.So what happens when you’ve been super busy, not responding to emails, getting back to people or being a suitable human? Procrastinate, of course. I’ve decided to collect my three previous translations I’ve posted to this blog and create a new project. I have already put up the originally three and some new ones are coming soon.

Some people squish stress balls in their hands, others clean their whole home. I choose to translate poems by dead and forgotten (at least, forgotten in the US) German-language poets to refocus and forget about everyday stresses. So without further ado…

TRANSLATIONS OF DEAD GERMAN POETS