Friday, June 11, 2010

Brush Mind Poems

Two brush mind book poems, from my journal. Written on two different occasions, months apart, but following the same brush-mind to place brush pen to paper.

the black pitch
of the old boat

the old shorebound sailor
remembers, nodding by the fire

cold harbors, cold rooms
nights at sea when the mast iced

another log set on the hearth
cold bones never warm enough, growing colder

a gold cloud in summer
lee of the hummingbird's lair

falcons over sparrows
the shaved fields still fallow

the sun calls at last
to its lost boon companion

the fire's gone out, hands on the rocker
chair's arms as cold as the hearthstone

A bit of a memory of my grandfather, the sailor who left his home in Norway's Arctic seacoast north to emigrate to Michigan. But never leaving the sea, as the house he built in Muskegon was less than a mile from Muskegon Lake, and thus not far from the inland sea, Lake Michigan.

Also a bit of a poetic homage to that northern poet whose voice I keep finding in my own, whenever I write about norther things, about granite and sea and weather and the winter's cold: George Mackay Brown.

And looking back, written out of my own cold feelings, these past few months when the illness and anemia made me unseasonably shiver with chills.

blue twilight
fading evening light
evening star crystallizes
start of western sun
westing down to dusk
down darkening grove
darkening cardinal's red
cardinal ordained to weep
ordinal compass rose
risen eastern shine

Form emerging as the poem proceeds—just playing around with form and internal rhyme—middle rhyme becomes first word of next line, more or less. Making a sort of circle around the evening sky, as well as in the poem. (Probably need to drop that first line. Or maybe it's the title?)

I don't care about form. I think the contemporary obsession with poetry's formal craft is a symptom of having nothing to say. I don't go out of my way to find forms; although sometimes, like this, they arise organically out of the poem, during the writing process. Sometimes you emphasize that effect later. Sometimes, a form appears immediately upon starting the first line, like that feeling that emerges when you just know the phone's going to ring an instant before it does.

But I don't care about form: I care about the musical properties of rhythm, pattern, and silence. Those concerns can lead to generating form. But form is musical, generative, organic. It comes out of the poem itself, rather than being imposed upon the form beforehand. Let the dogs run. Don't hobble them before the gate's even open.

Maybe not great or even very good poems; seeds of something for later, perhaps. Examples of the brush-mind journal process. A lot of poems start this way for me, momentary inspirations and random scraps in the journal, then get revised into something better, later, or abandoned as not being worth it. Most poems that start this way need tightening; there's almost always a few words that clutter, or a line that's a warm-up line, something to get the poem going, to oil the gears, and needs to be dropped.

I could have used a stronger word than "dropped" to talk about revision. Excision, chopped, cut out, some other surgical or sculptural metaphor. How violently we describe the revision process sometimes; it makes me wonder if those writers who use violent metaphors to describe the writing and revising processes aren't accidentally saying something about self-hatred and self-esteem.

The creative writing process has to allow for less-than-stellar work as nobody writes winners every time; if an artist does try to convince you that they only make good work, they're either lying or self-deluded. Remember that most artists only show you their good work, not their work-in-process pieces. Remember too that finishing a piece can be an elusive process; sometimes you come back to it, years later, and finally know what to do, to make it come alive. Sometimes you just have to abandon it, and try again from scratch.

I find that for me, the poems that fall into the middle zone, between first/second drafts and coming back years later, are often the worst poems. I usually wait for a poem a strike. I don't go looking. And I learned long ago that trying to force a poem always, always turns it into an intellect-driven process, and kills any life in the poem itself. I can write to prompts, if I feel the gods and archetypes tapping on my shoulder. Otherwise, it's stale. I've said it before: poems written only from the head always fail. Precisely because there's no heart in them. So, I tend to find my best poems at the extremes: immediate appearance, done very quickly, not much revision; or long, long gestation followed by even longer revision. Sometimes waiting is everything. It's the poems in the middle, which you try to fix too soon, or which you over-revise, that end up dying. Some people like those poems, if they see them; but I usually don't.

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Blogger Elisabeth said...

These poems are beautiful to me. I'm no craftsperson. I only know what I like, what resonates for me and these do, especially for some reason the first.

As to your comment: I care about the musical properties of rhythm, pattern, and silence.

I couldn't agree more.

Thanks, Art. I relish posts like this. I love it when you write about your writing process.

6:49 PM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

Thanks, Elisabeth, those are great responses. I appreciate that you like the poems as is—thank you. I will probably post a revision of some sort of the poems at some point, either as an update here, or in a new post.

I like to show the writing process, sometimes, because I so learn so much from seeing the writing process of others. Hopefully it's a way of passing on some ideas, if not wisdom per se.

It's taken me awhile to articulate, or re-articulate, that the musicality of poetry is what's most important to me. In a way, that closes a huge circle, because when I first became interested in poetry, it was the musicality of poetry first attracted me. That's of course because at core I'm a musician, a composer, and music is my deepest, most important way of being in the world, and of making things.

Your comment also reminds me Sidney Lanier, a 19th C. poet who was also his era's greatest concert flutist, famed for it in fact. He also wrote the words to the American Centennial oratorio in 1876. He was also a bit of a composer.

9:07 PM  

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