Friday, December 31, 2010

Blank White



A poem that I wrote at the same time I made two drawings of trees in winter, when I was getting my latest IV drug therapy treatment. Sitting there all morning with a needle in my arm, two drawings and a poem isn't too bad.

The poem started out on the same theme as the drawings: the lone bare tree in the middle of a blank white snow-covered field. It started there, but as often happens, especially it seems with this form I've been writing since this past summer, the inner mental imagery and imagination kicks in, I start making connections, things come forward, and they all end up in the poem. I do think associatively most of the time, as opposed to purely linearly. When I write a poem, when a poem tells me it wants to be written, I just do my best to open myself up to whatever wants to happen, to get myself out of the way, and let it happen.

If anything needs to happen in revision, it's usually about tightening up the poem, bringing it into focus, removing any chaff from the wheat, and making it a little more dense; all of which types of revisions I have already done, here, in transcribing the poem from my journal to the laptop. One or two more changes might ensue, later on, upon rereading after some time has passed.

I don't really like to talk about my poems because I'm not interested in dictating what they might mean; I like people to find meaning in my poems for themselves, not tell them what I think it means. But I'm willing to talk about the process, and the context in which art is made.




Blank White

Outside in gray light, sky the same off-white as fields
drowned in snow after yesterday's white-out blizzard,
feet thick trudging through white molasses, sweat like white
vinegar seeping between toes: outside it's gray and white
and black. A single tree off-center of an empty white field
sharp-edged like black ink on rice paper, even though really
it's gray and brown and tan: everything's high-contrast today.
Dial up the difference, nothing subtle. Nuances lost in snow glare.
Thinning clouds make you squint, and for a moment the tree
shows a thin gray soup of shadow, suddenly not so two-dimensional
as it had seemed. On south-eastern coast, in grey waters sea-lions
line up to dive in and out of the caves. Storm-spray shelters
and splashes thick gray blubbery hides, drenches anyone stupid
enough to stand on trail along overhead cliffs, staring down.
Clouds change now, a quick switch, from featureless off-white to
genuinely silver-edged grey, layered as foam or lace. Bodes a darker
end to the day. Might as well be the desert. No squirrels today.
Normally they scamp up and down trunks, pirates on the mast.
Lone tree too exposed, too isolate. Maybe they're all a-dream.
Or maybe just too Siberian. Pasternak in winter, the ice palace
where Yuri wrote poems of sublime lattice lace, filigreed as pure
as ice cracking the windowpanes. It must be good
to be that lost, snowbound, icebound, trapped beyond the power
of either sleigh or four-wheel drive to get dug out, to get loose.
It must be good to be forced to sit and write even when your fingers
are numbed at the kitchen table in a room warmed only by candles,
by the heat of three candles and a passionate intensity for words.
A winter like that could be worth the struggle if you get one good poem.
Meanwhile the patch of sun fades back to gray, blind and blank.
Shadowless contrast for a moment reveals fading deer tracks,
come and gone, like needles in white linen. White felt.
Everything I've ever loved has gone blank and black
and white.

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5 Comments:

Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

For a poem called ‘Blank White’ don’t you think there’s an awful lot of colour in this piece? There’s some nice imagery in this one but I think the standout line for me is: ‘A winter like that could be worth the struggle if you get one good poem.’ I think that really says everything about how what we create sustains us. BTW you spell ‘grey’ with an ‘a’ and also an ‘e’ – may want to fix that. I’m not sure it needs the final ‘White light’ right at the end. I suppose it depends how you read it but it feels tagged-on to me and a bit obvious. On the whole though I liked it and read it over several times.

1:12 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

Blank white is made up all colors. Snow is all colors, and it can take on hues under different colors of sky, being reflective and each snowflake being prismatic, chromatic. So, paradox or prism, either works for me.

The two different spellings of gray/grey are two different colors for me. I do that deliberately. I've always associated two different tones to the different spellings. That's probably just my idiosyncratic little thing.

Thanks for the suggestion on the last line; I've been thinking about it already. Not sure about it, either. I'll give it somme time, and think it through.

Glad you liked it overall. Thanks.

1:24 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

I think you're right. That last "White light." at the end seems tacked on. Consider it removed.



Shadowless contrast for a moment reveals fading deer tracks,
come and gone, like needles in white linen. White felt.
Everything I've ever loved has gone blank and black
and white. White light.


becomes


Shadowless contrast for a moment reveals fading deer tracks,
come and gone, like needles in white linen. White felt.
Everything I've ever loved has gone blank and black
and white.

1:47 AM  
Blogger Elisabeth said...

I'm no poet, Art, but this one does so much for me.

There are so many thrills of surprise at many a line in your 'passionate intensity for words': scampering up the mast, the colours, against the blankness, the black amd white and all the time the bare bones of that tree flash before my eyes while I ponder the state of mind of the poet who writes these words, seemingly out of an emotional pain from which he now distances himself.

A true geography of the mind, mid winter. Lovely stuff. Thank you, Art.

4:16 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

Thanks, Elisabeth, those are great comments. I'm honored.

9:18 AM  

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