Poem in progress – September

Wanting to learn this place, this collection
of houses and people and lives
that I came to willingly, that I chose, open-eyed,
and that seemed to even welcome us here
with cherry blossom, with the heartbreathless green
of new leaf after winter, after wandering lost,
that welcomed us with the gentle faith
of my own bed after long travel, or of that branch
you used to climb out onto as a child, that curved
exactly right to cradle your animal body, that
gawky chanegling cage that was you-and-not-you
in a time and place not of your choosing;
so I stepped outside my new front door
and stood a few moments, just breathing.

The Best American Poetry

It’s been a while since I showed anyone a seriously early draft of a poem, but I thought this might be interesting. I’m reading through The Best American Poetry 2011, and there’s a lovely poem by Jennifer Grotz called “Poppies”, that caught me. It begins fairly discursively, but towards the end the mood seems to clarify, and the elegiac notes really come to the fore. Two lines in particular triggered my writing itch:

The closest you have come to seeing it
is at night, with the window open and the lamp on

I’m very protective of my (physical) privacy, so the whole thing of how incredibly visible your life becomes at night to passers-by, in those minutes (or hours, or years!) between turning the lights on and closing the curtains holds a weird fascination for me. Walking around town at night with some of my friends was one of the ways I dealt with all the rage and grief that I inhabited during my last few years at High School. We didn’t perve in at people – we were troubled kids, but not that way – but there was something about the presence of those other lives, made so vivid for a few moments as we passed, that calmed me, reminded me how irrelevant my issues really were, and how transitory. Hard to explain if you’ve never felt it, but it’s become one of those little touchstone memories that has a whole planet of emotional baggage tucked into the gaps in its crystalline lattice. So these lines from the poem really spoke to me. It’s not the only one like this either – John Burnside’s lovely poem “A Private Life”, (from Swimming in the Flood) is a bit like that, and Tony Hoagland’s “Summer Night” (from The Best American Poetry 2003) is another.

But that’s barely even there in this poem so far. Maybe it won’t ever be – to soon to tell. One of the things I’m toying with here (and which is the reason behind the discursiveness) is actually from an earlier poem in BAP2011 – Alan Feldman’s “In November” (weird – I only just noticed the title!). In the notes at the back, he comments that it was part of an assignment he set his students, to write a poem that was one long sentence. He revised the poem away from this rule (the BAP version is in three sentences), but you can still hear that stretching in the syntax, in the way the poem keeps leaning ahead of itself. Not sure why the two things came together in my head (or pen), but that was the idea behind it. (My favourite single-stonkingly-long-sentence-poem is Maurice Riordan’s “The Sloe”, from Floods – a wonderful poem!)

It’ll be interesting to see where – if anywhere – this poem goes. I promise to post the finished version. Always assuming there is one …

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3 thoughts on “Poem in progress – September

  1. Sweet! post; from beyond the red zone.

    Discursive i don’t like,
    it seems to be a grumpy word
    stomping around all over the place –
    like callithumpian, but
    elegiac is so smoothly sophisticated
    that, if you are too slow taking a breath
    it will slide right off your tongue
    roll down and
    curl around your toes.

  2. Your post made me immediately think of Monarchs by Sharon Olds – here’s a bio:
    http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/sharon-olds

    All morning, as I sit thinking of you,
    the Monarchs are passing. Seven storeys up,
    to the left of the river, they are making their way
    south, …

    I always find it strange in a high-rise hotel or apartments to look across a yawning chasm and see people doing things, quite ordinary things at eye level.

    Re leaving the curtains open at night – my Dutch friends claim it’s done on purpose in Holland so passers-by can see what nice furniture one has! (One upmanship is also why, they say, there are such good-quality recyclables put out on inorganic rubbish day.)

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