Wednesday, August 8, 2012

I Am Better At Not Knowing What I Am Doing

Poems are made of words that live in bodies — bodies shaped by line breaks, and fixed forever in space, on the page. Picture a gymnast in relation to the trampoline, the invisible line between the two driven equally by unseen forces of gravity and the gymnast’s own strength. When a poem is read aloud, it is a moment of flight. Its words are released into the air, into the spaces between breaths. Many poets, like Charles Olson and the Beats, see the line as an actual unit of breath. The white space left in the wake of the words is the breath materialized. When I was pregnant with my son, I had to re-lineate all my poems to shorten the lines, so I could speak them without becoming breathless.

-Erika Meitner's "One of the Components is How Long You Are in the Air: On Poetry and Trampoline" at Los Angeles Review of Books. If you haven't been reading "We Can Be Heroes: Poetry at the Olympics," you've been missing out.


I am forever telling my students I know nothing about poetry, and they never believe me. I do not know what my poems are about, except on rare occasions, and I never know what they mean. I have met and spoken to many poets who feel the same way, and one among them once put it this way: “The difference between myself and a student is that I am better at not knowing what I am doing.” I couldn’t put it any better than that if I tried.

-The Volta, On Mary Ruefle's (Hollins grad!) new collection of lectures.


Another question poets old and young are typically asked in interviews is when and why they decided to become poets. The assumption is that there was a moment when they came to realize there can be no other destiny for them but to write poetry, followed by the announcement to their families that had their mothers exclaim: “Oh God, what did we do wrong to deserve this?” while their fathers ripped out their belts and chased them around the room. I was often tempted to tell the interviewer with a straight face that I had chosen poetry to get my hands on all that big prize money that’s lying around, since informing them that there was never any decision like that in my case inevitably disappoints them. They want to hear something heroic and poetic, and I tell them that I was just another high school kid who wrote poems in order to impress girls, but with no other ambition beyond that. Not being a native speaker of English, they also ask me why I didn’t write my poems in Serbian and wonder how I arrived at the decision to ditch my mother tongue. Again, my answer seems frivolous to them, when I explain that for poetry to be used as an instrument of seduction, the first requirement is that it be understood. No American girl was likely to fall for a guy who reads her love poems in Serbian as they sip Coke.

-Charles Simic's "Why I Still Write Poetry" at The New York Review of Books


While teaching at Hollins University for the last seven years, I’ve also been helping my wife and kids work a little Permaculture farm/homestead, where among the many food/soil building systems, we raise a Nubian goat dairy herd. We make cheeses, yogurts, kefir, and ice cream from that goat milk. We don’t get too crazy with the flavors, and I doubt we’ll get into milking gorillas anytime soon, but in every line of this poem are at least two things we grow, raise, or wild-harvest (and then process and eat) from our 18 acres and the surrounding fields, forest, streams, and rivers. Today there was basil and walnut in the pesto we mixed into a chevre spread for lunch. And the pawpaw will be ripe before too long.

-Thorpe Moeckel over at Poet Lore


-Kwame Dawes' "Memos to Poets: A Twitter Journey"


1 comment:

Sabrina said...

Stumbled upon your blog by accident, but thought I would ask if you have any suggestions on how to teach rhythm in poetry to ninth graders? That is ninth graders in Bhutan where English is their 2nd or 4th language
. Thanks!