Bounds against chaos

It is easy, even comfortable, to think of the past as a linear narrative; but that is not actually how brains record and archive our experiences.

Marilyn McCabe notes: “So much of the past is only what we think we know based on what we remember, or think we remember. The past is a fun-house maze of stretchy mirrors and blind corners.”

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The brain and consciousness intertwine through so much complex, possibly fractal, and certainly inter-relational connections that chaos looms as an option all the time; human experience is an edge phenomenon. I have long considered the meadow and forest, the clearing or glade, the hedgerow, the riverbank, ditch, or roadside berm as metaphor for what keeps us curious–interested in life and its inter-relationships, its connectedness and its chaos.

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By complete coincidence, a biologist/blogger posts a poem by Robert Duncan; an excerpt here:

Often I am permitted to return to a meadow
as if it were a given property of the mind
that certain bounds hold against chaos,
that is a place of first permission,
everlasting omen of what is.
Robert Duncan

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Yes. Often I am, myself, permitted to return to a meadow. Pretty much daily, when I’m home. And what I learn there! What the edges and the chaos (and the patterns, and the simplicity) reveal to me!

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As an aside: Dave Bonta writes poetry blog roundups here: https://www.vianegativa.us/2018/04/poet-bloggers-revival-digest-week-14/ Each of the links he posts is worthy of a read.

Dave has even posted his wedding to Rachel Rawlins–video, context, porcupine, open-sourced wedding vows, poems, & all: https://www.vianegativa.us/2018/04/mountain-wedding/

When it’s done well, lived well, marriage can be one of the bounds that hold against chaos, “a place of first permission”–even for anarchists.

Namaste! And keep reading poetry.

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Blogs

The snow’s receded, and the crocuses open; yet another wintry storm looms. Nonetheless, the past three days have felt less like thaws and more like spring itself. Today, I’m listing some great blogs to browse, breeze through, or peruse…as I am at present falling a bit behind on the Blog Tour (among other things).

muscari

 

There may be a hiatus to follow…in the meantime, follow these!

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Good blogs on what it means to be a poet, in or out of academia, and to keep slugging away at the job:

Jeannine Hall Gailey, who has a new book about promoting & marketing one’s poetry (available from Two Sylvias Press): http://webbish6.com/

Diane Lockward: http://dianelockward.blogspot.com/

Lesley Wheeler: https://lesleywheeler.org/author/thecavethehive/

Grant Clauser: https://uniambic.com/

Donna Vorreyer: https://djvorreyer.wordpress.com/author/djvorreyer/

Kelli Russell Agodon: http://ofkells.blogspot.com/

Dedicated poem-a-day or nearly a-poem-a-day bloggers who actually write good poems:

Lou Faber: https://anoldwriter.com/

Luisa Igloria, whose fine book The Buddha Wonders If She Is Having a Mid-life Crisis just came out from Beth Adams’ (15+ years of blogging! @ Cassandra Pages) Phoenicia Publishing: https://www.vianegativa.us/author/luisa/

And Dave Bonta, also 15 years blogging, who does a mighty job of crowdsourcing poetry and poets: https://www.vianegativa.us/author/dave/

Then these blogs, which often blend visual art with poetry, or poetry with visual art, such as:

Marilyn McCabe: https://marilynonaroll.wordpress.com/

Art critic and artist Sigrun Omstreifer: https://omstreifer.com/

Artist Deborah Barlow: http://www.slowmuse.com/

And finally, a field biologist (specialty: entomology, bees in particular, but she photographs omnivorously) who loves poetry and posts the occasional poem amid her informative essays on birds, bugs, landscapes, hikes, travel, dogs, and all things lively and worth investigating: https://standingoutinmyfield.wordpress.com

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That should keep readers busy for National Poetry Month and beyond!

 

Smalls

This week in the blog tour, both Kelli Russell Agodon and Lesley Wheeler (poets) blogged about smallness, small things, smaller lives.

And a lovely (small) erasure poem by Dave Bonta got me thinking about ‘little things’:

in the night bog
I part with my road
curious about other things

I lack philosophy enough
to understand bread
or the question of touch                                            —Dave Bonta

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iris reticulata

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Just yesterday, these tiny iris reticulata bloomed along the woodlot’s edge. This evening’s forecast is for a nor’easter and up to 8 inches of snow. So long, for now, little irises. During the brief time I observed you, beauty entered my day.

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Can we even understand such small and usual things as bread? As touch? As the winter’s blossoms? Could we entertain an aesthetics of small things?

Or do I lack the philosophy for that?

 

Resilience

A couple of poets whose blogs I am “touring” this year have mentioned resilience. Sometimes resilience is coupled with persistence; generally, the topic revolves around how to sustain one’s writing practice when all is not going well. When there are rejections, interruptions, failures…when the writer cannot seem to carve out time to write, when support for creative endeavors is lacking.

Kelli Russell Agodon just posted a response to Lori McNee’s 5 traits of successful artists. Sure enough, one of the five traits is resilience.

Here’s an excerpt.
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“Successful artists are resilient. They know that success does not happen overnight – it requires hard work. These artists understand that things don’t always work out the way they expect. When they make mistakes, they focus on solutions, not on regrets. They learn from experience and experiment to improve on any success they have.”

Agodon’s response is that “some of the best poets aren’t the ones who are the best, but they are the ones who won’t stop writing, who won’t give up. They don’t let a rejection, a NO, a missed award, an overlook, stop them.” She cites the example of a colleague who does not submit work: “the rejection part was too hard to handle. It’s a loss for the readers in the world when that happens.” And then she adds:

I have made huge mistakes as a poet, from sending my Visa bill in with a snailmail submission, to missing a deadline, to writing a terrible poem and thinking it was good. We all do it (okay, maybe not mailing in your Visa bill), but mistakes will be made, failures will happen, and so what.
Keep writing.”
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Which is resilience. I have counted myself lucky to possess the resilience trait, as it may be the thing that has kept me living with my tendency toward depression, kept me if not balanced at least…springy. If you have followed this blog for awhile, you may notice that most of the header photographs over the years have been grasses, wand-like branches, gently-bending blooms, eclipse-shadows of leaves, waterfalls. There is a reason for that: I am reminding myself to bend instead of break.
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Criticism is valuable. Mistakes can teach. Failures are not the end of everything good in the world, even if they feel that way in the first moments. Keeping on is all we can do, really. So I am signing off now to tend to my poems, my journal, my notes–and to the tall weeds in the meadow, swaying in wind that foretells a storm.

 

Filling the world with poems

Taking part in the blogging tour means trying to keep up with what other poets have been posting, and in the process raising my own writing frequency. Recently I’ve read several writers’ insights about, fears of, and approaches to the process of submitting work for publication. I have also had several in-person and by-email discussions about the perceived or genuine value of publication of one’s work, and some advice on how fervently to pursue publication (and in which venue).

A perennial topic among literary types:

http://ofkells.blogspot.co.uk/2018/02/on-rejection-and-some-advice-from-drag.html

http://webbish6.com/what-ive-learned-from-my-millennial-friends-as-a-gen-x-writer-or-how-to-submit-like-a-millennial/

https://uniambic.com/2018/01/24/poetry-submission-strategy-whatever-works-for-you/

http://webbish6.com/the-importance-of-resilience-in-the-poetry-game-and-in-life/

https://lissaclouser.com/2018/01/26/accepted/

https://lissaclouser.com/2018/01/30/scared-to-submit-yer-poems/

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I’ve also read articles urging poets to consider submitting on a “tier” basis. First-tier journals are the long-standing literary magazines such as Poetry, The Paris Review, APR, and the better-known university-affiliated literary journals. The tiers move down from there, and it gets complicated deciding whether a lively, well-visited online site is a “higher tier” than a lesser-known print venue.

A friend advised me not to post drafts or unpublished poems online, as they are then ineligible to appear in most literary venues, online or in print–generally, these journals want first-rights for publication. These concerns once mattered to me; I no longer care.

Why the change?

My outlook has moved on. I’m not seeking an academic appointment or a job teaching creative writing at the college or graduate level. I’m no longer starting out–I’ve had my poems published in literary venues of many types since 1981! If I haven’t made the “top tier,” maybe I never will; I still submit to those journals now and then, but I set no store by their rejections, though I would be happy if I had a poem accepted by–say–Poetry. [I miss the days when I’d get a little slip of paper with the formatted rejection emblazoned with what a friend calls Thurber’s “Evil Pegasus.”]

 

pegasus

This image by James Thurber belongs to The Poetry Foundation

 

My intention in this decade of my life is just to keep writing and to get the poems out into the world in whatever form, venue, media, or technological method may exist. I do recognize that many other poets are either just starting out or trying to secure a career in the writing field–or trying to advance in the university–and for those poets, a concern for the cachet of the journal or venue and the extent of its reach for the correct audience matters considerably. I’m not suggesting anyone take a cavalier approach to publishing; it is serious work (those curious about publishing, see the blogger links above).

Tedious work, for me.

Nonetheless, I do occasionally submit to journals, as the listing to the right with links that sometimes but not always work discloses. Most recently, I am glad to report that I have two poems in Antiphon #22. < The link will take you to the journal in .pdf format. This time, I did not provide an audio file; but some of the authors have, and these are always worth a listen.

Yet another new way of filling the world with poems. Psalms. Antiphons. Moving poems. Texts. Podcasts. Anthologies. Journals. Websites. And more.

 

 

 

Edges & outcomes

One outcome of participating in a “blog tour” is the opportunity to listen in on what writers younger than I–or newer to the act of being-a-poet–experience in the literary environment of the 21st century. In some ways that has become quite a changed adventure from the early 1980s when the alternatives to major presses and established print journals were little fly-by-night xerox-zines, copied and stapled in runs of under 100. But perhaps not so different from free blogs with just a few dedicated followers; those miniature publications gave me my first print credentials as a poet. Today, I read Lissa Clouser writing of “all the things I’m not” and recalled my own early and uncertain forays at the edges of the literary world.

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xerox-zines, ca. 1982-ish

I now enjoy being outside, observing the edges. It’s more interesting than I realized when I was in my 20s–when edginess was cool, but one might wish to belong with the edgy newcomers. [The paradox of being in the tribe of outsiders.]

Also, I found the garden and the woods and meadows intriguing, and also child-raising, teaching, neuroscience, philosophy. I became a nominal member of many tribes. Including, more recently, the tribe of the aging person and the tribe of the chronically ill–communities that range widely, encompass much, and are fraught with delicious and difficult complexity.

It took me 20 years to get to Arthur W. Frank’s book The Wounded Storyteller, and I might not have found it so useful and illuminating if I’d read it twenty years ago. Now, however, the book’s insights are relevant to my life and to the current moment. Frank powerfully reminds us that as members of the human collective, we need to listen to people; that in time, all of us become wounded storytellers; and, therefore, each of us benefits by learning how to bear human living with a kind of “intransitive hope.” By intransitive hope, Frank means finding a way to be with our suffering in life, recognize that suffering happens, but also to recognize that there are ways to be human that do not end in miraculous cures–that may (and will, eventually) end in death.

And that’s okay. He suggests that healing is a project, not an outcome.

Kind of like writing, you know?

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“As far as I’m concerned, poetry is the best thing that exists in the universe.”             –-Kaveh Akbar

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Poetry & paradox

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“Language is a profoundly mysterious technology, so constitutive of the human mind that we can only get glimpses, from inside the fishbowl of consciousness, of how it works.”
sea inside Charnine

 The Sea Inside. Charnine.com features information on surrealist artist Charnine and Surrealism – copyright © 1994 – 2011 Samy Charnine – All rights reserved

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How do we get from language to poetry? However we do that, consciously or not, it must be as fluid and natural as it is damned difficult! I sometimes wonder whether paradox may be the basis of art. At least, if there exists a “something” that inspires me to compose a poem, paradox–and the way it requires effort to explore contradictions and ambiguities–could stand in as my motivating flame.
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Paradox, randomness, juxtapositions and contradictions evoke imagery, dream, the realms beyond the rational consciousness we humans claim to possess. Poet and fellow poetry blogger Susan Rich recently posted about the surrealist painter Remedios Varo, an artist whose name and art I had never before encountered; and I felt an urgent pull to introduce her work to my friend David Dunn–he loved surrealism and appreciated it more than I ever have, and such paintings (particularly early de Chirico) exerted a large influence on his poems.

David, however, died in 1999. I share my memory of him here, by writing it on a blog, the same as I share the names of Varo and de Chirico and of the many poets and philosophers I have mentioned during my years of posting to this forum. It’s a form of immortality, if only a temporary immortality (another paradox…)
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Here is Menand again, who wrote poetry in his youth but moved into journalism and critical reviews in prose later on: “… I got the same painful pleasure out of writing prose that I did out of writing poetry—the pleasure of trying to put the right words in the right order.” Painful pleasure. That mysterious technology, language, rises to the occasion of inherent contradiction.

 

“And I took away from my experience with poetry something else. I understood that the reason people write poems is the reason people write. They have something to say.”
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Do you know what you have to say before you write a poem? Or does what you have to say appear in the process of writing? Or after the poem seems complete? Or once someone else has read it and decided what it is you had to say?