More on influences

During my adolescence, many of my friends came, if not from “broken homes” (the term we used in the 1970s), at least from emotionally-difficult family situations. Why that is, I don’t know–but it seems the town I lived in had quite a few struggling families in it. The era was a difficult one, rife with drug use, protests, political upheaval; and people were wrestling over attitudes concerning sex and feminism and birth control, dealing with a recession, and uncomfortable with the nation’s changing demographics.

I loved my friends, most of whom were female and, in one way or another, outsiders among our peers. I loved the nerdy bookworms who appreciated my goofy, bookish sense of humor. I loved the slightly wild risk-takers who encouraged me to do the kinds of things I might otherwise avoid; I loved that they accepted me even when I decided to decline participation in their antics. I learned my boundaries and learned to be accepted for having boundaries, knowledge that is vital for anyone to discover–especially for a young woman.

My friends liked me because I listened to them. One of them referred to me as her psychologist. Through these young women, I learned about love, lust, yearning, sex, educational aspirations, the behaviors of men, family stresses, jobs, career hopes, personal values, fears, thrills, recreational drugs, alcohol, birth control, popular music, dancing, concert-going, lies, mistakes, and heartbreak. The only thing I can think of that has taught me as much is the reading of books, particularly poems, novels, and memoirs.


1974, New Jersey, USA

Years later, I asked my parents whether they ever felt concerned about my choice of friends. Did they ever worry that these young people were somehow bad influences on me? My dad paused a moment, thoughtful, and answered, “I don’t think we ever worried about your friends being bad influences on you. I kind of thought you were maybe a good influence on them.” I’m not sure that’s accurate; but looking back, perhaps my parents, or my family, presented a positive “model” for my friends who endured much more challenging home lives and had less support for education, career, and independent futures. And most of them have grown up to have successful lives–but that’s not because of me.

Four or five years ago I found myself reminiscing through writing poems; it was quite accidental on my part, and initially just a response to a Bruce Springsteen song. Influences: popular song, teen friends, the suburban environment of my youth. I ended up with at least 40 poems, of which there may be enough good ones to make up a chapbook collection someday. [In 2014, I blogged a bit about the project here.] I call them my Barefoot Girls poems. They provide, I suppose, one aspect to answering the question posed in my last blog. My friends’ experiences, flowing through me.


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“Next Big Thing”

A friend & colleague-in-poetry, April Lindner, has invited me to participate in the round-robin writing blog event (termed a “blog hop”) called “The Next Big Thing.” Thanks to Molly Spencer for coordinating this web-event, which has been going awhile, so she is no longer curating it as actively. At the end of this post, I’m linking my readers to a handful of other participants. From their sites, you can locate others…and so on! We hope to foster discovery of writers our own blog followers–or random visitors–are not yet familiar with, and to spur readership in general. I love to read, and I have a mission to introduce more people to reading, to poetry, and to contemporary artists–especially word-artists. Therefore, I’m thrilled to be asked to add my 2¢ to The Next Big Thing…even though some of the formulated “interview questions” lend themselves more to fiction writers than to poets. Some of the answers may end up sounding a bit far-fetched, or simply silly.

But poets do possess senses of humor, folks. We are not all depressive garret-dwelling introverted cynics. [Ha!]

~

Now to commence with the interview questions:

What is the working title of your next book (or story, or project)?

I have two. One manuscript is finished, and I am seeking a publisher–that one is titled The Red Queen Hypothesis. The work-in-progress is tentatively called Barefoot Girls.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

imagesThe Red Queen Hypothesis seems to be culled from a bunch of my poems musing on science. I love science because it is so weird, much odder than so-called real life. Also, the nomenclature…I swoon over those latinates, Greek roots, and things-named-after-other-things. Here’s the biological definition of the Red Queen Hypothesis from Wikipedia: “an evolutionary hypothesis which proposes that organisms must constantly adapt, evolve, and proliferate not merely to gain reproductive advantage, but also simply to survive while pitted against ever-evolving opposing organisms in an ever-changing environment.” As Alice and the Red Queen are hurriedly running through the chessboard of Wonderland in Through the Looking-Glass, the Queen remarks, “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.” Don’t we often feel that way?

PBS has a good little article on it here, for those who want to learn a little science with their poetry.

Barefoot Girls evolves as I revise. As of now, the poems are memoir-based about being a teenaged girl in New Jersey, and many of them allude to Bruce Springsteen songs. The collection is, I suppose, lyrical narrative in style. Mostly free verse but with some ballad-type pieces and even a sonnet or two. I may have some trouble getting that manuscript into print because I have to get Springsteen’s permission to use a couple of epigraphs. God knows how long that will take–or if it is even possible!

What genre does your book fall under? Poetry. No other genre need apply.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?  

I would love to have Gary Cooper or Barbara Stanwyck play characters in my poems, which makes about as much sense–since they are dead–as making a movie of a poetry collection.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?   

Life, love, family, environment, death, memory, animals, youth, curiosity, god.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

1) No.

And 2) –you have got to be kidding! Literary agents in the USA generally avoid poets as though we harbor west Nile virus.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Four years, generally, though some individual poems evolve more slowly. My first full-length collection, Water-Rites, took much longer…closer to ten years.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Ah, the “inspiration” question. I have a deep indifference to the question of inspiration. I suggest you read other writers on this topic.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

The Red Queen Hypothesis includes numerous poems that employ formal strategies, as well as plenty of nonce forms; I think of them as experiments, the way scientists frame their work though experiment.There are also philosophical undertones. It is a book of questions that are scientific, speculative, spiritual and philosophical. Barefoot Girls, the project in process, also poses questions–but of a different kind. More social and gender-related questions, more coming-of-age curiosity. The fact that these poetry pursuits came one after the other intrigues me since they seem in many ways fairly unrelated. Perhaps I will discover the relationship as I continue to revise Barefoot Girls.

Meanwhile, if anyone can suggest a publisher for RQH, I’m all ears!

Who are you tagging for The Next Big Thing?

~As The Next Big Thing is on hiatus, I suggest my readers browse for it or follow the links below that will lead to other links & literary discoveries!!

Here are some other Next Big Thing posts:

http://boysinger.wordpress.com/2013/02/24/the-next-big-thing/

Memoir & the lyrical narrative

I have decided to devote two class periods to exploring the lyrical narrative with my students. The reason evolved from, not exactly a revelation, but a dawning awareness that this particular mode of poetry connects more easily with students than other modes.

Popular music, of course, sets the contextual stage here. American country music fills the nation’s highways and airwaves with lyrical narratives and modern-day ballads. The story-song appears in a wide range of musical genres from rock to rap, born from simple blues narratives and Appalachian ballads and from John Henry and Casey Jones to glam-rock “epic rock ballads,” new wave, Motown, British invasion (think “A Day in the Life”) and quirky indie lyrics–not to mention huge hits like “Lying Eyes” and “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” or oft-played 70s narrative songs like “Cat’s in the Cradle” or Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road.” These tunes are all before my students’ time, but they have their own lyrical narrative popular songs; they “get it.”

Bruce Springsteen: lyricsThunder Road

Bruce Springsteen: lyrics
Thunder Road

Narrative lyrical poems hook readers who might not otherwise spend much time closely reading a poem because of those critically important pronouns “I” and “you” and because there’s a human impulse to stick with a story. We want to know how it ends; and we want to figure it out in our own subjective ways, to put the speaker/writer’s experience into our own (or vice versa) and interpret the narrative on our own terms. We also like to be a little surprised.

Why?

I’ve touched on the topic of the cognitive need for narrative in a previous post, and on Boyd’s story-telling impulse research (here), and now–in light of reading the lyrical narrative poem–I want to offer an excerpt from Oliver Sacks. In an excerpt from Speak, Memory, Sacks writes:

“There is no way by which the events of the world can be directly transmitted or recorded in our brains; they are experienced and constructed in a highly subjective way, which is different in every individual to begin with, and differently reinterpreted or reexperienced whenever they are recollected…Frequently, our only truth is narrative truth, the stories we tell each other, and ourselves… Such subjectivity is built into the very nature of memory, and follows from its basis and mechanisms in the human brain. The wonder is that aberrations of a gross sort are relatively rare, and that, for the most part, our memories are relatively solid and reliable. We, as human beings, are landed with memory systems that have fallibilities, frailties, and imperfections—but also great flexibility and creativity.”

How can we honestly interpret a poem without acknowledging immediately that our brains are highly subjective processing organs that inherently interpret and experience input differently? Our personal narratives, our memories and recollections, limit, expand upon, and influence our interpretations. That is why I insist that my students accept all “expert interpretations” of famous works with a grain of salt. Every human brain re-creates based upon subjective, unique processing; the fact need not keep us from admitting of rational thinking, but it must affect human interpretations of phenomena. Especially subjective phenomena such as art.

This is also the reason I warn my students not to assume that the speaker of the poem is the poet himself or herself. Poets invent, and they can invent personas. Furthermore, in their efforts to write truths–emotional truths, lasting truths–they may alter physical, actual, memory-based “truth.” In other words, maybe the story happened just that way. Or didn’t. Though “for the most part our memories are relatively stable and solid,” the paradox of art is that altering the facts can lead to deeper truths. Sometimes the facts seem altered from one perspective but not from another. Other times…well, I confess, I myself have changed some facts in poems in order to make the poem better. In such cases, craft supersedes the need for stony factuality. I guarantee I am not the only writer who employs this strategy.

Whose life is it anyway? And whose art? Sacks reminds us of the loosey-goosey aspects of recollection: “The neuroscientist Gerald M. Edelman often speaks of perceiving as ‘creating,’ and remembering as ‘recreating’ or ‘recategorizing.’” Thus, the lyrical narrative is a form of memoir, created through individual perception and recreated through the process of memory itself. Which, all of us being human and therefore fallible or otherwise liable to err, and subconsciously quite able to lie to ourselves, means that the lyrical narrative could end up as mythical as the stories of Mount Olympus.

And just as compelling to generations of human listeners or readers.

A voyeur’s fascination that the reader may be witness to the human-talking-to-human in the framework of a storyline is a significant part of what engages audiences. This poem might be memoir! It may be true. It may be genuine experience, something to which I can relate. There’s emotional frisson, or thrilling curiosity, or the dread of knowing it will all end badly. But I must know; and I want to believe it might be true. Tell me sweet lies, oh troubadour!

~

*Note: the image above is not Bruce Springsteen’s handwriting. He prints. An example of his actual lyric drafts is here.