Prose poem, memoir

The prose poem seems a fraught and contradictory thing to its critics, a formless form, different in some way from flash fiction–more lyrical? More imageric? Lacking plot? Years ago, I went through a period of writing them, usually taking on a persona. Lately I find I am writing them again. Sometimes I think I’m writing a haibun, yet there’s no accompanying haiku. But mine do tend toward the lyric impulse.

And here’s a prelude to a prose poem draft, which follows (if you can be patient).

~

Perhaps it was not the most sensible thing to do, given my sore foot, but I had planned a trip to Poets House for a Finishing Line Press-sponsored reading by James Ragan and did not want to forego my visit. Ragan’s poems are lovely and often deep, and he offers a reading in the spirit of a raconteur. All the places I needed to stop were within three blocks of the A train, and therefore the main concern was going up and down subway stairs. It seemed do-able, and it was; though I am physically “paying” for my journey today, it was worth it.

The bus ride to New York and back takes about two hours, during which I read, nap, or daydream. We take the Lincoln Tunnel into town, a route familiar to me for decades, this time evoking memories that have been tucked away for ages.

Of course, some of this draft is invented–when I start writing, I often have no idea where I will end up. This one surprised me.

~

We were children in the years of Sunday drives, burning fossil fuels to tour the countryside and leave the city’s skyline, obscured in puce-yellow, lead-bearing smog, for tree-lined back roads and a picnic lunch. Sometimes over bridge, sometimes under the Hudson. Each crossing tested our bravery: fear of heights, of darkness. We had a song for the bridge which we sang while watching cables’ span. We were too small to see out the windows down to sailboats and barge traffic. The tunnel had no song. We hunched in the back seat, held hands, squeezed shut our eyes, expecting to drown. On the curved ascent in New Jersey my sister chose the house she wanted to live in—many-dormered, stone, with a round tower, it jutted over Weehawken. Once we’d learned to read, we realized it was the town library, which suited her imagined lifestyle. She would choose that even today, retire to live in a library and work part-time in a bookshop. She imagines I will join her there, perhaps I might.

~

Memory to prose memoir to prose poem. Founded on rocky physicality.

 

weehawkenlib

The Weehawken Free Public Library

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Blooms, books, buddies

I headed southward on a recent trip to visit a friend and to see if I could find spring, since my Pennsylvania valley has been extensively clobbered by late-winter/early spring snow storms. In southeastern North Carolina, the air was cool but the plants were blooming. Spring at last! May it head northward soon.

springblooms

~

On my travels, I took along Grant Clauser‘s collection The Magician’s Handbook. One of my best-beloveds has been learning sleight-of-hand and card tricks lately, and as a result I found it especially fun to “get” Clauser’s references to trick names and magicians’ moves in these poems. The poems demonstrate Clauser’s sense of humor, balanced with insights about contemporary life and a good use of metaphor, sound (nice alliteration in particular), and poignancy that never teeters into sentiment.

I thought my hostess in North Carolina would enjoy The Magician’s Handbook; she randomly read a few pages and liked the book so much that I gave it to her.

~MH poems

Poetry collections are terrific gifts for poet friends, of course; but it is particularly rewarding to introduce a friend to a poet’s work. I would not have discovered half of the writers whose work I love if it had not been for friends and fellow writers’ recommendations, although various public libraries and many a bookstore browsing session have been places of discovery, as well.

I like to read poems while traveling. On the one hand, it proves difficult to keep from being distracted by crowds, announcements, and departure times–which can make it hard to focus on the challenges a poem presents to its readers. On the other hand, poems tend to be brief enough that the inevitable interruptions do not completely disrupt the flow or content of the page; for that reason, I tend to struggle to read fiction while traveling. The brevity lends itself to gesture, so I can pick up on mood and tone and the sound of the poem (in my head–I don’t read aloud in airport terminal lounges). Later, when I am home again, I re-read the poems. That gives me a different perspective on the work.

So…I guess I will have to purchase another copy of The Magician’s Handbook for my re-reading pleasure. Meanwhile, my friend in North Carolina has something to read as a start to National Poetry Month, which is April!

Hey, that’s what friends are for! [And many thanks to BJG for her hospitality, Southern and South Jersey style.]

Here’s something lovely

…from Maria Popova at the Brainpickings site: book loving and writing and art and literacy and library connect to produce this event/display at the New York Public Library. I was in the city just last week–rats, I missed this. (But I did see Ken Price at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and spent part of a lovely afternoon at Untermyer Park again).

~ Please click on the links! (I know they’re kind of hard to see on this theme)~

MEANWHILE…

I’m on blogging hiatus again while I get accustomed to my work week and while we prepare for the Goschenhoppen Folk Festival (or on Facebook here) this coming Friday and Saturday. Not a time to get much writing done, nor much reading.

A festival participant prepares apples for drying

A festival participant (19th c) prepares apples for drying

Young apprentices (18th c) at work

Young apprentices (18th c) at work

Libraries & book love

In my last post, I drifted onto the topic of libraries–and stirred up images of favorite places. Libraries have certainly been among my favorite places and loom large in my childhood memories. Two of those libraries were new when I entered their doors: the Grinton I. Will Library in Yonkers, NY, which opened in 1962 (I first visited in 1964) and the W. Leslie Rogers Library in Pennsauken, NJ, which opened its doors in 1971. I recall a few distinct discoveries even from my first-grade forays to the Yonkers library. It was there I discovered Richard Wilbur’s Digging for China, a book I adored.

Free public libraries represent one of the best uses and most noble purposes of the tax dollars and philanthropic gestures of citizens in a democratic society. These buildings, some grand and some exceedingly modest, harbor banned books and out-of-print books and sections devoted especially to children’s books; a library admits of free speech and liberated thinking for people of all ages. A library, by its very existence, reminds citizens that education matters and that information can be free, can be borrowed, can be disseminated and shared.

When I was a child, libraries were safe places to hide, to explore, and to pursue my own interests–which often varied quite a bit from the interests of my peers. The library in Pennsauken offered me an early education on visual art. I probably borrowed every book in the place that had anything to do with art or artists, from Aesthetic Inquiry; Essays on Art Criticism and the Philosophy of Art to The Agony and the Ecstasy. The library stocked a book chronicling  the letters of Theo and Vincent van Gogh as well as huge, heavy, hard-cover museum books with color plates of famous artwork. Some of these were stamped more than a few times with my library card’s number.

I also borrowed, and read–enthusiastically and, occasionally, dutifully–classic novels that I had somehow learned I “ought” to read. I read a fair number of junky novels, too, and young adult fiction, and children’s books. Even though I was nearly ten when Leo Lionni’s Frederick was published, I loved it and never considered it a “little kid’s book.” Interestingly, Frederick the mouse gathers images and turns them into words. He is a poet. (A word-artist).

Books: Anything, everything, as bibliophile overlaps with autodidact.

Books were my first and often my best teachers, though I have been fortunate enough to have had some wonderful teachers (formal and informal) in my life. One of them, my grandmother Edna Michael, will always be closely associated with libraries in my heart and memory. She was the Story Lady at her small-town library in South Whitley, IN; and my siblings and I spent many hours in the small white building that housed South Whitley’s free circulating books. We read, and we listened to her read. She would don “an olden-times dress” she’d designed and sewn herself, tie on a large matching bonnet, and gather the town’s youngsters in a circle on the library floor for story time.

She always left the library with at least a couple of grownup books for her own reading material. I was proud to be like her.

A few years ago, the town enlarged its library, added a new children’s wing, and dedicated it in my grandmother’s name. Edna Michael, the Story Lady.

I’m pretty proud of that, too.

ann e michael

The South Whitley Library as it was in 1967, with my grandmother in her Story Lady attire.