Journals

While re-reading May Sarton’s At Seventy: A Journal, I recalled reading this essay about the book, by Jeffrey Levine, in June. I first read At Seventy when I was, I think, 40 years old…I recommended it to my mother-in-law, who–like Sarton–lived alone and loved to garden. I now recognize in Sarton’s journal aspects of life and aging and creativity that I had not thought much of when I was younger–at 40, I felt envious of her freedom as a single woman. I was raising young teens, managing a busy household, working on a master’s degree, feeling I had no time to myself.

One thing that interests me about Sarton is her decision to keep journals intended for publication, beginning I think with her journal about recovering from cancer, though she had written at least one memoir before that journal.

Another poet who wrote journals intended for publication was the Japanese writer Masaoka Shiki. Perhaps his most famous diary (in the West, at least) is “The Verse Record of My Peonies,” thanks to a translation by Earl Miner. Shiki kept writing haiku and haibun, as well as reviews, for the newspaper even as he was slowly dying of tuberculosis. His journal entries (there are others) were intended for readers.

My journals (and I have kept one ever since I was ten and read Harriet the Spy), however, would not make good reading; I would be embarrassed if they were published, especially unedited and unrevised, and no one would feel inspired, delighted, or edified by them. The concept of writing a daily journal intended to be read seems either brave or a bit dishonest, like a persona. Then again–many early weblogs were exactly that: daily public journals read by whatever online audience stumbled upon them. And perhaps this blog acts as my public journal, mostly about what I read, what’s in the garden, and what I’m teaching. Those pursuits, made public, do not mask who I am. They are the things I choose to reveal.

I don’t know if that’s different from a social media persona. But here’s a sleeping cat to look at while I ponder.

IMG_6587

Neglecting the work

It seemed to me to have been a long time since I devoted serious focus to my creative work–I mean in terms of organizing, keeping track, revising, submitting to journals, compiling a draft manuscript of newer work…the so-called business of poetry. I resolved therefore to spend a weekend at the task. Alas. The weekend revealed to me the extent of my benign neglect: ten years of not-really-being-on-the-ball.

inflating-clipart-beach-ball-6

I do not consider myself a particularly prolific poet, but I found myself faced with well over a ream of poetry pages, many poems only in their second or third draft and far from “finished.” Maybe an average of 70 poems a year for ten years. Do the math: this is not a weekend’s work. [le sigh]

Where to begin? There is no beginning. After an hour or so of trying to prioritize the various components of the job, I gave up and just started at whatever had become the top of the pile. Analysis: which drafts had any glimmer of possibility? Some erstwhile poems could easily be culled into the “dead poems file” I keep under the cabinet with the dust bunnies. Others required considerable revision.

Fascinating process, despite aspects of tedium. I encountered poems I forgot I’d composed. I looked at the dates I began and revised them, tried to discern where my thoughts and feelings were at the time. Somehow, going through poems in no way resembles looking at old photographs–it’s not that sort of memory jog. Indeed, the poems are not involved with the memory part of my brain but with the creative part.

And that is exactly what I have been neglecting: the creative, imaginative, intuitively analytical side of myself.

In the process, I found a chapbook manuscript to submit–I had completely neglected it–and several worthwhile poems. I have no idea yet how much further I can get into the pages of past poems, and whether I might fashion another manuscript from the lot. But I’ve decided the work should not be neglected.

And I have a lot of catching up to do!

 

 

Story of an object

In a previous post, I quoted Edmund de Waal about the stories that objects can “tell” us. In his book, those objects were things made by human beings; the story of the netsuke was not separate from the stories of the people who acquired them. His book did not examine the stories of the people who sculpted the netsuke, as there was no way to trace them that would not have required years of research. A fiction writer or poet might speculate on the possibilities of the lives of the ‘makers,’ however. That is part of what creative writers do.

There are also those “natural” objects that surround us and which can tell stories–or inspire human beings to imagine and tell their stories. For example, every origin myth contains some aspect of telling the story of the earth or sun, stars or mountains, seas, skies, moon.

After some online discussion with artist and writer Deborah Barlow, I considered the story of an object as having tactile and temporal aspects in some cases, and the object as “residue” of an event–or life. Ephemera, correspondence, tokens…many potential stories.

And, of course, works of art. If you follow this blog at all regularly, or check the archives or the Art[s] tab/page, you can tell I think often about art, its stories, artists, and their stories.

For example, a journal or notebook that an artist or writer uses can be a tool, repository, memory-jogger, inspiration-minder, sketchbook, Rolodex

It occurred to me that my poetry journals, which I’ve been keeping for decades, contain potential stories/poems but are also objects with their own stories to tell–which may or may not be “my” stories, though they necessarily intersect with whatever my story is.

objects, stories

objects, stories

~
Some examples. Tactile, visual, textual.
Inspiration, possibly.

Images captured in several ways.

Necessary–yes. For me.

~

Where do your stories reside? What object or objects seem to require the act of story-making? By which I mean, which objects fire that urge in you?