Beautiful brain

While waiting for the snow to evaporate and melt, the gardener experiences agitation; the days are longer–it must be time to plant seeds…but the soil is too wet and too cold.

Fortunately, there are always books! I have read Daniel Dennett on religion, George Lakoff on the embodied basis for philosophy, and am plowing rapidly through Ruth Whippman’s (acerbic and very funny) America the Anxious.  Also I am slowly savoring an anthology of Jewish women’s poems, The Dybbuk of Delight, that I randomly discovered in the library.

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But here’s a book I want to own, when I can justify more book purchases: Beautiful Brain: the Drawings of Santiago Ramon y Cajal, because Art! because Neuroscience! because Beauty! The blog Hyperallergic says the drawings are going to be touring museums (see The Dynamic Brain Drawings of the Father of Neuroscience), which might also become a must-do for me when the exhibit travels to New York City next January.

What Cajal was doing back at the turn of the last century still inspires artists, not just medical scientists, today (see my post on Greg Dunn’s neuro-artworks). These compellingly beautiful and quite accurate drawings may also inspire poets and armchair philosophers who have lately spent a great deal of time pondering the resilience of the brain and the challenges that rupture a sense of self when cognition is interrupted.

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~

Credit goes to Abrams Books for these graphics and for the decision to publish this beautiful text.

 

 

Diversity of form

“Diversity” is a buzz word among educational institutions these days, and I sometimes get a bit tired of hearing it. Diversity as a buzz word becomes like a dead metaphor; we stop thinking about what it means.

Yet when I am reading about biology or evolution, “diversity” flowers into meaning again.253142_2101392498695_2412222_n

Also, after the reading I recently gave, a thoughtful member of the audience remarked upon how literal and concrete the poems in my first book are–especially compared with some of the more speculative and abstract poems I read in response to the “questioning” theme.

Has my writing become less concrete over the years, I wondered. The response is yes and no. In some respects, my poems convey specific and concrete images and actually-possible events, but a mixing tends to occur between & among the lines. Even in that first book: it is, in fact, about building a house. (Concrete was involved!) As I composed the poems that make up the book, however, I realized how metaphorical the whole idea of house, home, hearth, shelter is. Think of the imagery of a house and ingrained, almost mythical connotations arise. The window. The door. The key. The roof. The rooms (stanza means “room” –even the poem offers shelter).

So back to diversity–there is, in the world of poetry and poetics, diversity of form, just as in biology. There are “set forms” such as the sonnet, which turns out not to be quite as “set” as might be expected (see this entry at The Academy of American Poets and this one by Rachel Richardson at the Poetry Foundation). I love diversity of form and have experimented throughout my life with different strategies of written expression, sometimes sound-based or rhythm-based or image-based or codified by the “rules.” I have also broken the rules just for fun, often to good effect. Free verse, metrical verse, alliteration, allusions, puns…I love them all.

The downside of such play, if this can be considered a downside, is that winging it the way I do–as to formal approaches–means that my collected work does not fit a style. I wonder if that is why my second full-length collection languishes unpublished. It’s entirely possible that the poems in The Red Queen Hypothesis are not very good poems. Critical feedback has suggested that isn’t the problem, though (whew!). The problem may be diversity! Publishers, like most human beings, love to categorize. What does not nestle into categories becomes the odd duck.

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odd duck

The reason I chose these poems for this collection, however, has much to do with varieties. The poems deal with the abstract and the biological, the cosmological and the everyday. They stem from a notion that life evolves continuously, making each object and being individual as part of an ever-changing, meshing, chaotic and– paradoxically, but of course!–unified universe. Uni (one). Verse (a pun). The underpinning of The Red Queen Hypothesis is diversity, though that may not be its theme.

So I am not planning to revise the already-much-revised collection; I’ll just persist in sending it out to publishers while hope springs eternal. In the meantime, I have been pondering where the next set of poems is headed. Possibly along the edges. It will be interesting to find out.

Renewal, work

One never can know when work will arrive. By the term work, I mean what some people call “inspiration” but which, for me, is more work than it is a shower of divine gifts from the Muse. The past week brought an uptick in poetry drafts, as well as the acceptance of a poem by a publication I admire. All the more reason, therefore, to continue the process of working on the composition of creative writing.

I wonder if there’s an urgency pushing me to write new poems–the semester begins this week, and once I am teaching and tutoring again, time to write seems to evaporate–so I had better get cracking! Or it could be my response to the losses about which I have recently written, supposing that there is merit to the practice of writing as a way of healing or the writing cure (and I do suppose there is merit).

Maybe, just maybe, one might presuppose a connection with the arrival of a new year. Renewal. That would be arbitrary and perhaps subconscious; but the possibility remains. I can consider myself in the not-quite-midwinter renewal period, wrestling with potential poems that might turn out to be essays or blog posts or total duds or, if I am diligent and analytical and compassionate and lucky, completed poems.

Wintry hours ahead

Winter arrives…in red & white

~

Wish me luck. And hard work. I don’t mind being urged toward hard work; it’s the only way renewal really ever happens.

Writing the new year

To renew myself as a writer of poetry, I need–every now and then–some way of re-engaging with the work of writing itself. Revision, for example, often means hard effort slogging through material I wrote long ago; but the process renews my dedication to the salvageable poems and sharpens my analytical and evaluative skills.

Sometimes there’s no saving a poem, but the concept behind it might be worth exploring in an essay.

Sometimes there’s no saving a poem, but the words needed to be expressed at that time.

Revision requires taking a stance of compassionate distance from the work itself so that I can feel both judgment and kindness toward my own poems. The bonus here is that, often, the work of revision gets me writing new work.

Beside my desk at this moment is a stack of poems I spent the past few days thinking about and revising. The work creates its own energy; the buzz of words and imagery emanates…

I feel ready to write the new year.

🙂

objects, stories

 

Roadkill

As the spring equinox approaches and creatures rouse from dormancy, the number of roadkill incidents spikes. Yesterday as I made a left turn into my driveway, I noticed a groundhog carcass lying in the middle of the street. I was stopped to retrieve my mail anyway, so I figured I should move the body off.

And then it moved–bloodied mouth opening and shutting, one heavily-clawed forepaw shuddering slightly. It wasn’t quite dead.

Poems about road kills sprang to mind. I thought immediately of Stafford’s “Traveling through the Dark” and that moment of swerving, replete with caesuras, in the last couplet; Billy Collins’ “Ave Atque Valealso skittered into my thoughts, that bloated woodchuck waving “hail, Caesar” to the passing vehicles.  As I pulled a plastic bag from my car, one of my own poems resonated–“Burials,” which is in my collection Water-Rites (available through this link and posted below).

I made a glove of the bag and grasped the poor beast by its tail, a precaution: it might have been lively enough to snap at me. Not the case this time. A car running over the body would have put the groundhog more quickly out of its misery, but by daylight drivers tend to avoid road kill; it gets smashed during the night hours. So I left it on the embankment to gasp out its last breath with the birds larking about above it and some damp wintry weeds under its dark body.

This sort of experience feels oddly metaphorical…obviously, not only for me but for people like Stafford and Collins. I am sure one could put together an anthology of very lovely roadkill poems.

~groundhog-day-groundhog

BURIALS

1.
Last week the neighbors’ dogs eviscerated a woodchuck,
left it, stinking, at the perimeter of our woods

which is how we found it, by the smell—
body bloated, partly hairless:

a scientific demonstration on the rapidity
and absoluteness of decay, the brief time it takes;

but today my daughter cannot bear the stray cat’s
road-killed stillness, the soft, domestic body,

the pet, which isn’t hers—she begs to bury it.
The schoolbus arrives with my promise

to give the cat some cover. Under mulberry I scrape
a shallow grave, in thin and gravelly roadside soil,

cover it with fallen leaves, an autumn prayer—
nothing more, because I know burial does not forestall

death’s swell, its stink, desiccation,
absoluteness; I do what I promised,

disguising the body’s inevitable progression
from the eyes of my grieving child.

2.
Shall I cover my gray hairs
with dry leaves, shall I layer
my wrinkled hands beneath clay,
hide my own departure—

or shall I teach my children
to understand the truth of maggots,
which consume equally
the treasured and the stray—

which arrive unasked,
fulfill their contract with the earth,
never seeking recognition
or time, more time?

~

© 2012 Ann E. Michael