What Are We Waiting For?

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After careful consideration–wait for it!–I’ve decided that waiting is bad for me. Why am I always waiting? And why am I sometimes unaware of what exactly I’m waiting for?

As a poet, my waiting habit has been fed and nurtured. I write a first draft, second, third, and on up the abacus of practice until my poem looks like a many segmented caterpillar inching toward the promised land. Then I put it aside. Time will help, I insist.

Coming back to it weeks later, I slice it down to inchworm size. That bad. How did I miss it? And when is this great idea going to reach final fruition? Wait for it! I tell myself.

Often I send poems out to willing markets in batches of five or so. Then, instead of moving on to new work, I get lazy and wait. Surely today, I say a few weeks later. So I look at Submittable and see “Received” has changed to “In-Progress.” My waiting intensifies, though logic tells me one label is as meaningless as the other and the wait for “In-Progress” could be as long or longer than “Received.”

But that’s the essence of waiting.

Once I thought getting a book published was the final answer to waiting. I finished a manuscript, sent it out to multiple homes, and instead of starting another, waited for it. When the big event occurred and I was rewarded with acceptance, I felt all the waiting had been rewarded.

Alas, after the initial publishing euphoria, I just went back to waiting. But for what? For my book to be discovered, maybe. But by whom? God knows. And works in mysterious ways.

Speaking of, my waiting had almost evolved into a form of worship. I didn’t seem to realize that all this waiting amounted to time lost and days drained. I forgot that God numbers the days. It’s His bad habit. We all deserve one.

Some day, after another bout of great news, I’ll be asking myself, “Was this worth the wait? Is this any different? Is this the one?”

I’m almost sure the answer will be “no.” In the words of the prophet (Bono): “But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for….”

And never will.

Resolution without the excuse of a new year: I’m going to get busy. Busy so I don’t notice all this furtive waiting I’m secretly engaged in. You know. The waiting I’m supposedly giving up as of today.

(End of post. I’ve got to check my e-mail. I’m waiting for something big. Because surely this is the day….)

Sharon Olds’ “The Winter After Your Death”

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Sometimes you’re in a mood for moody poetry. Like in the last week of summer (not officially, but selfishly for a teacher about to return to the brick structure), reading about winter. I found this in Jane Hirschfield’s lovely collection of essays, Nine Gates.

The Winter After Your Death by Sharon Olds

The long bands of mellow light
across the snow
narrow slowly.
The sun closes her gold fan
and nothing is left but black and white–
the quick steam of my breath, the dead
accurate shapes of the weeds, still, as if
pressed in an album.
Deep in my body my green heart
turns, and thinks of you. Deep in the
pond, under the thick trap
door of ice, the water moves,
the carp hangs like a sun, its scarlet
heart visible in its side.

 

The Hazards of Thinking Too Much

 

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My mother-in-law famously said that the brain is a marvelous thing. It is also a pain in the ass. In fact, I often yearn for the days comma good old when I was a kid and didn’t think too much. Thinking too much, like the Internet, is both a wonderful and horrible thing.

The fancy word for this is “metacognition” or “thinking about your thinking.” My metacognition is a moody son of a gun. It hyperventilates when I’m feeling blue especially, and the last week of summer freedom before a new school year is a famously blue stretch of days. Indigo becomes “indigone” in a hurry.

My brain says stuff like this: “What of your great plans for summer, huh? What of THAT? Have you SEEN what’s left to this forever thing called July and August?” Hoo, boy. The brain is a task master. A drill sergeant. A guilt driver for the slave conscious.

And true enough, all my summer writing goals have not been met. But hey, as the song goes, I’m only human, and humans are famously designed to let themselves down.

So once more to the lake, this time to hear the dirge of summer. I know better than to read the E.B. White essay, “Once More to the Lake” in the coming week because the ending is a killer and it resonates wider and louder with each added year.

No, instead I will try to finish the 500-page book I’m meandering through. And I will earbud in the sad but hypnotic strains of Arvo Pärt’s “Fratres” as I look out at the water, but it’s only a beautiful sort of misery I’ll be indulging in, part of an ancient and known ritual by now, a benedictions to something sweet but fleeting.

What remains to be seen is how the last-week blues affects my writing. Sometimes all of the introspection and moodiness produces words. And other times it gets selfish, blocking the muse, getting hungry for words (which it will not share) itself.

There’s no denying the inevitable. Or stopping the tides. Or quelling the wind that blows calendar pages from the poorly-glued seam.

Or the thinking that all of this inspires. Meta-melancholic thinking.

Eating Poetic Fruit–and Words

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Simplicity. In poetry, it’s tough to embrace and get away with. You read something as simple as Galway Kinnell’s “Blackberry Eating” and say, “How easy. I can do that!”

And then you try.

It’s like those foolhardy fiction writers who make the terrible mistake of imitating Ernest Hemingway. Seems simple enough. Only the emulating stylists wind up producing something akin to Frankenstein’s monster playing violin. Badly.

As writing inspiration, simple poems can be deceiving. They sometimes scatter common writers’ “Thou shalt not’s” to the wind, too. For instance, “Thou shalt not overindulge in adjectives.” Here we have a 14-line (sonnet-like) poem that serves up not one, two, or three, but FOUR adjectives in Line 2 alone.

Explanation? Simple. Eating is a sensory experience. A reader needs adjectives to fully digest it.

For me, “Blackberry Eating” recalls the simple joys of William Carlos Williams’ “This Is Just To Say,” wherein WCW helps himself to “delicious,” “sweet,” and “cold” plums in the icebox:

“This is Just to Say” by William Carlos Williams

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

 

Summer’s on the wane. Harvest time continues. Time to pick some fruit (your choice) and release yourself to juicy simplicity. To whet your appetite, here’s Kinnell’s love letter to blackberries and words:

“Blackberry Eating” by Galway Kinnell

I love to go out in late September
among the fat, overripe, icy, black blackberries
to eat blackberries for breakfast,
the stalks very prickly, a penalty
they earn for knowing the black art
of blackberry-making; and as I stand among them
lifting the stalks to my mouth, the ripest berries
fall almost unbidden to my tongue,
as words sometimes do, certain peculiar words
like strengths or squinched,
many-lettered, one-syllabled lumps,
which I squeeze, squinch open, and splurge well
in the silent, startled, icy, black language
of blackberry — eating in late September.

Garrison Keillor Reads One of My Poems

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In the “Things I Never Thought I’d Write” Department, we have this: Today Garrison Keillor read one of my poems on his nationally-syndicated program, The Writer’s Almanac. Yep. The very same Writer’s Almanac I’ve listened to on the radio and read on-line countless times.

The poem, “Snapper,” tells the simple story of a snapping turtle that labored up a sandy hill on our property to lay her eggs. My son and I witnessed the event, and it came to a bad end.

For the eggs.

Luckily, I can’t say the same for the creative process. Watching the turtle inspired the poem, which in turn was selected for reading on TWA. And no one reads poems like Garrison reads poems. It was an honor listening to him wrap his voice around my words!

And the thought of him reading with a copy of my first book of poems, The Indifferent World, in his hands? Let’s put it this way. It didn’t leave me indifferent.

As Andy Warhol never said, “Two minutes and ten seconds of fame is better than none at all!”