Thursday, December 18, 2014

Clearing the Sill of the World: Poems about Writing

A Story (M.A. Reilly, 2010)


This tweet by Meenoo Rami got me thinking.

Richard Wilbur's "The Writer" came to mind.  The intimacy, immediacy, tenderness of the poem always halts me, causes me to reread.  A father's love for his daughter, the writer. Wilbur likens writing to that of a dazed starling-- "sleek, wild, dark" --who caught in the house battles to get out of the room again and again. He writes:
And iridescent creature
Batter against the brilliance, drop like a glove
To the hard floor, or the desk-top, 
And wait then, humped and bloody,
For the wits to try it again; and how our spirits
Rose when, suddenly sure, 
It lifted off from a chair-back,
Beating a smooth course for the right window
And clearing the sill of the world. 
It is always a matter, my darling,
Of life or death, as I had forgotten. I wish
What I wished you before, but harder. 
And as I reread I nod and think it is always a matter of life or death. I'll tell you here, I learn more from poets than anything else.  Yes I am often full of wonder when reading other types of texts, but nothing approaches the way the language remains decades later on my tongue--how the poem becomes my very skin.


Then there's those lines by Adrienne Rich that open An Atlas of the Difficult World:

An Offering (M.A. Reilly, 2011)

Yes, these are often the materials and in a redemptive voice the speaker reminds us that so too is "the slow lift of the moon's belly/over wreckage, dreck, and waste..."

It's that phrase, slow lift, that makes these lines resonate so.

Those liquid sounds.

When I made the image, "An Offering," I thought of "the slow lift of the moon."  When I lose myself making images, I almost always do so while reciting in my head lines from a poem.  I don;t know why this is.  Poems stay with me, well after I have read and reread them.


In William Carlos Williams "The Desert Music" the poet chronicles a visit to Juárez with his wife and Robert McAlmon. Williams writes about what it might mean to be a poet in America mid century by asking how a poem sounds and how to get said what must get said.

The humbleness at the close of the poem when Williams writes sometimes reminds me of the difficulty, uncertainty that frames our capacities to compose.  I often recall this closing when writing about education as I think we may have forgotten (or perhaps have not yet learned) that learning is filled with inconsistencies.



There's Langston Hughes's "Theme for English B" who in 1951 allows us to see how difference (in)forms agency, (in)forms self and other.


In "Coda," Richard Kenny, opens the poem:

I tried lacing loss into these lines,thinking to bind it safely there.

I think about what we try to bind life (safely at that) with poetry.  How we hope the poem might somehow contain us, release us, transform us.  This is the stuff of poetry.

He closes the poem by telling us:

OnceI tried to write invisibly,but all lifetime is a candle.


A few more poems to consider...

Jorge Luis Borges: The Art of Poetry
Billy Collins: Workshop
Mark Halliday: Graded Paper
Robert Hass: Happiness
Marianne Moore: Baseball and Writing
Pablo Neruda: Poetry
David Wojahn: How a Poem Happens

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