Friday, November 9, 2012

"Poetry's true perception..." - or memoir's

I struggle through memoir and poems these days. The memoir is in a hard place, the diminishment and long dying of my mother - an extraordinary journey we shared together. It opens up a raw, tender place - vulnerable, bursting with compassion and love...

And then I just miss her.

Since I started this writing project I also started writing poetry. That surprised me at first, now it doesn't at all. Now I begin to understand it.

What was freed up in the journey, what was let go, and then what the fierce concentration on that narrative opened even more, has freed up the place where poems are apparently born - at least, it appears, for me.

I never intended to write poetry, and still think I am not a very good poet. But now and then, a line appears:

The sun lights the day for everyone.
Doesn't mean they see it.

And then the rest of the poem starts writing itself, often when I have no idea where it is going until it goes there.

The memoir has been like that at times. I have the plan. I see how the narrative flows. I know what I want to do with it. There is a kind of fluid outline in my brain, some scattered notes on paper (the pencil-writing, where all my work begins before the abstract pounding on a keyboard). And then the writing takes me to surprising places, places I had not planned on going, or even thought about, and I sit back and sigh, or gasp, or go "wow!" and think, "Yes, that is exactly what I intended all along."

Trying to learn from the masters, I came upon this passage from an essay by Jean Hirshfield:

Good poetry begins with seeing increasingly clearly, in increasingly various ways; but another part of poetry's true perception is found only in relinquishing more and more of the self to more and more of the world. I don't know any prescription for doing this. It may be that the world does it for us, and to us, however the writer may struggle and resist. Life in its joy and grief and boredom and richness instructs us in the passage from infant's experience of world-as-entirely-self toward the ripeness we find in the late work of a few writers and artists. We find over and over again in their mature pieces the murmur of 'Look - marvelous, marvelous...' Then even that is swallowed up in the larger chorus.

Now, back to my place in that symphony.

* Hirshfield excerpt from 'Two Secrets: On Poetry's Inward and Outward Looking,' in Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry, Harper Perennial, 1997

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