Self and reality. Symbol and language. Myth and image. Memory and consciousness.
Dream and unreality: locus communis.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Discovering the Epiphany Moment

Feeling frustrated with my latest writing attempts— the phrasing unravels on the page into heavy abstract, codified lines. At the core of the resulting poem I sense my main idea lies hidden, as a buried acorn shell wanting to crack open and reveal itself— a sprouting of a tree— yet, the idea remains too hidden, in other words, too obscure. Perhaps I read too much of Jean Valentine, G. C. Waldrep with John Gallagher— their post-post modernism have built a foundation of psychological impressions and expectations in my head, rather than tangible prayers, tangible chants—but even my analogy is failing tonight.

The issue at hand, I have a surreal fantasy concept to describe, yet, it is necessary to place the course of action in a realistic realm of thought in order to communicate an accurate depiction of the scene. What results: I keep recording random expressionistic ramblings which result in confusion, not objective interpretations. The latest material reads as automatic writing exercises and not as finalized, coherent thoughts— as if the pen were in control and not myself.

I have thought of generating a long title as balance, as a means of adding a grounding element—but even then, —

A Shaman lost in Translation as a She-Bear
She-Bear Under Cover of Night
She-Bear Dreaming of a Former Life as Shaman

So, the annoyance builds— overwhelmingly. I wanted this section completed before March, but at this rate the schedule radically turns on its head. Perhaps after a twelve to twenty-four hour break the points expressed in the verse will be articulated in a clearer fashion…

          Slumbering, half
lumbering— she’s bundled in
          heavy folds of night,
quilt heavy bulk of darkness—
stars sewn close to the landscape.

          The night sky reveals
no dreamscapes any longer—
          prophecies are stilled,
unstitched from the horizon—
oracle scrolls are silent.

          Stumbling drunk shaman—
she’s wrapped in a quilt of guilt.
          Intricate threading
of past lives as a heavy
winter coat— surrounding close.

          Swatches of colors
shift cross the hand-dyed cotton,
          the rows of beadwork,
strung stones of her memories,
rosaries of discomfort—

Seventeen hours later: The story in the poem still lies undisclosed to my ears—not as severe as last night mind you, but an intense level of indecipherable phrasing lingers— another way of looking at the situation: I do enjoy language poetry to a large extent; I even seek out construction of such forms on a frequent basis. The most successful types of this venture are poems which establish a strong metaphor. The reader understands an aspect of what the poet bridges together, allowing a greater connection to the piece. A sense of background development is required for better reciprocation.

It comes down to this: for my she-bear situation, there is no established connection. And therefore I need to do something about it. Which results in the frustration. The argument within my head with the Negative Critic who tells me I am not good enough. Odd. This is the second time in a short week’s time he has emerged into my conscious awareness.

One rule of thumb that I adhere to: if background visualization is needed, then the poem has failed. Sometimes confusion and surreal dream-logic are often employed in order to generate a mood in the reader— but in this case, the above stanzas were intended to invoke an atmosphere and a story line— similar to Anne Sexton’s Transformation poems. Her text reinvents the Grimm brother’s collected stories into something other—

I just pulled the book off the shelves and am thumbing through the pages. Sexton’s poems were written with the premise of altering a folk-story to a modern sensibility, a modern vernacular, without losing the original framework of the plot… if one does not know the Grimm brother’s original work, is something lost in Sexton’s translation? Are these merely the same concept of Andy Warhol’s photo-reprints of Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley in flashy colors and different adjectives? Of course I know the answer to these questions. But for me, in order to make the intentions of the she-bear poem work, I need a slightly stronger basis of character development to justify the abstract nature of the passages.

Perhaps the situation falls into identification: I need the reader to identify with an iconic representation of a familiar symbol — something solid, immediate— tangible as a stone in hand, and then I can twist, reinvent the image… Like Galway Kinnell’s “Saint Francis and the Sow” two instant, traceable images brought together on the page, then embellished with new meaning. I have mentioned this poem in particular back in April of last year— it remains that much of an influence on my mind, poking at my project list with a reminder to get other concepts down into verse. I have thought of using a mock archetype from Greek myths— one of the dramatic goddesses or tragic heroines trapped in the guise of a bear— one who has temporarily forgotten her heritage and history. Which is of course one of the themes in the overall project: reclaiming the past, reinventing the present. Discovering the epiphany moment that is temporarily hidden by unplanned circumstances.

A Short List of Possibilities

So I close my eyes. Fall back into my own memory. Concentrate. And again: concentrate.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Sensations of Existentialism

Yesterday strangely culminated into an unexpected moment of paralysis. The child stayed at my parent’s home for a few remaining hours; the flood of student paperwork lowered to a minimum level; my e-mail and snail-mail letters were read and addressed; even the cat felt a sense of purpose, curled in the corner of his couch, black fur tongued into appropriate placement and array. However, for myself, an overwhelming lack of creative resources existed. In a very frightening series of minutes, what began as a gray blankness expanded to a feeling of extreme impotence. A ‘why bother?’ attitude. A dark, numbing, Joycean epiphany. Where do these extremes form in the neurons? As a metaphoric species one would think these severe sensations of existentialism would be erased from our consciousness.

Despite the trauma, the daily generation of haiku sentences does continue— words still appear on the page with defined prospects. Watching the full collection gather itself raises metaphors of grackles or magpies— mocking birds calling out from water oaks in my front yard. Every so often I fear the phrases exist as only repetitive nonsense, weak-imitations of the traditional forms of Japan, reproductions with harsh syllables. On optimistic days, a feeling of accomplishment surfaces— a satisfaction that I still build these connections with craft, showing myself a sense of validation of my own worth.

Because of their abundance, soon it will be necessary to archive the full mass of poems— which now leaves me currently debating on the approach and design. With the simplicity of their appearance, haiku deceive the reader. In verse form, three little lines can promote a quick, shallow reading. I always caution my students to not fall into this perception. Haiku are intended to create a sense of meditation— generate a reconsideration of perception. In the end, when multiple haiku are printed on the page, the reading eye quickly jumps from one to the next. Swallowing the images down, moving along the flow. Devouring as much as possible in one sitting. Ideally, it would be great to print them out individually, singularly. With much white space surrounding the text as possible to reinforce the atmosphere of solemnity.

[For my English 1302 class I created a specific demo that addresses the issue.]

The task at hand now remains: how to digitally archive hundreds of these verses and give each one a sense of importance? I’ll let you know the outcome.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Half Whisper, Half Statement

Often Brendan makes nonsense garble as he wanders throughout the house, moving room to room repeating monosyllables, juggling sounds across his tongue. On Saturday morning however, Ricky half cradled Brendan, the two of them watching an educational video for babies and preschool children: I leaned over, making baby noises at my son. He reached out, tugged on my whiskers, looked me directly in the eyes, and said “Da-da,”— half whisper, half statement. For me, inwardly the world titled on its axis. One of those moments for a first-time father. My role in his life confirmed. The simple phonetics served as clarification, definition. You could see the tumblers clicking in his mind, making the proper identification of language to object. The world is now his oyster.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Ancient Trees and Underbrush


For a brief interval in my childhood my father smoked a pipe. One of my earliest memories is of visiting a small tobacco shop watching him go through the process of selecting the right blend of leaves and finding the proper resulting aromatic scent. The air was always dense with various fragrances—from a sharp cinnamon to a drowsy oak. A forest of impressions. Dad always chose a vanilla-apple blend, a scent somewhat similar to the sensation of burning leaves in October. The store was kept in warm shadows, from the dim lighting to the dark colored woods making up the counters and shelving—the proprietor always conscious of the specific conditions of the rooms to ensure longevity of the leaves.

This memory only explains further why I venture into coffee shops and tea aisles in markets— a flooding over of the olfactory senses successfully reminds one of the details of the past.

In fact, used book stores and university libraries produce the same results for me these days—a slight sensation of falling, dropping back into personal history—especially the older books, the leather and cloth bound books which have texturized bindings marked by use over time. I miss the row of used bookshops I visited in Saint Louis in the Nineties—each visit produced a treasure hunt for an unknown item, the unanswerable curiosity of the week.

Today I fall into these recollections due to the fact I finally found a copy of a text casually mentioned by Isabel Allende in her essay: “The Jungle Queen.” In midst of her exploration of the Brazilian Amazon and within herself, she casually states: “Finally I understood the meaning of the last line of a famous Latin American novel: ‘He was swallowed up by the jungle.’” Although she never mentions the title of the work, nor the author, with the help of a few students I at last located an English translation. Ironically, none of the anthologies which list the essay never follow through with research to explain Allende's reference. This in itself is one of the problems I have with many college textbooks these days. However, I finally discovered that the book Allende refers to is titled La vorágine (The Vortex), written by José Eustasio Rivera and set in the Colombian jungles during the decade of the Twenties.

Finding an English translation of the book seemed impossible. Thankfully, after a month or two, my local library found a copy and now I am lost in the middle of the plains of Colombia following the treks of the protagonist Arturo Cova as he searches for some sense of inner peace. He does frustrate me however. Cova is displayed as a very emotional, reactionary man— very self-centered, egotistical in a vain-youthful manner. But a good protagonist is supposed to show a different perspective on life. Through Cova's complexities the reader develops a stronger understanding of a portion of the South American experience.

The translation of José Eustasio Rivera phrasings does manage to convey a strong sense of the poetic nature of book. Furthermore I can see why Allende references it within her own essay. A commonality of intention exists in the creative presentation of the topographical landscape within South America.

Which of course is what I venture into myself every now and then, losing the self in a landscape of an imagined region, in a wilderness of one’s own creation. I have been lax with creating new poems for the project series Grackle, Fox, and She-Bear, but the full forest of poems sits in my head ready to be slowly presented— I often picture Brendan as he works his way through the ancient trees and underbrush, encountering a variety of creatures and obstacles within the resulting verses. With a better layout of my time, I should be able to approach the full labyrinth of ideas again, fairly soon.

Yet another resolution: break down the sensations for all projects under development: one-by-one, poem-by-poem, progress towards the full idea.