Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Saints, Winners, and Too Many Parentheses

I have always loved the gaps, the spaces between things, as much as the things. I love staring, pondering, mulling, puttering. I love the times when someone or something is late—there’s that rich possibility of noticing more, in the meantime…Poetry calls us to pause. There is so much we overlook, while the abundance around us continues to shimmer, on its own.    -Naomi Shahib Nye

Here is a quick little post, because it is time for the dreams to begin.  

I have been visiting birds and friends in New Mexico, and spending time among the big rocks in Colorado.  Today I went for a run for the first time in almost a month and it felt so good to burn my lungs with the cold air.  I shouldn't really complain about this cold snap that refuses to leave and let spring have her turn.  It has sheltered some last-chance lolly-gagging, before the sun arrives and seduces me outdoors away from all my nerdy projects.  On the run today, I and my ill-behaving dog were caught red-handed at the dog park, inside the fence when a perfectly reasonable golden retriever came in to play.  I sprinted the length of a football field to reach the owner before my dog did.  The mannerly family waited outside while I wrangled my well-meaning but off-putting beast into his leash and ushered him out to the sidewalk, where we teeth-baring, hackles-happy types belong. Once upon a time when I lived in Asheville, North Carolina, I let my dog run free around the neighborhood.  I don't know what I was thinking.  Bears regularly visited our front lawn.  I also feel sorry for the canines in the hood who had to share their yards with my rough-talking, fur-biting pal.  I will be repaying this karmic debt forever, I think. 

Last night, whilst getting up the courage to edit some writing, I snuck over to YouTube and looked up the poet, Mark Doty, reading some of his poems.  I have heard the man read in person before (in a room with 300 other people, but still) and although I can't say I followed every word he said, he absolutely owned my attention.  He seemed to me at once so dedicated to the art of poetry--so devoted to its company--and so deliciously aware of his performance.  His presence magnetized
the room

I remember being impressed, curious about what the devil else this man wrote, and completely refreshed by his reading.  It was like stumbling into Poetry, an ex that I had never been ashamed to have once claimed, and having all my recollections confirmed.  Poetry was lookin good. 

(That might be the definition of a mixed metaphor? You get what I mean.)

Anyway, on The YouTube, I watched a sweet little video in which Doty visits a community college and talks to a room full of arms-crossed undergraduates about what it is like to be a "living" writer--as opposed to all the dead ones that schools love to read and, (my words here) obsess over.  (That is a dangling participle.  I'm aware and don't know how to fix it.  I mean, I don't know how without sounding like I sat on a ruler or an E.M. Forster book.  I happen to like E.M. Forster, btw.  I just don't need to sound like him.  Which, beautifully, is maybe part of Mark Doty's point, about living writers.

But I digress.)

One MD insight from the video clip, for your Wednesday cud (ew?)
"A poem is an invitation to daydream.  Reading a cereal box, or the instructions that come with your I-phone is not an invitation to daydream.  It asks you to focus. Reading poetry asks you to let your focus go.  And we’re just not accustomed to that—to spending time in that way." 

Please don't ask me why I change the color of quotes on this blog.  I like to. 

The other little gem I stumbled upon on The YouTube ("the" refers to my father's habit of calling it that, which I think is a joke?), which made all of last night's procrastination feel a little less errant, is this very short, remarkably nourishing definition of creativity by Naomi Shihab Nye.

And now for the gem-ish poem I dragged up last night on PoemHunter.com, looking for more words by Mark Doty.  I have started two of his memoirs and finished none; not for a lack of quality on his part.  His prose feels like a combination of thoughtful prayer, texture bazaar, and history lesson. I saturate quickly. He adores dogs, however, or seems to because he writes about them a lot.  I also like dogs, and try not to write about them a lot.  (Is this the first time I have written about the dog park, or what!  I rest my case.)

This poem is about a church and I love churches.  I recently visited the Basilica in Santa Fe and snap snap snapped away on my camera, all but disbelieving that it was a real church.  Tim and I were both struck by the church's museum-like cleanliness. This did not stop me, however, from visiting the marble baptismal bowl burbling with holy water, or staring in ardor at the astounding tub-like fountain in its wake. I pictured a party of Baptists splashing with delight in its black, glistening core. More on this--masculine/feminine religious spaces and, if you're lucky, parties of Baptists--later.

This poem is also set in Wisconsin, and I love Wisconsin.  But I think I chose this poem because I have on my mind Tim's sister, who is a poet.  She lives in Wisconsin.  She also wrote a poem about a church!  What are the odds?  Because I can't find her beautiful poem online, you can read a different one by her.  (And now, because I have mentioned this, I may never get a Christmas present from her again.  This would be terrible, as she is a great shopper and gift giver.  But I, like Mark Doty, will lie down on the tracks in the name of poetry!  Or, the name of Jim Harrison, who shares the Writer's Almanac page with my sister-in-law.  I have married into an exquisitely private family--perhaps that is why they are all gifted writers?  Then again, I have a friend who writes stories and theorizes that his friends don't care how bad he makes them sound on the page.  Everyone loves being written about, he says.  Is this true?) 

If I find a church poem of my own, I'll be sure to share it with you.  For now, Mark Doty's words will have to do. This poem is kind of long, which is a joking complaint I have about some poems. When are we gonna get there?!  I sort of start to panic. (Which is, maybe, how you feel about this blog post? 
You know what?  This post wasn't short at all.  My dreams are like, WTF?  We've been waiting for over an hour.)  

When I get to that panicky place reading a poem, I just pretend that MD in the flesh--more specifically, at the podium of a large, established poetry forum--is reading it to me.  I settle into my uncomfortable seat, try to forget about the Milk Duds in my pocket (they would make so much noise! Just forget about it! You can wait.) and let the man take half the day if he wants to, reading his big, g-d-damn, true-to-a-t poem.

Dickeyville Grotto
by Mark Doty

The priest never used blueprints, but worked all
the many designs out of his head.

Father Wilerus,
transplanted Alsatian,
built around
this plain Wisconsin

redbrick church
a coral-reef en-
crustation--meant,
the brochure says,

to glorify America
and heaven simul-
taneously. Thus:
Mary and Columbus

and the Sacred Heart
equally enthroned
in a fantasia of quartz
and seashells, broken

dishes, stalactites
and stick-shift knobs--
no separation
of nature and art

for Father Wilerus!
He's built fabulous blooms
--bristling mosaic tiles
bunched into chipped,

permanent roses---
and more glisteny
stuff than I can catalogue,
which seems to he the point:

a spectacle, saints
and Stars and Stripes
billowing in hillocks
of concrete. Stubborn

insistence on rendering
invisibles solid. What's
more frankly actual
than cement? Surfaced,

here, in pure decor:
even the railings
curlicued with rows
of identical whelks,

even the lampposts
and birdhouses,
and big encrusted urns
wagging with lunar flowers!

A little dizzy,
the world he's made,
and completely
unapologetic, high

on a hill in Dickeyville
so the wind whips
around like crazy.
A bit pigheaded,

yet full of love
for glitter qua glitter,
sheer materiality;
a bit foolhardy

and yet -- sly sparkle --
he's made matter giddy.
Exactly what he wanted,
I'd guess: the very stones

gone lacy and beaded,
an airy intricacy
of froth and glimmer.
For God? Country?

Lucky man:
his purpose pales
beside the fizzy,
weightless fact of rock.

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