Why Poetry

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I read poetry

Because of lines like Stein’s

All this and not ordinary

A line just distinguishes it. And

Frank’s Hum-colored Cabs

That bring me elsewhere

Only to gasp from knowing

I have been here before.

Poetry is slow

-writing that asks for

Slow reading.

For meaning not easily teased

For brevity that strikes its heart-mark

For the now and now, this,

That you and I share

That was nothing before this.

Poetry by Scribblerbean©

As a former writer for hire, I would discharge words like cheap bullets that more or less hit their marks.  My brain ran on a loop, a Dickinsonian groove, stuck with language as habit rather than craft. Over time, dissatisfaction over crappy writing jobs morphed into illumination, as I tired of the language in my possession and my cavalier use of it. I decided it was time to relearn English, but set my bar as high as I could. Poetry, I knew, was the highest form of language. So I pursued it by going back to university, but that wasn’t enough.  Image

From September through to mid November this year, I shared a virtual classroom with about 35,000 poetry learners around the world, who ranged from teachers with advanced degrees to eager and nervous novices. Devoting myself to a fast-paced syllabus, the study of poetry shaped my mornings, infused my afternoon half-naps, kept me up until my entire household was fast asleep. But this was a class unlike any I had ever signed up for.

Offered through Coursera, Modern & Contemporary American Poetry (ModPo, lovingly) boasts of both passion and bold, cutting-edge pedagogy. Meticulously designed and taught by University of Pennsylvania’s Al Filreis, ModPo is an intimate, no-lectures-given, community-driven, tech-enabled village of multitudes brought together by a love of language. Given my unconventional academic path and my physical distance from institutions offering the rigorous training I craved, I have been thankful for the accessibility of MOOCs and online learning. But ModPo is an experience as extraordinary as Al himself, sprung from an ecosystem of webcasts, readings, and live events open to all lovers of poetry. And quite unlike my online classes with their forums and uploading of course content, one is present “in ModPo” truly and holistically. Al and his brilliant, captivating TAs are, safe to say, ever-present both on- and offline, through weekly webcasts, in near-synchronous online exchanges, and on campus, real-life/real-time meet-ups at the Kelly Writers House. Al and the ModPo team offer presence, accessibility, and enthusiasm, and immense generosity with both material and insight. ModPo gives its students more than a deep engagement with poetic texts and ideas; it cultivates an uncommon community that jumps borders. Image

Nearly two weeks after its official end, ModPo’s forums are still abuzz with students-turned-online friends. The poetry talk rages on, hearts and minds urged wide open anew to receive and make meaning of Whitman, Dickinson, O’Hara, Stein, Kerouac, Ashbery, Goldsmith.

It was the right decision to pursue poetry because there is much fulfillment in it. Whether I evolve towards poetic practice that involves writing and publishing remains to be seen, but I am hopeful with this, my renewed relationship with language. Today I am more than content chatting with newfound poetry friends around the world, and unraveling newfound favorites, like Whitman and Stein, and O’Hara, Ashbery, and Silliman. Thank you, Al; and thank you, ModPo community.

Cut & Paste

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I’ve spent the past few weeks immersed in silent dialogue with a few modernist and post-modernist poems. I tell myself it’s for fun (which it is, for the most part) but this is so I remain calm and collected in the few weeks before finals. The fun arises from stumbling on ordinary things with unexpected poetic value: fragments cobbled together with the softest of glues, found texts, other people’s status updates, song lyrics ripped out of context.

When exams are over I hope to swim in the most forgiving and warm waters of Free Time, to put aside grownup talk so I can exercise my other voice. In the meantime, as a complement to the first paragraph, here’s a bit of cut-and-paste cheekery.

bing is a Poet (and Didn’t Know It)

Morning sun ahead of holiday

Skies falling rain.

Corner of the wind up, naughty, blow hair.

It does not affect the Friday caper.

Rain on umbrella shades, tick-tock

Interweaving into notes.

Drops of rain on the ground

Moments into one small flower

Tick rain the beat

Spa system generative. Forces clouds,

Float like a cloud

That is the best suited to drain

When it rains.

 

- adapted from an advertisement in Mandarin, as translated by Bing

Awards Season

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Being in transit over the holidays meant we had no tree in our flat. I wrapped a total of three presents (small ones). It’s quiet work, waiting for the holiday spirit to visit.

But I came back after Christmas to find that fellow wanderer becomingmadame.wordpress.com had nominated Scribblerbean for two awards: the Beautiful Blogger Award and The Reader Appreciation Award. Mme’s sweet little note was probably one of the best presents a writer writing alone could receive: encouragement, and a quick little wink across continents that said, you’re doing ok. Merci beaucoup, Madame!

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As if that wasn’t enough, Josh Lattimer, who creates dazzling posts on fictionalmachines.com had also sent me a nomination for the One Lovely Blog Award.

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In turn, I wish to nominate Jmkhaprawannatellyouastory.wordpress.com

She produces wondrous little stories and illustrations that move me with their honesty and boldness.

Now these may just look like colorful little badges, but I haven’t been blogging for very long. Encouragement goes a long way! So for that, thank you ever so much. I resolve to write a little more everyday in emulation of bloggers I’ve admired over these past few months.

In the spirit of Oscar Fever and the Awards season, I’m passing along nominations for the Beautiful Blogger Award and Reader Appreciation Award to 15 blogs. These writers inspire me with their dedication to the craft, their brave, writerly ways, darling geekiness, and wanderlust.

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Marousia.wordpress.com

Bottledworder.wordpress.com

Jilannehoffmann.com

Ambientehotel.wordpress.com

Marcusspeh.com

Jarofsalt.com

Onthehomefrontandbeyond.wordpress.com

Tigergroves.wordpress.com

Catherinejohnson.wordpress.com

Poetrynotesandjottings.wordpress.com

Ayearinmyshoes.wordpress.com

Thirdculturekidlife.com

Gregorygcollins.com

Reddirtlattes.com

Anilbalan.com

If you wish to, here’s what you do next:

  1. Link back to the person who nominated you
  2. Post the award(s) on your page
  3. Nominate 15 other blogs
  4. Share 7 random facts about yourself.

Here are my 7 random facts:

  1. I can’t do rollercoasters or tequila.
  2. One of the seven fish in my aquarium is missing an eye.
  3. The monster under my bed was a zombie. Of this I am sure.
  4. I draw pictures with paint in my other journals.
  5. I wish I’d worked harder to do better in math class.
  6. My bedtime is 2 am.
  7. I have never been to New York City.

Thank you for letting me into your strange and beautiful corners! I look forward to your wonderful musings in 2013.

The Value of Solitude

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I’ve overturned a log in the forest and out scurried colorful little creatures that were hiding in the crevices. Not really, no. But it’s been a little like this, over the past 48 hours. Just the other day a friend of mine posted this infographic, about living with introverts.

Putting it on my own wall, I wasn’t expecting the flurry of responses. From other friends and their friends (strangers to me) came a collective sigh of relief after holding one’s breath for too long. The nervous laugh of recognition continues to ripple across my little cyber-community. I love how we’ve all come out of the woodwork, I wrote in a comment.

I am an introvert.

I’ve never announced it before, and doing so now feels strangely counter-intuitive, a paradox. But I felt such a warm sense of approval from my fellow silent observers, over the sudden claiming of a voice (usually we keep our stories to ourselves; this is why many of us are writers). It appears that I am not the only one left to drift to the edge of a crowded room in an extrovert-dominated world.

As the hours passed more friends came out to confess they too were introverts. One of them reposted my original post, which generated another round of confessions on her wall. Another (her friend, a stranger to me) then shared this, a list of common misconceptions about people like us.

So now I thought to share it here, and my amazement over how much of it rings true. Such as how we need solitude like we need air; how we are often mistaken for rude or weird.

I value my solitude and need it. When I turn down an invitation to hang out, it does not mean I’ve stopped being your friend. Believe me when I say I value you, more than I can express.

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Sometimes I disappear, as those closest to me can attest. I don’t mean to be rude, I am just desperate to recharge. Most times, I am exhausted; sometimes I’m just lost in my own head. And other times, being around too many people means I’m in danger of losing myself.

What I have also lost are a few friends, who probably took my withdrawing ways as an affront. This pains me but I have no clue how to fix it. Others (who I now suspect to be introverts too) respectfully and quietly hover just out of my periphery. I feel their warmth even though I don’t see them, and am grateful and comforted.

To those who haven’t quite figured me out, know you are one of a handful of carefully selected friends. You’re important to me so please stick around. Know that I always come back and may even invite you out for coffee, so we can talk. Thanks for waiting, and for understanding.

How To Choose A Place To Live

The El, Chicago
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1. Open the newspaper and find the Classifieds.

Feel overwhelmed, as you usually are when faced with too many choices. Temper passions with an eye on practical considerations, such as food preferences and limitations based upon budget. Once you find the Classifieds, pore over the many categories. Be distracted by ads selling antique typewriters, Labrador puppies, raw farmland. Make a mental note that the farmland you really want someday is the kind with soil to grow coffee in. Indonesia?

2. Find ample storage: an attic, basement, or walk-in closet the size of a small warehouse.

Lose sleep over what to do with the ceramic zebra’s head sculpted by a daughter (now a junior at art school), another daughter’s complete Chronicles of Narnia. Wool coats put away because where you live now has only two seasons, wet and dry. Boxes of photo albums (2001-2006). Consider the long-term value of memories.

3. Go online to apartmentherapy.com and stalk the interiors of other people’s houses.

Here is where you begin to understand what drives your choices. Not envy, but where you came from, stirred by jpegs of shag carpets or mid-Century aesthetic:  glass tile for your kitchen backsplash, the mahogany desk and leather chair that remind you of your granduncle, the one who served as cultural attaché to Burma in 1958. That extra bedroom to serve as a writer’s garret, because sloped ceilings and natural light will help you write better. Hardwood floors to showcase your mother’s collection of Tibetan prayer rugs, the only thing she left behind, apart from the empty seat at your daughter’s high school graduation dinner.  

4. Consider the proximity to public transportation.

Walk to El, steps to Starbucks and minutes to the Loop! Short drive to beaches and Ocean Road; easy access to Tanah Merah Terminal Ferry. Dream of someday having a personal driver, a necessity and safety precaution in cities where roads are dusty, worn, or imaginary. Rik drove up in a white car after breakfast everyday, to take you to Banteay Srei, Ta Prohm, wherever you wanted to go until he suggested less touristy places. “You must visit the Killing Fields,” he said. You aren’t ready, you told him. Look into a house’s history, especially if it’s very old, and make certain it isn’t haunted.

5. Expand your search. Is climate a consideration?

Realize you miss snow at Christmas; not so much the rising ragweed count in April. But do exclude regions with extreme weather, such as neighborhoods located along the path of monsoons or around the Ring of Fire. Volcanos are fine as long as they are extinct. Reconsider retiring to a small coffee plantation in Danau Toba, Sumatra.

Invasive Procedures

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Sometimes in my father’s house the doors of the upstairs bedrooms close on their own. My sister, before moving away to Omaha, used to say she saw things that weren’t there. Still, I never believed the house was haunted, so it didn’t bother me to take a nap in my sister’s old room (“the blue room” for its walls of robin’s egg blue). It was the middle of the morning of a very warm day.

Lying in the blue room, fighting the urge to stem the sleepiness with caffeine, I calculated twenty minutes before the inspection at 11:00 am. I should have just gone for the coffee. As I dozed the sleep was shallow, and I awoke hearing the wind chimes that I had just hung on the door to the family room downstairs.

This hand-painted wind-catcher captures the beauty of the reefs without
robbing them of their wonderful resources. Sand Dollars, Starfish, and Scallop
Shells are treasures of the ocean, and Bali is surrounded by a vast ocean full of life.
The musical tuning of this chime is from the exotic instruments of the Indonesian gamelan.

The specialist who came to check our house for termites arrived early and smiling too widely. I was upset by the interrupted nap, and the fact that his red shirt was too red for so early in the morning. I concluded that he was clumsy as well as too eager to take my money. But I did not want termites.

“Oh, they’re out there,” he said, clicking his drugstore-bought ballpoint pen. “The mound over by the bamboo trees, we’ll have to remove that. And poison the soil.”

So he had stepped out through the back door into the back yard, sweeping through the property in the short time it had taken me to come down the stairs. We walked through my house and up the stairs, his eyes running across my ceilings, into corners. All wood, yes. No, not antique. Yes, we just installed it. The termites, he informed me, had invaded from the empty lot next door.

“We’ll line the perimeter with poison so they can’t penetrate,” he said, clicking and scribbling with his ballpoint pen, sweat pellets forming on his temples. “Is there a trap door in the ceiling our people can crawl through?” I pointed at an outline in the ceiling of my children’s bathroom, a square tile hidden from view unless you happened to crane your neck in unusual angles. It was muggy and still up here, where the hot air rose into the sloping eaves.

“Will the…poison…kill my frangipani?”

“No,” he said, “it’s botanical. Citrus-based. Not likely to kill anything but termites.” I pictured a liquid murk seeping into the soil to find the queen termite, a thermal missile traversing its kill zone while leaving its orange-scented wake.

I signed the contract, ensuring monthly visits without my having to think about a thing, evaluations like a military review to rid my home of termites, ants, mice. All in. Sign now and cut a check to avail of the end of month promo. And just like that, I could worry less about stove-scurrying mice, termites emerging from their lair in the dirt to chew through my walls (sometimes at night I could hear them), ants on my dining table disrupting dinner with their rivulet-shaped processions down the tassels of the tablecloth my mother had crocheted by hand.

Then I heard it, after the termite man left on his motorbike. Echoes of blissful Bali breaks, yearly each summer when the girls were little. The wind chimes mimicking a fairy-sized gamelan. Disks of bleached teak tied together by black string, cat’s cradle style; slender steel rods suspended and, when brushed with a fingertip, made a sound like the tinkling of glasses. Or like spirits trailing bells through the trees, on nights lit only by the moon and candles on dinner tables. At the end of the string, a real starfish, a fragile pentangle the color of beach sand. Of five points, I counted four-and-a-quarter. It looked like a thing dead, scavenged off a dying wave, one of its limbs missing.

©Scribblerbean 2012

Mistress of Spices, in a way.

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Having run out of coffee today I had to get my caffeine fix from another source. I rummaged and found a handful of essential spices (cinnamon, clove, cardamom) and brewed me some chai instead. The anise didn’t go into the pot; it’s just here because it’s pretty.

My course work in non-fiction is coming to a close so hopefully I can channel more energy back into this blog. It was a summer course, swift and rigorous, and stretched as I am, I am ever so grateful for the privilege of having taken it.

Thanks all for your patience! I do hope to be back to scribbling very soon.

How To Make Muffins

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On afternoons when the air crawls and my words get lost in a cloud in my head, I bake. As cupboards slam, the rattling of cake tins begins to dislodge ideas, shaking them loose like flour through a sifter.

For all its demands of focus and precise amounts, baking draws me into a state of unforced thinking, a mental meander that spills out beyond the countertops, past the lines on the measuring cup and confines of the measuring spoons. Before the hour is up the words begin to rise up, because memory is like yeast.

My chocolate chip cookies have found fans among my children’s friends for about a decade. Even without consulting the recipe, I can make these cookies without paying too much attention to amounts of flour, baking powder, baking soda, two kinds of sugar. I know the space a cup of butter occupies in my mother’s pink mixing bowl.

Sometimes the mixture is a pinch short of salt, or the butter is half an ounce over. Routine dictates deftness and pace, but sometimes I just want my cookies. The mess I make in my kitchen is spectacular. If the batter comes to a texture like down pillows (as it must for today’s sour cream blueberry muffins) it will be beautiful coming out of the oven. Hunger, as Carlo Collodi wrote, is the best sauce. Despite improvisation, a need is satisfied.

Not so when I attempt to write. As a craft, writing is more demanding and less forgiving than baking. So much can fall flat. There are no tried-and-tested recipes. There are no basic ingredients when one has tens of thousands of words to choose from, and only the most carefully selected will do. And even then, an afternoon’s efforts do not guarantee a satisfying result. Where it takes an hour to bake even the most gorgeous of all cupcakes, it can take a lifetime to create a work of substance and elegance.

I think about this when I struggle to craft a 500-word piece I can be happy with. The writer Jane Hirshfield, in taking apart the meticulous writing of Emily Dickinson, has said, “a single word can be as consequential to the experience and meaning as a single link is to the integrity of a chain.” And so I run my fingers over words to find the choicest, freshest ones (never, never use too much), roll them around so I can taste them first, testing them for heat or coolness. I imagine combinations of flavors, scents, and textures, staggered by the possibilities and the responsibility.

No wonder I get stuck. No matter: I head to the kitchen, and begin to bake.

Quickened by Dickens

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I feel like I’m a better person than I was two weeks ago. I’ve finished reading Great Expectations and to my surprise, I really enjoyed it. Understand: I have never had to read Charles Dickens. This unfortunate reality is likely due to skipping two years of high school (long story) and all the reading that went with it. In the years since my academic career played out its spotty history, the thought of reading Dickens has been intimidating. English majors read Dickens. Oh wait, I am an English major.

Notes from the margin:

social class, “great expectations” = ambition

human nature, identity

Also a question: does the nature of the giver, especially if he’s an escaped convict, detract from the value of a gift?

I think Magwitch is a really good name for a cat.

Watercolour of Abel Magwitch from Great Expect...

Watercolour of Abel Magwitch from Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“You’re so smart. You’ve always been smarter than me,” said my sister with a little bit of awe when I told her I laughed out loud in parts. “I tried Dickens. I didn’t get it.” She was sad when she said this.

“Try him again,” I said. “He describes people as furniture, compares them to plants. Think of him as a 19th century Eddie Izzard.”

“I don’t know about that,” my sister said. “Would you like some cake?” We are Skyping and doing imitations from Game of Thrones.

My sister is modest. She has read Austen, I have not. (“You’ll like her, I promise!”) She’s next on my list. As with Dickens, I’m a little scared but hope to be surprised.

If this line isn’t so wonderfully English, I don’t know what is.

Out for Lunch

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Open up a can of chickpeas. See in your head a bowl of creamy hummus. Remember E’s picture from Jordan? It was taken around a campfire at dusk. A Bedouin man brewed a pot of tea and E had tea like that, in the desert, amidst sand dunes. E ate a lot of hummus while she was there. Won’t touch the restaurant variety today.

Slice a lemon. A fridge must always contain lemons. Imagine if you reduced the contents of your fridge to just those things found in very old valleys: chickpeas (how did they grow those?), olives, goat cheese, and hello, wine.

Hummus was probably a staple for any strapping young shepherd. Who knew that people living a thousand years ago ate better than we do today? Grinding seeds against a stone, leaving dates and figs out to dry until they were strips tough as leather. Organic then wasn’t expensive. It was the only way one could make lunch.

Day 310: Shinjuku

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My friend Hiromi made me a list of cafes to visit on my first trip to Tokyo in 2010. Two doors past the Calico Cafe (a cat cafe, I was to find out) is Ejinbara Coffee. The menu was in Japanese, so I just pointed to the first item. I wasn’t disappointed.

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Every cup that isn’t an espresso-based drink is prepared in a siphon. The result is an exceptionally “clean” taste, and a mouthfeel I can only describe as light-as-air. I wish I knew enough Japanese to tell you where these beans originated from, but the cup was worth the $10 price tag.

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A Thousand Words

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Between 2004-2008 I escaped from writing to study and practice photography. I traveled with my camera to Vietnam, Cambodia, Singapore, and Hong Kong; and around the US, in Texas, Washington, California, and my home state of Illinois.

Over the next few weeks I plan to gather up my photos (scattered on various hard drives around the house) and post some favorites here.

I hope you find something you like, maybe well enough to go with an original poem or a piece of flash fiction, or collection even. Drop me a note here or email me (scribblerbean at gmail) – and let’s see what we come up with!

Day 116: Hoi An, Vietnam

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It is hot here, and full of expats. For the second breakfast of the day, The Cargo Club offers a balcony to hide in. The paint is left to peel on purpose. To sweeten the coffee a girl leaves a saucer of condensed milk. The croissant is crab-shaped. At noon I visit a seamstress named Trinh, who measured me the day before for an ao dai in teal silk.

What Jack Said

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English: Jack Kerouac by photographer Tom Palu...

English: Jack Kerouac by photographer Tom Palumbo, circa 1956 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jack Kerouac once said that things we feel find their own form. In my very early years as a writer-for-hire, I worked with clients and form was decided for me. There was no room for feeling. But writing thirty-second ad copy demanded economy of expression, bang for buck delivered in three different versions designed to win client approval. Not a bad method for reining in over-writing and killing the author.

I enjoyed writing ad copy not at all, although The Client always seemed happy.  Maybe all those years writing with restraints on has made it easier for me to attempt to write in poetic form.

What a delight to find so many poetic forms to play with. I’m still looking for the right form for what needs saying. Poetry has demands similar to ad copy – to say in a short space a version of the truth. I have yet to test the theory out, but it feels like a fun thing to try.

Disconnecting Hamlet

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Growing as an artist and creative thinker in a highly industrialized city can be a real challenge. Where I live, there is a tendency for art to be packaged; and thinking follows set patterns. So it helps that I work in solitude. My life is an experiment that is slightly Darwin-esque, and I wonder how ideas might form and develop without the influence of the mainstream.

The influence I am more interested in is accessible through creative communities online and the websites of writers I admire. The digital, online space is an intellectual playground, and anyone can play. The wonderful thing is that I can disconnect anytime, usually once an idea or inspirational nudge has come my way. And off I go to play by myself, toying with what I’ve learned, watching an idea (hopefully) grow into something unexpected.

The need to disconnect can be misunderstood by those who aren’t creative types. I have missed opportunities to gather and mingle “on the ground” (as opposed to “online”). Friends have fallen by the wayside. It makes me sad sometimes.

This review, of Hamlet’s Blackberry by William Powers, caught my eye. Actually, the title of the book did. The writer, a journalist with a Harvard degree in literature and history, explores the past for tips on disconnecting and reclaiming privacy. Plato had to contend with technological breakthroughs in the ancient world, as one reviewer says, as did the people of Gutenberg’s day.

Cover of "Hamlet's BlackBerry: A Practica...

Cover via Amazon

We don’t need to go too far back in history when we think about disconnecting, and getting away in order to create. Was it any easier for people of our grandparents’ generation to break away when they needed to, without alienating those around them? My grandmother did that once, when I was very little; she went to Georgetown to study law for a while. I take it back: it couldn’t have been easy for her, but that’s a story for another time.

In the metro, short and quick

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A drawing of Ezra Pound by Henri Gaudier-Brzes...

A drawing of Ezra Pound by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska (1891-1915) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There’s a conversation that took place one winter in Rome between the poet Ezra Pound and interviewer Donald Hall. Published in the Summer/Fall 1962 issue of The Paris Review, the interview revealed Pound’s ideas about where literature was headed:

And now one has got with the camera an enormous correlation of particulars. That capacity for making contact is a tremendous challenge to literature. It throws up the question of what needs to be done and what is superfluous.

I have just started to read Ezra Pound. Consider the power of what must be one of the shortest poems in history for example: his stark and direct style, sharp as a sushi knife, was the hallmark of the modern poets. Far from tiny, this 14-word poem crackles with heat, energy, and longing. I had stumbled onto this poem after reading Dante‘s Inferno, and the meaning just exploded for me, along with every nerve in my body.

Pound also commented on the interplay of form and experience. I am both frightened and fascinated with poetic form and structure, and what they have to offer despite (or maybe because of) strict parameters.

It’s exciting to read about the changes and movement in the writing world as they were happening, and as Pound saw them. What does his comment about photography mean? I don’t have the answer, but I’ve been trying to figure this out for myself. This is the challenge of the contemporary writer faced with a gazillion ways to make meaning: writing that is precise; tells a story with depth of emotion and color; and captures truth (or what’s true for the writer) and authenticity, as faithfully as any photograph.

Permission to Write

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My summer reading kicked off with Leonora Carrington’s The Hearing Trumpet. Carrington was a surrealist painter, so her novel is a wonderfully surrealistic narrative. I won’t go into any analysis here, but since finishing the novel, I’ve thought much about this quote from the book:

If I remember correctly writers usually find some excuse for their books, although why one should excuse oneself for having such a quiet and peaceful occupation I really don’t know. Military people never seem to apologize for killing each other yet novelists feel ashamed for writing some nice inert paper book that is not certain to be read by anybody. Values are very strange.

The speaker is the novel’s narrator, a 92 year-old woman named Marian Leatherby. I was amused by how true these words are, at least for myself. While I self-identify as a writer, it’s often with a measure of apology that I introduce myself at dinners and such.

Do you feel this way about choosing the writer’s life? I can think of little else to do with my days than write quietly, but why do I feel like it’s such an indulgence? What do you think?

Writers’ Blocks

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Marcus Young, St. Paul, Minnesota’s artist in residence, is turning the city into a book. For the past five years, he’s organized the Everyday Poems for City Sidewalk Project , challenging poets while creating moments of reading and reflection.

It’s similar to New York City’s Library Way, photos of which I found here.

The most striking examples of public confession I’ve come across were at the Meiji Shrine in Tokyo. There stands in the courtyard an old camphor tree, believed to be sacred, that’s become a depository for thousands of prayers.

Wish Tree, Meiji Shrine

People from all over the world have entrusted their dreams and desires to the Wish Tree. Unspoken but inscribed onto blocks of wood, they are accidental poems left by strangers.

Prayers on votive cards

Maybe poetry really is that. A little bit of ritual mixed with openness, and the acceptance that someone must be listening.

A Poem A Day

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April is National Poetry Month. The challenge is to write a poem a day. Although I’m coming onto this rather late in the game, I welcome the opportunity to practice the craft on a daily basis over the next two weeks. I found some absolutely scrumptious prompts here that I can scarcely wait to try, been meaning to try. I get all tingly just reading them.

There’s also an informal gathering of writers in my city on April 28. Another great opportunity to crawl out of my little hidey-hole and mingle, and ask for a fresh pair of eyes on my work. It’s a good reminder that while I write in solitude, I am not completely alone.

Day 110: Brew and Barthes

Flat white with Barthes
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Day 110: A flat white in Taipei. Eslite is more museum than bookshop, with categories filling halls of cavernous proportions. One gallery was devoted entirely - entirely - to cultural studies and literary theory, many titles translated into Mandarin. It’s surprising what one city’s bookshop can reveal about its people and their aspirations.

Francois, spirit of the art gallery

There are spirits in the paddy field.
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“No, I’m no artist,” said Francois, in answer to my question. He directed us towards the bathroom, or to the cafe, whichever he felt we needed more urgently. “See, there is art everywhere. See here,” he said, pointing at Garuda carved into the cabana. I was sitting in it now, waving away mosquitoes. The sun was setting over the rice field.

“To create is to show gratitude to the gods, who are with us always.” He laughed and flicked away the ash from his clove cigarette.

“No,” he said, “I’m no artist. But I believe.”