Sunday 9 July 2006
A while later, a man took my photo from the path. The traffic is not as loud as I would have imagined at 9am on a Sunday, Sunday in the park. The most insistent noise is the scrape of gravel under the jogger's feet.
9:38am Church bells have just rung out their optimistic tune. The morning begins.
I've just been approached by a couple with a dog who quoted Shakespeare and then posed this question. "What do you hope to gain from your time here?" Gain? What to gain? My God, how to answer such a question? What a public, making me think! Posing questions! I must satisfy them with an answer. I must satisfy myself. And so the struggle begins. My struggle. The struggle of the poet.
"If I had two pennies, with one I would buy bread and with the other I would buy hyacinths for my soul." Diane just stopped by with this Chinese proverb. She's a comedic playwright, going through a midlife crisis, hoping to remake herself and set upon founding a school for the arts.
And so they acknowledge the poet in the glade, in the clover and daisy glade.
It was bright and hard-sunned hot not a half an hour ago. A cover of high clouds and a northern breeze, though soft, from the sea, has moved in.
Here I sit, alone at my desk, inviting the public in with a quiet sign, in 4" glittering letters, P-O-E-T, nailed to the back of my desk.
What exactly are my hopes? What is the best a person could say in response? With just two poetry-only bookstores in the U.S.A, with one national radio program airing the work of established poets once a week, and with, dare I suggest, no poetry on television, I feel justified in saying there are too few opportunities for the general public to hear, see or gain a vocabulary for poetry, and most especially for the poetry of our times. Oh there is the odd poetry on the buses program and the occasional line of text in a public art project, but by-and-large poetry and the public are not two well-mixed things.
How might a person respond to Nostalgia? How might my being lakeside at a desk make one feel, think or act any differently? I hope, by interjecting poetry into the public realm, to encourage people to reconsider the worth of poets and poetry to society. If just one person says, even to themselves, "This is what I should be doing, attending to my spirit, looking into myself, for the answers, for change, for happiness, finding beauty and fault within instead of without," why then I will have made a difference. I hope, through my commitment and physical presence, to offer an experience that might be recreated. To pave the way to dialogue and self-searching and to break down the doors to poetry.
This project is not, and I hope will not become, packaged enough to sell, to sell to a passerby in a sentence, or jingle or clip. This is a question that needs to be asked and answered incessantly. What can poetry be? So what is the response? And now, what is the response now?
I do not like the stage. I do not like to be upon the stage. I am not comfortable on display. Why have I put myself here? What do I hope to gain from this? Valid questions, dear public. Thank you for insisting. In taking oneself out of the comfort zone, in interjecting oneself into the world, into the public realm, one forces a position. Such a move provokes thought, spurs action.
9:51 Bells again.
Vinnie says I'm bad ass. He promises to bring his guitar next week and play me a blues song. And so I am forming community.
But Vinnie wants me to write commercially. They could use my clever mind and I could make some money. Like my society, Vinnie wants to assimilate me. We've been assimilating one another since the early 1900's, Vinnie. Make the public a part of the institution and the institution will not be suspect. No one will have to think and not a one will have to reckon or change, they will just follow along, ready accomplices.
Writers are stopping by, offering sympathy for the cause. How can they ignore us, a generation of poets for whom words are self-definition? I will not let this happen, Gretchen.
Ah, to brush the sleeve of a poet! A nervous young man of square build, a boy of little confidence, with no variety of expression, stopped by to note, astutely, "It's not everyday you see someone with a desk sitting at the lake writing." He went on, "Maybe I'll write a Western or a short piece in the style of Poe?" I encouraged him to write on, to find a group. Go up to the Richard Hugo House and find the community you need.
Cheers from a nearby bar on Aurora, The Kangaroo and Kiwi. Surely, World Cup history is being made. And there inside the bar, there is a focus and common hope.
More artists stopping by, hoping this project snowballs into a mock Washington Square, with artists and street performers coming regularly to the lake. Lot of families moving on the path. Fathers and daughters, mothers and daughters, stopping by, applauding my efforts.
I have never before had both the opportunity and inclination to shade myself from the sun using an umbrella. This is a delight and sends me. It allows me to feel the play of the light breezes blowing my hair and ruffling my shirt. And allows me some intimacy and relief. Allows me to gaze at the reeds at the lake's edge.
I turned down money just now. Jon had cash out in his hand. He was prepared to support my art and I said, "No, you cannot buy my poetry." Why not? Not simply because I am not performing an entertainment or providing a shallow consumer service, but because of all things, with this project, I am asking people to think and search. The struggle forces itself upon us with an even greater insistence in a poor economy. With money (surely $5 won't make this difference) comes the shift to comfort, a shift away from what the struggle might mean.
Bells again! It is now after noon, 12:30 perhaps. Is this the start of another mass? A longer piece followed by yet another, both lively in tempo. Now, after five minutes, we are on our third hymn. We are serious about bells. Who is ringing the bells? Some devotee of religious hymns set upon spreading the good word, in a tower with a score book and an ivy bed of pull chords tied to a collection of dark and dusty bells? This is some small wonder of optimism. The bells have been ringing for fifteen minutes!
The fabric of my old black umbrella is ticking as it expands in the heat and is creating a tiny weather here beneath it. A small disc, a pocket of heat, is preparing to be blown away with the next light breeze.
How to lose my self-consciousness? In life, the writer goes effortlessly through the crowd, hidden among the faces. Writing comes as much from the experience of being intimate with the subject as it does from being invisible to the subject. I am no longer invisible.
Offering poetry in the way that a canoe on a lake, a kite on a string or a sailboat in a bay offers poetry to the collective eye. Offering a means to encapsulate the unquantifiable. Freedom, loss, nostalgia, hope, security. Concepts we form over time. Form and find symbols for.
I heard somebody whisper to their friend, "Look, she's a poet." And now they know. There are cut glass, glitter-encrusted letters hung from the back of my desk spelling p-o-e-t. It seemed the simplest means for both inviting a response and allowing a dismissal. Or, of course, for a sort of distant recognition.
An older man, walking briskly upon the path, shouted to me, "Right on!" Allowing him to both partake and carry on. At times, this is the best response.
Lee and I discussed the meaning of the word Nostalgia. Nostos + Algos, the pain of home. It was a word coined in 1688 by a Swiss physician to explain what the mercenaries were experiencing. Then he suggested another term, the Portuguese word saudade, which means something similar but incorporates the possibility for regaining home, no matter how distant in the future.
If every day at the same time… If every Sunday, for one year… Routine must form us in time, but can it form us as ritual does? Is routine not more of a sedative and ritual more a stimulant? Routine, more daily occurring, and ritual less frequent, but more conscience-driven? My routine is hitting the snooze button on my clock four times in the morning. My routine is making a fruit smoothie after cycling home from work. My routine is writing postcards on Elk Beach at lunchtime. But it is ritual that extends my options, heightens the potential of every decision, dramatizes the parted road, waits until the last moment before swerving this way or that, looks for a reason or sign in all I do.
The breezes blow in the treetops and ruffle the lake. A small lake. There are lakeside benches for the rare moment of rest, the stationary soul. This path is an ever-moving theatre. But for that moment. But for perspective. How to get out of this world? How to live in a parallel world? How to see and un-see? How to re-see? How to re-create and recommend?
I am not here. I am in a high alpine park on a mountain. My mountain. A herd of mountain goats is stumbling over the pass. Roosevelt elk are tracing the riverbed. A bear is learning a bumblebee dance.
A woman named Keri just stopped by. As she approached I saw in her my friend Laura from Toronto. Longing. Nostalgia. At times, we invent familiarity and recognition to substitute for the home we have lost, the home we are losing, the home we expect to lose or are running from. Home. Longing. Re-creating.
I have seen bumblebees bending the clover heads and yellow butterflies tumbling like leaves from trees. Dragonflies lifting on transparent wings and ravens, serious on the lawn, scouting and expressing gloom. Ducks tucked away for sleep and geese dipping their necks into the greenish murk. No expression of grief or fear or longing. Only expressions of comfort and fatigue. Of lost and endless days.