Sunday 7 January 2007
A FLAGGING SPIRIT
44F. It is warm again. The wind is gusting out of the south. The apple on my desk rocks on its crown. There are white caps out on the lake. I woke to a deluge this morning. I woke thinking it was Monday. I often take it for a Monday and lay in bed wondering, how will I get to work? Am I late? Shall I bicycle? Perhaps I should call in, take the whole day? As the room settles and weight begins to fill the objects, I work into the day. Sunday, still Sunday, the day I bring poetry to the lake. I am going to stand out all day in this weather. Canceling the poetry desk is not an option. Not a desire. This is the important work.
By time I leave my apartment, the rain abates. I bundle up. Long johns, boots, hat, gloves, a rain jacket, three insulating layers. No matter what I wear, the wind will sap my heat.
Tattered leaves wave in the short grass. A dirty screen is drawn up over Seattle. The wind buffets a gull in my meadow. The Circlers race about with red faces. This is the sort of wind that knocks trees over. If I were to stand directly behind my Eastern White Pine, I would get relief from the wind. It is cold. My hands don't work. It is not yet 10am and I haven't entertained one visitor. I want to walk to the shop, find a seat, sit with a coffee and write. Time in a coffee shop would create results. What work am I producing here?
It is a pleasure to hear the bells, like old friends traipsing across my meadow. I must plead with the pastor soon to bring back the 5 o'clock bells. They mean so much. Perhaps their sound can only come from a hollow place? Perhaps such a hollow has a space for me? Perhaps I can begin to forgive the void as I invent a new story.
The circle is windswept and desolate after last week's bounty full. January in Seattle, time for an armchair, the an electric fireplace, a movie house, a bookstore, pub, café. If this were Pennsylvania, a day like today would be a horseshow, a field hockey game. If Boston, the warm wind and damp earth would be a sculpture in Concord, a street artist in Harvard Square.
It poured itself out this morning. Now there is no window to the sky. The dirt blows past. I shiver despite long johns, despite the hood I have pulled over my hat.
A PROSE ENSIGN
I am reading The Best American Poetry: 2006 edited by Billy Collins. I struggle with this issue, read poems out of it to my visitors. David Yezzi's "The Call." Much of the work in this issue raises questions about poetry. What is it? What is the distinction between poetry and prose? The poems I like best from it are more prose than poetry: Ilya Bernstein, "You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby"; George Green, "The Death of Winckelmann"; Daniel Gutstein, "Monsieur Pierre est mort." Remind yourself now that good prose harbors ample poetry.
Billy Collins, guest editor in 2006, is a poet I have long admired for his accessibility , for his work to bring poetry into schools. So what if he refuses to apologize for his mistakes and tastes. His final selections are poems that speak to him. Forget if it would reach a reader. He is the reader. He admits to being biased. You and I are biased too.
Collins scolds poets today for being mediocre. Choosing the best of 2006 was not at all difficult, he says, given the sampling. He harkens to a time "when personal taste was a legitimate basis for literary experience." But remember, while Collins was exposed to the intense mix of cultures in New York City, he was neither raised nor educated there. His own poetry speaks in the dominant mode: narrative, modern, white, male. His best list has twice as many male poets.
What about Collins' love of poetry was learned, by whom? Who is being taught today in schools? How many female editors has Best American Poetry had since its inception in 1988? The answer is five. And the number of men? Fifteen. Simply another something to consider.