Sunday 13 May, 2007
Jim is coming up from the lake. I met Jim here a year ago. He is coming out of the Shell Station where he went in to ask, "Where is the poetess? Has it been a year already? Is she gone?" No. Not yet. Still two months to go.
He offers to help carrying my desk. As we follow the hillock into the glade, each toting a side, the drawer slips out, throwing my papers and streaked Fuji apple and three poetry books to the floor. Then out slides a fourth book, a book I thought I had lost, Rebecca Loudon's Radish King. I thought it had been stolen and, at the time, I was happy about that. At the time I saw promise in that. But here it is now, come out of hiding. Just like a radish to hide under a drawer!
I arrange my books while we talk about the project. Then I read from a new collection of essays by William Stafford, You Must Revise Your Life (The University of Michigan Press, 1986). "You and Art," illustrates the work of the artist. It begins, "Your exact errors make a music/that nobody hears." And the depth and the development and time. "Year after year fits over your face." Ah, Jim says, It's about getting old. "Your straying feet find the great dance,/walking alone/And you live on a world where stumbling/always leads home." Yes, I say, and about being, about just being where you are.
I feel boxed up in plexiglas today, on display. As if in an isolation booth on a quiz show. A field researcher out gathering data. Someone not to be disturbed. Today there is a pictograph on a post beside me, it shows a figure seated at a small desk with her head cocked.
They can see I am busy. They pass and allow me to work, to observe, to listen. To fragrant birdsong. To the traffic whistling in the woods. To the motors yawning from stop to stop. To the ducks dashing out the silences.
As the day moves on, they begin to visit. Families and mothers and children and men and women, young and old. They roller blade and bicycle and walk to my desk. I share things with them. I attach poems to them which flutter and dance as they wander away, like leaves. Later they may ingest them more fully. Later they may feel these poems fluttering inside. "Your home/Was breathing softly when we all invaded,/Not only air but breath as in the poem/I treasure that you showed me,/which lings and flutters in my like a leaf" (Glyn Maxwell, The Breakage).
Melanie comes with baby Ariel wrapped around her. Do you know Christina Rossetti? Yes, of course. I read them the poem "To My Mother." Amma is coming, says Melanie. Amma, the Hugging Saint from India, will be in Seattle on Thursday 31 May. She will give darshan at Fisher Pavilion in Seattle Center at 10 and 7:30. Melanie and Ariel have met Amma before. Melanie explains, When you greet Amma, she lays your head on her chest. She recites the word "mother" in several languages. Then she hugs you, rocks you, transmitting pure love, a love many have never experienced.
"Most sages in this country, they won't allow people to touch them. But Amma, she doesn't see people as people, but she sees them as temples of God. It's Amma's way of awakening people to
spiritual life, to religion, to faith in God " [You Tube]. To receive Amma's darshan (blessing in the form of a compassionate hug), it is necessary to arrive one hour before the program to get a token. But beware, the wait to see Amma can be several hours long. When asked, "How can you do it, Amma? You go on seven days a week, for hours on end, you'll see thousands of people in one day, don't you get tired? Mother looked at them with a big flashing smile and said, No. Where there is love, there is no effort" [You Tube].
Giovanni, the Mayor of Green Lake, visits. He brings his friend, Allen, a poet. Allen has read for The Perfect Room series, which used to happen in the Electric Romaine Building. He asks, Do I know Larry Coffin? Larry is a local poet and playwright, an old man by now. I write his name in my book, another poet to research.
A father and daughter come around the bend. "My daughter asked what p-o-e-t meant. I didn't know how to answer." Ah well, p-o-e-t is a hard thing to explain. Let's see. Perhaps a poem will explain. How about A. A. Milne's "Buckingham Palace?" I am rewarded with smiles and curious glances. "Thank you very much!" says Father. "We made breakfast for Mom who is running around the lake now." The little girl, about 6, looks like a Ralph Lauren model in her buckskin jacket. Today is their day, father and daughter, to investigate threads. Any dangling question or curious thing is a thread to follow. "We are counting animals. We have seen 59 ducks, 58 dogs, 6 birds and 1 squirrel." They make a loop around the lake this way, on their fingers and toes. Have you fed crushed peanuts to the blackbirds by Turtle Log? They will sit in your hand if you are very still. "We didn't know about this." Another thread to explore!
10:58: Mass lets out. The broken shells of bells fall to the floor. Schink schink schin k.
I offer Rebecca Loudon's Radish King to The Wart. He takes it. Roxanne comes along. "Have you two met? Roxanne, this is The Wart. The Wart, Roxanne." "The Wart!? Is that your real name?" "Write a check to The Wart. See if it doesn't clear," he chuckles.
The Wart has become a regular visitor. He wears dress shirts and tall hats and usually, rather quickly and heavily, bends and drops to the ground where he sits with his legs crossed, telling stories and pointing out literary and historical constellations. He seems to know something about everything and is wildly informative.
He tells me that studies show that birds may be altering their songs based on human activity. Does this mean they are mimicking our technology, picking up on the sounds of our cell phones, our car alarms? How horrible! This sheds new light onto Jamie Fiddle's "Manifesto," in which he likens the our techno-sounds and beeping and constant chatter to bird bahavior.
And then I drop the question. I ask The Wart if there is a self. He suggests that "the self" is the very first construct we make and that the remainder of our life is spent developing that. And then losing that, I suppose. I ask, What would a society of people who never formed selves look like? What activities would such a people engage in? "I don't know," he answers. "I don't think it's possible."
He tells me, again, the story of Randy Finley, the owner of Mt. Baker Vineyards. As a child, in Washington D.C., Randy and his sister were kidnapped, for the day, by an organ grinder. Randy was made to hold the tin cup while his sister was made dance like a monkey. A relative was surprised to see them from the window of a bus and came out to rescue them. Randy later became a successful entepreneur, opening the largest chain of independent movie theaters in the Northwest, and his sister became an actress.
MAKING A POET
Mother and daughter smile, Laura and Lanie. Laura asks, "Do you know Michael Daley? He is my teacher, a poet. He read this month at Elliot Bay Books from his new book, Way Out There. He teaches at my high school in Mt. Vernon." "I don't know him," I admit, "but I will do my homework. I will find and read him. Thank you for the tip." "How about you," I ask, "Are you an artist too?" "My teacher is trying to make me into one."
I wonder what this entails? If I were trying to make a poet, I would propose a regimen of isolation and society, food and exercise.
RECIPE FOR A POET
1. Breakfast: Fresh bread. Hot beverage. A piece of fruit. Access to an open window. Time.
2. A room of one's own. A lockable door. The liberty to not answer the door and telephone.
3. Mornings alone. Afternoons alone. Access to the tools of your trade. The freedom to reject all of this and take spontaneous walks or trips or picnics to obtain good air.
4. Lunch: An artfully prepared sandwich with fresh greens. Tea. Something sweet and delicate.
5. Five-mile walks, daily, to interesting places, by the sea and in the wild.
6. Evening aperitifs, to be shared with stimulating friends, especially with language and music abilities, at 6pm, one half hour before supper. To include one small glass of wine and a conservative plate of olives, nuts or cheese.
7. Supper: To be shared with friends and guests. A long affair with rustic natural foods, fresh fish, vegetables, salad. Lively conversation.
8. After-dinner access to society. Quiet time reading in a soft chair among others, or talking or playing games.
9. Access to the roof, the heavens, the lights of the night. A room in which to work late. A space in which you can make noise and stay up late without disturbing others. A loft or garret or tiny studio in a back yard (basement studios forbidden), equipped with a mirror, a fainting couch, a radio or record player and a pot of tea.
10. Contemporary theatre 1x a month. Better yet, 1x a week.
11. Live music 1x month. Better, 1x a week.
12. Viewing of fresh contemporary art 1x a month. Better, 1x a week.
13. Three-five new poetry books a month. You may substitute live readings, but no open mics.
14. Three films a month.
15. One sail a week, any kind of boat, any kind of water.
16. A call sign, something obvious (a colored light perhaps), outside of your dwelling, to alert others (lover and friends) if it is safe to drop in. Something neon perhaps, like the "p-o-e-t" sign I am told Denise Duhamel hung outside her Lower East Side apartment building?
17. A distant confidante with whom you regularly share ideas and letters, especially in longhand.
A CELLO IN THE CONGO
Lanie tells me about Joshua Roman, the first cellist with the Seattle Symphony. He is 23 years old. He hails from Oklahoma. He joined the Seattle Symphony in 2006. She says he likes to do things in alternative ways and recently turned down a music residency in favor of traveling with his fellow musicians through Africa. Supposedly, while traveling, their group was followed like rock stars through the villages (they'd brought their instruments to give small concerts). The story recalls Fitzcarraldo (Werner Herzog), who drove a steamboat through the Amazon jungle bringing opera to the natives from old Caruso records on a gramophone. The natives responded by beating their drums.
Richard and Maureen bring Brecht on Brecht on cassette, with songs, poems, essays and excerpts by Brecht. They say it no longer available. They made a copy. Wow, fantastic! And thank you!