Monday, April 30, 2007

Magnetic Paper Writing and Somnambulism

I've been working feverishly away on my papers, my revisions, and my research, and perhaps it has been due to overmuch reading of dense texts, but right now It's been rather like I've been using magnetic words for refrigerator poetry in composing my term papers. My Wallace Stevens paper is in the can, my craft essay on Didion is all over but the final paragraph, I believe, and now I've just got revisions to complete and boy won't that be fun. The term papers will be graded once I get to school tomorrow. I've not got much on my mind at this moment other than that I will be looking very much forward to the cessation of academic activities on Wednesday.

To counteract that impulse, and as a parting thought before I plunge back in to another Word document, I came across this while I was working on secondary sources for the Stevens paper...This from Rene Daumal's An Appeal to Consciousness, found in his book You've Always Been Wrong:

"A man wakes up in the morning in bed. Scarcely on his feet, he's already asleep again. Going through all the automatic impulses which make his body get dressed, go out, walk, get to work, go through the prescribed daily routine... In order to wake up, he'd have to think, 'All that agitation is outside of me.' He would need to perform an act of reflection. [...] Man does not spend a third of his life, as they say, but nearly all his life sleeping in this true slumber of the mind. And it's easy for slumber, which is the inertia of consciousness, to catch man in its traps; for man, being naturally and almost irremediably lazy, might indeed be willing to awaken. But since the effort is repugnant to him, he would like that effort once it is put forth to place him (and naively he thinks it is possible) in a permanent or at least lengthy waking state. Then wanting to rest while in his awakening, he falls asleep. Just as one cannot will oneself to sleep, since willing, in whatever form, is still an awakening, one can remain awakened only if one wills it at every moment.
And the only direct act which you can carry out is that of awakening, of becoming conscious of yourself. Look back on what you think you've done since the beginning of today: this is perhaps the first time you've really awakened. And it's only now that you're conscious of all you've done as a thoughtless automaton. In most cases people never awaken even enough to realize that they have slept. Right now, go ahead and accept, if you wish, this sleepwalker's existence. You will be able to behave in life...without ever awakening any more than just enough, now and then, to enjoy or suffer from the way in which you sleep. And it might even be more convenient, without changing anything in your appearance, not to awaken at all.
And as the reality of mind lies in its activity, the very idea of 'thinking substance' being nothing unless that idea is thought in the here and now, this sleep--this absence of action, this privation of thought--is truly spiritual death."

Now Dave, no napping. You've got things to write.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

God and Politics

It's the end of the semester, so I'm being lazy and making this response to Brian's blog work double-duty as a blog entry, with minor adjustments.

It was Sunday and I'd just finished reading other blog posts about the politicizing of Christianity and thought it interesting (or perhaps not)to mention; as soon as I began reading the post Brian had on his blog, the Jehovah's Witnesses were knocking at my door, reading from Titus. It had something to do with education. The blog entry reminded me of what I found so tiresome about going to church when I was younger--the explication of texts was always the same. It actually became part of the reason why I wanted to write--to find new ways to describe things that surround us. The work has been done before and the comforting phrases that sound good just end up being meaningless as the weekly repetitions grow. Why couldn't people find new ways of saying things? Why the stereotypes? And most annoyingly, why all this arguing using circular logic to prove things that really are, at base, a matter of faith? The missionaries on my porch said the same phrases the same way, as anything else I'd heard. The visit was brief, but cordial. The Witnesses gone, their pamphlet in the kitchen wastebasket, I'd gone to look up Titus. 2:2 was the verse the little girl read with her Mother there to provide moral support: "teach what is consistent with sound doctrine." I read further past the stuff around verse 9 telling slaves to be submissive to their masters and not talk back, etc but what I found interesting in light of the events and readings of the morning, as well as what Sherman Alexie spoke of on Thursday, was further on in the book: "But avoid stupid controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. After a first and second admonition, have nothing to do with anyone who causes diversions, since you know that such a person is perverted and sinful, being self-condemned." For such people, perhaps less of a focus on legislation and condemnation and more of a focus on what their faith really is to them would be more of a draw. It certainly wouldn't hurt trying.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

How Dave Probably Shouldn't Write Poetry

I saw that Brian Dunn had posted his version of this on his blog, so I thought I might follow suit:

I’m still not entirely sure how I write poems. This could be a false statement. I do know, from the look of general concern that clouds the faces of some of those I talk to about how I write, that I must have one of the worst writing methods on the planet. I’m not particularly good at keeping secret my jealousy of those who have the discipline and control to be able to devote two hours a morning (for some reason, they always write in the mornings) toward writing and they plug away at it, each day, as the sun comes up. Plath did it. Jacques Roubaud does it. Thomas Mann did it. Methodical method. Efficient and helpful. Mornings, for me, are much better suited for input than output. In a previous life, I would read complicated novels in the morning and write notes and reflections in the evening. When I wrote at all. Even now, my writing is sporadic, spotty, uncertain, iffy. On more than a few occasions the fear of not having something for workshop was what got the poem out, had me tapping violently away at an overworn greasy computer lab keyboard. These events, as with others not quite so frantic, are generally accompanied by rough notes that I’d written at some earlier point, almost always written in the evening or night, almost always put to paper in a restaurant or bar. I've tried libraries, but there one isn't in the middle of people talking, or getting annoyed with each other; they're all there for other reasons than discussion or food or breakup. So I sit, waiting for food, or perhaps with a martini. Gin is not particularly good at wetting a stopped fountain pen, but is occasionally good for loosening various musings that may be of use later. I have an assortment of postcards in my bookbag, which I often write to people if I find myself having difficulty getting started...writing to others necessitates having to think about recent events, things seen, thoughts that have struck me in some way or other. So, restaurants and bars, and always alone: for some reason I need that sort of atmosphere. Sitting in a public place, yet removed from it, with conversations and movement all around. This may be the reason for the “detached 'I'” feature found in most of my stuff from last semester. It may be a defense mechanism or crutch, too, for that matter.

Poetry came when I was a sophomore in high School, when I happened upon The Mirror by Plath in the literature anthology we used. The mirror reflecting the pink wall opposite it and the woman’s face, in whom an old woman rises closer to the surface every day, “like a terrible fish.” But this is a misquote, now that I think of it, now that I walk over and pull the book from the shelf. The mirror is "the eye of a little god" which then becomes a lake, over which the woman agitatedly returns. The mirror is what has that unsettling power invested in it. The power isn't in the woman's face... "In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman/ Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish." The power of this image, this surprising power given an inanimate object was a thunderbolt to me. I started reading Plath, hiding in the magazine room during Study Hall, then moved to Anne Sexton. I began writing overly gloomy, doomed poems in which everything had gone irreparably wrong.

I gradually got better. I wrote in college, but in my senior year something scared me somehow; some terrible fish had risen too close to the surface and I shut down the operation. No more writing. Just notes, observations, ideas. More often than not, I wouldn’t write those down at all; would put them off for later, which meant that they were forgotten, usually. That engrained habit, years of suppressing ideas, has been difficult to break. It’s extremely easy for me to not bother, to discount. It should have been no wonder, then, when I discovered one day that all of my favorite writers have repression as a main motif.

Perhaps because of all this, for me, poems come up, like some strange plant, or buried stones pushed up though brown grass by frost heaves. My memory works much the same way. Images and events come up, like submerged logs in a pond. If an idea manages to be insistent enough, to nag, to finally badger me out of procrastination, I end up writing it down. Survival of the most persistent. Lately, that’s changed. I’ve started to realize how many ideas I’ve got and routinely squelch. More timid ones are finding their way to paper. Rough notes, more often inspired by prose rather than poetry.

Regarding the content of my poems, I first wrote from drastically darkened personal experience, but quickly moved to dream imagery and possible juxtapositions to things in real life. This semester, though, everything’s gone ass-over-applecart, and I’ve been throwing just about anything at the paper, just to see what sticks. So my method is hardly a method. It happens, and as I ease more into this thing I’m doing, I hope to find something that works best…

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Reading and Writing and Dead Grass

Happy Easter, peeps!
I spent almost all of yesterday online, putting electronic comments on my students' final paper drafts, emailing them back, etc. Not all have complied with getting drafts sent out by Friday evening, which makes things more difficult for them to have a polished final draft. I also got a rubric out that shows how I will be grading said final drafts, started looking at poems for submission to lit journals, and deciding which journals to potentially send to. Today I'll continue that, compose cover letters and assemble the separate packets, each formatted according to the whims of the various editorial staffs, and continue reading Joan Didion, which I read until 2 this morning.

The pic adequately fits my mood. The weather is cold, windy and gross, and the warm-up promised on Monday has been moved off at least another day. All of which makes Davo unhappy. Oh keeps me indoors and working on things I need to be working on. The bread turned out fine, which means I have material for sandwiches. The laundry is almost done. It could be worse.

I have tea on the stove. I've got the 6th symphony of Tabakov (who has one of the angriest-sounding requiems I've ever heard) on the stereo. Bread and Nutella. A day of typing like a crazy thing on the computer. The Year of Magical Thinking is an excellent somber read. A book-long essay that explores grief, which, as the various scientific journals she includes describe is a phenomenon that comes in waves. The book follows suit, with a calm, quietly persistent return to December 30, 2003 to revisit the events around that almost-dinner with her husband in the living room. This from Chapter 3:

"It was deep into the summer, some months after the night when I needed to be alone so that he could come back, before I recognized that through the winter and spring there had been occasions on which I was incapable of thinking rationally. I was thinking as small children think, as if my thoughts or wishes had the power to reverse the narrative, change the outcome. In my case this disordered thinking had been covert, noticed I think by no one else, hidden even from me, but it had also been, in retrospect, both urgent and constant. In retrospect there had been signs, warning flags I should have noticed. There had been for example the matter of the obituaries. I could not read them. This continued from December 31, when the first obituaries appeared, until February 29, the night of the 2004 Academy Awards, then I saw a photograph of John in the Academy's "In Memoriam" montage. When I saw the photograph I realized for the first time why the obituaries had so disturbed me.
I had allowed other people to think he was dead.
I had allowed him to be buried alive."

Well, with that, off to read, type, and write.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Cold Snaps and Yma Sumac

Greetings, all. The weather is miserably cold and the tulips pictured earlier here are frozen/thawed/frozen masses of pulp. My furnace is back on in spite of my vow two weeks ago that it wouldn't come on again this season. I've awakened from a lovely 4-hour power nap and have bathwater, laundry, bread machine, and stereo all going simultaneously, as I have things to catch up on. It crossed my mind that I could save time by reading Joan Didion while bathing, but I thought it too great a risk to hold a library book over bathwater. The hard drive seems to be in the mood for Motown and the strange strange world of Yma Sumac--her vocal stylings are quite different from the norm.

Classes are gearing down, save for the fact that I have term papers coming in on Wednesday to grade, a term paper on William Carlos Williams' Paterson due on Thursday, and revision portfolios due the following week. Aside from that, I'm finishing up. I'm hoping to have a substantial part of my essay on Didion done by tomorrow evening, though I have 200 pages to read yet. I'll get my State tax return taken care of, and compile poems to send off for journals.
Speaking of poems, one of mine got honorary mention for Purdue's Literary Awards. No money, which would have been nice, but I got a nice letter. I need to get more writing done, though, this semester and summer. The stuff I have that I actually kinda like amounts to a slender stack indeed. Must write more...must write....more. At least the weather is no temptation to get outside.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Efflorescences with Figured Bass of Peeling Brick

It's officially Spring, so that means that there has to be at least one picture--I think it's a requirement in the Blogger Terms and Conditions--of tulips. This is the artsiest one I could come up with. I'm no Mapplethorpe. Kristen's here (YAY!) but not for long--I'm taking her to the airport in a couple of hours.

The day appears to be living up to Spectacular status and I hope to re-commence working on that stack of annotated bibliographies on the porch.