This poem showed up in my Twitter feed yesterday, and I had to share it with you.
As I’m sure you’re all breathlessly awaiting news of my, well, whatever it is, well, the fever’s up and the rash is spreading. And yes, I’m going to the doctor. Even though the last time I went I wound up getting drugged and lanced in a rather personal place, I’m sucking it up and going back. (So far the rash hasn’t spread anywhere I couldn’t show my mother. Or any place I might have already shown your mother. ::ducks:: Yes, folks, I’ll be here all year. Tip your servers.) The writing is still coming along and there will be a story out on Thursday, one way or another.
In the meantime, I’ve been stuck on a bit from one of Infinite Jest‘s footnotes. Orin Incandenza, a punter with a gifted leg who plays for the Arizona Cardinals (which, in the future, doesn’t just involve playing football, but such things as parachuting into the stadium dressed as a Cardinal… hopefully, my beloved Detroit Lions don’t get any such ideas…) makes the observation that most of Emily Dickenson’s poetry can be sung to “The Yellow Rose of Texas” and then proceeds to sing a bit. (“Because I could not stop for death/ He kindly stopped for meeeeeeee…”) Go ahead. Pick a random Dickinson poem. It doesn’t work for all of them, but it does put a rather odd spin on them…
“Hope” is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—
I heard a fly buzz when I died;
The stillness round my form
Was like the stillness in the air
Between the heaves of storm.
The eyes beside had wrung them dry,
And breaths were gathering sure
For that last onset, when the king
Be witnessed in his power.
I willed my keepsakes, signed away
What portion of me I
Could make assignable, — and then
There interposed a fly,
It does get stuck in your head after a while, doesn’t it?
Thinking about this got me thinking about my first influential Weird Al experience. (There’s a phrase that probably doesn’t get typed very often… but it should, damnit. It should.) Okay, like a lot of young boys in the 80s I got into him because of “Eat It” (which, curiously, hit #1 in Australia, a country where “Beat It” ony hit #2) but it was his singing of “The Brady Bunch Theme Song” to the tune of “The Safety Dance” that really planted the seeds of reverent parody in my head. This was long before mash-ups became the meme du jour in the early Aughties. (There’s only one of those I still listen to, and only because it puts an unjustly famous American “Punk” Band in their proper context.) And if you read through a lot of lyrical poetry, it’s amazing how well it all fits.
That’s your Poetry Monday post for today. Me? I’m going to finish this story, slather myself in cortisone, freebase Benadryl, and hope this rash or reaction or bug or whatever goes away soon, while singing “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” to the tune of the Gilligan’s Island Theme Song. It’s a sailor thing.
I’ve linked to her 365 Poetry Project blog before, but the poem she published today had a stanza that particularly resonated with me.
No, I am not too fun at parties-
I leave early a lot.
But I am lots of fun on the drive home,
lots of rummaging and picking fun
through the thousands of thoughts I have thrown
in your direction, to see if they would stick.
Read the whole thing.
I have no poem for today, though I do have a story drafted which will be up on Thursday as scheduled. So for your poetry-loving ears, I’m linking to one of my early influences, Mr Scott Beach. Personally, I would have loved to hear him recite The Song of Hiawatha (or even better yet, Lewis Carroll’s phenomenal “Hiawatha’s Photographing”) but alas, that won’t happen.
And that just reminded me. This folkloric version, based on a parody by George A. Strong, was perhaps my earliest poetic influence. My Dad used to recite this, and we even had a dog named Mudjokivis.
One of my favourite forms of poetry is the Epic. And yes, while I do indeed like so-called ‘epic fantasy,’ they are, for the most part, not epics. Whenever I read that a new fantasy book is an epic, I have to fight back the tendency to roll my eyes or ask (in as snotty of a voice as I can muster) “Oh really? So, it’s a long poetic tale of a hero and a culture’s mythology, then?” I have since, rather begrudgingly, accepted that the modern meaning of ‘epic’ is no longer limited to simply long poetic retellings of a culture’s legends and lore. The language changes over time. As beautiful as the work of Chaucer* and Shakespeare is, I for one am glad our literature has moved beyond that. Epics can be long novels concerning a hero’s journey or the averting of a disaster or other, well, epic occurrences, but whatever they are, they are no longer poetic tales of heroes.
But could they?
I’ve had a thought recently of trying to resurrect the poetic epic. Why can’t our writers and poets weave together the folklore and legends of our culture? I don’t mean our religious beliefs… they have enough poetry already. (Though I would love to see a Hymnal of the Flying Spaghetti Monster… has anyone written that yet? Forever and ever Ramen.) I mean the stories that we tell each other, whether on the playground or the breakroom or in numerous Internet forwards. I mean gathering together our folklore into one spot and forging it into a form that people will remember.
And of course, that means the scholarly poetic style of Shelley or Keats or even Ezra Pound will have to be forgone for something that speaks to our current language. It would have to be told and memorised in short bursts. It would have to be open for widespread meme-ification. Perhaps sections will even be told in LOL-speak or whatever language Doge speaks.
I think there’s something out there, perhaps a thread that one talented poet can pull down and weave into a common, oral (or at least e-oral… God, that sounds like a horrible website, doesn’t it?) tradition, or one that several poets can build on.
* Yes, Chaucer’s poetry is beautiful. One of the best pieces of advice someone gave me (I think it was a writer at The A.V. Club) was to work through the Prologue and the first tale or so with a bilingual or annotated Middle English version. As you get used to his vocabulary and rhythm, it works into your thought and will forever colour (in a good way) the way you read poetry and indeed, the way you take in any kind of storytelling.
It’s not that I didn’t like the shirt
It’s not something I would have bought for myself
But that wasn’t as important as
Knowing that you’d found it for me
that you were thinking of me
(though God only knows what you were thinking)
and I would wear it
with and without you
so you would know I was,
thinking of you thinking of me
I could never get rid of it
and I hauled it from house to house
When we’d pull it out of the box, we’d think of it again
and of each other
But it hasn’t been worn for four years, now
Like everything else,
It’s time to find it a new home
And a new life
New thoughts to be thought about it
Until it’s too heavy to rest on one’s shoulders
Without dragging them to the dirt.
Still don’t have much of a writing space but things are coming together, mostly due to my awesome roommate both helping me sort and motivating me to not take too many breaks. But there’s really no reason why I can’t go on today. Well, no good reason. Well, no reason that I would want printed in my obituary should I drop dead after being bitten by a random venomous sea urchin, a rarity in the Piedmont area of northern Georgia.
C. J. Casey had planned to spend his last day writing, but decided that he would rather spend the day looking up silly videos on Reddit’s r/funny forum. He died as he lived: a total doofus.
So, first up is another poem by my friend Charlotte Cuevas. This poem may have inspired the last paragraph or so, as well.
If I find my notebook (somewhere in one of the last boxes I brought over from the house) I’ll put up one of my new poems a little later.
So, this week I’m going to be blogging much lighter than usual… I’m moving today. Granted, it’s just two-and-a-half miles away (to Old Fourth Ward, for you Atlantans out there, or you Atlanteans, for that matter) but I have a lot of books. Next week I’ll resume the podcast. I have one of mine and maybe another writer’s work to put up, plus I’ll have someone else with me, and we’ll get to talk about books, inspiration, and sanity, and especially where to find all three of them.
For those of you who followed me over from The 365 Poetry Project, welcome! Yes, I’ll have more rants about writing soon, though this week’s might be about how moving 30-plus boxes of books is a damn good argument in favour of e-readers. For those of you who didn’t, this is an article that Charlotte at the 365 Poetry Project posted about reading poetry, this is my rebuttal, and this is her re-rebuttal (I have a poetic license… I can make up words) along with some really good comments from her readers. It’s been a fun debate so far.
Expect your normal allowance of inspiration and desperate clinging to sanity to begin again on Friday. For my USAnian readers, Happy Thanksgiving! For my non-USAnian Jewish readers (like myself, except I’m from the US), Happy Hanukkah! For my Norse Readers, Happy Thor’s Day! And for everyone else, have a good, safe weekend.
The Mind Hesitant
Sometimes the river,
becomes a river in the mind
or of the mind
or in and of the mind
Its banks snow
The tide falling a dark
rim lies between
the water and the shore
And the mind hesitant
regarding the stream
a likeness which it
will find — a complex
of white brows
bound by a ribbon
of sooty thought
beyond, yes well beyond
the mobile features
flowing waters, before
the tide will
and rise again, maybe
And here I get to indulge my desire to get poetry on the page today, my love of poetry, and my desperate clinging need for help whilst editing.
The Joy of Writing
Why does this written doe bound through these written woods?
For a drink of written water from a spring
whose surface will xerox her soft muzzle?
Why does she lift her head; does she hear something?
Perched on four slim legs borrowed from the truth,
she pricks up her ears beneath my fingertips.
Silence – this word also rustles across the page
and parts the boughs
that have sprouted from the word “woods.”
Lying in wait, set to pounce on the blank page,
are letters up to no good,
clutches of clauses so subordinate
they’ll never let her get away.
Each drop of ink contains a fair supply
of hunters, equipped with squinting eyes behind their sights,
prepared to swarm the sloping pen at any moment,
surround the doe, and slowly aim their guns.
They forget that what’s here isn’t life.
Other laws, black on white, obtain.
The twinkling of an eye will take as long as I say,
and will, if I wish, divide into tiny eternities,
full of bullets stopped in mid-flight.
Not a thing will ever happen unless I say so.
Without my blessing, not a leaf will fall,
not a blade of grass will bend beneath that little hoof’s full stop.
Is there then a world
where I rule absolutely on fate?
A time I bind with chains of signs?
An existence become endless at my bidding?
The joy of writing.
The power of preserving.
Revenge of a mortal hand.
By Wislawa Szymborska
From “No End of Fun”, 1967
Translated by S. Baranczak & C. Cavanagh
Copyright © Wislawa Szymborska, S. Baranczak & C. Cavanagh
(Link to ‘Five Poems’ on the Nobel Prize archive.)