28 April 2008
Ultimately, I believe, this is a question we writers must answer for ourselves. Are you "good" if
(a) your novel is published by a big name publisher? (several members of my writers workshop)
(b) your book is a NY Times bestseller and gets turned into a movie? (my father)
(c) you are awarded a masters degree in creative writing? (many people seem to do this)
How many poems must one publish, in order to be a success? 1? 2? 5? 10? A pamphlet? A chapbook? A 'selected'? What if you write one poem, that everyone adores, and anthologizes, and the remainder of your work is quietly ignored? What about all the writers whose work is -- gulp -- only recognized as "good" after they are dead?
One answer that caught my eye quoted a poem I hadn't seen before -- the answer is from robertwt:
Don't forget W.S. Merwin's poem "Berryman," where he talks about asking John Berryman the same question. The poem ends:
I asked how can you ever be sure
that what you write is really
any good at all and he said you can't
you can't you can never be sure
you die without knowing
whether anything you wrote was any good
if you have to be sure don't write
I think I'm with Berryman and Merwin.
(P.S. To see the entire poem, go here.)
23 April 2008
What is so captivating about these poems? (1) Their simple, direct language. Simple = beautiful. (2) How the poems feel so free in their own form. (3) In Belarusian I, the wonderful loop-back at the end (to an earlier image). (4) How each poem tells a small yet perfectly formed and unique story.
20 April 2008
This poem came out of the excellent poetry workshop I attended last Friday evening, run by poet Anna Woodford from Newcastle. The workshop was given through the Open Univeristy here in Brussels; Anna is a Creative Writing tutor. My colleague Julitta made me go with her, and I am very pleased that I did.
You don’t like sweets. Grandpa
always gives you sweets.
You tell him no thanks,
you tell him not to,
but he thinks you’re some weird kid because of that
and then you feel guilty, he’s your grandpa,
an old guy on his last legs
so why don’t you just take the sweet?
Good girl, that’s a good girl,
The sweet is warm from his pocket, the wrapper
like cellphane tulle. You untwist it, certain
your mother can hear it
all the way
where from wherever she is,
so you finish it quick like she does when she pulls off your bandaids –
one quick rip;
and pop the sweet into your mouth, nodding
“fank you, grandpa…”
The sweet is thick, it’s an old man’s sweet,
bland and a little soft,
but one good thing you discover is that
you can chew it; you won’t have to suck it for ages
and then spit it out,
which you normally have to do when grandpa’s not looking.
The problem with chewing however is that you're stuck,
your mouth's really full,
and you hear your mother, already, saying,
“What have you got in that mouth?
You’ll ruin your teeth, yong lady,
if you keep this up.
And where are you getting this candy from anyway, missy?”
“Gramfa,” you say, your mouth still quite full,
too full to properly speak;
you don’t mean to get gramps in trouble –
not any more trouble, at least,
but too late, she stomps off, and
you think, this is it,
now you've done it,
this is the real thing,
and you tentatively cover your ears with your hands,
but then, nothing happens.
And when nothing keeps on happening, for a while,
you sneak down the hall and the kitchen stairs
and then you see her – your mother,
not with grandpa like you thought but quite alone
with her back to the house,
smoking a cigarette.
She sits in the swing you disdain,
claim you’re too big for.
She's pushing herself around
by the ball of one foot.
You know because you’ve done that before, just like that.
And you don’t know what to do now,
you’re stuck with the taste of the sweet,
but you're pretty sure
that you shouldn't disturb your mother;
so you watch as the smoke from the cigarette
curls itself, silently, upward.
18 April 2008
Went to go see my friend Vincent's new play last night. It's called "Max Dix, Zero to Six", and is about the formative years of young Max Dix, conception through age 6. The play is very very funny and very very true -- and I wish I could see it again in order to pay closer attention to some of the more poignant parts, including scenes involving the father leaving. Without giving anything away, I can tell you that "Father", for Max, becomes a series of envelopes, which arrive regularly through the mail slot in the front door. Each envelope contains a cheque to support Max and his brother, but never a note or a word to either boy. Now if that is not an indictment of our times, I don't know what is. A marriage breaks down, for whatever reason, and the parents separate, and the father becomes, by and large, a cheque through the door. I'm not saying it isn't a much needed cheque and I'm not critiquing divorced fathers -- I'm just saying it's true and it's terrible that it's true, and Vincent's play captured it perfectly.
Elsewhere (lest you think it all about Dad), the play captured all too well "the rapid and many changing faces of Mother", which I won't go into now because ...oh dear... it's so close to home!
Brussels community, go and see this play, you won't regret it. Details (and video preview!) here.
More about Vincent Eaton here.
I can't be more pleased than to see someone I care about be so happy.
He adds, "Remember that bliss sometimes is right around the corner." And I don't doubt it -- it's just that it feels like I'm liable to turn that corner, and bliss'll run smack into me!
Found this gorgeous CD in the Mediathèque this week: The Eternal Candle, with Jacqueline Delvaux on guitar, and Frédéric Piérard on clarinette. Description and a clip ("ecouter un extrait") are here.
Piérard's tone is impeccable and gentle. Delvaux's playing is beautifully understated. The clarinette and guitar are in pefect balance. Highly recommended!
PS Piérard is playing locally in a couple weeks (for free even!) and I intend to go and see him...
16 April 2008
I would have liked to have offered a visual here, but I ate it.
15 April 2008
No one in this town should ever feel confident about speaking freely in their mother tongue on public transport...
At first I couldn't tell if it was about work or not -- work meaning, business; because this guy, who's in his mid-30s I would say, was having to work. "If I could just make one small point," he said, about 10 times, at regular intervals. (Clearly, he couldn't...) I couldn't tell what he did wrong but he sure had done something. He said he was sorry. He admitted that he has to "work on it." But whoever he was talking to, they weren't buying it.
From where I was sitting, this was a man who'd been caught out, and was now desperate. He seemed to truly want to keep his relationship intact. He looked like he hasn't slept, his eyes were red and his face puffy. I had no doubt he'd cocked up pretty badly -- or he wouldn't be half as contrite.
Then I heard him say, "That's it again -- Everything! There's always something else!" And I knew that he was going nowhere fast. Buddy, I wanted to tell him, when she starts saying "everything", you're really done for. You should never disagree with "everything", especially not when you've done whatever you just did. Agree with her: you're an idiot. Beg her for mercy: you've been a fool!
Regrettably, at that point, the tram reached my stop. It was his stop, too. We both got out. We crossed the street and I could hear no more. He walked away in the opposite direction from where I had to go.
He still had the phone pressed tight against his ear.
11 April 2008
To take the edge off this anti-climactic moment, I'm heading into the kitchen, where I shall whip up something chocolate, while playing my new favourite record, cafe banlieue by tango à trois.
Btw, there's a sample track on the link.
It had somehow slid all the way to the bottom, the very bottom where the crumbs go, and wedged itself in.
Yes, it was the last piece in the house.
No, I was not successful.
Isn't it gorgeous?
And I know that we call 4-line poems "Quatrains" too. But we'd never publish an English edition called that. We would use "The Collected..." or "The Complete..." And seeing that word as the title like that -- plain, unadorned, elegant-- it struck me as yet another example of how something , even quite basic, can sound absolutely marvellous in French.
10 April 2008
"At the end of the road is a beautiful marriage."
Which caught my attention.
But when I looked more closely, I saw that the line, in fact, was really this:
"At the end of the road is a beautiful mirage."
Which made me smile.
You want a range, because it's subjective; you know the name and work of the judge, but you don't know what kind of poetry she goes for. Best to submit as wide a range as possible. So you get 6 poems but the 6th doesn't really work so you get another one.... But after reading that one about 100 times, you decide it is too American; the cultural references may not resonate with a British reader, and too there's the problem of anything American these days -- you wouldn't believe the things some people say, when they think that we're Canadian! So scratch that. Scramble around through your pile of work-in-progress poems for a suitable replacement. Pick something softer, a bit ethereal. Read it over. There, that's better. Now set the language to English-UK and run it all through the spellcheck. Put all the U's in. Now print it all out and read it again. Tweak a word here, a comma there. Print out again and read and edit again and then again, until you're sick of it. Read it again. Are you totally sick of it? Has it stopped making sense? Good. It's just about ready.
Now carry it around in your handbag for a few days.
Repeat as needed.
08 April 2008
04 April 2008
is in the kitchen
is melting butter
in a pan.
is a stack of crêpes on a plate
for a houseful of children.
is powdered sugar
is all sticky-fingered.
is licking the plate.
is washing up later.
will now have a break.
02 April 2008
01 April 2008
Which poem would you have loved next? Which one
Would have gotten you out of your chair,
Impatiently turning through pages so fine
I would see the pink in your hands? And the blue
Inside of your veins. And the black of each printed
Letter. Somehow it would all come together.
You’d push your now-wild hair to one side
Until you found it: Your latest treasure.
And in one of the half-dozen languages you read,
You’d read it, translating for my benefit,
Your finger at rest on the text
Like you’re taking its pulse. Like what else is there.
This poem you would have loved next.
Its heart beats, somewhere.