Monday, April 23, 2012

Writing "Place Poems"

iowa by Orangexmas,

Writing "Place Poems"

Writing poetry is, admittedly, not my first love. It's actually one of the most challenging forms of written expression I've attempted. Don't get me wrong, I love reading it and I like writing it, but I typically default into nonfiction mode or the comfortable, king-sized bed of fiction. Prose just allows you to breathe more. It allows you to wander a little. It's a passive parent who lets you go over to the neighbor's house. It gives you an hour to convey a message. Poetry is more assertive. It has no time for long strings of adjectives. It demands you know the exact meanings of words. It gives you five minutes to explain yourself and it had better be good. A lot of times, you can salvage a story. Sometimes a poem fails outright. On top of that as well, not everyone enjoys poetry or "gets it." I haven't met one adult yet who has told me they don't enjoy reading short stories or novels. Some people prefer one over the other, but everyone seems to find something interesting. That probably has something to do with how many different styles and genres are out there. There aren't nearly as many published poets as novelists and a simple perusal of the poetry section at your local bookstore will prove that.

I'm lucky. I rarely get writer's block. That's not to say I don't get stuck, but I'm comfortable with moving onto something else for awhile and then coming back. I don't get the kind you see in movies where somebody is so stuck they can't put a single sentence down. With poetry though, I find myself getting stuck quite often. Writing poetry is, as I suppose with any art form, a task that lightens the more you do it. I haven't been much of a believer lately in inspiration. I think it's pretty overrated to be honest and it can stifle your creativity when you sit around waiting for it to happen. The best thing to do is usually just to get something out and revise later. That's surprisingly hard to do with poetry. It's harder to fake than fiction. It's so emotion based that I can't always pull it off. And yet that strain is something I know is good for me. It's always worthwhile to challenge yourself. The more poetry I write, the more I can feel it informing my prose.

My latest poetic endeavors have been concerned with writing a series of ten poems for my Frost/Hearst class. Inspired by both of them as poets of place, I decided to try my hand at writing my own Midwestern poetry. So far, it's going slowly, but surely. One of the most valuable things I feel I've learned about my own poetic goals is to speak the truth as often as I can. I'm addicted to telling stories, so naturally last year when I returned to poetry I was breaking out my storyteller tools, making up abridged fictions. One was about the history of a Russian watch, another was about sharing an afterlife with Dracula, another was about kids playing Rock Band, and more than a couple were about insane people, the easiest topic in the world for me to write about. The poems I wrote that are drawn from real experiences are so much more valuable and important. For this project, I'm trying to write two poems about South Dakota, three about Minnesota, and five about Iowa. The Iowa ones are tough. I don't feel as connected to the land as I do in other places. I know I've learned things about nature there, but it's hard to bring it out when you're right there in the midst of it all. The Romantics felt the need to remove themselves from nature in order to more accurately talk about it. I can understand their point. When it's right in your face, it feels trivial.

Two weeks left of graduate school and then I have to rejoin the real world. Wish me luck.


Monday, April 16, 2012

A New Blog and the Anniversary of the Titanic
History seems to have a way of repeating itself for me. To date, this is the third traditional-style blog that I've started. One I did a long time ago in my undergrad and it was basically just me rambling on and on about the unimportant miscellany that concerns a 20 year old cynic. I suppose I've still got some of the cynicism, but it's considerably softened over time. My second blog, well that lasted maybe a week or so before I got bored. Blogs seem to sink when you set unreasonable goals for yourself and lack the motivation necessary to continue. I post once in awhile on Tumblr, but mostly just about Mad Men or Audrey Hepburn/Marilyn Monroe. I feel a lot more motivated to write these days and so I'm relatively optimistic about this one. Currently, I'll shoot for once a week (Sundays/Mondays) with vacations and illnesses being the only possible exceptions.

And now onto the second half.

Yesterday was the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. To celebrate, I watched half of a special on the History Channel. Not much, I know. I can't even remember the last time I watched the James Cameron movie. For as long as I can remember, I've had an obsession with the Titanic. I'm like a Titanic hipster. Even when the epic, multi-million dollar film was released in 1997, (I was fourteen at the time) I was well versed in Titanic lore. I knew that the ship's captain was E.J. Smith and that it was to be his last voyage. The ship was designed by Thomas Andrews. The owner was J. Bruce Ismay who posed as a woman to board a lifeboat. Isidor Straus was on board, a co-owner of Macy's. The richest man on board was John Jacob Astor, a member of the Astor business family. They were pretty big back in their time. Astoria, Oregon was named by them. You've got to figure you're doing well if you get to pick the name of your own town. Those facts are just the surface of my knowledge of the Titanic. Somewhere tucked away in a tube at my parents' house is a poster of the wreck of the Titanic signed by Robert Ballard, the man responsible for discovering the wreck in the 1980s. My gracious aunt knew how much I liked the Titanic and she picked it up for me. Apparently her company did some work with Ballard.

What interests me about my obsession, as well as the obsession of many, many other people, with the Titanic has to do with respecting the dead. Is it disrespectful for us to explore the wreck? Is it in bad taste to have museum displays dedicated to it? I have a pen that's got the prow of the Titanic on the back end. I like it, but it's a little tacky. I quite enjoy Titanic memorabilia. People sometimes compare the impact of the ship to 9/11. I would never collect 9/11 memorabilia. It's too recent. Too personal. I can connect with it so much more than the Titanic. I still think it's mostly in bad taste to make 9/11 films, although Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close was a good movie. It must have something to do with time, I suppose. But still, I'd also feel a little uncomfortable with Pearl Harbor memorabilia. It must have something to do with not only the passage of time, but also knowing people who lived through it. I will never meet anyone directly impacted by the sinking of the Titanic.

Out of all the incarnations commemorating the Titanic, I think Thomas Hardy did it best in the following poem. Enjoy!


The Convergence of the Twain
(Lines on the loss of the "Titanic")

            In a solitude of the sea
            Deep from human vanity,
And the Pride of Life that planned her, stilly couches she.

            Steel chambers, late the pyres
            Of her salamandrine fires,
Cold currents thrid, and turn to rhythmic tidal lyres.

            Over the mirrors meant
            To glass the opulent
The sea-worm crawls — grotesque, slimed, dumb, indifferent.

            Jewels in joy designed
            To ravish the sensuous mind
Lie lightless, all their sparkles bleared and black and blind.

            Dim moon-eyed fishes near
            Gaze at the gilded gear
And query: "What does this vaingloriousness down here?" ...

            Well: while was fashioning
            This creature of cleaving wing,
The Immanent Will that stirs and urges everything

            Prepared a sinister mate
            For her — so gaily great —
A Shape of Ice, for the time far and dissociate.

            And as the smart ship grew
            In stature, grace, and hue,
In shadowy silent distance grew the Iceberg too.

            Alien they seemed to be;
            No mortal eye could see
The intimate welding of their later history,

            Or sign that they were bent
            By paths coincident
On being anon twin halves of one august event,

            Till the Spinner of the Years
            Said "Now!" And each one hears,
And consummation comes, and jars two hemispheres.