“[T]he wasting of time is the most personal, most private, most intimate form of conversation with oneself.”
“I think fine poetry in this context means vintage poetry, as in fine wine, poetry of long-established recognition.”
“Madness, rack, … honey.
[V]erse has become honey.”
“[F]rom the figurative to the literal. Metaphor as event.”
Exchange/connection with time.
“‘Language is self-awareness.’”
I am me.
“One understands oneself: not distinct or separate.”
“Torment, pain, torture…rack.”
On the rack.
Too much to handle; can’t go further.
What “fine” poetry does à want of proper economy or management; waste and destruction [as in rack and ruin]
Circled: “to strain to the utmost”
“Gets harder and harder to write.”
Tolerance for pain.
Continuing to attempt, assaying (madness).
“And I am wasting your time, and aware that I am wasting it; how could it be otherwise?”
Again and again, doing nothing.
“Distraction is distracting us from distraction.”
“…drifting into the madness…”
or distracted from pain by reaction?
“From first to last, there is no evidence that she laid any plans for the course of her life. She seems, above all, to have wished to avoid ‘doing something about’ her life, and when, from time to time, the obligation was put to her, to make some sort of career for herself, and so prepare for her future, she tried to meet these demands, and failed.
Allowed self to be distracted/wasted time well.
“…had not read a single book in three years.”
“Emily Dickinson never lived alone for a single day of her life.”
“Emily Brontë never lived alone for a single day of her life.”
Family and nature are always with us.
“…she stayed at home.”
Spinster -> busy/homebody, thread/sew, storyteller.
Home = place w/ family (or nature?).
“An educated person is one who can be reasonably called upon to draw a conclusion. Alas, the only conclusion Emily and Emily drew from being in school was that they would rather be home.”
Retreat from world to home.
Find a path.
“J.D. Salinger once remarked, ‘A writer, when he’s asked to discuss his craft, ought to get up and call out in a loud voice just the names of the writers he loves,’ and then he listed the names of the authors he would call out, and on the list of sixteen names there is only one woman, and her name is Emily.”
Learn from reading.
Who are my 16?
“[E]very window has two sides.”
Is there a middle to a window? Between out- and inside.
“When Anne Frank was in hiding, one of her favorite activities was to look out the windows at night, which was the only time it was safe to do so. Her diaries record these yearning and rapturous moments, and even if the street was empty it was for her full of remembered life. Every time you so much as glance at the moon, you are looking at the same moon that Anne lingered on with so much heightened emotion.”
Every human shares the sky.
“…through and beyond.”
“Is it because I haven’t been outdoors for so long that I’ve become so smitten with nature? I remember a time when a magnificent blue sky, chirping birds, moonlight and budding blossoms wouldn’t have captivated me. Things have changed since I came here.”
“…an outside pocket, completely outside.”
A pocket of one’s own.
Envelopes and paper.
Circled: [pocket on ink drawing of dress]
“…she would rather be with her dog than with them.”
Writing literature (for the ages).
Does a writer have to be from birth an artist?
Hope has feathers,
reason is a plank
life is a loaded gun”
“…we don’t want to take off Toni Morrison’s clothes.”
“Rape: to take away by force.”
“[D]oes not want any of this to be happening—”
Collins isn’t even accurate.
“[N]othing to join.”
“[E]dited out by her father.”
“[R]efused all help.”
“Self-consciousness includes the consciousness of self-death.”
“[L]iteracy of death.”
“[A]bsence of consciousness.”
“But what of Anne?”
Did she still have courage and faith in the end?
“More than Love & Death?”
Comedy & Tragedy.
“I don’t know if there is a connection.”
How does Anne fit?
“‘They have no experience of the world.’”
Yearn to live!
“A small gargoyle, a rubber heart, an old key, a guitar pick, a sequin, a sprig of heather, and a piece of hair.”
Left at grave.
“When I was twenty-five I began to keep a monthly list of the books I read.”
“I read five books a month, or sixty books a year.”
= 1 per week
“[I]n high school I was required to read a book a week.”
What high school?
“2,400 books in my life.”
“I probably remember two hundred, or 8 percent.”
“When I was forty-five years old…I could no longer read.”
Listing for 20 years.
“…should I read more and more new books, or should I cease with that vain consumption—vain because it is endless—and begin to reread those books that had given me the intenest pleasure in the my past.”
Discover or settle.
“Have I changed?”
When are we ready to read?
“…afraid to finish…”
“To reread a book is to make a pollard of it.”
“…one day you wake up and realize religion is ridiculous and that you will stick with it anyway.”
“There was one book I read not only at the right age but also on the right afternoon, in the right place, at the right angle. I read The Waves on an island, on a plotless day, when I was twenty-two years old, sitting on a terrace from which I could see in the distance the ocean….”
My read: The Bell Jar during summer with a fever.
“I find nothing in my life that I can’t find more of in books. With the exception of walking on the beach, in the snowy woods, and swimming underwater. That is one of the saddest journal entries I ever made when I was young.”
What would I say?
“…my own private journals, which I began writing when I was sixteen and ceased to write when I was forty.”
“As is my habit, I was copying selected passages from the Seferis into a notebook. Later that evening I began reading a journal I kept twenty years ago. In it, I was reading the notebooks of the poet George Seferis (1900-1971) and had copied into the journal by hand my favorite passage, which was identical with the passage I had copied earlier in the day, believing completely that I had never encountered it before:
But to say what you want to say, you must create another language and nourish it for years and years with what you have loved, with what you have lost, with what you will never find again.”
“If the book we are reading doesn’t shake us awake like a blow to the skull, why bother reading it in the first place?”
Kafka: axe to ice.
“A book must be the ax for the frozen sea within us.
What is a fav book from childhood that I don’t return to?
“For years I planned a theoretical course called Footnotes. In it, the student would read a footnoted edition of a definitive text—I thought it might as well be The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge—and proceed diligently to read every book mentioned in the footnotes (or the books by those authors mentioned) and in turn all those mentioned in the footnotes of the footnoted books, and so on and so on, stopping only when one was led back, by a footnote, to The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge.”
“‘I have always kept ducks, even as a child, and the colours of their plumage, in particular the dark green and snow white, seemed to me the only possible answer to the questions that are on my mind.’”
M, R, & H epigraph!
“…a path of color on the secondary wings of most ducks.”
“…reading is a great waste of time… a great extension of time, …supreme joy?”
Reason to read.
“I do not know how many letters I have written or sent by mail in my life, but I know of only two that did not reach their destination.”
“—the dead bodies of soldiers strewn across a battlefield—”
Dead on postcard!
“…I have always thought twice about the fact they ended up in the office of dead letters.”
Dead letter office.
“[T]hat remote and obscure place of absolute silence, which for me is more accurate description of hell than a writhing inferno of animated anguish.”
Being ignored = hell.
1.) fatelessness Death of God.
2.) open uncertainty … leisure time Reading life.
3.) travel … ‘adventures’ Others.
4.) postal system” Mail.
“Hence one contender for the first modern British novel is Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, written in 1740 in the form of letters, a book in which a member of the working class marries a member of the ruling class. In its essence then, the English novel as a form originates from a sense of uncertainty: what will happen to these characters?”
Epistolary / class divide.
“In what form will the novel survive….”
“How does the e-mail travel through cyberspace to its destination? How can I hold something in my hand and hear a voice halfways around the world?”
Is it more or less awesome?
“It has been argued that the rise of e-mail is a revival of literate communication.”
What about texts?
“I am fascinated by the new set of signs and symbols e-mailers employ to denote emotional resonance in their clickings: I am told there is a symbol that lets the reader know the communication is ironic.”
Dickinson’s letters housed nests of language eggs that hatched as poems and flew.
“[P]rayers are letters … urgency.”
Three prayers: Help, Thanks, Awesome.
All letters are gossip!
“On September 11, 2001, when the two towers of the World Trade Center collapsed, many people were haunted by the last-minute cell phone calls made by those about to perish.”
Voicemails of the dead.
“Nothing I understand haunts me. Only the things I do not understand have that power over me.”
Knowledge is control. Ignorance is submission.
“I get so very tired of having to talk about literature.”
Ha! Yeah right.
“…made friends with the dead…”
Do we write because we figure we could be read? We write because we read, because language communicates our value.
“[B]y bringing her hand a little way in one direction, she left a mark upon the paper. ‘That’s all there is to it,’ she said, ‘but it’s a miracle. Once there was nothing, and now there’s a mark.’”
Creation is effort.
“Sad to me is the demise of the telegram, because even if the message was utterly mundane, it always seemed urgent….”
Text as telegram
“…horrific flow from which there is no escape.”
“…our prayers are denied … sent back….”
“Once I saw a man beating his mailbox with his bare hands.”
“There is’nt room enough; not half enough, to hold what I was going to say. Wont you tell the man who makes sheets of paper, that I hav’nt the slightest respect for him!”
Always write as a writer (delightfully).
“Irreverence and sincerity are not opposed.”
Irreverence: a word/act that strips dignity.
People don’t want to take the time to write (read) poetry.
“Isn’t all art irreverent?”
“When Borges, visiting the Sahara, picked up a little bit of sand, carried it in his hand and let it fall someplace else, he said, ‘I am modifying the Sahara.’”
Writing = modifying.
“The poem, more than any other art form in existence, is the perfect vehicle for the direct expression of personal love.”
The best use of poetry is writing/reading about love.
“[D]eclarative sentences are not important.”
Instead command, question, gloom/exclaim.
“I offer my dinner guest, after dinner, the choice between regular and decaf coffee, when in fact I don’t have any decaf in the house. I am so sincere in my effort to be a good host that I lie; I think this probably happens all the time in poetry.”
Death to decaf!
“You hear so much talk about risk-taking in poetry. Lying is a form of risk-taking, but no one talks about that.”
Lying is risky.
“Nothing would make me happier than to see an international ban on fact-checking.”
“‘There is such a thing as sincerity. It is hard to define but it is probably nothing but your highest liveliness escaping from a succession of dead selves.’”
Sincerity is highest liveliness. —Frost
“To those who think poetry is dependent on the past: it isn’t. It is dependent on the present, the moment of the poem’s making, the mysterious presence of its absence…”
A poem becomes poetry.
I remember when I realized there were still authors writing new books. All the books weren’t written yet.
“[T]he cracked earth is a map.”
“I remember sending my poems to Little, Brown and Company, and suggesting they titled the collection ‘The Little Golden Book of Verse’… I was in the fourth grade.”
“They were the publishers of my favorite author.”
“Little House on the Prairie.”
“Pa was dead.”
“‘I remember, I remember, / The house where I was born.’”
“The [insert Little] Golden Treasury of Poetry.”
“I remember (later) thinking it was a curious thing, that there were so many famous poems by not-so-famous poets.”
Better to be a famous poet or write a famous (read: still read) poem?
“I was jealous of her strangeness.”
Who is your nemesis? Why? Where did they go?
“[I]t seemed forbidden in some way I couldn’t figure out; art was scary, strange, forbidden and the really confusing part was I wanted it and needed it.”
Yearning for art.
“I remember one afternoon my friend and I were in the studio and all the clay figures on pedestals were draped with white sheets and my friend told me her mother did that when she didn’t want to look at them anymore and I was totally confused.”
I can’t go on; I must go on.
“I remember standing in a field in Switzerland at dusk, surrounded by cows with bells around their necks, and reading John Keats’s ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ out loud from an open book I was holding in my hands, and I started to weep—weep is a better word for it than cry—and I remember the tears slowly streaming down my face, it was that beautiful to me, and I loved poetry that much. I was eighteen.”
Remember when art affected you. Create that art.
“…a book of poems by the British Romantics, and the only other thing I can remember is that my life changed that summer.”
Q. What book changed my life (as an essayist)?
A. Boys of My Youth
“…when a distracted classmate I did not know very well leaned over my book and write in it with her ballpoint pen: I’m so bored!!!
I remember trembling and soaring with anger, and I remember the weekend after the unfortunate incident took place, sitting for hours and hours in my room with a new book, trying to cope, copying by hand everything I had ever written in the old book.”
Re-write is less compelling than interruption.
“He said that it was a lot like watching TV.”
Poetry is not TV.
“I remember the year after college I was broke, and Bernard Malamud, who had been a teacher of mind, sent me a check for $25 and told me to buy food with it, and I went downtown and bought The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats.”
“I remember sending my first short story out to a national magazine the summer after I graduated college, and receiving the reply, 'We are terribly sorry, but we don’t publish poetry.' I remember never looking back.”
Stick to genre.
“I remember reading John Berryman’s Dream Song #14 in my twenties, with its famous opening words, ‘Life, friends, is boring.’”
Living is thrilling!
“I remember rereading the poem, not for the second time, some thirty years later, and being struck by its excruciating pain.”
“I remember that I did not always know authors were ordinary people living ordinary lives, and that an ordinary life was an obscure life, if we can extend the meaning of obscure to mean covered up by dailiness, glorious dailiness, shameful dailiness, dailiness that is difficult to figure out, that is not always clear until a long time afterward.”
“I remember the night I decided I would call myself a poet.”
Can you call yourself a poet?
“‘If you call yourself a poet then you cannot possibly be one.’”
“I remember ‘remember’ means to put the arms and legs back on, and sometimes the head.”
Remember = re-live, embody.
“English is spoken by only 5 percent of the world’s population.”
“One of the greatest stories ever written is the story of a man who wakes to find himself transformed into a giant beetle.”
“Socrates said the only true wisdom consists in knowing that you know nothing.”
“Now I have told you something about Socrates, and I suspect I have made you very happy, for a moment ago you knew nothing, and now you know something.”
Is Ruefle wiser than Socrates?!
“I never believed, for a moment, that anyone ever learned a single thing about poetry from hearing a lecture. Don’t misunderstand me; lectures are important insofar as they teach us how to talk about poems, but never do they teach us how to write them. Nothing does. Except, sometimes, the dead.”
Every song is a love song, even a requiem—a love song of life.
Song = poem.
“I think it’s because the minute they are dead all of their poems about death become poems about being alive.
Poets are dead people talking about being alive.”
“Cries and whisper. A bang or a whimper. Whatever the case, if we want to be heard, we must raise our voice, or lower it.”
The whirlwind, the whisper.
“[Y]ou will not want what you haven’t got.”
“When students are searching for their voice, they are searching for poetry. When they find their voice, they will have found poetry. When they find poetry, they will live to regret it.”
A voice needs to speak.
“I asked my friend the translator, What was the first known act of translation in the history of mankind? His answer was, Probably something into or out of Egyptian. I thought about this for a while and ventured a certainty: No, I said, it was when a mother heard her baby babble or cry, and had to decide in an instant what it meant.”
In the beginning the Word was God.
What was the word?
“I could kill someone by writing a poem.”
“After all that endless folding came a time when the brain had to keep growing without there being any more space inside the skull: thus writing and reading evolved.”
Thinking outside the brain.
“Research on the human brain continues to be a ‘last frontier’ of exploration.”
You are stardust.
“Ramakrishna said: Given a choice between going to heaven and hearing a lecture on heaven, people would choose a lecture.”
Rather talk about poetry than write/read poetry.
“A craft is a boat, ship, or airplane; the most primitive craft is a raft, whose very word is embedded in the word craft.
Great skill is involved in building a craft, for it is far from easy to make things that float or fly.”
We can only float on.
“Craft: skill in evasion or deception.”
“There are many reasons I don’t want to give any of these lectures, and you should probably know it made me angry and sad to have to string together these negations at all.”
I, too, dislike it.
“Lectures, for me, are bad dreams.”
Is workshop a nightmare?
“I love pretension.”
“You can imagine my horror when I wanted to give a lecture on this lecture, which would produce nothing but more language on language on language.”
“Fate gives us dying as a gift.”
Life as a burden.
“The skeletons retain gender in the width of the hip bones, yes, I don’t deny that the difference is still there in the bones, but what of the mind that has vanished?”
Is the mind gendered?
“[M]y writing is the struggle between mind and what is without mind.”
“Some poets can fly but they don’t have wings and they are the worse.”
Are poets dodos?
“[T]he young critic/admirer is not looking at the thing at all, he is looking at Beckett and Giacometti.”
The poet is not poetry.
“I have always believed I became a writer because in the fifth grade I had a pencil fight with a classmate and a piece of graphite has been lodged in my palm ever since.”
Three pieces in my hand.
“Poetry is an asylum to me. Insanity is ‘doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results.’”
“According to the research of Arnold Ludwig, among all persons of all professions mental disorders appear most among artists. Among all artists, mental disorders appear most among writers. Among all writers, mental disorders appear most among poets.”
Poets are crazy!
After Chris Wiewiora wrote, As a poet..., in an essay for his undergraduate poetry thesis at the University of Central Florida, his committee chair told him, "You can't call yourself a poet!" At Iowa State University's MFA in Creative Writing and Environment he attempted to write a memoir focusing on the same content from his poetry, but despite earning his graduate degree he believed he had failed since it turned out he could only write essays. So, he writes essays which have been published on The Awl, The Billfold, The Good Men Project, The Lit Pub, The Hairpin, The Rumpus, and many other publications that begin with the definite article 'the.' His essays have also been anthologized in Best American Sports Writing 2016, Best Food Writing 2013, MAKE X, and The Norton Reader. Now, he is writing essays about reading books. Read more at www.chriswiewiora.com