Thursday, July 22, 2010

You have to read this poem...


This is the best poem I've read in weeks, and it is truly terrible in its beauty (as the formatting is flushed left below, please click the poem's title to see it formatted correctly):

Prayer for the Man Who Mugged My Father, 72

May there be an afterlife.

May you meet him there, the same age as you.
May the meeting take place in a small, locked room.

May the bushes where you hid be there again, leaves tipped with razor-
blades and acid.
May the rifle butt you bashed him with be in his hands.
May the glass in his car window, which you smashed as he sat stopped
at a red light, spike the rifle butt, and the concrete on which you'll

May the needles the doctors used to close his eye, stab your pupils
every time you hit the wall and then the floor, which will be often.
May my father let you cower for a while, whimpering, "Please don't
shoot me. Please."
May he laugh, unload your gun, toss it away;
Then may he take you with bare hands.

May those hands, which taught his son to throw a curve and drive a nail
and hold a frog, feel like cannonballs against your jaw.
May his arms, which powered handstands and made their muscles jump
to please me, wrap your head and grind your face like stone.
May his chest, thick and hairy as a bear's, feel like a bear's snapping
your bones.
May his feet, which showed me the flutter kick and carried me miles
through the woods, feel like axes crushing your one claim to man-
hood as he chops you down.

And when you are down, and he's done with you, which will be soon,
since, even one-eyed, with brain damage, he's a merciful man,
May the door to the room open and let him stride away to the Valhalla
he deserves.

May you—bleeding, broken—drag yourself upright.

May you think the worst is over;
You've survived, and may still win.

Then may the door open once more, and let me in.

--Charles Harper Webb

This poem is from the book Shadow Ball: New and Selected Poems published by one of my favorites, University of Pittsburgh Press. (Ed Ochester--head honcho at Pittsburgh and one of my fabulous teachers--never ceases to amaze me with his selections.) The poem above is just one small glimpse into the kind of work they are looking for in the Pitt Poetry Series. The poem is vindictive, bleak, vengeful, nostalgic and mournful all at the same time. In short: it's complex. Just like our lives and all the horrible, beautiful, frightening, enlightening moments that help craft who we are and how we maneuver in the world.

This poem landed in my inbox this morning and hit me in the gut. It made me cringe and tear up, then shake my head and marvel all in the span of a minute or two. This is what good poems can do. I just thought I'd share that power with you...

Thursday, July 15, 2010

I love when it gets good like this...


The summer is well underway and so is all the writing angst/excitement/frustration/pleasure that comes with it. I've begun reading some fantastic books and 'filling the well' always feeds my own work.
Writing is often the most difficult task, actually getting to the page and staying there until some spark pushes you to fill the waiting space. With new family obligations and more demands on my time, I've been finding it especially tough to find that quiet resonance I need to make sense of things I don't understand. I've been flirting with so many themes ideas, some of which have been:
The list goes on and on. The problem is finding a way to settle on one or two (or, really, three) and writing my way into them. I usually start with one poem and that poem grows into sections or a sequence, then that sequence grows into a group of poems connected by theme, then that group flourishes to become part of a larger body of work (Chapbook? Manuscript? Does it matter as long as the work is coming???)

Over the last few days, though, (after a bit of a self-pitying slump about inspiration/ambition and everything else writers find to complain about) I've hit a nice groove. I decided to stop agonizing over a manuscript I've been working to death and seeking publication for and start looking at the work I've completed outside of the manuscript over the past few years. Just as an exercise and as a way of reminding myself that the work is coming and will (try as I might to stifle it) continue to come, I went to the computer and printed out every new usable poem I'd written and hadn't included in any larger body of work. To my surprise, by the end of the day, I'd "discovered" at least one hundred poems and even started piecing together another manuscript (or two). All this tangible work sitting in my hands gave me some hope. This morning, I woke up exciting about researching, discovering, putting together pieces of new puzzles and heading back to the page, which is all I could ever really ask for.

I'm sure most writers would attest to that fact that living this writing life is mostly about resolve. The rejections arrive but as long as the writing continues, there's a reason to keep going. This--this questioning, this need to make sense of the havoc around us each day--is what you do; it's how you live.