Wednesday, June 07, 2006

There Is No There, There

I have a headache and it is already 9 o’clock. Archie is lounging on the area rug in front of me. Dixie just leapt onto the sofa to greet Michelle, who has just walked in from the front yard.

Today has been absurdly difficult (for a poet). I woke early, at 6:15 this morning. Rather than crawling onto the sofa and cuddling up with the puppies to add a couple more hours to the four I slept last night, I chose to brew a pot of coffee and throw myself into the day’s task. Alas, those tasks still have not, as yet, been completed. And now, I'm waiting for the casserole that Michelle, in true 50s housewife fashion, is baking. The television is playing and now the dogs are pummeling each other, barking now and again between the swats of their paws and snaps of their jaws that comprise their combat.


I’m still trying to find my rhythm for the day, to feel comfortable in my skin as I clatter away at the keypad, but the headache seems intent on cracking those plans like ceramic dropped on a tile floor. Worse, my eyes are beginning to ache with exhaustion, and my neck is cracking like kettle corn on the asphalt ground of a summertime carnival.

Archie is lingering at Michelle's feet whining catlike noises in an attempt to convince her to share some of her casserole. Unfortunately, the dish contains diced onions, which of course are toxic to dogs. At last, he, like Dixie, has lain down on the sofa and is drifting off to sleep.


Now, midnight is approaching and I can feel exhaustion seeping into my arms and legs. Two moths that darted inside toward the light are flitting around above my head, and sleeping dogs are pressed up against me.

I've struggled all day to focus, to follow the rhythms of my breath, to link one paragraph to another, one image to the next. I'm frustrated with myself. Michelle has just carted Dixie off upstairs, and after a low moan, Archie has propped his head against my leg.


Last night, around this time, I wrote the first draft of a villanelle and emailed it to my wife so that she could read the poem at work in the morning. Of course, when she saw it, she read the poem and sent back her comments. Not surprisingly, my wife is a kind critic to me. She quibbled with one detail, but found the rest of the poem lovely. Perhaps it is. I, however, suspect that there are, at the very least, a few feet that will disgust me, a word choice or two that is not precise enough, and a number of rhymes that could be better. Luckily, at the moment, I think the refrain works and that is, in my limited experience, the most difficult task when composing a villanelle.


Nowadays, my wife is always the first audience for my poetry, unless I read the poem aloud and one of the dogs hears me mumbling. For the most part, I know what to expect from her and this is wonderful. When my own critical voice turn their volumes up to 11 (because it's louder than 10), the encouragement and support she provides can be priceless.

And now, I'm not sure I can imagine writing poetry without her comments mingled with occasional adoration. Sure, I could ask her to be more critical and take a red pen to each document I send her. She could, I do not doubt, spend a few minutes and eliminate all that is extraneous and highlight everything that is suspect. But, in many ways, I suspect that asking her to find a critic's hat (which must have feathers) seems vaguely cruel. After all, she knows that, with patience, I can better each poem I write, and more, when she reads a poem that first time she reads it. She enjoys the poem as a reader would, not as a student or peer or critic would. And I love her for this reason (among many, many others).

Of course, to be honest, she might just like me a lot.

Now, it would be absurd to suggest that you should run out and get married if you aspire to be a poet, and although the sheer absurdity is almost enough for me to suggest it anyhow, I'll stop just short. You should have early readers for your work—and know what to expect, what to ignore, and what to add.

After all, why does one write a poem?


My headache still has not subsided. So, rather than suffering any longer, I'll climb the stairs and collapse into my bed for a long sleep.


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