Friday, May 25, 2007

Five Senses?

Feeling drowsy and slightly dizzy, I stepped outside onto the porch, and sat in the wooden swing we were given last Christmas. The soft hum of the streetlamps pouring amber light onto the sidewalks, the chirruping din of crickets, and the creak of the swing’s spring were the only sounds. I rocked back and forth, gazing at the seemingly arranged shapes of an old oak's canopy. I thought, intermittently, of poetry, of John Ashbery's singular take on language and the dialogic interplay of voice that informs his poems, of his (difficult) influence on my own poetry, of the manuscript that I reordered today, and of the near-infinite possibilities for misinterpretation our language allows. I though, too, of climbing upstairs and tumbling under the comforter to sleep, as the dogs have already done.

A black shape flew towards my face, as I sat swinging, and then veered left, its wings splayed like a butterfly, off the porch and over the driveway. It was fist-sized. It bristled the thin hairs on the nape of my neck. It was a bat.

I imagine now that the bat had pinged me with its sonar, mapped out its world of obstacles, as it circled sources of light, sounding for the buzzing insects on which it preys.


This afternoon, as I sat outside on the patio, moving this poem or that poem hither and thither, our dog Dixie barreled around the corner of the house, batting a prune-sized blur of gray fur between her muzzle and her paws. It was a mole. The mole, in what must have been a furious burst of adrenaline, dodged the last of Dixie's deadly blows and scurried into a gap between our air conditioner and flowerbed gravel. Dixie, aided now by Archie, the ever-loyal Italian greyhound, snorted into cracked earth, plowing her paws through yellowed grass and fallen spring leaves.

I imagine now that the she was sniffing out the crevices and gradations of soil, mapping the flight of the mole through corridors of its own burrowing.


Many times before today, I've stared at a manuscript contemplating the appropriate order. As a senior in college, I organized my one section of my senior thesis by focusing on the narrative arc of a first-person speaker. The second section was a very long poem (long enough for its own manuscript), and the third section was simply a handful of persona poems. At least, that's how I remember it now.

At the University of Miami, I don't recall having any trouble with organization. Like Dixie and that bat, I must have relied on some intuitive sense of order, some way to map a progression of thought.

Last year, when I attempted to gather two manuscripts worth of work, one was organized through a thematic notion of opposition, and the other was organized by the increasing potency of the pharmaceuticals from which each poem took its title. Since deciding that both manuscripts would take an enormous amount of work to complete, I decided to take my best work, and organize that, with significant rewriting into a manuscript. The initial attempt at establishing an order went well enough, but never felt quite right. I was like a bat without its sonar or a dog without its scent. I couldn't seem to map the contours of the world I wanted to convey.

In the manuscript, myriad shifts in tone, point of view, setting, and technique made the manuscript seem clumsy. Luckily, I found this article ( on the AWP website. Although I tend to chafe at generalized pronouncements like "no adverbs," I found Levine's article immensely useful. Unfortunately, I noticed a few common phrases for closing poems and a tad more redundancy in imagery than I otherwise might have noticed.

But now, the cartography has begun in earnest. Perhaps, after all, being lost, at this moment, was a good thing for me. Rather than trusting my instincts completely, as Dixie would if she ever got her teeth on my manuscript, I've actually begun to think of this task as an extension of the poetic process. Here, I have the opportunity to let words interact through proximity, to echo themes, and skew them through the correlation (and occasional conflation) of the next poem's intent. Now, this is more than a mere manuscript to occupy my time, more than a thesis. It is, I hope, the prodromal phase of a work of art. Now, I am mapping the connections I see in my own work, to chart my own definition of what a volume of verse might be.


The bat escaped. The mole escaped. Now, I will make my escape.

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,


Anonymous Anonymous said...

sorry - I tried to leave a comment and it either sent a million times or not at all. I'll try again.

Haven't read here in a while, brooding poet. The blog seems changed, even more complex tone.

Speaking of complexity, the phrase "seemingly arranged" (oak canopy) it just one of many phrases that made me go, 'ah!..."

... conveys complexity of a thought in an understated observational phrase. Your poetry mind seeps into your prose :)

I learn so much here, want to thank you for that... for example you refer to Ashbery's "singular take on language" and my curiousity gets the better of my intellectual laziness and I am spurred to remember or rethink or learn what IS his singular take.

I also sadly love your phrase, "the near-infinite possibilities for misinterpretation our language allows" -- so miserably true! Is the upside of that the near infinite possibilities for interpretation? And for arrangement/correlations?

Your main thesis fascinates me, I'm not sure I'm getting you correctly, but your charting the unexplored territory of correlations in your best poems...

To arrange your work into a "map" where I guess you're implying there was no conscious correlation between these poem before, a map where you see and even create paths between your poems --- your idea has been picked up by my poet-sonar! -- me and probably every poet reading here.


9:14 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home