feb 15/BIKERUN

bike: 25 minutes
run: 2.5 miles
outside: 23 degrees / icy

Maybe it wasn’t as icy on the sidewalks or the trail as it was on my driveway and the alley, but I decided not to risk it and bike and run inside. During my bike, I watched Linda Pastan read “Elegy” and a few running races. During my run, I finished up the latest episode of Nobody Asked Us with Des and Kara. I’m really enjoying their discussions. Today they talked about being introverts (me too) and struggling to promote themselves and being motivated by something other than fame. As I listened, I also paid attention to my body, noticing how it felt different depending on how I did my arm swing. At one point, I locked into a rhythm between my arms and legs that felt effortless and machine-like. I remember writing about the body as a machine (and not a machine) on this log in the beginning. Maybe I should return to some of those discussions?

Maggie Smith has started doing a newsletter about craft. Yay! Today’s was about stanzas and the idea that a stanza is a room in the poem or its paragraph. She discusses couplets in particular:

I have a soft spot for unrhymed couplets. I like the padding of white space around them, so each stanza is like a piece of art hung on a gallery wall. White space is literal “breathing room” on the page, and it slows a poem down. Shorter stanzas in a poem = more white space between stanzas on the page = more time for the reader to savor each line.

To slow a poem down, build in more white space by shortening the stanza length. You can also shorten the line length to slow the reader down.

To pick up the pace in a poem, do the opposite: lengthen the stanzas by removing white space. You can also speed up the reader’s momentum by lengthening the lines.

As I draft a poem, I often decide on the line length and the grouping of lines I prefer for the opening stanza, and then I use that line and stanza length as a template for the rest of the poem. If I prefer the opening to be a quatrain, for example, I’ll naturally try quatrains for the whole poem and see if that might work. Sometimes it does, but not always. Other times I might find that irregular stanzas work best, or I might end up collapsing the whole poem into a single stanza to speed it along.

Craft Tip from Maggie Smith

Today’s Pastan Poem:

Elegy/ Linda Pastan (1986)*

Last night the moon lifted itself
on one wing
over the fields,

and struggling to rise
this morning
like a hooked fish

through watery
of sleep.

I know
with what difficulty

must pull themselves
all the way up
their stems.

How much easier
the free fall of snow
or leaves in their season.

All week, watching
the hospital gown

and falling
with your raggedy breath,
I dreamed

not of resurrections
but of the slow, sensual
slide each night

into sleep, of dust
of newly shoveled earth

*Pastan wrote more than one poem with the title “Elegy.”

I’m struggling with her use of “struggling” in the second stanza. The full sentence doesn’t make sense to me. It’s quite possible I’m just not reading it right, but shouldn’t it be “struggled”?