bottom of franklin hill and back
Yes, 18 degrees. Brr. Yesterday the weather app predicted 20 inches of snow for next week. Thankfully today it’s predicting 2 inches of rain instead. Who knows what will actually fall (please, please, no snow!).
A nice run. Mostly relaxed, although my left hip/knee was a little tight. No headphones for the first 3 miles, then a playlist for the last 2.
Noticed the river — open and brown just off to the side as I ran down Franklin hill, a bright blue far off in front of me. Also noticed an orange sign announcing a road closure for a race this weekend at the bottom of the hill and to the left. I kept moving my eyes — straight ahead, then off to the right, off to the left — to see how that would change what I saw. Not much, although the orange did seem to disappear in my peripheral a few times. Strange.
Heard the knocking of a woodpecker on some dead wood in the gorge. Ran on more of the walking path. Shuffled on some grit. Felt a cold wind on my face.
Just restarting my run near the top of the hill, a woman stopped me and asked if I wanted to see a baby screech owl. It was 10 or 12 feet up in a small hollow in a tree. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to see it, but I did! It looked like a little bat to me. I thanked the woman for stopping to show it to me, wished her a great morning, then began running again with a big smile on my face. I have wanted to stop and answer someone’s kind look! for some time now, but I’ve never managed to do it; I’ve just kept running, too intent on keeping moving. Today I stopped and it felt good.
Happy Birthday to my 2 wonderful kids, FWA (20) and RJP (17), born on the same day 3 years apart. I rarely mention their birthdays on my blogs — I just spent the last 5 minutes looking through Trouble, Story, and RUN! and found only 2 instances of it. It’s hard to believe that I started this log, and found poetry again, when FWA was 14 and RJP 11.
before the run
I’m still trying to work on a series of color poems. Right now: orange, later in May: green. It’s a lot of showing up, sitting in front of the page, trying to find a way into ideas about orange as the color that takes up the most space in my practical life. Orange, everywhere. Rarely bright orange — no pops of vermillion or citrus — but orange as usually (not always) the only color that registers as color, something other than gray or dark. In the midst of trying to figure this out, I returned to an essay I remembered reading last year (see: april 16, 2022) about poetry and the void. I thought of it because so much of seeing orange, especially when swimming across the lake in the summer, is about feeling its absence.
sometimes when I’m swimming across the lake I feel a presence that I can’t see — the idea of orange, a hulking shape…I look but nothing is there…yet, I feel its absence…something is there — the trees don’t look quite right
june 26, 2022: hardly ever saw the orange of the orange buoy, mostly just a hulking shape or a void surrounded by a “normal” view — there was no buoy, just an empty space that disrupted the expanse of sky and trees.
from my notes for Orange
Elisa Gabbert offers this interesting line about poetry:
I think poetry leaves something out. All texts leave something out, of course — otherwise they’d be infinite — but most of the time, more is left out of a poem.
The Shape of the Void: Toward a Definition of Poetry/Elisa Gabbert
At this point, I was planning to write more, but it was already 10:45 and I wanted to go out for a run before it got much later, so I stopped. If I had kept writing, I would have included more from Gabbert, like this:
Verse, by forcing more white space on the page, is constantly reminding you of what’s not there. This absence of something, this hyper-present absence, is why prose poems take up less space than other prose forms; the longer they get, the less they feel like poems. It’s why fragments are automatically poetic: Erasure turns prose into poems. It’s why any text that’s alluringly cryptic or elusive — a road sign, assembly instructions — is described as poetic. The poetic is not merely beauty in language, but beauty in incoherence, in resistance to common sense. The missingness of poetry slows readers down, making them search for what can’t be found.
The hyper-present absence of something (orange orange everywhere) as poetry. Its inability to reveal itself in “normal” and straightforward ways to me (as in: look with my eyes and see orange). Its missingness makes me notice/attend to it even more.
In the next line, Gabbert suggests that the frustration of incoherence, mystery, not being able to make sense of something is alluring, erotic. It’s why many of us are drawn to poetry — to slow down, notice, get the chance to dwell in the unknown. Before I left for my run, I was thinking about how my perspective is slightly different. I don’t need to be encouraged to slow down or given the chance to embrace incoherence, resist common sense. Because of failing vision and my overworked brain, I am already slow. Much of what I see is incoherent — or never quite coherent. Common sense ideas of how we see or how to be in the world have already been upended for me. I see poetry, and its way of navigating or negotiating or communicating/finding meaning not as desirable, but as necessary, practical, useful, a way to be that speaks to where I already am.
during the run
I started out thinking about the hyper-presence of an absence as I ran in terms of the open space of the gorge, but these thoughts didn’t last long. I became distracted by my effort. Did I ever return to them? If I did, I can’t remember.
after the run
After highlighting two delightful letters by poets Emily Dickinson and Rainer Marie Rilke, Gabbert writes:
In these letter-poems, poetry reveals itself as more a mode of writing, a mode of thinking, even a mode of being, than a genre. The poem is not the only unit of poetry; poetic lines in isolation are still poetry. The poem is a vessel; poetry is liquid.
Poetry as a mode of writing, thinking, being. Made of more than just poems. Yes! I do feel that often my way of navigating losing my vision, finding a way to be when I cannot see, is through the approach of poetry and embracing uncertainty and the unknown.
The architect Christopher Alexander thought big plate glass windows were a mistake, because “they alienate us from the view”: “The smaller the windows are, and the smaller the panes are, the more intensely windows help connect us with what is on the other side. This is an important paradox.” To state the Forsterian obvious again, adding breaks to a paragraph is not always going to make an interesting poem — but most poets don’t write that way. They write in the line, in the company of the void. That changes how you write — and more profoundly, how you think, and even how you are, your mode of being. When you write in the line, there is always an awareness of the mystery, of what is left out. This is why, I suppose, poems can be so confounding. Empty space on the page, that absence of language, provides no clues. But it doesn’t communicate nothing — rather, it communicates nothing. It speaks void, it telegraphs mystery.
To write, to think, to be in the company of the void — the absence that leaves a residue or that can’t be seen but is always felt.
This idea of communicating nothing (with nothing not as no thing but as something in and of itself) reminds me of something else I read earlier this year about “making nothing happen” but couldn’t remember where I had read it. It took me almost an hour to track it down yesterday. The “make nothing happen” is in W. H. Auden poem for Yeats:
You were silly like us; your gift survived it all:
The parish of rich women, physical decay,
Yourself. Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.
Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still,
For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.
And the reading about it comes from Ross Gay and one of his incitements in Inciting Joy, which I first read as an essay for the October 2022 issue of Poetry:
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard conversations about W. H. Auden’s famous line from his poem “In Memory of W.B. Yeats”: “poetry makes nothing happen.”…At some point, probably I heard someone else say it,7 it occurred to me that all these poets, and all these conversations, were misreading Auden’s line, and that he was really talking about (inasmuch as a poem is him talking about something) what poetry makes, the sometimes product or effect or wake or artifact of poetry, of a poem. Granted the line feels emphatic, grand, provocative even—seriously, I can’t tell you how many tweed-jacketed refutations to Auden’s line I have endured; no one has ever explained to me the elbow patch—but what the line makes made is not nothing, but nothing happening. Or rather, nothing happening. The happening it makes is nothing. In other words, a poem, or poetry, can stop time, or so-called time at least. First of all, what a good reminder it is that a poem is an action, and as Auden has it, a powerful one, too. Secondly, and not for nothing, this is one of the suite of poems Auden wrote in the late thirties and early forties, a period when one might have wanted so-called time—the clock, the airplanes, the trains, the perfectly diabolical synchronous goosestep rhythm of time itself—to stop.
Out of Time (Time: The Fourth Incitement)/ Ross Gay
you, too, might’ve been praying for a way to stop the march of so-called time, and poems, sometimes, might do that. Poems are made of lines, which are actually breaths, and so the poem’s rhythms, its time, is at the scale and pace and tempo of the body, the tempo of our bodies lit with our dying. And poems are communicated, ultimately, body to body, voice to ear, heart to heart.9 Even if those hearts are not next to one another, in space or time. It makes them so. All of which is to say a poem might bring time back to its bodily, its earthly proportions. Poetry might make nothing happen. Inside of which anything can happen, maybe most dangerously, our actual fealties, our actual devotions and obligations, which is to the most rambunctious, mongrel, inconceivable assemblage of each other we could imagine.
Perhaps I’m wandering too far away from the orange void here? Poetry as speaking the void, making Nothing happen, existing outside of the normal/rational/obvious/taken-for-granted. Gay’s explicit connection to time and against capitalism resonates deeply for me. Stop those clocks, those planes, that machinery we’re using to destroy the planet, the future.
The poem’s lines as breaths, as bodily rhythms. In a poem about the color gray I mentioned gray breaths. What are orange breaths? Orange time, orange rhythm?Orange devotions and obligations?
One last thing, and a return to Gabbert’s essay. Gabbert claims that the mystery of poetry is not simply metaphor or making things strange, but how we use or don’t use language to shape our relationship to the Void. And, she suggests it is the missing mountain in Shane McCrae’s “The Butterflies the Mountain and the Lake”:
the / Butterflies monarch butterflies huge swarms they
Migrate and as they migrate south as they
Cross Lake Superior instead of flying
South straight across they fly
South over the water then fly east
still over the water then fly south again / And now
biologists believe they turn to avoid a mountain
That disappeared millennia ago.
The missing mountain is still there. The no longer visible orange buoy is still there too.
added a few hours later: Trying to find a source for this cool butterfly fact, I discovered that it was written about in Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek:
Monarchs are “tough and powerful, as butterflies go.” They fly over Lake Superior without resting; in fact, observers there have discovered a curious thing. Instead of flying directly south, the monarchs crossing high over the water take an inexplicable turn towards the east. Then when they reach an invisible point, they all veer south again. Each successive swarm repeats this mysterious dogleg movement, year after year. Entomologists actually think that the butterflies might be “remembering” the position of a long-gone, looming glacier. In another book I read that geologists think that Lake Superior marks the site of the highest mountain that ever existed on this continent. I don’t know. I’d like to see it. Or I’d like to be it, to feel when to turn.
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, page 253-254 in the 1988 edition
Even as I’m disappointed that Dillard didn’t offer any sources for her facts here, I LOVE her last lines: I don’t know. I’d like to see it. Or I’d like to be it to feel when to turn. Not to see, but to be it, to feel it. Wow — this idea is going in my orange poem, for sure. Not to see orange, but to be it, or to feel when to turn around it. I do feel that, but can I ever put it into words?