November’s Obsession: Girl Ghost Gorge

This month (November 2023), I returned in earnest to the haunts poems that I started working on in October of 2021. As is often the case, I began the month not quite knowing what I would do, open to what would find me. Right away, it was the girl, the ghost, and the gorge:

1 nov

I tried chanting in threes:

I am girl /I am ghost/ I am gorge
Girl Ghost Gorge/ Girl Ghost Gorge
Girl / Ghost / Gorge
Girl Girl Girl / Ghost Ghost Ghost / Gorge Gorge Gorge
Girl Ghost Gorge / Ghost Gorge Girl / Gorge Girl Ghost

I was hoping I find some way into words about my haunts poems. It started with one: obsession (which I thought about before my run too). I was thinking about how I return to the gorge again and again, day after day, wanting to be there, wanting to find better words, wanting to establish (once and for all?) that this place is my home. I haunt this place, as ghost and girl.

Reading back through the last line, I’d like to alter it: I haunt this place, as ghost and girl, and soon become gorge. Maybe that’s not quite the way to put it, but something like that?

In that same entry, I wrote about the idea of obsession:

 an obsession with some direction; the goal = (temporarily) exhausting my feelings/thoughts/understandings/experiences with a certain thing. To write and write and write about a thing until I’m exhausted, emptied or satisfied, at least temporarily.

I ended the entry with a quote from Dorothy Lasky that would eventually inspire a few lines in one part of my poem:

I think poems come from the earth and work through the mind from the ground up. I think poems are living things that grow from the earth into the brain, rather than things that are planted within the earth by the brain. 

Poetry is Not a Project

3 nov

To write a poem is to be a maker. And to be a maker is to be down in the muck of making and not always to fly so high above the muck.

Poetry is Not a Project

This idea of being in the muck of making is a key part of writing while running practice. I want to push at it some more and weave it into some of my lines in which I more explicitly discussing my writing self.

6 nov

loops, repetitions, projects, time, and echoes

I’m still orbiting around ideas, trying to figure out what to do next. I’m getting closer. I know that it involves my not-yet-finished haunts poems and repetitions and restlessness and the untethering of project from progress, looping and leaving and returning, and time. Time keeps coming up. I’ve thought/written/theorized about time for decades. I even wrote about it in a doctoral exam. On this log, I frequently discuss it — how it drips or disappears when I’m running, my need to slow down the time it takes me to run (pace), rethinking time outside of clocks and the tight boxes of seconds, minutes, hours, trying to imagine time in much larger and longer scales across generations and centuries, Mary Oliver’s eternal vs. ordinary time, Marie Howe’s moments, past present and future Saras, cycles and seasons.

Repetition, restlessness, and the untethering of project from progress. Also: time — pace (slow), not linear but cyclical, larger/longer scale, and ordinary vs. eternal time, seasons, “the wheeling life”, this haunting as involving past present future Saras all aware of each other and working for each other. Also mentioned in this entry is the idea of usefulness and uselessness: is haunting a waste of time? (no)

In the midst of all my thinking about time and progress and projects, I’ve been reflecting on repetitions and echoes in my own work. After rereading an entry from nov 5, 2019, I wrote this in my notes:

Reading through entries from past years on this day and feeling like I could have written/experienced the same thing on a run today — the same river, the same gray sky, the same dying vision, the same words feelings thoughts. This sameness points to a larger time scale and a resistance to progress! and improvement! but I also wonder if it suggests that I’m stuck in the same loop — be outside, move, notice, write. Where is it all going? Does it have to go anywhere? I feel these doubts in these moments when I’m in-between projects, when I have too many doors to enter and I don’t know which one to choose. This tension of restlessness and looping and resisting and in-between and the life of a writer should all be part of this collection. It should be haunted by these themes. my notes

I also wrote about this theme in an “On This Day” entry this morning:

I’m thinking about my echo discussion for nov 4, 2020 and how an echo repeats but slightly differently each time — fainter or softer or distorted. So much of what I write (and experience) as I move is almost the same from year to year. The view, or lack of view, of the river. The wonderful cold air. How much I love running in the cold. Often I start with, A wonderful run or a beautiful run or another great run. What distinguishes these entries are the small and brief moments and the images they create. 

Sara, age 49, on November 4, 2023, is thinking a lot about repetition and looping and wondering about the differences between being stuck in a rut of repetition and using the grooves to sing a beautiful song. (not sure if that metaphor works). Put another way: I’ve been doing this practice of moving outside, noticing, writing about it for almost 7 years. So many of the entries contain the same descriptions, or almost the same descriptions. Am I just repeating myself, stuck on the same path, or is each entry an echo, a variation, with (sometimes) slight differences, difficult to discern?On This Day: November 4

Wow, this is a lot. Right before my run, as I was thinking about all of these things in a kind of jumbled mess, this idea flashed in my head: find the echoes. Start with the moments, over the 7 years of writing in this log, in which I repeat myself (sometimes word for word) and put them together into some sort of chant or small poem or something. Sprinkle them throughout “Haunts.” Mix them in with other examples of echoes — in the geography, the history, the setting? How many echoes can I find?

Find the echoes.

8 nov

This morning, before my run, I’m thinking about the lines I read in an interview Tichy did for Terrain

There’s also a sensory excitement in a sea-rock-light-wind-bird-flower-seal-seep-peat-rain-salt—oh look, there’s a whale!—environment that subsumes attention to any one thing into the press of the whole.

I love how she describes the environment and her idea of attention to the whole, not just to any one thing.

Rock blurs the categories of time and space by making time visible and place temporal. A poem uses both rest and motion to create a form, which can be seen and must be heard—as the Susan Howe epigraph says, fleeting and fixed. These poems, like many in Avalanche Path, have a surface texture of fragmentation, abrupt change, and brokenness metamorphized into a new whole, voiced in present time, human time. Nothing is still; nothing is uniform.

And here’s a wonderful bit from the first part of Tichy’s poem, 60 North|Arriving, Stand Still:

& here wind

elevates to a theory

of time : to not miss a single

wave’s decay, a verse

of coast becoming dearth

of certainty, to undefine

the edge as noun, dissolving

in the not unyielding mouth

of cliff : verse/reverse

from the root of turn :

wind-wave & swell

compounded to a single 

force, broken

by the thing it breaks—

In the next section she offers this line, what place is not. The gorge as what place is not, or where place one was?

I am the gorge because the gorge is the remains, what is left behind, what continues to exist even as ground erodes, self erodes, vision erodes. The gorge, constantly shifting, but always there. The gorge is the eroded. Is the ghost the verb, the eroding? … I am also the gorge because I’m constantly leaving part of myself here and becoming this place and not just moving through the place, becoming the place.

nov 10

During the run I was thinking about ghosts and girls and the gorge. And I was thinking that what I’m really trying to convey is that there’s a heaviness and a solidness and a there-ness that is both good and too heavy.

Girl as heavy, solid, sturdy, physically present.

nov 13

I was thinking about girl ghost and gorge and befores and how I’m not interested in doing afters, I’m interested in circling around these befores. Not in a linear way, but a circular way. I’ll do another one that is before there was gorge, there was girl. That one will be about me before I started paying attention, before I started running by the gorge, before this practice. Then there will be one that’s before there was girl, there was ghost. This one will involve more of my mom as a ghost. I’m interested in playing around with the befores and making it disorienting; there’s no real origin point. It’s circular and repeats itself, phrases repeat themselves.

Repetition: Chiasmus and Chanting

 I encountered Jane Huffman’s poem, “The Rest” and her discussion/explanation of it in “Backwashes and Eddies: Jane Huffman on “The Rest”“. She mentions the chiasmus, which I had to look up to remember what it meant

Repetition of any group of verse elements (including rhyme and grammatical structure) in reverse order, such as the rhyme scheme ABBA. Examples can be found in Biblical scripture (“But many that are first / Shall be last, / And many that are last / Shall be first”; Matthew 19:30). See also John Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn” (“Beauty is truth, truth beauty”). glossary term, Poetry Foundation

Here’s how Huffman describes her use of it in “The Rest”:

Cut red / flowers hung in pink water.
                Cut pink flowers hung in red water.
                Cut red water hung in pink flowers.
                Cut pink water hung in red flowers.

The poem operates in reversals, in mirror images, in symmetries: “Cut [pink or red] [flowers or water] hung in [pink or red] [flowers or water].”

About the water and flowers, Huffman also says this:

Indeed, “The Rest” refuses to move on. It cannot. It is obsessive, recalibrating the relationship between “flowers” and “water” until its options are exhausted. Exhaustion is a teleology of sickness. One cough anticipates the next.

nov 22

before and during the run

Today I’m revising and expanding my part of the Haunts poem about the Regulars, the people (both alive and dead) that are regularly at the gorge. I’d like to add something about the “in memory of” plaques along the trail, mostly embedded in the concrete near benches. So I’m giving myself a task: take pictures of more of these plaques to write about in my 3/2 form. Will I do it? Will I be willing to stop and take these pictures? How many of them can I get?

I did it! Starting by the monument, I stopped at every bench and took a picture of the plaque next to it. Lots of stopping, but it was fun! 12 images in total. I didn’t read any of the inscriptions, just stopped, took out my phone, clicked, put my phone back in my pocket, then started running again. I would imagine that some of the people I encountered were wondering what I was doing. I kind of wish one of them would have asked so I could say something like, “I’m working on a poem about the gorge and I’m gathering memorials to include in it.”

a public installation, of sorts?

As I was finishing up my run, my thoughts wandered. I thought about having one of these plaques for when I’m dead and how I’d want poetry on it. Then I thought, why wait until then and why put it on a plaque? What about leaving some poetry around the gorge now? Then I thought, wouldn’t it be cool to leave some lines from my haunts poem — some parts of my repeating refrain that includes, a girl runs and ghost and gorge? And now I’m thinking that I want to do some sort of unofficial public installation of this poem around the gorge. It could be lines left on the path or tied to a tree, or it could be QR codes with links to the text and a recording of me reading it. YES! I should research how others do public installations for inspiration.

28 nov

Still working on my haunts poems, adding more to the ones I wrote 2 years ago. Yesterday I spent a lot of time working on the first section, trails, and thinking about paths and feet and my interest in following, connecting, learning new stories. As part of that work, I started rereading Wendell Berry’s excellent essay, “A Native Hill.” This morning, before my run, I’m still reading and thinking about it. While I run, I’d like to think about this passage:

Looking out over the country, one gets a sense of the whole of it: the ridges and hollows, the clustered buildings of the farms, the open fields, the woods, the stock ponds set like coins into the slopes. But this is a surface sense, such as you get from looking down on the roof of a house. The height is a threshold from which to step down into the wooded folds of the land, the interior, under the trees and along the branching streams. “A Native Hill” / Wendell Berry

As I run, I’d like to think about these ideas of threshold and surface, and what it means to be above, always, looping around the gorge, rarely entering it. Is this only surface level? What is at the surface, and is the surface always superficial? What does it mean when the gorge is not a thing to enter, but an absence, an emptiness/void that is still present and shaping the land but is inaccessible?

during the run

Did I think about these things at all? Maybe a little as I looked down at the floodplain forest or the water. At one point, I thought about how I’m not completely inside of this place, but I’m still much more in it than if I were riding in a car. 

In a related but different direction of thought, I remembered the lines I had just written this morning:

It begins
here: from
the ground up
feet first,
I want
to go where
have gone.

I thought about this following and how the others include past versions of me, the Saras that have already, day after day, year after year, travelled these same trails. 

after the run

Sitting at my desk after my run, looking out at a mysterious pile of dirt left right in front of my sidewalk by workers for some unknown reason, feeling wiped out from the run, I’m not sure what to do with Berry’s passage. Maybe I’ll read some more of the essay?

Beyond the gate the land leans always more steeply towards the branch. I follow it down and then bear left along the crease at the bottom of the slope. I have entered the downflow of the land. The way I am going is the way the water goes. There is something comfortable and fit-feeling in this, something free in this yielding to gravity and taking the shortest way down.“A Native Hill” / Wendell Berry

I love this line: The way I am going is the way the water goes.

Berry talks next about human-made erosion and how he laments the loss of land “before the white people drove their plows into it.” 

It is not possible to know what was the shape of the land here in this hollow when it was first cleared. Too much of it is gone, loosened by the plows and washed away by the rain….The thought of what was here once and is gone forever will not leave me as long as I live. It is as though I walk knee-deep in its absence.“A Native Hill” / Wendell Berry

The slopes along the hollow steepen still more, and I go in under the trees. I pass beneath the surface. I am enclosed, and my sense, my interior sense, of the country becomes intricate. There is no longer the possibility of seeing very far. The distances are closed off by the trees and the steepening walls of the hollow. One cannot grow familiar here by sitting and looking as one can up in the open on the ridge. Here the eyes become dependent on the feet. To see the woods from the inside one must look and move and look again. It is inexhaustible in its standpoint. A lifetime will not be enough to experience it all. “A Native Hill” / Wendell Berry

Love it: Here the eyes become dependent on the feet. I’m finding a place for this line in my poem! Even when I am on the edge of the bluff looking down at the gorge, my vision isn’t very good. Everywhere I run, above or below, I’m dependent on my feet, and not just to get me to new places to see; sometimes I see with my feet. 

Berry’s last lines about it being inexhaustible and how a lifetime will not be enough to experience it all brings me to another definition of going beyond the surface: to do more than briefly visit, to stay somewhere (to haunt it), to return to it again and again, each time learning something new, or encountering something slightly altered. This returning to the gorge day after day and giving attention is my way of connecting with it and attempting to experience as much of it as I can.