july 10/RUN

4.15 miles
the falls and back
70 degrees
humidity: 73%/ dew point: 60

Slightly cooler this morning with a lower dew point. Still felt hot. Sweat a lot. Ran south on the river road and around the falls. Heard them roaring as I rounded the corner. Managed to catch a few glimpses of the blue of the river. Otherwise, lots of green. It feels like mid-summer. Encountered many bikers and runners and walkers. One biker was playing Jimmy Buffet’s “Margaritaville,” which sounds distorted–thanks to the steel drums–even when you aren’t getting the doppler effect. Strange. I am sure I heard many birds, but I don’t remember. I do recall hearing one biker say to the other, “They should have told people that wearing a mask helps protect you not other people, then everyone would wear a mask. That’s sad.”

I have completely memorized Billy Collins’ poem about memorizing Donne’s The Sun Rising, but I’ve soured a bit on the poem after seeing a tweet about what a creep Collins is and reading his poem about undressing Emily Dickinson. So gross. Instead of reciting “Memorizing,” I tried to work my way through my list. I recited “Auto-lullaby,” then “It’s all I have to bring today” and “Swept All Visible Signs Away.” Couldn’t remember what was next on my list–I thought it was “Lovesong for the Square Root of Negative One,” which it was, but got side-tracked by the effort of running and avoiding others on the road.

What are Poems?

Lately, I’ve been thinking about what poems are to me. Here’s a list of a few things:

  • spells
  • chants
  • charms
  • balms
  • prayers
  • doors/windows
  • ways in/ways out
  • trails
  • alleluias/thanks/praise
  • wonders
  • bewilderments
  • breaths
  • tracks across the snow
  • a ripple in the river, troubling the too-calm water
  • an opportunity to slow down, ruminate
  • an invitation to attend something

Last week, I planned to memorize a series of poems about eyes and vision. Somehow, I’ve been side-tracked. I’m thinking of memorizing Wordsworth’s classic about the daffodils. Other poems I’m considering instead of or after that one:

  • Dorothy Wordsworth/ Jennifer Chang
  • The Art/ Elizabeth Bishop
  • Question/ May Swenson
  • The Meadow/ Marie Howe
  • Hamlet’s soliloquy, “to be or not to be…”

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud / WILLIAM WORDSWORTH

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

july 8/RUN

2.75 miles
43rd ave, north/32nd st, east/river road, north/river road, south/edmund, south
77 degrees
humidity: 80%/ dew point: 70

If you would have told me last year that I’d be regularly running in dew points of 70 or so, I wouldn’t have believed you. But, the dew point has been 70 (highest was 75) for the past 2 weeks (well, one day it was 69), and I have run every day. Ran by the aspen eyes, under the lake street bridge, up the hill, then back down it. Encountered lots of runners, bikers, walkers. Crowded this morning. Remember hearing at least one black capped chickadee. At the start of my run I encountered several annoyingly spazzy squirrels, darting in front of me. There was a big cf on edmund–one person on the sidewalk, one person in the road, another person with a dog on the other side of the road. Had to run up someone’s grass to keep my distance. Didn’t see the river or hear any rowers.

As I ran, I recited “Memorizing ‘The Sun Rising'”/ Billy Collins. Yesterday, I recited the first half, today the whole thing. Didn’t think about the meaning of any of the lines, just tried to make sure I got the words right. Favorite stanza today?

So it’s not until leaving the house
and walking three times around this hidden lake
that the poem showed
any interest in walking by my side.

I like the idea of the poem deciding whether or not it wants to spend time with the person memorizing/reciting it. I also like how the line is walking three times around this hidden lake instead of walking around this hidden lake three times.

The line I probably struggled with the most was, “better than the courteous dominion.” I couldn’t remember courteous or dominion; my mind was blank. I remember this happening as I ran and fumbling around for many seconds trying to think of what the phrase was. All of sudden it came to me like a flash or an image that, even as I stare intently and it’s right in front of me, I can’t see it at all until suddenly I can. How strange and marvelous the brain is to magically retrieve words! A few hours after returning from my run, I sat down and recorded myself reciting the poem. A bit rough, as I struggled with a few lines. I managed to record myself struggling and then successfully remembering the courteous dominion line.

Memorizing “The Sun Rising” by John Donne, July 8

I’d like to figure out a metaphor or simile for that moment of remembering. In “Memorizing” Billy Collins describes the act of forgetting — “begin to fade like sky-written letters on a windy day”– and having forgotten — “a blown-out candle now, a wavering line of acrid smoke” — but he doesn’t have a equivalent one for remembering. I suppose he does have one for fully remembering and taking in the poem: “after hours of stepping up and down the poem,/testing the plank of every line,/it goes with me now, contracted into a little spot within.” But this doesn’t quite get at the revelatory moment of remembering. I’ll work on it some more. I wonder if I can find some other poems that express it?

july 7/RUN

2.5 miles
45th ave, north/32nd st, east/river road, north/river road, south/38th st, west/ river road, north
75 degrees
humidity: 86%/ dew point: 71

Very hot! Not much shade. Uncomfortable. Thought about running 3 miles but decided 2.5 was enough. Ran past the aspen eyes. Heard “Devil Went Down to Georgia” blasting out of a bike’s speakers. Sweet. Pretty cool doppler effect after they passed by me. Sounded like the music was melting. Tried to get a glimpse of the river through the gap in the trees, but the green was too thick. Don’t remember any bugs. Almost thought I saw the Daily Walker but it was someone jogging, not walking. Saw a roller skiing family–an adult and a few kids of different ages.

Recited the first four stanzas of the Billy Collins’ poem I’m memorizing (which is a quick break from my current theme on eyes):

Every reader loves how he tells off
the sun, shouting busy old fool
into the English skies even though they were
likely not cloudy on that seventeenth century morning.

And it’s a pleasure to spend this sunny day
pacing the carpet and repeating the words,
feeling the syllables lock into rows
until I can stand and declare,
the book held closed by my side,
that hours, days, and months are but the rags of time.

And after a few steps into the stanza number two,
wherein the sun is blinded by his mistress’s eyes,
I can feel the first one begin to fade
like sky-written letters on a windy day

And by the time I have taken in the third,
the second one is likewise gone, a blown out candle now,
a wavering line of acrid smoke.

I found it difficult to stay focused on the poem because I was hot and sweaty but I managed to recite it all at least once. I like the line about the syllables locking into rows. I also like how he incorporates lines from Dunne’s poem into his own. He describes his forgetting of lines as “sky- written letters on a windy day” and “a blown out candle, wavering line of acrid smoke.” Is that how it feels to me when I cannot remember a line? I’m not sure.

Holy shit this poem is amazing! Found it this morning on poem of the day on poets.org:

Nothing/ Krysten Hill

I ask a student how I can help her. Nothing is on her paper.
It’s been that way for thirty-five minutes. She has a headache. 
She asks to leave early. Maybe I asked the wrong question. 
I’ve always been dumb with questions. When I hurt, 
I too have a hard time accepting advice or gentleness.
I owe for an education that hurt, and collectors call my mama’s house. 
I do nothing about my unpaid bills as if that will help. 
I do nothing about the mold on my ceiling, and it spreads. 
I do nothing about the cat’s litter box, and she pisses on my new bath mat. 
Nothing isn’t an absence. Silence isn’t nothing. I told a woman I loved her, 
and she never talked to me again. I told my mama a man hurt me,
and her hard silence told me to keep my story to myself. 
Nothing is full of something, a mass that grows where you cut at it. 
I’ve lost three aunts when white doctors told them the thing they felt 
was nothing. My aunt said nothing when it clawed at her breathing.
I sat in a room while it killed her. I am afraid when nothing keeps me 
in bed for days. I imagine what my beautiful aunts are becoming 
underground, and I cry for them in my sleep where no one can see. 
Nothing is in my bedroom, but I smell my aunt’s perfume 
and wake to my name called from nowhere. I never looked 
into a sky and said it was empty. Maybe that’s why I imagine a god 
up there to fill what seems unimaginable. Some days, I want to live 
inside the words more than my own black body. 
When the white man shoves me so that he can get on the bus first, 
when he says I am nothing but fits it inside a word, and no one stops him, 
I wear a bruise in the morning where he touched me before I was born. 
My mama’s shame spreads inside me. I’ve heard her say 
there was nothing in a grocery store she could afford. I’ve heard her tell 
the landlord she had nothing to her name. There was nothing I could do 
for the young black woman that disappeared on her way to campus. 
They found her purse and her phone, but nothing led them to her. 
Nobody was there to hold Renisha McBride’s hand 
when she was scared of dying. I worry poems are nothing against it. 
My mama said that if I became a poet or a teacher, I’d make nothing, but 
I’ve thrown words like rocks and hit something in a room when I aimed 
for a window. One student says when he writes, it feels 
like nothing can stop him, and his laugher unlocks a door. He invites me 
into his living.

This entire poem is wonderful. Right now, thinking about why one writes/what poetry is, I’m struck by her final lines: “I’ve thrown words like rocks and hit something in a room when I/aimed/for a window” and “when he writes, it feels/like nothing can stop him and his laughter unlocks/a door. He invites/me/into his living.” Wow. Words as rocks, writing as a freedom and a liberated laugh that can unlock a door.

july 6/RUN

2.5 miles
river road, south/north
77 degrees
humidity: 90%/ dew point: 71

And yet another hot morning. Had to wait a few hours until the thunder storms stopped. Not much shade, several annoying groups of walkers taking up almost the entire road. For a long stretch at the beginning, I was able to run right above the river on the trail. It almost felt normal. A wall of green made it nearly impossible to see the river but near 38th street, where some steps wind down to the part of the Winchell Trail that’s paved, I saw it! Blue, beautiful. I miss water–seeing it, swimming in it, hearing it.

Lots of puddles on the path. Not much dripping from the trees, already evaporating in the hot air. Tried reciting “Before I got my eye put out” again but it was too hot. Also tried “Love Song of the Square root of Negative One”– “I am the wind and the wind is invisible, all the leaves/ tremble but I am invisible, bloom without flower, knot/ without rope, song without throat in wingless flight, dark/ boat in the dark night, pure velocity.” I love this poem and I love reciting it even as I still don’t understand it. Would it make more sense in the context of the whole collection? I’d like to buy this collection, War of the Foxes. I do know that the square root of negative one is an imaginary number and so I wonder if this is a love song to the imagination, which makes the leaves tremble while still being invisible? I’m not sure it needs to make sense; it’s fun to memorize and recite. Such great flow and rhythms.

This morning, I found a great article from the New Yorker on Why We Should Memorize poems. Here’s one reason the author gives:

The best argument for verse memorization may be that it provides us with knowledge of a qualitatively and physiologically different variety: you take the poem inside you, into your brain chemistry if not your blood, and you know it at a deeper, bodily level than if you simply read it off a screen. Robson puts the point succinctly: “If we do not learn by heart, the heart does not feel the rhythms of poetry as echoes or variations of its own insistent beat.”

Then, while looking up the term “ars poetica,” I found this wonderful poem about memorizing a poem:

Memorizing “The Sun Rising” by John Donne/ BILLY COLLINS

Every reader loves the way he tells off 
the sun, shouting busy old fool 
into the English skies even though they 
were likely cloudy on that seventeenth-century morning.

And it’s a pleasure to spend this sunny day
pacing the carpet and repeating the words, 
feeling the syllables lock into rows
until I can stand and declare, 
the book held closed by my side,
that hours, days, and months are but the rags of time.

But after a few steps into stanza number two,
wherein the sun is blinded by his mistress’s eyes, 
I can feel the first one begin to fade 
like sky-written letters on a windy day.

And by the time I have taken in the third, 
the second is likewise gone, a blown-out candle now,
a wavering line of acrid smoke.

So it’s not until I leave the house
and walk three times around this hidden lake
that the poem begins to show
any interest in walking by my side.

Then, after my circling,
better than the courteous dominion 
of her being all states and him all princes, 

better than love’s power to shrink
the wide world to the size of a bedchamber, 

and better even than the compression
of all that into the rooms of these three stanzas
is how, after hours stepping up and down the poem,
testing the plank of every line,
it goes with me now, contracted into a little spot within.

I’d like to memorize this poem, I think. So I can spend more time with it, figuring out my favorite lines and what works, what doesn’t. In addition to his great lines about the process of memorizing the poem– “after hours of steeping up and down the poem,/ testing the plank of every line,/ it goes with me now, contracted into a little spot within”– I love how it engages with Dunne’s poem, weaving it into his own lines. I’d like to do something like this with Mary Oliver’s poem, “Invitation.”