april 26/YOGACORE

yoga: 20 minutes
core: 10 minutes

Downward facing dogs and crescent moons and cat backs and cow mountain rag doll child poses. Dead bugs and side planks and bird dogs and push-ups and reverse crunches. And other things I can’t remember the names of right now.

some things I heard watched read today

HEARD most of an amazing Tinhouse podcast interview with the poet and multi-media artist, Diana Khoi Nguyen. After I finish, I’d like to read the transcript and pick out some passages that were particularly moving.

WATCHED some advice from Billy Collins on how to write poetry: Read poetry, lots of it, thousands of hours of it. Read Wordsworth.

read poetry

READ parts of Mary Oliver’s Long Life:

And that is just the point: how the world, moist and bountiful, calls to each of us to make a new and serious response. That’s the big question, of us to make a new and serious response. That’s the big question, the one the world throws at you every morning. “Here you are, alive. Would you like to make a comment?” This book is my comment.

Long Life/ Mary Oliver

and a review of collection that I want to check out, Wonder About The that references a useful essay by Forrest Gander, What is Eco-Poetry?:

Aside from issues of theme and reference, how might syntax, line break, or the shape of the poem on the page express an ecological ethics? If our perceptual experience is mostly palimpsestic or endlessly juxtaposed and fragmented; if events rarely have discreet beginnings or endings but only layers, duration, and transitions; if natural processes are already altered by and responsive to human observation, how does poetry register the complex interdependency that draws us into a dialogue with the world?

What is Eco-Poetry? / Forrest Gander

and also references Angus Fletcher:

In his magisterial 2004 study A New Theory for American Poetry, Angus Fletcher posited that “environmental sensitivity demands its own new genre of poetry” and argued that environment poems “are not about the environment, whether natural or social, they are environments.” 

and discusses how Wonder About The mentions eyes frequently:

The peculiar art of perceiving the environment is often a subject of Wonder About The, whether it’s acknowledging that a farmer’s “bright Deere” is “a part of / the field’s design” or the urgent command, presented in progressively larger type, to “look up / look up / look up.” Eyes, in fact, are mentioned often, from “the sense record” being visited “upon our eyes / our ears” to a hard-earned vision of a waterfowl:

my winter eye
unlayers all frost
anneals what distance
     takes

rank glorious muck
rot palimpsesting rye
the duck
the living eye

april 21/RUN

2 miles
edmund (grass), south/edmund (road), north
52 degrees
wind: 10 mph

A beautiful morning — sun! shorts! Felt sluggish and tired and heavy — heavy legs and thick torso. The dirt trail was soft and uneven. I listened to Taylor Swift’s new album so I didn’t many birds or conversations. I think I heard a few black-capped chickadees, maybe a blue jay? Feeling blah or bleugh today in a way that a run couldn’t fix. No anxiety, just blah.

Before the run, I wrote about yesterday’s image of the gutted street lamp:

Yesterday I offered up an image of the run: the row of street lamps with their wires cut. I want to spend some more time with this image, use it as opportunity to think about image and metaphor, and to give attention to the trails above the river that I run on and the communities — in St. Paul and Minneapolis — that I run through.

So many thoughts prompted by things I’ve been reading lately! Where to begin?

1 — literal and figurative, part 1

the relationship between metaphor and realism—specifically how a poem’s use or rejection of metaphor might double as a commentary on the poet’s relationship to testimony, to bearing witness to the actual world.

When Metaphor Gets Literal

Bearing witness to the actual world. Describing an image in ways that don’t remove it from its context and history and its specificity. Because I’m a poet of place who is dedicated to noticing and documenting the Mississippi River Gorge, I want the specific and concrete in my images. Grotz offers up Czesław Miłosz’s “Blacksmith Shop” as a good example of a literal poem, grounded in concrete reality.

Deep image has had its day, though its ahistorical premises have been taken up in this new method’s assumption that style is merely a manipulable function, easily disconnected from the individual poet’s personal and historical circumstances. . . . In order to record the shocks of contemporary life, the poet must be willing to enter into history, to conjure it not merely as chronological sequence, but as unique texture and feel, what Walter Benjamin called “aura.” Deep image, however, was committed to locating itself in a world of prehistory, as if the mind were a direct conduit to the eternal collective unconscious

Too Much of the Air

What does this “entering into history” and “bearing witness to the actual world” mean to me and the image of the gutted street lamp? It seems important to connect these lamps with the recent spread (for the past 2 years) of copper wire theft across Minneapolis and St. Paul. Scott, RJP, and I have been noticing it for more than a year: all of the lights lining the west river road were out for months, making the river road too dark and dangerous to drive on or run beside at night. The Lake Street Bridge lights and Lake Nokomis lights too. I googled “street lamps cut wires minneapolis” and found a ton of articles about the problem and how difficult and expensive it is to stop the theft. Too many lights, too few police. Possible solutions include enlisting community members — someone has crowd-sourced a map of gutted lamps in Como Park — or targeting the sellers with legislation (imho: a much better solution, especially since it worked with the catalytic convertor thefts a few years back).

Of course, putting this in a historical context also requires thinking about why people might feel compelled to steal wires (economic precarity, addiction) and recent reimaginings of the role of the police in communities. How to recognize this context without reducing the image to it? How to still allow for the figurative in the midst of this literal? How to move beyond chronology and “facts” to texture and feel? Tough questions, I think. Michael Kleber-Diggs offers an answer with his amazing poem, Here All Alone, which I posted on RUN! a few years ago. Wow!

this land, once yours, was flooded and dammed
the same day our Rondo was cleaved for a highway.

the bees are back

I read this suggestion from John Ashbery the other day — “It’s important to try to write when you are in the wrong mood or when the weather is wrong.”– so I have decided that because I am in the wrong mood — the blah bleugh mood — I should try to write something. And I have decided that that something should be about the bees being back in the service berry tree on my deck. Every spring when the tree (or is it a bush? or a bush imitating a tree? wanting to be a tree?) is blooming, the bees come and hover around it. When I sit in my adirondack chair (which I mistakenly called an “andriodak” 25 years ago on St. Simon Island in Georgia and which Scott and I reference every so often) under the tree, I see their shadows crossing over my notebook or my book or my pants. Usually just one or two, today a dozen. Circling and circling, making me almost dizzy. Sometimes I wondered if it was a shadow I was seeing or the actual bee. Then I wondered if they wanted me to move — would they sting me? What a delightful moment! I can’t remember if it was in a poem or an essay or an interview, but I recall reading Ross Gay delighting in the shadow of a bee crossing over his page*. I know I already delighted in these bees before it was endorsed by Gay, but somehow those bees began to matter more once I knew delighting in their shadow was something I could share with one of my favorite writers.

*update, 4 may 2024: I found it! Gay mentions the bees in his delightful poem, Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude:

And thank you the tiny bee’s shadow
perusing these words as I write them.

composed under the tree/bush, with the bees above

Beneath the
bush that

tries to be
a tree,

below the
almost

white blossoms — shadow

bees hover,
dizzy

the air, pass
over

my page, write
this poem.

Am I happy with this poem. For now.

dec 31/BIKE

bike: 30 minutes
basement

Sometime last night, my left leg/knee started to hurt, then it snowed and left slippery sidewalks, so today I decided to be cautious and bike. Watched a replay of the Kona Ironman from 2017 while I biked. At one point, they interviewed 6 (or 5?) time Ironman winner Natasha Badmann. I remember her! She had an amazing perspective on one of the toughest parts of the course: the energy lab. She saw it as giving her energy, not taking it away — the energy of inspiration from the powerful waves off in the distance. Wow, to be that present when you’re 6 or 7 hours into a tough race is impressive. As I biked, I thought about athletes and the different ways they try to overcome the strong desire to stop, give up. I find Badmann’s approach to be a helpful lesson in letting go — not trying to control your thoughts or getting rid of your pain, but releasing them and shifting to another way of being — a way in which you’re not centered, but witnessing something beside yourself. Does that make sense?

Before biking, I had a good morning filled with ideas: 1. creating a series of short poems in which I use my favorite lines from other poets by fitting them into my running/rhythmic breathing form: 3/2 and 2. using my 3/2 form and writing poems that are one sentence long.

I also watched an amazing talk by Ed Hirsch on poetry, the poem, and the reader:

I wish there was a transcript. If there is, I can’t find it, so here are some of my highlights:

Poetry exists to inspire the reader not to inspire the writer, that the purpose of poetry is in the relationship between a poet, a poem, and a reader. And it’s in that connection between them.

Talking about his teacher at Grinnell told him:

You have the gifts to be a poet, but what you’re writing is not poetry. It’s not even close to poetry. What you’re writing down are your thoughts and your feelings but you’re not trying to craft anything, you’re not trying to make anything. You’re not writing in relationship to any other poetry. You’re not reading poetry and so you’re not really a poet right now. You are a person who writes poetry. You have to read poetry and connect your poems to what you’re reading.

He discusses reading Gerard Manley Hopkins and feeling a profound connection. It spoke deeply to him and he wanted to know/study how Hopkins could achieve this.

Holy shit, this thing’s a sonnet? You mean, he’s not just writing out his poems the way I write out mine? He’s actually making it rhyme and everything? That seems generous to me. I want to do that. I’m going to try and make something for someone in the future so that they can feel about my poem the way I feel about Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem.

Then he talks about how Hopkins’ poem was so distanced from him by time, location, experience, yet it spoke to him more than anything else he had heard. He realized that poetry can communicate more deeply than social conversation.

Celan: a poem is a message in a bottle, not guaranteed to reach anyone; a poem is sent out to some future person

Poets are people who, not so much want to express themselves, but feel so encountered by other poems that they want to respond in kind. That’s why Emily Dickinson calls the poets she reads, “her kinsmen of the shelf.”

The reader plays an important role in the understanding of poetry. The message in the bottle only finds its life when it’s activated in you. When you become the secret addresse.

There are a few poems you read and you go, I feel almost like I’ve written the poem to which I’m actually only responding to.

poetry: the gift of privacy and participation: It gives you interiority and it also gives you connection.

Poetry as stored magic that can’t be paraphrased

Poetry exists in the relationship between the poet who wrote it, the poem which encapsulates the experience, and the reader who reads it.

His discussion here reminds me of an interview I read and posted at some point in the last few years:

We are not diminished but enlarged by grief, by our refusal to vanish, or to let others vanish, without leaving a verbal record. We need poetry to help us transform the oceanic depths of feeling into art. Poetry rises out of one solitude to meet another in recognition and connection. It companions us.

And, yes, poetry is connected to contemporary life, but it’s also always connected to other poetry. We need an archive of eloquence and response.

Interview with Edward Hirsch

sept 13/RUN

5 miles
bottom of franklin hill
55 degrees

What a wonderful morning for a run! 55 degrees! Low wind, bright sun. Wore my pink jacket until I warmed up, faded black shorts, gray t-shirt, raspberry red shoes, my mostly purple with pink splotches lightweight baseball cap that I found in my mother-in-law’s closet after she died, with the tag still on, and white socks (also found with tags on in her closet).

Running south, then back up to under the Franklin bridge, I listened to chainsaws, workers yelling about trees falling, bluejays screeching, Dave the Daily Walker saying good morning, and Daddy Long Legs calling out hello. For the last 2 miles of the run I listened to Olivia Rodrigo’s GUTS.

10 Things

  1. the deep voice of the coxswain calling out instructions
  2. the blue, empty river
  3. graffiti on a post under the lake street bridge — block letters outlined in black — was there blue too? I can’t remember
  4. an old convertible sports car parked under the bridge, white or cream
  5. a photographer with a telephoto lens on their camera, standing under the trestle, probably taking pictures of the river
  6. Daddy long legs stretched out on a bench
  7. some guy talking (to the gorge? on the phone? to some other person I couldn’t see?) halfway up a column under the bridge — was I seeing this right?
  8. a line of bikers in bright yellow and orange vests heading south when I was heading north
  9. someone running in a bright pink shirt, another in orange, and one without a shirt
  10. my shadow — sharp and dark in the sun, running alongside me

Found June Jordan’s Guidelines for Critiquing a Poem in one of my files. Right now, I’m especially interested in these bits:

2. Is it a poem? 

a. Poetry: A medium for telling the truth. 
b. Poetry: The achievement of maximum impact with minimal number of words. 
c. Poetry: Utmost precision in use of language, hence, density and intensity of expression. 

Technical Checklist: 

a. Strong, descriptive verbs. Eliminate all forms of the verb “to be.” 
b. Singularity and vividness of diction (choice of words) 
c. Specificity / resonant and representative details 
d. Avoidance of abstractions and generalities 
e. Defensible line breaks 
f. Compelling / appropriate horizontal and / or vertical rhythm and / or vertical line breaks. 
g. Alliteration / Assonance / Dissonance 
h. Rhyme 
i. Consistency of voice / distance from the reader / diction 
j. Dramatic inconsistencies 
k. Punctuation (Punctuation is not word choice. Poems fly or falter according to the words composing them. Therefore, omit punctuation and concentrate on every single word. E.g., if you think you need a question mark then you need to rewrite so that your syntax makes clear the interrogative nature of your thoughts. And as for commas and dashes and dots? Leave them out!)

july 28/SWIM

4 loops
lake nokomis open swim
71 degrees

Yesterday, it was very windy and HOT — upper 90s with feels like temp of over 100 — so I decided to skip open swim last night. I’m glad I did. I think I would have been sore and tired, having battled the wind and the waves. Instead today was a great swim. Calm water and not too crowded. I felt strong and fast and confident.

Again, I couldn’t see the orange buoys, but it didn’t matter. I was fine. I’ve been writing for years about how I can’t see those buoys. Slowly, what it means to “not see the buoys” has changed. It used to be, I only see the buoys every few minutes, not all the time, or, I only see the flash of orange or a small orange dot. But today, on the way to the little beach, swimming into the sun, I only saw the buoys out of my peripheral as I swam by them, never when I was trying to sight with them. Looking straight ahead, using my central vision, I only saw glare and water, trees, and sky. This did not worry me at all. The only time I could see an orange buoy with my central vision, and again, just barely, was after I rounded the second green buoy as I swam back to the start of the loop. Mostly I could see the green buoys as the idea of green or a small green dot. One time, as I got closer (but I was still 50+ yards away), I knew I was heading toward the second green buoy but I couldn’t actually see it. I paused, lifted my head high out of the water, then turned to look out of my peripheral. There it was. When I looked through my central vision again, I could see it because now my brain knew where it was. That’s one way my brain compensates for bad cones.

On the back half of loops 3 and 4, I recited A Oswald’s “Evaporations,” A Sexton’s “A Nude Swim,” and T Hoaglund’s “The Social Life of Water.” Fun! I like reciting these poems. I thought about Sexton’s line, we let our bodies lose all their loneliness and Hoaglund’s lines, all water is a part of other water and no water is lonely water. Also thought about Ed Bok Lee and his idea of water as wise, ebullient, and generous in “Water in Love.” I tried to love like the lake loves, open and generous to everything and everyone. I gave attention to feeling not lonely — connected, entangled, beholding and beholden by the fish or the lifeguards, the other swimmers, the buoys.

10+ Lake Companions

  1. the woman who, as she neared the safety boat by the lifeguard stand on the beach to drop off her stuff, called out, I forgot my cap in the car! Then later, when I asked, pointed out the far orange buoy to me
  2. the lifeguard on the shore, speaking into her walkie talkie, instructing the lifeguards where to place the buoys
  3. the swan boat, far off to my left
  4. the plane sharply ascending above me
  5. the small piece of debris that I accidentally swallowed then felt as it briefly got stuck in my throat
  6. the small piece of debris that somehow got trapped in my googles, then in my eye until I blinked it out
  7. the swimmers with bright pink buoys tethered to their torsos
  8. one of the few swimmers wearing a wet suit on this warm morning
  9. the breaststrokers
  10. the women giggling and calling out to each other as they approached the first orange buoy
  11. the woman discussing her swim with another swimmer after she was done, I’m slow, very very slow

All of us, together, loving the lake and each other.

Before my swim, I read a great interview between two writers discussing illness and the writing life, Sick and Writing: Two Poets Converse. Here are some passages from it that I’d like to remember and reflect on:

detection, diagnosis, disease

poetry is not so much a means of healing as it is a method of detection, occasionally therapeutic but essentially diagnostic. Which of course implies that poetry is rooted not only in dis-ease but in causes hidden.

Jennifer Sperry Steinorth

to articulate what this singular life is like, in the thick of it

Not that we’re writing to solve the mystery of being; it’s more the need to see clearly. To look at the undersides of leaves, to watch butterflies emerge from their chrysalises. To be amazed. To look at the adventure of our infirmities, even. As Marianne Boruch said, it’s about detection.

*

I’ve wondered if I write them [emotions] to feel in control, to feel in connection with others who suffer, or simply to articulate what this singular life is like, in the thick of it.

Fleda Brown

on erasures

I like the idea of receptivity with regard to erasure. I have often used the metaphor of excavation to speak of that work, though I too balk at the idea that I am digging up something that already exists, something latent in the text. Rather, it is as if I am excavating the dead from a text that buried them—a kind of channeling.

JSS

trying to find the awe in awful

The word awful has awe in it, but when I feel awful it doesn’t feel like awe—maybe it should. Pain alienates us from one another, from ourselves, and from language. It disrupts connectivity. But through writing or other forms of making, we struggle against that disconnect.

jss

on taking walks in order to face the lion

 I sometimes need multiple walks a day; movement outside in the ordinary splendor of the world allows me to enter the tragic spaces of the past and the ongoing darkness in the world and in myself, without being swallowed by it. Jane Hirshfield talks about this in her wonderful essay “Facing the Lion,” inspired in part by Allen Ginsberg’s poem “The Lion for Real,” “The trick then is to let the lion into the house without abandoning one’s allegiance to the world of the living: to live amid the overpowering scent of its knowledge, yet not be dragged entirely into its realm.” Moving my body out in the world—outside the intimate spaces where I write—being in conversation with others—all of these help me hold the dark and light together. That this work demands so much discipline—even when I feel otherwise stable—speaks to the toll our work can take.

jss

the relief of a diagnosis

 Sometimes when I tell people my diagnoses they tell me they are sorry, and I understand they think the diagnoses are awful, and I get that, but I am so thankful for the diagnoses. It’s such a relief to know what’s wrong—even when nothing can be done to fix it.

Maybe knowing what’s wrong—the diagnosis—helps us—if not to fix what’s wrong, then to adjust our mind to new uncertainties—to let something go?

jss

Discovered that Fleda Brown has a wonderful blog, The Wobbly Bicycle. I’ll have to keep checking it out!

Here’s the poem-of-the-day from yesterday. If I had swam last night, I would have posted it then. It’s fitting for my swim this morning, thinking about my love for/of others in the water. Also, it’s a nice nod to the swimmer I heard after I exited the lake who said she was slow, very very slow.

Romance/ Susan Browne

I swim my laps today, slowly, slowly,
reaching my arms out & over, my fleshly oars,
the water silken on my skin, my body still able
to be a body & resting at the pool’s lip,
I watch other bodies slip through the blue,
how fast the young are
& how old they become, floating, floating,
forgetting the weight of years
while palm trees sway above us,
a little wind in the fronds, children playing
in the fountains, one is crying, one is eating
a peanut butter & jelly sandwich, I’m hungry
& wonder, has everything important happened
& what is more important than this,
like a secret adventure, like an affair I’m having
with everyone I see, their soft or washboard bellies,
their flat or rounded butts, their rippling hair
or shiny domes, their fragile ankles,
their beautiful bones, all our atoms swimming, swimming
& making us visible & I shove off the wall,
reaching my arms out, embracing the whole
magic show, with ten more laps to go.

feb 15/BIKERUN

bike: 25 minutes
run: 2.5 miles
basement
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
layers
of sleep.

I know
with what difficulty
flowers

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
rising

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
settling.

*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”?

july 29/BIKESWIMBIKE

bike: 8.5 miles
lake nokomis and back
66 degrees (there) / 71 (back)
9:00 am / 11:15 am

A little crazy on the trail today. So many reckless bikers going too fast and not warning me they were coming. A mini peloton of male bikers — all decked out in their kits — zoomed past me on a curve at the top of the hill and I yelled out, Thanks for letting me know you were coming! Ah, so passive agressive of me. I stewed about it for a few minutes, thinking about how I wish I would have said something more direct, or how I wished people didn’t act like aggressive jerks so often, but then decided I wanted to enjoy this ride. So I started reciting Emily Dickinson — out loud! It’s all I have to bring today –/This, and my heart beside Over and over again. It worked! As I rounded the curve and neared the big beach at Lake Nokomis 10 minutes later, I thought about how grateful I am for every single bike ride I can still do. Maybe my brain and I will figure out how to keep me biking even when my central vision is gone, and maybe not. But this morning, I could bike by myself and I didn’t feel scared or (too) disoriented. And that ride took me to the lake. What a gift!

swim: 4 loops!
lake nokomis open swim
67 degrees
9:30 am

A little chilly. Lots of sun. A great swim. The first time this season that I’ve swam 4 loops. And I didn’t stop — well, I treaded water for a few seconds as I adjusted my too-tight goggles, but I never went back to stand near the shore. 4 straight loops in 75 minutes. Amazing. During the final loop, I felt warmed up and in that flow state. Tired, too. I’d like to get up to 5 or 6 loops, but I’m glad I didn’t do that today.

Image of the swim: Swimming towards the big beach, into the sun, I noticed spots of shimmering water ahead of me. I followed them towards the opposite shore. Then I realized: the shimmer was where there was a swimmer! Their disruption of the water with their strokes was causing the light to dance on the ripples. So cool! It was beautiful to see, and to think about each of us, out there on the lake, shimmering and shining and emitting a guiding light for each other. Even as I get irritated with some swimmers or bikers, I want to remember this image of each of us as a shimmering light dancing on the surface.

And here’s an interview I found the other day that I wanted to remember for the future:

from Short Conversation with Poets: Linda Gregerson

For the most part, I try to hold off on the “about” part for as long as I can. Attending to syntax and stanza form is one of the ways I try to do that. No one needs to hear me ruminate (or worse, hold forth) on something I already think I know. In one of her very early poems, Brenda Hillman wrote something like “the jetty of my ignorance” (I’m sure I’m getting that wrong: I seem to remember a walkway of some sort and a large body of water). Jetty, or footbridge, or causeway, the point is this: a certain kind of ignorance is good, even necessary, for the making of a poem. I’m not talking about willful mystification or atmospherics, God forbid, but rather about the momentum of good-faith wanting-to-discover-something. Deferring the “about” part is rather like deferring the main clause of a sentence: it stores up energy.

All of us carry around enormous repositories of grief and longing and wonder and memory, and these will always make their way into poems. Frontal attack, I’ve found, is rarely the way to unlock them.


“the momentum of good faith wanting-to-discover-something”
“Deferring the “about” part is rather like deferring the main clause of a sentence: it stores up energy.”
“Frontal attack is rarely the way to unlock them [grief,longing,wonder, memory].”

…the most profound and durable source of wonder for me is my “thrownness” into the biological world. I am perpetually astonished by the mystery of living in a body that, whatever its limitations, is so much smarter than I am. A body that handles more things, is infinitely more complex than what I think of as my “self,” a body that does things I could not possibly do on purpose, and which I inhabit as a kind of guest. 

“the mystery of living in a body that is so much smarter than I am.”
“infinitely more complex than what I think of as my ‘self’…”

I don’t think poetry is antithetical to reasoned thought. But I do think the experience of standing before the world in wonder and wanting to come to what mindfulness we can is a very important stance. In my experience, it’s our common stance, common to poets and scientists alike. 

I have been the beneficiary of instruction, or let’s just call it patient explanation, from people who are exquisitely trained in neurophysiological research, my late sister chief among them. The magic of that research is the combination of aptitudes it requires: capacities for abstract inquiry, tolerance of provisional thinking, and a daunting array of practical skills. The scientist needs to posit a hypothesis in order to formulate her question, and then to design an experiment that might help her refine the question, and she has to be prepared to jettison that hypothesis if her experimental results tell her it’s insufficient. You have to be invested in order to pursue the question, in other words, but you also have to be prepared to be corrected. I think that’s also a moral stance. You can’t be not-committed, you must be strongly committed and yet prepared to be corrected.

“you must be strongly committed and yet prepared to be corrected.”

Finally, here’s a great poem I found yesterday. Check out the note under the title. Poetry was an Olympic event? Nice.

Taking Your Olympic Measure/ Alberto Rios

Poetry was an Olympic event from 1912-1948.

Think of the records you have held:
For one second, you were the world’s youngest person.

It was a long time ago, but still.
At this moment, you are living 

In the farthest thousandth-of-a-second in the history of time.
You have beaten yesterday’s record, again.

You were perhaps the only participant,
But in the race to get from your bedroom to the bathroom, 

You won.
You win so much, all the time in all things.

Your heart simply beats and beats and beats—
It does not lose, although perhaps one day.

Nevertheless, the lists of firsts for you is endless—
Doing what you have not done before,

Tasting sake and mole, smelling bergamot, hearing
Less well than you used to—

Not all records are for the scrapbook, of course—
Sometimes you are the best at being the worst.

Some records are secret—you know which ones.
Some records you’re not even aware of.

In general, however, at the end of a long day, you are—
Unlikely as it may seem—the record holder of note.  

feb 27/RUN

3.2 miles
trestle turn around
26 degrees
100% clear!

Windy today. Not too crowded. Sunny. My legs felt weird for a mile or so–like they weren’t quite working. Heavy, plodding. Listened to a New Yorker poetry podcast with a poet I just discovered (Craig Morgan Teicher) and felt like I was in a dream. Barely on the path, floating, cocooned in layers, unable to hear birds or trickling water or striking feet. The river was open. Stopped and admired it by the trestle. Then turned on my new playlist. No Daily Walker but a few others walkers, at least one biker. Felt fast in the second half as I flew down the hill by the lake street bridge. Sprinted up the final hill. Don’t remember much from the run. What a wonderful thing it is to lose myself for 30 minutes!

Before I ran, I had a great morning. Started by listening to part of an episode with Victoria Change on Commonplace. At one point, they discuss their shifts in writing in first and third person which got me thinking about my own choice, in my latest project, to write in second person. Why am I using you? Who is you? Found some very interesting essays on second person online: Stuck on You: an ode the second person and the intimacy of writing in the second person in a bar. Then I started thinking about how Mary Oliver uses you, like in Wild Geese (You do not have to be good/you do not have to walk on your knees…). Finally I thought about who the I and the You are in my project. One answer: I = Teacher self and You = Student Self.

After all of that excellent thinking, I checked out twitter and found these lines from the poem Tomorrow and Tomorrow Again/Craig Morgan Teicher:

One cannot lock eyes with a bird,
its eyes vacant as ball bearings, but
mustn’t there be some recognition
in everything?

eyes vacant as black ball bearings? What a great line that reminds me of my own about not being able to see people’s pupils: “soul less black balls”. I looked Teicher up and found his poem, “Eye Contact”. I wondered, does he have macular degeneration or some other vision problem? Couldn’t find anything, but he sure does like referencing blindness. His poetry collection from 2012 is titled, To Keep Love Blurry and check out the titles he gave his NPR end of the year poetry reviews: “Keeping the Dark at Bay” and “In the Dark, The Eye Begins to See.” Hmm…I need to study his writing more. At this point, early on, I can’t decide what he’s doing with these references to blindness–is it signaling his own experiences/preoccupations with blindness or is it serving as metaphor, where blind = dark = bad = shame = grief = loss = death?

Tomorrow and Tomorrow Again/ Craig Morgan Teicher

Of course I don’t know what
happens to us: if we survive in the
hands of love; if Cal, if Simone
and all the trembling answers
those questions entail; whether
by time or by disease or by
an atom bomb right in the eye. Is it
possible death could be thrilling
and fun? And after could there be
something somewhere and what
will we do if we see each other
there? Will the same songs stay stuck
in our heads? Will medicine
succeed in making life so long
we will beg for medicine to end it?
One cannot lock eyes with a bird,
its eyes vacant as ball bearings, but
mustn’t there be some recognition
in everything? Some fury, some
questioning? If one phrase could echo
throughout eternity, would the ear
on the other side return
a word? But what am I asking?
Will I ever see a whale, and will his size
compared to mine be a true
form of knowledge? Loneliness
has depths writing fails to fathom.
I could be clearer, say more, but
it wouldn’t mean as much. Mother
will I ever find you again? Is fear
of spiders fair? Is a power
above minding the scales, be it
science or gods or the weather,
and can they be tipped toward
balance from here? Is beauty more
than another form of pleasure?
What, which, when, how is better?

Eye Contact/ Craig Morgan Teicher

As if bees are known for their pride.
But what’s so great about horses? They’re stuck 
on the earth except when they jump,

but even then they’re not bees.
But is there anything we value so highly 
as streetlights, which, unlike bees,

watch over us with their swan-like
necks and open their eyes at the right time 
every night? The answer is lonely

and whoever among us is brave enough 
to find it will come home to a family 
that won’t even look us in the eyes.


2

But what’s so great about eye contact? 
As if a horse knows a newspaper 
when he sees it. Streetlights don’t live

in hives; they’re not more afraid
of us than we are, fortified by stingers and swarms. 
Bees don’t brighten the alleyways

in which we commit our most heinous crimes 
to keep things moving and fill 
the papers with news. Why don’t we have

a holiday to recognize the alleyways?
The answer is lonely and whoever
among us is brave will have nowhere to jump.


3

Why don’t we sing a song that makes 
the bees proud? What’s so great 
about desolate meadows? The answer

is lonely. Why don’t we come home 
and look at our family? Why don’t we 
designate an hour to brag about news?

What’s so great about the way the papers 
blow through alleyways in the evening 
like deflated rats? As if pride could

brighten the meadows at night. Whoever 
among us is brave enough to forgive
a family gets to make eyes with a lonely horse.


4

As if the answer is flowers. As if 
we could gather streetlights
in a bouquet from the alleyways

and brighten family after 
beekeeping family. But what’s so 
great about seeing the truth?

Beneath every meadow is the earth’s 
molten core, red and hot as an evil eye. 
Why don’t we blow through the streets

at night? The answer is lonely, even 
if a horse knows the way home. 
What’s so great about being brave?


freeze-thaw, a different perspective

added in a few hours after I first posted this entry: Scrolling through my twitter feed, I encountered this very helpful, perspective-shifting idea from Paul Huttner on MPR Weather:

Temperatures over the next week look perfect for gradually reducing snowpack across the Upper Midwest. Days above the thawing point will melt snow. Nights below freezing mean that snowmelt will gradually be released into area rivers.

This gradual release helps mitigate the early-spring threat of flooding. Wow! All this time, I’ve been cranking about how much I hate these freeze-thaw cycles. I’m glad to read that they’re helpful. I still might not like how dangerous they make the path, but now I can get over myself and think about how they help the river. What a nice opportunity to shift my perspective. And, as a bonus: it will be warmer during the day next week!

jan 23/RUN

2.3 miles
river road, north/south
32 degrees
100% sloppy wet be-puddled slushied unevenness

A great temperature for a run. An ideal what-you-imagine-when-you-imagine-a-pretty-snowy-winter scene. A terrible path. It snowed an inch or two last night. Wet, sloppy snow that’s half melted into a mess on the path. But I needed the fresh air so I put on my yaktrax and headed to the river, unsuccessfully dodging big puddles. Enduring the mess was worth it. My favorite part of the path was beautiful–the tall, slender trees had just the right amount of snow. Everything so white. I wonder what the river looked like? I didn’t glance at it even once. The air was warmer but not too warm. If the path had been clear, it would have been a wonderful day for a long run.

Read a great article about using figurative language yesterday, How to Use Simile and Metaphor Like a Boss

Metaphors and similes have two parts. There’s the tenor (the original subject we’re trying to describe) and the vehicle (the compared object we’re borrowing qualities from). So if we look at Robert Burns’s poem “A Red, Red Rose,” we see “O my Luve is like a red, red rose.” Love would be the tenor (subject) and rose would be the vehicle (object). Metaphors and similes work only when they illuminate, that is, when they help us better understand or see something by way of comparison. They should feel both apt and surprising—a hard balance! If the tenor and the vehicle seem too similar, the comparison won’t be surprising or illuminating for the reader. You really want to compare apples to oranges, not Fuji apples to McIntoshes. Or, better yet, try comparing apples to baby birds.

jan 20/RUN

4.3 miles
minnehaha falls and back
10 degrees
100% snow-covered

What a wonderful day for a run! Hardly any wind. The feels like temperature is the same as the actual temperature. The path isn’t too slippery or sloppy or soft. The sun is shining, the sky is bright blue, the path isn’t crowded.

Reached the river and turned right today. Briefly glanced at the oak savanna. Looked at the open water on the river. Noticed a big hulking mound of snow near a bench. A mutated snowman? Not sure. Listened to my feet crunching on the path, scratching more than usual because of my yaktrax.

The falls are mostly frozen with only a small stream of water still falling. A handful of people came to look, most up above by me, some down below, exploring the ice columns in the off-limits area. Heard the creek still moving–not quite rushing–towards the edge.

Heading back, I put in my headphones and listened to a playlist. Admired my shadow as she led me home. Looked up and saw a big bird or a plane–can’t remember which now–in the sky. Heard some geese.

Anything else? This run made me happy. I smiled a lot at the passing cars and the snow-covered trees. Also, I stopped at the double bridge and walked in the deeper snow of the walking path. Looked down at the ravine, then at the snow on the path which was so bright and white that it seemed blue.

Smells and Poetry, a few recent and one not so recent encounters

1. Pungency

Of course, I don’t want my children to have exactly the same childhood as I did: that would almost be a definition of conservatism. But I would like them to be assaulted by the pungency, by the vivid strength and strangeness of detail, as I was as a child; and I want them to notice and remember. (I’m also aware that worrying about lack of pungency is a peculiarly middle-class, Western affliction; much of the world is full of people suffering from a surfeit of bloody pungency.) from The Nearest Thing to Life/ James Wood

2. The Smell of a Thought

one thing i love about poetry is how thinking and feeling don’t need to be distinguished. a thought that is a strange passion, yes. a feeling that is a philosophical argument, yes. and both physical, sensory too. the taste of a feeling. the smell of a thought. a tweet from @chenchenwrites

3. Smells and Memory, an Exercise

Jot down some smells that are appealing to you. For each one, describe the memory or experience associated with that smell, making sure you bring in the other sense in your description. Write a poem for each smell. Do the same with smells you don’t like. from The Poetry Companion/ Kim Addonizio

4. Smelling the Entrails of a Failed Soul

What Nietzsche writes about bad air in On the Genealogy of Morals: “What is it exactly that I find so totally unbearable? Something which I cannot deal with on my own, which makes me choke and feel faint? Bad air! Bad air! It’s when something which has failed comes close to me, when I have to smell the entrails of a failed soul!”

jan 19/RUN

4 miles
trestle turn around + extra
5 degrees/feels like -8
100% snow-covered

A winter wonderland. Cold, but not too cold–at least not for me. Fluffy flurries in the air. The path was covered with snow but it was packed and not too slippery. Just before starting my run, I listened to the snow, grinding as my foot stepped down and shushing as it lifted off of the ground. Not too long after I started, I saw 2–yes 2!–cross country skiers about to head down into the tunnel of trees. Nice. Had a few brief glances at the river but was focused more on avoiding big snow clumps/ice chunks on the path. Encountered some walkers, dogs, at least one fat tire, a few other runners. Was able to greet the Daily Walker twice, once heading north, and again heading south. Didn’t hear any geese today. Saw lots of cars. While running the cold didn’t bother me after the first mile. When I stopped my skin started to burn. Not sure why, but the part of me that gets the coldest after a run is my stomach. Not my arms or fingers or toes. It burns and for several minutes it’s bright red. Why?

Looked it up, and here’s what I found:

When you exercise, the working muscles call for an increase in blood flow. Oxygen is essential to energy production and blood supplies it. … During running your body is not focusing on digestion, urination or reproduction, so blood is diverted from the stomach area, which may be cause for a cold stomach while running.

Interesting and nothing to worry about. Later in the article it states, “This is no cause for concern. If your stomach is cold, your body is doing it’s job.” Good job body!

Right now I’m reading the awesome book, Why Poetry by Matthew Zapruder. Love this description of poetry:

Poems exist to create a space for the possibilities of language as material. That is what distinguishes them from all other forms of writing. Poems allow language its inherent provisionality, uncertainty, and slippages. They also give space for its physicality–the way it sounds, looks, feels in the mouth–to itself make meaning (12).

Wow, this poem! I love Marie Howe.

Singularity/ Marie Howe

   (after Stephen Hawking)

Do you sometimes want to wake up to the singularity
we once were?

so compact nobody
needed a bed, or food or money—

nobody hiding in the school bathroom
or home alone

pulling open the drawer
where the pills are kept.

For every atom belonging to me as good
Belongs to you.   Remember?
There was no   Nature.    No
 them.   No tests
to determine if the elephant
grieves her calf    or if

the coral reef feels pain.    Trashed
oceans don’t speak English or Farsi or French;

would that we could wake up   to what we were
— when we were ocean    and before that
to when sky was earth, and animal was energy, and rock was
liquid and stars were space and space was not

at all — nothing

before we came to believe humans were so important
before this awful loneliness.

Can molecules recall it?
what once was?    before anything happened?

No I, no We, no one. No was
No verb      no noun
only a tiny tiny dot brimming with

is is is is is

All   everything   home

jan 9/RUN

5 miles
franklin hill turn around
29 degrees/ feels like 20
50% ice and snow-covered

Love these outdoor runs when the path is not completely ice-covered and I get to run for almost an hour! Just past the welcoming oaks stopped for a minute to let the parks mini-truck drive by on the path. Noticed later that they had put some dirt down on the path. Hooray! Hopefully that will make it easier to run on. For much of the run north, felt like I was in a dream, floating along on the path.

What I remember about today? The River

Wasn’t sure how long I would run but decided to go all the way to the bottom of the Franklin hill to get a closer look at the river and all the ice on it. So desolate and other-worldly looking! Studded with chunks of ice and thick water that wasn’t moving or barely moving. Moving at a glacial pace? Thought about this phrase and how (sadly, disturbingly) it’s losing its potency as a metaphor now that glaciers are melting (and melting so much faster than expected).

Did a quick google search and found this article: Slang is changing at a glacial pace

The thick water reminded me of simple syrup–clear but thick and barely flowing. Or maybe like a partly melted slushie? Still very cold and a little frozen but more liquid than ice. I’ll have to keep looking closer at the river to see when/if it completely freezes over.

After turning around at the bottom of the Franklin hill, I ran back up the hill, stopping at 3 miles for a minute to turn on a playlist. Encountered several dogs and their humans, some walking, some running. Greeted Dave, the Daily Walker. After I finished running, stopped at the split rail fence above the ravine to stretch. With the temperature almost at freezing, the water dripping out of the sewer pipe smelled rotten.

dead metaphors

Yesterday I posted something about metaphors, their (sometimes) entrenched political meanings, and how they can limit instead of expand our imagination. Today, I’m thinking about metaphors again as I read the “Slang is Changing” article I mentioned above.

During the Little Ice Age, which stretched from the 14th to the 19th century, the median Northern Hemisphere winter was significantly colder than it is today. Glaciers more often advanced than retreated, sometimes wiping out communities as they moved. Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem ‘Mont Blanc’ (1817) captures the menacing aura that adhered to those frozen rivers of ice:

… The glaciers creep
Like snakes that watch their prey, from their far fountains,
Slow rolling on …
in scorn of mortal power

Shelley saw glaciers as predatory, immortal forces, eternal beings, before whose might mere humans quaked. But global warming has flipped that perception. We are now more likely to view glaciers as casualties of humanity’s outsize, planet-altering powers.

In “Politics and the English Language” (1946), Orwell laid out six rules for writers, the first of which declares: “Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.” An inert metaphor such as “hotbed of radicalism” conveys very little: We can no longer feel the blazing temperature between the bed sheets, just as—prior to public awareness of global warming—we’d stopped noticing the icy fossil poetry in “glacial pace.”

We speak routinely of carbon footprints, of wiping species off the face of the Earth, and of greenhouse gases, but we no longer see the feet, the hands, and the backyard sheds. As consciousness of climate change has grown, a new class of dead metaphors has entered the English language. We speak routinely of carbon footprints, of wiping species off the face of the Earth, and of greenhouse gases, but we no longer see the feet, the hands, the faces and the backyard sheds that were once vivid when those phrases were newly coined.

jan 6/RUN

3.25 miles
trestle turn around
27 degrees
50% slick ice-covered

Ugh! The temperature was great, so was the wind, but the path was terrible. So slippery–not all of it, but enough to make it very difficult to run on. I’ve been wondering why the paths are so awful this year and I think it is because they must not be treating the asphalt at all. Not sure what they used to put on it, but nothing this year. This is a bummer, but I’m sure whatever they were treating it with was not good for the river so I’m glad they’ve stopped.

Paused at the trestle to put in my headphones and admire the beautiful, brown river. Very peaceful today. Don’t remember much else except for the walk before the run: I heard lots of birds, an airplane, the hum of far off traffic, a chainsaw trimming a tree. Oh–and how the slick ice on the path was shining in the sun.

The Spider/ Heather Christle

The spider he is confused
b/c I am not killing him
only moving him outdoors
When I die I do not want
to feel confused
No I would rather feel clarity
like I am a pool
and death a chlorine tablet
I want it to feel
not like I am dying
but am being transferred
to the outside
And I hope I do not drown
as I have seen happen
to hundreds of spiders
b/c I love to swim
and to drown would
wreck swimming
for a long time
But death is like none of this
I know that death is a tower
standing in the middle of the town
And the tower receives
many visits
And there’s no one
but spiders inside

Heather Christle is wonderful. Favorite line: “I hope I do not drown/as I have seen happen/ to hundreds of spiders/ b/c I love to swim/and to drown would/wreck swimming/ for a long time”

This poem is part of a series called Back Draft in which poets show two versions of a poem and then discuss their revision process. Very interesting.

on revision

With me, I can pretty quickly hear whether there is a thing that is alive inside the poem. But for me, if that thing that’s alive in some poems isn’t there, there’s nothing I can do to make it come forward, you know? Some poems have life, and some just don’t. Sometimes it’s an ostrich, and sometimes it’s a cinder block, and no matter what I do I can’t make a cinder block be an ostrich (Heather Christle)

the process of writing poetry

an enormous part of what I’m doing is listening, that I’m listening to the strangeness that is within us, and within our world, and within our ways of speaking to one another. And I’m listening to the energies and desires of the words themselves, which isn’t to say that I think that I’m actually listening to Martians, to borrow Jack Spicer’s metaphor, you know? I don’t think that I’m catching the voices of ghosts or something. I don’t know what is on the other side of what I’m listening to, but I do know that it, for me, has to be heard right away, that I can’t slowly revise my way towards it. If I missed it the first time, it’s not going to become present.

dec 29/RUN

5.4 miles
franklin loop
42! degrees/ 98% humidity
0% snow-covered/ 40-50% puddle-covered

A wonderful run on a wet, almost raining day! Wasn’t planning to do the franklin loop but then decided at the last minute, why not, I bet it’s clear on the st. paul side and it was. The river was brown then gray then brown again. Never white. As I crossed the franklin bridge I could see that the path below in the east flats was clear. The path above was too. Lots of puddles, but no ice or snow. Didn’t think about anything I can remember.

Observations

people

  1. Encountered an older man and woman on the lake street bridge as I climbed up from the steps. As I started to run again, the man said, “And she’s off!”
  2. Running up behind a woman with a dog on a narrow part of the path. She veered in front of me without looking. Called out to her once, “excuse me” but she didn’t hear me. Had to do it again and freaked her out.
  3. Lots of runners on the minneapolis–any on the st. paul side? I don’t think so.

water

  1. So wet! Lots of drips from the trees.
  2. The sewer pipe in the ravine was rushing, gushing, almost roaring.
  3. Big puddles on the sidewalk. Tried to avoid one but stepped right in it.
  4. Car wheels whooshing over the wet pavement.
  5. Always wondering: is that just water or a sly slick spot?
  6. More gushing, dripping, falling water on the St. Paul side.
  7. Huge puddles on the east river road. Big splashes as the cars drove through them.
  8. Tiny ice chunks flowing down the river towards the falls below the lake street bridge.

After finishing the run and walking back, stopped to record the sounds of water on the street, rushing down the sewer, dripping off the eaves, mixed with all the birds:

Last week, I read a great poetry/craft advice column–The Blunt Instrument–on sentimentality and whether or not it’s bad.

It’s not sentiment or emotion itself that’s bad, it’s misused or overused emotion, and this is what writers, maybe especially poets, need to watch out for: unearned sentiment that feels mawkish, cloying, or cheap. In other words, laying it on too thick, or using emotional tropes to trick the reader into thinking they’re feeling something, when actually they’re just recognizing the outlines of a familiar emotion.

I enjoy her description of how excessive, insincere sentiment, which she names as hokey and corny, is determined:

You can’t define an adjective like “hokey” or “corny” (both of which, by the way, mean “mawkishly sentimental”) by any clear objective standard, but some number of people are going to read it and make the puke face.

Her advice for avoiding the puke face? Read a lot and learn how to judge from a wide range of examples when feeling is corny or genuine.

Her final line offers a great way to sum up sentimentality:

Sentimentality is feeling that’s too sure of being understood. 

dec 21/RUN

4.2 miles
to the falls and back
25 degrees
50% snow-covered

Ran south instead of north this morning. Much better conditions on the trail. I ran on bare pavement for much of it. Hooray! The sun was shining and the wind wasn’t too bad. A wonderful morning for a run. If it had been just a little clearer on the paths, I might have called today (near?) perfect conditions. Much easier to notice the river running this way. It’s because there’s not much other than steep slopes between the bluff and the river in this stretch. Nearing Locks and Dam #1, I could see shimmering river near the Ford Bridge. Open water! Beautiful. Ran through Minnehaha Regional Park and stopped for a few seconds to admire the rushing falls. Not frozen over yet.

Encountered lots of runners and walkers. 2 fat tires. I passed one runner on the way up to the double bridge. I could hear them behind me. At first growing more distant, then closer. They were speeding up. For a few minutes, I tried to speed up too but just past 38th street I gave up. I slowed down so they could pass and so I could stop hearing the crunching of their feet stalking me. Maybe someday I won’t be bothered by people following me but today was not that day.

This morning I read a great essay, The Art of Finding by Linda Gregg. She writes:

I am astonished in my teaching to find how many poets are nearly blind to the physical world. They have ideas, memories, and feelings, but when they write their poems they often see them as similes. To break this habit, I have my students keep a journal in which they must write, very briefly, six things they have seen each day—not beautiful or remarkable things, just things. This seemingly simple task usually is hard for them. At the beginning, they typically “see” things in one of three ways: artistically, deliberately, or not at all. Those who see artistically instantly decorate their descriptions, turning them into something poetic: the winter trees immediately become “old men with snow on their shoulders,” or the lake looks like a “giant eye.” The ones who see deliberately go on and on describing a brass lamp by the bed with painful exactness. And the ones who see only what is forced on their attention: the grandmother in a bikini riding on a skateboard, or a bloody car wreck. But with practice, they begin to see carelessly and learn a kind of active passivity until after a month nearly all of them have learned to be available to seeing—and the physical world pours in. Their journals fill up with lovely things like, “the mirror with nothing reflected in it.” This way of seeing is important, even vital to the poet, since it is crucial that a poet see when she or he is not looking—just as she must write when she is not writing. To write just because the poet wants to write is natural, but to learn to see is a blessing. The art of finding in poetry is the art of marrying the sacred to the world, the invisible to the human.

To see carelessly and to learn an active passivity. I remember writing/thinking about active/passive seeing a few years ago on this running log. I’ll have to find where. I think running lets you do this because you can’t actively think/theorize about the landscape as you’re running. You’re too busy running. The details get absorbed passively while you’re doing something else.

I like her idea of writing down 6 things you notice each day. I might try that on my run for a month. I already do this on the log but more informally.

6 Things I Observed On My Run Today

  1. Saw shining, open river water through the trees
  2. Heard then saw a Minneapolis Parks plow approaching me on the path, then veering off onto the road
  3. Heard but didn’t see some kids yelling at the park, about to sled down a steep hill
  4. Saw a person walking through the snow on a part of the Winchell Trail that climbs up closer to the road then back down again
  5. Heard then saw 2 people with a dog below me on the Winchell Trail. Almost sounded like they were skiing as they shuffled along but how could that be?
  6. Noticed how one of the ancient boulders on the path–the one near a bench–had a mound of snow on top of it

This was difficult. Maybe because I’d already written a bunch of observations earlier in this log? I think I’ll trying doing this through January.

White-Eyes
BY MARY OLIVER

In winter 
    all the singing is in 
         the tops of the trees 
             where the wind-bird 

with its white eyes 
    shoves and pushes 
         among the branches. 
             Like any of us 

he wants to go to sleep, 
    but he’s restless— 
         he has an idea, 
             and slowly it unfolds 

from under his beating wings 
    as long as he stays awake. 
         But his big, round music, after all, 
             is too breathy to last. 

So, it’s over. 
    In the pine-crown 
         he makes his nest, 
             he’s done all he can. 

I don’t know the name of this bird, 
    I only imagine his glittering beak 
         tucked in a white wing 
             while the clouds— 

which he has summoned 
    from the north— 
         which he has taught 
             to be mild, and silent— 

thicken, and begin to fall 
    into the world below 
         like stars, or the feathers 
               of some unimaginable bird 

that loves us, 
    that is asleep now, and silent— 
         that has turned itself 
             into snow.