feb 5/RUN

3.3 miles
below ford bridge and back
33 degrees
100% clear path

Ran to the right and in the afternoon today. Straight into the wind which made it seem colder than 33 degrees. This winter I’m enjoying running this direction and checking out the oak savanna and the moment when it meets the river and the river looks like an enormous empty crater. Didn’t encounter too many people, mostly walkers. One or two runners. One biker. Noticed some super fat squirrels. Admired the curve of the retaining wall above the ravine. Wondered about a white path that led straight down to the river just after the double bridge. Heading back up the hill between locks and dam #1 and the double bridge, I heard the tornado siren doing its monthly test. I flinched both times it started. So loud! Saw my shadow. Also saw the shadow of some trees on the path. At first I thought it was dark ice but then realized, shadows! Spring is getting closer. The sky was an intense blue, especially through the lenses of my “dad sport” sunglasses–which is how my daughter describes them.

Anything else? Yes. Towards the end of my run I remembered to stand taller, straighten my back, and open up my chest to try and inhale as much of the beautiful blue-domed gorge as I could. What a day for a run! Walking back home, I felt the joy even more. Signs of spring: sun, shadows, melting snow, chirping birds, warmer air.

One more thing: as I ran, I tried to regulate my breathing. First, I counted to four. Then I chanted: I am running/by the river/I am running/into wind

I continue to work on my latest creative project, how to be. Had an idea about form today (an idea which I’ve had repeatedly but it never seems to stick): A book of exercises for building various qualities of character. Maybe, a narrative with background on my reasons for doing/creating the exercise + steps on how to do the exercise + an example of the exercise + a corresponding poem or fragments of poem/s.

Came across a few great lines about poetry from Basho this morning:

The secret of poetry lies in treading the middle path between the reality and the vacuity of the world.

Poetry is a fireplace in summer or a fan in winter

feb 4/RUN

4 miles
trestle turn around
10 degrees/ feels like 3
100% clear path!

Sun. Some wind. A clear path. Hardly anyone out in the cold, which is how I like it. The river was brown. The path was partly white, stained from salt. The sky, blue. I saw my shadow running ahead of me. Greeted Dave the Daily Walker twice. Felt a bit sluggish in the first half–my legs are tired and sore from last night’s run. Heard some crows, a skein of geese, some other type of chirping spring-sounding bird. Don’t remember counting my breaths or chanting any fun, random phrases. Thought a trashcan was an approaching walker. Not just in a quick mistaken glance, but for several minutes as I slowly approached the object.

Happy to be out by the gorge unclenching my jaw from a slightly stressful morning of waiting to get a girl to go to school. No big problems getting her to go, just delay and irritation. So glad running helps.

Read through my old doctoral exams and thought about redefining and reclaiming space and time. bell hooks and radical openness on the margins, Trinh T. Minh-ha and storytelling time as not linear but cyclical and not shaped by past, present, and future. I’m thinking about how these ideas are influencing how I understand and experience my beside/s space by the gorge and my running time. The gorge on the edge of “wilderness”/the river/ city limits between St. Paul and Minneapolis/ threshold between forest and neighborhood + running time as not easily measured, not a line from beginning to end but a dripping present (if that makes sense?).

Speaking of influences, I wrote another one of my exams on feminist theory and writing style, including difficult writing style as a way to force people to not easily consume ideas–when you can’t easily or quickly understand what you are reading, you are forced to stop and think more about it which might lead to being more critical of what you are merely supposed to accept and believe. I have always like the idea of rumination and ideas that are “chewy bagels” (must be chewed up, can’t quickly be swallowed and accepted). The main goal? Slow down. Read carefully. Really think about what the author is saying and how it makes you feel. Queer feminist thinkers like Judith Butler have framed this in terms of using languages to forcibly disrupt–we are no longer able to make sense of what we are reading, it is too complicated and confusing. Today, I read an interview with Arthur Sze and I like how he describes how poetry enables us to slow down, not by force but by helping/encouraging us to listen to the sounds of words, the rhythm of language. It’s a invitation, not a demand. Does this make sense? Not sure. I’m trying to figure out why poetry matters to me.

Interview with Arthur Sze

Poetry has a crucial role to play in our lives, society, and the world. It helps us slow down, hear clearly, see deeply, and envision what matters most in our lives. When one reads a poem, one has to pay attention to the sounds of words, to the rhythm of language, experience the dance and tension between sound and silence. A good poem communicates viscerally in the body before it’s fully understood in the mind, and, in that experience, complexities of feeling and thought can sometimes only be conveyed through poetry. I forget which Zen monk wrote,

what comes from brightness, I strike with brightness;
what comes from darkness, I strike with darkness

but here’s an example of emotional and imaginative insight, and how to proceed in the world, compressed into a few words, where each word matters. [The quote comes from 9th century Chinese master Linji Yixuan (Jp. Rinzai).] Prose can explain and lengthily articulate the meaning in those two lines, but only poetry, I think, can capture and embody the experience.

Our world today is built on various assumptions—“time is money,” for example—and we live in an age that although globally connected is not necessarily humanly connected. People work endless hours buying and selling stocks and bonds—“buy silk, sell steel”—for instance. Poetry stands in resistance to this commercial culture. It is not about acquiring material wealth; instead, it’s about human insight, genuine human connectivity, and promotes mindfulness and awakening. In that way, poetry is priceless. And, in that way, I have devoted my life to poetry for over 50 years. Poetry, for me, is about discovery, renewal, awakening, and affirming a way of living that is profound, humbling, and meaningful.

dec 30/RUN

3.25 miles
trestle turn around
34 degrees/ snow
15 mph wind/ gusts up to 29 mph
100% snow-covered

Happy Winter Running! Even running straight into the wind and the snow didn’t dull my delight for being outside in the wintery white world. Wow! (too much with the rhyme and alliteration?) These days I don’t mind so much about the wind or the snow as long as the path isn’t too rough and uneven. Today I wore my yaktrax and had no problems running on the snow. There were a lot more people out there than I would have expected. I thought I was the only crazy one who goes out in this. Was it because of the holidays? Was able to say good morning to Dave the Daily Walker at the end of my run–I haven’t seen him in a while. I do not remember looking at the river even once–now I do remember looking down at the river when I got to the trestle but I absolutely don’t remember what I saw.

Observations (or thoughts?)

  1. The snow was wet and heavy and made pock-marks on the sidewalk.
  2. The sharp, wet flakes flew straight at my face coating my vest, turning the black material from dull to slick and shiny.
  3. For a few stretches, I pulled the brim of my baseball cap down as far as it could go to block my face from the sharp, prickly snow. I looked down at my feet and imagined the path in front of me.
  4. The path was covered in footprints and a single track–probably from a bike wheel.
  5. With the snow, I couldn’t see where the path ended and the grass began but I could feel it when my foot stepped off. Softer on the grass and springier too.
  6. Heard but didn’t see geese honking overhead as I ran south. I imagined what it would feel like to be flying so high in the icy wet sky, honking with wild abandon.
  7. Running by, I noticed two people standing at the top of the old stone steps. How long did they stay there? Did the climb over the chain and take the steps down to the river? If they did, who/what did they find?

Before heading out for my run, I listened to a Poetry Off the Shelf podcast episode with Matthew Zapruder. In it, he talks about nothingness (which is also a chapter in his book, Why Poetry):

One way I think about nothing is silence and absence. And I think that poems—people want to talk a lot about the difference between poems and song lyrics. You know, are song lyrics poetry, and I think the lyrics in song take place against the information of music. And they’re in dialogue with that information. But poems are in dialogue with silence. And silence and nothingness and absence are so fundamental to the physical experience of writing and reading poems for me. But nothingness also has a conceptual importance for me as a poet, which is that, you know, language—I mean, even the kind of talking that you and I are doing now—it’s so purpose driven. We want to accomplish things with our language and communicate and exchange. And that’s a beautiful thing, and that’s what language—you know, it’s a miraculous tool in that way. But what happens if you remove all that purpose and functionality from language? If you take it away and there’s a kind of absence or nothingness in your purpose of speaking, what then starts to happen? And I think what happens is poems. Because then language has a chance to move around and be intuitive and make connections and reach for the limits of experience in a way that it can’t do when you’re constantly turning it to a purpose.

I really like thinking about language not having a purpose and about a poem giving language the chance to breathe and move around and not be driven by any one aim.

Erstwhile Harbinger Auspices 
BY MATTHEW ZAPRUDER

Erstwhile means long time gone.
A harbinger is sent before to help,
and also a sign of things
to come. Like this blue
stapler I bought at Staples.
Did you know in ancient Rome
priests called augurs studied
the future by carefully watching
whether birds were flying
together or alone, making what
honking or beeping noises
in what directions? It was called
the auspices. The air
was thus a huge announcement.
Today it’s completely
transparent, a vase. Inside it
flowers flower. Thus
a little death scent. I have
no master but always wonder,
what is making my master sad?
Maybe I do not know him.
This morning I made extra coffee
for the beloved and covered
the cup with a saucer. Skeleton
I thought, and stay
very still, whatever it was
will soon pass by and be gone.

I have loved the word harbinger ever since I first encountered it in a vocabulary book in a high school english class. I love how this poem makes me wonder why a blue stapler from Staples is a sign of things to come. I love the idea of air being an announcement and that people called augers studied the honks of birds to determine the future. I love when a word can be both a thing and the action that thing does–flowers flower. And I love that it will take me many readings to begin to make sense of this poem.