First Day came out of material developed during that Key West workshop with Jane Hirshfield I mentioned in my last post. I had never done anything like what we did at that workshop. Jane would give us a prompt to write from and we would return in half an hour or so and read our poems to the group, for me a very scary situation with all the talent that was in the room.
The first day I was astounded by what people brought back, I couldn’t believe the quality of what I was hearing. I felt totally inadequate. But Jane also said that what we were producing were not supposed to be finished poems, that the hope would be some of them would eventually turn into something we liked, a hope I hung on to as everyone else’s sounded very complete already.
In January 2015, during that time many of us here in the mid-continent first heard the term “polar vortex”, I was down in Key West for the Key West Literary Seminar, specifically for a workshop I got into at the last minute with the poet Jane Hirshfield. The weather was warm and sultry, and I was staying in the old town area of a place soaked in the past of literary giants like Hemingway and Elizabeth Bishop. That was my first time at a US literary event and I feel like that was a good prelude to the California adventure that started later that year.
I also got to attend the Literary Seminar part of the event, which meant listening to a wide variety of great writers discuss many things on that year’s theme on panels as well as readings. Jane was great, so well prepared for every discussion and her reading was also top notch. There was another standout, who I didn’t know before, the poet Marie Howe. She and Jane were the ones with the best insights, always prepared and their readings also stood out.
In the workshop with Jane we learned many things. One key one was, ironically, that she felt people workshopped too much, “that they sanded the finish right off their poems” often leaving dull wood. The other was that she felt one of the best poets writing dialogue in poems was Marie Howe. Jane noted that the book What the Living Do was a spectacular example of that, the collection Marie wrote about her brother dying of AIDS.
At one of Marie’s readings I was also struck by a poem full of dialogue, After the Movie. Afterwards I decided to use that poem as a model to try and write a poem using similar moves. The poem I wrote is meant as an homage to that poem and the choices Marie makes. So there is some similarity in the engine of the poem. But different topic, characters, lines etc.
Back in May 2016 a group of Saint Mary’s College of California MFA students were led by Brenda Hillman on a micro protest to go read poetry to the local oil refineries in the Bay Area, refineries that run some of the worst crude in the world (and surprise, it’s California heavy crude). I was there and I’m working on a documentary short that discusses Brenda’s thinking about micro protests as well as how I, as a person who worked in the industry, ended up at Saint Mary’s and at that protest and others with my fellow students. The longer piece is in process. This video of my poem is from that action as is Kelly Egan’s dance that opens and closes the video.
In preparation for this action future mon amour Sara Burant and I, as the two key organizers, went on the weekend before to suss out potential places to do such a thing in Benicia and Martinez. One of the places we found was this space overlooking the Carquinez Strait where the I680’s two bridges cross between Martinez and Benecia. To get to the space you drive on a road that pretty well runs through the Valero refinery. I wrote a poem when I got back to where I was living in Lafayette and read it on the day of the protest at the site the poem describes. It was very fresh so perhaps a bit chancy to read.
“Description” in Greek. An ekphrastic poem is a vivid description of a scene or, more commonly, a work of art. Through the imaginative act of narrating and reflecting on the “action” of a painting or sculpture, the poet may amplify and expand its meaning.
This poem is a response to a photograph I took of a winter scene in Port Dover Ontario. Often in ekphrasis we are responding to someone else’s art. It actually can be any art form involved in either the subject or the art chosen to do the response. But there is a long history of ekphrastic poetry, perhaps because poetry is often digging for what’s underneath the words, and images are so inherent to the art form of poetry that it’s a natural medium for this type of response to other’s work.
I was aware of “The Red Wheelbarrow” of course, one of the most famous poems of the twentieth century, but I had not read any more of Williams. As part of a reading for Brenda Hillman’s prosody and forms class in a Robert Hass section “Modernism and the Two Line Stanza” there was a suggested reading from the Spring and All of several poems. I found the Collected Poems in the library, went to the section with Spring and All and was pleasantly surprised by what I found there. I had been thinking about writing a hybrid work of prose and poetry for some time and here was a great example from 1923. In addition, the work Williams was doing beyond just “The Red Wheelbarrow” was of interest in terms of structure and diction as well as other poetics. And then the prose itself was rich and full of ideas around Williams’ theories on poetics.
When I researched a bit I found out that the original book had not sold many copies, that the full prose had disappeared from any collection of Williams’ work until 1970. I decided I had to know more about this work, its impact on contemporary poetry and how it could influence my own work.
The prose in Spring And All is a manifesto, an idiosyncratic explanation of Williams’ poetic theories and practice, interrupted by outbursts of poetry. The poetry sometimes is a response to what has just been said in the prose or the prose responds sometimes to the poetry. In order to understand what is going on I propose walking through what I see as a few of the key texts of Spring and All. Continue reading “Lessons From William Carlos Williams Spring and All”→
Update: May 14, 2020 CBC Book put out a blog post on the interviews including links to a couple of the radio interviews. link to CBC
So, I was given the opportunity for CBC Radio interviews across the country to be aired this weekend. Seemed to be a followup to my NAC reading somehow. They recorded eight interviews in 15 minute blocks: St. John’s, Montreal, Ottawa, Fresh Air, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and BC. All for weekend morning shows. And a mix of technologies ranging from phone calls to Skype to Google meeting. Mostly worked without real problems except for an attempt at FaceTime which became a regular phone call instead. Asked to read a poem from Moving to Climate Change Hours for Fresh Air and Ottawa. Read “First Day” which might not be your typical morning material in retrospect, dealing with a nasty industrial accident. The Ottawa host said “I was not expecting that”. The host of Fresh Air kind of similar bit of reaction. Memorable and impactful, I guess.
Everybody was incredibly nice. Some going with the standard set of questions structured around promoting the CBC Poetry Prize as well as promoting my book. Others had read my poetry it sounded like and the interviews travelled further afield. In either case grateful for the opportunity.
Great experience. Very tiring. Thanks CBC. I’ll post links to the interviews if they come available.