Month: February 2014

(their own fire)

photo (1) copy 2.

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to get their own fire they abandoned time the cold bed

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Wow. I did it. Posted every day in February. Thanks to all who came to hang out with me again. I’ll probably be dialing down the frequency a notch now but I’m not going away because I remembered that I actually like this stuff. And you. (Though I think I’m done with erasing “Melissa” for a while because man, doing that hurt my head. And Taylor Caldwell’s prose like to kill me.)

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Also, send me some polar vortex poems.

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In Which I Go Stir Crazy Enough to Invite Random Strangers to Send Me Poetry

polar vortex
the thing I won’t touch
at the back of the closet


Apparently on a global level it was actually quite toasty this winter but that is not really a subject you should bring up in polite company in Wisconsin. This winter, anything above ten degrees Fahrenheit here has been a cause for moderate celebration, and above twenty we would just leave our coats at home and go picnic on the shores of the forlorn frozen lakes, except that above twenty pretty much never happens. Right now the polar vortex is visiting us for the third time in two months, or is it the fourth, and if it weren’t for the fact that “polar vortex” is such a fantastic kigo, I’d be in the depths of despair.

Actually, I love the term “polar vortex” so much, and am additionally so desperate for social interaction, even if all it involves is talking about the weather, that I’m going to throw a challenge out there. Polar vortex me, baby. I mean, write a haiku or two (or I don’t care, tanka, haibun, haiga, what have you) using the phrase “polar vortex” and send them to me, reddragonflyhaiku AT gmail DOT com, by…let’s see…March 4th. March Forth.

Then on…let’s see…March 8th, which is International Women’s Day, not that that has anything to do with anything but I’m making this all up as I go along because I’m bored, I’ll publish whichever ones I feel like publishing on this blog. That will probably be most of the ones I get but, you know, I can’t promise anything. I’m unreliable like that.

Don’ts: Don’t send me anything you think you might like to try to publish later in one of the journals that doesn’t accept work that previously appeared in public. Don’t worry, you get to keep the copyright to your work. Don’t be dissuaded if you have not actually personally experienced the polar vortex, except that in that case I hate you, unless you’ve been experiencing something equally horrific like a drought or a flood, which most of the world seems to have been. Oh, and also if you have any art related to the polar vortex that you would like to share, feel free to send that along too. Don’t forget to tell all your friends, unless you have better things to talk about with your friends than the weather.

Okay, I’m done talking now. Run along and write. Is it cold enough for you?


inside me there’s another reason polar vortex

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(slippery)

I’ve always cried easily (although never literally at the drop of a hat, in case you were wondering). I went through a couple of hard years where I never skipped a day, half a day, a quarter day, of crying. I don’t cry quite that often any more, but I probably still cry several times a week, several times a day on bad days. Or good days. The crying can be because of good things too. Crying, for me, is the more or less inevitable result of feeling things. I’m actually not quite sure how people prevent themselves from crying, other than preventing themselves from feeling. It sounds challenging. It’s just not me, what can I say.

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halfway down the river where no river ever was

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People who don’t cry easily, I’ve found, tend to become extremely alarmed by crying people. Sometimes offended. Sometimes angry. A lot of people, I guess, think that you’re crying on purpose to make them feel bad? Or make them do something they don’t want to do? When I was a child I heard the phrase “crocodile tears” a lot. There’s a lot of fear in that phrase. The idea, I guess, is that crocodiles don’t really cry, they just pretend to in order to lure you in close and then eat you. Wow. I guess crying is pretty scary. Well, it is salt water. Potentially corrosive.

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they close my eyes to remember me away

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My father, when he was alive, cried easily too. I know a lot of people never see their fathers cry but I can’t count the number of times I saw my father cry. He was a sad man but, like me, he didn’t cry only because he was sad. Feelings just kind of flooded him — I’m guessing here, extrapolating from my own experience, and also from what I observed about my father — and overflowed from the tear ducts. Good feelings, bad feelings. They’re all the same, really, an excitation of the nervous system.

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mere anarchy a memory

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Our nervous systems are, were, a little off-kilter. I can’t imagine how much harder this condition must have been for a man born in 1939 (boys don’t cry!) than for a woman born in 1969. My father spent a lot of time in valiant battle with his nervous system without quite understanding, until very late in his life, that that was what he was doing. When the tripwire of your nervous system is pulled it feels like you’re either dying or losing your mind or both, but since with the remaining rational portion of your brain you can (sort of) tell that this is not really what is happening, you believe that you must attempt to conceal this feeling from the rest of the world.

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We emptied out a bag, a box, a bowl. A brain.

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The fierce concentration that is required to pretend, much of the time, that you are not feeling the very powerful and terrible things that you are feeling tends to result, regrettably, in one’s appearing intensely irritable and being nearly impossible to live with. My father was nearly impossible and when I was a child, an adolescent, the fact that I fully realized how much I was like him only made me more enraged that he was so crabby and moody and difficult and obnoxious. My rage didn’t keep me from loving him, however. And now that I think back on it, it may have been that crying, all those bitter, salty tears I saw him shed, that made it possible for me to understand that he wasn’t mean so much as overwhelmed by his feelings.

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carting out the slippery remains of remembrance

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we’re on Cape Cod and my hair, attacked by salt and wind and waves and sun, is a terrible mess, so my father takes out his comb and goes to work on it. if it were my mother combing, or anyone else really, I’d be kicking and spitting because I hate people doing things to my hair, it hurts and I have to stand still and I feel like I’m going to jump out of my skin. but somehow my father knows and has always known exactly how to comb my hair so it doesn’t hurt at all. he’s very careful, in this one small way, not to hurt me. I relax and close my eyes while he silently removes every knot, every tangle. for these fifteen minutes our minds are exactly where our bodies are and it feels like they might be there forever. combing the salt out.

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somebody’s jesus just like this scar

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sand, missing

The spam blog commenters are getting really creative–it seems that in their efforts to be misidentified as real people they are using bots to scrape text off websites or somewhere and mash it together at random. Sometimes this results in banality and sometimes in eerily beautiful stuff I can only call auto-generated found poetry. Man, I wish I could suppress my rational mind long enough to write stuff like this.

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Mustard jogged his or her hands and wrists delicately bust, leaving behind them yelled, his or her lose faith, he / she used some a long time clear of metropolis, he / she seemed to be absent, having agony in addition to hoping, this coach started off, appreciate, appears to be to not ever far too.

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Through the Red , never expect to leave a name and a surname, heart, such as the horizon, we see everything through the scenery , do not want to disturb anyone , waved his hand , whether right or wrong, regardless of nostalgia or not, everything is floating in the back of the head .

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In fact , sometimes, some things need to remember, however , we’ll never forget !Perhaps street street Red, no one will ever hold is maintained , those passing years , such as sand , missing ; smoke, drooping ; dream, disappeared.

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Now we finally know what it meant to her jealousy , envy is to your heart , your thoughts and everything , like the clothes wringer like crumpled , it hurts , it hurts , it hurts , really hurts

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No fair

I feel like any day now you’ll write a note
to say forget all that deepest regrets
etc. etc. 
and while reading it I’ll be seized
no I mean literally from behind
by the hair

and it’s the one I meant to all along
it’s the one apostle they always thought
would give in someday
it’s that one buck someone saw
back when summer no fair shooting
twelve points

I mean to say you know what I mean
but since we’ve both forgotten
why not drive
out into the country where the hills
make you slightly sick riding over them
and ride, over them

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Yes I blatantly more or less stole the structure of this poem from John Berryman who JOHN BERRYMAN. Sometimes when I read the work of poets I really love it hurts, literally. Not in a jealous way but just, I don’t know. Aesthetic pain. Goodness hurts. You know what I mean, right? Is it just me? Please tell me it’s not just me. 

This is why it sometimes takes me longer to finish reading books of poetry I love than books of poetry I’m meh about. I’ve been known to take two years to finish a book of poetry I really love because I can’t read more than a page without feeling like I’m having a heart attack. Heavy feeling in chest, shortness of breath. Not that that would be a bad way to go. Death by poetry. Just not yet, oh no, too much to write, too little time, too much love.
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Her

try to remember        what she wore         in the morning

her name in a song        carnival sounds

after the shaved ice       a glimpse         of her thigh

the shade of her lipstick         matches her scar

the oddness         of her garments        when it rained

an invented memory         of losing her number

her name worked in silver        hangs from her neck

the color of the makeup        covering her scars

melt down the candle        to mold her face

her half-empty glass        among all the others

Stealing

The final class in my “Lie, Cheat, & Steal” poetry workshop was last night. I feel a little bereft now. I kind of feel like I want to teach my own poetry workshop, maybe one entitled, “I Have No Idea What I’m Doing But Hey, Let’s Just Get Down with Some Words and See What Happens.”

It fascinates me how much more fun it is for me to talk about writing poetry than writing fiction. I took a lot of fiction-writing classes in my younger days, and also in regular English classes they always seemed to be going on about how to write fiction, and even though I like writing fiction it drives me nearly out of my mind to talk about it. I mean, it’s a story. Just tell the damn story.

I have never had a bad time talking about poetry, though. There’s always something to say. There’s always something to hear. Poetry is just crazy. No one really understands it, so you can kind of say anything.

Anyway. We did a couple of fun exercises, the first of which involved looking at a denatured, alphabetized list of all the words in someone else’s poem (we hadn’t read the original poem and didn’t know who wrote it), and trying to use just those words (some subset of them) to write our own poem. The words turned out to be from a pretty great poem by Li-Young Lee called “Early in the Morning“–we got to read it at the end. It was interesting, I found myself just trying to write haiku during this exercise, which I hadn’t done before in the class. My brain felt slow and small, which I think is probably normal. All I could come up with was this:

heavy curtains
she pulls her head out
of winter

Which, appropriately, is a slow, small poem. Though I like it a little bit.

Second exercise: Writing a response to another poem. Taking their premise and some of their language to produce your own take on the situation. I’ve done this before, actually a fair amount, with haiku, but not with longer poems. I’m still working on my response, maybe I’ll put it out there when I’m done.

So: I’m a liar, a cheater, a thief. This appeals to my natural instinct to do whatever it is other people don’t want me to do, which is probably a healthy instinct for a poet. (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.) The thing with poetry is that you’re trying to see things the way everyone else doesn’t see them. It’s really hard to do. If you’re too much in sympathy with other people or find yourself agreeing with them most of the time, it’s even harder. You have to be a little bit contrary, possibly even slightly obnoxious, maybe even mildly criminal, though I would recommend against being positively mean or getting arrested. Unless you feel that a lengthy period of solitary confinement would be beneficial for your creative development, but probably better to just find a cave or something in that case. Let me know if you find a good one.
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moonlight where the word is not enough

(till)

He thought I unfriended him and I thought he unfriended me. However it happened, we’re no longer friends. It’s nice that it’s possible to identify this state with such clarity now.

till the story’s over till east till west

autobiographia poetica

I wrote a lot of poetry as a young child — aged seven, eight, nine. That may have been the time of my life when I was most confident in my poetic ability. It may have been the time of my life when I was most confident in all my abilities. Once you’ve knocked around the world a little, it’s hard to maintain the pleasant illusion that no one else can do things any better than you can. 

Anyway, naturally (or it seems natural to me, but maybe it’s not natural any more for children to do this?), all the poetry I wrote in this early part of my life rhymed. I’d been a big, big nursery rhyme fan in an earlier stage of my childhood, so maybe that was what did it. I knew all those damn things by heart — the Queen of Hearts, she baked some tarts — and I took them all to heart. I loved rhyme, the sound of it, the feel of it, and, aside from writing poetry, I used to spend hours and hours making lists of words that rhymed (maybe I was unaware of the existence of rhyming dictionaries that made this task unnecessary, or maybe I just didn’t care). There is something ineffably satisfying about words that rhyme, something that sighs with relief and pleasure in the back of our brains when we hear those matching sounds.

I wonder when I look at the stars,
Is Mars
Up there?*
As I stare,
I see dogs and cats,
Mice and rats…

Around fourth grade, though, I began to catch on that rhyming poetry, for the most part, was just Not Done anymore by serious adults writing for other serious adults. I was very serious at this age and I hoped to be an adult some day, so (I imagine regretfully) I knocked it off with the rhyming and started to write free verse that even at the age of ten I could tell was absolutely dreadful. I mean, all my rhyming poetry, I now knew in retrospect, had been absolutely dreadful too, but at least, you know, it rhymed. It had that going for it. It sounded good, even if it meant nothing, or nothing worth saying.

What I found astonishing was how much more seriously so many adults took my poetry once I started writing poetry that didn’t rhyme. It was as if the fact that my poems bore a superficial resemblance to the kind of poetry they knew was supposed to be Really Good Poetry, instead of to, say, greeting card verse, made adults (mainly teachers) stop looking for any actual sense or meaningful nonsense in the poems. Once I figured out that adults were so gullible I used to sometimes deliberately write bad poetry, which wasn’t difficult at all, and show it around, inwardly laughing at the admiring reactions I got. (I was kind of an obnoxious kid.) 

So that pretty much killed my poetry-writing career, for a long, long time. I didn’t trust myself to be able to write good poetry and I wasn’t sure I entirely understood what good poetry was (although I read tons of it, and studied it, and thought about it, and memorized it, and loved it, so I’m not really sure what the disconnect is there), and I definitely didn’t trust anyone around me to tell me whether my poetry was good or not. 

Every few years for the next, I don’t know, thirty years, I would be stricken with an urge to write poetry and I would do so for a few days or weeks, in a kind of inspired daze, but then I would come to my senses and look at what I had written and laugh. Or cry. Whatever. It wasn’t any good and, unlike when I wrote prose, I had absolutely no idea what to do to it to make it better. I understood prose at some deep level, I could work with prose, I was a prose whisperer, but when I wrote poetry I felt like I was writing gagged and blindfolded, with one hand tied behind my back. I just looked at it and shrugged helplessly and stopped writing it until my next fit of fever.

It wasn’t until I fell headlong into haiku that I regained any sense of confidence or control around poetry, which I’ve generally attributed to an extremely short attention span that prevents me from concentrating on any piece of writing for longer than twelve syllables or so, except that, as you can see, when it comes to prose I can still blather on with the most long-winded of them. So that can’t really be it. 

And it isn’t just that I suddenly gained some deep understanding into how poetry works because quite frankly, when it comes to poetry any longer than haiku, I still feel completely at sea. I write it, but I have no more idea than I ever did whether what I write is any good or how I could make it better if it happened (I assume it usually does happen) not to be. 

One big difference is that I kind of don’t care any more whether it’s good. I like writing it and I throw it out to the universe if I think there’s any hope for it and sometimes some people like it a little, which is nice, and quite often no one seems to think much of it, which is fine too. I’m not writing it for people to like it, I’m writing it to write it. I’m not sure whether that makes me confident and mature or just a lazy git with no standards. I guess it just started seeming stupid to me not to write poetry just because it might be crummy poetry, when I like writing poetry. (Also, it seems reasonable to assume that I might get better at it if I do more of it, though I’m not holding my breath.)

I haven’t really gotten brave enough to show anyone the rhyming poetry I still write occasionally, though. As if. Dream on. Dream, cream, seem, steam, beam, ream, team, gleam…

despite the plates
and cups that shatter
pretend that nothing 
is the matter

*Note to my eight-year-old self: Yes.

Things I don’t believe in:

A totalitarian state sculpted from butter.

A thin slice of marriage dissolved on my tongue.

The hypothesis that tectonic plates are archangels.

Thistles when they tell a lie.

A family of similes beneath a hedgerow.

That you can grind mercy even finer.

Nothing unless it can be ironed.

The sea floor outside of my amygdala.

Allowing poetry past the mile marker where it happened.

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event horizon
I wake up
praying

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(snowdrift)

Got a package in the mail the other day and when I saw it was from Red Moon Press I got very excited because I knew it was the new Red Moon Anthology that I sent in my box tops check for a couple weeks ago. Fear of Dancing, it’s called. There’s a Cezanne painting of a guy with a pipe on the cover.

[It’s fascinating to me–side excursion, sorry–how the distinct styles of great artists makes their work easily identifiable. I’d never seen this painting before but I looked at it and said, “Oh, interesting, they put a Cezanne on the cover,” and I’m not even any kind of artist or art historian or student of art or art connoisseur, I’ve just been alive in the world for a few decades and paid a little, a very little, attention. What is it, this “style” thing? You can do the same thing with really great writers, of course–before the New Yorker put writer’s names at the beginning instead of the end of stories, I used to open the magazine and start reading a story and half a sentence into it, literally ten words, I’d know it was by Alice Munro and so I was going to greatly enjoy myself. There’s a rhythm, there’s a tone, there’s a voice. Somebody more scholarly than I am has probably broken this whole thing down and figured out how our brains recognize distinctive styles. I should probably think about it a little and not just wax rhapsodic about it. Note to self: Is the difference between great art and mediocre art the presence of an immediately recognizable style? Discuss.]

Back to the anthology. So I’ve been so lame and haven’t published anything in so long that I now get unreasonably excited to see my name in print. And I have three poems in this anthology, so that’s pretty cool. They’ve all been on the blog before so I’m not going to bother to regurgitate them here. There’s a lot of other cool stuff in the anthology that I’d rather talk about, including what might be my favorite haiku that was published last year:

nagasaki…
in her belly, the sound
of unopened mail
— Don Baird

Which half the time makes me want to stop writing immediately, and the other half makes me want to keep writing until I come up with something that awesome.

Also:

November night
he names the ones
who held him down
— Glenn G. Coats

azalea as afterthought as afterword
— Cherie Hunter Day

spring dawn
I put on
my gender
–David G. Lanoue

the zipper also had an unsuccessful marriage
–Lee Gurga

throbbing stars
the tilt
of my pelvis
–Eve Luckring

funeral morning
I join my son inside
his time machine
–John McManus

autumn equinox
a pill to keep me
more in the middle
–Chad Lee Robinson

twilight
tinkering
with the hinges
–Sabine Miller

winter closing in…
I visit the simplest words
in the dictionary
–Philip Rowland

first day of spring
I teach my son
how a knight moves
–Michael Dylan Welch

shucking corn
the noise I make
when no one’s home
–Jennifer Met

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Thank you to all these poets — I feel better now.
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snowdrift a story I should probably read again

Lying

Part 2 of the poetry workshop I’ve been taking was tonight (“Lie, Cheat, & Steal: How to Write a Good Poem”). You may remember that last week we cheated. This week we lied. We wrote persona poems and pretended we were someone else.

This comes very easily to me. I know there are some haiku poets who feel that they must always speak in their own voice from a place of authentic experience or whatever but I personally have always felt that making things up, or at the very least embellishing, is far more interesting artistically. Also, who are we really? We’re all our own inventions.

We had some great discussions about the poems we read. It’s been interesting. It’s been fun. I need to talk to poets besides haiku poets more often. Not that you’re not all fantastic. I didn’t mean that! But you know that inbreeding is unhealthy for any community.

I’ve been hearing discussion about this a lot lately — a growing dissatisfaction with the separation of the haiku community from the rest of the poetry world. There are more and more journals whose boundaries are fluidly defined, that publish “short poetry” and really don’t care what other categories it might fall into. There are more and more haiku poets submitting their poetry to mainstream poetry journals without bothering to label it. I think that thinking of ourselves as poets first and haiku poets second is very likely to improve our poetry, however we choose to write it. Haiku has particular limits which are fine to observe, which can actually be empowering, as long as you keep in mind the fact, which I think a lot of haiku poets forget, that you are writing poetry. Poetry is consciousness-altering. Is what we’re writing consciousness-altering, or does it just follow the rules?

Most days I despair of ever writing anything truly consciousness-altering. But I try. I want to try. I try to want.

Okay, so I wrote the following poem in ten minutes in a room full of people and fluorescent lights. Don’t get all “nothing consciousness-altering about that, you fraud” on me. We all have to start somewhere.

We all got a picture of a person (or people) and had to imagine ourselves into them, write in their voice. This was my picture.

20140211-221652.jpg

And this is my poem.
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The Woman Whose Legs Are Entirely Hidden From View Speaks to Her Daughter

Long before you were born
there was that hole
in the ice

where the spring was.
The warmer water
bubbling to the surface.

He took my hand,
whirled me away,
warned me.

Let go, I said, I need
to lace my skates
tighter.

Tighter. Tighter.

He grew bored,
started looking
at other girls.

I skated to the edge.
As close
as I could get.

Nothing there
but water
and my face.

The wavering of the water
made two faces.

Split in two.

I’d always known it.

I lifted my skirts
and skated backwards.
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text

I’m writing this in bed on my phone (this is one of those sentences that would have been incomprehensible, like, ten years ago–there are so many of those kinds of sentences now), so don’t get all judgey if I lapse into inanity and/or have my text hijacked by autocorrect. I just realized I hadn’t written anything today and hadn’t done much of anything else but lie around on my couch reading science fiction and Laura Ingalls Wilder, a curious combination that I highly recommend for cold, sick days. The past and the future, crashing together between your ears and howling in pain and warning. I’m pretty sure those hours of reading set off some kind of chain reaction in my brain that will result someday in either deathless literature or deranged raving. Meanwhile, however, I have to jot down something today because I told myself I would, every day in February. Damn the promises we make to ourselves.

Maxine Kumin died a few days ago. I hadn’t read much of her poetry before but I liked what I had read, and I read her obituary in the New York Times with great interest. This was the best detail: After meeting in a poetry workshop in the fifties, she and Anne Sexton were best friends, such best friends that each installed a phone line in her home dedicated to their conversations with each other. They’d call each other, then leave the receiver off the hook to keep the connection open while they wrote poetry. When one of them finished a poem, she would whistle into the phone to get the other to come hear it.

The Times dryly called this a precursor to instant messaging, which I suppose is true in the sense that both involve electronic signaling, but I’m not sure that’s the most meaningful comparison. The point of this relationship, it seems to me, wasn’t so much the rapidity of these poets’ communication as its intensity and intimacy. You see the same kinds of relationships being conducted by letter prior to the invention or ubiquity of the telephone–the same meeting of minds. And if Maxine and Anne had just wanted to talk or share their poetry, it wouldn’t have slowed them down much just to dial each other’s number. That’s not what they wanted, though. They wanted to think together. And they didn’t want to do that kind of thinking with anyone else–that’s why they kept the line open to each other, and only to each other.

Now, of course, you can exchange ideas with anyone on the planet so quickly and easily that there would be no point in going to such effort for any one relationship. It’s wonderful, I love it, sometimes I find myself texting or IMing or Facebook messaging with four or five people simultaneously, chattering away, having a great time, sharing ideas, gossiping, whatever…but then each conversation trails off, and each of us is alone again, with our own thoughts. There’s no awareness of the other person still there, on the “other end of the line,” breathing and thinking. There’s talk and no talk, nothing in between. I won’t say there’s no real friendship or intellectual companionship because that’s silly, of course there is, plenty of both. Maybe too much? Harder to discern which are the real voices you should be listening to, when there are so many of them.

I’m thinking on paper as usual and as usual probably making no sense. Feel free to ignore me. But keep that image in the back of your mind, the two poets whistling to each other over the open connection. I have a feeling it might come in handy some time.
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hunger moon
an instant message
from the owl
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