Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 27 Sep 11 06:08
Our conversations online are often linear, literal, meaningful - too rarely simply beautiful. However poets, like the rest of us, have found their way online; google "poetry" and you get 313 million hits. Among our members here on the WELL are two accomplished U.S. poets, Jane Hirshfield and Mary Mackey. We've invited them to Inkwell for a two week poetry festival, starting now. They'll be posting some of their poems, and discussing the craft and process of thinking and writing poetry. Jennifer Simon, host of the WELL's poetry conference, will lead the discussion. Jane Hirshfield is the author of seven collections of poetry, including the just released Come, Thief (Knopf, 2011), After (HarperCollins, 2006), which was named a 'Best Book of 2006' by The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, and England's Financial Times and shortlisted for England's T.S. Eliot Award; and Given Sugar, Given Salt (HarperCollins, 2001; finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award). Author of a now-classic book of essays, Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry, Hirshfield has also edited and co-translated three books collecting the work of women poets from the distant past and recently published a best-selling Kindle Single, The Heart of Haiku, on the 17th-century Japanese poet Basho. Hirshfield's honors include The Poetry Center Book Award, the California Book Award, fellowships from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller foundations, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the 40th Annual Distinguished Achievement Fellowship from the Academy of American Poets, an honor previously received by Robert Frost, Elizabeth Bishop, and William Carlos Williams. She has been a fellow at MacDowell, Yaddo, and Bellagio. Her work has been featured in six editions of The Best American Poetry and appears in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Times Literary Supplement, The American Poetry Review, Poetry, Orion, McSweeney's, and elsewhere. She has presented her poems and lectured at festivals and universities throughout the U.S. and in China, Japan, the Middle East, the United Kingdom, Poland, Lithuania, and Ireland. For more information about Jane Hirshfield, including the full schedule of readings this fall for Come, Thief, please visit http://www.barclayagency.com/hirshfield.html or www/facebook.com/janehirshfield Mary Mackey received a B.A. from Harvard and a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from The University of Michigan. Her published works include six collections of poetry, including Breaking The Fever (Marsh Hawk Press, 2006) and Sugar Zone (forthcoming from Marsh Hawk Press, October 1, 2011); a short novel (Immersionthe first novel published by a Second Wave feminist press); and twelve other novels (McCarthy's List, Doubleday; The Last Warrior Queen, Putnam; A Grand Passion, Simon & Schuster; Season of Shadows, Bantam; The Kindness of Strangers, Simon & Schuster; The Year The Horses Came, Harper San Francisco; The Horses at the Gate, Harper San Francisco; The Fires of Spring, Penguin, The Stand In, Kensington Books, Sweet Revenge, Kensington Books; The Notorious Mrs. Winston, Berkley Books; and The Widows War, Berkley books.) Her two comic novels (The Stand In and Sweet Revenge) were written under the pen name Kate Clemens. Mackeys poems have been praised by Wendell Berry, Dennis Nurkse, Ron Hansen, Dennis Schmitz, and Marge Piercy for their beauty, precision, originality, and extraordinary range. Three times Garrison Keillor has featured her poetry on his program The Writers Almanac. Her work has appeared on The New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle bestseller lists and has been translated into twelve foreign languages including Japanese, Hebrew, Greek, Russian, and Finnish. Former Chair of PEN American Center, West, she has served on the Governing Board of PEN Oakland. A fellow of the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, she is an active member of the St. Marys College Creative Writing Program Advisory Board, the Poetry Committee of the Northern California Book Awards, the National Book Critics Circle, and The Authors Guild. In Spring 2009, the San Francisco Branch of the National League of American Pen Women established the Mary Mackey Short Story Prize. Mackey was one of the founders of the CSUS Womens Studies Program. She also founded the CSUS English Department Graduate Creative Writing Program along with poet Dennis Schmitz and novelist Richard Bankowsky. In 1978 Mackey founded the Feminist Writers Guild with poets Adrienne Rich and Susan Griffin and novelist Valerie Miner. From 1989-1992, she served as President of the West Coast Branch of PEN American Center involving herself in PENs international defense of persecuted writers. For the last twenty years she has been traveling to Brazil with her husband, Angus Wright, who writes about land reform and environmental issues. At present she is working on a series of poems inspired by the works of Brazilian poets and novelists. Combining Portuguese and English, she creates poems that use Portuguese as incantation to evoke the lyrical space that lies at the conjunction of the two languages. More of her poetry can be found at www.marymackey.com. A full schedule of her readings and workshops is posted on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/marymackeywriter?sk=info For more biographical information please see: www.marshhawkpress.org http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Mackey http://www.amazon.com/Mary-Mackey/e/B000APXUQ6/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0 An extensive biography is also available in the Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, Volume 27, published by Gale Research, Detroit, MI: 1997. As mentioned in the opening paragraph, our discussion of poetry will be led by Jennifer Simon, who also writes poetry, hosts the Poetry conference on the WELL, and is a long-time fan of Jane Hirshfield and Mary Mackey.
Jennifer Simon (fingers) Tue 27 Sep 11 12:39
What a lovely introduction, Jon -- thank you! That I use poetry to think may reflect my own nonlinear bend of mind, or perhaps it's my upbringing that is responsible, for my parents seemed to have a poem for every occasion. First it was Milne: for separation anxiety there was the patent silliness of "Disobedience" and for bullying, "Bad Sir Brian Botany" was a gleeful consolation. Later, Lear's "The Owl and the Pussycat" shaped my earliest visions of romance, and Carroll's "The Walrus and the Carpenter" gave me my first glimpses into the moral complexities of meeting basic needs. From such beginnings, a word-greedy chick grew into a poetry hen whose friends are long accustomed to hearing the words, "That reminds me of a poem..." Two of the poets to whom I most often refer these days are Jane Hirshfield and Mary Mackey. I've lost count of the number of times I've offered Mary's "When We Were Your Age" (from Breaking the Fever) as an explanation of an era beyond the reach of experience for my younger friends, and Jane's "In A Room With Five People, Six Griefs" (from After) has allowed me to speak of empathy in a way no ordinary language affords. Poems like these and others are not only gifts of beauty and expressions of thought. They can also serve as a means of feeling our way through life. Since this is a poetry festival, we will begin with "readings" (or as close as we can come to them here) by posting a series of pieces from each of our poets. I'm looking forward to the ensuing discussion, and readers who are not WELL members are welcome to join in the fray, too. If you would like to contribute comments or questions, please send them to Inkwell@well.com, and we will post them for you.
Jennifer Simon (fingers) Tue 27 Sep 11 20:32
"Art is our chief means of breaking bread with the dead." -- W. H. Auden If you read poetry through the ages, you soon discover that authors are talking to one another, and not just with the dead, either: Auden talks back to Eliot, who was just having a word with Yeats, and on it goes. Whatever else it may be, poetry is a way of communicating. Even if you shove your writing in a drawer, you have said something to yourself. Show it to others, and you're in a conversation. This sense I have of overhearing a conversation causes parallels to converge in my mind, even with authors working separately and simultaneously, as our contributors here have done. One poem leads to another, which leads to another, lines of thought forming a web strong enough to hold an understanding of the world. Having been given license to make my own selections for this festival, I will lay the poems out in a way that shows how this works.
Jennifer Simon (fingers) Wed 28 Sep 11 10:16
The Conversation A woman moves close: there is something she wants to say. The currents take you one direction, her another. All night you are aware of her presence, aware of the conversation that did not happen. Inside it are mountains, birds, a wide river, a few sparse-leaved trees. On the river, a wooden boat putters. On its deck, a spider washes its face. Years from now, the boat will reach a port by the sea, and the generations of spider descendants upon it will look out, from their nearsighted, eightfold eyes, at something unanswered. -- Jane Hirshfield
Jennifer Simon (fingers) Wed 28 Sep 11 10:16
The High, Hard Mountains The high, hard mountains write letter by letter the story of how we met in a dense forest on a deer trail in a column of light charged with dust and pollen the wind rose shadows rushed across your face like flocks of small birds taking flight you said something to me something urgent (perhaps you warned me) but I had gone deaf I saw your lips moving but I could not (did not want to) read them -- Mary Mackey
Jennifer Simon (fingers) Wed 28 Sep 11 14:13
The Lost Love Poems of Sappho The poems we havent read must be her fiercest: imperfect, extreme. As it is with love, its nights, its days. It stands on the top of the mountain and looks for more mountain, steeper pitches. Descent a thought impossible to imagine. -- Jane Hirshfield
Jennifer Simon (fingers) Wed 28 Sep 11 14:14
The Kama Sutra of Kindness: Position Number 4 you claim you long for me the way a drowning man longs to breathe poised above me tortured as a saint you pause then descend speaking with a tongue that tastes of honey and salt reason be damned look even the light around has changed -- Mary Mackey
Jennifer Simon (fingers) Wed 28 Sep 11 14:15
Critique of Pure Reason Like one man milking a billy goat, another holding a sieve beneath it, Kant wrote, quoting an unnamed ancient. It takes a moment to notice the sieve doesnt matter. In her nineties, a woman begins to sleepwalk. One morning finding pudding and a washed pot, another the opened drawers of her late husbands dresser. After a while, anything becomes familiar, though the Yiddish jokes of Auschwitz stumbled and failed outside the barbed wire. Perimeter is not meaning, but it changes meaning, as wit increases distance and compassion erodes it. Let reason flow like water around a stone, the stone remains. A dog catching a tennis ball lobbed into darkness holds her breath silent, to keep the descent in her ears. The goat stands patient for two millennia, watching without judgment from behind his strange eyes. -- Jane Hirshfield
Jennifer Simon (fingers) Wed 28 Sep 11 14:16
Discussing Catastrophe Up on the hill in the white villa with its carved stairs and Moorish windows we are sitting on wrought iron chairs discussing catastrophe how the earth shook the volcano erupted the hurricane blew in the plague swept through leaving stones like rows of articulated bones our sweet drinks are bitter we suck limes and cherries and taste dust moldy cardboard the acrid backwash of burned flesh the sun is scorching the horizon tipping the knife blade line of clouds with arterial red some think we should send money or go down to the city and dig through the rubble with our bare hands the rest of us just want to admire the view to our left the ocean is turning black above the slate-like calm a funnel of pelicans slowly rises over the unsuspecting fish -- Mary Mackey
Jennifer Simon (fingers) Wed 28 Sep 11 14:17
Pompeii How many houses become a living Pompeii, undusted, unemptied. Catastrophe is not only sudden. Hearts stop in more ways than one. Sometimes the house key is lost, sometimes the lock. Sometimes an ending means what did not knock. -- Jane Hirshfield
Jennifer Simon (fingers) Wed 28 Sep 11 14:18
Hunting Season this is what will take us all sooner or later something that comes loping suddenly out of a white fog its hot breath on the back of our necks a quick blow a broken sky the smell of a hunger so raw it feels like love -- Mary Mackey
Jennifer Simon (fingers) Wed 28 Sep 11 14:18
Fourth World A friend dies. A horse dies. A man dies over and over again on the news. Without them, the fourth world continues. Waking fox-red on the flanks of the mountain. Absence, anger, grief, cruelty, failure The fox walks through them. It wants, as she had, to live. All day it is cool in the shadows, hot in the sun. -- Jane Hirshfield
Jennifer Simon (fingers) Wed 28 Sep 11 14:39
Erased shoes without feet to wear them liquid snail smears on a pane of glass the watcher being watched (learning laughter as a foreign language) after tests that short silence before the doctor speaks that says it all you will be erased this is no joke leave on a light I can no longer sleep in a dark room the walls are bending around me gnawing slowly at my body like a pack of dogs erased? must you repeat? me? but not you, right? never you -- Mary Mackey
Mary Mackey (mm) Wed 28 Sep 11 16:56
What a fascinating alternation of poems, Jennifer. I think Jane and I should do a live reading like this some time.
Jennifer Simon (fingers) Wed 28 Sep 11 17:51
If you ever do, I hope I can be there to see it -- I heard these in your voices, like a call and response, as I laid them out.
Jennifer Simon (fingers) Wed 28 Sep 11 17:52
Have you and Jane ever read together, either at a festival or group reading?
Jane Hirshfield (jh) Wed 28 Sep 11 20:58
I'm not sure that we have--but we've each been to each other's readings, and for a while I was on the PEN American Center West Coast steering committee when Mary was its chair--those meetings, plus the Well, were the birth of a longstanding friendship, filled with admiration and pleasure-filled conversations. I'd like to say how much I like your comment about thinking through poems-- this is exactly what I love to do as well, both seeing how certain constellations of a life glimmer through different poems and different poets, but also, as you described, finding a way to think about something that might be difficult to think about by turning to poetry. Poems do that: they think more capaciously and complexly than linear thought does. So if something won't yield to regular thought--death, or love, for instance--it will unfold to a poem. And unfold differently in the next poem. Poems do lots of different work in a life, but for me that's one of the main things they do, one of the main reasons I turn to them. When I look at Mary's poems, I see the same thing--but I don't know if that's how you think about it, Mary. As someone who also writes novels, I am guessing you have a very clear sense of what each kind of imaginative writing does--and since you've taught film, what that does differently (or the same) as well.
Mary Mackey (mm) Wed 28 Sep 11 21:47
I think you've said it beautifully, Jane. I see poetry and more non linear, more capable of moving into the difficult corners of life, more direct in an emotional sense, and more likely to be in touch with the great mysteries of existence. Novels come out of a much more rational part of my brain. They unfold like stories. Poems appear in my mind like flowers coming slowly into bloom. Screenplays are another matter altogether. Writing a screenplay is more like writing a blue print for someone else to turn into a building. Everything is very efficient and pared down to the nub. I love the way poetry can expand, unfold unexpected parts of existence, and contain ambiguity. Neither novels nor screenplays do that as well, although--of course--they have other virtues.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 29 Sep 11 18:20
If you have questions or comments and you're not a member of the WELL, just send to inkwell at well.com and we'll be happy to add your words.
Therese Flanagan (therese) Thu 29 Sep 11 18:37
Thanks so much for having this Poetry Festival! I'm a long time reader of Jane's poetry and prose; I was introduced to Mary's work here on the Well. I always look forward to your book announcements. I'm interested in the way poetry creates space. As my attention span shortens in this media rich world, I return to poetry, again and again, finding in it a reliable source that brings me to a center of concentration. In the process of writing, are you surprised by what your poems yield...do you experience the wonder, the insight, you deliver to a reader?
William F. Stockton (yesway) Thu 29 Sep 11 20:01
Great question Therese. As a follow on - in the revision process, do you ever lose track of the original inspiration? Jennifer, I also liked the alternating posting of poems. A round robin reading format can be really fun. I was at a reading on Tuesday where three poets - Camille Dungy, Marie-Elizabeth Mali and Melissa Stein - took turns, with each selecting a poem brought to mind by the previous readers choice. It made for a lively evening.
Jennifer Simon (fingers) Fri 30 Sep 11 00:10
That does sound like fun. I would love to see this format done in person. Great questions, too, Therese and Bill, thanks!
Jane Hirshfield (jh) Fri 30 Sep 11 07:53
I am always surprised by what comes when I write a new poem--for me, it's never an act of transcription of the already-known, always an act of exploration, discovery, permeability. The closest parallel might be dreaming--we are the dreamer, yet we discover the dream, and don't feel ourselves driving it. But poems are more focussed and shapely than dreams-- some collaboration of the permeable and unpredictable unconscious and the more magnetized conscious mind creates a middle path. Robert Frost famously said, "No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader." In one way poems are alchemies of surprise (I wrote an essay on this, but it's published in a place accessible only to members of AWP, as I gave it to their Chronicle to publish, sorry!). And yes, sometimes they do take the bit in teeth and head off in some completely new direction. Then it's up to the revising stage to figure out which the truer center is--where it started, or where it went--and turn the poem more deeply toward that version of itself, without ever making it too smooth, too predictable or pat. Making--an interesting word. Sometimes neutral, sometimes coercive. The word "poet" is derived for the Greek word that means "maker." Poets make free- standing worlds that have an umbilical cord connection to the world we ordinarily live in, drawing from it, bringing something new into it too.
Jennifer Simon (fingers) Fri 30 Sep 11 11:57
What a wonderful range of imagery and ideas, Jane! That's a great line from Frost. I'm looking forward to seeing what Mary has to say about these questions as well, but I believe she's tied up with book-launching duties at the moment. For those of our readers who couldn't catch it live, there's a radio interview with Jane reading some of her work from Come, Thief available online: http://www.kqed.org/a/forum/R201109281000 Mary has an interview coming up Monday, and I'll post a link to that one, too, as soon as it's available.
Mary Mackey (mm) Fri 30 Sep 11 12:24
Like Jane, my poems always come as a surprise, but for me they also feel like a revelation of a connection between the inner and outer self. I never know exactly where they come from or how they will develop, so the process of writing is very organic and essentially mysterious. A phrase will appear in my mind and keep repeating itself or I will see an image of something that looks slightly shifted in space or time, and that will become the seed of a poem. I write my novels with a very different part of my brain. The initial ideas come as poetry comes--suddenly and mysteriously--and like poetry, they are accompanied by a feeling of exhaultation and joy. But the novel itself takes many months of rational planning and up to three years to complete. Novels record the world; poetry reinvents it.
Jane Hirshfield (jh) Fri 30 Sep 11 12:34
Mary, surely novels do more than record the world, don't they? And not only those that obviously invent new ones-- Marquez's novels, for instance--or imagine distant ones--your own The Year the Horses Came--or Finnegan's Wake. I know this is a topic about poetry, but since you practice both forms, I would be curious to hear you say more about, for instance, the difference between a narrative poem and a fictional narrative. The last question was about how it feels to write them--I'm asking about the work you see/feel them doing, in the psyche, and in the community/world where each is read.
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