Jane Hirshfield (jh) Sun 2 Oct 11 19:45
(Mary slipped in and posted those latest responses while I was writing what follows--people in the Well are used to this kind of thing happening, I'm just mentioning it for anyone not on the Well who might be reading this now, or later) I do need to pack, so I'll talk about one other aspect of this--Jennifer, you proposed experience, and meeting people, as one of the possible gifts of this more public life, and that's true. This May and June, I was invited to two of the Centennial Festivals being held all over the world for the great Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz (who was a friend, from the end of his years in Berkeley). This means I was invited to Krakow (where I'd been before, when Czeslaw was alive) and also to Lithuania, where I'd never been--his birthplace. These trips were extraordinary, both for what I was able to see and do (I was asked, for instance, to read a long poem I began writing for him when I heard he'd died that mentions the river he swam in as a boy--asked to read it standing next to the river he swam in as a boy. That was almost undoing; and then it was read in Lithuanian translation as well), and for the poets who were also there. Just one evening of the Krakow festival, in an enormous basilica (filled to the doors), I heard read three poets who have been by my bedside for years--the 1996 Nobel, Wislawa Szymborska, who is 88, the 90 year old Polish poet Julia Hartwig, and the great Swedish poet, Lars Gustafsson. At a festival in London a few years ago, I met Tomas Transtromer, and heard him play his famous pieces for one-handed piano (he's had a stroke). Earlier this spring I was in Japan, and then in China. I've stood where Basho lived, by the Sumida River; I've stood where the Sung Dynasty Chinese poet Su Tung Po stood. I came to pilgrimage late in my life--I only saw Emily Dickinson's home in Amherst the last time I read at Smith, I saw Wordsworth's cottage in Grasmere when I was asked to read there--and it moves me at some level far below any words I can find that, by poetry, I have been able to murmur a thank you in person to some of the poets who have meant the most to me, and to their home places on this earth, for others. In Dickinson's room, I was given a few minutes alone when I asked, and I was afraid to touch the dresser where she kept her poems--I felt as if it might give off an electric shock. But I did put my hand on the foot of her sleigh bed, to touch something she'd once touched. To do such things seemed silly and symbolic to me when I was young. Now it feels a gate into gratitude's mansion.
Mary Mackey (mm) Sun 2 Oct 11 19:46
Now the good: when you become a public person you meet many wonderful people who tell you how much they love your work (always something we writers love to hear), and better yet tell you that your work has comforted them, make them stronger in the face of grief, and changed their lives. My poems (and I imagine Jane's poems) have been used for wedding and funerals and golden wedding anniversaries. They have been carved into stone, woven into cloth, engraved on brass plaques, and set to music. There is a bridge with one of my poems on it. People have sung them; danced to them. I get email from all over the world from people of all ages who tell me how my work has touched them or simply how much they liked it. A blind woman in Sweden was inspired to become a priestess because of my novel "The Horses At the Gate." A graduate student in Finland has written a doctoral dissertation on my work. Some German readers have put up a wiki page on me in German (I'm just asssuming that it says good things because I can't read German). In sum, I feel that I have reached somewhere deep inside myself, written, and in ways both small and large, connected with my fellow human beings. I think a writer can have no greater gift that great readers, and I am very grateful to have been able to find them and have them find me in return. Plus, after Garrison Keillor read my poem "My Methodist Grandmother Said" on Writer's Almanac, I got a fan letter from the Line Dancing Society of Baton Rouge Louisiana and a year's subscription to their newsletter.
Mary Mackey (mm) Sun 2 Oct 11 19:48
Here is the poem that the Line Dancers liked. It's from my previous collection "Breaking the Fever": My Methodist Grandmother Said My Methodist grandmother said dancing was adultery set to music how right she was in that sweet sway breast to breast and leg to leg sin comes into its own if you have never waltzed you cannot imagine the sheer voluptuousness of it the light touch palm to palm wool and silk mixed below the waist your partners warm breath on your neck coming quicker and quicker the strength of the man the yielding of the woman so incorrect so atavistic so unspeakably sweet he moves toward you you back away he pursues you and with the faintest pressure you encourage him and watch the blood rush to his face not a word is spoken no one sees this although it's done in public in full sight of everyone you touch and retreat meet and touch again in time to the music saying yes no yes no yes no yes you dance without thinking of your body in that gentle rhythmic careless almost copulation one two three one two three the longest foreplay in the western world
Amy Keyishian (superamyk) Sun 2 Oct 11 21:16
Mary! I'm going to go take a cold shower!
Jennifer Simon (fingers) Sun 2 Oct 11 22:38
Don't use up all the cold water! That is one of my favorite poems from Breaking the Fever, Mary. Jane, it was kind of you to take the time to answer in depth when you're getting ready to travel. These replies are so rich in stories and ideas I want to give them further reflection. In the meantime, thanks to both poets for such thoughtful posts.
paralyzed by a question like that (debunix) Sun 2 Oct 11 23:36
I'm following this very interesting discussion mostly because of experiencing poetry in new media formats. I got hooked on the Writer's Almanac on my local radio station, and now catch it mostly as a podcast. That helped to reawaken my interest in poetry of all kinds. I've always enjoyed poetry but like to savor a little at a time, and the occasional poetry volumes I'd check out of the library or buy would sit only partly read for ages. Kindle on my phone allows me to download a book of poems and read a poem here and there without having to carry a volume everywhere--better yet, I can carry several, and pick the poet to fit my mood. Right now I'm working my way though Come, Thief (I told Amazon I want to read Sugar Zone too). I grew up in a house where the printed page was truly an object of reverence, and it feels a bit like a betrayal to be so happy with the evanescence of e-books. But I'm reading more poems now than I ever did before. The formatting is not always consistent, and can be a bit frustrating, but the value of ready access to my pocketful of poets is more than worth it.
Jennifer Simon (fingers) Mon 3 Oct 11 09:05
I love to hear about poetry reaching a broader audience, <debunix>, thanks. My perception is that electronic media have been a great boon in this respect, and what you have to say confirms that. Jane probably won't have a chance to chime in while she's travelling, but Mary, I'm curious to know whether you've perceived a change in the publication and sales of your work, as well as responses to it -- you mentioned getting email from around the world, and I wondered whether you would have heard from so many, had the letters required ink, paper, and stamps.
Joe Cottonwood (joecot) Mon 3 Oct 11 09:21
Jane, Three Legged Blues makes a great song! Nice job by the singer. Here's a question for Jane, when she has a spare moment: the structure of the I Ran Naked poem, which seems a departure for you - did you know from the start what that structure would be? Did you have to labor at it until finding that structure? I've always maintained that it's hard to be simple, and I'm just wondering if that seemingly simple poem was hard to write. And I love the poem, by the way. (Oddly, I first read it after writing a piece that included running naked through the sprinklers of a golf course at midnight.)
Jennifer Simon (fingers) Mon 3 Oct 11 12:28
Oh yes, thank you for reminding about the song, Joe -- very glad you posted the link, Jane, for I didn't know about it. What a great match of melody and lyrics! David's got the perfect voice for it, too.
Jennifer Simon (fingers) Mon 3 Oct 11 13:29
Today at 3:00 pm (Pacific time), Mary will be talking with Denny Smithson on KPFA. I believe she'll be reading some of her poems too -- I'm hoping to hear some Portuguese! Here's a link: http://www.kpfa.org/listen/
Mary Mackey (mm) Mon 3 Oct 11 16:39
I am fairly sure that I would not have received so many emails from people outside of the US if they had had to buy stamps and send air letters. I think the convenience and low prices of e-books are giving people an oppoturnity to read more and writers a chance to reach more people. I'd just like to remind everyone that many of the great independent bookstores can sell you ebooks. I believe Pegsus in Berkeley can as can Book Passage in Corte Madera.
Jennifer Simon (fingers) Mon 3 Oct 11 16:42
Pegasus is a wonderful place, my favorite haunt in the East Bay.
Michael Zentner (mz) Mon 3 Oct 11 17:04
One of my favorite stop-in places in that neighborhood. If I'm on foot there, I stop in.
Gail Williams (gail) Mon 3 Oct 11 18:21
Small independent bookstores can sell you ebooks? I guess I have never noticed that. Very cool!
Jennifer Simon (fingers) Mon 3 Oct 11 18:55
It is. OK, I had trouble getting livestreaming to work on my computer, so I had to wait till the show was in their archives to catch it. It occurs to me other might not have gotten a chance to listen, so here's a link for those who missed it live: http://www.kpfa.org/archive/id/73897
Mary Mackey (mm) Mon 3 Oct 11 20:53
This is your chance to hear how Portuguese sounds. It's softer than Spanish, more musical.
Jennifer Simon (fingers) Mon 3 Oct 11 21:07
Yes, that struck me too, when I was listening...a kind of slidey sound instead of staccato, like the difference between trumpets and trombones.
Jennifer Simon (fingers) Mon 3 Oct 11 21:17
The other thing I noticed was that I couldn't hear in your reading the spacing I saw in some of your lines on the page (and this spacing is something I don't remember seeing in Breaking the Fever). It changed the effect in interesting ways. All the poems flowed by so quickly, although that's partly just a feature of listening instead of reading, but I wonder whether there is something purposeful about it too, a way of getting two readings out of each poem, depending on whether it's heard or seen.
Jennifer Simon (fingers) Mon 3 Oct 11 21:31
Here's an example of one you read today, with that spacing I mentioned (which conveys a different effect than a line break), that struck me differently when I heard it: Theres No Sin South of the Equator Pull back the covers turn off the lights lets get high on pango, liamba, dirijo, birra, elva, fininha, fumo de Angola at sixty degrees south cyclonic winds swirl around the pole without ceasing nothing stops them not land not remorse not confession nada right now under our bed icebergs are being tossed like scree by waves that carry the bones and wrecks and broken masts of every part of us that ever went down below the equator sin does not exist but we have learned this too late venha come enter the great emptiness that encircles the world see the história infeliz the sad history love has ordained -- Mary Mackey
Jennifer Simon (fingers) Mon 3 Oct 11 21:35
(I love the multiple meanings conveyed by your choice of the final word there, too!)
Jane Hirshfield (jh) Mon 3 Oct 11 22:11
Just a quick drop in from Massachusetts, where it's after midnight... all I'll do is answer Joe's question before it gets chilly standing around without a sweater... That poem arrived in the basic form it now appears in, as best I can recall--it wasn't translated from something different, or an "idea" I had to work to turn into a poem. The poem came in that voice, that music of rhyming and repetition. The form here is the meaning. I have a vague memory that it went through perhaps a dozen to twenty drafts--but they were small. The line and stanza breaks, looking at whether the word "more" should be capitalized or in italics or inside quotation marks, things like that. Tuning the instrument, not changing it from what it was. I probably wouldn't have ever published or read that poem, but a friend came to visit and asked to see what I was working on--I rarely show new work to anyone--and she was hugely enthusiastic about that one. So with some trepidation, I tried it next at a small reading--and they loved it too. And then the third time I read it (I don't know what came over me, I still had huge doubts about whether or not I could say or publish this, it was so different from anything I'd ever done), I read it at the Dodge Poetry Festival, to around 2,000 people in that huge white performance tent they used to have before the festival moved to the city. That audience seemed to respond to it too--so after that I became a little more confident that it might be a poem to keep in the repertory.
Jennifer Simon (fingers) Mon 3 Oct 11 22:50
I noted the presence of rhymes in a number of poems in Come, Thief, which seems like something new in your work. I was very taken by them. They called to mind something Carol Adair, the host of the Poetry conference here before me, once said: "It takes such courage to rhyme. The rhyme steals you and you can never be sure of what is your own." That may not be true for every poet, but I wonder whether you feel it is true for you, or whether your doubts about "I Ran Out Naked in the Sun" came from some other source.
Jennifer Simon (fingers) Mon 3 Oct 11 23:06
Here's another of the poems I had in mind, with the riddling but unforgettable nature of a nursery rhyme that almost sings itself: It Must Be Leaves Too slow for rain, too large for tears, and grief cannot be seen. It must be leaves. But broken ones, and brown, not green. -- Jane Hirshfield
Rip Van Winkle (keta) Tue 4 Oct 11 10:02
Hi all. There was a comment way back about how reading poems aloud to audiences is a relatively recent thing - and then noting that it isn't. I've been thinking about that and gone in two directions that come out as comments/questions. First, hearing I Ran Out Naked in the Sun, I was reminded of the song Circle Game ("Yesterday a child came out to wonder/ Caught a dragonfly inside a jar...). And it reminded me that lyrics are poems too - there's a whole realm of poetry that is primarily spoken/sung, is vastly more widespread and "popular" than poet poetry as we are discussing here, and... ...well, what do either of you want to say about lyrics and song? (Thinking along these lines, Mary's two-language poems read/sound like a form of jazz to me - scat-singing the second language.) Second, poetry is so much older than writing - it is originally the province of the bard, the storyteller, the epic-keeper, the minstrel, even the Zen teacher. Maybe it would be interesting to turn the question on its head and ask what does writing bring to poetry - what does it add, being such a newfangled addition to the game?
William F. Stockton (yesway) Tue 4 Oct 11 10:30
Music begins to atrophy when it departs too far from the dance... poetry begins to atrophy when it gets too far from music. - E. Pound Despite Pound's admonition, it seems to me that song is essentially different because the melody informs the mood. A spoken poem is informed by the expressions, both vocal and facial of the speaker. A poem on the page must impart all it can in the imaginary soundscape of the readers mind. The poet must choose whether to exclude ambiguity(difficult at best) or exploit it, or both. A melody can affix import and meaning to a lyric, and using that relationship artfully is what makes a good songwriter. A solid lyric can take on an entirely different meaning when a stylist re-interprets the melody. Joni Mitchell's wistful Woodstock becomes anthemic in the hands of (croz) and his cohorts. On the other side of the coin, a lyric can fall flat in the absence of a driving set of harmonic turns. The Paul Simon song that was recently published as a poem in the New Yorker is(IMHO) a fresh example of such. The thing I think is new and different that is changing the way poetry is perceived is Youtube and other internet avenues
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