Tuesday, February 06, 2007


Writing retreat meditations

In December I spent two weeks at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts -- my first time -- and today, for the first time, I got out the notebooks I wrote in while there, and checked out what I had written. And how much. I was sure I hadn't been very "productive," hadn't taken advantage sufficiently of my precious time away. But of course, there's plenty -- poems, mini essays, old poems reworked, meditations. Here, on this topic of Productivity, a journal-type writing from Day 2 of writing retreat:

Tim Seibles [in his introduction to Buffalo Head Solos, his poetry collection I was reading on retreat] challenges me/us to push it hard, farther, further. Like Rukeyser. Whereas, I make as little a fool of myself as possible -- I am used by my fears, rather than using them. Do I use all my fears? Rukeyser asked. And I -- I fear my exuberance. I fear making too much of myself, putting myself too much forward. But then how to have ambition, how to push oneself, if not by pushing oneself forward? And why am I still constrained by this at the age of almost 44: the voices: Not to make a display of oneself; not to seem to be wanting; not to presume.

Not to presume. Well then, how to move if one can't presume to move forward? My head hurts and my jaw is clenched. I am pretty useless. I am eating too much -- slows me down. I'm not sleeping enough. Drank too much wine. Whine about everything. Just lie down and relax. No need to do anything today if nothing comes. All is percolating.

I say these words, as I say to one of the other poets here, There really is no wrong way to do a writing retreat. But of course my Protestant heart always pounds in me: Produce. Produce. Produce. I have little talent for loafing. I may stroll the boxwood avenues here, inhale their scent of childhoold, but I am thinking always of writing about them. The cows. The sun.

Baron Wormser writes that good political poems must wrestle with the largeness of history, the place of the individual in history, not just be strictly personal. Tim Seibles says we must be ferocious with our poems, come stomping in. And I am afraid. Oh no! I have to do that. Can I? Must I write like that, if I'm going to write anything? I have to write that today. And panic sets in.

But really, think about it. I could alternately take these two as confirmation. Because my poems do these things. And not because I sit down and say, Now I will consider the place of the individual in history. But because I am obsessed with history, it lives in me, so it lives in the poems.

And I am full of outrage and stompiness, so that will make its way into the poems. So fucking chill out. And relax. And write if you feel like it today and don't if you don't. Nothing is wrong, right now. Just keep pushing. Push the poems.

[I've been writing obsessively about walls.] Brick upon brick the immigrants build the wall. It's a job. Mexico. El Salvador. Guatemala. Honduras. Belize. Costa Rica. Panama. Nicaragua. Cinder block by cinder block. We want your coffee, bananas, mangoes, passage to the Pacific, but no thank you, not you. Shade grown. Organic. Fair trade. You may be all those things, but you're not a small brown bean to crush and drink for restoration, for our coming alive. So toss the sacks over the wall please. We come to the wall for the sacks. We redeem our gift cards here, our hearts swell with the caffeine. We have traded fairly.

A poem on coffee is a different beast from a poem on walls? Or can work together? What can a single poem accommodate? The world?

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