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Ada Limon
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One of the jobs required of me during this week in Sonoma, according to my stepfather, was to go through what he refers to as MY storage unit. I wasn’t required to get rid of it all, I was only required to look at it, to know what was there, and to decide if I still wanted it. Boxes and boxes. Stuffed animals and costumes, bolo ties and cat eye glasses, Swatches and Casios, a yellow Walkman, a pin striped suit, books, and letters. Letters, so many, many letters. Notes I wrote, notes that were written to me, pictures, and postcards, and so many words on paper that my brain was full up on ink by the end. I managed to throw away 7 boxes of “stuff,” and also to rescue some things back to the living: My old hiking boots I bought in Prague in 1993, my elementary school jacket that still boasts the “Dunbar Demons” mascot, even though they are now the much tamer, less controversial, Dunbar Dolphins. What struck me was how important some of the items still seemed. I expected to be put off by how much unnecessary crap I had saved, but mostly, I was thrilled to see it again. The way you return to something, a place, a person, a poem, and are reminded of both the life you lived then, and where it launched you. I thought about how as writers, we have this storage unit in our heads and hearts, a place where whole poems, or sometimes just single lines, stay waiting for the right time to return to us. When we need them, we go back into the dark old room of our first loves, take out the dust-covered angel wings and the pooh bear, and find the first words that lit the candle sticks of our inexplicable careers. Come comrades, into the battle again, we require your services. At the risk of revealing all my secrets, I thought I'd open my own box of some of the very first lines I remember memorizing in high school and undergrad, memorizing without even being aware of it. The lines that somehow stuck with me through the many blurry stoney days of creek walking and confusion. Many of them come from poems that were taught to me ("One Art," was even on a TEST, and it's still my favorite poem), and of course I've since fallen in love with millions more words and word-crafters, but here's the box I can remember the most, the time capsule, the footlocker, the firsts. Of course, when you find the old shoulder-padded jackets and pictures in storage you have to hold them up, and try them on, oh and you must reminisce. (Sitting in Mrs. Lale's class reading it for the first time. Sunny outside. Oh the rhyming! The ache at the end, the form! It was so painful, this poem. Losing and losing that will go on forever. It's still my favorite. I was fifteen.) “I... Continue reading
Posted Apr 24, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
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“You ask of my Companions. Hills – sir – and the Sundown, and a Dog large as myself." Emily Dickinson You can’t spell poet without the word pet. This is the terrible first line I’ve been trying to avoid all morning, apparently to no avail. Somehow, amidst all the big ideas that I keep hoping to talk about here in my wee week at the BAP blog, the very small idea of pets keeps biting my ankles and begging to be taken out. (Perhaps this is because my dog is doing that very same thing at the moment.) Let me begin by saying that up until last month, I never knew Emily Dickinson had a dog and for some reason that seemingly innocuous bit of information changed me. We have this idea of her, Ms. Dickinson, sitting alone in a small room rearranging words and stowing them away in the pocket of her stark white dress, while the much less common image is of a woman walking far out into the wild meadows of Amherst with her large dog, Carlo, bounding happily next to her. What changed me when I learned this? My first thought was, “Oh, she wasn’t alone at all!” It gave me a palpable thrill. As writers, we often spend many seemingly selfish hours in one place living inside the mind trying to shut out outside stimulation. This can sometimes wreak havoc on our social lives, our relationships, even, at times, our humanity. However, as a much-needed antidote to that required solitude, many of us have turned to one of the universe’s most generous offerings…animals. They work, and this is no small feat, to return us to the real world again and again, showing us our own animal-selves, softening our cruel self-judgments, bringing us outside of our own egos, and unraveling the day into something more tangible and take-able. I think of my dear friend Jennifer L. Knox, whose lovely first bird, Ichi the Killer, flew the coup of the living this weekend, and how instrumental he was to her life as a writer, how much joy such a small-winged thing offered her in the hours she worked hard to finish her new novel. It’s difficult to show just how much gratitude we have to the animals in our lives, our muses, and necessary distractions. I tell you, my dog makes me get up and go outside and walk among the living, even when I desperately don’t want to. As Emily Dickinson’s dog must have. “Interact with the living!” they say. "Play with me! Play with life!" And we, being their servants, do as we are told, and so we suffer less, and live a little more. Check out this site here with all these lovely writers and their furry foils. As Billy Collin's tells his students (I'm paraphrasing), "Put a dog in your poems, it'll be a bright break from your own self absorbtion." And so, in honor of Ichi the Killer, ("'Hope' is the thing... Continue reading
Posted Apr 23, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
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Having just arrived in my hometown of Sonoma for an all-too brief week where I will work and pretend to work, (and where I'll be blogging from all week!) I’ve been thinking a lot about poetry and place. Just yesterday, I drove up the mountain where my friends have gifted me with a small apartment/writing studio on their property, and I was overwhelmed with a feeling of, well, of Californian-ness (it feels a little like buzzy fantastical orange poppy dust and sweet cream butter). I was born in the Sonoma Valley, lived in Seattle for 5 years, and then in New York for 12. Now, I currently live in the psychedlic greens of Lexington, KY, and my hometown of Sonoma, CA. And nowhere else on earth has ever felt more like home, than Sonoma. It’s hard to say how much our homes and hometowns, and places we make our homes, matter in our work as artists, but perhaps, even the most tenuous of nomad clinging to his unicycle and a copy of Kerouac’s On the Road has a sense of belonging to some place. The place where we first learned our language as poets, the idioms, the accents, the names of our trees, our mispronunciations, our street names, our dead pets and our first cars, the place where we were denied or encouraged, left dry or watered well. In the small town of Galesburg, IL, there’s an amazing group of people who are exploring poets and place, and they are doing it by recording the most powerful tool that poets have in their awesome pockets, their voices. The Knox Writers’ House has recorded and interviewed everyone from James Tate, (“He was not menacing anyone, he was just very thirsty”) to Kwame Dawes (I promised myself simple things”). This morning I listed to Phil Levine read “The Theory of Prosody,” while I made coffee and looked out at the sun coming up over the Mayacamas. Voices travel so easily, so agile and strong, a bird without a home. If you have a moment, on this the 22nd day of National Poetry Month, might I suggest you begin by simply listening to the poets introduce themselves and where they are living on the ABOUT page. It’s wonderful. “My name is James Galvin and I live mostly in Iowa City,” how lovely is it to hear that voice when you are anywhere in a kitchen trying to make poems out of ticket stubs and empty cups? It makes me want to introduce myself as James Galvin someday. The young upstarts behind the Knox Writers' House are excited and hungry and willing to sleep on the floor. They travel all over, on no budget at all, and have a great microphone they've nicknamed, "Baby." It's a project I deeply admire. Here's their blog, too. It celebrates the voice, and the poet, and the places where we come from, and the places we end up. Follow them on Facebook or Twitter, or just go and... Continue reading
Posted Apr 22, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
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Apr 21, 2012