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Lindsay Daigle
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I am not a blogger, I am a poet. This week though, I was both. And it was thrilling—scary and vulnerable, fun and really pleasing. In determining the direction this fifth and final blog might take, some favorite go-to poems came to mind. Frank O’Hara’s “Why I Am Not a Painter” is one that I constantly return to. Oranges are pretty great. So is the color orange. Sardines aren’t so bad either. What I really love it for is its ability to say so much without saying anything at all, what it says about the composing process, about what it is to be an artist and a notice-er. It’s the sort of poem that asks for noticing— It’s plainly spoken, but honest and exposed in its plainness. (The speaker says, “Oh.” That’s all he needs to say.) I’m now going to read it again. You should too: Why I Am Not a Painter [by Frank O’Hara] I am not a painter, I am a poet. Why? I think I would rather be a painter, but I am not. Well, for instance, Mike Goldberg is starting a painting. I drop in. "Sit down and have a drink" he says. I drink; we drink. I look up. "You have SARDINES in it." "Yes, it needed something there." "Oh." I go and the days go by and I drop in again. The painting is going on, and I go, and the days go by. I drop in. The painting is finished. "Where's SARDINES?" All that's left is just letters, "It was too much," Mike says. But me? One day I am thinking of a color: orange. I write a line about orange. Pretty soon it is a whole page of words, not lines. Then another page. There should be so much more, not of orange, of words, of how terrible orange is and life. Days go by. It is even in prose, I am a real poet. My poem is finished and I haven't mentioned orange yet. It's twelve poems, I call it ORANGES. And one day in a gallery I see Mike's painting, called SARDINES. We need so many words to express a word, twelve full poems to get at orange without ever using the word itself. This is why I spend so much time close-reading with my composition students. We spent an hour yesterday coming up with and interpreting over 50 definitions for “critical inquiry.” We could have continued the conversation well into the afternoon, asking things like— Do we inquire into issues that trouble us, or is it more of an uncertainty? Is it uncertainty or a crisis of belief? Are we destabilizing those beliefs or questioning their validity? Do we mean validity or is it a matter of global stakes? Are personal stakes a part of global stakes, or is it the other way around? If we have a personal investment in what’s being researched, is it more difficult to be critical? Is it important to be critical of... Continue reading
Posted Jul 25, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
In his poem “Now You’re An Animal,” Mark Doty asks, “What is lyric?” This question remains worthy of asking again and again (—which might be why what follows here is extremely underdeveloped…!). Lyric poetry shifts seemingly at the rate that our communication methods shift. And I don’t just mean from horse-and-messenger to postal snail mail to e-mail to text message. I mean the way we also speak to each other’s faces, the words we choose in order to express ourselves (personally or digitally), the rhetoric of the self. Traditionally, the lyric takes up personal human emotion. (But not always in a direct way.) It values sound, rhythm, the image, the line, and not necessarily chronological logic or sentence structure. (But not all these things, and not all the time.) The lyric poem has a musical cadence. (But not always.) So what is it, really? There’s a lot to be said about it, to the point at which the lyric becomes undefinable. The easiest answer to the question “What is lyric?” is simply “Not narrative.” I struggle when having this conversation with my Introduction to Creative Writing students. I can provide a multitude of examples showing what might be considered “lyric poetry” (“Remember when we read James Tate? Yeah, not that.”). It seems though that presenting many examples only confuses them, causes them to wonder why this category exists if there are so many different forms/methods/sub-genres that fit it. It isn’t until we read Doty’s poem in tandem with some in-class writing that they really start to get it, and I start to see some of the most exciting and substantive poems produced from those undergrads that I’d seen all semester. First, I write this on the board: I thought, This is the relation between narrative and lyric: one minute you're on 23rd Street trying to find an address, and the next you're naked under a wet crown of horns. Then, I read the poem to them aloud (after they’ve read it on their own as homework): Now You're An Animal [by Mark Doty] I'd expected to sit for my portrait in the photographer's studio— chilly morning, fierce April wind on Sixth slicing through my jacket and sweater, new blur of the trees overhead— but at the loft, a huge roll of white paper hung from the ceiling, blocking a wall of windows; he handed me a bucket of black paint and brushes and said, Now, how would you like to represent yourself? I wasn't ready for that. It wasn't noon, I'd hurried across the city, and didn't feel awake to the task of metaphor. Then we were talking, easy, about what others had done—he photographed painters, actors, whoever he liked in the arts— and how dancers often leapt before the white field he'd offered them. And I said, I've always wanted antlers, and began to paint high on the big page black reindeer horns, in thick strokes, the paint dripping nicely, and when I finished I could stand beneath them... Continue reading
Posted Jul 24, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
When I was little, I liked to make lists of things: sports I liked to play, bands/singers I liked to listen to, R.L. Stein books I’ve read and have yet to read. It was all usually things I liked, things that sort of defined me at the time. Today, I was similarly moved to make such a list, but this time, of TV shows I like, ones that warrant binge-watching entire seasons at a time. I don’t quite know why I’m compelled in this way. Why is the act of making a list a pleasurable thing? Is it the thinking process, the discerning? The result, the seeing them all together? Once I’ve exhausted the obvious ones, I’m forced to think of ones I might have forgotten about otherwise, thereby perhaps reinvigorating the idea? Homage? Inclusion? (Exclusion?) Is it like creating a club and I’m the leader who gets to approve membership (like picking teams in grade school kickball)? Am I attempting to keep myself organized? If I write down every city I’ve ever been to, will I then know myself more fully? Am I better able to hold myself together after listing every film that has ever made me cry? And following this list of questions, another— Why the list poem? Similar to my list-creating desire’s elementary origins, the list poem is a technique often introduced to the young writer as a handy image-compiling tool. Some primary school teachers ask their students to create list poems to introduce themselves to their classmates, or when poetry is brand new. It’s easy. It’s fun. It’s productive, straight-forward self-reflection. And all of these are assets to someone in her late 20s (or, anyone older than primary school age) too. The list poem enacts this youthful ease of compartmentalization, while engaging with the more mature task of exploring a thing from all its angles. Catherine Bowman makes lists in “Sylvia’s Photo Album,” “Things To Eat, Paris, 1953” and her series of “Things To Do” poems, all from The Plath Cabinet. Susan Firer’s list poems include “Small Milwaukee Museums,” “Where Song Comes From,” and “The Wave Docent.” Paul Guest gives us “My Index of Slightly Horrifying Knowledge,” “To-Do List,” and “Things We Agreed Not to Shout,” which is reproduced here: Things We Agreed Not to Shout [by Paul Guest] Mom is dead. Dad melted. Again. Bitter recriminations. Bitter infidelities. Bitter. Streisand is on. Finnish curses on the firstborn of everyone who held us back. My credit rating. Your many catalogs of shame. Scrapbook time. Do you remember where we sank the kindergarteners? Infectious constipation. In our spare time, we enjoy perfecting methods of evisceration. Bingo. Also, fire. Let’s make a baby. Not anymore. You feel kind of weird inside. My brother’s indiscretions. My indiscretion with your brother. That lost weekend in Vegas. Landslide of therapy. Moving to another state. Again. We are running out of America. Faster. Right there. Good girl. Judas Priest lyrics. Freebird. Woo. Random latitudes. Imagined injuries. Getting tired of your meniscus.... Continue reading
Posted Jul 23, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
When a dear friend asks you to read a poem at her wedding, the “Of course!” response is full of glee and honor, but also pressure and panic – at least, for me. This is because each time this has been asked of me, I’ve been given the task of not only reading the poem, but choosing it too (or, in some cases, writing it). In other words, I am to create a moment within the small amount of moments dedicated to an entirely special day in the lives of people I love and care for. And since I am “the poet friend,” there’s a certain amount of expertise expected from my fulfilling of this role. I assume that the poem I choose will not only say something about the nearly wedded couple in question, but also something about me – about what I value in poetry, about what is “good” poetry, about my wealth of poetry knowledge, etc. (And yes, I realize this perhaps silly anxiety may not be shared by any of you, readers. And yes, I also understand that this wedding is not about me. But, well, this was my thought process. And, well, this is me being honest about it.) As a result of all this silly anxiety, I made a few decisions right off the bat: 1) The poem should not come from any sort of “wedding poem” internet search. 2) The poem will be contemporary, which rules out possible “typical” wedding go-tos, like Keats or Shakespeare or Neruda. 3) If possible, the poem will come from my own collection of hard copy poetry books. The combination of these decisions provided me with the rare opportunity to sit in my living room for an entire Saturday surrounded by piles of books. (And now my PhD student self is laughing so hard that I lost my train of thought.) I really had a great time with this— Through this process of pulling books from shelves, flipping through them, and moving them from pile to pile, I recalled some worthwhile observations/made some worthwhile discoveries, such as: 1) I own 2 copies of Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White. 2) My copy of Lolita is right next to my copy of Reading Lolita in Tehran, which sprung the idea to write a poem called “Reading Lolita in the Laundromat,” which happened and was really awkward. 3) The layout of the Table of Contents page is a truly important decision that affects the aesthetic experience of the reader. 4) I do not differentiate between my composition pedagogy books and my creative writing pedagogy books on the shelf because I believe in their highly valuable crossover. 5) I used to read a lot of Tom Robbins. 6) Library of America editions of collected poems are overwhelming and Bible-y. 7) I just need to get Watt, and my Samuel Beckett collection will be complete. 8) I am not entirely drawn to [own] poetry that celebrates or is cheerful. I dig the... Continue reading
Posted Jul 22, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
I like to terrify my students with what imagery is capable of. Moving past the “red as a rose” and “hot like summer” kinds of images is certainly at least one full 75-minute Introduction to Creative Writing class period (+ several reading and writing assignments). It’s when those reading/writing assignments urge the initial eyebrow-snaking “I hate poetry!” sighs out of their mouths that I know the true conversation has begun. When I hear those frustrated sighs, I can’t help but laugh a little, nod, smile, ask “Why do you say that?” I listen to the reply, still smiling (partially because I want them to be honest without fear of insulting me, their poet-teacher), then say, “You don’t hate it.” I then silently revere Wallace Stevens and Jennifer L. Knox for helping me accomplish what I set out to do: First stage, terrified; second stage, “whoa…” During these moments, I’m often recalling what it was like for my undergraduate self to encounter such imagery-rich poetry as Sharon Olds (“The shadows lie down like stunned animals in the corners / and I set myself up in bed like an invalid, / a damaged woman, the books, the cup of tea, / the notebooks. I prepare to receive / the long gold finger of fire / when it inches sideways into the window and / drops its molten bar across my legs / like a police lock”) and Lyn Hejinian (“It is happiness to dream / The men ask me where is the charred pot and I say it is in the car trunk / The men deny that the slopes have walked into the creek / They are probably right and keep consuming / Fire they need—”). My eyes widened with ineffable emotions as my highlighter colored those pages raw. The emotions were a simultaneous exclamation of “Oh?” and “YES!”, humility and empowerment, fear and exhilaration. In the words of some sort of “I lived it, you can too” motivational speaker, that’s when I knew that I not only loved poetry, I needed it. This isn’t to say that I expect my students to have the same emotional reaction to the image as I did. Some of them, certainly, arrive to class equipped with experience and appreciation. They’ve skipped the question marks and headed right into exclamation points. And this is wonderful. There are also those who never move past the stage of fear and/or disdain. They’ll either stay silent during the poetry half of the semester, or their eye rolls will be so loud that I – always the self-reflective instructor – will take note and wonder if I am, in fact, losing the poetry vote. This also isn’t to say that I teach creative writing because I want everyone to love it like I do. But I like to think that mere exposure to poetry is an asset to anyone’s rounded educational experience. To be a citizen of the world, it’s important, I think, to know what words can do,... Continue reading
Posted Jul 21, 2014 at The Best American Poetry
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Jul 18, 2014