Sunday, November 23, 2014

Notes On A Failed (But Published) Love Poem: A Dialogue Between Man & Muse?

Since I ask students to write a self-analysis of their work, I felt I should try my hand at it, so I open my last full length book of poetry to a random page to find a piece I write over a decade ago to analyze. My first thought is. “Damn, I didn’t choose one of my better poems,” though there must have been a time when I did believe this was better, worthy enough of inclusion in a book, choosing it over many other possibilities. I dedicated it to my girlfriend, so I must’ve thought it was something special, but it makes me kinda cringe now! As the notion of the “author” is an abstraction we create from a piece of writing, I imagine a dialogue:

He: “Honey! Here’s a love poem I wrote just for you. I never did this before. But you have helped me be less bitter and cynical about love and “I got to praise you like I should” (breaks into that song sampled by Fat Boy Slim circa 1999, dancing around the room)

She: (smiling, with a warm glow in her face, and sparkle in her eyes): Can I see it?
With a little embarrassed trepidation, he hands it to her….
She (reading): Are you sure this is the right one? It’s called “No More Pesticides.” That doesn’t seem very loving to me….

He: I know. That’s kinda weird. But, see, two negatives make a positive! I’m saying you’re not a pesticide, that I don’t need those toxic pesticides anymore, thanks to you!

She: Does that mean I’m a pest?

He: No! Not at all, but it does mean you’re helping me turn over a new leaf, and letting myself be more natural!

She: (reading): There are little white clouds growing out the sky today…
                        The way buds spring from a tree in shoot.
                         I like the first line. It’s more gentle than those “Darth Vadar” poems you
                         Wrote to those other women. It’s kind of cute, the bright little words, the
                          Subtle alliteration….I like your use of the verb “growing.”….But that
                          Second line is clunky, with its unnecessary and distracting inversion….
                           It’s a bad joke, not even clever.
                          Why couldn’t you just let yourself be simple and say:
                          The way buds shoot from a tree in spring?

He: I didn’t want to be cliché….I was reading Fanny Howe

She: That’s an occupational hazard, a tic, you got to learn to let go of…

He:  But then they wouldn’t call it poetry anymore….

She:  Who’s they?.....I do like the image of clouds being like blossoms in spring. It shows those tender feelings you have for me. It makes me tingle like I’m feeling your fingers, but that damn inversion makes it harsher. “In shoot?” Like it’s just about blowing your wad, the money shot! You need to embrace the heavenly labials and get out of your world of gutterals (as Stevens says)….

He: I’m sorry….what do you think of the next lines?
       By tonight, they may be in full flower
      And even fall in the form of rain.

She: I feel like you’re giddy in anticipation of meeting your lover----presumably me—in a few hours….

He: Yeah, that sounds pretty good….

She: But in the next line, but the sky is not a tree-   you take away everything you already gave (not that it was much). It’s all that damn Ashbery….erasure….

He:   But even if I say, the sky is not a tree, can’t you still picture a sky, and a tree?

She:  Yes….are you the sky and I the tree?

He:    It could be the opposite. I don’t want to fall into the literary cliché of sky gods and earth mothers….

She:   Or the philosophical cliché of men as the phallic tree of materialism and women as
           Space, as spirit?

He: Yeah, that too….

She:    You and your fear of cliches….

He:    I wanted to give you something that couldn’t be digested in one sitting, something you’d want to, even have to, return to over and over, something that tickles your intellect so you feel my presence on your long journey away from me….

She (reading): though it has
Roots beneath the ground on which you walk
Or from which you grow, extended.
It seems like you’re taking pains to write all this just to say “I am your world” or you see what you love about the sky in me….even that I am both nature and culture!...
But that is just a really clunky way of putting it…..EXTENDED???? You don’t know how abrasive your words can be, like Shoot, and Pesticide. You’re really groping and struggling here…

He: It’s really embarrassing…..but do you like it better when I sang it?

She: I do like the song better, but mostly because you change it, and add that beautiful ending…..Hold me, forgotten, where I wasn’t no I couldn’t dream….I just love the way you sing that even if I don’t know what you mean….I hear the warmth and longing….
But I have to say this poem doesn’t come close to the sweet nothings you’ve whispered to me. It’s formal and stiff, and not even witty. I’ll take John Donne’s compas metaphor any day over this…..!

He: Well, that’s only the first stanza….can the other two verses redeem it for you?

She: Okay, I’ll keep reading. But this is tiring, and getting me out of the mood for you. It’s taking more from me, and not giving anything back…

He: (reading it to her, trying to use his most sincere, earnest, show, low, voice):
       Still the weather forecasters say the cloud
Has come from the west,
Is part of a pressure system approaching
Like a conquering army invading
The baby blue innocence of the sky,
The bare tree under which there’s no shade.

She: That’s an interesting little metaphysical argument about perception, like a poor man’s cliff notes of Merleau Ponty or something, but what’s love got to do with it?
I see you’re back to the clouds again, the clouds of your desire or lust or longing….

He: Yes, that tingling feeling, those feelings that aren’t just in me, but the way I feel
       Now that we’re together, even when we’re apart….

She: But what see and feel these words express most is your fear of me as a threatening other, like a pest, that is getting worse, like a conguering army…

He: But I’m denying, refuting, that interpretation. That’s what those weather forecasters think. I’m saying how they’re map is wrong, how their myth of where the cloud comes from is wrong. Their so called science is a false language, and it doesn’t matter to predict what can happen. They don’t embrace the chance that is our love….I’m saying how I am, how we can be, different than them….
She: Methinks thou dost protest too much that you are not the dreaded “typical male” who can’t muster up the necessary negative capability necessary to truly love…….but your metaphor gives you away. You spend way too much time and passion talking about the very thing you wish to negate and distinguish youself from. It fails to convince me….

He: But maybe if you just thought of it as a picture. I mean, I’m just looking at a cloud as it’s forming, as the moisture in the air is condensing to form a visible, if mutable, shape, and wanting to share the beauty of that tender solitary moment with you. That most poetic feeling of wonder! Just think: before I met you, the sky was clear, all too clear, and empty and lonely before I met you…but you have brought cute little clouds into my life, and brought me back in touch with innocence and the possibility of higher innocence…

She: And they may turn stormy by tonight

He: And I’ll love that as much as any pleasant partly sunny day….I wrote this in NYC. Remember our post-thunderstorm kisses on Lexington at 11PM?

She: How could I forget?.....Yet….you could’ve put it in better words…and why do you hate the weathermen so much….

He: They try to crush us with their metanarratives! And reduce out connection. They’re like those who say the earth isn’t the center of the universe, that the sun is the center, and not even of the universe, but merely of a solar system….they wish to make us feel small….

She” I don’t mind feeling small…besides, the earth ISN’t the center of the universe, it goes around the sun….everybody knows that….

He:   But that’s not the way it feels….

She: Okay, I get that, but if feeling’s so important, you must realize your reader may feel like you’re calling her a high pressure system, a conquering army….

He:   But what you’re conquering needs to FALL; that’s why they say falling in love. I don’t need a weatherman to tell me I’ve fallen for you…..

She: Do you realize how ridiculous this is…..and cold. It’s cold, or barren like the hottest desert….

He:  Maybe that’s the point….

She: The poem has to be cold to show how cold you’d be without me?

He:   I’m sorry…..Well, maybe the third stanza can redeem it….I try to bring it back to what you’ve given me, and what you teach me…..and let whatever tension was there unwind in soothing comfort that feels that it must yeild before the wisdom of a child:
         The sky knows better, the tree knows better
And so if you ask me about
The sunset we watched last night
I can only remember its beauty in the form of you
Who teaches me how airbrushed
The clearest skies are
In postcards of this city
Your parents bought for you to send them

She: It sounds like you’re making fun of my parents

He:  That’s not what I meant. I love your parents…I meant to praise you.

She: How?

He:  Isn’t it obvious

She: No

He: I loved when you told me about those postcards. I thought it was sweet that your parents brought them for you. That gesture suggests so many touching kindnesses for me, so many possibilities for us, and what we could be……I mean, in a way, my poem is like giving you a postcard too….
She: Except yours doesn’t airbrush the clouds! Is that your point?

He: Yes, and our love does not, will not, airbrush or photoshop the clouds, the beautiful clouds….of sickness or of health….

She: I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now

He: Me, too, like from above when on a plane flying from California while you were on a plane flying from NYC….

She: So we could meet in the middle….in New Orleans….

He: Yes!....and see Ernie K. Doe…..sing “Mother In Law”

She: And Fats Waller play “I wish that I were Twins….” On Valentine’s Day…

He: Yes (embracing her; long mutually empowering kiss)

She…..But that ain’t in the poem…

He: …..there’s only so much you can put in a postcard. It’s in us though; I left the other side blank for you to write or draw on….

She: And I sent you an anthropomorphic heart with a mouth and eyes, and legs…

He: I loved that….it makes me terribly sad

She: Why?

He: Coz I know it was better than my poem…

She: You can still write another

He: But I can tell you like my love songs better….”La La La Means I Love You.”

She: I thought you said you weren’t trying to airbrush our love!

He: No more dispersants!

She: No use crying over spilled oil…..

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