Now that my second semester of grad school is well on its way, I feel relieved. I actually feel like I know what I’m doing this year, and random crying jags are a thing of the past (I hope). I feel like I can afford to work on my private projects more, and my confidence seems to be returning with the sunlight. Today there is lovely white snow and a brilliant blue sky. Obviously a perfect day for… blogging!
Grad school wasn’t the only thing that was keeping me from blogging very often last year. I’ve reached that point in my life where poetry is suddenly “for keeps,” and I haven’t been completely happy with my progress. Far too often, it seems, I go over things I wrote in high school and find them superior in feeling and ear to things I’ve written more recently (of course, there is also a lot of dreadfully serious gush… I have made some progress). I am a lot more educated and a little more experienced than I was then—but somehow I have less inspiration to work with.
There are plenty of professional prose writers who will tell you to grow up and stop believing in the Inspiration Fairy. And they are right. If you are a journalist or a freelancer or a screenwriter, you must keep writing at all costs or find another line of work. But when you are producing something as superfluous and ornamental as poetry (yes, I’m being facetious!), there are really no incentives beyond your own satisfaction to keep you on track. If you simply do not write the poetry, no one will notice. And this is only fair, because second-tier poetry is less satisfying than all but the silliest popular potboiler or big stupid summer action movie. People have been pointing this out at least since Horace. I myself would rather go see another Die Hard sequel than read another okay-ish ghazal in the current issue of Wingéd Zebras. (Er… well, at least the ghazal wouldn’t take several hours to read.) Anyway, my point is that I used to get very strong inspirations, and now I mostly don’t—which makes me loathe writing.
I have no idea where they came from, but I remember those startling inner weathers; the haze of meter that crept around things and turned the moon into a drum and the wine glass into an organ pipe; those urgent voices. I was spoiled, I guess; and if this “inspiration” was so important, why was it wasted on juvenilia? Sounds suspiciously like adolescent vapors to me. Except that I remember feeling it for the first time when I was nine, and it followed me faithfully through my first year at college. Now it’s over. Instead of being driven to scribbling by eerie, Apollonian compulsion, I am sitting down and saying, “Now I will write a sonnet. A Petrarchan sonnet. About… something.” I have been going on like this for two or three years now, and even though I get little zaps of muse every once in a great while, it’s hard to make myself care. I think it’s telling me to shake things up and do things differently; and I’m confident now that it will show me something new once I’ve slogged away on my own for awhile.
So I’m through with drifting along and feeling mildly depressed about my lack of awesome. I’m going to think seriously (and unseriously) about poetry. I’m going to write things and see what I come up with. I’m going to study Shakespeare more thoroughly than I ever have before, and I’m going to translate Virgil and Horace into English. (I’ve already started creating my own version of the Alcaic stanza in English.) Part of my problem is that I haven’t translated anything for a while. When I was in high school, I translated quite a lot of Spanish poetry. I’ve always had a certain knack, and I need to exercise that more. I’m helping to edit Dappled Things, and I’ve had a couple of poems published there, and two reviews… I think I’m sort of stuck with this poetry thing. At least it gives me an excuse for being weird and spacey: “Don’t mind Meredith. She writes poetry. Really quite harmless.”
Someday that motto at the bottom of this page is going to get an answer. This is my fond belief, and I have the rest of my life to find out if I’m right. I can "cease to be silent" just by talking, but it’s the uti chelidon part that comes only as a gift. To be like the swallow- to sing like a bird-that’s why we try. I think of those exquisite little things from the seventeenth century, frighteningly beautiful tunes like… Sweet rose whose hue, angry and brave, bids the rash gazer wipe his eye… or anything involving the words Ask me no more… and I could almost sing back. Then I wake up and I’m back where I started: practicing.
PS - Sheila is back with her series on "The Wreck of the Deutschland"! Check it out....
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
I love it when people say that Whitman/Hopkins/Wordsworth revitalized English poetry by returning it to common speech. There's a seed of truth in the statement, but it's much more fun to imagine using hyperbaton whenever you talk.