Slump. Lapse. Reverse. Setback. Nose-dive. Drop. Depression.
These are all words that could describe my writing output over the past few weeks. Yes, I’ve been working on some revisions. And putting together a new chapbook manuscript. But as far as new writing goes, there hasn’t been much going on at all.
In talking to other writers, I know I am not alone. Poet Ruth Foley said in a recent email exchange that reading often works to put her back on track, reading not simply for pleasure, but reading deeply. I decided to take her advice and add it to one of my own techniques for breaking the dam: returning to a poet who never disappoints and reading (or re-reading) his/her work with new eyes.
For me, this weekend, it was Jack Gilbert’s The Great Fires. I have already written about “The Forgotten Dialect of the Heart,” which is right up on my list of best poems ever, so today, I will share another favorite.
Tear It Down
We find out the heart only by dismantling what
the heart knows. By redefining the morning,
we find a morning that comes just after darkness.
We can break through marriage into marriage.
By insisting on love we spoil it, get beyond
affection and wade mouth-deep into love.
We must unlearn the constellations to see the stars.
But going back toward childhood will not help.
The village is not better than Pittsburgh.
Only Pittsburgh is more than Pittsburgh.
Rome is better than Rome in the same way the sound
of raccoon tongues licking the inside walls
of the garbage tub is more than the stir
of them in the muck of the garbage. Love is not
enough. We die and are put into the earth forever.
We should insist while there is still time. We must
eat through the wildness of her sweet body already
in our bed to reach the body within that body.
I feel better already. If this poem had only one line – “We must unlearn the constellations to see the stars” – I would keep reading it. But who among us does not also want to “wade mouth-deep into love” or want to “reach the body within that body” of the one we love? This “underworld” beneath the world, the one that Gilbert urges us to find by tearing it down, is the world that gets lost in day-to-day routines and distractions. Pulling aside the veil and looking for that world can bring us back to a place where we can observe and ultimately create. “We should insist while there is still time.”
If you want to write:
1. Write a poem that begins with the heart and includes something celestial, the names of two cities, an animal, and an admonition that begins with “we must.”
2. Use the line “love is not enough” to begin your poem and use the phrase “by insisting on love, we spoil it” somewhere in the body of the poem.