The Ear as Portal

When the pen is stuck, my first inclination is always to read. To crack open a book or journal and roll around in someone else’s words and syntax for a while, let my vision guide me to a key that will unlock something new inside my own lexicon. Being a reader is an important practice for every writer, but I often forget how important it is to use the ear, to listen to the work of others to concentrate the mind and the ear on words that are NOT in front of me, to process them in a purer, more challenging way.  I have been doing this electronically through the wonderful Commonplace Podcast with Rachel Zucker, but I always learn something from hearing poets read live.

I was reminded of this last night at a wonderful reading sponsored by The Poetry Center of Chicago. Their Six Points reading series, at which I have had the pleasure of reading myself, hosted Tarfia Faizullah and Kaveh Akbar sharing their poems and then a conversation about Tarfia’s upcoming book and poetics in general. Having been enraptured by Seam when it debuted four years ago, I was not surprised to be enamored with every poem Tarfia Faizullah shared from her upcoming Graywolf Press book Registers of Illuminated Villages. 

Even in the small number of poems she shared, I could hear the multiple meanings of the word “register” – an official list or record, part of a range of voices or instruments, and the action of detection or recognition. These were poems of witness, of generations, the great melodies of all the small things that register in the heart. Faizullah’s reading style was engaging and strong with no hint of artifice or “poet voice.”  My reaction to Kaveh Akbar’s reading was similar – I was familiar with many of the poems from his chapbook Portrait of An Alcoholichaving reviewed it earlier this year, and those poems were lovely to hear in the air, along with newer poems. All were image-rich and full of turns, his reading style all sway and angle. Both poets held the audience with their voices, registers finely tuned to the instruments of their words.

I had a notebook with me, as I always do, but I took no notes. I was present in that moment, listening, as was the rest of the audience packed into the tiny art gallery, an audience that included many other celebrated young voices in the poetry world. During the conversation portion of the evening, I did write down one thing Tarfia said that I wanted to remember:

“We all write with a particular combination of vision & blindness.”

It is this dichotomy that draws me to poetry, the push/pull of initiating & then following the poem’s path, even if I’m not sure where it came from or where it is going. Tuning into the registers of language that are singing somewhere in the hollows of my brain.

where I am (not)

I am not in Boston. I am not at AWP. Many poets I know are there, and although I am a bit jealous, I am happy with knowing that I will definitely be attending next year. And I am also more than content with preparing for my romantic getaway with the husband during Spring Break, which will be much less stressful, much more sunny, and still involve lots of books and writing. 🙂

I have been following Kelli Russell Agodon’s #NotatAWP tweets today. She is taking her everyday experiences and making them into typical conference moments. A great laugh! I look forward to meeting Kelli next year in Seattle.

Birds and wings have been sneaking their way into my poem drafts this week – maybe the robins and geese, returned a bit early to the area and already singing, are making an impact. And, in preparing for my reading next week at the local library, I have actually written a cohesive process statement about the three books that are coming out this year. And I may or may not be applying for a scholarship to a workshop this summer for writers over 50. (Ugh. And yay?)

And, to wrap things up, in my seniority statement at work today, I found out that I have been working in this school district for 8,224 days. That number gave me pause. Maybe I will throw myself a party when I get to 10,000 (which should be shortly before I retire…). Sigh.

Breaking the Silence

As Margo has mentioned, I have been “quiet” for the past week or so. There are many reasons for that. One, it’s the end of the quarter, which means piles of papers to grade and record and post. Two, I traveled to New Orleans to run a half marathon, which I completed in 2 hours and 37 minutes, a huge improvement over my time from last May. (I know, it’s slow, but I’m old and not exactly willowy…give me a break.)

While in NOLA, we spent a couple of days at the Voodoo Music Festival, which will merit another post later this weekend. (Highlights included getting backstage to watch Silversun Pickups and a high-energy set from AWOL Nation.) Of course, too much fun has to have consequences – I returned home not feeling very well and have succumbed this evening to a blanket on the couch.

So, while I am sitting here on the couch, I thought I would try to enter the crazy world of November poem-a-month or 30/30 using this Hurricane Sandy prompt from Peter Murphy. (Yes, I know it’s November 2, so I am already a day behind, but I will try to catch up…)  I haven’t posted a poem here in a while, so here you go!

Temporary Refuge

Our stop is underwater now, seawater filling

tunnels, drowning the third rail in silt and salt.

Transformers are built to repel the damage,

but they carry danger in their lines, power

that can leap and migrate to other conductors.


Some say sex has nothing to do with a great

relationship, but we have shared enough

of our own spit and salt to know that is a lie.

You touched me and our skin threw sparks,

every other person on the subway platform


disappearing as we flooded our mouths

with tongue and current. Storm waters subside.

The platforms fill with people. I reach for

your hand. You pull away and a new storm

rips the planks of my ribs to ruin.