31 August 2011

The Light I Travel By

There is a small poem written by Thomas McGrath that permeates my life every now and again.


How could I have come so far?
(And always on such dark trails!)
I must have traveled by the light
Shining from the faces of all those I have loved.

And its companion poem, in my mind, by W.S. Merwyn:


Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.

These seven lines entail all that love entails: light and absence. Every experience of love I can think of lead back to these two poems. When you love people and keep them on your path and they love and support you, they light your way, they give you the hope you need to see the rough bits through and they provide you with a group to celebrate all the accomplishments with.

And when they are gone, for a time, everything you do reminds you of them. It is in a tender remembrance that we continue to love them when they are no longer lighting our way.

And we become separated in many ways: divorce, death, disease (why do all the unpleasant things begin with D?).

Moving away too. I’ve lost contact with so many old friends who just simply moved away, they just picked up and left and decided to live their lives somewhere else. Alaska is filled with people who moved here to escape and they stay, but Anchorage is especially prone to people who live here for a time and then get bored or broke and move away. I think I can probably count hundreds of people who I have loved and then moved away and lost touch with.

And it has hurt, every single time it happens it hurts and cuts deeper than it probably should. When you have abandonment issues, you half expect people to leave, to be done with you, and you want to scream, “No. Don’t go. Please stay!”

But you can’t, I can’t, because they all left for something better, and they all promise to stay in touch.

And when it happens over and over again, something  like bitterness sets in, something like low self esteem sets in and it sucks, and it isn’t fair to hold it against people. It isn’t fair to blame myself for them leaving.

Poetry provides a new perspective on this. Poetry, itself, tends to be brief, but deep in sentiment. Poetry celebrates the here and now, the thing that is fleeting, the ephemeral.
It captures the ghosts in our lives and allows us to go back in time and relive a moment that was over all too soon.

Maybe that’s why I’ve written so many poems about my dad and continue to do so. I always  had these brief intimations of him, intimations that showed me who he was, intimations that he didn’t allow anybody else to see, tender moments that I’m still not sure if he wants to me to share with anybody else.

He passed away in April. He was cremated. His ashes were spread this past weekend.

People used to say I look like my dad, I never saw it until he passed. Every step I have taken  has been lit by his face. Everything I do has been stitched with his color.

This is my dad.

30 August 2011

Origins, Part One

When I was six years old, I fell into a coma.

I was out for about two weeks, but when I awoke I discovered several things:
  1. A packet of letters and flowers from my kindergarten classmates wishing me to get well.
  2. A room full of strange doctors.
  3. My memories had disappeared.
  4. My voice had disappeared.
The earliest thing I can remember was being in the coma. It was dark, except for a tiny pinhole of light right in the center.

Sometimes I would sleep a dreamless sleep, but sometimes I would wake up, be aware of myself, and I would be there in the dark space.

It is not like being in a dark room, it is more like being immersed in dark water. It is both claustrophobic and comforting.

My mother tells me that before the coma I was not shy and quiet, I was gregarious, I was naturally very social. After the coma, that changed. My voice didn’t seem to work correctly, I knew the words that I wanted to say, but they didn’t come out right or they didn’t come out at all.

The nurses taught me sign language and I received speech therapy afterwards and I got to a point where I could pass for “back to normal.”

Except I wasn’t, but I didn’t discover that until much later.

These early problems with speech and language making is called aphasia. It is a common side effect after a coma, but at the time of my coma, they did not understand as much about it. Some people do not recover from aphasia as well as I did. Some people’s voices are still trapped inside themselves long after their comas.

Some people’s aphasia also effects different language making capacities. Some people may not be able to write a complete sentence, but they can speak it eloquently. Some can only type letters, but not draw them with a pencil. Some simply replace words or repeat words; others do not speak at all.

This early difficulty with finding a strong external voice made me two things:

1.      Very good at reading (college level at age 7)

2.      Terrible at penmanship and public speaking

And I experienced that all the way through high school and into college.

…Until, I discovered poetry.

You see, poetry’s line breaks teach you how to read the line, when to pause, when to lift your voice or lower it, and I discovered, that through a line break, I could read out loud a little easier. James Scully talks about the line break in Line Break: Poetry as Social Practice. I will certainly be talking more about him later in the blog

And I learned that if I could read a line of poetry out loud easier than I should certainly be able to speak out loud a little easier if I thought of my statements as line breaks.

Of course, these lessons were not being made fully conscious to me as I was learning them, it was only recently that this became apparent of what I was learning.

So I studied poetry in college at the time because it was something I not only did well, but it also challenged me. I learned how to write it, how to read it, how to speak it. And thus, my voice became a poet’s voice.

29 August 2011

I believe the world is beautiful/and that poetry, like bread, is for everyone.

These are the words of Roque Dalton, as translated from the Spanish from his poem "Like You."

And like this poem, I want to use this blog to explore the many ways of how to be a poet in my daily life.

Twelve years ago, I recieved an MFA in Creative Writing with a Poetry emphasis from the University of Alaska Anchorage. During my apprenticeship there, I was somewhat blessed with the traditional view of a poet's life: my friends were young educated, cultured hipsters who hung around bars and classrooms and bookstores and coffee shops and wrote art. And when you are working hard to hone your craft, that is a beneficial lifestyle indeed.

My last year there I was in a workshop with other writers and one writer provided a very important, if not difficult piece of advice for me to hear. Having gone directly from high school to undergraduate to graduate studies, my writing had developed a very certain and defined aesthetic, but I hadn't much experience in the world to apply that aesthetic too. He said:

"Go out and get your hands bloody."

I think I have. And the effect of living a life first and sidelining my writing these past twelve years is that I've fallen out of habit with it.

But I believe, as I did back then, that Roque Dalton is right. That the world is beautiful and that poetry is not for the intellectual elite, but that it is for everyone, for every day life.

It is, like bread. It is something that requires fine ingredients and hard work to knead it into something that will rise and feed our souls.

The full text of Roque Dalton's poem is listed under Pages in a link to the right. --->

In the coming months, I hope to invite a dialogue with this. I hope to break this bread with you, my friends, loved ones, and new friends.