THE IMPORTANCE OF BROODING

The two poems below, Thinking of the Prajna-Paramita and Aubade, emerged near the end of the fellowship. It was only after sitting and “brooding”(Meena’s workshop word which I have come to love) for the past month over diaries and scraps of paper written on at 5AM (in several attempts to watch the sunrise, only one of which was a success) were these able to emerge.

These days, I feel the urge to brood over everything. This morning it was a quote by Stanley Kunitz which I stumbled upon in one of my old notebooks. “Poetry is the conversion of life into legend”. Then, on the way to Starbuck’s with my iPod on shuffle, lyrics from The Roots. “In the beginning there was me. I was rhythm, life, two turntables one mic.” I can’t resist the urge to brood on them. After this month, I’m convinced that brooding leads to good writing; sometimes, and idea or line hatches perfectly only because it spent so much time being brooded upon. Incubated, if you will.

*

If you do come to Provincetown for a fellowship or workshop, please don’t miss the sunrise, or the Fine Art’s Work Center’s nightly readings, or the Poet’s Corner at the public library, or the dune shacks where Eugene O’Neill supposedly wrote Anna Christie. Oh, and whatever you do don’t miss the amazing South African bobotie wrap at Karoo Café, Bliss’s pomegranate fro-yo, or Stanley Kunitz’s perennial garden.

And above all, spend as much time as you can on the Mailer Porch. It is by far, the best place to brood.

*

(After writing this, I watched BBC’s Blue Planet. I am now fascinated by polar bears. Five months without a meal. Usually only 1 in 20 hunts is successful. As I packed, I started thinking of the parallels between hunting for seals and getting published. In the end, the half-starved momma bear caught and devoured an entire beluga whale. That should keep us writers motivated.)

Thinking of the Prajna-Paramita

Near the rose-hips, we undream our faces,
our hypothalami like sprung birds:
lips ready, our bones growing long teeth.
When he puts a palm between my scapulae,
each wing opens & a cell inside me screams
you will remember this.
But who can be sure of such a thing.
Nagarjuna would say, there are no teeth,
no bones, no lips pressed there are no lips
but there are lips. I know all this,
but I also know that we are born again & again
to lie down & count each other’s ribs,
to search for the pulse’s kick,
& the soul standing at attention.

Aubade

All night on the sea cliffs,
& on the low rocks we crawl drunk among barnacles,
Bringing our heads down to their operculums
So our ears fill with their hissing.
We inhabit the sound which is warm, portal-like—
An umbilical to some other world.
Minutes go by.
Then migrating back to our bodies.

*

You ask me if I know the albatross dance:
The head shimmy beak -kissing of courtship,
& then running out to the nearest shoal
Perform it, the sky yawning turquoise around you.

*

Walking back to our rocks—
The way you never stop whistling.
But I imagine you perfectly silent,
When your voice was still magma & salt—
Streaming through the belly of the earth.

Vanessa is a Mailer Poetry Fellow. She used the time to work on her first collection of poems on the subject of grief and transformation; her writing incorporates science and mythology. Vanessa currently teaches English in South Korea, where she also co-facilitates Seoul Writer’s Poetry Workshop. She holds a BA in Religion and Asian Studies from Mount Holyoke College (MHC), and a Five College Buddhist Studies certificate from MHC, Smith, Amherst, Hampshire, and UMass. You can reach her by email at mettaness@gmail.com.

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ASSIGNMENT 1

It’s stunning here. Ptown is a gift and a distraction. Meena, the staff, the fellows – a gift! This poem is from our first assignment that went something like this: find an object to sketch, touch/feel/sketch it, write an associative response to the sketch, then write a poem based on the response that also incorporates childhood.

 

I Can’t Tell You Childhood.

Etch a field that needs me.
Touch the center,

the partial, the parental.
The predictable loneliness

of a child is the migration
of a flounder’s clockwise eye,

an adaptation, the way a herd
pummels landscape,

the dust cloud, its drift.

 

Flounders, like other fish, hatch with one eye on each side of their head. Movement of the right eye to the left side occurs during the metamorphosis from larvae to juvenile. Amanda Lichtenberg is not a fish. She lives in Jackson Heights, NY.

COLLECTED POEMS, guest post

The past two weeks the Mailer House has held poetry workshops led by Bob Holman and Quincy Troupe–below is a compilation of poems by workshop participants.

Gull Hill
(for Stanley Kunitz)

Daylilies and ferns stir, a rhythm in bay’s turns
Water calm with the tide and steel gray
Farther out one light house stands pale
A boat between shores glides on white sails
In the garden each day, light on your worn hands
Layers of life in soil, in terraces and winding paths
In the cellar at night words come through darkness  rising early
If poems are seeds, then each is a mystery unfurling
A gull calls from above as waves splash within us
The last cloud of  the day is lightened by the western sun
The language is there, in the form of land, and horizon’s run.
When sight speaks it’s shadow is a whisper.

Barbara Buckman Strasko lives along the Conestoga River in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Her poem, Bricks and Mortar, was chosen to be engraved in granite and bronze in Lancaster’s main square. She is the first Poet Laureate of Lancaster County.

Strasko’s poems have appeared in The Best New Poets of 2006, Rhino, Tar River Review, Brilliant Corners, Ninth Letter, Nimrod and elsewhere. Her chapbook On the Edge of a Delicate Day was published by Pudding House Press in 2008.Her new book Graffiti in Braille will be published in November of 2012. Strasko was the 2009 Teacher of the Year for River of Words, an International Environmental Poetry & Art Contest for Youth.

Paternity

So she could be lying about who the father is, huh?
Well, I’ve actually heard that a lot of
women would do such a thing.
I mean, did she seem like a liar while you two were fucking?
Well of course not.
You know, I’ve also heard that men have less impulse control
when it comes to possible sexual activity.
Could it be possible that you might not have been able to tell
or care
that she was a liar?
I mean it’s obvious that you do care now.
Yep, paternity tests do cost that much.
It’s the certainty of knowing,
the security that comes from giving
your money to your blood,
for sure.
Yes, you do still have to pay me separately.
I am paid to give you my advice, plus I have no facilities for paternity testing.
Well, I think it’s likely that women have learned a thing or two
about screwing
or getting screwed
over the years.

Lucy Ann Betteridge was born and raised in central Missouri. After graduating from law school, she has returned home to practice law. Her poems generally reflect issues she encounters in her practice.

After Ted Berrigan

Dear ________,

It’s 1:03 a.m. in Provincetown, early July heat, yes,
it’s the week of the bear. The men spill into the streets
in packs yellow and brown, hair gleaming
under winking moon. I’m peeling the skin off my mouth,
I’m enclosing it in this letter, quick cut of lightning across
the sky as I write this, man and woman next door
grilling tortillas on an open flame, standing all agog
on the patio, whistling, talking. This morning,
I woke early, wandered around the house,
watched the sun come up over the water so I could write
it down in my notebook, drank coffee, ran errands,
thought about this letter, of you.
It’s 1:21 a.m., I am licking the stamp, the sweet lugubrious glue
staining my tongue, melting in the steady heat of this night.
As ever, yours.

Jenna Lynch currently resides in Eugene where she is an MFA candidate in poetry at the University of Oregon. She teaches creative writing and lives with her cat, Ego. Her poem Ideas About Mothers was published in Stirring and can be read here.

The Dying Railyard

Throughway for everyone
holding a backpack. Pack
everything I own onto my back and run. Just greasy
hair and money for the bus.
I think of my parents roaming, long
hair and leather, thieves, dressing
me in winter layers and running me out of stores. Changing
price tags on meat. Following
flea markets and college kids with
$20’s in their pockets. My father saying,
“Lori, I need a home.”
We lived in a van, white milk truck with a piss pot,
not half-way hippies I knew
the summers between college,
white kids with dreads and a fat credit card, just in case.
My parents had
no back-up, no plan B, no dreads.
We moved across state lines, cheering
Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia.
Pot soaking clothes, the occasional motel with chipped paint
doors, sticky floors.
I was three. I never cried. Knew
not to touch the razor blades scattered on the van floor, the punches
my father used to make tourist leather belts, dollar bills
stashed in a can.
I made a boat of my life, sailed
off from what I have known. I have my family written
on my belly, diagrammed and clear.
When I was five, my father decided
that I would be ocean baptized, sea baptized, dunked, not sprinkled.
On the sand, feet buried in the cold, I practiced pinching
my nose, closing my lips to a single seam.
The pastor yelling,
“Hallelujah!”
slapping the forehead of the man we found
sleeping in the church basement last week, his body
like a stethoscope, listening for sounds, trying not to be found.
Each person waded
waist-deep, fully clothed to the sea.
My turn. Walk alone. A touch on
my shoulder, one hand at the small
of my back. I hung suspended under the water, opening
my eyes to the salt and fish. I have a list of things I thought
of under the water:
1) sharks
2) drowning
3) the preacher’s big hands
4) God
I came up dripping, coughing,
to clapping and “Praise Jesus.”
I knew new things.
I knew
that he could
have held me
under.

Lori Swartz is a painter, performer, metalworker and writer, living in an old mining town in New Mexico. She was raised by Jewish, hippie, fundamentalist-Christian parents. Over the past twelve years her poetry has appeared in various collections, anthologies and journals. She has won the 2000 Peregrine Prize and is the recipient of the 2009-2010 Astrea Lesbian Writers Fund Award in Poetry. Lori performs in burlesque and circus shows on trapeze, aerial fabric and aerial chain. As a filmmaker, her recent project was the documentary film, This Mad and Beautiful Game. Currently, she is at work on her first novel.

Blueberries in White Wine

My Nante Frances’s house sat atop Blueberry Hill
the namesake bushes along the drive to the right.
She ‘d pick the berries in hottest  August
my cousin and I ate them straight from the branches.
Anita’s mouth looked like a boot black’s fingers,
mine, a purple rhododendron,
we shoved as many as we could into our mouths, bulging the cheeks
our Nante had kissed only minutes before.
The warm berries were all we kids could have.
The cool wet shiny liquored ones,
the ones suspended in white wine, the ones in the fridge
were for my uncle’s lunch; the Italian way, she’d say.
Sometimes we’d beg for these ones reserved,
and, sometimes she’d promise to share, but
as luck would have it, there were always worms that came out to
drown in the wine.
“Dieu fause!”
, she’d say,
“I had to throw them all away”.
But, we knew he’d eaten them right down to the last one.
Her lie never hurt either one of us,
we knew that lying was the Italian way, too.
And so, perfectly round ripe berries could continue
to go missing from the bottom of the bowl –
her secret was safe with us.
Uncle Joe could have his blueberries;
we could go back out to play.

Melanie Swetz is a Norman Mailer Writer’s Colony scholarship recipient for Poetry 2012. She is currently living in Turkey where she is an associate professor for Bilkent University. This poem is from her summer in Provincetown writings.

walking in provincetown

on this end of provincetown
just past charles s. darby square
a delivery truck’s harangue disturbs sleep
but for a bird’s chirp   waves’ wave
or spinning spokes   this street   west to east   stills life
its vista   live paintings on a stroll—
here good morning is a prayer
a kiss on both cheeks   baptism
different than my deep-rooted south
but the same   i walk alone here
without concern.

t.l. elam lives, works and writes in Atlanta.  She is published in a few places including The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South edited by Nikky Finney.  She currently is the poetry editor for Generations Literary Journal.  In her spare time, she teaches workshops via the page program to help girls discover their voice via poetry, journaling, and art.