Anxiety, My Old Friend

From The World Has Changed: Conversations with Alice Walker:

The writing of my poetry is never consciously planned, although I become aware that there are certain emotions I would like to explore. Perhaps my unconscious begins working on poems from these emotions long before I am aware of it. I have learned to wait patiently (sometimes refusing good lines, images, when they come to me, for fear they are not lasting), until a poem is ready to present itself–all of itself, if possible.

I sometimes feel the urge to write poems way in advance of ever sitting down to write. There is a definite restlessness, a kind of feverish excitement that is tinged with dread. The dread is because after writing each batch of poems I am always convinced that I will never write poems again. I become aware that I am controlled by them, not the other way around. I put off writing as long as I can.

Then I lock myself in my study, write lines and lines and lines, then put them away, underneath other papers, without looking at them for a long time. I am afraid that if I read them too soon they will turn into trash; or worse, something so topical and transient as to have no meaning–not even to me–after a few weeks. … I also attempt, in this way, to guard against the human tendency to try to make poetry carry the weight of half-truths, of cleverness.

(Paragraph spaces not in source; just trying to avoid a wall of text.)

I love reading about other artists’ — especially poets’ — creative processes. Walker’s “restlessness/feverish excitement tinged with dread” finally makes sense to me. I don’t think I was ready to understand this ten or even five years ago. Eric Maisel describes it similarly in Fearless Creating. Here is what he says about the anxiety that precedes the creative work:

The productive artist lives with this. She knows that something wonderful and terrible is going on, something difficult, something important and uncontrollable. She also knows that this will happen again and again, and that she is lucky if this happens again and again, for it means that she is oriented correctly toward her own wish to create, that she is a creator at the ready.

Damn. I wish I had realized this earlier in my creative life. Now that I have more time to myself, I’m much more conscious of the restlessness/anxiety, and the ways I react to it. It’s like a pressure that gathers behind my eyes. I can feel the energy of the potential poem. It’s exciting! No, it’s awful! I dread that what I write will not do justice to the cool idea I’ve had. I have an unaccountable feeling of invincibility. I fear that after this poem, I will be all out of poems. After I eat lunch, I will definitely start writing. I’m being terrorized by this poem! It’s kicking my butt and I haven’t even tried to write it yet! I decide to read a book about vampires instead. I’ll just take a little nap…

No, I’m choosing to work. Victory is sometimes measured in teaspoons.

Eternally Yours

I’ve been reading a book in which a woman is rescued from a deadly snowstorm/avalanche by a handsome man who is a doctor AND a famous author of historical novels about doctors, which are unbelievably accurate because he draws from his own life experience, because…he’s…



And of course they are powerfully and mystically attracted to one another. But he can’t be with her because he’s a VAMPIRE! And she can never love again because she has A DARK SECRET IN HER PAST!

And also she’s a little leery because whenever he gets too close he is DRAWN TO HER BLOOD OMG and she notices that his eyes “dance with red flames” but OMG THAT’S NOT POSSIBLE I MUST HAVE IMAGINED IT!!!

It’s been good for some unexpected laughs. Not as awesome as, say, Judith Krantz, but nevertheless it packs in The Cheesy Goodness like the Kraft Factory Store.

Oh, and of course he also plays the piano…. BRILLIANTLY! And she knows that it’s Rachmaninoff.

Gee, I wonder if they’ll find a way to be together.


Capybaras Everywhere

I love this poem:

Unit of Measure by Sandra Beasley

And I’m pretty sure I’m not even pronouncing “capybara” correctly in my head. I love the part about the fish “offering/ their soft, finned love.”  And I LOVE the last line. The first time I read this poem, I kind of stumbled through it, and then I liked the last lines so much that I went back and read it again. Now I’m officially a fan.

Family of Memes

There Goes My Poetic Intellectual Cred

I have new-and-collected fatigue. I was working my way through Czeslaw Milosz’s New and Collected Poems (1931-2001), 770-some pages, at night before I went to sleep, and I finally realized I was completely sick of it. Do I just lack patience? It’s happened before, with another well-regarded poet. (I’m not going to tell you who. I fear I’ve already damned myself in the eyes of The Academy.) I actually ended up giving the book–an expensive hardcover–away to a fellow poet. I commit to these huge collections based on one or two poems I really like, and then, after about 300 pages, I realize that I don’t like their work as much as I hoped to like it. Oh please don’t revoke my poetic membership, Poetry Authorities!


Edited to add: I realized that in the past month I’ve sometimes been writing in a longer poetic line. It feels freeing and exciting, and I suspect this was a result of reading all that Milosz, who writes in a very long line. I think I was getting the sound in my head even while I was struggling with it. Praise Milosz! I’m still putting the book down for a while, however. 😉

Avuncular: A Typo Waiting to Happen

I came across this in The Writing Circle by Corinne Demas:

Here the great blue heron lifted off into the sky, pumping its huge wings until the air received it, let it glide. It was her bird, her muse. It did not appear in all her poems, but it was often what got them going. It got one going now. The images swarmed in her mind mixed with words, some evaporating before she could get a fix on them, others growing firmer, larger. For no reason whatsoever the word avuncular came to the foreground. “Avuncular,” she said aloud, and she smiled. It wasn’t a word that would take her anyplace. She let it go, and the word that took its place in her mind was still, with its double meaning. Triple meaning, actually, though she had no use for it as a noun. It was a word worth playing with; she needed to sit down with a pen in hand.

Of course this character turns out to be philandering, self-absorbed and lacking in any moral compass; by the end of the book, [SPOILER] she has destroyed everyone around her. It reminded me of the crazy poet mother in White Oleander. I wonder if there are more crazy, destructive poet-personalities in modern literature than crazy novelists, painters, and potters? Do they just stand out for me because I’m sensitized?

I do love this description of the creative process though. Especially how she rejects the first word that floats to the surface. I frankly don’t know what I’d do with “avuncular” either.*

I’ve never used a single word as the seed of a poem. It takes at least a phrase; the sound of the syntax is what piques my interest.

*Writing a poem with the word “avuncular”

Doesn’t sound like all that much fun-cular

Movies, Both Over- and Under-Appreciated



Sometimes the only fun thing about seeing serious, Oscar-bait movies is getting to read the reviews and participate (vicariously) in the semi-intellectual discussion of them. I was reading just such an article about the recent Black Swan when I came across a thrown-off line about how Aronofsky’s Black Swan is a such a success in comparison to his critical flop, The Fountain.

The tone of this statement (which I think was in an issue of The New Yorker I read at the gym, and which, after searching for today, I could not locate, so please forgive me for my poor attribution skillz) was, “Of course we can all agree that The Fountain was terrible and forget about it.”

“Hey now!” says I, “I loved The Fountain!” (Not out loud.  People already look at me funny when I hum on the treadmill.)

At any rate, other articles say similar things, and I feel like I need to throw a little retroactive love to The Fountain.

To begin with, it’s almost impossible to find a good science fiction movie. As a huge fan of the genre, I think I can count on one hand the science fiction films I’ve loved. It’s to the point where I’ll spot a new release at the video store and proactively cringe. In all likelihood, the offering will be sexist (sexually voracious genetically modified female wreaks havoc), simplistic (it’s a shoot-em-up, except it’s IN SPACE!), thinly-disguised horror (the devil stows away on a spaceship (why? wouldn’t he have more potential victims planetside?)), or feature Tara Reid (…all of the above?).

The Fountain came along into this decidedly bleak landscape, a science fiction story in the vein of Ursula LeGuin’s The Telling or Sheri Tepper’s Raising the Stones.  That is, thoughtful, sociologically astute science fiction, rather than space opera science fiction. (Note that I am not knocking space operas or science-actions; I will also sing the praises of a Serenity or a Fifth Element, which are both thoughtful movies.  But The Fountain is not trying to be that kind of movie.)

Visually startling—almost Jungian—heart-felt, with the likable Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz, and an interesting braided story, The Fountain resists both easy comparisons and the need of the modern viewer for instant gratification.  You need to be in a contemplative or at least a patient mood to watch it.  (The same can be said for the critically lauded Primer.)  It does what the best science fiction movies should do – it creates a world on film that couldn’t have been created with words alone.  Some people may have disliked it because it’s a downer. I found that once I accepted that the journey of The Fountain is about saving the human soul, not the human body, it was redemptive rather than depressing.  I am also partial to this film because it addresses a theme I return to often: death as a profound mystery, and a profound gift.

Finally, it’s a movie that did a lot with a little; watch the DVD extras to see how some seriously otherworldly scenes were created with the lowest of tech.

I think part of the reason The Fountain gets beat up so much is that it is entirely sincere. It’s open-hearted. Asking a question that is difficult to confront – is death the end? – and earnestly considering the possible answers, it is not particularly slick. It is not well-defended. Black Swan  is successful in the sense that it gets to where it was headed. It achieves what it sets out to do – claustrophobically and unenjoyably, but effectively. As a narrative, Black Swan is a closed circle that repels criticism. But I will stand up for The Fountain. It also gets where it was headed to. That’s the standard by which I judge a poem: the idea that a poem succeeds because it arrives where it was headed, or at least ends up stopping while facing the right direction. The Fountain is a visual poem for me; transformative, full of wonder, hopeful.

Happy Candlemas Day

Feb. 2. Candlemas day

"If Candlemas Day be fair & bright

Winter will have another flight

But if Candlemas Day be clouds & rain

Winter is gone & will not come again.”

                  -from The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady by Edith Holden

So today was foggy, until it was briefly sunny, and that means…. more winter? less winter? 

I think I'm going to leave this one up to the groundhog.