a very tart, terrible sharpness

Annie Dillard in The Writing Life – and I swear this is the last reference to it on this blog – highlights this passage from the writing of Jacob Boehme, the German mystic (for this particular reference, scroll down to Chapter 13, Verse 65). She says: He was writing, incoherently as usual, about the source of evil. The passage will serve as well for the source of books.

The whole Deity hath in its innermost or beginning birth, in the pith or kernel, a very tart, terrible sharpness, in which the astringent quality is a very horrible, tart, hard, dark and cold attraction or drawing together, like winter, when there is a fierce, bitter, cold frost, when water is frozen into ice, and besides it is very intolerable.

Not sure if I like the passage for what it actually says (and it says just what, again?) or for its crazily over-modified reliance on abstractions, but Annie Dillard thinks the source of books happens when we  “dissect out the very intolerable, tart, hard terribly sharp Pith or Kernel, and begin writing the book compressed therein.”

I think she’s right.

lose it, all, right away, every time

Annie Dillard again, still from The Writing Life:

One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.

How hard and slippery it is to find one’s own place.

Some in the blogosphere say: Don’t put your poems on your blog!

Some evil person may steal them. Or some publishing person may say they are thus published and not thereafter publish them. There is no good argument for putting or leaving your poems on your blog.

But I think there is. I think poems are like skin cells – you have to continually flake them off and discard them to allow the new ones underneath them light and space to grow.

And yes, you have to believe 1) that there will always be new ones behind them 2) the new ones will be better than the ones that have come before and 3) the new ones are the better for the discarding of the old ones.

Might not all our talent evaporate on us one day, all our power dissolve?

Possibly. Not improbably. But does hoarding it, portioning out and stinting it while it lasts do anything to lengthen its lifespan? Al contrario, muchachos. Surely not.


Bad Mother Emergency

I am such a lemming. Whale Child and I were reading Orlando Keeps A Dog last night for the trazillion gamillionth time when I suddenly suffered a massive attack of guilt over how little poetry we read together (I think Tinkle’s Robin Redbreath poem did it).

Luckily, this article fed itself opportunely into my inbox and I swiftly made the following order in the early watches of this morning:

Comets, Stars, the Moon, and Mars: Space Poems and Paintings
Douglas Florian

Animal Poems
Valerie Worth

This is Just to Say: Poems of Apology and Forgiveness
Joyce Sidman

Bronzeville Boys and Girls
Gwendolyn Brooks

The test of the lemming pudding will be in the eating. We do not fear the unknown.

Bring ‘em on!

the path is not the work

Annie Dillard, The Writing Life:

“…Now the earlier writing looks soft and careless. Process is nothing; erase your tracks. The path is not the work. I hope your tracks have grown over; I hope birds ate the crumbs; I hope you will toss it all and not look back.”

This resonates with me, I have to say. I’ve grown up and continue to live surrounded by packrats. I’m completely anti-packrat. My impulse is always to jettison, to keep the overall load as light as possible, to remain mobile, unencumbered. Working on poetry over the couple of years, I find that philosophy has transferred wholesale, for whatever reason.  As I revise, I jettison early drafts without a second thought. The only valuable one is the current one, and the only one more valuable than that is the one still to come.

But then of course (because how simple-minded to imagine that this sort of question could be anything less than another ghastly continuum in human affairs…) I have begun to question so uncomplicated an approach, reading now about how other people keep copies of each version they write, draft following draft, all piled up sequentially and easily retrievable.

And are they not right?  For one may easily revise in the wrong direction, find that the right, the needed, thing was actually dropped at a crossroads five miles back and that one must re-trace one’s steps to retrieve it.

But does that kind of trail-marking, that kind of crumb-leaving, have anything more than tactical (poem No. 125 at stake) value? Does it have strategic (one’s poetry writing skills in general at stake) value?

Related note: I always feel the best thing I do is always still to be done and that what is done always falls under “means” rather than “end.” I wonder where I think I am going with all this.