Saturday, April 09, 2005

Pavements of San Pedro

A comment from Long Beach poet Louise Mathias (hi there, across the water from San Pedro!) reminded me I've been meaning to post some of the poems that generated my memoir, ROCKET LESSONS. The poems ultimately were too distinct from the memoir to be combined. Now I'm considering them as a separate book. Here's the first part of the first poem.

Pavements of San Pedro


Each paving square lies akimbo from its mate,
a stubborn plate that won't lie flat under skates
as I cruise pavements cascading down
our hill-sprawling, port-hugging fishing town.
San Pedro's streets careen from Portuguese Bend's
cliff-hanging country club to Beacon Street, spanned
a geography as whichway and zigzag
as my ride down teeth-rattling sidewalk slag.
Our pavers lollop and roll
through suburbs growing more bold
and numerous. Streets spring up from dirt
like creeping weeds ascending the hilltop, pert
new streets, their black rivers
weaving through grass. In slivers
between sidewalk and curb, in cracks
sprout tiny sand dune flowers, taking back
their beach wilderness. For years I race
twilight downhill. On skates I chase
the wind. I paint the stones with blood
and kneecap skin, leaving with each thud
my subtle imprint on the town,
making San Pedro my skin-and-bone own.

Accessibility -- the spectrum rages on

Why do people love dichotomies? You'd think we're all programmed like software, yes/no, black/white switches clicking in our brains, cataloguing every impression and experience good/bad, hell/heaven ... Wait a minute -- we are!

So any discussion of accessibility and difficulty in poetry, in any kind of writing, must invariably be preceded by the word "versus," as though it weren't a continuum, a spectrum of colors. Most painters I know appreciate a big palette and a broad spectrum from which to choose when working. Most academics love the word "versus" or even better "in contradistinction to" (how inaccessible is that?).

I could rest my case right there by implying that all creative activity considers the spectrum view of life, while all analytical activity views the versus. (And those of us with alliterative disorder can't resist speaking merely for the pleasure of its sound.) I could stop here, and let you come to your own conclusion, but what's the fun in that? Let's jump into what some are discussing on this topic, hopefully without indulging much in the Poet-Laureate-bashing urge that seems to afflict many poets at this season. Though I defy any of you to find a discussion of accessibility that doesn't have his name in it, as a year or so ago, any such discussion inevitably mentioned Billy Collins. (And what's so accessible about Zen humor?)

Here's Emily Lloyd with a fascinating argument, not for greater accessibility in poetry, but more visibility. Michael Whalen has a beautiful essay on the topic, addressing mostly accessibility of subject, on Slant, Issue 6. He makes a good case for the subtle dimensions in the spectrum of accessibility that are unique to poetry, as apart from other kinds of writing. He points out poetry's layers of meaning in his comment that what is foregrounded and what is obscured has a meaning of its own. We read poetry not only for what it says and means, but for how it does so.

I venture my own modest generalization here. We read poetry because it is more difficult, and layered, than other forms of writing. We prize its obscurities, as long as we can barely keep up with them. We value the how as a continuum of the what.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Poets' & Writers' Conferences

So what is it really like to go to one of these things. Being incredibly averse to traveling, I've never attended one. I already have an agent -- don't need to hobnob for one of those. Already have a publisher for my poetry book -- and does anyone want to see the proposal for ROCKET LESSONS, still available to an interested memoir publisher, as they say?

Why would I then go to a conference? To meet the other writers, of course. Since I can't this year (a) afford it or (b) get time off to go in the summer, I'm conferencing the cyber way -- by visiting the blogs of other poets and writers who go and report. Kelli Russell Agodon has a great blog series on AWP, which just concluded in Vancouver. I heard about it well in advance on a listserv, and have been envious since February of others who got to attend.

Another report on AWP suggests that it has gotten too big, too repetitious, and also, that Canadians are the politest people on earth. I like this report because (a) it makes me feel better about not having gone and (b) I agree, Canadians are the politest people on earth, which is probably secretly what Americans have against Canada.

My favorite report from AWP so far is that Molly Peacock giggles. Somehow, from reading her work, I can imagine this and like her poetry better for it.

I still have fantasies about making it to the Napa Valley Writers' Conference, which I imagine I could commute to, and make it home every night to sleep in my own bed. But seriously, why would I want to go? Really. When there's a poetry reading every night in the San Francisco Bay Area. And a stack of unread books next to my own bed, which I've already paid the mortgage company to occupy. If anyone can give me a compelling reason to plunk down $600 - $1500 to go to one of these shindigs, I'm willing to consider it.