It’s late and my body’s tired but my heart, it knows not itself till I have written. Sometimes it’s like that. It’s like writing allows me to interrogate it. You’ll know what I mean if you’re a writer. And a writer is a thinker, is she not? So if one does not write, one cannot really know what one thinks. And if one thinks, one must write. Of course there’re people who give zero fucks about poetry. They’re a specimen too. They’re meant to be something else probably. So do what is natural and necessary for yourself. Know thyself–that’s a quest. That’s your prompt, about knowing yourself, in your bones kind of way. What you’re a specimen of.
Hey guys you know that poetry is fiction, right? Even if it seemed all too real. It really is made up stuff. So that’s what happens when you write. You make stuff up. You’re telling a story. Story-telling. Except that it’s the most economical type of story-telling, unlike a short story or novel. It’s a good medium if you’re
sloppy economical like me. In the corporate world, there’s storytelling too, except that it’s more to do with brand messaging. Well in that case may I ask you to show how your poem does your messaging through storytelling. There’s good storytelling and bad storytelling, especially in poetry. What I mean is, economy is usually a virtue in poetry.
The earth seems to be starring in a potboiler of natural disasters. I have no words really. We already know about climate change and are experiencing its impact. And when disaster strikes, there’s also the disparities between rich and poor countries. I mean, there’re floods in Bangladesh too. Do we think about the disparities between the way we live, with all our modern excesses, and the way someone in Ethopia lives, who does not even have access to clean water and have to survive on jerry cans of water? How do we get out of the veritable mess? What can one do, in our personal, limited capacities? The prompt is to write about natural disasters and how one copes.
September took an unexpected turn. Surprise no 1: we have a Fall/Winter 2017/2018 issue. Surprise no 2: I have a cache of poems due to a technical glitch. Surprise no 3: I have Josh Medsker reading the poems in our new issue in September. It’s like taking an acute left turn, when you’re supposed to turn right. Isn’t right the way I’m supposed to go? What are you, dark universe? I feel Sisyphean again. Is this poetic karma? Why am I left standing at the bus stop? Oh here comes the bus. I’m boarding. It’s strangely empty, and well air-conditioned. This is going to be a cruise, right? Right? Right….. The prompt is to write about something unexpected. Better still, make your poem take unexpected turns.
What makes one want to write poems anyway? To save one’s life…that’s one answer I hear often enough. When one is down in the dumps? Writing as catharsis? All of that is true. And if you’re born to do it, that matters too. It’s something that fills you with eagerness, interest and continued excitement. Because you need to tell it like it was. But what happens when you’ve already written loads…write some more or shut up, that is the question. Writing is breath, if you’re a poet. Is this any place to be? I guess it is…a place. Poetry is a journey and even a destination. The prompt is to write about any kind of journey/destination.
It seemed that I am in the company of sages. Poetic sages, so many, too many. Each one unique as hell. If you ever felt like a poet of lesser light, like I do, you’d get out some John Ashberry poems to read. I just read one called “My Philosophy of Life”. It started like this:
“Just when I thought there wasn’t room enough
for another thought in my head, I had this great idea–
call it a philosophy of life, if you will. Briefly,
it involved living the way philosophers live,
according to a set of principles. OK, but which ones?”
What melange of thoughts do we go through in a day? In a week, in a year?
Is it possible to have deep, meaningful conversations? As opposed to how people just latch on to whatever there is? Like discuss the latest ‘in’ things, or spout totally unoriginal ideas. I mean, what’s your personal take? Is it even that original?
This is how he ends the poem:
“Still, there’s a lot of fun to be had in the gaps between ideas.
That’s what they’re made for! Now I want you to go out there
and enjoy yourself, and yes, enjoy your philosophy of life, too.
They don’t come along every day. Look out!There’s a big one…”
So the prompt is to write about the ideas that are in your head.
John Ashberry has died. Much celebrated in academia, but his poetry is difficult, not accessible. He had said of his poems, “What they are is about the privacy of all of us, and the difficulty of our own thinking. And in that way, they are, I think, accessible if anyone cares to access them.” Also he said, “I don’t find any direct statements in life” (how true)..”My poetry imitates or reproduces the way knowledge or awareness comes to me, which is by fits and starts and by indirection. I don’t think poetry arranged in neat patterns would reflect that situation.” (touché)
Look at these lines from his poem, “The Problem of Anxiety”:
“Suppose this poem were about you–would you
put in the things I’ve carefully left out:
descriptions of pain, and sex, and how shiftily
people behave toward each other? Naw, that’s
all in some book it seems. For you
I’ve saved the descriptions of chicken sandwiches,
and the glass eye that stares at me in amazement
from the bronze mantel, and will never be appeased.”
So the prompt is to write a poem in which what is written about is actually not what it’s about. What? Who said poetry is easy?