I recently led a discussion about the poetry and lyrics of Leonard Cohen at the Bethel, CT, Public Library. The program was sponsored by Bethel Poet Laureate Cortney Davis. In the talk, I centered on intimacy and audience in Cohen’s work, how in poetry and song he can draw his readers (and listeners) in through both a literary voice as well as a his “reedy baritone” singing voice. In the case of his poetry, I found intimacy was created through imagery, organization of stanzas and lines, and point of view. Cohen often addresses the reader directly (not an uncommon practice of second person), but doing so seems to grant him authority (“A kite is a victim you can be sure of”) even as the speaker struggles with the surety of this: “A kite is the last poem you’ve written/ so you give it to the wind.” The “you” in the poem is both the speaker and the reader, and thus confirms this “contract of glory / that must be made with the sun” through us, the reader.
We weren’t able to get to all the poems I had selected to talk about. So “A Kite is a Victim” is for everyone who attended yesterday’s discussion who helped me release Leonard Cohen’s kite, finding it among friends in “the fields / the river, and the wind.” Perhaps now I too will be “lyric, and worthy, and pure.”
My latest collection, Mouthbrooders, is set for an official release on June 10. Order now from Homebound Publications and use INDIESTRONG when you check out to receive 20% off on your entire order.
During six months of vocal cord paralysis, author and professor Amy Nawrocki turned to the written word and fell in love with language again. The result of this exploration is her stunning collection Mouthbrooders, full of sounds and their echoes—ravens screeching, eggs cracking, and acorns falling. As Nawrocki struggles to find her own voice again, she midwives the voices of catastrophe, of memory, and of the small miracles of everyday life.
Mouthbrooders, published by Homebound Publications
The poem began as a class exercise. My students were experimenting with fixed and traditional form poems. I gave them the option of trying a villanelle or a sestina. Some had trouble getting started, so I offered a few images that they could pool from. We had discussed the form and how repetition functions differently in each of these forms. The sestina incorporates repeated end words–words at the end of the line–in a pattern of six line stanzas. A “map” or chart is helpful, and I gave them handouts and examples to follow. As they worked, I asked each student for one word–my aim was to use their words, fixed in a pattern of the sestina. I also had in mind a debate about whether or not a pattern can overwhelm a poem and another debate about how meaning functions in the realm of pattern. Big questions for a 75 minute class.
In the end, I had about 20 words, which I wrote down in order, then supplemented to create six word lines which I then formed into six line stanzas. The exercise challenged me to see how word choice leads pretty naturally to syntax and a need to find meaning not only in words, but in phrases. Beyond that, the challenge was to vary the lines enough so that the repetition (already expected in the sestina form) wouldn’t overwhelm or underwhelm the poem. As I wrote, the fun was in rearranging in interesting ways for sound, then meaning. As I read and recorded the poem, the fun was in managing my voice, the cadence, the pronunciation and articulation of each word and each line. This made me think more about punctuation choices as well as line breaks (enjambing and endstopping–or not).
Whether the poem has logic or “meaning” is now up to the listener. For me, I enjoyed the practice, but I mostly enjoyed that the words were given by my students, and in a way, it’s their poem.
“My writing process saves a fair percentage of time for self-doubt and lack of artistic confidence.”
It starts with an encounter. There is a notarized mammal, a dead serpent, and a preserved misspelling. Then a mythical flash of inspiration, the grabbing for tool and template, and the clumsy yet magical act of documentation. Just like the muses prophesized. Read more:
More often than not, the process begins with a mistake.
Trestles of lines accost her— curls and clean edges, dots and crosses hollow shapes and and empty spaces. Words are lonely secretaries.
After smudging the blue ink, she retraces folds and creases, returns the specimen to origami.
Pushing the shell of thin glasses to the high bridge of her nose, she recalls the language of Paumanok and pens the valediction. The train speeds toward home, arcing into the dialogue of never-ending notes.
The title of the post is from my poem “Postcard” which appears in Reconnaissance.
Almost a foot of snow fell last night, and this morning’s best-laid plans were tossed away when the plowman’s tires spun more quickly than the clock which told me I’d be late for class. Machines did what machines do, a little better than we can do ourselves.
Here’s to shovels shoveling.
Waiting for the Plowman
In the morning: Rousseau’s Confessions. Breakfast: something forgettable and unfulfilling, toast, the white of an egg circling a shiny yolk.
By midday, the desert of chalk buries the laurel and watching juncos burrow under the feeder suffices for motion. Blank under its plastic face
the kitchen dial signals two o’clock with sleek anemic hands. Within the hour, sugar held in the spoon’s mouth is let go into black liquid,
and boots, scuffed and sheltered alert the tangled knit scarf to concoct itself. At four, shovel in hand I depart to do the job myself. The man
and his truck are nowhere to be found even though the blizzard’s end is new and he promised and there is a lot of it.
Lighter than a pile of proverbial feathers but sticky and heaping, the first bundle I take begins to build a dune around the driveway
but there is nowhere else to go and no rest and nothing to do to lessen the white except to bend at the knees and let it fly.
“Waiting for the Plowman” first appeared in the summer 2016 issue of Sixfold, and will appear in my forthcoming collection Mouthbrooders, coming out this summer from Homebound Publications.
From Poetry 205 Fall 2017 to Poetry 205 Spring 2019. This poem was compiled from students’ responses to the above equation.
What is Poetry?
I. a baby’s first tears, wrapped in the arms of a mother with fears a cigarette bowing to the flame and a vision upon paper with inked emotion a light breeze making branches sway and the sun’s dance on hard concrete a mouthful of honey, the sweetest stopping of breath a cluster of words with power to break history and sleep with lullabies an escape; suddenly you find a light that guides you to freedom a life preserver: keeping me from drowning in my thoughts the sky at night, open yet hard for one to see without clear vision as stimulating as green tea and as hard to sleep after
II. Rhythm, brain down to fingertips exploding Life with depth, a looking glass, an entrance to a world Poetry opens unlearned minds to live the impossible through the imagined
III. a rebirth of ideas, precisely ironed the power to defy time the soul coming out to speak an attempt to point
IV. A poet is a soldier, lover, and fighter packed in one. A therapist for all aspects of my being A poet is a pathologist and the muse his corpse, cracking open each vein to see what brought it to his table.
After the ice storm, it’s good to get back to the living world, back to performing ordinary acts.
A Gathering of Sorts
As morning curdles its way to noontime, autumn plays its lazy guitar. To join the living world, we make our way to the post office with enough change in hand for three stamps. Their duty is delivering messages: a utility bill, the insurance payment, a letter to a friend. In the front of the line, a woman’s daughter spins and spins in her orbit.
Gathering packages in his arms, a man, Santa-like in tweed jacket and leather cap, stands beside a painter covered in plaster. He sways and looks away from us, staring instead into the clouds of his day.
Each day we perform ordinary acts: we teach algebra, refinance mortgages, cook dinner, journey to the moon.
Each day a mixture of light and color penetrates our trust. We place our faith in little things: the oak’s red summit, a stamped envelope, holding the door for each other as we enter and leave each other’s lives.