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When the Source of Poetry is Not Poetry (2 of 4)
Non-poetry sources round up:
Since May 2009, I have experimented with using the stock market as a “source” for my poems. At the time, I was trying to write in response to the financial crisis, the perpetual crisis. Journalists and politicians routinely refer to the stock market as one of the main indicators of our economic health. And yet it was blatantly obvious that what was good for the market was not necessarily good for many Americans. I started recording the closing number of the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Then I plugged that closing numbers into a search engine such as Google, Bartlett’s quotations, Project Gutenberg–even at one point–an on-line version of Paradise Lost. Those daily numbers led me to a variety of texts, which I allowed to exert their influence over a series of poems much in the same way the closing number of the Dow exerts an influence over our lives. The resulting poems are titled with the date and the Dow’s closing number making the market a frame for everything these poems contain.
Film: so many, but here are three that are either used as imagery, frames, riffs in my poems: M, the great pre-war German film featuring Peter Lorre as a pedophile who upsets societal order, particularly the criminal class; both versions of Imitation of Life (the first w/ Freddi Washington (who was Black) as the mulatto who passes; the second with Susan Kohner (who was Jewish) in the role) and Bette Davis’ Now Voyager and All About Eve. M is truly chilling-every time you see Lorre’s character with some balloons, you start to cringe. Music: Miles Davis’ In a Silent Way and On the Corner; Jimi Hendrix and the Band of Gypsies; David Murray, who composed a piece dedicated to me and the Art Ensemble of Chicago, the World Saxophone Quartet, and one of my favorite albums by the late great Julius Hemphilll: Dogon A.D. Theater: Early Mabou Miines theater works: The Red Horse Animation and the B-Beaver Animation & the gorgeously srange Dressed Like an Egg, which explored Collette’s life and work–I can still see the Ree Morton sculptured gown. And for many years the only magazine I subscribed to was Architectural Digest–beautiful homes, apartments, lofts. But it is was also where I learned about Gabriele Munter, Kandinsky’s lover whose paintings are intense, colorful and who was collected here in the U.S. (major works are in the Milwaukee art Museum, one of the most extraordinary buildings in the world). AD was a great way to see beautiful objects from around the globe-it helped train my eye for art and design. Now if only I were rich.
So many of my poems have come from wandering around museums. All of my many house poems like PLYMOUTH WOMEN, THE OLD HOUSE ON THE CROTON, AUDDELY END, LEANING SOUTH, SHAKER HOUSE POEMS grew from wandering through those rooms, imagining what went on, the voices in the rooms. I am amazed thinking about this. Hadn’t realized so many books and chapbooks, let alone individual poems, have come out of this kind of wandering and day dreaming, seeing how a chair is worn where a head would be and then making a whole story out of that. Other books triggered by museum visits or trips to ruins include THRU BLUE DUST, NEW MEXICO, REMEMBER THE LADIES, THE OLD HOUSE POEMS, MUSEUM… My book MARILYN MONROE came from imagining Marilyn wandering through DC sites and the Corcoran. I’ve done workshops based on the changing exhibits at the New York State Museum in Albany New York. From each workshop, always involving time spent looking at the exhibits, poems grew and often became books, at least parts of books: An exhibit on Mirrors: Real and Symbolic, triggered my book IN MIRRORS. An exhibit about the Holocaust, The Story of Daniel, triggered, along with other artifacts, much of my THE BLUE TATTOO as did many other exhibits such as MOTHERS AND DAUGHTERS, FEELINGS ABOUT WAR, THE AMERICAN URBAN CITY (for this, I wrote over two notebooks of poems not yet typed up)– many more examples!
I also find photographs and paintings wildly intriguing: I just copied some photographs for a new book I am working on. I’ll free flow from the photographs and though the subject is not fictional, I will be free to add and imagine and come at the subject at a new angle. Most of my books have poems based on photographs– family photographs, especially. And poems based on paintings: Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keeffe, Romare Bearden. George Segal are just a few. I keep thinking of more: prints from the Canadian Embassy’s Eskimo paintings, sculptures and artifacts. (NORTH came from that) My first day in Washington DC I went to an exhibit of photographs called JEWS OF WYOMING. That was fascinating and many poems came from that as well as an exhibit of photographs by Harry Calhoun. The first year in DC I visited museums six days a week and kept a diary: Between The National Gallery, the Portrait Gallery, the American Art Museum, Natural History Museum, the Phillips, National Archives, Hirshhorn, The American History Museum, Air and Space– with their films and exhibits and talks was magical.
I am also very influenced by films– their titles , their stories, their images. And of course by nature: NUTLEY POND comes from watching the pond behind my house, how each season transformed the leaves and water and the reeds, birds, lilies, deer and beaver. On any trip I note the names of what grows, the vistas… and then there is eavesdropping, gazing at people on the metro, using typos to start a whole new poem….dreams, letters, diaries, myths (recently, for a project I probably would not have chosen myself) news articles, postcards and baskets of randomly chosen words– mix them with photographs and surprises are often wonderful! And I love assignments– requests for things I have never written about and probably would not have otherwise )Barbie. Jesus Christ, The Daughter I Don’t Have )another chapbook) Marilyn Monroe, The Condom Anthology, Alfred Hitchcock, Rest Rooms, Joni Mitchel, poems for Obama, Dick For a Day. Lately it seems I write more on the metro– the lull, the overheard conversations.
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett has withstood hundreds of readings as my go to savoury comfort mashed potato work since I first discovered it at the age of ten. I have the stunning Josephine Miles audio book of it (downloadable from Audible.com) on my iphone, ever at the ready for in-the-middle of the night wake-ups, or airport cancellations, or any time I need transporting out of the 21st century. The lucid imagery and the snappy nasty voice of Mary Lennox return me to an unabashed original self, unworried about what anyone will think of me, and all in the safety of wildness within walls. That’s what I want for my poems, wildness within walls.
Read part 3 here.