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The pressure is on…must come up with a post.

By Lucia Perillo

Of late I have been occupied with real world concerns that have nothing to do with poetry, although everything has to do with poetry, I suppose. Everything is the matter, in two senses, the urgency and the raw material, as netted by a seine of words. This can lead a poet to feel not immersed in life, but rather combing life as she moves through it: has this poetic potential? No. And now it is evening, how about this feeling that the twilight is salting me like a rib steak? Oh wait, I think I’m having an epiphany. Let me see if I can have it in such words that when I write them down and sort them out, you’ll be…what? What am I expecting from you? I am an old-fashioned sort of poet. I want to do something to you the reader.
So we go through life in a blur of poetic assessment. When I was young, I trained to be a field biologist, but I proved to be a poor observer. Hey blackbird just sitting there, why don’t you do something?

The problem I worry about is that a person (=me) starts shaping a life that will be in service to the poem. And that leads to certain allowable and disallowable zones. Going into the Louisiana prison systems (I just finished C.D. Wright’s One Big Self)—yes, allowable. Tending to a dying parent?—permitted. Blogging…er…seems rather impermissible. We (or rather I) haven’t figured out how to include computers in our poems. Sick dog?—I hated dog poems before I got a dog. Sex and psychopaths were the rage for maybe twenty years but I think they are on their way out. In fact, the style of writing specifically about something is maybe on its way out.
I had these thoughts because for the past week or so I’ve been spending my time setting up a web site (I am not computer-savvy but a friend is helping, I’m more the accumulator of facts.) And though I’ve been too busy to write (the dog also needed surgery) in the back of my mind I’m always weighing experience: Poem? Poem? but that does not seem to be a very present way to live.
Yet I made something happen, though I felt poetically uncool and embarrassed about it: I am trying to protect the great blue herons that nest in my neighborhood (see olyfriendsofherons.org.) I know the New York School of poets famously professed a disinterest in politics, and the New York School Seems To Have Won. Local politics are especially off limits….has a poet ever run for a city council seat? Wouldn’t that seem somehow demeaning (and why?)
Anyway, it turned out the state wildlife managers were unaware of the heron rookery. So I made some small thing happen. Yet I think: poem? poem? It seems I have now a mandate to make a poem of a heron.

Comments (6)

  • On August 1, 2008 at 2:00 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    Lucia, and anyone interested in C.D. Wright’s work,
    I have an interview with C.D., with interesting discussion on her prison book project here:
    including six or so of Deborah Luster’s haunting photos from that book.

  • On August 1, 2008 at 2:18 pm Don Share wrote:

    What a good cause, writing a heron poem, Lucia!
    This is a stanza from “The Great Blue Heron” by Carolyn Kizer – originally in Poetry, April 1958:
    O great blue heron, now
    That the summer house has burned
    So many rockets ago,
    So many smokes and fires
    And beach-lights and water-glow
    Reflecting pinwheel and flare:
    The old logs hauled away,
    The pines and driftwood cleared
    From that bare strip of shore
    Where dozens of children play;
    Now there is only you
    Heavy upon my eye.
    Why have you followed me here,
    Heavy and far away?
    You have stood there patiently
    For fifteen summers and snows,
    Denser than my repose,
    Bleaker than any dream,
    Waiting upon the day
    When, like gray smoke, a vapor
    Floating into the sky,
    A handful of paper ashes,
    My mother would drift away.

    … and how ’bout scary “Shiva” by Robinson Jeffers:
    There is a hawk that is picking the birds out of our sky.
    She killed the pigeons of peace and security,
    She has taken honesty and confidence from nations and men,
    She is hunting the lonely heron of liberty.
    She loads the arts with nonsense, she is very cunning,
    Science with dreams and the state with powers to catch them at last.
    Nothing will escape her at last, flying nor running.
    This is the hawk that picks out the stars’ eyes.
    This is the only hunter that will ever catch the wild swan;
    The prey she will take last is the wild white swan of the beauty of things.
    Then she will be alone, pure destruction, achieved and supreme,
    Empty darkness under the death-tent wings.
    She will build a nest of the swan’s bones and hatch a new brood,
    Hang new heavens with new birds, all be renewed.
    (Folks can use the Poetry Tool to find more heron poems!)

  • On August 1, 2008 at 6:22 pm Michael Robbins wrote:

    From my favorite Heron poem:
    The revolution will not be televised.
    The revolution will not be brought to you by Xerox
    In 4 parts without commercial interruptions.
    The revolution will not show you pictures of Nixon
    blowing a bugle and leading a charge by John
    Mitchell, General Abrams and Spiro Agnew to eat
    hog maws confiscated from a Harlem sanctuary.
    The revolution will not be televised.
    The revolution will not be brought to you by the
    Schaefer Award Theatre and will not star Natalie
    Woods and Steve McQueen or Bullwinkle and Julia.
    The revolution will not give your mouth sex appeal.
    The revolution will not get rid of the nubs.
    The revolution will not make you look five pounds
    thinner, because the revolution will not be televised, Brother.

  • On August 4, 2008 at 11:46 am Robin Yim wrote:

    I love herons. I live in Portland, Oregon, where the Great Blue Heron is the city bird. Here is a story of how that happened and poem by William Stafford which is now on a plaque at city hall.
    Enjoy your herons and the opportunity to write a poem.
    “Back in 1986, when Bud Clark was Mayor of Portland, urban naturalist Mike Houck talked with him about the blue herons that live along the Willamette River. Soon the City Council designated the Great Blue Heron as Portland’s official city bird. Houck invited William Stafford to write a poem about the heron, thus he wrote “Spirit of Place” in 1987 for Great Blue Heron Week, when he presented it before the City Council. In June 1996, Stafford’s poem appeared in The Audubon Warbler. In that same issue, Houck wrote “The heron is an icon for Portland’s commitment to protect fish and wildlife habitat in the heart of the city. The poem captures our intent marvelously.” Each year in June, the Audubon Society of Portland continues to celebrate Great Blue Heron Week with a variety of events.”
    Spirit of Place: Great Blue Heron
    Out of their loneliness for each other
    two reeds, or maybe two shadows, lurch
    forward and become suddenly a life
    lifted from dawn or the rain. It is
    the wilderness come back again, a lagoon
    with our city reflected in its eye.
    We live by faith in such presences.
    It is a test for us, that thin
    but real, undulating figure that promises,
    “If you keep faith I will exist
    at the edge, where your vision joins
    the sunlight and the rain: heads in the light,
    feet that go down in the mud where the truth is.”
    William Stafford
    “Spirit of Place: Great Blue Heron” copyright
    1987 by the Estate of William Stafford. Reprinted from
    Even in Quiet Places, 1996, with permission of Confluence Press

  • On August 5, 2008 at 1:44 pm Lucia wrote:

    I want to say a few things: Kent, I find the photograph on the cover demeaning, and I do not understand why Luster chose to dress the women up in costumes.
    I do love Gil Scott Heron, though, We all want to invent a phrase that persists. I have to dig through my vinyl albums, ah, vinyl albums they were so short and yet we changed them with diligence, Time used to be longer.
    I like Jeffers because he does not have any sentimentality about animals. I like Stafford’s truth’s being in the mud, but I don’t like the romanticization of herons, which eat: gophers, rats, somebody’s litter of kittens. Heron as killer: that will be a good poem.

  • On May 25, 2009 at 11:03 am Valerie wrote:

    I appreciate your suspician of computers as an unpoetic medium, and the concern about going through life thinking “poem?, poem?” And I agree that poetry is relevant to everything! (here in Olympia local politics desperately needs poets!) And so I am glad we have you. I live up the street from the herons who I just discovered last week. I saw at least 5 herons on five nests two days last week (the week of May 18). Thank you for all you are doing on behalf of the herons/us!

Posted in Uncategorized on Friday, August 1st, 2008 by Lucia Perillo.