So Why Am I Blogging? In which I don’t answer that question.
“Minds like beds all made up,” writes William Carlos Williams in the beginning of Paterson. The made-up mind is important for (midcareer? really? already?) poets like me to resist. We need to stay open and unmade—and it’s so much easier not to. I’m not bloody-well talking about stylistics, aesthetics, poetics. I’m talking about life.
Also, I’m feeling crabby. In case you didn’t notice.
Part of the trouble is time. Does this sound precisely familiar to all poets? I really don’t think I’m special.
I’ve been doing a lot of teaching this semester, and I like it, and find myself unwilling not to work hard at it.
I can always find an hour here, a half hour there to write something. I’m producing nothing that’s finished, but I mostly never do. But this semester feels harsh in ways I’m not entirely accustomed to. The trouble is finding time for reverie.
For just messing around. I loaf and invite my soul, etc. My daughter’s been sick for the last few days which means my husband and I have been trading off time hanging out with her. She’s not totally incapacitated, more recovering, and just needs to rest, so we built a party-room out of blocks and halves of plastic Easter eggs for her animal figurines to play in. Then we made zucchini pound cake in muffin tins.
When I had my time to myself, I took a walk. A very little, ugly city walk, which is one of the kinds I like. I was just going to the gym, and usually to conserve time I drive. But driving is not good for reverie, not good for looking around. So I’ve decided (because spring and blossoming street trees makes me decide things like this) that I’m going to walk as much as possible from now on. I used to walk constantly. Stupid to sacrifice that to schedule. The hell with schedule. The hell with conserving time.
I walked exactly seven blocks to the Y.
On the way there, I passed a parked green Chevy minivan, vintage last century, like a large metal crate. In the back window (in the kind of green crayon Paris cafes use for writing their daily menus in windows) was scrawled:
On grounds of illiteracy?
Two blocks up is the community garden tended—somewhat indifferently—by the kids from the adjacent charter school. The garden is surrounded by a hurricane fence. There are always a lot of city birds pecking and scattering around—sparrows, starlings, pigeons. Inadvertent birds. A four-foot-long streamer of toilet paper wafted above the sidewalk. Just before the sparrow landed between two spears of chain-link, I saw it had the end of the toilet paper in its beak. Battling the Charmin, the sparrow reminded me of the drawings in comic books when two characters get in a fight—vortex of fists and heads and legs and clouds of dust and typographically-rendered imprecations (!@#$*«). Then the strip of toilet paper floated back down. The sparrow had managed to tear a tiny piece off—about the size of a newborn baby’s hand—and fly with it in its beak to the cornice of a derelict rowhouse where it was building a nest in one of the cracks.
At the Y I sat on the exercise bike and slightly elevated my heart rate while reading an old London Review of Books from 2006 (a letter from Mearsheimer and Walt responding to critics of their article “The Israel Lobby,” a review of two books about autism (of interest to me since becoming a mother and seeing a variety of behavioral/neurological diagnoses sprayed, seemingly willy-nilly, at young children of my acquaintance), and a great poem I’d missed before by August Kleinzahler called “I Went to See McCarthy” which uses lyric repetition to wonderful idiomatic effect). About 25 minutes in, I switched to Us magazine (“Who Wore It Better?” and “Stars: They’re Just Like Us!”)). I did some circuit weights. A very small part of the circuit. Delts. Thighs. Period.
Then I walked seven blocks home and watched a video of Rick Santorum apparently stopping himself from calling Barack Obama the N-Word. You can see it at youtube. Rick Santorum: You pig.
I am often writing, but my walk made me really feel like writing in a way I haven’t in some weeks.
It’s not that the sparrow or the Chevy will get into a poem. They probably won’t. I never manage to will anything into a poem. I’m not sure I can spend enough time, or enough consistent time, with a poem, to get anything done for another month or so. I just realized all over again how little brainspace I’ve given myself this year so far.
Again it’s not the writing part of writing. There’s always writing. But the writing part of writing is just blah blah blah unless you get something worked out about the living part of living. Some people think you have to have an exciting life to write excitingly. Maybe. Really, what you have to have is a life in which you stop thinking intentionally, and just think, unmaking the bed of your mind the while.
Sorry to be all preachy. I’m mostly preaching to myself. You know what works for you.
I just started reading Walden for the first time. It’s magnificent. Let the quoting begin:
“…if I repent of anything, it is very likely to be my good behavior. What demon possessed me that I behaved so well?
I’m reading Walden on my Kindle. The irony is not lost on me.
Daisy Fried is the author of Women's Poetry: Poems and Advice (2013), My Brother is Getting Arrested Again (2006) and She Didn’t Mean to Do It (2000), all from University of Pittsburgh Press. She was awarded the Editors' Prize for Feature Article from Poetry magazine in 2009.