Portia Munson, "Allium." Pigmented ink on paper, 60 x 41 inches, 2013. Image courtesy the artist and PPOW Gallery.

In keeping with the earlier posts of a sense of working within a community, this final post is designed, hopefully, to give a glimpse of where I am writing from. I invited a group of poets to send the mottos, their own or others, that press them forward and to describe the view (literal or figurative) that meets their eyes when they lift them off the page. They returned with these riches.

Thank you to the poets and thank you to the Poetry Foundation for letting me share this generous bounty.

***

Everywhere there is has everything there is to look at. (15)

 

A kind of vastness within our tiny apartment. Elastic space defined by nothing more than this small notebook. That half-silence before everyone wakes. Before the news. Before speech. Hush of traffic rising and receding. Warm couch. Dog beside me or alone. Feet stretched out before me on a table. Trucks signaling while backing up. Non-moments. A certain grittiness to the light that rushes in. Metal bars divide the window perfectly in squares. Negative trees and flocks of birds that disappear behind brick. Water towers and thin windows of the building across the way you often need to squint to see.  (14)

 

My oft thought of motto is from Philip Whalen: "This poetry is a picture or graph of a mind moving, which is a world body being here and now which is history . . . and you." (19)

 

"You would remember everything. You would know what they were saying. Nothing would require translation." (from Kate Braverman's novel, Wonders of the West) (10)

 

A long wooden table (I sit at the end) usually arrayed with water pitcher, coffee cup, spilled salt, and other detritus, the couch, where often the dog is sleeping, a window, sunlight in leaves.

Be brave: You don't have to publish it. (2)

 

"It seems as if one must disobey everyone else in order to see at all." –Alice Notley (3)

 

No matter how difficult the text, we read it the same as much as we read it differently. (12)

 

"Begin with words." –Bob Holman (21)

 

I have no motto. I have resolve but no motto and no manifesto.

What do I see.  I see a wall made of plaster with architectural detail and a hanging from Sierra Leone of a woman—the fabric is of gold and blue patterns and she is holding a talking drum. Over her face is ornament that reminds me of a former lover's balls—makes me smile. Two other art pieces, a print by Vija Celmins that I brought back in the 1990s and a Nancy Graves print that Mabou Mines gave me hang over my desk area. And to my side (eye) four separate file folders with papers and invoices and paper, a tiny Japanese red printed box that holds stamps; and a shoe box of envelopes and ephemera, and a silver container and a terracotta container holding pens and pencils and a few folding fans. (18)

 

When you can't find something...it's probably underneath something else. (12)

 

I don't have a set writing place. There is no romantic window or space conjuring "poetry." The view is always seeing what's ahead and seeing but not really seeing: writing on the train and seeing the person before me but not seeing them. Typing into a screen and seeing the screen but not really seeing it. The view is always, per my motto, how can I remember everything, know what's being said and people read my words, without having to translate anything? The words would be "just is." (10)

 

If I open the window the muse might come in. (9)

 

Don’t be thwarted. (12)

 

My writing motto and mantra is the Latin word: olim, meaning "once." For me the word means once upon a time...and means the memento mori of once—while we're still here one "mindfulness" moment at a time. I find it vastly liberating. Call it lyric or elegiac—I've come to understand that my poetry has always had a memento mori inspiration. I am going to have olim engraved on one of my antique fob seals, so I can use it with sealing wax for love letters. (16)

 

I don't have a regular writing space and I write out in public a lot so what I see when I lift my eyes is often anything. (1)

 

Noisy maple trees. (9)

 

Clouds. I love clouds and fortunately for me living in Manhattan, I have a room with a view. (16)

 

"Room my friends, to roam." From the epic poem "Zangezi" by the Russian Futurist, Velemir Khlebnikov. A boast as well as a balm for the protaganist Zangezi, to venture forth through unknown lands. I take to heart the possibility implied, to explore the spaces unknown, the room that allows roaming, for all friends. (20)

 

The intellect is in exile. (12)

 

"everything in the picture out of equilibrium except spontaneously all of it" —Edwin Denby (1)

 

Go slow while changing direction.

When you don’t know what to do, don’t do anything?

There is never ANY reason to go through White Plains. (12)

 

"Do you ever notice as you write that no matter what there is on the written page something appears to be in back of everything that is said, a little ghost?" –Barbara Guest "Wounded Joy" (8)

 

My motto since my mom passed is—write it then get it into the world. (6)

 

"Shut up, he explained." Not quite a motto, but a phrase that always makes me smile and perhaps feel the (absurd) possibilities in language. It makes me think of John Ashbery or James Schuyler, but it was actually written by Ring Lardner. Anyway, I think of it often when working (or struggling) through a piece. (7)

 

The flip side of vulnerability is strength. (12)

 

"Grace to be born and live as variously as possible" –Frank O'Hara

When I raise my eyes from my screen, I see "O SCARF OF PARADISE Blue sky is bread to the scarf." Then, below that, from left to right, a pink heart, a slice of bread, a blue book, and a larger blue heart. Then vertical lines drawn down over a horizontal grid. Then, at the bottom, in pencil, "Kenneth Koch Poem, litho, 1966, Jim Dine." It makes me think that poetry is possible, and it can change the world. (11)

 

I tend to write things and sit down in it for years and really we don't have the luxury of time. So now I write, work it for a little then send it out. (6)

 

…all sorts of mottos come in and out of mind from other writers, but something I most frequently turn around is this poem from George Oppen, written on a post-it toward the end of his life:

I think there is no light in the world
but the world
 
and I think there is light  (5)

 

From my desk, I have a view of the East River, the FDR Drive and the Williamsburg Bridge, upon which Sonny Rollins used to practice gazing upon the sheet music of the city skyline. In summer I look through a lattice of tree leaves that shelters robins, mourning doves and blue jays who occasionally visit my terrace, and in winter I watch the light glittering on the river. It's a view that fuels a lot of my poetry: light, water, bridge, skyline, city. (7)

 

"Reality had no fixed address." –Ann Lauterbach (14)

 

light, warmishly. brown. books and socks, screens, glass, green, flat, paper, paper balls, grass. leaf birds. heat. sweat. lamp. books. sheen frame screen. hearing is that seeing? cars red train. dead end. squiggle. sent. bend walk sidewalk. white car red car white car.  branch trees. light and light. paint nut pen. clipper. books, monuments. tea. box jar. clips, planter, pen. beak tape plastic. blanket, divider. bulbs. sticker, tree. lozenge. lotion. books. tail. tree wind. spokes. lines. silver, extractors. balm, flags, recorder. binder, phones, posts. door. door. remote, wiper, oil. dirt insect clip. dog, dog. book paper book. (8)

 

To my right is my cork board with a yellow Deerhoof sticker pinned to it. There's a drawing on it of four birds in green ink from their 2005 album, The Runners Four. There's a faded orange Sonic Youth backstage pass from the time they played inside the enormous & empty McCarren Park pool in 2007, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. In front of my writing desk, about four feet away, are seven small paintings on the wall. Among them: A lonely red Viking ship on a roiling blue sea, a painting of a man wearing a tall, conical, gold-knitted cap floating in a silver fog, and one painting with pastel pink and blue paint smeared across the canvas on which I scrawled: "You will only sing where it weirds people out.” (4)

 

I write in a small pocket notebook usually at a gay bar, usually in the early evening, so the view is saturated and unfixed: tourists, long-timers, soda nozzles and beer handles, varieties of nostalgic kitsch and smut, pre-performance drag queens, people falling in love or out of it, drink glasses rattling with music, the rings they leave on the counter, excess, loneliness, kinship, longing, the hum in the periphery lets something happen, I don't know, more un-self-consciously. (5)

 

"Submissive to everything, open, listening." –Jack Kerouac

Conveniently, outside, a grey November day. Through my window, a slate of three-dimensional planes. The bare trees in the immediate foreground. Across the street, the rounded garrets, the fancy trim atop turn-of-20th triplexes. Behind them, a highrise blocks a portion of the sky. And to the left of that, tucked in a corner of the picture, the hump of mountain with its cross. That cross—a city landmark—its fluorescents absurdly bright at night as if overstating a greatly diminished power. A pretty straightforward description from my office window. From "A Feminist at the Carnival." (Theory, a Sunday, Belladonna, 2013) (22)

 

Looking up, I see every reason to keep writing this poem and every reason to stop. Usually they are the same. Both choices seem reckless, as though the only thing to do is keep staring into space until space is like what? My daughter Aurora says I should say I see "a world of words waiting to be written," but she's a lot smarter than me. Now I see it's snowing. If the snow takes on the magic of nursery school show-and-tell artifacts, then I'll keep writing. If not, I'll stop and go outside and ask what the storm wants. (13)

 

Through slats of a cheap plastic Venetian blind, a diagonal pattern of light and a view of a woman walking a large dog. At the corner, another woman paces outside the entrance of Planned Parenthood. Every few seconds one or two people pass in a constantly varying rhythm, now accompanied by the sound of jack hammers. Sometimes there are helicopters, but not today. Sometimes protesters on their knees in prayer. Sometimes counter-protesters. Sometimes old guys on motorcycles show up. (Why them?) Then the police. Closer at hand, C.D. Wright's One Big Self. (17)

 

"Wherefrom fall all architectures I am" –Robert Duncan (14)

 

Off the screen, I'm looking for the inherent capture of some sort of movement. The flux within me and whether it matches the speed of the world, or whether I'm just saying things. It's a landing that's always shifting, a writing space that I can't define yet feel closer to with every pore opening over time. Cognizant of traveling over terrain covered, body meets filter to focus on what can be sharpened for something new in what I thought I said already. Receiver matched to message—here, just outside my screen...my scream...my fingers...my writing space today, is my fingers. (20)

 

I see a vast scape or net of ideas, thoughts, feelings, people, things, places—like an ocean, maybe, all bobbing and in motion, but connected, linked together in a big living net that I love. I love the net and I love the things in the net, although there are horrible things in it too—war, and torture and waste. But I love the whole thing and have to because it's only one thing. And there's a sense that it's dying, or dead, or big parts of it are. So I love it and grieve it both, waves of it. (3)

***

INDEX

1. Anselm Berrigan

2. Julie Carr

3. Allison Cobb

4. Todd Colby

5. Kyle Dacuyan

6. Valérie Déus

7. Marcella Durand

8. Jennifer Firestone

9. Philip Good

10. Stephanie Gray

11. Vincent Katz

12. Rachel Levitsky

13. Brendan Lorber

14. Dan Machlin

15. Bernadette Mayer

16. Helen Mitsios

17. Evelyn Reilly

18. Patricia Spears Jones

19. Stacy Szymaszek

20. Edwin Torres

21. Brenda Coultas

22. Gail Scott

Originally Published: November 26th, 2018

Brenda Coultas is the author of the poetry collections A Journal of Places (online, Metambesen Press, 2015), The Tatters (Wesleyan University Press, 2014), The Marvelous Bones of Time (Coffee House Press, 2007), and A Handmade Museum (Coffee House Press, 2003). Her poetry can be found in anthologies, including Readings in Contemporary Poetry: An Anthology (2017), What...