Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Writing Life: Now It's Time to Get Writing

Now that school is out, it's time to get writing again. Each year I am surprised by how hard a transition this is for me. How to start writing poems again? I need to trick myself into it. Begin by reading. Today it was The Poetry of Rilke,  translated by Edward Snow -- with a gorgeous introduction by Adam Zagajewski. I know I will be reading and re-reading it forever.

Tonight I heard Rae Armantrout read from her Pulitzer prize-winning collection, Versed. An utterly charming woman, and a pleasure to have her voice to accompany her words. I was especially struck by how often her lines balanced pathos and humor in the same instant. Here's one poem for her son, Aaron.


Complex systems can arise
from simple rules.

It's not
that we want to survive,
it's that we've been drugged
and made to act
as if we do

while all the while
the sea breaks
and rolls, painlessly, under.

If we're not copying it,
we're lonely.

Is this the knowledge
that demands to be
to be passed down?

Time is made from swatches
of heaven and hell.

If we're not killing it,
we're hungry.

I admire the imaginative leaps Armantrout makes and how deceptively simple the poem seems - or maybe genuinely is ...once you realize it's written for her son. Many of the poems address Time with a capital T. Her poems make me want to reach beyond what I think I can do --- not to leave meaning behind -- not at all -- but communicate with it differently.

When I was a young writer, I wanted to reside with my poetic mentors only and to close out everyone else. As I get older (gasp) I'm more interested in an inclusive approach. Who wants to write the same way decade after decade? It took Rilke several books to shake off the style of his time and build his own style. Rilke and Armantrout in the same day. I'm wondering what might happen tomorrow?


  1. Lovely to hear what you are reading!

    Love how you are open to change in style. My husband is a visual artist aware of how galleries/viewers come to expect a certain style from painters, and resist change. We know this happens for musicians, too. But the change is so often growth. Sigh...

  2. A long thread from Rilke to Armantrout but it's wonder all along the way.

  3. Louise Glück has talked about how she consciously shifts her style from book to book -- how if she's comfortable writing a certain way, she knows that she needs to push past it in new work. This has been my challenge post-book and it's a work in progress, internally and externally.

    I wish you plenty of good writing and a summer of rest, Susan...

  4. Thank you - this will be my first week of really trying to write on a regular basis. I will need good luck! And I promise to keep letting you know what I am reading -- it makes it seem more like a book party/group.