Tip of the hat to Galileo…The Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems.
I’m standing in the kitchen with my sweetheart, we’re making dinner, the girl is circling our legs like a small, very talkative shark:
“So, you’re going to leave the poetry up.” he says.
“No, I’m putting it up from the 1st of February until the 28th. On the first of March it all disappears,” I reply, shifting around the green beans and bacon in the bottom of the cast iron skillet.
“But your other poetry, you’re leaving that up?”
“Yeah, the stuff from the regular blog will stay. But the work from International Poetry Monthwill go. The poem posted on Feb. 1st will be available for the whole 28 days. The poem posted on the 28th will be up for 24 hours. I’m going to leave the audio recordings of the readings on the site.”
“So why take the blog posts down, to make it more of an EVENT?”
About now, our girl is at the height of her performance and frantically switching back and forth between being Captain Hook and a baby goat. I am now Wendydarling…Captain Hook wants to give me a kiss but only if I pretend I’m a crocodile eating his hand…no wait, now we’re supposed to bonk heads and say ‘maaaaa’. The stuff in the pan is starting to smell good but it does that right before it starts to burn. I struggle with managing the traffic in my mental train yard while I think about my response,
“Well, yeah. You know, we talk about how people post a zillion links on FB, there are 5 stories you mean to read on the news sites, not to mention the infinite list of things we’ve been meaning to google… and we think, ‘Oh yeah, when I have a minute I’ll check that out but right now (insert favorite and perfectly valid excuse here)….’
Our assumption is that the content will always be available. I want people to feel that they have something to lose if they don’t go and look now. It’s not just that; it’s also because I want this to be a microcosmic, super-fast-acting mirror of what history does to poetry.”
My sweetheart hands me a glass of wine, my daughter bangs her head into my leg with enough force to fell a small pine tree.
“In what sense?” he wonders (meanwhile scanning theBBC Homepageand clicking through the iTunes playlist; and he says he can’t multitask…)
My mental ‘poetry train’ is rambling through the landscape of old thoughts, essays I wrote about writing 5 years ago, the link about the history of books that a friend posted this morning, and the submissions that I’ve been organizing for this month:
“How many poets were writing at the same time as Sappho or ‘Homer’? Was she really the best? Time washes through, consumes everything and spits out the bones. We have the luxury of instantaneous access to information so that we think that we don’t need to remember anything…we google it and then forget it.”
“So, why leave up the podcasts…why not delete it all?”
“In the beginning there was the word. The roots of poetic form grew from the soil of the human voice; metre and rhyme began as mnemonic functions, which were only much later codified as written forms. The way in which the English speaking world views the work of western literature’s first poet (or poets) ‘Homer’ is not a result of his composing on the page but the culmination of the labour of Greek writers who transcribed the works, later translations into Latin, and much later translations into other European languages and then to English…who knows how much this work mutated before it was codified? Isn’t that beautiful to think about?”
I realize that now I’m sounding and feeling a hopelessly ‘wordnerdish’. How do I convey how important I think it is to listen…with attention or the joy I have playing with words in poetic form and reading the work of others who are doing the same? It’s like the fun Galileo had searching the sky, drawing diagrams, and rolling objects of different weights down an inclined plane; or like the pleasure of a child playing with sand and water on the beach, making dams of shells, digging channels, making order out of chaos, knowing that it will all be erased by the tide and not caring.
“So you’re going to explain this to people…write a curatorial statement beforehand right?”
“Umm, yeah…I guess that’s another ‘naptime project’.” my daughter tries to wriggle in between my legs and the stove.
He laughs, “Naptime Projects, sounds a good title.”
Starting on February 1st and ending on February 28th…a month long flash poetry event. One poem a day for 28 days and then they dissappear, maybe forever…
“I wonder if Dante would smile to know that,
reading his words aloud
(as they used to long ago),
a future poetess would blush to feel
the smooth white marble of his tercets
trace their dust across the center of her tongue?”
How ironic (or bizarre) would Dante or Sappho find it to think of a 21st century reader/writer, reading, parsing, and borrowing from his or her work; women in pants, men in pants!…all speaking a strange, barbaric language and with access to technology that makes words instantly available to millions.
I am both a passionate reader and a passionate writer. I believe that writing serves two excellent functions: it works as a tool to help both the reader and the writer digest, formulate, and reconsider ideas; and, it works as a creative discipline that binds the ephemeral nature of experience to the architecture of words.What we are writing now is a bridge. Who knows how long it will last or who will cross it? Let’s find out.
The time has come to ask for submissions for International Poetry Month! I will post ten of my poems which are the nucleus of a new book that I’m working on with poems inspired by music, cadences, and stories that have been used as vessels for conveying both cultural information and emotive content. For this year’s celebration of poetry I am looking for work that is inspired by the work of others (using borrowed materials for a new construction) or where the form/structure is related to the content (or both)…interpretation of these guidelines will be liberal.
So…lets build something. In addition to my 10 poems I will post a selection of original poetry submitted to me between Jan. 22nd and February 10th of 2010. Please submit your poetic brick (or stone or mortar or slender flash of lath sustaining a fluttering bit of rice paper) to:
Happy reading and hope that you enjoy International Poetry Month! Submissions in any language will be considered. Needless to say, all rights to works published for International Poetry Month will remain with the author.
And now for something fun…a story. For anyone who’s interested in the non-poetic version check Bullfinche’s Mythology, there’s also a brief bit in Ovid’s Metamorphosis. Meanwhile read on and enjoy the race:
Atlanta and the Golden Apples
Since Meleager killed his uncles (both)
For the sake of your pretty face,
You’ve set aside your silver bow
And traded hunting for the race.
The man who wants you to wive
He must take up the chase.
But what prize to win?
your pretty head, your blushing hide
the land, the cash, the pride
that will dower you.
Ah! but if his grasp this fleet maiden miss?
No blushing bride he’ll own
but pay his debt to Dis.
If only they had the sense to leave well enough alone…
you never wanted this.
Still they’ve come –
stand pawing at the starting line like Phoebus’ horses
primed to haul the weight of day across dawn’s broken rim.
You flash a pitying glance at them
then gird your softer self with iron will
to win –
“What idiots,” you think
“would gamble death for lust?
You set aside your cloak and stand;
slender virgin, lilly pale, in your running dress
fringe grazing your thigh
as you play teasing rabbit
to their panting hounds
but rabbit is swifter than breath
and dogs will die.
Will you stay to watch the executions
By your father duly meted out?
No, you’ve seen enough of death,
The Boar, Meleager and his kin, and now these fools
Who traded life for the chance
To own your glowing skin.
But who is this? Striding willow light and straight
Across the field like Eros unwinged;
face as gentle, fair, and blue eyes just as bright.
It’s Hippomenes! the boy who, standing at the finish,
Called your foot first across the line.
Now, enchanted by your fluid grace,
He’s come to offer challenge
You see it in his face though he’s still six steps away.
You want desperately to press your soft fingers to his sweet lips, saying:
“Hippomenes – No! My thigh, my breast,
my blushing cheek – no part of me
can be worth this!”
But it’s too late,
The words escape, he taunts:
“What, no trouble for you to outrun
that rack of tortoises? All clatter and no meat!
I think that I could win you running, as I can,
like Zephyr’s sigh and twice as fleet!”
“Proud as a lion,” you think, admiring.
Still the oracles warning like a tocsin clangs:
“Atlanta, do not marry; it will be your ruin…
and so you say:
“I’m ready when you are – Tortoise!”
shaking your head, wondering which pazzo god
has willed this youth to death.
Is he speaking to this god now, eyes up, head tilted
and what is that in his hands?
But now they’ve called the start
And you are running hard out…
but still, he’s managed, somehow
What’s this he’s flung aside?
glowing golden in the grass –
an apple like a jewel of heaven?
but wait! Now he’s far ahead
and you must panting run to nip
his heel’s again!
From the laggard’s place you see
his legs are strong,
the golden curl against his neck…
his foot strikes the ground
no firmer than a feather.
He flies but you fly faster!
quick, quick! he casts again –
what now! does he have another?
Your foot falters in consternation and
What god’s game is this,
played with magic fruit?
Who is meant to win?
Who is meant to lose?
Ach! Damn, he’s ahead again!
you see that he’s begun to lose his wind!
The goal is near; you register the terror on his face
The prayer in his eyes though he’s looking through you,
past – at something else…
he drops the final golden treasure
at your feet.
You stop dead
and then it’s done
in that one
brief intake of breath
he’s beaten death,
With it comes your hand,
and, unknown to him, your unlucky fate.
But you’re not thinking of that now.
You’re thinking that he’s beautiful;
Strong and slender, perhaps a hands breadth
Taller than you – perhaps, he will make a fine husband?
Together, a matched pair
both swifter and lighter
Sweaty, your muscles stiff, you hold the unnatural apples in your hands;
gamely hoping they are a blessing…
Hippomenes comes to kiss his prize;
You are tired, his arms are warm.
As you lay your cheek against his own
you hear, for the first time,
the roar of the crowd – they sound
poem copyright Bonnie McClellan 2006 first publication in CC Writer
magazine. Fall 2006.
I would I were a wingéd thing
And these white stones not bruised my feet.
From half sky’s arc this groundscape see;
Like girasoleil and moth at once.
Face then Gomorrah’s candled sun,
And false to God like Mrs. Lot
Turn arbre-form in Halite caught;
Qualcosa utile, quotidienne.
Ground down and lightly sown across
Unrisen flower and fragrant oil;
Then in the mouth of Adam lost
Mineral dust to dust returned.
poem copyright Bonnie McClellan 2009
“The eye comes always ancient to its work, obsessed by its own past and by old and new insinuations of the ear, nose, tongue, fingers, heart, and brain. It functions not as an instrument self-powered and alone, but as a dutiful memeber of a complex and capricious organism.”
– Nelson Goodman from “Languages of Art
This poem is one in a series that I am currently writing that takes it’s inspiration from the rhythms and subject matter of sacred texts varied and sundry. It is also the fruit of my continuing struggle as a poet to reconcile the three languages that jostle for position in my work as I am searching for exactly the right word. This particular piece is inspired by the rhythm of the Latin Hymn “O SALUTARIAS HOSTIA”. The content inspired by conversations had with the Artist, Matthew Broussard and the film director, Michangelo Frammartino about Pythagoras’ four states of being: Human, Animal, Vegetable, Mineral. The concept of the observed walk as a transformative experience is also inspired in part by the work of sculptor Richard Long.
Paint everything which is not
only sky only
the tranquil green of a hayfield
tumbling towards a horizion
of what it’s missing.
It is this void, superimposed upon the mountain
which instructs the heart:
There is the possibility of absence.
Bonnie M. McClellan
I have lived in Italy for three years now and it never stops being beautiful. The concept of a quotidian and yet extrodinarily beautiful vision continues to fascinate me as did the daily magic of the sky when I lived in Texas.
I wrote this poem parked in the parkinglot of the cemetery of the town of Orino, Italy. The cemetery is along the local road that I drive down on the way to and from my daughter’s daycare in Castello Cabiaglio. I encounter a vision twice a day on this drive: Monte Rosa. The mountain is the wallpaper of my everyday life. Despite the ubiquity of this beauty, I feel an ache in my chest that has the emotional resonance of loss everytime I round the curve in the road that brings the moutain into sight. I’m still working my brain around living with something so beautiful that it hurts to look at.