If this were a movie and someone slyly beautiful were playing me, say Zooey Deschanel (with thick glasses to make her look a little less Deschanel), we’d be approaching some kind of zenith, we’d be belaying up a sheer rock face to the tippy top of the narrative arc
where we might temporarily mistake denouement for enlightenment. We might have to endure one more lonely, blood-red sunset, possibly a shipwreck, a little suspension of disbelief or just a suspension bridge with a few key rungs missing, but these hardships would fall away as the deus ex machina of forgiveness and enlightenment are lowered creakily into place,
followed closely by significant weight loss, removal of the glasses, and the heroine, recognized for what she really is—talented, misunderstood, secretly hot—is rewarded with a book deal, a manageable amount of fame and fortune, great clothes and just enough star-fucking, perhaps only briefly interrupted by a minor collapse which serves only to intensify our pleasure when we do, indeed, reach resolution.
Sadly, this is not a movie. Our stories aren’t like that. Our lives are more subtle. The outlines can be hard to make out, especially when we’re in the midst of drawing them. Kind of like poetry, actually.
And the shape of Pokey’s path to enlightenment—if enlightenment it was, and if path it was–looked a lot more EKG readout than dramatic arc. There were spikes, to be sure, places where she felt she was close to understanding how to move forward, but mostly it was feeling her way in the dark.
So, if after the last post you were thinking Pokey had reached some kind of resolution, you’d be right, but only temporarily. I think what’s true is that I found a place to begin.
Pokey had to let go of certain ideas and habits she held dear: first and foremost, that the only way she could write was to have long stretches of time alone, produce acres of free-writing, and revise, revise, revise.
Nope. Not possible. My creative process needed to bend to my new reality: not enough time, very little silence, ongoing sleep deprivation and a head filled with the minutiae of family life—some of it cherished, but much of it mundane. Not the stuff from which we think to make art. At least, that’s what Pokey used to believe. (More about that to come.)
It’s not a coincidence that about this time Pokey began to write “found” poems: collages of interesting shiny bits stolen from other people’s writing, sometimes poetry, but just as often from text books, newspaper articles, museum catalogs, etc.
Pokey Mama: Starling of the Poetry World
What’s interesting about working this way is that the poems still reflected my concerns—my life and my obsessions, but I felt safer expressing myself because the process created a helpful kind of distance. I didn’t have to produce words, I just needed to select and order them. Not Warhol’s factory, not that distanced, but maybe Duchamp’s “ready-mades” or Cornell’s boxes. (I wish I could name a woman artist here, but you see, I can’t, which is an interesting problem I’ll have to write about another time).
Looking at it as a Mother AND…it was as if these patched-together poems I made weren’t quite my children. I wasn’t really responsible for them. It was OK if they watched too much TV and ate Pop-Tarts for breakfast.
Maybe this is cowardly. But it was what Pokey needed to do at the time—remember, she’s hanging by her tastefully manicured nails from a precipice, right?
The other handy thing about making collage poems is that I could snatch a few minutes during nap or play time and work on a poem without feeling like I needed to lock myself in the bathroom and pretend I had the stomach flu in order to get some time.
I learned to make do with what I had. Stop and go. Drop and roll. Catch as catch can.
Some of the poems from this time aren’t half bad, and they were incredibly fun to write. In a way, it was refreshing, allowing myself to move away from myself—kind of like what I’m doing here: looking back from a distance.
A few of the poems even made their way into my new book. I wrote one where I used only first lines of Emily Dickinson’s poems; that was a really interesting project. (See below) First, as a bonus, here’s an image of a piece by artist Lesley Dill, who uses the life, mythology and poetry of Dickinson extensively in her work.
See, I knew I could work in a woman artist!
And here’s my piece. “Stolen” from one of our great “domestic” poets.
I had not minded walls.
I had some things that I called mine.
I read my sentence steadily
from blank to blank.
I breathed enough to take the trick.
I asked no other thing.
It was a quiet way.
It would have starved a gnat.
The sky is low, the clouds are mean—
the moon upon her fluent route
the reticent volcano keeps.
Cocoon above, cocoon below—
How soft this prison is!
Perhaps you think me stooping—
a little dog that wags its tail—
my heart upon a little plate
pink, small, and punctual.
Alone and in a circumstance
I saw no way – the heavens were stitched|
within my reach.
The future never spoke.
Of course I prayed.
Oh give it motion, deck it sweet…
If ever the lid gets off my head…
Over and over, like a tune.
There comes an hour when begging stops—
the clock strikes one that just struck two.
On such a night, or such a night—
today or this noon—
the life that’s tied too tight escapes.
Dreams are well but waking’s better.
So I pull my stockings off.
Soul, take thy risk!
Bring me the sunset in a cup—
the brain is wider than the sky.
Yes, it is, reader. Yes it is.