Last night I had the pleasure of teaching a Blackout Poetry workshop at Flint Public Library in Middleton, Massachusetts. I was invited to celebrate National Poetry Month at Flint by my lovely friend Jessica Lynne Furtado, another very talented artist.
There are a lot of positive aspects to being a creative, but one of my favorite is seeing others who are new to an art form let go and starting making. Without a doubt, every time I begin a Blackout workshop, there will be a handful of participants who view my work and decide "I can't do that." And without (another) doubt, those same participants will be heads down, working away, taking chances, and making their own poems within minutes of getting their hands on the art supplies.
I think it is easy to assume that all artists are very protective of their crafts. Really, at least from my perspective, I'm much more protective of my products, but I love to share my various crafts. I especially love passing on a form of art or writing to younger workshop participants because kids tend to dive right into the work more freely. But watching adults release the tension of their days at work or driving kids from place to place is incredibly gratifying. Remember what is was like to make things "just because"? Or what it was like to stop thinking so much about "doing it right" and just start doing? As "grown-ups" we sometimes forget the satisfaction of acting without direction or control over every part of the end result. But with Blackout Poems, the control lies with what is placed in front of you, and definitely not within your power as the maker. This letting go of control has allowed me to be more free in the rest of my work outside of Blackout.
Here are some picture of the fun we had in our workshop. Every time I conclude an event, I can't wait to get back to the office to start making again. After working with this group, I have a busy, creative week ahead of me!
On April 7th I had the pleasure of presenting some of my Blackout Poetry at MassPoetry's Spring Showers event at Boston's Prudential Center. I've been away from poetry and art for a bit, concentrating on making theater here on the North Shore of Mass., and I wasn't realizing how much I was missing my other work. My primary work, that is. While theater is important to me, it's been taking up most of my time apart from my day job. Even with the rare occasion of free time, I haven't really focused on creating anything else. That started to change this week, beginning with my first public poetry event since last year's Poetry Festival.
So I did the Blackout thing, and I did the open mic thing, and, because I haven't been at nightly rehearsals this week (for once), I've been doing a lot more creating. Sometimes I just need that gentle reminder to myself that THIS is the work, THIS is the passion, and I can have others, I can wander down other roads, but Poetry and Art are my first loves. Vowing now to give them much more of the attention they deserve.
When you find yourself wondering why it didn’t work out
you will perhaps remember that you held my hand
on the sidewalk outside of the bar and I, caught off guard,
never bent my fingers to match your grasp.
Your hand was cold, your arm straight.
I watched the wet traffic pass.
When you find yourself wondering why it didn’t work out,
realize that I could not sleep comfortably
next to you. Could not melt into the softness of your shoulder,
or the softness of my own private dreaming to which
I have grown accustomed. There was that moment of confession--
all our fears given to each other
like trinkets wrapped in foiled paper—you collected mine
like stamps on a passport. Said you felt like you
could tell me anything, but that you wanted to, scared you.
When you find yourself wondering why it didn’t work out
it is because I cupped my hands in front of you, waiting
for the gift of your mind. You gave me air,
distant murmurings of words not fully realized--
boxes wrapped in foiled paper and padlocks.
My past frustrations bloomed like dogwood--
pale petals straining toward light.
I tried to pull open the cage of your wilted smile.
You twisted the key from the lock,
then swallowed it.
I am incredibly proud of this small series as it will appear in the remix of Robert Kloss's novel The Woman Who Lived Amongst the Cannibals. A few months ago, Robert asked if any artists/creatives he knew would be interested in a project. Of course I almost leapt from my chair at the chance - I am such a fan of his dark and terrifying, but incredibly beautiful and poetic work. He specifically asked for Blackout Poems (yay!), and so I printed some of the pages he'd sent me, and got to work. Those pages are below.
If you are interested in learning more about Robert's work, visit www.robert-kloss.com.
Today is the day the chapbook started coming together. I've been going back and looking at the collection of work I've been accumulating forever, and it's been an interesting day of revisiting those pieces. I also started looking back at poems that were addressed to specific people, namely the men in my life, and I've been replacing the second person p.o.v. with the third. For some reason it just feels more right to have everything written from only my perspective--after all, this is a collection of my relationship to my own experiences of events. Hence the title of the chapbook:
Oh it feels good to have a title!
Here is one of the poems I revisited today. It's on the sadder side, but hey, that's poetry for ya.
A Keener Sting
It felt like that before—a machine,
whirring and foreign and cold,
cinder blocks and scaffolding.
Then, afterwards—after the cement cracked
and the stones came loose--
there was newness, the whisper
of a first touch.
Remember when the light met his hands,
so his fingertips were as iridescent blotches
on water at sunset. At every contact
our skin illuminated purple and gold.
Remember when we watched rain move
across the horizon like a smudge of graphite
on fresh canvas, deep vibrations of electricity
pulsed through the soles of our feet--
we breathed in time to
the beating of the earth together.
I don’t know if I have traveled far enough
to pull every tear from somewhere deep
within my throat, my lungs.
I don’t know whether I have separated myself
from the broken glass—that time I cut my heel
on a shard of cobalt blue. The blood
dripped onto the remaining splinters
scattered on the carpet.
If I were different, if I could feel
anything other than pinpricks
and dull aches, a hand on my cheek,
whether it was comforting or confining,
would feel like more than just static.
Oh, how a writer's brain works... I have become completely stuck on crows. Some recent, and pretty strange, events in my circle have gotten me thinking about tricksters that may be too smart for their own good. Or at least they think they're smarter than anyone else who's paying attention...? There are a million better ways to explain that.
The point is, birds are always my obsession, but now that's become even more pointed at crows. I always find it interesting to self-analyze what I get stuck on, but once I started researching some lure about crows it began to make more sense why I've been associating these events with this particular bird.
Some things I've been learning...
- Crows live in the void and have no sense of time
- They remember faces and will warn the murder if an enemy is returning
- "Seven crows for a secret never to be told"
- A crow's call from the southeast means an enemy is coming
- They can adapt to any environment and can survive almost any situation
- This came from the crow section in a book about spring; the mother crow says it when the babies hatch: "There is no joy unmixed with woe"
Somehow all of this is going to make its way into a poem, which I've been toiling over for most of the morning. But, as a writer, toiling is good. Every writer should toil often. It's usually worth it in the end.
UPDATE! I have finished a draft of the poem, so here it is:
She was a silk scarf on fire, twisting
through ivies, smoke trailing among leaves
behind her, her feet imprinting the moss and mud.
And him, watching,
dropping his feathers on the path, enticing her forward.
His wings carried him from pine to pine.
He’d stumbled once—she’d bent to sip from the stream.
Her red hips shifting, she stood to cool her face
with water cupped in her crocheted fingers--
stray drops on her bare toes perched on the rocks.
Though she smiled he saw her exhausted--
the appearance of a fox run down by hounds.
He did not know that she was a wolf
wrapped in layer upon layer of stolen, stoic fortification.
He thought he could collect her like a shining coin
only to spit her up later, naked,
less perfect, less alive—a muted token.
She’d been collecting his discarded feathers
as evidence of her power,
pieces of him no longer displayed for the audiences
he so cherished.
But the day came when her hands were full,
when the trees split and she saw them—seven crows in a circle,
hushing their secrets, beckoning her. He said,
All these days, each feather has belonged to you, my trophy.
She poured the black ribbons to the ground like
those drops of water onto the rocks.
My dear, she smirked, you’ve never had a mind for time--
it’s been years.
He did not know that for all he imagined of her,
for all of her twirling through tall grasses,
that the she-wolf grew hungrier by the day,
and had learned to leap for birds in flight.
I've been writing a lot of stories about other people and other beings lately. I decided to finally put something down on paper about my father's father. I'd been kicking around the lines "getting older doesn’t kill you. / But you do get better at fooling people" for a while. They only made sense in a poem about Pop.
The last time I saw Pop up and about, really being himself, was in September before he passed. We were out in his backyard picking grapes. Actually, I was eating a lot more than I was picking, but at least they were coming off the vines.
for my grandfather
When you died I was not there.
My father, standing in your kitchen
sorted through Readers Digest westerns,
peach preserves, junk mail.
My mother, sitting next to your bed,
checked your pulse, and it was still.
When you died it was two weeks since
the last time I saw you—just after Christmas.
You were aggravated. We’d bought you socks, but
you didn’t need any more things.
And after that, you didn’t need
to see your granddaughters again.
When you died I was not there, but
I kept thinking about picking grapes
in your backyard—how spiders built nets
between the vines and the leaves,
how they popped out suddenly, possessive
of the muted red and purple fruit I reached for
and dropped into a plastic bucket.
I kept thinking about you waking up,
saying just kidding--
getting older doesn’t kill you.
But you do get better at fooling people.
When you died you were 93--
you told me you wouldn’t wish that on anyone.
You planned your own funeral—didn’t want the fuss,
But my father dressed you in flannel and
put your reading glasses around your neck anyway.
There were pine cones and pine branches and no flowers.
When you died I was not there, and you wanted it that way.
The thing about your wine grapes was the tough skin.
You couldn’t chew them, but you could crush out all the sweetness
before discarding the shell.