I just wrote a poem, and then I went in search of something by a poet I like, Maurice Kenny (1929-present). I should have done it the other way around. This poem, “At Rumbles in the Heart,” has more beauty and depth than my lifetime of poems.
I suppose I should be thinking of death
but it is April 20th, Easter
and somewhere, though perhaps not here
in the North Country, crocus
have colored morning and
beckoned negative thoughts to melt
like long winter snows we all
endured without much patience.
Death should be the daily topic
for an aging man but spring
is on the maple bud, the blind kitten
shall see and calves gambol in the barn –
yard surely as vetch purples
and pancakes scent warm kitchens.
It will come on its own one starry night
or afternoon when carrying a load
of heavy books home from college.
Have no fear, it is standing there
waiting for the right moment when your
work has been completed. We
might hope/wish that it hits when
you are kneeling to marigolds,
when the garden has become prolific
in lily and red columbine.
Don’t worry that you don’t give
much thought to death… it knows you’re there.
As I write my April poems, I find myself doing it less for the finished poems and more for the material I might use in a longer work of fiction. Take away the line breaks in some of my poems, and you get some lines of thought, the inner workings of a character in a story. In other words, you get poetic language instead of poetry.
I wonder if there really is a distinction. I think so. I think a poem stands alone. Poetic language is incorporated into something larger. But the more I think about this, the more the line blurs between the two. Line breaks are not the determiner between the two; the existence of prose poetry ensures that. I am beginning to think that a poet who writes a novel (and uses poetic language) is really writing poetry. A poetic novel. A poet-story. Narrative poetry. I don’t know. I might call it a novel for the sake of clarification, but if I love it most for its beauty and the way it dips gracefully in and out of deeper meaning, then I love it for its poetry, whether or not it is truly prose.
Paul Gauguin, Self-Portrait, 1893
Why paint a self-portrait? Is it about vanity? You want to look a certain way, the way you see yourself in your mind’s eye? Especially in today’s age, when it’s easy to get a nice photograph of yourself, self-portraiture might seem fussy, a waste of time and materials, even weird. But I think there’s a lot going on in the artist’s mind while painting a self-portrait. And it might be that he has painted parts of his mind into the picture, right along with his face. That is something a camera doesn’t catch.
It is April again! Last year I enjoyed the challenge of writing a poem for each day in April. I wouldn’t do the writing without the challenge, so here I am, challenging myself again to writing a poem a day. You can find each poem on my other blog, A Poem for Each Day of This Month.
I am starting out my inspiration by thinking of a color. Today’s color is white. Enjoy the poems!
Inside the cab of their most powerful tractor he turned the old corn stubble from spent gold to scallops of deep brown one narrow strip at a time. The plow dug deeper than the disc and churned the roots and soil upward. He was an alchemist working in reverse, preparing the soil for the spring, and he imposed his will upon the field.
— from Pale Harvest by Braden Hepner, 2014
This is the only book I have ever read that captures my husband’s dairy farm life so perfectly. This is not the dairy farming of years ago; this is farming with big machinery, milking 100+ cows in a milking parlor, spending long hours in a cab tractor in the field when it’s planting or harvest time. This book takes place in Utah, so the land is different from our Wisconsin home, but nonetheless I couldn’t believe how accurate Mr. Hepner was concerning dairy farming.
Not only that, the main character of the book (a young man) is the meditating, introspective sort, like me! So it felt like reading a book that synthesized myself and my husband. If it weren’t for that, I would have put the book down because of the bad language and because of one horrible character who likes to talk in speeches about his terrible, anti-Christian beliefs. There was some redemption in the book, but it was ambivalent, more closely aligned with the environment than with actual souls.
Still, the writing was very poetic, the main character quite sympathetic, and the setting beautiful. The above quote does a nice job on the concept of plowing.
The kids and I watched a Lawrence Welk Show from 1966 today. I’ll describe parts of the show, using some of the language my kids used while they watched. I don’t remember the names of the musicians, but a true Welk fan might recognize them.
The tap dancer tapped until his pants got ruffles in them. It was like he played piano with his feet. The lady at the bright green upright piano wore a skirt and heels to match it. She played very fast and liked to look up and smile a laughing smile at the camera. The Polish polka singer with the silly red accordion bounced with the music and rolled his eyes at the “sparkling diamond ring” part. It reminded me of nights my Dad and Mom liked to listen to polkas on the radio. My dad would rustle his newspaper in time to the music. Then there was the Irish girl with the long brown hair and the high, high voice. When Lawrence Welk had a talk with her after her song, she wouldn’t quit talking. He handed her a flute, which she grabbed excitedly, put in front of her mouth, and then kept right on talking. Lawrence put her in the band, a brightly-dressed high-spirited girl amongst the gray-suited, dark-framed, serious men musicians. They played lovely together. The band also played a French march song, which highlighted different instruments at different parts of the song. Very good for teaching children the names of instruments. Probably the favorite was the Greek dance. It involved a red ribbon which both the man and the woman held onto and then one of them let go of it. The man wore a skirt, which the girls were sure their dad wouldn’t like to wear.
In the spirit of Lawrence Welk, I would like to raise my baton and clap it into my other hand, a polite clap for a polite and elegant old-fashioned music show. Nobody won, nobody lost, nobody lectured or over-analyzed anything, but my children and I learned a lot and we have another good hook to hang our memories on.
Piet Mondrian, Farm Near Duivendrecht, 1916
The window above my kitchen sink looks out to the patch of woods behind our house. I often find myself staring at the bare tree branches. I love those black etchings against a blue-gray sky. It is so complicated and intricate. Because I like to draw, I stand at the sink and wonder how I would draw that. Would I simplify it? I would have to; there are far too many details for a two-dimensional drawing. But would I simplify it A LOT, or would it still be very complex and time-consuming? At this point I generally remind myself that I don’t have the time to do a very complex drawing, and then I remind myself that I live here and I can stare out my windows whenever I want. I don’t really need a drawing of it on my wall. And that leads me to contemplate the reason why people create art at all.
I have not come to any definitive answers on any of these things I wonder about. However, I notice that Mondrian loved bare tree branches, too. This is a more realistic rendering of them. In other paintings he simplifies, abstracts, breaks things down. He thought about things a lot, too, and he has complex theories that go with his artwork. I don’t know what they are; I just know I once tried to paint like Mondrian and my art professor said, “Yes, but he had theories to go with his paintings…” Well, theories or no theories, I like his tree branches.