My hope is to study Old English and Old Norse mythology and its diachronic influences on literature and mythopoeia when I enter grad school. As such, I would like to try my hand at poetic translations of some of the elder eddas. There have been plenty of prose translations, but none (that I know of) that retain the poetic structure of the epics. I want to use as much as possible the same poetic devices as were used in the Old Norse, which should for the post part, translate well into English. I also want to try more liberal poetic translations that update and modernize the myths, just for fun.
I have always been fascinated by the almost magical display of oil on the surface of still water. Chris Murray used this image to great effect in her recent poem River Six. I also ran across it in some back issues of Lilliput Review that I was browsing through recently. Much has been made of the dichotomy between the beauty and the poison. But what fascinates me, what really makes oil on water something special, is the worlds that one can see when looking in it deeply enough.
As a boy, I was enamored (as many young boys are, I think) with gutters. Not the rain gutters running around the roof of the house, but the more accessible and more lively gutters at the edge of the street. I was blessed to live by street with very active gutters, a microcosm within themselves. When the first drops of rain would begin to musically announce themselves on the tin roof of the shed in our backyard, I would be off like a shot to watch as the sand and gravel which congregated in ever-shifting mounds within the gutter would amazingly yield forth their hidden life, angleworms poking their heads–or bottoms who knows which–above the surface of the sand seeking air and safety from drowning. Never could they be caught when sought outside of the rain. Many times we emptied the gutters of their sedimentary layer, when imminent fishing trips pressed the need upon us, but shovels would avail a young man nothing. It was something of a miracle then that they could be picked up from the surface with no trouble at all within minutes after the start of the rain. But we were careful to return them to the gutter before the rain ended, afraid of breaking whatever spell allowed them to so spectacularly emerge with each shower.
If the rain was long enough or hard enough, the magic of the worms was soon subsumed by an even greater phenomenon. Paper boats were quickly made as the currents began to come into being. Soon I was a master of shipping for a multi-house corporation, sending my Anglish captain on voyages that (if the rain was significant) might last minutes. I was a micromanager, not content to trust the captain with my ship’s safety; I would run along beside it, ready to pluck it from the water at the first sign of a treacherous stick. Or if in a more contemplative mood, I might examine the flow for its own sake, perhaps experimenting to see what changes this or that arrangement of pebbles, sand or sticks might have on the visible marks of its movement that appeared on its surface. I would attempt to predict in advance what shapes and shifts would occur, and though my success rate hovered at near zero, I never tired of experimenting.
It was only when the rainstorm lasted long enough to exceed the capacity of the drains that the most miraculous mirage of them all would occur. Relatively still, the water would allow the oil, collected from the mechanical passers by to creep to its surface and congregate into larger and larger villages, towns, cities, countries, worlds. Oil creates, when spread thinly enough, a world that has depths that are unrelated to the impositions of mere physics. It appears to have a texture that extends further than the tenuously clinging molecules that stretch for each other across the surface, occasionally losing their hold on one another and allowing black holes to mar their perfection. It appears to extend beyond the water itself and into some other space and time. Mandelbrot could not create it. It is fluid. It is changing. It is evolving and devolving synchronously. And it has inhabitants, not real creatures crossing its surface, plodding water-bugs and foolish mosquitoes, but super-real creatures that live within the images, within the motion, within the lucidity of the imagination, and then with a SpLaSh, hand or foot, chemically or mechanically, sooner or later, the universe is destroyed, only to recreate itself with the same vigor and purpose as before.
Sculptor Auguste Rodin, most famous, perhaps, for his The Thinker, has a piece which has fascinated me since I first discovered it within the pages of Robert Heinlein‘s Stranger in a Strange Land: Caryatid with Stone. This beautiful girl has been required to support more than she can bear, to be the supporting pillar of an arch. Her beautiful body too frail for the task that was set, the weight has crushed her into an unnatural position, but her spirit is strong enough to carry on. She remains, still supporting the stone, despite her deformity, and will stand until eternity, endurance personified. Perhaps because my encounter with this sculpture was probably my first experience with the transformative power of visual art, its strength has always seemed to great for me to capture within the frail lines of a poem. I fear my poor poem might in fact be crushed, like the caryatid, under the weight of such a powerful emotional burden as this piece has for me. Nevertheless, I will eventually write this poem, when the distance feels great enough that I can approach it with the detachment necessary for my type of craft.
I was going through the Dallas mix-master the other day, and I was thinking about the homeless who shelter under overpasses, and how there seems to be an entire subculture among the sub-street tenants which has rules as fastidious and important as the rules that govern the social behavior of Boston Brahmins or the negotiations between businesses contemplating a merger. I have already taken several hours over several days to examine minutely the environment. I still need to observe more interplay between the residents, but I think that I will soon be ready to write the fourth in my Central Park sonnet sequence based on these observations. Actually, thinking about it even more, I think that perhaps since the first three have been intensely personal that I’ll turn the lens altogether away from the personal and look solely at the environment.
I had a migraine headache this weekend. Its effects were minimized by the use of Imitrex, but it nevertheless deeply impacted my ability to keep up with work, family and social responsibilities. I also dreamt about depression, in a most unusual way this weekend. It was a continuing dream, which took place over several sleeping periods.
The dream began in the way such dreams, which closely mirror reality and are usually indistinguishable from it, often do–with my awakening. I performed my morning ablutions as normal, but then, for some indefinable reason, rather than head out the door, I got into a heated philosophical debate about the value of selfishness to societal function and the existence, or lack thereof, of true altruism. Now I normally would argue against the existence of altruism, but in my dream I played angel’s advocate. However, this discussion lasted so long that when I looked at the clock I realized that I had missed a very important appointment. Now, this appointment was a big deal, and missing it was going to set me back almost six months in my life-plans. I was shell-shocked on looking at the clock. I literally couldn’t believe that I had missed this appointment, not in the “damn I can’t believe I missed it” but in the “the clock must be wrong; somebody fix it please” way. And I went catatonic. I couldn’t act, move, speak, or even think really (although I could think about not being able to think, so I guess I could think, in a way, though only tangentially).
All of this occurred in the first sleeping session, and when I woke, I retained some remnant of my nocturnal disorder. It was certainly enough for my wife to comment. Luckily it was the weekend, and so although I needed to get busy on many extracurricular projects, the fact that I went almost immediately back to sleep, sleeping away the majority of the day Saturday, did not cause my dream to become reality. I missed no appointments. But when I did return to slumber, my solipsistic state reasserted itself, and I continued to dream of inaction, of the inability to participate in communion with the rest of life. If I wasn’t depressed before I had this dream, this dream would have been enough to depress anyone, especially in the way that it merged with reality so that I was never sure how much was dream and how much was extant.
This cycle of sleeping, waking, sleeping, always to inaction whether in dream or in consciousness continued throughout the day Saturday. I recognize it now as one of the most severe premonitions or auras of an approaching migraine that I have ever had, but at the time it was truly frightening. I felt an almost Proustian juxtaposition of dream and waking, of reality, memory, future, past, and present. And I couldn’t be sure that it would end. I began, during my brief lucid and sober moments to contemplate coping strategies for a life lived in a catatonic dream (I believe I slept for close to 18 hours on Saturday). Had the mental state not dissipated with the onset of my migraine and the application of Imitrex during the middle of the night Saturday night, I would probably have felt the need to seek psychiatric evaluation on Monday. Whether or not I would have possessed the volition to initiate such a project is another question entirely. And so, in a way, the titanic headache was a relief.
I would like to capture this experience in poetry and, perhaps, to tie it to socio-political concerns. As an “average American,” (is there such a thing?), I feel impotent in the political arena, belabored in endless rules that intrude even into my personal life, and voiceless. I think the parallel will work, but I have more to do to clarify my thoughts on the metaphysical aspect before it will be ready to become a poem.
My linguistically formative years were probably more sheltered than the average Texan’s. My mother came from the American heartland (Utah/Colorado), that area whose regional dialect most closely approximates Standard American English, and she was my primary linguistic influence (My father was a Texan through and through, but had little influence due to his work). Because I was home-schooled, I didn’t even have the influences of my peers. Additionally, being in the “big-city,” Garland, TX, my exposure to traditional Texan drawl in public encounters was also virtually nonexistent. And so, I grew up without a Texan accent. Now I am for the most part grateful for my lack of ‘hick’ flavor, especially when visiting such anally retentive cities as New York and/or Boston, however, I am nevertheless proud of my Texas heritage. In fact, like many, I would say that I am a Texan first, and an American only distantly second, which is not to say that I am not proud of my American heritage as well.
So, I want to write a poem that captures my sense of identity as a Texan. I want to capture the pride of the Texas patriot, pride of size, pride of ethic, pride of identity, pride of solidarity, pride of ethnicity. But I want to differentiate the Texas of my heart-love, and the Texas of “Dallas” and “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” especially with its imminent recreation. I want to talk about the people. I want to create the sense of community which extends between all parts of this vast land from the gulf to the northern woodlands to the plains of the midlands to the western mountains to the dustbowl of the panhandle, each area proud of its own distinct features, but even more proud of the whole. I want to talk about the indigenous plants and animals, especially the ones which no outsider would realize makes a delicious snack: Red Sumac (the northern white variety is poisonous), prickly pear (easy to peel and great raw or stewed), wood sorrel (looks like clover with heart shaped leaves and a lemon bite), armadillo (hint, they don’t taste like chicken), whitetail (cook with pork fat to ameliorate the ‘wild’ taste), etc.
But most especially, I want to talk about my own struggle to come to terms with my own identity. Half of me looks down on the very un-global attitude that Texas takes with regard to economics, politics, ecology, and culture; half of me glories in participating in a regional culture that is proud of itself instead of one that despises itself (such as those in states like Mississippi, the Carolinas, and Virginia). I sometimes question where I fit within the Texas socio-political body. I actually spent years feeling like an outsider, an un-Texan, because I spent my first two months of life in Colorado and have a Coloradoan birth certificate. However, I never question my loyalty to Texas, my love of this land, or my love of its people, even when I occasionally look down on them for a “fixin’ to” construction or a pronunciation like “yawnptoo.”
What is it about Texas or Texans that makes us so particularly proud and patriotic? It may be, as some claim, our former independent status, but that seems unlikely considering the fact that no one alive today can personally remember that independence. Maybe it’s something in the atmosphere. Perhaps it’s the water. Perhaps it is lineage that does it. I don’t know, but whatever it is, I’m glad I’ve got it.
I was just remembering back to when I was 10 or 12, and bubble-blowing was an important indicator of social status. Someone who could blow a bubble that required a haircut was the elite of the elite (I never managed this), and my life was devoted to bubble blowing. I can remember spending endless hours debating the merits of various brands of choice: Bubble-Yum (King of Flavor), Hubba-Bubba (Superior Bubbles), Bubblicious (You chew that? What are you, stupid?), Double-Bubble (Tried and True). Bubble blowing is an event that requires one’s entire concentration. One must block out distractions mentally even as the bubble blocks off sight of the world. Sometimes, after some strenuous bubble blowing, you need a drink; you take a slug of that ice-cold water, and suddenly that bit of gum that was stretching out so nicely before shatters likes Mom’s best china when you dropped it on the floor. I remember when I lost my job, just after taking on the responsibility of a mortgage and new car payment, with a wife, a kid, and another on the way. It reminded me of when that all important, prize winning chew, shattered on impact after the plunge into ice water. Is there a poem in here somewhere? It seems so to me. Can I write it? I don’t know; I may have swallowed my gum.
It seems like everybody is writing about love, joy, death, and pain. This, of course, makes it difficult to come up with a new paradigm, though it increases the reward if one can. However, there are a lot of everyday things that though not quite on the level of these “higher” emotions, nevertheless have a profound effect on our lives. One such occurrence is the flu. Now sickness has had its share of poetic incarnations as well, and I don’t want to repeat what’s already been done, so there are several things that I want to avoid in writing a poem about the flu. One thing that I want to avoid is over-demonizing the flu, making it out to be worse than it is. A second thing that I don’t want to do is to use any kind of animal metaphor, i.e., the flu as a tiger, or the flu as a snake. Finally, I don’t want to write from the perspective of the flu. All of those directions, though I can’t place my finger on a single occurrence of any of them, feel worn to me.
Now, for me at least, the flu has been a fairly disturbing occurrence, interfering with family life, schoolwork, church activity. In short, the flu has totally disrupted my universe. That is one tack that I could take, but it falls into the first category of things that I don’t want to do, it is overblown. After all, I haven’t even had to go to the hospital or even to the doctor, and eventually I’ll recover, and forget what only seem like its devastating effects. Then, there is the scientific angle. I can’t know if that would work without some more research, but I know this much, the flu is a living virus, and it in some way attacks certain (and only certain, I think) of the body’s cells. Without falling over the edge into animal metaphor, this might offer some possibilities which could be fleshed out. What I really want to do, though, is focus on the intimate, human feelings and symptoms that accompany the flu. In other words I want to write about how one’s outlook on life is changed while under the influence of the flu, how one’s body operates differently on a macro rather than symptomatic level, how one’s relationships are affected adversely by the flu’s ravages.
I think that in keeping with the feeling of the flu, the villanelle, sestina, or other highly repetitive form might be appropriate for such a poem. Another possibility would be an original repetitive and chorused rhyme scheme. It also might be fun to play with the sounds of the flu within the poem, emphasizing and repeating nasals and gutturals and working primarily with short vowels to attempt to get across the sound of the flu in addition to its feeling. Another aspect of the flu which might influence the form is its ephemerality. You have the flue, and then it is gone, and you really do forget all about it; your life is back to 100% normal. Some type of circular motion to the poem as a whole might help to convey this. Maybe begin and end the poem in health. I’m not sure if that can be done and the depth of the change still be plumbed, nor am I sure that that is important enough of a property to take the important beginning and end of the poem, but it’s something to play with and see what can be done.
The other day, as I was sitting in a Linguistics class, I was, of course, thinking of something entirely different, namely, my hands. Hands are really marvellous when you think about it. There are so many emotions that can be expressed with just the hands; there are so many communicative functions that nothing but the hands can transfer so well. Think about how much can be communicated by a simple squeeze of the hand. It’s more than you might think. It could of course be an expression of love between two lovers, just before they part for the first time after consumating their passion. It could also be the expression of undying devotion by the unrequited lover to his love as he kneels to kiss it. It might be a warning of danger between a parent and her child, because a car is coming down the street, and he was just about to step off the curb–good thing she makes him hold her hand. It might be a test of manly wills as the grip gets harder and harder, between father-in-law and son-in-law-to-be, perhaps. Or it might just be a signal that all is right with the world. I think I’d like to write a poem about hands. Think of all the things it could express.
I want to write a poem that describes sex in terms of negation. For instance, I might say that I don’t want to have intercourse because it sounds too much like something that gets quickly slipped in between the entrée and desert. I want to make heavy use of anaphora, to build up pressure, and to reflect the repetition of the act itself. I want to use shorter lines than is typical for me in order to make the poem move quickly, although I might occasionally intersperse a longer line to build anticipation. I also want to use a significant level of enjambment, especially on the longer lines, to reflect the delayed gratification that exists in my ideal sexual act. Some other ideas or memes that I think might fit within this schema are that making love is too constructed, that having sex is too consumptive, and that fucking is too vulgar. I might or might not have a final stanza in which I picture the product of all that negation. I think that I have a good line on which to end each negative stanza: “Sex should stink,” a sort of chorus. Finally, I would not use that line on any positive stanzas. In fact, I might alternate negative and positive stanzas, using the same euphemism for one of each, i.e., “I don’t want to make love to you– I want to make love to you.” Anyway, I’d like to do something along these lines.