Thursday, October 23, 2008


I'm sitting in my room at the Brewery Gulch Inn in Mendocino, CA, wondering what possessed me on my two-day vacation to create a blogspot--particularly another blogspot about poetry--whenever so many already exist.  I could be walking on the gorgeous beach 100 yards from my deck.  I could be staring at The Pleides to make sure that I can still see seven (egads--was it eight?) stars in order to prop up my illusion that I am still in the elite group of runners that death will never catch, no matter how good a time it posts.  I could be crawling into bed in order to just try to sleep off the last soul-deadening year of working in retail.  

Or I could be writing.  Writing about falling under the spell of poetry years ago in Las Cruces, New Mexico at a poetry reading by William Stafford.  The poems he read seemed to somehow both loosen the restraints upon what I thought a poem could be, as well as set a higher standard for the energy required for language to break through the barrier separating pragmatic discourse from art, and prose from poetry.  One poem, in particular, spoke to the paradoxical ease and difficulty of stepping from one into the other of these parallel worlds--a poem entitled "Near."


Walking along in this not quite prose way,
we both know it is not quite prose we speak.
And it is time to notice the intolerable snow
innumerably touching before we sink.

It is time to notice, I say, the freezing snow
hesitating toward us from its gray heaven.
Listen!  It is falling not quite silently,
and under it still you and I are walking.

Maybe there are trumpets in the houses we pass
or a red bird watching from an evergreen.
But nothing will happen till we pause to flame 
what we know before any signal's given.

"Walking along in this not quite prose way/we both know it is not quite prose we speak," Stafford began, pointing to the apparent ease with which we can step from one path to the other.  But then he zeros in on the clear elemental distinction between the malignant ice of complacency and the focused fire of liberation from mediocrity that is possible to create by contrasting the "intolerable snow...the freezing snow, hesitating toward us from its gray heaven" with the implied spark that we must "pause to flame" before anything truly creative will happen.  

These penultimate and ultimate lines ("But nothing will happen till we pause to flame what we know/before any signal's given") really grabbed onto me, and I grabbed onto them by returning to my dormitory room and memorizing the entire poem.  I continued to recite this poem during the next several years to provide the motivation to keep on writing no matter what was going on in my personal life.  

To answer the question as to why I'm up at midnight writing this blog is that I'm tired of what's falling all around us, and if we ever have a hope of melting the glacial build-up, we must "pause to flame what we know before any signal's given."

So pause.  

Then let Stafford's poem flame what you know.

It's really pretty near isn't it?


Middle Ditch said...

This is the second poem about snow and I so hope to get it this year.

granddaddy said...

So this is how it began.

The image of poet and reader/hearer walking together, noticing the snow itself and what it hides beneath its white noiseless whiteness and discovering a flame that burns in between the two of them - so it is with you the listener in 2008 and you the poet and the listener these years later.

Your work not only breaks down "the barrier separating pragmatic discourse from art, and prose from poetry" but also breaks down the barrier separating poet and reader walking parallel paths in their disconnected worlds, united by the light and heat and energy of the flame of noticing, seeing, seeking connection. In the snow and beneath it.

In 2010, Victoria Valastro, one of my high school students wrote these lines of snow and flame:

Wandering Outside the Museum.

The curious crunch of snow impressed sand,
Takes me down a path,
I know has been traveled before,
Yet has no trace of it.

It is mine.

The poet's path is hers alone and also the path of previous travellers, and we who walk with her in this future now share it by the light of the poet's flame. A precious flame that you have chosen to tend and fuel.


Terry Lucas said...

I am more than delighted that you can walk back to the unmarked snow and plant your staff beside mine.