Giving silence for silence

Life is good today.  Why?  Because I wrote two poems that I actually like.  (When I started to write “life” I wrote “love,” instead.  Coincidence?  Probably not.)

I also bought a bunch of new music/ started the search for more.  It’s interesting how big of an impact music can have on your life.  I will, by no means, profess to be an expert (in fact, when it comes to genres and even names of artists I am completely hopeless) but it, nonetheless, is a HUGE part of my life.  When I was in high school, singing was what kept me in touch with the world.  I spent countless hours in rehearsal, working hard and laughing with my friends and making ridiculous jokes.  I remember that, during the construction, they moved a history class into the band room across from the choir room, in the music wing.  I loved how thoroughly alienated non-music kids felt in that wing, because it was ours. We sang fearlessly, competed with each other with cutthroat abandon, and loved each other fiercely.  But, most of all, we made incredible music.  For minutes at a time, we were able to suspend reality for each other, together, and remind ourselves that there are reasons to keep living left in this world.

I miss that immensely, but it’s the kind of missing that gives you the chills (in a good way), and makes you count yourself lucky for having experienced it.  I loved solo singing, too, but there was always something about the choral setting that was just magical.  When I was a sophomore in high school, barely a human being yet, we sang Eric Whitacre’s “Sleep” at state honors choir.  During one of our rehearsals, the director had us stand in a huge circle around the room, turned all the lights off, and we sang.  Never before and never again have I had such a distinct experience of simultaneously standing in a tiny, intimate room (which it was not, SATB state honors choir was pretty big) and catching a glimpse of the entire universe.  That sounds hyperbolic, I know.  But it’s not.

My favorite memory of “Sleep,” though, was with the Portage Northern High School Songleaders Chorale circa 2007, at festival.  At the end of the song (which you will be able to hear, as I’m posting a link to a choir singing it via youtube), which is extremely quiet, the sopranos hold out one note on the vowel “eee” (of the word “sleep”) while the rest of the choir swells in and out on the word “sleep,” becoming more and more quiet until it fades away.  To hear that note is breathtaking—you almost lose your ability to recognize it as people singing, it becomes a shimmering presence.  The experience of actually singing it is even more staggering.  Literally.  Something about that note, and the vowel we sang it on, made it resonate inside my mouth and inside my head in a way that made the room spin.  For some reason, this feeling was especially distinct at festival, I was almost unable to walk away when we were finished.

Eric Whitacre’s “Sleep” (this isn’t a completely perfect rendition, but I can’t find one I like more at the current moment)
www.youtube.com/watch?v=9shXm0cIeEY&feature=fvsr

Another Whitacre song worth mentioning is “A Boy and a Girl.”  We sang it in octet, which was probably the single greatest memory I have from high school.  We were like a nuclear family within Songleaders Chorale.  We did everything almost exclusively ourselves.  I listen back on it now, and wonder if we were some sort of strange miracle.  I think we were in that stage where we were just starting to have an inkling of what we were doing, but not enough to rob us of our connections to intuition and feeling.  I don’t think people had any idea of how hard we worked to do what we did.  I’m talking hours and hours of eight high school choir kids in rehearsal when no one had actually told them to be there, and countless more hours at home, alone, learning your part.  A lot of the stuff we did was eight-part, therefore, one to a part—it was exhilarating and terrifying to feel that sort of responsibility to one another.  In retrospect, I think what strikes me the most now is that we weren’t doing what we did for any kind of glory or personal gain.  It was never a means to an end for us.  We did it because when we sang together, it helped lead us closer and closer to discovering our selves.

Anyway, back to “A Boy and a Girl.”  Bree (the first soprano to my second) and I had to stand on completely opposite ends of the octect-horseshoe for this song, because Eric Whitacre looooves his dissonance, and he loves him some soprano-on-soprano dissonance most of all.  There was one moment (okay, probably a few moments) where we were literally a half step apart (in this recording it’s at 1:49, “giving their kisses”).  I don’t remember exactly what the notes were, but I want to say it was something like an F and an F#.  This note was the BANE of my existence.  I remember the four of us girls all in a practice room at Northern, Bree playing it over and over on the piano, singing along with me what seemed like a hundred times.  I didn’t actually get it for the first time until I was standing outside the practice room in the hallway, with Bree singing very far away from me.  That’s when we came up with the standing arrangement, which was the only time we ever stood that way.

Eric Whitacre’s “A Boy and a Girl”
www.youtube.com/watch?v=rpog3w98Tz0

I didn’t intend for this to become such a long post, but I’m glad it did.  It’s been a while since I’ve had the courage to claim that part of me, because, in the past, something like this might have made it feel like it was over.  But of course, it’s not.  What we made, what we had…that will never die.

To tie this in to what I said at the beginning, I have found myself in a new phase of music-obsession that is a dangerous one: alternative/indie.  If I’m even identifying that correctly.  I call it dangerous because people who listen to this kind of music are, quite often, extremely judgmental.  If you take nothing else away from this post, maybe it’s that you shouldn’t judge people based on their limited knowledge of bands by means of which you are super cool because you knew about them before anyone else did.

Like I said, I’m not going to pretend to be an expert.  What I do know is that music is written into who I am, and I know myself well enough to hold onto that.

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Pretty isn’t the point anymore

Last spring in our advanced poetry workshop, Chad Sweeney told us “ ‘pretty’ isn’t the point anymore.”  He was, no doubt, talking about poetry.  This phrase has stuck with me, though, and I think it applies to life in general just as much as it does to poetry on the page (I make the distinction “on the page,” because life should be poetry.  If it isn’t, for you, that is sad—start pumping yourself full of poets like Whitman and Dickinson and Seuss and Kasischke and Powell and Stern immediately).

Pretty is just so empty (pardon all the italics, and the asides.  I just feel very emphatic tonight, apparently).  For me, pretty and beautiful are vastly different.  Something about beauty brings pain along with it in its back pocket.  A past.  Sometimes, when I think of words, they have color associations in my mind (didn’t you know, I can read your word’s aura…for a small fee, of course)—“pretty” being almost translucent and sickeningly pastel, pink or yellow.  “Beauty” is much darker—probably indigo.  Indigo fascinates me to no end—I think I carry it inside me somewhere, maybe lining my bones instead of marrow.  Pretty giggles, while Beauty weeps.

Maybe you don’t feel exactly the same as I do, but you have to at least admit that there’s a distinction.  I think part of the reason why I’m so disenchanted and angry lately is because I can’t seem to escape pretty.  It’s everywhere.  And I’m not saying it’s everywhere but here, with me—oh yes, it’s right over there, in my bathroom, sitting on my (aptly named) vanity, ready for me to put all of it on tomorrow.

Maybe my problem, my dissatisfaction, is that I just want more. I don’t want little bows tied on the end of things, all resolved and cute and rainbow rainbow rainbow!  (sorry, Elizabeth Bishop, I honestly don’t know where that came from).

I remember a guy from high school with the most incredible singing voice you will ever hear.  Once, we were talking to each other at a rehearsal, standing in a small hallway leading into the school’s auditorium.  In such a small space, his voice, even just speaking, was so resonant it seemed to realign the magnetic orbit of every atom in my body.

 

That’s what I want from the world.

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Ah-sigh-eee

Hey, January 11th, 2012, I will not miss you when you’re gone.

As a result of almost no sleep, nonstop classes from 8:30-2:30, no riding and no gym, I’ve been in a very strange mood today.  There are so many things I’m unsure of lately.   My validity as an artist, as a human being, as a stance upon being a human being.  It’s like I’m carrying armfuls upon armfuls of stuff, and I don’t know how to put down what I was carrying before in order to pick something else up.   I want to so desperately, but I don’t know how.

Henry David Thoreau said “most men lead lives of quiet desperation.”  I will allow that I am far from quiet.  But is that enough?

I, very often, feel like I have no idea what I’m doing.

Here’s a precursor-to-a-poem that I wrote in my senior seminar class today.  If you steal it, you especially suck at life because it is almost completely unedited and, quite possibly, really bad.

I will fall down to my knees now, if
that’s okay with you, blood stone
and moon rock all blue bone in the dim
second-hand light, maybe you didn’t
notice the metallic smell or the way I said
ah-sigh-eee, I’m depending on your not
having noticed, the way I set my hair
on fire all kinetic desperation and cool
toner, doused it with water birth,
inkwell and contrast, when love is
empty other lights can scream right
through it to the other side, minimum
security prison, you, with all your
corduroy and blue jean and hiss.

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Looking for love in all the wrong places

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cmvoJ6QiQG0&feature=related

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Even with a cracked sole

Can I just say, where the hell does self-confidence come from?  Because I, honestly, have no idea.

Well, maybe I have one idea.  Let’s talk, for a moment, about my obsession with boots.  I once thought my boot thing began in New York City, but, of course, it goes back much farther than that, to when I began riding horses.  On that level, I feel confident in riding clothes because I feel so comfortable.  Everything has a purpose, and, more importantly, a certain level of resilience.  I find a weird satisfaction in wearing riding clothes out in public, where people will inevitably give me weird looks.  This is also utterly hilarious, because I’ve seen countless non-riders in imitation breeches (with knee patches and everything!) and equestrian-esque boots.  But, of course, if you are wearing them for an actual purpose, people simply cannot fathom it.  I have nothing against this whole “equestrian chic” thing, but that double standard is a little odd.

Anyway, back to the whole boot thing.  I really started wearing them in New York, and that’s because they are absolutely essential.  You walk EVERYWHERE, and you are never guaranteed that any of the paths you will tread will be even relatively clean (especially in winter).  Therefore, boots.  Protect yourself from urban grunge.

I have recently become hyper-aware of the fact that boots have become a pivotal part of my constructed persona.  I wear boots literally every single day.  I wore my boots from New York City until the sole of one was cracked and the other had nothing short of a canyon carved all the way across its width.  I still have those, but I got a much more resilient pair for Christmas this year.  As in, the kind that I could pass on to children, if I ever planned on having any.  The New York boots also found their way into a poem in my SIP: “I didn’t take my boots/ off for days, walked over the carpet in them,/ showered in them, climbed into bed.  Maybe/ that was a mistake.  They’re always reminding/ me it’s possible to keep going even with a cracked/ sole.  Wearing clothes does not mean you stop/ feeling anything, but it helps.”

I really couldn’t tell you exactly what it is.  Maybe it is the fact that I feel protected in a strange way, or maybe it’s because I’m comforted by a constant reminder of horses.  Maybe it’s the strange sense of power that borders on confidence, because it’s easy to feel like you’re sure of your steps when you’re stomping around in boots.

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The pet store of my dreams

Kind of by accident, I ended up in psychology of consciousness and dreams this quarter.  I’m already having problems with it, thanks to my background in philosophy (I don’t really care what you say, you are never going to convince me that there is no free will and that everything we do is biologically determined by structures in our brains)…BUT, I am really looking forward to what comes of my dream log.  I didn’t think I was prone to remembering my dreams, but our prof told us that, if we take a few moments to rehash what was happening in our dream when we wake up, instead of moving immediately onto thoughts of the day, they might stick.  That has been miraculously true so far.  I’ve been remembering quite a few, but this is the first one I wrote down (from last night):

*

The first part I remember is being in a pet store.  It’s huge, but I seem to know my way around it.  In retrospect, I’ve never been there in person, but I vaguely remember the same pet store from another dream.  I find a big cage with a blue macaw in it, and a salesperson helps me get it out.  I pet it, and scratch its neck, and it flips over on its back for me to scratch its belly.  I tell the salesperson that my dad’s Eleanora cockatoo used to do this, that he bought her from Lynne.  I expect the salesperson to know who Lynne is, but she doesn’t, so I repeat it a few times, thinking she’ll get it.  Overall, I’m feeling content.

Then, the dream kind of jumps to our lake house, where a lot of my dreams take place.  When I have a dream at the lake house, everything is exactly as I remember it being there, right down to the trees.  I’m out on the dock by the lake.  I’m my age, and I feel my age.  My cousin, Adam, who is currently 13 and seems a little bit younger in the dream, comes up from the house with the macaw on one hand and my bird, Pogo, on the other.  I’m screaming at him that he shouldn’t have Pogo, because I seem to know that his wings haven’t been clipped and he can fly away if he wants to.  I am absolutely panicking.  I run to my cousin, who seems confused about my anger, and Pogo suddenly flies away from him and up into a tree.  I’m completely hysterical, sobbing, holding out my hand and yelling for Pogo to come back.  He immediately does.  I start running up toward the house, holding him close to my chest.

*

It’s not currently a poem as is, but I can see it.  I’m thinking I’ll turn this class into a poetry project, making poems out of the dreams.

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Say this poem in your chest

It’s a busy week for the Cauldron staff (Kalamazoo College’s literary magazine).  I am in desperate need of sleep and am inclined to hoard my creative energy tonight.  So, here’s one of my favorite poems by Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks:

WITH YOU HERE BETWEEN

Lovers work, so that when body and soul
are no longer together,
their loving will be free.

Wash in wisdom-water, so you will have no regrets
about the time here.

Love is the vital core of the soul,
and of all you see, only love is infinite.

Your non-existence before you were born
is the sky in the east.

Your death is the western horizon,
with you here between.

The way leads neither east nor west,
but in.

Test your love-wings and make them strong.
Forget the idea of religious ladders.
Love is the roof.  Your senses are waterspouts.

Drink rain directly off the roof.
Waterspouts are easily damaged
and often must be replaced.

Say this poem in your chest.
Don’t worry how it sounds
going through your mouth.

A human body is a bow.
Breathing and speech are arrows.

When the quiver and arrows are used up or lost,
there is nothing more for the bow to do.

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A meteor shower I wasn’t even aware was happening

There’s a rumor going around that writers tend to be crazy.  Let me tell you, I believed that I was for so many years.  Or, maybe it’s not that I don’t believe that anymore, maybe it’s that, nowadays, I realize that I am done apologizing for who I am.

I am incapable of doing anything halfway.  I am incapable of hiding my emotions, because they just burst out of me.  When I’m happy, I want to laugh and cry and throw my hands up toward the sky.  When I’m sad, I want to walk out into the nighttime and stare at the darkness as if it’ll give me some answers.

I’m done apologizing for that.  Once, I went out onto my roof in the middle of a crisp, clear, pitch-black autumn night, and somehow stumbled upon a meteor shower I wasn’t even aware was happening that night.

There are things people trade in to be “happy” and stable that I would never trade for my own experience of the world.  I don’t want all the answers, I don’t want to settle for flat lining emotions.  Of course, that’s easy for me to say from this vantage point, when everything seems (more or less) calm.  But, it’s something I like to remind myself.  It’s what the existentialists call “authenticity…” now that is what I’m after, damn it.

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What Would Whitman Do?

Oh, hey, blog.  I almost forgot about you, despite telling you I was going to post every day now.

I would like to riff on the gifts we have received, as poets, from a man in a jaunty hat named Walt Whitman.  I’m TA-ing for Diane Seuss’ Intermediate Poetry class right now, and she starts out by teaching Whitman and Ginsberg.  Her theory is that we can learn by beginning with large brush strokes, coloring with abandon rather than within the lines.  After Whitman and Ginsberg, we’ll move on to poets like Dickinson, William Carlos Williams, and Clifton, who do big things with little poems.  For now, though, it’s Whitman, with his larger-than-life campy persona, inviting us to lean and loafe with him, because what he shall assume, we shall assume.

Whitman is not afraid to take up space—that may be the single most important thing we take away from him.  Lean and f***in’ loafe, people.  This was a difficult lesson for me when I was a freshman in Intermediate Poetry.  It was Spring quarter, and I was at the very lowest low of an existential breakdown.  The assignment was to write either a “song,” with movements, in the style of Whitman, or a “howl” after Ginsberg.  I didn’t feel up to celebrating anything in song, but, at the same time, I didn’t think I had enough energy left in me to howl about anything.  So, I opted for what I thought floated somewhere in between—a battle hymn.  I remember how odd it felt to just let the lines run on and on.  I hadn’t written in weeks.  What resulted from that poem was a momentum that almost knocked me off my feet, and pulled me out of the cave inside myself I hadn’t left for a long time.

I’m submitting that poem to K’s literary magazine, The Cauldron. There’s something about it that still haunts me to this day.  I remember not being able to read it out loud in workshop, because I was always on the verge of crying.  I was slightly reluctant to submit it, because it will, most definitely, take up a lot of space.  After having that thought, I asked myself WWWD (what would Whitman do)?  And I hit send.

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Seeing the world through poetry

I just decided today that one of my new year’s resolutions is to blog EVERY DAY.  No matter what it is.  Maybe that will break me of the ridiculous habit to write 3,000 word blogs that require multiple sittings to read fully!

I want to explain something to you that is nearly impossible to explain, so maybe that’s a lofty goal for my first-ever short (er) post.

When I started my SIP (which is very close to being complete—I’ll post the introduction on here at some point), I thought I was taking the easy way out dropping the critical half and only writing poetry, instead.  Wow, was I wrong.

I could easily have sat down at a desk and pounded out thirty pages of criticism in one week.  Poetry is not so simple.  Beyond the commitment it takes to see one poem to its actualization (every single word matters, every line break, every millimeter of white space), poems dig. They bring things up to the light that you never even knew about yourself, about the world around you.  They grind things into the dirt that you thought were safe.

My life is steeped in poetry.  I’ve just about lost the ability to read anything else, because I feel like there is so much poetry in the world I won’t have time to read already, even if I locked myself in a room for the rest of my life.  Poetry is not the sort of discipline you can just pick up or put down.  There are moments that hit me like a bullet in the chest, and that’s where the poetry comes from.  You start seeing the world through poetry—sometimes it makes you want to laugh until your stomach hurts and you finally remember you’re walking around in a body, sometimes it makes you want to cry until you can’t see anymore.  The real kicker is that the smallest things can do this to you—music in a subway station, a door taken off its hinges and suspended between two chairs, an un-hatched robin’s egg.

Without it, I think I’d start waking up pulling black rose petals one by one from my throat, suffocating.  Life would just start crushing me, and I’d have no way of clawing my way out from beneath its boots.

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