Friday, August 31, 2012

Poetry- The Puddle

The Puddle

It’d been a while
since I came out.
On my own.
The others
had come and gone, and I felt that itch
to use my body for a time
and hear the bristles of grass crackle like fire beneath my feet. 
So I went on my own again.

I was thinking about being acted upon,
            by the heat,
and other representations of grace,
when I came upon a broken pipe.
I’ve never seen a spring, though I’ve often thought
it might look something like this— unannounced,
wedging itself into world
without an apology.  The stream of water
burbled out
and waddled its way over to a puddle.  The birds were having a grand time.
They couldn’t care less
about definitions of nature and society. 

I scared them off
with my approach.  But that sounds more active than it was.  More
that I arrived, and they happened to depart
in a similar proximity. 
The butterfly didn’t seem to mind me too much though.
I decided to take off my flip flops,
and roll up my pants, and wade through. 
If it was good enough for the birds, and babies,
and blades of grass,
then it was probably good enough for me too.

It was soft, the soil, and gave itself to my weight
with a good-natured ease that surprised me.  Not a single complaint.
It’s a good thing
to hear water on a hot day!  I climbed the fence barefoot
and tread through the wet grass. I turned
and saw a sheet of sky
reflected in the grass.  Nice, to see those two
holding hands again.  The frogs, those oracles of blessed dissonance,
where the two seams meet they will be loud there tonight,
and I like the idea
that one of them might find some respite
in the puddle of my footprint.


  1. hi steve ... there are many very good phrases in this poem ("wedging itself into the world") and sharp observations ("sheet of sky") and wordsworthian abstractions ("oracles of blessed dissonance") and prosy moments ("but that sounds more active than it was") and a bit of iconicity in the isolation of "glare" ... and the poem sprawls across the page and is at ease with form ... I wondered whether you revise extensively or just let the connections grow organically ...
    - chinapete

  2. How nice to see you here. :)

    I _do_ draft, but I'm unconvinced I think it's extensively. Sometimes I still do, but the poems over the last year have been more at ease with being a bit looser in form. I have drafted a lot in the past, and I found it gave me sometimes sharper clarity of image and less waste, but they lost a certain sort of "baggy humanity" to them. My wife would love that I'm saying that. She's been after me for years to capture my own voice better, and to let my writing be a bit looser and more conversational. I'm a fan of Proust and Tolstoy, but I also have loved my Hemmingway (as seemingly all good young American men must at some point). So, I'm sure you see the dichotomy.

    Currently, I speak many of my poetry into my earpiece and record it on my phone as I go about my daily activities. Sometimes whole poems, but more often titles or ideas or fragments. Then, later, I transcribe them as I play them back. What's been nice about this process is that a) it lets me keep the ideas fresh, because I'm not trying to pry them out of the air and onto a piece of paper before they're ready, and b)it keeps the VOICE in the poem right from the get go.

    I don't care much for Charles Olson's poetry, but I like his Black Mountain poetics, and the idea of the voice being the guiding principle for modern free verse, and where your line breaks go. Denise Levertov did a lot of that too-- she described it like musical notation, a way of demonstarting rhythm and timing visually, etc. That's sort of the idea set I come from on line breaks, etc. I'm more about the somehow getting the body and the voice into the poem through the free verse line, than I am about playing with other modes of thought.

    I also have decided in the last year or so to stop fearing writing bad poetry. There used to be a fear that sort of pushed me to revise, as if I wasn't going to get many more ideas, and I needed to craft these ones to perfection before I let them go. Well, I sort of let that idea go. In its place, more ideas have come. I'm more interested in expressing the concept with clarity and some humanity nowadays, than I am in some sort of poetic ideal.

    I would say a lot of that comes from a love of certain Modernists, like we've discussed, but also the sort of amazing ease with which Li Po and Tu Fu seem to write. I have some feeling I just can't shake, that if I let go and sort of write attentive poems that I draft less (to clean up and focus mostly), that I may make more bad poems for the next 10 years, but that it will teach me to be able to eventually write more good poems with a "breezy" sort of ease to them in time.

    It's much like the idea that you can't "craft" a perfect calligraphic line-- you have to paint them over and over again, in the moment, screwing up again and again, until eventually you learn to make them with ease. The difficulty is that poetry lets you craft it as much as you want, right? I think you can just over-craft it-- like so much poetry coming out of MFA's and workshops in colleges around the US, that is beautiful but dead.

  3. Ha! Shame you can't edit posts on this type of blog. Sigh.....

    BTW, do you write? You must. You know what you're talking about.

  4. ... what distinguishes poetry from prose is ... poetry, what makes a certain line calligraphic is ... calligraphy ... whether poetry/prose or calligraphy/not-calligraphy are distinctions worth preserving, your generation will decide :-)

    "no verse is free for the person who wants to do a good job" Eliot wrote that or sth similar ... his Waste Land revolutionized poetry also because it was typewritten ... now technology has come round to voice before the written text ... listeners over readers ... thoughts before thinking? :-)

    ... to be continued ...

  5. First thought best thought, eh? ;)

    And indeed, no free verse is free. It's __working__, making meaning, whether you tend to it or not. Therefore, usage the tool given.

    As for distinctions between poetry and prose, calligraphy and non-calligraphy, etc. ..... isn't it all meant to be an expression of being human? Labels are what readers and viewers of art create (even when it's the artist himself viewing his own work, after the fact)..... __Making__ tends to set those things aside, IMO.

  6. fair enough ... but some modes of expression worth preserving must be taught, distinctions have to be made ... you are among those teaching them ... we lost a generation in the '20s, didn't we? :-) ... and then again in the '60s? ... no need to lose another ...

  7. Recording a few thoughts, as if called on to review "The Puddle" :-)

    In The Puddle, the narrator wanders in an undefined landscape, more rural than urban, situated at the margins of civilization -- a broken pipe, an accidental puddle ... But that puddle is not the one signalled in the title of the poem ... There is a second puddle, equally unforeseen, but making a deeper impression, since it is the narrator himself who creates it ...

    For much of the poem, the reader and narrator glide effortlessly through the landscape without any apparent aim other than to walk and observe, the narrator notices things and offers conversation, table-talk that draws on reflections no doubt gained from wide reading (knowledge of some aspects of contemporary philosophy, linguistics, sociology and psychology are implied in the phrase "I was thinking about being acted on") ... And the narrator is capable of a fair amount of casual speech ("the birds were having a grand time") ...

    The reader-narrator drift in this state of weightlessness until the very end of the poem, when the narrator, who believes his arrival on the scene did not scare away the birds, allows his presence to be felt, when his mark made on the landscape in the form of a footprint in soggy soil ...

    Although it opens gingerly and in abstractions, The Puddle ends in a concrete image akin to Crusoe's single human footprint discovered in the sands of a remote beach -- a moment artfully illustrated by NC Wyeth -- recalling that scene might be relevant because the author of The Puddle is also an accomplished painter who has good powers of synthesis, verbal and visual ...

    The reader may wonder about the encounter with the first puddle ... Was that meant to be a foreshadowing of some sort, an image of an image yet to be presented, a play of presence/absence, a mirage-puddle? ... That puddle, the ones the birds delight in, vanishes, but the footprint puddle is given full human weight, as a thing definitely there in an abstract landscape ...

  8. Thank you! Your reading reminds me of Stevens' "Anecdote of the Jar". And you've gotten me to pick up and peruse some TS Eliot after a decade, so that can't be bad news! :)

    I admit I sort of "wade into" the poem. A habit of mine. I like to find my subject, and experience says good ideas root in the dirt you give them. So, the successful poems come back around to those earlier moments of their own accord-- like a plant to light. That comes out of drafting too, as you become a reader of your own poem. Besides, you can't hold on to ideas alone-- was it Williams or Gertrude Stein who said "No ideas but in things"?

  9. ... it was Pound, then Williams, who didn't improve much on what Pound had said :-) ...

    ... "wandering" (if I might call it that) is a powerful source for creativity, and explains in part my obsession with line in poetry and in painting ... the challenge is to be an insightful mental traveler, to "take the line for a walk" as Klee once said ... the Chinese literary expression is 卧游 (wòyóu, lie down: travel) :-)