Saturday, September 9

poetry 5 + studio business

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My senior year of college (5 years ago now!), I was lucky to be able to take classes in the graduate program in poetry at my university. I was working three jobs, taking 17 credits, rehearsing for a show, and trying to write my thesis, on top of what constituted my 'normal' life--boyfriend, friends, artmaking. But walking into the poetry classroom every week was permission to play, to make, to enjoy. I frolicked among the words (maybe to some of my older classmates' chagrin).

I wrote about winter in the far north ("Canon," a long poem of 8 sections) that fall:


Your winter atlas

is the burning
of old letters,

curling before
they have a chance
to char.
The flames

at your ankles
push you further
into wide darkness,

and night comes
like an owl
when you are lost.

An expanse of stars

fits in your palm,
that stippled plain.

Looking at it now, I can see all its flaws: it lacks balance (every stanza is endstopped--predictable and repetitive in form and rhythm), it relies on my 'old tricks' (words like 'wide' and 'stars;' the demonstrative 'that'). But I can also recall what a huge discovery was going on at this time. How all of a sudden words were constellating themselves differently: Call something back. As differentiated from re.member. Put something back together from its parts.

This was the beginning.

I wrote earlier about Emily Dickinson and snow and walking around.

come in

Then it was spring and I was writing love poems (my habitual mode; one of my classmates in graduate school typified my work as 'love poems and prayers,' which I liked--maybe more on the love poem in another post) and relearning punctuation. From "Disappearing Acts":

We touched snow in one another’s tracks, stars & ice witness—
these have faded: the four of icicles, the jack of winter nights alone.

My hand is emptied. I won’t cry for you, shadow, for the forgotten nights
like bird tracks on sand. I’m not the woman anyone can cut in half by hand,

hacksaw singing through her body; flesh
and bone, not the wood of stringed instruments. Every day slipping through my fingers is another move away—

I’m asking for something
geometric. No more
of this sleight-of-hand, your white hands moving in the unlit room.
I can’t wait, silent woman in the dark, when the world is finally warming—

Good: beginning to use punctuation, not just scatter it around. Becoming conscious of it. Bad: well, maybe everything else: high melodrama factor, refernce to crying, lots of end-stops again, etc. I do like the woman-sawed-in-half image and the end images in line three. Otherwise, it's loose and sloppy. But, unlike everything I had written before, it doesn't end with a period.

I love the idea that punctuation is as representational and meaningful as a word: that it holds specific utterance--nonverbal, but present. I love the long (em-) dash, the colon, the semi-colon. I like the Oxford comma ('x, y, and z'). I don't much care for the ellipse (...). I remember actually figuring out (by reading Dickinson, actually) that the dash, the comma, the period all stood in for different kinds of breath--and I could make the reader breathe the way I wanted her to by using them.

I like now that I can look at these and (though I cringe a bit) not judge the younger me for what I wrote. These days, I think of every new poem as a draft towards a more perfect poem. I rarely go through exhaustive changes and revisions as I used to. More often than not I have a sense of a poem's workability as I'm writing it. It's enough sometimes to write the poem that is a gift, is a letter, is a one-off. They're all practise for other work. Other play.

That's enough of that, I think. To end the serious part: a love poem, a favorite.

A Portrait in Nine Lines

E. Ethelbert Miller

I want to hold your face in my hands
just for its laughter. I love your hat.
I was standing in a bookstore when
you turned the corner. Page after page
reminds me of your arms. The wind
sits in a park reading a book of your
poems. Is today your birthday? Yes
is such an easy word to say. I know.
This is the portrait of you I love.


I'd love to hear your responses to any of this. I'll write back in the comments--or you're welcome to email me if you'd like (ohbara at gmail dot com).

And, studio-box-expecting people: here's the deal. I've boxed up everything and it's set to mail by Wednesday of this week (depending on how many trips to the P.O. I have to make! There are a ton of boxes!). I didn't include notes or niceties; I popped things in willy-nilly sometimes. But in many I was able to include little scrap packets like these:
Just tiny bits (I really use up my fabric, so when I think of scraps, I mean tiny pieces for quilting or zakkaing!) all bundled together. It was late last night when I finished, so the light in the photo is poor.

Watch your mailboxes!


Blogger lisa s said...

so much. not sure how to say it. your old tricks are new to me. i love how you attack your own work - one of the hardest things to do i think. and re.member are now cemented into my brain.

also a fan of punctuation [although you must hate my overusage of ... i can't help it... there are pauses in my mind and thus that represents them !!]

i also love what you say about growth. i feel the same in the studio. i don't agonize as much as i used to. i trust more - that - if nothing else is worth getting older for, yes?

thank you so much for sharing. sorry for a bullishly long comment... xo

12:30 PM  
Blogger eireann said...


no--your elipses suit you! I don't like them for ME. :) I don't have anything the necessitates them, so I find when I use them it's because I'm not thinking/working hard enough.

Thank you for such a thoughtful comment.

12:56 PM  
Anonymous Amy said...


Talk about the world wide web--I'm here in Eden Prairie, learned about your blog from Britain's Yarnstorm, and you're in Minneapolis but about to leave for France! I'm sorry to have just discovered your site as you're getting ready to leave.

I love the thoughtfulness you put into your work and into reading others. I've been writing fiction for several years, but am increasingly drawn to poetry. I do read (and buy!) poetry but have no idea where to start. Do you know of any particularly good "beginner" books for writing poetry?


11:00 AM  
Blogger Austen G. said...

Eireann, again, a pleasure to read your post. To see that someone else thinks about punctuation, takes words apart and puts them back together again. Measures her growth by her writing. I'm enjoying this series. Thank you.

6:50 PM  
Anonymous Jecca said...

Eireann, thank you so much for the gift of these posts. I love your photo of the snowy gate -- reminds me of my years at St. Kate's. I was a poet back then, too. I like "stippled plain" -- it's so brave and helpful to use your own work to teach us. The Miller poem is fantastic. Thank you.

11:49 AM  

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