Sunday, December 17, 2006

On Life and Death and Poetry

My musings on death, specifically, my answer to a friend's question out of the diminishing ozone: "What do you think happens to you after you die?" has been waylaid by life. Life and meat and law. As it earlier was exploded (imploded?) by real death and life and poetry. Specifically, the death of a poet, Kari Edwards, who danced on the margins. So, there. So there. And now not.

And, now, the abuses at the meat packing plants, from that acrid stench that comes to us at certain times of year, the wafts of death mist from Greeley, the leavings of the meat that we, too, are to so many (too many) twisted strangers, reduced to pigs on the feed lot, cows on the wire cubicles of force-fed choice. I have an account written by a woman about her struggles to co-parent with the Mexican father of her child and how what *is* illegal in this country is to be poor and Mexican. People think it shouldn't be such a big deal, they get their papers for their spring break debauch, or visit Paris after high school, or visit the old family farm in Ireland but it is virtually impossible to visit the United States if you are Mexican unless you have at least $10,000 cash in the bank (back then, way more now) and own a business and have living close relatives still in Mexico. No matter that you are married to a US citizen (especially if you are male and your wife is not a white woman), have a job there and an employer who will vouch for you or that you have a child. The waiting time alone, is more than half the life of the child, a child without a father until she or he is a teen; a time waiting for a visa or a green card, literally and figuratively, that is all your life. Why? Because you are Mexican. Oh, yeah, and poor. And, if you're an orphan and poor, fahgeddabouit. Ten thousand dollars in the bank. That's what can keep you from your child. Your wife. Your work. Your life. It's a horrific account of a couple years spent going through all the legal channels in four states in Mexico and three in the US, but I'd have to type it into this computer unless I can get it scanned. People should read it. Real life. For some. Sad life. For others.

Meanwhile, I've missed another deadline -- there's something wrong when the time to prepare manuscripts for publication, put books to bed, send manuscripts out, apply for grants, etc., corresponds with the busiest time in academia. I don't have time to deal with po'biz for po'biz. Meanwhile, I gave two finals yesterday beginning at 7:30 in the morning. Can I help but feel it's an unnatural way to inspire a love of poetry? Give me Paolo Freire anytime. Or, a graduate poetry workshop. [sigh]

So, now it is December and the grading has begun ... to cop from an old "folk song" from the Isle of Mann. "Now it is September and the killing has begun."

So, time to eat, time to not eat the poor pigs. But, for diversions sake ... the grace. I found this poetry meme at Jessica's, one of my favorite po' bloggers. She writes "My Life by Poetry" and wants to know what us "older poets" would write. Fair enough.

My Near-Death by Poetry

A poetry meme from Jessica via Michelle:

The first poem I remember reading was... I don't remember. What I usually say is that I don't remember a time in my life when poetry wasn't at the center of my life. I heard poetry read on my mother's records, particularly Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Gibran. "How do I love you? Let me count the ways." I still love her. Dang, I think now, that's what I'm doing now. I've turned into EBB in my old age. [sigh - just need an RB] The first poem I remember reading and getting paid for is "The Wind" by Robert Louis Stevenson. My father gave me a copy of A Child's Garden of Verse when I was about 7. I can still recite it, and I still like it. Weird, what gets stuck in your grey matter. I had a really good relationship with my grandmother's boyfriend, Edward Long, and I could read it so it made him cry. A whole quarter for a reading of "The Wind" with as much feeling as I could muster at 7 or 8. I wrote about it in my poem, "For Edward Long" -- "I know wherever you are you'll be reading poems, and this is how I'll find you."

I was forced to memorize numerous poems in school and... this is not a correct statement. I used to say that I'm glad poetry wasn't taught in our barrio school, I would have ended up hating it. I worry that I don't feel like it's a great honor to have a poem of mine selected for the NEA poetry recitation program -- I don't feel good about the whole competitive edge to it, and that the kids aren't reading or writing their own poems, and that it will just make some middle schooler hate me and poetry for the rest of their life because some teacher forced him or her to memorize "Refugee Ship."

I read poetry because... the whole world is there: the known and the knowable and the unknown and the ineffable, the living and the dead. Mostly the dead.

A poem I'm likely to think about when asked about a favorite poem... is whatever I'm reading and loving at the moment. Poems by favorite people, like the one Bob (Hass) was working on when I was studying with him (when he was around to be my guru), "Songs to Survive the Summer." Otherwise, probably "Andando/ Walking Around" by Pablo Neruda: "It seems I am tired of being a man..." is my longest lasting love. I got to rewrite it last summer, allowed myself to, to pay homage to it and I published it in the last book, slipped it in at the last moment; It's called, "Sleeping Around" -- "It seems I am tired of being a woman...". It's a major joke in my household that "Oh, that one's my favorite!" is my most frequently voiced sentence. "No! That one! *That* one's my favorite!" I think the key to life is having lots of favorites. Like Julia de Burgo's poem, "Julia de Burgos" -- "You lie, Julia de Burgos, you lie!" is my favorite. Jessica mentioned Susan Howe, I, too, love Susan Howe's Thorow. I have lots of favorite poems from fella po' bloggers too.

I write poetry, but... I could be the Ben & Jerry's of chaya if I were that sort of (practical) person. But, Noooooooo. I have to go and be all ethereal and sh*t.

My experience with reading poetry differs from my experience with reading other types of literature... not much. I once spent about a dozen formative years reading almost nothing but poetry. And, why not, when the whole world's there?

The last time I heard poetry... was yesterday at my students' final presentation for Intermediate Poetry Workshop. One of their final poetry projects was to put their poetry in "real time". This is always my favorite time of the semester. I love how much better people get. I get all emotional and happy. I probably would have gone out dancing afterwards after going to see "The Miracle at Tepeyac" and to the tamale festival put on by Su Teatro in Denver except that I'd been up all night and was exhausted. The reading (scheduled during their weird final time of 10:30 am) was really great, and energizing because of it. I wish I had recorded it, but having to give a Modern Poetry final at 7:30 am, I didn't have time to get my camera equipment together. I have an old sony cam, but it takes really great footage and good sound, it's just bulky to schlep. Weird, too, that the U schedules finals on a saturday beginning of Chanukkah. But, thanks class, I really did hear some *poetry* and that's always good. Keeps me alive and glad of it.

I think poetry is like... nuclear physics, said Jessica. And I agree. I have one student who's writing poems inspired by astrophysics, good poems. I woke up this morning with the strange first thought that if a poem has a quark in it, you have got me every time. Who knows what I was dreaming.

Tagging ... you. Ya wanna play?

Poetry. Peace. Expatriates, all.


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