Sunday, January 31, 2021

THE MAKING OF A POEM

In creating many of my poems I have begun with an idea or inspiration, or sometimes an entire line, a donee as my poetry mentor, Colette Inez, called it, which I understood as a gift from the Muse. When I checked in an online dictionary, it was defined as a set of literary or artistic principles or assumptions on which a creative work is based. However, I recently worked on a poem that seemed much more like construction than a flight of images descending from the heavens.  

I had been sitting innocently at the breakfast table reading my morning Scripture when I casually glanced outside.  I can look out a huge bay window from the table and see my angel garden with the St. Francis fountain.  This particular morning I looked farther afield and found myself staring at what I thought was a telephone pole. The wires strung from the pole frequently host bevies of birds, often mourning doves but house finches and other avian visitors as well. This time, though, I was struck by the morning sun reflecting off something connecting the pole to the wire, two large cylindrical objects.  I couldn't ever remember seeing light shining from the direction of the pole in exactly that way although I've lived in this house for over 35 years and sat at that table in the same chair to eat my breakfast for most of the eight years since my husband died. I registered the impression but in some ways, it seemed so humdrum that I didn't think much about it except to wonder if I would ever do anything with it.

The next morning as I enjoyed my vegetable frittata and smoked salmon, I noticed a hummingbird zooming in near the window and enjoying the nectar from the scented camellia blossoms that are scattered up and down the slender branches. It reminded me of Ezra Pound's stunning two line poem, "In a Station of the Metro:"

The apparition of these faces in the crowd:    

Petals on a wet, black bough.

It was even more meaningful now that I have ridden on the Paris metro, a more elevating experience than the dirt and smells of the NYC subway where I commuted for several years. As I watched the hummingbird flit erratically from one blossom to the next, and thought of the electric chirp that these birds make, along with the whirring of their wings, I wondered if there was a connection I could make between the telephone pole and the hummingbird, but it was idle musing at the time that I tucked away somewhere in a back synapse of my mind.

Several days later, I was idly scrolling through house listings. My daughter had recommended that I just look at possibilities.  My house was built for the ten of us when my parents and my husband were alive and our six children were still all at home. My daughters are all married, and my son finally moved out, and during these Covid times I had been unwilling to look for a house cleaner, although keeping up with all that needs to be done in such a big house is beyond me. Elizabeth told me that I might want to look into a smaller home or a condo that would be easier to maintain; she said I can do it without any sense that I have to move or that I would be moving at any time in the near future but just to give me a sense of freedom in the possibility of being able to do it sometime if I choose.  What I found myself looking at were homes in the same town that are all about the same size, some even larger and with more than the half-acre that I have now. What they all have in common is that they are almost all clean and staged for selling. Very few have the piles of papers that surround me at my desk in my office or the week's layer of dust that lies on much of my furniture.  At some point, it occurred to me that I might ask a real estate agent if they have a cleaning service that would work for me.

Before I veered off down that path, though, I had started to put together a poem with the first two images--the telephone pole and the hummingbird. First, though, I had to do some research on what the cylindrical objects were between the pole itself and the wire. I learned first that what I had been observing is not a telephone pole but a utility pole and the cylinders are insulators. I discovered a great many things about the construction of utility poles but none to the purpose of my poem.  With that information under my belt, I sat in the living room in front of a sunny window to counteract the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder; it was the one sunny period of a day with downpours and hail. I sketched out three stanzas, each with a different focus, and then had to do something else, but I determined to work on a revision the next day.

This was the first draft:


First I took out the third, fourth, and sixth lines of the last stanza--which seemed either too blatant or banal--and instead added two lines about my househunting, including the phrase "none coded mine."  That chimed with the last lines of the previous stanzas about the revelation or secret that was closed to me.  Then I pulled out my rhyming dictionary and started reconstructing the lines so I could find a rhyme or slant rhyme for every ending word.  

After another hour's work, I had the current version.


Originally, the last two lines were one iambic pentameter line, but I decided to break them up, leaving them shorter and emphasizing the more restricted life I live now as a widow. I chose the title to underline the fact that there are messages all around me that I can't understand--yet.



Sunday, January 24, 2021

INCOMPLETE STEPS

I would love to have my life totally organized. I have a whole shelf of books on how to organize everything, from my house to my projects to my garden to my correspondence, and on and on. At times I fantasize about dedicating a different day each week to a different aspect of my life.  Monday was always my poetry day, and in pre-pandemic days it was also the evening for choir practice.  I'd like to have a day for working on my book and it is often Thursday because my business partner is helping me get it into the format for submission. She used to run a publishing company in Austria and she knows better than I how to get it in shape. Friday is the day I have my horn lesson, and I also have my journaling program in the morning.  

However, other things pop out at me when I'm least expecting it. For example, this morning when I was journaling, I noticed that sunlight was bouncing off the telephone wires in a particular way, and wondered if that could be the jumping-off point for a poem. Shortly afterwards, one of our hummingbirds spent a great deal of time sipping breakfast from my scented camellias, and I thought of a poetry departure there, and then I wondered if I could put the two together, since the sounds that hummingbirds made often sound like an electrical humming, and in fact I wrote a poem based on this observation called "Electrical Engineer." Now I can't remember what the focus was and I realize I need to have a notebook nearby to start poems so I don't have to get up and find something to write on--I could write in my journal and I have in the past, but at times I'm afraid I'll lose my musings in the recording of my daily events.  

Saturday is the day I water my orchids--each pot has to be sunk up to the rim in water with fertilizer for an hour, and watering them all can easily take most of the day. I started with one orchid that I bought in Laguna Beach on the first trip my husband and I took there for our anniversary.  That orchid did so well in my north kitchen window, that friends started buying me orchids, or giving me the ones they had that never bloomed, and now the whole garden window is full of them.  They are just starting to push out their flower spikes over the last couple of weeks, but by February or March, the whole window will be a riot of blooms.

On Sundays, I have two or three Zoom calls--Weight Watchers, our family Zoom, and twice-monthly a Beginning Experience call.  By the end of the afternoon on the days when I have three, I usually feel Zoomed out.  I used to have to get up at 5 so I could practice before playing horn at the 9:00 Mass at my parish, but there is no choir now so I usually go to the 5:30 Mass on Saturday evening, since it's often warmer then, and they have heaters on the patio where we have Mass.

My word for this year is "Create," and so far I've written two new poems and revised another. I'd also like to organize the drawer that holds all the poems I've submitted in the last few months and be able to submit more, as well as finally finish my poetry chapbook.  Again, it's an incomplete project, waiting on some more comments from my daughter.

I suppose all of life is like that, especially with the pandemic putting so many things on hold. I have a big pot of soup on the stove that I need to put in the refrigerator so I have some healthy things to eat when I don't feel like cooking.  But I never quite seem to finish any of my big projects--and I suppose that life is always an ongoing project. It would be boring if everything was suddenly finished!

Sunday, January 17, 2021

LIFE-SAVING POETRY

I had a little over 6 months to prepare for my beloved husband's death. He had been diagnosed with terminal cancer just after Easter, and the oncologist told us that only 5% of people with this cancer survived even 6 months.  He lived just a little past 6 months, and during all that time I was in despair, wondering how I could ever go on living without him. After he died, I felt as if I had experienced a major earthquake, flood, and wildfire all at once. I was alternately numb and pierced by grief, aware that the landscape of my life had changed and would never be what it had been again.  Becoming a widow was terrifying. Most of my friends were couples and priests I had known through our work in World Wide Marriage Encounter, and the work had vanished with Wes so that I felt even more isolated and alone.  I no longer had the best friend I'd had since I was 17 and he was 16, nor the mission and purpose we'd had for the past 30 years.

Being a poet, I began to pour out my sorrow and desolation into new poems that were darker and went deeper than anything I'd ever written before. More of my poems were accepted for publication, and the editor of the journal that had accepted more of my poetry than any other told me that these poems resonated with many of her readers. One morning several years later, I realized that I had written a poem about our son that had no shadow of my husband's death lying over it; it was a poem of sheer gratitude for remembered snapshots of moments spent with him at the Wild Animal Park over many years.

That poem inspired me to begin the chapbook that is now almost finished, called "Portal of Light," which has engaged me for over two years, has required that I walk back down into the valley of the shadow of my husband's death, and laboriously climb back up again, having gained an appreciation for all that I have not lost, as well as all that I have been given since he died.  In many ways my poetry has brought me back to life, not the life I wanted, but the life I have been called to live.

I learned in the selection from Plutarch on Nicias that we read in our book club recently that poetry can be life-saving in other ways.  After the Athenians under the leadership of Nicias lost a disastrous battle to the Syracusans in Sicily, Plutarch notes, "Some of the Athenians were also saved thanks to Euripides. Apparently the Greeks in Sicily were keener on his poetry than any other nonmainland Greeks, and longed to hear it. They would learn by heart the occasional small specimens and samples that reached the island through visitors and one of their great pleasures was to share them with one another. Anyway, the story goes that at the time in question many of the survivors who made it back home greeted Euripides warmly when they met him, and told him either that they had been released from slavery for having taught their owners all they could remember of his verses, or, in some cases, that when they were wandering about after the battle they were given food and water for singing some of his songs." Plutarch commented, "If this is true, there is no need to doubt another story." He wrote that "Some Caunians were once trying to bring their ship into the harbor to escape some pirate vessels. At first the Syracusans refused to let them in, and actually prevented them from entering. Later, however, they asked whether the Caunians knew any of Euripides' songs. The Caunians said they did, and then the Syracusans let them in and helped them beach their ship." Thus, the verse of the author of Medea and Helen of Troy and another 16 or so tragedies extant today even rescued sailors from pirates!

Many times, as I struggled to keep from drowning in grief, I clung not only to the creation of my own poetry but to a verse or a stanza from another poet, as to a mast left adrift from a sinking ship, and rode it until I could find a harbor. It was never the harbor I was hoping for, but it was a harbor, and those times at anchor gave me strength to set sail again.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

SPARKLE, SPARKLE!

It all began when I was discussing the sounds that instruments make as expressed by onomatopoeia. While we have rather simple expressions such as "tootle" for the flute or "rum pum pum" for the drum, I couldn't think of any word that would reveal the mellow tone of the French horn, and when I went on the internet to research it further, there apparently was nothing. From there we wandered into other onomatopoeias and my oldest granddaughter, who is not quite 21, said there is a word in Korean that is similar to an onomatopoeia, "banjjak banjjak," that means sparkle or twinkle. Since I love anything that sparkles or twinkles or shines, I immediately fell in love with the word. It had something mesmerizing about it. I had already picked my word for the year (this was the first time I ever did this, but I decided I was tired of New Year's Resolutions and much preferred a word  to give me a focus for my hopes and dreams for 2021). My word for the year is "create," but I then decided that "banjjak banjjak" is the effect I hope to have on both myself and others who experience what I create. Then I plunged into a new poem that I hoped would express both the experience and the desire that seem to be poured into that word and sound.

At first, I just titled the poem "Banjjak banjjak," but eventually I decided that I needed to intrigue the reader but not bewilder them, because I doubt that I have a large readership who speak Korean. I changed the title to "SPARKLING ON THE ROAD TO 21," since I owe the departure on this whole poetic adventure to my granddaughter who is on her own adventure to becoming 21.

The first version was very bland, almost prose, but it was an effort to get my ideas on paper, in lines, and in a first poetic attempt.  Very often, these first versions almost put me off from doing anything further with what I've written.  They frequently seem simplistic, puerile, and superficial.  What I've learned over the years is that they are like the marble Michelangelo had that he turned into David. Although Michelangelo always seemed to know exactly where he was going--he allowed the marble to speak to him--I just have to believe that there is a more finished poetic form hidden beneath the bland words and awkward phrasing.  

I begin by marking off the line endings since what I have come to recognize as my voice is that every line has another rhyme or slant or inexact rhyme somewhere else in the poem.  Sometimes I discover a couplet as I am writing the poem, but most of the time, I have to rework the line or change the final word in order to sychronize the whole poem.  This is where the excitement begins--looking for a word that will work, that will bring the poem to a new height, that will exactly express what I want it to.  Often I can reach that in a second draft, but more often it takes three or more to work everything in. And some poems have lain dormant for years before I've felt up to tackling them. Now that I have taken "create" as my word for 2021 I have worked more intensely just in the week or so since 2021 began to craft better poems out of the ones I scribbled down in the last few weeks, and I believe that I am going to create amazing, sparkling writing as I delve into the new year.


Sunday, January 3, 2021

COMPUTER EVOLUTION AND MIGRATION

Seven years ago, soon after my dear husband died, I bought my first computer. We had always had a PC since my husband was a very linear man and needed it in his legal work. But the one we owned at the time of his death was infected with so many viruses, that my son-in-law, who is a computer expert, told me that it couldn't be saved, and I would have to buy a new one. My son and I both had Apple laptops, so I decided to get at 27" iMac desktop.  I went to the Apple store, did some research, spoke to several salespeople at the store and walked out with a box containing my new computer.  I loved its sleek design and easily adapted to its use. It has been constantly in use ever since. However, last year Apple told me that the computer was now categorized as "vintage," and this year it has entered the ranks of the "obsolete." It became increasingly slow and started to freeze unexpectedly, so I decided it was time for a new one.  

I couldn't just go into an Apple store this time and ask for an iMac 27 and carry it out.  I discovered that each desktop has to be built to the purchaser's expectations, as there are now 10 different choices one has to make in how the computer is configured. One has to decide on the Intel Core processor, and how much Turbo Boost it should have, how many GB memory, how much SSD storage (up to 8 TB are available), how much Radeon Pro memory, how much internet GB, whether one wants the new Nano-texture glass, a Magic Mouse and a Magic Keyboard, and whether one wants Apple Care. Once I made all these decisions, after talking to my son-in-law and also my business partner, I ordered the computer and signed up to trade in my old one for a very modest refund.

In a few weeks the computer finally appeared at my door. I called Apple for help since they have a handy "Migration Assistant" that supposedly can transfer everything from the old to the new computer.  I had three different Apple assistants, none of whom could complete the migration which was threatening to take a lot longer than 24 hours each time.  At that point, I realized that the old computer's habit of duplicating and triplicating and quadruplicating my photos was just clogging the migration. When the problem first occurred, the computer was new, and I spent the first three years, hauling my computer up to the Apple Store in hopes someone could help me fix the issue.  Everyone at the store got to know me and my computer quite well, but no one could understand why it was doing this, or how to fix it.  Eventually, I started calling Apple, and spoke to many a Tier 2 person, but none of them could help. I started my business, and occasionally would work at deleting duplicates, but it seemed like a hopeless job.  

Finally, I convinced the Apple return people, after many conversations, that my son-in-law thought he could resolve it when he came down for Thanksgiving. He started downloading all the pictures to a hard drive in the morning, and they were finally downloaded by the end of the day.  Then it took another day for him to run the hard drive through a program he had on his computer (also a Mac). At the end of the day, the program had deleted 50,000 duplicate photos. He uploaded the 15,000 that weren't duplicates to my new computer, and I spent the next day, deleting everything from both iPhoto and Photos on my old computer.

However, that wasn't the only issue with the migration, although it was the worst.  Because my old computer was so ancient, I couldn't just transfer some of the programs to the new one, like my financial program, password program, Scrivener for my writing, and Adobe Elements, which is the heart of my greeting card business.  I had to purchase new versions of each of these. So I waited for my son-in-law to come back for Christmas, at which time he helped me move or download everything else I needed from the old computer, and he wiped it at long last!

I called Apple to request a new label so I can now ship the old one back for my refund. They had already shipped me three boxes to return the computer, and I kept telling them that I wasn't ready to send it back because of the flaw in the old computer.  They finally said they would just send me a new label with the date the computer had to be returned, and I felt a great sense of relief, until I read the information that came with the label, and it said I was returning my new computer!  I called Apple back and explained the issue, and they said they would escalate my issue to a specialist but that it would probably take at least 9 days for someone to get back to me.  So I have the old computer in the third box they sent me waiting for the correct label, but at least now I have only one 27" screen on my desk so I can see my garden again and I am enjoying a computer that has the speed I was hoping for and does not chug along like an old jalopy that may give up the ghost at any moment.  I just hope that I can finally get the correct label, get the computer returned, and get my refund at last!