Life as a left-handed Bluejay

About 16 years ago, around 1996, I started writing short interlinked poems, in a simple rhymed ABBA quatrain form. I was modelling them on some poems & sequences of poems I admired, by Osip Mandelstam. Written toward the end of his life while living in exile in Voronezh, a Russian provincial river-town, the poems were collected posthumously in the Voronezh Book or Voronezh Notebooks. I liked many things about these poems, including their very lyrical pathos and their sketchy, "outdoors", plein air quality - & also the way individual poems echoed & responded to each other in short sequences.

About the time I was just getting started with this, I remember sitting out in the backyard & hearing, for the first time, a bluejay really improvising - like a kind of strange scat-singing. Somehow this experience got infused quite deeply into what I was trying to do in poetry : the sketchy improvisatory element, but also the persistent desire to synthesize things, in longer complex works... the result, after a couple years, was a book-length poem, Stubborn Grew - which, just as soon as I finished it, triggered two even longer book-length sequels (The Grassblade Light & July). Finally, around 2000, I finished it, & called the whole thing Forth of July. (All these books, & others, are available here.)

That was over a decade ago. Since then, I've never really gotten out of the groove of that simple ABBA form. I've made a few forays in other directions, but never for long. I've written at least 2 more long sequences - "India Point" (in the book Dove Street), and Rest Note. Repeatedly, upon finishing one of these long poems, I take a deep breath & say to myself : "OK, that's it. Time for something completely different." Yet here I am, writing (for a couple years now) yet another poem in this vein (Lanthanum).

It's gotten to feel a lot like sculpture - or better, woodcarving. I'm very, very comfortable with it. But that doesn't mean it's easy for me. It's as though a special idiom, or language, or way-of-speaking, or mask (persona) has fused & intertwined itself with a particular form (these quatrains, in a repetitive-numerical design). & I feel most free & intellectually alive when I'm in the midst of composing these poems, working out the words & imagery & meanings I want to hint at or convey - elaborating, again & again, on old, cherished, half-expressed themes. When I'm not actively focused & composing the poems, well... lets' say the process makes me happy. So, this see-saw between writing & not-writing tends to make me feel perpetually a little on edge, off-balance... I'm in a co-dependency relationship with a left-handed woodcarving Muse. Something like that.

So I'm writing these long, seemingly-endless, repetitive series of poems, continuous variations on a simple form & a few themes. My approach does not have much in common with the short, direct-hit manner of much contemporary verse. & then another thing I was attracted to (& tried to emulate) in Mandelstam, as well as Hart Crane : a kind of indirection, an elusiveness. Maybe something like Edgar Poe's idea of the "vague." The truth is, I am slightly bored with clear, transparent speech in poetry - no matter how elegant, intelligent, profound or clever it manages to be. The meaning comes at you like a kind of aggression. I'm more passive-aggressive, I guess : I'm drawn to infinitely-absorptive poems - riddles, mysteries, puzzles, indirections. I admire musical imagery that signals a feeling before you understand it (if you ever understand it). I've steeped myself in this kind of indirection : it's a huge part of the persona or idiom I've projected. Readers might be tempted to misinterpret this as an expression of religiosity, mysticism, occult tendencies, etc. - but this would be a mistake. I like this kind of "secret" speech purely for it's game-like, puzzling, aesthetic qualities. I like the tune of something just on the edge of reason - like wind blowing through tall grass.

So I'm writing these endless, repetitive and obscure series of poems... again, not the most popular modus operandi these days. And I've grown tired of trying to win acceptance through the regular channels of the literature industry. I suppose people look at me & for many reasons think "crazy, eccentric." But put yourself, if you can, in my place. I'll be 59 years old this spring. I was writing poetry before most of the senior editors of our American literary magazines were born. After a while, you get a little discouraged - you simply grow tired of the rejection. I think I'm not taken seriously; I'm marginalized. Well, what can you do? I know something about copy editing, about DIY publishing. I've learned about YouTube (which I disliked at first). Now I've adapted my writing process to "instant accessibility." I write a section of my current, seemingly-endless work in progress : as soon as I finish editing it & shaping it up, I recite it on YouTube & publish the poem on my blog. No editors, no sifting, no middle-people, no problem. It's poetry as it happens, available immediately. Of course, I still don't get no respect - but that's not the main thing. The main thing is taking dictation from the woodcarving Muse (if she's still around today, like she was yesterday).

I don't go anywhere, I don't see anyone. I have a day job at which I must show up, bills, and family obligations. I'm a bookworm & a writer. I can't - & don't wish to - gallivant around on the lit-biz party circuit. I'll be 60 pretty soon. I'd rather try to concentrate, remember, meditate, contemplate, compose, write. As long as I'm still standing. I like woodcarving (it's a laurel tree).

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