Pause and Shift

21 01 2009

I am out today on sick leave. I should be writing the paper that was due last semester. I should be getting some laundry started. I should be drinking water instead of coffee. I should be reading about web development for my class tonight, or addressing invitations to Ruthie’s birthday party at the very least. I am in my last semester of grad school. Three years I have been in grad school and it has officially rendered me brainless. I am too serious. I am too intentional, too resentful. Everything is personal. I wake up gritting my teeth. Every question is an interrogation, every request an imposition. And here I am sitting at my computer: paralyzed by the desire to write, and overcome by the dull conviction that I don’t have anything interesting to say. 

So I reread Elizabeth Alexander’s inaugural poem, “Praise Song for the Day,” which was, to me, inspiring. I can’t imagine writing anything under such pressure. In the past few weeks, I’ve been reading as much about her as I could find on the internet. I’ve found that I like her– she’s honest, thoughtful, and insightful. In an interview with Jeffrey Brown, she talked about the task of composing the inaugural poem:

JEFFREY BROWN: So — so, have you made a start? How do you — how do you go about this? What is it that you want to accomplish? 

ELIZABETH ALEXANDER: What I want to do in the composition of the poem is to be very quiet and very humble before the forces that make me able to write poems.

It’s a very, very big challenge. It’s a very extraordinary moment. And I think the fact that Barack Obama has decided that he wants to have a poem as part of the inaugural is tremendously significant, to say that here is a time when we can listen to language that shifts us a little bit, that allows us to pause for a moment and contemplate what’s ahead of us, to think about how we can contribute to the challenges ahead of us, all of those things can be possible in the moment of pause and shift that — that a poem makes possible.

So, I’m just trying to be very serious and very quiet and very humble as I — as I try to — try to write something.

I am neither a quiet nor a humble person, but I can reside for a small time in the moment of  pause and shift

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun.

On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp — praise song for walking forward in that light.

 

(These lines were clipped from the New York Times transcript of Elizabeth Alexander’s reading of “Praise Song for the Day.” Sadly, the transcript does not reflect line breaks.)

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The Grocery Store

8 07 2008

A globe of not
plastic, not glass, but
of light and rubber:
a balloon––
boisterous, mysterious,
floating in a summer’s
salon of heat and cash registers.
Bobbing against halogen lights,
escaped from
the child’s sweaty fist.





in just–

24 03 2008

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When I was in high school, we didn’t read any of the kinds of poems that I use in my own classroom. Now that I’m working with the amazing and talented Emma Bolden in the Art of Writing Club, I’m learning that my secondary English education was sub-par at best with regard to poetry. The only poem that I can really remember from high school is “Two Roads Diverged in a Wood” by Robert Frost. I’m pretty sure that we had to memorize it. I learned more poems in French than English. So now that Emma and I are collaborating on this project, I have been drinking poems each week, amazed and appalled by my lacking knowledge of this world of words painting other worlds with their sounds, their shapes, and their strange new meanings.

When I started teaching high school English, e.e. cummings soon became my favorite poet. His beautiful invention never ceases to fill me with a sense of awe. I simply relish the following poem, which captures the day that I spent with Ruthie collecting all of the flowers that have bloomed within a 2-mile radius of our house. By the time we were finished, she was covered in fresh cut blooms. Her favorite was the big pink one with pollen in the middle. She kept pointing at it with a serious countenance, warning me: “Make you sneeze, Mommy.”

Spring is like a perhaps hand
(which comes carefully
out of Nowhere)arranging
a window, into which people look (while
people stare
arranging and changing placing
carefully there a strange
thing and a known thing here) and

changing everything carefully

spring is like a perhaps
Hand in a window
(carefully to
and from moving New and
Old things, while
people stare carefully
moving a perhaps
fraction of flower here placing
an inch of air there) and

without breaking anything

e.e. cummings