“What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not a goal: what is lovable in man is that he is an over-going and a down-going.”
~ Friedrich Nietzsche, German Existentialist philosopher
I can’t believe we’ve made it through this week already. Aside from two meal events on Sunday, I intend to spend my weekend doing very little of anything except reading and writing, drumming up some poetic inspiration. It might be self-evident, but if you find yourself getting blocked up in the ideas, just try surfing poetry websites and exploring as diverse a collection of stuff you love and hate as you can muster. I was on Poetry Foundation till 1 in the morning; I’m only operating now thanks to coffee. That’s how I get through my day: caffeine, and poetry, and a double helping of chutzpah and gumption. Anyway.
In keeping with our notions of re-examining the random fodder of inspiration flowing our way, let’s change perspective (woo three dimensions again!) and think of the river not as a course to be ridden down, but as a border. Step to the side a bit, or rise into the air, and you’ll see that even a small creek changes the nature of the land it runs across. The environment that grows around is different from what it would be were the water absent (which we’ll talk about tomorrow), and as the water picks up speed and volume, the strength of the border increases. I grew up in New Jersey, which always seemed to me one of the most island-y of states (except for Hawaii). Along one side is the Delaware River; along two of the others are the ocean and the Hudson. Only on the north is there a land border with New York, maybe 50 miles at best, out of a perimeter of (according to the Internet) either 440, 480, or 516 miles. So at about 90% of the state border, you need a boat or bridge to leave, and while that percentage may be approached or exceeded by other non-Hawaiian states (Alaska, Louisiana, Michigan, Maine?), certainly NJ has the overall shortest of the land borders. Something to be proud of!
A lot of my friends growing up had small creeks running through gullies dividing their property from the next suburbanite’s, often tannic things that flowed into underground pipes rather than any larger body of water. Outside of the little copses surrounding the streams, the landscape appears to be a pretty seamless quilt of houses and manicured yards, so even those miniscule (in the grand hydrological scheme) flows held significance to us. (So did highways and strip farmland and undeveloped ridges, of course, but that’s not the metaphor this month.) Even at this point in the writing process, it is possible to move laterally and observe the ideas and images you’ve been summoning up as something to be battled across, or at least as a wall that separates you from something else. Try this: first, gather up some images the same way we’ve been doing all week. Pick random objects, words stolen from conversations, phrases you come across in reading in other poems, and make a list. Try to get at least ten, more if possible; you can recycle unused ones from freewriting in other prompts if desired.
Now, on either side of that column, try to come up with two connected images/concepts/whatever such that the central item is an obstacle. This can either be a logical relationship (if I have rusted car on my list, I could put traveling to and baby shower on either side), or one that requires some thought (how does sewing basket separate game of marbles and a friend who died young? get creative!). You can challenge yourself by making the pairs separately, and assigning them at random to the central list: you never know who your neighbors in a new place will be, after all. And you can think of any given triplet like this: “How is the connection between X and Y interrupted/complicated by Z?” Don’t allow yourself to build easy bridges or wade shallow fords: you must work to move across those ideas. As you explore these relationships between people, objects, and events, you can chain them together into a poem, pick one to explore deeply and emotionally, or just muse overall (as though you were suspended overhead) on the nature of what separates us.
I hope that’s not too arcane, and that you get some useful writing out of it. And moreover, I hope you’ll consider coming back and sharing with the group…