Guys, I resurrected my Twitter after forgetting that I had it for a couple months. So you’re welcome to follow me on there if you’re one of those Twitterers that one hears so much about in the news media, etc. Take a gander at my left-hand sidebar if you are so inclined!
Also, I’ll take the opportunity to do the “Interesting Announcement” I alluded to last week and mention the new journal that Tessa and I are curating. After many vicissitudes, both positive and negative, we’ve had a number of conversations about regrouping and restarting our editorial aspirations. So, at this point we’ve put together the blog page and posted for submissions, which means we’ve pretty much dug our own grave of commitment. CSHS Quarterly is open for business, if you’re the poetic, prosaic, or photographic type and want to get some work out there in the world. (And as for the cryogenically frozen elephant in the room known as Curio, there will be an Announcement about that in the near future as well. We promise.)
OK, on to the promptings. For resonance seven let’s talk about our relationship with nature. Growing up in suburbia, I was never much of a naturalist kid; I can tell a maple and an oak by their leaves, I know the cherries flower before the roses, and I know that tomatoes are only good in July. But I give a lot of credit to people who can tell trees apart by their bark, determine the age and gender of deer from their tracks, know the change in direction of wind and what it entails, etc. It’s a knowledge set that is often lost completely in the glare of screens, the blast of music, and all the other trappings of life these days. And yet poets are often caught up in the mystique of nature without taking the time to really learn their stuff about it. You could argue that it doesn’t matter so much for an observational poem to know the whys and wherefores of Thing X that is occurring and inspiring the poet; but as a consummate Wikipedia addict, I am forever looking into the reasons behind the visions.
Particularly because we’ve had so much snow in New York this week– make that this month– or hell, the last three months– I’m feeling especially starved of green, and also ignorant of the life still humming during the winter. Wherever you are, start by paying attention to your natural surroundings: start with the seasonal generalities of climate and temperature for your place, then zoom in bit by bit on the animals which are active, the plants that are currently alive/seemingly alive, the landscape of where you are. (Even the city has a botanical landscape!) Next, highlight the bits which are striking to you: I find the repeated pattern of slush/freeze/snow that causes these Ice Puddles Of Death on every street corner to be compelling. (And not just because I keep slipping into them.) And there is this one particular bird that I don’t know, which I keep seeing around, drinking from things.
Do some inquiry into the scientific, botanical, meteorological underpinnings of what you’ve teased out. With those puddles, I imagine there must be some kind of air temperature pattern that’s causing the very particular thaw/freeze cycle which leads to their layered water/ice construction. That bird must have a name and a reason for not migrating. For the sake of a poem that just needs hints of background, I think Wikipedia will often suffice; depending on your readership, no one is going to ask you for citations of the facts. But adding that bit of knowledge allows you to go a bit deeper and find metaphors and elements you didn’t know were in there before. And find ways to incorporate the information in poetic ways: rather than talk about how the apple is in the same botanical family as the rose, talk about the apple being “teased out of the wild rose” or something. Most importantly: don’t allow these factoids to distract from your observations. You want the two to dovetail and complement, not one to overshadow the other. The factoids taking precedence will sound stuffy; the factoids being incidental will sound tangential.
(As an example I’m fond of, although there’s only a bit of this development, go read Ross Gay’s poem “To the Fig Tree at 9th and Christian”. He very deftly incorporates a couple factoids with a minimum of words: describing figs as “wasps’ sugar” is the most beautiful way I’ve ever seen to handle the symbiosis of figs and wasps, a very biological theme.)
(Also read Dorianne Laux’s “Facts About the Moon” for a different approach which combines the two impulses very neatly!)
Your poem may be kept a bit spare. It’s easy to go off on wild flights with poems that are purely about the inspiration drawn from seeing a ring around the moon, much harder to get pedantic with why the ice crystals that cause the effect form the way they do. The poem will be reined in, and that’s okay; this is an exercise in restraint as much as an exploration of theme. And as always, when you have done your poem, you are welcome to report on the state of climate, flora, and fauna in your region by posting it here, in poem-form. Many maps unroll tonight.