I have to teach myself again to love
this: the fall of sound on sound, like gravel
trailing, streaming, steaming dust from where
the climber's foot just pressed and left behind
the shape of its own absence. There's some-
thing in me forgot, that thought the words
inside, unvoiced, divorced from sound, could live--
as if a root divorced from earth could
Wait, though. That's not it.
the green sprout snap, while egg-
shaped leaves float, unsuspended, free of sense
above a ground all silently ascream.
Is that just what I meant?
When stolid, solid, soil-bound, brown and dank
with rot and my own sense of gravity--where else?
The petals yellow-golden, pink as flesh
pulsate, vibrate to send the message down
to my subterran brain. Why not? Where else?
There must be holes. There must be tunnels in
from both sides of a boundary. Any one.
Nothing gets through without a broken gate.
Not sound, not sense. Not beauty. Even rain.
Friday, May 18, 2007
Friday, May 11, 2007
Because It's Probably True If suddenly the room burst into flames orange ivy climbed the curtains black clouds rolled up and out and hair floating on waves of heat crinkled, shrunk away
while everyone obliviously slunk between table and chair bedroom and bath beer tub snack bowl ("Nice party, what's this dip?") while at their backs a cataclysm only I could (in this problem) see--
It takes an effort of imagination to feel my arms go up to see my jaw drop to (hypothetically) taste soot ozone methane new sweat on my dry tongue taking the breath with which I'll shout:
I've always been the quiet one.
Of course once if I edging toward the door a dampened napkin pressed under my nose saw that no one had noticed (incredibly) the blackening ceiling the cd player plastic bubbling like Yosemite mud (I know, but just bear with me) nothing except perhaps some dizziness and the fact that the softwhite sandwiches suddenly are toasted
then of course would I pop the lock murmuring, as I stepped outside to cool air wet grass green trees that someone maybe ought to call somebody and I've had a great time, thanks, but by the way, some of you might think about
because it's getting late and a work night and the kitchen is on fire and after all, no one wants to be an ash, hahaha--
I would do it. If I had to.
But even in this dream it ends like this:
everyone turning to stare and smirk or frown or pucker their lips and (even as their flesh cooks off their bones
"Well. Someone needs
Friday, May 04, 2007
by Scott Standridge, aka "Sonnet Boy"
(photo by David W. Quinn)
Number 365 fucked me up.
I hadn't really expected it. In the days leading up to that sonnet, that goal I'd been working toward so tenaciously for almost exactly a year, of course I'd begun to feel nostalgic for the daily writing experience in which I was still involved but to which I would shortly say adieu. I wondered happily what it would be like finally to reach that goal; whether I would feel its absence when I stopped, like a hole in the fabric of my day that used to be patched by cloths of various colors--sometimes gray, sometimes black, often brown, but occasionally a surprising splash of color that made the whole swath seem more brilliant.
Yes, I was feeling pretty pleased with myself.
And why not? I was close to completing a project that, though I'd started it more or less on a whim, had grown into a fairly monumental hunk of work. By challenging myself and being unforgiving about the rules I'd set at the beginning (a new sonnet a day, every day, no matter what; no piling up sonnets to give myself a day off; posting online required, no matter how bad the final product), I'd assembled, amalgamated, and otherwise conglomerated what amounted to a poetic journal of my internal life for one entire loop around the sun. By holding myself to it, there near the end I had already written more than twice as many sonnets as Shakespeare--Shakespeare! Allowing the obvious quality vs. quantity argument, I still couldn't help thinking that was something to be proud of.
(Side note: it's a complete coincidence that the last day of the Project fell on April 23, which is generally considered to be both Shakespeare's birthday and date of death. I'd love to be able to say I planned it that way, but I didn't. Sometimes you're just lucky.)
So as The Sonnet Project drew to a close, I was pretty comfortable with the idea that, whatever the quality of individual sonnets, I'd more or less managed to prove my professor's point: I hadn't written 365 bad sonnets in a row. Oh, I'd written bad sonnets, lots of them--they're not hard to find, a few clicks on the "Go to a Random Sonnet" link should be sufficient to prove that...or hell, even a scroll down the front page--but I'd written a lot that were not too bad at that, and even a few that I thought might actually be pretty good. And to be fair, not all of Shakespeare's efforts were masterpieces either.
They can't all be gems. Even when you're the Bard.
(A quick aside about that professor: I've always attributed the offhand comment about writing a sonnet a day as a good method for mastering the form to the University of Arkansas's Skip Hayes, a novelist and short story writer of well-deserved reputation who taught a couple of classes I was lucky enough to take. However, I've come to recognize the attribution as problematic, since a) I'm not sure now I was ever in a writing class he taught, and b) if I was, I'm pretty sure it wasn't for writing poetry. Still, somehow he's become the avatar of the idea for me, and it's still possible he said it. I'm blaming him, anyway, justified or not.)
(Another quick aside, this time about the project's genesis. Readers of the blog who are not in fact people I see regularly in real life--I think there might be one or two of you out there--might well ask the question a few of my RL friends have asked long since: why sonnets? Well, the fact is I've always loved formal poetry, for a couple of reasons. The first is, I like the idea of poetry as song--and while I admire people who do free verse well, I haven't read very many I can dance to. Sound good? Well, it's half a lie--the fact is, I do read and enjoy free verse, all the time--you pretty much have to, if you want to read much poetry these days--and I read plenty that's exuberant and musical--though it still seems to me the difference between a structured blues tune and free-form jazz. I admire creative improvisation, but I also like a good 1-4-5 chord progression; it's comfortable, and it still gives you room to bare your soul. And to paraphrase a great poet, Jack Butler, "you don't have to invent the guitar while you're playing it."
(But the real reason I chose sonnets is b) I can do them. I've tried free verse. I filled notebooks with it in high school, notebooks that still sit bundled in the attic of my parents' house, their duo-tangs rusting, dusty and accusatory as buried bodies. Maybe someday I'll pull them out and look at them, but most of the time I figure it's better some things are forgotten. The fact is, I suck at free verse. I know it. I can prove it. I can't solo over an instrumental break. But--BUT--I can hold down a rhythm. I can strum. I know the chords. And what's more, I like to. No six-string pyrotechnics for me--just comfortable blues.
(I have a lot more to say about form--how the openness of free verse so often leads to over-indulgence and bloat--many poets, bad ones mostly, use the lack of structure as an excuse to explode; and while this can be beautiful, more often it's just messy. I could talk, for instance, about how the restrictions of a metric line force you to be creative and critical, both of words and of the ideas under them, in ways that you wouldn't be otherwise. My favorite sonnets in the Project--and this happened A LOT--were ones where a metrical or rhyme requirement forced me to rethink what I was trying to say, and through that rethinking I discovered something deeper and more truthful that would have remained buried otherwise--something that fit. There's a reason formal poetry has survived so long, in my opinion, and this is it. But this quick aside is too long already, proving my point about the danger of overindulgence when there's no restriction.)
Over the course of the year I felt I'd done just about all I could. I'd written a lot of so-called "light verse," even though I think that term is a little denigrating, as if poetry that makes you smile is somehow less useful than that which makes you cry. (Jack Butler, with whom I've had the honor of corresponding, compared the poet to a singer, and pointed out that singers are entertainers--therefore, why shouldn't a poem entertain? Why is that not a sufficient goal for the poem? Life is funny--or can be, if you let it.) I'd written a great deal of love poetry, and more than my share about sex. I'd written narrative poems, short stories in 14 lines, that when they came together made me feel like a storyteller as well as a poet (and in a variety of genres too: horror, of course--here's my fave of those, the one I think was most successful--as well as noir [another fave], science-fiction, and Southern-fried mainstream/literary [its own genre, with conventions as rigid as Romance]). I'd written painfully revealing personal memoirs, celebrations of nature, a political protest poem, and even attempted to raise cubicle life to the level of poetry. Plus many other experiments--mostly failed--that I couldn't categorize. I even created my own goddamn sonnet form! My point is, I'd covered a lot of ground.
And it hadn't always been easy. I remember one night, on vacation, sitting scrunched against the bathtub in a tiny hotel bathroom at 11:45 p.m., scribbling madly in my notebook to beat the midnight deadline (resulting poem here, for better or worse). One poem I wrote in a car between my best friend's house and the restaurant where we were having dinner--a friend I see maybe once a year, and who I'd rather have been visiting with--but by then I knew that when inspiration struck, I had to grab it (resulting poem here; whether worth it or not). And the hardest, when I was nearly delirious with a bacterial infection that made me so dizzy I could barely sit up, producing by any standards one of the worst sonnets of the year (here--but I wrote one, damn it!). And then the days the poems just wouldn't come--inspiration nowhere to be found, the muses buggered off to Greece, and me slamming words together like mismatched blocks. It was tough, sometimes.
But then, sometimes, everything just clicked and in less than half an hour I'd have something I thought was a little jewel, and that made me feel like a real honest-to-God poet. Like that swatch of fabric that ties the whole day together. There are a few. I'll let you find them, if you're interested enough to dig.
They can't all be gems; but then again, well--some of them can.
So as I approached #365, I did so with a mix of nostalgia and relief. It would be nice to be finished. It would be relaxing, not worrying all day long about where my material was coming from. It'd be cool, for a change, to be able to kick back after dinner and turn on the tube rather than breaking out the notebook. I'd no longer have to run from the kids to the silence of our bedroom, nor shush my wife until I was finished with the day's offering ("I just have the couplet to go, Hon, honest--just, please, just give me a few goddamn minutes here..."). The Project was practically done; I'd done it. I was looking forward to the end.
And then it came: the Last Day. I'd been turning over ideas for the farewell sonnet for a while (not writing it--that'd be against the rules, as I said--but still thinking about options for how I might attack it). I wanted it to be good, but I knew that if I tried to make it Super Special, I'd likely just end up ruining it. I hadn't written 364 sonnets in a row thinking I had to knock it out of the park every day, after all. Stick with the method, I told myself--do your best, get it down, and get it out.
In the end I settled on making it a little song--which those who know the man's work can clearly see owes more than a little to Tom Waits's "Take It With Me" from the monumental Mule Variations album--as a way of saying goodbye to my readers, goodbye to the Project, and goodbye to that part of myself that I'd invested in this curious endeavor.
It came to me rather quickly. I probably wrote and revised the whole thing in about twenty minutes. I logged in to my Blogger account, typed it in, spell-checked it, and hit "post."
And then I started to cry.
Seriously. Out of nowhere, the tears were running down my cheeks. I had posted during my lunch hour at work--yes, I did some of my writing at work; when inspiration struck, I had to get it down--and suddenly I was on the verge of becoming a sobbing mess. I left the building, mustering as much composure as I could, went out to my car and sat in the front seat, openly weeping. I felt kind of silly--even as I sobbed, I couldn't pin down what it was exactly I was crying about. Maybe part of it was the maudlin sentiment in that last quatrain, the farewell that could be for lost friends, or dead relatives, or your own squandered youth. But that wasn't all of it. I mean, I like #365, but even when I wrote it I knew it wasn't that good. And while I am a big sentimental softie, I think I'm immune enough to my own stuff not to blubber every time I think of a lost puppy in the rain.
But I couldn't stop. For maybe ten minutes I surrendered to the tears, the last lines of The Project running through my head. Eventually I regained my composure, straightened myself up, and came back inside to finish my day at work.
In the days since, I'm still a little mystified by my reaction there at the end. All I can figure is that the Project--which I really did start more on a whim than anything, a "let's see if I can do this" dare with myself--had achieved such a place of importance to me that coming to the end was really like saying goodbye. I'd experienced a similar crying jag only once, when on my last day of my junior year abroad in Cambridge, England, literally in the middle of a sentence about something meant to be funny, I was ambushed by sobs and broke down in my college friends' arms. And while the reason then was easy to understand--many of those people, dear friends and companions all, I knew I would never see again--the way it surprised and overwhelmed me was the same. Because I guess in that case I'd been concentrating on not thinking about leaving, because otherwise I'd have been unable to pack and go.
The happy ending is that I did go back to England, two years later. (Even wrote a poem about it.) And while it's true you can't really go back, I did see some of my old friends, which was sad in its way but also wonderful. And if The Sonnet Project has held a similar place for me emotionally--this effort into which I'd put more of myself than I'd realized until that last moment--then maybe I'll come back some day. Maybe even today. Or tomorrow.
Life since the end of the Project has been surprisingly unsurprising. It's rather amazing, really, how easy it was to fall out of the habit of writing every day; how quickly other things rush in to fill that space where the poetry used to be. And disheartening too--but then again, it just proves that if you want to be creative, it doesn't come easy. You have to struggle for it. At least when you're an adult, with kids and a day job and the sundry all-consuming responsibilities everyone somehow manages on a daily basis. When you're a kid, a student, it's easier.
So don't grow up, kids. It sucks.
Funny thing is, I still don't know if I'm a poet. I don't really feel like one; I just feel like a guy who wrote a bunch of poems. In my mind, that's a distinction.
But I am proud of what I've done. I think I've got something here. I think I might be able to do something with parts of it. But whether I do or not seems kind of extraneous right now--the creating of the stuff is one thing, the doing stuff with it is a separate thing. They're not the same process. Obviously--I mean, we don't live in a society where you can write to a waiting audience when you're a sonneteer. It's a solitary thing, something you have to do for yourself. And I did it. I did it. It's done.
But it's not, really. I'm still doing it.
And that's the best thing, really. Still to be doing it.