Thursday, October 9, 2014

a poet's insomnia

“End with an image and don't explain.” 

- Stanley Kunitz

“When you look back on a lifetime and think of what has been given to the world by your presence, your fugitive presence, inevitably you think of your art, whatever it may be, as the gift you have made to the world in acknowledgment of the gift you have been given, which is the life itself... That work is not an expression of the desire for praise or recognition, or prizes, but the deepest manifestation of your gratitiude for the gift of life.”

- Stanley Kunitz

“You must be careful not to deprive the poem of its wild origin.”

- Stanley Kunitz

Dead awake at 2am last night. I woke up, in conversation with myself, so that I felt as though in some way I'd never gone to sleep. 

The conversation was about poetry, and form. About the notebooks of Anna Kamienska as compared to the Workbook of Steven Heighton. I started thinking about the work of Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge. Then went on to think about such poets as Ginsberg and Whitman. The contemporary Canadian poets who have worked with long lines, with flowing. Sina Queyras in her new book, Phil Hall's Killdeer.  

I was thinking about Anne Carson's Short Talks, and Mary Ruefle's Short Lectures (in Madness, Rack, and Honey). 

So it's 2am and I'm thinking about the intersections between poem and essay, the possibilities in that particular mash-up. I'm thinking about how writing it I thought of the first section of my book Asking as conversations. About the way you talk about things in the same conversation, say, with a friend, that seem to have nothing to do with each other, except you both know they do. 

About wanting to talk to someone about what you've been reading at 2am when your eyes shoot open and don't seem to want to close so that you spend an hour looking at shadows. 

I started to think about Bronwen Wallace. About how a week ago I tried to find her books on my shelf and couldn't and how I have to try again because they're there, they must be there. I'm missing the tone of her voice, and the compassion of her poems, the 'common magic' of them. 

I'm thinking about all the things I never seem to have the time to say, and the things I want to talk about but the person who might enjoy the conversation lives in another city. 

And then I think about Charles Wright and the seeming ease with which he sets down words, like paint on a canvas, all those brushstrokes, casual, offhand almost. Just letting the paint do its work, the words do their work. 

The gift of the poem, its wild origins. Images that don't need to be explained.

I was thinking that being awake at 2am is a sort of gift. 

I guess there was more, but that's enough. 


  1. As a reader of your blog - this particular one sings to me.
    Can I suggest, in case you haven't read it - A Responsibility to Awe by Rebecca Elson.

    Thanks so much for the post

    1. Thank you very much, Pat. I shall be seeking that one out!

  2. There are days when your photos of things that others would consider dead and prune into the compost bin (or at least not bother to take pictures!) revive something in me that I find hard to name. Maybe it's the defiant assertion in those photos that what seems dead isn't dead (there will yet be seeds and new life), but that's close to cliche. I think what moves me is the even more defiant assertion that decayed beauty is still beauty; what's more, it's beautiful on its merit, not merely as an echo of what was beautiful. Now if only we could translate that insight to our youth-focused culture.


    1. Edna, thank you so much for sharing this. Reminds me why I do what I do here.....

  3. I don't know if you will see this by this point, but I wanted to say that finding this blog helped me deal with a 2 AM of my own. I was looking for Bronwen Wallace…


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