Monday, November 2, 2015

your heart, that place


by Franz Wright

I don't know where they come from.
I can summon them
(sometimes I can)
into my mind
into my fingers,
I don't know why. Or I'll suddenly hear them
walking, sometimes
they don't often come when I need them.
When I need them most terribly,

{source, Earlier Poems by Franz Wright}

I read this book on Saturday at work on my lunch break at the public library, most of it. I've read Franz Wright's poetry before, but not a lot, and I knew a little about his life, but not a lot. I'd had a conversation with a homeless man just before my break who told me his story on a bit of a loop, worried that I wouldn't believe him. He'd been in jail, had gotten past his addictions issues, and now seemed on track to change his life. A place was being arranged for him to live in, he had hopes for a specific job. Just waiting to hear back on things. In two weeks, he said, it was all going to be different. We exchanged names and he kept using mine, and I used his. I think he needed to hear his name being said.

So then, I find this radio show with Franz Wright, and he says, 

"In the last six years I got very very interested in being around people in different forms of affliction… I use the term affliction in the sense of genuinely broken people who may not make it back. I like to be around people who are struggling with addiction and struggling with mental illness. I volunteered for a number of years in a place called the Center for Grieving Children… I’m happy among them, I like being around people who are struggling with crushing, difficult things. I’m much happier, it makes me feel more normal. That’s much more interesting, really, than writing."

From the description of the show:

Franz Wright (born 1953) and his father James Wright (1927 – 1980) both won Pulitzer Prizes for poetry — the lyrical experimentalist James in 1972, Franz in 2004. The only father-son Pulitzer pair in the same field, they could be imagined as the big-league poetry version of baseball’s Ken Griffeys (Jr. and Sr.), though with dark twists. Franz has recalled that as a teenager when he sent his first efforts to his estranged dad, his famous father wrote him a letter that began: “I’ll be damned. You’re a poet. Welcome to hell.” In fact Franz Wright’s sustained surge of poems in the last decade have mapped his own route out of hell — out of the severe depression and alcoholism that afflicted his father before him.

In my work I meet people who are in dark places, but I also meet small children and seniors and just ordinary people looking for a book by P.D. James or Margaret Atwood. The branch I work at is situated in a part of town that is pretty good cross section of what our city is like - a mix of the affluent, the working class, and the struggling. We're close enough to downtown and to a large bus station that many who spend their nights in shelters come to spend the day in our branch, "to get away from things," I'm often told.

Writers often end up talking about what they would do if they were not writers + whatever other job they have to sustain themselves. I suppose if I didn't work at the library and wasn't a writer, I'd think about being a social worker. I'm not like Wright, it doesn't necessarily make me happy to be among the afflicted. But I like to listen because I think there's power for people in being heard and being listened to. I think this goes for anyone, but those who are 'genuinely broken' as Wright says, seem to have an especial need to be heard. When I started this job about four and a half years ago, I wondered if I was saying the right thing when I met people who were struggling. But it's not about what I'm saying, I've learned that.

Franz Wright's poems are so fragile, as many poems are in one way or another. There's a lot to listen to in them, which is a gift.

Winter Entries

by Franz Wright

Love no one, work, and don't let the pack know you're wounded.

Stupid, disappointed strategies.

Hazel wind of dusk, I have lived so much.

Friendless eeriness of the new street -

The poem does not come, but its place is set.

So then, in an interview from 2001 in the New Yorker, he is talking about advice from his father:

"Try, no matter what—no matter what sort of maelstrom of distraction you find yourself in at any given time—try to write one single clear line in a notebook every day. If you manage to do that, over time, when a certain mood of inspiration does come to you, when you're feeling happy and things are going well, and you want to write, you have this store of material, and it's as if the lines start to bond together, or something starts to crystallize around a particular line. In fact, I love the fragments so much that I really don't, for a long time, even want to make a complete poem out of them."

Anyway, this struck me as very solid advice and then rather poignant, given the relationship between father and son. And that also, how rare it must be in the world to have a parent who's a poet, giving advice to their child, who is also a poet. That as poets, it would be good to hand out advice as though we were giving it to someone we loved that much, however fraught the relationship, however wounded we each were. That as parents we should hand out advice as though we were poets to our children as though they were are also poets.

In an article after Wright's passing, a poem is quoted:

Gray deserted street 
Place settings for one—dear visible things … 
The insane are right, but they're still the insane. 
While there is time let me a little belong.

The photographs this morning - are from last week, kneeling at the edge of the small suburban forest. A strip of light coming through. Afterwards running into a man who was telling me about all the stuff he'd found in the forest that morning. Three small bicycles, abandoned, wrecked. A grocery cart. A tent. Syringes. Condoms. Beer cans. A whiskey bottle. He went on. I wanted to say to him, yes, but all this light, too.

Along with the Wright book, I also took out from the library the Coleman Barks book, Rumi: Soul Fury.

"Everybody is in love with this word, Bravo!
They spend their lives trying to hear it called out
to them.
Bravo! Bravo!

Crowing comes from the rooster.
Morning comes from God."

All I want is the morning light, a few blades of grass to sway and dance, directing me back toward my soul. This way of belonging. This place holder.

I loved this next bit. Because I sometimes yearn for the 'mountaintop' until it hurts.

From an interview with the poet, Ellen Bryant Voigt, on PBS Newshour:

To write poems, I have to remind myself sometimes to go out into the world. I love the natural beauty. I love living in the country. I love the solitude. But to only do that, to live on the mountaintop, I think, wouldn’t be good for poems. 
I think that poetry has become more visible and more a part of the fabric of the culture than it’s often referred to. More books of poetry are being published now than ever before. I think that there’s a great hunger for that. 
It’s — we get a lot of information. We’re bombarded with information. But I think, especially in this country, there are very few ways in which we can process any of that or that we can think hard about that. We need to slow down in order to think hard about it. And the poem will slow us down. It will slow us down.

These photographs are of light, a blade or two of grass, they're here to slow me down. To get me thinking again, and endlessly, about how a little bit of light acts upon a thing, changes it, moves through, transforms, makes beautiful.

And now this. A poem I've shared before.

Another way of slowing down. More advice, needed advice. At the centre of it, the heart. (Your heart, that place you don't even think of cleaning out...)

Advice to Myself 

by Louise Erdrich

Leave the dishes.
Let the celery rot in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator
and an earthen scum harden on the kitchen floor.
Leave the black crumbs in the bottom of the toaster.
Throw the cracked bowl out and don't patch the cup.
Don't patch anything. Don't mend. Buy safety pins.
Don't even sew on a button.
Let the wind have its way, then the earth
that invades as dust and then the dead
foaming up in gray rolls underneath the couch.
Talk to them. Tell them they are welcome.
Don't keep all the pieces of the puzzles
or the doll's tiny shoes in pairs, don't worry
who uses whose toothbrush or if anything
matches, at all.
Except one word to another. Or a thought.
Pursue the authentic - decide first
what is authentic,
then go after it with all your heart.
Your heart, that place
you don't even think of cleaning out.
That closet stuffed with savage mementos.
Don't sort the paper clips from screws from saved baby teeth
or worry if we're all eating cereal for dinner
again. Don't answer the telephone, ever,
or weep over anything at all that breaks.
Pink molds will grow within those sealed cartons
in the refrigerator. Accept new forms of life
and talk to the dead
who drift in though the screened windows, who collect
patiently on the tops of food jars and books.
Recycle the mail, don't read it, don't read anything
except what destroys
the insulation between yourself and your experience
or what pulls down or what strikes at or what shatters
this ruse you call necessity.

There was some beautiful light this past week. Also frost on a couple of occasions.

Other people's roses. 

And this was another morning, in the dry pond, me kneeling and bowing in the grass, as Chloe and Ace stood nearby, waiting. As if it's a perfectly natural thing for a grown woman to be sprawled out in a public park nearly on her belly, squinting and clicking and holding her breath and waiting for the light to be just so.

The continuing transformation of the vine in our backyard:

And here he is, Ace, with a couple of his many expressions. One might have to do with the biscuit I'm holding, and the other, because I have no biscuit. 

Lastly, I will leave you with some images of tea and flowers. And.

What I'm listening to: Edie Brickell and Steve Martin. Yes, really, Steve Martin and his banjo. Whoa.  

What I'm pinning

Drinking. (Only just this once with a scoop of ice cream - but it is very nice, I have to say).

Photo inspiration.

Dreaming about going to.

Wishing you all a calm week, some tea to sip, flowers, of course, and a little light to stand in.


  1. "In my work I meet people who are in dark places . . . "

    I like this line. I've been searching for a way to describe my work, and I think you just did. thank you.

    (also like the idea of writing one line a day.)

  2. "I wanted to say to him, yes, but all this light, too." I love that you see the light. Thank you for all of this beauty!

  3. so lovely (that Erdrich!), thank you, Shawna. xo

  4. I enjoyed this post very much. Especially the words by, the reflections of and about Franz Wright. (Helped me understand why I still like hanging out in inner-city parks.) Thank you Shawna.

  5. You're all so very welcome! xo Shawna

  6. DID YOU PUT ICE CREAM IN TEA???? (And oh my, that Louise Erdrich poem...)

  7. mmm, I love the yummy soft light you've captured, Shawna. Seems to me that you'd have to be a good listener to be a good writer as well...and that you are!

  8. I just tried some ice cream in my was good :)

  9. I feel like I might be a bad (good) influence on you all ;) xo S.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...