August 17, 2009 by Reader's Connection
HarperCollins is the publisher of many splendid works. I am grateful for their presence in the world. But they charge two hundred dollars for permission to print a poem, and I don’t want to find new ways to spend our beleaguered library’s money.
$200 may be a reasonable sum. I think Random House charges $10 a line, which, depending on the poem, could be better or worse. An Elizabethan sonnet owned by Random could be reprinted for only $140. But in my efforts to interest web-browsers in reading some poems, I have been aided by Tupelo Press, Copper Canyon Press, Wesleyan University Press, Louisiana State University Press, and other publishers who are sometimes able to grant permission without charging any fee; and I am grateful.
In lieu of these first two poems, I’ll write about my personal experiences with them.
“To Opinion” by Jane Hirshfield appears on pages 41-42 of her collection After, which is published by HarperCollins.
The blogger’s acquaintance with the poet: I have met Ms. Hirshfield only once. She gave a reading at Butler’s Visiting Writers series. She read well, spoke movingly of how her father’s death and other losses had shaped her new (2006) collection.
The blogger’s experience of the poem: My older son takes drum lessons at Bongo Boy up in Castleton. After his lesson, he and his brother join in the free community drum circle that gathers there every Thursday at 7:15. On the evening in question, my younger son didn’t want to see me in the big green drum room, so I sat in an anteroom, listening to the ongoing percussive explosion. For some of the hour, I drummed on the instruments that were sitting around, and for some of the hour I read and reread Hirshfield’s witty, reflective poem. It’s a blessing to sit with each of your feet in a different universe.
“The Resemblance Between Your Life and a Dog” appears on page 23 of Robert Bly’s collection Morning Poems, which is published by HarperCollins.
The blogger’s acquaintance with the poet: I have seen Bly in person only once. This must have been in 1990. He was one of many poets who came to read and speak in support of Indiana poet Etheridge Knight, who was ill and died soon afterward.
Operation Desert Storm was being waged, and almost all the poets spent the evening floating above the stage, inflated with their moral superiority to our country’s leaders. Not once in five hours were Kuwait or Saddam Hussein even named. It was embarrassing. I wrote Bly an angry and in some ways misguided letter. If at that time I had already read Jane Hirshfield’s poem “To Opinion,” would I have behaved differently? Probably not.
The blogger’s experience of the poem: Robert Bly can be a buffoon, but “The Resemblance Between Your Life and a Dog” is one of the many reasons I love the guy. I don’t remember any of the physical conditions under which I have read the poem. I could reread it now, at my desk, and describe the books on my shelf about Perl and wikis and Crystal Reports. But wouldn’t you rather read about the dog, about the way he has been hungry for miles and turns up at your farm?
“Ask Wendy Wisdom” from Keep This Forever by Mark Halliday (Tupelo Press, 2008). Used by Permission.
Dear Wendy Wisdom,
My second marriage ended a few years ago. My daughter graduated from college
this year. Lately I feel lost. I keep thinking there’s someone I could meet
who would make my life exciting and important.
But when I have dinner with friends of friends,
the restaurant roars like a wind-tunnel of mutual boredom.
I keep using Google to locate people I dated, or had crushes on,
twenty or thirty years ago. But of course they turn out to have spouses, kids, lives
they don’t feel a craving to reconnect with me–only a brief curiosity.
Their e-mails say “How nice to hear from you”–but their messages get
shorter and shorter; the fourth message is nothing but
“Hope things work out!” In coffeeshops I see attractive individuals;
I think I sometimes stare at them too long. Once or twice
I’ve followed someone along a snowswept sidewalk
trying to think of something to say–“Would you like another decaf mocha?”
I feel invisible. I feel like a coat on a second-hand rack. I feel
like wet snow clinging to the side of a mail truck. What do you suggest?
–Mopey in Minneapolis
First of all, moping is extremely unattractive.
The only reliable way to make oneself attractive is through
sustained intense interest in some subject (other than romance and sex).
Sustained intense interest is impossible to fake. Meanwhile,
you need to consider that relationship with another actual person
may not be able to give you the sense of visibility, significance, importance
you long for. Certainly if the idea of relationship is for you
essentially a conduit toward orgasm, your quest is doomed
by its objective. Orgasm is terribly overrated. It is chemically addictive,
but like other drugs it betrays you and leaves you grimacing in the bathroom.
If orgasm is what your daydreams basically hanker toward,
the only cure is old age–if that. Meanwhile,
it’s true there are probably persons in the world with whom you could have
a fabulously meaningful and fulfilling friendship. Think of Emma Thompson
as she seems–the real-person equivalent of Emma Thompson probably does exist
within twenty miles of where you live in Minneapolis. But
you are very unlikely to find her. Therefore
what I suggest to you is: representation. Create
representations of your loneliness, your lostness, your boredom, your moping.
You seem to be good with words, so do your representing in words.
Represent the ice-crusted streets, the streetlights seen through wet windshields,
the vapid conversations about the Vikings and college tuition fees and sitcoms
and the brevity of years, also represent the alarming streaks of intelligence
that appear in some conversations, also the ponytailed waitress
whose smile complicates her expert curtness and whom you overhear
telling a waiter “I´m still living with Ashley and Kristie
because when I´m alone I just cry all the time.” Represent
all this in great detail. Also represent the experiences, encounters
you wish could happen–with fierce attention to detail.
Elaborate your representations so richly that a reader can virtually live in them!
Then let that reader be your dear companion,
Imagine that reader sitting thoughtfully beside a lamp on the far side of the room.