Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Found poem: in the face of death, despair and fear

I took this [film] photo in the Scottish highlands
in 1980, when I was pregnant with Lesley

I heard Representative Gabby Giffords' halting voice on the radio, recorded for the audio version of her new book. She speaks, she thinks, she attaches sentences to one another (with great difficulty), though she was shot in the head only months ago in a shopping center parking lot. My friend Susie is presenting testimony before Ohio legislators today, asking them to consider, please, not allowing people to text or even use hands-free cell phones while driving, after her granddaughter was killed in August when the driver behind was on her cell phone. I am home this morning and I can't go for a walk for fear that hunters might shoot me. There are dangers all around. How to live, without fear?

As I was thinking about these things, bits of poems surfaced, as if, like whitecaps on a stormy lake, they wanted to be scooped up by the wind, and tossed together in the air. So I have strung together the bits of poems in a found poem. Please see the list of references below, which gives the titles of the poems they are from. By the way, the top lines were posted at the Rilke blog a few days ago, from a poem elegy Rilke wrote to Marina Ivanovna Tsvetaeva, a poet who committed suicide. (Her backstory in the Russian revolution is here.)

When I get to the last lines, by William Carlos Williams, I think of life, and death, in one whole poem of his existence. This is all a mystery, how to live . . .

in the face of death, despair and fear

Waves, Marina, we are the ocean! Depths, Marina, we are the sky!
Earth, Marina, we are earth, a thousand times spring.
We are larks whose outbursts of song
fling them to the heavens.

When the ocean comes to you as a lover,
marry, at once, quickly,
for God's sake!

Tonight as it gets cold
tell yourself
what you know which is nothing
but the tune your bones play
as you keep going. And you will be able
for once to lie down under the small fire
of winter stars.

How can you aim a fire?

The golden sheep are feeding, and
Their mouths harbour contentment;
Gladly my tongue praises
This hour scourged of dissension
By weight of their joyous fleeces.

Practical to the end,
               it is the poem
                                  of his existence
that triumphed

(from "Elegy to Marina Tsvetayeva-Efrom (II)" by Rainer Maria Rilke)
(from "No Better Gift" by Rumi) 
(from "Lines of Winter" by Mark Strand)
(from "blue" by Cara Benson)
(from "To a Very Slow Air" by Philip Larkin) 
(from "The Sparrow" by William Carlos Williams)



California Girl said...

We are living in fear-inducing times. However, as your snippets of poetry from various times past indicate, it's circular. One thing drops off and the next takes its place.

I hate the guns thing. We live in a hunting area and it infuriates me to wake to the sound of rifles going off across the street in the fertile flood plains where geese, ducks, deer and who knows what else feed. I wish I could banish them all.

But I'm a hypocrite. I feed on flesh and I do little to change it.

If I had to kill my food, I might be more tolerant...or a great deal less carnivorous.

Maureen said...

Creating a "found" poem can be such an interesting and revealing writing exercise.

Love how you end this!

The Solitary Walker said...

A very interesting exercise, Ruth.

The Rilke - yes, massively poignant, considering Tsvetaeva's suicide - the second - my favourite - trust Rumi with the humour! - I think you featured this poem by Mark Strand recently and now, as then, I love 'the tunes your bones play' - 'How can you aim a fire?' - mmm - sound like a koan - the Larkin confuses me, I don't know it, it sound quite archaic, is it from his very early, romantically influenced collection(s)?, a bit confusing - the WCW is magnificent to end with, the triumph of 'the poem of his existence' - YES!

The Broad said...

I like what you have done here very much and especially the inclusion of the final poem!

William Carlos Williams was the family doctor when my father was growing up. My Grandmother was also his secretary. My father had a very serious illness and almost died. He always said that Dr. Williams saved his life. My Grandmother once told me that he would sometimes take her to poetry readings in Greenwich Village -- there was something of the 'poor innocent child' about her, which she supposed he wanted to shock.

Chris G. said...

Always been intrigued by the concept of found poetry...never gotten into it myself, but to see it done well is a thing of as great and curious beauty as a work pulled entirely from our own creative capabilities. Nice work!

Oliag said...

"the poem of his existence"...yes that is what it is:)

Grandmother said...

As I watched Rep. Gifford struggle for the word "ready" in lieu of the sentence "I'll go back to work only when I'm ready." my heart broke at the violence that wounded her and, so, all of us. And you're kept inside in fear and we're deciding on how much to tell our two young grandchildren to help them be alert and safe in today's world but not have them fear other humans. I love that you turned to poetry to present us with another view of who we are. Reminding us that this too is true about our species- we are the ocean, sky, earth, lark, lover, star gazer. Perfect ending- it's the "being" of the sparrow that triumphed.

George said...

Fascinating and wonderful, Ruth. "How can you aim a fire." When I read that line, I immediately thought of you and your writing, and I mean that in the most complimentary manner. There is always heat, spontaneity, freshness, and unpredictability in your poetry.

Arti said...

Thoughts just stream through my mind as I read this post. First off, I love that photo. Then it's your friend Susie... For us, the "Distracted Driving Law" just come into effect this fall in our province. And what do people do, as far as I can observe, still talk on their cell phone. Do they know that now it's the law ... you can't do anything that gets your hands off the wheel, but ppl. still hold a cell phone to their ear. My heart goes out to Susie... what a horrible ordeal to go through. Another thing is how amazed I'm to read your commenter The Broad recounting WCW being her family doctor, and her grandmother got to go to his poetry reading! And of course, your found poem is thought-provoking... and what an interesting way to 'put together' a poem. ;)

Pauline said...

despite our fears our hearts can sing. yours does.

Expat From Hell said...

Hunters seem to linger wherever we go, even when we think we are safe. The plains, the woods, the mall in Tucson a few months ago. It is ours to maintain the courage to survive, to persist, and to encourage others to do the same. Some serve our House of Representatives, some assemble beautiful pieces of found poetry. Thanks for your contribution. Always good to be here. EFH

Cait O'Connor said...

Tonight as it gets cold
tell yourself
what you know which is nothing
but the tune your bones play
as you keep going. And you will be able
for once to lie down under the small fire
of winter stars.

I love the best these words and your idea of stringing lines together is a great one.

jen revved said...

Hi Ruth-- I so love what you've done here. In reality as we all co-nurture our muses, this poem is yours by way of your sensibility and the choice it/you have made of these lines, and how you arrange them-- beautiful! xxxj

Angela said...

Hi Ruth,
Love your blog. I will add it to the blogroll on my blog. Beautiful mixture of images and words. Yes, I love the found poem thing too. By the way, I'm a (partly) former Michigander. I normally live in Vancouver, although I spent four months in Ypsilanti last year, caring for my parents.


Ruth said...

California Girl, there's really nothing new, is there?

I agree with you completely about hunting. I would love to be able to wander the fields behind our house in these few weeks of hunting season. It was beautiful yesterday, I wanted it! But our deer population is exploding. I've never seen so many both alive and dead on the side of the road. And I eat meat as well. I'd rather know where it comes from than get it from cellophane, but I'd be hard pressed to shoot anything, even if my life depended on it.

Ruth said...

Thanks, Maureen!

That ending is from the long poem (for such a small bird) by WCW. It doesn't end with those lines. It actually ends with:

This was I,
a sparrow.
I did my best;

Ruth said...

Hi, Robert, yes I featured the Strand poem recently. I agree the Benson line is very koan-like. The Larkin is a two stanza poem from 1946. My collection ("Collected Poems" 1988), has "ITGOL" next to it, but I can't figure out what book that would have been, for the acronym doesn't line up with any that I know.

This is the second and last stanza, after the first posted in my found poem:

The cloven hills are kneeling,
The sun such an anointment
Upon the forehead, on the hands and feet,
That all air is appointed
Our candid clothing, our elapsing state.

I purchased this volume of collected poems directly from George Whitman himself in the Shakespeare & Co Bookstore in Paris in 1997.

Ruth said...

To The Broad . . . WOW!!! What a terrific story! It's thrilling to hear this personal family history. Did they live in Paterson? :-) His secretary! And your father's special life connection shows how good WCW was at both being a poet and a doctor. I wonder if your grandmother ever "caught" him writing a poem on a prescription pad at his desk. And I wonder which poets he took her to hear in Greenwich Village. He died in 1963, so I think he would have missed my mentor Diane Wakoski, who was there in the later '60s and early '70s, I believe. WCW is one of my first and biggest influences in writing. Thank you for telling me/us this exciting connection.

Ruth said...

Hi, Chris! Thanks for reading and for your kind comment. Maybe one day a found poem will find you. :-)

Ruth said...

Oliag, brilliant, no?

Ruth said...

Mary, I find myself turning to a lifeline, and poetry is where I do soul work. I have to keep getting inside to find that all is well, no matter how unruly this world becomes. Your comment is beautiful, and so are you.

I was moved by Mark Kelly, Gabrielle's husband, in the interview. He was candid, hopeful, and realistic, and powerfully in the moment, I thought.

I, too, see the challenges of raising our grandson to be aware, but unafraid. Best of everything to you and your family as you raise your granddaughter and grandson.

Ruth said...

George, I should paste your statement about my poetry at the top of my laptop — for encouragement, inspiration, and for reminding. I thank you immensely for your kindness, my good friend!

Ruth said...

Arti, the findings by the National Safety Counsel here in the US show that even drivers with hands-free cell phones are 50% distracted! I am eager to hear how things went for Susie yesterday. They have a bill to make texting illegal, but she is hoping for no cell phones at all.

Yes, the story from The Broad is just a blast!

Thank you for reading, my friend, and for your thoughtful comments.

Ruth said...

Pauline, perhaps obstacles make our song more focused and true. Thank you for reading and your kindness.

Ruth said...

To Expat From Hell, hello! Thank you for your perspective, which says to me that we each do what we can, in our own way, and in that doing, we heal each other. So glad you read and commented.

Ruth said...

Cait, that poem "Lines of Winter" by Mark Strand is very moving and beautiful. It seems to be written to someone who was struggling with despair, though I can't find out more information about it. Thank you for visiting and reading.

Ruth said...

Jenné, yes I agree with you, found poems become ours. After all, the words we write are always borrowed from some room of our memory. And what you do responding to Rilke's poems is another form for it. Thank you so much.

Ruth said...

Welcome and thank you, Angela! And welcome back to Michigan here. I look forward to exploring your blog, which is beautiful, both visually and in intent. I am so moved by your blog, and working through sorrow and trauma that you've done, both for yourself, and in the stories of others. Thank you.

Peter said...

She danced for autumn on yellow carpets
she huddled and swirled – and sank and went out.

“Death of the Virgin” by Edith Södergran (original in Swedish)

I was never too much attracted by poetry, I guess my school teachers detroyed the wish to go further, but, to a great extent thanks to you, I have now started to explore some poets. :-) I thought about the yellow carpets I saw on your photo...

ds said...

You "found" so much here. I discover new things in each line and every juxtaposition. Thank you.

I keep Susan in my heart and hope that the day went well for her. What a brave, soulful and generous thing to do.

A triumph, indeed.

amy@ Souldipper said...

This approach is intriguing. One needs to be familiar with so many great lines in order to pull this off.

I like this!

erin said...

driving home from work today i was listening to - and you can insert a list of topics and countries - and then quickly the reporter glazed over the facts, which included a host of deaths and numbers which were supposed to represent - what? lives? and i thought within the tidbit of news which did not permeate my brain how many travesties, how many lives, how many profound (i pause to think of a word which might even begin to suggest) cataclysms have happened and i am worried on my heart or my waist or my health or my love or my children, oh my, what luxury! we will all die. that you and i can talk about it and stop and think about the poetics of it is such a gift.

it is important to stop and look at death, despair and fear.


Jeanie said...

Oh, Ruth, what a wonderful compilation to echo so many wise thoughts. Yes, I heard that interview, too, or one like it. It really does make you think. Nice collection. Thanks!

Ginnie said...

I liked what Erin said at the end of her comment: it is important to stop and look at death, despair and fear. Thanks, Sister.

"Auntie" sezzzzzz... said...

The name of your blog, drew me to it. I love "Synchronosity" or however one spells it.

Beautiful post... Dealing with the fear which seems to permeate our existence...

Happy to have found you and your blog.

Gentle hugs,
"Something about an old-fashioned Christmas is hard to forget."
~Hugh Downs