Exactly two weeks ago, I attended the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival in Newark, NJ. For those of you who may not be familiar with the festival, it is a four-day extravaganza for lovers of poetry complete with readings and panels led by some of today’s most outstanding poets. For the past two festivals (it is held biannually), it has been held in the NJPAC center (and surrounding buildings) in Newark.
A few days after the festival, my friend, Lynne, posted a lovely article about what she took away from all of the panels and readings she attended. This inspired me to write a similar post. There were so many events I wish I could have triplicated (two of me would not have been enough!) myself. But the events I did attend were stunning. Here are some of the highlights:
Jane Hirshfield from her poem “Vinegar and Oil:” “Wrong solitude vinegars the soul,/ right solitude oils it.”
Taylor Mali from his poem “Undivided Attention:” “Let me teach like the first snow, falling.”
Dan Bellm, speaking of reading poetry aloud: “[The poem is] not done, in a way, before it’s spoken, given away.”
Thomas Lux, speaking of those who write hard to understand poems on purpose: “[Writing obscure poems on purpose] is a kind of pre-suicide, a kind of not wanting to be.”
Phil Levine on permission to write about any subject you want: “You don’t need permission to write about life on Mars. You can do whatever the hell your imagination is gifted with.”
Eavan Boland: “The art of self-expression is not hard…There is no art without self expression.”
Dorianne Laux: “This form, this genre, was made for working people.”
Lots of little gems here! I hope you find some inspiration among them.
What about you? Are there any quotes from authors you admire that have stuck with you?
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the connection between grief and singing. I know these can be thought of as pretty disparate concepts; one is filled with anguish and the other is (usually) associated with beauty. And yet I can’t help but think they are inextricably linked.
I’m reminded of a poem by Jane Hirshfield called “If the Rise of the Fish”. In this poem she writes, “If the leaves. If the singing fell upward. If grief./For a moment if singing and grief.” I love these lines. What would happen if singing and grief existed together in the same space for a moment? What would that look like? Would it be a mixture of light and dark? Would it look gray and muddled or luminous? I’m not quite sure but I love the fact that Hirshfield plays with this concept.
As far as my own creative process is concerned, I tend to write when going through a hardship. Tension, living in the gray and unknown is what moves me to write. And this creative process is helped along by music. Most of my process has been influenced by the belief that tragedy is not necessarily found in the process of enduring a rough time; the real loss would be doing nothing to turn hardship into something beautiful.
There is a song by RED that I find myself going back to. It’s called “Hymn for the Missing.” Although these guys are pretty hard rockers, they compose some beautiful instrumentals. And I think this song illustrates the concept of melding grief and beauty really well. The lyrics clearly convey loss: “Where are you now? Are you lost? Will I find you again? Are you alone? Are you afraid? Are you searching for me? Why did you go? I had to stay. Now I’m reaching for you. Will you wait? Will you wait? Will I see you again?” So many questions. I can’t help but think of this verse as depicting the bargaining stage of grief. The uncertainty leads to questions, but questions don’t always lead to answers. And still, we put them out there. In the backdrop of this song is a beautiful piano arrangement that crescendos into an absolutely gorgeous, full instrumental – a reminder that grief and song can complement each other in the most heart-breaking, stunning way. Listen to “Hymn for the Missing” here: