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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

poetry and concentration

I haven’t been able to focus on much of anything during the last week. I had a good report from my doctor: baby is okay, take it easy, no exercise, nap every day. The good part, of course, is that the baby is fine. The difficult parts, for me, are taking it easy and not exercising.

Exercising is what clears my head, what makes it possible for me to not perseverate on my list of daily worries. Running, which I hadn’t been doing anyway, is the most successful way to clear my head, but walking works, as well, and now that I can’t do that, the tension has settled in my shoulders and neck. All this tension, coupled with the fact that I don’t feel quite right, makes it hard for me to focus.

I can’t focus on a movie (my usual evening indulgence) and I certainly can’t focus on a novel or memoir. I just can’t do sustained narrative right now. The only other time that this happened to me was after Stella was born. For months I couldn’t read or write (or even think clearly). The one thing I found that I could do was read a poem. It’s so different than picking up a novel; I don’t have to commit to 250 pages. I can just read one poem.

This week I inadvertently read two books of poetry, both new to me. One was Beth Ann Fennelly’s Tender Hooks, which Sheri at mamazine recommended. The other was Marie Howe’s What the Living Do, which another friend recommended. I didn’t set out to read either of the collections; I thought I would just skim through them and see if I could find poems for my fall class. But in both cases, I read the whole collection.

I love the accessibility of Fennelly’s poems, the way they lure me in with an image familiar to me: chasing a toddler who is clutching something stolen from my purse or trying to pin down my daughter and beg her to prefer me over her daddy, for just one day. Fennelly lured me in, and then I stayed, struck by her skill, her passion, and some dark history. You can read some of her poems and an interview with Fennelly at mamazine, but there are some lines from one of my favorite poems:


People look at my baby and wonder whom she favors. Because
she doesn’t look like me, they decide she looks like her father. I
nod. I nod and nod. But really she favors the great dead one.
My own bad Dad. She favors him, the same brown eyes, the
same scooped out philtrum, that valley leading from nose to
mouth, as if the warm fingers that formed her stroked a perfect
pinkie tip there to sculpt it......See, I love her,
so even from the grave he spites me. Look at him, winning
again, crying in the bassinet. Here I come on quick feet
unbuttoning my blouse.

And Marie Howe absolutely wowed me. I felt the same way reading her poems as I did the first time I read Sharon Olds, just after Stella was born. They are raw and heartbreaking and sometimes so lonely. You can read some of Howe’s poems here and here, but this is one I love:


Just yesterday,
three days after my forty-fifth birthday,
a mild October afternoon,
somewhere around five o’clock,
and maybe the seventh or eighth time
I’d gone to check—

Now that it’s happened, it seems it had to happen.

Still the house had built itself a corridor I’d been hurrying through
towards the sleeping child,

thinking of Sarah’s angel, hearing Sarah’s laugh.

The white curtains billowed slightly in the mild, October wind
—but there was no baby, and hadn’t been.

So, since it seems that reading poetry is all I can do right now, does anyone have recommendations for me?


Anonymous said...

i'm glad to hear you are "resting" with some poetry. thank god for it. the worrying is crap though.

i just read kristin berger's chapbook manuscript, which wowed me to no end. we've published several of her pieces, including a few essays, on mamazine, which you can find here. if you like her poetry, i'll tell you when her chapbook comes out.

Anonymous said...

Mary Oliver! Mary Oliver! Mary Oliver!