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Sometimes the online world reminds me of Salman Rushdie’s image from Haroun and the Sea of Stories: In this tale written for children (putatively) stories live in the sea like currents. All you have to do is sit in your boat, reach your hand into the water and pull one in. Yesterday’s post about Diane Ackerman took its title, Shape-Shifters and Magical Reinventors, All, from a quote from one of her writings that I selected to share.

Within hours I came across a posting at one of my favorite blogs, Virgin in the Volcano, about the passing of poet Lucille Clifton. As always VV has smart things to say about Clifton and her work, worthy of a read in full.

The poem by Clifton that VV chose to post is called “shapeshifter poems.” Ah, yeah.

The hand in the water: it has a meaning all its own.

RIP, Lucille Clifton. And thank you VV for being in confluence once again.

shapeshifter poems

1

the legend is whispered
in the women’s tent
how the moon when she rises
full
follows some men into themselves
and changes them there
the season is short
but dreadful shapeshifters
they wear strange hands
they walk through the houses
at night their daughters
do not know them

2

who is there to protect her
from the hands of the father
not the windows which see and
say nothing no the moon
that awful eye not the woman
she will become with her
scarred tongue who who who the owl
laments into the evening who
will protect her this prettylittlegirl

3

if the little girl lies
still enough
shut enough
hard enough
shapeshifter may not
walk tonight
the full moon may not
find him here
the hair on him
bristling
rising
up

4

the poem at the end of the world
is the poem the little girl breathes
into her pillow the one
she cannot tell the one
there is no one to hear this poem
is a political poem is a war poem is a
universal poem but is not about
these things this poem
is about one human heart this poem
is the poem at the end of the world

Read Clifton’s obit in the Baltimore Sun here.


Poet Lucille Clifton

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My friend LP continues to feed my poetry habit. She posted the following poem by Larissa Szporluk on her site over the weekend. I immediately went scurrying through the web for more information about S’s work.

So following the poem posted below is an excerpt from an interview with the poet from Perihelion. The sensibilities expressed here overflow effortlessly and fittingly into other creative pursuits, like music and visual art. I love the interviewer’s statement that each of Szporluk’s poems feels like a small animal, something I absolutely know the feeling of in the visual realm. I also understand that sense of aliveness in the process of making, and how that changes at various stages in the life of a work.

Thank you LP. Keep leading me.

Cuckoo

I nudge the eggs
of not my make,
watch them drop
without a thought—
dead who? dead who?
Who cares? They’re
not my make. I’m
cuckoo-true, a blood
and thunder freedom
monger—free what?
free who? Free you,
my boy, from mama
bird and birdie wife
and future brood.
You’re free to crack,
to stink, to cook.
You’re better off off
the hook, and off
the clock of my off-war
where time is space
and space is time
and both are wound
to wind up mine—
without a wall, what
can hang? Without
the sky, why not fall?
It’s all all off, but
I’m in tune. Death
is math. Rest assured
the nest left you.

–Larissa Szporluk

eggs

From Perihelion:

Q: Your poetry is often described as work that is very active, very full. I often feel like each poem is a small wild animal. How do you feel when you read your own work? How much does the readers’ perception concern you?

Szporluk: I’m completely uneven as a reader of my own work. I revise endlessly. It’s kind of sickening, goes beyond what is actually constructive. I suppose that might be why the work seems “active”–because it’s always being acted on. I can’t leave it alone. I’m too aware of all the possibilities. I know with conviction how much better every poem could be. The reader’s perception concerns me a lot, but I try to postpone that concern until the end, near-end, of the process. I have an imaginary reader who is very demanding. He/she will not tolerate any fluff. I hope the small wild animals you feel are hairless because if there’s anything I can’t stand it’s decoration. And yet I do it all the time.

Q: I’ve heard various people claim that there is no Auden or Eliot to look up to and follow these days. But people are writing poetry. Each year more people enroll in Creative Writing programs and submit work to literary magazines, so something must be driving them and encouraging them. As a poet and a professor of Creative Writing, what do you think of the state of poetry in this age?

Szporluk: I think it’s fine to be Audenless. Why should we have another one? We should have something of our own, and we shouldn’t worry about its name or nature. What I love about the state of poetry in this age is how passionate the students are–they become completely involved in the process of writing and I think they realize that they can apply that same intensity to the rest of their lives. One graduate student confessed that she wasn’t happy when she wasn’t writing, that everything else seemed dull. (Which is what my husband says about surfing.) For me, it’s a sign that people are connecting to the creative process, which is bigger than ourselves, and infinitely more wonderful. I’m very positive about poetry today. I think it has become a force.

Q: What kind of relationship do you have with your own poetry? We all have different roles we live which compile part of the self. One’s work can feel drastically different when held in his/her own hand privately than when it’s on the way to the publisher. Do you feel that with your work? Does your work meet different needs within you as a person, as a professor, as a publishing writer?

Szporluk: I think I answered part of that question above, but I’ll reiterate a bit. My work now has become inseparable from myself as a whole, inseparable from teaching, from parenting. It’s the publishing part that I worry about; it’s the one part I can’t reconcile. I’m not sure anybody can. When I’m writing a poem, it’s as alive as I am. So alive in fact that I feel an urge to send it out immediately, a very stupid urge I’ve learned. A vast sea lies between my desk and the desks of editors. They look at my spasmodic arrangements and frown. I’ve had to discipline myself. Now I only (usually) send out work that has calmed down. Once it’s published, it becomes dead to me–a good dead I think. It has crossed the sea. I no longer speak to it. I’m definitely the kind of writer who prefers the process to the finished product.

szporluk

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