Welcome to Marin Poetry Center’s Shelter-in-Place Writing Retreat. Thanks to Rebecca Foust for inviting me to host the retreat this week and the poets who have been posting daily along the way: Amanda Moore, Meryl Natchez, and Terry Lucas.
After the Disaster
A picnic in the sequoias, light
filtered into planes, and the canopy
cut through. Fire raged in that place
one month ago. Since I’d been there,
I’d have to see it burning.
Nature of events to brush
against us like the leaves
of aspens brush against each
other in a grove full of them
carved with the initials
of people from the small weird town
hikers only like for gas. Messages
get past borders—water
across the cut stem of the sent
sunflower alive with good
intentions. People who mistake
clarity for certainty haven’t learned
that listening isn’t taking
a transcript, it’s not speech
the voice longs for, it’s something
deeper inside the throat.
Now, from the beginning, recite
the alphabet of everything
you should have wanted, silverware,
a husband, a house to live in
like a castle, but I wanted
fame among the brave.
A winter night in desert light:
trucks carving out air-corridors
of headlight on the interstate
at intervals only a vigil
could keep. Constellations
so clean you can see
the possibilities denied.
Talking about philosophy
might never be dinner
but can return
your body to a state
of wonder before sleep.
The night reduced us
to our elements.
I wanted water, and whatever
found itself unborn
in me to stay alive.
Craft: We’ll start the week by remembering that writing is a physical studio practice that lives in the body. Katie Peterson’s poem shares images of fighting wildfires both in the landscape and within the self. There is particular attention to communicating interior experience. To me, what makes this poem so evocative is the way it pushes toward naming the body’s experience and cuts as close as possible to the source of the poem or what evokes a poem. There’s a layering of internal and external. In this interview, Peterson talks about her process.
Prompt: Choose something specific to observe. This might be a scene out the window or a cluttered area of your living space. Starting writing by describing exactly what you see. When other ideas come up, write into them as well. Once you have followed those ideas, return to describing exactly what you see. Repeat this process twice with two different scenes. Now search for dialog, instructions, words that were spoken. This might come from voice mail, conversation, memories, books, or other sources. Write down these lines as a list. Now you have three sources: two from the observations and one from the spoken words. Use this material, and only this material, to make a poem.
Journal: Consider submitting to the Michigan Quarterly, starting August 1st.
Recipe: I haven’t been to the nearby café in weeks and weeks. When I used to go there, I would get the frittata, because I like to eat something real in the morning. Here’s a Frittata recipe.