Words Served Neat: Gerard Manley Hopkins

AS kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme;

As tumbled over rim in roundy wells

Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s

Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;

Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:

Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;

Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,

Crying Whát I do is me: for that I came.

 

Í say móre: the just man justices;

Kéeps gráce: thát keeps all his goings graces;

Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is

—Chríst—for Christ plays in ten thousand places,

Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his

To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

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Photography and Poetry

I grew up in a household of art. My father has an absolutely unerring eye. By watching him, and by constant exposure to great art, I have a pretty decent eye myself. An eye for light, for focus, for composition. A love of the 6 1/2  minutes before the Purkinje effect, when the light is more gold and the world is rich with hues and overtones. And an ability to see beauty in unlikely and overlooked places.

The grand vista and the sweeping horizon are lovely, but capturing that…everyone sees that. It inspires awe, but it doesn’t reveal anything new. Nothing wrong with it, of course. Inspiring awe is one of the great and noble purposes of artists. I don’t intend to demean vistas or horizons. I love me the sunset and the mountains. I can’t get enough of distant islands seen from a ship.

However, the revelation of things overlooked and things of daily use as things of beauty is a noble purpose of art. I have seen this, most notably, in the art of photography. These are the photographs that really stand out in my memory. A door, a bouy, the corner of a house, the eye of a zebra. These close up views make me pause, scrutinize, realize. There is beauty in the light on a sloppily tiled roof? Yes, there is. There is beauty in a dandelion? Get the weedkiller, but yes, yes there is.

I was sitting in the balcony of a church last week, waiting patiently for the pastor to quit sermonizing so I could play my violin for the offeratory. I had already heard the sermon once, and round two wasn’t holding my mind, so I gazed around. That was when I noted the beauty of morning light on the corner of a roof. It was a tiny square of light, and saggy section of roof. I don’t know why it held me so enchanted. But there was beauty there, and I didn’t have a camera.

But there are many ways to capture the loveliness of light, and my medium isn’t really photography. My father takes pictures and paints in watercolor. My brother loves to daub in oil, and does a fine job of it. But I am not that kind of artist. When I want to capture a concrete beauty, I reach for a pen and start to scribble. In rhyme, in meter, and in English.

But my job is the same job. I must show you, make you see, point out and illuminate (all of that), something that you ordinarily would overlook. I am nowhere near the kind of artist that I’d like to be, but I hope that through practice and the constant pursuit, I may one day be able to use words to reach hearts the same way I am reached by excellent  photography through my eyes.

Meanwhile, I will enjoy the art of my fellow artists when it inspires awe or shows me something beautiful and new.

New Tools

I haven’t written any successful poetry in weeks. After I finished Spendthrift, I really didn’t have any spare thought.

Now, I am going back to the daily discipline of trying to write. I’m a bit rusty, but not too bad. The only thing is, that I find myself gravitating to the sonnet. Nothing wrong with that, of course. Sonnets are masterful forms that transcend time and space. But it’s the only form I am actually practiced with, and therefore the only tool I have.

But some thoughts just don’t fit into either the doggerel, the limerick, the clarihew or the sonnet. Somethings just don’t work. You can’t nail in a screw. You can’t screw in a nail. I’ve got to get some more tools.

So I set out on a journey. I am wrestling with the villainelle. Go ahead, laugh. That’s fine. I haven’t successfully written one yet, so the progress report is pretty brief.

Take your.

Spell, sell, pell, dell

hopscotch

So far, my villanelle is a palimpsest. Well, at least that sounds interesting. Until you look it up and the depths of my failure show up on my threadbare sheaf. Wish me luck!

Mnemonics

In my undergrad years, I had a bit of trouble with combinations locks. I went through 6 in my freshman and sophomore years. The trouble was not with the lock. It was with my head. Nothing I can do induces me to remember number combinations. I had to go to the custodian 6 times to have my lock cut off my locker. Embarrassed and at my wit’s end, I went to my mother (obviously. I was only 19. Who else could I tell? no…who else could I tell that didn’t already know…this was music school after all)

I am not a number person. Clearly! So my mother and my sweet brother went out and purchased a word lock. Have you seen one like that? The various barrels have letters and you line up the raised letters to spell a word. You can set it to a word that you remember. It was set for GRACE, which quality I desire.

I still have that lock, and it still works. Thank Goodness.

So here at IU, I got a locker, and it came with a lock. A number lock.

OH NO!

How am I supposed to remember 0271? I wrote a poem. It’s not a good poem, but the syllable count corresponds to the number I need next. In fact, it is a silly and dumb poem, but it worked.

Here it is!

 

!
They say
That all hard work gives profit.

Ha!

Lazy Sunday

I’m back in the saddle again. Audition season is coming up in September and I am aching not just do well, but to WIN this thing. You see, my favorite violinist, James Ehnes, is going to be in town. I have met him a few times, and aside from his showmanship and virtoustic technique, he is a great person. Unlike some artists, I have seen him come out into his audience to meet his fans. He is humorous and generous with all. And I have a chance to share a stage with him.

I’m practicing like a veritable fiend. Except when….

The Hammock to the Violinist

It’s too damn hot for Beethoven today
So cut the practice out and come and play.
Another metronomic moment more or less
Of droning, wearied, laboring excess
Won’t change the course of fortune anyway.

The snoozy, dozy Sun will melt away
The tension stored in shoulders, hands, and brain
With pulsing heat massaging out the stress;
But it’s too damn hot for Beethoven today

The music of the birds and trees at play
Inspires deeper vision, and you may
Be the better artist for a rest.
It’s a thought the Great Ones oft profess.
So cut the practice out, lie down and sway.
It’s just too damn hot for Beethoven today.

My Great-Grandfather

I went to Phoenix a few weeks ago for a job interview. It went well and all that, but, as life goes, what I will remember was not what I went there for.

Saturday morning before I flew home, I stopped at my great-grandfather’s nursing home. He will be 95 this year, and while he is looking frail, he is well, and quite alert.

A very friendly receptionist directed me to his room, and I found him watching TV with his friends. I put my hand on his shoulder and said,

“Grandpa, let’s go talk in the lobby for a bit.”

He said, “Sure!”

Now, I am the only daughter of his only granddaughter, so I assumed that my greeting and his affable acquiescence to this idea meant he knew who I was. Further conversation proved this to be untrue.

“Where are you from?”

“I live in Michigan for now.”

“My great granddaughter lives in Michigan. You remind me of her.”

“Grandpa, I am she!”

Joy flooded my grandfather’s face. The purest, warmest draught of delight I have ever experienced radiated through the room. Our laughter and happiness filled the lobby of the nursing home, and the receptionist wiped tears from her sympathetic eyes. We spoke of many things, mostly family and change and his missing hearing aids. Then he got restless, fearing I would miss my flight. I had hours to go, but after half an hour, his courtesy for my “busy schedule” required me to go.

“This was a happy reunion. I am so proud of you. I love you so much.”

And he was gone.

I’ve attempted to convey how sorry I am that I had to go, how much I wish I could have taken the job I was offered. Unlike my usual method, I didn’t employ a classical form, but rather listened to the meter and tried to harness the harmony of words to make a sort of song. I still don’t know what to name it. Suggestions are welcome.

Regret

Only a few minutes pass.

I would spend my life right here
Watching sorrow leave your face
Laughing, holding, loving you

But only a few minutes pass.

Graciously you hold your court
And give your family leave to stay
Beside your chair for half an hour

Only these few minutes last.

You are ancient, life is short
Those who love you hold you dear
I wish you’d let me stay with you

And only a few minutes pass.

Poetry Lesson.

Lost

“Oh brave new world”, oh, falsely now that rings!
Beguiled by lusting fancy for a world
Of images—mirages, and imaginings.
And by the treachery around me furled
I forfeit all. For there were harmonies
Until the curls of nighttime wafting, wind
About the trees, the blossoms, and the breeze.
Here now I, cloistered in a tower, find
A sterner couch; a colder harsher ache.
I chilled, awake; and in the unforgiven
Ages of the barren night, I quake:
As silenced truth obtrudes on me unbidden
That tho’ my fragrant island yet remains,
My armored innocence lies, by me slain.

 

 

This is the best I could do. Committing to a rhyme scheme really helps keep the thoughts from wriggling and writhing away from you like a stinky old eel. It doesn’t help the fact that it is very hard to write coherently if you are thinking of

Eve

Miranda

Pandora

And many other women of literature and the past who have made some bad choices and lost a lot on the way. Tends to mix up and muddle the whole metaphor thing. Watch out for that.

So what have we learned?

Commit to the rhyme. It’s not a prison, it is a parameter. Like bumpers at the bowling alley.

Pick just one metaphor. It’s nice to be able to see broadly, but you’ve got 14 lines. One thought is already more than enough.