Ice Friday: Richard Blanco

Richard Blanco’s Only Brother:

We carved an entire range of mountains

out of styrofoam block, covered their peaks

with sand for snow, the slopes with pines,

the valleys with fall maples and live oaks.P1000813

We made great rivers flow on the illusion

of tin foil crinkled and painted royal blue,

crossed them with mighty balsa bridges.P1000891

We placed townspeople where we wanted:

gazing into the shops, gathered at the chapel,

or waiting for the train, lapping obediently

under our command around the village

that took us six years to build, and one day,

in the backyard, we set it on fire, quietly

stood by the flames and let it all vanish.

Figuring Out How To Be a Writer

Lately I’ve been trying to figure out how to be an actual writer, whether it’s using the right words, or it’s a sensibility or a devotion to craft or just being in the right place at the right time. I mean, I know it isn’t just writing. I’ve been doing that for over 30 years and I have yet to feel the part. IMAG3759I do sometimes tell people that I’m a writer, but not the customs agents because I don’t make money doing it, with the exception of a brief stint as a sports columnist and my current job writing copy about toilets.toto-CST754EFI know that writing means something to me. I have a clear sense of me when I write. It’s just me and the words coming out of my head, a long wavering stream that I sometimes catch, and feel clear when I  do. And so I’m writing. I know that I’m doing that.

I just don’t know about the being a writer part. I doubt my ability to be as open as Richard Blanco or as honest as Darin Strauss.half-a-straussI doubt my cleverness, wit and sense of denouement. But more than anything I doubt being able to enunciate what it is I doubt without trying to make it sound too much like what I think I should and then I’ve just missed the point.IMAG3779I have been told that I have an ear for dialogue and that I seem dedicated to my work. I’ve also been told that part of my problem is that my narrative tends to be too fast-moving, a frantic thing that doesn’t breathe and therefore is opaque.IMAG3766But still…I know that my writing makes sense to me – even these few words; it gives me solace, a moment where life isn’t just chaos and missteps. That’s why I’m trying to do it, so that it’s not me just chasing words, but crafting and binding and offering my thoughts on that. I’m attending conferences and workshops and orientation meetings for MFA programs. I’ve even thought of growing a beard.

Henrik Ibsen

Henrik Ibsen

But I’m still not so sure. I have my doubts that, even after whatever comes next, I’ll even be a writer then, that I’ll feel like I should, or I’ll even want to because it seems that maybe there’s nothing like just chasing words, nothing as pure as that. IMAG3789At least that’s what I tell myself.

Richard Blanco: A Poet Who Knows It

Richard Blanco is not only a celebrated poet and a genuine soul, unafraid of the perilous depths of self, but he also really knows his stuff. IMAG3725I was privileged to be part of the Sanibel Writer’s Conference this weekend and listen to his thoughts in workshops and readings. IMAG3719No single line of poetry is ever arbitrary. Every line of poetry is like a truss in a bridge. It has to hold its own weight. It’s picking up from one side to the next. Each must be able to transfer the load to the next. It’s not that different from prose, understanding the basics of language. IMAG3714All poems should be read aloud. You’ll be surprised what your body tells you about it. Poetry cannot escape that aspect. We need to remember poetry was once a means of gathering, around the camp fire. It was music, the troubadours. That’s its roots. IMAG3717He even explained iambic pentameter with ease.

It’s not just the syllables and iambs. It’s important because it matches one breath. It is a unit of thought, a yardstick for ideas. Anything shorter seems abrupt. Anything longer seems long-winded, more of narrative rhetoric. Iambic pentameter is a good fundamental tool to focus and modulate the lines, something that can now be played with in free verse.IMAG3726

I want to find The Gulf Motel exactly as it was

And pretend for a moment, nothing lost is lost.

(*From Looking for the Gulf Motel.)

President Obama’s Inauguration: Good Words on a Good Day

Richard Blanco (from Inaugural Poem One Today): BlancoOneAll of us, as vital as the one light we move through, the same light on blackboards with lessons for the day, equations to solve, history to question or atoms imagine, the “I have a dream” we all keep dreaming or the impossible vocabulary of sorrow that won’t explain the empty desks of twenty children marked absent today and forever. 

President Obama (from Inaugural Day Speech): obamatwoProgress requires us to act in our time. For now decisions are upon us and we cannot afford a delay. We cannot mistake absolutism for principle. Or substitute spectacle for politics. Or treat name-calling as reasoned debate. We must act.

Martin Luther King: (from final speech given on April 3, 1968): mlkAnd another reason that I’m happy to live in this period is that we’ve been forced to a point where we are going to have to grapple with the problems that men have been trying to grapple with through history, but the demands didn’t force them to do it. Survival demands that we grapple with them. Men, for years now, have been talking about war and peace. But now, no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence or nonviolence in this world; it’s nonviolence or non-existent. That is where we are today.