The more I read of Don Domanski, Don McKay, and Steven Heighton’s poetry and work with Domanski, the faster my poetry is evolving and the more I can’t bear to look at my earlier poems, which include most of the ones on this website. Don D. was the first to teach me how to go deeper into a line. Not to repudiate narrative, but not to stay with its surface either. To constantly find a way to dive below.
Here’s an example from Don’s website:
EPIPHANY UNDER THUNDERCLOUDS
each night I spend whatever
God made during the day
spend it freely
on paper and empty air
I spend because God is only
a resemblance of God
only a conjuring built out
of nebulas and wheat
by a few old men
asleep in their escapes …
This and so many other of his poems teach me how to narrate what’s in my head as if I were talking about doing the dishes. There’s a profound (extra)ordinariness about Don’s words even while his subjects aren’t. I am learning this technique from him just as fast as I can.
One of the questions I’m dealing with is whether it’s possible to apply this knowledge retroactively to my earlier poems (while writing new ones). I’m finding it difficult. But here’s one attempt that will illustrate a few of the lessons I’m learning.
Version sent in early October 2010 to Magma Poetry:
After the Battle
We walk through water, placid, domestic
under hot sun, wading pants-rolled
by children’s paddles. Then a breeze lifts,
wind’s feet skitter along newborn wavelets,
feeding off a back-stiffening current of air, pier
shaking struts in refracted patterns. We’ve missed
the show, the ocean-deep storm layering
friction, pressing air on water in swirl-pulling
ripples, sinking playful dips until Newton
took over, not an inch above the level
water once knew. Its weight argued wind,
wind argued back, and wind won, waves climbing,
spitting foam before they crashed
beneath their neighbour. We know
the great green glass walls they became,
having seen, if only in movies, the tossing of ships
from stories high. Now we watch storm’s end,
energy pushing crests our way, land’s raising
squeezing them higher until they plunge, curling
their lips on arrival, reaching us in a thunder
of foam, rock-raking as they suck their way home.
I’ve never been truly happy with this poem. I wrote it as a response to an article in the Guardian by Gavin Pretor-Pinney, an excerpt from his book The Wavewatchers’ Companion. I loved the subject matter and some of the images but the poem itself was simply too descriptive: and then this happened, and then this happened.
My newer version below isn’t brilliant. I don’t think it’s going to earn me applause from Halifax. But I’m happier with it because, starting with sand, I began to think of how to convey the usual in a newer way, one that a reader can grasp without sighing. (I hope.) And I remembered to end it, not to leave it truncated. Feel free to let me know what you think.
After the Battle
We walk through water, placid under hot sun, the sand
a roll of pants away, beaten by the sound
of children’s paddles. Then a breeze lifts, skittering
wind’s feet along newborn wavelets, pier shaking struts
in God’s patterns. We know we’ve missed the show,
the storm ocean deep hiding layers
of friction, where unseen it pressed air on water in swirl
pulling ripples, sinking dips until Newton took over,
not an inch above the level water once knew. Its weight
argued wind, wind argued back, and wind won,
waves climbing Jacob’s ladder before crashing
beneath their neighbours. We never saw
the great green glass walls they became, how
they dreamt of tossing ships. Only distance’s softening,
energy pushing crests our way, land’s raising squeezing
higher until the plunge, lips’ curl a thunder
of foam, rock-raking the trip home. We walk back
to the car, knees wet with fury’s end.
I’ve also been enjoying reading been shed bore by Pearl Pirie. On her blog, she has some very helpful things to say about What Works/Doesn’t in Poetry. Robert Peake, the senior poetry editor at Silk Road Review has some valuable insights into what makes good poetry for him (and for me) at his blog, from the Road.