Sunday, November 20, 2011

I've worn out my need to discuss Helen Vendler, and no doubt you are relieved. I really don't know what came over me. For the most part I just let these poetry disputes drip off my rain hood and back into the oily pond from whence they came. Also, I would say too many stupid things. For instance, if I were being honest, I'd have to admit that I've never heard of a single one of the writers who won this year's National Book Award.

How can that be? What am I doing on this earth? Well, what I have been doing on this earth lately is reading William Blake's letters and washing kitchen cupboards and making a grocery list and stoking the wood stove and dosing the stitched-together dog. William Blake's letters are remarkable, the other occupations less so. It's possible that those book award winners would have livened things up for me, yet somehow they never walked into the room. Where were they? Where was I?

Oh, well. Fourth River just accepted four of my western Pennsylvania poems--which is to say every single poem that I sent them--so that's a happy surprise. The journal is based in Pittsburgh and publishes nature and environmental writing; and because my poems all deal with the history of the Fayette County coal seam, I'm very, very pleased that a regional publication decided to take so many of them. Like most things I write, the poems are character- rather than image-driven, so I wasn't exactly sure how naturelike they'd appear to a journal editor. They're not very Mary Oliverish, that's for sure.

So now I'm going to do something I've never done here before. If you're interested, I'm going to share a draft of a western Pennsylvania poem that's been bothering me, and maybe you can give me your opinion about what I should do with it. The poem is, basically, a riff on the sound of Dante's lines rather than the meaning. (I do not speak Italian.) The idea sprang from a friend's family story: of a miner relative, an Italian immigrant, who knew a great deal of Dante by heart. Hers was a sad story: he came to a lonely and alcoholic end; but my version doesn't mimic facts, only atmospherics and time period. One large issue, as I discussed in a previous post, is the challenge of including immigrant voices in this project without resorting to dialect. So this was my experiment. And here is my question: are the lines from the Inferno important to the poem, or should I drop them? Certainly they were important to its construction, but perhaps they're merely distracting here.


Carlene said...

Hm, thanks for the challenge to witness a poem in draft!
For me, (little ol' hardly published yah I like poetry and so on me) the poem begins at the line In the ragged evenings... All the narrative before feels like "on-ramp" work; yes, setting up the character, but I am not intrigued or engaged until later on the poem, where the language, rhythm, and diction become more lyrical. And yes, I am a little distracted by the Italian. Maybe less is more? Or use it to create ambience?
Am I just blathering? Possibly.

Dawn Potter said...

Thanks, Carlene. I have been sitting with this thing for months, glancing at it now and again but not knowing what to do with it. The point of this history is not to sound like myself: all the poems are different, and most use some kind of formal structure. Many also borrow words or word riffs from primary sources. So each one is a surprise to me.