No way would I have learned about the Oct. 6 concert at Hancock Shaker Village performed by Paul Muldoon, with Rogue Oliphant if I hadn’t escorted my sisters to the environs of Joe’s Diner, on the last day of their week at Oak and Spruce, Maggie’s timeshare. So, be kind to your sisters and good things will happen for you. (Cool video included with my report on the show, linked above)
It was an awesome show, and writing about it led me to details of Mr. Muldoon’s upcoming appearance at the heretofore unheard-of Sharon Springs Poetry Festival, founded last year by Muldoon, just in time for me to book a spot in a workshop led either by Muldoon or Billy Collins. Also appearing in a variety of roles are Anne Waldman and current US Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith (she and Collins named for two terms in that post). Happiest hard decision of my life: choosing one poem for the workshop!
Important to keep in mind that whatever poem I carry in is not as important as what I may learn about making poems from Muldoon/Collins and the ten other participants. I would love to talk with Mr. Collins about my poem The Living and the Dead, which is my response to his poem Winter, which I think I heard read by Garrison Keillor on the much-missed Writer’s Almanac.
At the time (of first hearing or reading), I was in the midst of about a year-long dilemma of how to attribute the phrase I got from Herman Melville’s Piazza Tales that are the basis or catalyst for my poem Pivot of Spring. I hadn’t figured out a way to proceed yet, then I’m stopped in my tracks when the penultimate line of Winter includes “the living and the dead,” which also closes James Joyce’s story The Dead. That assemblage of five utterly common words was put to such powerful effect by Joyce that, for me, the phrase would be forever Joyce-branded.
Where’s the attribution? If I had fretted so much about repurposing a Melville phrase, did Billy Collins, too? Honest to god, I came this close to asking Don Hall about it – and felt immediately like a teenaged squealer, busting my buddy or my sister, just to see them squirm!
My solution (months later) was to preface the poem with a mini-essay that put the poem into the context of how it occurred to me, which led me to think that I may be on to something, a prose and poetry hybrid, with the poem ineluctably following the prose, rather than the prose serving as an exegesis of the poem. The prose addresses, instead, how an odd phrase, from a 150 year old short story, can become embedded in someone’s imagination, only to assert itself years later, and spark an ordinary little poem.
I sent them both to Don, who replied in the best way possible. Besides saying something along the lines of “good for you, getting poems while walking – Frost and Stevens used to but I never did.” Alright, there’s a rush from being mentioned in the same breath as those two, even if he only was being polite. As for the poem itself, the Melville phrase amounting to two of six total lines, Don wrote, “I like about half the lines, the others would make me grumpy.” Of course I did not ask him to clarify which lines work.
(More after the festival)