Friday, May 03, 2013

The sky is there above

The Sky is There Above

the sky is there above
softening softening softening softening

you don't have to turn
don't have to switch on the head lamp
smoke on the road flows back and forth

you don't have to
carry photos
carry words
carry cigarettes

a light blue
the sky
blues over

From Selected poems, Gu Cheng, page 142

Well, yes, so sorry, I haven't taken Gu Cheng back to the bookcase yet. We are together here in the main room, and I can also report that George Eliot is now writing, Felix Holt, the Radical, after a long slog with Romola. So I am nearly up to Middlemarch, the next novel and the one I am most interested in the genesis of. And today, when I spent about a half hour in the eye doctor's little room, waiting for him while he dealt with another patient who is losing her vision, I went back to a psychological book about Elvis being a surviving or "twinless twin" (as was Thornton Wilder, remember?) and involved in an "enmeshment" (not  good thing) with his mother. This book is pretty heavy and I can only take it in short shots.

For a long time, I have had a prejudice against poems that get much narrower at the bottom, the way the above poem does. In my writer's group, when I have suggested to someone that their new poem looks like it might topple and fall on its face, my poet friends look at me in astonished and unbelieving ways. But I still would like you to think about it. Even so, I fell for this blue sky poem because the spring skies are often so blue here. And it is Gu Cheng, whom I love, even though he abused and eventually killed his wife and demonstrated other serious character flaws.

John McPhee has written a fine essay in the New Yorker (April 29, 2013) about writing (precis: write down ANYTHING to get started and REVISE it FOUR TIMES!) and about revision and copy-editing, especially at The New Yorker. This article is a rare treat. Seek it out! A favorite section deals with using/mining the dictionary (he clearly recommends this instead of the thesaurus.) "The dictionary definitions of words you are trying to replace are far more likely to help you out than a scattershot wad from a thesaurus." (page 34) I didn't retype this sentence [just] so that I could type the words "scattershot wad" but it helped. On this page and the next he gives examples of word clusters he lifted from a definition to insert into a written passage , and which work better than any synonym, no matter how showoffily splendid. He does not (RATS!) tell me which dictionaries he likes, but I will be examining my favorite, the American Heritage Dictionary (I have one in nearly every room! I like the older ones that have the Indo-European roots.) for this sort of information.
What are you writing now, dear reader? And if not writing anything, why not??
Sleep well, dream of vocabulary and vocabularies, roots and branches. Good night.
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