Ivy Alvarez, who wrote the just-published, sumptuous book of poems, Mortal, which I highly recommend, posted a meme on her blog that I've done in the past, though I don't think I can conjure up that old one right now. It's the one where you go to p. 123 in a book, count down to the 5th sentence, and then post the next three sentences. I've been reading the wondrous Max Tivoli, on the recommendation of someone who'd also read the equally yet differently time-warped The Time Traveler's Wife (which I didn't read, but listened to on audiobook while commuting, an excellently produced, dual-narrated radio-play that actually made me want to get back in my car and commute!). Max Tivoli not only has an unusual and intriguing premise, it's well-observed and beautifully written.
So, I took out Max Tivoli, which I may finish tonight when I get offline, and duly went to p. 123 and counted down. But the subsequent lines didn't do it justice, so I skipped back a few lines and I'll post those instead:
I knew more than the easy aspects--her eyes, her voice, her joy--that time leaches from the body: I knew the ominous little cough she gave when she was bored; I knew the smell of the anise seed she used to cover her cigarettes; I knew the tremble of her three visible vertebrae when an idea stirred her; I knew the flutter of her eyelids that meant annoyance at some stupidity; I knew the tears that came to her eyes the instant before an outburst of laughter; I knew her quivering night-cries, her bathtub operetta voice, her bitten fingers, and her snore. The things I knew, the Alice I knew, could not be touched by time.
"It's strange. You're very familiar," she said. "Are you from here?"
"Picadou is padding through a litter of purple bougainvillea blossoms, so bright on the dark, just-washed flagstones. At the edge of the sidewalk, a squirrel spots her and scrambles up his tree. Picadou says vile things to that squirrel, but she's drowned out with the wooshing by of a tour bus, paneled to look like a trolley, its guide droning into a microphone, a mini-van, a motorcycle, and then a rattling, battered, blue bug that putts out a cloud of exhaust. A trio of policemen passes, bikes swaying as they pump their pedals. Their backs look square, funny turtles, in their bullet-proof vests. They need them. I know several people who have been shot at, including my brother-in-law's father, as he was driving on the main expressway (luckily, the bullet lodged in the dashboard). I have, at last count, 11 friends who have had guns pointed at their faces: some car-jacked, others kidnapped. No need to be wealthy; anyone who looks like they might carry an ATM card can be picked off the street. It seems no place is safe..."
Don't worry, I'm not going to Mexico City!
(Found via Moleskinerie. You can also hear the author read her essay by purchasing the audio CD, proceeds of which go to a Mexican dog and cat rescue organization.)
From an interview with Connie Deanovich, recipient of a Whiting Writer's Award and a GE Award for Younger Writers (at Here Comes Everybody, via Helbardot):
7. How would you explain what a poem is to my seven year old? I would say words have secrets and special powers. I would smile and wait for the child to smile back or to smirk. Then I’d say it is a poet’s job to discover these secrets and powers. I’d say a poet is like a honeybee except instead of going from flower to flower the poet goes from word to word to get what she needs. The bee makes honey and the poet makes poems. Both are workers, explorers, and participants in the world of beauty. A poet puts words together so the secrets and powers can be revealed to anyone who reads the poems.
[Updated 7/21] Or, a poet is like a collector of marbles (according to Elissa Malcolm):
Words are my present-day marbles. I collect them, arrange and rearrange them, accumulate journal notebooks and three-ring binders, paper and printer cartridges. My computer becomes my pail. My life becomes a renewable cycle of collecting, arranging and rearranging, and giving away. Plunging my hands into cool, smooth concepts, or those more abrasive to the touch. Feeling them out, letting them run through mental fingers. Getting them down on the page. Collecting the pages and starting the cycle anew.
Last night I was reading Eugenio Montejo's poems from The Trees, in a nice bilingual edition that lets me try to parse out the Spanish, then read the English translation for understanding, then read aloud once or twice, or more, the Spanish with feeling.
As I sat in my living room by the fire with snow falling outside and daydreaming of Mexico, I related a bit, in reverse, to his poem about Iceland as imagined from the poet's home in Caracas, Venezuela, just 8 degrees above the equator. Only it is not quite so extreme a juxtaposition, nor an impossibility - for I am going, after all. Which makes me think that the distance between where I am now and what I long for may not be so far after all - like pulling a thread between a stitch in that far fabric and the one I hold here, the real and the merely dreamed of may finally come to rub up against one another.
Iceland and the distances which are left us, with their frozen mists and fjords where they speak dialects of ice.
Iceland so close to the pole, purified by nights where the whales suckle their young.
Iceland drawn in my exercise book, the illusion and the tragedy (or vice-versa).
Could anything be more ill-fated than this longing to go to Iceland and recite its sagas, to traverse its fogs?
It's the sun of my country which burns so much that makes me dream of its winters. This equatorial contradiction of seeking a snow that preserves heat at its core, that doesn't strip the cedars of their leaves.
I will never get to Iceland. It's very far. Many degrees below zero. I'm going to fold the map over and bring Iceland closer. I'm going to cover its fjords with palm tree groves.
Surfing around my usual blog spaces for the past several days I'm beginning to have this feeling like Jeff Goldblum in "The Big Chill" when he says, "I have the feeling there's sex going on around here."
Except that it's not sex, but NaNoWriMo - I have the feeling there's novel writing going on around here. Some people are posting bits of it; some are posting word counts and keeping the torch lit; others are complaining about not doing it or not enough of it; yet others said they were going to do it and, in fact, they've become pretty quiet on the blog scene so maybe they are "really going at it."
I'm not much of a fiction writer, though I've made brief stabs at some very short pieces, none of which I was very happy with. I did write most of a screenplay, though, for a "screenplay writing" course at Emerson many years ago, so I guess that could count as fiction in a way. It was fun when my characters took off in their own directions and things just seemed to happen. It was also fun to hear about my classmates' scripts - disaster movies, slasher movies, you name it. Mine was an offbeat love story featuring a shy middle-aged teacher who's been laid off due to a tax-revolt proposition and is now relegated to working in a shoe store and living in the immaculately maintained home of his dear departed mother; he takes a poetry workshop wherein he meets a free-spirited young woman who writes florid poetry that he finds awful yet that disturbs his dreams with her ankle-braceleted feet (he works in a shoe store, remember). I believe I was originally inspired by the lovely little movie, "Turtle Diary," which is not much like the story I ended up with, other than that the protagonist emerges from his shell, so to speak, by the turn of events.
Anyway, good luck to all those on the NaNoWriMo challenge!