34 Years of Poetizing

ice-dam-icicles

On or about January 20, 1982, I officially started writing poetry. I had written a few poems before that, either at school or at a small library writing class one summer, but on this day off from school for a teacher in-service day (whatever that means), I looked something up in the dictionary and found my attention snatched by the illustration of an “irregular octagon.” Those two words sounded so good together that I wrote a long poem about them, which is, thankfully, lost to the ages. Then I wrote a few more poems. Then I decided I was a poet.

Some of those high school poems were good in terms of imagery, although I was unsurprisingly addicted to rhyme. I started experimenting with free verse in college, often to good effect. But it was not until the 1990s that I started actually reading poetry that was written by other people. This progression is very common in beginning poets.

One of the great values in reading other poets is figuring out why they made the kinds of choices they made. Was it the sound and taste of the words? Was it laziness? So I am going to offer you two new poems and see if I can trace my own choices.

Yesterday was ridiculously cold, so I started thinking like this:

 

My toes are become wild icicles, shedding

Heat with every beat of my muffled heart,

The cold sidewalk so lonesome it must steal

A degree at every step I take. I do not think

About the heaviness of my bag, my watering eyes,

Or how dark the night was. I only feel the absence

In my boots, the negative space like a Vulcan greeting…

 

Well, now this has gone in a direction I did not expect, especially since the wildness is the interesting part of that first line. But “wild” to me tends to bring the connotations of jungles and passion, heat and brightly colored birds, which is the opposite of icicles and lonely sidewalks. How do I bring the poem around? Also the structure “I do not think of X, Y, and Z” is one I often use—is this laziness? It is a way of pointing to other details of the scene that we expect, what I might call the “pedestrian” details, literally, the details of being a pedestrian in a cold city. The darkness of the previous night takes the potential physical heaviness and tearing up and shifts to a more abstract negativity, possibly connected to the loneliness of the sidewalk.

Then things changed. I did feel like my middle toes were missing, but I don’t know if that works here. Also it takes me much farther from the wildness of the first line, which is frustrating. What are wild icicles? I love the sound of the phrase but I don’t know what it means or how to get back to it. Let’s try a complete 180.

 

Or how dark the night was. The wild icicles,

Hiding in the darkness of my boots, predict

Summer brightness, glorious jungle greens,

Toucans, monkeys, flowers like explosions

Of feathers and alien stars, which, this morning,

Are difficult to believe in.

 

Somehow I have to get back to the fact that I can’t feel about a third of my toes, and don’t expect to anytime soon (noon? March?).

 

Are difficult to believe in. Faith is hard

In winter, as hard as the long and deadly

Icicles hanging from the eaves of every house,

Waiting to pounce and pierce. Today, only

My forward momentum drags me stiffly

Toward the possibility of spring and the hope

Of something hereafter.

 

Now I’ve got to figure out how to end this sucker that doesn’t sound either too depressing (winter will never end) or too optimistic (four months of winter will go by in a flash! You’ll see!). We could go for closure, repeating shedding or muffled heart, but I don’t know what to do with that. Something about faith? Or the seven cardinal virtues? I have always quite liked fortitude.

 

Of something hereafter. Perhaps fortitude is

What we need: the will to withstand the cold,

Hard days and long, thin dark nights, fortitude

And the patience of burrowing, hibernating animals.

 

So we are left with this. I am undecided about whether I like it or not or how much. Thoughts?

 

My toes are become wild icicles, shedding

Heat with every beat of my muffled heart,

The cold sidewalk so lonesome it must steal

A degree at every step I take. I do not think

About the heaviness of my bag, my watering eyes,

Or how dark the night was. The wild icicles,

Hiding in the darkness of my boots, predict

Summer brightness, glorious jungle greens,

Toucans, monkeys, flowers like explosions

Of feathers and alien stars, which, this morning,

Are difficult to believe in. Faith is hard

In winter, as hard as the long and deadly

Icicles hanging from the eaves of every house,

Waiting to pounce and pierce. Today, only

My forward momentum drags me stiffly

Toward the possibility of spring and the hope

Of something hereafter. Perhaps fortitude is

What we need: the will to withstand the cold,

Hard days and long, thin dark nights, fortitude

And the patience of burrowing, hibernating animals.

 

3 comments on “34 Years of Poetizing

  1. robert okaji says:

    I love the version beginning “Or how dark the night was…” And what follows it piques my interest – telling me specifically that your toes “are become wild icicles

    Liked by 1 person

  2. robert okaji says:

    Oops. Continued: “are become wild icicles” doesn’t offer my imagination sufficient space to form my own visual, my own feeling about what is happening. But I prefer to be forced to work. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. e says:

    Lovely. I LIKE “wild icicles.” I-i-i-c-c-s. with some l’s.

    Liked by 1 person

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