Even before I finish my title, I have to start this blog entry because I can’t choose which preposition to use: for? to? about? All of the above? Over the years, I have had several people who have inspired me to write poetry. I don’t really count the men as muses, because to my mind love poetry is a different kettle of gummy bears. Knowing that people have been writing love poetry for 4,000 years or more is a lot of pressure, and I most often handle it by being a bit self-deprecating or funny. I see a lot of humor in romance. Let’s face it, being in love is a lot like being a little insane, and as Buffy the Vampire Slayer would say, “Love makes you do the wacky.” I am not talking about poetry like that, although it is a good idea for a future post.
I am talking about normal people in my life, friends, teachers, whose way of being in the world or the way they talk just triggers either imagery or juxtaposed ideas or a desire to unpack why they are unique to me. This is more like what poet Maggie Anderson calls “important excitements”: the (usually) short-term artistic obsessions writers and artists indulge in. Think of Monet’s 250 paintings of that lily pond. Like that.
This happens to me a lot. Usually I get excited about things, rather than people. At some point I will write a post about why I so adore the ukiyo-e woodblock artists from Japan, especially Hokusai and Hiroshige. Or my obsession with writing about characters from popular culture, such as Raggedy Ann, Barbie, Xena, or Amelia Earhart. Or the two months I spent writing incredibly long poems about Jack of the Beanstalk.
Sometimes, though, I meet someone who snags my attention. Take one of my flamenco teachers, Malena. I started to study flamenco dance out of curiosity and stayed out of fascination. It should be said that at no time in those three years did any actual talent for dance on my part ever appear. I learned a lot about rhythm and can now clap in time, even when the time is complex, and I can twirl my hands elegantly (big life skill, that). I appreciate Spanish food and rough guitar music and I can still do a little of the footwork (it helps pass the time waiting in subway stations).
But more than anything, what I saw was a way women could be both feminine and strong. I normally always associated femininity with pink dresses, a lot of skin, some dumb chick simpering up to a man. Bleah. The women who took flamenco class weren’t like that, and Malena herself was (and is) one tough chick in command of her own body. Flamenco is a fiercely passionate kind of dance, noisy, and in some way very feminine. Empowering. So when I wrote more than a dozen poems about flamenco, whether or not Malena was the topic, she was in many ways the trigger, the inspiration. The following is an excerpt from “The Flamenco Teacher” (for Malena, who is “just a florist”):
Petal, pistil, stamen, stem and root:
beneath your hands, these blossoms toss
heads, moody, beautiful, game for anything.
When you dance, your wrists become veined stems.
like yellow irises,
The key challenge was to express the visual images and the strong emotions with beautiful words, while also keeping with the kind of ropy uneven rhythm of the different dances, most of which are in 12, not 4/4.
I will leave you with a video of the legendary Carmen Amaya (1913 to 1963) dancing awesome flamenco.