Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Poetry of Ordinary Time


One night when I couldn't sleep, I decided to listen to the latest On Being podcast, which was a really arresting conversation between Krista Tippett and a poet I'd never heard of, Marie Howe. There were so many words, lines, thoughts that stood out to me as I listened, and I kept thinking, I should write these down. But then they were more than just thoughts; it all sounded like a poem to me.

When I was about 19 or so, I found a book of poems in the library by the amazing Annie Dillard, who'd written a book that had recently blown me away (Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, of course). Annie handled words like a cross between an athlete who performs stunning feats without a second thought [apparently] and an astronaut who sits on a thin ledge between life and death and fixes some billion dollar spaceship part with a jerryrigged toothbrush. (Okay, that sentence proves that I'm not Annie Dillard. w00t!)

My point simply being that Annie could've been putting out loads of volumes of profound, elegant poetry made of her own words if she wanted to, but instead, she put out this odd and brilliant book of "found" poems. Basically, she played around with scraps of words and phrases from the random sources she so delights in (e.g., an 1800s manual of boys' projects, a Russian hunting memoir, van Gogh's letters, the Apocrypha) and found the poetry in them. Anyway, I recalled the book and thought, Why not?

As Annie says in her Author's Note, "I did not write a word of it." In other words, Marie Howe said all of this; I merely created a collage to form a fresh image of these ideas. I might have contributed punctuation; I might not have.