How I Write

Most writing begins in Purpose, a very crowded city, with directions out unclear amid contradictory signs. North of Purpose is Poetry, South is Prose. East is essay. West is Uncharted Territory. It doesn’t matter which direction you choose; Purpose is surrounded by ocean. The easiest and most travelled conveyance out of Purpose uses words. Words come from Language, some say the oldest of cities. But not all languages use words, semaphore, for example. Other examples of language without words might include body language, talking drums, whistling, smoke signals, music. We might say that those languages are not written, but music is written, and without words.

But I do use words, and because I’m only an average speller, poor pronouncer, mostly monolingual, and usually lost in Purpose, I keep a dictionary open while I write, but also because individual words are like recipes; I want to know what’s in them. Sometimes I spend so much time in a dictionary nothing gets written. One easily gets sidetracked in Genealogy and never reaches far from Purpose.

That one uses words doesn’t necessarily mean that one writes. One might talk, achieve one’s purpose, no need for pen and paper. Others might commit what someone said to memory, and repeat it themselves for a ticket out of Purpose. Talking is not writing, but it is a kind of writing.

And I don’t always use words. I draw cartoons. But if the cartoon is an argument, it is at least a kind of writing.

Sometimes it’s enough to ramble around Purpose, maybe with a camera in hand, walking through the neighborhoods, down to the industrial section, out to the ballpark.

If writing were a sport, it might be baseball. The outfielders adept at prose. At third base and first, essayists. At shortstop and second base, poets. The battery of pitcher and catcher a thesaurus of pitches: location, intent, speed, deceit. Readers may want to put the Shift on here.

We might say our purpose is to entertain, so we give our writing twists and shouts, a preacher’s sermon. The purpose of most writing is argument, an attempt to persuade. Purpose should not be confused with occasion. The occasion of writing is an assignment: a query, a synopsis, a critique or analysis. And occasion should not be confused with form. A postcard (from Purpose) is form, not content, but we begin to see how one shapes the other: “Wish you were here!” “You should have come!” “Can’t wait to get home!” “Not coming home, ever!”

In short, how we write is not quite the same thing as what we write or why we write. When we write is not important, nor where.

But it’s very hard to get out of Purpose. You never know when you’ll be stopped by the Authorities and asked to present your papers. Documents, photographs, identifications, QR Codes. They might even want to draw blood or have you pee into a bottle.

Purpose can be a mean place, a town without pity.

So I mostly try to avoid Purpose, and that’s how I write, or try to.

Moonglow

It must have been moonglow
drop these words down to me
must have been moonglow
I’m up in the old oak tree.

Your supermassive hug
your stellar eyes of blue
I can’t get out and away
I’m disappearing into you.

It must have been moonglow
high up in the old oak tree
that night you said those words
and held me so close to you.

Night Words

Those words that come at night wash
swim the room like pieces of litter
flowing down a gutter in rainfall
cooling the street and gloom.

Then come the slow-moving
two-wheeled wheelbarrows
pulled by a pair of worker
words pulling like tugs

the barges of raw sense:
to to wit
to to whom
to to why
to to reason
of of love
in in fear
two by two
far and near.

spring

with spring’s sprang nearly sprung
green cheer spread here and there
winter’s rust vanquished vanished
birds appeared and cats chirped

bees abuzz and poets well coffeed
at sidewalk bistro tables smiling
flowered girls no more sobbing,
words like dandelion seeds fill

vacant lots of napkins and notebooks
from self sown gardens of the mind –
happens every year most this clime
a great force in and out the ages goes.



No Word

It might have been said,
were there one to say it,
she was the last human,
but then she would not
have been the last one.

She’d been told to keep
by the river, the fresh fish
would grow and multiply.
The weather returned,
the goats and chickens.

She talked to the animals,
but she found life easier
if she kept silent, forgot
words, let go lingo and,
in the end, was no word.

On the Whole of Things

having cut it out [it, all its]
pleasure now without article
embellishment whole
some questions

consider blue hydrangea
yesterday transplanted
from pot to ground
root, stem, leaf, bud

in which will we find
whole plantness
cup without coffee
gives us to mark time

a day without hours
hours without minutes
minutes without seconds
where will we find time

for whole things
words opening
seeds, bulbs
into whole language

grown in pots
root-bound can
but describe
like mathematics
can not be


Free Words (some assembly required)

not spoken words
not hidden words
not hearded words

dug words
fished words
sifted words

surfed words
combed words
well travelled words

free words on
the sidewalk
skipped by

letters spewed
like weed seeds
across a manicured

lawn as solid green
as the village scene
where words score

sales counts
remaindered words
recycled words

composted words
buried words
words love lost

lost and found
words washed
up on a beach

words gargled
words swallowed
words repurposed

words typed
words scratched
words fallen

from the sky
like manna
made into beer

words loaded
words emptied
words cooked

words eaten
words wiped
clean

as tables
freshly set
with white tablecloths

words waiting
aside
words walking

whispered remarks
“Shall I hear no more?”
utterly.

(note: written while reading
noT wriTTen words
by Xi Xi, trans. Jennifer Feeley,
Zephyr Press, 2016.)


The Poet’s Tale

The poet is born in squalor, his first love. Some of the poet’s favorite words include seedy, shabby, seamy. These are words made with a hissing sound. In phonics, that sound is called a sibilant, and is produced by forcing the tongue toward the teeth, with the lips near closed, forcing air out like a snake whistling. But opposite words are equally valued by the poet: classy, stylish, exclusive. Even if the reader uses words without really caring about words as such much. The poet is not primarily concerned with getting a point across, and is held harmless if some point hurts its object in the bargain, even if so much the better. If an annoying sound appears to sharpen the point, there’s value added. The poet is in love with words.

But it’s easy to confuse poetry with sarcasm, satire, or irony. And the true cynicism of poetry often gives way to stoicism. This may occur when the poet realizes there is no point to anything, including his own poetry. Innuendos may still be highly valued (particularly where points may be scored), for all words have their beginning in figures of speech, which is to say, metaphor. That is precisely what an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is meant to solve. Words disallow mistake when artificial trade-offs are refused. But language is no place for despots, try as they might to exert control, to establish absolute authority. Who controls the movement of words over space and time?

Words are all substitutes. No one can claim dominion. One is as good as another. Language is democratic. And that is why the poet is married to shame, his own mother, at once virgin and harlot (that is to say, vagabond, a beggar for words). In a truly democratic society, where everyone is equal and all words hold common sway, and competition without compromise is useless, it may begin to appear the only way to have a-leg-up-on is to attempt to subject another to shame. But shame has never worked as a measure of control. And that is why poetry can be so hard to get, and why hard times come so often to poets.

The poet stands accused of nothing and nonsense. His love of words and sound and color is scorned and mocked. He is the scapegoat for confusion.

Coast Road Trip: Adage and Algae

The idea, now an adage, that a picture is worth a thousand words, seems to have come from early 20th Century advertising strategies. A picture might be worth more than a thousand words to an illiterate shopper, and advertising must be short and quick and hit hard enough to leave a brand image on the brain. The problem now for advertisers might be there are too many pictures. We are now uploading upwards of 2 billion photos daily to the Internet. If the early 1900’s advertising adage is true, that’s two trillion words, daily. It’s easy to see why a writer struggling to reach a goal of 500 words a day might resort to posting a pic or two. Or simply trade the blog in for an Instagram account. Digitized images are the algae of the Internet.

Mural in Harbor Zone, Crescent City, CA. Photo by Susan.