The Clock

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Imagine a 24 hour movie, devoted to an exploration of time, how it’s measured by clocks and watches, how and why people pay attention to its movement, how it flows seamlessly, moment by moment, minute by minute, how people think and talk about time, how it affects our movements and expectations and actions.  That movie is The Clock by Christian Marclay, currently showing at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

“Christian Marclay’s The Clock is a cinematic tour de force that unfolds on the screen in real time through thousands of film excerpts that form a 24-hour montage. Appropriated from the last 100 years of cinema’s rich history, the film clips chronicle the hours and minutes of the 24-hour period, often by displaying a watch or clock. The Clock incorporates scenes of everything from car chases and board rooms to emergency wards, bank heists, trysts, and high-noon shootouts.”

David and I spent an hour and a half watching The Clock during a visit to MOMA on Thursday.  We were entranced, in the showing from just after 11:00 a.m. until 12:30.  The build up to noon through various clips of movies, many showing huge clocks like Big Ben, was as suspenseful as any movie I’ve watched.  The pace of the movie snippets accelerated, the action of the clips was tense, the music strongly paced, and shot after shot of giant clock hands beat time, clicking closer and closer to their perfect vertical alignment, and then it was noon, midday, bells and chimes ringing out the hour.  Then it was 12:01, 12:02, 12:03. . . . . .

We could have stayed in the showing for hours, but time was moving on and there were other things we wanted to do with our day in New York, include seeing the exhibition Inventing Abstraction, 1910 — 1925.  Another excellent show, and particularly captivating for me was the confluence of poetry and painting during the rise of abstract painting in Europe.  The connections between painters, musicians, dancers and writers throughout this period were displayed at the entrance to the exhibit, a web of relationships punctuated by red names, those whose connections touched at least 25 others involved in the rise of abstraction.

Guillaume_Apollinaire_CalligrammeSeveral poets collaborated with visual artists to create cross-genre works of art, including “the first simultaneous book,” a narrative poem about a trip across Russia by Blaise Cendrars printed alongside a painting by Sonia Delaunay-Terk, the paint overrunning the text.  A book of poetry by Guillaume Apollinaire written during his service in World War I included calligrams, poems in which the graphic layout of the poem was as important as the subject, creating an image that expressed the text.  Apollinaire was a master of calligrams, such as his poem in the shape of the Eiffel Tower.

But time marched on, as it does, always and always and over and over, and we had a train to catch to be back on Long Island to take care of Emilio for the evening.  I left with a journal full of ideas, and images of clocks and watches ticking on.

Lucky

I ran into a friend last night while out with David.  “How are you two?” she asked.  “I hope things are settling down.  When I saw your last blog post I thought ‘No, not more tough stuff.'”

She’s right.  Enough tough stuff.  One afternoon shortly after Eric was first diagnosed with metastatic ocular melanoma, and we realized how very sick he was and how little time he had left, we were lying on the bed together talking.  “We’re the luckiest unlucky people in the world,” Eric said, and I agreed.  The cancer was enormous bad luck, but we were so lucky in so many ways — our love and marriage, our children, our family and friends, our comfortable and privileged life.

After Eric’s original diagnosis, three years before, I’d thought a lot about the concept of luck, and how often we only perceive our good fortune in contrast to what could have been worse.  Here’s the poem I wrote then.  I’m still as lucky as ever.

LUCKY

to be alive after an accident,
after a grave illness, to be able
to recover and comprehend
all that could have gone wrong

the wrongness that happened
the reference for all that’s left intact.
Why do we need misfortune
to remind us how full the bucket

of luck is, each moment unfolding, one
glow after another, out in the silver
dawn, out in the indigo dusk, hauling
our luck around with us, holding on.

Walking In the Woods

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Walking In The Woods

We have been walking in the woods since we were children,
we never stopped, we can see the forest, now our son
tells me to slow down, there’s no hurry anymore,
you are already dead, he runs. Water drops downhill,
a stone bridge at the top of the gorge, ice and snow still,
goblets of ice hanging from branches that cross a small fall,
sharp angles of rocks, going to the river. I find dry leaves
in a sunny spot above the water, a cloud shadow and the brook
is black and white, gold glint gone, then gold again, the cloud
is in everything, at the river, a rock bench by a pool under cliffs,
snow shards, a flurry in a squall, a bank of river stones.

From The Truth About Death

More Truth About Death

Having The Truth About Death published was an accomplishment that meant a lot to me, not just because it felt great to have my first full length book of poetry published, but also because I believe in the story it tells, the chronicle of grief it provides, and its truth about death.  Or the truth as I experienced it.   Still, this summer I purposely let myself focus on other things — travel, family, gardening, ramping up on a couple of consulting jobs — rather than feel like I had to maintain a constant focus on promoting my book.

So I’ve been delighted twice recently when, without any prompting or focus on my part, good things have come back to me about the book.  I brought copies with me to the Vermont College of Fine Arts Writers’ Conference this summer, figuring I’d sell a few copies there, which I did.  And a week after the conference I got this wonderful email from a participant who’d bought a copy:  “I have just finished reading your book, The Truth About Death. I simply could not put it down; I read it in one day. It is so beautiful and moving and agonizing that I hardly know what to say, except that it has changed me: I feel ripped open and sewn back together. This is what I hope to find in writing, in any genre; I ask to be fundamentally altered in ways I can’t adequately describe. I am afraid to explore the topic of losing a partner. Your poems made me look at the visceral truths of such a loss, and I am grateful for that. I know this is a book I’ll read many times, finding something new in each reading. Thank you.”

“Wow!” I thought.  So it’s working.  People are experiencing the book in the way I’d hoped.  Then a couple of weeks later I got this email from a good friend:  “I thought you might like to know how your work moves around. I gave a copy of your book to my friend Jim who is now teaching for NYU in Abu Dhabi. One of his courses is called Ghastly Beauty, and deals with art as ‘a repository and record of human emotion’. He is using some of your poems in  the class. Since the students come from all over the world, they will take some of your work with them when they go.”

And tomorrow night I’ll be reading once again from The Truth About Death.  David and I are the featured readers at tomorrow night’s Portsmouth Poetry Hoot.  So, the book keeps going out into the world and coming back to me in unexpected ways.  May the magic of that continue.

Grief

I know a lot about grief.  Hey, I wrote a book called The Truth About Death.  When I was at the Vermont College of Fine Arts Writers’ Conference two weeks ago, I ran into an old friend, another poet.  He bought my book and by the next morning he had read much of it. “Wow,” he said.  “The book is so tight, so powerful.  That poem ‘Hole’.”  He shook his head.

The next day we talked again and this time he’d finished the book.  “You know, I’m mad at you,” he said.  “I’m supposed to have the saddest poem in the country, and now you do.”  He smiled, I smiled.  I was happy he thought a poem of mine was the saddest in the country.

Now I’m sad because two people I care about have lost someone dear to them in the last week.  One lost a best friend, one lost a brother.  Grief has moved in to live with them for now, because grief doesn’t wait to be invited.  It shows up and sits next to you on the couch, sits across the table from you when you eat, rides in the shotgun seat of your car, slams you in the gut when you wake up in the morning.  Grief is a whole other beast than sadness, which you can be happy about.  Sadness is where you can get after grief starts letting you breathe again.

I don’t know which poem in my book my friend thought was the saddest, but here’s ‘Hole’ because it’s the one he mentioned.

Hole

Brief brilliant color at dawn and now low grey
as I leave for a tidal zone, before the floods, fly
through the storm. I’ve been flooded all along,
peeling each day, birch bark curls, iridescent
interior sheen, hatched with black on the outside.
There was an opening we both walked through.
My land is difficult, flinty rocks, a scrappy brook,
water moving every day, how simple, follow
the rules. I peeled oranges for you, I was happy
to do it. Stuffing your jacket into the overhead
bin I see the hole in center of the back.

Haiku Habit

For quite a while in my last year as the Executive Director of the NH Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, I wrote a haiku every day and posted it on this blog.  My thinking at the time was that I needed a bit of thinking each day that wasn’t about work, some encroaching deadline or knotty personnel problem, thinking that was creative and ruled by syllables and expression, not by external demands.  I began carrying my phone with me on my morning runs so I could capture the visual that often set me off into haiku composition, reordering words and phrases as I ran.

This morning I walked out of the house and there were the three cows that are pastured across the street from my porch this summer.  I know their movements across the field most likely have nothing to do with me, but whenever I see them in my corner, I feel lucky, like they’ve come to greet me.

Looking at the cows a haiku started in my head and I realized, even in this post-intense-daily-job life I’m now living, I’m still so busy I’m rarely writing in the way I’d imagined I would be 14 months after leaving my job.  Part of the problem is that I’m still working, and even though the work is consulting jobs that leave plenty of time to fit other things around the edges of the billable hours I put in, those other things include many things besides writing.

So, what about a new haiku habit?  I don’t need to read another article that tells me the only way to write is to just sit down and write.  I know that, and I am writing, it’s just not the sustained, focused level of creation I’d imagined.  So what if I commit to a haiku a day, just that space of 17 syllables (okay, I know it’s on in Japanese, not the same as syllables, as I wrote here less than a month ago, but the syllable scheme works for me), those minutes of capturing a moment?  That could lead to more minutes, more focus, more creation.

I doubt all the haikus will end up on this blog, but here’s a start to the habit.

Three cows this season
Working stubble for fresh green
In my own corner.

Truth and Crying

I did a radio interview yesterday afternoon, talking about The Truth About Death and my book launch this evening.  I was on the show “Attitude with Arnie,” hosted by Arnie Arneson, a well-known New Hampshire radio personality and former candidate for Governor.  The night before I’d called Arnie to talk a bit before the on-air interview and when I said, “How are you?” she answered in a hushed and somber voice, “I’m reading your poems.”  You can listen to the interview here, but if you don’t have time for that, here’s the quick synopsis.  Arnie’s husband has terminal cancer and Arnie is very close to the issue of losing a loved one.  She recently brought an aunt home from the hospital to die.  She understands how we all live right next to death, and she found my book very, very hard to read.  But necessary and real.  At one point in the interview she started to cry and asked me to take over the talking, which I did.  Crying is okay, in fact, sometimes I miss how much I cried in the year after Eric died, because of how deep the release of troubling emotions can be in those moments.  I know The Truth About Death is just that — hard, sorrowful truth about what it is to lose someone who is at the center of your life.  But I know how much I wanted that truth in the early months of disorienting grief, and I hope this book speaks to others in that place, and to those who’ve yet to experience that kind of loss.  The truth about death is that it’s what happens to all of us, and sometimes first to those we think we can’t bear to lose.  The more we can live with that truth the more fully present we can be to what is in our life right this moment.  For me right now, that’s morning sunshine with a full day of truth telling ahead.

Almost Here

By tomorrow evening, I should be holding a copy of The Truth About Death in my hands.  Wow!  My first reading is on Sunday, at Del Rossi’s Trattoria in Dublin, NH, as part of the Writes of Spring series hosted by Rodger Martin.  Sunday night, Kevin Walzer at Turning Point Books put up a blog post about the book.  You can now order it online.  If you do order online, I encourage you to order through Gibson’s, my local independent bookstore, which will be hosting my launch party on April 26.  Wow x 2!