Tag Archive for poetry

The Art of Silencing

by Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor

“I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.” – Blaise Pascal, 1656

For poetry month in 2015, I decided to do a series of redaction poems. My writing practice felt dry and uninspired, and my time was limited by a full-time college teaching position, academic leadership responsibilities, and the usual tasks of a wife and mom of two teens. I lacked the discipline I thought would be required to find and craft words into readable poems on a daily basis. As a teacher of composition, however, I already had my editor’s skills in the forefront. It seemed natural to take existing prose pieces and redact words to create poems.

The plan was simple: find a random passage from a book plucked from a shelf wherever I found myself. At home, cookbooks and gardening manuals were likely targets. At my college office, style manuals and books on culture were the norm. At the tutoring center, books on science and math dominated the shelves. Every book was fair game and the only criterion for choosing a passage was whether a word on the page caught my attention. Passages had to be at least five lines long and readable.

originalmuskeg

Once I found a passage, I copied the page, enlarging the text for readability. Then I took out my favorite Sharpie pen and went to work. I allowed myself to redact as many words as I wanted but required myself to leave at least one word per line. As the month went on, I found myself particularly attracted to active verbs and vibrant nouns. The practice became a game for me to find and keep the best, most interesting words. In the end, I would review the poem by reading it out loud and redact those few remaining words I thought unnecessary. More than once, I regretted the haste of my Sharpie that obliterated a word I would have rather kept. I resisted the urge to start over. The poems were trulyexercises of creativity, experimentation, and surrender.

redactedmuskeg

I posted pictures of the poems on my FB page and didn’t think I would do much with them after the end of Poetry Month. In early summer, though, a call for poetry submissions crossed my email and I wanted to participate. The familiar dread of not having the time or creativity to write new work came over me – then I remembered my redaction poems. I reviewed several, chose a few, combined a couple, and edited them further.

redactedreasoningtogether

To my delight, one poem titled ‘muskeg’, a combination of two redactions, was accepted to the anthology Noisy Water: Poetry from Whatcom County, Washington.

muskeg

exposed and scrubby,

proceed north along the wide

coastal landscape covered

with peatlands.

Travel to Prince Rupert,

thread your way, stunted and gnarled,

to large pools of yellow pondweeds snaking

between thick forest of bog laurel and

common juniper in the humid,

subdued slopes of considerable steepness.

Seek muskeg to the west like the Queen, or

Hecate, or Alexander. Find the continuous

Tangle, diverse and mixing with Indian

Hellebore and partridgefoot.

 

Misapprehension of place, sense of proportion

Lost. A way of seeing predicated on balance.

Move from sight to insight. Create a vision,

an understanding of place.

Creation began a story older than this place,

these steps, that bramble tangle water churn.

Interpretation alone is fitting,

looking away from the light

that is God.

Redaction poems are similar to found poems in that they reflect the idea that art can be found in the most mundane, unexpected places. Redactions, however, seek to show that a silencing has occurred; if you look closely enough, the missing can be found again. Although my poems began as redactions, they became found poems in the final edits because the redactions are not visible. Ultimately, the poems I wrote in 2015 reflect my own continuing conversation about silences, something of deep concern in this post-2016 election time. People like me are in fear of being silenced in subtle and violent ways. We fear our histories will be blotted out with black marks of denial and revision. This is one way to look at the future.

The possibility redactions represent culturally, though, is the sense of what was hidden has been revealed. Things overlooked and unseen are voiced because the noise of the expected is silenced. Ideas can find new connections, much like we allies and advocates can find each other to work for a better world despite the shadow that rises before us.

Author’s Bio:

rebeccamabanglo-mayor_garywadeRebecca Mabanglo-Mayor’s non-fiction, poetry, and short fiction have appeared in print and online in several journals and anthologies including Kuwento: Small Things, and Noisy Water: Poetry from Whatcom County, Washington. Her poetry chapbook Pause Mid-Flight was released in 2010 and her memoir of identity and motherhood titled Long Way ‘Round is in development.

How to Become a Writer Part 3 by Laura Kalpakian

The Romantic Particularist 

by

Laura Kalpakian

 I have always thought that the perfect person to be married to would be an astronomer. Every day at work he would sit beneath the massive dome of an observatory and peer out into the cosmos, the distant constellations, the galaxies far far away. Then, he’d come home and see the baby throwing applesauce everywhere, one kid painting on the walls, and the other having a meaningless, unfettered tantrum. The astronomer would walk past Legos spilled all over the floor, past the unwashed dishes, unfolded laundry, wave to the wife who is on the phone while the rice overcooks and bubbles on the stove. The astronomer would know that in the great plan of the universe, these particulars simply do not matter. (Full disclosure: I was once married to a theoretical physicist, an oceanographer who spent his days making mathematical models of the way the wind and the sea made love, but it wasn’t like the above.)

 Nonetheless, I cling to my notion of the ideal-astronomer-spouse, the Universalist whose approach to life is cosmic. As a writer, I am a confirmed Particularist. The writer can’t be anything else. Others might be able to choose: either you look for, take your cue from the universal in the world, like the astronomer. Or you are fascinated, transfixed by the particular. Writers belong in the latter camp. Poets belong in the former.

Great poetry might emerge from the Universalist instinct, as in Byron, Keats, Wordsworth, Whitman, Yeats, Matthew Arnold, or further back, (to my mind, boring) Mr. Milton and boring Mr. Pope. But narrative prose emerges from Particulars. Stories might eventually approach the Universal, but they do not begin there.

No writer, including Shakespeare, ever said: I am going to write a narrative prose about universal themes. (Remember that hilarious scene in Shakespeare in Love where Will is flailing away trying to write Ethel, the Pirate’s Daughter?) Every writer, including Will the Bard begins with scraps of particulars, What If?

Hmm, what if you have a king, a powerful king, whose judgment is failing, who decides to test his children’s love (Note in margin: which he doubts anyway) by making them slaver after his inheritance. Thus you have King Lear, or with a tweak, tug and pull, Death of a Salesman. Hundreds of years apart, these plays are thematically linked under the Universalist canopy. Perhaps for those universal reasons, we return to these works to cry our eyes out at the particulars: the delusions of these men, the loyalty or treachery of the family, the friends, the last grasp at dignity.

Remember William Faulkner’s well-known anecdote about how he came by the idea for The Sound and the Fury? True, he took his epigram and his title from Macbeth, and true the book is divided into three sections (only one of which is actually readable), and true the central character, the sister, Caddy, only shows up in her brothers’ narratives indirectly, and true The Sound and the Fury is a challenging read of epic proportions. But Faulkner got the idea watching a bunch of kids climb a tree, and the little girl at very top had muddy drawers. That Great American Novel emerged from a particular pair of dirty knickers.

As a writer the Romantic Particularist is constantly nudged, nettled, fascinated, kept awake by the great What If. The writer gets the equivalent of imaginative poison ivy mulling over a shard of story overheard, a conversation on the bus, a scrap of incident, a friend’s dilemma, a cranky barista. These are particulars that irritate, stay with the writer till she actually does something about it. She can forget about it; that’s one possibility, or she can write about it.

The best and most succinct description of task of the Romantic Particularist, ironically comes from a writer who was a confirmed Universalist. I speak of that eccentric, poet, printer, painter and illustrator, a taker of tea while naked in his garden, the dreamer and death-haunted, William Blake. From his Auguries of Experience it goes something like this:

To see the world in a grain of sand

And heaven in a wild flower.

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand.

And Eternity in an hour.

That’s your task, my ink-stained friends. Have at it. You are responsible for the particulars. The universals will take care of themselves.