Poetry & Perception

Many of my poems reflect a continuing interest in perception and how we try to capture fleeting moments with language. The art that comes closest to what I’m trying to do in poetry is photography, the exploration of things in the world (and in ourselves) from various angles. The attempt to penetrate surfaces by using the very surfaces themselves.

I just re-read a piece in an old issue of Round Table Review that has helped me to understand what I’m after in poetry. In an article entitled “This Talk of ‘Soul’: What Does It Mean?,” Mary Stamper quotes James Hillman from his work Revisioning Psychology: “By soul I mean, first of all a perspective rather than a substance, a viewpoint toward things rather than a thing in itself.  This perspective is reflective; it mediates events and makes differences between ourselves and everything that happens.  Between us and events, between the doer and the deed, there is a reflective moment—and soul-making means differentiating this middle ground….  (qtd. in Round Table Review, Jan/Feb 1995, 7)

I’m trying to get into my poems the way we actually perceive the world, inner and outer, from the soul’s perspective, how the two collide and collude in the brain, the poem a reflection of that activity.  Charles Olson and Denise Levertov were after the shape of the inner voice—they tried to capture how that sounded on the page.  Others try to recreate the external world in traditional lyrics, or narratives, or some combination of the two.

I want the dimension in-between, where both come together; it’s a more accurate rendering of how we perceive. It seems only art and dreams can begin to duplicate that world for us. This idea connects to what Stamper says: “This means death of the notion that things appear to the soul in the same way that they appear in everyday contexts, that soul understands things in the same way that our egos do” (Round Table Review, Jan/Feb 1995, 8).

I also see a relationship between impressionist and some kinds of abstract paintings and the poetry I want to write—of just suggesting something. Giving only enough information/detail to set the imagination working. I don’t want everything spelled out. I want mystery in my poems, new worlds. Or as Mark Rothko responded when he was visiting Greece and someone there commented on Rothko’s striped paintings: “‘Why don’t you paint our temples.’ Rothko replied, ‘Everything I paint is a temple.'”

I’d like to think that everything I write is one. There seems some evidence for the idea that we are changed by the things we create—actually shaped by them. Ralph Ellison shares this idea. He says the novels we write create us as much as we create them. And Joseph Brodsky believes language has a life outside of us and uses the writer.

Language is absolutely mysterious in its relationship to humans and the things it touches.

 

Pen-L Press will be publishing my novel Fling in 2015. A wildly comic romp on mothers, daughters, art, and death, the book should appeal to a broad range of readers. While the main characters are middle-aged and older, their zest for life would draw readers of all ages, male or female, attracting the youthful adventurer in most people. Though women may identify more readily with Feather and Bubbles’ daughter and mother struggles, the heart of the book is how they approach their aging selves and are open to new experiences. Since art and imagination are key to this narrative, artists of all ages would find something to enjoy. And because the book crosses many borders (Scotland, Canada, the U.S., and Mexico), it also can’t be limited to a specific age group, social class, gender, or region.

My first fan letter for Fling came from an 80 year-old woman who lives in the tiny village of Christina Lake, B.C. My son, who also lives there, had given her my manuscript to read. She said, “I just wanted to express to you how very much I enjoyed your writing.  I started it and didn’t stop till I had read it all.  I very much like your style and your subtle humor. Thank you for a most enjoyable read. I can’t understand why it hasn’t been scooped up by some publisher. But I know that it will be. In my estimation I know that it is excellent literary work. I am a voracious reader and have been since grade 4. I remember my first book was Tom Sawyer and I have never stopped since then. I go through 4 to 5 books a week.  We are so fortunate here at the Lake now.  The Library staff in Grand Forks come out here every Wednesday. I have become very fond of the young lady who comes out. She provides me with all the award winning books and orders others for me. Again I want to express to you how very much I enjoyed your manuscript.  Have patience my dear….it will be published to wide acclaim I am so sure.” —Joan Fornelli.

Here is a synopsis:

Feather, an aging hippie, returns to her Calgary home to help her mother, Bubbles, celebrate her 90th birthday. Bubbles has received mail from the dead letter office in Mexico City, asking her to pick up her mother’s ashes, left there seventy years earlier and only now surfacing. Bubbles’ mother, Scottish by birth, had died in Mexico in the late 1920s after taking off with a married man and abandoning her husband and kids.

A woman with a mission, and still vigorous, Bubbles convinces a reluctant Feather to take her to Mexico so she can recover the ashes and give her mother a proper burial. Both women have recently shed husbands and have a secondary agenda: they’d like a little action. And they get it.

Alternating narratives weave together Feather and Bubbles’ odyssey with their colorful Scottish ancestors, creating a family tapestry. The “now” thread presents the two women as they travel south from Canada to San Francisco and then Mexico, covering a span of about six months. “Now” and “then” merge in Mexico when Bubbles’ long-dead mother, grandmother, and grandfather turn up, enlivening the narrative with their antics.

In Mexico, the land where reality and magic co-exist, Feather gets a new sense of her mother. The Indian villagers mistake Bubbles for a well-known rain goddess, praying for her to bring rain so their land will thrive again. Feather, who’s been seeking “The Goddess” for years, eventually realizes what she’s overlooked.

Meanwhile, Bubbles’ quest for her mother’s ashes (and a new man) has increased her zest for life. A shrewd business woman (she’s raised chickens, sold her crafts, taken in bizarre boarders, and has a sure-fire system for winning at bingo and lotteries), she’s certain she’s found the fountain of youth at a mineral springs outside San Miguel de Allende; she’s determined to bottle the water and sell it.

But gambling is her first love, and unlike most women her age, fun-loving Bubbles takes risks, believing she’s immortal. Unlike her daughter, Bubbles doesn’t hold back in any way, eating heartily, lusting after strangers, her youthful spirit and innocence convincing readers that they’ve found the fountain of youth themselves in this character. At ninety, she comes into her own, coming to age, proving it’s never too late to fulfill one’s dreams.

Fling, a meditation on death, mothers and daughters, and art, suggests that the fountain of youth is the imagination, and this is what they all discover in Mexico. It’s what Bubbles wants to bottle, but she doesn’t need to. She embodies it. The whole family does.


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