Slow reading & faster writing

Over the past seven years, blogging has become my writing’s late stages.  I’ve discovered that most of my writing starts in my journal or in the margins of my books.  When I work on them some, they became blog posts.  When I like the posts over time, they became my blog’s permanent pages.  So my blog has grown into a kind of museum, and I recently found myself hating it.

I value my blog’s portfolio aspect — its emphasis on showcasing static pages.  I don’t like most blog archives because no care is normally taken to select which old posts stay on a blog site or which of the survivors get emphasized.  Under most blogging platforms, everything ever written is archived and given equal weight.  It’s not for me.  I want my blog to showcase the best I’ve posted there, and I want the rest gone.

So portfolios showcase.  But as I’ve studied portfolios as part of a school district committee this year, my understanding of a portfolio’s potential has grown.  A writer’s portfolio helps her collect and then select her work, but it also helps her reflect on her writing.  She can demonstrate to herself and to others her evolving writing process and the burden each stage takes on in carrying a piece to maturity.  She can have places to show her sloppiest work, sometimes her most creative work.

That’s what I want to starting doing again here.  I want my blogging to share some of the fun I’ve had in my journal over the past year or so.  I have to risk being faster and less polished.  Using Sideblog, a smart WordPress widget Dave Bonta turned me on to recently, I’ve started Marginal, which is a somewhat separate blog in the margin of my main blog.  I hope to replicate the sense of spontaneity and discovery I find when writing in the margins of the books I read.  (I’ve decided to have my site’s RSS feed incorporates Marginal posts, for better or worse.)

I’ve also deliberately made my blog’s new design busier and less clean — less stately, I guess — than the design I’ve used for the past three years.  I did that for the same reasons, principally — to get my early writing stages online, and to make blogging fun for me again.

I’ve also switched to a blogging platform for the first time in order to automate the laborious steps I had to take each time I wanted to post something on my handmade blog.  I’ve also replaced my old “passages” digests of my friends’ best blog posts with an RSS feed of my blogroll members’ posts.  That should save time, too, and keep the column from getting stale.

Lowell never used eaves

Lowell never used eaves.

Nothing can dislodge
the triangular blotch
of rot on the red roof,
a cedar hedge, or the shade of a hedge.

No ease to the eye

“Eaves” sound like “ease”; eaves are overhanging roofs.  Maybe he put eaves in the white space, in my white space.

“Eaves” would have made an elbow of sound and sense.  It’s sound; makes sense.  We use sounds and looks the same way, metaphorically, I think.  But is there a difference between “sounds good” and “looks good”?  ”Sounds good” is signing off on a plan — still sounding things out — while “looks good” is inspecting the product, the plan’s execution. A time delay between looks and sounds, like a time delay between lightning and thunder.  (Though “looks good” could mean approval of a written plan or a set of blueprints, certainly.

My parents will have lived in my childhood home fifty years summer after next.  I remember my father carrying around those blueprints when I was four or five, and spreading them on the white metal kitchen table with those thin, corrugated, steel sides that reminded me of the old house’s gutters where the paint had flaked off.  A father at that age is all sound and sense.)

I’m getting a head start on SoloPoMo, using some material I posted on an obscure blog while I mulled over how to redo my blog.   I’ve selected Robert Lowell’s “Eye and Tooth” for my celebration of SoloPoMo.

I come to the edge

I come to the edge of things and then back off.

I’d like to buy that green house in Bluemont.  I just see us there.  But certain things would be inpractical, and it would be more upkeep than here, probably.  Then again, I’m tired of suburbia’s good life.

I am tired.  Everyone’s tired of my turmoil.

“Eye and Tooth” never gets anywhere.  That’s the point.  Lowell goes from past to present tense, but it’s present tense when he has the childhood recollection that precedes the final stanza.

I’d like to start, but it’s so much work.  Yet I’ve pushed right up to the edge twice now.

It’s fun to work on.  Maybe I should keep pretending even when it’s live.  That was my approach to slow reads, after all.

Backing off isn’t like me twenty or even twelve or ten years ago. Is it my age, or is the timing not right?  A different conception of time now, maybe.  Maybe I’m play-acting for when we’ll be empty-nesters four or five years from now.

I think I’m coming to the end of something, and these are the birth pangs of something new.  Complicated by the fact that I’m past menopause.

I’m getting a head start on SoloPoMo, using some material I posted on an obscure blog while I mulled over how to redo my blog.   I’ve selected Robert Lowell’s “Eye and Tooth” for my own celebration of SoloPoMo.

Other elbows

Other elbows or triangles or rummy cards (assonance and consonance shared in at least a trio of words or syllables) in Lowell’s “Eye and Tooth”:

saw things darkly

flinch / at the flash of the matchlight

a simmer of rot and renewal

in pinpricks

tooth / noosed in a knot to the doorknob

rot on the red roof

sharp-shinned hawk

hawk in the birdbook

No ease for the boy at the keyhole

when the women’s

bodies flashed / in the bathroom

And some of the elbows are eye candy only, contradicting the ear:

tooth / noosed in a knot in the doorknob  [the oo]

No ease from the eye  [the two e’s in both “ease” and  “eye”]

Couldn’t memorize it.  So I re-memorized a Charles Wright poem from last year for our recital.  You read Lowell silently with your lips moving, but you quote Wright at anything — a shower head, a flock of pigeons, a bad memory.  If you say Wright’s stuff in conversation, people might not realize you’re quoting a poem, but they’ll know you’re being arch, anyway.

I’m getting a head start on SoloPoMo, using some material I posted on an obscure blog while I mulled over how to redo my blog.   I’ve selected Robert Lowell’s “Eye and Tooth” for my own celebration of SoloPoMo.

I’ll never memorize

I’ll never memorize Robert Lowell’s “Eye and Tooth.”  I’ve tried for several hours.  I think it’s because the poem is held together by sound.  My memory, however, wants a rhetorical progression.  But I could play cards with the poem.

Closer to an empty nest, Victoria and I have taken again to rummy after fifteen years or so away from it.  My strategy is this: when you have three cards that represent a potential set and a potential run, discard the card that shares an attribute of the other two.  For example, if you have the seven of hearts, the seven of diamonds, and the six of diamonds, discard the seven of diamonds.  Why?  Because you’re making your deck an extension of your hand.   Victoria won’t want the card — you have too many associated cards for her to care for it — and she also is discarding stuff she doesn’t want.  All the upside (and expanded deck) with little downside (no points to get caught with if she goes out).

“Eye and Tooth” would be filled with these triplets if alliteration were runs and assonance were sets.  The first line’s “sunset red” is the first triplet.  “Sunset” itself starts a run, and “set red” starts a set.  Too much sound to memorize. (But discard “set.”)

Plus, the poem promises formalism, but it’s only a tease.  The poem flakes out in each of its nine quatrains, deliberately prosaic from a metrical standpoint after a couple of lines but thumping good from sound and image standpoints.

Despite all the sound devices, it doesn’t sound good, which in this case is good.  It’s better read silently with the lips moving as they would on a dreaming man.  Dream you’re reading it, and it’ll sound fine.  Dream you’re memorizing it, too.

I’m getting a head start on SoloPoMo, using some material I posted on an obscure blog while I mulled over how to redo my blog.   I’ve selected Robert Lowell’s “Eye and Tooth” for my own celebration of SoloPoMo.

What is SoloPoMo?

SoloPoMo is my way of celebrating National Poetry Month, which falls a month before SoloPoMo. (More on that — um — later.) During SoloPoMo, I write about a single poem (or write because of the poem or in spite of the poem or just to spite it or bait it) off and on all May.  I did it last year with Charles Wright’s poem “Images from the Kingdom of Things” from his 2006 volume Scar Tissue, and it was a lot of fun.  I actually blogged every day for a month for the first and only time in my life.

Dave Bonta at ViaNegativa is also in his second year of his somewhat different approach to celebrating National Poetry Month.  Instead of reading one poem during May, as I do, he reads approximately 1,200 in April.  Each day that month he reads and blogs about an entire book of poetry.  Despite the dissimilarities in our approaches, I credit Dave (and my contrarian streak) with inspiring my own approach.

This project has other signs of being uniquely mine besides its being late — a month late — from the get-go and being derivative of another, more talented person’s better idea.   It’s also overly ambitious (trust me on this one).  My early exuberance may be my eventual downfall, too — another hallmark of my projects.  If I follow through on this, many of my posts will be short.  I have a lot of schoolwork this month.

I don’t know which approach you’d find more challenging — Dave’s or mine.  Dave, though, is encouraging his readers who may not have the time or inclination to take on his personal poemload to read and write about only four volumes of poetry in April.

Despite my apprehensions — and unlike Dave — I’m offering no watered-down version of SoloPoMo.  My own SoloPo this year is Robert Lowell’s poem “Eye and Tooth” from his 1964 book For the Union Dead. If you’d like to join me in practicing SoloPoMo in May, email me or leave a post comment with the poem you intend to dwell in for the month and, if you’re blogging about it, a link to any evidence of that dwelling. (I’m at peter at slowreads dot com.) I’ll put your name, your poem, and your link on slowreads’s home page all May.

I’m even starting early because I originally planned to hold SoloPoMo contemporaneously with National Poetry Month this year, and I have some material. I’m late for April, but I should be well into the poem by the time May rolls around.


mute as eyelids
heavy as a plaster cast
scrawled with the bonhomie
of boot print

itch; shovels scratch
as if predicament were
enough to heal us or
as if words or salt remain
on store shelves to melt the
muffle and thick
sleep underfoot


Posted December 2005

Snail space

A line of guests watch
a monk watch
a snail

curve into question:
Scylla’s horns tug
at Charybdis’ eddy.

“A snail is at sea:
not home and home,
not still and still.”

The monk’s calves
in backwash,
his robe an inlet
of limp sail.
His shoulders shelter
in osteoporotic hunch
a line of ships from
the snail’s implicity:

Quick: watch it

or live it:
no steerageway
between. Only


Ode to Little Rock

little rock, ark
to a pair of rocks,
the testicle that always drops
lower than the other

half a stone, still
stone, still the rock
whence I was hewn
as much as from our father

Petros, to you, sire
of Petra’s son, my ark
and gyre above it borne
on three wings, or maybe one,

I come, once Simon, too
much myself (a paradox
as chopped as Braque’s), your
still life, stillborn brother.


Inspired by Big Tent Poetry’s prompt about heroes, and in response to Via Negativa’s question, “Is half a stone still a whole stone?” Petros and petra are the two Greek words for rock that Jesus employs in renaming Simon Peter (Matthew 16:18).  Petros can mean a stone broken from a larger one, while petra can suggest the larger stone from which smaller stones are broken.

Posted July 30, 2010.