Monday, August 08, 2005

Humility & Hope

I bought a new book of poetry yesterday: Presentation Piece by Marilyn Hacker.

I had gone to the bookstore after work with a car trunk full of my old books and managed to haggle just a little with the buyer to get a credit and some cash. Marilyn's book was the first purchase against my credit.

Presentation Piece is an old book, first copyright was 1969. My copy is a Viking Press soft cover and across the front runs the announcement: 1973 Lamont Poetry Selection. Online, I learn that the book of poems won the National Book Award. It was the second book of hers to be published and it puts humility and hope into my skull. But I ultimately selected that title from all the others (five or six of Seamus Heaney, one fat volume of Lyn Lifshin, many volumes of Frost, Deborah Garrison, Robert Herrick, Burns, Eliot, others in the A-H section) because the guy had finished tallying my credit and because at that point, I saw a title ("Forage Sestina"). I want so badly to write a good sestina - one that flows like a dialogue over coffee, not spilling the coffee but indulging the fulsomeness of coffee, exploiting the caffeine and the sugar and the thick cream.

The book has lots of forms which I recognize - flipping quickly through it and not being slow with it yet - at least one villanelle and a sonnet in addition to the wonder of a sestina. It has a few poems addressed to "Alba" and I transposed those names in some screwy connection to come up with Alba Hacker, a name I've seen online, and wonder about that coincidence.

But all that's a digression to what keeps repeating: "first published in 1969." That's 35 years of writing poetry. Thirty-five years of tryng on this feeling or skill or frame and tossing it or refining it. Three decades for the writer to know her poetry. To know people in the poetry trade. To gather accomplices, one or two at the start and now maybe a bigger crowd, manageable by written letter and phone calls. Then this cyber space perimeter that draws all of us close together (like it or not). All that time to boomerang, make mistakes, to perfect.

Poetry is a contact sport. We brush against each other, gather round, hold hands, get direction and then take our individual posts on the wide field. Perhaps what I need is a captain.


Lyle Daggett said...

Hello, Ann -- nice post about the Marilyn Hacker book. She's a poet I haven't ever read much, though have looked through her books from time to time and wondered if the time had come to spend time with her poems.

I liked also your comments about 35 years of writing poetry (I started when I was 14 -- in 1968 -- and I'm 51 now). Yes, as you said, all those years of finding your way into a feeling or skill or a way to touch the world, deciding to follow it or not to. (I didn't start publishing quite as early as Hacker.)

In recent years I've found that I sometimes will make a point of reading a poet whose work I've avoided, because of the chance I might find something I hadn't found elsewhere. A poet whose work hasn't spoken to me previously may say something to me now. (Robert Creeley and Carl Rakosi are two recent examples of this for me. A couple of others, some years back, were Olga Broumas and George Oppen.)

Ann said...

Hi Lyle -
It's good to see you here.

Ya know, I have these books of poetry that have been with me for years. What's interesting is how my interest in them has changed. When I bought them, it wasn't so much for a love of verse as it was a desire to hear comfortable words. NOW, I read these words as poetry and have a whole nother perspective on them; is that "added value?"

Olga Broumas is also in my library from "way back when."

Marvin Gardens said...

Good heavens, a trunkful of books in exchange for a volume of poetry !
There is a sort of Weimar Republic side to that image - a wheelbarrowful of marks to buy a loaf a bread. (I like your exchange better).

Ann said...

ew sorry that image came to mind - what can I do to make it go away? I can tell you that my credit stretched a long way - into several books - so word for word may not have matched but - I was happy. That outcome is more pleasant, right? Please no weimers around here.

Anonymous said...

forage sestina is a fabulous poem, she did an interview at the Université de Toulouse-Le Mirail, somewhere on here she recited that poem and a few others :

- poetry lover

Anonymous said...

ehh i guess the link doesn't show up, if you want the link you could email me ;-)