Doug Bruns

Posts Tagged ‘poetry’

OS v1.0

In Creativity, Literature, Writers, Writing on February 20, 2013 at 6:00 am
Jim Harrison's new book.

Jim Harrison’s new book.

In his new book, The River Swimmer, Jim Harrison says the most succinct and astonishing thing:

“How wonderful it was to love something without the compromise of language.”

This is an observation in direct opposition to something I wrote many years ago (1992) and (re)published here recently in a post called In The Beginning Was the Word:

“It is said that we do not readily store memories until we have language; consequently, we cannot remember a pre-lingual existence with accuracy. If we were a computer we would be functioning without an operating system. The switch is on, but the screen is blank. Words are the difference; the well-written word is altogether different again.”

Harrison is, by his own reckoning, a poet first, and this comparison of quotes supports Osip Mandelstam‘s observation that “What may be meaningful to the prose writer or essayist, the poet finds absolutely meaningless.” Where Harrison calls language a compromise, I deem it functionally necessary, like an computer operating system–call it OS Version of Being 1.1. Harrison is an example of what Susan Sontag calls the “poet as elevated being.” He runs OS 1.0, the original and unadorned Version of Being.

* * *

OS Version 1.0, the Version of Being the poets run, functions on what Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva (1892 – 1941) called the “insatiability for the genuine.” Perhaps it is captured in an algorithm. Most of us run the “upgraded” version, OS 1.1, which fixed this perceived bug. Who wants to be “insatiable,” regardless of how provocative it sounds? Consequently, we non-poet mortals find ourselves sated 24/7. There is a profundity to a Russian poet that I cannot fathom, but I once watched Harrison drink in a bar in Michigan and he didn’t seem so elevated, though I was assuredly mistaken. He did, now that I reflect on it, prove to exhibit a high degree of the genuine, however. They say the Buddha taught for forty years after enlightenment. Elevated insatiable beings walk–and drink–among us.

* * *

I experienced a phase

Of writing poetry a year or so ago.

It felt good and right, but I stopped.

If someone were to tell you: Do this thing,

You will become an “elevated being,”

You would likely do it,

Wouldn’t you?

One would think.

Most of the time I don’t know

What’s the matter with me.

* * *

Here is a video of Harrison reading. He is asked “What language do you speak when you talk to animals?” “You just squawk,” he says.

Say what?

In Writing on September 11, 2012 at 6:00 am

Oh oh. Do you feel it? The centrifugal pull, the center (or “centre”, as Yeats wrote) tearing loose; it all coming apart at the seams? Scattering. That false orderliness? The niceness, and the politeness, loose and limp, pulled to sea in a receding tide? Yes, you must feel it, no?

Put up a smile and a pretend and all is all right. Yes?

Or study the sky at night and hold true to the future read there. The ascension of Libra renders this poor pilgrim at fifty plus seven seasons. There is yet no place for the transcendent but one can still hold hope. The mystery is yet secure.

The rainbow out of the river this afternoon, slippering out of hand to water and returning home, made us laugh, dinner swimming away with such sweet relief.

–evening ramblings, poetic advances, Frisco, Colorado.

Saturday Quote

In Creativity, Writing on June 30, 2012 at 6:00 am

Do you have a release valve?

You are familiar with the concept of an ear-worm? That tune you can’t get out of your head? This quote has plagued me like a brain-worm. I can’t think of a pithier description of the creative process.

“I write to equalize the pressure from without and from within.” ~ Vera Pavlova, poet.

Have a nice weekend and thank you for reading.

Needs meat on bones.

In Creativity, Nature, Writing on April 11, 2012 at 5:47 pm

I mentioned in a previous post that I frequently write what I call Twitter poems. I do this to warm up, to get things moving when trolling for an idea. Here’s what I wrote today:

Have to find | An idea | It must run | Fast | But not so fast | To escape | Needs meat on bones | Needs to come when called

Now that I read it, it reads more like a want add. The poem–I use that word so loosely it squeaks–the poem must conform to Twitter specifications of 140 characters or less, including spaces and punctuation. The one above is three characters shy of the limit. I like this discipline and do it everyday.

I also like the discipline of sitting down at my desk every afternoon at 1:00 and writing. I don’t like it when I sit down and find myself empty-headed. I don’t expect things to happen at the desk. If all goes to plan, the right things have already happened. My morning walk, for example, is frequently a bounty of inspiration, a time and place when things come together that I didn’t know where apart. Unfortunately, I didn’t have anything of that nature happen this morning, but I did see a northern flicker, a hairy woodpecker, a bluejay and a flock of american goldfinches glimmering in the morning light. Once home, I spotted the first osprey of spring only to discover after fixing my spotting scope on it, that it was plaster and mounted to keep the gulls off a roof. I had not noticed it before. That is one type of discovery. But not a helpful one.

Once last summer I heard screeching from the air and looking up saw an osprey in labored flight with an immature gull in its talons. There was a lobsterman on the water below my deck. He turned to me and said, “Never seen that before.”

Ideas are like birds. Some perch, resplendent in the sun, calling out and demanding to be noticed. Some are skittish and nervous. I hanker to the ideas that are more like the northern flicker than the sparrow. I appreciate the song of the sparrow, particularly in the morning; but the song is a give away. It’s too easy. The flicker is hard to spot and requires some searching. The reward is found in my field glasses: brown wings striped black, the breast hash-mark dots, and that mercury-quick turn of head revealing the red nape crescent. It flaunts an aesthetic that seems a patchwork of design, like a quilt made by a dozen grandmothers. Lots of beautiful detail that together works. That’s the profile of the sought-after idea, elusive but rewarding, with a beauty that begs a smile upon discovery.

I have a journal open at my elbow to an undated note: “An idea has no meaning until you do something with it.” I like the notion of that, but am not sure if I still feel that way. The flicker is a beautiful bird even if I don’t notice it.

Of poets.

In Books, Creativity, Writers, Writing on April 10, 2012 at 7:00 am

I have one poem memorized, W.B. Yeats’s The Second Coming. I thank Joan Didion for this singular accomplishment. Her book, Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968) brought the poem directly to my attention. It is a famous poem and I suspect I read it in high school and perhaps college, but am not sure. For a guy who has lived with books center to existence, poetry has been ill represented.

Yeats ends his great poem with this line:

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

I wanted to memorize the poem because I loved it. (David Orr, in his book, Beautiful and Pointless, a Guide to Modern Poetry, writes “…people who read poetry have a tendency not simply to say that they ‘like’ it or ‘enjoy’ the art form, but rather that they ‘love’ it.”) It was to be the first of many poems I planned to discover and commit to memory. Imagine the magic of carrying all that around in your head. In a wonderful piece, Got Poetry? (2009), New York Times essayist Jim Holt argues convincingly the benefits of memorizing poetry. He says he has hundreds of poems memorized. “I recite them to myself while jogging along the Hudson River, quite loudly if no other joggers are within earshot. I do the same, but more quietly, while walking around Manhattan on errands — just another guy on an invisible cellphone.” He ends his essay on a light note: “Everyone needs an iPod. You do not need an iPod. Memorize poetry instead.”

My project never got past Yeats, sadly.


Last summer poetry introduced itself properly. It snuck up and rattled me by the shoulders. I didn’t know what to make of it at the time, and still don’t. I can’t explain things like that but accept them as they happen. It seems to happen to me a lot.

I took a workshop for poets. I’m not a poet. That’s a title one has to earn, in my opinion. My friend Gibson Fay-LeBlanc told me that he does not subscribe to the school of the born poet; that becoming a poet is the result of “putting in the work.” Gibson has put in the work. His new book of poetry Death of the Ventriloquist was released last month.

I’ve been working with Robert Frost Award-winner, Megan Grumbling. Megan is a wonderful teacher and has been encouraging my effort to put poetry pen to poetry paper. I’ve published a little bit of everything over the years, except poetry. And as a life-long reader, I’ve read a little bit of everything over the years, except poetry. Discovering poetry has been like finding a secret door in a house I’ve lived in all my life.

Another poet-friend, Ken Rosen, told me to write a poem every day for a month, “Pluck it out of nothing,” he said. “Create somewhere out of nowhere, mercilessly. Force yourself to do it for 30 days and see if that changes your brain chemistry.” I don’t know about the resulting chemistry, but it was excellent discipline. Ken’s lastest book is The Origins of Tragedy and other poems.

I’ll leave you with a few lines from another poem I love, “Bars,” by Jim Harrison:

Once in the driveway

a female wolf stood in my headlights and nodded,

obviously the reincarnation of a girl I knew

who drowned in Key West where I first discovered

that one drink can break the gray egg that sometimes

encloses you, two drinks help you see this world.

Three drinks and you’re back inside the gray egg.

Robert Pinsky and aspiring to a “new soul”

In Books, Literature, Reading, Writers on March 8, 2011 at 8:51 am

I went to the annual Bernard A. Osher Lecture at the Portland Museum of Art last night. The lecture was given by U.S. Poet Laureate, Robert Pinksy. I aspire to appreciate poetry, like I wish I had command of a second language, or play a musical instrument. I recall once walking into a bookstore in Spain and seeing the racks of books, all in Spanish, all inaccessible. A closed universe. “Will not every language we learn give us a new soul?” asked Goethe. Poetry appeals to me in that fashion–as if it’s the key to opening a closed universe, or a dormant soul waiting to be awakened.

Pinksy was a wonderful speaker. His lecture was laced with thought-provoking notions and insights. (The idea that America is a young place and as such is still creating its culture fueled the after-lecture conversation of our little group.) And of course there was the poetry, read by a master and illuminated with brilliant explication. It was not highfalutin, not boring–to the contrary

Pinksy founded the Favorite Poem Project. The project description reads: “During the one-year open call for submissions, 18,000 Americans wrote to the project volunteering to share their favorite poems — Americans from ages 5 to 97, from every state, of diverse occupations, kinds of education and backgrounds.” Brilliantly, many of the submissions were recorded. Here is John Doherty, a construction worker, reading a portion of his favorite poem, Whitman’s Song of Myself:

If, like me, you wish to better appreciate poetry, I recommend the project and the videos.