Hello. As most of you are aware, my newest book, EVERYDAY I WILL REMEMBER, is about the Holocaust and the first generation after. It was one of the most intense projects I’ve ever undertaken. Some years in I wrote some poems about the Holocaust, and it nearly did me in: my therapist at that time said to stop it and go no further; I was going off the deep end. And she was right. But after a while, I grew stronger, and finally was ready to write what was first going to be a little collection of five poems; then a 15-20 poem chapbook. So I was rocking on that, and then I realized I actually had a full-blown book in me. And that’s what I wrote. And it came out on 8 February, my birthday. Spooky? Sort of.
But that’s not the point. The point is how long it took me to recover from the project, and how it affected the writing I was doing after the book was done. I wrote a lot, but it still was dark, if not darker. Blood, bones, gas chambers, Zyklon-B, forced labor camps were gone, but I was still—and I didn’t know it was possible—my new poems were darker yet. I may not have been stacking bodies neat as bricks in the gas chambers, but more importantly, what I had not resolved was the hope. Those in the Holocaust who survived did so by luck and hope; my new poems had no hope.
Finally, a dear writer friend said she was concerned about me: my poems were getting so dark that I was going to have trouble finding publishers. In fact, they were so dark they were dragging her down, and she’s one tough, experienced woman. And I needed to loosen about it. Then my Uncle Paul said he was concerned, but less about the poetry (although that was part of it) than about was going on with me emotionally, psychically. Those comments were worrisome: was I writing so darkly it was unhealthy?
And I couldn’t tell? And how was I going to remedy the situation?
And then, while I was wailing and gnashing my teeth (not really; I’m not that dramatic, and I don’t want to ruin my teeth: no dentures for me), a phrase popped into my head: “blue horses dreaming.” I didn’t know what that meant, but I liked it. Then—and who can account for how a person’s mind works?—I started to think about Edward Hopper’s iconic American painting, “Night Hawks.” So I started putting them together: a guy with a whisky in hand, at his office late, looking aimlessly out a window, knowing he needed to go home to the kids (kiss them on the forehead while they slept), listen to his wife, and then hit the hay. If I’d set out to write a less gloomy poem, I couldn’t have done better. Here was an empty guy, with the cliched empty life, and then,
Blue horses dreaming. It was awful. And Lynne, my writer friend, said the last two stanzas were captivating but the rest of it was just boring, nervous, journalism: still hopeless, no beauty. She said I could do better, get some beautiful images to justify the horses. So get to work.
And I did. And then, after a lot of revision, I had it. There was hope and joy and energy. Lynne said I’d written a lovely poem.
And then today, I tried another one. And I think this one worked, too. I wish I could show it to you, but if I publish it here in this blog, it will be ineligible for publication in a journal. If it gets published down the road, I’ll let you know.
So here I am. I’ve come to a crossroads. I think I’ve gone as far as I can with my deepest, darkest, goriest, major depressionist poems I can write. I’ve been feeling the need to branch out, explore different structures, and shaping of images, different contents, etc. And needless to say, I have been reading a LOT of poetry, from different times and places. But it’s kind of weird; I feel like I’m without the tools I’m familiar with, and am starting to live in another world. But you know,
I’m kind of digging it. I know what I want to write, I’m generating some good notes to build upon,
AND I’M HAPPY. There’s still an edge to what I’m writing—I’ve just plain got a dark streak in me, but I don’t have to drown myself in it—but I like thinking about hope. Hopper may have thought the world was dark, desperate, empty (all those men in the 1940’s sitting at a diner amidst coffee cups and cigarette smoke haze), but I would like to think he was mistaken. I’m growing as a poet.
And I like that. I need that. You can’t keep doing the same thing over That’s why I read a variety of poets in journals, anthologies, and single-volume as well as collected volumes. There’s so much out there.
And so much more I can do. And want to do.
Whatever your passion is, your blue horse dreaming, follow it. Grow. I live to read and write. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. Why should you?
Shalom. Until next time.
And oh. Welcome a thousand times over to Joy Harjo, our new U.S. Poet Laureate. These are exciting times in the world of writing.