The Pitch

 

Some writers, I just read and start grinning.  Then I reread them….and reread them.

Catherine Wing is one I reread.

She is a poet.

In an interview, she was asked what her process of writing was.  She answered –

Don’t, don’t, don’t, and then do. My writing process is fueled by guilt, coffee, and the dictionary. Like an interviewee struck dumb by the question, “Tell us about yourself,” I find if I sit down to write with no formal constraints or challenges I have little (or nothing) to say. So I construct a little straightjacket that I’m more comfortable in, whether it be alphabetical, rhythmical, metrical, logical, illogical, or etymological. This allows for surprise, since I don’t know what I’m writing until I get to the end of the line.

Now are you starting to understand why I like Catherine Wing?

No?

Then you’d better read one of her poems.

Like this one, from her book Enter Invisible.  It’s a particular favorite of mine because, in the screenwriting world which I inhabit, everyone is always talking about pitching….about how to pitch a story to make it sound great.  Is it a good pitch? Is it a great pitch? Is your movie even worth pitching?  It goes on and on, sometimes ad nauseum.  But then Catherine Wing comes along and with a few deft strokes of her literal and metaphoric pen, turns everything I know or think I know about pitching….upside-down, and inside out.

Here it is —

 

The Pitch

It’s the story of a math genius posing as an imbecile or the one
where Porky is saved form the slaughterhouse by a woman
who wears no underpants. It’s the story of a rapacious weed
that takes over the earth, of One-Breasted Wanda falling in
love with Jungle Jack. Ed Anger writes the story up. It’s the
story of a rash. And the story of a rash of deaths caused by a
sea hag. It’s the story of a woman who could not open her
mouth and a woman who could not close her mouth. Maybe
they meet. Maybe they don’t. Maybe they are the perfect
couple. It is the story of a man possessed by his tattoo. It’s an
exclusive. It’s a curse or a commandment; it’s a commandment
on cursing which says for God’s sake thou shalt not laze about
on your chaise lounge. It’s a true story. It is the story of a man
who talked his way out of credit-card debt. It is the story of
the sunrise on July 10, 2003. It is the story of a traveling
shadow. It is an old-man-walking-down-the-road story. It has a
sculpted base to rest upon which can be yours if you act now.

*     *     *

See what I mean?  Pretty fucking amazing.  She’s a great writer.  A great poet.

Sometimes it seems like her poems are like driving a dark road at night. You don’t know where it’s going.  You can only see as far as your headlights.  But then the moon comes out….and you can see for miles and miles.  And new vistas, undreamed moments before, open up.

 

 

Okay, now you’ve read Catherine Wing.

Now go out and buy her book so you can read it again.  Reread it.  And all the other ones.

Life is too short not to do otherwise.

What are you waiting for?  The road is a long one….and the moon hasn’t come out yet.  You’ve got a long ways to go.  But you’ve got time.

Maybe I’ll see you along the way.

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Deck Us All with Boston Charlie

I read Walt Kelly’s insane and wonderful rewriting of this Christmas carol when I was young, whenever that was.  I still reread it as often as I can.  Today, Christmas day, 2011, the words are better than ever….either for re-reading….or for discovering.  Of course they are from his timeless Pogo the Possum series.

Here they are (the words) …

 

DECK US ALL WITH BOSTON CHARLIE

 

Deck us all with Boston Charlie,
Walla walla, Wash., an’ Kalamazoo!
Nora’s freezin’ on the trolley,
Swaller dollar cauliflower alley’garoo!

Don’t we know archaic barrel,
Lullaby lilla boy, Louisville Lou?
Trolley Molly don’t love Harold,
Boola boola Pensacoola hullabaloo!

Bark us all bow-wows of folly,
Polly wolly cracker n’ too-da-loo!
Donkey Bonny brays a carol,
Antelope Cantaloup, ‘lope with you!

Hunky Dory’s pop is lolly gaggin’ on the wagon,
Willy, folly go through!
Chollie’s collie barks at Barrow,
Harum scarum five alarum bung-a-loo!

Duck us all in bowls of barley,
Ninky dinky dink an’ polly voo!
Chilly Filly’s name is Chollie,
Chollie Filly’s jolly chilly view halloo!

Bark us all bow-wows of folly,
Double-bubble, toyland trouble! Woof, Woof, Woof!
Tizzy seas on melon collie!
Dibble-dabble, scribble-scrabble! Goof, Goof, Goof!

 

And for those musically inclined, here is a little of the music –
And to all of you reading this, let me just say again (words not merely to sing, but to live by) —
Bark us all bow-wows of folly,
Double-bubble, toyland trouble! Woof, Woof, Woof!
Tizzy seas on melon collie!
Dibble-dabble, scribble-scrabble! Goof, Goof, Goof!

Walking is Almost Falling

Poet Molly Peacock says that there is a strange balancing act between writing poetry, and reading it or performing it. “Generating poetry requires solitude, but performing poetry, which means that what I’ve written is now a script for the actor part of me to transform, requires community.

A balancing act…

Philippe Petit walking on a high wire between the twin towers of the World Trade Center in 1974

But she adds, “Solitude never exhausts me, though, and community, as exciting as it is, can deplete my energy.

And she also talks of words – poems – her writing – coming from a solitary space within – “the poem that is going to come from my solo, unobligated self.

Finding that place is different for every one of us.  Like a blind man learning how to see.  Or a deaf woman learning how to hear.  Or a child who has never walked….experiencing what it means….to take those first steps…

Noah Towell and sunflowers, photo by Larry Towell

Tottering….balancing….almost falling.

And finally walking….only to fall again.

Like in this poem…

 

WALKING IS ALMOST FALLING

 

In saying no, you felt as though you lied,

wrecking an old self. But did you wreck it?

Then, from under, the world began to slide.

 

In fact, you told the truth when you replied.

You took the step and finally saw it fit,

but saying no, you felt as though you lied.

 

The great snows gone, the galactic glide

begun, the mud-pink gums of earth were lit

by sun, and then the world began to slide.

 

Its tongue roiled up and curved. You tried

to walk at first—and could, a little bit!

—but stepping so, you felt as though you lied,

 

for the warm world felt false. It did not hide

its self. Walking on the crust employed your wit:

said yes. Then stepped. (This way the world won’t slide.)

 

But walking on open earth is a choice; the tide

of all acceptance is unloosed. Truth, it is

unsteady, the old glum world begins to slide.

You hurt, saying no, and feel as though you lied.

 

 

Walking.  Sometimes falling.

Sometimes alone….sometimes with others.

And sometimes no matter how the world and people in it entreat and beg and intrude, you need to be alone.

The timeless conflict not just of poets but of all writers and many (most?) artists.

I have my own ways of resolving it….or trying to resolve it. There are times I crave the company of my fellow human beings.  And times I must sequester myself away and alone from any other contact.

Molly Peacock also talks about how poets become ‘noticers’- capable of noticing and absorbing minute but telling details in the world around them.  “I’m not sure if a poet’s imagery can be cultivated, but a noticing state of mind can be cultivated, and if you become a noticer, even the kind of person who counts how many stairs in a stairwell, or the legs on an insect, or the length of hesitation in a voice, then you become aware of the disjunct between what we think of as ‘ordinary’ and the experience the noticer is really having.

Grande Arche de la Défense, photo by Martine Franck

Walking is a choice.

And noticing is a choice too.

Whether the world stays solid under your feet….or begins to slide.

And sometimes taking that first step out – over the yawning chasm – or onto the blank page which awaits – is the hardest one. You’d think the second would be easier and the third, easier yet.

Yeah, right.

Gotta go now. Got places to go to….never get there if I don’t start now.

Armageddon or tea?

Do you Like it Lively?

Do you like to Feel Good?

Do you like Exclusive (Flavor) Protection?

“Honestly, if you’re given the choice between Armageddon or tea, you don’t say ‘what kind of tea?”

Neal Gaiman

"Marianne-Maquis", painting by Oskar Kokoschka, 1942, of Winston Churchill and General Montgomery drinking tea in the Café de Paris

“I say let the world go to hell, but I should always have my tea.”

Fyodor Dostoevksy

Photo by Chien-Chi Chang

“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.”

C.S. Lewis

Sabriel drinking tea in her study, from "Sabriel" by Garth Nix

“There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.”

Henry James

"Afternoon Tea", etching by James Whistler

“A cup of tea would restore my normality.”

Douglas Adams

Fur-lined Teacup, by Meret Oppenheim

All this writing about tea is making me thirsty. I’ve invited a few friends over to share a cup with me –

– so I must leave you now. But left to my own devices, there’s just one thing bothering me….I can’t help wondering: was Eleanor right?

“A woman is like a tea bag, you never know how strong she is until she gets into hot water.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

Darker, Brighter, Farther

I read a lot of William Stafford. Not just his poems, but his essays, his words, things he says. Things he talks about.

Here he is on the solitary nature of art: “I have a feeling that art is something you do yourself, and that any time you turn the decisions over to someone else you’re postponing, at best, your own development. The atmosphere of the workshop should be that of trying out one’s own work and accepting the signals from others but not accepting the dictation of others because that is a violation of the spirit of art. Art can’t be done by somebody else, it has got to be done by the artist.”

And here, Stafford on how the way you live…changes what you write: “I think you create a good poem by revising your life . . . by living the kind of life that enables good poems to come about. It’s much more productive, much more healthful, to feel you are embarked on a writing career in which the way you live your life has something to do with the kind of poems you write.”

He talks about the effects of language and poetry: “I think language does bring us together. Fragile and misleading as it is, it’s the best communication we’ve got, and poetry is language at its most intense and potentially fulfilling. Poems do bring people together.”

And finally, on perceptions of poetry: “How come people aren’t interested in poetry? It’s because they’ve compartmentalized their minds. Maybe it’s our fault that they feel that poems only appear in literary magazines. Poetry is everywhere.”

He’s right.

We have compartmentalized our minds. Even when we think we haven’t. It’s insidious, something that happens…without our being aware of it.

And he’s also right.  About poetry being everywhere.

And nowhere more so than in the words of this poem he wrote, that I come back to, in the darkness of winter night…and in the cold, clear light of day.

 

Darker, Brighter, Farther

 

When the tree grows, and the limbs

are already grown, they are left

out there bright in the sun.

 

You don’t see the roots but you know

that they’ve climbed down in their dark,

dark place, in their slow wind.

 

And then, even farther, wherever

it goes, deeper than roots,

brighter than the sun–the real tree:

 

Spread out for all,

for you,

for me.

 

Illustration by Albín Brunovský

William Stafford died on August 28, 1993.

But his words are still with us.

Spread out for all.

For you.

For me.

Dreamers

“Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night.”

Edgar Allan Poe

Girl with bird in cage, photo by Bruce Davidson

“Yes: I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.”

Oscar Wilde

Meudon Observatory, Seine-et-Oise, photo by Martine Franck

“We spend a good part of our lives dreaming, especially when we’re awake.”

Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Oaxaca, México, photo by David Alan Harvey

 “I’m a painter in my dreams, you know.”

Kurt Vonnegut

Jackson Pollock in his painting studio

The other night, I was dreaming of London…dreaming of taking the Tube, the subway, which turned into a train, which I had to catch to get to my destination. It was moving slowly. Another train passed us, going the other way, we could see in through the windows, the people sitting in it were looking at us and – I recognized someone…

Was it you?

What were you doing in my dream?

Or was it the other way around, did my train switch tracks…and come into your dream?

There’s only one way to settle it: if you tell me what you were dreaming, we can compare notes.  Better tell me now.  Cause it’s late.  I need to get to bed.  If I don’t hear from you….then when your train goes by, I won’t be able to hear you, so hold up a piece of paper to the window, with your message printed legibly…

So

I

can

read

each

word.

When I Died

 

 

Poet Mark Irwin says, “I love the physicality of language in expressing the real, but I equally love the abstract, where so many of the critical aspects of our lives converge; for example, love, death, and time have all seemed brutally abstract to me.”

Love, death, and time….all brutally abstract.

Think about that.  I do.  I have.  I am.

He also says, “We actually live most of our lives in a world of maybe and if, and then what happens when the body dies?”

A world of maybe and if.

Yeah.  I recognize that world. I know it pretty well.  Maybe…

And he says, “I think it is ultimately human to occupy that space between yes & no.”

Between yes and no. Maybe and if. Life and death.

What kind of a world is that, to be in? to be….in-between?  What does it look like?

 

The World from my Front Porch, photo by Larry Towell

 

But Mark Irwin doesn’t just talk the talk.  He walks the walk.  He doesn’t just say cool shit.  He writes poems that….affect me.

This is one.

 

WHEN I DIED

I saw a man tearing down a blue house

but inside the blue house a green house

slowly appeared as the man motioned

toward me, suggesting I enter, opening

a white door where the man became

a woman in a yellow field with the snow falling

upon so many people walking toward

a blue house, and they were telling each other

they had never seen anything so green,

not even the grass under the red sky of their names.

 

Mennonite women in dust storm, photo by Larry Towell

 

Mark Irwin says that, when you are out in the wilderness, “space and time bleed into one another until the boundaries become unidentifiable.”  True.  But it doesn’t just happen in the wilderness; it can happen anywhere.

Mark Irwin also talks of seeing tall churches made of mud and straw, during a visit to Romania, buildings with exaggeratedly steep roofs, which were so small inside that they seemed of no use. He says, “I asked a peasant why they were made this way. He told me that “One grows slender when approaching God.”

Some words do that to me too, when I read them…I am approaching something I can’t put a name to…a green house inside a blue house…a yellow field white with falling snow, and the red sky where names are written.

Not maybe.

Not if.

But right here, right now.

On this page.