"How are things in the poem factory?" Christopher asks as he arrives home. I barely take my eyes off the screen.
"Just finishing up." I kiss him and shove a few pages under his nose. "Here, read this."
"Can I go to the bathroom first? Can I get a snack?"
"If you must."
For the past few--I don't know how long it's been, days? Weeks?-- the poems have been coming thick and furious. I've pulled apart the manuscript of Love Shack, eliminated a lot of weaker pieces that I see now were just place-holders, and replaced them with the new work which feels much stronger.
Of course that means the overall shape of the book is changing as well, bursting its bounds, like the fig tree in our front yard which I wouldn't let C prune back as hard as he wanted to last winter. Now she has completely taken over, threatening to put people's eyes out with branches that reach across the sidewalk, but oh, there are millions of figs. Enough for us, for the birds, for passersby...
So the book, which started out life as a collection of love poems--I was thinking specifically about an Anne Sexton book, Love Poems, which I read a million years ago, and which contains some of her best writing--has now expanded to include a bunch of my other, usual preoccupations, Oakland, street people, kids, women, etc. And animals.
More cats and dogs in this book than ever before, probably a result of living with Mr. Cat-Magnet, who, however little sleep he has gotten the night before, still always remembers to set out food for the feral cat family. The mama now boldly nurses her babies out in the open in our back yard, in plain view of everyone. I see her from the upstairs bathroom window and if I make any noise she looks up startled, and the kitties jump and scatter. I didn't realize that cats had such an acute sense of hearing.
Last night we went to hear Chick Corea at Yoshi's, courtesy of a wedding gift from a friend. Awesome. Corea looks like a friendly science teacher and plays like a monster, but I fell in love with Stanley Clarke, the bassist. What a presence. he did everything with that bass short of actually fucking it onstage and I'm sure I was not the only woman in the audience who thought about him doing that. He caressed it, slapped it, bowed it, played with it, and in general was one with his instrument.
I envy musicians having such communal fun with each other, with the audience while they are doing their art. It's a great feeling to be writing so intensely, great and also lonely. When my friend Angela was on a writer's retreat last week, it was almost like we were working together as she and I would email each other updates during the day.
Now that she's back to her real job, I email drafts to Ruth, and bless her, she manages to respond with great speed and helpfulness, even claiming that it's "fun" to be inundated with new poems. I also send them to family and friends, fairly promiscuously. My father, who has no more self-control than I do, usually responds by inflicting my early drafts on his entire email list. By the time those poems have landed in his friends' inboxes I've usually revised them.
There's a new movie out about Keats called Bright Star and of course I'm going to see it. I love seeing writers depicted in movies, especially since writing is such a boring and solitary pursuit. I mean, where's the dramatic tension in watching someone hunched over a piece of paper or a keyboard? It's not exactly The Wrestler, with Mickey Rourke sticking needles full of steroids in his butt in the locker room, or any of the great bio-pics about musicians, which have plenty of wonderful concert footage.
How do you dramatize something as ethereal and often sedentary as thought? I mean, moving commas around and selecting one word over another may end up having a profound effect on a poem, but it doesn't do much visually.
My favorite writer-movie scene, because it was so highly improbable, occurred in Julia, when Jane Fonda, playing Lillian Hellman, threw her typewriter out the window in a fit of frustration. Loved that. Would never ever ever do that, no matter how frustrated. They really should show writers opening the refrigerator door and staring at the contents, picking their noses, checking the mail obsessively, and pacing around their house, pinching dead leaves off of houseplants, only that is almost as boring and depressing as the act of writing itself.
No matter. The poems are coming. The book is getting leaner, meaner, and yet more abundant. Expansion and contraction at the same time, which is the theme for this week. I have been thinking about how there is not expansion in life without a significant contraction buried in the heart of it, and vice versa. No contraction without a strange and contradictory expansion. I could say more about this, but I have a feeling everyone reading it will have their own examples.