23 December 2011


Today I discovered the word "hinterlands." To say I "discovered" it is a bit of a false representation, isn't it ... About as much of an illusion as it is that anyone can "discover" a continent that was (clearly) already there, or the way your friend says she "discovered" a song that has been recorded, produced, and sold on millions of albums already, and played on the radio countless times ... Today was not the dawning of the word, but I found it nonetheless, and now it is mine. Sometimes when it comes to the linguistics game, I feel like a cat burglar. Sneak, sneak, commandeered vocabulary.

The discovery came while reading the review of a book of poetry I have since forgotten. It wasn't the poetry of the reviewed poet I found intriguing so much as the poetic prose of the reviewer-- it was this wordsmith who engaged the word "hinterlands" in describing the contents of the book, and I thought, "Yes. I want that." But I also had no proper idea of what the word meant-- I had an improper one (i.e., made up, and having everything to do with the little fragmented bits of words I saw scattered in this word's meaty sandwich-- something along the lines of "the hints of uncertainty found scattered on the ground" or "the realm of the secret keepers"). But I decided to adopt the word--commandeer--and define it for myself in a poem. I got to use other words I had heard but had to look up to use properly ... suffuse (I didn't want to say "permeate" because I didn't like the sound, and I thought I recalled a deliciously hissy word called "suffuse," and looked it up ... and what a pleasant surprise I found!), salami (didn't have to look it up, but did have to affirm the proper spelling), membranish (apparently not a word ... shame).

And all this discovering came in the midst of my ponderings of the "current climate of poetics." I had listened to a public radio chat with Philip Schultz, during which it struck me that the current flavor of poetry was something along the lines of pastrami on self-revelatory-borderline-prose. (I'm in a very foody poetry place.) I thought about it more over dinner--a Sante Fe style cheeseburger, relatively yummy and 0% guilt free--during which I took a moment to flip through a book of poetry by Ander Monson, and decided that poetry is also a deliciously prosaic ice cream sundae with a delicate emphasis placed on the "I". I don't use prosaic in the harsh dictionary sense of "lacking in poetic beauty" or "commonplace" or "unromantic" (Merriam and Webster, for being pioneers of our understanding of words' meanings, are rather unromantic themselves in terms of showing kindness to them and their meanings); I simply mean poetry resounding in prose, or straddling the border.

I use the "I" in poetry ... But I don't think I'm using it right. In fact, I think in some ways I have used the "I" to avoid myself in poetry; the "I" I engage is not myself, but a stranger, reflecting upon strangers and the selves of strangers and a false-I engaging on airy and earthy and watery and meaty levels. Before I wrote my new love--hinterlands ... beautiful--I found myself writing a poem about my students. They were on my mind. I wrote their eyes; what I said I see in them is probably more what I want to see, what I want to believe is in there, rolling around, even if it's not. I don't think I like it. But it's more honest--more "I" than the other Is I've done. So I tried again. I decided to start--to force myself to start--the next poem with "I" declaring. So in Poem Two, I started with, "I want" and went. This one is closer. The "I" resonates, not only in the "I" but the "i," the "y", the "e". It opens with "I" and closes with "my." Hm. Then came "hinterlands." This was a "you" poem, but I think the "I" is in there. Maybe. "Membranish" ... that's me.

I wound up writing six poems. Not all of them are "I" poems, and at least one is (currently) a prose poem (about a door ... I don't know how that happened. I wanted to write about the pipes under the sink--again, don't know why--but I wrote down "door", and it came), and there's one about clowns and why the world needs them despite their horrors. I don't know where that one came from either; I think my mind traveled from the rhyme of door (on which the door poem ends) and horror (or horrific, on which the clown poem opens), and what horrifies me--clowns--and that led to a poem on dying and the fear of someone close to me dying and what I might do to keep that person alive, and so I ended the evening on a poem that begins, "Because dying is hard, let's you and I put it off for a while" and wanders into preserve jars pretty quickly. Almost all the poems have food--birds, too. Tonight, I think they're all wonderful. I'd let you (whoever's face belongs to whichever eyes might be reading this, besides my own) read them, but I'm afraid you'd disagree.

That's me being open and honest. I'm trying it out.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you so much for your comments! Please feel free to share your thoughts here; I look forward to engaging in conversation with you!

Featured Post

Sankofa: The Power of Known History

I recently took on two challenges in the sphere of political and cultural advocacy: understanding the roots of our democracy and national l...