MEETING A GOLEM, AND OTHER WRITING ADVENTURES
I have been thinking, as I do, often, about the number 18. A cultural interpretation of 18, transliterated in English as Chai, life, or Chai-life, the 18 in Hebrew numerology: chet the Hebrew alphabet's eighth letter plus yod the Hebrew alphabet's tenth letter equals 18. Thinking of simultaneous affects. Living in between, and at-once, a lot of disappointment, grief, and loss, and so much joy, curiosity, and gratitude. The words turning the affect. The affect making the words. New forms, changing old news. 18 lines – with title, itself a line. New poems in a series, maybe. As in: meanwhile, the Meanwhile Series (?). I write a few of them, and I might write some more. They are not all entitled "Meanwhile." One of them is called "Furthermore." "By the Way" already broke the pattern, having fewer than 18 lines, but it feels like it's part of the new series, having the Chai Principle embedded, and my apparently unceasing focus on simultaneous truths. Last September, I wrote a poem called "And Another Thing." My friend, Golem, came back after a seeming hiatus, and appeared in that poem. I don't think "And Another Thing" belongs in the new series, but perhaps it could. More on the Golem, later…
Poems happen to me. I am a card reader more than a tea leaf reader, interpreting news flashes, lightning, exaggeration, easy not normal, nothing new, all new, a translator and maker-upper of what-the-hellness.
The enormous honor and privilege, the pleasure, indeed, of guest editing an upcoming special issue of Nine Mile Art & Literary Magazine put me in the position of having to ask our contributing poets to comment on their writing aesthetic: why and how they write the ways that they do, and what that even means. Now, facing a similar prompt, as it were, I am aware that it really is a funky question to ponder. I am not shocked to notice my awareness — and, admittedly, some anxiety — about the fact that whatever I write and whatever manifests online in the June 2019 issue of Wordgathering will of course have its own stasis as well as its own dynamism.
Is "writing about writing" a snapshot, one that undergirds a moment, in what I typically think of as alinear time, as a poem might sometimes be laboring to do?
Yes, I think some but maybe not all poems labor. Poets get to be anthropomorphic, and, mostly, we can get away with it. I'm imagining metaphors like, "My writing life is fireworks," as I posted recently on social media. This is an assertion both audacious and self-preserving…for me, these metaphors are part of the gig. How cool, honestly. And, what a relief, particularly, it seems to me, for us as disabled someones, with our long histories of so-called deviance, our variances. Ableism can't have the poetry. So there.
I don't write because I want to have something outlive me. It might be easier for me to talk about what my writing doesn't mean to me. It is harder to describe what it does mean, or how it becomes, without falling into the fear-of-seeming-hubristic abyss. As it is said, "I gotta be me," but hubris isn't my thing.
Like lots of other poets, I bear witness, and not just visually, to a plethora of experiences wherein folks want a poet's work to be "clear" and "self-evident," as if there is a way to determine this pathway for just about everybody. I write lots of different kinds of poems, flash fiction, creative nonfiction, essays, and so on. I don't identify with any particular category, school, or poetic genre, and I engage in cross-pollination. It's also true that some of my poems contain imagery, cadence, and syntax that are downright confusing and "fringe," but that's not because I don't love lyricism. Dada and absurdism have their lyricisms, too. But, I am not calling myself An Absurdist. Please, just call me Diane.
Simultaneously, I indeed don't want to be described as one of those poets whose work is at times incomprehensible, except to a very tiny few fellow weirdos who have any interest in what I am sharing. The dilemma, if there is one, is that I write for the work to be outside of me, to share it with others, but I don't want to explain it, most of the time. I think explanations sometimes undermine creativity. When folks notice references they recognize in my work, that's great, but the work is not just "about that thing," whatever it is. Each poem is its own "thing," even if it's a part of a series or sequence, I think, meaning whatever it means, including nothing, to each reader. What the poem means (or doesn't/cannot mean) and how it works (or doesn't/cannot work) might change, over time, for a given reader, too, as many have asserted or observed. I don't think this process is neat, tidy, or dualistic. Rather than an either/or (I get it, I like it; Huh? Not for me), I find myself ambivalent about some of the poetry I read, including my own.
My writing process is neither consistent nor, technically-speaking, inspired. I am not a disciplined person who gets up every day and writes at 5 a.m., perhaps before going to the gym and having a green salad. (I eat plenty of whole grains, fruit, and vegetables, but I know that I need to drink more water and exercise more. If I eat less sugar and even less low-fat dairy, will the poems be affected?) My admiration is stalwart, when I think of the writing-for-decades-at-the-same-time-each-morning poets, and their dedication to The Craft. WHOA. You poets rock!
I'm a newb, in a way, and have been one for over 45 years. I wrote my first poems at age 7, and, with some exceptions, have written continuously within this life, ever since. Cliché as it may seem, I write when the mood strikes me. Then, the idea of and my own experience with discipline come home. I will not be easily "interrupted" if I am on a proverbial roll. I must finish the piece, and, in some cases, that might mean going back to it, again and again, until I feel it is its own kind of ready-to-drink soup (suitable for consuming — if not always enjoyed — hot or cold), based upon a combination of intuition and inner voice clarity. In those cases, I have no choice but to pause in between the editing instances.
Thus far, I have been driven to write most of the poetry, in my self-driving car. Without silly puns, though, or perhaps a memoried reference to The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster (his creation of a royal wagon that "goes without saying"), I do not arrive at the poem; and, the poem does not tend to arrive on the page. That kind of arrival does happen, though, sometimes.
Folks sometimes ask me about The Golem Verses. How on earth did all that work come about? Well, for starters, it wasn't on earth, or, not only on or of earth. On a mid-October morning in 2017, I was visited by a Golem, a supernatural being hailing from Jewish mystical traditions. Our first encounter was rocky, but then we became friends. I wrote a poem, and then wrote two more. My friend, Steve Kuusisto, said "keep going!" So, I did. I wrote 106 Golem poems in five months: the book. Suffering from a bad case of Impostor Syndrome, despite the book's generally quite positive reception, I was calling myself a Pinocchio poet, like some day I would be a real poet. Steve told me to cut it out. I listened to him. Although I had been writing poems since I was a kid, and had some published, over the years, The Golem Verses was my first full-length collection — at age 52. I am grateful beyond words to editors Steve Kuusisto, Bob Herz, and Andrea Scarpino for publishing the work as part of Nine Mile Press's book series. Speaking of audience reception, my friend, Elizabeth Anne Socolow, persuaded me that I should write a note to "welcome" the reader, as not everyone knows about Golems. So, I did, and she helped me.
Typically, for me, a poem pushes itself through me, right through the solar plexus, an experience about which I have commented in the work. For example, I refer to a "solar plexus punch" and to poetry, among other themes, in "Golem, Twilight 39":
Golem, Twilight 39 (from The Golem Verses [Nine Mile Press, 2018])
My beloved Aunt Joan (Fallert) was a gifted poet. We read our work to each other, for decades, and shared a huge variety of literary and other creative interests. I often asked her of her poems, "How did you do that?"and she asked me the same question about mine, which I considered a major compliment. The Golem Verses got its title because of a conversation with Aunt Joan; the collection is posthumously dedicated to her (as well as to my mother, and my friends and family). I cannot talk about my own poetry, or poetry, altogether, without honoring Aunt Joan's gifts, her influence, and my memories of and feelings about her. Every time I write a poem, I'm reading it to her, as it's being written. She remains my paradigmatic interlocutor. "Golem, Twilight 39" is in some respects about Aunt Joan's departure, but I won't explain it. I know you caught what I did there.