What I Meant to Say

Wendy Babiak's Visions and Revisions

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Unnecessary Divisions

I should be packing. The movers are coming in a week and a half. And if I’m not going to be packing, I should be reading poems over at Goodreads to offer my two selections for the newsletter contest. But that’s not as easy a task as packing, even, in some ways, and I’ve been reading over at Harriet, this conversation about some gawdawful poetry reading fiasco involving the interrogation of laughers. Yikes. Kinda makes me glad we’re not moving to NYC, though where we’re going will have plenty of readings, and I’m looking forward to it, poetry readings being one of the things I gave up when we decided to move to the boonies. We’ve served our time in the middle of nowhere, as beautiful as it is, and we’re moving to a place where one is less likely to be viewed with suspicion if one’s been to school (or likes books, which we do…my back attests to this…so far I’ve filled almost thirty file boxes with them, and I’ve got another twenty or so to go). Where we’re going, though, is a bit more laid back than NYC, kind of like a miniature San Franscisco, but with snow. And good thing. I don’t think I could tolerate that sort of attitude.

I’ve also been reading around online about this so-called School of Quietude vs. Post-Avant alleged divide in contemporary poetry. And one of the articles I read was this attempted score card. Dude posted two poems, one apparently belonging to one school and one belonging to the other, and commentors are supposed to weigh in. And I get the difference, but it seems to me they’re both enjoyable, in very different ways. Is that so wrong? I thought diversity was a GOOD thing.

But I’m well aware that folks like to keep current, take a certain pride in being cutting edge. Nobody wants to look out of touch with the times (and some people seem to enjoy looking down their noses at people who are, or who don’t care to appear not to be). But I really like the first one. Is it wrong to enjoy rich language, smooth and complex as a good lobster bisque? I like potato chips, too, and the second poem was a little like that…crunchy and salty and likely to make me feel a bit guilty or stupid afterwards. I confess, if forced to choose between the two, I’d rather spend time rereading the first. Then again, I’ve long had a thing for lobster bisque.

I guess I’m not really interested in interrogating the making of meaning, though I certainly wrote more than one piece of juvenilia in which I railed against language’s inability to really get at its subject. Or at least my inability, using it.

And I got to thinking about the poetry-reading scandal (talk about a teapot tempest, egads, folks need some perspective, methinks). Interrogate is a harsh word. To question seems more apt in most interpersonal situations (and even questioning someone else’s response to a poem seems to require a level of self-importance I don’t think I could come up with). The only folks with a right to interrogate a fellow citizen, I’m pretty sure, are those in law enforcement (my young daughter, btw, loves to interrogate her doll collection…the lists of alibis left around make for fascinating reading). I’d think that at a poetry reading such an attitude would be eschewed for one a little more humane (and grownup?). Shows what I know.

I guess that’s why I don’t interrogate language, either, or particularly enjoy poetry that attempts to. It’s a hostile attitude. Dance with language, maybe, and whisper in its ear, and see what it might, so seduced, reveal.

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Someone Else’s Word for It

Probably the most difficult thing about birthing a book is asking people to write blurbs. It’s an onerous task to push on someone, who is probably busy enough with her/his own work, and has a long list of things s/he’d like to be (or needs to be) reading besides your ink-jet-printed, unbound manuscript of questionable worth. To ask them to read it is bad enough. But then to ask them to form an eloquent, pithy opinion about it to be printed on the back cover, that’s too much! I know someone, an editor and poet, who hates writing blurbs so much that he has a blanket policy against it. He’s publishing his next book of poems without them (he likes asking people for them as little as he likes writing them).

But he’s not a first-time poet. A first book of poems really NEEDS blurbs. Potential readers can flip the book over and see the praise of qualified folk; they can take someone else’s word for it: this is something you should read. For the past several months I’ve had my manuscript in the hands of several such qualified people, and I’m happy to report that this morning I got in my email my very first blurb, from Tim Horvath, author of Circulation. Here’s one of the blurbs written for his novella: “Tim Horvath is a writer of encyclopedic knowledge, generous wit, and a master of the artful digression. Circulation is, to borrow from its very pages, ‘marvelous, intricate, globetrotting.’ Horvath writes with great compassion and an embracing love for the world and all traveling in it.” (Alexander Parsons). That sounds like someone who’s approval I can be proud to have attained for my little book. Here’s what he had to say:

Wendy Babiak’s Conspiracy of Leaves feels like a mixetape made by a dear friend who wants to stir up your endorphins but also challenge you to think. Her poems are at once deeply personal and resolutely political, direct and ornate, conversant in the language of science but unafraid of the spiritual and ecstatic. She’ll teach your brain myriad new ways to juggle.

Thanks again, Tim!


Dream vs. Reality

A first book of poems is rather, I’m discovering, like a marriage. One has ideas for a long time about what it’s going to be like, and confrontation with reality can be a little distressing. I spent the morning vivisecting five of my poems because the publication format was too narrow for their expansive lines. What a downer.

Yesterday I got totally sick of my own face, trying to choose an author’s photo. I finally settled on one that doesn’t bother me too much, but after I’d sent it off someone pointed out to me that it has a tree growing out of the top of my head.

I’m reserving hope that, like with marriage, after I’ve come to terms with reality, it turns out even better than I’d imagined, just different.


Introducing my friend Esther, and her Artwork

Esther Fuldauer's painting Mainvain

Since I’ve chosen to use this as my gravatar (after seeing another of Esther’s circuitry images as her own, and having her permission to use the painting at my website and, most importantly, on my book cover), I thought I’d introduce her work to anyone reading here. An intrepid computer programmer/designer by day, she continues to practice the visual arts as she has since I knew her as a talented student in St. Petersburg, Florida, at Eckerd College, back in the eighties. (God, Esther, how did so much time pass already?) This painting is part of a series of works she did exploring the similarities (and differences) between biological lifeforms (like this leaf) and computer circuitry (the beginnings of artificial life?). Which, for me at least, brings up all sorts of ideas about the nature of consciousness (and the consciousness of nature). Check out her gallery at her blog, which you can find in my left sidebar.

Rights to the work, of course, remain with the artist.


Human Rights, Interdependence, All There is to Say

Something I take as a truism, though it’s apparently a new, or worse, a rejected, idea for many of my fellow human beings, is that the issue of human rights is, at bottom, the keystone for building a bridge to a sustainable future, and further, that, therefore, all human-rights issues affect and ergo should concern all human beings. None of us is free until we’re all free, that whole bag. What’s a violation of human rights is anything flowing from an attitude that one group of folks deserves treatment of a lesser quality than another; substandard treatment involving financial penalties, inhibition of opportunities, violations of privacy, liberty, neglect of safety (like in sweatshops), violence, or even death. So racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, unfair trade: all human rights issues, all issues that should concern anyone with an interest in building an inhabitable future.

Amy King asked a good question, “Is Gay the New Black?” and heard an earful, which she discusses at worth-reading length in her post, “Gay May Not Be the New Black, but…”; there, she concludes:

I realize there are homophobic blacks and racist GLBT people. This sad fact should not mean that every association and link made between the groups is somehow going to undermine what’s currently taking place with the struggles we deal with. We can also discuss how our separate-but-sometimes overlapping groups enjoy a range of privileges that others don’t. These privileges function to sustain feelings of separateness and higher positioning. I contend though that such positionings are false and the privileges are fleeting. They are the dangling carrots that block the view that we’re all in the pit together. The elite powers are few and are the richest of the rich. They share resources that we all need such as top-notch health care, freedom from fear of bodily harm and lack of resources via elite and complete police protection, access to means of mobility and shelter and other perks bought on the backs of those who labor for fractional wages. Class, sexuality, race, gender, religion—these are just a few of the premises that bias works through, fragments people into groups, and helps those on top maintain a top to sit upon unscathed.

Clearly the struggle for civil rights for the GLBT community deserves the thoughtful support of all people of goodwill. I don’t care what some old scripture seems to say (though there’s plenty of evidence that cultural homophobia has served as a distorting lens on that issue throughout its various translations), our brethren are our brethren, period. Sexual orientation doesn’t change that. Any more than race, or nationality, or economic status does. The funny thing is that all of these various ways of splitting ourselves into groups are related; any kind of fracturing leaves us, simply, fractured.

In future posts I’ll be going deeper into this idea of interdependence, which as a concept, for me, operates on so many levels, and is one I just can’t stop chewing on. The interdependence of ideas, the interdependence of these various folk, the interdependence of all lifeforms. Because even beyond our all being human beings, we are earthlings, one species among many, each of which has a place here in a functioning biosphere. I used to write from an idealistic place urging us to recognize the personhood of trees. Now, older and more exposed to the level of ignorance and hate out there, I’d be happy if we could recognize each others’. For now, that’s all there is to say.