Archive for the ‘Breathing Space’ Category

Experiments with Form

Breathing Space: ruminations on veiling and unveiling the rent –

…intellectual control of a poem is something to apply
after the materials have been allowed to float to the surface…
-Sydney Lea

A veteran of the Korean War, my father promptly changed his major from engineering to hotel management upon his return from the service, because, he said, “I figured I’d rather do something with people.” He was proud of the fact that with a mean of 135, his unit had the highest I.Q. average of any that had survived basic training. As sort of a “vision quest,” like many men, he found that the experience of being in the Army also served him, in that it helped him clarify his goals, develop a life-plan. His motto became “if you love it, feed it.”

His resolution to nurture the living extended to his children. When I was laid up with some childhood malady (measles? chickenpox?) or another, my father patiently taught me how to use water colors. When I found an abandoned blue bike, my father taught me how to fix it, keep it working, and how to ride. Because he’d been captain of the hockey team in college, he laced up my figure skates so tightly I thought the circulation in my feet would be cut off, and then proceeded to teach me how to skate for speed and quick maneuvering. No frivolous figure eights — just spin, shoot, score!

Perhaps more essential, however, was what my father taught by his example. As a patient in the geriatric psychiatry ward at Johns Hopkins, my father amazed the physicians with his command of language, telling my mother, for example, “your problems are picayune compared to mine,” or that he was “anathema around here,” even as his disease was eroding his ability to speak. During his stay, he fought depression, all the while hoping not only for a diagnosis, but holding out for a cure. Although many neurological diseases were ruled out, he never got a positive diagnosis. Still, he never complained, and even after everything was taken from him: his athletic ability, his motor control, his memory, his mental capacity and his facility to speak, a quiet dignity shone through his eyes and lit his face right up to the moment he drew his very last breath.

It was in processing his death by looking at his life, his principles, the things he taught both actively and by his tacit example, that I discovered (or, more accurately: re-discovered) an entry in my dream journal that dates back to when I was about 15 years old. Re-reading the account as an adult gave me a new perspective, and I began to understand my father in a different way than when I was an adolescent. That is, rather than seeing my father as a particular “form” or body, I recognized him as a particular “force” or nurturing presence in my life. This realization made me re-evaluate what I thought it meant to father a child, in terms of relationship, rather than merely bodily/biological, “issue.” In this way, my father “feeds” me, still.

In working with this idea, I decided to put the material from my dream journal on the page first, before the title and the rest of the poem, so that the dream “vision” serves to “frame” the poem, partly to subvert conventional form and partly to suggest the idea of growing into a new perspective. After experimenting for a while, I also decided to italicize the dream material, and to make it grayed-out, so that it appears to be fading away, as dreams do.

So, in honor of Father’s Day, and as an homage to my Dad, and to all men who care for and nurture other people, here is my offering:
Empty House

Happy Father’s Day!



Breathing Space: ruminations on veiling and unveiling the rent –

It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there.
William Carlos Williams, Asphodel

Wired – perhaps inadvertently, we’ve all been yoked together: witnesses to tragedies of unprecedented magnitude unfolding right before our very globally networked eyes. Specifically, advances in technology have allowed us to gawk in common at the spectacle of Charlie Sheen’s public broadcast of his up-to-the-minute state of mind, until that flamed out and was supplanted in our fascination with live coverage of the 8.9 earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Japan.

March Madness — with the advent of Daylight Savings Time (March 13), the full moon’s 18-year cyclical lunar perigee (March 19) and the Vernal Equinox (March 20) squeezing in on an already full calendar, it’s no wonder some have nicknamed the concomitant phenomena “global weirding.” There’s an Irish proverb that says, “The best mirror is a friend’s eye.” In an effort to offer a wee bit of recognition, and perhaps even a brief respite from “all the news that’s fit” to broadcast live, on national television, I give you two poems to consider: the first, “Devastating Romance” on the tragedy of “twisters” —

Devastating Romance Hits Oklahoma

"Devastating Romance Hits Oklahoma" Anne Yale. 2009. Forced Air.

and the second, by way of linkage, on those larger tragedies (courtesy of Mother Nature) which serve to remind us how connected we really already are, even without hand-held devices, broadcast media, or cell towers —


"Apotheosis" Anne Yale. 2010. Thrust air.


And we have lift-off: Can you hear me now?




Sweet Tweets

Breathing Space: ruminations on veiling and unveiling the rent –

A poet is a nightingale, who sits in darkness and sings
to cheer its own solitude with sweet sounds.

– Percy Bysshe Shelley

Inside Voices – listening intently, I hear purring: the refrigerator swoons. The heater wheezes – forced air’s labored breathing. My computer hums a white noise cover song over the soft, constant drone of its hard drive. Surrounded with so much comfort, you’d think I’d be inspired, but the presence of all these “soothing” sounds lulls me into uproar.

Sensory Register – in order to take in stimuli and effectively process it, a calm environment is necessary. Lured into complacency, my “central processing unit” gets all snuggly, and near torpidity I find myself uneasy in “paradise.” I feel a hyper need to “rage against the machine,” rather than just sit here and be quiet. Too much stimuli, and “ooops!” (there goes the neighborhood) I feel restless, anxious, and eventually, depressed.

Groundhog Day – does this scenario sound familiar? How easily bored we get with our sped-up lives. We have become a society that has moved indoors, which cuts us off from the natural world (and ewww! don’t bring that in here). Simultaneously, we’ve learned to occupy ourselves more and more with “communication” technology – the more we devote our attention to our technological devices, the more we actually cut ourselves off from the sensory perception of our immediate surroundings. Think, for example, of all of the accidents caused by distracted driving, (or, for that matter, distracted walking) due to the “advances” in technology which allow us to motor on while texting, receiving a wireless signal, or listening to music within an insulated buffer zone in the privacy of our own ear buds. And how about all those unsettling cell phone conversations we’re inadvertently held hostage to in public spaces? Ironically, it seems all of our newfangled “communication” gizmos cut us off from having to deal with the discomfort of direct, visceral communication with one another.

I’m talking about in your face, one-on-one communication:

conversation – carried on within eavesdropping distance, quartered tightly, in close enough proximity to another person to inhale and smell his/her character. Yes, dialogue – that messy, but necessary (sometimes awkward) method of getting to know one another better: an antiquated, time consuming, “low tech” solution to a lot of what ails us and our world today. The only problem with conversation is that it requires listening before speaking, hearing the other person correctly, (without reading too much in to what’s been said) and processing a message completely before formulating and offering a thoughtfully crafted response. (Ewwww!)

Chinese New Year – 2011 ushers in a lunar New Year of the Rabbit, a lucky sign that focuses our attention on diplomacy and introspection. The Year of the Rabbit is the calm after a Tiger year’s storm, a good time for dialogue to take place. Often, a good way to start a dialogue is by sharing some tidbit from the news that we might have both witnessed. This gesture directs our attention to the things or ideas we share, rather than stressing our differences.

In stressing the things we have in common, I find the idea of poems being “one inside talking to another” via the medium of sound (to quote Donald Hall) another appealing way to “break the ice” or start up a conversation. I guess it’s one of the reasons I write: to instigate a dialogue, strike up a conversation, give us (communicants) a precipice from which to jump into the “air” that surrounds us. Poems are not just a matter of the words that we use, or the “spin” we give any particular subject or situation. Poems are also about making things from sound.

Old-Fashioned Love Songs – in order to collect sounds, I can sit in front of my computer screen and listen to the buzz my speakers make (or for that matter, the myriad of electronically generated sounds all around us at any given moment).  Even in outdoor, public spaces we may find ourselves conversant with all sorts of technologically driven babble. Or, taking a cue from Eric Clapton’s gesture toward acoustic (rather than “amplified”) sound, I can unplug, boldly go where few before have dared, and be opened!

One morning, recently, I decided to do just that.  After I’ve detached myself from all of my “umbilical cords” — my phone, computer, and tv screens —  I venture out. The desert, I discover, teems with sound, especially early in the morning. The air bristles with songs waving “over the wire.” I overhear conversations that absolutely chatter, “Alive!”

Conversation Hearts

Conversation Hearts

Free DownloadHamlet’s Blackberry in hand, I listen (in the manner of so many poets before me) to nature’s “twitter feed.” The “file space” of my central processing unit begins to decompress. Relaxed, with a different set of sounds on record, I start making sense of my surroundings: organizing sounds in time – a matter of breathing space. Defragmenting my “hard drive” gives me the down-time (i.e. introspection) required to hear “conversation hearts” – inspired lines from which to leap into a fresh (perhaps even startling) inquiry.

Valentine’s Daywhile we’re speaking of conversation starters, I offer up the resulting Valentine. There wasn’t enough room to inscribe it on an elfin, heart-shaped confection, so I’ve engraved it here, on this space, instead:

Twitter Feed

"Twitter Feed" (2011). Anne Yale. Brushed Air.

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