The Poem Fixed My Ending

Frequently I’ve gotta do all of this work first, and then just wait and listen.

Yeah, don’t even bother.

I’ve been working on a poem since last Easter. Not unusual. Most of them don’t come quickly. It was almost all there, but it had some issues. And the ending, well, the ending was more like just a stopping. It was true. It was what happened, but it wasn’t right.

So I was working on other poems this evening and decided to pull the Easter one up again to see if it wanted to play. Oh lord, the first line was a stumble, not just the ending, but the very first line. I made a note beside it saying, “This meter is all wrong,” with a little illustration showing that it was neither iambic, anapestic or any other ‘ic.’ It was just ick.

I had built this edifice of a poem and I didn’t want to Jenga it to pieces. Nudge, nudge, gentle tug, and wouldn’t you know it, the words just rearranged themselves. Two of them dropped into the next line. Well, that changed the whole stanza, which changed the next. This line could go. This word had to go.  A new verb stepped in like it had just been out for a smoke, but knew right where its spot was, an X taped there on the poem’s stage. It was all prepared without me. Well, not really.  More about that in a moment. I shrugged. I was happy.

But there was that ending again. It was poignant—sad, sweet, and true. But it was a dull ending, just rolling into the final margin with a clunk. And then, it hit me. The event happened, sure. I was telling it all mostly true, but I wasn’t capturing the feeling it gave me. Then I remembered what I always tell myself—I’m not a historian.

And the poem said, “Hey, David. You know what I really want? I want the narrative to end like this . . . ” And what it whispered in my ear stunned me. Totally unexpected, but perfect. It was simple, natural, and magical. And not at all from my own head, or so it seemed. Okay, Easter-ish poem. Do what you want. I like it. Just let me go to bed now, okay?

So what’s the lesson here? You don’t have to work, just let it flow out however it wants and it’s sacred? Oh, hell no! Quite the opposite. You listen, and then you work. You pause again to listen as you continue. You get down what you can. You write every detail. You do it. You have to do it (even just by practicing in your head sometimes for those ones that seem to come on their own) before it will do itself.

You have to arrange the worlds before your instinct knows how to rearrange them. You cut out a lot later. A lot. And once you’ve done all the work, and the poem decides you’re really serious about this, maybe it’ll stop being so distant and let you in on what it wants to do. It’s a paradox; you have to work in order to let it work itself out. It’s just your brain unfreezing anyway. Instinct and training like an archer’s hand on the bow. It’s not flow or inspiration, or magic.

Well, it might be magic. But the spell will cast itself only after you’ve done all the preparation, the study, the sweat. Sweet dreams, friends. And keep writing.

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Happy Birthday to Mary Oliver

Back in the studio on our birthday.

Oh, yeah, and to me! There’s a poet whose loss I was planning to write about, but then I remembered that I share a birthday with Mary Oliver today. And so instead of thinking about aging and death, I decided that first, it would be a good idea to spend a little time in the studio with some of Mary’s poems today.

Yesterday on Twitter, poet Chen Chen, author of When I Grow Up I Want To Be a List of Further Possibilities, tweeted that he enjoyed actually writing out or typing other people’s poems. What a cool idea! And so I tweeted back, well, this:

And while I think writing the poems of others would be an equally interesting and enlightening exercise, it’s probably not that much fun for you to watch or listen to me doing it. So for now, I’ve resorted to my old practice of recording poems that I love, partly just because I love them and partly as a way to more fully live within,  and come to know them. As Chen Chen says, “rhythmic inhabiting”

For this September 10th, on which both Mary Oliver and I were born (Honestly, it really was my idea, and she didn’t seem to mind), I pulled her collection Evidence off my shelf and went into my studio; some might call it a bedroom. And here are a few poems of hers that I enjoyed vocalizing. I hope you enjoy them.

And here are a few poems of hers that I enjoyed vocalizing. I hope you enjoy them.

If you liked these poems, as my friend Neil Silberblatt says, please go to your local independent bookstore and they can get you a copy of the book so you can enjoy all of them. If you don’t have a local independent bookstore, stop by your local library.

And, though I am no Mary Oliver, my first chapbook has some similar themes and settings. I suppose I was influenced by her more than I realized. It’s called Moons, Roads, and Rivers, and it is available now for pre-order from Finishing Line Press. You’ll be able to get it from your local bookseller after November 17th, but if you’d like to have a copy anyway, ordering from the publisher by September 22nd helps me out by increasing the final press run and making us best friends. Hey, maybe you could even order a copy for your local library! Just a thought. Thanks for your help, whatever you can do.

To order my chapbook (THANK YOU!)  click here. To read more about it and link to a few sample poems, go here. Thanks for making it a happy birthday. I’ll tell Mary you said hello.

My Debut Chapbook: Moons, Roads, and Rivers

Image by Michael B. McFarland

Moons, Roads, and Rivers, my first chapbook, is now available for pre-order from Finishing Line Press. Click here to order your copy!

The official release date is November 17th, so if all goes as planned, you’ll have your copy of Moons, Roads, and Rivers in time for the holidays. Just be aware that these things sometimes take longer than anticipated. I’m looking now to schedule readings for the new year.

What’s this Chapbook About?

Moons, Roads, and Rivers is a small collection of poems set along highways and side roads from Pennsylvania to Indiana, from backyards and bar stools to graveyards and broken-down cars. You’ll meet a boy who hasn’t learned how to swim and a little girl “who cried / when the moon fell in the river.”

Find out what my dad has in common with Hoover Dam. Discover my favorite graffiti and why my neighbors shake their heads. Some poems were previously published in places like San Pedro River Review, The Blue Hour Magazine, and Contemporary American Voices.

What some good people have said:

With images wrought in highly perceptive verse, David J. Bauman’s poems speak eloquently of what we love, and what prevails over the artificial and transient . . . Such poignant natural details, personal and reflective, “slowly / raise the relics to light,” recalling the land and riverscapes of James Wright. The poems of Moons, Roads, and Rivers embrace and take solace in what blesses our lives, generously offering a luminous, enduring work.
Jeffrey Alfier, editor of Blue Horse Press and San Pedro River Review

David J. Bauman threads dynamic energy throughout Moons, Roads and Rivers, which leads the reader to palpable angst and longing . . . movement between floating and sinking as you travel the circuitous curves of his journey . . .
Dawn Leas, author of I Know When to Keep Quiet and Take Something When You Go

David J. Bauman‘s debut chapbook, Moon, Roads, and Rivers, is a celebration of  everyday elements that we often take for granted . . . Bauman’s lines and rhythms are precise and fine-tuned . . . At the heart of the book, the poet celebrates humanity, despite our flaws, and acknowledges that we are at our best when we are attuned and respectful to the greater world around us.
Brian Fanelli, author of Waiting for the Dead to Speak (NYQ Books)

Read the complete book jacket blurbs at Finishing Line Press when you pre-order Moons, Roads, and Rivers by clicking right here.

An excerpt:

Age 13

I stood on the bank, under the old
Black Bridge, my toes secretly
digging pebbled sandstone.
My friends had just transformed into fish.

We’d been splashing in the shallows.
Now their feet kicked spray.
Arms over arms, faces turning
to breath with each stroke, they swam
through the deep water, all the way out

to the first pier. Knee-deep on its
concrete ledge they were calling to me.
I’d never told them that I hadn’t learned how.

—from “Swim”

Order your copy of Moons, Roads, and Rivers from Finishing Line Press (You guessed it, by clicking right here).

Poetry Month Playlist Wrapup

An old favorite of the whole crew, poets on the ends, guitar players in the middle.

My youngest boy had a lovely idea for Poetry Month; we would agree on a poet for each week of April and each of us would record a poem or more by that poet. It was fun, and I even found a few poems by these favorites that I hadn’t heard before. You can follow back through this blog and his, or to skip the commentary and just go for the audio experience, we’ve put together the whole playlist. As the young man says, it only takes about 9.5 minutes to listen through.

Of Peaches and Plumbs: Things, Ideas, and Wheelbarrows

English: Photograph (believed to be passport p...

Probable passport photo of American poet and physician William Carlos Williams. Courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University.

Yesterday Micah shared a brilliant interpretation of “that plums poem,” a video of Mathew Macfadyen dramatizing William Carlos Williams’ little piece “This is Just to Say.” Do me a favor, click here and watch it (It’ll open in a new window) and then come back. I’ll wait.

Back? Worth it, right? That video was part of a larger DVD collection released in the UK in 2004 by Daisy Goodwin, called Essential Poems (to Fall in Love with).  It seems to be impossible to find the whole production or a copy of it that will play in an American DVD drive at this point. But you can find some other scattered clips here and there if you are willing to do some digging.

What follows is a slightly revised article I wrote some time ago on the blog, in which I ramble on about everything from modern poetry to Aristotle’s critique of forms.  I won’t be offended if you skip down to the video in which I portray Kenneth Koch’s play on the plums piece. Continue reading

In Memory of Okla Elliot, Three Poems

On Monday morning, the first day of spring, I stepped out my door and looked up to the clouds that were breaking. I smiled to think how the chill this morning would be warming up as the day went on, according to the weather forecast. Still gazing at the sky, I remember saying, “Good morning, World!” Well, I started to say that, but as the W came out my foot slid out and away, landing me instantly and jarringly on my back. I don’t know how I managed to not crack my head open on the concrete steps, let alone how I saved all but a few drops from my coffee thermos.

The pain I would be in was not yet fully known. I was up immediately and spreading salt on the steps. The previous layer had been washed away by yesterday’s melting snow, and the water had frozen over again in the night. Continue reading