30 January 2011

Post 309: One More Theory About Happiness

One More Theory About Happiness by Paul Guest. ISBN: 9780061685170.

I actually liked Guest's descriptions of finding poetry a lot better than his narrative about his disability. Call me strange, but I think he might actually have cleaner emotions and less conflict with that because he was able to write about it with a bit more clarity. Then again, maybe it's because I was able to identify with it a little better, having once considered myself a poet, but never having been paralyzed.

I especially liked the description Guest included when he "discovered" the poem Melancholia. He was reading the dictionary entry, which included the etymology, and initially read it as "black hole" when it was really "black bile." Although I don't write as much poetry as I used to, whenever I do pick up a pen it is usually under similar circumstances. I actually used to write two or three poems a day in high school because I was terribly bored with the lesson plans, which were often just a rehash of the textbook anyway. I kept a running list of titles in the back of my poetry notebook so that if I ever got stuck I could just flip to the back and use it as a kind of prompt.

My favorite poems though were the ones where lines and images seemed to come to me out of nowhere. Possibly one of my favorite poems that I wrote was for my undergraduate poetry class. Although it was for an assignment, I was going through a difficult break up at the time and I felt very detached and out of place. The relationship had been floundering for a while, but the end of it still hurt in a way I couldn't have imagined. So when the assignment came to write a poem using only imagery I had a flash of inspiration. I would write about the decline of my relationship and the oddness I felt associated with that. This is the poem I wrote:
"Let's Just Take a Break"
A flood gate opens.
Gallons of water
rush through a desert
that has its own forms of life.
Life that cannot possibly handle
this much water
emptying into
Caverns, Cliffs, and Gullies.
The land can’t absorb it all
fast enough.
So I am swept away
like an old canoe
the flood brought with it,
now sticking in the fork
of a blooming cactus.
There is no one to rescue
this vessel.
The canoe stays
Spines grow into
water-softened wood.
The flood recedes,
leaving a trail of green behind it,
and a canoe up in a cactus.

It is not an especially good poem, but I have always liked it for its simplicity. I like it because I did manage to capture the swell and overwhelming of emotions, the flood that I was feeling. And I did feel like my life was adrift. I didn't know what to do with myself half the time. I went through my day hoping it would be better than the last day, that I would cry less and hurt less and suddenly remember what it felt like to be happy.

I don't write poetry much anymore, partially because this blog has taken it's place, but also because I associate it with a very specific time in my life. I'm not really that person anymore, so I feel I need to use a new format to express myself.

Do you have a favorite poem or story that you've written? One that felt like it just came to you? Tell me about it.

A decent review can be found over at the Bookslut blog. I gave it two stars and a waffle (on Goodreads two stars is "it's okay".)
LibsNote: Free copy received from the publisher's booth at ALA 2010.


  1. I like the image of the canoe stuck in the cactus. It's kind of a funny image physically, and then paired with the emotional trigger of the poem it becomes sad in an absurd way. If that makes sense.

    Was that for a Ben class? I had to take poetry as part of my major and I did terribly, mostly because I resisted it. But some inspiration did come along in the form of a woman (of course), and I wrote something I'm pretty happy with, imagery-wise. Ben wanted me to submit it to the lit mag, but I was too afraid my fellow student would read it and know it was about her (even though it's more about me). So here now for the first time outside of my own hard drive, I submit for your humble readership, this poem about art and sex:


    The natural curve of your back –
    full, delicate, unknowable –
    refuses to fit my lines,
    my lazy crosshatch.

    The others encircle you, studiously scribbling,
    running fevered charcoal over borrowed paper,
    finely flicking wrists to find
    the right touch with India ink.

    My pencil balks in impotence –
    dull gray etchings cannot capture you
    when my eyes still struggle.

    The lighting is soft and orange
    (as all good lighting should be),
    darkening shadows across your black tank-top,
    a shading nightmare, a traceable beauty for my gaze.

    When the roar of the heating vent dies,
    I can hear you breathing, shallow,
    to avoid disruption of movement, but your
    socked feet shift slightly on the wooden stage.

    Safe behind my easel, I bend my arm to mimic yours,
    tendons twist and tire with the effort.
    Yours remain loose, experienced.

    I have never looked so long at a single arm,
    never examined so deeply the relaxed muscle
    beneath supple skin, the shadows it provokes,
    the measurement it defies.

    My fingers twitch. I am no alchemist –
    I cannot spin into inadequate graphite
    what is already gold. No matter;
    the lights go up, those sick fluorescents.

    Your body moves, and our implements quiet,
    my own canvas lies blank,
    my mind groans, straining, unable.

  2. It was for a Ben class. I was so lucky to get into that class because he had to cut something like five people and I had _no_ idea what I would take as an alternative. That was a great semester for me, because I got to take two writing classes and I think the third was a philosophy class. It was almost like being on vacation (not that the writing wasn't difficult, but it was more enjoyable than the typical term paper).

    Love the poem, I would love if this post became a sort of poetry corner for my readers!

  3. idea: do a poetry, or creative response week, where instead of a regular blog post you write a poem relating to the book you read. think about it!

  4. Hmm, April is poetry month... I'll think about it.


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