When I was young, perhaps eleven or twelve, I read the poem “Silence” by Marianne Moore. It was right around the time that I had started to explore my own poetry and craft my own metaphors. I remember the phrase “the glass flowers at Harvard” sticking out to me in a beautiful way.
At the time, it was a lovely phrase in the midst of a mixture of words that didn’t make sense to me. Now, on rereading it as an adult, I see how beautiful and eloquent Moore’s entire poem was. It speaks to me on a level that it did not when I was a child.
My father used to say,
"Superior people never make long visits,
have to be shown Longfellow's grave
or the glass flowers at Harvard.Self-reliant like the cat-
that takes its prey to privacy,
the mouse's limp tail hanging like a shoelace from its mouth-
they sometimes enjoy solitude,
and can be robbed of speech,
by speech which has delighted them.
The deepest feeling always shows itself in silence;
not in silence, but restraint."
Nor was he insincere in saying, "Make my house your inn."
Inns are not residences.
Given my childhood, it’s funny what pierces my heart and stabs my soul. It’s not the beauty of the phrase “the glass flowers at Harvard” (though, to Moore’s credit, that is a wonderful turn of phrase). It’s the last two lines of the poem.
Without getting too autobiographical, my childhood home felt as though it was curated for an interior design magazine. It did not feel like a home. I felt like I was walking into a stranger’s house every time I came home.
Home is such an interesting concept to me. I would love to explore the idea of it more in my writing.
PS: Anyone interested in reading an excerpt of a short story I’m working on?
In the world of writing, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch advised students to “murder their darlings” in a lecture, and as I revise, I find I am reluctant to murder my darlings, but I’m doing my best to be brutal.
Some lines, no matter how beautifully they’re phrased, must simply be abandoned.
I keep a small notebook with phrases I adore from my murdering stage of my writing. I call it my Homeless File. It’s where lines that are homeless lay their heads to rest, a small trashcan fire burning to keep them warm.
Today, as I revised my novel, I came across one:
Ghosts of an unremarkable past haunted her.
Those words are beautiful to me and conjure up images of a mundane life now gone, but alas, the sentence was unnecessary, so it goes into the Homeless File.
The beauty of the Homeless File is that I can discover other beautiful fragmentary thoughts that add to my appreciation of language and maybe some day, can incorporate into a story or poem.
Ribbon my soul/and graft/the missing pieces onto your heart.
These words, alone, might not sound like much, but they all hold a place in my heart because though I might have given up their ghosts in their earlier works, this does not mean they will not find a home elsewhere.
I have lived so many lives/you might as well call me/a matryoshka doll/(Stacked inside of each other/to keep warm & cozy/we can be our own best friends./Whoever needed anybody else?)
I feel every author should have a Homeless File.
What do you think? Do any of my fellow authors keep the darlings that they kill?
I’m starting to wonder if it’s more of a morgue than a Homeless File.
The last poet in my poetry spotlight is Carlene Gist or “T.C.” Not to make Carlene self-conscious, but she is the oldest poet I interviewed in this series and has a broad range of experience. Named after her father, Carlene is the first born of seven children and was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. In her own words, this poet says, “Poetry is a genre of writing that I’ve always admired. While in the first grade, I committed to memory and recited “The Night Before Christmas”, for the Christmas play. I’ve been writing but mostly reading poetry since then. Acting, singing and dancing are a few of my favorite things. I went from beating on tabletops to beating on the djembe, which is something I do to center myself. I hope one day to be a published poet.”
You have witnessed several historical events throughout your years as both a person and a poet. Do you find that current events shape your writing, and if so, how? What kind of events propel you to write poetry?
Being born in the late ’40s, I’ve seen a lot. Current events most definitely influence my sentiments when expressing myself through the written word. Poetry, to me, is one way of expressing one’s feelings and perspectives. I can find poetry in almost anything if I but just be still and observe. I find myself stirred by events that display man’s inhumanity to man on any level.
How has your writing changed over the years?
I used to write only poems that rhymed and a lot of love poems. I now write in free verse and about a variety of subjects. I also like writing haiku.
What influence does being a spoken-word poet play on the way you craft your poems?
I know that poetry, as all forms of art, is subjective. I do give effort in trying to find the most effective words and weave them in a manner that might help the audience receive the sentiment I am aiming to convey.
What poet, living or dead, would you like to meet and have dinner with? What would you serve your special guest?
Edgar A. Poe; Kahlil Gibran; Henry W. Longfellow; Paul L. Dunbar; Langston Hughes; Maya Angelou, to name a few. I would have said my peer, Nikki Giovanni. After hearing Amanda Gorman recite her poem “The Hill We Climb”, I would love to sit, chat, and break bread with her. I’m interested in what the younger generation has to say. I believe pizza might work.
What are your favorite aspects of your own poetry?
I like the way I’ve been able to provoke one to think about what I’m trying to convey.
When do you usually write your poetry?
Usually at the midnight hours-between midnight and three a.m.
What do you do when you experience writer’s block?
It’s really tough for me to start a flow when I’m experiencing writer’s block. Prompts, music, or just write what flows through me and edit later.
Written before the new time of 9 min. and 29 sec.
"It" looks into the camera. I watch Knee on neck, hands tucked comfortably in pockets Some might say cavalier, I say eviler A cold and icy stare. My eyes feel frostbitten, they hurt. I sense danger. Like an ostrich who buries their eggs in the sand Like an ostrich who senses danger and can’t run. I bury my head in my hands. I feel not better but safer Can I fear what I can’t see? Under the covers a child will hide for fear of the boogeyman Two minutes pass, spread my fingers and peek. My heart races, as pressure rises. “It” is still there, knee on neck hands comfortably in pockets. Under my covers I retreat. Bury my head in my hands a little longer this time. Hoping this time “it” will surely be gone. Three more minutes pass and “it’s” not gone yet. Still there, icy stare, knee on neck, hands tucked comfortably in pockets. Hugging my pillow tight, I start sweating and crying. A fearful child becomes so scared it will call for their mother. They trust and believe Mother, the person who witnessed them take their first breath is able, and will save them from taking their last if she can. Sounds of voices unfamiliar to me, I decide to peek and see. I’m petrified I can’t breath, “it” won’t leave. Why must “it” torture me so long? Three minutes seems like three hours I’ve waited for “it” to cease. Eight minutes now, seems like eight days of holding my breath , suffocating under my covers. They say fear leads to hate and hate to destruction Forty-six seconds later “it” is still there but George Floyd is not. Mother came to get him. I slowly lift my head out of my hands and start to breathe again. -Carlene Gist