January 18, 2010KR BlogKR

The Anxiety of Almost Being Influenced

In the airport in Ft. Meyers, Florida, on the TV, a newsman is standing in a Florida orange grove and cuts open an orange. Good news–he says, holding up a half–no ice. Low temperatures can actually be good, he continues, they concentrate the sweetness. But too low and the flesh freezes. And all is lost. He doesn’t say that, though, that last unitalicized bit. Just something like it which I don’t write down since I am only half-listening since I am half-sleeping on a chair post-red-eye and mid-layover and am trying to fully-sleep like that orange probably was before the knife so rudely interrupted it.

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In the San Carlos Institute, headquarters for the Key West Literary Seminars, and momentary nexus for most of the country’s greatest living poets, Matthea Harvey is talking about influence. And I’m jealous. She begins with Wallace Stevens and Emily Dickinson, and though I haven’t read the entire works by either (though I would like to), these are familiar influences. The trouble is when we move on to other influences. She cites Vik Muniz’s sky-written (with plane as pen) clouds in the sky; she cites a recent New York Times article about an artist who takes CAT scans of everyday objects such as a hamburger or Barbie doll; she cites the work of Tim Hawkinson and, in particular, his self-portrait sculpted out of an aspirin. Of these inspirations, I was familiar with the first, too, and had been probably been inspired–no, almost inspired–by reading the same articles that Matthea read. I read that too! I wanted to shout out like a child. Me too! Me too!

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Yet, unlike Matthea, I hadn’t done anything with my near brush with inspiration. I had probably read the articles, and then let them become another layer in the snowdrift of recycling by the door. I probably finished my breakfast and rushed off to work, late as always. Maybe I made a note in one of my notebooks, but I definitely did not do anything transformative with the information half-accrued over my morning yogurt. Or eggs. Or oranges.

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I have always loved oranges, but especially the genetic mutant oranges that arrive with many baby oranges inside of them.

At work, a colleague cannot stand the skin of any fruit and will meditate upon her current grant (or so she claims) while a half hour of surgical de-pithing takes place.

The light in Seattle in January is often like the pile of pith: white that used to be tight with yellow.

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The conference was a mixture of panels and readings, with the readings being quite short, sometimes only 10 or 15 minutes. The next day, I was lucky to again hear Matthea read her work. She introduced one poem by citing the “Everything Must Go” signs on stores which are going out of business as inspiration, and again I internally groaned since I’ve been half-trying to write a poem about that for years. Here’s her poem:

EVERYTHING MUST GO

Today’s class 3-Deifying:
Godgrass, godtrees, godroad.

A sheet of geese bisects the rainstorm.
The water tower is ten storms full.

We practice drawing cubes–
That’s the house squared away

& the incubator with Baby.
The dead are in their grid.

O the sleeping bag contains
the body but not the dreaming head.

(you can find this poem and more at her website.)

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Have you ever liked a writer’s work so much you were afraid to read it? I’ve felt that way with Sarah Arvio’s poems, and I feel that way about Matthea’s work. Yet her talk and reading both penetrated my half-frozen brain and of the many New Year’s resolutions that I make anew each year, one rose to the top in this new context: slow down, but keep driving. The drive–to do, to have done–is often at odds with the process of writing a poem. Festina lente said Augustus, which, though it seems like it would mean “party with lentils” actually means “make haste slowly.” My resolution, then? Carpe, if not the day, then the inspiration which rarely strikes but instead taps your shoulder; it so hates to interrupt.

So watch out, little inspirations. I’m coming a-seizing. And then I’m going to juice you. And if I need to draw you in the sky (even this pithy January sky) with an effing plane, I will.