A poem about surrender and the process behind the form


Welcome again, friends. We may return to prose, the ghost of Charles Bukowski and other first chapters later this month, but for now I want to share this poem inspired by 5Rhythms dance, specifically a class I took from Kathy Altman of The Moving Center School.  This is in anticipation of an interview with Lori Saltzman, Kathy's partner, on creativity at the crossroads of movement and writing.

What's unique about this poem is the process through which I found it. But first, here's the poem: 


"I'll believe it when I relent."

I topple to rise up, and I tower to fall;
both a yen to start and an urge to surrender.
At whose bidding do I cross and re-cross the hall?
"I push backwards…I go forwards." —Larry Eigner.
"Nothing is true that isn't paradoxical."

Kathy Altman says this. I hear it in my gyre.
"In a field / I am the absence / of field." —Mark Strand.
This cool hardwood floor is the perfect dance partner.
Head on the ground, feet firmly in the air, I stand.
The ground pushes up my fire, bruises my apple.

We are standing bubbles of air, water and sand.
My abstruse psyche reads nakedly on my face.
What I wear becomes my name. Call me "Blue Shirt Man."
Perhaps my words are thick. I'm not going to rephrase.
We're called by God, spirits, ourselves, and each other,

and in peripatetic growth, we find a place.
Though prone to paroxysms, hail Us, full of grace.



How did this poem come to me? Out of the middle of my workday, I took a nearby 5Rhythms dance class with Kathy. She said, among other things, "Nothing is true that isn't paradoxical." She  spoke about the floor as the ideal dance partner. The floor supports, but it also "bruises my apple." And Kathy called me "Blue Shirt Man." You can guess what I was wearing.  


In my dance, as often happens, I was transported beyond the usual routines of my life. There I picked up elemental images and got reminded of clips of poems and other sources. The conclusion of the poem--this fascination and gratitude for the grace we find in a 5Rhythms dance and in the larger dance of life--is what came out of that day's movement for me.

The form of the poem is queron, which my readers will recognize as the 17-line form I developed. However, this poem didn't come in the more-or-less linear flow that's typical of my writing queron. Instead, I felt my way into a writing process that could accommodate all the bits and pieces I had collected from  Kathy's instruction, from my own discovery, from other poetry sources, and from the process of writing the poem at hand.

So what I did was use MicroSoft Excel. It's a spreadsheet program that lets you move lines as cells. Though not the first choice for many poets, I have found Excel helpful for writing sestinas and other formal poems. Through the day, I wrote four sets of five rhyming lines. I wrote five lines that ended on "-al," five on "-and," five on "-ace/aze" and five on "er/ier." Which meant that I had three extra lines for a 17-line poem. Once the lines were written, I typed them into Excel and then played with them, arranging and rearranging them like building blocks or DNA proteins according to the queron rhyme scheme (ababa bcbca dcdcb dd). At the time I wrote the lines, I didn't know which set of five would be complete and which rhyming sets the dropped lines would come from.


In this poem, the ordering of discreet lines is what gives the poem its rhythm. The rhythm is based on the fact that almost every line is a single sentence or sentiment unto itself. The three lines I wrote but did not use:

I don't feel I'm part substance, part luminous soul.
My core's momentum resonates from feet and hands.
You can change your week by slowing one minute's pace.

One paradox in all this is that the free-form aspect of 5Rhtyms and the free-associative nature of the lines in this poem underwent an analytical and deliberate process to come together. But what's perfectly fitting is that I could only discover the process by going into it.

And hey! Don't forget to follow me. More interesting things coming!

 

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