Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Notes from Mom (Feb 07)

I'm beginning with this one because it seems to be the most universally liked of my poems. Also because my dad googled my name and found it listed as a 2nd-place winner on this site. And he wanted to read it.

It's borrows heavily from 'I am Offering this Poem' by Jimmy Santiago Baca, which I was contemplating around the time I went to a poetry reading at Brown early last year. Poets reading there seemed to be very into the written word. I'm not one for 'spoken word' poetry as a genre, but I was very opposed to the sentiment that poetry could be left to speak for itself, without the reader putting much of herself into it.

The frustrations I had reminded me a lot of some typical mom-isms: "Why don't they stand up straight?" "Make eye contact!" "Get confident." And the poem began.

'Notes From Mom on Offering this Poem (After Jimmy Santiago Baca)'

For God's sake, stand up straight!
You are not an S-curve.

You are offering this poem--
you have nothing else to give.

Make eye contact
when you say these words.

Ask yourself their meaning,
and I will answer, give you directions.

Remember, you are offing this poem
because I have no other way to give.

Imagine publication! Bound in my name,
like I ever read to anyone but you.

Keep reading for the pathetic anticlimax,
for whatever you're worth.

Keep raising the stakes.
Say, "I am dying to offer you this poem."

Make them listen to me
even if you don't want to.

Remember, the medium is the message.
I love you.

I am offering this poem.
It is what I have to give,

and all anyone needs to live
and go on living inside.
This is the longest single-part poem I've ever written. I think it succeeds--despite its length--because it builds tension pretty effectively. (It was a late decision to start with 'for God's sake, since it's so emphatic, and I'm still not sure it was the right choice.) Basically, my method for writing poems is to write and then cut out absolutely everything extraneous. But I thought this one needed the room to work out its actions, which I'd like to write a bit about.

The first thing it does is conflate the speaker's reading with the Mother talking to the speaker internally. Several lines ('ask yourself their meaning/and I will answer') use pronouns that are deliberately ambiguous between the mother/child and speaker/audience pairings. (It's a blessing and a curse of English that 'you' is both single and plural.) Even that ambiguity not strict--sometimes the mother voice might be speaking directly to the audience, and so on.

The Baca poem is not only used here, it's also mentioned as an external object. That poem was (the only, as far as I know) one my mom recorded in her own handwriting and left in her desk. And that poem is presented as a comforting object, but it also requires the tragic absence of the speaker.

Both leaving a poem in a drawer and leaving your voice in someone's memory--particularly a child's--are ways of communicating after death. I think 'Notes from Mom' takes out both the warmth and the overt reference to death from the original poem, leaving only the fact that it is a poem; that it's being spoken here and now and that writing (of which the poem is one example) do have some great, mysterious power when it's given physical existence.


J. Evert said...

You gave a wonderful read last night at Amnesia. I really enjoyed your sincerity of verse and voice. I listed your blog on my site wordartsalon(dot)com.

Best wishes,
J. Evert Winburn

Scott said...

I see you've taken inversage! Love it. Keep it up, Cristi. :)