by Nathan Hauke
I’m given to write poems. I cannot anticipate their occasion
—R Creeley, A Quick Graph
It’s December already and the windows are dark. The reflection of a lamp on our bedside table throws the living room through itself like a shipwreck. An orchestra pulsing at my natural frequency begins to harmonize with the rough black mirror of the creek below our apartment. I have been thinking about J Spicer and R Blaser’s discussions of poetic “dictation” and “serial” poems because I’m getting ready to teach a creative writing workshop that will begin by pairing Laurel and Hardy’s The Music Box (1932) and RW Emerson’s “Experience” with Spicer’s lectures. I have also been increasingly grateful to share the momentum of a growing manuscript of poems as late unwritten, happening slowly and almost imperceptibly, line by line, across expansive, unsteady intervals. Sometimes a line happens and another happens right away. Sometimes I wait a long time. I go jogging. I walk the dog. I teach and run errands. Some days the horses come to the fence; some they don’t. Whether or not you deserve to see them depends on if you see them. Days we’re led. Others we’re not. Waiting the appropriate amount of time to wait for music = forever. H Miller at Big Sur: “Instead of bucking your head against a stone wall…sit quietly with hands folded and wait for the wall to crumble. If you’re willing to wait an eternity, it may happen in the twinkling of an eye” (Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch).
Tinder is a hatchet job. Someone reads INDIAN SUMMER RECYCLING on the side of an abandoned building in Ohio and I see a stallion belt buckle labeled “STALLION BELT BUCKLE” in an antique mart, in my hometown, with my dad a week later: “INDIAN SUMMER RECYCLING/ STALLION BELT BUCKLE.” A few weeks after that, a toy duck’s bill is shredded by a couple of Havanese with our handsome mutt Frankie in-tow and there’s a poem (nothing to hold on to; nothing to do with me, if it’s a good one):
A dog wrings the neck for gladness
INDIAN SUMMER RECYCLING
STALLION BELT BUCKLE
Dry leaves in grainy heat startled like a toy duck with a shredded orange bill
Time abandoned to eternity a knot unraveling
Melody that disintegrates through the same old fucked speaker
The last couple of lines arrived months earlier ready-bloomed in the compost of a journal that I had been writing in; it just took me awhile to understand where they wanted to go because the other three lines hadn’t happened yet. *Note: This realization marks a departure from Spicer’s sense that serial poems must be “absolutely chronological” because I am sometimes “looking back”; though, I am not so foolish to think of a past apart from present circumstances (The House That Jack Built). Like Miller says, “It is all thrown at you pell-mell” (Big Sur). The world is weird and unsettling; perception is unsettled. Language is an unsettling collapse of perspective points. Fruit ripens in its own time and, as HD Thoreau asserts in Walden, “time discriminates between the good [seed] and the bad.” Time, not technique.
I have always loved that Blaser opens his Image-Nation series by addressing the way presence collapses authorial agency that we often associate with outside space: “the participation is broken/ fished from a sky of fire/ the fiery lake pouring itself/ to reach here// the matter of language caught/ in the fact so that we/ meet in paradise in such/ times, the I consumes itself” (“Image-Nation 1 (the fold”). When I sit down to write a poem, I find I don’t know how… Only that I know less than I did yesterday. Returning to “A dog wrings the neck for gladness,” I know that talking about N Hawthorne’s “The Minister’s Black Veil” with American Lit students this year was a part of the process. Listening to Sean McCann’s Midnight Orchard (Roll Over Rover 2009) through a handsome Pioneer SX-450 receiver with dusty connections was a part of the process; speakers my brother and I found in a thrift store outside of Detroit (three summers ago) were a part of the process. Then again, what isn’t? It’s impossible to track origins because they are always unfolding with us. The past, the present, and the future are fluid, moving together. Alone together, like delightfully inept piano movers, like the lines of a poem.
There’s no grounding depth to throw an anchor out into and there’s no one to stand outside the moment to throw it. There is only the orchestra tuning… Afterwards is something else. (The liner notes say, “Straw Hats”? Amen to whatever that means.) As Thoreau proclaims elsewhere in Walden, “The stars are the apexes of what wonderful triangles!” Amen to whatever that means. Poems are born of chance and attention(s), decisions someone else made. Look back to see your handiwork and you’ll find another face in the mirror. I hope it is as brutish and kind and you hoped to be. (Oceans of vanity teach us to bury our guns in the ground.) It’s wide distance from ash to black fur and it’s always mysterious when poems happen. I don’t know how.
Nathan Hauke was born and raised in rural Michigan. His first book, In the Marble of Your Animal Eyes, is forthcoming from Publication Studio. He is also the author of chapbooks Honeybabe, Don’t Leave Me Now (forthcoming from Horse Less Press), S E W N (Horse Less Press 2011), and In the Living Room (Lame House Press 2010). His poetry has been published in American Letters & Commentary, Colorado Review, Denver Quarterly, Dusie, E-Ratio, Interim, Momoware, New American Writing, Peaches & Bats, Real Poetik, Spork, Twenty Six, TYPO, and We Are So Happy To Know Something among others. Two of his poems, “Deerfield (1)” and “A Surface. A Shore or Semi-transparency of Glass,” were recently selected to be a part of The Arcadia Project: North American Postmodern Pastoral anthology that GC Waldrep and Joshua Corey edited for Ahsahta Press (2012). A talk about poetics and getting a small press off the ground in a rural community written in collaboration with his Ark Press co-editor Kirsten Jorgenson, entitled Country Music, is forthcoming as a chapbook from DoubleCross Press (2012).