Writing a poem (Day 5/365)

Before I begin, I’d like to comment on a piece of software I came across this summer which has proven to be quite useful. Unlike most software I own, it has no bells or whistles. It is simplicity itself, and that is its power.

It’s called WriteRoom, and it’s a text editor. You might wonder why I would need a text editor. I already have TextEdit, AppleWorks, Pages, MS‡‡‡ Word, plus a host of other applications which can handle text. Why would I need another one, especially one which does not even allow you to indent or italicize?

WriteRoom has been fabulously useful to me because it does one thing that none of the others can do: it can fill my screen, wiping out the menu bar, the desktop, even the Dock. It hides every other application’s windows. All I see is a blank screen with a column of text running down the center. There’s not even a scroll bar unless you move your mouse.

And what’s the advantage of that? Are you kidding? There are no distractions. None. It’s all about that column of text. I have to work on the text, not check email or surf the web or mess with iTunes. And that’s a good thing.

WriteRoom has a few tricks. It can export text, but I’ve found it easier to copy and paste. It comes with a kicky black background and DOS green letters, but you can set the colors and font to your own tastes. (I have a pale yellow-ivory background with navy blue Goudy OldStyle, 18 pt., just so you know.) You can set the width and height of your “page.” All the usual Mac text shortcuts apply: opt-arrow to move word by word or paragraph by paragraph, etc.

You can have multiple files open, which it autosaves to its own little secret database. You toggle between full-screen and post-it note size windows with the ESC key. What this means for me on this Project is that I can start little files for future posts and leave them. Whenever I start up WriteRoom, there are all my little ideas, posted and ready for me to choose one, hit ESC, and get to work.

And a very cool thing about WriteRoom is that it’s free. You can get it from Hog Bay Software. Yes, it’s Mac only. However, someone on the dark side seems to have risen to the challenge and written Dark-Room for our beleaguered Windows friends. I don’t know whether it has all the same features.

None of which is the least bit helpful in wrestling all my High Tech Corridor impressions into a poem, of course, unless I get to work and actually do it.

Part of my problem is that I’m not sure what emotional or intellectual point I’m trying to get across. My reactions when I was actually driving through this area were very complex. I was amused by the clearly Babbittian impulses which led our legislators to declare this thing (and I knew without any internet search at all that that’s what had happened.) I felt as if I were traveling in a foreign country, one where I did not speak the language. I had some kind of weird sadness and/or fear about the levels of education and poverty that I drove through, knowing that if I were to stop and encounter any of the citizens, that we would have almost nothing in common. I had an awareness that their lives are a lot simpler than mine, that they are no doubt decent folk for the most part, but that they would instinctively be suspicious of me and repelled by my worldviews. I was frankly incredulous that anyone could make a living in some of these places and wondered what sustained the local economies, if in fact anything did.

I have to confess that part of my stumbling block here is the fact that I don’t want to come across as a snotty intellectual scorning “good people of the earth.” Such times we live in. But still, heavens to Betsy, I felt as if I were in some kind of sleek spaceship zooming through primitive civilizations, and, snotty or not, I don’t think I was far from wrong.

So, back to the problem at hand: what kind of emotional response do I want the reader to have? Perhaps I should leave that alone and just start getting words on the page.

A trip, vacation time, a deep desire
to get away from life. The car is flying
down the state, I’m on 341,
avoiding interstates, we’re free, begun
already, driving green and vacant roads
to gain the ocean, waves, the beach, the coast.

I’ll stop here so that Marc, who could have already pieced together a viscerally effective freeform piece from yesterday’s post, can screech, “He chose heroic couplets??#8221;

7 thoughts on “Writing a poem (Day 5/365)

  1. I have to confess that it was more the “I don’t want to come across…” part of the phrase that shocked me, not the “snotty intellectual scorning” part.

    As to the form of your poem, I know it is incomplete, but I was expecting something along the lines of the intentional whip-lash to fluidity and pacing my highschool English teacher tried to convey was present between the old dog barking backwards and tales of its pup-dom (all I could think of was “Wow Wob”). Something relaying the slow pace or rural life, the fast pace of your spaceship, and wrenching contradictions present in signs all around.

    This has been “Literary Criticism by Trade School Turff” brought to you by Microsoft’s XBox. Why create when you can crash things for points?

  2. It’s just that if the reader thinks I’m being snotty, then that derails the poem, since that’s not the voice I want it to have. I could give a damn about how the hoi polloi perceives me. Damned peasants.

  3. I may not have noted your pentametric iambs had you not given it away, so subtly was the scheme deployed.

    I read somewhere that Yeats would compose first in prose, as if the thought was found first and then made memorable through verse.

    The attempt to make poetry out of experience, to distill a meaning from a series of moments, signs and notions–good luck. I’ve tried, judged my thoughts lacking, and run crying to the soothing arms of an occult mistress. I confess I found Graves’ White Goddess a salvation of sorts. I don’t think poetry unlocks any true esoteric realities (though I’m open to suggestion) but it does allow logos to open up some possible sublime encounters (if only with one’s own nervous system). I enjoy a poetry akin to Brecht’s rational and journalistic organization of observation and notions, but I don’t want to write it. I can’t. Every time I try I find my occult preoccupations with word choice (and theme) working their insidious influence.

    Your sample of verse has come to terms with the way things are, with human limits, with desire and mortality, with time. I would derange your notions, trying to make new holes open up. I’d want to get off 341. But why? Why is subtle longing (which I detect in the last couplet) not enough? Being on 341 is real and can be articulated. It should be articulated.

  4. Whatever works. Whatever inspires.

    Imagine a character who hears a perpetual babble in his head of critical voices characterizing his or her every action in terms of its “lasting significance” or “theoretical import.” Perhaps that, too, is a kind of Program Music.

  5. re: Yeats composing first in prose

    We have a new book in the media center, a picture-book biography of Charles Ives. With bios of composers, I provide free CDs of their music for the kids who check them out. Otherwise, why would anyone want to know about the life of a composer, right?

    Anyway, in tracking down a photo of Charles to use on the CD label, I came across a nice site about his Three Places in New England, which has some notes that he wrote in the early stages of composition of the third movement, “The Housatonic at Stockbridge”:

    “Housatonic Church across River sound like Dorrnance [one of Ives’ favorite hymntunes]. River mists, leaves in slight breeze river bed–all notes and phrases in upper accompaniment . . . should interweave in uneven way, riverside colors, leaves & sounds–not come down on main beat . . .”

    So I’m not alone, it would seem, in trying to verbalize what I’m trying to accomplish.

  6. Sort of like Wagner?

    If I had finished the bio of Ives, I could speak to that internal criticism in his work. I’ve actually been putting off finishing it because I know there comes a point in his life where he simply decides not to write music any more. I’m afraid I’ll recognize my own symptoms.

  7. It’s been quite a while since I read it, but I don’t think Swafford gives you the time or opportunity to get depressed.

    Do what Ives and Joyce both did. Invite a younger generation of acolytes to come together at your feet and form a “circle.” They’ll write the laudatory essays, claim your influence, produce the biography, and be a comfort in the final barren years.

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