Welcome to the Out of True blog tour, put together by Susie of Insatiable Booksluts. Last night I posted some informal thoughts about Out of True, Amy Durant’s first published book of poetry. I asked Amy to guest post here today, to tell us about an author who inspired her to write poetry and to tell us about one of her favorite poems from that particular author. I was all kinds of excited when I found out who Amy intended to write about!
If you click on the Insatiable Booksluts link above, you’ll be taken to the main post for the tour, where you will find the blog tour schedule and where you can enter to win a copy of Amy’s book. How great is that?!
Now, without further ado…welcome, Amy!
The lovely Heather has asked me to write a guest post about a poet that inspired my own poetry, and talk about one of her poems that best illustrates that inspiration. Well! This combines two things I love: poetry, and talking about myself! Win-win! Thank you, Heather!
Let’s see, where to start. There were, of course, the poets I read first – the poets in my high school textbook, the ones you all probably read as well – the basic Dickinson, Poe, Shakespeare, Whitman. Most of us (at least those of us here in the States) probably read the same stuff, poetry-wise, as kids. I won’t go into them, because it would just be a rehash of what you already know. Let’s talk about a poet that inspired me going forward; one of the first I discovered in college, that showed me that, hey, look, Amy, what you’re doing is A-OK, because look, other poets are doing it, too.
Ladies and gentlemen, my most kickass muse: Margaret Atwood.
I used this photo because of her awesome teeshirt. And because she seems to be backstage at a theater and I’m a theater person. I adore her.
Heather’s a big Atwood fan, as are we over at Insatiable Booksluts, where I happily am allowed to review all manner of things; over there, Susie’s blogged about Margaret Atwood, and I reviewed her novel Cat’s Eye. I won’t go too much into Atwood background, therefore: you can read more about her in Susie’s Author, Author post. As a budding poet (and still, now), she was (is) writing poetry that I wanted to be writing. Intelligent, strong, feminist, funny, incisive – she was everything I wanted to be. (And her fiction was just as amazing. I’m an unabashed Atwood fangirl. Sometimes, she talks to Susie on Twitter? And I seriously squee like a Twi-hard seeing Pattinson on the street in full vampire regalia. TRUE STORY.)
It was tough for me to choose just one of her poems, but I finally narrowed it down to this one:
It was taken some time ago
At first it seems to be
print: blurred lines and grey flecks
blended with the paper;
then, as you scan
it, you can see something in the left-hand corner
a thing that is like a branch: part of a tree
(balsam or spruce) emerging
and, to the right, halfway up
what ought to be a gentle
slope, a small frame house.
In the background there is a lake,
and beyond that, some low hills.
(The photograph was taken
the day after I drowned.
I am in the lake, in the center
of the picture, just under the surface.
It is difficult to say where
precisely, or to say
how large or how small I am:
the effect of water
on light is a distortion.
but if you look long enough
you will see me.)
Gorgeous and spooky and evocative, right? Let’s talk about it a little. I’ll tell you what I love about it.
I love how the title is not only the title, but part of the poem. It’s really the first line of the poem; it carries over directly into the first stanza. I love that the poem starts one way; describing a photograph which seems extremely straightforward. A somewhat blurry photograph that takes the viewer a moment to understand, then it starts to come into focus. A tree in the foreground; possibly a slope, or what ought to be a slope; a lake; a house. A photograph any of us could have taken on vacation. Right?
Except it’s a photograph of what’s not seen. It’s a photograph of the day after something happened. And what happened? The narrator of the poem drowned. It’s a poem narrated by a dead person. Is he or she still under the water? Has the narrator been taken from the water, or are they still there? Will we really see him or her, if we look long enough, or will we imagine it? Or will the desire to see the narrator make him or her appear? Or will the desperate need to see him or her drive us over the edge enough to see something that’s not there? Will we meet the same fate as the narrator?
It’s a poem about something not seen; it’s a poem with a twist; it’s a poem with a mystery (how did the drowning occur? it sounds vaguely malicious, doesn’t it? And, for the love of all that’s holy, who took the photo? And do they know what they’re taking a photo of? Do they really?) It’s a whole story in a poem. She creates an entire world in these lines. You can see the photo. You can see the details. And then BAM, she throws you the curve in the middle, changing everything you thought you knew. (I also love the punctuation; more specifically, the parentheses in the second half, to set it aside from the first half. I think that’s brilliant.)
I read this and thought, huh. I want this. I want to do this. (Side note: I’ve been writing for twenty years now and haven’t even come CLOSE to doing this. I keep trying, though. Points for trying!)
I love the theme of the not-seen, the not-known. I find that popping up in my own work. I love the use of the photograph; I’ve written multiple poems with photographs as a theme. I love the idea of a moment frozen in time which can mean different things to different people, depending on what the viewer brings to the viewing. (I find there’s a direct correlation in this between poetry and photography; when done well, a poem and a photograph can mean different things to different people. I find that wonderful and brilliant, that who we are informs how we view something, informs what something becomes to us.) I love the idea of an unseen narrator, of not knowing if the voice of the narrator is the poet, or someone else entirely. All of these themes can be seen in my own work, and I owe them directly to finding Atwood when I was just gaining my poetry sea-legs.
Atwood’s other work is equally beautiful; I can’t NOT mention her prose poem “Happy Endings,” which was almost the one I chose to discuss, but decided, since it’s a prose poem, it’d stick with one with a little more traditional poetic form. But seriously, “Happy Endings?” One of my favorite works of all time. It makes me weep. One of the most powerful pieces I’ve ever read. I read this for the first time in the college library sophomore year and burst into tears in the stacks. I remember it clearly. Something like that sticks with you. Click the link. I think you’ll be happy you did.
So there’s a little about where I came from, one of the poets I’ve gotten inspiration from. Whenever I see Atwood’s work, I smile a little. It’s like she’s mine, somehow. She’s like an aunt who encouraged me when I needed it most, even though she doesn’t know it. Thank you, Margaret Atwood, for being there when I needed you! I hope I did you proud. (Or at least didn’t embarrass you too completely.)