Reading Meditations 6
Mark Doty’s The Art of Meditation
Mark won the National Book Award for poetry in 2008. He’s a marvelous writer and poet. He really likes big dogs. Retrievers. His tragedy is to live with a terrier named George who barks at everything. It’s just better to bark.
“ALPHABET OF DESCRIPTION”
NOTE: Mark has a Describer’s Alphabet in his book. I am using the same terms he did, as a practice, writing this ‘shadow book’ on the back of his book. All my definitions are heavily influenced by his words and choices, but their shorter and I interpret them.
Description is an art that bears witness to the inner life of the one doing the describing.
Beauty is what is, with no attempt to dress it up.
Create the barn door around the color red. Qualifiers work best with color: a scratched red, a hectic red. Surprise with color: a blue apple.
When you draw you have to really look at things and follow their lines with your eye.
I bought an iPad, an Apple Pencil, the Procreate App, and started tracing pictures and making drawings that way. I recommend it for any writer.
Know what it is that you desire, it will inflect every line you write, every word you choose. Be explicit and write it down. How does it effect your interactions with the world.
Economy is over-rated but excess is only justifiable when the perception is the subject.
* We are always something is like something else. We compare or just measure.
* Figures have their internal workings and their own social working with each other, then as a whole with the poem and the world.
* The figure’s subject is the self making the figure.
* Metaphor changes the obvious words and invents vocabulary. It surprises.
* Metaphor is over here and the natural way of saying it is over there. There is always space between them. If we need to we can hide in that space and tell the truth from our hiding place.
* Metaphor asks the question, what are you? Are you like this? It doesn’t state ‘you are like this.’ Metaphor wants to know.
Just write it quickly. Don’t think about it.
Writers are hungry to describe everything and consume the world with words, burn the world up in the fire of words. Remember words are in service to cook food, not to burn up the world.
One technique is to reject all possible descriptions, in order, and leave the reader with the space that creates. When language happened to man we were terribly separated from life that cannot name and does not need to name, and we still feel that incompletion from the rest of it. Language is a big castle but most of reality lives outside that castle. We perceive meaning that we cannot connect to speech.
Set together and link unlike elements; the temporary and eternal, the natural and man-made, the dead and the living. Use the difference to argue an idea about what ‘real’ is, means.
Knowing is an active process. The world is always changing and knowing can never stop. Knowing is reappraisal. Knowing is dropping what you expect, approaching, seeing, being surprised. If you forget what you learned last time then it is new to you and you return to the process of knowing.
Just know what your language can and can’t do, as best you can, with the added element of discovery, which you have to be awake to. Language is baton race; you hand off the baton to the reader. We were just working with a misunderstanding about that for a long time. You’ll be fine.
Lots of poems about the moon. I’ll make one up now
Last time I saw the moon
I was facing the night sky
Wind ripping my hair
Arms and legs wriggling like a bug
Necktie pointing upward like a compass flapping at the north star
The Empire State Building needle rose up split the ball
then the top floors first blocked all of it
The moon disappeared, covered by the purple and white
Colors some cinematographer lit the building with
I wondered which holiday the colors represented
I’d paid the other side.
I looked down for a second.
There is a moral dilemma in describing things, if you are inclined towards caring about this sort of moral dilemma. The world feels some things shouldn’t be described, for example, the seven year old girl starving to death in Yemen. Give her her dignity, they say. But it’s probably true that she didn’t need dignity, she needed food, and the people giving her dignity now weren’t flying there with food. The examples the author gives are children killed by fascists, and people jumping from the World Trade Center fire. It’s also true that some people get upset when anyone writes anything about them at all. Get a thick skin and let the upper classes worry about what’s appropriate.
Describe as much as you can get away with. Your a thief, not a saint. Your job is don’t let them catch you at it. If they do catch you at it then your job is to outrun them.
Some people want us to stop naming things because it separates us from the world and puts us in the power of the namers. Names have to be shared to work. Think about one current word that absolutely cannot be shared and you know the one I mean.
Some people want us to name everything because if we name everything it won’t be invisible to us. If the ant at your feet was named Chester and everyone knew it you’d be less likely to stop on Chester. Hey, that’s the guy who killed Chester! Let’s get him!
Both positions are ridiculous. Names are what they are. We use them in relationship with others. We have private language where we name things with friends or family, and then public language where we don’t get to choose those names. There’s no debate to be had, it’s just the way things work.
Theodore Roethke: when is description ‘mere’? NEVER.
When you’re writing, see everything about it, the things and the principles, and know what their opposites are, and put those in too. That’s where tension comes from. Quantum Mechanics has discovered everything is a field. Think about what a thing really is, taken to an extreme, and then look at the polar opposite of the extreme, and feel the pull of each, why one never just wins forever.
When we see that the world looks just like how we feel. What a coincidence! Inevitable but be aware of it.
Prefer, strongly, verbs and nouns. Really. Your careful selection does the work of the adverbs and adjectives.
Before you go out at night, take off one accessory.
The artistic temperament and project is queer, it lives at an angle to the world.
Select a few telling elements to make a scene real, not all of them. The reader will do the rest.
Word music comes from word choices, from the sounds of the words and the length of the vowels, and the newness of the word that brings the reader to a halt.
The senses blur. Sight and sound: a purple roar. Sight and smell: a fragrant starlight. Smell and touch: a bristling stink. Taste and Sound: the citrus middle-C on the piano. And each of these can restore memory and lost emotion.
The attitude of the writer or character towards the story he’s telling. The material may be grim but he may feel fatalistic or sardonic or clinical.
When you don’t know something, don’t pretend you do. Questions are usually better than answers. We want to know the writer is pushing towards a boundary of the indefinite that we want to find, too. It’s okay that we won’t get there but we agree on where and what it is.
Simple and unusual verbs go a long way towards carrying your writing and delight the reader.
Shelley’s West Wind.
The same forces that made us will destroy us. By direct address and seeing the world we might hold things at bay, and in balance. That is our best most noble path. “Hectic red.”
As with the fish, go beneath the visible and find the working principle in things as they are.
Stop the struggle. Writing isn’t a contest with yourself, can I really write? — it’s a daily path, and a process that finds its own direction. Have faith that the rivulet of water will find the lowest point of gravity and flow on.
Zero. There is no Z. Incomplete is fine with the author.