emily stoddard Posts

I picked up a subscription to 32 Poems earlier this year and finally had the chance to spend time with the latest issue tonight. As the name suggests, there are 32 poems in each issue, with a straightforward presentation. Of those 32, I marked five for re-reading and deeper processing (heavy emphasis on processing, as my notes below are not meant to be “reviews” by any stretch):

  • Against Emptiness, by James Arthur. Something is sticky about this poem. As in I keep coming back to it, but I’m not entirely sure why. I think it may have something to do with the dichotomy of air/uncertainty/emptiness and definition/certainty/purposefulness. Or maybe it’s something about meaning and how we intend, or embed, it in the world. I don’t know.
  • Carbon, by Bruce Bond. I’ve been playing around with carbon dating in one of my poems, so I was interested in how Bond used the language. Beyond that, I’m wondering what felt incomplete about this poem for me. Something about the last stanza felt out of place, like the poem shifted its perspective — from meditative to almost instructive. 
  • Words for Words, by Taije Silverman. I’d like to keep unpacking this. I’m wondering about the specific word choices of the speaker, and if there are any consistent parallels in which word is exchanged for another. They all add up to the sort of perfectly anxious final thought: “I want to dig up streets.”
  • After the End, by Ashley Anna McHugh. Something about the voice in the poem makes me want to return and listen more. 
  • On Saturn the Sky is Blue, by Sarah Lindsay. I’m attracted to anything that borrows language from the mechanics of the universe, and there are some beautiful images here, such as: …watch a thunderstorm, thirty miles tall, / walking on stilts of lightning.

Something I’ve been wondering about, which resurfaced as I read 32 Poems, is the challenge of perspective and voice. I’ve been trying to move away from writing so much in first person, if only to use that as a constraint to spark new ideas.

I’ve been thinking about the self-consciousness of first person. When is it contributing to a narrative and when does it start to feel like a claustrophobic self-portrait? With some of the poems I’ve read recently and in some of my own work, I’m beginning to feel as though holding space for “I” and “me” gets in the way of the work the poem really needs to do. Poems weighted heavily in first person have started to feel itchy to me. 

I’m not entirely sure how to resolve this, because as I noted with “Carbon” above, other perspectives can be slippery slopes to tones or styles that may not be intended. In one stanza, the tone can shift from meditative to pedantic, from inclusive to authoritative. This seems to be an easier slip when we leave the realm of the self (I, me) and must project a bit more to get to the perspectives of others (you, we, us, them). 

Which then makes me wonder: Is excessive use of first person a bit of a crutch? I’m picturing it now like a yoga block. A steady place to put my hand while the rest of my body, or the poem as it were, plays around with other elements, such as language.

Ok, no conclusions here. But I had to capture that somewhere. I’m wondering if there is a writing exercise in this… maybe slicing the same question or concept from multiple perspectives and seeing how empathy, authority and voice play out across the resulting poems. What is more powerful? What is more inclusive, accessible, compelling, etc.?

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1. For a husband who has opened up my understanding of partnership beyond what I ever expected, and for the second chances that brought us together.

2. For friends who speak the same language spiritually, energetically, socially.

3. For family that loves intensely and gives selflessly.

4. For a dog who is truly another part of our family. When I first met her, I knew she had the sweetest little soul; I just didn’t expect how much that would matter to our home.

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Another Tuesday. Wow. 

I confess that I am wearing a snuggie right now. An Eight West snuggie. It was procured for me through methods I cannot divulge. I love it. In part because it’s Eight West, West Michigan’s very own version of Hoda and Kathie Lee, and well — just watch this clip for a taste of the awesome. Segway tours — so intense. So West.

And I especially love it because at first I thought it was just your average throw blanket. But as I unfurled it, the group of women around me screamed, “Oh my God — it has arms!” 

Speaking of which, I spent the weekend with the most amazing group of women. Women who give me faith in women. Women who create space for me to be myself. I confess that I said lots of ridiculous things. I was in turns silly and serious. I sang more than I talked. I confess that I swore and sassed liberally when it involved playing cards. But not once did I look over my shoulder to reconsider what I had said or retrace my steps. I sank into my whole self. How rare it is to find one friend who will do that with you, let alone six of them. 

I confess that I seem to misunderstand 99% of women. But the 1% I do understand seem to have been made from the same fabric, a remnant of the same whole. It’s as if I’m finding the like strings and pulling myself together.

I confess that I am still processing all the conversations we had about social change, family, and business ideas. We theorized about language. One friend and I discussed the unique role of poetry in getting to truth and uncovering the essence of belief in and identity with a particular idea, principle, or thing. I confess to wanting to do something meaningful with these ideas but keep reminding myself of the joy in just acknowledging them, too.

And finally I confess that I was getting myself all ramped up for an open mic night tonight that was eventually cancelled. Maybe next time… 

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I confess that my husband has been playing Skyrim with a devotion I did not know existed. 

Oh, I can’t confess for him? 

Ok. Then I can confess that I could match his love of this new video game with my love of financial planning. I got to looking at the spreadsheets again tonight. I can’t help myself from pausing to replay the numbers. We’ve never been this close to paying off the essentials, like student loans. After many strategic moves and months of wrangling numbers, we are getting closer and closer to having very little overhead. And with lower overhead comes greater flexibility, which is the true objective in all of this. We daydream about heading to warm, beautiful places for a month at a time once everything is paid off. I imagine going away on writing retreats a few times a year, or investing in people and organizations who can help bring creative experiences here. 

On a related note, I confess that I spend too much time looking at travel websites, browsing for deals and soaking up the sun via over-edited promotional photos. I am already imagining where we might go early next year, when the snow has overstayed its welcome. 

I confess that for all my talk of sunny vacations, I am excited for the holidays, and even snow. The older I get the more I like snow. I miss it when it starts getting dark early. A layer of fresh snow can make the entire backyard a night light, especially during a full moon. Now that the leaves have fallen for the most part and the color show is over, I’m wishing for a bit of snow to brighten things up. 

I confess that tonight Carl asked me how I feel about how this year went — accomplishments, highlights, etc. It made me realize that everything I imagined for this year at the end of 2010 either did not happen or changed. At the end of 2010, I thought I had a platform that would produce some things I thought I wanted. But by January 2011, the ground was already shifting. In some ways, the spots where I thought I had the clearest path became the murkiest. What was supposed to be a year of productivity became a time of transition. I’m happy for it because I’m happy where I am now. But I’m also curious about what this means for 2012.

Finally, I confess that my heart is already skipping forward to this weekend, which I will spend with some of my most favorite women. I’ve never done the “girlfriends” thing very well — I confess I prefer solitude to a confab of women going shopping. (Something about the group shopping experience in particular always makes me feel depleted.) So to spend an entire weekend with a group of women means this is a very rare connection. These are women who get together with wine and whiteboards to map out their life plans and hypothesize ways to make West Michigan a more open-minded place. These are women who get a lot of the credit for me staying in this community… they are brilliant, compassionate, and make me laugh until it hurts. 

And thanks to them, I suppose Carl will have the whole weekend to himself to play Skyrim — everyone wins! (Kidding.)

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Deciding on the perfect shade of blue for the new living room paint after choosing between five.

Painting the entire room in an afternoon because my mom is the queen of cutting in and I am a maniac with a roller.

Admiring how lovely a red chair is against the perfect blue. Too bad the dog has claimed the red chair as her own. 

Settling in to working at home, celebrating the freedom of belonging wherever the world takes me instead of in an office. 

Saying good morning, good mid-morning, good lunch time, good afternoon and all other combinations of greetings to the dog, because she is the sweetest work companion and will wag her tail no matter how I wax on about how adorable she is. 

Getting a blanket or turning on the fireplace when I am cold in the middle of the day, instead of complaining about a drafty office building. 

Eating dinner at home. Because it’s one thing to throw something in the oven while checking emails at 4:45 pm. It’s another thing to get home at 5:45 pm and then get my head around meal prep. 

Eating and sharing a glass of wine with my hubby, cleaning up the kitchen, running errands, and still having time to write this list of little things that are making me happy right now. 

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After reading other Tuesday confessions for quite awhile now, I’ve decided to try it out myself. Let me first confess that the worst promise I make to myself is that lack of a good structure (like confessing something every Tuesday) is the only thing keeping me from writing more freely and more frequently. I confess to believing that structure will be enough to overcome the lack of permission I give myself to be honest, to just write what needs to be written. 

And a meta confession of sorts: I confess that the act of confessing is appealing because 1) I am a former practicing Catholic and therefore have experience with confessions and 2) my lack of self-permission to simply write provides a lot of fodder for Catholic guilt, which never goes away no matter how far removed a person is from Catholic practice.

I confess that I am already enjoying this. 

This weekend I returned from our two-week trip to California. I confess to being jealous of the literary activity in San Francisco and to buying a half dozen books of poetry and to wondering to Carl many times how a slice of such community might be created in West Michigan. I confess to coming home more for the cheap housing than for the culture. If I am being truly honest (which I am, under penalty of said Catholic guilt), I do know that the only way to see that kind of activity here is to start creating it. I confess that I started thinking about a zine again, because I realized that from middle school through college I was involved in publishing something. It dominated my free time. It was the thing that made me very energized, even if no one read it. And since college, I haven’t done anything like that. I am not sure why. 

I confess that yesterday I received a rejection letter from the first literary magazine I had submitted to in years. It felt good, actually. Because it was a sign that I am releasing things again, that the process has started. Now I need to go get more rejection letters. Hopefully some acceptances, too. But more of a paper trail, for better or worse, to affirm that I really am trying. 

And finally, I confess that we went grocery shopping tonight and I sang along to the awful Sheryl Crow song because I enjoy singing to Carl in the grocery store and making things uncomfortable when strangers walk by. I think it’s ridiculous that people walk around in imaginary boxes of silence. Tonight Carl joined in with me. And that was probably the most favorite part of my day.

And now I suppose I should go say the Hail Mary 10 times?

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Worked on three poems tonight — a very rough/bad/”free write” draft of one, the beginning threads and connected concepts of another, and finally an initial and workable draft of the third. By the third poem, I was starting to realize why I may avoid this. It’s always more emotional than I expect, and always in the spots where I don’t expect it. I’m still rummaging through personal material, and the reaction surprises me when certain ideas and moments emerge in a more crystallized state. I’m not looking to make my work highly autobiographical, but I’m finding that even when I arrive at the bigger concept or polish off the root idea, it can sting more than the original experience. 

You would think getting to the essence would create distance… the ability to see the experience as some separate, objectified thing.

Instead, it inches closer to the truth. And there sit any remains of the original experience, exposed and demanding some energy. 

Not exactly the most comfortable barometer for knowing when you’re getting somewhere… but I’m game for learning to work with it.

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