I’m going to try something different – start with the poem, and comment on it after. I know some people prefer that. Let me know if you have a preference!
So from my first self-published book, 1997’s Deciphering Scars:
NEW YEAR’S EVE
Words hang in a thick fog between us,
hiding your subtle expressions from my view.
Our gestures have slowed to meaningless ritual.
The constant falling snow
is white air, tangible enough to almost grasp.
It covers up our footprints,
just like it smoothed over the wound where the sun
burned its escape-hole in the glacial sky.
We watch the sun fade,
While we stand here, frozen,
waiting to succumb to some new Ice Age
and leave the bones of our interactions
for future paleontologists to decipher,
committing this scenery to be preserved
under the layers of our fallout.
In playful wisps
the drifting powder whirls like chimney smoke,
or ghosts of carefree autumns, summers, springs –
The past unwinds, driven by the wind.
It melts to nothing if you try to hold it on your tongue.
So winter lays its numbing pall on us: even
the glimmer in your eyes is
frosted over now, and dimmed…
From behind its glassy scar tissue, the glowing sun
winks smugly, sears into my breast
a yearning to also blaze
through the icy veil, into heaven,
and set myself among the eternal stars.
And now the commentary.
Yes, the book title is from Joy Division’s song, “Exercise One.” The reason I used song quotes for book titles is that I was placing copies of my books in local stores (including the Ann Arbor location of Borders, RIP) and figured if anyone recognized the quote, they just might like my work. Between titles and cover art, I’ve picked up a fair amount of music that way, just browsing in stores – and also poetry books. So I was making books that might pique my own interest, I suppose. They didn’t sell much in stores, but why would they. While a few outlets bought the books outright, I also consigned them in stores and online (amazon and Barnes & Noble… B&N took up my offer to split 50/50 if they bought it outright, but they never paid me) just so people who heard me read and wanted a book but didn’t have cash on them would be able to go get themselves a copy somehow. I made bookmarks listing where the books were available and gave them out at readings.
Enough of that; on to the poem at hand.
This one literally came out of seeing the sun buried behind snowy fog on a January afternoon. It looked precisely as I describe it in the poem. I had just arrived for my 4pm-4am shift in Master Control at WLNS-TV in Lansing, MI, and as I got out of the car, saw that sun. I went inside and wrote this. Boring story, I know. I worked at WLNS (channel 6, CBS affiliate) from October ’95 to March ’97, so I wrote this in January of either 1996 or 1997. Somewhere I have that information written down. Given that time frame—when I moved back to Metro Detroit in early ’97—I can’t believe DS was conceived, produced, and released the same year! I don’t recall what month, but it had to be late in the year. The first run was about 100 copies, I think, and the whole thing I printed on my laser printer and had professionally bound. Big mistake on several levels, but I’ll save that for another time, if anyone’s interested. For the subsequent runs of DS and WMCA, I printed the text on my printer but had the covers printed professionally.
One last note on the poem, though. There is a little allusion at the end to Jan Krist’s beautiful song, “Gravity” – specifically the stanza,
The stars are set up in sky
I’m asking simply why can’t I be partners
In their glory
With their sparkle in my eyes…
(For that link, you have to scroll down, or better yet, do a search on the page for the title.)
Since the commentary on that poem was a bit thin, I’ll give you another, tiny little poem from the same book. It certainly couldn’t hold its own blog post, even if it is a bit ironic given that I wrote it in my mid-20s…
clutters the page
And I grow old.
Indeed. That one would’ve been written in 1997. Well, 15 or so years on and I’m really not old yet, am I? The only comment I have about this poem is that in some of his prose I’d read, Baudelaire quoted somebody about “la page vide que sa blancheur défend,” and I was fascinated by the possible metaphors that white space or blankness could become.
Finally, as I’ve said a bit about self-publishing here: Perhaps after I’ve put some number of these old poems up, I’ll share a bit about zède publishing – including why I went that route in the first place. You’ve had a few teasers so far. I’m happy to answer questions about that, and also about any of my poems, about the writing/creative process, whatever. Thank you for reading this!