Braided Creek: A Conversation in Poetry

Two friends recommended Jim Harrison and Ted Kooser’s Braided Creek: A Conversation in Poetry. I’m glad they did.

These poems were written after Ted Kooser had been diagnosed with throat cancer, the same form of cancer I had, and I certainly identified with many of his feelings while undergoing treatment.

I also appreciated the haiku-like correspondence between Harrison and Kooser. In some ways the poems reminded me of another work I liked a lot and commented on earlier, Japanese Death Poems, a book I found quite inspiring despite the title.

It’s a short work, 85 pages long, with four three-line, or four-line, poems per page. In fact, my major complaint about the book is that I thought $15 was a rather exorbitant price for such a short paperback book.

Though it was possible to guess who wrote many of the poems, it was refreshing that no author was listed for any of the poems; the poems have to be seen as part of a conversation, not just the result of one person’s thoughts.

I know there’s a long Japanese tradition of linked haiku, but in the end most of the poems seem to stand quite well on their own.

Although it’s impossible to miss the underlying tone of sadness in these poems, in the end what makes them appealing is the gentle, self-deprecating sense of humor found in poems like this one:

When I found my tracks in the snow
I followed, thinking that they might
lead me back to where I was. But
they turned the wrong way and went on.

Now, I’ve actually done something very similar to this when out snowshoeing in very dense woods where I kept having to turn back because of a meandering stream, but I assume it’s really meant in a metaphorical sense.

Faced with painful treatment and the real possibility of imminent death, it’s hard not to get caught up in the meanderings of the mind, to forget who you are and question what you’ve always believed. Your body seems to have a mind of its own.

Another poem sounds like it was probably written by Harrison and suggests one of the greatest benefits of friendship:

You told me you couldn’t see
a better day coming,
so I gave you my eyes.

Though I believe poetry can effectively point out what’s wrong with the world, its greatest strength is its ability to add perspective to the world, to live beyond the moment, to touch truths greater than ourselves.

Roo Borson’s “Intermittent Rain”

I finished reading 15 Canadian Poets X 3 today. I owe someone (either George or Zach?) from Bookninja a real thank you for referring me to it. I would certainly recommend it to anyone who has similar taste in poems as I’ve marked more poems to re-read in this volume than any volume I’ve read since I started using post-it flags to highlight pages.

At 611 pages, this collection should keep you occupied for awhile, even longer if, like me, you feel compelled to buy the collections of poets you found particularly appealing. It’ll take awhile for me to read all the Canadian poets I’ve found here and liked well enough to buy. Of course, I have so little background in Canadian poetry that I have no idea how representative the poets in this collection are of Canadian poetry as a whole. Ron Sillman would probably place nearly all of the poets included in this volume in the School of Quietude, but, for better of worse, that is the school I am most attuned to.

It seemed to me that the last section of Geddes’ collection was dominated by women poets. Perhaps I noticed that merely because my recent readings also seem to have been dominated by women poets. I’m not sure if that’s because I’ve overlooked them in the past, because they really have become more prominent in recent years, or because, as some online “tests” have indicated, my mind has increasingly taken on a feminine cast.

I particularly liked the poems of Roo Borson, another poet who seems to have been strongly influenced by Robert Creeley. My favorite poem was:


Rain hitting the shovel
leaned against the house,
rain eating the edges
of the metal in tiny bites,
bloating the handle,
cracking it.
The rain quits and starts again.

There are people who go into that room in the house
where the piano is and close the door.
They play to get at that thing
on the tip of the tongue,
the thing they think of first and never say.
They would leave it out in the rain if they could.

The heart is a shovel leaning against a house somewhere
among the other forgotten tools.
The heart, it’s always digging up old ground,
always wanting to give things a decent burial.

But so much stays fugitive,
where it can’t be reached.

The piano is a way of practising
speech when you have no mouth.
When the heart is a shovel that would bury itself.
Still we can go up casually to a piano
and sit down and start playing
the way the rain felt in someone else’s bones
a hundred years ago
before we were born,
before we were even one cell,
when the world was clean,
when there were no hearts or people,
the way it sounded
a billion years ago, pattering
into unknown ground. Rain

hitting the shovel leaned against the house,
eating the edges of the metal.
It quits,
and starts again.

I’ll have to admit I don’t completely understand this poem any more than I understand why I’m so fond of Pacific Northwest weather, and perhaps that is part of its appeal. Maybe it even has something to do with loving Blues music.

On one level, of course, this poem simply reminds me of the Pacific Northwest, where the rain is usually intermittent. I like walking in the rain, reflecting on those things that have recently happened in my life, trying to put them into some kind of perspective, smooth them out.

Physically, of course, rain does smooth things out, takes off the harsh edges, whether the edges of a shovel or the edges of mountains.

Perhaps music has that same effect, serving as an emotional outlet to take the edge off painful memories or feelings that we haven’t yet come to terms with. I know The Blues has that effect on me. Music allows us to share feelings with people who may have died years ago, and sharing feelings, in turn, makes us realize that we are not alone in our sorrow.

Time for A Clean Start

I’ve never been one for New Year’s Resolutions. After all, when you’re perfect there’s little reason to change.

Instead I’ve always focused on trying to get a fresh start. Some do spring cleaning; I do New Year’s cleaning. Like my mother, I’m a firm believer that Christmas decorations need to be down by the end of the holidays, today.

Most of the Christmas ornaments were put away yesterday, and we finished taking down the tree today. Despite the rain, all the outside lights came down today, too.

I spent nearly all day yesterday sorting out and cleaning up the Playmobil knights after the vacation onslaught.

I’ve spent much of the last week trying to get my den/office space cleaned up, including prepaying bills and balancing the checkbook, throwing more books away, and filing medical records in tax folders. Hopefully, I’ll finish by tomorrow and can thoroughly dust and wash shelves, spot clean the carpet, and wash windows.

Although a thorough cleaning has been a part of my life as long as I can remember, I suspect this article on stuff via mousemusings has provided additional motivation.

I’ve been reading and recycling or discarding books for the last four years, as I’ve noted here before. Except for poetry books and a few reference books, there will be very few books left shortly.

Update: Here’s a link to a Christian Science Monitor article that describes a similar, but better, tradition in Italy