Over a year ago I was given a book called “Madness, Rack, and Honey”. It’s a collection of lectures from a famous poet who now teaches for an MFA program at Vermont College, Mary Ruefle’s. I started reading the book and then stopped. I then dumped the guy who gave it to me. In return, he broke my heart and I ended up shoving the book under some stuff in the the bottom drawer of my nightstand. I did not want any reminders of him or us. Until very recently, there was still too much grief associated with that break-up for me to entertain looking at the book. Things have changed now though, so I’m giving it another go.
Being a collection of lectures about poetry it is all at the same time fascinating and boring. I can read a page or two here and there, but it’s not the sort of thing you get engaged in from cover to cover. There are lots of little paragraphs of wisdom and enlightenment and lots of historical references to poems and authors.
The topic I started reading about tonight is Fear. Well, there is an entire chapter devoted to fear but the bit that I zoomed in on is more about poets and poetry and inspiration. Here a quote from Raymond Queueau.. “The poet is never inspired because he is the master of what others assume to be inspiration… He is never inspired because he is always inspired, because the powers of poetry are always at his disposal, obedient to his will, receptive to his guidance.”
In my statement of purpose (the original and more recently the one for the MFA application) I write about inspiration. That I am seeking inspiration and some spark that ignites the flame. Is this quite all wrong then? If I’m a true poet and the magic and mystery of life is at my will to command at all times, I can conjure poetry from nothing. I need no spark save the spark within me. I need no feeling or circumstance or grand gesture to assemble a masterpiece of words. I need only apply my own brand of genius and let my fingers do the dancing across the lighted keyboard.
If this is true, then I should not have any trouble with any given prompt or topic. I should be able to “roll off” without a worry or care or fear that the blank page will try and stare me down `till I back down. I have this skill within me. I’m certain that I do because I’ve not only got a poem about this very subject I wrote when I was a mere 17 years old, but I recall writing it on a day when absolutely nothing was going on and I was writing poetry on napkins at the restaurant I was a waitress for. I wonder if I still have those napkins?
The poem was called Rolling Off, and it must not be one I consider good enough because It’s not posted on my blog. But at the same time, it is at least memorable enough that I still recall writing it 27 years later. Time to go take a look at my archives (all paper you know because back then we didn’t not have PCs or Laptops or iPads or iPhones)…. I shall return shortly.
As it turns out I no longer have the napkins from the restaurant that I feverishly scrawled on a million years ago, but I did scribe a copy of that poem, “Rolling Off”, into the hardback book of musings I called “And then there was me”.
I was always big on titles and organization. Every journal had a name and every collection of poetry neatly compiled in separate notebooks which also had titles. That poem is garbage. I was hoping for something brilliant, but most of the things in that book are quite terrible. I’m not going to type it here either, because I have some respect for myself.
So one quote from that book, Madness, Rack and Honey led me down this path. I swear I can’t read a page from that book without going down a rabbit hole of thought or writing. It may take me a lifetime to get through the whole book. I at least have to get to the explanation of the title. Super curious about that.
Rack is Probably Not What You Think,