GLASS FACTORY Reader’s Guide
Glass Factory came together over several years, but came into focus in 2014 and early 2015 after I lost several friends to untimely deaths, including my little friend Myles who died in his childhood and my friend Nate who died in his late 50s. At that time also my otherwise active and healthy mother had a life-changing health event that revealed her decline into dementia had quickened and she could no longer live independently. Presence and absence, temporality, ephemerality, memory, the absence of memory all were uppermost in my consciousness even as I witnessed the cycle of seasons, the beauties of earth and of the human-made world. I found beauty even in destruction, even in loss.
My Life and Times
I live in a small homogeneous city in upstate New York. I was born in a poor, racially diverse city in Pennsylvania where I lived part of my childhood until my mother left my angry and troubled father and moved us to upstate New York, to a town even at my tender age I thought of us “parochial,” if I had known the term. That perception of cultural duality has informed my worldview. Anthropology was a fitting subject for my undergraduate work because I have always lived as a participant observer. Long a book lover, I believe my reading has informed my living, and these days I read widely in arts and sciences, as well as kid’s literature and, of course, poetry. I am acutely aware of world events, and have traveled quite a bit. This awareness of the diversity of the world and yet the sameness of humanity in all its glory and venality also informs my work.
My poetry influences include, for example, the nature-based and revelatory poetry of Mary Oliver, the work of Yeats, particularly those poems that come out of a sense of humanity’s existence and mortality. I love the rhythms of Langston Hughes and the oddities of E. E. Cummings. I read widely in contemporary poetry. Favorite books from the past few years include Kathleen Graber’s The Eternal City and Lisa Sewell’s Impossible Object.
Place is of interest to me, so several of these poems came out of considerations of certain places I’d been or imagined:
The poem “Stone Church Road,” for example, grew out of a real experience when I lived on that road in a little apartment that was basically the haymow above a barn, transformed into a tidy little two room apartment with a galley kitchen. It had big arched windows at either end. I had terrible insomnia in those years, and was often awake at odd hours, and adrift in the thoughts that arise then. I did indeed one night hear what must have been the warning “cough” of deer in the backyard, a noise that at first froze me in place, fearing an intruder in my apartment. (An intruder with a chest cold? Or a smoking habit?)
On the other hand, “The Idea of Antarctica” came out of my imagining of a place I’ve never been. I have friends who have spent time there, however, and I had been captivated by Werner Herzog’s documentary “Encounters at the End of the World.” The middle section of the poem came directly out of a segment in that documentary that shows some of the training required of all visitors to Antarctica, including an exercise in which people linked by a slim rope must negotiate blindly from point A to point B, as if they were caught in a white-out. I found the scene terrifying. And so, a poem. The poem’s title comes from the title of a radio show that was hosted by the famous Canadian pianist Glenn Gould called “The Idea of North,” in which he traveled into the vast northern section of Canada and interviewed some of the scant few residents of that wild area.
Visual art is of interest to me, so some of these poems came out of meditations on artworks. Believe it or not “I await the night with dread; await the night with longing” came out of my reading of Van Gogh’s letters to his brother, and my thinking about his painting “Starry Night.” It was also informed by that insomnia I mentioned previously….
I love the work of Andy Goldsworthy, a sculptor who makes temporary sculptures in the world, stacking stones into rounded shapes, sewing leaves into a weaving with thorns and plant matter, sometimes deliberately making work within the tide zone on a beach so with each lap of wave parts of it disappear. “Goldsworthy Variations” comes out of poring over books of his work, as well as viewing his stone wall at Storm King Art Center. Some of the lines come out of his own writing about his work; e.g., he wrote, “The last work I make will be a hole.”
The work of other poets is also inspirational to me. “Two Crows” was inspired by Swedish poet Ann Jåderlund. The third stanza of “Time Series” was inspired by the rhythms and movement of the work of Jorie Graham.
Issues of Craft
You will notice that most of my work does not rhyme at the end of lines. “Glass Factory Ruin” is pretty much the only one with fairly consistent end rhymes, although not in a consistent manner. But if you pay attention, you will hear some rhyming and off-rhyme inside some of the poems; for example, “Goldsworthy Variations #3.”
But more important to me is assonance, consonance, and alliteration. Listen to the s sounds throughout “Night Sky,” for example, or the hard k sounds at the end of “This liquid in state of frozen chaos.”
I am also very interested in rhythm. One of the reasons I like to give readings is that it enables me to set the beat for the reader/listener — to reveal how I feel the beat of the lines, how I feel the emphases and pauses. Feel the beats establish and shift throughout “Long Haul,” set in part by the iambs (“At night sometimes I hear”) and trochees (“shifting dirt with a backhoe”) and other rhythmic elements and in part by the consonants m, d, b, f, g that thrum throughout.
“Equinox” is my most word-playful poem, skirting sense but, I hope, evoking the dizziness of the world on that day things shift from going-darker to going-lighter and the emotional giddiness that can come from acknowledging that shift. Or from whatever turns you topsy turvy sometimes.
Syntax is also important for me. Notice my use of slightly unusual word order in the last stanza of “East Field,” or how the one sentence unfolds within the poem “The Curve Traced Out…”
Obscure References and Inside Jokes
“Self-study” is the literal translation of the word autopsy, and the first line, “The body is a thing and such,” is a jokey reference to Kant’s philosophical phrase ding an sich, meaning a thing as it is in itself.
The man in a window and then just the window in “Prague” references “defenestration,” the throwing of someone out the window, as happened to seven city council members in the rebellion in Prague in 1419.
The phrase “My god. My god.” at the end of the second section of “Time Series” references Jesus’s cry from the cross, “Eli, eli, lama atta sabachtani”: My god, my god, why have you forsaken me.
“Lakeshore Limited” is the name of a train that runs from Chicago to New York. It is often late.
The last line of “Bell” are the first words ever spoken over the telephone. Alexander Graham Bell was speaking to his assistant.
Poems come to me in all kinds of ways, but often I just have to force myself to the page. First thing in the morning is best for me. I ask myself what I’m thinking about, and then I try to think of an image that has stuck with me from my being in the world over the past several days or weeks. Sometimes what rises up are images from years ago. Sometimes, annoyingly, a poem will come whole while I’m in the shower. I try to keep the sense of the lines while I dry off (I do NOT allow the poem to force me to leap out and run dripping through the house to the nearest piece of paper!), and sometimes I can capture most of it, although somehow it never feels quite as brilliant as it felt when it came to me in the shower….
Sometimes I assign myself writing exercises: Write for ten minutes on X. Take the first line of this other person’s poem and write for ten minutes. (I find that ten minutes is just long enough and not too long — I can descend into the creative mind, but not linger there long enough that my conscious mind discovers me and starts mouthing off.) Sometimes I do erasures as a way of shaking up new phrases — I’ll do erasures of other people’s poems, my own poems, or pieces of prose that I think might be fruitful. Sometimes I take myself to an art museum, and see what seeing stirs up.
How to order poems in a manuscript is a source of endless mystery. I will often shuffle many times, taking different thematic approaches, or weaving poems with similar imagery throughout a manuscript or, alternatively, grouping them all together. In the end, creating order is often an instinctual choice made quickly and based on sound and a sense of the movement of emotions over a spectrum through the course of the poems.
I don’t tend to sit down to the page every day, and in fact, sometimes have to be severe with myself and say “Go sit down.” It works. Sometimes.
Questions for Discussion
What emotion(s) stayed with you after you put this book down? How were they invoked? What images accompanied those emotions?
What images stayed with you and why? Did you notice use of repeated images? If so, was that distracting or did it tie the poems together across the volume?
What did you notice about the sound or the music of the poems? Was it similar across poems, or did certain poems stand out for their sound or music?
Did this feel like a coherent collection of poems? Why or why not?