Friday, May 1, 2009

The House of the Poet

Every morning, the poet
leaves her house
to search the hills for
one perfect flower-
a yellow buckwheat,
the white-haired leather flower,
or mountain pimpernel,
tenacious specimens that cling
and root deep into the mountain.
Higher she climbs and higher,
turning over loose shale
that bounces from the backs
of the beasts that clack and rattle below.
Nothing lives on the barrens,
only the dust that stains her
black as the coal running in the veins.
By night, she wanders claustrophobic rooms,
preparing labels for empty jars
and writing epitaphs for garden walls.
Flowing formations growl
within the belly of the earth,
but no words guard the door
to the house of the poet.


  1. Oh, Karen. This is so beautiful. I don't think you have writer's block ever! Okay, that's silly to say. I know it happens to the best of poets. But I'd never know it from reading your work. We keep searching for that perfect flower, don't we? I haven't found it yet. I doubt I ever will. I love how you portray the search. It's the searching that is so good in the long run. In the short run, it can be excruciating...ha!

    Excellent details. I love that the flowers are "tenacious specimens that cling/and root deep into the mountain." And I love the dust that stains her being as black as the coal running through her veins.

    You made me smile today. I was ready to turn off the computer, because it has been a rough week. I'm so glad I stayed on to read your poem. Thank you:)

  2. wonderful work...
    "preparing labels for empty jars
    and writing epitaphs for garden walls."
    loved these lines... :)

  3. could you have wandered through *my* dreams? I've thought these thoughts this week, but not as eloquently as you have. :) Love the lines, "By night, she wanders claustrophobic rooms."

  4. First, the botanist's specificity is wonderful - I particularly like the white haired leather flower which sounds too unlikely not to be real - then the sense of the open space, the mountain vista and the geological depth, and then the sudden inward/psychological turn to the poet's house and the failed search for specimens so beautifully depicted as labelling empty jars. It's all so visual. I see her in a space like my mother's root cellar, sticking on those white squares with the red lines around them that my mum used when she ran out of the labels that came with the jelly jars. She's sort of witchy, in an herbal, red beads for nosebleeds kind of way. The final couplet leaves me very uneasy. What is it exactly that the words are meant to be keeping out? I almost feel it might be beneficial in the long run that they've left their post. I certainly hope we aren't meant to take the writer's block label as personal. Happy May Day.
    The photo is gorgeous.

  5. P.S. - I just realised I could steal it - the photo I mean - and have. I've put it on my desktop to make me sad and cold when I need to be.

  6. Julie - You are so right about the searching. That's the important thing. I wanted to use the word "quest" in here somewhere, because that's what it feels like -- searching for the grail in our own way.

    After every poem, I'm sure I have nothing else to write. That fear inspired this poem -- you see, a trick to trick myself into writing and to trick the readers into thinking I have something to say!Oh, I'm a crafty bugger! he, he, he!

    But those empty jars are waiting... Off we go. Searching again.

    Thank you for being such a good friend. I'm really sorry about Bob and about your week.

    AB - Thank you for your comment and for coming by. :-)

    Jana - I wondered where you'd been. Hunting flowers? I look forward to your find! You're always eloquent, by the way.

    mairi - I'm happy you could see it. I'm working on being more specific with imagery. In light of your statement about the final couplet, I took a look to see if it would be better another way, but I really think it is our words that protect us. Without words, the poet is left unguarded, vulnerable.

    Isn't the photo pretty? I found it in a search for pictures of goddesses. It's called "Blue Goddess". I'm glad to share it!

  7. This reminds me so much of my daughter. You would have to meet her to know what I mean. She is a young poet, but tortured sometimes when the words don't come to her...and she wanders the hill near our house finding blossoms and pressing them into her journals. She waited all winter for the spring flowers to inspire her:)

  8. One expert of a crafty bugger you surely are! :-D :-D
    You would never get a block, I'm sure of it.

    You are a true poet in every sense of the word and thoughts will keep visiting you as long as you want them to be.

    Loved it through and through! :D

  9. I think I have to call you the intellectual poet Karen. Your poems continually stun me as they display your wealth of knowledge and culture. This one reminds me of a book I read ages ago (The Cameron's) about a Scottish woman and her coal mining husband, it was an epic story but you really felt the sense of place while reading it. This poem has that same airy feeling as being on the highlands. Just absolutely exquisite imagery. Plus, I know the feeling!

  10. Faith - How wonderful to have a poet-child! Of course, the flip of that is the torture of creativity. I hope she finds her muse!

    Aniket - I hope your words are true, my friend. I'm holding you responsible ;-) Thank you!!

    Cat - This may sound odd, but the aspect of my writing that you call the intellectual is the one I like least. I think it's that old wanting what we don't have thing! I want to be emotionally involved; instead, I think too often I come off as detached. Oh, well - our new saying at work: it is what it is! I need to be thankful that I can write at all. :-)

    I thank you for your comments about the feeling of place. You know, the Scots settled Appalachia, and many of our customs and language are theirs.

    Your creativity seems to have no bounds! I always look forward to your offerings.

  11. I guess every writer needs another fan, so count me as one, a new fan I mean. You have an eloquence and fluidity to your poems that I don't often see, which I commend you for.

    Also, you explore the rich tapestry of place and time - this is what I think is most important for a poet to do - to intertwine the resonance of our history with our experiences today...and this is what makes so many of your poems work so wonderfully.

    Thank You

    Poet Man

  12. Intimate Magic

    It is not the words
    that make the change but how you
    can be found so near
    or far, deep within
    the flow of words, a perfume
    released in the gaps
    between the constraints
    of form, perhaps gathered best
    when speaking the words
    as one would deeply,
    so deeply in love with things.
    That's where magic is.

  13. Karen, I know what it is like to search for secrets, for deeper meaning, and to try and find words to describe it. The best writing comes unbidden, but sometimes, there is a compulsion to find something, anything to write about, just to exercise those skills. This is what I get from your poem.

    And sometimes it is you
    who inspires me, you;
    words written scarlet
    from something as simple,
    as everyday-ordinary
    as the way you carry yourself,
    strong and unassuming;
    the turn of your head,
    a flash of sun-brushed cheek; or
    the way the light swims mischievously
    in your eyes, a golden fish
    brushing the surface of
    the murky pond.

  14. 1poet - I have to smile at the thought of having a "fan" -- the last thing I ever aspired to have! That's not to say that I don't appreciate your being here and commenting. I know...let's be poetry friends. That I can handle! Seriously, though, I do appreciate your comments on both form and content. It is most helpful to have specific feedback. Sometimes, I'll read something and think an inarticulate, "Wow!" Then I realize that even this is honest feedback for the writer.

    I'll visit your site. Who knows? Maybe we'll be a "mutual admiration society!"

    Christopher and Rachel - If poetry came as naturally to me as it does to the two of you, if I could instantly flow with the form of poetry, I wouldn't be out searching for words to put into jars! The two of you -- finding scent and sound and sight in every thought -- you are born poetry. Thank you both for leaving your flowers here.

  15. I love when the inability to bring forth words serves as the prompt or muse. This is so
    ingeniously crafted and therefore cleverly effective! You bring the poem to fruition in spite of your telling us no words will materialize and no thought will serve you.

    "By night, she wanders claustrophobic rooms,
    preparing labels for empty jars
    and writing epitaphs for garden walls."

    What a mystical image created in those lines. Would that I were in the midst of that dream. You have given me something to contemplate this evening...

  16. Oh no, you marry the intellect and the emotion beautifully my dear! It is a gift you have, that makes you an outstanding poet.

  17. The fear that follows every poem that there will be no more...I know that fear intimately, and I think I detect it in the poem, in the searching of the poet and her preparing of labels for empty jars. It's the unmentioned force driving the poem - for me, anyway, or am I reading too much into it?

  18. K - You have quoted the lines that I nearly emailed you for advice about. I toyed with this: "peeling labels from dusty jars". What do you think? I still wonder which is better.

    As I wrote this, I was reminded of your "The Poet in Lithuania". I may fear writer's block, but you have inspired me in many, many ways.

    Cat - Thank you. :-)

    Dave - Looking for the perfect specimens to keep in jars, the words an incantation against the dangers that are out there, and writing epitaphs to the gardens she can't create -- the poet is living out the fear that, as you say, "follows every poem that there will be no more."

    You read it perfectly, probably because you know it intimately.

  19. karen, every word i write terrifies me , this might be the last, the one final idea, and then i'll keep on searching and searching and i'll keep coming up with trash, words that dont mean anything , flowers that just wont bloom. it hasnt happened yet, but i know it will. some day. and then i'll be preparing labels for empty jars and writing epitaphs for garden walls.
    thank you for taking a walk through my brain . thank you for this poem.

  20. LGL - You have spoken my thoughts exactly! There's some comfort in knowing that others feel the same, but that doesn't save us from the terror, does it? It is self-imposed imprisonment.

  21. I've been out of poems for a couple of months. Luckily I have other creative things to do when the Calliope goes running off into the hills without me. But it nags, that I haven't written one in weeks. It nags like a hidden splinter you can't get out.

  22. um, no 'the' before Calliope. Please don't lower my grade. ;-)

  23. Karen - In my humble opinion, I think it is perfect as is.

    "preparing labels for empty jars" -

    It gives it that futile element that lends itself to the overall feel of the piece. You are preparing the jars, but there is nothing with which to fill them. Just as the poet sits to write, and nothing comes forth.

    However, I find it impossible that you wouldn't be able to bring forth a verse. Furthermore, it is I who should ask your advice on writing, my dear friend.

  24. Cat - Calliope or no, you are filled with creativity! I've always considered myself a good audience :-) I think God created a place for an audience, and gave me a box seat!

    Kaye - Thank you, and you're right, of course -- especially since she continues the search every day.

    As to the fear, it's very real. I'm truly surprised when I DO finish something and am pleased with it. The biggest fear? That I have nothing worth saying.

    To your last statement, I'm just shaking my head and thinking how like you to be so generous and modest. You're the poet. I'm your friend! :-)

  25. Karen, I've just visited Cat's and your blog today and it is incredible to see two such truly talented women suffer such profound doubt. An "if you could see what I see" kind of a moment. It's not a well that can dry up, for either of you, I am quite sure. :)

    My own doubts are qualitative--am I the one who can tell this story in the way it deserves to be told. It can lead one to think something is never "done"!!

    This is a beautiful poem.

  26. Karen, I don't remember if I was here before but your list of favourite authors seems as if it was plucked straight from my shelves. 80% of them are my favourites too. I love English crime novels too.

    Happy to see the Irving and the Byatt as well.

  27. Yet another gorgeous and tightly woven tapestry. I so enjoy your storytelling and poetry.

    Thank you, Karen for sharing your talent!

  28. This reminded me of Dorothy Wordsworth and her utter communion with the natural landscape. So many pieces touched me, but especially,
    "turning over loose shale
    that bounces from the backs
    of the beasts that clack and rattle below."


  29. Jennifer - Thank you. I am a fairly confident woman in other aspects of my life - rarely insecure, as a matter of fact. It is in this -- this act of creation -- that I feel inadequate to the task. If I hadn't spent my life as a student of good writing, perhaps I wouldn't feel so. I do appreciate the encouragement I receive here. Thank you for always being a supportive reader.

    Clever Pup - I don't believe you've been here before. I'm sure I'd remember your blog name. :-) I welcome you! It's always nice to find someone who shares your love of literature.

    Kat - What a nice comment! I'm honored to be in the same thoughts with a Wordsworth! Thank you. You're always a positive, encouraging friend.

  30. Lovely lines Karen. Wonderful to be here:)
    I liked each & every line...the search & everything that goes with it.

    Have a Great Day!

  31. Wonderful! I am new to your blog and I will be following it and I enjoyed reading your profile - classic taste...

  32. deepazarts - Welcome, and thank you for your comments.

    Printemps - Welcome to you, too! I appreciate your reading and hope you'll find something worth your while.

  33. Ghost - It's a perfect fit! Thanks.

  34. I like this unique and Earthy exploration of the poet, the artist. Shelves of many jars, filled with bare hands.

  35. to be honest, before i read the comments, i wasn't thinking writer's block so much as writer's..i don't know...compulsion?

    it is shaded with doubt, for sure, but i was feeling the quest - believing there is something out there to find, knowing intimately what it is - preparing jars for when one does - i guess i felt the hunger of it - and the last two lines struck me as wonderfully ironic - the words never stay or protect, nothing we can really nail down - they are always outside of us somehow.

    i hope i've not totally missed the point. maybe it's because of where a few have taken me lately - but i actually found this to be very inspiring.

  36. Jason - Thank you for your comment.

    joaquin - No, you haven't missed it at all. It is the quest that is the important thing. The perfect specimen is out there somewhere, and the poet continues to search and prepare the containers - even herself, as the vessel. It is the emptiness that leaves her vulnerable.

    Your comment on the last lines gives me something to think about - that the words are outside of us somehow. I'd like to hoard them, put them in jars, and know that they will be there, but they are gone the minute they're committed. The jars are always empty. There's no "back-up", so the hunt begins again. Maybe I'm trying to contain something that can't be contained, to possess something that's bigger than me and can't be possessed.

    Thank you for giving me this food for thought. You've added a layer of meaning that I think might be the point, after all.

    I'm glad you found this inspiring, and I'll tell you this - since I've started writing, my life is fuller, much more complete. The daily quest is the thing...

  37. Oh this really is gorgeous X:-)

  38. I really can't say anything better than Joaquin's interpretation. His thoughts were exactly my own here.

    That daily compulsion can be our greatest joy or frustration. It is a need, and we know when it's sated and when it's...not.

    Deeply powerful and achingly truthful poem, Karen. I loved all the metaphors of abundance and emptiness, written by a poet who strives for the perfect word every time, and who must have jars that are just stuffed with them. ;)

    I really loved this one.

  39. Vicki - Thank you for your generous comment.

    Sarah - I know you understand the quest/compulsion that drives the writer. I appreciate your comments and take some solace in knowing I'm not alone there on the mountain.

  40. wonderful look at the poet life and work. i enjoyed your words here very much

  41. Karen, I love this poem! It is a search and a fear that I experience every day. That you can write such words while enduring a perceived writer's block is more than an inspiration for me. Thank you! xoxoxo

  42. utopianfragments - Thank you for stopping by and commenting.

    Vesper - This block is really bothering me, and it feels so lonely on that mountain, but I'm finding that I'm not alone here. I'm sorry you're struggling with this,too. That's a pair of us! I love your work, and I know you'll find your way past this. I will, too, I hope. Fingers crossed for us both!