Monday, November 30, 2015

November 30: Poet of the Week, Peter Thabit Jones, "Afternoon in May," "Ives" Dip, Off the Top of My Head

The Poet of the Week is Peter Thabit Jones.

I only recently found his collection, Poems From a Cabin on Big Sur, in a bag of books given to me by a friend.  I was immediately drawn to the title because I had the good fortune of spending five days in Big Sur, writing poetry with poet Sharon Olds.  That week seems like a dream now.  Ocean waves crashing all day and night.  A fat moon swimming in stars.  Sulfur baths.  And poetry.  A lot of poetry.

Thabit Jones spend a month in a cabin in Big Sur as a poet-in-residence.  His book is filled with the poems he wrote during that time, and they really capture the rugged simplicity and beauty of the area.  The first poem, especially, reminds me of the afternoons I spent standing on a cliff's edge, searching the Pacific for signs of a whale (I never saw one):

Afternoon in May

by:  Peter Thabit Jones

A whale?  Basking shark?
Something like a supple log,
The colour of rock,
Brownish, greyish, trawls its way
Through the Big Sur waves.
Seen, unseen, then seen, unseen.

I can almost smell the salt air reading that poem, and I can see the sea otters playing in the beds of brown kelp breathing on the waves.

Yes, on this first day back at work, I am being nostalgic for an experience that still fills me with great pleasure.  For five days, I didn't have to worry about work or teaching or money or car problems.  I woke in the morning, got dressed, and went for a walk.  I'd find a bench somewhere, pull out my journal, and start writing.  Breakfast.  Then more poetry.  Talking with Sharon.  Lunch.  Another walk.  More poetry.  Talking with Sharon.  Dinner.  More poetry.  All my days had this wonderful rhythm.  I felt like a real writer for a brief time in my life.

And, on this last day of the month of giving thanks, I am grateful for the gift of writing in my life.  The gift of poetry.  I am able to put words down on a page and have those words mean something to other people.  That is a great, great gift that God has given me.

My Ives dip question is this:

Will I ever feel like a real writer again?

The phonograph music would fill the living room, and she would find her head turning and digging deep into the easy-chair headrest in rhythm to the beat, as if she were a 1940s bobby-soxer, and she would daydream about the time when Robert had used their living room as a rehearsal studio for a kind of jazz group he put together with kids from the neighborhood.  Some knew what they were doing, others didn't, and the neighbors knew it too.  During those sessions he played a snare drum with brushes and foot-tapped a high hat and felt so honored, so formal about jazz, despite his ecclesiastical training, that he used to shine his penny loafers and put on a tie before playing.

Ives' son, Robert, feels like a real jazz musician in the above passage.  He dresses the part.  Jams with some of his friends.  He commits himself fully to the formal study of jazz.  He's not an amateur.  He's a serious student.

I have committed myself for over twenty years to the study, teaching, and practice of creative writing.  Maybe that makes me a real writer.

Or maybe that makes Saint Marty a complete idiot.

Off the Top of My Head

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