Monday, October 6, 2014
Notes on Process, Part I
Last year I tried to write a chapbook about horses. It seemed like a natural subject. I grew up surrounded by horses. As a kid, my grandfather exercised thoroughbreds at Aqueduct. My father got a
license to train thoroughbreds in middle age, and for a few years pursued that dream pretty actively, with
mixed results. There was a corral next to the house where I spent the second half of my childhood. Horses were as common as squirrels or sparrows. So, naturally, one would think I had a treasure trove of memories to draw from, and combined with the hindsight of 50+ plus years, several volumes of horse poems were surely just waiting for me to extract them from the depths of my subconscious.
As it turns out, not really. I have rarely written with a theme in mind, although I respond well to prompts. Prompts, however, only lead me back to myself. I am an expert at making a conversation come back around to me, me, me, and prompts are the first sentence of poetic conversations. For this chapbook, I started with only the vaguest idea-- something to do with horses. The few poems I attempted that dealt primarily with horses were drawn from my memories of them. I do not see many horses in my day to day life at this point. The poems are imprecise, dreamy and totally rootless. I always meant to go out and find some real horses, to add some fresh observations to my ancient memories. I never even got around to Googling the damn things.
What I discovered is that my connection to horses is superficial at best, despite close proximity for almost two decades. My sister turned out to be the cowgirl in the family, and still rides today whenever she gets a chance. She has a beautiful barn in her backyard, and her property is adjacent to a state park. She's got an amazing amount of room to ride in a suburban Long Island neighborhood.
I was afraid at first, and never overcame that fear. As a kid, we were led around my grandparents' corral on Princess, an sedate Palomino who was the last of the many horses my father and his siblings grew up with. I'm sure I pulled out a few hairs from her brittle blonde mane, I held on so tightly. Now that I'm older, and that much more aware of the consequences of a fall, I am all the more frightened.
The best poems to come out of this effort are not about horses at all. They are about horse people, family, friends. They are about the affect horses had on others, and about the affect others had on me. One
poem is about a gold charm I have in the shape of a horse, and what it symbolizes. Another is about my grandfather, who died when I was 13 at the age of 57. We had very little in common then, and less now. Of the group, maybe five poems are worth reworking and sending out to find a home somewhere.
Ultimately, they are Long Island poems, which I will never stop writing. They fall in line with the theme of my life. Poetry, writing is the way I explain myself to others, and to myself. It's a way of sorting out the pieces of the past, and clumsily ordering the future. Horses are certainly a part of my life. Just not enough to inspire more than a few poems to add to the archives.