My scream, branching like fire

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Dear Ren,

I thought I’d to turn to poetry as a way of responding to your wonderful letter, and there were three books on my computer desk. Among them was A Camouflage of Specimens and Garments by Jennifer Militello (from Tupelo Press). I haven’t had a chance to dive into it, yet, but you’ll never guess what I found flipping through it: it contains several letter poems, each titled “Dear B.” Letter poems! Letters! How’s that for synchronicity?!

Anyway, you’ve raised lots of questions about the motivations behind blogging (mainly) and social media (to a degree). And I found these beautiful words in the “Dear B.” poem on page 47:

“The shepherd of my heart leaps among the yellow earth. There is no waking that is not my scream, branching like fire through the bone-dry woods, crying to be nested in the wind.”

I don’t presume that anything I write (poems, tweets, blog posts, etc.) gives me a barbaric YAWP to sound over the world’s rooftops, but I can imagine them as unpredictable screams — based in all the emotions of both lack and abundance — trying to catch the wind. The voice (the flame) is ultimately saying some version of this: I think this is who I am. And: I want you to know.

Lean-to selfie from the Northville Placid Trail (Adirondacks)

For me, that “you” is as nonspecific as the “you” in some of our poems. I don’t really consider it an audience. It’s an “other.” Sometimes it’s also the self. But even when you is an “other,” I don’t really care if it’s one other or many, and I don’t define “many.” I presume neither the bone-dry woods nor the wind give one shit about my proclamations. I’m not doing it for them. Some people talk to themselves (in their heads, out loud or in journals). Some people pray. Maybe this (blogging) is what I do.

And maybe blog posts are like selfies (which I happen to love). Let social media posts represent unflattering candid shots. Let poems and essays hold the place of professional portraits. Let blog posts be text versions of selfies, those photos that simply say, Here I am right now in this particular light.

I’m sorry you had a tough time the first blogging go-’round with a feeling of competition about stats, followers and comments, and I hope this time is more fulfilling. When I visit the websites and blogs of poets/artists I enjoy (some of may be considered official “author platforms,” I guess), I go there with the hope that I’ll get a glimpse at who they are, what their lives are like or how/why they do what they do. What we all do. It helps me feel connected to and part of a movement that’s larger than I am. I get that when I visit your blog, too. The posts say, Here I am right now in this particular light.

So let’s just decide that it doesn’t matter how we got here or why we came. Let’s decide to cast away any notions that blogging is a terrible idea because we can’t attach specific value to it. People climb mountains just because they’re there or backpack for days (as you and I have both done recently) in part to see what they can endure and how far they can go. We can explore here just for the hell of it, too. As my grandmother used to say before a leisurely drive, Let’s go see what we can see.

How does that sound?  I look forward to settling into the deep cushions of the sofa, pouring some wine and listening to your stories about camping on the plateau, running in the early morning, being “unexpectedly remarried,” navigating that new empty nest. I also look forward to sharing my own stories. The good, bad and ugly, as they say.

Since you asked, how about I tell you about the fear I alluded to in this post. I have lots of fear. Enough to fill many blog posts. But the fear I was talking about there is specific to writing. What if nothing comes of it? I really want my manuscript to be published. And I want it to happen by going through one of those gatekeepers you mention. It’s important to me that it’s invited in. It’s important to me that it’s chosen. Expressing that desire feels embarrassing to a degree. There is fear attached to what it says about me that I am needy in this way. Isn’t it much cooler to say, Yeah, I don’t care. Whatever. But I care deeply. It’s both a liability and an asset.

Either way, there’s hope. Much of the feedback I’ve received indicates the manuscript has been a contender. It will find its way. The fear is likely better examined from a greater distance. Pan out from what if nothing comes of the writing to what if *I* don’t amount to anything?

Whatever that means.

“Whatever that means” is my favorite phrase lately. While I’m sick of saying it, I’m trying to pay attention to them as a sign. As harbinger. You see, I say it when I’ve recognized the presence of a tired expectation. I say it to acknowledge what’s old and no longer suits me. Admittedly, sweeping away the old stuff is leaving a bit of a void. Nothing’s arrived to replace it yet.

At least that’s what I say and then along comes something like this. In my email just today “Messengers” by Louise Glück. It practically has “harbinger” in the title, right? Not only does it contain the line “that cry — release, release –” (more synchronicity: think back to Militello’s scream branching like fire), but it opens with these lines:

You have only to wait, they will find you.
The geese flying low over the marsh,
glittering in black water.
They find you.

Very softly, as I’m letting go of expectations and other old stories, I think something *is* happening. It’s not palpable yet. Maybe it won’t ever be. But think of those moments on the trail when you stop moving and listen and are shocked at the quiet. All along you’ve been thinking you were walking in silence, but even the trudging was noise. In pausing you create an absence (emptiness, openness). Stillness, it turns out, is a physical sensation and can be heard just like a flame in the bone-dry woods.


* * *

This is letter #2 in an exchange with fellow poet, runner, hiker & drinker of wine Ren Powell. Here is the first letter, if you’d like to take a look.

I’m delighted that this exchange is one of the things that came rushing in when I left the door open.


  1. Well, it’s way too late for nothing to come of it, in any case. There’s dozens of other terrific writers who have been gobsmacked by your stuff, and the resonances keep going, and going. But I hope you’re published soon too. Manhandling PDFs is an inconvenient way to get to my favorite poems.

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