Fire to air

Hello vernal readers. The equinox is passed and the light continues to rise here on the peninsula. Beneath this full moon the wind rises itself and pulls spring clouds fast overhead. Good to be with you!

For the last week of March I was away on something of a writing retreat — a first for me. I visited a Jungian contemplative community four hours south called Apple Farm, where they offered me a small cabin at the edge of the woods. I spent six days there reading and writing, listening to the frog chorus, thinking. It was a good week, difficult too, fortified with solitude and quiet. I fell into a sort of pseudo-monastic routine that suits me well. A privilege for sure.

Part of the routine (after carrying in firewood and making coffee) was to sit down at the table by the window and read some poems out loud. As I’ve mentioned, I am planning some readings in August and beyond to mark the publication of Drift Gestures, and just next week I’ll be reading at the library in Northport. But more than planning is needed; poems don’t just emerge from the mouth fully formed — they’re like songs in that they require a great deal of rehearsal. The turns of tone, the rhythms, the pauses for breath, they all need to be automatic and inseparable from the lines. So rehearse I did. I read poems over and over with the cardinals and nuthatches out the window as an audience.

The palmate heptapleurum leaves incline to the sunny window. We're right in the midst of them, some sharp against the light, others fuzzy in the foreground. Just a bit of clear blue sky is visible among the leaves.

I offer this observation: a poem spoken out loud is a call in search of a response. It is a response in search of conversation.

I’ve spoken poems out loud for some time, out on walks, out on the island; to a curious deer at dawn who swivelled her ears to listen to the nonsense, quietly to heron hunting a shallow pond, to Lake Michigan. As I speak, the words fit like clothes, or don’t — deer doesn’t care, nor do birds or lapping waves — but they do listen. Speaking to these others, the words fit for me, or don’t, but either way the simple presence of an audience allows a call to approach conversation. I look forward to bringing the poems out of hermitage to read them for some of you.

Let’s briefly return to our consideration of the element fire, which this letter brings to a close. Step out to the woodshed with me to grab an armload of logs; spring isn’t here just yet.

In the stove, a draft pulls air through the coals to ignite the logs, which once burning warm the air. Without air there is simply no fire, but fire responds in turn by animating the draft that calls more air in. Call, response, call. The flames that rise from the wood are a conversation.

Thanks for reading along with this vernal installment of Polylith. If you’re in the area, come on over to the Leelanau Township Library in Northport next Tuesday, April 11 at 7pm. I’ll read a few poems and tell a few stories, and I hope a lively conversation will ensue. For you all further afield, your response to these letters is always welcome — I love hearing what thoughts they spark.

Oh, also! Thank you so much to those who ordered a copy of Twenty-One Hymns. There are exactly three copies left in the bookshop, in case you missed it.

Until the next full moon, my friends, breathe in that April air.