Jul 4, 2012

Adrienne Rich's "Dreamwood," Poems, Maps, Independence Day

Somewhere in NW Pennsylvania

Detroit River, Ambassador Bridge to Canada
What is a poem? Maybe that has nothing to do with America's Independence Day, or maybe it does. Isn't a country both dirt and idea? Aren't its literal, legal policies also symbolic and evocative? 

Doesn't the U.S., like many nations, invite small journeys as well as larger, life-changing ones? How might we map those movements, or otherwise "report" on them? 
So, what is a poem? Any number of poets and essayists have been bold or foolhardy enough to approach that question. On that subject, here is “Dreamwood” by Adrienne Rich, who died last March. The poem doesn’t try to be a final, complete, or exclusive answer; rather, it’s one woman’s experience with thinking, dreaming, writing, mapping and making life choices. As I hear it, the poem steps up to grand, or grandiose, topics,
Renaissance Center, GM Headquarters, Detroit

and modestly replies, “Well, here’s my experience with writing—a literal, wooden, gouged typing stand and some larger experiences or imaginings to which the wood has led me. Maybe you'll think it's all worth something.”  Dreamwood by Adrienne Rich : Poetry Magazine

Granville, Ohio

In the following passage from the poem’s middle, what do you think Adrienne Rich means by “the one great choice”?  Or, “touristic choices”?  Are “distances blued and purpled by romance” positive or negative things—in the poem and in your personal associations with that image?

            not a map of choices but a map of variations
            on the one great choice. It would be the map by which
            she could see the end of touristic choices,
            of distances blued and purpled by romance . . .

Rt. 285, Southeastern Ohio
Author after author has said that writing is a matter of journey and discovery, not a pre-planned, safe, omniscient, goal-oriented walk-through of a pre-planned, safe destination. How dreary that would be. Robert Frost said, famously, "No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader," and surprise is a major reason we go to poetry.

We are surprised that the poet has felt and thought more or less what we have about important human experiences, but we're intrigued by the writer's clever or moving phrasing—more clever or moving or musical than ours could ever be. We’re fascinated and maybe awed by the poet’s unexpected yet apt comparisons and thorough, thoughtful, precise understanding of the subject. Whether or not the poem posits answers, the author has probably looked difficult realities in the eye better than we have. 

Rebekah Long,  Cafe Eleven, St. Augustine Beach, FL:   one woman’s experience with thinking, dreaming, writing, mapping 
And yes, Bettertry, I'm posting that damn red, white and blue building again! It was part of a very pleasant journey through an unspectacular, green, evocative place.     Dreamwood by Adrienne Rich : Poetry Magazine
Kellys Pizza & Cones, Rt. 314, Chesterville, Oho


Stickup Artist said...

This makes me think about something of which I often critique myself. She sees a desert landscape in her desk, which transports her well beyond the desk. I wish I had that ability and try to cultivate it. Unsuccessfully so far. Touristic adventures satisfy me greatly. I'm drawn to the actual desert or mountain or ocean to make my point. I wish I could do so with what is at hand, familiar, overlooked, and "mundane." I envy her...

Have a wonderful 4th!

Banjo52 said...

Happy Fourth to you too, Stickup.

I'll tell you something that works wonders for me and some others. Maybe it's so obvious that you didn't mention it. It's simply this: close your eyes. What I see with my eyes closed is ridiculously different from and often better than what I see the ordinary way.

Also, maybe Rich is talking as much about internal, psychological journeys and maps as external ones? But closing the eyes might work for that as well.

Anonymous said...

I like Frost quote, but I think it's: "No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader."

Pasadena Adjacent said...

When I was forced to attend church as a child, I would count every payne of glass, every lightbulb every "every" but I never attached meaning to it. Adult boredom carries a punch.

Coincidental that I should be reading this poem - yesterday I was at the famous Vasquez Rocks. I was jealously looking at the progress of a commission I didn't get. Anyhow, I found my way into the mobile unit they were calling the temporary nature center. Started up a conversation with one of the rangers. It wasn't the Indian artifacts, the recent grinding stone they had dug up while creating a septic tank... it was a single old beat up oak chair that got my attention. I pointed it out, tipped it over to see if it was marked LA City Property (it was). She said it would take a great deal of work to bring it back to it's former glory, and I said I wouldn't. I saw the wear, the gounges etc. And I wondered how that single chair - like the one I saw at a swap meet, a restoration shop, a(???) landed in the desert.

So yeah, why not take form and projections - combine them and put it in a blog, make a poem out of it, connect the dots or call it the late report.

btw: a recent comment-ee replied to your Cloud Eye Control critique

Birdman said...

Thanks for throwing in that Frost quote. Never seen it. Love the images that accompany your words.

Banjo52 said...

AH, I checked 4 sources. Two favored you, one me, and one split the difference. I'm gonna look for it in the 1960 Paris Review interview where it occurred.

PA, wood in the desert, another mysterious journey.

Birdman, you're welcome and thank you. I'm surprised I didn't find and keep the Frost earlier than I did (maybe 15 years ago).

Birdman and PA, the surprise business--if you think it's a valid point on Frost's part, do you think it also applies to painting, photography and other arts? And do you think it runs the risk of advocating surprise over substance--shock value? Reinventing the wheel no matter how well the old one worked?

Rune Eide said...

I find that it begs the Question; What is a map? I have recently watched a TV-series (from BBC I think) about the history of maps, and I found the line "not a map of choices but a map of variations" very fitting here. So I suggest that like the mapmaker starting out looking for variations - so does the poet.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

oooooh I like that RuneE

Banjo52 said...

Me too, Rune, though I might lose sleep thinking about the differences. But whether we're talking choices or variations, the big and great question you pose is, "What is a map?"

By the way, I was looking at a map of Great Britain this morning and saw how much closer you are to Scotland than I ever realized.

Kitty said...

Banjo, I so enjoy reading the poems you bring us, and the comments from everyone! Though I think mornings are not so good for me in terms of comprehension, haha ;-)

This poem seemed simple to read and in that way it was deceptive. Only when I read it a second time and third did the meanings of the words sink in (again, maybe my cloudy head), and in that way it was wonderful. Sort of like when your eyes gloss over a photo or drawing, then go back to it and see the hidden wealth there. Like 'aha, if I only looked harder, I could see the depth and wealth of this world'.

Thank you again, dear. A lovely start to my morning!!

Banjo52 said...

Kitty, thanks. Poems are best absorbed slowly--and repeatedly. Of course, sometimes there's not enough there to pull us through all that, but we both seem to think this one's worth our time.

Lovers' Lane