Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Poetically Painting the Same Planet Twice

Today is the birthday of Claude Monet, the man who "spent the rest of his career exploring the idea that you can never really see the same thing twice. In a single day, he would often paint the same subject half a dozen times, from slightly different angles and in slightly different light, spending no more than about an hour on each canvas" (quote from today's entry on The Writer's Almanac website).

Some days, I feel like I'm doing something similar in aspects of my writing, but that bit of knowledge about Monet gives me hope.  I often think, oh, honestly, how long can I keep writing about the dullness of the modern office and still have people be interested?  The popularity of Monet's water lilies gives me hope that it can be done.

I'm also intrigued by the fact that Monet planned and planted the water lily gardens that gave him his subject for the last 30 years of his life.  It makes me wonder about my own artistic life.  How can I surround myself with inspiration?

I've been reading Craig Childs, a writer who gives me that inspiration.  What a poetic science writer!

In his latest book, Apocalyptic Planet, he visits places on the globe that are already experiencing the kind of events that could wipe out life on our planet.  For example, the first chapter has him making his way through an intense desert landscape.  Last night, as I became too exhausted to read, he was exploring an iceberg.

Even when he's writing about impending loss, he's got such a beautiful style.  He talks of his surprise at touching a melting iceberg and finding it cold.  He considers the iceberg:  "Was this some poor, dying wastrel, or was it getting what the ice always wanted, turned back into liquid after thousands of years of being chained into a molecular solid, now freed drip by drip?" (p. 42).

The book is also chock full of scientific facts, all sorts of information I didn't know about deserts, about the history of the earth, about the planet.  Fascinating!

Childs has been here before.  He has led the kind of life that makes me both envious and anxious.  He's the type of guy who sets out on foot, without the latest equipment, with just his knowledge and a walking stick to get him where he needs to go.  I remember reading The Secret Knowledge of Water, which explores the idea of water in the desert.

The earth has been here before too.  The planet has survived die-offs even greater than the Holocene Extinction we're experiencing now.  Of course, that's little comfort when we consider all the species gone forever.

I wonder what kind of poems will come from reading Childs' latest book.  After I read The Secret Knowledge of Water, I wrote the poem below, which was published in The Ledge.

Floods and Desert Canyons

My friends assume I’m dry
and barren. They do not know of my secret
spots, a cup of water here, a pool
collected there. An occasional visit
from you keeps me hydrated.

I boil away with my own dreams and ideas.
I blaze with words, my surfaces
too hot to touch. My pitiless gaze
burns as I survey my culture,
dream of new life forms.

You surge through my carefully constructed canyons.
In a matter of minutes, you change the landscape,
sweep away the detritus.
You carve me into intricate
forms, unconsidered before I met your force.

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