Interstitial Moment:

I have been writing a poem a day for three years. Sometimes I get a little help from my friends. My writers’ group has workshopped a number of my poems (the ones I consider salvageable, that is. You write that many poems in a year and unless you are Emily Dickinson, the majority of them are duds)

And sometimes I get help from unexpected places.

Many of my poems have been prompted by things that are in Terri Windling’s blog, once called “The Drawing Board” and now called “Myth and Moor.” Terri is a longtime friend, editor (of my book BRIAR ROSE, among other things), artist, author herself. She is a myth goddess, one of the originators of the Interstitial Arts movement.

Recently in one of her postings I wrote this:

Between

See the space between mountains,
the moment between drops of water,
the instant between bird foot touching sand
and the track it leaves behind.
Watch the hesitation between beats
of hummingbird’s wings,
the infinity between earthquake
and aftershock. See the space
between brush and painting,
between word and story,
between bullet and the beating heart.

And while several people on the blog liked it, I was troubled with a couple of lines. I addressed the problem after one fellow, Austin Hackney (assume nothing from his last name, he is smart and a good writer and a Commedia del Arts guy) wrote this to me: “Jane, your poem is a nugget. And that last line really packed a punch, jolting me out of meditation into awakening. Great stuff.

I answered him this way and a conversation about revision was born: “Thanks, Austin, I have three thoughts about this poem: first it’s a kind of antiphonal response to your piece yesterday. Second, I really have to figure out a way not to have “beats” and “beating” in the same poem. Awake quite a bit this night trying to decide if “timid heart” or “living heart” or some other adjective might serve the poem as well or even better. Third: isn’t it strange the way a poem you think is going in one direction suddenly veers off in another. This became a different creature when the last line leaked out of my fingertips onto the keys.”  We didn’t have to reference the Newtown tragedy. It was only a week old at the time.

He responded: “Jane,I have one or perhaps two thoughts in response to your three thoughts…If one of the beats has to beat it, then I’d make it the beat of the hummingbird’s wings and leave the beating heart. Much of the punch in the phrase comes through the resonance between its rational meaning and the punctuation the alliteration gives to the rhythm, if that makes sense.

I’m really no poet, no poet at all – but might tentatively suggest an alternative to the wing beat…’Watch the hesitation on the turn of a hummingbird’s wing.’ If there’s any hesitation in hummingbird flight then it is on that moment that barely exists on the turn of the wing – as they don’t properly beat but gyrate their wings in a figure of eight pattern.”

Wow, I immediately thanked him. I mean, it was lightbulb time. I’d known that about hummingbirds, but checked it out in one of my bird books just to be sure. Then I told him thanks, adding: “Haven’t workshopped this poem with my writers group since we won’t be meeting again until January. You have helped a LOT. (I had been considering doing something with hummingbird’s wing but hadn’t gotten as far along as you have led me. Thanks for being a spirit guide.”

And then I began to wrestle with the line. I didn’t want to do it exactly as he had suggested, but close. I went through iterations, including mentioning that a figure eight is also the scientific sign for infinity. Even tried using the word infinity but liked it better in the next line where it is the key between earthquake and aftershock. Then I realized I could get a sneaky backdraft from the word which scientists and birdlovers and poet fanciers could understand with an extra frisson of recognition. And in the end, the poem goes like this, with thanks to Austin. And as someone else noted on the blog, “Just realised the happy coincidence of your combined names.”

See the space between mountains,
the moment between drops of water,
the instant between bird foot touching sand
and the track it leaves behind.
Watch the stutter in the turn
of a hummingbird’s wings,
the infinity between earthquake
and aftershock. See the space
between brush and painting,
between word and story,
between bullet and the beating heart.

©2012 Jane Yolen, all rights reserved

 

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