At the very beginning of her sensibly provocative guide, The Writing Life, Annie Dillard describes the process:
When you write, you lay out a line of words. The line of words is a miner’s pick, a woodcarver’s gouge, a surgeon’s probe. … You make the path boldly and follow it fearfully. You go where the path leads. At the end of the path, you find a box canyon. You hammer out reports, dispatch bulletins.
The writing has changed, in your hands, and in a twinkling, from an expression of your notions to an epistemological tool. The new place interests you because it is not clear. You attend. …
Our expectations subverted, we encounter the unknown. The writer who moves forward is, she suggests, more detective than magician — one who is all about the work of observing and investigating, one who patiently gathers up the fragments and recreates their story. It is not always so much what we imagine or believe, but attending to the process of how we come to know and who we find there.
This, I think, is what Lauren Camp honors in her four poems available through World Literature Today — (two poems are available and read aloud online, two are printed in the January/February issue of the magazine). All of this, with her post at the magazine (below) and at her own blog, is a wonderful inviting marketplace of its own. Much is on display; all is offered for the taking. Take, think.
So, in that accompanying post, she describes these poems — part of a larger book project — as her central task in reclaiming and reconstructing her father’s memories of a turbulent Baghdad childhood and subsequent flight to America. She tenderly outlines his long resistance to even the gentlest of her questions. “My father just won’t speak about any of this. His greatest interest is Now.” It is sound itself (as he speaks Arabic words from long ago) that finally offers a way for him to engage with his daughter’s exploration.
The poem, “At the Market in Baghdad, 1940,” describes the daily routine of an elder — family, prayers, the market, animal/vegetable, sounds/scents, sustenance, sharing, honor, gratitude. There is a quiet grace to this man’s life as he carries out his duties and remains humbly surprised at the abundance that surrounds him. This is food.
In writing, we press forward into dark that awaits. With family, we look back toward what has gone dark, after years. Forward and back, grasping the passage of time, we acknowledge a more profound sense of identity, one that is nearly lost in our Facebooked, Twitterfied, world of 24/7/365. The volume, the pace, the anguish.
And yet, I am more than this fleeting moment.
Lauren Camp — poet, teacher, visual and sound artist — is the author of This Business of Wisdom: Poems. She describes her work as “consistently and creatively [using] art, voice, poetry and sound to address social and environmental concerns, and to draw people and communities together.” She blogs about poetry and writing at Which Silk Shirt.