Zen is essentially about rebirth from the experience of Being. Zen teaches us…to “taste” divine Being in the here-and-now. But to have this experience and have it validly, we must first discard the old consciousness, which has hardened into habit and determines the way we think and act.  ~Karlfried Graf Dürckheim

Discarding the old consciousness…changing habits…not the easiest of tasks, but one that will keep us fresh, I think. I am drawn to poetry when it surprises me–with unlikely juxtapositions, unusual or melodic words, or unexpected rhythms. Perhaps such poetry plunges me into experience, the Being that Dürckheim talks about.

I was disappointed when I attended a poetry workshop with Amy Clampitt several years ago. She critiqued my submitted poem harshly, complaining (as best I could understand) that the world didn’t need another poem about a photograph, and that what I needed was experience.

Here is the poem. Tell me what you think.

After the Fishing Trip, 1953

Swayback with the weight of a child
unborn and of salt-water bass
hung by the gills on each middle finger,
my mother poses with painted fingernails
in front of an empty playpen on the grass.
Her eyes are deep, black,
and I wonder who caught those fish.
My father (I imagine)
snaps the picture and takes the fish
to slit their stomachs on the scaling table.
Perhaps he frees a lucky fiddler crab
that needs no help to find its way home.




8 Responses to Experience

  1. Meander says:

    well…i like it! it is a snapshot in time and is highly visual. you just keep writing and don’t let people persuade you otherwise.

  2. quotesqueen says:

    Thanks for the kind words and for visiting!

  3. Teresa says:

    i love it, and think maybe Amy should stick to critiques of Uncle Jed and Ellie May.

  4. quotesqueen says:

    Wheeeeeee doggies! 🙂

  5. marcys says:

    Amy Clampitt should be barred from teaching…what she said is not only idiotic, it just isn’t what a teacher tells a student. I’m a big critiquer and a slash/burn editor–of prose. I don’t think poetry should be edited or poets told to change their poems: a poem is a feeling. A feeling is always valid. And besides, I like your poem. There isn’t a thing “wrong” with it.

  6. Bill says:

    old photograph
    my wife’s face
    before she knew mine

    (Anthologized in “A New Resonance 5: Emerging Voices in English Language Haiku,” Red Moon Press, 2007).

    The function of a poetry teacher (or workshop participant) is to help you find the path to your poem, not to put up signs that say “Road Closed.”

  7. Claudia says:

    I agree with Teresa….she should stick to Jud and Ellie Mae. The poem speaks of your experience of what you felt looking at the photo. Don’t go to any more of her workshops, just let Teresa and I tell you what to do.

  8. Love this thread. I wonder sometimes why people choose to be critics–what a horrible life. It almost seems like it’s “in style” to bash people right now because it looks “smart & zippy,” and like one is being savvy and sophisticated–have you noticed this? But reading your poem makes me want to respond to you, it opens a little window into you and into your parents that I would not have seen otherwise. I want to hear more! I guess I’m completely puzzled by Clampitt’s response–or non-response, and I think it reveals her own confusion and lack of clarity. How can she possibly think her critique was helpful to you?

    You know, all too often what we think about someone else or their work is a projection of our inner turmoil. Your critic doesn’t “get” you, isn’t trying to “see” you, but is really saying something about herself. I think Bill really said it well–she ought to have tuned into your voice and facilitated that rather than shutting you down. How damaging!!! PLEASE keep writing poetry.

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