Young stars

Everything in the heart is a burning device. Ovens, tiki torches, gas lighters, camp stoves, soldering tool, water heater, mosquito coil, hot glue gun, toaster. You know which your loved ones are.

Device and desire are so close, when we are moving around in a piece of creative work.

Using rhyme or a steady line, or image and repetition, a poem carries thoughts on the wind, like a hawk balanced on its two wings. The desire to soar higher, balanced against the device: to keep sharp eyes on what we seek.

The wind over the last couple of days has been rattling doors, bending winter trees in the back garden, and pushing clouds over the brink. Last night, the stars seemed to be burning even brighter with the fanning of such brisk wind. I walked faster with numbed fingers, holding leash and flashlight in one hand so the other could be warmed in my pocket. The heart lights up from the inside.

Most of our feelings pass by almost unnoticed. If we reflect back, we can think about our emotions, but it’s not the same as understanding the emotion in the moment. The cloud passing over a star has no knowledge of what it is obscuring, or how it is suddenly lit at its edges. I was struck by this in Satyajit Ray’s films, which I’ve just begun to explore. How fleet and sweet a true feeling is.

Click to watch this phenomenal kathak performance from The Music Room. (Copyright barred embedding of this video here)

If you watch this clip from Ray’s The Music Room, observe the rapt expressions of those watching the dance performance. In the film, there’s a magical, beautiful connecting thread between the protagonist’s experiences of music performance and of his world. The complexity of loss and the complex way that these emotions burn is woven incredibly finely in the film.

Then watch the dancer, Roshan Kumari. She owned this dance. When I saw this, I felt that I had never seen kathak before. Which is probably because everything I’ve seen is just a copy of what she blazed.

How do we know whether what we are creating in our work is true and original, or just a copy, just a derivative, just a version of what we’ve seen and experienced in the arts?

I think the better question is whether we are paying attention to the real and complicated emotions that light up the world around us. Are we in tune with them? Are we giving them more space in the world by practicing our art?

This poem by Rae Armantrout is the most direct I’ve ever seen her in describing an emotional state.

by Rae Armantrout (in NYRB 12.08.2022)

A full-blown
at the end of its
long, thin stem
is the only lamp

this morning;

a blend
of anger and longing--


having nowhere to go,


"Hitch your wagon
to a star,"

a man said.

Anything that burns.

She is one of the most generous and hopeful poets, though her work often seems obscure. But I think she honors the complexity of the most elusive emotions by letting them pass without judgment. Her asterisk here is a star — a device that hitches up the poem and turns it from solitude to presence and witness.

That’s the mark of true art.

If you want to make… an imagist poem

Where is the light in your poem? I like to observe the way different poets navigate that in their work. Start with a list of specific lights (desk lamps, celestial objects, screens, etc), and then begin a poetic line with one of them. Use a synecdoche somewhere in the poem.

synecdochea figure of speech in which a part of something is used to represent the whole, e.g. “wheels” for “car.”
from The Poetry Classroom, Harvard University

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s