Saturday, February 18, 2012

total submersion: whitmanesque

david hockney, 2 figures
i did exactly two productive things today, because i don't suppose binge-watching 6 episodes of sons of anarchy on netflix counts, does it?  (unless, of course, it's "research" for a "creative project" i'm "working on.")

1)  i took the kids swimming at the provo rec center and

2) i did a first read through on a batch of poems for a poetry contest i'm judging.

and there was some overlap between the two events.

i was dreading that moment when you take off your wet swimming suit and change into dry clothes.  i hate the rolling down of it the, wriggling around of it, and the cold air of it.  i'm a gal who likes her comforts.

in the olden days, i loved swimming and spent many hours a day in the pool (my mother, with her seven kids, had a great scam going with the city swim program.  she signed us all up for every kind of available lesson--water ballet, stroke technique, diving, jr. lifeguarding, swim team--so we would bike to the pool at seven a.m. and return home around noon with green hair and red eyes having learned how to shell, pike, butterfly, racing dive, give mouth-to-mouth, dolphin kick, interval train, and squeeze visine into our eyes).  as an adult, just plain old swimming such a troublesome activity for me.  perhaps this hearkens back to my post from yesterday about hating unscheduled days.

i got programmed early on to push, push, push--the stop watch, the reps, the technique, practice, and life saving.  it all seemed urgent and important and absolutely unthinkable to say, "i don't like this."

so, there i was today, floundering in the existential pool of a saturday afternoon in february, and in the outdated and not very exciting actual pool of the provo rec center with a few other people who didn't have anything better to do on president's day weekend, when i decided to teach my kids the games we used to play when i was a kid--those would be silence, marco polo, water ballet, handstand, peace pipe, and shark tag.

then i tried something i used to work on obsessively as a kid: walking down the slope of the pool into the deep end.

you can't do it, but you can try.

as i submerged over and over, i loved the muffled underwater sounds and the changed way of seeing that happens when you try to peer across the pool while underwater.  the sudden shift in all sensation  that takes your full attention--you immediately see, hear, feel, and breathe differently.

it's dramatic and full-bodied.

when i arrived home, my batch of poetry contest poems was in the mailbox;  i got nervous opening them.  it feels like a big responsibility knowing that you're going to be the source of disappointment for 95% of the poets in the envelope.  & i try to be a fair and conscientious reader.

so i went through the list of criteria in my head:  attention to image, attention to sound, attention to line, attention to language, maybe even form if the poem is not too obnoxious in its formality.

then i remembered that sensation of sudden submersion i had at the pool today.

& realized that's what i want to feel when i read a great poem--a sudden change in every physical senstion, an absolute attention to the poem, and that satisfying feeling that it's just you and the water, or you and the poem, and if you could, you'd stay like that forever.

if i come across one like that in the batch, i'll give it a first.

so here's a poem that always, and, utterly, sensates,  & takes my breath away, & submerges me in the here and now.

hope you love it too:

from The Sleepers

by Walt Whitman 

I see a beautiful gigantic swimmer swimming naked through the eddies of the sea,
His brown hair lies close and even to his head, he strikes out with courageous arms, he urges himself with his legs,
I see his white body, I see his undaunted eyes,
I hate the swift-running eddies that would dash him head-foremost on the rocks.

What are you doing you ruffianly red-trickled waves?
Will you kill the courageous giant? will you kill him in the prime of his middle-age?

Steady and long he struggles,
He is baffled, bang’d, bruis’d, he holds out while his strength holds out,
The slapping eddies are spotted with his blood, they bear him away, they roll him, swing him, turn him,
His beautiful body is borne in the circling eddies, it is continually bruis’d on rocks,
Swiftly and out of sight is borne the brave corpse.

legwear:  grey jeans
inspiration:  underwater time
looking forward:  to c. coming home 

p.s.--another text that really submerged me this week was julie's post about her kidney-shaped pool lie.  it's been haunting me.  read it if you haven't already.


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  2. Shelling!!!! Lara, I love, love, love this, and I did not mention how much I love, love, love the Melville poem cycle you published. Did I ever tell you that when I first went to my midwife when I was pregnant with Thomas she showed me my cervix and said I could tell by looking at it that I was pregnant because it would look like a puckered mouth? I thought that was so cool.

  3. Lara, I just read recently that a poem should read you. But did you say this? I'm always amazed at how contemporary Whitman feels--like a voice over your shoulder. I feel like Whitman and I would have been great friends. Hey, what's this poetry contest you're judging?

    A great post, btw.