July 4, 2011

A Scattering of Flashcards

After deciding against it, I've changed my mind about applying to Ph.D. programs in the fall. I was discouraged, initially, to learn that one of the programs I hoped to apply to (the same school where Brandon will be attending) wants a 95 percentile on the GRE, which felt very much beyond my reach. I did very average the last time I took the GRE. I don't test well at all, and despite being a poet, my vocabulary is pretty conventional. Like Frost, I prefer the common language, the every man's speech. 

But I was elated to discover that the GRE has been revamped, and starting this fall, will no longer (among other things) have analogies and other out-of-context vocabulary, which will help substantially. So I've been spending the last few weeks studying vocab. I've got various stacks of flashcards littering my room. I also re-read D.A. Powell's Cocktails, which is one of my favorites. Here's a sample of the list of words I made from its final section:  Pyx. Dhisced. Tonsure. Cowls. Spurtle. Anaphylaxis. Exuviae. Heparin. Sigmoidoscope. Intubation. Viaticum. Orval. Exsiccated. Berm. Mammillated. Carbuncled. Byssus. The list goes on and on, and even though not all these words are ETS GRE - type words, it's been fun to push myself in that way.

I've been so comfortable using such pedestrian language in my poems, and reading a book as great as Cocktails presents me with the challenge of using these more dazzling, specific words. Additionally, I've started a six month challenge to read a book from an international poet a week. I've read so little of the poetry canon, and most of what I've read has been published in American post-1980. I've read the anthologized work of earlier poets, and all of Whitman, and a scattering of modernists, but when it comes to international poets, I fall flat after Lorca and Neruda. Week One,  I read Mahmoud Darwish's Eleven Plants, translated by Fady Joudah (whose Earth in the Attic I loved). Initially, I struggled with how little narrative elements there were (no characters, no setting), but I grew to love it. I'm too drawn to the narrative sphere of poetry. Sometimes I need to let poetry be poetry, to make strange leaps, to make more sonic sense than linear and comprehensive sense, to deal more with the heart than the head. Here's a great sample from the third section of Darwish's poem "The 'Red Indian's' Penultimate Speech to the White Man" that does just that:
                                                         ...You will lack the lily of longing, you will lack, white ones, a memory that tames the horses of madness and a heart that scratches the rock to burnish itself on the violin's will lack the confusion of the gun: if murder is imperative, then do not kill the animals that have befriended us, and do not kiss our yesterday you will lack a truce with our ghosts in the barren winter nights and you will lack a dim sun, a gibbous moon, for the crime to appear less festive on the movie screen, so take your time to kill God"

The restaurant out of which I catered for burned down this past week, and so once again I'm unemployed. I have a tutoring gig lined up for August, and since I'm headed to Maine and Georgia for most of July, I think I will enjoy the time to learn new words, read new poets, and write better poems.


In other news, I had a birthday, which I celebrated with good people, champagne, and shortcake. Last night, I went on a sunset bike ride (on my new peugeot!) around the shore of Lake Mendota, and onto a peninsula which is a breeding ground for lightning bugs. This week, many of my housemates leave, and the cats continue to bring them parting gifts of rabbit hearts, livers, and heads.