New News NOW

Yesterday my friend Marcia Meier posted a very interesting quote on Facebook, and a lively discussion followed. Here’s the quote:

John Updike said, “No amount of learned skills can substitute for the feeling of having a lot to say, of bringing news. Memories, impressions, and emotions from your first 20 years on earth are most writers’ main material; little that comes afterward is quite so rich and resonant. By the age of 40, you have probably mined the purest veins of this precious lode; after that, continued creativity is a matter of sifting the leavings.

“Oh, wow!” I responded, “disagree, disagree, disagree! Wild, rich, new News after fifty! New experiences, new expansion, new material, new and much more original writing!”

Why is it so common to believe that all one’s News comes from the first 20 years of life, that that one mines this lode  for the rest of one’s life as a writer?

The truth is, I have changed more radically since I turned 50 — have leapt off more cliffs and found myself flying, have loved more new people and had more new experiences, have broken open and broken my heart in completely unexpected ways — have  created new News to report upon, over and over — than I ever dreamed of when I was 20 or 30.

And not only have I found new News to write about, I have found new ways to write about it. Every day I work to write more and more like no one else but me.

Because why bother to write a poem that somebody else could write? And why bother to live a life that somebody else could live?

To those starting out, soon or late, I say: you don’t have to be in a hurry. You don’t have to get in a rut, especially a rut involving literary circles and literary reputations.

Updike did. He lost the freedom to change who he was, to experiment with his own being. He was a great writer, but he never got to write from what might have been new News. What a tragedy, to feel you’re just “sifting the leavings.”

One of the delightful things about being “old” — especially being an “old woman,” but that’s a subject for another blog — is that you fly under the radar. No one cares enough to watch. You’re free! Free not only to write any way you want, but free to BE any way you want.

Free to experiment with your own self. Try this, try that. Surf the waves. Fail. Make a fool of yourself!

What does that sound like? It sounds like what went on in those first 20 years.

Because RIGHT NOW is just brimming with News to report on! Completely NEW News!

And if this is the way it feels to be on the downhill slope, all I can say is, Woo Hoo! What a ride!





Spring by Cazenovia Creek

Spring by Cazenovia Creek

The roses have come through
though some are dead to the ankles.
Now, in this cheerful air
they must be feeling pain
where the dead places are stretched
by little flames of juice –

when it catches they burn
burgundy and green and green.

Greek Persephone
in her dry meadows
could linger, could fritter
picking orchids and anemones

but here
earth turns faster
we are all in a hurry –
the hooves, the wheels
are upon you –

breed! breed!
before the dark.

One morning the sky is full of noise
and here they come, yonking
along the creek, circling down, skidding
on the icy sedge, checking it out,
settling in.

A few stragglers –
Hey, you got any room down there?
No! Get lost!

and suddenly
it’s a neighborhood.

Everywhere up and down the road –
yelling their wares beside mailboxes,
along driveways and porches –

forsythia and Schiaparelli-colored quinces –
and tulips and daffodils,
yellow and orange and purple
and scarlet poppies the size of sunflowers
their ripe black hearts already spilling seed

and chartreuse maple leaves untwirling
over the dark mud and slick gray sheen of ice.

The whole world is trumpets bellowing
as loudly as they can,
and not in any tune but their own

none of it composed or assonant
or orchestrated or seemly –
everything just roostering out

because they cannot wait!
they have to ring the bells and shout
Yes! Yes!

The green dog runs beside me
following his pleasure,
circling back from time to time
from rocky places or it may be

and he is green because
new grass is springing, fine and thick
through the old guard hairs

on his back, which is redolent
of sun and dust and bitter herbs

and he says
Smell Here Now.

It’s like you turn your head
for a moment or close your eyes
for a moment, like the pig-iron-
colored frost still has it all locked
for a moment longer and then

faster than you can catch in your wide
palms, in your wide eyes –

saffron-veined crocuses pushing through the ice,
then clouds of crabapples and willows
and mauve rhododendrons
and the cherry tree pouring down snow
into pools of grape hyacinths and forget-me-nots

and lilies of the valley, smelling
like that dream you had about the angel,

and purple irises and lilacs in clusters
of scented grapes, and wisteria –
and suddenly every roadside white and purple
with daisies and wild phlox

and then all along the fence,
fat mops of peonies, as big as your head,
and Renoir-fleshed roses, all
pink shoulders and gold ribbons,
and the lilies already two feet high –

and you are spinning around
to catch it inside your eyes before –

but it won’t stop,
it is galloping downhill, days
like catherine wheels –

everything roistering, everything
busy being what it exactly
is, just as fatly and deliciously
as possible – like little pigs grunting
and sucking it up through their feet,
mouths open to the rain, to the held hose

and you would cry Wait!
but you’re already twelve miles
down the road
and suddenly it’s

Fig-ripe, falling open,   
heavy-breasted, deliquescing.

Melon sky, lightning-split
spitting seeds of thunder.

Caught in the grasses,
light, light, light!

Sugar shimmering in the veins.
On the skin, a slick of sweet.

Travel Instructions for Elmwood Avenue

Travel Instructions for Elmwood Avenue

You leave the sepia light of the tea restaurant,
lapsang and peony, earth and green twig,
continuo of quiet human voices.

Outside is rain, fat frying, damp exhaust, sputum,
spit of tires on a wet street, brakes tuned
to the pulse of streetlights: green, amber, red, green.

You blunder, glasses fringed with rainbows,
until your own hands swim out before you —
greeny in the headlights, strange as ectoplasm.

Light laps from shattered planes of reflection,
emerges and re-emerges from sheeting brilliance.
Dimension becomes dimension, a turned fan.

Now darkness hums like a bowed string,
anchored somewhere you cannot see,
one end floating here in the spinning world

and what has always sung from around the corner
is no longer apart from you —
it is here, upon you — that blaze of tenderness!