Wednesday, April 6, 2016

A primer on my new book, A Famine of Tears

So you bought my new book of poetry, A Famine of Tears or are considering purchasing it. Or...you purchased it in support of the cause its sale helps, but you could really care less about poetry. Regardless of the reason you bought the book, here is how I suggest (emphasis  on "suggest") you approach your reading of it. Do not read it in one sitting; that would be like consuming a jar of honey all at once. Poetry is compressed emotions. A poem is like a teaspoon of honey, so reading one or two on any given day will suffice. Additionally, as you read my poems, pause at marks of punctuation, not at the end of each line (unless, of course, there is a punctuation mark there). A lot of people do not realize that for the most part poetry follows the rules of writing mechanics. So, pause at punctuation marks, and where none exists maintain your reading pace. Doing this will certainly help to maximize your grasp of the poem's meaning. 

More importantly, there is no hidden meaning in the poems of A Famine of Tears. They are not cryptic; this is not a book of puzzles for you to solve. The words in the poem mean what they say. Stay on the surface. Do not go looking for some mysterious message behind them. Be on the look out for words that relate to the senses. Look for irony, contradictions, comparisons, metaphors, similes, etc., all constructs we use in everyday communication. And above all, do not assume that the voice speaking in each poem is the author's voice. Above all, use your own imagination to picture the images the words paint for you. By doing so you become a co-creator with the writer (me), coming up with your own meaning (not interpretation) as you experience each poem.


My younger daughter once asked (after reading one of my poems) whether most of my poems reflect my encounter with people I meet as I go about my day-to-day activities. My poems are not necessarily about specific individuals or specific encounters. They might hint at these, but the poetic experience is fictional. Each poem is a fusion of images, feelings, or encounters.  In fact "fusion" might not be the correct choice of word here; let us just say that they are more of a mosaic or an overlapping of real or imagined images, feelings, or encounters, so that no specific reality is intended, but a blending of emotions and images that leaves it up to the readers/hearers to recreate the particular reality they desire as they engage my poems.   And by the way, I do not limit the term, "encounters" to physical meetings. These can also include my encounters with the intangible aspects of life itself. 


Consider, for example, my poem, "A Famine of Tears" which, as you might notice, also bears the title of the book. This particular poem was conceived in tears. I was on a subway train one morning on my way to work in New York City. All of a sudden, and without any reason I might have been aware off, I started to cry. Not wanting to be seen crying by the other passengers around me, I turned to face the side door against which I had been leaning and looked out into the darkness of the tunnel as the train sped along. I could not think of anything in particular that precipitated the tears, but all I can recall was that I felt an overwhelming sadness. I immediately whisked out my mobile phone and began to write. "Tears" seemed to be a dominant motif in this piece on account of my immediate experience of crying while on the train. But the little girl - our "little sage," our "teary-eyed prophetess," our "waif," our "barefooted SybilI"? I have no idea from whence in my imagination she came. The "Spare some tears, spare some tears." is a variant of a homeless woman's words I heard several years before my experience on that train. She would walk through the train, and with a slur to her voice, say, "Spare some change, spare some change." So each poem I write emerges from a convocation of my experience, my thoughts, my feelings, and from the images and memories in my mind. I invite you to continue the creative process as you engage the poems in A Famine of Tears.

[photo art by Ric Couchman]