Interviewing poet Ellen Bass for Bay Area publication, the wonderful and amazing Poetry Flash… coverage of the West Coast poetry scene, circulation 20,000. PF edited by Joyce Jenkins and Richard Silberg, both unusually generous poets, i.e., open to other peoples’ work… generosity of spirit is a gift, a grace not always present in the people who make up “the little world of poetry.” I’d include in that number, the “generous and gifted,” our Santa Cruz neighbor, our friend Ellen Bass. She’s listened to and critiqued my work, and I’d count her among my mentors. So it is I chose to interview her, so it is I hold in my hand The Human Line, her sixth collection of poetry, one praised by Billy Collins as “frighteningly personal poems about sex, love, birth, motherhood, and aging…”
As a writer, I sometimes ponder the workings of The Imagination, whatever that is. As more and more of what I see of the world strikes me as surreal, as the surreal, in a sense, has begun to seem so “ordinary…” I sometimes wish to employ my imagination as a way of calming down, of steadying the whirling of just about everything. I once took pleasure in the fever of imagining. Now I take pleasure in imagining the world (nature, politics, people…) as, well, a little more stable, and that’s not the right word either. I sometimes think the only imagination you need is the ability to witness things “as they are,” to record, honestly and accurately, that most run-of-the-mill, the most every day / mundane… just as it appears. That, at some level, that’s all the imagination you need. In short, you don’t need to smoke and drink and hallucinate… you only need to see and have achieved some mastery of your craft (as writer or painter…) to do justice to your calling.
There’s nothing less believable than reality, but made up stories generally make sense.
That’s what I think today.
Saying this badly, I suppose, but in reading Ellen Bass’s “Sleeping in My Mother’s Bed,” the opening poem in The Human Line,
“…I lie in her bed
like a fork on a folded napkin,
perfectly still and alone…”
I’m moved by the poem, moved by those lines and, for myself, have no answer to the question: What is the line, if any, between such description and metaphor? And I think one reason I am moved by this poem, and those lines, is they’re so utterly natural, utterly believable… I see what the poet is saying… there’s an immediate impact certain lines have, certain poems… I sometimes call it “the ring of truth.” Ellen’s book, The Human Line, has about it… from beginning to end, “the ring of truth.”
Sleeping With You
Is there anything more wonderful?
After we have floundered
through our separate pain
we come to this. I bind myself to you,
like otters wrapped in kelp, so the current
will not steal us as we sleep.
Through the night we turn together,
rocked in the shallow surf,
pebbles polished by the sea.
© BOA Editions, Ltd 2002