My Third Novel's Conclusion, My Heartbreak

My heart begins to break when I think about completing this particular book -- because this narrative has sustained me like no other story I've known. It's both more personal and more universal than my other works. But beyond memory and archetype, it's a cri-de-coeur about needing to become the person one is destined to be. And in the writing, I have met my own life's work, my own fated journey -- having the sense all the while that the pages are suffused with a resonance, an energy, an electrified field that defies explanation. Writers hope and pray to be overtaken by a work in this way -- to be conscripted into passionate service of a profound story. To experience it even once in a lifetime seems a great privilege. I still have perhaps six months before this novel is complete, and this constitutes my reprieve. Because I'm not ready for the beauty to end.

Monday, May 14, 2018

The Poet's Quest

I seek out evocative poetry when I'm writing fiction.  It's a quest of my soul to find the piercing image, the lyrical phrase, the resonant epiphany that compelled the poet to give life to verse.  And, because my current novel is set on Cape Cod, I recalled the sensuous poem, "Quahogs," which appeared in The New Yorker two years ago.

I'll post it here for a short time in the hope you might acquaint yourselves with the rest of Frank Gaspar's work.  I grew up watching the ritual of clamming, and even participating in it a few times -- and it's as salty and cold and wearying and delicious and transcendent as the poet describes.

                                     Quahogs
                                           by
                                    Frank Gaspar

It was for the wind as much as anything.  It was for the tidal flats, for the miles of bars and and the freezing runs between them, blued and darkened in the withering gusts.  For the buckets, for the long-tined rakes.  For our skin burning and the bones beneath, all their ache.  For the bent backs, for the huddle toward warmth beneath our incapable layers, how we beat ourselves with our arms.  The breath we blew, the narrow steam that spun away.  How we searched their tell-draggle marks.  Then the feel of them as we furrowed.  Then it was surgery and force together.  Like stones.  Opal or pearl or plain rock, ugly except they were beautiful, their whorls and purple stains.  The bucket's wire cutting with their weight.  For the sky blazing, its sinking orange fire.  For the sky's black streaks with night rising, winter-sudden.  Back, shoreward, home, the tide creeping like a wolf.  For the little stove warming, its own orange fire.  The old pot, the steam, the air in savor, the close room, the precious butter, the blue fingers throbbing, our bodies in all the customs of weariness, the supper, succulent of the freezing dark sea come up, and hunger, its own happiness, its own domain immeasurable,  It was for the hunger.


12 comments:

  1. I've seen people clamming before and it always looks like idyllic New England. This poem captures it so well!

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    1. I watched some clamming this fall, while kayaking in West Falmouth Harbor. Brilliant trees -- an azure sky -- the rakes, the wire baskets, the clams falling like stones -- absolute poetry, yes.

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  2. I'm confused about the difference between quahogs and clams. Can you clarify?

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    1. They are one and the same. "Quahog" is the Native American term for "clam."

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  3. I'll be on Martha's Vineyard this summer, so this is something I'm going to try. Lane, do you want to join me?

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    1. Thanks for the invitation, Marcus. That's a lovely thought.

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  4. This is a remarkably beautiful poem. Thank you for bringing Frank Gaspar to my attention.

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  5. This poem makes me nostalgic for Cape Cod. I've got to find a way to go back to Chatham and Provincetown sometime soon.

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    1. Great towns, both.

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  6. May I ask why you read poetry while you're writing fiction? You read fiction as well during your periods of work?

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    1. I read both, AJ. I find that reading poetry nurtures my lyricism -- so I'm always searching for evocative poems. Fiction reflects directly on structural and character elements for me, although I love finding fiction that incorporates poetic language line by line.

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