Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Week in Blessings

Apologies to author Ashley Ream, from whom I stole the title for this entry and may again. I hope she will forgive me if I list her first among the many people I've met (blogospherically speaking), and been inspired by since committing to my writing. You can read her blog, follow her on Twitter, and for goodness' sake, buy her book "Losing Clementine." I loved it!

When I hit a dead-end with some poem or another earlier this week, I randomly reached out to a regular reader of my work who happens to live "across the pond." Thanks to my new friend HyperCRYPTICal. I am thrilled and humbled to have (many) readers in the UK, as well as Brazil, India, Germany, France, and Russia. I refuse to believe any of these are spiders, spammers or other nefarious Internet thingies.

I met a fellow poet (Marshall), an amazing artist (Jenn), a great young photographer (Thomas), and a well-connected journalist (Joe) this week -- in each case the conversation was refreshing and the mutual affirmation inspiring. I gotta get out more. 

I tinkered with the design of my blog page, just because I can. Let me know whatcha think.

Friday, May 25, 2012


How long does it take to learn the nuances of your love,
the DNA of her breath and the way clouds cast shadows
over her eyes, so that in the grey light of day she is still
something of night,
something of dreams
that you recall for many years, but only in fragments.

It must take decades, perhaps, to learn such nuances and
so few of us, it seems, have the patience to endure, to
tolerate our own surprise at the smallest of discoveries and 
accept such tiny moments
as the progress of our love.
A simple half-step and there you are.

It takes a lifetime to grasp the simple, longer still to know yourself.

Artists still flock to the Amalfi Coast to capture the
incomprehensible Mediterranean light. Perched on the
fragmented, chaotic cliffs one constantly hedges against
the persistent lure of
tumbling downward, seaward,
ending in the transcendental need to climb back up.

One feels the downward pull, too, of the falls at
Niagara, the existential suction of so much water that
you are left breathless in the perpetual vacuum. Even
there one might observe the
rebellious mist that lifts upward,
miniscule tears of preposterous hope.

Drop your baggage here and you will rise up, too.

Language will eventually fail to provide the words necessary to
describe everything. Left to our silences we will momentarily
accept the world for everything it is and fails to be. Some might
confuse such insight with
enlightenment, forgetting that
at least part of bliss is walking on coals.

On storm-laden days you might see a ray of sunlight that pierces
dark clouds, or filters through spring’s pale leaves at sunset or dawn.
Such rays make even the dying chaff and dirt of forest floors
something to worship.
Something on which to kneel,
bury your fingers, look skyward, cleansed by that singular light.

Let the one who reminds you of sunlight be sunlight.

c. 2012, by Martin A. Bartels (working draft)
Part of my new collection, “Unlanguage.”

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Shelf Life

I'm changing up a bit--I'll continue to publish poems-in-progress on a more or less weekly basis, but will also post regular essays on whatever comes to mind. I hope you enjoy! Feel free to share and comment.

It seems terribly self-conscious when a writer writes about writing. Self-indulgent, too, maybe. But the craft and process demand a kind of discipline that fills pages with words, so that even when you’re not working on the novel or short story or poem, you’re writing. Something has to fill the page. Your fingers keep typing even when you’re not at a computer.

I recently purged a vast quantity of books, first at a big yard sale, then through donations. Over the years I had collected perhaps 1,500 books, not all great, but most of them quite good and memorable. For a long time I had thought of them as friends, but then I came to realize they—along with my even more vast collection of music CDs—represented my graduate studies. I earned my masters degree with Jim Harrison and Tim Robbins, then my PhD from Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Richard Brautigan. Bach, Gorecki, Gershwin, Monk, and hundreds of more contemporary names were more than the soundtrack; they were integral to my studies.

Getting rid of the books and CDs—an act that people (with little understanding of who I am or what a writer does) often recommended—came with a certain amount of pain and melancholy. Unexpectedly, it also came with a sense of liberation, like without so many words filling my library I was free to write my own.

Of course there were quite a few that I kept, will always keep no matter how many times I have to pack them in boxes, move them, then re-organize them on shelves in some contrived life order like John Cusack’s character in “Hi-Fidelity.”

What did I keep? All of the above writers, of course, and my meager but important collection of poets. Any Nobel or Pulitzer winners I’d collected (Gao Xingjian’s “One Man’s Bible” is brilliant). A few oddities: seminal works of science fiction, Kundera’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” Carson McCullers’ “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter.” Oh, and of course the five remaining copies of my own out-of-print book, published in the ‘90s.

There’s some space on my shelves and it’s been a while since I visited a bookstore.