As I promised in my last blog post, this week's guest is Jonathan Riedel, poet, pastor of Newaygo Congregational United Church of Christ, and all-around interesting guy. A native of Wyandotte, Michigan, Jon was educated at Kalamazoo College and Yale University Divinity School. He's a collector of books and a supplier of little-known facts on just about any subject that comes up in conversation. Also the dad of a college kid. Here's Jon:
I began writing poetry because I couldn’t finish writing anything else. I am, by nature, hyperactive and often possess the most fleeting of attention spans. Though age has calmed me, I still find that whenever I have to write something lengthy--an essay perhaps or a sermon--I jot down a few sentences, a paragraph, then I rise to sort out the next few sections by wandering around wherever I am writing. One of my mother’s favorite stories about my writing habits centers on how I would spend fifteen or twenty minutes sketching out the cover art for a story I was writing and then simply move on, leaving behind the rough outlines of a few ideas and nothing more. I must admit that I have succeeded, to some degree, as an essayist (after all, I do have two college degrees to my credit) and as a short story writer. But even there, I can never complete an essay or a story in one sitting.
My legs long to walk and my mind flits to something else. So I must move.
Poetry is different for me, though. Its brevity, its intensity, matches the hyperactivity of my soul. Poetry condenses language down to its essential. If it chooses to be loquacious, it does so with tricks clever enough to trip the wandering mind--similes, metaphors, and rhyme and rhythm schemes. Poetry is a distillation as pure as the process of extracting a diamond from its encrusting rock. I chip away nouns, toss aside unnecessary verbs, pull aside adjectives and adverbs, and search for the original gleam of an idea.
That is not to suggest that I am not open to second-guessing and revision. I have many poems where I have changed words, structure, and even directions. But, for the most part, the poem appears much like lightning. Its heart strikes a fire and I stoke it quickly--a few words, the slant of a line, an image stuck much as a burn sticks on a tree. Quickly these flashes come and equally quickly I must write them down. And, even in their rapidity, their shattered intensity, I find myself willing to follow them, willing to stay until they lie, spent, on paper. I can always finish a poem.
Poetry, for me, is a form best suited to my hyperactive spirit. And that is why I write at least two a week. It does me good to do so.
Here are two that I have published:
Waiting for Clydesdales
These oversized shambles
Foals--marbled black dripping
To dirty white footlocks
Now turning their wobbles
To early spring warbles
Against highway fencelines
I lift up on the gas
For a moment to catch
Newborns in sure gallops
Across grass still yellow
from mountainous winter
and the drawn-out thawing
when the winter closes, Farmer Rahn
loosens the log dam long enough
from the brief spring rains to flood
his lower fields. there he plants
grains hardy for the wet, yet deep
against the drying summer, loose rocks
jutting through thin lines of scrap grass
left for his angus to mull down
this grain, a catalogue scouring
will shelter the cows this winter
while, Rahn, leaning against a woodpile
heaping against a black stacking stove
flips through another seed magazine
pen in hand, waiting for the spring
rising above the water line
as the mud thaws and spins away
Written from the heart,
from the heart of the woods
Read the introduction to HeartWood here.
Nan Sanders Pokerwinski, a former journalist, writes memoir and personal essays, makes collages and likes to play outside. She lives in West Michigan with her husband, Ray.