Every Thursday, Ooligan Press invites a poet whose work is included in Alive at the Center, our anthology of poetry from Pacific Northwest writers, to blog for us. This week, we are pleased to feature Heidi Greco, a poet from Surrey, about an hour south of Vancouver, B.C. Please enjoy her post!
Listening for the words that make the song
Recently, I heard a writer friend say that she was, “waiting to hear the start of the next poem.” When she said it, I felt my shoulders go down, as I relaxed into her reminder that I’m not the only one who hears voices. Mine tend to arrive in the middle of the night, so I’ve learned to write in the dark to avoid disturbing my partner, doing his best to sleep through to the morning’s alarm. I’ve mostly learned to read my messy nighttime scribbles, though once in a while they are lost, irretrievable scrawls. But even when legible, they sometimes don’t make sense, at least not with the burning flash of clarity they presented at 2 a.m. That was pretty much the case with the phrase that eventually became my poem, “Wordsong”. The words were enunciated clearly enough. There could be no mistaking them: “Adib, Adele, abed, abell.” Each connected, presented as a single, two-syllable-word. That was how I heard them, so that’s how I wrote them down. In the morning, I read the scribbled words to see where they might take me. Although I didn’t know an Adib or an Adele, the names at least made sense as words. And though it was somewhat archaic-sounding, so did the word ‘abed.’ But ‘abell’—it just plain wasn’t ringing for me. So I dismissed the phrase as merely a gathering of nonsensical sounds, ones that lacked meaning and could be tossed out. But when the same phrase came back the following night, I wrote again. Next morning, when I compared my paper to the previous night’s words and found that they matched, I decided they must be important. Then I remembered a man I’d met in Belize named ‘Abell.’ Although I didn’t think he would be part of the eventual outcome, I suspect the act of remembering his name helped legitimize the words enough for me to start working with them.
Typing letters onto the screen, the phrase came alive. Yes, I had a friend who was currently ‘abed.’ Sadly, he was ill enough that he required a bell to call for help when he needed anything. With the bell set adrift from that initial a- sound, I felt able to proceed. Still, I couldn’t help but noticing the oddly old-fashioned composition of ‘abed’ (at the bed, in bed) and started a casual brainstorm of similar a-words.
Sometimes they presented themselves as pairs of opposites: asleep/awake, amidst/apart, aground/afloat. Or as a string of fiery words—ablaze, aflame, aglitter, agleam, aglow—so hot to the touch, I’m surprised they didn’t ignite a poem of their own. The more I played around with these words, the more I discovered in them: rhymes, sounds that made a sing-song, sounds that led me along. Astray, away; ajar, afar. And even when I set the poem aside, I started noticing that those a- words wouldn’t leave me alone (alone!). Alive, abuzz, amok, agog. They kept appearing everywhere, and wouldn’t abate. When I moved on to the next couplets, in an effort to ground the piece, I permitted myself more objects—a star, as well as a door (Or should that have been ‘adore’?). The star led to the name Estelle, which means ‘star’ and which shares, if not the same first letter, the same (or nearly the same) initial sound as the a-words in the piece. But the poem had to move along, gather some momentum if it were to achieve any kind of conclusion—a conclusion I suspected, as in the case of my friend, was not going to be a happy outcome.
Yet halfway through the piece, there came a shift—to brighter, more lilting sounds, to the final line where spirit is released—to go where? Who knows. Hearing things might not be the way your poems usually start. As for Adib and Adele, I still don’t know who they are. Nonetheless, I keep listening for the voices that brought them to me. And I hope, in case they or their friends call on you, that you will be ready to listen too. Wordsong (remembering Miki) Adib Adele abed a bell a star Estelle alas too far aslant afoot a door ajar akin alike a three-wheeled bike or nothing more than Western Shrike a thing so true as morning light a boat ashore a bird in flight this August day a soul astray
Heidi Greco is an editor and writer whose poems have appeared in a range of magazines and anthologies. She writes book reviews for newspapers and magazines. Her books include Rattlesnake Plantain (poetry) and Shrinking Violets (a novella). Heidi lives in South Surrey, British Columbia, in a house surrounded by trees. Heidi was a participant in the first Cascadia Poetry Festival, a trans-border celebration of the spoken word. Heidi keeps a sporadic blog entitled out on the big limb. The poem included in this collection, “Wordsong: remembering Miki,” started out with a voice in the night. Although the words didn’t seem to make any sense, they repeated themselves with such an urgent-sounding voice that she had no choice but to write them down. In the light of morning, the singsong nature dictated by the few words on her paper led to a poem that was clearly about, or at least inspired by, her dear friend Miki, who died of cancer. This poem is featured in the complete Alive at the Center anthology as well as the Vancouver edition. Both books are currently available from your favorite local bookshop or online retailer.