The endearment ending “peaches” was published a couple weeks back as part of the 100,000 Poets for Change anthology at Fieralingue. This is really a coincidence of timing—it happened to be ready, and the anthology call was there, a confluence which serves to foreground some things about the poem that I had formerly been muttering about to myself only.
For so long I had the best-words part of this endearment, but the best order for them eluded me. So a narrative emerged to help me as I revised. “Cease,” “ash heap” and “cheep” suggested a phoenix to me—burning up, then resurrection. “She paces, hep as cash” felt like the push against the feminine that I sometimes feel. The “she” in my mind was wearing tweed, and a little cap, possibly. Expecting trouble but brazen in the face of it. About to change. Maybe to embody the gender he really was. Maybe just to bust loose.
I said the story about resurrection and about gender to A. a while back and he did not buy it. It seemed too far-fetched to him. I was disappointed, but as I have mentioned before, this circumstance is okay—the phoenixical skeleton upon which I have draped the poem as I’ve worked on it is not an essential part of the finished poem. It is less skeleton than clothes-horse. I pat it on the rump, say thanks, and let it run off into the field where retired clothes-horses spend their days.
Because I don’t want that framework to determine an end-meaning for the poem. It can’t, realistically; it’s not part of the poem proper, and the markers that originally suggested it often change as I revise. “Cease” became “Cease speech”; that and the “cheeps” at the end may say something about language. A change of language. A good silence, then (a) great cheer.
On September 24, the day of 100,000 Poets for Change, I’ll hand out broadsides of the peaches endearment. If you would like one, you can let me know. I am for change.
When my brother was little, four or five, he had a collection of action figures. “Cave-mans,” he called them, and he loved them. He sat at the bottom of the stairs, on the subdued, 1990s blue and cream of the round braided rug, leaning on the first step and enacting a fight between two of these figurines, which were small enough for him to hold around the middle.
“And he pkoh, and he pkoh,” he said, banging them into each other. The noise he made was a really good pow noise, the consonants a p and something like an aspirated ch, followed by an o sound that had a little u in it, like the vowels of “foe” and “true” combined. This sound was the verb. He told himself the story they were acting out.
Not all, but some, of the Endearments are like action figures. The anagrammed words suggest a story, an idea. As I revise, I move the words around to enact it, change the story to work better with the words. This supplies shape to something that might not always offer clear choices for what will sound and look best.
As the pkoh is not inherently visible in the action figure—it requires my brother to make itself known—the stories I tell with the poems as part of making them are not necessarily visible in the finished poem. But they give shape to the thing I’m working on.
The poem ending “beloved” came to be in this way. When I think of it, I think of a couple who are making a house (N and C, for instance). The never-ending decisions to be made about what fixtures to order, what to build and what to pay someone else to build, how audacious to be in choices of paint colors; the encouragements and frustrations of doing something big with a partner. . . .
So, “be bold,” I imagine one saying to the other. “Bevel, vee.” As I made the poem, this helped me choose what words to use and in what order to say them. The act of moving the words around, either with a pencil on a printed sheet or (less preferably) on my computer screen, is like playing with action figures also. A humming, quiet, thoughtful playing, punctuated by sudden exactitude—the right place found for a word, two words saying just the right sounds.
In the land of science, a problem that comes up is that negative results are (people suspect, anyway) underreported. So, say, if someone shows a correlation between two things, their study might have better chances of getting published, and of getting talked about, than if they did a study and found no correlation. The lack of correlation is valuable information, but it’s maybe less exciting.
I was talking with L at the Fun-A-Day NC show about choosing what to exhibit. If I did a project, said L, I would want to pick the best things and show them, not show every day’s thing. That makes sense, I said. (And, in fact, that is what I did this time.) But there was also something nice about K’s every-day drawings of portraits on coffee receipts, and similarly about A’s comic for each day of the month showing and telling about some thing that happened that day. It’s a matter of what you’re privileging, I guess—quality of the art, or the process of making the art. The process aspect is being made into lots of books lately. My year of x. A month in y. And I am tempted by it also. This is another way of saying, I’m going to report all of my results.
There are ways in which this project is scientific: I have crafted a set of rules that will let me test some things. There are ways in which it is not: The end results, although some generalities will become evident over time, aren’t testing a new hypothesis. They prove:
—that words are made of letters, which make other words;
—that words are really interesting;
—that vowels, in particular, do interesting things in combination with one another.
But none of these things needed proving—and this is where the project is more like art: even if those ideas are as solidly acknowledged as the theory of evolution, and perhaps because they are, it seems useful and fun to play with what they are talking about. (You could argue that “words are really interesting” is not a proven truth, sure, but if “interesting” is substituted with “complex,” or “intricate,” or similar, it becomes less arguable.) Anyway, the point of each poem is not to test what might be a universal, it is to play with particulars and, because of some certain already-established universals such as the pleasingness of vowels, to enjoy it. —And because of other universals such as the diversity of words and meanings in English, to be surprised by it, from time to time.
It would be more scientific to include the “failures”—the words that do not make any or enough words to make a useful poem—along with the “successes.” It would be more scientific to call them all “results” and not taint these results with ideas of predetermination. I do hope when I begin with a word to find other good words in it. I also hope, though, to know it better—and sometimes knowing it better just means knowing the limits to which it can go. Maybe a list of these non-anagramming words would be relevant. But what belongs on that list and what doesn’t?
Take bobo. E said, I thought about sending you endearments, but all the ones I like have just one or two letters, and I thought, that’s no good. Thankfully, she sent it anyway. It has the feeling, to me, of bumping shoulders with someone, jostling them in that friendly way. And when E calls Tisko (the cat with whom I live) Bobo, I can hear the sweetness she lends the word. To know this word is an endearment is good. Scientifically speaking, to see what happens is good.
And what happens with “bobo” is—well—likely something like a one-line poem. Or maybe two—which leads me to wonder about one of the parameters I hadn’t had the need to set explicitly before. Is O, bobo! complete? Or should a complete one of these poems use at least all the letters of the endearment in the rest of itself? That is, should it contain at least one complete anagram of itself? I haven’t made up my mind.
(About that u effect I mentioned:
E said, leaving the Fun-A-Day art show last night, “‘Sugar plum’ will never be the same for me.” ”
“But,” I said, “but dosen’t it redeem itself at the end?”
“Well,” said E. . . .
I hadn’t thought that the poems might begin to change the original words. That was not my intention. But I don’t think my intentions are relevant, in this instance.)
Any one of these endearments that has the letter u in it, I said to A recently, is gonna be kind of dirty. And this is true. The letter u ends up in lots of words that can cause a sweet little poem to take a piratical turn. Or sinister, maybe, or just gloomy. In the case of sugar plum, for instance, pus, glum, slump.
And then there’s surl, the only semi-made-up word I have allowed myself to use thus far. It came up in the anagram surl gap um, if I am remembering correctly, or maybe it was surl map ug (is ug a word? I can’t remember. But it sure is in the pirate camp).
In my mind, it was a short hop from surly to surl, which seemed like a more accurate way to say surliness. More like stuff, like a substance, than a quality. And this seemed useful. My Webster’s Collegiate does not have an entry for it. I had never had occasion to look up surly before, though, and this was surprising: its root is sir, as in sirly. Oh, that old i/u connection, so weird, so counterintuitive—except when we think of certain words. Which brings us back to dirty—it’s that u quality that makes it work so well as a word, and I think it’s why dirty came to my mind to describe the aspect a u can lend to an endearment. Lucky sugar plum also has an a in it to brighten it up, to open it.
Also: my mother used to call me “sugar plum.”
I use a lot of names that are not names: sweetheart, sugar, peaches, darling. I can’t lay claim to the entire phenomenon, of course, but I like it. In order to explore what these not-names contain, I have been making little poems of them.
Here I will think about the words, the poems, about love and the lack of it, and whatever else the endearments suggest. Preliminary findings indicate that these things may include vowels, flowers, disgust, awkward situations, various foods, cats, and the ocean. The poems will not be visible here—think of them as the shadows behind your computer screen as you read this; or, think of this page as a shadow of the poems.
If you’d like to tell me what you call what you love, I would love to know. I have a little collection going.