Thursday, April 9, 2015

National Poetry Month: Guest Blogger Elisabeth von Uhl

Thanks to my friend Elisabeth von Uhl for today's thoughtful post on poetry, life and Lorca's duende. As a mother, she's balancing many roles and finds a home in the written word.

Elisabeth von Uhl has an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and has taught composition, poetry, and literature. Her work has been published in Cream City Review, The Broome Review, The Cortland Review, and other journals. Her chapbook, Ocean Sea, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2009.  She now mothers and facilitates a literature discussion group at Mosholu - New York Public Library in The Bronx.

Poetry, Grief, and Motherhood

            A little less than a year ago my world was shattered, and I was thrust into an anger and grief like I have never known.  Even still, almost a year later, waves of fury still slam against me and loneliness flies into me “with its wings of rusty knives,” (Lorca 54).  Now, I “return” to Federico Garcia Lorca’s poetry and reread his lecture, “Play and Theory of Duende”, on “black sounds” and its “fertile silt that gives us the very substance of art” looking for a reason for the heartache.  

            I use the word “return” with discomfort, as three years ago, I experienced the extraordinary — the birth of my own child.  Yet, in the grand scheme of things, the birthing of a child is not so extraordinary.  In fact, it is pretty routine, but in the order of this routine thing, my time to write disappeared as if it were a passenger on a departing train.  Poetry and all its extraordinary beauty had to be calmly set aside.  Yet suddenly, without warning and less than a year ago, I had to lean on poetry to find some semblance of functioning, to grieve, and to attempt to heal.  In short, the unexpected happiness of a birth three year ago pulled me away from poetry and soon the recent experience of hurt led me back to poetry; yet, “returning” seems so disingenuous, because I do not want to admit that I ever left poetry.

            Lorca writes that “the duende enjoys fighting the creator on the very rim of the well.”  Further, “the duende wounds.  In the healing of that wound, which never closes, lies the strange invented qualities of a man’s work,” (Lorca, 58).  This balance or “fight on the rim of the well” Lorca writes of is one of the biggest cliches of work versus motherhood.  Yet, in this quest for balance (the need to nurture as opposed to the need to create and it is goddamned hard to do both), we often “wound” ourselves with expectations of achievement.  It is optimistic that our wounds are what force us to create quality art full of “strange” invention.  It is as if the choice to create is a force of sorrow, as if our sorrow is a result of this “fight on the rim of a well” or our need to nurture when we want to create is “the duende [that] climbs up inside you, from the soles of the feet,” (Lorca 49).  But, more than that, it is sad to think that some wounds (even those we impose on ourselves) will never heal: “Stone is a forehead where dreams grieve,” (Lorca, 75). 

            Most write of stark differences (“stone” and “forehead”) placed against one another so that an emotion or a concept can be expressed by writer and experienced by reader with an unexpected clarity.  This unexpected clarity is where I find pleasure in poetry.  It is where I find a salve for the wounds in which life has maimed me.  Sadly, motherhood has not provided this salve for me.  (Maybe I am doing it wrong?)  Truly, raising a child has provided me with vast, indescribable joy, but it also has given me immense sadness.  Everyday of motherhood is a process of letting go, of mourning the world around the child, and of grieving that child who will someday grow and experience hurt and inflict pain.  Sometimes, “the blood of my womb / is covering the horse./ Your horse’s hoofs / throw off black fire... “ (Lorca 55).  More often than not, I am that horse throwing “black fire” as I retreat from motherhood in fear, confusion, and despair.  I use poetry as water to cool that fire.  I use poetry to saddle that blood-covered horse.

            Even more, my writing of poetry is an attempt to ease time, to attach myself to the world around me, to quell a longing for another, and to make meaning out of the, often times, meaningless.  Motherhood, like poetry, with all its beauty, boldness, and work forces questions, unhinges wounds which “open like a ten-fingered hand around the nailed but stormy feet of a Christ,” (Lorca 53).  Sometimes, with my bag full of books and scratches of notes amid concrete plans to write, my three-year-old falls asleep on my chest and I am immobilized by the weight of his body and his mountains of breathing.  I know I cannot move or I will wake him and miss one of the victories of motherhood; I am providing comfort for my son.  My words will have to wait and the healing, my fight with duende which I find in those words, will have to be put off for another. 

Lorca, Federico Garcia and Christopher Maurer. In Search of Duende. New York: New Directions, 1998. Print.

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