Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Place and the Pen



by Tim Pfau


Consider a place that holds meaning for you. Perhaps it is the most stunning scenery on earth, perhaps it is as nondescript as a bus stop but a marriage proposal was made and accepted there.

How do you take the intensity of that place and transfer it to the reader?

I think the key realization for the writer of “place” is that it does not exist without the observer. 

Place figures large for most writers, especially Oregon writers.  It was dreams of a place of wealth that drew the original Gold Man to Oregon. The same site held the dream of home, for the natives who met him. One was a fantasy of longing, the other of belonging, but neither was the soil, wood, rock, sky and water.

Those existed a million years before they were seen by human eyes. The wind blew through them unfelt. The blue of the sky was unseen and the moving water unheard.

It is the arrival of the human mind that allows place to acquire such qualities as “beauty” and “romance”. Place is the mirror the writer can reflect into. It is sharing those reflections that can pull the reader into a sense of identification with the writer’s tale.

The viewers see grand metaphors for their values. The writer articulates that metaphor.

Consider C.E.S. Wood, Oregon’s seminal free verse poet, writing of eastern Oregon in the late 1890’s.

Have you not heard the utterances of the guardian rocks
And the low psalming of the mountains,
The bare hills, flashing skies and clouds?
The hushed communion of the brotherhood
Under the snow?
The drums of the sea and trumpets of the wind?
Each may receive his separate message,
If he will.    

(from “A Poet In The Desert”)

 
Ces, who brought us the words of Chief Joseph’s famous I-will-fight-no-more-forever surrender speech, saw −and wrote−  place in grand and heroic contrasts because they reflected himself, the soldier pacifist, millionaire progressive, man-of-influence revolutionary.

The active values “utterances, guardian, psalming, flashing, communion, brotherhood” were not inherent in the dirt, they were inherent in Ces’ view of himself.

It is by figuratively painting them on the rocks, sky and snow that he is able to share them with the reader.

He discovered and shared a “place” of eastern Oregon by casting his reflection upon it and used that imagery to pull his readers into sharing his dream.

Another example, from a different writer, with different values but facing the same landscape can be found in my own poem.


BASIN AND RANGE
Out in Basin and Range
 far finite yellow grass
gray sage and juniper
uplifting blue mountains’
overlined horizons,

 or up in dust rock pine
down to earthen waved sea
where nothing moves but wind
 and cattle two miles away
become all  things’ center,

these eyes rise, filling sky’s
bowl where nothing is still
 around everlasting
mind’s flow into the void
with wraiths and reflections.

These feet settle into
soil where ants clean their bones
unnoticed as the sun,
moons,  clouds and stars laughing
dance light around edges.


The human heart, facing the emptiness of nature, will rush to fill it ─ if the writer opens the door.


To read more of Tim Pfau's work check out the 2013 issue of Gold Man Review.

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