Arts & Culture · Poetry

Poetry Sunday: "My Heart," by Molly Fisk

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My Heart

                                    after Kim Addonizio

That meadowlark. That traveler. That uncut sapphire in the bucket a Brazilian miner carries on his back               out into fading daylight. That intricate knot. That truss. That explanation for failure. That harmonica solo moaning               through a bar’s open door. That revolving gleam from Alcatraz               night after night. That nickel buried in last week’s filthy snow               piled at the edge of a parking lot. Scrim between stage and backdrop. Dictionary’s next-to-last page. That breath in the mouth of a baritone,               the mouth opening, the first note. A simple equation, a billowing sail. That lace at the edge of a petticoat. That splintered dock by the boat house               where you’re cutting your engine,               where you’re aiming your bow.

  “My Heart” was published as a letterpress broadside by Full Circle Press, Grass Valley, CA in 2012 and is reprinted here with permission of the poet.         

Fisk_photo credit to Doug Keachie_4-20-15     molly fisk book cover_10-3-15  

Molly Fisk has written four poetry collections: The More Difficult Beauty, Listening to Winter, Terrain (co-author) and Salt Water Poems, as well as two compilations of essays: Using Your Turn Signal Promotes World Peace and Blow-Drying a Chicken. She’s received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and been nominated for Poet Laureate of California. She works as a life coach in the Skills for Change tradition and runs Poetry Boot Camp (poetrybootcamp.com). Visit her at mollyfisk.com and read her essays for Women’s Voices here. Molly Fisk photo credit: Doug Keachie   Notes on “My Heart” [caption id="attachment_99736" align="alignleft" width="175"]Rebecca Foust, Poetry Editor Rebecca Foust, Poetry Editor[/caption] “My Heart” is a list poem, one whose structure is essentially that of a catalog of things. Classic examples include the genealogies of the Old Testament, Homer’s catalogs of ships in The Iliad, and Whitman’s enumeration of various people (“the pure Contralto,” “the carpenter,” the married and unmarried children,” etc.) in section 15 of “Song of Myself.” In this week’s poem, the speaker lists images that stand in for—and thus each has something unique to tell us about—her heart. One way Molly Fisk enhances the list is with anaphora—repetition of the word “that” at the beginning of 19 of the poem’s 21 lines. Another is by avoiding Hallmark’s Valentine clichés and instead equating the heart with surprising things, like an “explanation for failure” and the lovely and poignant “splintered dock by the boathouse.” The images are imaginative and unexpected, but they all end up being uncannily apt. Familiar with the emotional entanglements our hearts can bind us in, we understand a heart called an “intricate knot.” But did you know that the heart begins, anatomically, as a long band of muscle before it gets folded into a configuration—yes, a sort of knot—that enables it to fit in the ribcage? Each image in the list surprises and delights us twice, first by being new and unexpected, and second by being so right. If you’ve attended a poetry workshop, you’ve perhaps heard about the “rule” against using big-concept, sometimes-clichéd words like “soul” and “heart” (except, one instructor once told me, “as an organ”) in poems. “My Heart” is a great example of how such poetry “rules” can be broken. Three strategies used here to sidestep cliché are the poet’s precision, her unusual choices with image and diction, and her decision (except in the title) to avoid the first-person pronoun. This heart is not just a “nickel” (itself a fresh image for the heart) but one “buried in snow.” It is not just a page in a dictionary (ditto), but its “next-to-last page.” We’ve all seen the heart compared to a jewel, but perhaps not to an “uncut sapphire,” and certainly not to one “a Brazilian miner carries on his back / out into fading daylight.” Why is the raw stone more like the speaker’s heart than a polished jewel, we must ask. And why not just the stone in the ground, but one carried out by a miner, in Brazil, at sunset? Such exactitude requires the reader to pay close attention and think more deeply about what each image means. Fisk’s choice to use the first-person pronoun (“My”) in the title but not again thereafter in the poem is an effective strategy that also helps to avoid sentiment and cliché. The bulk of the poem consists of the list of images that become metaphors for the speaker’s heart. When the speaker enters again at the end and needs a personal pronoun to do so, the one Fisk employs is “your” in a usage some have dubbed “the second-person I.” Imagine how it would change the poem if “I” and “my” were substituted for “you” and “your” in these concluding lines:

where you’re cutting your engine, where you’re aiming your bow.

We often do refer to ourselves in the second person, especially when explaining things or recounting stories about what we’ve done or seen. But this more distanced “I” has the effect of avoiding solipsism and sentiment and making the speaker’s experience more universal. And the change from the anaphoric “That” to “Where”—an adverb with a destination—also gives Fisk a way to get out of the list and to end the poem. “My Heart” is rich with internal slant rhyme, assonance and consonance that binds it up like the near-rhyming “intricate knot” of the heart itself. All but two of the lines are end-stopped and many include understated end-rhymes such as “bucket / back” and “truss / Alcatraz.” The sound most often repeated at the ends of lines, though, is a long o, as in “moaning,” “snow,” “baritone,” “note,” “petticoat” and “bow.” How wonderful this is! In the same way that she invoked an “I” without saying it, Fisk invokes an ancient human cry—“O”—but avoids the kind of outright utterance that might have tipped the poem into hearts-and-flowers cliché. I met Molly Fisk online when I signed up for her online “Poetry Boot Camp” workshop, an experience I happily went on to repeat four more times. It was not, I can assure you, the workshop that warned me off writing about my heart except as a body part. Maybe what I admire most about “My Heart” is its willingness to risk expression of real passion. Everything works together—list strategy, anaphora, sound receptions, surprising image and diction, precision of detail, and attention to point of view—to support the expression of strong, genuine feeling in this remarkable poem.   Paradise Drive book coverRebecca Foust’s fifth book, “Paradise Drive,” won the 2015 Press 53 Award for Poetry and was reviewed in the Georgia Review, Hudson Review, Huffington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Review of Books, and elsewhere. Recognitions include the 2015 American Literary Review Award for Fiction, the 2015 James Hearst Poetry Prize, the 2014 Constance Rook Creative Nonfiction Award, and fellowships from the Frost Place, MacDowell Colony, Sewanee Writer’s Conference, and West Chester Poetry Conference. “Paradise Drive” can be ordered at www.press53.com. For more information visit rebeccafoust.com. ]]>

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