I have been asked repeatedly how I came up with the name for this blog. Well, there's a short answer, and there's a long answer.
The short answer is that I wrote a novel called "The Siren's Call" (which will be published later this summer and which Shelly from The Dramedy of Life is reading this week while on vacation. Hopefully, at least. Four consecutive chapters in the novel are entitled: Meltwater. Torrents. Meanderings. Delta.
The kind of long answer is that a river is a metaphor for life. We are all born, grow, develop, and follow the seasons and changes of our lives like a river that is born in the ice meltwater of a tall mountain, races down in torrents the steep mountain sides with the energy and vigor of youth, and then as we grow up we meander, like a river, more slowly, carefully, thoughtfully--as if we have it all planned out in slower gentler rhythms, and then finally we die in the Delta as we empty into the ocean, where the Circle of Life begins anew.
In addition, the various changes or stages of our lives can be looked at with this metaphor on a smaller scale. Let's say a loved one dies. We grieve and cry (meltwater.) We rage and question and wonder why (torrents.) We come to accept what has happened and rationalize or internalize it (meanderings.) We reach a state of peace (delta.)
The River, and its various stages of Meltwater, Torrents, Meanderings, and Delta are used as a metaphor as the main character of the Siren's Call goes through profound grief and the stages of healing.
Beginning today, and for the next four days, my posts are going to be: 1. Meltwater. 2. Torrents. 3. Meanderings. 4. Delta. If you're interested in understanding this blog, or me, or how my mind works: this is probably the textbook.
My sophomore year of college, I took a very unusual English class: Environmental Poetry. We all had to take our fill of English classes, but I had had just about enough of them in high school: Advanced English 9, Advanced Composition, American Literature, English Literature, Advanced Creative Writing, World Literature, and Advanced Placement English. By any measure, that’s a lot of English to cram into four years of high school. Especially if you add competitive Debate and Forensics to the curriculum. At least with AP English I was able to place out of English 101 and English 102 at Michigan, but there were still a number of English credits required for graduation, and if I had to take more English, I wanted to choose classes that were different.
Environmental Poetry piqued my interest. I thought it would be a nice, relaxing class that I could coast through while I focused my attention on such heavyweights as Organic Chemistry, U.S. Governmental Structures, and Civil War History. In theory, I figured I could skip an EP class every now and then and study for an exam in one of the three heavyweights or spend extra time in the chem lab or the library working on a term paper. In practice, Environmental Poetry turned out to be the most challenging and intellectually stimulating class of my undergraduate career.
Environmental Poetry, on the very first day of class, revealed itself to be an in-depth study of the major literary works of Walt Whitman, Henry David Thoreau, Robert Frost, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, among others; combined with an advanced creative writing course emphasizing imagery and precision of language to create poetry evoking the natural world while stimulating the senses. It was an amazing class. We studied great writers. We discussed ideas as big and enveloping as the Montana sky. And we learned to write with our senses. We learned to make words flow smoothly, like pure water coursing through an unnamed stream over an isolated plateau meadow. I just wrote those words, but the class was so effective that, in my mind’s eye, I see a black bear drinking at that stream. I feel the cool wind on my cheek. I smell the sweet perfume of wildflowers mixed with the scent of pine. And I hear the electric buzz of insects and the wild cry of an eagle as it soars above the meadow.
Words are magical colors when they flow from an artist’s inkwell.
Part of the fun in Environmental Poetry was reading and discussing what the other students wrote. Some efforts were more successful than others, but with every poem we read and discussed--and all twenty-six of us had to write three a week--we learned more about our writing, our philosophies, the ways in which each of us viewed the world, and about our humanity.
One of the most discussed poems all term in EP was a poem by Derek Patzer. Derek was a character. He was tall, gangly, always cheerful, had shoulder-length blonde hair, and loved to drink beer and party. But he had a serious side too. Derek seemed to understand human nature and relationships. We often had interesting discussions about what motivated people. Anyway, in one exercise the second week of class, each of us had to come up with a poetic name for everyone else in the class. The name I wrote for Derek was: Wise Blonde Tree. And it was one of the few that stuck. Good-bye Derek Patzer, hello Wise Blonde Tree. The poem that Derek wrote is called: Water Power.
Regal ice-covered granite
landing pads for clouds
in winter’s clear skies
into sleek sharp shards
Water Power is a highly compressed poem. Just twenty-three words, but it evokes so much. Of the more obvious images, there’s the one of a tall mountain reaching above the clouds. There’s the image of clouds racing by the mountain, like jets, some stopping to rest on the peak, some taking off again--like at a busy airport. There’s the image of blinding brilliance from diamonds sparkling--or sunlight reflecting off the glacial ice of the peak. And there’s the image of pieces of those glaciers calving, or breaking off, even...dropping into the sea when the weather warms.
Then there’s the title of the poem itself. Water Power. Erosion. Over time, by trickles or torrents, water has the power to turn a mighty granite peak to rubble, cutting it with icy diamond saws. David and Goliath. Slow and steady wins the race. This tiny poem says it all. When the ice begins to melt, meltwater begins its slow, imperceptible and inexorable destruction. The class loved Derek’s poem then; I recall it and find new meaning in it now. When the ice inside a grief-stricken man’s heart begins to melt, meltwater begins its slow, imperceptible, and inexorable destruction.
Destruction is rarely a smooth, or pain-free, process. The same holds true for healing.
Thanks for reading.
technorati tags: Matthew S. Urdan, Authors, Writing, novels, River Metaphors