Kim Dower: “Sunbathing on Tyrone Power’s Grave” | Talks at Google


KIM DOWER: Hi, everybody. Thank you for being here. It’s very nice of you to want
to come here about poetry. And thank you, Keith,
for inviting me. Keith was like, we
normally have, like, techie people do
talks, but I’d like to open up this a little
bit to the humanities. And I thought, you know,
there’s an amazing book– I don’t know if you’ve
ever heard of it– called “The Two
Cultures,” and it was written in 1960 by a British
writer and scientist named CP Snow. And he talks about the two
cultures being the tech optimists versus the
liberal arts skeptics, and until those two
cultures are joined, the world’s problems
will never be solved. So we really need both
sides of the brain working. And I know there’s
a fear of poetry, as is evident here
with the empty seats. Every empty seat tells
a story of someone who’s afraid of poetry, or
was taught it really terribly in school. I mean, there’s only
six of you, but I’m sure you all had
poetry in school. And did any of you
enjoy how it was taught? You know, it’s really sad. The truth is, poetry can
be a lot of fun, and funny, and connect with people. And you know, we notice that
we often want a poem to read– be read to– when there’s
some major life event– someone dies, someone gets
married, someone’s born. Some deep emotional event
makes us want to read a poem. I don’t know if
you’ve felt that way. But the truth is, I think a
poem a day keeps us younger. And truthfully, poems
try to make order out of chaos in the world. It’s done by just their line
breaks, or the way they look. They always look very
orderly, don’t they? There’s a reason for that. And also, Ursula Le Guin– I don’t know if any
of you read her, but she’s a beautiful writer. She was. But she wrote a
lot about science. And I love what she says, that
“science describes accurately from the outside, and
poetry describes accurately from the inside,” which is
really an interesting idea. “Both celebrate
what they describe, and we need the languages
of both science and poetry to save us from
merely stockpiling endless information.” And of course,
Google– well, we all stockpile endless information. But we need both to sometimes
take us out of that. So I was going to do
for you today just sort of a standard poetry
reading that I do– read you poems for 12 to 15
minutes and talk about them a little bit, and
also talk to you, specifically, about
how I’ve used Google when writing a poem. And you know, there’s a thought
that one should turn everything off when you’re writing. Don’t have any
other distractions. Don’t– well, when I’m
writing a poem, I will admit, I look at my email. I Google something. I’m all over the place. But that’s the
way my mind works. It works OK. I don’t need to
worry about that. The distractions can be
helpful in the writing a poem. So that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to read
for a few minutes. Keith is going to ask
me some questions, and then I’d love for you guys. Any poets in the room? Sort of? Keith, a little bit. Anybody want to ever try to
write a poem in the room? Yeah. Well, OK. Here you go. I’m here to tell you
that I write poems about nothing, pretty much. They’re just– it’s sort
of like Seinfeld, you know. There are poems about nothing. But one of the things
we’re going to talk about is, you know, what is
the meaning of the poem, that we were asked in
school, which was horrifying. I mean, to me, if I was in math
class and someone called on me, I wanted to die. I was OK in a poetry class. But still, the meaning in
a poem is really what– the reader brings the
meaning to the poem. So I’m going to start with
a poem called “Unruly Aura.” I know you guys– I’m sure you go to
health food stores. Anyone go to a
health food store? We’re in Venice, California. Well, I go to Erewhon
a lot, down where I work in West Hollywood. So I wrote this poem
after a visit one day. It’s called “Unruly Aura.” “The cashier at the
health food store tells me I have a beautiful aura. Wait, I tell her. If you want to see a
really beautiful aura, wait until I’ve taken my Renew
Life Ultimate Flora Probiotic. After that, my aura will
knock your socks off. She smiles at me
and rings me up. My money has a
beautiful aura, too. My dollar bills float
out of my pink wallet. The man behind me swells
from the heat I generate. Each step I take brings
me closer to God, the final fabulous aura. Take my hand, I tell her. Squeeze my aura. It’s hungry and looking
for someone to devour.” So poetry can be funny,
just to let you know that. People are always sort of afraid
to laugh at a poetry reading, or whatever. But it’s quite
acceptable, actually. So “she’s never
trusted happiness. Maybe it’s something her
mother said one morning as the young girl dipped her
donut into a glass of milk, powdered sugar
still on her lips. Her mother tells her,
don’t get used to this.” So when that came to me,
I was frankly terrified, because honestly, I never
had donuts or whole milk or anything. So you know, also, poems,
we– everyone thinks, are autobiographical. And they’re not necessarily
autobiographical. The reason we think that is
because they’re so authentic, and they connect
to our emotions. So when something
connects to your emotions and feels so real, like you’re
looking into someone’s mind, we think it’s autobiographical. But the fact is, the feeling
is true and authentic, not necessarily
the circumstances. Does that make sense to you? So here’s a poem that
is just plain silly. But it’s also poetry– writing poems also comes
from your daily activity. So as poets, we
report what we see, and we tell the story
of what we see, right? As scientists do, poets do. And so I wrote this
poem about something– any shoplifters in the audience? Anybody ever shoplift? I mean, I would
imagine, honestly, we kind of all have, even,
like, a little lipstick, or a paperclip,
or like, you know, a handball when we were 12. Anyway, this poem is
called “Shoplifting.” “The guard at CVS is
having a conversation with himself using his
hands to punctuate answers to imaginary questions. This might be a
good time to pocket the lip gloss while he’s so
involved in making his point. I nod at him. How’s it going? But he’s too absorbed
talking to no one. At this rate, I could steal
more than just the gloss, so I go for the small but
expensive moisturizer, the one they usually keep
locked up behind the glass. I wonder if it’s less greasy
than what I use at home. Wonder if it would make my
skin more dewy and youthful. The guard loves whomever
he’s not really talking to. I grab the cream,
stick it in my purse. I have money, but I
want some excitement. Haven’t stolen anything
since junior high. My heart doesn’t race
like it did back then. Not getting that energy
high, rosy-cheeked thrill. Maybe I should up the stakes
and try stealing something that cannot be concealed. What about that
pink chaise lounge? I check for a sensor. Nothing, not even a price tag. This is my moment. I walk past the
guard, still entranced with the voices in his head. I’m embarrassed to
say it was easy. I often wonder
about the guard when I lie in my chair
in my backyard, where I’ve confined myself for
the rest of my life, my skin glowing.” So, good. I’m glad you laughed. See? Poems can be funny. And people will ask– I’ve been on this
little book tour, poetry tour– did you really
steal a chaise lounge? So that’s the thing. They think– you know, like
if you write murder mysteries, and 12 men are dead,
you know, THAT– people don’t say, did you really
kill those 12 men in that way? So poets are always accused
of, you know, that was real. So also– so we’ve
seen now– we’ve seen how humor is used
in poems, and that basically is about nothing, even
though it’s about shoplifting. But I made it up. I have to go to CVS every
other day, like we all do, and it just gets
really boring, right? So also, poems about nothing– here’s a poem about nothing
I happen to like a lot. It’s called “In the Moment.” Also, a poem takes a moment
that maybe we don’t think about, and we expand it. And I come from New York City. I didn’t learn how to
drive until I was 25. And it’s not my favorite thing
to do, particularly parking. So this happened,
and I wrote a poem. “In the Moment.” “I just parallel parked exactly
right for the first time ever, maybe because I wasn’t
imagining a tsunami killing me on Sunday in Laguna, or thinking
about my mother alone at home, or when I dropped the
puppy off the patio. She was fine. I never recovered. Today, windows down, no radio,
just sky, steering wheel and my hands were one. And backing into the
space, feeling my tires hug the curb was a
clean slide into home. That rare fit of
perfection was upon me. And let me say right
now, I didn’t waste it.” So that’s truly a
poem about nothing. The other– just
to give you ideas, if you really do want to
try to write, you know, I always have a little
notebook with me in the car, in my pocket, in my purse– wherever– because ideas come. And of course, you guys
have your trusty phones and those lovely Notes things. You can dictate into it, too. But I get a lot of ideas
for poems when I listen to the news, as I’m driving. They’re prompts. I don’t know if you
know what a prompt is, but a prompt is something that
gives you an idea for a poem. It can be a title. It can be a line, like
I remember, I remember. And then you just blast
for five or 10 minutes. You don’t lift your pen. You don’t lift your
fingers off the computer. And you write and
see what comes out. And it’s extraordinary
sometimes. You don’t edit. You don’t think about it. So I often get ideas for
poems from headlines. I use them as prompts
for things in the news. So you guys know
who Chuck Berry is– was? And Chuck Barris? Do you know who he is/was? Well anyway, Chuck
Berry we all know. Chuck Barris produced some
very popular TV shows back in the day, like
“The Dating Game.” He was very famous for that. Well, they both died
in the same week– I mean, basically a day apart. And I remember
seeing the headlines that Chuck Barris was dead,
and then the next day it was Chuck Berry. Whoops. There go my notes. And I just thought, this is it. Here’s a poem,
“Berry and Barris.” “Chuck Berry, Chuck Barris. Did they plan to die
the very same week? Imagine the confusion in
heaven, where everyone sits around watching
“The Dating Game,” as “You Never Can Tell”
blasts out of every cherub’s transistor. Barris running numbers,
Berry stringing guitars for saints,
everyone swapping stories about one Chuck or the
other, both of whom are madly in love with
the same twisted angel.” So I made that up, of course. You see how that goes? Well, that’s– I was
going to read this poem, but it’s kind of bleak. There’s a lot of bleak poems in
this book, sort of sad poems. But it’s lunchtime, you know? Who needs to be reminded
of horrible things? Though, there’s a lot of really
horrible things in this book. But I won’t– I
don’t upset anybody. So– well, I will read this. This is a sort of
a crowd pleaser. I also want to talk about how
Google has informed my work. So you’re wondering,
did she make that up just because she was
coming here to talk to us? Yes, I did. It’s– no, I didn’t. When I’m writing a poem,
I hit a wall, sometimes, because I don’t know– like, I
can only make stuff up so long. And then I’m like, well, I
need to know more about that. So for example, I
wrote a poem called “The Secret Afterlife of Bees.” So this is based on something
true that was very compelling. And I wanted to write a poem. But then you’ll know,
when you listen, where I may have hit
a wall, and where I may have moved my
poem over and gone to my favorite– gone to Google
and type something in, OK? “The Secret Afterlife of Bees.” “There’s a 70 pound bee hive
deep inside a wall of my house. Bees flow in and out of the
window, a swarm of breeze dancing throughout the day. We must get rid of them. Gas them, or do
it the humane way. Cut into the wall, suck
them into a vacuum, release them miles away
into a stranger’s hive. My mother used to cover
her ears with her hands when a bee buzzed by. It could go inside
your brain and die, she told me when I was five. A bee followed me
down the street today. We want to come out
alive, she told me. Do you know why bees
die after they sting? Massive abdominal ruptures. The impact blows open their
stomachs like a gunshot. In the secret afterlife
of bees, there are markings on the trees. We had no idea it would kill us. No idea we were
risking our lives.” Sort of a sad bee poem. So I am writing the
poem, and that’s true. We had to get rid of the hive. We wanted to do that the natural
humane way, blah, blah, blah. But then I wondered, why do
they die after they sting? Did you know that before? So I googled what kills
a bee after it stings. And I got massive
abdominal ruptures. I thought that was fascinating. So there you go. See? Science and poetry are merged. Well– so it’s been a
fairly lively political time these last couple of years. I know we’re not supposed
to do politics up here. I’m not usually a
political poet– I quote political–
but you can’t– I can’t help– you know? It’s like, my god. Oh, my god. So there was– in 2017, there
were seven words that were banned for the CDC– Center for Disease
Control– to use. Are you aware of that? The seven words that were
banned are fetus, transgender, science-based, evidence-based,
diversity, vulnerable– did I say them all? And transgender. Those words were banned
from any CDC report. So that was amazing enough. I mean, that’s
almost a found poem– the seven words
that were bound– bound, that’s an
interesting Freudian slip. Banned and bound. Your mouth was bound from
using the banned words. Anyway, so there was a
poetry website that went up. And it said, write a poem
using all seven words, and we’ll publish what we like. So come on, that was, like,
my greatest day of my life. And it took me about a
month to get this right, because poems need to
be read aloud, too, to hear the music
and the rhythm. Anyway, they put
it on the website. It was very exciting. So do you remember the words? The poem is called “I Am
My Own Transgender Fetus.” “My mother thought I was
a lesbian when I came home from college wearing
a flannel shirt, fresh from a march
across the Boston Common. The 70s, no
entitlement back then. No transgender friend. We all hid inside
our sleepless nights, smoking fat joints of
science-based conclusions, rolling out our
private stomachaches, watching evidence stack up
higher than we could see. I feel so vulnerable tonight,
hungry for diversity. Where is my entitlement? I am my own transgender
fetus floating in a tank with no borders,
banging my soft, unformed skull into the glass ceiling,
seeking any spray of light as our world rolls backward
over a grassless hill of mutant crickets. Button up your collar until
your mouth is invisible. All evidence-based,
science-based, beautiful womb, face, lips erased. Who doesn’t crave a chance
to say banned words? Hear their echo like
vapor stain the wall of our lives, our slurred
speech aching for clarity.” So that was a lot of
fun to write that poem. Are you– do you
want some more poems, or do you want a little
conversation, or– what do you think? A couple more? I wrote something this morning. Maybe I’ll save this. But I wanted to kind of
show you my process, which can sometimes be interesting. And also, I feel like we all
should be reading poetry. We all should be writing it. And I know should
is a weird word, but I really feel it
elevates us and our spirits. And you know, people
say, I don’t like poetry. Well, it’s like saying,
I don’t like food, because there’s
poetry for everyone. You know, it’s like your amazing
dining room here at Google. To walk in there and
say, I don’t like food, you know, you’d be
out of your mind, because if you’re
not into, you know– I don’t know, green
something, you’re into something– whatever. So I like to think that– and it’s true that there
is poetry for everyone. So if you’re curious about
the title of my book, “Sunbathing on Tyrone
Power’s Grave”– do you know who Tyrone Power is? So Tyrone Power was a movie
star in the 30s, 40s, and 50s. He was, like, a
heartthrob, a matinee idol. And he was in a lot of–
he was a sword fighter. He was one of my
dad’s favorite actors. And when I was a little
girl, on TV, the old black and white TVs– you know, the Saturday
night movie or whatever, we’d watch it together. But when I moved to Los Angeles
from New York and Boston– I moved in the winter. It was freezing. And here we are, you know,
January, and it’s beautiful. And I love graveyards. Well, I’m going
to read the poem. It talks about this. But I actually used to sunbathe
on Tyrone Power’s grave. He has this giant
marble beautiful grave in the Hollywood
Forever Cemetery where a lot of movie
stars are buried. And back then in
the late 70s, they didn’t care about this cemetery. It was like, no one watered it. It was pathetic. Now it’s the big cemetery. You may know of it. People– they show movies there. They have movie night. It’s very fancy. But in the 70s, people just
let things die, you know. It was, like, really
not a lot of urban– so the title poem from the book,
“Sunbathing on Tyrone Powers Grave.” “Hollywood Forever. The same cemetery as Fay
Wray, dangling like a scarf in King Kong’s hand. Has-been swans, their
screen days behind them float at the mouth of the grave. Backs of my thighs
burn on the stone. Skin recoils, sizzles,
sinks into Hamlet’s words. Goodnight, sweet prince. And flights of angels
sing thee to thy rest. He dropped dead at 44. Heart attack fake sword fighting
making a movie in Spain. ‘Nightmare Alley’ was our
favorite, my dad’s and mine. Saw it together on TV. He, too, had a
heart attack at 44. I watched him collapse
on the living room floor. Valentine’s Day, I was 14. Ran down 89th street
yelling for a doctor. I love graveyards. Would walk Mount Auburn
Cemetery outside Harvard Square with my old college professor,
big wool coats with pockets. Sometimes, we could see
the moon in the afternoon. But we never saw the stars. I left the cold
winters back east. Moved to LA. Wore a two-piece under
my clothes every day. You never knew who
might have a pool. A rotting corpse is
teeming with life. Maybe Tyrone’s bones are
still breathing today. Maybe after my father’s
final heart attack, there was a moment he
remembered only the good things, whether or not
they ever happened. I used to sunbathe on
Tyrone Power’s grave when sunbathing was
something we still did. Flowers around me, angels in
bikinis smoking Kool lights.” So you see, my poems mix
things that didn’t happen with things that did happen. You don’t really know what. But one thing, you
know, if you ever wanted to try to do what I call
automatic writing, or fever writing– again, I mentioned it– but
you find a prompt, something that interests you,
something that sticks out. And you just write. And you don’t judge. You don’t think about
what you’re writing. You don’t cross it out. You turn on a timer, and you go. And you can do it
with– handwritten, you can do it on the computer. And you’ll be surprised
what will come out, even if it’s one line. Like, where did that come from? I teach every Saturday
in West Hollywood, and it’s for all
different people– levels. Some people have
never written before, and they walk away just amazed
with what does come out. So maybe I will read one
more, and then I will– any dog lovers here? I mean, everyone–
who isn’t a dog lover? It’s sort of like, OK. You know, that’s my
fallback dog loving poem. But actually– you know,
this is a weird poem. I haven’t read it on my
little book tour yet. But I used Google for
this poem, too, because– well, I’ll tell you
at the end of it. The poem– the prompt
was a headline. And the headline I
read in the paper was “Divers Search Lake
for Killer’s Secrets.” Now, I am one of the few
people on this earth who still get a hard copy
newspaper, although I’m thinking of stopping, because
I almost have had enough. But I love– like the old days– I love seeing a
headline in a newspaper. It’s very evocative to me. So “Divers Search Lake
for Killer’s Secrets” is a great prompt. You know, I challenge you all. Take my book home. When you see this,
write down the title, and write your own poem. “What will they find? An heirloom watch, rose gold,
engraved, you’re the one. A tiny hole where
the ruby used to be. And of his, not much. The hammer that may have
done their victim in, though maybe it was hers. They killed together,
not for money or revenge, for the thrill of surprise. How far would they go? How much could they stand
to watch the other do? Risk? Of course. They’d been married a long time. But the lake looked clean and
inviting, the divers said. As they immerse themselves
in a world of pike and trout, deep down leaves rooted
in sediment, no evidence. What did they find? A man who’d been dead
for years, his face, two dark holes where
his eyes used to be. Not the couple’s secret,
but someone else’s. The lakes under the waves
have waves of their own.” So that’s a weird poem. I mean, I know that. But I will say that the
lakes under the waves have waves of their
own, I got on Google, because I read about lakes
and what’s in a lake. And that was one of
the things that Google said was in a lake, that
the waves under the lake have waves of their own. And I thought that
was beautiful. Because a good poem
is about one thing, but it’s also about
the other thing. And that will make sense when
you start to read poetry. So I’m going to end my
little portion of this before we chat for a minute. I wanted to bring in
something brand new. So this was written this
morning, which is, you know, it’s not done. But I wanted to show
sort of my process. Again, I love the headlines. And I was driving yesterday– I listen to Kanex radio,
and they have the best. I mean, I pull over and
just write things down. So there was a woman mauled
by a tiger this week. I don’t know if anyone– and they brought– I know, it’s terrible. She survived. She’ll be OK. Let’s not worry
about her right now. But– or, we can. We can. But they brought on a person
to get a quote from him, like a spokesperson. And he said, the tiger
did what tigers will do. So thank you. Again, thank you everyone
who gives me poems. So I wrote this this morning. I put that in my notebook. This was the other
day when I heard it. So I just want to
show the process, and comes from nothing. And here we go. So the title of the
poem, in quotes, is “The Tiger Did
What Tigers Will Do, Said a Spokesperson
for the Topeka Zoo.” “After an employee was attacked
by a 275 pound Sumatran tiger named Sanjiv. The nameless victim entered
the animal’s enclosure at about 9:15 AM. One should never be in the same
space as a tiger, they say. Why was she there? Didn’t she know? Humans need to keep track of
places we should never be. That alley at night, on
the street without a light, the car filled with people
drinking, a church, temple, nightclub. Or being in a room
with another person who’s upset with himself,
the world, his dead parents. This, too, can be dangerous. They will not euthanize Sanjiv,
because the 7-year-old male tiger was just being
himself, doing what his instincts have taught him. Humans aren’t headed for
extinction like these tigers, but it’s getting pretty
crowded in our cages. Humans will do what
humans will do, but there are no fun facts about
humans written up in Google. Tigers hunt alone. No two tigers have
the same stripes. Tigers can go up to two
weeks without eating. But don’t be alone with
one of them on day 15.” Thank you very much. [APPLAUSE] Hi. KEITH SCHAEFER: Hi. We should probably
talk into these so that the people on
the video can hear us. KIM DOWER: OK. KEITH SCHAEFER: So I’ll
ask some questions. But if you have questions,
you’re more than welcome to. I will throw you the
microphone, and we can hear it. Does anyone have any right now? OK. I’m going to get started then. But I’m going to throw
this to Susanna first. And there we go. Thank you so much
for joining us. KIM DOWER: Thank you. Whoops. Thank you. KEITH SCHAEFER: Maybe I
could start with something you said about this last
poem that you wrote, which is that it’s not done yet. So could you talk about
what might happen? I know you don’t– KIM DOWER: Yeah. KEITH SCHAEFER: –know
at this point, but– KIM DOWER: Well, I’d like
to ask our studio audience. Do you think that
poem is finished? AUDIENCE: Yeah. KIM DOWER: I mean, the thing of
it is, when I was reading it, it seemed pretty OK to me. But that’s some– it’s a
long shot, out of the gate right away. I would look at it, and you have
the different lenses of poetry to look at– the line breaks, the rhythm,
the music, the word choice. These are all things we
look at when we’re writing. And did I choose
the right words? You know, it turned out to be a
political poem, which I didn’t think it was going to be. But when I had the list of
things where we shouldn’t be, I realized, as I was
driving to my office today, that I should have temple,
church, and nightclub in that list,
because that made it the poem I was thinking it
might be, which is about, you never know what’s
dangerous anymore. Anyway. So I don’t know. KEITH SCHAEFER: Even
though a tiger enclosure seems like an obvious one. But– KIM DOWER: Right. KEITH SCHAEFER:
–these others are not. KIM DOWER: Exactly. KEITH SCHAEFER: Right. KIM DOWER: And
that’s why the poem is about one thing and another. But I don’t– I’m kind of
liking that poem the way it is. KEITH SCHAEFER: OK. So sometimes, it’s pretty
good right out of the blocks. KIM DOWER: Can be. KEITH SCHAEFER: Yeah. KIM DOWER: But you know, I– this was a poem I wrote
for Google, which is why I wrote the Google word in it. KEITH SCHAEFER: Thank you. KIM DOWER: But it’s
true that I googled– it’s true. And I googled what
makes a tiger a tiger. And then I got that, about they
never have the same stripes, which, who knew, right? I mean, you guys really come
up with some great stuff. I never knew about
the stripes, you know, that they can’t
have the same stripes. That they hunt alone,
I think I knew. But anyway, yeah. So I might keep it as is. KEITH SCHAEFER: Cool. No? OK. I thought I saw a hand. I have a friend who
is not here, so he’s going to hear about that. But– KIM DOWER: Loser. KEITH SCHAEFER: I know, right? KIM DOWER: Yeah, totally. KEITH SCHAEFER: We
won’t say his name. KIM DOWER: Don’t say it. KEITH SCHAEFER: But he’s going–
when he watches the video, he’ll know who he is. KIM DOWER: I didn’t really
think you’re a loser. KEITH SCHAEFER: You are. KIM DOWER: Well, you are. KEITH SCHAEFER: He– I told him about poetry, and
he’s a very sort of typical– no, maybe not typical. But he’s an engineer, like
many of us here, and sort of expressed the idea
that he, you know, didn’t necessarily know
a lot about poetry, but he really enjoyed limericks. And you mentioned that there’s
poetry for everyone, right? And so that reminded me
of this statement that he made, where these are, you know,
very structured, very predict– predictable and not predictable
all in the same way, right? Is that what you meant? KIM DOWER: That there’s
poetry for everyone? Yeah. I mean, limericks– we all
know what limericks are. There once was a woman from
Sweden who– blah, blah, blah. So I mean, there– it’s a comfort. KEITH SCHAEFER: We
won’t say anything. KIM DOWER: They’re comforting
because of the rhyme scheme. And they feel good,
and they sound good. And they’re fun. You know, they may not
have a certain substance that another poem may have. But they’re engaging,
and they’re fun. And you can memorize them,
and you can sing them. And yeah, nothing wrong with
a good limerick, you know? I’ve never written a limerick. I mean, I have as, like, a joke. KEITH SCHAEFER: Oh. KIM DOWER: But you know, I
don’t seriously write them. KEITH SCHAEFER: Yeah. KIM DOWER: But nothing
wrong with them. You know, yeah. KEITH SCHAEFER: Yeah. I mean, I think
what I was thinking was just that there are these
multiple levels of poetry. Poets write for
different audiences. And it seems– KIM DOWER: Well, I think
there are different audiences for different poetry. I’m not sure that poets write
for different audiences. But I think that one
could pick up a book and see what they like. You know, what’s very hot
right now is flash fiction. They’re little, tiny stories. And a lot of poems are
kind of flash fiction. I mean, my poems
are flash fiction. You know, they’re
just– they’re moments. They’re stories– a lot of
times, beginning, middle, end, because I write what you would
call more narrative poetry. There’s a story
there, rather than lyric, which is more
of an idea or a prayer. But yeah, there’s just
everything, right? You know. KEITH SCHAEFER: Before we
were– before we started– before you started,
we were chatting. And I mentioned that in various,
like, online poetry forums, I see a lot of
questions from, I assume students– but maybe not. It’s hard– you know,
you never really know– asking, what’s the
meaning of this poem? You know, “The Raven,”
Somebody said “The Raven” earlier as a example poem. You know, what does “The
Raven” mean, or what does, you know, this Wordsworth
poem mean, or stuff like that. And we were chatting
about that and how maybe the idea of looking for
meaning in a poem of the way that you would in
a philosophy text– maybe that’s not the right
way to think about it. KIM DOWER: Yeah. Well, it’s very off-putting. And I think it turned a
lot of people off in class. You know, when we all had
to read stopping by the– you know, “whose
woods are these? I think I know. His house is in the village.” You know, Robert Frost. Did we all have to read that? So then it was like,
what does it really mean? And you know, I would get a
stomachache, because you know, poetry does not have a right
answer and a wrong answer. A good poet will put
enough information in that poem, enough
feeling, enough emotion, so that the reader
gives the poem meaning. You know, if when I’m reading
that poem “Shoplifting,” if it connects you to a time
you shoplifted, or it makes you laugh, or makes you feel
sorry for the poor guard who’s talking to himself– you know, if there’s enough
there, that’s the meaning. It’s not, like, another meaning. And you can go level to level. I’ve been in classes as an
adult where we do poems. And a teacher, a
poet, will help me understand a poem in a way
I did not understand it. And I am so grateful for that. And I’ve been in classes where
I hand out poems, and they say, what meanings do you take? And the meanings are amazing. There’s a great poem
called “The Day Lady Died” by my favorite
poet, Frank O’Hara. KEITH SCHAEFER:
Frank O’Hara, yeah. KIM DOWER: And it’s about
Billie Holiday dying. And the poet, the speaker,
sees it on “The New York Post” that Billie Holiday died. Anyway, I’ve read that
poem hundreds of times, and I know what it means to me. But if you Google “The Day
Lady Died” by Frank O’Hara, you will get pages
and articles of what that poem means– what he meant
by this, what he meant by that. Now, Frank O’Hara is dead. We can’t say, hey, Frank. Did you really mean that? So the reader gives
the poem meaning. And the poem is to be enjoyed. And if you can’t step
into it and enjoy it, go to another poem. You know, it’s not
a test like math. It’s 2 plus 2 is
4, but with a poem, there’s no such thing as a
right answer, in my opinion. KEITH SCHAEFER: I love that. Does anyone– I’m going to put
a question to our audience. Is anyone off-put by
the ambiguity of that? Yes. Do you want to say
anything about it? No. AUDIENCE: So when
you’re writing a poem, like, do you have certain
levels of meaning that you’re meaning to convey in
this poem, and like, hoping the readers will get? Will understand? KIM DOWER: Right. That’s a great question. Sometimes I do, and
sometimes I don’t. I don’t have an endgame when
I start to write a poem. There are poems that hit me,
that literally come through me. For example, there’s a poem
in this book called “Thirst,” and it’s a poem about my father. And it’s very clearly
about my father. There’s no ambiguity. And when I was writing it,
I was writing it about him. Now, readers will get
what they get from it. You know, she loved her father. She didn’t love
her father enough. She– but mainly, you’re going
to see yourself in that poem and how you feel
about your father. So I don’t care what
meanings you take from it, as long as you feel
something when you read it. Now, there are other poems that
are complete surprises to me, like the tiger poem that
I wrote this morning. I didn’t know where
that was going to go. That’s a poem about not really
being safe anywhere, you know? This poor woman
goes into the thing. I don’t know who
let her do that. And she gets mauled. But there’s everyday
situations that are dangerous, and we don’t know. That’s what the
poem turned into. But if you don’t see that in
the poem, you know, that’s OK. So the answer is, I can’t– I don’t hope my readers going
to see anything a certain way. But when you’re in a workshop–
a poetry workshop– which I was in on and off
for years and years, the first thing that’s asked
after you read your poem– everyone has a copy–
is, what meanings do you take from the poem? And everyone has a chance to
say what they see in the poem. And sometimes,
they’d be like, no. I don’t mean that at all. I don’t want that, you know. And then I would go home,
and I’d take it out, or I’d redo it, because there
are certain things I really don’t– but then now where
I am, I don’t care. I really don’t. If I’m satisfied
with the poem, I just hope that my reader
gets something from it. And if they’re arguing
with someone else, no, she really meant this. No, she– great. AUDIENCE: Thanks. KIM DOWER: Does that answer? AUDIENCE: Mm-hmm. KEITH SCHAEFER: So
I love this idea that there isn’t a meaning. There’s meanings. KIM DOWER: Yeah. KEITH SCHAEFER: And it’s a– in some ways, it’s
a collaboration between the poet– KIM DOWER: Absolutely. KEITH SCHAEFER:
–and the reader. Not in some ways,
in lots of ways. KIM DOWER: You just said it. A poem– the reading
is a collaboration between the writer
and the reader. Absolutely true. And I would like to– not kill. I mean, we’re not
supposed to say that. But you know, just,
like, round up every teacher who ever made
us give a poem a meaning, you know, or was told we
were wrong when we said we thought it meant something. I mean, that is a real
serious crime against poetry. KEITH SCHAEFER: You
heard it here, teachers. KIM DOWER: It’s true,
for goodness sake. KEITH SCHAEFER:
A lot of people– speaking of the classroom,
a lot of people, I think, are used to reading poetry. It’s a really different
experience hearing, especially a poet, read their own poems. It’s– yeah, it’s just
completely different. Can you talk a little
bit about the– KIM DOWER: Yeah. well, poems– KEITH SCHAEFER: –the
audible aspects of poetry? KIM DOWER: Poems
should be read aloud. You should read every
poem in this book aloud. They’re music. They are poems for a reason. The line breaks are there to
break the moment, the sound. And to hear a poet– I mean, there are a lot of– there’s some better
readers than other readers. That’s another thing. Poets should all learn
how to read their poems. But I love reading, and
I think that– and I love going to a good
reading and hearing a poet I love read their work. So yeah, poems are musical. They should be read aloud. And it is a different experience
to hear them aloud, definitely. KEITH SCHAEFER: Do
you tend to read along with a poet, like,
to follow the– KIM DOWER: Sometimes. KEITH SCHAEFER: Sometimes? KIM DOWER: But in writing a
poem– and I use my computer for this, and my phone. As I’m writing, I read it aloud. And then I listen to the poem. And I will hear what
that poem needs. KEITH SCHAEFER: When
you say you listen, do you record
yourself reading it? KIM DOWER: Yes, I record
myself, and then I listen. Like, whoa, that is the total
wrong sound, or the wrong word. You know, there’s– if you get
into writing poetry– you know, poems are all different forms. So it’s like– just like a box. A poem is in a box. A poem can have tercets, which
is the three lines broken by stanzas, or four lines. But when you put a
poem in couplets– two, two, two, and two– a teacher once
said to me, that’s like putting on a bikini. You can see all the things
wrong with that poem. I mean, it’s hilarious. So I often will take a poem,
and I’ll put it in couplets. And I’ll see the things
that are sticking out. Like, oh, god. That word has to
go, or that’s too– it’s cumbersome, or it’s bulky. Yeah. So a poem is a musical– should be read aloud,
should be heard aloud. There’s an amazing museum in
Chicago, the American Poetry Museum. And you can go into a room
and put on headphones, and listen to any poet you
can imagine who’s recorded read their poem, right? You can hear Robert Frost
“Stopping By the Woods.” And that’s like, whoa. It makes the poem sound so
different, hearing him read it. KEITH SCHAEFER: We have time
for maybe one more question. If there’s not one from the
audience, I have one final one. But if anyone wants to take– yes, from the far back. KIM DOWER: Uh-oh [INAUDIBLE]. KEITH SCHAEFER: I think I know
what this is, but that’s OK. No? No? OK. AUDIENCE: So I recently
heard Stephen King say that the first time
you write something, you should do it
with the door closed, and the second time, you should
do it with the door open. I’m wondering if you could
speak to your process of kind of writing, rewriting, editing– if you think it’s different
for poetry versus other genres. KIM DOWER: Well, I love
Stephen King’s book called “On Writing.” Is that where that was from? It’s a great book, by the way. Great book. And– yeah. So I can write a poem
anywhere, frankly. I can– I’ve written a lot
of my poems in parking lots. You know, I used
to leave stores– Target and Loehmann’s– I
have a poem called “Boob Job” that takes place in the
Loehmann’s dressing room. And I was so taken with the
idea of writing this poem that I wrote it in the parking lot. And I was sort of getting
gassed by the cars as they were starting. So my husband plays
guitar, and I’ve– many poems have been
written listening, you know, to him blast music. And you know, there was
no place to escape to. I think the ability to write a
poem under any circumstances– once it comes to you,
you get sort of taken. It’s almost like a spirit. It doesn’t matter. Now, revising, I need to be
in there with the door closed. That is– I need quiet. I need privacy. If I can get it, that is very– and I’d like to take my
poems into bed with me. Once I’ve written
them, they go into bed. I don’t know, it’s sort of
more personal or intimate or something. And then I take– I print them out, and
then I use a pencil. I like pencils a lot. And I revise. But I think– I’ve written on the beach. I’ve written with the door open,
with the door closed, in bed, driving– while I was driving, which is
really dangerous to the people driving around me. But yeah. So there you go. I wish I had a more
pat answer, but– does that help? Is that good? Yeah. KEITH SCHAEFER: All right. Well, we are out of time. So I just would like
to encourage everyone to go back to your
desk and write a poem. Use some of the techniques
that Kim has talked about. And you don’t have
to show it to anyone. Just do it for yourself. Thank you so much for
coming and talking with us. I think this has
been fascinating. I’ve really, really enjoyed it. So thank you for coming. KIM DOWER: Thank you. Thank Keith for
making this happen. He said, we need a
poet in here, right? So thank you. KEITH SCHAEFER: We’ll have more. We’ll have more poets. We’ll start to– you know. KIM DOWER: Great. KEITH SCHAEFER: We’ll
have a whole thing. We’re going to do a
whole poetry thing. KIM DOWER: Whole thing. OK. KEITH SCHAEFER: Thank you. [APPLAUSE]

5 thoughts on “Kim Dower: “Sunbathing on Tyrone Power’s Grave” | Talks at Google

  1. Very powerful contrast 32:02 "No two tigers have the same stripes" as it both back-references and implies quite cleverly that Us Humans are indeed all 'similarly striped.' – j q t –

  2. Nice!
    I also try to make poem but lots of time I saw that lots of content of my poem already exist in others poem somewhere. It's really hard to make something unique even if u write it with your own emotions.

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