The Vertigo of Possibility

I enjoy the daily audio poems I receive via email from the Poetry Foundation because I can listen to them unencumbered by words on the page.

In “Prelude,” A. E. Stallings carries us along as we wait for the moment at the end of the poem when she reveals why she is moved by art and music.ae-stallings

Listen to the poem here for the sheer joy of it:

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/audio/Prelude.mp3

Did you notice the rhyming? The beauty of the language? A. E. Stallings is a contemporary poet who works with rhyme and forms.

Now that you’ve heard the music, read her poem below and note how she uses original rhymes and creative line breaks to give the poem a definite structure. I also

Monet's Water Lilies (MOMA)

Monet’s Water Lilies (MoMA)

like the way she writes about tears while avoiding clichés (i.e.”tears gushed from my eyes”) as her poem reveals how moved she was by the possibility of creativity.

On our recent trip to NYC, we visited MoMA and saw Monet’s huge triptych, “Water Lilies.” When I remember my feelings as I stood before the painting, I can understand “the vertigo of possibility” and some of what A. E. Stallings was trying to convey in “Prelude.”

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Prelude

Lately, at the beginning of concerts when
The first-chair violin
Plays the A 4-40 and the bows
Go whirring about the instruments like wings
Over unfingered strings,
The cycling fifths, spectral arpeggios,

As the oboe lights the pure torch of the note,
Something in my throat
Constricts and tears are startled to my eyes,
Helplessly. And lately when I stand
Torn ticket in my hand
In the foyers of museums I surprise

You with a quaver in my rote reply—
Again I overbrim
And corners of the room go prismed, dim.
You’d like to think that it is Truth and Art
That I am shaken by,
So that I must discharge a freighted heart;

But it is not when cellos shoulder the tune,
Nor changing of the key
Nor resolution of disharmony
That makes me almost tremble, and it is not
The ambered afternoon
Slanting through motes of dust a painter caught

Four hundred years ago as someone stands
Opening the blank
Future like a letter in her hands.
It is not masterpieces of first rank,
Not something made
By once-warm fingers, nothing painted, played.

No, no. It is something else. It is something raw
That suddenly falls
Upon me at the start, like loss of awe—
The vertigo of possibility—
The pictures I don’t see,
The open strings, the perfect intervals.

A.E. Stallings

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Writing Jumpstart: Think of a time when you had difficulty writing or talking about an emotional moment. Use this line as a starting point:  “No, no. It is something else.” Then go for ten minutes saying (as best you can) what it is.

4 thoughts on “The Vertigo of Possibility

  1. Love the phrase, Vertigo of Possibility. I think we often encounter that vertigo in our writing – when what we intended takes on a life of its own and goes elsewhere.

    • Yes, yes. I do love when that happens. Those unexpected turns and twists make for happy writing time for me. I remember that was what always interested us when we read the submissions to our anthology.

  2. Beautiful, seemingly effortless, use of language to describe her physical and emotional reaction to creativity.

    • You’re so right! I could listen to this poem again and again.
      Maybe I can write about the Fauno Rosso and/or the Kahlo/Riveria exhibits at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Thanks for taking me there during my KC visit.

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