READIN’AT: Mornings Like This: Found Poems, by Annie Dillard

Mornings Like This

Mornings Like This: Found Poems by Annie Dillard
Harper Collins 
1995 
75 pages

All right. Here’s what’s meant by the notion of “found poems.”

Imagine being at a flea market or perusing a library shelf, and you come across obscure or little known books. You know, like M.G.J. Minnaert’s The Nature of Light and Colour in the Open Air (published in 1893), or Aspects of the Tongue, by Robert Froriep, who is not, as one may assume from the title, Miley Cyrus’ new biographer. (The folks publishing this tome in 1828 probably didn’t have such tongue twerking in mind.)

As a whole, these books – while probably useful back in the day – may not be too appealing today. But there may be a nugget or two of literary greatness to be mined.

That’s where the idea of “found poetry” comes in. It’s taking phrases from existing work and mashing them together to make something completely new. Passages from a dull textbook become a poem with a totally different meaning, if you will.

I like the idea of the concept.  I mean, I think I do. It sounds like something I would like. As is usually the case with me and poetry (especially lately; the poetry I’m reading isn’t always agreeing with me) I wasn’t entirely sold on this collection. I’ve read Annie Dillard previously – I liked The Maytrees – so perhaps it really is just me. Some of these poems felt like they were over my head. The meaning seemed vague. Maybe those are the ones that are “just jokes,” as Ms. Dillard writes in her author’s introduction.

In their entirety, the poems “The Writing Life,” (“Bring in an eggbeater.” “Break apart stones to see if they contain fossils.”); “I Am Trying to Get at Something Utterly Heartbroken,” and “A Letter to Theo” are probably my favorites. The last two are based on original letters from Vincent van Gogh, letters 1873-1890, edited by I. Stone, translated by Johanna van Gogh.

There are also some memorable lines and images in these poems, and maybe that is our takeaway from Mornings Like This. Maybe Dillard’s purpose here really was that simple: to give us a few beautiful lines of poetry to ponder.

“So much is wrong, but not my hills.” (from “Mornings Like This,” a poem which feels so very Pittsburgh.)

“Give me time enough in this place/And I will surely make a beautiful thing.” (“Mornings Like This”)

“Think over what you have accomplished. Was it all that you wished? Has this story been told before?” (“Junior High School English”)

“I think of innumerable things; steal out/Westward at sunset, take oar, and row/In the dark or moonlight. In the evening I scribble/A little; all this mixed with reading./ I have a piano, but seldom play./ Books are becoming everything to me.” (“From a Letter Home”)

“To better my life – don’t you think I eagerly desire it? Cannot I serve some purpose and be of any good? Do you think we too shall be at the evening of our life?” (“A Letter to Theo”)

Annie Dillard grew up in the Point Breeze section of Pittsburgh and is the author of the books An American Childhood, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, and The Writing Life, among several others. Visit her website here.

About Readin’at: One of the things I’ve come to love about Pittsburgh is how much this city embraces the written word and the authors who bring stories to life. We’re quite the literary town. As a way to celebrate all things “bookish in the Burgh,” I created “READIN’AT,” my weekly blog column focused on Pittsburgh-based literary works and the writers who call this awesome city home. Look for READIN’AT every Thursday in this space.