October: Paul Watsky—Telling The Difference

It feels a bit strange to introduce my collection of poetry to a group that’s all about Jungian psychology rather than poems, especially because though it’s perfectly true I’m a psychologist by profession and owe my livelihood to practicing analysis, while pursuing my literary avocation I identify myself exclusively as a poet—and most emphatically not as a Jungian analyst who writes verse, i.e. a hobbyist. I share with the poets I admire a loyalty to language as king, within whose domain craft rules and rhythm stokes the furnace.

Does my poet identity at all overlap the Jungian? Yes, in several crucial ways: my commitment to the primacy of personal experience and emotion, the drive for self-expression, the need for meaning, an awareness of the unconscious, recognition of the potency of images, and a tendency to exploit the cumulative effects of overlapping and interpenetrating associations.  

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  • Hi Paul. Wow! I can't believe how fast the month has gone. Thank you SO much for your thoughtful reflection in tending the book club this month. I have really enjoyed the pace and the depth of comments and replies. Of course, I had the benefit of attending your poetry in person in Oakland mid-month and am still basking in the richness of what we saw. I hope to get some video up for the community shortly so all can have the same advantage.

    Meanwhile, to close out the month, I opened "Telling the Difference" at random this morning to see what pearls of wisdom lay in store for me. I opened to tow stunning works--on page 54 and 55 of the book. The first, titled "Who Knows" seems to be a commentary on the afterlife, and specifically while seeming to focus on those of the Islamic faith, carried such profound meaning for me in causing me to question what I believe and what my purpose here is.  Specifically, your last lines: 


    on earth, this haven

    of belief, there's always something worth 

    fighting for, something

    to sink your teeth into

    ---Aaahhh. Such a powerful call home to really assess why I'm here.

    Meanwhile, the second poem, "The Annual So-Called 'Hunting Trip' sent me straight back to young adulthood when my Dad always took my brothers hunting for deer and elk while I stayed behind only to hear their stories after the fact.  No cell phones then, of course--and likely a good thing. I didn't need to hear their stories twice :)

    Thank you so much again, Paul,  or your wonderful tending here in the Book Club this month. I will continue to enjoy your poems for years to come, I am sure.

    • My thanks to you, Bonnie, for your generous comments, for the opportunity to participate in the book club, and all your help in making this happen.

      It's been a pleasure conversing with you and other club members, especially because feedback, let alone dialogue, is so rare in my sector of the poetry world—outside academia. Even when poems get published it's no guarantee of any response, no more than can be expected from throwing bottles containing messages into the sea.

      All the best with your upcoming endeavors.

  • Paul,

    Our family was vacationing in the Sierras for the past week-and-a-half, where I had limited online access. I took your book and a couple others for contemplative reading, which I practice like Jung's synchronicity. It happens that I open a book to a synchronistic page; in this case to your pages 66 & 67, poems "For Y: Worry-free Day," and "For Zoe." Both capture my experience . . . the transcendent beauty of woods, mountains, expansive vistas, and silence.

    I didn't open any other books those ten days, which is quite unusual for me.

    Thank you,


    • Thank you, Kathryn.

      Those two poems are among the earliest-written in the collection. "Worry-free Day" is simply the rendering of an affect-charged image that came to me spontaneously during a session with my analyst. And "For Zoe" was written for someone very much an anima figure who introduced me to cross-country skiing, first in the Owens Valley, a bit south of Mammoth, then in Yosemite. Those winter landscapes are etched deep, and I'm honored you brought my book along for company when you visited that territory.

  • A crusty poet in academia leapt out of that stale tank and got real.
  •   Dawn McGuire & Paul Watsky



    401 26TH ST (AT WEBSTER)


    McGuire will read from her new collection, The Aphasia Café. McGuire, a neurologist and Professor at the Neuroscience Institute of Morehouse School of Medicine, has published three collections. Her work has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies. She most recently won the Sarah Lawrence/ Campbell Corner Language Exchange Prize for “poems that treat larger themes with lyric intensity.” In her best-selling third book, The Aphasia Café, McGuire enters into the world of her aphasic patients to explore the way we use language to construct our identity and world. These accessible, powerful poems invite listeners to enter into a conversation about language, identity, silence, and human resilience.

    Paul Watsky is the author of Telling The Difference (Fisher King Press, 2010) and co- translator with Emiko Miyashita of Santoka (PIE Books, 2006). His work has appeared or is forthcoming are Interim, Smartish Pace, The Carolina Quarterly, Many Mountains Moving, Alabama Literary Review, The Pinch, and Natural Bridge. "To quote Norman O. Brown quoting Euripides, 'God made an opening for the unexpected,' and at long last we have what many of us have greatly desired: a collection of poems by Paul Watsky. His is a singular voice in contemporary poetry, with a range that encompasses the wry, the mordant, the laugh-out-loud funny and the deeply moving, often within the same poem. One of Ovid's earliest critics complained that he did not know when to leave well enough alone. In this he resembles the eponymous hero of Watsky's 'The Magnificent Goldstein,' and, come to think of it, Watsky himself, for which we have cause to rejoice." -Charles Martin

    • Thanks for posting this, Paul. I look forward to attending and hope several of us can meet up there to support you and connect in community.

      Meanwhile, this morning I read your poem "Big Museum" on p. 31 of the book and absolutely loved it. I can't profess to understand all the poetry I read (when I read it!)--but this particularly poem struck me. It's very concrete, but with such a unique flavor due to the topic and the very humorous and interesting way you've conveyed what must have been a remarkable experience working in the museum with the birds. I don't know if you have more to say about it--either the poem or the experience itself--but would love to hear if you do!....

    • I'm glad you like "Big Museum," Bonnie. I'm fond of that poem myself, since it was one of my first large-scale efforts, and the way it came about kind of underscores the subversive aspect of my psyche.

      I'd run across a magazine ad for an eco-poetry contest sponsored by an environmental organization, and I thought to myself, "I can do that." It seemed pretty plain to me they wanted something Mary Oliverish, what I think of as a good-natured, earnest, "Let's all cherish and preserve the fuzzy bunnies" kind of effort. So that's what I tried to write, 'cause I wanted that prize.

      Well I sat and sat, and started to get depressed because I was blocked. And then I stopped pressing and just sat there, and started thinking about my years hanging out at the natural history museum in New York, and working with Dr. James Chapin, who was an incredible character, and once took me to a formal dinner at the Explorers' Club nearby, to which he belonged (by dint of having made important contributions to filling in blanks on the map, a group which included our first astronauts), where back in the 1920's the members once were served thawed out mammoth meat from a specimen unearthed in Siberia. Chapin was an old-style naturalist,a collector and adventurer, a colonialist. Shockingly politically incorrect but a significant scientist.

      As I suggest in the poem, our relationship was complicated, on his side by the fact that he needed a son and intellectual heir, but I, his final even vaguely plausible shot, was temperamentally unsuitable. And for my part, he was just one more admirable older man to whom I was a disappointment. This tragi-comic impasse played itself out in a vast repository of embalmed creatures, many of whom were extinct or hurrying towards extinction.

      That's where my heart was, and that's what I wrote about. I knew such a poem wouldn't win no eco-prizes, so I never entered it.

  • Hi all - I'd like to speak to a more general poetry issue -- what I refer to in my book as the revival of the Oral Tradition. For some twenty years now I've been very fortunate to have been part of an extended community in the SF Bay Area that has valued the recitation (not reading) of poetry and story. Several of us put on regular salons where the only rule is no reading. We encourage people to find (or write) a piece that is so meaningful to them that they choose to learn it by heart. In doing so, they take the poem quite literally into their own bodies and then "embody" the poem. Then, when they speak it to a group in ritual space, it becomes their own poem; it becomes self-revelation. And then we can have a "poetic conversation" in which one poem inspires another in round after round of pure beauty.

    Larry Robinson (lrobpoet@sonic.net) presents salons in Sebastopol. I encourage everyone to email him and get on his email list (which includes a poem of the day). And please email me (shmoover@comcast.net) for future salons in the East Bay.

    Also: Dan and Dale Zola produce an annual public event -- the Great Night of Rumi -- in Berkeley, in which many of recite poetry with musical accompaniment. You can hear samples on their website: http://www.dzola.com/

    I mention these contacts because I really believe that poetry that comes out of our bodies is a very powerful method of bringing soul back into the world and actually "en-couraging" people to reclaim their own power and offer their own unique gifts to the world. Young people, especially Paul's son, know this very well.


    Berkeley Poetry Spoken Word Events, Oakland Poetry, San Francisco Poetry, Performances, Recitals, R…
    • Truly, Barry, that's a fine way to relate to poetry. Living with it, breathing with it, acting it out.

      If you haven't already encountered the Jerome Rothenberg anthology Technicians of the Sacred you might find sympatico its approach to preliterate, indigenous, and often sacred verse.

      Since you mention George, I'd like to add that his real introduction to poetry came from an after school program that first trains high school age kids to write and then perform. George quickly recognized that although he wouldn't place high in slams unless he memorized his work, memorization and histrionics couldn't redeem a weak scribble. Ever since those days he's put major effort into generating and revising his drafts.

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