I’ve been chronicling my project with my wife on this blog. I’m going to write a sonnet series about the creation of California. I’m using the dual stories of William Mulholland and John Muir to tell the story of water in California, what really made it what it is. Ann’s a visual artist, so she’s going to do the graphic art work for it.
Of course, the research is the most difficult and most necessary part of the project. Every poem needs to wrap itself around a single moment of magic. That moment draws us in and develops the concept. I’m going to probably write 200 or 300 sonnets so that is 200 or 300 moments of magic.
What do I mean by a moment of magic, you might ask. It doesn’t have to be something big. It doesn’t have to be dramatic. It needs to shock the everyday so we can reconceptualize what it means to be alive. If you think of the romantic poets, you know what they did with everyday events. Wordsworth gave dignity to the conversations with homeless people on whom most people looked down. Keats wrote odes to birds. Shelley wrote about ruins. On and on. They helped us to resee the world, and they certainly weren’t the only poets to do that. The big and dramatic moments can and have been written about, but the small moments need the same treatment or there is no reason to write a poem.
That brings about a problem however. History books are mostly written about life’s big events. I’ll certainly go into that. But I need the moments of small magic too, and they aren’t in books.
So I called my buddy, Justin. Justin is a man of many parts. A Ph.D. in English, he also works for the water department and knows where to do research. Also, he has thought of and dreamed of water for years. I have always been fascinated by public works. I know that’s a strange thing to be fascinated by, but I love the idea of roads and the electric grid and street numbering systems. How we develop our cities is based on how we see ourselves. Justin is even more interested than I am about it.
Talking to him helped to give me direction. Talk about magic moments. Here are two of the more brilliant quotations he gave me after talking to him for just over an hour:
“Every single person is a watershed.” That’s the center of a poem.
“When you talk about water, you have to talk about salt.” I don’t know how that’s going to fit in, but it’s such a musical way to describe what I’ve been thinking about. Mulholland knew this. So did Muir. In fact, Mulholland originally didn’t want to pipe in water or dam it for this reason. He understood ecological principles that people of his time did not.
Justin gave me resources. Books yes, but more importantly told me where I could go to experience the magic of these public works projects. When water was drawn into the LA area for the first time, Mulholland’s famous speech was simple, “There it is. Take it.” He let me know where that was along with dozens of other important and fascinating sites.
And he is willing to give me introductions to a number of archives and people who have studied these ideas for years. Thank you Justin. This is exactly what I need.