the world offers itself to your imagination

2 06 2009

I don’t know why I’ve been spending my evenings inside — habits of the winter I suppose. Much nicer out on the deck. The bees are so loud in the rhododendrons that I keep turning my head to see what is there. A few moments ago, I heard a bear off in the woods, in earshot for just a few moments. The paths always grow too crowded for the bears, and they crunch their way noisily through. Why should they tiptoe?

Here’s a poem by Mary Oliver, I just ordered a collection of hers, New and Selected Poems, Volume Two

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

Here’s another flickr pic, well worth looking at, but, alas, by a spoilsport who’d rather not crown a blog post with their picture!View On Black.





Blank Joy

19 05 2009

She who did not come, wasn’t she determined
nonetheless to organize and decorate my heart?
If we had to exist to become the one we love,
what would the heart have to create?

Lovely joy left blank, perhaps you are
the center of all my labors and my loves.
If I’ve wept for you so much, it’s because
I preferred you among so many outlined joys

— Rainer Maria Rilke





Sleeping Beauty

18 05 2009

by paul

Forget, for a moment, the deception.
See the liquid eyes,
the sweet mouth, juices dribbling.
Watch her yawn and topple
onto a bed of moss and fern.

Observe the serene repose,
the cartoon bunny, the cautious wren.
Consider the spell, proactive.
How a single bite preserves
such ripe perfection.
 
From http://www.gotpoetry.com/Poems/l_op=viewpoems/lid=5234.html
 





the link-boys slouching and the rainy wind

10 02 2008

The trigger for this particular missive was this article in the New York Times — http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/20/books/review/Logan-t.html?pagewanted=1&_r=2&8bu&emc=bu — about the book of poems A TREATISE OF CIVIL POWER, by Geoffrey Hill. [this blog entry is excerpted/edited from a letter written on the same day that I started this blog — Jan 23, 2008] The review made me think about art, and changed some of my attitudes toward poetry — and also changed the way I read it. Here’s a bit from the beginning of the article (written by a poet as well, I discover at the end of the review)

 

Living With Ghosts

By WILLIAM LOGAN

Published: January 20, 2008

Gloomy poets are rarely very good, and good poets rarely very gloomy. There was Edgar Allan Poe, of course, and Thomas Lovell Beddoes, denizens of that funereal, willow-shadowed decade of the 1840s, a decade half in love with Keats and half in love with easeful death. Thomas Hardy had his black moods, but also his moments of sour levity. For more than 50 years, however, Geoffrey Hill has written a pinch-mouthed, grave-digger’s poetry so rich and allusive his books are normally greeted by gouts of praise from critics and the bewilderment of readers who might have been happier with a tract on the mating rituals of the earwig.

 

Hill has made brutally plain that the common reader is of no interest to him. Indeed, he believes that sinking to common ground betrays the high purpose of verse; with a withering pride he has refused, time and again, to stoop to such betrayals. This has made him a poet more despised than admired, and more admired than loved. His poetry has been composed of harsh musics, the alarums of battle and the death struggles under the reading lamp — it takes to contemplation the way some men take to religion (Hill’s relation to Christianity has been famously cryptic).

 

Evidently Hill’s poetry is dense with allusion, and all but requires a library and an internet connection to begin to tease the meaning apart. Generally, I have a great disdain for art that disdains the untutored consumer. Art, I think, is a means to communicate — if it is opaque and requiring of special training, then it fails, somehow. But this article gives me a different perspective (although, not, perhaps, exactly what the reviewer intended). If Hill’s poetry is a deliberate tangle of allusion, but one that can be detangled,  then perhaps that is part of the fun, part of the contract. Rather than an unwarranted and arrogant assumption by the author, it could be an assumption of research. Judging from the review, this may not be the case — it may be that these poems are just a form of intellectual strutting, only intended for the informed. But that doesn’t mean that some poems could be approached this way. Near the end of the review (which is worth reading), comes this poem.

 

There are passages of stunning beauty, however, like views through the lens of a Leica, for which a reader will forgive many a sin.

I see Inigo Jones’s great arches

in my mind’s eye, his water-inky clouds,

the paraphernalia of a royal masque;

dung and detritus in the crazy streets,

the big coaches bellying in their skirts

pothole to pothole, and the men of fire,

the link-boys slouching and the rainy wind.

 

Pasted from <http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/20/books/review/Logan-t.html?pagewanted=2&_r=2&8bu&emc=bu>

 

So, I take the opportunity of reading this poem to read about Inigo Jones (I can’t help but think of another Inigo — of The Princess Bride — “My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die…” — hopefully everyone in the world will have the chance to see that movie!). In any case, Inigo Jones, although Spanish in forename, is firmly English in surname and turns out to be “the first significant English architect.” – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inigo_Jones

He also designed sets for the theatre — “credited with introducing movable scenery and the proscenium arch to English theatre. ” Then I get to read about the proscenium arch — a lot I didn’t know here. This leads me (right now, as I write this), in a digression, to the alley theater — one with the audience on two sides. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alley_Theater

 

I hadn’t known that this was a type of theater — I grew up in Houston where I saw Huck Finn at the Alley Theatre — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alley_Theatre — although I can’t tell if this theater is actually an “alley theater,” I do remember that the audience at least partially surrounded Huck Finn when our school went there on an excursion. (My most vivid memory is of my soda — a rare treat growing up with a “health food” mom — with the can stretched out of shape from having spent the night in the freezer.)

 

I also get to look up link-boy http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Link-boy — they seem to be a kind of human flashlight, carrying torches through the streets of London for pedestrians and those riding on litters. Funny that — writing this e-mail is likely preventing me from finishing that so-Victorian novel Bleak House, by Charles Dickens, wherein one old pernicious character is borne about on a litter, or carried by on or another character. (This book wins the prize for having been on my “list to read” the longest — probably 20 years ago that I first started it, and I think I’ve started it 7 or 10 more times since then. It’s good that I like the first chapter…)

 

Anyway, you can see what I mean — rather than seeing this as a impenetrable mass, I suck it dry as an index to interesting lore. I can’t say that I really like the poem that much, even now that I understand it. But it has, at least for the moment, meant that I read even poems that are accessible (and I still think an artists job is to communicate through his or her medium of choice)… I see even these poems with a difference. So, when The Writer’s Almanac arrives (This week I’ve started a system so I won’t miss listening to it.), when it arrives with a Poe poem that is so much Poe as to be recognizable without need for the author to be listed, and that poem has this stanza:

 

Wanderers in that happy valley

      Through two luminous windows, saw

Spirits moving musically

      To a lute’s well-tuned law;

Round about a throne where, sitting

      (Porphyrogene!)

In state his glory well befitting,

      The ruler of the realm was seen.

 

I don’t skip over the word Porphyrogene as a toddlers do, in their intelligent way — ignoring what they don’t understand, rather than puzzling over things that are likely beyond them. No frustration for them — they just move on. And so do I, I realize, trusting to the future to reinforce the tiny bits of meaning that accrue to words through long familiarity. But now I am grown, and perhaps it is worth focusing on those remaining places where I am ignorant. My vocabulary has stalled, and I will not likely run into Porphyrogene again before the traces of this encounter have been erased by the paths of so many other words streaming through my brain. And, besides, it turns out to be interesting to read about Porphyrogenita — “born in the purple” — a true child of a reigning Byzantine Emperor.

 

Porphyrogenita is a medieval Greek word which was used in the Byzantine Empire, meaning “born in the purple”.

The female form is Porphyrogeniti (Πορφυρογέννητη) and Latinized to Porphyrogenita. The male form is Porphyrogenitos.

Being born in the purple means that one was born as the child of a reigning Byzantine Emperor. Being Porphyrogenita added much status to a person. For males it meant they were the legitimate successors of the last emperor, and had a real claim to the throne against rebellious generals. For females it meant they had higher status as a princess and had more value if they were used in diplomatic marriages.

Examples of Porphyrogenita:

Pasted from <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Porphyrogenita>

 

So there, a new accretion of knowledge, knowledge without apparent purpose, my favorite kind. And from there I can slip into reading, should I wish, about Byzantine Emperors, the rulers of the Eastern Roman Empire, although I don’t, since it is late.

 





raccoon cadaver of colored crayon

3 02 2008

the poet (at his wurst?) as sausage maker …”supplying the pig snouts and rectal tissue of language / which the critic encloses in a thin membrane of explication.”

 

Here’s another Stephen Dobyns poem (see always engaged in revision), found here (where they will read it for you)

Can Poetry Matter?

Heart feels the time has come to compose lyric poetry.

No more storytelling for him. Oh, Moon, Heart writes,

sad wafer of the heart’s distress. And then: Oh, Moon,

bright cracker of the heart’s pleasure. Which is it,

is the moon happy or sad, cracker or wafer? He looks

from the window but the night is overcast. Oh, Cloud,

he writes, moody veil of the Moon’s distress. And then,

Oh, Cloud, sweet scarf of the Moon’s repose. Once more

Heart asks, Are clouds kindly or a bother, is the moon sad

or at rest? He calls scientists who tell him that the moon

is a dead piece of rock. He calls astrologers. One says

the moon means water. Another that it signifies oblivion.

The girl next door says the Moon means love. The nut

up the block says it proves that Satan has us under his thumb.

Heart goes back to his notebooks. Oh, Moon, he writes,

confusing orb meaning one thing or another. Heart feels

that his words lack conviction. Then he hits on a solution.

Oh, Moon, immense hyena of introverted motorboat.

Oh, Moon, upside down lamppost of barbershop quartet.

Heart takes his lines to a critic who tells him that the poet

is recounting a time as a toddler when he saw his father

kissing the baby-sitter at the family’s cottage on a lake.

Obviously, the poem explains the poet’s fear of water.

Heart is ecstatic. He rushes home to continue writing.

Oh, Cloud, raccoon cadaver of colored crayon, angel spittle

recast as foggy euphoria. Heart is swept up by the passion

of composition. Freed from the responsibility of content,

no nuance of nonsense can be denied him. Soon his poems

appear everywhere, while the critic writes essays elucidating

Heart’s meaning. Jointly they form a sausage factory of poetry:

Heart supplying the pig snouts and rectal tissue of language

which the critic encloses in a thin membrane of explication.

Lyric poetry means teamwork, thinks Heart: a hog farm,

corn field, and two old dobbins pulling a buckboard of song.

 

Pallbearers Envying The One Who Rides

 (Penguin, 1999)

 

 I love his struggle —

Which is it,

is the moon happy or sad, cracker or wafer? He looks

from the window but the night is overcast. Oh, Cloud,

he writes, moody veil of the Moon’s distress. And then,

Oh, Cloud, sweet scarf of the Moon’s repose. Once more

Heart asks, Are clouds kindly or a bother, is the moon sad

or at rest?

 

Excellent… Sometimes poetry can go for the technicolor image instead of the truthful one, the meaningless but evocative metaphor rather than true meaning. Of course, there are many other points in this poem, but, after all, you could truly say that I am enclosing another’s post and another’s poem in a thin membrane (oh so thin) of explication myself. Perhaps the thinner the better.

 





his safe smell was all around and he told me he was so sorry he would drink up every bit of water in Dresser’s Pond if that would make it all unhappen. it can’t

3 02 2008

LEARNING TO SWIM is a painful narrative of poems that — truly — I expected to hate as soon as I read the first page. I could see where they were going from that first page — as the poet intends —  and I didn’t think I had any desire to travel there.

 

I’ve only just begun to understand how to read poetry — reading particularly each word and phrase, not just the ideas and content, bringing a concentration that is unnecessary for comprehension but allows me to appreciate the art. It is not necessary to study a painting to understand what is portrayed, or even to appreciate it at some level. But if you do study it, and the artist has invested his skill in the painting, then you will be rewarded for your contemplation, especially if you have taken the time to educate your eye. This concentrated reading, I find, means that painful poetry has more power than painful prose.  And I’ve read enough “important” stories of trauma to have a distaste for it in literary form. So I set this book down when it got distasteful and ugly. I don’t feel that a book or a story has to be about some terrible act in order to be important, and I feel a distaste for the easy importance that clothes such stories. But that false patina of power is not what I found when I picked it up again — hoping to read swiftly until I found this passage, the one that had caught my eye in the first place:

 

There are veils

over the high bush blueberries,

like huge white wings

brushing the ground.

Mother and I scrooge under,

tin cans in hand,

and pull the berries down

so fast they rattle

and fill to the brim.

I hate their sour taste

but love being hidden

under the netting

where no one can see

me.

 

But as I quickly read, I found myself drawn in and found the story in these narrative poems so true as to be compelling. And these poems are true, reflecting not only the pain of the assault, but the eventual cleansing and moving on that happens in real life. A recovery that doesn’t make the original act any less repugnant, but is not a permanent destruction of youth and childhood either.

 

In the prologue, she says

 

This is what I remember:

that hot room,

your strange body,

your hands hurting,

and harsh words

telling me terrible things

would happen

if I ever

told.

 

But now you can’t

find me or reach me

or hurt me ever

again and once I tell the words

I am going to kick

you off my porch

and learn to breathe

again.

 

Perhaps you find this a promising beginning. I did not. But the speaker recovers, and so does the poetry.

Or, rather, first the poetry, then the person.

I hate the color yellow.

I hate limp curtains.

I hate iron bedsteads

and thick boys in shorts.

When I grow up

I will have a green room

with a soft, mounded bed

and white curtains

blowing in the windows.

In my room

there will never be

a thick boy in shorts.

 

For me this recovery was even more appreciated because I didn’t quite believe it was going to come, so fully, either in the story or especially in the almost poetry — I call it that just this once because it has so little besides formatting and intensity to make it such. Perhaps it is more fairly poetry that is almost not poetry…

 

Daddy held my hand

as we scrambled down

the path to Dresser’s Pond.

We waded in together,

and I thought of white, bony

things I could not see,

of a lake octopus waiting

to sucker its tentacles

around my skinny legs.

Daddy said,

“You are learning to swim,”

and I let go of his hand.

“I am learning to swim,”

I chanted

and when the bottom

fell away,

I bobbed on top,

my face like a white flower

before me.

 

Perhaps it is realistic because it is real — the book is subtitled A memoir. Perhaps parts are painful to read because they were painful to live — and to write, the author said that starting these poems was like eating ground glass (although I doubt she can truly make the comparison, I believe this right is included in the poet’s license.). The good thing to reflect on, is that perhaps she recovers so fully because that is what people do.

 

In the end, I don’t find this poetry to be many things that I want poetry to be. It is painful and uncomfortable in many places. But it’s true in a sense that includes emotions and goes beyond facts, and that is something.

 

LEARNING TO SWIM: a memoir by ann turner

ann turner’s books

 





Tracks of Tracks in the Snow

1 02 2008

houseinwinter.jpg

[this is an edited version of a personal letter I wrote shortly before I started this blog]

On Tuesday, I was snowed in and worked from home. Alas, without the kids here, I really did spend almost every moment of the day working, but I did get out for a couple of short walks on the property. I should have pulled the sled down and taken a few spins — 1 or 2 usually satisfies me. But I kept wanting to get one more hurdle overcome on the project I’m cooking up and so spent the day in bits and pieces.

 

It’s too bad that the kids didn’t get to see any real snow — next year we will get to the mountains no matter what! Perhaps we should take ski lessons, or just go cross-country skiing…or, in any case, we shall certainly go tubing or sledding.

 

In any case, it looks like I shall have the chance to go up to the mountains after all, since my group at work is going on a group outing into the snow in February, either to go tubing or snowshoeing.

 

But I was going to tell you about the snow at our house. I like the snow for making a record of the goings on around our property. Like a photo or, in a way, like this letter, the snow preserves a memory of the animals so that others can share them. Of course, we know that many creatures live on our property, but even the deer seem like a treat to see. But I’m sure that they visit our property every day, as do the possum, coyote, field mice, owls, and raccoons that we see only occasionally. And the snow lays out the tracks like a story. I have a book here with me, rather melodramatically entitled Mystery Tracks in the Snow, one of those marvelous near gifts from the library discards. Someday I hope to find a mysterious track that I can eventually decipher — to puzzle out a porcupine path, perhaps, or decipher those of a bobcat or some other of the wildcats that are known to come to our area on occasion, but for now I fancy I know what the tracks are just from the fact that there are so few animals that they could be from. I see my book has a description of a porcupine’s tracks (so I’ll be ready):

 

…life is easy for the porcupine, and it is neither intelligent nor highly motivated…

If you do find the tracks of a porcupine, you will see that it walks with a waddling gait, with the back feet stepping almost in the tracks of the front feet.

In dust or light snow its swinging tail will make swishing marks between the tracks.

The flat-footed tracks look much like miniature bear tracks. They are about three inches long and the long claws show plainly. There are five toes on the back feet and four on the front.

With its short legs and heavy body, it plows a deep furrow through soft snow.

 

Of course, porcupines don’t have it too easy — everything has its checks and balances. Given that the world isn’t overrun with porcupines, we can know that there are some forces out there keeping their numbers down. In some parts of the world, people eat them. Mostly Africa, but also, according to the all-knowing Wikipedia, in parts of Italy — presumably the parts where porcupines live — and in Vietnam. We can also excuse porcupines their lack of a quick wit — their fearsome quills mean that they don’t have to use their brain to evade most predators, and a diet of bark, needles (conifer needles, not to be confused with the needles that the porcupines grow on their personal skin), leaves and other plant parts don’t put up much of a challenge either. I suppose there is a rather conventional lesson here about the challenges in life making us who we are, and a life of ease being a dissipative and weakening one.

img_1480.jpg

I’m particularly interested in spotting porcupine evidence because they are cryptic creatures that I’ve never encountered. I’m sure that I’ll see one someday.

 

It’s funny that we all take such an interest in the large creatures of the world. Not just the so-called “mega-fauna,” or lions and tigers and elephants, but the mammals of all sizes, even though there are so few of them. Do any of them really live a more interesting life than a wasp or a spider or a butterfly? Of course, at this exact moment a surprisingly large moth flutters through the room where I am writing, as if to remind me that beside my bed upstairs is a book titled Moth Catcher, the memoir of a biologist, a resident of Arizona, by the way, who has devoted his life to studying them. (I bought it on the trip to Elliot Bay Books when the kids were here — managed to buy a few presents without notice, also.) There are many people who love bugs and birds, but I think they are many who wouldn’t be interested to hear about a butterfly or a Stellar’s jay, but who would be excited by reports of a porcupine or a ‘coon. (perhaps even by the story I intend, eventually, to relate.) It is interesting, though, that I have a book that lists and describes nearly every species North American mammal (lumping only some of the rodents into entries together). This task would be futile for the insects. There are only about 5,400 different species of mammals in the world — a good portion, nearly half (around 40%), are rodents. One could imagine a nice set of bound volumes with all of the mammals of the world laid out, one or two per page… Try to imagine, now, that there are also around 5,000 described species of lady bugs. I say “described” because there are almost certainly at least a few species overlooked to date…

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Anyway, it was pleasant and refreshing to walk through the property in the snow, seeing the beauty of the trees and land covered in snow and the tracks of the deer and the coyote, just where I’d expect them from seeing them travel our property — the deer tracks crisscrossing the back yard and the front, and the coyote still skirting the border and trotting down the part of the driveway running between our property and our neighbors to the south. The animals are neither indifferent to our paths or bound by them — they follow along them for a while, then it what seems a sudden departure, continue on, probably following some path well known to them. I saw the same thing from work out of Carl’s window — a sidewalk near the parking garage was a common path for all of the folks walking in that direction, but there was a fan of tracks across the lawn where the sidewalk took a jog to the right when everyone else wanted to head off somewhat to the left. The fan of tracks didn’t project the sidewalk’s path forward, but reflected the varied destinations of the walkers, each with his own idea of the best route. I’m sure that on most days they each walk that same course, at least when the lawn is not too soggy. But only with a great deal of attention, observation, and perhaps even careful record keeping, would the fan-like pattern of their tracks have been apparent to an observer, and never with the clarity of that fan of tracks in the snow, evident to anyone who cared to look. I think that was what I was trying to get at earlier in this letter — the snow records a path, or many paths, and plays them back all at once in a single glance, revealing all this interesting behavior that would have been so difficult to perceive, indeed would never have been perceived, without its record keeping. I suppose this is the job a writer or a poet or a reporter strives to achieve — to sum up an event or call up a scene in the mind’s eye with the brevity and clarity of tracks in the snow.

 

I saw a raccoon follow for just a stretch the path of compressed snow that I’d trampled with my truck tire at the bottom of the driveway, where the ground on either side is marshy. Or rather, of course, I saw the snow’s record of those nighttime perambulations. She — I call her she for no good reason as there were what appeared to be two set of tracks, or the same raccoon on two trips, and I find it convenient to think of one set as male and the other female– She came from the woods on one side, where we always crash our sleds when we toboggan down the straightaway, and walked along the track left by my truck before veering at an oblique angle across the driveway toward the dark pond where the stream descends to pass under the driveway.

raccoontiretracks.jpg

 

A bloody small raccoon-edible something (formerly someone, I suppose), was dropped or rested on the snow, leaving a smallish blood-stained hole near the tracks, which then veer to the water’s edge in a V, headed to the water and then away. (I suppose the raccoon will have no qualms eating corn, or simply eating the mice directly) I fancy this visit was to indulge the raccoon’s habit of washing its food. The tracks head back along the water in a straight path, meeting and overlapping with the other set that come from the direction of the street, before, in what seems a surprising turn of events to me, beelining across the water to emerge on the other side. It’s natural, I suppose, that the ‘coons would live back there in the marsh, but I can’t really imagine that they enjoy crossing the icy water — they seems to choose a fairly narrow point to do so..

wetcrossing.jpg

This leads me to reflect what a great invention shoes and boots are, even now in the warmth of my (perhaps overwarm) home. I’ll bet that a raccoon would appreciate a good set of waterproof footwear as much as any creature, so long as they were easy to put on and off…

 

I’m trying to read more poetry — I don’t always enjoy it, but when I do, it’s a different kind of pleasure than other kinds of reading — like carefully examining a photograph instead of watching a movie. Part of it is learning how to read some of the poetry — the Writer’s Almanac, and Garrison Keillor’s  evocative reading style, has helped.

 

img_1497.jpg

 

Here’s my poem of the week:

 

What’s In My Journal

 

Odd things, like a button drawer. Mean

Thing, fishhooks, barbs in your hand.

But marbles too. A genius for being agreeable.

Junkyard crucifixes, voluptuous

discards. Space for knickknacks, and for

Alaska. Evidence to hang me, or to beatify.

Clues that lead nowhere, that never connected

anyway. Deliberate obfuscation, the kind

that takes genius. Chasms in character.

Loud omissions. Mornings that yawn above

a new grave. Pages you know exist

but you can’t find them. Someone’s terribly

inevitable life story, maybe mine.

 

by William Stafford, from Crossing Unmarked Snow

 

I don’t have much of a journal, but that’s an apt description of what a journal should resemble, if not, perhaps, particularly for me (I have no especial genius for being agreeable, I fear.) Despite the joys of reflecting on one’s journal and the advantage illustrated by the snow of being able to scan over a record of events, I have not found it easy to write at length to my future self, although I am probably my most appreciative audience. The brain is better at recognizing and recalling things with a trigger rather than summoning them from thin air, and rereading an accounting brings black a flood of all-but-forgotten memories. But perhaps I can write a letter to someone, as in this case, then share it with others and preserve it for myself here on my blog. Perhaps few will be interested in getting barbs in their hands, and others will scorn marbles. But I will send it all your way and trust it does not find most of itself unwelcome. And if parts do, well, then I shall call them journal entries and be content with reading them myself someday, tracks of tracks in the snow.

 

p.s. Dusk from the deck

 

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