"Good old-fashioned American sportsmanship seemed a thing of the past--in baseball as in business and politics." --Ed Achorn
You could certainly say that today, but, wonderfully, it's a comment about baseball in 1884, soon after it became a professional sport. It's from Fifty-nine in '84, the story of Hoss Radbourn, a "barehanded baseball" player in the days before gloves and helmets and few regulations when players were literally putting their lives in each other's sometimes broken hands day after day of play.
Already the National Pastime in the 1860s, and as the country built itself back up after the Civil War, it was at first a joyful, fun, leisurely, healthy game played by whole towns--one early version was called "town ball"--and celebrated in poetry, notably by Walt Whitman!
Once cut-throat competitive strategies and money moved in, the game got fast-paced and ruthless. A pitcher could throw the ball straight at the batter if he wanted. And did. Hoss Radbourn was hit in the chest the season before his titular season and unable to pitch for a time but got back in the game by grit and willpower.
Sort of like Scarlett O-Hara! Gone With the Wind is 75 today.
I heard this story on NPR this morning, on my way home from lap swimming in the glittering sandy-bottomed pool. (I took swimming lessons in this same pool and did "water ballet," or synchronized swimming as it is called, olympically, today. Ah, those water ballet days are gone with the wind....)
Susan Stamberg went to Atlanta to see where Margaret Mitchell wrote her novel, in a tiny ground-floor apartment, on a Remington, while laid up with an ankle injury. She wrote it to entertain herself after she ran out of things to read!
I Googled the term "post pointlessness" to see if it was already a literary critical or post-postmodern philosophical movement...but just saw a lot of posts on pointless posts on pointlessness, some in the Huffington Post, and so on, but I imagine it should be a movement, just not one that would get very far...in a pontoon.
Yesterday was the most beautiful day of the summer so far, and my book group did talk about Noah's Compass, by Anne Tyler, on a pontoon boat on a beautiful placid lake. Herons, a few fishing boats, no mosquitoes, plenty of wine and chocolate.
I asked Susan about her preference for books with happy endings, and about how Anne Tyler fits into her reading pleasure, since things don't always lead to happy endings in her books. Susan likes Tyler because there is hope and authenticity in her stories, even if things do not always turn out the way a reader or a central character might wish.
And that's what I want to ask you, too. If you prefer happy endings, do the happy endings help you live your life? Aim toward a similar happy ending? Keep you optimistic and cheerful and goal-oriented?
Or are happy-ending books an escape from the way life usually turns out, a sort of wish fulfillment?
Pam mentioned Romeo and Juliet, just the kind of random coincidence I love, since I had just seen the play, saying she never wants to see/read that one, as the tragedy is so depressing. You know it's not going to work out for them, there's nothing you can do to prevent the disaster or help them out, so why sit through it?
I was happy to sit through Part One of Romeo and Juliet at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival the other night, and see the delightful falling-in-love part, butterfly wings, and pink high-tops with glitter, plus a wonderfully traditional balcony scene, but I agree that Part Two (post intermission) was harder. Juliet suddenly grew up, the speeches lacked the glittering clarity of the first half, and death and doom were inevitable.
Here, by the way, is Julie Kistler's review. And the traditional balcony scene above is by Ford Maddox Brown. And here are Clare Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio.
Anyhoo, I escape pointlessness by seeking out the other way of seeing it. If a happy ending is unlikely, where is the joy or hope or meaning in the moment at hand?
Yes, the one he's kissing!
And the question answers itself.
Oh. Apparently I originated this movement. Postpointlessness. In 1988. I knew I had seen the term somewhere....
It's a gorgeous sunny, breezy day out there, and I am going back out in it! Yesterday I snapped up some of the drastically price-reduced perennials and annuals in the "garden shop" of my grocery store and transplanted them into the patchy areas of my various beds and hanging pots, for another round of beauty.
I will take Noah's Compass, by Anne Tyler, outside with me, to re-read sections of it in preparation for tonight's book group, the pontoon-boat version.
Speaking of beauty, this is Lilith, by John Collier, with a serpent not baring its fangs.
The main character of Noah's Compass, Liam Pennywell, has lost his job and is looking over his life, revisiting his relationships with his daughters, his ex-wife, his father, etc., and considering his options in the future. But, as he tells his grandson, who is coloring Noah's ark in a Bible coloring book, "Noah didn't need to figure out directions, because the whole world was underwater and so it made no difference."
While swimming laps this morning, my heart and mind were full of parent-child relationships. I recently saw Romeo and Juliet at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival, thanks to theatre reviewer Julie Kistler, and I look forward to her review!
We chatted a bit about how the play gets presented to high school readers--sometimes stressing the rashness of youth (hasty young love!), sometimes the rashness of parents (Juliet's father's cruelty), sometimes the "star-cross'd lovers" aspect, sometimes the folly of blood feuds.
Seeing Juliet and Lord Capulet, we were naturally reminded of Cordelia and King Lear, the one who said, "How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child" as part of a longer, bitter curse. Sigh...
All I will say is that we have been very lucky in our children and have navigated the teen years with them without much upset, but that I am looking forward to a placid pontoon ride tonight on Lake Bloomington, with or without a compass!
This morning I was the only one in the pool for the first half hour of lap swim. Humbly grateful for the lifeguards, the peace, the water holding me up.
Home to sad news, the obituary of the father of one of my daughter's school mates, and our family eye doctor. Only 47. This sudden, shocking loss ripples through me, and I wish I could ripple that back out as comfort to his family.
Yesterday, a fond farewell to a couple moving to North Carolina (job transfer) after building their life in this community--leaving friends, family, a church, and all things familiar. At least they are moving somewhere beautiful.
But they were Chekhovian, smiling their goodbyes: through tears (frequent stage direction in Chekhov plays, even the comedies.)
So I offer a poem from Broken Sonnets.
A Perfect World
In the back yard today we created
a perfect world. Moira was president:
first she disarmed us with a gun museum.
My son dug up worms and put them back.
My daughter went barefoot. A cicada
rustled in the white pine like plastic.
We said we'd recycle anything plastic
into toy dinosaurs and play equipment.
Lunch was cream cheese on Ritz crackers,
milk, and freezer pops. Our lips turned blue,
red, orange, and purple. We drew sharks
and hopscotch on the sidewalk. The gas man read
the meter. We watered impatiens, basil, and fern.
Nobody cracked a tooth, nobody died.
It's an amazing online magazine that offers everything: poetry, fiction, nonfiction, reviews, interviews, and even drama and short film.
And what about that brave name? Re: internet search engines and annoying innuendo thanks to annoying behavior of politicians, etc. I prefer the fairy tale connotation, the magic implied, plus the possibility of fiber art spun from handmade thread!
What you see here is fiber art by Pat Kroth, a piece called Inside Out that reminded my husband (when we saw it at the Dittmar Gallery on Friday) of the colors and interior views of the body in the Body Worlds we saw recently exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry. If you click Pat's name, you can see the piece in great detail--the yarn, threads, the hint of tulle.
The gallery was indeed a magical place, with all these amazing colorful pieces on the walls and panels of sheer fabric collages hanging from the ceiling. Some pieces are draped or shaped on wall or floor, somehow caught in flow!
I was thrilled that recent pieces incorporate protests on behalf of public workers in Wisconsin!--a piece that sews in post-it notes, like the ones protesters stuck on the door of the capitol building in Madison. Another with the message "Workers unite," sewn in subtly around the border.
And speaking of magic and asserting the rights of the individual human...and returning to Prick of the Spindle, I hope you will take a look at these two reviews, of
Tom Ashbrook, host of On Point, was so funny, wise, and inspiring.
He spoke of his roots here in central Illinois, growing up with a real sense of community, 4-H, communal farmwork among rugged individualist farmers, and his feeling that church was a place you went where all those people loved you--how that gave him the feeling that wherever he went in the world he would be similarly embraced.
And he was.
He also saw the horrors of the world, while they were happening, and reported on them as a journalist, and had to step away for a time, when he thought maybe telling the world what's happening does not actually stop what's happening, that maybe history isn't a progressive journey toward a better world.
This is surely an ongoing dilemma for many human beings. And journalists. But now he's back, interviewing people on all sorts of topics.
Ashbrook is the kind of journalist raised on Walter Cronkite, with an assumption that objectivity is a good thing to strive for, that you should try to get the real story and all sides of the story, but that journalism must be self-aware and self-critical and not blind to its own flaws and biases. He also thinks the opinion-based "news" is a lot of crap, and that was refreshing to hear.
There was also a great Swede joke, and general joshing about his dad and the phenomenal number of Presbyterians in the room.
As this was an event sponsored by Senior Professionals at Illinois State University, and the first Charles W. Bolen Memorial Lecture, there was a lot of "retired" wisdom in the room.
Today I am going to hear this guy, Tom Ashbrook, talk about the news. He is the host of On Point, an interview news program on National Public Radio, and, as you know, NPR is my favorite place to get the news. (I get it in snippets, driving, and then track it down online.) If you are nearby, you can go, too: info.
I've met Tom before, as he grew up in this area and comes back now and then, and am eager to hear his take on journalism today. I certainly appreciated his book The Leap, about changing one's life dramatically! (Subtitled A Memoir of Love and Madness in the Internet Gold Rush.)
Then tonight we will see the fabulous fiber art of Pat Kroth, who makes recycling into fine art by weaving objects into her works on large colorful fabric hangings. She's at the Dittmar Gallery on the campus of Northwestern University, and here is the piece on the postcard for her show.
Pat's work has gone all over the world and hangs in some fancy places, but she also came here once to the Spring Bloom Art Festival, so we got to chat with her at length then. She lives and works in Wisconsin.
Up close you can see all the neat things sewn in and the various fabrics, netting, ribbons, etc.
And finally, a faithful reader, Collagemama, sent me this link about lap swimming! A Month of Friday Swims by Leanne Shapton. So please enjoy today's mix of news, art, and leisure sport.
Yesterday was windy, today is almost misty, and the Gloriosa daisies have taken over my world.
I draw your attention today to the new poetry feature up at Escape Into Life, a set of "postcard" poems by Robert McDonald and wonderful collage art by Carly Bartel.
This is her piece called Lost.
My heart goes out to the people in Minot, North Dakota, faced with floodwaters, leaving and losing their homes. I was driving home from lunch with a friend yesterday, listening to the news on NPR just as the sirens went off in Minot, to tell people still near the waters to get out. The evacuation program was working well, and people have been through this before, so they know when it's time. After the destruction, "Some people just walk away," the reporter said, as there is sometimes nothing to rebuild.
In this CNN account, you'll see a call to help via the Red Cross. And here in the Minot Daily News, at the bottom, you see the poignant cancellations of local events. At the top, the caption "Hope and Despair," and a resident facing the truth, "Unfortunately, it's all over."
Meanwhile, the ABC video and text report details as well the flooding along the Missouri River further south, endangering two nuclear power plants. The "catch-22" that flood waters could knock out power on a power plant, stopping the cooling system.
Soon we are to head that way to see family in Missouri and some coming from Omaha, also a danger zone, and I hope this annual get together can work out. If not, I am glad for the time we have had together.
Thinking of the woman in Minot, "You do what you can, and then you get out," her lip trembling.
Yesterday I read Epiphany School, poems by Chris Green, straight through in the back yard.
I had read around in it previously, but it was time to read it from beginning to end, like a book.
Of course, I was delighted to come across these lines, inviting me to go about it differently:
In bed, after my habit of reading a book back to front (my fear of no happy-endingness), I ask...
This book is full of such intimate moments, quiet confessions of a sensitivity almost too hard to carry around in life except that it is balanced by a comic detachment. For example:
I'm holding my toddler who
is throwing up outside the pet store.
My dog is eating it
while the man next to me asks if I know
how much for the kitten in the window.
My senses heightened
to all labors, my daughter's crying
becomes a kind of loneliness so desperate
she's a sea without a boat.
At home, the care of her has the kitchen blazing.
My wife stands beautiful at the sink, wordless
but humming, dreaming of bright pink shingles.
An odd sobriety when I realize
the sexiest thing I can do is get a job,
bring news of a little money.
Boy, this hits home in so many ways--the tending of sick kids, the rest of the world paying so little attention to the moment at hand, the mix of domestic worries and delights, and the husband's wonderful insight, which, to me, is sexy. And the amazing work done by the "bright pink shingles" as the last image before the insight.
On the facing page, domestic love + comic detachment = Kafkaesque absurdity, labeled as such:
Poor girl, I've accused her
of taking her sister's stuffed mouse.
Though I don't really know.
She holds the mouse high and seems to scream
Kafka! Kafka! She's learning to talk. I have no idea
what she wants. I, the petit bourgeois family
who keeps her trapped.
Like Kafka's writing, the scene is not
about struggling, but how people invent struggles,
and is more joyful than it appears to me.
I say, "Honey, I love you."
She says, "Shampoo."
See, aren't you laughing? This is a great book for pooh-poohing that advice to writers, "Never write about your pets or children," because Chris Green does both beautifully. If you're a poet, you could read this book to find out how to do it well, without sentimentality.
Indeed, I had one of my poetry students read "The Night My Grandmother Dies I Watch a Documentary About Sharks" to learn how to write about a grandmother's death without being sentimental. My own advice, based on this poem, was, "Just write about what's happening," and, "Read this," shoving my book at her. In that case, the book was The Sky Over Walgreens, also with Mayapple Press.
There's a lot going on in both these books, and I hope you will seek them out at Mayapple, where other poems are provided as excerpts.
Chris Green is a wonderful poet, and I love the blurb on the back of Epiphany School by E. Ethelbert Miller, that ends, "This is the Green movement we've been waiting for."
It's the first day of summer! I will celebrate by reading Fifty-Nine in '84: Old Hoss Radbourn, Barehanded Baseball & The Greatest Season a Pitcher Ever Had, by Edward Achorn, in the back yard, and taking Julie Kistler to lunch!
I have read excerpts from this fun book already and lots of articles on Old Hoss and various articles by Ed Achorn, so this is not my "first pitch," but now I have my own signed copy of the book and can read it straight through from the beginning. A baseball book is perfect summer reading.
Ed Achorn is a wonderful speaker. He was here in town because Charles Radbourn, a great pitcher for the Providence Grays in the days of "barehanded" baseball (yes, no glove--except, say, the swelling up of the catcher's hand!), grew up here, returned after his baseball career, and is buried here. The local history book club read this book together, and the history museum brought Ed here for their annual meeting & special event for members.
After his talk, Ed threw out the first pitch for the Normal Cornbelters at The Corn Crib, against the Evansville Otters. Maybe he'll report on that, at his website or by commenting here, as I did not get to go to the game, just the talk. I think it was a "Fireworks Friday," as I heard a lot of popping later.
And Radbourn himself was quite a firecracker. He had true grit, as they say, pitching through the pain in his arm, and lots of professionalism, as the game was played in those days (1880s), but he eschewed celebrity and bristled against the petty tyranny of baseball owners in those days, who rigged players' contracts so they could be sold to another team, with no say in it, but not sign on with another team, ever.
"He may have worked as loyally as a horse, but he felt little if any devotion to his supposed masters, the men who paid his substantial salary. As far as Radbourn was concerned, the capitalists who ran professional baseball were grasping thieves bent on stealing what was rightfully his."
Please note the flipping of the bird on the book cover.
I am reading Every Dress a Decision, by Elizabeth Austen. I am on my fourth time through it, as I'm writing a review, but my first time through was standing in the kitchen at the table where the mailing package lay torn open, turning page after page.
For now, a little excerpt from "This Morning," which has an epigraph by Theodore Roethke: Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
It's time. It's almost too late.
Did you see the magnolia light its pink fires?
You could be your own, unknown self.
No one is keeping it from you.
The magnolia lights its pink fires,
daffodils shed papery sheaths.
No one is keeping you from it--
your church of window, pen, and morning.
My church of window this morning streams with rain. I am thinking of my dad on Father's Day, his love of trees, how he had to take down a gigantic cedar recently, because it did not come back to life after the winter.
Thinking of him at the beach in my Florida childhood, and, as a toddler, sitting on his shoulder, him growling into my naked belly and nibbling it, me laughing till I couldn't breathe.
What would you rather see coming at you in the water?
I could not find an actual picture of Max, the vacuum cleaner at the pool where I swim, but if you are looking for pool cleaners (and I don't mean pool boys, Kim), you can try looking here.
Max was diligently sucking up sand from the bottom of the pool, but he kept straying over into our faithful early-morning lap lanes, instead of sticking to the wide open shallow kid area, covered with sand from the wonderful large sandbox, with a foot shower...that does not prevent the need for Max.
Also, there were ducks. They fly in low, skim the water, land, float around a bit and then either sniff chlorine and skedaddle or get spooked by Max.
And what would rather see coming at you in the garden?
We have both mosquito and Gloriosa daisy, thanks to recent rain and sun, but I prefer the yellow daisy, brown center, mahogany markings. You can get one here.
And I think the mosquito is rather more annoying, and, given West Nile virus and dengue fever, dangerous, than the sweet manta ray.
Happy Captain Picard Day! No, really! June 16 is Captain Picard Day. And it might seem odd that a Kirk celebrates a Picard, but...it is odd.
Learn more about Picard Day here, and see plenty of Picard-inspired art. To watch an excerpt on Youtube, go here.
Read Picard's bio, and see more sexy pix of him, here, at Memory Alpha. To remind yourself of the Picard imposter, go here, also at Memory Alpha. Yes, yes, "flirtatious with Dr. Crusher," yes!
Jean Luc was a perfect gentleman with me, in my poem "Note Found in a Hammock," from Selected Roles (first chapbook), which will also appear in the anthology Make It So, edited by Margaret Bashaar, due for release on...July 16.
Yes, it was originally scheduled for release today, Captain Picard Day, but literary projects very often have unavoidable delays. We can wait another month.
Meanwhile, remember to take your child to work on the starship today!
Thunderstorms predicted all day, making this sort of a Thor's Day on Hump day, but there was enough of a clearing off for me to get in my morning swim.
No bassoon today,* just the lifeguard's whistle, and, since I came toward the end of lap swim, the first bouncy beats of the music tape for the Aquacize class that starts at 8:00.
I am, however, still in the bassoonland of random coincidii thanks to finishing Ghostwritten, by David Mitchell. As one of several narrators puts it, "As chess players or writers or mystics know, the pursuit of insight takes you deep in the forest."
Another of the interwoven narrators of Ghostwritten comments on how reality must be packaged by a certain kind of profiteer: "All my ideas are the same old scam: the bigger the fib, the bigger they bite. The first shamans around the fire were in on it--they knew growing maize along the Euphrates was for fools. Tell people that reality is exactly what it appears to be, they'll nail you to a lump of wood. But tell 'em they can go spirit-walking while they commute, tell 'em their best friend is a lump of crystal, tell 'em the government has been negotiating with the little green men for the last fifty years, then every Joe Six-Pack from Brooklyn to Peoria sits up and listens."
Hmm, I'm not so far from Peoria myself.
Dwight Q. Silverwind continues, "Disbelieving the reality under your feet gives you a license to print your own."
Or to build a chocolate factory. But Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka looks pretty sad to me, drinking tea in "Pure Imagination" here on youtube. I think there are a number of possible reasons for that.
Maybe it wasn't a bassoon I heard early this morning, just after I stepped out of the pool and was drying off in the cool, cool air. Ghostly, deep, long, round, mournful notes, emerging from the dark recesses of the lifeguard staff room. There had just been a changing of the guard...
I do think it was a bassoon, because it reminded me of "Cougar Bassoon" on Prayer for the Wild Things by Paul Winter & the Earth Band, a musical celebration of the Northern Rockies, inspired by the wilderness art of Bev Doolittle.
I am under the influence of Ghostwritten, by David Mitchell, so this Fat Tuesday is definitely a Random Coinciday in the blog, and I am hearing bassoons and wondering how life and all its particles fit and don't fit together and "this wondering is the nature of matter, each of us a loose particle, an infinity of paths through the park, probable ones, improbable ones, none of them real until observed, whatever real means, and for something so solid, matter contains terrible, terrible, terrible expanses of nothing, nothing, nothing...."
I have observed the same thing about matter, and will now continue on my improbable path through bassoonland.
If it's a Blue Monday in the blog, it's because the forget-me-nots have started to open. So have the orange day lilies, mentioned yesterday as the flowers that announce summer around here.
But if summer has come early, the air temperature doesn't know it yet! The water in the pool this morning was warmer than the air, thank goodness, but it was icy stepping out from lap swim. All warmed up now.
Sending you back to these words from editor Tom Dooley and poetry editor Jennifer Finstrom of Eclectica, in connection with forget-me-nots. I was so pleased to have poems in their April/May issue (including one with the longest title ever). I was thinking about "garden poems" recently, reading the guidelines of a magazine that doesn't want any, and what those editors might have meant by that, or assumed about "garden poems," no doubt based on receiving a bunch of the kind they don't want. Would these be overly pretty poems? Poems only about the garden? Poems suitable for greeting cards?
I've got to hope my own garden poem is not just about forget-me-nots (stanza 1), not just about me (stanza 2), but also about the world and its "rough men" with beautiful, delicate souls, and so on, and what we are to do here, with each other, and in the garden of the world (stanza 3).
Of course, my poem, as a poem (a written artifact), must be a way of saying "forget me not," with all the ironies attached to that. But isn't it also saying, "Let's don't forget to pay attention to what's at hand, and let's don't forget to really see?" Or is that just another "fond belief" of my own?
On the other hand, left to themselves, forget-me-nots could easily take over the garden. Or the world.
Sometimes I am so still in the yard, reading, or looking up from reading or writing to think, that the rabbits feed quietly beside me, inches from my feet in the grass.
To watch a rabbit eat a tiny ripe wild strawberry from the lawn is a quiet joy.
But to watch a rabbit eat the just-bloomed yellow heads of the coreopsis in my flower bed is not so pleasant, and I had to speak to that fellow.
He was just pruning, I know. They will come back.
Meanwhile, pinks and sweet william are open or opening in their pink and pinwheel variations. Red grape spiderwort continues. Daisies are soon to burst. And the orange day lilies are taller than ever, also soon to open.
Sometimes they wait till the actual first day of summer to bloom.
Poetry reading today at 10:00 a.m. downtown on the square, at the McLean County Museum of History, with the Farmers Market going on outside. Hoping to get some more green onions and green onion Ropp cheese! And all perennials will call to me, I know. The yellow poppy I got a couple weeks ago is blooming again!
My poetry workshop is reading work on the theme of "Planting Ourselves in McLean County," poems about being planted here ourselves, or what we can plant in our own back yards, for beauty or food, or what has been planted in fields all around, now or in history. Also farm tools, birds nesting, and a Civil War soldier. It all connects to the museum exhibits or the Farmers Market in obvious or subtle ways....
Last night I saw the 10-Minute Play Festival at Heartland Theatre, an annual event, celebrating its anniversary on the back porch. It started on the front porch 10 years ago. You can read more about it here in Julie Kistler's fabulous blog, A Follow Spot.
Did I dream it was summer? Back to gray 50s, and bit of a blue mood. (Can it be a Blue Monday on an actual Friday? The answer is yes.)
Yesterday I read Dream Work, poems by Mary Oliver, to get back a sense of the poet I had come to love in American Primitive and House of Light. Her more recent book Thirst had left me thirsty.
Dream Work starts with sort of a bad dream, "Dogfish." A dogfish is a kind of shark, and though she sees it as a "relaxed and beautiful thing," smiling, we know right away it is dangerous and that this is not a good smile.
When she says she wants the past to go away, we can figure the dogfish must be like some awful predator in her own past. "Slowly," and now a stanza break, white space, new stanza of a single line, "the dogfish tore open the soft basins of water."
Still, he is only tearing open the water itself. The little prey fish still have a chance:
And look! look! look! I think those little fish
better wake up and dash themselves away
from the hopeless future that is
bulging toward them.
[This reminds me a bit of the constant advice to potential victims of sexual predators on how to avoid them, and of the wonderful hard biting irony of the poster now circulating on Facebook, that redirects the advice to the predators themselves.]
But Oliver's book is from 1986, and she is telling the fish, and readers, to get the hell out of there. That is not a friendly dogfish, as in man's best friend; that smiling thing is a shark.
She is telling herself, too, not to wish for the world to be any easier:
And nobody gets out of it, having to
swim through the fires to stay in
And, about the fish, she shares a bit of encouragement:
if they don't waste time
looking for an easier world,
they can do it.
So this is a thing I can take to heart and also smack myself on the head for, as I'm sure I have wasted some time looking for an easier world. But I did not consider it a waste of time to read the rest of this book in the shade of a tree, and, like Mary Oliver, I never consider it a waste of time to walk out in the beauty of the world, grateful and full of praise.
And I hope it is not a waste of time to ponder, compare, and contrast poems about animals in this book with poems about animals in Thirst. Here, in Dream Work, Oliver seems to avoid the pathetic fallacy or any sentimental oversimplification about what an animal is thinking or doing. In "The Turtle," she goes there, describing the female getting ready to lay her eggs on the sand, but pulls herself back to the reality of instinct, saying "you think
of her patience, her fortitude,
her determination to complete
what she was born to do--
and then you realize a greater thing--
she doesn't consider
what she was born to do.
She's only filled
with an old blind wish.
It isn't even hers but came to her
in the rain or the soft wind,
which is a gate through which her life keeps walking.
OK, it's true that it gets a little pretty after the "old blind wish," but the speaker is understanding and connecting to the turtle, so she's got to see and walk through that gate herself. (And the turtle is not pretty; she's ungainly.) So, in "The Turtle" it's clear that the human speaker is the one doing the human feeling, which is different from claims made in Thirst that certain dogs adore flowers or sunsets, though I think that poem, "Musical Notation: 1," might also simply be making a claim about what humans think about animals, just less artfully. I could be wrong.
Likewise, in "Milkweed," she does not really say milkweed plants were "once young and delicate, also / frightened; also capable / of a certain amount of rough joy" but instead says "it's easy to believe" that about milkweed, once you compare them, as she does, to "a country of dry women."
She ends the poem this characteristic way:
I wish you would walk with me out into the world.
I wish you could see what has to happen, how
each one crackles like a blessing
over its thin children as they rush away.
OK, I am going to walk out into the world now, even if it's only my own back yard. And bless my firstborn, off in the big city, rushing away into adulthood, 21 today!
Early bird lap swim cut short by thunder. Of course. It's Thor's Day in the blog. Thor is shaking his hammer at me for that shirtless actor comment a while back. But the water felt great for the short time I was in it, and I got several laps in before the very responsible lifeguards whistled us out of the pool.
So today I will use those four overripe bananas to make some more vegan banana bread, a recipe I now prefer to the one in Joy of Cooking. It uses maple syrup and apple cider vinegar and the bread stays very moist! Oops, I left the soy milk in my mom's fridge...but last time I used water, for lack of soy milk, anyway.
Speaking of my mom, the poetry of Mary Oliver sometimes drives her crazy, er, bananas. All that wandering around in the beauty. My mom points out the need to mow and pull out weeds, the little maple trees growing in the rain gutters, etc. I read Thirst recently--can't recall when/how I obtained a copy. Seems new, not from Babbitt's, not from our dead friend Griff, but I don't remember buying it, and I gave up buying books for Lent and have not much resumed. Sort of a sustainable living choice, that.
Thirst drove me back to American Primitive, House of Light, and Dream Work, for poems that weren't banging me over the head with goodness. This was a good thing to do. The human story before the huge beauty story is there, right away, in Dream Work. In "Dogfish," in "Trilliums," in "Rage." In "Dogfish," Mary Oliver says this, halfway through:
You don't want to hear the story
of my life, and anyway
I don't want to tell it, I want to listen
to the enormous waterfalls of the sun.
But this is quite a dilemma. I do want to hear the story of her life, transformed as she offers it, yes, in poems, but I do want some version of the personal story, in the "flickering" of the dogfish down in the water, in the flash of "the sun's fire" on motionless stone (in "Knife"), in the terrible dark anti-optimism of "The Shark," in which a shark is caught by fishermen, mauled in its own thrashing, and hauled home:
And I say: in the wilderness of our wit
we will all cry out last words--heave and spit them
into the shattering universe someday, to someone.
Whoever He is, count on it: He won't answer.
The inventor is like the hunter--each
in the crease and spasm of the thing about to be done
is lost in his work. All else is peripheral,
remote, unfelt. The connections have broken.
Consider the evening:
the shark winched into the air; men
lifting the last bloody hammers.
And Him, somewhere, ponderously lifting another world,
setting it free to spin, if it can,
in a darkness you can't imagine.
Some of us write every day, pursuing writing as a daily practice, as someone else might run in all weathers, or swim laps, or meditate, or pray. I think we all hope that, if we do it every day, we will get better at it! And/or that it becomes part of our existence, a "habit of being," as Flannery O'Connor put it. Part of our healthy being in the world, as with any other kind of exercise or practice.
Hannah Stephenson writes poems every day (or every week day), inspired by images found online, posting the poems (and links to the images) at her blog, The Storialist. I've enjoyed this blog since I found it but had hesitated to approach her for a poetry feature at Escape Into Life, where I pair poems with art by artists already featured at the site, as she was already responding to visual images of various sorts!
But she said it would be all right to post her poems with different images, submitted a batch and here she is, Hannah Stephenson, paired with digital photo collages by Claudia Rogge, who arranges images choreographically and as mosaic.
As I do so many things (this blog, for instance), I accidentally planted cantaloupe. That is, I intentionally saved the seeds I scooped out of a cantaloupe, dug a hole, and put them in, but I was only hoping that this would actually work.
It has. Recent rain and heat have produced cantaloupe leaves at exactly this spot of the yard, a ragged area made sunny by the removal of a mulberry tree (by the lovely power line guys in bright green jackets) and pruning of the forsythia (by me).
I know these are actual cantaloupe leaves because some are rising holding the actual seed aloft, just like the gymnast balancing on three wooden balls, holding his innards aloft in the Cycle of Life exhibition of Body Worlds. I alert you to that graphic image in case you don't want to see it, or similarly graphic images of the human body, in various poses, plasticened after death; if so, don't click that link. If you do want to see such images, it is the official website, and a dot com, and takes a while to load.
We saw it at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago yesterday, and it is amazing and enlightening. To see the body flayed and splayed, back or torso muscles opened out like wings, is quite something. I learned a lot.*
*Not to smoke, not to get obese. Especially if I want to donate my body to science. Yes, fruits and vegetables! Yes to a life with purpose, human connection, and as little stress as possible!
I was less moved by the more gimmicky things--poses with hockey sticks or footballs--but quite moved by the human body itself. And the ostrich body. And, downstairs, the giraffe.
We also sat under the Tesla coil to see lightning, and my son and I stood in a wind tunnel phone/photo booth.
Life is good. These are melons from Jonathan Koch! Muskmelon, Peaches, Strawberries, 2011, used with his blessing. Wild strawberries are ripe in my lawn, and the clover is in bloom. The rabbits are happy.
Early Bird Lap Swim started today at the pool, and I was there!
This is my summer exercise, and, yes, this will affect my morning blog post. In the hour and a half I sometimes spend writing, posting, and reading other blogs in the morning, I will be swimming back and forth in chlorinated water in all kinds of weather, as long as there is no lightning.
Here I am now, at 8:30 a.m., with chlorine washed out of my hair, thanks to a special shampoo obtained just in time. I am happy to say my swimsuit from last year still fits and has not disintegrated. Regular lap swimming and current trends in fabric and readymade attire do lead to early disintegration, alas.
Oh, for the days of quality (and true American) craftsmanship (or womanship) and pride in such! I do think we could make quality stuff here and have plenty of American jobs, blah, blah, blah. The problem is not government spending on social programs; it is corporate greed. But that's another soapbox.
While I'm on it, that soapbox, with my megaphone, I'd suggest a "business model," as they say, of cooperation and collaboration, where competition is in there, too, but is based on quality of product, efficiency of production, happy, loyal workers earning a living wage, and other quite manageable things, not payoffs, lobbies, and rigging the system for one's own advantage.
I advocate quality, hard work, cooperation, collaboration, and healthy, ethical competition in all areas of life, the arts included, not just business.
But, hey, I'm someone who is happy to swim to one end of the pool and back. I don't need to own the pool.
And happy to work to earn the money to pay the parks department to update my pool pass.
Public pool. Not private pool in gated community.
Oops, a lather. Somebody spilled soap. (It was me.)
Today I direct you to Maxine Kumin's poem "During the Assassinations" at The Writer's Almanac. I was a child, not a "sixties soccer mom" during this terrible time, but I saw what my parents were going through and I had my own consciousness raised, as they say.
After yesterday's soapbox, it seems important to remind myself and my readers that people who speak out for change, social justice, and the right thing are all too often plucked from their lives for it, as people's fear of real change is so intense, and there is always someone crazy enough to assassinate or terrorize the great man or woman and/or always some powerful political or economic or terrorist organization eager to push the buttons.
The regular citizen has the same fear of being terrorized or ostracized by power or the power of conventionality, too, and can have his/her buttons pushed by the simple need to survive.
Thunder's rolling in. I'm off soon to help celebrate a civil union at church, a sign of the times changing for good. (Meanwhile, a few people are debating that very issue on my Facebook page...)
The new issue of Granta is out: Granta 115: The F Word, and just in time to answer some Naipalling* comments from a male Nobel Prize winner. The "F" word in this case is Feminism, and we get a variety of views on it, and a historical overview, by writers who include A.S. Byatt, Francine Prose, Jeanette Winterson, Linda Gregerson, Louise Erdrich, and even Eurdora Welty, who is dead.
Eudora Welty's contribution is a bold and hilarious letter of application to The New Yorker, from March 15, 1933. She offers to cover movies and art exhibits, saying she "could review them with my old prosperous detachment, I think; in fact, I recently coined a general word for Matisse's pictures after seeing his latest at the Marie Harriman: concubineapple."
So, in celebration of the F word and Slattern Day in the blog, I let other women speak by quoting them today. (Plus, a nod to Bill below.) I return for the moment to Carol Shields, in her novel Unless, an excerpt from her fictional letter to a reviewer in the Chicago Tribune, who is, as so many do, damning women writers in familiar ways:
"Women writers, you say, are the miniaturists of fiction, the embroiderers of fine 'feeling.' Rather than taking a broad canvas of society as Don DeLillo does, or Philip Roth, who interprets relationships through the 'lens of sexual yearning,' women writers as such--and here you list a number of female names including my own--find universal verities in 'small individual lives.' This, you go on to say, is a 'tricky proposition,' which only occasionally works.
[She continues, and here I quote the section that parallels my education and its assumptions that writers recognize and honor the universal value of the particular human life]:
"...Way back in high school we learned that the major themes of literature were birth, love, understanding, work, loneliness, connection, and death. We believed that the readers of novels were themselves 'small individual lives,' and so were the writers. They did not suffer, as you intimate, from a lack of range in their subject matter. These lives apprehended the wide world in which they swam, and from their writers' chairs they thrummed to the tune of sexual longing, but their gaze was primarily on the locked-up consciousness of their individual, human, creaturely being and how each separate person makes sense of all that is benevolent or malicious."
[I love this honoring of the effort of each separate person to make sense of it all! And then she makes a further, important philosophical and moral claim]:
"There weren't any rules about good and evil, and no Big Rule. It just seems that our species is happier when we are good. This is observable, though difficult to document."
This last applies specifically and importantly to the theme of goodness in the novel, and also, of course, to the theme of goodness in human life, and I am struck by the phrase "difficult to document" and how it also applies to the physical and obvious pollution in our life, not only the moral "pollution" that is evil.
In Living Downstream, Sandra Steingraber confronts this difficulty and slowness in science being able to track and document the effects of toxins in our air, soil, and water and their effects on our health. They are indeed "observable, though difficult to document," because people move away from cancer zones and businesses resist regulations and reporting, etc., etc. We know better. We know that putting toxins out there is likely to make us sick, give us cancer, etc. Each time a new alert comes out--cell phones may indeed be carcinogenic--there is much mockery at first, and people go on happily using the next modern convenience or happily eating the large, pretty fruit.
Or smoking that calming, glamorous, trendy, cool, addictive cigarette. Until they get cancer, and look for someone to sue.
The new issue of YB is up, and I have two poems in it! One responds to Winslow Homer's painting At the Window, and is a poem that went through many revisions before coming to rest at YB #4: Windows.
The other, "Naked Dance," is based on true life experience that also connects to a previous poem, "Danse Russe," by William Carlos Williams, which is easy to see if you read the poems side by side, but also doesn't matter, if you read them separately.
I am tickled by stuff like this and always like to know about a poet's process, so I hope you don't mind if I sometimes tell you about mine. I really did wake up at 3:03 a.m. one morning in winter and sit up for a while in the front room, pulling the curtains closed so I wouldn't scare the paperboy, or paperwoman, as it might have been at that time. (Now I read the paper online, so I don't keep track of the delivery patterns in our neighborhood.)
I really did have mini lights on the windows all year round at that point. Well, in fact, they are still there, or a different couple of strands, but they are multi-colored now, and one strand doesn't work, so I seldom turn them on--mostly just to guide someone to my house at night or to the light up the wine rack, around which a third strand is tangled.
Those are details that have nothing to do with the poem. I hope the details that do matter are the ones in the poem that connect my personal experience to other people's personal, even intimate, experience of life and help illuminate it: vulnerability (naked or nearly naked), loneliness or a joyous solitude, concern for others (not waking, not frightening), noting the time (for the reason mentioned...and other reasons) and, for poets, the connection to "Danse Russe," and all the layers of that, including his reference to a Kathleen!
And the not Kathleen of my own poem's conclusion. No one's looking, no one cares, and that doesn't matter. Nothing to see here, carry on with your own lives!
Poets and/or people who read poems aloud as a way to understand them will appreciate, in "At the Window," how stanza two connects to stanza three in difficulty of saying these actual words. The physical difficulty of pronouncing "Upstairs waits that wasps' nest" leans into the emotional difficulty that comes next. And I hope many readers will understand what it might mean to "lean away" from expectations about housework, or women, or identity, or just the tasks of dusting windowsills with spiders and their wrapped prey on them, or removing wasps' nests, tasks shared by men and women. A woman might be expected to dust the windowsill; a man might be expected to remove the wasps' nest. But whatever expectation or "pose" might be captured here, it does not define us. We are more than one isolated view, yes? And who wants to sit in a "birdcage throne," eh?
Anyhoo, I hope you will read this whole issue, and think about this kind of thing in response to all the poems there, and look at and through all the window images gathered for you here by editors Rose Hunter, Sherry O'Keefe, and John Riley. They've done a wonderful job, and I've so enjoyed reading and gazing at these Windows!
...it pours random coincidii. It is raining lightly here today, watering the lawn and flowers, not attacking with a tornado, as in Massachusetts, nor, so far, with thunder, though it is Thor's Day in the blog. My daughter, finished with finals, has plans to go swimming, but if there is even a glimmer of lightning, this will not be allowed, in fifteen minute increments, at the public pool.
Today I finished Unless, by Carol Shields. It was urgent to do so, as I was wrapped up in the story and also in the sad, stark view of the persistence of inequality, silencing, and subjugation of women in the world today (in a novel set at the dawn of the 21st century), despite so many advances.
Of women and of women writers.
This was exacerbated--my sad urgency--by an article about VS Naipaul in the London Evening Standard, posted by Ren Powell on Facebook. Naipaul's comments about women writers strike me as appalling, tactless, and representative; his opinions are his own, of course, and from his own cultural standpoint, but are clearly shared by many. I leave you to it.
What I hoped for in the book was some kind of generous, subtle, nonviolent triumph--some brilliant resolution of all the strands that was more than any neat tying up of loose ends, after the necessary tight knot and its unraveling. I got what I came for, and leave you to that, as well. I do recommend this mother-daughter story that has women and men in it, in all kinds of engaging ways.
The blurbs on my green paperback include this: "Lives may have cracked asunder, but wry comedy leavens the tale," from the New York Times Book Review. Very wry, I'd say, and not obviously comic. If this is not on that list of 250 books by women that men should read, it should be.
And here's some wry and gentle comedy. We've just had some wonderful family-wamily time over the Memorial Day weekend, brother and sisters gathering with parents in the Midwest, teen/grown children mingling. My brother's family had seen Thor, the new movie. His wife and daughter shrugged, saying the film would have been better if Thor had taken off his shirt sooner and left it off longer. "Why cast that actor if he's going to keep his shirt on?" My brother enjoyed it thoroughly, reminding us that he used to buy and read the Thor comic books.
So I'd say some things balance out in these areas. If women can be discussed as sex objects, so can men, and it can be done gently, with good humor.
But for women to continue to be routinely dismissed as lesser, sentimental, weak, and so on, after all this time, whether as humans or as artists, no, I can't shrug that off.
Vive le différence! as the saying goes, in comic and tolerant appreciation, but let's get rid of the inequality and constant judgments, please. No more salt in the wound.
"Just because it's June, June, June!" Yes, it's June 1st, and the day has begun with beauty, cooler than it was yesterday.
Still a dangerous storm season, as cold fronts hit warm fronts, and winds roll around over the ocean and land, but gorgeous, with summer coming!
Still reading Unless, by Carol Shields, with its reminders of the metaphorical storms that can suddenly ravage family life, human life, an individual life.
And this wonderful little quirky bit about the narrator's father: "He was a dealer in early Canadian pine furniture and as a sideline worked as a distresser; that is, he took modern limited editions of books and battered their pages and their boards into decent old age, giving them the tact and smell of history."
I am familiar with "distressing" costumes for the theatre, to give them whatever look of authenticity they need for a particular play. And with using books for interior decoration. I just didn't know it could be a "sideline," an actual job!
Oh, and of course there are distressed jeans, the really expensive ironic ones.
Anyhoo, it's also the hump of the week in the blog...and the week...and this novel has also delighted me, as did Megan Snyder-Camp's poem about pretending the ceiling was the floor, with reminders about how we thought about the world as children.
That is, she recreates the experience of a child lying underneath a peony bush, seeing the secret world of ants, and so on, and discovers that the moon follows her wherever she goes, and I remember these experiences, too. The narrator learns that the moon also follows her friend Charlotte everywhere she goes, so she is alerted early that some private experience is actually shared, that the childhood world will turn out to be a different world in adulthood.
What I'm saying is I'm glad to find this in a book, someone talking about that. And also the chance to re-experience it by reading it. It might also make me lie down under my mom's peony bush.
Her peonies smell wonderful--that intense, nearly intoxicating sweetness. (I wouldn't be able to lie there too long). Yesterday I was wandering the gardening Internet, checking out the rumor/reasons that peonies don't have this wonderful scent anymore, that only "antique peonies" do. Some do, some don't--variety of possible reasons, including pollution, evolution/adaptation. As usual, some sources try to blame it on the person's nose, rather than whatever it really is, what conditions in the world or the particular variety of peony.
While I can still smell, and while peonies still have scent, I am glad of June, June, June!
"You must change your life," said Rilke. So that's what I keep doing. I worked as an actor, wrote for an encyclopedia, edited a literary magazine, shelved and retrieved materials in several libraries, walked beans, and taught college English courses. Now I write & edit as a freelancer, blog "eight days a week," study the random, and listen to birdsong.