Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Colette, The Garden of Reading, Etc.

I work in a used bookstore, Babbitt's Books, and the main hazard is bringing home a lot of books. (Fortunately, I get an employee discount, most are quite cheap to begin with, I can trade for books I bring in from home, and some are even free, donations that would otherwise go to library or sometimes even recycling!) So when I saw The Garden of Reading: An Anthology of Twentieth-Century Short Fiction About Gardens and Gardeners, edited by Michele Slung, and containing "Grape Harvest" by Colette, I snapped it right up. (I brought in 3 trade paperbacks from home to trade for this hardback, first edition, second printing.)

This short story is what I meant about Colette in my previous entry, my similarity to her. She talks about the grapes, other fruits, food in general, the landscape, the sunshine, sweat, blushing--all human and sensual or sensory and natural things.

The book contains quite an array! "The Tree" by Rosamunde Pilcher, "How the Crab Apple Grew" by Garrison Keillor, "Earth to Earth" by Robert Graves, "The Lawnmower Man" by Stephen King, "A Curtain of Green" by Eudora Welty, and even "See No Weevil" by James Thurber. I can't wait to read more! Even Barbara Pym is here with "So, Some Tempestuous Morn." She's another I've been compared to, as a writer, oddly enough, as she seems the opposite of Colette. Pym is subtle and restrained where Colette is lush and free. And Pym is also very funny, as I recall.

***pause to read story, to ponder comparisons***

This is indeed a first edition, the kind with numerous little typographical errors--missing punctuation and capitalization, letters misread (scanned?) leading to things like "lie" instead of "he" and "lip" instead of "up," but I have been able to decipher what was meant in the Pym story. It is a first U.S. edition, so the corrections were not made from the first UK edition, and if there is never a second edition, no corrections will ever be made. Still, a pleasant reading experience--just of the thought of this gathering is a delight. As is reading Pym again. And Colette.

So, this comparison thing. People like to pigeon-hole, to categorize. I understand categories as a way to arrange and remember thoughts--a classical rhetoric kind of thing, memory enhancer, logic inducer. And then applied to science, as a way to arrange our discoveries and definitions of species. But the categories do not always fit, or hold. Likewise, with comparisons.

People compare me to other writers because they don't know what to do with me. Perhaps I am an original, and they want to figure me out by comparing me to Pym or Colette, such different writers. Or perhaps I am not original enough, not yet creating my own category. On the other hand, as it sometimes takes years and years for a poem or a set of my poems to find a home, perhaps I am original indeed, more like--yes, a comparison!--Emily Dickinson!

I do retreat into the chapel of my own back yard, the wild Edenic garden there, the gradual prairie restoration via wildflowers and perennials, many from seed (various daisies, purple coneflower, pinks, love-in-a-mist, sweet alyssum, golden columbine, nasturtium) but also clippings and transplants (hosta, spiderwort, bleeding heart, mountain bluet, coral bells, Sweet William, pink yarrow). The nasturtium are annuals, but they grow so well here. I planted them late, after the wild violets bloomed, thinning them out to make room, so we will have bright red, orange, and yellow blooms a little later in the season.

I write at our picnic table (husband's 50th birthday present from Chicago and Michigan friends a few years back) in morning or evening.

Also blooming: red clover, which has somehow survived the rabbits, daylilies. The golden columbine are dropping seed, and I am gathering some, too, and also the seed of wild purplish red columbine from along the fence, to plant in the fall for next season. The bleeding heart dropped seed, too, so I hope it will spread where it is, coming up after the red tulips. And this was a good year for deep purple iris, too, which I had dug and moved around last fall to encourage growth.

Comparisons. If I write a "nature poem," some compare me to Mary Oliver when I am more like Louise Gluck, if like anyone, in The Wild Iris, my favorite book of poetry. Edgy, and all about God, whatever God is, and the gritty small truths, side by side with the majestic ones, about Nature. And beauty.

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