Sunday, February 28, 2010

Poems I'm enjoying

This weekend I started reading a book of poems - The Days of Wine & Roses by Jack Hayes - that I received from the poet in a book giveaway at his blog, Robert Frost's Banjo.

I'm going to make some comments here on four - Heaven #1, Heaven #2, Heaven #3, Heaven #4 - which don't appear one immediately after another in the book, but I've read them that way (as soon as I saw #1, I wanted to skip ahead to 2 and so forth):

I like how they're poems pieced together of fragments. Each line is an image/thought that often feels like a poem in and of itself; they read well together, but also individually and independently. They engage the senses and blend them too (like "orange marmalade full moon"), and ask questions, and give you a startling, sharp, and sometimes awesomely absurd way of seeing something (like the wonderful description of snowflakes in Heaven #4); altogether there's the feeling of how people experience the world - lots of fleeting sensory experiences and thoughts/feelings that surface in passing, in the course of the day or during certain events, and in memory - and the things we remember, the details, can feel so random and arbitrary but they're very deeply not. And now because poetry has caught these impressions, seared them to the page, they're not so fleeting (and what's captured may be an elusive glimpse or scent, or it maybe something that seems to fill the page - and the mind - for several moments as you absorb it).

And I like how certain lines repeat within poems, and also across them (blue eyeshadow recurs across poems, and cat's eye shades in different incarnations). The repetitions - which aren't intrusive - help hold the poems together, though still loosely (but it's effective - a kind of orienting device for the reader... and one that also gives a feeling of undercurrents running through the words).

Anyway, I'm truly enjoying this collection of poems (for more of a sample, there's also a blog devoted to the book).

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Week in Seven Words #4

He's a scientist and scholar, well-known in certain circles. One of the moments that stands out most in his lecture is when he displays his dinosaur tie. It's a necktie with a brontosaurus on it; he fondly refers to it as a "hideous gift" from his wife and adds that the only reason he takes it along with him on trips is to preserve marital harmony.

I like making fruit platters, not only because they're tasty, but because I like to lay the fruits out as if they're jewels on display - deep green and lush red, sparkling purple and plump orange.

I spend time in the company of two story-tellers. One talks about things that he actually did and experienced - an exquisite multi-course dinner in Spain, an encounter with brazen pickpockets in eastern Europe. The other makes stories up and relates them with an expression that never succeeds at being 100% serious (it's his eyes, they twinkle too much); with this second story-teller I have fun guessing how much is fiction and how much fact, and at the end it hardly seems to matter anyway, because I'm laughing too hard.

Great conversation full of both depth and digression, in a warm, crowded, noisy room. It spills out of doors afterwards, in a walk through slushy streets, where everything is mostly cold and still except for our voices and laughter.

Being able to rest my head on her shoulder, even for several seconds only, makes all the difference in an evening marked with weariness and aches.

Rain doesn't just saturate earth and sky with water but with sound as well. The sounds - of rain against roof, puddle, window, coat, and concrete - accompany me everywhere.

I don't know yet if anything will come of these tentative considerations, which center on a quiet town, a rocky coast, lighthouses, boats, shops selling fudge and ice cream, hiking trails, leafy parks and old houses, an inn with a large downy bed.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

No longer inanimate

An apple spontaneously collapsing into three parts. A red pen sliding free from its cap. Is this what our desk clutter does when we're nose-deep in a book and not looking?

DanseDance from Julien Vallée on Vimeo.

Just going to add some lovely words from the makers of this video:
We want to imagine a place where objects could live and move, harmoniously, and of their own accord. Without interfering with each other these objects would bounce, roll, turn and cross each other’s paths.

Week in Seven Words #3

The color of the gloves a kind friend loaned me, because I had the longer walk home one freezing night.

Early in the night my thoughts are scattered, and a few hours drift past with little work done. Only when it's the early morning hours do my thoughts hurry back from the corners of my mind and converge on the topic at hand. Though my head's swimmy with lack of sleep the next morning, I'm content.

In the late afternoon, a snowy gray tree catches the sun in its uppermost branches.

A mouse darts along the side of a short brick office building. Its downy gray body is pale, even against the snow, and it seems to be moving in a series of small, quick leaps. One of my thoughts, when it finally disappears into a chink in the outer wall, is that it'll probably pop up in someone's office to loud exclamations and possibly screams. Another thought is of how vulnerable it was out in the open, even though the only creatures who seemed to have been tracking its progress were a few amused pedestrians.

Dawn light and pink bath curtains conspire to turn my skin rosy as I slowly wake up in the shower.

I don't usually think of a certain room as cozy, but on this day the heating stays on, the lights are dimmed, and though a scholarly presentation is unfolding, the people in the small friendly audience are eating their way through a stack of chocolate chip pancakes and occasionally batting around some balloons brought in for two people celebrating birthdays.

The delightful prospect of a book of poems traveling my way by mail.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Week in Seven Words #2

The plaintive sound my ceiling made before a portion of it collapsed.

This past Shabbat (Jewish Sabbath) our congregation hosts a group of Jewish adults with Down Syndrome. It's customary at certain points in the services, both on Friday night and Saturday throughout the day, for people to give talks related to the Torah portion of the week. One of our guests takes the floor on Friday night; he smiles at us over a meticulously written page of notes and gives a talk on kindness, fellowship, and intrinsic human worth.

Certain people reveal new facets of themselves. At several points I listen to confessions of doubt, of deep personal frustrations. But not all conversations are as intense as these. There are T.V. shows and plays to talk about, funny anecdotes to share; and after a leisurely lunch I'm introduced to Bananagrams.

The child hears a set of instructions and rules for a game. The instructions are given plainly, clearly. The child nods dutifully and says she understands. But then, when the game begins, she breaks each rule repeatedly and predictably. The game fractures into a series of bright remarks, elaborate actions, colorful pantomimes. A little rainbow of childish mischief.

There's no other word that comes to mind when I think about how much tea I drink this week. I didn't stock up on some other supplies, but there's plenty of tea at hand - orange pekoe, orange spice, chamomile, cranberry apple, Earl Grey, peppermint. I have tea with almost every meal and sometimes tea instead of meals. In cold weather it's intoxicating, and the scents and flavors make for a sharp contrast with the snow and ice outdoors.

News anchors and weathermen are wild about snow. They're out in the blizzards and showers, in their coats, woolly caps, fur-trimmed hoods, shouting about how wild it is, how cold, how they've never seen anything like it. "Look how high it's gotten!" Close-ups on dozens of different footprints in the snow. Five different buses crawling down the street. Random people, bundled up and indistinguishable, struggling over what seem like the same set of miniature snow mountains on the roadside. One empty intersection after another. "Never seen anything like it!" they insist.

Superbowl Sunday - fire poppers, chicken wings, fries, salad. I'm not a fan of football - it's much more fun to watch how people react to the game. One guy is annoyed that his favorite team didn't make it to the Superbowl, so he cheers on every slip up, fumble and mishap made by both teams, while other people tell him (good-naturedly for the most part) to shut up.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Spotlight on Pancake

Over at the bookworm blog there's an "author fun facts" post, encouraging bloggers to share some interesting facts about an author they've come across. It's a great idea and will hopefully introduce people to authors they haven't heard about.

This week I checked out the collection of short stories by Breece D'J Pancake (unfortunately I forgot the book at a friend's place, and I'll have to wait for a break in the wild sleet and snowstorm to head out and retrieve it). I found out about Pancake through the Omnivoracious blog's wonderful post, "The Books of the States", which recommended good books and authors from each state in the US. I also read about Pancake in this NPR piece.

Some facts about Breece D'J Pancake:

- He died in 1979, a couple of months before his 27th birthday. Suicide, most people say (a handful think it was an accident).

- He was born in West Virginia, and his stories are rooted in his home state.

- He published 6 stories in his lifetime, which were compiled posthumously with 6 unpublished stories into one volume: The Stories of Breece D'J Pancake.

- According to wikipedia, the 'D' stands for Dexter, the 'J' for John, and that D'J was a misprint of the initials D.J. in The Atlantic (the wikipedia article also mentions his conversion to Catholicism)

- He's an acclaimed writer who's been compared to Hemingway (including in a non-literary sense; in addition to the way both authors died, they also both loved and spent a lot of time outdoors). Pancake's skill, craft, substance, and clarity, however, are considered uniquely his own.

- From his biographer:
"He'd stay up real late at night, maybe four or six hours later, he'd wake in the wee hours of the morning and maybe write some more. His work ethic was incredible. His fiction is very tight and very well-phrased. And that comes from writing over and over and over again. And some of these stories, he wrote maybe twenty times, maybe ten handwritten drafts, then typewritten drafts..."

Monday, February 8, 2010

The art of losing isn't hard to master...

Though the art of writing a good villanelle or sestina is.

2/8 is Elizabeth Bishop's birthday.

One Art is a villanelle by Bishop that I remember first reading in high school with the sense of holding my breath a little throughout, thinking about what the poet was going to lose next, and how she wrote about (Write it!) these painful and important losses with an attempt at nonchalance:

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

and then there's her Sestina, with these lines:

But secretly, while the grandmother
busies herself about the stove,
the little moons fall down like tears
from between the pages of the almanac
into the flower bed the child
has carefully placed in the front of the house.

There's a lot in that quiet poem on grief, love, strength and the passage of time; a domestic scene where emotions simmer beneath everything and the household objects are not inanimate.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Week in Seven Words #1

I think I'm going to start a regular feature on this blog. Find seven words associated with seven impressions, memories, and distinctive moments of the past week.

I'm inspired to do this largely by a couple of blogs I've recently discovered - Three Beautiful Things and Now's The Time.

So without further ado, here's the past week in seven words:

The snowman looks like it's wearing a hoop skirt, and two sodden twig arms stick out of its sides. From the window at dusk, it resembles a girl, frozen mid-spin. Snowflakes dance around her.

"This is not what I thought snow would be like," complains the young man from California.

On the faded pink rug at the foot of my bed, socks are frolicking. Every night after I climb into bed I toe off whatever socks I'm wearing, and they wind up on the floor in a colorful squiggling pile. It almost seems a shame to gather them up for the laundry. In deep purples, striped reds and whites, oranges and greens, a couple of respectable cream colors, they seem to be having a merry time on the floor.

There are many, floating around at mealtimes. A list of movies she has to see. A list of musical compositions he wants to learn by heart. A list of "must-have" attributes in a boyfriend; a similarly detailed list for the qualities a future girlfriend must possess, to be worthy of long-term consideration. When people settle long-term, I'm told, they're looking for the best "package". The best "deal". This is how the world works, they tell me... and for a little while afterwards I need to be alone.

In math class I'm informed that perplexity is a people-friendly version of entropy. I remain perplexed.

We're all perched around a long table. Plates of miniature ice cream bars, pastries, shortbread, and pineapple wedges get passed around. We argue about and discuss politics, archaeology, history - claims of ownership of artifacts, modern day conflicts, the links between past, present and future.

My boots on loose snow make tiny little squeaks. I don't think I'd have noticed unless I was walking for a long while on snow and walking alone.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Writers trying to go for the jugular

Here's an article about writers heaping anger, loathing, disdain and envy on other writers. Cruelly witty or crudely cruel attacks on another writer's work, character, and appearance.

Charles Lamb wrote of Shelley: “His voice was the most obnoxious squeak I ever was tormented with," and James Dickey, poet and novelist, said of an iconic New England poet: “If it were thought that anything I wrote were influenced by Robert Frost, I would take that particular work of mine, shred it, and flush it down the toilet, hoping not to clog the pipes. … a more sententious holding-forth old bore, who expected every hero-worshipping adenoidal twerp of a student-poet to hang on his every word, I never saw."

(Dickey's overdoing it... I think if you're to write an insult it has to be short, to the point, and maybe not seem like an insult at all at first... leading to a kind of double-take, followed by surprised indignation and affront - is that what he said about me?)

It's also funny to me that authors whose works may contain such depth and nobility can also behave like snotty kids to one another in real life.

And writers insulting one another reminds me of the Shakespeare Insult Kit:

Thou pribbling knotty-pated flax-wench!