Saturday, April 19, 2014

Material and what you make of it

This is another of those desert scenes from our ramblings across the American West. I have thought it would make a fine painting, and I mean to try that. I see the lilac undershadow on the clouds and the yellow tips on the rabbitbrush just coming into bloom. The cloud shapes and the varying sizes of the clumps of brush, the horizontal sweep of the mountains and the road. Tonight I have been reading a book of the letters between Gabriele Munter and Wassily Kandinsky. The book is called Wassily Kandinsky and Gabriele Munter; letters and reminiscences,  1902-1914, Prestel Verlag, Munich, 1994. I have never been a big fan of Kandinsky, although the rest of the Blue Rider guys are great! And now I am less than a fan of the man Kandinsky, but you will have to read the book yourself and make up your own mind. Maybe I am too harsh. And, on the basis of what I have seen, I like Munter's paintings very much. They have a simplified and colorful beauty that is very compelling.

Here is a link to Kandinsky's painting of Munter at work. 

And here are the things that people have put on Pinterest that show her paintings.

And here are some self-portraits by Munter,

Some people felt that what Kandinsky and Munter and the rest of the Blue Riger gang was doing was not really painting, but something closer to the crayon drawings of children.. Some people say there is no such thing as prose poetry; it is either poetry or not and one can tell! But this prose poem by Mary Ruefle that I found tonight in the Best American Poetry 2013 pleased me very much. I think I will find her book of them.

Little Golf Pencil

At headquarters they asked me for something dry and understated. Mary, they said, it’s called a statement. They took me out back to a courtyard where they always ate lunch and showed me a little tree that was, sadly, dying. Something with four legs had eaten it rather badly. Don’t over-emote, they said. I promised I wouldn’t but I was thinking to myself that the something-with-four-legs had certainly over-emoted and that the tree, in response, was over-emoting now, being in the strange little position of dying. All the cops were sitting around eating sandwich halves and offered me one. This one’s delicious, said a lieutenant, my wife made it. Seeing as it was peanut butter and jelly I thought he was over-emoting, but I didn’t say anything. I just sat looking at the tree and eating my sandwich half. When I was ready I asked for a pencil and they gave me one of those little golf pencils. I didn’t say anything about that, either. I just wrote my statement and handed it over—it was a description of the tree which they intended to give to their captain as a Christmas present—I mean my description—because the captain, well, he loved that tree and he loved my writing and every one of the cops hoped to be promoted in the captain’s heart and, who knows, maybe get a raise. Still, after all that sitting around in the courtyard eating sandwich halves, I had a nice feeling of sharing, so when they asked me if I had anything else to say I told them that in the beginning you understand the world but not yourself, and when you finally understand yourself you no longer understand the world. They seemed satisfied with that. Cops, they’re all so young.

--Mary Ruefle

Now go and write a little story like that! You won't need to worry (this time) about lineation or rhyme. Sleep well. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

Sunlight on Pink Epiphyllum

I looked out my window this morning. One of the few epis that didn't freeze is beginning to bloom. This amazing plant is not very prepossessing, having awkward straplike long-hanging leaves. but the flowers are spectacular! Then I was off to meet friends for lunch, This was pretty special because I have known these people since we were going to wonderful poetry workshops in the 1980s. This splendid scene of workshops with future Nobelists is no more, but we remember it with gratitude. Lunching out is something I very rarely do. It was a winebibber's restaurant, with a huge selection of special wines. And very nice serving people. The hostess was wearing black boots with a black dress that had three or four limp-yet-fluffy ruffly-lacy very short skirts. It is the sort of outfit that is suddenly very common, even on children; I had never expected to see it in my life. It reminded me of those racy French postcards from 100 years back. Tonight I am feeling a little old and prissy. Which is not surprising, really. I spent some more time in the past tonight when S found The Mystery of Edwin Drood on Roku and we watched the first episode. 

Because of last night's poetry gathering, I have Kindled Carolyn Forche's newest book Blue Hour: Poems. It is unlike her other work--it's quite mysterious, really. It will take me a while to get a handle on it. Once, long time gone, I was sent to pick Ms. Forche up at the airport when she came to San Jose to do a reading. She was great fun to talk to in the car, and I totally respect her ethical positions in many of the things she has written about. She has a special place in my heart for woman poets of my time. So I am glad to have her new book, and even glad it is not easy, because it shows she is not coasting. . . Here is a tiny sample, naturally it has trees, which along with birds, may be my favorite poetic tropes:

In the Exclusion Zones

Ash over conifer and birches, over heavy thickets. Resembling snow and its synonyms. Silvered fields of millet.

A silence approaching bees of the invisible or the scent of mint.

One need not go farther than a white towel hung in an open door.

Carolyn Forche from Blue Hour: poems, Harper Collins, 2003, Kindle location 215.
(I think the first two lines are supposed to be one long line, making it a three line poem, but I can't be sure on the Kindle. Any of these lines would make a superb prompt for a poem of your own. Just write it at the top of a page and take off from there!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Third Thursday for Poetry Month

This little beauty always reminded me of firecrackers. I think it is a mammilaria cactus (so-called because each of the spine-bearing protrusions are like little nipples.) The firecrackers are the flowers. Alas, it succumbed to last years unusually hard frost (one of only three we've had in the 48 years we have lived at this place.) These frosts are particularly hard on cacti and succulents. Tonight I found this photo of one of my little cactus favorites and decided to use it with this post about poetry and language. Because the eclectic reading made a lot of little firecrackers go off for me.

Tonight was a get-together of local poets for the annual reading celebrating Poetry Month = April. They have monthly meetings at the Willow Glen Library in San Jose. I enjoyed it so much I thought I would talk about it here. The idea was that each person who wanted to would read and share with us a published poem, and also read us one of their own.

Here is a list of the names of the poets people chose to read: I am not sure I got them all, or spelled everyone right, but I think I understood most of the names. I was writing them down because I wanted to check out poets unfamiliar to me. I was reminded of several favorites that I hadn't looked at for a long time. I just got Blue Hour on my Kindle and will look at it as soon as I finish this.

Frank O'Hara, Joy Harjo, Luis J. Rodriguez, A. E. Solomon/Sullivan? Debra Greger, Adam Cornford, Mary Oliver (2,) Gregory Orr, Adrienne Rich, Norman Dubie, Frank Jasper, Naomi Shihab Nye, William Stafford, Mary Marcia Casoly, Billy Collins, Louise Bogan, Sylvia Plath, Carolyn Forche, from Blue Hour, published in 2003 (how did I miss that!)  Lucia Perillo, Csezlaw Milosz (2,) Martin Espada, Emily Dickenson, Mirabai--translated by Jane Hirshfield, Maura Stanton. I was particularly interested in the fact that only two poets were chosen by two people. So we got a very interesting short anthology of poems.

The poem I chose to read has been a favorite of mine for 30 years. I just checked and it seems I have never used it on this blog, even though I can hardly believe that! Below the poem on the page is a date: 1936. I never noticed before that this poem is about my same age: I was born in 1935. So it is a pre-World War II poem that takes place in Central Europe many, many years ago. It is the first poem (page 3) in Bells in Winter (Ecco Press, 1978) by Czeslaw Milosz, translated by the author with Lillian Vallee.


We were riding through frozen fields in a wagon at dawn.
A red wing rose in the darkness.

And suddenly a hare ran across the road.
One of us pointed to it with his hand.

That was long ago. Today, neither of them is alive,
Not the hare, nor the man who made the gesture.

O my love, where are they, where are they going
The flash of a hand, streak of movement, rustle of pebbles.
I ask not out of sorrow, but in wonder.


By Czeslaw Milosz, translated by the author and Lillian Vallee.

Notice the form of this poem: nine full lines, many of them complete sentences. A question without a question mark. A unfancy vocabulary, and straightforward thought. Try writing a poem using this model and shape. Good night, and it has been a very good night. Thanks to P, for the ride there and the encouragement to go.

The poems of their own that each of the poets read were good, vnery varied and remarkable for a lack of whining, I felt. I came away feeling again that this is a great time and place to write poems and share them with others. I am feeling energized!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

What are lichen? and a Gray memory thread . . .

One of the pleasure of this older garden with a lot of stonework and stone outcroppings is the marvelous amount of intricate lichen that can be seen in the Tilden Botanic Garden. I am so proud of myself for finally learning to pronounce this word! When I first heard someone say like-en, I didn't know what they meant, having invented for myself something like litch-en. This stuff is pretty in a delicate, grayish-green understated way.

Here's some more from Thoreau's Journals. Thhirty-nine notebooks! Speaking of journals, I must share that Theodore Roethke died in his mid-fifties leaving so many notebooks and so much other paper that it makes me tired just ot think about it. And I'll be offering up some more samples here soon.

May 12

     As the bay-wing [the vesper sparrow] sang many a thousand years ago, so sang he tonight. In the beginning God heard his song and pronounced it good, and hence it has endured. It reminded me of many a summer sunset, of many miles of gray rails, of many a rambling pasture, of the farmhouse far in the fields, its milk-pans and well-sweep, and the cows coming home from pasture.
     I would thus from time to time take advice of the birds, correct my human views by listening to their volucral (?). He is a brother poet, this small gray bird (or bard) whose muse inspires mine. His lay is an idyl or pastoral, older and sweeter than any that is classic. He sits on some gray perch like himself, like a stake, perchance, in the midst of the field, and you can hardly see him against the plowed ground. You advance step-by-step as the twilight deepens, and lo! he is gone, and in vain you strain your eyes to see whither, but anon his tinkling strain is heard from some other quarter. One with the rocks and with us.  
     --Henry David Thoreau

From The Heart of Thoreau's Journals, Dover, page 177.
How many of us have held one of those milk-pans, or touched the long, slender well-sweep? But we can usually all find places to walk. In Erica Goss's new book, Vibrant Words: ideas and inspiration for poets, Pushpen Press, San Jose, 2013,.  there is a section that begins on page 115, titled, PARKING LOTS AS INSPIRATION. and another section (beginning on page 23) called I LEFT MY HEART IN THE LOS ANGELES BASIN. Think about it. And listen to the birds, or the wind in the trees, or even to the sizzle of the asphalt.

Tonight, we met a beautiful greyhound on the Daily Walk. He was taking a leash-walk with his owner and reminded me that it is possible to forget how elegantly THIN greyhounds are. He was also really, really gray, a beautiful soft warm grey. He was so streamlined that even his ears folded back against his head. A friendly dog, too.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


Last Saturday every vista of the Tilden Botanical Garden was beautiful. I have heard about this place for years and now wonder why I never managed to go there before. I guess I could make a list. . .

I have been reading The Glass House; the life of Theodore Roethke by Allen Seager with an introduction by Donald Hall. I am almost finished, but it got to be blogging time. This is a short one of the many poems he wrote using the material of his father's commercial greenhouse in Saginaw. Michigan.

Child on Top of a Greenhouse

The wind billowing out the seat of my britches,
My feet crackling splinters of glass and dried putty,
The half-grown chrysanthemums staring up like accusers,
Up through the streaked glass, flashing with sunlight,
A few white clouds all rushing eastward,
A line of elms plunging and tossing like horses,
And everyone, everyone pointing up and shouting!

Theodore Roethke

Monday, April 14, 2014

Classically California

Here it is! California poppies are known in many other places (because they are happy to seed themselves profusely) but it is in California that you can find sheets of them in meadows and hillsides and along the roadsides, too! It is the classic springtime treat if you find them paired with Ceanothus, or California lilac. Near Valley Center in northern San Diego County, they grow along a country road, which is appropriately named Lilac Road. This picture was taken Saturday on the trip to Tilden Botanical Gardens near Berkeley. Since orange and blue are complementary colors, as I learned in the Fourth Grade, they are perfect companions! The delicate ferny leaves and four-petal blossoms of the poppy are also perfectly set off by the masses of ceanothus bloom!

The Tilden Garden was begun in 1940, and some of the early construction work was done by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Some of their stonework can still be seen in the garden. Now there are four gardeners and a master gardener working to maintain and improve it. It is arranged for each of the biomes in California and upper Baja California. There are sections for example for the desert and redwood forest.

And here is some Thoreau, one of his many observant musings about nature, and her ways, from his Journals. Would he have thought this garden not quite natural enough? But I. I was extremely happy fore the chance to visit in springtime!

September 17, 1841

Nature never makes haste; her systems revolve at an even pace. The bud swells imperceptibly, without hurry or confusion, as though the short spring days were an eternity. All her operations seem separately, for the time, the single object for which all things tarry. Why, then, should man hasten as it anything less than eternity were allotted for the leastd deed? Let him consume never so many aeons, so that he go about the meanest task well, though it be but the paring of his nails. If the setting sun seems to hurry him to improve the day while it lasts, the chant of the crickets fails not to reassure him, even-measured as of old, teaching him to take his own time henceforth forever. The wise man is restful, never restless or impatient. He each moment abides there where he is, as some walkers acutally rest the whole body at each step, while others never relax the muscles of the leg until fatigue obliges them to stop short.

Henry David Thoreau,
from The Heart of Thoreau's Journals; edited by Odell Shephard, Dover, 1927, 1961, page 9.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The closest inspection

Oct. 22, 1838  Nature will bear the closest inspection. She invites us to lay our eye level with her smallest leaf and take an insect view of its plain. Henry David Thoreau from The Heart of Thoreau's Journals, Dover, 1961, page 9.

And this is this afternoon's rosebud, and the weekend's blown rose. We don't remember the name of this one. The roses seem to be quite happy this year. They are quite like soul food. And I am feeding myself with a small Ted Kooser poem again tonight.

Selecting a Reader

First, I would have her be beautiful, 
and walking carefully up on my poetry
at the loneliest moment of an afternoon,
her hair still damp at the neck
from washing it. She should be wearing
a raincoat, an old one, dirty
from not having money enough for the cleaners.
She will take out her glasses, and there
in the bookstore, she will thumb
over my poems, then put the book back
up on its shelf. She will say to herself,
"For that kind of money, I can get
my raincoat cleaned." And she will.

Ted Kooser, from Flying at Night
Univ. of Pittsburgh Press,1985, page 3.