Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Flowers are perfect, but what of that?

Like this flower this afternoon, with an accent of white window frame. I have said that this frost-survivor epiphyllum was a least-favorite, but there is a color subtlety revealed by this unaltered photo that sings! Makes me want to break out the watercolors!
Tonight I got about halfway through Robert Frost; the early years. He was co-valedictorian of his high school with the girl he later married. Then he quit Dartmouth without finishing his first year. Then he is this-ing and that-ing, while his girlfriend stick firm to her interesting idea that he should be able to earn their keep before they marry, One of the main things I got from tonight's reading is how over-the-top ruled by emotion he is, despite all his intellectual gifts. At one point he runs away and walks through the Great Dismal Swamp (honestly, the Great Dismal Swamp!) and having failed to fall into the swamp or be bitten by a poisonous snake, etc. finally starts home riding boxcars until arrested, when he has to send to his mother for the fare.

Another interesting thing was his discovery of the newly popular, recently deceased poet, Emily Dickinson. He bought her book, and really responded to her poetry, partly because he had doubts about religion also, as she did. (His mother was very religious and became a Swedenborgian. This was also the time when the writings of the great Victorian scientists and thinkers were being widely disseminated and discussed.) But, imagine living when Emily Dickenson was a new, hot, poet!! Just imagine!

Here is a poem by Dickenson that he responded to; it is quoted in the biography on page 124.

I reason, earth is short
and anguish absolute,
And many hurt;
But what of that?

I reason, we could die:
The best vitality
Cannot excel decay;
But what of that?

I reason that in heaven
Somehow, it will be even,
Some new equation given;
But what of that?

--Emily Dickenson

Heavy stuff, this. Take a look at the form, also. Three four-line stanzas, each with the same question as a refrain. Think of your own question and make your self a little poem. Or try it using this same question, which is quite widely applicable. And now to bed.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Possibilities, like buds

More yesterday from the lavender rose; the other one with the sweet scent seems to be the one we lost, and we have forgotten the name of this one, too. One always wants a record, when it is too late to begin keeping one. I remember reading about keeping a garden journal early on; I sort of planned to do so, there are lists here and there inside the back covers of gardening books. I know a fellow, DM, who has kept a journal of the books he has read for many, many years, He showed it to me once, and I was alive with jealously. The other day I found the only one I ever started--it is in a blank book with a Gnome on the cover, a Gnomebook. Remeember when those gnomes were ALL THE RAGE?? Must have been the 1980s. I didn't even keep it for even a year. And with this Kindle and the Amazon used books thing, I start many more books than I finish these days. One more whine and then the poem. Today I read the book Urban Sketching by Thomas Thorspecken, Barrons, 2014. He has been sketching EVERY DAY FOR FIVE YEARS and posting the sketches on his blog. These sketches take him one to two hours EVERY DAY! And I was so proud of my one-year-plus daily blog!! The other day Mary Ruefle was recommended to me and her book came yesterday. So tonight, here she is with a wild rose, instead of a tame hybrid tea, as in the picture.

The Wild Rose Bush

Undone chore: pruning the wild rose bush. If
I had pruned the wild rose bush today, my life
could continue walking on new stilts, I would have
a better view of the future and be able to go further
than I can imagine at this moment. But the bush
has been pruned many times already, it has lived through
sixty years of childhood, it has felt its hips swell
and offered their red pips to the birds, it has watched
the bee pumping the foxglove, swelling her cups
with astonishing quickness, and heard the enormous rose
applauding, it has died of embarrassment and never been able
to so a thing about it, the way I can't bring myself to do
a simple chore like pruning, which is good for the world,
which pulls the world back from the brink of disaster,
which helps it forget its recent grief and not so recent grief
and ancient grief. You can hardly call me human, 
though I own a pair of clippers. I have never suffered
and I have never known a hero. My father never said or did
anything of interest. He never said "If you are angry
pour everything you have ever eaten into the sea,
let the sea foam at the mouth, keep your own lips clean."
He never said that. He just sat in a comfortable chair
and let the news slip out of his hands and onto the floor.
He could not compete with it. He didn't even try. He seemed
to reach a point where he realized the news would go on 
without him, long after his little nap, and later his death.
When he reached that point his head lolled to one side,
the way a rose will if left unwatered.
Sometimes I say he was saved.

from Mary Ruefle, Selected Poems, 
Wave Books, 2010, pp. 60-61.

Follow the play of the mind (with its surprising shifrts) through this poem. Although at one point you feel she is being unfair to her dad, it turns out OK and anyway, he has gone beyond caring. Take a look at some chore and see if you can let your mind play silly games, See what youcan come up with. I think my library used to have a children's book called Write Me A Poem, Baby! so that's what we ought to do tomorrow.Tonight it is really too late to get started.

We took the remaining dog with us on the Daily Walk today, It wasn't that long -- (and we didn't meet any other dogs) just around a long block, but she licked the bottoms of her feet for a long time after we got home. Not used to sidewalks, I guess. She has been sleeping ever since we got back.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Every day is different

Early this afternoon, we took our special favorite Rylka, aka Pookie or Twinkie to the vet. Her medical problems became too great and she stopped eating among many other symptoms. When we got out of the car at the vet's, she saw S take a drink of water; when she seemed thirsty, he poured lots of little drinks into my cupped hand and she drank them all. Then we went in to say goodbye. Late this afternoon we went together outside into our spring garden and this epiphyllium was in bloom. I didn't alter this photo!

Here she is this morning; she wasn't even tempted by an egg, which she usually likes.

Robert Frost was born in 1874 and was but an indifferent student in grade school. But he changed his strategy in high school and became an outstanding student.. He also edited the school paper and even played on the football team in his senior year. Here is a poem he wrote in his senior year, which he did not publish in the student paper. I decided last night I would share it tonight.. Because of today, I haven't read any further in the book; so as far as I am concerned, tonight he is still in high school.

Clear and Colder--Boston Common

As I went down through the common,
     It was bright with the light of day,
For the wind and rain had swept the leaves
    And the shadow of summer away.
The walks were all fresh-blacked with rain
     As I went briskly down: ---
I felt my own quick step begin
     The pace of the winter town.

As I went down through the common,
     The sky was wild and pale;
I saw on tree with a jib of leaves
     In the stress of the aftergale;
But the others rattled naked poles
     As I went briskly down.
I felt my own quick step begin
     The pace of the winter town.

As I went down through the common
     In the crisp October dawn,
Benches were wet and stuck with leaves
     And the idle ones were gone.
The folk abroad raced on with me
     As I went briskly down.
I felt my own quick step begin
     The pace of the winter town.

As I went through the common,
     Then felt I first delight
Of the city's thronging winter days
     And dazzling winter night,
Of the life and revelry to be---
      As I went briskly down,
I felt my own quick step begin
      The pace of the winter town.

Robert Frost, from Robert Frost; the early years 1874-1915
by Lawrance Thompson, Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1966, 
pp. 110-111.

When you write your poem on this model, remember that Robert Frost had been soaked in this kind of poetry--his mother was a schoolteacher and also a poet, and this sort of poem was very popular in America for many years. So don't expect yours to just rattle along like this. But strategies that might be useful, are reusing (perhaps with alterations as here) some of your best and most rhythmic material. Refrains, with alterations. Think about it! Also think about your place to walk and write a poem. Sleep well.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Grandiflora rose Apricot Nectar


This is a favorite rose. The color is such a beautiful blend of yellows with palest reds that it is hard to imagine designing anything prettier. The rosebush is growing a little too close to the avocado tree, so I have to cut back the lower branches of that tree so it can get more sunlight. This year, many buds, and so it looks like we will get a good show. I thought it was a pretty choice for an Easter post, so I took this photo this afternoon with my what-did-I-ever-do-without-it iPhone. S and I spent a very quiet day, enlivened by a visit to a pancake house. Our nice waitress was the youthful-looking mother of nine children; she was about to finish her shift and was getting videos on her phone of her grandkids jumping on the tiny trampoline she gave them for Easter.

A Prayer in Spring

Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers to-day;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.

Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;
And make us happy in the happy bees,
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.

And make us happy in the darting bird
That suddenly above the bees is heard,
The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,
And off a blossom in mid air stands still.

For this is love and nothing else is love,
The which it is reserved for God above
To sanctify to what far ends He will,
But which it only needs that we fulfil.

             by Robert Frost

I seem to remember that it was Frost who said that writing verse without meter and rhyme was like playing tennis without a net. This poem will satisfy every desire that one of my older grandsons has for poems that rhyme. (He kept suggesting that my poems could be much improved in that regard.) And here is an EASTER poem I found using Google Search. I thought Frost must have written one! Besides this poem has a bird!

Having said farewell to Munter and Kandinsky, tonight I started the first volume of his biography, Robert Frost; the early years 1874-1915, by Lawrance Thompson.  I have been more curious about Frost ever since I read about his years in England in the book about Edward Thomas. Actually I don't have time to read such a long book now, but what the heck!

Happy Easter to all!

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, very 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!