From the Wall Street Journal, October 15-16, 2016
Not the least of Robert Frost’s accomplishments is that he managed to balance popularity with artistic excellence. Take “The Road Not Taken” (1916), arguably his most famous poem. You probably read it in high school. You will find it in any good poetry anthology. In its wizardry, the poem deserves the highest accolades. The irony is that it has often been loved and quoted for the wrong reasons. The further irony is that this misunderstanding itself testifies to the subtlety and genius of its creator. The critic David Orr has written an entire book—“The Road Not Taken: Finding America in the Poem Everyone Loves and Almost Everyone Gets Wrong” (2015), newly in paperback—on this misunderstanding and the nuances of Frost’s design.
Here is the poem:
People may not realize that Nobel Prizes, like other awards, are actively campaigned for. It is as if lobbyists, albeit unpaid ones, were out there petitioning the committee in Stockholm. Here is Gordon Ball's brief for Dylan, which is entitled "I nominated Bob Dylan for the Nobel Prize. You’re welcome" and which appears in today's Washington Post. Ball has campaigned for a Nobel for Dylan since 1996. -- DL
For decades I’ve admired the work of Bob Dylan, whom I first saw at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, but it was in August of 1996 that I first wrote the Nobel Committee, nominating Dylan for its literature prize. The idea to do so originated not with me but with two Dylan aficionados in Norway, journalist Reidar Indrebø and attorney Gunnar Lunde, who had recently written Allen Ginsberg about a Nobel for Dylan. Ginsberg’s office then asked if I’d write a nominating letter. (Nominators must be professors of literature or linguistics, past laureates, presidents of national writers’ groups, or members of the Swedish Academy or similar groups.) Over the next few months, several other professors, including Stephen Scobie, Daniel Karlin, and Betsy Bowden, endorsed Dylan for the Nobel. I would go on to nominate Dylan for the next dozen years. This year, he finally won.
In the name of Abe – biblical predecessor
of honest Abe, who freed the slaves,
and also Bobby’s dad -- I stand at your gate
with faith equal to doubt, and I say,
look out kid, no matter what you did,
and incredulity gives way to unconditional surrender.
Abe say “Where do you want this killing done?”
God say “Out on Highway 61.”
God directs traffic,
and young Isaac say it’s all right Ma I’m only bleeding.
And Ma say it’s all right boy I’m only breathing.
And Dad unpack his heart with words like a whore.
Young Isaac ain’t gonna work for Maggie's brother no more.
Ike no like the white man boss,
and when stuck inside of Mobile to even the score
he looks at the stream he needs to cross
despite schemes of grinning oilpot oligarch arschloch
who wanna be on the side that’s winning.
So he climbs up to the captain’s tower and does his sinning
and has read all of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s books.
He no get where he got because of his looks.
He’s on the pavement talking about the government,
and he knows something’s happening but he don’t know what it is.
A strange man, Mr. Jones. Isaac Jones that is.
-- David Lehman
We are disoriented. Cubs fans are used to moving on to football by October. Our association with baseball in the fall has usually been looking over someone’s shoulder at a TV in a bar asking, “Who’s playing? Oh yeah? What’s the score?”
This year is all new. That’s because not only are the Cubs still playing on October 15th, but they have a really good chance of winning. Honest. I would not have said that through eight innings on Tuesday night. None of us would have. No, despite 103 regular season victories, we were thinking 1969 when the Cubs blew a 9 1/2 game lead in September. We were thinking 1984 when they were up two zip and got swept by the Padres in San Diego. We were thinking 1989 when San Francisco made easy work of them in the NLCS and 2003 when Steve Bartman seemed a latter day manifestation of Billy Sianis’s goat or 2015 when the New York Mets swept the Cubs in the NLCS. Now we are thinking, “Maybe, just maybe.”
That’s because Tuesday night the Cubs scored 4 runs in the 9th inning in a come from behind playoff victory over the San Francisco Giants. The Chicago National League baseball club had never done that in its 140 year history. In fact, now listen to this, no one had. No major league team in post season history had ever come from behind to score 4 runs in the 9th to win. Sorry to be repetitious. I could say it over and over again.
How did they do it? With children. Twenty-four-year-old Willson Contreras in his first half season in the majors drove in the tying run, and twenty-three-year-old Javier Baez in his first full major league season -- who is not only a wonderful baseball player but a gymnast and magician as well (look for his highlight film on YouTube in which he slides over, around, under and through tags, and in the field reaches behind himself in mid-air to tag out the other guy who can’t believe it until he sees the replay later) -- got the game-winning hit, and twenty-five year old Carl Edwards Jr. pitched a perfect seventh. And that is not to mention 22-year-old-shortstop Addison Russell who looks like a fawn and may be the team’s best all-around player, or 24-year-old-Jorge Soler who got so excited earlier in the year that he jumped out of the dugout and ran the bases with a teammate who had hit a homer, or 23-year-old Kyle Schwarber who wrecked his knee in the third game of the season going all-out to catch a ball in the outfield and is lying in wait for the 2017 National League, or 24-year-old Kris Bryant and gray beard Anthony Rizzo (he’s 27) who are vying for NL MVP honors or the best starting rotation in baseball or hired gun closer Aroldis Chapman who threw 13 pitches Tuesday not one of which was less than a hundred miles an hour to strike out the Giants in the 9th.
Wow! This is such fun. So much in fact that I didn’t mind at all not using the ticket my kids bought me for game five between the Cubs and Giants at Wrigley Field on Thursday. Nope. In fact, it was the very best baseball game I never saw.
-- Peter Ferry
You might be forgiven for thinking they are – hybrids have been blamed for everything from the lack of diversity our food system to the fall of civilization (I jest). Specifically, they are often blamed for the disappearance of heirloom varieties. The truth, though, is that practically every plant you’ve ever grown, heirloom included, was once a hybrid. If that were not the case, we’d still be stuck with tomatoes the size of currents, bitter greens, and corn that could chip a tooth. Sometimes by accident, sometimes with intent, we’ve selected for foods with more flavor and fewer toxins, flowers that were bigger, brighter, and bloomed longer, trees that grew shorter or had more interesting forms.
We use the term “hybrid” differently in the plant world than we do in the animal world. With animals, if we say hybrid, we mean a cross between two species – a lyger, a coy dog, a mule. With plants, the word hybrid may denote a cross between species, (this will be signified by an x in the binomial, as with Hamamelis x intermedia, the hybrid witch hazel) but it more often indicates a cross between stable phenotypes within a species – in animals, we call these breeds. So a hybrid beet, perhaps one bred from a parent which was bolt-resistant and another which had cool stripes, is no more evil than your Golden Doodle (your Golden Doodle may be poorly behaved, but it is unlikely to be actually evil).
Because they are a cross between two species, animal hybrids are generally sterile. But plant hybrids are not generally sterile, because they are most often a cross within a species (even the interspecific hybrids are usually not sterile, because plants are just amazing that way). That first generation of crossing – the F1 generation (F for filial) – will produce viable seed, but you’ll get a mixed lot from it. Some of the F2 generation will be just what you want, some will have stripes but no heat resistance, some will take August weather but be plain old red. So, over time, you can keep planting the seed from your heat-tolerant, stripey beet, you can rogue out the ones that do not have the characteristics you want, and eventually you’ll be producing seed that consistently gives you the plant you want. When you finally get to the place that most of the seeds produce the plant you are looking for, you’ll have what is called a “stabilized”, or standard, variety.
It’ll take time to get just what you are looking for, several generations at least. Did I mention that beets were biennial? Each generation takes two full years. Supposing you manage to stabilize your new variety in six generations, it’ll still take you twelve years to do so. Time is one reason we often stick with F1 hybrids; another is “hybrid vigour”. That initial out-crossing of genes creates a plant that grows bigger and is more productive than the parent plants – by a lot.
Here’s the total yield of a single sweet dumpling squash plant, a standard variety –
Here’s that sweet dumpling squash hybridized with a mini-pumpkin. These all came from a single F1 plant.
In addition to saving you years of patient breeding, and giving you plants that are consistently better producers for your three dollars per packet, plant breeders are doing us one more service when they maintain F1 hybrid lines. They are maintaining two lines of standard (heirloom, though that’s a fungible term) varieties every year, in order to have parents with which to produce those hybrids. They are protecting genetic diversity. Plant breeders, particularly small ones who specialize in regionally appropriate plants, are the good guys, and they deserve a hat tip.
A poem, from Wendell Berry, for seeds, those who coddle them, and those who plant them.
The seeds begin abstract as their species,
remote as the name on the sack
they are carried home in: Fayette Seed Company
Corner of Vine and Rose. But the sower
going forth to sow sets foot
into time to come, the seeds falling
on his own place. He has prepared a way
for his life to come to him, if it will.
Like a tree, he has given roots
to the earth, and stands free.
Wendell Berry’s “The Seeds” can be found in Wendell Berry, New Collected Poems, by Counterpoint Press. http://www.counterpointpress.com/dd-product/new-collected-poems/
Everything about this album cover was so exquisitely congruent with the historical moment! I recall seeing it for the first time: the slush, the girl, her boots, and most especially the VW van. Bob as a specific identity in the picture was almost irrelevant. It could have been anybody (except me.) But the way he's looking down...the bulge...his look of pleasant surprise. Yes, he's getting a boner, or already has one. As well
he might! Keep it up, Bob! "One more cup of coffee before I go....."
she broods in her pen:
by Alexandra Lytton Regalado
October cuts furrows of cloud in the Salvadoran sky as papier mache skeletons dance on our mantle, mariachi band of the dead in a glittering box, and a votive of la Virgen de Guadalupe draped in her green cloak next to the American pumpkin we’ve yet to carve. On this Day of the Dead, my children return from a piñata with two baby chicks dyed lime green and tangerine—a strange fad in party favors in El Salvador. The children squeal, watching the chicks rush about, like wind-up toys their beaks open and shut on crumbs of bread, gullets twitch as they swallow water, and tuck their heads into a wing—a bare bulb for mother’s warmth. The next day, we return from ballet class to find one pitched across the newsprint with legs rigid as a cartoon’s. And when the kids ask for a burial ceremony, already the other chick is staggering, asleep at the wheel and suddenly peeping. My daughter strokes the chick’s walnut head and says, Ok, Mami, I’ll go play while you wait for it to die. So I sit at the kitchen table, the limp bird hammocked in my hand—and with each breath I think—this is it, this is the last, and no, another breath—just as the children at bedtime lean into me with plumes of sweet breath, their limbs jerk as they approach the edge—as I hope this is—that they will abandon themselves to sleep, but again they turn and grip me tighter. Outside these four walls is my hot bath, the soup in the pot, a chapter, my other life. So I wish for the bird’s last breath—how like matchsticks are his bones. Now there is no return to the dancing skeletons in their glittering box—this is where I am supposed to dim the lights, and yet I have to describe how my daughter broke a branch of purple bougainvillea, point out that my son scooped up the dead bird and pitched him into the hole in the earth as one would toss a paper cup into a wastebasket, that it was 8pm on a school night and they stood like statues as they clutched my hands and whimpered Angel de la Guardia, the only prayer they know by heart. It ends like this: my children came alive again when it was time to pat down the shoveled dirt—but the next day they did not paint the stones to mark the graves as they had promised.
Co-founder of Kalina press, Alexandra Lytton Regalado is the author, editor, or translator of ten Central American-themed
books. Her poems and short stories have appeared in cream city review, Gulf Coast, Narrative, NANO Fiction, Notre Dame Review, OCHO, Puerto del Sol and elsewhere. Her full-length collection of poems, Matria, (Black Lawrence Press) is forthcoming in 2017. She is the winner of the St. Lawrence Book Prize, the Coniston Poetry Prize, and her work has received nominations for the Pushcart Prize. She has a black belt in Kenpo Karate and lives in El Salvador with her husband and three children. "La Gallina" was first published in Radar Poetry.
The day after Jack Kerouac’s funeral, I was sitting around a table of Beat writers. Allen Ginsberg was across from me. Gregory Corso and I were discussing the merits of various writers. I then unintentionally provoked the verbally combative Corso. I told him that I was going to attend a Bob Dylan concert, and I began to praise Dylan. Corso went into a five minute tirade about Dylan and other singer-songwriters who claimed to be poets. Corso was not amused.
Not all the Beats agreed, of course. Ginsberg genuinely admired Dylan. Suze Rotolo, Dylan’s important early girlfriend in New York once told me that if I want to understand Dylan, I should talk to Ginsberg. But, from the beginning of his career, Dylan provoked considerable jealousy and anger in his less emotionally generous competitors and colleagues.
When the announcement of Dylan’s winning the Nobel Prize in Literature was made, there were reportedly audible murmurs in the hall. Wasn’t the Prize for writers rather than this…this song maker? I thought of those writers around the world who felt deflated, cheated, and upset at the announcement.
Even Dylan’s most fervent fans surely felt some surprise. I was following the announcement from Sweden on a live blog. When I read Dylan’s name I waited a few minutes thinking there might be some kind of mistake. The greatest song lyricist ever? In my opinion, clearly yes. And Dylan himself seemed to think so. In the current New Yorker, there is an article about Leonard Cohen. In the article, Cohen told of a conversation he had with Dylan, who said, “As far as I’m concerned, Leonard, you’re Number 1. I’m Number Zero.” Cohen went on to explain how he interpreted the statement: “Meaning, as I understood it at the time—and I was not ready to dispute it—that his work was beyond measure and my work was pretty good.”
But, at the end, Dylan was and is a writer of lyrics and music. No one can dispute his abilities in that role. But there will be, beyond the glee or anguish that different people feel, the simple question: Does Dylan deserve the Nobel in Literature? It’s not an idle question. After all, Tolstoy, Proust, Ibsen, Joyce, Zola, Twain, Chekhov, and Auden are among many literary geniuses who didn’t receive the Literature prize.
Perhaps the principal objection to Dylan getting the award is that his work is meant to be presented not read. As if by fate, an answer to that objection has been provided. Today, on the very day of Dylan’s winning, Dario Fo, the 1997 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, died. Fo won the award as a playwright. Other playwrights who have won include George Bernard Shaw, Luigi Pirandello, Eugene O’Neill, and Samuel Beckett. Playwrights are not meant to be read. Their work is meant to be performed, with sound, costume, and the other elements of a theatrical event. These playwrights are the appropriate precedents for awarding the Prize to Bob Dylan.
Additionally, Dylan’s influence on others, including novelists, poets, and short story writers, is extraordinary. Virtually by himself, Dylan changed the borders of a song’s possibilities. From the beginning, armed with Hank Williams and Woody Guthrie as his models, he ignored the rules and the pressures of fans.
His detractors can legitimately point to the way he treated women in his life. Some would object to his supposed glorification of drugs. He himself felt some guilt about removing God from his listeners’ lives. But no one can legitimately dispute that Dylan virtually single-handedly transformed at the very least music and, more arguably, all of American culture.
There is a question, though, that I think is more telling. That question is not if Dylan deserves it but rather whether someone else deserves it more. Just to name five, among others, a case can be made that Haruki Murakami, Philip Roth, Don DeLillo, Joyce Carol Oates, and Thomas Pyncheon all are more deserving.
I’ll confess that I don’t much care for the Nobel Prize in Literature. It is political as much as literary in its choices. Even the choice of Dylan can be understood as a publicity stunt. If it was, it worked. Everyone will be talking about Dylan winning.
I’ll leave it to readers to determine if anyone was more deserving, but I’m pleased Bob Dylan won. I’m happy for the great lyricists, the Harts, Berlins and so many others who have retrospectively gained a measure of respect because one of their own has attained such recognition as a Nobel Prize. I’m happy for those who write songs now. The bar has been raised for them to push themselves harder. And I’m very happy for Dylan’s fans, some of whom no doubt will do as I did and listen to Dylan. I immediately played “The Times They Are A-Changin’” which was the first Dylan song I ever heard.
From a drought, a year that has died,
Gone down into deadness. -- William Everson
Everson’s writing is lush and provocative, but he got autumn wrong. Far from being a season of senescence, it’s a period of incredible growth and preparation in the plant world. Perennials take advantage of the last warm days, translocating every last shred of carbohydrates from soft tissues into their storage roots. They are storing moisture, too - leaves have openings called stomata which plants can expand and contract as needed. It is through evaporation out of those open stomata that plants wick water from the ground up into their structures. Once the leaves fall (or, in the case of evergreens, groundwater becomes frozen and unavailable) the plants cannot take up moisture. Here in New England we are experiencing unprecedented drought, and it’s our final chance to get water to our woody plants before winter sets in.
We might imagine the bulbs we set into cool soil - tulips, narcissus, even garlic - are quiescent until spring, but that isn’t so at all. Come Thanksgiving, dig up a bulb planted in early October, and you’ll find it has grown a healthy set of roots in preparation for breaking bud. The cheerful crocus slicing their way through frozen ground didn’t start growing in March - they were doing it all along.
Shrubs set their flower buds back in summer, as soon as the old flowers had passed, and they are just waiting for the least encouragement to open the new ones. Stress or strange weather patterns can trigger early blooms. These serve as a welcome stop for torpid pollinators, and of course we are charmed to see them, but it does mean that particular branch or stem will have to wait a whole additional year to try again.
Probably the most fascinating thing that is going on with fall plants, though, is what the weeds are doing. There are more types of weeds than most of us realize. There are the perennials, of course, behaving just like all their domestic siblings and beefing up their storage roots (but with more efficacy). There are biennials - plants that spend one growing season producing the green foliage needed for carbohydrate synthesis, and the next using that stored energy to fuel a massive flowering and fruiting effort. There is even a bizarre cross of these strategies, plants which grow biennial stems from a perennial “crown” - most of the brambles utilize this strategy. Annuals have a wide range of strategies, too. When we think of annuals, we think summer annuals - those which germinate from seed in the spring and summer, reproduce, and die come winter. But there are also winter annuals, which are actively growing right now. Tiny, prolific, and cold tolerant, they are beautifully adapted to take advantage of the bare soil left behind by the summer annuals. Winter annuals use a similar strategy to biennials, but they do it in only a single calendar year - germinating in late summer, growing actively through the fall, and using their stored energy to flower and set seed in early spring, before other plants even have a chance to get moving. If you live in an area that has already had a couple of frosts, go out in your yard or garden, and look for small rosettes of green leaves on the ground. These are likely winter annuals, escaping your notice for the moment, because it’s “too cold for anything to be growing”. They’ll have reproduced and scattered their seeds before you even start working the soil in the spring.
My favorite weed strategy, though, is employed by the violet. The violet is a tough perennial which reproduces both vegetatively and by seed – and also through cleistogamy. Cleistogamy comes from Greek roots for “closed marriage”. The violet is one savvy customer which does not count on other plants for reproduction. Many plants can self-pollinate, hedging their bets against a lack of attractive neighbors, but the violet takes this to an extreme. In the spring you’ll see the diminutive purple flowers the plant is named for, open and waiting for any passing bee. But the violet is blooming right now, too - only you can’t see it. In the fall, cleistogamous flower buds are growing underground, where they will self-pollinate, set seed, mature, and be planted automatically in favorable conditions right next to the mother plant. Lawn aficionados everywhere wonder why they can’t win the war against violets, and that’s the reason. Cryptic reproduction.
Here’s a weed poem by Robin Turner. The weed in question is a perennial, a bulb, and already it is setting up roots under the soil.
in this telling
the girl wears
a boy’s faded plaid flannel
she wears black leggings ripped
across generous wide thighs
short shorts and muck boots metallic ink blue
she has named herself april
she is beginning again
in this telling
she has kept the crown of flowers
ditching daisies for crow poison delicate and wild
she wears their dark name
against her dark hair heavy with heat and intention
she slides on her thick eyeglasses
in this telling
she has left the old gossamer getup
down in some long-ago riverbed
let it pool there
between stones and shimmer awhile
into the last of the day’s late light
Robin Turner’s “crow poison” can be found in her collection bindweed & crow poison, available from Porkbelly Press. https://porkbellypress.com/2016/08/31/bindweed-crow-poison-small-poems-of-stray-girls-fierce-women-robin-turner/
We're excited to announce the first issue of a new online magazine of art and poetry: Decals of Desire. The founding editor is British artist and poet Rupert Mallin, and the poetry editor is British poet Martin Stannard, who lives and works in China (and who has been a guest here).
Martin Stannard used to edit joe soap’s canoe, a UK magazine that was the first in the UK to draw heavily upon the New York School, publishing among others Ashbery, Kenneth Koch, Paul Violi, Charles North, and Tony Towle. One can expect a similar taste to show up in Decals of Desire.
The first issue demonstrates its commitment to both the visual and the written, and kicks off in stunning fashion by featuring 8 collages by John Ashbery, as well as a poem, and extracts from Ashbery’s 1968 essay on the avant-garde. Among other writers featured in the issue are Ron Padgett, Sharon Mesmer and Mark Halliday from the U.S., Ian Seed and Alan Baker from the UK, and Mairéad Byrne, who was born in Ireland, emigrated to the U.S., and now appears to be travelling…. But it’s not all “poetry”. There’s even a short play in there. Variety is almost all.
In terms of the visual arts, Decals of Desire will look back but also across to traditional, experimental and off-the-wall art forms today.
Featured in the first issue is the work of contemporary landscape painter Martin Laurance. Laurance’s work captures the crumbling English coastline through dramatic, captivating studies. The magazine also reviews The British Art Show touring exhibition – a show that claims to represent the “most dynamic” art produced in Britain today, but which probably doesn’t. There is sculpture, too: sculpture of the 20th century is often viewed in terms of form and mass. Decals of Desire outlines how sculptor Alberto Giacometti dealt primarily in scale and human distance.
Other articles include a sideways look at the Turner Prize 2016. Back in 1999 Tracy Emin turned the prize into prime time TV viewing but didn’t win. Will a female artist win this year? And whither the Avant-Garde? In this piece evidence of its existence and withering is found in contemporary dance and the ‘NO Manifesto.’ And in each issue an unusual artistic technique will be explored and the side streets of modern art history revisited.
Decals of Desire can be found at http://decalsofdesire.blogspot.com.
We're already looking forward to Issue 2, which will include a review of the Abstract Expressionism exhibition at the Royal Academy, an exploration of Catalan Contemporary Art, the Anglo-French Art Centre 1945-51 plus an abundance of poetry and regular columns – featured artists, Decals DIY and more.
Decals of Desire does not accept unsolicited manuscripts or poetry submissions.
It is, as they say over at McSweeney’s, decorative gourd season…. As a dedicated vegetable lover, the characterization of edible squashes as “gourds” grieves me. We portray them merely as colorful fall decorations, forgetting their history and relationship to humans. Those adorable Jack-Be-Little pumpkins which decorate mantels from Connecticut to California are not only edible, but choice, personal sized squashes. Cook one up, add a dash of butter and maple syrup, and you’ll be amazed. The enormous, ribbed, red squashes gracing haybales everywhere are Boston Marrows. A century ago, when you had to feed a large farm family, plus a few hands, you needed a squash that big for every meal. These fruits were selected and grown as a valuable (and tasty) source of calories which would keep successfully over a long winter. How distressing then, that wagonloads of them are left outdoors overnight, at trendy grocery stores across the country, where they are subject to (shudder) frost!
Americans are generally familiar with three squash species in the genus Cucurbita – the pepos, which have a spiny, six-pointed stem, and are represented by the field pumpkin, the acorns, and summer squashes such as the zucchini:
Peduncle (stem attachment) of Curcurbita pepo the maximas, which have a warty stem, and are represented by hubbards, buttercups, and “giant pumpkins”:
Peduncle of Cucurbita maximas and moschatas, which have button stems, and are best known by the popular butternut.
Regardless of species, all domestic squashes are uniquely American – generally South American. They evolved somewhere warm, and they do still thrive in the heat. However, humans dragged them on up to North America, and along the way we selected for squashes that managed nicely in our more varied seasons. It’s useful to ponder their biology a bit, in order to understand how we should be caring for them.
Consider what the squash is. Each squash is a pepo – botanically, a great big berry which contains a number of seeds. As long as the fruit remains intact, those seeds stay dormant. Once the protective shell of fruit is gone, seeds which are subjected to the right conditions will germinate. Seeds that germinate either grow or they don’t, they get to reproduce and pass down their genetic structures or not, depending on whether they’ve germinated in a fortunate time and place.
Imagine yourself as a pumpkin. Imagine, if you will, that you are sitting in a field in the late autumn sun. The nights are cold, freezing even, and each cold night the water in your cells freezes and breaks cell membranes. As the day warms, that cellular water thaws, then freezes again at night. Eventually, all the cells break, and you collapse as a hunk of goo, sheltering those seeds until spring. This works for you, the pumpkin. After all, what the pumpkin wants is to pass on its genetic information. When things begin to warm up in the spring, the seeds will be conveniently planted just under a nutrient rich layer of pumpkin goo, and up they come - happy baby pumpkins.
What we want, however, is to eat those pumpkins (or to keep them as table decorations at least until Thanksgiving is over – I won’t judge. Much.). In order to prevent them from decomposing, you’ve got to keep them warm. Comfortable room temperature warm. You, standing around in your shirt sleeves warm. Leave one outdoors, subject to freeze and thaw cycles, and you’ll have to shovel it off your front step. Those stores displaying squashes that have sat outside in October are selling you damaged goods. It’s probably fine for your Halloween Jack-O-Lantern (you’re going to let the kids butcher that anyway), but not for a Blue Hubbard, a Triamble, or a Buttercup. Bring those babies in.
It’s more accurate to think of processes and chance when discussing evolutionary success, but it’s more poetic to talk about what the pumpkin wants. It’s more human. We come to care more about the world around us when we imagine ourselves in the place of its inhabitants. That’s one thing poetry can do for us, it can put us in the place of another organism. One of my favorite plant poems does just that. Mark Doty’s “Amagansett Cherry” reminds us that plants have their own agenda, and they don’t much care about ours.
Praise to the cherry on the lawn of the library,
the heave and contorted thrust of it, a master,
on its own root, negating the word weeping
(miles to the nearest tears),
requiring instead down-fountaining,
or descending from a ferocious intention.
Whatever twists the trunk
subsumed into pink explosiveness, and then, all summer,
the green-black canopy. Prefer it unbent?
I have no use for you then,
says the torque and fervor of the tree.
Mark Doty’s “Amagansett Cherry” is available in his collection Deep Lane, by W.W. Norton &Co. http://books.wwnorton.com/books/Deep-Lane/
1..serving no practical purpose or result.
"So we must be vigilant in keeping story lengths appropriate. Bluntly — but obviously, I hope — every story should be as short as it needs to be. There's no excuse for a single otiose word or punctuation mark in our writing. Too many stories have repetitive anecdotes or unnecessary quotes. We will cut them."
Memo on October 11 by Wall Street Journal Editor-in-Chief Gerard Baker to reporters advising them that unnecessarily long stories would be trimmed as the newsroom ups its focus on digital journalism.
This fall people worry about clowns in the woods. The evil clown image can be found in Dickens’ Pickwick Papers, but Stephen King’s Pennywise from It gets most of the blame these days. The Master of Horrors can hardly complain; he knows what scares people, and he’s good at what he does.
I’m a fan of King, the person at least as much as the writer. He’s from my home state, cares deeply about the regional politics, and uses his platform to speak to them. I think his jokes are funny because they employ the flat affect and dry humor of my childhood. I recognize Bangor and Durham and Auburn in his writing, hear the patois of inland Maine that makes his dialogue go on pages longer than you think it needs to (there’s an audio version of Dreamcatcher which is read with a genuine Maine accent – it’s a treasure). When I drive my son to and from summer camp, we pass the King family orchard in Sweden, which is strewn with netting to keep the birds off the highbush blueberries.
King is a bit skeptical about lyric poetry. In his memoir On Writing, King looks askance at the language based ars poetica of 1969. That hasn’t stopped a generous handful of poets (who also happen to be his fans) from celebrating his work by writing poetry that he may or may not appreciate. For the month of October, 56 poets are teaming up to create a found poem a day from each of his 56 fiction novels – an undertaking called THE POEMING. Fearless leaders E. Kristin Anderson, Sarah Nichols, and Sara Adams manage to coordinate Tumblrs with names like “dialmformisery”, “cujoetry”, “mercedesmassacre”, and “terzascreamer”. King’s everyman storytelling is torn apart, ripped up, blacked out, and reassembled (maybe he would like it after all). Christine, Pet Sematary, Salem’s Lot, and The Shining are reimagined as centos, pastiche, and erasures – some quite striking. Here’s a sample from Sarah J Sloat’s “Remaking Misery” –
Many of the poems which are most interesting manage to veer wildly from King’s original works, weirding the language of an altogether weird writer. David Elzey reimagines mined text from The Cell as a series of abstracted cantos –
a happy dream
a cheering crowd
in the dark
the night still may be ours
but the days belong to fools
weaving their nets
hot and ticklish
to say goodbye
a fixed moment
a single small spark in the black
then it was gone
the darkness – complete
an unsteady, tearful sound
King, Stephen. Cell. New York: Pocket Star, 2006. Print. pp. 332-336.
It’s a fun way to lead up to Halloween, celebrating social media, found poetry, and a pop culture icon. Happy POEMING, you ghouls!
Selected poems and links to all THE POEMING Tumblrs can be found at http://thepoeming2016.tumblr.com/
My first morning at Bread Loaf, our workshop leader asked if everyone was familiar with the Iowa workshop model. I raised my hand. “I’ve never taken any kind writing class or workshop in my life, so you can safely assume you need to explain everything to me.”
She double checked. “Nothing? Never?”
“Never.” I confirmed. I’d gone to school for ecology, and wrote well enough to get fine grades on my papers, so I’d never taken a writing class. Since I didn’t know how this workshop business was done, I figured I would take the fall for anyone else who was new at it. I’d been teaching (horticulture, not writing) long enough to know that whatever question I had, someone else in the group surely had it also. As it turned out, I wasn’t alone; two other members of my workshop group were self-taught. They perhaps had more class or workshop experience than I did, but they too were journeyman writers. In these days when nearly every small college has a low res MFA program (not to mention conventional MFA programs, MAs, and PhDs), it can feel as if you are the only one out there who is winging it. Open the back pages of any literary journal, and most of the writer bios list which program the contributors have attended, or are currently attending. It seems a little preposterous, the idea of just writing, apropos of nothing more than falling in love with other people across the page. But we do it. We are the hedge knights of poetry, rolling out from under the privet, brushing the leaves and twigs out of our hair, and offering to take up the cause. We make do with our second-hand horses, our noble intent, our cobbled-together armour, and darned if some of us can’t wield a sword.
It’s not that most of us wouldn’t love to get an MFA - we would. We’d love to spend our time writing, meeting poets whose work we adore, developing a cohort of peers, and learning what a bright line metaphor is. But life happens, and maybe we just can’t afford the MFA, or we can’t manage the time off even for a low res program, or we cannot pick up and move our spouses and children in order to attend a funded program. Maybe we started a program but couldn’t afford to finish, or we did the math (some writers can actually do that) and understand that there is no way we’re ever going to make that money back. Maybe we did our research and found that we need craft classes more than workshops, and many MFAs don’t offer a whole lot in terms of craft. Maybe we just came to poetry later in life, when our kids were older or our careers stable enough to allow us the kind of focus that writing can demand.
That’s okay. There’s more than one way to build a poet. For starters you should read widely, which is what moves each of us to become poets in the first place. You can learn where your voice fits by perusing contemporary journals. Every small press and journal has a website, and on most of them you can see what their editors like to publish. You can take online classes – Al Filreis’s Modern and Contemporary American Poetry out of UPenn is the definitive model for online learning, and an excellent introduction to modern poetic movements. You can join a local writers group, or you can find any number of them on Facebook, and other writers and editors will cheerfully offer you reams of guidance that would not have been readily accessible before the internet age. You can learn to read in public by going to open mics and poetry slams – the $3 cover charge at the Cantab in Cambridge, MA is the shortest money I’ve ever spent on a class. For $50 dollars a year you can join Duotrope; the editor interviews tend to be non-specific and badly outdated, but the stats and weekly submission calls are useful and the tracking system is excellent. If you are fortunate enough to live close to a university which has creative writing craft classes, you might be able to get into those. If not, there are a plethora of writing programs all over the country which you can attend for a few days or a couple of weeks. And write. Don’t forget to write. It’s a patchwork education, but it’s what we’ve got.
We might have holes in our knowledge when it comes to literature, but we have life experiences that feed our writing and give us material to draw from. We are parents and teachers, lawyers and botanists, park rangers and exterminators. Reading through a journal several years ago, I saw that one of the poets lived in the same Massachusetts suburb that I did. A quick Google search revealed, to my astonishment, that my neighbor two doors down was a prolific poet. Paul isn’t a professor, or an editor, he’s a neighborhood dad, and he works as a sign language interpreter in Boston. That background informs his writing, and when I read it I can see parts of his world that I would not otherwise have access to. I can also easily imagine our little side street, a cranky neighbor, or the aisles in our local hardware store.
Hardware Store, Paul Hostovsky
I love the names. Of the hardware. A kind of
software that isn’t for sale because it’s all
free. It feels like I’m browsing the stacks
of a library of another country in
my country, with titles I have never read
but heard of: rasps, levels, squares, planes,
ceiling hooks, corner braces, removable
pin hinges. I would like to read more
about removable pin hinges. I sidle up
and down aisle 3, looking seriously
for a thing for my door, a thing I don’t
know the word for. They have strike plates
for push button latches, and strike plates
for knob latches, are here are some door pivots
and swivel locks and keyed sash locks. A long-stem
heavy duty roller. A pair of torsion spring cables.
I wonder what this universal T handle is for.
I would ask the hardware store guy, but the thing is
I’m a guy myself, and I don’t want him to know
I am hardware illiterate. So I continue my charade
of picking up each artifact, looking it over
thoughtfully, as though I knew the language,
as though I knew the landscape, as though
I weren’t a stranger here myself.
Sometimes we feel shy about asking what a tool is for, or admitting that we don’t know when it seems as if we ought to, but there’s no need. Those of us who have chosen to become poets without the extra initials after our names are in excellent company. William Carlos Williams was a pediatrician, Wanda Coleman waited tables, Lorine Neidecker did research and proofreading, Wallace Stevens was an insurance salesman, and more recently, so was Ted Kooser. Self-taught poets are in the canon, in the library, and at workshop. We love words as much as anyone, and we’re claiming a seat at the table.
Paul Hostovsky’s “Hardware Store” can be found in his collection Naming Names, available from Main Street Rag Press. http://mainstreetragbookstore.com/?product=naming-names
This week we welcome Sonja Johanson as our guest author. Sonja is president of the Massachusetts Master Gardener Association. She is a contributing editor at the Found Poetry Review, and the author of Impossible Dovetail (Ides, Silver Birch Press), all those ragged scars (Choose the Sword Press), and Trees in Our Dooryards (Redbird Chapbooks). She has recent work appearing or forthcoming in BOAAT, Concis, and The Writer’s Almanac. Sonja divides her time between work in Massachusetts and her home in the mountains of western Maine.
LYCANTHROPES IN LOVE
by Steven Cordova
The first man is in a chair, his barber behind him
shaving the hairs
off the back of his neck. There's another, a second man:
He's in the very next chair,
also having his neck, the upper regions of his back,
He is bigger, less effete than the first & no doubt
that is why, across
the shop's full-length mirrors, the second man is shooting
a look full of the hostility two lycanthropes feel,
one for the other,
when first they sniff each other out.
Still, in hairy, recurring dreams they're bound
to find themselves,
just the two of them
in a dark wood where they will once more expose their
fangs to each other, & then,
their puny arms having become legs,
clawed & roughly padded,
their bodies having become far more the same
than different, they will run,
they will run & run & they will not stop running
until their tongues hang down.
And they will do it again—they will run & run
& run—the very next time
the moon grows full.
Steven Cordova is the author of Long Distance (Bilingual Review Press, 2010), and his poems have appeared in many journals & anthologies, including Bellevue University Press, Callaloo, and Northwest Review. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. "Lycanthropes in Love" was first published in The Good Men Project.
The blessed babe in a divine Eden is a Romantic trope, but it received a pure exposition long before the age of Blake and Wordsworth. A shoemaker’s son from Hereford, Thomas Traherne (1636-1674) captured the radical wonderment of childhood in his poems. Educated at Oxford (Brasenose College), he published next to nothing in his lifetime, and for many years his poems were casually and mistakenly attributed to Henry Vaughan.
Not until the turn of the twentieth century was Traherne’s authorship of Poems (1903) and the prose Centuries of Meditation (1908) recognized. The latter comprises paragraphs of reflection that may be considered forerunners of the prose poem. Traherne wrote as one for whom angels were real. The child is “heir of the whole world,” able to converse with everything he sees. Clothed with the heavens and crowned with the stars, he was born to celebrate creation: “the skies in their magnificence, / The lively, lovely air.”
From Centuries of Meditation: “Once I remember (I think I was about 4 years old when) I thus reasoned with myself, sitting in a little obscure room in my father's poor house: If there be a God, certainly He must be infinite in Goodness: and that I was prompted to, by a real whispering instinct of Nature. And if He be infinite in Goodness, and a perfect Being in Wisdom and Love, certainly He must do most glorious things, and give us infinite riches; how comes it to pass therefore that I am so poor? Of so scanty and narrow a fortune, enjoying few and obscure comforts? I thought I could not believe Him a God to me, unless all His power were employed to glorify me. I knew not then my Soul, or Body; nor did I think of the Heavens and the Earth, the rivers and the stars, the sun or the seas: all those were lost, and absent from me. But when I found them made out of nothing for me, then I had a God indeed, whom I could praise, and rejoice in.”
Series 1, Part 2: On whether she comes running at the snap of my fingers, the bonheur of Fifi here-below, the righteous rage of the Ohio-soul, a woman’s wrath, the true niceties of human nature, the real story of the French revolution and America’s real choice.
“These conges payés …” Karine begins, “We French would not have paid vacations or any other pretty good things at all, at all, if they had not been stealing poor children to use their blood in a black magic formula for staying young.”
On cue, Gabriella Cilmi, not quite Amy Winehouse, floats from the sound system
- Nothin’ sweet/ About me, yeah/Nothin’ sweet/About me, yeah/ If there's lessons/To be learned/I'd rather get/My jamming words/In first, so/Tell you something/That I've found/That the world's/A better place/When it's/Upside down…
“One hot summer day,” Karine continues, “The mamans couldn’t support it, finally! Pouf! The Bastille falls and all France is in flame! Hourra! Hourra!
And the French girls are not silly! So, when the mamans without culottes hear that that duc d’Orléans crétin try to kidnap the King and Queen and steal the Revolution, they are not so much rolled in the flour that they don’t get the buttery king Baker and his little queeny Boulangère to Paris before the big tough guys of le duc know what is what. Hahaha. Hourra! Hourra!”
She points casually to herself as she picks up the milk coffee, brings it silently to her lips, sips.
“Alors, the women got the revolution going and they kept it in the people’s hands, mon Tracy. So, when they realized this revolution stuff was the real thing, sure, they stopped stealing the babies. But more important, mon amour, since then, they are a just little afraid of being too mean even though they are still and always will be des vicieux.
“This is just because they are humans. They cannot help it, not more than goats can help it. I do not criticize it but only have the sense to live with.”
The knowledge that there is always a chance that French mamans start a revolution is, according to Karine, where nice things such as paid vacation for the masses began. “All the rest is just doctoral feces,” she laughs. “I have figured this out myself.”
- Hmmmm, I say noncommittally.
She archly raises her left eyebrow. “Alors? Don’t believe me?”
“Regard-moi ça,” she exclaims. “The proof is all around us.” She sweeps her arm largely, taking in the pleasant-seeming people eating, drinking and chatting at the tables around us. If they hadn’t noticed her before, they now do.
- Nothin’ sweet/ About me, yeah/Nothin’ sweet/About me, yeah…
They think she’s talking about them. Without showing it too much, they strain to hear.
“Les gens, all of them, they are very proud that the women sans culottes force people to be less mean. Le brute and le vicieux, they adore what is cruel struggle because mean is to be superior, see.”
She pauses and looks around a challenge.
“Yes. They think what is mean and harsh is, forcément, mon bien-aimé, more intelligent, better, cool, more efficace. They despise nice. They contempt the very name of nice.”
Karine knows everybody is hoping to catch her out. She knows they want her down a peg. I know that she thinks she knows this because she assumes they do. But how do I know this? How can it be true; I don’t even believe her? But I see that it is true. In a casual way, they want her blood on the floor.
Karine smirks conspiratorially at me and asks me loudly where we are?
I tell her we’re at Voltaire, on the corner of the boulevard Voltaire and the avenue Lédru-Rollin, near the Mairie.
I am not surprised now but still dismayed to see people discreetly nod and smile, meanly, casually, hoping my gimcrack knowledge is prelude to putting the frizzy blonde back into the candy-box she popped out of.
“Non,” Karine says, louder and more firmly than necessary.
“We are at Voltaire – (Léon Blum) – in parentheses, mind, mon Tracy. We look over the Square Léon Blum to the Mairie. That statue is him, Léon, too.”
She points toward the little sandy spit jutting into the traffic circle in front of the Mairie, then to the other patrons. “You did not know that, mon Tracy. And neither did they.”
Léon Blum, of course, is the prime minister responsible for organizing the Front populaire and then expertly using it to pass, in under a year, in the mid-1930s, many of the important nice laws every 80-percenter nobody alive can enjoy today.
Apart from paid vacation, bankrupting the country almost and picking other people’s pockets in a big way, his accomplishments also include the uneconomic but quite nice eight-hour day with obligatory supplementary overtime payments. According to the French-language Wikipédia, the accomplishments of Blum’s Front populaire are “mixed,” though the article does not specify if this is because Jimmy Dean’s pure pork sausages were not included in the paid vacation package or for some other, more specious, reason.
I look around. The faces that had been so expectant are now blank, disappointed.
Disappointed or not, Karine’s got them hooked.
“So. As you know, mon Tracy, in France, the gratitude and the recognition, if you are still alive to appreciate them, which is very rare, are shown by a dinner and, if you are respectably dead, much less rare, by naming a street for you.”
She laughs softly.
“You have a street, mon Tracy. But you are exceptionally, I believe, alive even if only I have truly appreciated the respectability au fond de toi. Héhé.”
“Léon, he did nice,” she continues, fixing her gaze on me and wiping the corner of her mouth with the flat of her thumb.
“Yes. This Blum is the father of millions, oui, mon ami, millions et milliards of happinesses!
Mais, les brutes et les vicieux human beings? They, they secretly regret him. Like this Blum con is a crazy uncle or sa tante nymphomane, they want to hide as much as possible even if they must trot them out for important stuff like getting at their money.
And, they are especially ashamed of the success of niceness.
She gives me a leer, raps my elbow, hard, makes me jump.
“Nice is not respectable. Street names here are for respectable people and places and ideas, not for your absurd, foolish, addle-headed-but-nice people and their idiocies. This is why Blum only got “mixed results” and Charles De Gaulle is a great hero.”
“You’ve got avenues, quais, rues and what not, all named for this Voltaire that shares his metro stop with the pauvre-type Léon. Apart Léon the nice guy, who is besides stuffed into parentheses, only La Motte-Piquet-Grenelle – And who are they, you might ask? I shall tell you: ‘dirt heaped up pretty high,’ ‘a stake, or a card game, or a picket,’ ‘the site of a battle or just a plain old Paris neighborhood,’ that’s what! Only this dirt, picket and neighborhood, I tell you, share a metro station like Léon Blum must do!”
Karine pauses to catch her breath, continues.
“Battles and triumphs have their boulevards, avenues, même, an étoile: Jena, Magenta, Wagram, Stalingrad, statues of the peevish De Gaulle and the drunken Churchill at Champs-Elysées-Clémenceau, nothing against them, mon Tracy, but all sorts of monuments to martyrs, and to plenty of cons, too, even to people and symbols the bourgeois supposedly hate… Maurice Thorez has an avenue! Thorez! Auguste Blanqui has a whole boulevard to himself… Auguste Blanqui!”
Karine taps her forefinger on the table and looks aggressively around. Does she suspect someone here of wanting to eat her kids, of defending the massacre of the children last November, mealy-mouthed apologies for the horrors of communism?
Sure looks like it.
Blanqui was the first theoretician of political terrorism – the idea is both to undermine people’s faith in the power of the existing state to provide security and to demonstrate the power of the revolutionary state. Maurice Thorez was leader of the communist party in the 1930s, famously, an unabashed admirer of Stalin and Stalinism, with a truly remarkably ambiguous political record – which includes the welcome of the Nazi conqueror in France.
Tension has risen in her continuing silence; some faces squinch up, but nobody looks boldly in her face. A scan of the room tells me that ruining a sunny morning by arguing down a good-looking, blonde, brassy, opinionated – “crazy” – woman doesn’t seem to be in the cards.
On a gloomy day and getting towards Christmas, I think, we might wind up fighting our way out.
Why have I chosen a woman like this? Does she know the feeling she’s raising? What do I really know about her, after all?
I look in her eyes, consult my feelings.
But look in her head? What can I know even if I could peer in there? Are her feelings, any less than mine, less of a tidal massing of the shocks and surges we call joy, trust, fear, surprise, sadness, disgust, anger and anticipation oscillating to occasional discharge? Are her thoughts any more source-able than my own – if I were able to express her thoughts in words would they even remain her thoughts?
She fixes her gaze on me.
“What Léon Blum did was nice. Yes. This Blum is the father of millions, oui, mon ami, millions et milliards of happinesses! Mais, they, we, human beings, des brutes et des vicieux? They, we, secretly regret him. Like this Blum is a crazy uncle or sa tante nymphomane, to lock up in the attic. The truth? We are as ashamed of the niceness as they are. They are ashamed for we, too. Nice is not respectable.”
She sighs loudly, theatrically, and points at me, at herself, circles the whole room with the accusing end of her index finger,
“They believe Auguste Blanqui was the better man! – it’s a tough, nasty, bold, hard-headed idea to shoot into dance halls and restaurants to get political attention, non?
She leans toward me, as if to whisper, but continues in the same loud voice.
“They is we, mon Tracy. So, enfin, here is what my heart says to you and your Ohio-soul so outragée!”
I half expect her to rip off her bodice and show me…
“You, the silly American you are, really, if you want if your nice conges payés for all American nobodies, you have two choices.
One, your American pompon girlies, they get fed up, make a revolution for to make les cannibales afraid of you nobodies. Or, secundo, you figure out a way to make nice as respectable as nasty.
But make a decision, mon Tracy. Decide what!”
She gets up suddenly, so forcefully, so suddenly, I find myself staring up at her.
“I’m getting out of here.” She walks out.
I have been unfaithful. Dabbling with serious intent. Nonfiction. It’s true. I have given tighter reign to my new interest than my first love. I have lifted my lines, indulged in punctuation, even put a loose girdle around some emotion. It is a strange thing to be two-timing my words. I have never really thought of myself as anything but a poet. I could never be a fiction writer. The dialogue is daunting for me. There are times when I have played with voice. It was just a voice I was led to by the curiosity of what it would be like to inhabit another’s thoughts, but in today's world, it could easily be mistaken for appropriation. I commuted daily for fifteen years in New York City. I was constantly people watching. I used my headphones as a barrier (no one used to talk to someone listening to a Walkman.) Most of the time my Walkman was actually turned off so I could subtly listen to conversations, hoping to hear interesting lines. Sometimes, when I arrived home after a long day at work, various people that I saw on my daily commute would speak through me. There was a woman with a tin foil hat who paced the F line platform every morning downtown at the Broadway and Lafayette stop; I found it interesting to try and imagine what that woman was thinking. Her hat was incredibly well designed. It was summer and it seemed to be more of a fashion statement than a pursuit of warmth.
While I was attempting to piece together my memoir, utilizing three decades worth of my poetry, I began to realize there were pieces missing — vital bits of information which led me to wonder what construction I could use to cement a fuller picture of my story. I had never really thought of exploring the area of creative nonfiction, but after meeting some nonfiction writers at Bread Loaf, I came to the realization that all of my work is, in reality, nonfiction. My poetry is taken directly from my life. This recognition caused me to start to explore the link between the lyric nonfiction essay and poetry.
I can quite vividly see this link in some of my favorite fiction writing — writing that has always inspired me. As a matter of fact as much as I consider myself a poet, and am inspired by many poets, I have always found that I am most inspired to write by the fiction of writers such as Toni Morrison, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Zora Neale Hurston, William Faulkner, and Vladimir Nabokov. Each of these writers finds a way to weave poetry into every line of their language, and I am always fascinated by their skill. I have read “Absalom, Absalom!” seven times. Each time I re-read it I take something new away. Faulkner’s rhythms intrigue me; his sentence structure beseeches me. Each line of Toni Morrison’s is a small poem itself. When I read, “Pale Fire” or any other of Nabokov’s works I find that there is genius in each line. If you look past the obviously deplorable character of Humbert Humbert, and read Lolita for what I see it as — a love story, a disturbing love story but a love story nonetheless — the writing is incredibly tailored, the story woven flawlessly. (Needless to say, I am not often invited to join many book clubs.)
When I write poetry, it is usually out of an instant response to any given situation. When I began to explore nonfiction, I realized I was walking through a different door. As a poet, I look for the circular loop, the leap back that ties my words together and allows me take a bow off the page. When I first workshopped my memoir as nonfiction, with my poetry interspersed between essays, one of the comments I received was that I needed to break the circle. I am still trying to break the circle. I am grappling each day to even understand what the circle means. Nonfiction presents a whole new set of guidelines and terms to learn. The learning of them will come. What interests me most is how to bridge the gap between poetry and nonfiction, how to make my lines true to my voice without them becoming too operatic in an essay format. I have been working at this for a year; writing, writing, writing, and writing some more. I have been given the grace of a group of women that I met at Bread Loaf. They each have written or are writers of non-fiction. I feel as if each time I meet with them and we workshop I get the benefit of the best of three MFA’s. I have spent the better part of this year with my manuscript laid out in front of me, trying desperately and deliberately to understand what, "breaking the circle" means — to see the circle. As I work with a new set of tools, stumbling, mumbling, and tossing through pages of comments to break the circle without crossing my line, I am reminded consistently of this Henry James quote:
"We work in the dark - we do what we can - we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion, and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art.”
In January I will take my first official nonfiction workshop. I will listen and learn. I will continue to try and find the line between poetry and nonfiction. I will detect, dominate, and destroy that malevolent circle.
I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark
from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman
THE RULE OF THUMB
Ringfinger was nervous
when they learned
that Hand might succumb
to the rule of Thumb.