I attended a poetry workshop on Saturday, and my favorite poem of the day was by Terry Lucas, the new Marin County poet laureate. I said in the workshop that I had recently read that by writing about a bad experience one was able to shift one’s relationship to it to that of witness. I think this poem does that perfectly.
Dear Frogs of Pinckneyville, Illinois
Forgive me for all the times I forced you into Welch’s Grape Jelly jars filled with cotton balls soaked with ether from my father’s starter fluid can
he sprayed into dead diesel engines on frozen December mornings. I am truly sorry for not throwing you higher. Please know that I wanted to
put you into orbit like Belka and Strelka, the first warm-blooded animals to trick gravity and return alive, but my nine-year old arm wasn’t strong enough
There is a new book of Bette Howland’s stories out, Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage, and I immediately purchased a copy. Since posting about her last year, I have come to know her son, Jake, and was so pleased to see a review of this book last weekend, and see him quoted about her. The new book contains some of the stories from Blue in Chicago, and some I hadn’t read.
It contains the same quality of writing that I loved so much in the earlier book. Here’s a sample, talking about a walk through the park in Chicago peopled by the old and the minders. I love the quality of her observation, and how she paints a picture that ends in beauty:
“They come from the Shoreland, the Sherry-Netherland, Del Prado, Windermere–hotels once famous for the ballrooms, dance bands, steak houses, now providing package care for the elderly. My favorite of these couples is an old gent with a hooked back, houndstooth check cap and plus fours and his young pregnant nursemaid. He likes to get out of his chair and push; she dawdles at this side. Her belly lifts the front of her coat; her legs look gray in white stockings. Meanwhile the great yellow maple is shaking its branches, squandering leaves. They scatter like petals. It’s raining beauty; the air is drenched with gold.”
The Marin Poetry Center held a memorial for Linda Gregg last week that was very moving. Forrest Gander spoke of visiting her in New York in her small, very spare apartment near St. Marks Place. She had just gotten home after a chemo treatment, and had no one, as he said, to make her a bowl of soup or a cup of tea. But she was uncomplaining.
It made me think of this poem of hers:
I grew up with horses and poems when that was the time for that. Then Ginsberg and Orlovsky in the Fillmore West when everybody was dancing. I sat in the balcony with my legs pushed through the railing, watching Janis Joplin sing.
I cut out a recipe from the Wall StreetJournal on Saturday and modified it for breakfast this morning. Essentially, you soft boil eggs and cool some eggs, fry sourdough bread lightly in olive oil, sear some asparagus in the oil and lay it on the toast. Cover with burrata or ricotta mixed with herbs, lemon zest and salt. Open the egg on top:
Last weekend, I had the pleasure of spending an afternoon with Ted Gioia, an essayist who is right up there with my favorites. In “Bach at the Burger King,” he writes about the “weaponization of classical music” as well as the damage caused by its use as advertising enhancement. Worth a read!
Ted is the son of the poet Dana Gioia, so he comes by his prose style naturally.
But the story of Annie Edson Taylor, who had her 15 minutes of fame in 1901, when she was 62, going over Niagara’s 160 foot Falls in a barrel of her own design, pumped full of oxygen and stuffed with pillows, and lived to tell the tale.
This is the woman, who when her stagecoach was robbed refused to disclose the $800 tied in the seams of her dress. A widow, facing poverty, she went over the falls as a way to make some cash, and succeeded for awhile, before she lost it to unscrupulous managers. It was hard to make and keep a buck as a woman in 1901.
It seems like a good story for a poem; let me know if you write one.
A friend sent me a copy of this poem by Nathan McClain, and I am just now getting around to posting it.
He has some other interesting love elegies on his publications page, cited above.
Love Elegy with Busboy
The whole mess — pair of chopsticks pulled apart, tarnished pot of tea, even my fortune (which was no good) — we left for the busboy to clear. I’d probably feel more guilty if he didn’t so beautifully sweep our soiled plates into his plastic black tub and the strewn rice into his palm. The salt and pepper shakers were set next to each other again. A new candle was lit. You’d never know how reckless we’d been, how much we’d ruined. With the table now so spotless, who’s to say we couldn’t just go back? Who says we can’t start over, if we want?