Did you ever read Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Cat’s Cradle? It’s one I read in my early twenties, and certain phrases and coinages have entered my personal lexicon: your karass is basically your tribe–the people that you are destined to meet. A duprass is a karass of two very tightly bound people, and a granfalloon is a false karass, people who identify with something essentially trivial and meaningless. I think he uses the example “Hoosiers.” In the book, there is a religion, called Bokononism–you’ll have to read the book to get the full description. But “Busy, busy, busy” is what a Bokononist says when confronted with the mysterious, unfathomably complicated workings of life. Continue reading
Yesterday I heard Chana read recent poems, most about her diagnosis of terminal cancer. She was incandescent and spoke of how a fatal disease can also be a gift, focusing the mind, the spirit, on what’s important. She mentioned that her first book started with a group of poems about her father’s death, and the irony that her career is completing itself with this new work, on contemplating her own death. I don’t have any of the new poems, “still a work in progress,” Chana says, but here is one about her father:
Theirs was the one with the noisy bedsprings.
How does a child solve a riddle like that?
—are they fighting again?
Theirs was a marriage of drums and cymbals,
a clashing-and-carping, nagging-and-clamoring
performed day in, day out. Continue reading
I received a mysterious email from Larry (who is in New York), telling me he had bought and sent me a book from the Strand . It arrived today–a lovely copy of poems by Marina Tsvetaeva, a Russian poet from the early 20th century. Like her compatriots, her life was tragic–you can look it up if you like. Still, her lyrics still soar: Continue reading
I’ve just renewed The Blue Buick from U C Library for the third time, which means I’ve had it almost three months now. Guess I need to buy a copy.
These mostly long poems of a man who grew up in Kansas, son of a machine shop owner, are unique. They have a specificity and a narrative beauty that pins me in place. Here is one of the shorter ones, to give you a hint of what they’re like:
Hearing Parker the First Time
The blue notes spiraling up from the transistor radio
tuned to WNOE, New Orleans, lifted me out of bed
in Seward County, Kansas, where the plains wind riffed
telephone wires in tones less strange than the bird songs
of Charlie Parker. I played high school tenor sax the way,
I thought, Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young might have
if they were, like me, untalented and white, but “Ornithology”
came winding up from the dark delta of blues and Dixieland Continue reading
Looking at a row of jars of freshly made jam is a summer pleasure. Especially when the jam is such a lovely golden color. Each year, with pears from my friend’s tree, I make this simple and delicious recipe. The whole thing can be made in a food processor. The citrus cuts the sugar, and the ginger adds spice. Don’t stir much, and don’t overcook, the jam is done just as the pears turn translucent.
Mother’s Ginger Pear
4 lbs pears
1 1/2 oranges
1 small lemon
1 2/3 lb sugar
1/4 lb ginger
2 cinnamon sticks
I somehow encountered a time warp this week, and Monday is long past. Even Tuesday, and here it is Wednesday, and despite being fully “retired” I have not had the moment to sit down and put up a poem for Monday. Time simply telescoped and disappeared.
But I have been reading a rather wonderful recreation of An Iliad by Alessandro Baricco, translated by the incomparable Anna Goldstein. Baricco had the idea of reading the entire Iliad in public, as it was done in the Homeric world. He adapted the poem for public reading, editing “to suit the patience of a modern audience.” His notes on this process are a poem in themselves, and the result was performed in fall 2004. He comments:
“For the record I’d like to say that more than ten thousand (paying) people were present at the two readings, and that Italian radio broadcast the Rome performance live, to the great satisfaction of drivers on the road and people at home. Numerous cases were confirmed of people who sat in their parked cars for hours, unwilling to turn off the radio. All right, perhaps they were sick of their families, but, anyway, this is just to say that it went very well.”
Here’s the opening, titled Chryseis: Continue reading
I read Larry a line from this review of The Art of Rivalry, a study of influences a group of modernist painters had on each other: “Lucien Freud declining a wedding invitation because he found himself ‘in the unusual position of having been involved sexually not only with the bride but also the groom and the groom’s mother.'” Larry’s response:
“At least he didn’t mention the family pets.”
George Oppen is a poet who seems to have faded from view. But his sensibility is intriguing. His focus was on simplicity–using language to point to the experience as opposed to itself. Here’s a snippet:
What generations could have dreamed
This grandchild of shopping streets, her eyes
In the buyer’s light, the store lights
Brighter than the lighthouses, brighter than moonrise
From the salt harbor so rich
So bright her city
In a soil of pavement, a mesh of wires where she walks
In the new winter among enormous buildings.
The other day I made fig jam–one of my all time favorites.
But in trying to speed up the process, I scorched the bottom of my enamel pot. I scrubbed and scrubbed, but couldn’t get the fine layer of burnt jam off the bottom. I gave up and set the pot out in the sun to dry. When I went to take it in, all the scorch had lifted from the enamel and was easy to brush off. Who knew?
In other news, I stopped at a little mom and pop (mostly mom it seemed) diner the other morning for a quick bite and saw in action this wonderful pancake batter dispenser. If I made pancakes more often, I’d definitely get one.
I had a chance to look at a book of poems by Molly Peacock in a friend’s library. This one reminded me of a moment when i saw my parents sharing an apricot, by far my tenderest and most intimate memory of them:
Couple Sharing a Peach