Summer reading

I know that you’re supposed to take up some frivolous books for the summer, but perhaps influenced by the morning and evening fog that characterizes coastal California, my reading has been more dour. I mentioned these books in an earlier post: A Century of Horrors, by Alain Besançon, Hope Against Hope, by Osip Mandelstam’s wife, Nadezhda, and most of Secondhand Time (I couldn’t get through all of it), by Svetlana Alexievich. I also just reread Czesław Miłosz’ The Captive Mind. All of these books deal with the phenomenon of Communism as it has been practiced since the Russian Revolution. Besançon’s thesis is that while Nazism was horrific, it was a brief nightmare compared to Communism. The Shoah was intense, killed millions, but was defeated and rejected.

Communism, on the other hand, while originating in an idealistic set of premises, has for over a century imprisoned, murdered, and instilled terror in many more millions, and is still doing so. It’s a powerful book, and lays out facts in a reasoned argument that’s hard to deny. Continue reading

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Charles Wright

Larry has been doing a series of poetry broadsides–letterpress copies of poems, suitable for framing.  He has selected poets of roughly his age group, and this one is on his upcoming list.

The Silent Generation

Afternoons in the backyard, our lives like photographs

Yellowing elsewhere,

xxxxxxxxxxxxx In somebody else’s album,

In secret, January south winds

Ungathering easily through the black limbs of the fruit trees.

 

What was it we never had to say?

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Who can remember now—

Something about the world’s wrongs,

Something about the way we shuddered them off like rain

In an open field,

xxxxxxxxxxxConvinced that lightning would not strike.

 

We’re arm in arm with regret, now the left foot, now the right foot.

We give the devil his due.

We walk up and down in the earth

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx We take our flesh in our teeth.

When we die, we die. The wind blows away our footprints.

Charles Wright

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Reading through old work

It’s a chore to try to decide what’s worth keeping, but once in awhile I go through my old work and throw a bunch away, put a smaller number of poems and notes in a folder called, Worth Another Look, which means I’m not ready to say keep, but not ready to discard. I’ll have to let a bit more time go by and go through the process again.

This snippet went into that folder:

The Other Woman

There’s always another woman.
It’s axiomatic.
She is always there.
She may not even exist.
Nonetheless…

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Why I include the simple things

This is mostly a literary blog, poetry, selections from novels and non-fiction. I have been reading a lot of literature about Nazism and Totalitarianism lately, including A Century of Horrors, Secondhand Time, and rereading Hope Abandoned. This was a very illuminating process. The stultifying political correctness of today, the offhand denigration of the capitalist democracy that supports us all, masks a kind of group think that Orwell would recognize and chide us for. We don’t see through it–the deadening of individual thought this self censorship promotes in the service of inclusiveness, identity politics, diversity.

Continue reading

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Easiest dinner

I saw this recipe From Alison Roman in Wednesday’s NY Times, and tried it. Fast, easy and delicious. I baked a sweet potato with it, which turned out to be a perfect accompaniment.  I realize I hadn’t posted any recipes in a while, not that I’ve stopped cooking…just need to post a few.

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Into the Mystery

Here is the final poem from Tony Hoagland’s new book, Priest Turned Therapist Treats Fear of God.

Into the Mystery

Of course there is a time of afternoon, out there in the yard,
a time that has never been described.

There is the way the air feels
among the flagstones and tropical plants
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxwith their dark, leathery-green leaves.

There is a gap you never noticed,
dug out between the gravel and the rock, where something lives.

There is a bird that can only be heard by someone
who has come to be alone.

Now you are getting used to things that will not be happening again.

Never to be pushed down onto the bed again, laughing,
and have your clothes unbuttoned.

Never to stand up in the rear of the pickup truck
and scream while blasting out of town. Continue reading

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The Garden Master

I want to post some photos of my garden, and thought about what poem to go with it. Theodore Roethke was the great poet of gardens, his father ran a nursery. This one came to mind, earthy, slightly menacing.

Florist’s Root Cellar

Nothing would sleep in that cellar, dank as a ditch,
Bulbs broke out of boxes hunting for chinks in the dark,
Shoots dangled and drooped,
Lolling obscenely from mildewed crates,
Hung down long yellow evil necks, like tropical snakes.
And what a congress of stinks!— Roots ripe as old bait,
Pulpy stems, rank, silo-rich,
Leaf-mold, manure, lime, piled against slippery planks.
Nothing would give up life:
Even the dirt kept breathing a small breath.

Theodore Roethke

And here are the photos, not menacing at all.

 

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The other wedding poem

I was at a wedding this weekend, and had to choose a poem to read. I chose Cantatrice, by Berryman, but this was in the running till the last day:

For What Binds Us

There are names for what binds us:
strong forces, weak forces.
Look around, you can see them:
the skin that forms in a half-empty cup,

nails rusting into the places they join,
joints dovetailed on their own weight.
The way things stay so solidly
wherever they’ve been set down—
and gravity, scientists say, is weak.

And see how the flesh grows back
across a wound, with a great vehemence,
more strong
than the simple, untested surface before. Continue reading

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The garden at its best

The Epiphyllum, an air plant, blooms once a year. The rest of the year it’s dull, flat brownish green. When it blooms, the whole garden glows.

One year, while auditing a class on prosody, I wrote a cinquain about it:

Bee in the Epiphyllun

From squat
slabs of cactus
they flame up, these giant
scentless siren calls. Even I
want in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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From the wine-red selvage of the west…

This poem by William Carlos Williams is new to me, arriving in my email from the American Academy of Poets. I like it especially because of the last lines, which I might be in myself. And I like this very dorky picture of him, too.

A Love Song

I lie here thinking of you:—

the stain of love
is upon the world!
Yellow, yellow, yellow
it eats into the leaves,
smears with saffron
the horned branches that lean
heavily
against a smooth purple sky! Continue reading

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