I just finished Clever Girl, by Tessa Hadley. I enjoyed this story of a woman in England, growing from child to teenager to mother to older woman largely because of the writing. Here are a couple of examples. First a description of Manchester that could be any 20th Century first world city:
“…a broad vista opened up across a stretch of wasteland overgrown with scrubby bushes and rugged with the flooring of vanished factories, the humped remains of brick outbuildings. Cranes stood up in the distance against a sky with a thin blue sheen like liquid metal, striated with pale cloud; puddles of water on the ground reflected the sky’s light as silver. The beauty of it took me by surprise. Dark skeins of birds detached themselves, shrilling from the bushes and ruined buildings while I stood watching.” Continue reading
I rarely do two poems by the same poet in a row, but I came across this poem from James Galvin’s latest book and really like it.
Wildlife Management I
All the trees kept their own counsel without any wind to speak of,
until one lone limber pine began gesticulating wildly, as if it
suffered from its own inner cyclone.
It was like a lunatic in the
courtroom of other trees.
We forgot about the sunset and the dark
coming on across the plain.
Then the reason appeared: a mother
antelope had twin newborns backed into the tree and fended off a
pair of coyotes who darted in and feinted out, knowing she
couldn’t defend them both.
The girl I was with shrieked, “Do
I thought of the rifle back at the house.
I thought of a
litter of coyote whelps in a den somewhere nearby.
I thought of the
three-hundred-yard sprint to the tree.
The mother antelope would
be first to bolt, and those coyotes would have the aplomb to make
off with both twins.
I said no.
The antelope struck out with her
forelegs, she butted the coyotes back, until one of them got the
chance they had orchestrated and caught a twin and trotted off,
dangling it by the nape as gently as if it were her own.
James Galvin, from Everything we Know Is True
I thought this poem by James Galvin would be appropriate for today.
WAITING FOR THE NEW ice age to come along
Like a dawdling child from a previous eon,
Waiting for the homeless man to go on home
With his tired cardboard sign that says “anything helps,”
Waiting for a cure, waiting for the closeout sale,
The black sail, a new tarboosh and a tiny red car,
A new improved and safer war,
A harmless war, a war that we could win,
A brain tumor in your smart phone, an entitlement check
(Will you please check on my entitlement?),
Waiting for the bank hack, the backtrack, the take,
Waiting for a calabash, the calaboose, an acquisition,
An accusation, resuscitation from a total stranger,
Waiting for the finish line to explode.
James Galvin, from Everything We Always Knew Was True
I was so impressed by The Fire Next Time, which I finished today, that I have to quote a few more passages.
This after Baldwin’s meeting with Elijah Muhammad, talking in the car to a young follower about the idea of black nation separating from the United States:
“On what, then, will the economy of this separate nation be based? The boy gave me a rather strange look. I said hurriedly, ‘I’m not saying it can’t be done–I just want to know how it is to be done.’ I was thinking, In order for this to happen, your entire frame of reference will have to change, and you will be forced to surrender many things that you now scarcely know you have. I didn’t feel that the things I had in mind, such as the pseudo-elegant heap of tin in which we were riding, had any very great value. But life would be very different without them, and I wondered if he had though of this.”
“If one is permitted to treat any group of people with special disfavor because of their race or the color of their skin, there is no limit to what one will force them to endure, and since the entire race has been mysteriously indicted, no reason not to attempt to destroy it root and branch. This is precisely what the Nazis attempted. Their only originality lay in the means they used. It is scarcely worthwhile to attempt remembering ow many times the sun has looked down on the slaughter of the innocents. I am very much concerned that American Negroes achieve their freedom here in the United States. But I am also concerned for their dignity, for the health of their souls, and must oppose any attempt that Negroes may make to do to others what has been done to them. I think I know–we see it around us every day–the spiritual wasteland to which that road leads. It is so simple a fact and one that is so hard, apparently, to grasp: Whoever debases others is debasing himself. That is not a mystical statement, but a most realistic one, which is proved by the eyes of any Alabama sheriff–and I would not like to see Negroes ever arrive at so wretched a condition… Continue reading
I was inspired by the movie “I Am Not Your Negro” to reread a bit of James Baldwin. I find his essays every bit as lucid and apposite as I did in the late 60’s. Here’s a sample, in which he is talking about his adolescence:
“I certainly could not discover any principled reason for not becoming a criminal, and it is not my poor, God-fearing parents who are to be indicted for the lack, but this society. I was icily determined–more determined, really, than I then knew–never to make my peace with the ghetto but to die and go to Hell before I would let any white man spit on me, before I would accept my “place” in this republic. I did not intend to allow the white people of this country to tell me who I was, and limit me that way, and polish me off that way. And yet, of course, at the same time, I was being spat on and defined and described and limited, and could have been polished off with no effort whatever… Continue reading
from an interview with Troy Jollimore, poet and philosopher:
What lessons were most important to you as a student of writing?
I think what I most needed to learn was that the fact that I sometimes, indeed often, wrote things that weren’t very good and that did not mean that I wasn’t a good writer. I had this illusion, I think many people have it, that when you’re a good writer you have a kind of golden pen, your first drafts are wonderful, there is no struggle; the mark of genius is apparent in everything you produce. Which of course is insane! Your favorite writer, no matter who they are, produces lousy first drafts. And lousy second drafts. And slightly less lousy third drafts. Continue reading
you know it has to be spectacular. Mostly, he doesn’t pay any attention to it except to ask for a handful of herbs or spinach. Right now, though, after the rainy winter and a few weeks of sun, it is so dazzling that it can’t be ignored.
The camera on the iPhone really doesn’t do it justice. Walking out in the morning is a glimpse of paradise. This poem comes to mind:
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
xxIt will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
xxIt gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
xxAnd all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
xxAnd wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
Last week the Marin Poetry Center cosponsored an event called “Stump the Laureate,” at which volunteers from the audience recited poems, and Dana Gioia, the California poet laureate, alternated with the audience, poem for poem. The idea was to keep going until we or he ran out of poems. But I don’t think he would have run out for a very long time. It was such fun, with many voices and many poems. Dana was going t6o recite sort of chronologically, but wound up often echoing a poem by the same author or time period as the reciter who preceded him. Pretty nice trick!
Here’s a lovely poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay that was part of the recitation. We all agreed she is undervalued.
Love Is Not All
Love is not all: it is not meat nor drink
Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain;
Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink
And rise and sink and rise and sink again;
Love can not fill the thickened lung with breath,
Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone;
Yet many a man is making friends with death
Even as I speak, for lack of love alone.
It well may be that in a difficult hour,
Pinned down by pain and moaning for release,
Or nagged by want past resolution’s power,
I might be driven to sell your love for peace,
Or trade the memory of this night for food.
It well may be. I do not think I would.
Edna St. Vincent Millay
When he was a boy, Larry lived near a vacant lot with an the chassis of an old P40 airplane that he and the other boys played on, pretending to be pilots, fighting enemies. He grew up near Camp Pendleton in southern California, and war myths were part of his boyhood. Continue reading
It’s been a really long time since I had an invention to post, but this week, with the return of the sun came the return of my shade problem. We have a deck with a great view. Lovely to sit out on a sunny day. But it’s hard to get shade that moves with the sun. I’ve tried several umbrellas, tilting ones, straight ones, ones with overhanging arms, Coolaroo shade triangles, sheets with bungee cords that I adjust during the day, but nothing really did the job of shading the table and chairs without blocking the view. The sun comes from too many different angles. What works best is just a standard umbrella in a stand that I move around. But the stand is so heavy.
Then I had the brilliant idea of putting the stand on a wheeled plant stand that was just sitting around. This way, I can wheel the umbrella around the deck to follow the sun. Continue reading