Many modern hens are too refined to set on a nest of eggs and hatch chicks. The instinct to get “broody” is bred out of them, because they stop laying. Commercial farmers would rather mange egg production and incubation. Continue reading
So many writers and artists have had to leave their country for political reasons. In his wonderful, strange novel, Love and Garbage, the Czech writer, Ivan Klima (translated by Ewald Osers) articulates the problems of exile succinctly. He is at a party at a university in the United States:
“…they all turned out to be pleasant to me and full of smiles as Americans are, and with varying degrees of urgency they asked me to explain what on earth possessed me to want to leave their free and wealthy country to return home, to a poor and unfree country, where they’d probably lock me up or send me to Siberia. I tried to be equally pleasant. I conjured up some kind of patriotism, some kind of mission, until I hit on a convincing explanation. I said that back home people knew me. Even if I had to sweep up garbage in the streets I would be for them what I was, what I wanted to be to the exclusion of anything else, a writer, whereas here, even if I could drive around in my little Ford, I would always be just one of those immigrants on whom a great country had taken pity. These were my boastful words. In reality I wanted to return home, to the place where there were people I was fond of, where I was able to speak fluently, to listen to my native language.”
If you are lucky in your life, you have a chance to meet a larger-than-life spirit, one whose presence becomes an ongoing inspiration. Galway Kinnell was that for me. I met him at a time in my life when I was consumed by work and family and hadn’t written a poem in years. It was the first night of the first poetry workshop at Squaw Valley Community of Writers (1986). He was in charge, and after dinner he explained that we needed to write a poem and submit it by 8 am for the next day’s workshop. He was welcoming, matter of fact, made the impossible seem possible.
The spirit of that workshop–the idea that after you read your poem, someone immediately jumps in and says something they like about it, that no one offers criticism unless asked, that discussion focuses on what is working in the poem–leads to better work from everyone. The self-censorship that is the enemy of good work diminishes. I’ve written some of my best poems at Squaw Valley, and Galway’s spirit lingers still.
Here I am, with Sharon Olds, Brenda Hillman and a woman whose name I’ve forgotten on the last night of the last time he was there.
I’ve posted poems of his before: St. Francis and the Sow, Blackberry Eating, Weaving the Morning, Everyone Was in Love… but here’s one I haven’t posted:
On the tidal mud, just before sunset,
dozens of starfishes
were creeping. It was
as though the mud were a sky
and enormous, imperfect stars
moved across it as slowly
as the actual stars cross heaven.
All at once they stopped,
and, as if they had simply
increased their receptivity
to gravity, they sank down
into the mud, faded down
into it and lay still, and by the time
pink of sunset broke across them
they were as invisible
as the true stars at daybreak.
I took a workshop one day from Cornelius Eady at Squaw Valley. It was my favorite session of the week, almost at the end, everyone exhausted, hardly a poem to be found in any of us. Cornelius, upbeat, made it all work. Here’s a poem of his from his book of the same name:
These leaves which have yellowed and are aloft
Or waving like bright hands at their stems as I drive my
Small red car under this raw and whipped
November sky. Continue reading
If you’ve heard of Michael Ondaatje, it’s probably as the author of The English Patient, which was made into the movie (lampooned by Elaine on Seinfeld). But Ondaatje is that rare author who writes equally well in multiple formats. His memoir, Running in the Family, is a terrific book about growing up in Sri Lanka (the Ceylon), and he has several books of poetry. Today’s poem is from Secular Love, and is one of my favorites.
I can imagine the origin of this poem as a musing–what if I were one of those men peeling cinnamon bark? Then taking off from there, using the richness of those memories to weave into this sensuous love poem.
The Cinnamon Peeler
If I were a cinnamon peeler
I would ride your bed
and leave the yellow bark dust
on your pillow.
Your breasts and shoulders would reek.
You could never walk through markets
without the profession of my fingers
floating over you. The blind would stumble
certain of whom they approached,
though you might bathe
under rain gutters, monsoon. Continue reading
When I saw signs for Burger King, Subway, KFC, McDonald’s in Russia I thought about how we export the worst of our culture–it contaminates everything. But when I was in St. Petersburg, I read an article by Mitya Kushelevich in the St. Petersburg Times, reprinted from The Calvert Journal. It gave me a different perspective. He was writing about the government’s closure of McDonald’s, allegedly for sanitation reasons, but curiously synchronous with the West’s recent imposition of sanctions. This first McDonald’s in Russia is in a prime Moscow location. I’ll quote from the article at length:
“Everything about this particular branch of the American fast-food giant was iconic for a person born in Soviet Russia. Just as St. Petersburg was once considered our ‘window to Europe,’ this restaurant was our ‘window to the world.’ Continue reading
We are actually safely home, but I do have a few last thoughts on our trip, in no particular order
I loved the big car-free squares and pedestrian walkways of Prague and Krakow. I wish we did something similar here–it makes the city so much more inviting. Combined with excellent public transit, it goes a long way to creating space for people to interact in a leisurely way. In Krakow, they even have an elegant pedestrian bridge across the Vistula, as well as walk and bikeways along the edges.
Over 500,000 people a year visit Auschwitz-Birkenau, really one big camp separated by two miles of road. It’s hard to say anything about this experience–it seems like science fiction, even though you are walking through it.
The question that occurs over and over is “How could it happen?” and “Could it happen again?” You think, inhuman, but only humans have this methodical malice. Continue reading
Today is our last morning in Eastern Europe, but I have several days worth of posts to continue. This one, our day in Kazimierz, the old Jewish section of Krakow. This area seems very lively and energized, with youth hostels competing with museums and ancient synagogues, There is a square with dozens of restaurants stretching between one old synagogue and another. Here are a few shots–one each from the synagogues:
We happened onto a lovely Klezmer band on the sunny afternoon in Kazimierz, and sat down in an outdoor cafe to listen. Continue reading