Monday, July 27, 2015

Tu Fu, Poems VI-X

For today's conversation prompt, I'm asking readers to focus on one of the poems in this set: a poem that attracts you, either because you like it or because it puzzles or disturbs you. Reread the poem and jot down the individual words that seem to rise to the surface as you read. Then among those words, choose the one that seems most vital--to the poem, to you, to this moment.

In your remarks about the poem, share your decision-making process and then comment on how your close attention to Tu Fu/Rexroth's word choice might affect the way in which you revise your own writing.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

It's Sunday morning now, and the rain is pouring onto the sunflowers outside my window.



But this is where I was yesterday afternoon.


People were friendly at the shindig. Tom was enthusiastic about the fried oysters. And a famous person told me she loved my Milton book. That was a shock. The upshot was that I did not feel like a freak. I felt like an anxious person who turns out to have plenty of people to talk to at a party.

Afterwards, Tom and I changed our shoes and went for a short hike in the Linekin Woods, which brought us to another overlook of the bay . . .


. . . and we sat on cliffs that looked like striated granite embedded with stony salt and listened to somebody's loud radio in the house above us.



And then we stopped in Wiscasset and ate fish-and-chips and a crab roll and stared out at the traffic crossing the Sheepscot River bridge.

Yesterday was one of those days when I was so grateful to have a cheerful friend whose eye I could catch in the middle of a crowd, who could follow a confusing hikers' map, who could share his fries while eavesdropping on inane conversations at a clam shack, who could drive on the highway in the dark and walk around the yard with a flashlight looking for the stupid cat. It's a funny thing: to spend all afternoon at a big social event, and then find out that what makes you happiest is having ended up with the right person to go home with.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Harmony isn't usually on the way to anyplace else, but yesterday my cousin's family swung through town on their way to a church event in western Maine. I wasn't sure what her kids liked to eat, so I decided to stick with simple things: spaghetti and meatballs, fresh bread, cole slaw, brownies.

I made bread in the morning and started the sauce after lunch. Then I made the brownies. Mid-afternoon I made mayonnaise; grated cabbage, carrots, and turnips; and mixed up the cole slaw. (For tang, I also added a little plain yogurt and rice vinegar.) In the late afternoon I mixed the meatballs and simmered them in the sauce, then took them out, covered them, and put them into a slow oven to stay warm. I added cream and seasonings to the remaining sauce and let it sit till my cousin's family arrived. By the time they got here, all I had to do was boil water for spaghetti, reheat the sauce, and finish it with basil and parmesan.

In short: preparing this plain meal took me all day. I might as well have been making chicken kiev.

On the other hand, the children cleaned their plates and had seconds and took the leftover brownies away with them, and that is always a good sign.

As I was writing this entry, the catchphrase slow food popped into my head. So I googled it and was immediately presented with the option slow food for fast lives. I followed the link and ended up on an advertising site for kale granola bars. Apparently, slow food for fast lives equals expensive processed food with trendy ingredients. Slow food for slow lives seems to be an apter term for my cooking style, although I did not rely on a plethora of "locally sourced ingredients" (this is Maine, after a cold spring, and even real farmers are struggling) or follow "local culinary traditions" (in which case I would have made packaged American chop suey and Jello). I just made sauce, meatballs, bread, cole slaw, and brownies, and the only thing that came from a box was the spaghetti. To me, cooking this way just seems like food.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Tomorrow afternoon I am going to novelist Richard Ford's house as one of the Special Guest Authors at the giant 40th anniversary gala for the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance. The list of Famous Special Guests is daunting--among them Richard Blanco, Richard Russo, Ann Beattie, Jonathan Lethem, Lois Lowry, Elizabeth Strout, etc., etc. As a Less Special Special Guest, I am honored to be in this company, though also daunted and little depressed by the prospect of milling among the luminaries, though of course also hopeful that the affair will turn out to be not only memorable but also sociable and easygoing. Knowing what I know about the personality of writers, I suspect that 90 percent of the Really Special Special Guest Authors are just as daunted as I am. At this very moment, all around the state of Maine, Special Guest Authors are sighing and fretting and wincing, and looking mournfully at their partners over the breakfast table, and rechecking the guest list to see if there's anyone on it that they already know how to talk to, and trying to come to terms with how fat they're going to look in their party clothes, and hoping no one is going to ask, "What are you working on now?" because then they'll have to say, "Not one damn thing! I'm stuck in a terrible hole and every word I throw onto the page is wrong! Argh! Argh! Argh!"

But as Tom has pointed out, the food will probably be delicious, and the view will certainly be glorious, and he and I can always spend a lot of time walking down onto the dock and staring at the waves. Perhaps that's where all the Special Guests will be . . . crowded like ants in a knot at the end of the pier, like we're about to walk the plank.

[I'm getting carried away with this scenario, and I'll stop now because actually there are people on the guest list that I already know how to talk to, and everything will be fine, and if I look fat in my party clothes and haven't published anything in the New Yorker this week?--well, c'est la vie.]

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Thoughts about Tu Fu, Poems I-V

As I expected, you readers offered brilliant perceptions about the Tu Fu poems. Of course, David's point is important--that "a lot of that is Mr. Rexroth's art"--and there are places where Mr. Rexroth's art seems to be too much Rexroth and not enough Tu Fu. As David says, occasionally in these poems we feel "someone with a light touch suddenly banging the keys."

Nonetheless, Thomas catches at something vital in these pieces:
Building on Carlene’s wonderfully articulated description of the relations between the internal and external, I just would add that what seems so striking to me is, while there definitely is the resonance between the two, we see so little of that internal world (and when we do, it’s empty!). Unlike the Romantic inner and outer natures of Coleridge and Wordsworth, Tu Fu denies us the explicit articulation of the linkage between the two. Any connection between the inner feeling of the I and the dew on the lute strings is completely implicit, not explicit. And the external seems to dominate in the poems—I would say threatens to overwhelm the I, but that language is too forceful, too menacing. IV maybe best enacts this, but even V in the image of the figure walking through fields seems tiny in comparison, perhaps because of the “dust of the dead” that feels more vast.
"The external seems to dominate in the poems--I would say threatens to overwhelm the I." To me, this captures the essence of these poems . . . and explains, in part, why they transcend mere personal anecdote.

DiTa (who is a marvelously skilled poet, by the way) remarks, "I seldom use 'I' in a poem, feeling it is too intimate. This for me is a challenge to be 'up-front' in my poems. I want to speak to the heart. Maybe Tu Fu has the answer." Here DiTa speaks to something that also concerns me as a poet: am I writing a poem that is just about the small world of me, or does my writing use the small world of me as a way to touch on larger tragedies, ambiguities, hopes?

Carlene notes that "poems [often] stay too rooted in one landscape or the other; [Tu Fu's] paralleling of internal and external experiences makes the poem seem both personal and universal." Ruth writes that "the I is both participating and observing." I think this is how Tu Fu (via Rexroth) overcomes that poisonous suck of the "I I I I I!!" voice that DiTa and I both fear.

I asked you to look at how the endings differ from the body of the poems. Often the poems end on an image of departure, or an opening landscape, or natural chaos:
Poem I: "I think of my little boat, / And long to be on my way." 
Poem II: "The way back forgotten, hidden / Away, I become like you, / An empty boat, floating, adrift." 
Poem III: "Life whirls past like drunken wildfire."
These are not endings in the sense of closing a neat door on the poem but endings that open the poem into a world beyond poetry. And yet the body of these poems are filled with particular, individual details about the I and his surroundings: "green wine bottles," "the sound of chopping wood," "I am sleepless in the glow and shadow of the lamplight." What draws is me is the way in which Tu Fu/Rexroth balances these particularities against the powerful forces of that wordless beyond.

As I writer, I think what I want to begin to learn from these poems is (1) the bravery of saying, "I am here," and then patiently and economically creating that "here"; and (2) the bravery of saying, "Around me is a world that does not know me or need to know me."

 Please do leave your reactions to my thoughts in the comments, but let's also move on to the next ten poems: VI through XVI.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

ART [This morning: editing a poetry manuscript. This afternoon: messing around with plaster and paint in a fresco workshop.] NOT ART [This morning: taking Tom's truck to the garage because it's making a horrible noise. This afternoon: shopping for a used clothes dryer because the one we have isn't making any noise at all.]

BEAUTY [Much as I hate to admit it: the glossy, green-gold, iridescent shells of Japanese beetles.] NOT BEAUTY [The appearance of a rose bush covered with Japanese beetles. The smell of rotting Japanese beetles.]

I read this morning that E. L. Doctorow has died. I feel sad, yet he lived a long a life and wrote many books, some of which were extremely interesting. What more could one hope for, as a writer, as a reader? [Well, of course one can always hope for more. Hope and despair are the food of art.]

Maybe my as-yet unwritten tome about the Plath-Sexton-Rich generation should also include an Updike-Roth-Doctorow section. Part 1 and Part 2. The women poets, the male novelists. Mothers and fathers. I have no idea how I would even begin to compose such a monster.

**

Tu Fu readers: Keep thinking about those 5 poems, and add some more more remarks if the spirit moves you. A member of the group tells me that she has only now acquired her book, so I'm going to refrain from commenting until she has a chance to do the reading.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

My friend Donna was quite taken with the turnip photograph I posted a few days ago and has requested "more photos of cute vegetables, please." So, Donna, here you go:


First, let me present Cute Green Garlic, first of the season, scrubbed, juicy, and vampire-repelling.


Next, I'll vary the offerings by introducing the first Cute Fruit of the season, a fat raspberry, along with Tom's good idea for dessert: drop a handful of raspberries into a tall grass, add a couple of scoops of vanilla ice cream, cover with expensive spicy ginger ale. Consume while sitting on the couch and watching Being John Malkovitch.


Finally, I'll leave you with three Cute Peas and a Cute Peapod, glistening with rain.

**

Tu Fu readers: Carlene has left a comment on yesterday's reading prompt. I'll wait a few days for the rest of you to add your thoughts before I mention mine.

**

P.S. Another recipe: If, for instance, you've been married for 24 years, and it's a hot day (though not as hot as it was on the day you got married, which was the hottest day on record in Rhode Island, a day so hot that you considered throwing away your wedding dress after you took it off), and your husband has been working outside repairing someone's rotted trim all day and you want to cheer him up, you might consider making him a cold shrimp and seaweed salad, with cherry tomatoes and sesame oil and cilantro, and serving it to him on the porch along with a sweating can of Rolling Rock. In my experience, this makes him very happy.