from The Vagabond's Bookshelf: A Memoir of Rereading [a temporary title; do you hate it?]Dawn PotterMy kind may exist only in books. At least, books are the only place where we seem to meet. We are more than merely readers; we are obsessive readers. And we go further yet: we are obsessive rereaders--not because we are scholars or teachers but because the book itself has become necessary to us, like a cigarette habit.
And like a cigarette habit, our obsession with certain books can be a public sign that some aspect of life has slipped from our control. We are in the clutch of books and, at moments of stress or need, we behave badly about them. Rising from the page, my fellows speak to me ruefully about their adoration; like me, they are the first to wince at their own behavior. Coleridge, for instance, recalling his early passion for a handful of books, allows his small self no quarter.
My father was very fond of me, and I was my mother’s darling: in consequence I was very miserable. . . . So I became fretful and timorous, and a tell-tale; and . . . read incessantly. My father’s sister kept an everything shop at Crediton, and there I read through all the gilt-covered little books that could be had at that time, and likewise all the uncovered tales of Tom Hickathrift, Jack the Giant-killer, etc., etc., etc., etc. And I used to lie by the wall and mope, and my spirits used to come upon me suddenly; and in a flood of them I was accustomed to race up and down the churchyard, and act over all I had been reading, on the docks, the nettles, and the rank grass. At six years old I remember to have read Belisarius, Robinson Crusoe, and Philip Quarles; and then I found the Arabian Nights’ Entertainments, one tale of which (the tale of a man who was compelled to seek for a pure virgin) made so deep an impression on me (I had read it in the evening while my mother was mending stockings), that I was haunted by specters, whenever I was in the dark: and I distinctly remember the anxious and fearful eagerness with which I used to watch the window in which the books lay, and whenever the sun lay upon them, I would seize it, carry it by the wall, and bask and read. My father found out the effect which these books had produced, and burnt them. [letter to Thomas Poole, October 9, 1797]
Such loving, hopeful parents! Confronted by an incorrigible rereader, what else could they have done? I say this with only slight irony. Even I, an obsessive reader myself, am constantly frustrated by the readers around me. When I ask my twelve-year-old son to help me rake leaves, and he, in response, glances up from his book, smiles sweetly, and tells me, “But Mom, I’m yearning for knowledge,” I feel that pricking, eye-narrowing frustration that must have eventually driven Coleridge’s father to hurl his son’s fairy stories into the fire. Parents dream of raising strong, lithe children who hit home runs and race across green meadows, not pallid hunchbacks coiled speechlessly over a page. The image of little blacking-factory Dickens huddled in an unheated garret and poring over Roderick Random is not charming. It’s pathetic. And if we can barely stand to recall ourselves as pathetic, how can we wish it for our children?
Monday, November 30, 2009
Sunday, November 29, 2009
from "The Common Reader"Virginia WoolfHasty, inaccurate, and superficial, snatching now at this poem, now that scrap of old furniture, without caring where he finds it or of what nature it may be so long as it serves his purpose and rounds out his structure, his deficiencies as a critic are too obvious to be pointed out; but if he has, as Dr. Johnson maintained, some say in the final distribution of poetic honours, then, perhaps, it may be worth while to write down a few of the ideas and opinions which, insignificant in themselves, yet contribute to so mighty a result.
Saturday, November 28, 2009
All the long day, rain
down the blurred glass.
gardens succumb to forest,
half-ripe tomatoes cling
hopelessly to yellow vines,
cabbages crumple and split,
but who cares?
Let summer vanish,
let the tired year
shrink to the width
of a cow path,
soppy hens straggle
in their narrow yard,
and every last leaf
on the maples redden,
shrivel, and die.
Nothing needs me,
today, but you,
cupping the bones
of my skull. Alas,
poor Yorick, picked clean
as an egg.
How rich we grow,
bright sinew and blood,
my eyes open, yours
[forthcoming in How the Crimes Happened (CavanKerry Press, 2010)].
Friday, November 27, 2009
Thursday, November 26, 2009
* A brace of chickens, casserole-roasted with my own garlic, parsley, and rosemary. The chickens are unfortunately from Vermont, but they are organically raised and I did buy them through our coop. I do have chickens of my own in the freezer, but they aren't meat birds per se, so they don't have much breast meat, which is what my mother prefers.* Brussels sprouts, picked today from my garden: a joyful feeling.* Yorkshire pudding, made with local milk and our own eggs.* Cranberry relish, with local cranberries and apples.* Baby greens from the greenhouse.* Oatmeal rolls, brushed with egg and olive oil.* Apple-ginger-lime pie, with local apples.* Homemade eggnog for the boys, also with local milk and our eggs.
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Tonight's meal: sorrel soup with sorrel from the garden, buckwheat baguettes and sourdough boules from the batches I've been baking all week, baby lettuce salad from the greenhouse. Dessert will probably be my mother's concord grape pie.
from Tracing Paradise, chapter 11: "Killing Ruthie"The artistic imagination--in this case, the simultaneous ability to experience grief and aesthetically reconfigure it--is both a marvelous distraction and a guilty torment, and one of Milton's great triumphs in his delineation of Satan is the way in which he guides the reader through the Fiend's coiling artistic intellect. In the final moments before Satan, in serpent guise, accosts Eve and cajoles her into betraying God's word and eating from the Tree of Knowledge, he meditates on his mind's vivid powers, the way in which his intellect detaches itself from the event and examines it clinically, aesthetically, with a ruthless clarity.
Thoughts, whither have ye led me, with what sweetCompulsion thus transported to forgetWhat hither brought us. . . .
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
"Best wishes from a treacherously windy Old England."
"The things I do because I live in a town and have children."
"P.S. I'm now thinking of getting a t-shirt made: 'Blame Fyodor [Dostoevsky].'"
"Getting ready to dye pasta for a preschool teaching project. (Yes, I'm sure the Native Americans used rigatoni for wampum.)"
"Many are called but few are chosen. So maybe we all want to be like the Clash--but few of us are really like the Clash."
Monday, November 23, 2009
Sunday, November 22, 2009
Unseen BeautyMilly JourdainI hear the distant sound of birdsAll singing in the dusk of springUntil the air is tremulous,And mists about the river cling.It makes me sad to think of allThe beauty that is still unknown,The flowers budding in the night,The open fields where winds have blown.The air grows cold, the birds are still,And only, in the fading light,Along the streets a shivering windBlows from the unseen quiet night.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
Friday, November 20, 2009
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
When I first started writing this column I was worried I wouldn't be able to come up with a topic every couple weeks. I mean I get annoyed a lot I thought but not enough to fill up a whole year's worth of columns.
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
from Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Lawshe shaves her legs until they gleamlike petrified mammoth-tusk
Monday, November 16, 2009
Sunday, November 15, 2009
from This Woman's Movement (1975)Nancy MilfordBelieve me when I tell you that there have been so few women who wrote and who continued to write and did not fall silent. . . .Still, lists don't mean much. It is only that there have been so few women who wrote well. And why is it that among them there are certain limits of range--or at least recognizable types whose critical reputations seem to me to exceed either their abilities or their voices? . . .Where is that woman in the prime of her life, telling us what she sees and feels and dreams of? She who has has found her own voice and permits us to witness not only the finding as an act in itself--within the poems--but gives up to us what she has found?
Saturday, November 14, 2009
Friday, November 13, 2009
First blurbs are available for my new poetry collection, How the Crimes Happened. So odd to think it will soon be a solid object.
from The Sociology of Toyotas and Jade ChrysanthemumsListen here, sistren and brethren, I am goddamn tiredof hearing you tell me how them poor folk especiallyblack, have always got a Cadillac parked in the frontyard, along with the flux of faded plastic and tin.from Loneliness: An Outburst of HexasyllablesAt home the fire has died,the stove is cold, I touchthe estranging metal.I pour tea, cold and dark,in a cup. The clock strikes,but I forget, untiltoo late, to count the hours.I sit by the cold stovein a stillness brokenby the clock ticking therein the other room, byclapboards creaking, and Ibegin to shiver, coldat home in my own house.
from RavensA raven bundled itself into air from midfieldAnd slid away under hard glistenings, low and guilty.* * *. . . And there is another,Just born, all black, splaying its tripod, inching its new pointsTowards its mother, and testing the noteIt finds in its mouth. But you have eyes nowOnly for the tattered bundle of throwaway lamb."Did it cry?" you keep asking, in a three-year-old field-widePiercing persistence. "Oh yes" I say "it cried.
from RainToads hop across rain-hammered roads. Every mutilated leaf thereLooks like a frog or a rained-out mouse. CattleWait under blackened backs. We drive post-holes.* * *. . . Cows roarThen hang their noses to the mud.Snipe go over, invisible in the dusk,With their squelching cries.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
A Day in FebruaryJoan Arden [Milly Jourdain]When winter frost has come and gone,And spring-like days are near;I hear the sweetest noise on earth,The bird-songs everywhere.For all day long the thrushes sing,Though little green we see,And roads are damp, and air is soft,And streams flow happily.And still we feel the hidden strengthOf winter frost and snow,That makes the earth all pure and freshFor heavenly seeds to grow.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
SonnetSir Thomas WyattWho so list to hount, I knowe where is an hynde,But as for me, helas, I may no more:The vayne travaill hath weried me so sore.I ame of theim that farthest commeth behinde;Yet may I by no meanes my weried myndeDrawe from the Diere: but as she fleeth afore,Faynting I folowe. I leve of therefore,Sins in a nett I seke to hold the wynde.Who list her hount, I put him owte of dowbte,As well as I may spend his tyme in vain:And, graven with Diamonds, in letters plainThere is written her faier neck rounde abowte:Noli me tangere, for Cesars I ame;And wylde for to hold, though I seme tame.SonnetWhoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind,But as for me, alas, I may no more.The vain travail hath wearied me so sore,I am of them that farthest cometh behind.Yet may I, by no means, my wearied mindDraw from the deer, but as she fleeth afore,Fainting I follow. I leave off, therefore,Since in a net, I put him out of doubt,As well as I, may spend his time in vain.And graven with diamonds in letters plainThere is written, her fair neck round about,"Noli me tangere, for Caesar's I am,And wild for to hold, though I seem tame."
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Monday, November 9, 2009
from GodsHayden CarruthSometimes it occurs to me in the moonlitstillness of the summer night that Dionysuswill come and take you from me.
Sunday, November 8, 2009
Let us discuss why poetry has lost the power of making men brave.
--E. M. Forster
In front of every third house is a for-sale lineup
not of corn but of flat-bellied pumpkins and warty
hubbards tinted that improbable robin’s-egg blue,
also butternuts, tediously beige, and turk’s-heads
that look like Turk’s heads, though the sales clincher
among these hopeful come-hithers is surely the “PUM
PKINS” sign, a squat two-line exhortation spray-painted
onto a square board and stabbed into a scruff of weeds.
But Jill’s son won’t let her stop the car, not even for pum
pkins; he claims this cheerful roadside merchandise
“might not be good enough,” though he refuses to elaborate
because he’s concentrating on Joe Castiglione, Voice
of the Boston Red Sox, who’s executing a thrilling on-air
play-by-play fit over the alacritous mouse careening
across his shoes in the Tropicana Field press box;
yet even in mid-fluster the intrepid Voice manages
to recount a few pertinent clubhouse-mouse anecdotes,
for who can forget (intones the Voice) the great Phil Rizzuto,
whose severe mouse hate occasionally tempted a bored
Yankee to park a dead rodent in his fielder’s glove?
Her son, alert and unamazed, sucks up this radio tumult
like oxygen; and if he’s more exercised by Rizzuto’s
shortstop stats than by the image of a long-suffering
Trop Field janitor stowing a poised and baited trap
between the Voice’s jittery feet, it’s merely a symptom
of his ascetic attention, the rich curiosities of discipline
he’s imposed on his brain, where details of mouse fear
are mere decorative flourishes in the noble history
of baseball—this unfurling seasonal pageant of power
and beauty and earnest fidelity among a pack of heroes
who can’t possibly blow their seven-game lead,
can they? Another pumpkin stage-set flashes past Jill
on this Cornville road where, come to think of it,
there was corn once, and not so many days ago either:
acres of it, bobbing green and ostrich-like over these mild foothills,
but now shaved close, row upon row of dun-colored stubble
fading to dirt, the harvest’s backward march to blankness,
an oracular patriarch reverting to beardless boy—
mouse heaven, no doubt, but not a modern paradise
the like of Tropicana Field, vast echoing hall of crumbs,
home of Cracker Jack galore and brisk secret scrambles
among an eternity of folding chairs. That poor radio
adventurer scampering over the Voice’s shiny feet:
he’s a goner, no question about it, bound to be trap-snapped,
maybe this at-bat or the next, for the Voice will not forebear,
no extra innings for rodents, and Jill herself cannot abide mice,
those Sisyphean wretches shoving rocks back and forth, back
and forth, all night above her bedroom ceiling; she lies awake,
rigid and furious, wishing them dead. The roadside unrolls
like a backdrop; Jill’s car swallows tarmac, smoothly, greedily;
yes, Cinderella’s godmother magicked pumpkins into coaches,
mice into footmen; but can a princess trust a mouse-man
not to steal her shiny slippers and stuff them under a garret
floorboard? Or does she lie in bed, night after night,
listening to the Voice chatter and complain on the prince’s
kitchen radio, to the mouse-man scuffle and creak
above her head? Is she wishing him dead?
Jill’s son, like any prince, is indifferent to the mouse,
though also magnanimous, though also ruthless.
The mouse doesn’t gnaw at him. A princess
is different—touchier, guiltier. Peter, Peter, pumpkin eater,
had a wife but couldn’t keep her, and no wonder—
they fret so, these wives and princesses, not like the Voice,
who takes a break from his mouse to sell a few Volvo safety tips
and discuss the fine backyard sheds available for purchase
at Home Depot. In the backseat Jill’s son chortles lustily
alongside a Kubota jingle . . . Put her in a pumpkin shell
and there he kept her very well, and what on earth
is that supposed to mean? These nursery rhymes:
they’re like the Good Book—nothing but hint, trickery, or truth.
Jill glances up at the Harley swelling into rear mirror view
and thinks about ire and anti-Peter feminists and pulpit-pounding
preachers and screaming Big Papi fans, and sighs,
not because she’s necessarily immune to energetic belief, or even
energetic hope: but it’s tiresome, this inability to gracefully
tolerate a riddle. We forget the Sphinx and gape at Oedipus;
nothing consoles our lost honor. If the Red Sox
blow the series, her son will weep noisily into his banner,
betrayed, aghast—not exactly implying that Beowulf
died in battle so why shouldn’t Manny Ramirez
brain himself with a bat instead of shrugging “Better luck
next time,” but really: what does brave require?
Not falling on your sword after losing to the Devil Rays
but maybe not “if a bully bothers you on the playground,
just walk on by,” even if the second version comforts
those son-loving mothers who aren’t Grendel’s:
though it would be easy enough to be Grendel’s mother,
Jill thinks suddenly, grieving and vengeful, loping savagely
from her hole in the fens, wretched, livid, desperately hungry
for Danes; and she’s startled at the vision, for it can be strangely
tonic to picture oneself as a monster, especially at moments
of maternal docility, child strapped safely in the backseat
of a well-airbagged automobile, robust squash glinting in the autumn
sunlight, sky as clean and blue as a morning-glory, a sedate
Harley-with-sidecar tooling up behind her. Properly blinking,
the bike passes her; and as it rumbles by her window,
she catches sight of the oversized Rottweiler
wedged into the sidecar. He looks like Stonehenge
on the run, head thick as a brick, little ears aflutter,
yawp gaping with delight and solidly drooling
into the wind. He looks, come to think of it,
like Big Papi heading home for lobster after a cheerful
ball-chasing afternoon, a man who (according to her son)
named his kid after a sub shop, surely a Rottweiler
token of happiness, for there’s a certain plain bravery in joy;
and imagine those golden-haired Geats, shields glinting,
splashing up the stony beach—late-day sun, a sea of spears
and shadows; even a mouse owns the courage
of his enchantments; and how the Voice loves his voice,
the quick syllables, the straining verbs, the fervor of the tale—
“He crushed that pitch,” exclaims the Voice; and meanwhile,
a mouse considers a peanut-laced trap; meanwhile, Jill’s car
trails a disappearing fat dog down a twisting Cornville avenue;
meanwhile, her son suddenly falls asleep against his window,
his mind blossoming with heroes, except that all of them
are himself, everything, yes, everything, depends on his quick
and powerful blow, and how these bright standards
fly in the wind as the men gather in the broad meadow,
a host of warriors, raising their heavy goblets
to salute the king.
Saturday, November 7, 2009
Baseball doesn't take up all of your mental space as you watch it. It takes up a degree of it, and you're free, the rest of the time, to experiment with thoughts you might not ordinarily have. Brand writes well about this. He mentions in an earlier book called Mets Fans the Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami, who described how he decided to become a novelist while sitting in the stands of a game between the Yakult Swallows and the Hiroshima Carp. Someone hit a double and Murakami thought, I should be a writer. The non sequitur of that decision conveys the state of associative openness--akin, as Brand notes, to what we may experience while traveling--that baseball inspires.
Friday, November 6, 2009
NostalgiaDawn PotterIt was darker then, in the nights when the carscame sliding around the traffic circle, when the headlightsspeckled with rain traveled the bedroom wallsand vanished; when the typewriter, the squeaking chair,the slow voice of the radio stirred the night air like a fan.Of course, the ones we loved were beautiful--slim, dark-haired, intent on their books.The rain came swishing against the lamp-lit windows.The cat purred in his chair. A clock sang,and we lay nearly asleep, almost dreaming,almost alone, nearly gone--the days fly so;and the nights, like sleep, disappear without memory.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
But it was in spite of this definite to him that Chad had had a way that was wonderful: a fact carrying with it an implication that, as one might imagine it, he knew, he had learned, how.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
from Psalm 73If I had said, "I will speak thus,"I would have been untrue to the generations of thy children.But when I thought how to understand this,it seemed to me a wearisome task,until I went into the sanctuary of God;then I perceived their end.Truly thou dost set them in slippery places;thou dost make them fall to ruin.How they are destroyed in a moment,swept away utterly by terrors!They are like a dream when one awakes,on awaking you despise their phantoms.
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Monday, November 2, 2009
Sunday, November 1, 2009
"Oh he's all right for me!" Strether laughed. "Anyone's good enough for me."