Archive for April, 2011

Garden Report (for Jane)

April 26th, 2011

The garlic I planted a week ago in the half barrels in my back yard has yet to make its reappearance above ground.  The soil in one of the containers has developed some mysterious cratering, as if someone had been digging there.  I suspect squirrels.

The hostas too are biding their time.

The lilacs are fully budded, and their buds are on the verge of bursting open.  Likewise the rhododendron by the compost heap.  The other rhododendron, next to the wall in the angle formed by the bathroom addition to the master bedroom, looks pretty scruffy.  Its companion died last year, from causes unknown.  Perhaps it’s mourning.

Behind my house, the peculiar purple spears of the peonies have been erupting skywards for about a week now.  They’re about four to six inches tall already, and the points of some of them are beginning to open, like spearheads turning into feathers.

There’s a row of cedar trees along the back boundary of my yard.  A couple of years ago I transplanted some tiger lilies under them.  They’ve yet to bloom, but are showing a vigor this year which gives me some hope.  In fact, the lilies and tulips all around the yard are shooting forth in the most gratifying way.  There’s a tired old red tulip in one corner that some years produces nothing in the way of a flower, just one or two luxuriant, oddly shaped leaves, but this year it looks like it has been taking some tulipy equivalent of viagra.

I meant to check the rhubarb, but it slipped my mind.  Talk about a plant with a surfeit of vitality!  Last year I purposely harvested what felt like an excessive amount, to see if that would slow it down.  A few years ago I invited some friends who said they wanted rhubarb to come and dig up as much as they might want.  They got what looked like about 80% of it.  It came back the next year as if nothing had happened.

The daffodils by the stump in the front yard need thinning.  The daisies that also grow around the stump aren’t yet much in evidence.  The stump itself is almost completely rotted away.  When it was fresh it was just a stump.  Now it has that strange eroded beauty, like Bryce Canyon on a small scale or the face of a very old person on her deathbed.

In the basement, under the grow lights, the leeks I started from seed a month and a half ago are ready to go in the ground, if the ground were ready to receive them, which it is not.  The brussels sprouts also are eager to get down to it.  On the other hand, the bell peppers and jalapenos are delinquent.  I think my basement is just a touch too cool for them, and it delayed their germination.  They’re coming along fine, now, but they got a late start.

And, of course, the unnamed and (by me) unnameable weeds are poking up everywhere!  Well, except in the basement.

Why people don’t care about poetry #14137

April 20th, 2011

Over the past weeks I’ve received a couple of invitations from a poetry professor at the local university, to a reading this evening by poet Natasha Trethewey.  I am totally unfamiliar with her work.  So… why should I go?  The publicity that Professor J– has sent me includes a picture of an attractive woman of indeterminate age, perhaps in her thirties?  That’s not enough to entice me out of doors on a rainy evening.  It says she’s a Pulitzer Prize winner.  Well, good for her, but in today’s literary environment that tells me nothing.  Rae Armantrout won the Pulitzer last year.  W.S. Merwin won it the year before.  These names may mean little to you.  What they mean to me is that you can win the Pulitzer with a lifetime of great work behind you and a recently popular but relatively weak book, or even despite the fact that your work sucks.  Trethewey’s won several other prizes, too, none of which I’ve ever heard of.  Today’s poetry world is full of prizes.  Every issue of Poets and Writers magazine has pages upon pages in the back, listing all of that month’s prizewinners.  I’m not sure that every one of them is great and fully deserving of our attention.  Finally, there’s a quote from the introduction to Trethewey’s most recent book.  The introduction was written by Rita

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Apologies to my loyal readers (both of you)

April 17th, 2011

There has been a bit of a hiatus in posts to this blog, mainly due to a delightful event in my personal life.  My daughter, a student in the film program at City College of New York, asked me to appear in the movie she is making as her senior year project.  Apparently it is difficult to find middle aged male actors in New York City who are willing to work for free and who also can be relied upon to show up for filming sober.  Having had some stage experience in high school and college, only forty years ago, I gulped and said yes.  The shoot was last weekend, and the week before was occupied with learning my lines and frantically seeking advice on how to adapt from stage training to an acting technique that wouldn’t result in immediate embarrassment on camera.  (The best advice I got was, “Don’t act.”)  Mustering enough concentration to write anything even remotely interesting that week was out of the question.

Then came the shoot.  I don’t think I am ready to write about that yet, except to say that if life has anything better to offer me than a weekend engaging in a serious, collaborative creative effort with my daughter, that’s nice, but I’ve been to the mountaintop, I’ve seen the promised land.  The problem is coming down.  To put it bluntly, returning  to normal life this week has been a bummer.  Or, as my friend Stephen Kottler put it, “Hamburger helper sucks when you’ve been eating pheasant.”

So, inspiration flags, for the moment.  I have an idea for a post about pegging income tax rates for the wealthy to the poverty rate, so that a reduction in poverty would trigger a reduction in tax rates for the upper brackets, thus giving the rich an interest in helping the poor, but having stated the premise I can’t find the words to say much else about it.  There are some interesting things to say about the Burlington open mike poetry scene – the motor-mouthed youth movement hosted by Dug Nap at Burlington City Arts, which seems to have decided once again that literature is part of its mission, and recent uproarious goings-on at the Flynndog – but they haven’t gelled yet.  I could use some prompts.  Is there something that you out there might like to have me write about?

Here’s one for Tim

April 2nd, 2011

When friend and web site designer extraordinaire Tim Twinam sent me an email saying he liked my last post, I realized that I’ve been blogging for a year and this is the first time that anybody has written in to comment on the poetry.  Ironic, considering that a book of poetry is the raison d’etre of this site!  Along with that realization came another – although I allow myself to feel a mild disappointment at the silence which greets verse, I don’t really expect anything different.  Story of my life – it’s like a taboo subject.  Perhaps it’s because the poems are so awful there is no polite response, but I don’t really believe that.  Most likely, nobody feels qualified to say something.  Except for pop songs, television, movies, and video games, art is something our culture has walled off from daily life.  We have lost the habit of responding to a poem as if it were an intelligible statement about something of mutual interest, part of a conversation.  Not an altogether unjustified reaction, since so much modern poetry has given up on that, too.

Grouse, grouse, grouse.

Okay, Tim, at least you’re willing to talk, bless you.  So… yeah, I find Canada’s Maritimes to be pretty damn numinous.  A few years ago my son and I went on a trip to Newfoundland.  The purpose was to visit Anse aux Meadows, the site of the first known European settlement in the New World, dating to five hundred years before Columbus.  Newfoundland is a giant island shaped like an “L”, and Anse aux Meadows is at the top.  It’s a long way up.  On the road there, we passed through Gros Morne National Park.  In the park is an area called the Tablelands.  A mile’s hike from the road one enters a long ravine or narrow valley between towering, barren, brownish rock cliffs.  The rocks are hundreds of millions of years old, formed (if I understand correctly) by one continental plate sliding under another and forcing the earth’s mantle up.  It was a chilly afternoon with rapidly moving clouds.  I had the place to myself, and stood for a long time in that desolate, ancient valley, beside the little stream that runs down its center.  Returning to the car, where Isaac was napping, I encountered a rock in the middle of the path.  I was certain it had not been there before, but I could not imagine how it got there during the hour since I’d passed.  It is about the size and shape of a human heart, salmony brown with grey veins.  There’s a story of a shaman who was asked if he could talk to the stones, and he answered, “The trick is knowing which ones.”  I felt that this stone definitely had something to say to me.  It wanted to hitch a ride.  I hesitated, because I was unsure what I was inviting into my life, but it is hard to argue with a stone.  It’s sitting in my living room right now, and I am waiting for the day when I have learned how to listen to it.

Tablelands, Newfoundland

I have seen my mother’s bones,
naked, shattered, immense,
and the waters threading down them
braided at my feet
and rushed through the rubble
calling loudly