Archive for August, 2011

Monarchs

A pair of monarchs

tumble and turn in the sun,

taste sweet verbena.

 

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Emma and Dorthea

 

Dot and Emma decide to make stuffed peppers for dinner.

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Metaphor for My Life

I had a dream that I was at an Asian buffet.  There were so many choices.  I wanted to try everything.  I was frustrated because I knew that if I tried everything, I’d be too full to return to those dishes I liked best.  But how would I know which ones I liked best unless I tried them all?

My dream book says that dreams about food often simply mean you are hungry.  But, no, I was not hungry.  When I woke, I thought, this dream was a metaphor for my life:  my life as a buffet.

Typically, I recently abandoned poetry writing for oh, let me list the things I’ve been doing:  Chinese brush painting, Chinese calligraphy, preparing an assortment of items for my stash of Gorilla Art (bookmarks, altered postcards, etc., that I leave in books I return to the library, especially if they are on hold for someone else), drawing imaginary creatures (from examples in Drawing Lab for Mixed-Media Artists by Carla Sonheim), making wire wrap jewelry, reading a book about the Northern Romantic tradition in modern art, and quilting. 

Now the first items were all limited in time and scope.  The quilting project is one of those things that I started and cannot let go.  For years now, two at least, I have been working and re-working this quilt.  First I pieced the top.  That was fun and easy.  Then I quilted it by machine and made a terrible mess.  So I took a class.  Within an hour of the class I knew everything I’d done wrong.  I picked out all the quilting.  That took a few months.  Then something intervened (see above list…it can be repeated with small variations…or add an overseas trip, which takes up inordinate amounts of time before and after). 

I planned to finish the quilt this summer.  After all, I knew what to do now.  I started to get ready.  No notes.  I’d lost the notes from the class.  This kind of disorganization never happens to me, but there it was.  I emailed the teacher and she graciously and generously sent me her best advice and copies of her handouts.  Okay.  I got started and thought this will not take long, and, what I would call the “preliminaries” did not take long. 

What I discovered was that once the basic outline of the quilt is in place, the real work of QUILTING begins:  small areas, lots of stitching and very time-consuming.  It took me a couple of days to recover from figuring out that what I thought I’d finish this week will likely take me another month or two, if I’m lucky.

It’s the process, not the outcome, right?  Yes, but…  It’s also all the choices out there and I seem to have to follow them all and hang on to finish them as well.  My life as a buffet.

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Memorial Service

We stood in the hot sun next to cornfields.

The corn, tall and tassled, bowed in the wind.

We stood on a ridge with an endless view,

the impression of green grass and blue sky

forever etched in our minds…and the wind,

hot and dry in the midday sun that burned

while the girl played her flute, and its sweet sound

mingled with the wind and the butterflies.

The grass bent under our feet, remembering:

at this memorial, we were present.

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Proverbs, Epigrams and Adages

William Blake’s Auguries of Innocence is written in four-foot iambic lines, which means four beats per eight syllable line. It moves along, which seems appropriate for the sayings included within. Here are two examples:

He who shall train the Horse to War

Shall never pass the Polar Bar.                             

The Beggar’s Dog and Widow’s Cat,

Feed them and thou wilt grow fat.

James Fenton, in his book, An Introduction to English Poetry, calls these proverbs. Later, he says many couplets such as these can stand by themselves as epigrams. What, I wondered, is the difference? Here is what the Merriam-Webster Dictionary says.

A Proverb is a brief popular epigram; an adage, e.g., “Too many cooks spoil the broth.”

An Epigram is 1) a concise poem dealing pointedly and often satirically with a single thought or event and often ending with an ingenious turn of thought; and 2) a terse, sage, or witty and often paradoxical saying, e.g., “Remember that time is money.” B. Franklin

An Adage is a saying often in metaphorical form that embodies a common observation, e.g., “The early bird gets the worm.”

There seems to be some distinction when a phrase enters common language without attribution versus when the author is known and cited, as in the case of B. Franklin. Proverbs and adages and sayings apparently have entered the common domain and require no authorial attribution.

Among these definitions, epigrams seem the most interesting. Sadly, my rhyming couplets in iambic tetrameter come off more like very bad greeting card entries.

The ugly squash will always be / the one that tastes so sweet to me.

The prettiest corn I’m shucking / has worms that are ripe for plucking.

The coupon for a dollar off / expires like a candle moth.

Poet Amy Gerstler in her book of poems called Bitter Angel, is not burdened by rhyming couplets. Her poems are mostly short prose essays. The book blurb on the back cover, written by Jorie Graham, says, very stylishly I think, that Gerstler’s work reveals “subtle yet energetic negotiations between the voltages of experimentation and the undertow of classical balance…driving narrative into the extended slow-motion conflagration of post-modern lyricism.” Goodness.

I decided to look for some epigrams in Gerstler’s book.  Here is one that I found, somewhat out of context:

The prick of the thistle revives

your faith that for every hurt

there is a leaf to cure it.

 

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Rejected Poem

Another rejected poem.  Should I try to get it published elsewhere?  No.  It was written for a Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets contest:  to write a poem from the point of view of someone else, e.g., a historical figure.  I chose Caroline Herschel because I am fascinated with her life and the fact that no one has – probably – ever heard of her.  Such an obscure figure that she was likely not of interest to the contest judge.  It would take too much space to explain who she is.  Here’s Caroline’s story and the poem, a sonnet.

Caroline Herschel, nick-named Lina, was born in Hanover, Germany in 1750.  She was the first woman to discover a comet.  She was disfigured by small pox and typhus.  Her brother William rescued her from life as a maid when he called her to join him in Bath, England where he was hired as an organist.  He taught her to sing and to assist him in his astronomical studies.  William is famous for discovering the planet Uranus.

When her brother was absent, Caroline started to make her own observations.  On August 1, 1876, Caroline discovered her first comet, the “First Lady’s Comet;” the first comet to be discovered by a woman.  She went on to discover a total of eight comets. 

Caroline also corrected the star catalogue of the day, adding 500 omissions; produced a catalogue of nebulae; and was awarded a gold medal in 1828 by the Royal Astronomical Society.   Her dream was to ride a comet!  After William died, Caroline returned to Hanover and died in 1848 at the age of 97. 

Lina’s Comet

 The night sky sparkles; I am not alone.

I’ll map just one more bit before I’m through.

I move my telescope, slowly, up…down,

and look for a star, just one, that is new.

Cold feet, numb fingers; writing in the dark.

I am awake all night, no time to sleep.

I’m hungry, too, but I can’t stop the work.

I must record everything I see.

Is that a comet?  If it is, I could be…

It will be called the “First Lady’s Comet.”

I’ll catalogue the stars and nebulae,

win medals from the Royal Society,

but my dream…riding to the edge of space

on a comet’s orbit back to this place.

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Horoscopes

Do you read your horoscope?  I used to read mine all the time, especially when I was working.  Horoscopes seem geared to working people looking for a better job or more money and to singles looking for love.  Sometimes the horoscope was eerily prescient.  I guess that’s what kept me reading it. 

Now I read my horoscope when I feel uncertain about something, or when I want an intimation of the future.  Last weekend with the girlfriends, I read it right away, the first morning we were together.  Here it is:

There is no need to worry about your public perception.  You are seen in many different ways by many different people, and you have little control over it now.  The happier you are the more effective you will be.

“…little control…now.”  Interesting, that word now.  As though sometimes you can control people’s perception?  Well, try to, I suppose.  Anyway, I took to heart the message to be happy.  You can’t go wrong with that advice, no matter what.

I have a cartoon I cut out from The New Yorker that shows an editor leaning over the desk of the resident astrologist exclaiming, “You mean all this time you’ve been making up the horoscopes?”  I sometimes feel that way about Rob Brezsny’s horoscopes. 

Brezsny’s website is at www.freewillastrology.com.  He writes a weekly newsletter that includes a bit of his philosophy of “Pronoia” and, of course, horoscopes.  My horoscope for the current week includes the following prediction:

Speaking as a poet, not a scientist, I speculate that
those two luminaries, the sun and moon, may also generate a lurching but
medicinal effect on you sometime soon. Are you ready for a healing jolt?
It will relieve the tension that has been building up between two of your
“tectonic plates.”

The line breaks are an accident of WordPress, but I like them.  Brezsny also quotes this week from his book, Pronoia is the Antidote for Paranoia, saying “poet Kay Ryan told the Christian Science Monitor how she cultivates the inspiration to write. She rouses the sense of a ‘self-imposed emergency,” thereby calling forth psychic resources that usually materialize only in response to a crisis…. She visualizes hypothetical situations that galvanize her to shift into a dramatically heightened state of awareness.”

Somehow I think that poets will not need to visualize a self-imposed emergency soon.  There have been enough shocking events this year to keep us busy for years.  However, it is possible that a healing jolt to my tectonic plates may well lead to a heightened state of awareness.  I am open to it and I can’t wait to find out so I can write about it!  Until next week’s horoscope, that is.

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