One of the young hens has begun to sit on eggs, or get “broody,” as chicken folk say. (Yet another metaphor from the world of chickens.)  With a great deal of perseverance (though not much discrimination), she was sitting on one wooden egg in the hen house until I moved her to a separate box and put some real eggs under her. I got the eggs from an accommodating hatchery in Pennsylvania, who shipped them in bubble wrap. For 21 days the hen will barely get up, perhaps rising once a day to eat, drink and eliminate, and then renew her slow vigil on the eggs. Talk about confinement! I’m not going to disturb her by opening the door and taking her picture. She has enough to deal with.

IMG_1303_optActually, I had put a few of my hens’  eggs under her for the first ten days, until the new eggs arrived. She had to start over with the new batch. Continue reading “Broody”

The energy of the slam

Come       Come where the booze is cheaper,
Come       Come where the pots hold more,
Come       Come where the boss is a bit of a sport,
Come       Come to the pub next door!

George Orwell, that master of the essay, has a lovely piece on writing called “Good Bad Books.” Of course, you can read all his essays online now (although they are rife with typos, even more than my notes here!), including this one. In it, he notes that some authors who write commercially, without  intellectual pretensions, remain readable long after their higher-toned colleagues are forgotten. He comments: “In each of these books the author has been able to identify himself with his imagined characters, to feel with them and invite sympathy on their behalf…In novelists, almost as much as in poets, the connection between intelligence and creative power is hard to establish. A good novelist may be a prodigy of self-discipline like Flaubert, or he may be an intellectual sprawl like Dickens. Enough talent to set up dozens of ordinary writers has been poured into Wyndham Lewis’s so-called novels, such as Tarr or Snooty Baronet. Yet it would be a very heavy labour to read one of these books right through. Some indefinable quality, a sort of literary vitamin, which exists even in a book like If Winter Comes, is absent from them.”

starry-plough-berkeley-ca-usa-nightlife-live-entertainment-live-entertainment-live-music-1529393_28_550x370_20111025224705_optI was reminded of and searched out the essay because I recently went to my first poetry slam, at the Starry Plough in Berkeley. The raw energy of the poets was invigorating and made the evening better than many a literary night of droning poets searching their soul for meaning.  Lots of that indefinable literary vitamin. I was reminded of this sentence from Orwell’s essay:

There are music-hall songs which are better poems than three-quarters of the stuff 
that gets into the anthologies.

Here, here! Next time I go, I may perform.


Poetry Monday–from the files

parakeetI found this poem, cut out from the New Yorker, no idea when…


First, you took the parakeet out of its cage,
Its body warm and folded, a blue-green kite
With a surprised heart. Then you scoured the metal,
The door a loose pocket of bars on two wire hinges,
The clawed perches, the swing and its endless dialogue
With the invisible. Slowly, you removed the racks
From the dishwasher and placed the cage in it.
We laughed at your ingenuity, at the way
It expressed your secret ambition to be
The one least mauled by the predictable.
And I think I knew then that I would carry on this hope
Of yours. There is such harm in love.
But let it be the green-and-blue acrobat it is,
A tropical danger in the midst of my body,
The body that you built for me.
Let it be the cage you cared for from which
Birdsong was pulled into the cool and odorless air.

Vickie Karp

More on Diana Moon Glampers, a short rant

I’ve written before about Kurt Vonnegut’s satirical short story, “Harrison Bergeron,” and its Handicapper General, Diana Moon Glampers. She’s the one who makes sure no one stands out as better than anyone else by assigning the appropriate handicap. This doesn’t seem so much like satire in the current environment of political correctness.

imagesI just came across a reaction by Zoë Heller to the proposition posited by Lee Siegel for The New Yorker and Isaac Fitzgerald at BuzzFeed that reviewers should only publish positive book reviews. Siegel and Fitzgerald feel we shouldn’t say anything negative about the poor authors who have worked so hard. Heller makes the case that banning “negativity” is bad for the culture and unfair to authors. I couldn’t agree more. In fact I more than agree. Continue reading “More on Diana Moon Glampers, a short rant”

Poetry Monday

Even though it’s a holiday, it’s still Monday. Larry doesn’t like holidays now that he’s retired. There’s no mail. Things are closed. Too many people everywhere. They should be at work, he thinks.

Another very plain speaking person is James Galvin. This is one of my favorite poems of his:

galvinAgainst the Rest of the Year

The meadow’s a dream I’m working to wake to.
The real river flows under the river.
The real river flows
Over the river.
Three fishermen in yellow slickers
Stitch in and out of the willows
And sometimes stand for a long time, facing the water
Thinking they are not moving.

Thoughts akimbo
Or watching the West slip through our hopes for it,
We’re here with hay down,
Starting the baler, and a thunderhead
Stands forward to the east like a grail of milk.

The sky is cut out for accepting prayers.
Believe me, it takes them all.
Like empty barrels afloat in the trough of a swell
The stupid bales wait in the field.
The wind scatters a handful of yellow leaves
With the same sowing motion it uses for snow.

After this we won’t be haying anymore.
Lyle is going to concentrate on dying for a while
And then he is going to die.
The tall native grasses will come ripe for cutting
And go uncut, go yellow and buckle under snow
As they did before for thousands of years.
Of objects, the stove will be the coldest in the house.
The kitchen table will be there with its chairs,
Sugar bowl, and half-read library book.
The air will be still from no one breathing.

The green of the meadow, the green willows,
The green pines, the green roof, the water
Clear as air where it unfurls over the beaver dam
Like it isn’t moving.

In the huge secrecy of the leaning barn
We pile the bodies of millions of grasses,
Where it’s dark as a church
And the air is the haydust that was a hundred years.
The tin roof’s a marimba band and the afternoon goes dark.
Hay hooks clink into a bucket and nest.
Someone lifts his boot to the running board and rests.
Someone lights a cigarette.
Someone dangles his legs off the back of the flatbed
And holds, between his knees, his hands,
As if they weighed fifty pounds.
Forever comes to mind, and peaks where the snow stays.

James Galvin

Spring chickens

The hens have definitely decided it’s time to start laying eggs.  Along with the magnolia, the cherry, the apple, all blossoming, the change in the light has convinced them that spring is here–rainy or not.

eggs_optToday I got my first, tiny Americana pullet egg, a green jewel among the brown.

And the hens themselves are looking sleek and fluffy and they want to eat continuously.

Luckily, gorgeous eggs for breakfast make everyone around very cheerful.











The problem of publication

imagesIn the introduction to The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, le Carré writes about how the publication of this book changed his life:

“I had written literally in secret…and free of serious critical attention. Once this book hit the stands, my time of quiet and gradual development was over for good, however much I tried to re-create it…For years to come there would be no such thing, for the publishing industry, as a ‘small’ le Carré book–a distortion both longed for and abhorred by any artist worth his salt.”

Continue reading “The problem of publication”

Contest Winner

I subscribe to and occasionally submit poems to Split This Rock.  This one received an honorable mention in their annual contest:

Sandor_optMárai Sándor in Exile

Deprived of your native language,
of pörkölt cooked in cramped kitchens,
of the scent of elder flowers in early June,
you don’t meet people you know on the street, or stop
in familiar shops that sell just what you need.
You don’t sit with friends
at the café with a newspaper filled
with gossip about people you know.

After your home was destroyed,
you said language was your true home.
But so few speak the Magyar tongue.
Even your name sounds unfamiliar here.
Who will read your forty-six books?
your scrupulous observations of
the German soldiers who set up radios
in your parlor? the Russians
who used it for their motorpool?
You saved your hatred for
your countrymen, newly minted
Soviets, returned from Moscow.
Their lethal mix of terror
and preferment snuffed
what little there was left of Hungary
and drove you out.

It’s lonely in the sun
of San Diego. Your bones crave cold light,
need winter in Krisztinaváros
before the siege,
the irreplaceable stones of Castle Hill.
Your mouth is parched
for the barbed sweetness of accented vowels,
the braided bread of consonants,
the bullets
of your spoken tongue.

Meryl Natchez

This is actually an earlier version of a poem I’ve since revised into a sonnet.  More about that, and about contests, submission, acceptance and rejection later.

Rainy Sunday

Here in rainless Northern California, I woke gratefully to the sound of rain.  The chickens may not be happy about it, but it is such a relief to be having a normal winter day. Luckily, in yesterday’s brilliant sun I did a bunch of yard work including cleaning the chicken coop, so at least they are cozy.

2014-02-01 08_optAnd they are laying. Here were the ingredients for yesterday’s breakfast, although I only used two of the eggs. It made for a delicious start to the day.

The wonderful, golden Cocktail Grapefruit are in season now, a very sweet grapefruit with a zillion seeds, but worth it.  Add grapefruit, and breakfast looked like this.

2014-02-01 08_opt-2

Then I decided to try the hot and sour soup recipe from Serious Eats, by J. Kenji López. I was interested to try his technique for rapid chicken broth, which involves hacking chicken parts into bits, blanching them first, and then cooking with a hambone and  “aromatics” (onion, garlic, scallions, ginger).

It worked–excellent broth in a little over an hour, but it involves turning your kitchen into an abattoir, little bits of chicken parts flying everywhere. There’s a reason butchers are always pictured in those blood-smeared white smocks. Definitely not for the faint of heart.  Maybe Kenji knows a way to do this without the grisly bit dispersion, but if so, he doesn’t mention it. nInstead he says “Hack your chicken carcasses to bits before making stock. Not only will it make you feel like a medieval viking-style badass, but it’ll also make your broth come together much faster. The more finely you chop the bones, the more surface area they have, and the more channels for proteins, minerals, and other goodies to get extracted into the broth.” So caveat cook.

Because this recipe required a specific Chinese fermented rice vinegar (“essential to the flavor”), I had to head down to the Asian mall, and as it was Saturday and just after Chinese New Year,  I encountered a drumming, whistling band and leaping tigers:

2014-02-01 14_opt-2 2014-02-01 14_opt2014-02-01 14_opt-3

Very loud, cheerful and colorful, which made up for the crowds and the ordeal involved in buying my slim bottle of vinegar.

The soup is really delicious, if anyone wants a lovely rainy day project.