Last night I attended a marvelous talk by Rachel Tzvia Back, called “‘This Bequest of Wings’ on Teaching Poetry in a Region of Conflict.” It was one of a series of lectures sponsored by Ray Lifchez in memory of his wife Judith (more about her later). Ms. Bach ia a vivid, insightful presenter with a beautiful speaking voice (you can hear her here).
She started with the question, what use is poetry in an environment of conflict. She said that her world, contemporary Israel, if filled with militaristic, politicized rhectoric. Racism, alienation, hatred of “the other,” are common. She teaches an introduction to poetry course in the English department that is compulsory and includes Christians, Druze, Muslim, Jewish and secular students who range in age from 18 to early 40s. In this somewhat hostile atmosphere–the students have to take the course–she starts with a poem by William Carlos Williams, “To Daphne and Virginia”:
Be Patient that I address you in a poem,
there is no other
lives there. It is uncertain,
can trick us and leave us
agonized. But for resources
what can equal it?
There is nothing. We
should be lost
without its wings to
fly off upon . . . .
Continue reading “The Judith Lee Stronach Memorial Lecture”
An editorial in the paper reminded me that on Memorial Day we remember those who died in the war; on Veterans Day we remember the ones who returned. In either case, not just a day added to the weekend, but a day to reflect. Here is Yeats, reflecting on the death of Lady Gregory’s son, who died in 1918 in an air battle over Italy. My favorite line comes near the end: “What made us dream that he could comb grey hair?” Continue reading “Memorial Day”
As a farmer, I have to treat my hens without sentiment; when they pass their peak laying year, they have to go. This week I took the oldest hens, the beautiful Black Australorps, and gave them to my Ethiopian friend, who eats them. I’ve made one exception so far, the Hamburg hen we call Houdini for her ability to find a way out of the chicken run. She’s a small hen, and although she’s almost three years old, she still lays well. Continue reading “Culling the flock”
In a humorous essay about poetry, William Matthews suggested there are only four subjects for poems:
1. I went out into the woods today, and it made me feel, you know, sort of religious.
2. We’re not getting any younger.
3. It sure is cold and lonely (a) without you, honey, or (b) with you, honey.
4. Sadness seems but the other side of the coin of happiness, and vice versa, and in any case the coin is too soon spent, and on what we know not what.
So I looked for a poem today about something outside these categories and here is one by Dorianne Laux:
Finding What’s Lost
In the middle of the poem my daughter reminds me
that I promised to drive her to the bus stop.
She waits a few beats then calls out the time.
Repeats that I’ve promised.
I keep the line in my head, repeat it under my breath
as I look for my keys, rummage through my purse,
my jacket pockets. When we’re in the car, I search
the floor for a Jack-in-the-Box bag, a ticket stub,
a bridge toll dollar, anything to write on.
I’m still repeating my line when she points
out the window and says “look, there’s the poppy
I told you about,” and as I turn the corner I see it, Continue reading “Dull subjects”
A few years ago, we heard Randy Neuman live at the San Francisco Opera House. Although his voice isn’t what it once was, his showmanship is brilliant. When the children were small we taught them “Political Science,” and it would be fun to hear their angelic voices chirping “Drop the big one now…” Continue reading “Randy Neuman”
A friend leant me Inventions of Farewell, A Book of Elegies, by Sandra Gilbert. This is a wonderful collection and in the introduction she references a passage on “elephant grief” from Fragments on the Deathwatch, by Louise Harmon, which in turn cites a National Geographic article about the mourning behavior of a herd of elephants after the death of an old bull. The elephants “approached his body by twos and threes, ‘sweeping their trunks slowly over him, not touching him for the most part but maintaining an inch of distance between his skin and the moist tips of their trunks. The ritual was more impressive for its silence.’ ’’ Continue reading “An Elegy”
I realized today that I have avoided putting older poems here–Marvell, Shakespeare, Wordsworth, for example. I’ve selected contemporary poems not only to avoid poems that everyone probably read in high school, but also because they seem more accessible, more alive.
But today I felt like reading Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress,” written in the 1650s. You’ll certainly recognize phrases from this poem, even if you didn’t read it in high school. They’ve made their way into daily speech. And though written in strict rhyme and meter, Marvell’s language and syntax (except for the occasional thou and thy and shouldst) seem almost as fresh as a contemporary poem.
To His Coy Mistress
Had we but world enough and time,
This coyness, Lady, were no crime. Continue reading “A slight departure”
I have been raising my chickens in a large run covered in layers of various hay, straw, grass, etc. This is called the “deep litter” method, that I read about in Juliette de Baïracli Levi’s Herbal Handbook for Farm & Stable, a book I referred to often when we had a real farm. Levi was one of those intrepid Englishwomen of the early 1900s, who studied and traveled and made her own way in the world. Continue reading “Deep Litter”