Andrew, who plumbed my house, quit the MFA program at Stanford to work in his uncle’s plumbing business. “The best writer in our group, one year ahead of me, struggled to find a job. If it was so hard for her, what hope was there for me?” He explained, while fixing my dishwasher. While he curls under my sink, we chat about who we are reading, who we should read next. When he went to Yosemite, he texted me photos of the rainbow over the falls; he had hiked six miles to get the right angle.
Martin installed the new cat doors and fixed the curtain rod that was pulling out of the sheetrock. He is from Mexico City, and keeps his horse in El Sobrante. His favorite author is Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Frank, who built the redwood fence that keeps out the deer, recited Frost to me as he worked once he knew I wrote poetry. And yesterday, while Rob was replacing the ballast in the fluorescent in my husband’s workroom, we talked about Joan Didion’s essays versus her fiction. Continue reading “Home Repair in Berkeley”
I remember Frost’s fumbling at Kennedy’s inauguration–an old man then, and the first poet to be asked to read at such an event–such a different time. When asked to recite a poem, this was Frost’s response:
“If you can bear at your age the honor of being made president of the United States, I ought to be able at my age to bear the honor of taking some part in your inauguration. I may not be equal to it but I can accept it for my cause — the arts, poetry — now for the first time taken into the affairs of statesmen. … I am glad the invitation pleases your family. It will please my family to the fourth generation and my family of friends and, were they living, it would have pleased inordinately the kind of Grover Cleveland Democrats I had for parents.” Continue reading “Brief history lesson”
The first, in sonnet form, by Robert Frost, published in 1942. The second a more contemporary song by Troy Jollimore.
Never Again Would Birds’ Song Be the Same
He would declare and could himself believe
That the birds there in all the garden round
From having heard the daylong voice of Eve
Had added to their own an oversound,
Her tone of meaning but without the words.
Admittedly an eloquence so soft
Could only have had an influence on birds
When call or laughter carried it aloft.
Be that as may be, she was in their song.
Moreover her voice upon their voices crossed
Had now persisted in the woods so long
That probably it never would be lost.
Never again would birds’ song be the same.
And to do that to birds was why she came.
A Witness Tree
A bend in the river.
A flaw in the surface.
How many continents
has this lone oriole
crossed to come balance
on our sagging clothesline,
and what urgent thing
is he trying to tell us?
That those who could translate
his song are lagging
a thousand miles
behind? Or that those
who can speak both his tongue
and ours have not yet
been born, that we will go
into the ground
and a thousand years pass
before their eyes open,
the wayward atoms
of our nests and tongues
having been dispersed,
reassigned, and repurposed
into their bright,
Syllabus of Errors
I see I’ve only posted one poem by Robert Frost in the history of this blog. Today’s post makes this two. He’s such a master of rhyme–could anyone else rhyme honeysuckle and knuckle without it seeming contrived?
He lived so long, it’s surprising to remember he was born in 1874. We always see the white-haired Frost–the one who read at Kennedy’s inauguration. But he was a young, unknown, driven, and ambitious man for a long time before that.
Love at the lips was touch
As sweet as I could bear;
And once that seemed too much;
I lived on air
That crossed me from sweet things,
The flow of–was it musk
From hidden grapevine springs
Downhill at dusk?
I had the swirl and ache
From sprays of honeysuckle
That when they’re gathered shake
Dew on the knuckle.
I craved strong sweets, but those
Seemed strong when I was young;
The petal of the rose
It was that stung.
Now no joy but lacks salt,
That is not dashed with pain
And weariness and fault;
I crave the stain
Of tears, the aftermark
Of almost too much love,
The sweet of bitter bark
And burning clove.
When stiff and sore and scarred
I take away my hand
From leaning on it hard
In grass and sand,
The hurt is not enough:
I long for weight and strength
To feel the earth as rough
To all my length.
Over breakfast we have have some pretty far ranging conversations. I am usually reading some poems (lately a selection Larry put together of his Berryman favorites), Larry is reading the Wall St. Journal or the NY Times. I read parts of these, too, the “soft” parts. I try to avoid the news, letting Larry be my filter. If it’s ever time to flee, I count on him to let me know.
Yesterday I was musing on what makes Louise Gluck’s poetry so powerful. Her imagery is not gorgeous, and her language tends to be plain not flashy. Yet the poetry is strong. Currents of feeling move though it and jump out at you. And Larry said: Yes, Berryman writes like a man on a high wire; but Louise stands on the ground. Continue reading “Snippets”