Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Problem of Describing Color

Snow fell on Kentucky last night. This morning, I looked out the bedroom window and saw a cardinal perched in the apple tree. There is always one or two in the winter; but the small blot of color against all the white seemed especially beautiful. It reminded me of this poem by Robert Hass which begins with a similar observation.


If I said - remembering in summer,
The cardinal’s sudden smudge of red
In the bare gray winter woods -

If I said, red ribbon on the cocked straw hat
Of the girl with pooched-out lips
Dangling a wiry lapdog
In the painting by Renoir -

If I said fire, if I said blood welling from a cut -

Or flecks of poppy in the tar-grass scented summer air
On a wind-struck hillside outside Fano -

If I said, her one red earring tugging at her silky lobe,

If she tells fortunes with a deck of falling leaves
Until it comes out right -

Rouged nipple, mouth -

(How could you not love a woman
Who cheats at Tarot?)

Red, I said. Sudden, red.

Happy Reading,


**** UPDATE 2/2

The snow that fell last Monday night turned into ice and freezing rain Tuesday and Wednesday causing significant damage, and leaving 700,000 in the dark statewide. My cardinal began to seem more and more trival as the week went on. Today, my thoughts turn to my fellow Kentuckians who are without power and/or stranded at home. Hang in there!


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Puking and Mewling

Last Wednesday, my husband, son and I welcomed a new daughter into our family. Esphyr Dorothea was born at home on January 14th. So far she is a very happy girl. My course of reading, as you may expect, has been derailed. So I promise to give you my final word on Dance Dance Revolution next time around. For now, a celebratory poem:

To P.J. (2 yrs. old who sed write a poem for me in Portland, Oregon)

if i cud ever write a
poem as beautiful as u
little 2/yr/old/brotha,
i wud laugh, jump, leap
up and touch the stars
cuz u be the poem i try for
each time i pick up a pen and paper.
u. and Morani and Mungu
be our blue/blk/stars that
will shine on our lives and
make us finally BE.
if i cud ever write a poem as beautiful
as u, little 2/yr/old/brotha,
poetry wud go out of bizness.

-- Sonia Sanchez

So that is all for now. Except: speaking of celebratory, how about that inaugural poem today? I liked the line about love being the mightiest word.

Happy everything,

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Prevalence of Custom (Continued Discussion of Anne Finch)

Good Morning Readers,

What follows is a continuation of my discussion of Anne Finch. See post from Monday, Dec. 8.

A humorous, narrative poem written in Heroic Couplets, “The Prevalence of Custom” describes a wife’s attempt to break her husband’s drinking habit. Finding her husband unconscious after a night of drinking, she transports his bed to a “vault,” dresses herself in black clothing, and prepares a meal. When the husband wakes and does not recognize his wife or his surroundings, he questions her. The wife tells him he is dead and buried, that what he smells is the quick decay of bodies (brought on by their consumption of liquor) and it is her job to provide food for him. With this knowledge, the husband asks for a drink.

If “The Prevalence of Custom” and “Glass” are any evidence, it seems Finch had some contact with men who were prone to excessive drinking. The poem is much more playful than what I’ve read of her work so far; still, it demonstrates a particular effect of her work with the heroic couplet. As satire, it questions and undermines the preexisting and traditional use of the couplet by applying it to such a gaudy and degraded subject. Furthermore, its comical and degrading representation of men, by comparison, elevates women by demonstrating the wife’s moderation (or abstinence), persistence, and cleverness.

The Prevalence of Custom

A Female, to a Drunkard marry'd,
When all her other Arts miscarry'd,
Had yet one Stratagem to prove him,
And from good Fellowship remove him;
Finding him overcome with Tipple,
And weak, as Infant at the Nipple,
She to a Vault transports the Lumber,
And there expects his breaking Slumber.
A Table she with Meat provided,
And rob'd in Black, stood just beside it;
Seen only, by one glim'ring Taper,
That blewly burnt thro' misty Vapor.
At length he wakes, his Wine digested,
And of her Phantomship requested,
To learn the Name of that close Dwelling,
And what offends his Sight and Smelling;

[Page 23]

And of what Land she was the Creature,
With outspread Hair, and ghastly Feature?
Mortal, quoth she, (to Darkness hurry'd)
Know, that thou art both Dead and Bury'd;
Convey'd, last Night, from noisie Tavern,
To this thy still, and dreary Cavern.
What strikes thy Nose, springs from the Shatters
Of Bodies kill'd with Cordial Waters,
Stronger than other Scents and quicker,
As urg'd by more spirituous Liquor.
My self attend on the Deceas'd,
When all their Earthly Train's releas'd;
And in this Place of endless Quiet,
My Bus'ness is, to find them Diet;
To shew all sorts of Meats, and Salades,
Till I'm acquainted with their Palates;
But that once known, then less suffices.
Quoth he (and on his Crupper rises)
Thou Guardian of these lower Regions,
Thou Providor for countless Legions,

[Page 24]

Thou dark, but charitable Crony,
Far kinder than my Tisiphony,
Who of our Victuals thus art Thinking,
If thou hast Care too of our Drinking,
A Bumper fetch: Quoth she, a Halter,
Since nothing less thy Tone can alter,
Or break this Habit thou'st been getting,
To keep thy Throat in constant wetting.

Source: UPenn

Happy Reading,


Wednesday, January 7, 2009

In-view: Dance Dance Revolution

Apologies for the lateness of this post, first of all. Life distracts, and the reading has been slow going. I confess I had a resistance to returning to this book (Dance Dance Revolution, that is). The tour guide's voice, while intriguing, is off-putting, part huckster, part trickster coyote. While this unsettling presence is obviously by design, it prevented me from wanting to dive back into the book. I did, however, return to the book and found it rewarding. I have just finished the second section, "Stirrings of Childhood that Begin With," and discovered what Adrienne Rich called the "historical consciousness" in this collection to be especially striking. The historian's annotations and memoir passages helped to ground this reader, providing a welcome relief from the tour guide's spiels.

This section also seemed to take on language itself more directly. The tour guide begins to speak of her family as in "The Lineage of Yes-Men," and to also distinguish herself from them: "...He like mine grandfather yessed y yessed, nodded/ til no lift him fes up. In his deathbed... sayim to me,/ Ttallim, you say no, no, no, you say only no..." This assertion of the negative, particularly in regards to one's family and language, seems an important part of what occurs when a culture is stretched between wars, revolutions, the gap of global society. This father may be no different from other fathers who want better for their children, but we learn from the Historian's footnote that the guide's grandfather was a pro-Japanese collaborator during Japan's colonization of Korea and trained as one of the "butchers" who murdered Korean nationalists. Under such circumstances, the difference between uttering "yes" or "no" widens to worlds apart.

"The Importance of Being English" follows immediately, in which the guide begins to quote long passages of very "correct" English. She turns the Historian's (and our) attention to the role of the English language in a globalized society. In this case, it is the role of the conqueror, the occupier, as seen in the recollections of her elders. Sounds eerily familiar. The poem ends: "...You can't chisel, con, plead,/ seduce, beg for your life, you can't do anything, because you/ know not their language. So learn them all." The tour guide is again quoting, but also subtly listing the uses of language as she perceives them.

Directly after that, the Historian includes an excerpt from her memoir in which she describes an incident with her own father. The excerpts are written in prose in the form of what could be called lyric essays. This particular one (page 47) focuses on a single moment in which the father, whose rotten teeth were capped, begs his daughter to use a Water Pik at least three times a day. The moment is rendered starkly, and its emotional impact is all the stronger for the lack of elaboration.

This is a fascinating book in almost every way: structure, subject, style, characters. I look forward to reading and reporting on the rest.

-- Jill