Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Future at Mid-Century

                                       1939             1941          1943        1944        1945

My father, Jack Hicks Hopper, stands behind Susan and his pack of sons, my brothers.
Each birth year is under the child.
Since they are still wearing the matching clamdiggers
Mom made for the trip west in the summer of 1947, this
might be autumn 1947 or summer of 1948. 
Robert looks enough older for it to be 1948.
I think the location is in our back yard in Scotia, NY, at 316 First St.

Last night my brother (1944 in the photo above)
asked me how I can remember all this stuff. 
Of course, I was older than he then--that's the main thing!

But I have been reading Mary Karr's new book,
The Art of Memoir;
Here's a snippet:

"So a single image can split open the hard seed of the past, and soon memory pours forth from every direction, sprouting its vines and flowers up around you until the old garden's taken shape in all its fragrant glory. Almost unbelievable how much can rush forward to fill an absolute blankness."

Mary Karr, The Art of Memoir, Harper, 2015, Kindle location 351
(Like all of Mary Karr's books, this one is a doozy!)
Another brother (Robert, 1945) who died in 1997, is responsible
for the name of this blog. When he wa very ill, he wrote some short memoirs. He said you just began to pull a little "piece of string" and the memories came forth, one by one, or in cascades.

        And the photographs, like the one above, really help!

Monday, October 12, 2015

All the places we live

In trying to date this photograph in which I am holding my brother, Richard,
it is helpful to know that he was born during World War II, on May 8, 1943.
Since there is what we in the haiku world call "remaining snow" on the ground,
this is probably toward the end of winter in early 1944. We are dressed for church. 
John squints in the winter sunlight; he is wearing a Sunday coat
that was probably made by my mother, likely from the mill ends she got from
a woolen mill in nearby Vermont. Susan is wearing pigtails; I have graduated
from braids to hair tied back in bows with a classic center part.
Susan is also wearing a woolen coat and seems to be holding a small purse.
My coat has perhaps been cut down from a camel's hair coat 
that I remember my mother wearing. It had a nice, strokable, nap.

The house you can see behind us is 312 First Street, Scotia, New York.
In the 1940 census, recently released, the rental for this flat is listed as $35 per month.
We rented the first floor there until recently; now we have moved next door to 316,
which my parents just bought for $6000. Our friends were aghast:
how would we ever be able to pay off such an immense sum?
The river-rock retaining wall that we later removed (and which--according
to Google Earth--has since been replaced) is partly visible behind us in this photo.
The house has two stories, plus a basement and an attic, 
316 sits on four city lots (my father will grow an immense and productive 
vegetable garden there) and includes a garage and (on Second Street) 
a row of rental garages. garage rent is $5 per month.
Part of the second floor is a flat we can rent;
they have their own front door which opens onto the staircase
which we can also access to get to the attic.
It's a practical arrangement.
For awhile, while my Uncle Merwin Butler is on Okinawa,
Aunt Wilma stays there with cousin Barbara Lee Butler, who is Richard's age.
Aunt Wilma is beautiful, smokes many cigarettes, and wears very red lipstick.
I think she is just about the most beautiful woman in the world.
She is nice, too. 
We had a good life in that house and sold it for $12,000 in 1950
when we bought The Farm for $11,400.
Most of my childhood was spent on First Street, when we
moved to the farm, I was about to turn fifteen.
And then I had to take the bus to school. . .

Here is a little poem about householding by Ted Kooser.


All through the night, the leaky faucet
searches the stillness of the house
with its radar blip: who is awake?
Who lies out there as full of worry
as a pan in the sink? Cheer up, 
cheer up, the little faucet calls,
someone will help you through your life.

Ted Kooser

Sure Signs; new and collected poems,
Pitt Poetry Series, 1980

Now lets write a poem in the voice 
of a common household item!
One, two, three, go!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Annual Reunion

On Saturday, a pack of English students and faculty from the 1970s were hosted 
by the same dear person who manages, with her tolerant husband,  
to arrange and host this party every year. 
People had a very good time--
 as you can see by the demeanor of the above attendee and popular author. 

Just the day before, I had gotten such interesting unposed photographs of people
at Stanford's Anderson Collection that I was expecting to do the same here. 
But it was such a lively event, and the lighting was very different from museum light. 
People were having so much fun (and so many intense conversations)
that almost always when I pressed the button, their eyes were closed, 
or their faces were distorted by laughter and talking, or their heads 
were in an awkward position caused by laughter and talking, 
that I dare not reveal most of them here.
You will just have to trust me; it was a GREAT party!!
It lasted from midafternoon until bedtime. . .

To attend this special event, I left the tanka workshop early
and missed the writing and sharing at the end.

Tanka is a short form based on Japanese and Chinese poetic tradition.

One of the examples in the marvelous resource and workbook 
that Joan Zimmerman made for us was this one:

the sky drizzles gray
and tule fog settles in the valley's
every crevice
just a little out of focus
my last picture of you

Beverly A.Momoi
Simply Haiku; Simply Tanka, 2011.

Pay special attention to the sound in "every crevice"
and other aspects of repeated sounds in this poem;
because a five-line poem is quite short,
every small effect like this is quite valuable.

Of Their Own Accord

I am still thinking about the contrast between live people and quiescent art in museums. 
Here is another example from our visit to the Anderson Collection at Stanford yesterday.

I have recently become very interested in a poet new to me, Jean Pedrick.
I'll tell you more about this soon. The one below is from her chapbook,
The Gaudy Book.. Each poem in this book has an epigraph
from Dorothy Sayer's book, Gaudy Night; in this case the epigraph
seems part of the larger structure, and confusing outside the context of the book, 
 so I am not including it here.


Making the kind of bower I needed
once for a one-armed doll and a lumped
clown and a blue-eyed bear
I crushed some fragile things my grandma
cherished under the shrubs.
She asked had I trampled her Blumchens.
I said I did not trample.
I have not told a lie since, willingly.

                  But a vow, a covenant, broken
                  is a lie? But if it has gone
                  from the inside breaking like reeds
                  it is not a lie, only a death?

I built a bower. I do not trample.
Blumchens come up again of their own accord.

Jean Pedrick

The Gaudy Book, Juniper Press, La Crosse, WI, 1979, n.p.

Friday, October 09, 2015

For the love of art

I went with two fine friends to the Anderson Collection at Stanford University this afternoon.
The Andersons collected work by all the big mid-century names in American painting. 
For many years the family displayed these works on every available surface in their home. 
Their gift of their collection to Stanford required a special building to display it properly. 
It is a lovely building and shows off the art to great advantage.
The approach to the second floor galleries was a beautiful wide staircase
with steps with very low risers that made it easy to climb,
The rooms are spacious, beautifully lit by both natural and artificial light.
The art is good, but I also found that these open spaces and neutral floors
set off the visitors, such as these children, to good advantage.

Some of the paintings, such as the ones by Mark Tobey
and Agnes Martin, had very complicated and worked-over surfaces.
Others, like the one above and also like some poems, seemed joyous and free
and looked as if rapid execution contributed to their charm.

How things look is also very important in daily life;
here is a haiku by my teacher, Kiyoko Tokutomi;

I wash it by hand
to have a white dish towel--
beginning of summer

Kiyoko Tokutomi

The Open Sky, Yuki Teikei Haiku Society, page 20.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Not all pumpkins are orange

Seen yesterday at Capitola Produce. Unaltered digital photo.


Did he describe the blue stripe again
unelected governor?
And from trees to hospitals, one story
perfectly formed suddenly entered into eternal rest.

They won't have any additional
waves around the hotel,
who won't have been here long enough
because somebody got the idea,
nor would a duck deal with holiday baking and the like.

John Ashbery              THE PARIS REVIEW  208, page 132.          (born July 28, 1927)

 Not all pumpkins are orange; not all poems are useful or even very interesting, except for the wonderment factor. But now you can try to write new poems. My suggested titles are:

The Blue Stripe
Holiday Baking and the Like
A Duck Deal
Additional Waves
One Story Perfectly Formed
Long Enough

I will try this. Send me your poems if you do.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Catching the light

Each autumn we have another chance to experience the beauty of the tassels
of the corn plant. Today, friends drove me south to join a sketching group;
the meeting this month was at Capitola Produce
and we sketched in and around their Pumpkin Patch
which featured an antique rusty truck.
The light was very (almost TOO) bright
but spotlit these dry tassels perfectly.

Sometimes, when we have driven across the country in autumn,
I have been struck by the expansive beauty of fields of dry standing corn.
And sometimes we have been lucky enough to be passing when the harvesting
machines are pouring the prodigious golden harvest into waiting trucks. 

It is interesting to think about corn, where it came from,
the religious rituals it inspired--
how it developed different strains, and now how now it is being
genetically modified to resist the killing pesticides.
But none of this affects the beauty of the tassels in sunlight. . .

The Corn-Stalk Fiddle

When the corn’s all cut and the bright stalks shine
Like the burnished spears of a field of gold;
When the field-mice rich on the nubbins dine,
And the frost comes white and the wind blows cold;
Then its heigho fellows and hi-diddle-diddle,
For the time is ripe for the corn-stalk fiddle.

And you take a stalk that is straight and long,
With an expert eye to its worthy points,
And you think of the bubbling strains of song
That are bound between its pithy joints—
Then you cut out strings, with a bridge in the middle,
With a corn-stalk bow for a corn-stalk fiddle.

Then the strains that grow as you draw the bow
O’er the yielding strings with a practiced hand!
And the music’s flow never loud but low
Is the concert note of a fairy band.
Oh, your dainty songs are a misty riddle
To the simple sweets of the corn-stalk fiddle.

When the eve comes on and our work is done
And the sun drops down with a tender glance,
With their hearts all prime for the harmless fun,
Come the neighbor girls for the evening’s dance,
And they wait for the well-known twist and twiddle,
More time than tune—from the corn-stalk fiddle.

Then brother Jabez takes the bow,
While Ned stands off with Susan Bland,
Then Henry stops by Milly Snow
And John takes Nellie Jones’s hand,
While I pair off with Mandy Biddle,
And scrape, scrape, scrape goes the corn-stalk fiddle.

“Salute your partners,” comes the call,
“All join hands and circle round,”
“Grand train back,” and “Balance all,”
Footsteps lightly spurn the ground,
“Take your lady and balance down the middle”
To the merry strains of the corn-stalk fiddle.

So the night goes on and the dance is o’er,
And the merry girls are homeward gone,
But I see it all in my sleep once more,
And I dream till the very break of dawn
Of an impish dance on a red-hot griddle
To the screech and scrape of a corn-stalk fiddle.

Paul Laurence Dunbar  (1872-1906)

African-American Poetry of the Nineteenth Century: 
An Anthology, University of Illinois Press, 1992

Paul Laurence Dunbar, was a very talented poet, dramatist and writer who was born of parents who had been enslaved before the Civil War. He died quite young (of tuberculosis) early in the year in which my own father was born. You can see from this poem his mastery of a traditional tetrameter, rhyming and metrical, six-line stanza form. His more popular works were those he wrote in Negro dialect, but later scholars have been interested in his works written in more conventional English. He also wrote the lyrics for a very successful work which appeared here and in Europe.

But "Mandy Biddle" is, I think, a little too easy of an out. . .