Saturday, October 31, 2015

English Teachers, English Words

At a long-ago event in the Redwood Forest, 
where banana slugs were vigorously munching on dichondra sod 
that had been laid especially for a wedding, 
these three English teachers and friends of ours posed for my good camera.
They know who they are, I will not name them now. . . .


Silent Poem

backroad   leafmold   stonewall   chipmunk
underbrush   grapevine   woodchuck   shadblow

woodsmoke   cowbarn   honeysuckle   woodpile
sawhorse   bucksaw   outhouse   wellsweep

backdoor   flagstone   bulkhead   buttermilk
candlestick   ragrug   firedog   brownbread

hill top   outcrop   cowbell   buttercup
whetstone   thunderstorm   pitchfork   steeplebush

gristmill   millstone  cornmeal   waterwheel
watercress   buckwheat   firefly   jewelweed

gravestone   groundpine   windbreak   bedrock
weathercock   snowfall   starlight   cockcrow

Robert Francis     (1901-1987)

Robert Francis; Collected Poems 1936-1976,
University of Massachusetts Press, 1976, page 240.

I often mention that I love compound words. Imagine then my joy when I found this poem---in a used book that had been thrown away by the Chicago Public Library. Perhaps Robert Francis is most famous now for never having even been as famous as he probably deserved to be. He was mentioned approvingly in something (I have forgotten where or what) I read recently, so I got this book of his life's work. His other book is prose, apparently, about not having been famous, or even all that much noticed. Two books, I love this poem, the mostly rural sweep of it! Two of these words, shadblow and jewelweed, have enough meaning for me that I could write a blog post on each one. And probably will! Most of the compound words in this poem have two syllables, a few have three and only one is four syllables in length. And I think we should make more of them when writing poetry,
I want also to recommend again a small book of Mark Strands, Chicken, Shadow, Moon and More, which I discuss in this blog post. Strand uses the each small word over and over to create wonderful poems.

Friday, October 30, 2015

In The Land of Crinoline

Here I am hanging out with the shorter side of the family.
Left to Right: My mother, Olga Butler Hopper, her mother, Susie Redd Butler, 
my aunt, Marita Butler Brimhall, myself: The Bride, twin cousin, Mocella Brimhall,
cousin Marilym Brimhall not in a good mood, twin cousin Marita Brimhall.
This was taken the day of my wedding, June 21, 1955, or perhaps the day before.
I am wearing one of my favorite dresses with more expensive fabric than I usually used.
It was a modern cityscape print in browns and tans with touches 
of bright peach and turquoise. Fitted bodice, full flared skirt. 
No crinolines; Marilyn was horrified and loaned me a slip for under my wedding dress.
I had remembered I made this dress after I married; I know I bought the fabric at my favorite
fabric store in Provo, Utah (a woman names Crilla worked there, but that is another story) 
and I was only at BYU for that school year, so I must have made it then. 
I wore it for years and years, and still wish I had kept a piece of the fabric.
When she learned I had not planned a reception 
(I had always planned to get my PhD. before even thinking about marriage!)
Aunt Marita stepped up to the plate and made me an outdoor party
complete with home-made hamburger buns. Lots of family friends came.
My mother bought a cake with a white sugar bell on the top.
This picture was taken on slide film with my mother's Contax camera, 
perhaps by my father. It was underexposed, but I have lilghtened it.


CROSSROADS


My body, now that we will not be traveling together much longer
I begin to feel a new tenderness toward you, very raw and                                                                                                          unfamiliar,
like what I remember of love when I was young---

love that was so often foolish in its objectives
but never in its choices, its intensities.
Too much demanded in advance, too  much that could not be
                                                                                         promised---

My soul has been so fearful, so violent: 
forgive its brutality.
As though it were that soul, my hand moves over you cautiously,

not wishing to give offense
but eager, finally, to achieve expression as substance:

it is not the earth I will miss,
it is you I will miss.


Louise Gluck
A Village Life, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009, page 62.
   
One critic has called this poem perhaps the most moving in this moving volume of poems. 
In three three-line stanzas and two two line stanzas, the ideas are beautifully expressed.
It is worth it to read the whole book! This is what I recommend! It is not a terribly long book
and is work by a poet who has mastered the lyric peom.  jhh

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Milk and Eggs

Today, I was backing up and transferring many generations of digital photos, and I found an old photo disk with these pictures on it. They were in a strange format, but I was glad to be able to convert them. I don't know if this is when my daughter still had her cow, Anna, or whether this is goat's milk. My grandson is 28 now, so this was more than 15 years ago.


BENEDICTION

God banish from your house
The fly, the roach, the mouse

That riots in the walls
Until the plaster falls;

Admonish from your door
The hypocrite and liar;

No shy, soft, tigrish fear
Permit upon your stair,

Nor agents of your doubt.
God drive them whistling out.

Let nothing touched with evil,
Let nothing that can shrivel

Heart's tenderest frond, intrude
Upon your still, deep blood.

Against the drip of night
God keep all windows tight,

Protect your mirrors from
Surprise, delirium,

Admit no trailing wind
Into your shuttered mind

To plume the lake of sleep
With dreams. If you must weep

God give you tears, but leave
You secrecy to grieve,

And islands for your pride,
And love to nest in your side.


God grant that, to the bone,
Yourself may be your own;

God grant that I may be
(My sweet) sweet company.

Stanley Kunitz       (1905-2006)


The Voice That Is Great Within Us; 
American Poetry of the Twentieth Century
edited by Hayden Carruth, Bantam, 1970, pages 259-260.

Stanley is of the generation of my parents, who were born in 1906 and 1907, but he lasted until the age of 100, which they did not. He taught many generations of young poets and also had an illustrious career creating reference books about Contemporary Authors. We used to just say, "Have you looked in Kunitz?" when I worked in the library.

This is a gentle poem in rhyming tetrameter couplets. Constructed, not a bit careless. I like to look up the poems I find and see who else has cited them. I was interested that when Garrison Keillor read this poem on the radio, he omitted the last four lines. (At least they are missing from the transcript.) It is a different poem when this is done.  I like it Garrison's way, not so obviously a love poem. Which way do you prefer?


These eggs were the only other picture on this disk. My daughter always
had chickens that laid green and brown eggs in addition to the classic white.
She is gradually retiring from chicken-keeping now, because the winters are 
so harsh, and chickens must be attended to every day. 
I think she said she is down to three chickens.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Double-Breasted Suit

 
 I promised my brother, David, I would post this photo. He is the lad on the right.
He is about to leave now for an LDS Service Mission to the Philippines, and
might have to miss my blog which he claims to be too busy to read in any case.
This picture was cropped from one of those Brownie Reflex square black-and-whites.

Mostly my Dad wore single-breasted suits, I don't remember this one. But Wikipedia
says that double-breasted suits were in fashion in the Forties and Fifties, helped to that
position by the discomfort of the new baggier waistcoat/vest that rode up when one
sat down. These boys were born in 1944 (David) and 1945 (Robert, left) which
is just about at the height of this suit's popularity. Notice that David has a double-breasted
coat, while Robert's is single-breasted. Again, these coats were likely made by my mother
from mill ends from a Vermont textile outlet. I think they might be camel-colored.
The caps are a nice touch. . .

Robert, at right, is the only one of my siblings that is no longer living. 
We all miss him terribly; he had such a sweet spirit and understanding heart.
I think my Dad really loved having these boys and the two older sons;
I remember he usually asked math and geography questions of them
at the dinner table. He worked all his life for General Electric, 
and thought it was the finest company ever created. 
I have always been proud to be his daughter.



LOVE CALLS US TO THE THINGS OF THIS WORLD 

The eyes open to a cry of pulleys,
And spirited from sleep, the astounded soul
Hangs for a moment bodiless and simple
As false dawn.
                        Outside the open window
The morning air is all awash with angels.

   Some are in bed-sheets, some are in blouses,
Some are in smocks: but truly there they are.
Now they are rising together in calm swells
Of halcyon feeling, filling whatever they wear
With the deep joy of their impersonal breathing;

   Now they are flying in place, conveying
The terrible speed of their omnipresence, moving
And staying like white water; and now of a sudden
They swoon down into so rapt a quiet
That nobody seems to be there.

                                                   The soul shrinks

   From all that it is about to remember,
From the punctual rape of every bless├Ęd day,
And cries,
                “Oh, let there be nothing on earth but laundry,
Nothing but rosy hands in the rising steam
And clear dances done in the sight of heaven.”

   Yet, as the sun acknowledges
With a warm look the world’s hunks and colors,
The soul descends once more in bitter love
To accept the waking body, saying now
In a changed voice as the man yawns and rises,


   “Bring them down from their ruddy gallows;
Let there be clean linen for the backs of thieves;
Let lovers go fresh and sweet to be undone,
And the heaviest nuns walk in a pure floating
Of dark habits,
                         keeping their difficult balance.”


Richard Wilbur          (1921--


The Voice That Is Great Within Us; 
American Poetry of the Twentieth Century
edited by Hayden Carruth, Bantam, 1970, pages 484-485.

"Their difficult balance" isn't that just beautiful??
Richard Wilbur is an excellent poet, who has received many awards for his work. Read this poem out loud for the beauty of the language. And notice the subtle shifts of the arrangement of the lines on the page.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Requiem: David Dickens

I wish I had a good picture of David Dickens.
This is a better picture of his wife, Deborah, than of David, 
but I never thought to take any of him.
I borrowed this from his Facebook page.
I have talked about him on this blog before,
but I didn't use his name, 
I called him "the man who knew how to do everything."
I think here they are enjoying a night on the town, with friends.

Several times on this blog I have mentioned someone who has helped us with his handyman skills many times over the past several years. Here is a link to one post in which I listed some of the things he did for us.  I had an email from him on August 8, saying he would check the house before we got back for us. Then I heard nothing else. We left to come back on September 8th, and spent a few days with our grandchildren in Plumas County. When we got back I still hadn't heard from him. My email telling him when we would be back was never answered. Then I looked for his daughter's Facebook page and found a notice that he had died on September 2nd. I don't know what the cause was, but pray that he was never in too much pain. Even though he had been through a serious illness, deep down I always expected him to help me with things like the replacement of the icemaker on our old refrigerator. This and that might now never get fixed or improved, He installed or repaired toilets and rewired lamps, too. There seemed to be nothing he couldn't do. Rest in peace, dear friend.

We first met him when the termite inspector said we needed some work done on dry rot on the eaves. He recommended David to us and he fixed it. Thus our history of his fixing began. We have lived in this house since 1967, so this and that often that needs fixing. In addition to all the repair and remodeling described in this post, there was the event of the roof rat invasion. On one of our seasons in Michigan, roof rats took advantage of a small break in the wire mesh that covered a ventilation hole in the side of the garage. During our absence, they chewed through and ate 1)two small covered plastic garbage cans full of dog food, 2) the bottoms of three other empty cans and several other plastic containers, 3) the 1 1/2 inch diameter inflow and outflow hoses for the water softener 4) large portions of a small clear drainage hose from the furnace/air-conditioner that ran all across the ceiling, 5) about a three-foot section of the plastic gasket that runs along the bottom of the garage door. And much much more! Of course, there was also some water leakage. It was horrifying. He repaired everything! Some it it was better when he got through than it had been before. And he closed the means of access for the rats--we haven't had any since!!

But enough of all this peculiar history. I started out to write a requiem for the David Dickens I knew.
The one who showed me a dragonfly he had carved from wood for a present. The one who was interested in my plants and who asked for starts of some of my succulents. The one who help me pick out paint colors and selected birch doors with beautiful grain to replace our ugly ones. The one who talked to me about art. The one who hung plants on the deck and pictures indoors for me. The one who sat down and chatted with us after every visit, and told us about his parents and ancestors back east. The one who we saw through his battles with melanoma; we thought he was winning when we left. The one who talked about the deaths of his parents, one at a time. The one who eased Deborah through her losing battle with melanoma. The one who wore his long hair in a knot on the top of his head, held there with a pencil stuck through it, and often stowed under a big hat. The one who brought a big canister to drink from while he worked. The one who talked endlessly about his daughter's wedding. And about his ancestors. He hoped to go back, to family land. The one who fell in love with Margot, the baby granddaughter. The one who loved his cat, Fred, and made a war on gophers in his garden. The one who loved cigars, and created hardwood lighted-cigar stands. There is more, so much more. . .

I'll close with one of the strongest visual images I have of him. It was during the time he removed and replaced our family room/kitchen floor and subflooring. There was termite damage, too, and some studs had to be replaced. There was no light in that room except lamps; all the furniture had been removed to do the work. He was working later than he usually did, on his hands and knees by the light of a table lamp he had set upon the floor near him. His hair had fallen loose, as it rarely did. It caught the light from the lamp and surrounded him with a golden, light-filled halo, like one of those portraits of Jesus. He looked up as I came down the stairs and smiled, a beautiful smile! I want to remember it always.

Rest in peace, gentle friend, June Hopper Hymas


PS. His daughter just shared with with me this very recent photo of him with his granddaughter, who is wearing his hat.



Monday, October 26, 2015

Benediction

As soon as I saw this picture, I called it "Benediction."
I wasn't in Utah on this visit and could not have taken it, but someone sent it to me.
I don't know who took this photo of
 my two sisters and my youngest brother, Robert, with our mother.
Robert died in 1997 and Mom in 2002, but Marjory and Susan are still going strong.
Robert liked poetry and understood my poems, which was a wonderful thing!


DUCK-CHASING

I spied a very small brown duck
Riding the swells of the sea
Like a rocking-chair. "Little duck!"
I cried. It paddled away,
I paddled after it. When it dived,
Down I dived: too smoky was the sea,
We were lost. It surfaced
In the west, I torpedoed west
And when it dived, I dived,
And we were lost and lost and lost
In the slant smoke of the sea.
When I came floating up on it
From the side, like a deadman,
And yelled suddenly, it took off,
It skimmed the swells as it ascended,
Brown wings burning and flashing
In the sun as the sea it rose over
Burned and flashed underneath it.
I did not see the little duck again.
Duck-chasing is a game like any game.
When it is over it is all over.

Galway Kinnell
(1927-2014)

The Voice That Is Great Within Us; 
American Poetry of the Twentieth Century
edited by Hayden Carruth, Bantam, 1970, pages 599.

I think these are my favorite lines in the poem, but I also like " lost and lost and lost"
Brown wings burning and flashing
In the sun as the sea it rose over
Burned and flashed underneath it.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Within the care of the season

Suddenly there are pumpkins wherever you look!


GREEN   RED   BROWN   AND   WHITE

Bit an apple on its red
side        smelled like snow
Between white halves broken open
brown winks slept in sockets of green

Stroked a birch white as a thigh
scar-flecked smooth as a neck
of a horse          On mossy pallets green
the pines dripped down
their perfect carvings brown

Lost in the hairy wood
followed berries red
to the fork         Had to choose
between green and green        High

In a sunwhite dome a brown bird
sneezed         Took the path least likely
and it led me home         For

each path leads both out and in
I come while going      No to and from
There is only here       And here
as well as there          Wherever
I am led I move within the care
of the season
hidden in the creases of her skirts
of green or brown or beaded red

And when they are white
I am not lost        I am not lost then
only covered for the night

May Swenson
(1913-1989)


The Voice That Is Great Within Us; 
American Poetry of the Twentieth Century
edited by Hayden Carruth, Bantam, 1970, page 481.


May Swenson, born in Logan, Utah, was the oldest of 10 children.
She grew up in a household where Swedish was the home language. She had a long and well-regarded poetry career, and did translate poetry from Swedish as part of it.

This poem has irregular stanzas, interesting spaces within the lines,
and no puncuation! It also has a bird sneezing. Good night. . .

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Red in Red and Lucifer

Here is another slice of our visit to the Anderson Collection 
in the new building at Stanford University.
Shown are "Red In Red" by Sam Francis and "Lucifer" by Jackson Pollock.
I saw so many paintings by famous names
it quite made me giddy. I am afraid I still prefer Van Gogh, Cezanne . . .
But I did like the way the red in this priestly robe blended
with the reds in the San Francis painting.
And then there is the idea of Lucifer and red . . . . .



FAIR AND UNFAIR

The beautiful is fair and the just is fair.
Yet one is commonplace and one is rare,
One everywhere, one scarcely anywhere.

So fair unfair a world. Had we the wit
To use the surplus for the deficit.
We'd make a fairer world of it.

Robert Francis
          (1901-1987)

The Voice That Is Great Within Us; 
American Poetry of the Twentieth Century
edited by Hayden Carruth, Bantam, 1970, pages 235.




.

Friday, October 23, 2015

With drums and with kettle-drums


From my mother's photo archive, a lament. . .
I probably should mention that our family's photographic record was large, 
jumbled, mostly unlabeled and not always of the best quality. 
An example is this mysterious, cracked and broken square black-and-white taken 
in a mysterious underground space. Note the ceiling beams and the bare lightbulb--
which are decor characteristics of cellar rec(reation) rooms in the 1950s.
The chairs say JAMES on the back; they were often borrowed
for special events from the James Funeral Home.
I can see my two sisters and my four brothers at slightly older ages than 
they were in 1953, when I went to faraway Arizona for college.
(Out of state tuition, entire academic year, University of Arizona, 1953, $300!)
So I am dating this event later, perhaps Christmas of 1956 or 1957.
Because the boys are dressed in Sunday-like clothes, it might be
a church event. I am thinking, though, because I see Carl Kaestle
(not a member of our church, the shorter boy in bright white shirt)
that this is likely the basement of our friends, the Paul Kaestles,
who had a Christmas Eve party every year. 
It looks like the children may soon be fed here.
Susan's teen-aged head is in front of the large white rectangle
on the right, with David at the edge of the photo next to her.
John (light shirt, dark pants) is the taller boy next to Carl Kaestle.
Baby sister Marjory Ann is at the far left under the crease in the photo.
Robert and then Richard are next to her and in front of three people
I have not yet identified.
So, Susan, David, John, can you help me here?
Does anyone remember this party??


Tonight's poem is also about the passage of time and long-ago events. 
It was written by Ezra Pound from notes and translations
given to him by Ernest Fennelossa's widow.
It was in Japanese characters based on the Chinese original,
so like an old, forgotten photo, it may only have incorrect echoes of the past
but Pound made something beautiful of it.


Lament of the Frontier Guard

By the North Gate, the wind blows full of sand,
Lonely from the beginning of time until now!
Trees fall, the grass goes yellow with autumn.
I climb the towers and towers
to watch out the barbarous land:
Desolate castle, the sky, the wide desert.
There is no wall left to this village.
Bones white with a thousand frosts,
High heaps, covered with trees and grass;
Who brought this to pass?
Who has brought the flaming imperial anger?
Who has brought the army with drums and with kettle-drums?
Barbarous kings.
A gracious spring, turned to blood-ravenous autumn,
A turmoil of wars-men, spread over the middle kingdom,
Three hundred and sixty thousand,
And sorrow, sorrow like rain.
Sorrow to go, and sorrow, sorrow returning,
Desolate, desolate fields,
And no children of warfare upon them,
No longer the men for offence and defence.
Ah, how shall you know the dreary sorrow at the North Gate,
With Rihoku’s name forgotten,
And we guardsmen fed to the tigers.


Ezra Pound 
Cathay, 1915) from the Chinese of Li Po

“Rihoku” is the Japanese version of a Chinese name, Li Mu, a general who defended 
the Chinese state of Zhao during the Warring States period in the 3rd century B.C.

The Voice That Is Great Within Us; 
American Poetry of the Twentieth Century
edited by Hayden Carruth, Bantam, 1970, page 83.


Thursday, October 22, 2015

Spare him the leap

This week a tangle in the autumn garden: wild strawberries run amuck,
something called Society Garlic, which you don't eat, either--
and just the tips of Lilies of the Nile, their strap-shaped leaves.
All these things we planted, but they have been left to fend for themselves
while we were gone. I like this tangle, and gave it the Waterlogue treatment.


FALL

Leave the bars lying in the grass
Let all wanderers freely pass
Into the pasture now.

Gone are the fawn-shy heifers, gone
The little calf, almost a fawn
And the black two-year cow.

Leave the bars lying where they are
Let each black-triangled birch bar
Be white and triple warning:

One for all tender things that go,
One for the near and ultimate snow,
One for frost by morning.

In that first snow a frightened deer,
Swifter than snowfall, swift as fear,
May pass here flying, flying.

What if no fence could spoil his speed?
Spare him the leap, spare him one need
Of leaping. Leave the bars lying.

Robert Francis
(1901-1987)

The Voice That Is Great Within Us; 
American Poetry of the Twentieth Century
edited by Hayden Carruth, Bantam, 1970, pages 233-234.

I was not familiar with this poet, until I found this. Now I will be looking into his Selected Poems. This poem in six small stanzas has a gently tricky rhyme scheme, good metrical pulse, and an appealing central idea. And those slender birch trees which can be cut for fence rails ARE "black-triangled." Take a look.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Contemporary Life

Ink has another use! Writing poetry and Chinese Brush Painting 
are two of my favorite uses for ink, but here is another.
*Spotted about San Jose Town on Columbus Day.*
I like the drapey dress, but I was taught to conceal bra straps
(and to use safety pins for control if necessary) and am having trouble
with the new ways, where straps should be coordinated and
actually part of the outfit.


Here is a poem set in a much earlier time!
It is from that wonderful anthology, 
The Voice That is Great Within Us; 
American Poetry of the Twentieth Century;
edited by Hayden Carruth, Bantam, 1970, pages 616-617.

(This anthology only ever seems to have been offered in the mass market paperback edition, which is now sadly yellowed and fast
getting worse. Poets are arranged by birthdate and so is the 
Table of Contents. I can't figure out HOW the tiny-print credits are arranged, or maybe I could tell you which of Merwin's books contain this poem.)


GRANDMOTHER WATCHING AT HER WINDOW

There was always a river or the train
Right past the door, and someone might be gone
Come morning. When I was a child I mind
Being held up at the gate to wave
Goodbye, goodbye to I didn't know who,
Gone to the War and how I cried after.
When I married I did what was right
But I knew even that first night 
That he would go. And so shut my soul tight
Behind my mouth, so he could not steal it
When he went. I brought the children up clean
With my needle, taught them that stealing
Is the worst sin; knew if I loved them
They would be taken away, and did my best
But must have loved them anyway
For they slipped through my fingers like stitches.
Because God loves us always, whatever
We do. You can sit all your life in churches
And teach your hands to clutch when you pray
And never weaken, but God loves you so dearly
Just as you are, that nothing you are can stay,
But all the time you keep going away, away.

W. S. Merwin
(1927-     )

Most of these 22 lines have 10 syllables. with a couple of 8 syllable lines for relief, and a nine syllable line and an eleven-syllable line that does not break the two-syllable word at its end. The speaker is always the grandmother. There are no stanza breaks. There is some interior rhyming, and some end-rhymes, but they are not obtrusive. 

Your task: try to write a poem about this length where the speaker is of another generation 
than your own. Usually use 10-syllable lines, and make it at least sonnet-length (14 lines.)

As always, I would love to see any poems that result from these tasks. I am trying to also do them myself, gradually.


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Overlooking the Golden Gate

It is this lad's birthday today, He has long since 
grown up and moved away from California. 
His own children are nearly grown now.
He is a fine son; all anyone could wish.
This was probably taken about 40 years ago.

This is my grandson, who often reminds me of his father.
This was taken about ten years ago in late afternoon sunlight.

No poem tonight, just these threads of memory.







Monday, October 19, 2015

How the sky is made . . .

I saved this photo I took from the car on our last trip west 
for a year--until I could find a poem to suit it.


How the Sky is Made

We have camped out, eaten, filled ourselves,
Told the best stories we know,

And gotten tired. All of us sleepy,
We douse the fire, and watch as so much of it

Gets up, those sparks and bits and chuffs of smoke:
They suddenly if wearily rise to make the sky,

Go to their second jobs as stars in the night, smoke
Wandering to work as clouds in the horizon of the next day--

We let them go. We ourselves, so weary, get ready
For the hard work of sleep, in which next days are found.

Alberto Rios

A Small Story About The Sky,
Copper Canyon Press, 2015, Page 90.

All right, some camping out, some sleeping, five two-line stanzas, lines that grow longer
and a little bit more sleepy towards the end of the poem. Capital letters
at the beginning of each line. Why is it so pleasing?



Sunday, October 18, 2015

In Cahoots

This is a little slice of autumn in Northern Michigan two years ago at the end of September.
The red maples come on slightly earlier than the sugar maples, at least at our place--
this one is always one of the most beautiful. At this time of year, 
turkeys are often nearly full-grown; but often still wander around 
in groups, perhaps of siblings. Mayne they are in cahoots. . .

In the late 1980s, my friend Paul introduced me to Bill Peters, 
who was teaching English at the College of Marin. 
When Bill found out that I wrote poetry, he kept asking me 
if I had met Kay Ryan, if I had read her poems. 
He asked again every time I saw him.
At this time, I think, only the book,
Elephant Rocks, had been published;
and I had not yet read it.
And then Bill was an early AIDS death
and so I never got to tell him
I finally had read her deceptively simple poems.
Since then, I have wished I had tried a little harder
to meet her; as I watched her win many awards,
a MacArthur genius grant, and be selected as
the US Poet Laureate.

And now she has a new selected poems
and this article in The San Francisco Chronicle.

Which is a fine article and I hope you read the whole thing;
here is the quote they used as a headnote,
which I really like!

“When you read a poem and it communicates 
to you, you feel that you half wrote it. 
You feel part of the making in a way. 
It’s a wonderful thing. You’re in cahoots. 
You’re in cahoots with the writer.”
  
Kay Ryan, interviewed in 
The San Francisco Chronicle

On the Nature of Understanding

Say you hoped to
tame something
wild and stayed
calm and inched up
day by day. Or even
not tame it but
meet it half way.
Things went along.
You made progress,
understanding
it would be a
lengthy process,
sensing changes
in your hair and
nails. So it's 
strange when it 
attacks: you thought
you had a deal.

Kay Ryan

Erratic Facts, Grove Press, 2015
Kindle location 211

When one writes a poem this compact, there is an obligation
to make every part count, and be just about perfect. Here, notice 
the difference between "half way" and "halfway" as one example.



Saturday, October 17, 2015

Cloud-dappled Sky

I took my lunch out into the garden, The only rose still blooming is this one, 
the almost-too-vigorous climber Mermaid. A heritage rose catalog claims
that this was Monet's favorite rose, and the colors certainly resemble 
those bright yellows he used in the rooms where he displayed
his blue-and-white porcelains. This climbing beauty will be cut back severely soon
because the fence must be replaced. It is very vigorous, so I am almost
certain it will survive.
Notice the dried stamens and petals from a prior bloom
at the very bottom of the picture.


An Instruction to Myself

Shepherd the things of the world to the page
But the things themselves    Not just their names
which represent them which are their lawyers
The things of the world themselves   Rouse them
to us as once they roused you so much you cannot
forget or leave or ignore them    Give us this
fitfulness both burden and gift    This glint that
haunts us pushes us into dream    Into the great
prairies the green and gray seas the unbearable
deserts the boundless bird-sky of imagination
This song, this great song    Our hands our fingers
our muscles making translation of every-
thing into its most fragile vessel    Into word

Alberto Rios

A SMALL STORY ABOUT THE SKY
Copper Canyon Press, 2015, on back cover

I was just able to get a copy of Alberto Rios/s new book. He has long been 
one of my favorite poets. And this poem was on the back cover. Notice carefully
the way he almost, but not quite, eschews punctuation. I only see one comma and
one hyphen. And it is an ARS POETICA! In a 13-line poem. 



Friday, October 16, 2015

Autumn begins in the badlands

About ten years ago, I stood at the overlook and thought about erosion
and about Teddy Roosevelt, 
for whom this park is named,
There is a quietness about this place.
No rush, no rush, no rush. Geologic time. . .


Autumn Begins

Autumn begins unnoticed. Nights slowly lengthen.
And little by little, clear winds turn colder and colder,
summer's blazes giving way. My thatch hut grows still.
At the bottom stair, in bunchgrass, lit dew shimmers.

Meng Hao-Jan      (689/691-740)
Tang Dynasty, China

The Mountain Poems of Meng Hao-Jan,
translated by David Hinton, Archipelago, 2004.
Kindle location 130

Meng Hao-Jan stands at the beginning of the great flowering of Tang Dynasty poetry.
There are good articles in Wikipedia on both Meng Hao-Jan and the Tang Dynasty,

I had a good friend who used to write just four lines in her journal every night for many years.

Writing a four-line poem in this manner is an excellent exercise, which was given to me in a poetry seminar many years ago, Note that in the translation above all the lines (except the fourteen-syllable one) are twelve syllables in length. That is a good length to strive for in your exercise. In the translation above, the wonderful description of the light on bunchgrass ends the poem. Strive for a moment like this one to follow more generalized description and explanation in the earlier part of the poem. Because of the short length, this could be a valuable daily exercise. I am going to try one again right now!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Straight Talk

My grandchild demonstrates her fox puppet on our recent visit.

And here is a Mary Oliver fox poem; as many poems do, it discusses death . . . .

Straight Talk From Fox

Listen says fox it is music to run
over the hills to lick
dew from the leaves to nose along
the edges of the ponds to smell the fat
ducks in their bright feathers but
far out, safe in their rafts of
sleep. It is like
music to visit the orchard, to find
the vole sucking the sweet of the apple, or the
rabbit with his fast-beating heart. Death itself
is a music. Nobody has ever come close to
writing it down, awake or in a dream. It cannot
be told. It is flesh and bones
changing shape and with good cause, mercy
is a little child beside such an invention. It is
music to wander the black back roads
outside of town no one awake or wondering
if anything miraculous is ever going to
happen, totally dumb to the fact of every
moment’s miracle. Don’t think I haven’t
peeked into windows. I see you in all your seasons
making love, arguing, talking about God
as if he were an idea instead of the grass,
instead of the stars, the rabbit caught
in one good teeth-whacking hit and brought
home to the den. What I am, and I know it, is
responsible, joyful, thankful. I would not
give my life for a thousand of yours.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

In Another Autumn

When my daughter's two sons were small, we took the family on a trip 
into Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Almost anywhere along the shores
of Lake Michigan, if one just tosses a little bread into the air,
gulls will magically appear!


And, tonight, an autumn haiku from Basho!

This autumn---
why am I growing old?
bird disappearing among clouds.

Basho
translated by Robert Hass

The Essential Haiku; versions of Basho, Buson and Issa,
edited by Robert Hass, Ecco, 1994, page 53.

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.


THE LEAKY FAUCET

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.