Auld Lang Syne

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Baseball and Poetry

Well, let me just say that it is glorious to be living in New England where one can watch baseball nearly every day or night all summer long. Yesterday afternoon my husband said something like "why don't we watch a movie tonight?" and I gave him my one word answer: BASEBALL. Really, honey? A movie when we can watch a hockey game fight break out in Fenway? Good sport that he is, we watched the game. Hubby retired in the 5th inning, sent himself to the showers. I on the other hand stuck it out until the after-game wrap was over. It's like this for me since moving back to Maine in 2006. I love the repartee between Don Orsillo and Jerry Remy, the tarp rolled out on the field during rain delays, the crack of the bat, seeing the Yankees lose in a spectacular fashion, seeing Jacoby Ellsbury's cuteness, watching Papelbon give the batter "the face" when he's set to pitch, the opposing fans fleeing the stands to avoid humiliation, our fans staying until whatever o'clock even if we're not winning, and Big Papi jacking one over the Monster. It just doesn't get any better than this (except for 2 WS wins in my lifetime!)

So how does baseball (btw, the actual word baseball for me always means RED SOX baseball) connect to poetry? You have to ask? It is nuance, tension, some interesting symbols and images, a few colorful words in various meters, and an overall setting where, due to long delays and hitless innings, one can take out a favorite book of poems and READ, or one can whip out a notebook and WRITE. Now now, lest you start thinking I am mocking baseball... I love the game. I would rather watch baseball than anything else on TV. Last night's game was a really exciting one and fulfilled its basic promise to fans everywhere: a fantastic single inning (8 runs in the first) followed by some rain (we did not roll out the tarps), a minor but scary pitcher injury (Beckett ... minor hyper-extension of left knee), and a full-on bench-clearing, bullpen-clearing brawl (8th inning), and a win over the O's 10-3. I did read poetry during the game (innings 5-8) and I did take notes for a new poem (inning 7... hey! its called the 7th inning stretch for crying out loud!).

Let's talk about "the fight." Big Papi gets thrown AT by pitcher Gregg (big snarl, spit-filled sneer to him). Not once but twice did the lug try to take Ortiz out at the gut, but then to add insult to injury he smart-mouthed him when he hit a fly ball that was obviously an out, telling him to run to first insinuating Papi was too lazy to do so... I take umbrage with that but a whole other story....

WELL, as soon as Gregg flings the words at BP, the ump throws the "yer outa da game" signal at Gregg, who doesn't pay attention to it at all, and instead throws a punch at BP who has headed to the mound for a "nice little chat" on etiquette (oh yeah sure! LOL). BP returns the punch and it's on! Both benches, both bullpens empty onto the infield and start the melée in fine fashion. It was a lot like watching hockey (another fav!). Of course we don't quite notice that the guy on 3rd who is waiting to be hit in for a score, also joins in the fray by leaving 3rd. Ha! New idea here.... he "abandoned" 3rd base and is now considered out. We find out about this in the ensuing minutes when the umps get together to decide who is ejected and when the game might resume. Oh dear. Ejected are the pitcher, Gregg (jerk) and BP who were duking it out. Also ejected are Johnson, a relief pitcher from the Orioles, and Saltalamacchia from our bullpen. Salty later said he has no idea why he was picked to eject as "I ran out of the bullpen, ran back to the bullpen, and then I got bounced." Guess the umps needed a couple of sacrificial ousters here. Whatever. The fact of the base runner's being out is announced and we head to the 9th, me on my feet by now waiting for the next fight or some kind of retribution from our guys. Calmly, we get the inning done and everyone goes home. Whew! So I go to bed with a satisfied grin on my face and wake up the hubby to share. He utters an "Oh, wow" and rolls over.

Isn't this just pure poetry? We play these guys again today... stay tuned.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Sleep Your Way to New Poems

It's a funny thing about taking naps and dreaming... one can get ideas for poems. I know many poets who find inspiration in their dreams for poems they get up and write later (or at least they get up and make notes for writing poems later). This happens to me occasionally.

I admit I have a really vivid dream life. I've often wondered if this is a gift of gratitude by the "gods of night" for honoring the fine art of sleeping. Ha, ha! I do love a good long nap, that is for sure. I do not really take those little power naps others seem so adept at taking. When I go down for a nap it is for two hours at a minimum. I wake up groggy if the nap is too short. Faced with the comment about "wasting the day" or "how many years of your life have you slept?" I am quick to say that I am working while sleeping. True. The "stuff of my dreams" is poetry. No, I do not dream poems. But what I do dream is material or ideas, narrative impulses, characters, settings. I dream in color, in detail. I REMEMBER my dreams. I incorporate the material from my dreams into poems. How lucky I am to have this gift of dreaming.

So try keeping a journal next to your bed to record the last dream you have just prior to waking. I don't do this myself as I am so used to the process that I don't need to write anything down to jog my recall. But if you are NEW at mining dream life for poetry, go ahead with the dream notebook. And yes, we ALL dream. Maybe you have to train yourself to recall your dreams, but they are there. So, if you keep a journal of dreams, you might begin to notice a trend of topic, setting, etc. This is very helpful when you sit down to write and think you have nothing about which to write. There, right next to your bed is your material!

Well, time for my nap. See you tomorrow.

Haiku, a grumble and then growth

I used to avoid haiku. Really, I avoided it like some kind of bacterium I didn't want to infect me. Frankly these little three-liners got on my last nerve. Too sappy was my usual comment. They seemed like little emotional bundles I'd rather not read.

I actually went to a haiku workshop of sorts five years ago, given by a man who was supposedly "the" haiku guy in the US, Bob Somebody-or-Other. I bought his book (as one ought to do at a writing event) and listened to his talk about what makes a good haiku. For me it was like listening to someone tell what makes a good chickpea salad (don't get me started on that one!). I came away from the experience convinced that haiku were best left to the Japanese unless Western writers were willing to commit to the NATURE and INTENT of the form. I read and then gave away (donated) Bob's book. I did not want to give it space on my bookshelves.

"Well, WOW," you must be thinking, "How negative!" Guilty as charged. I was indeed negative about this poetic form. I vowed not to write any, keeping my writing time to more "important" kinds of poems. Well, as is the case with any extreme position, I needed to get a grip and figure out what about the haiku might work for me, whether I might indeed come to appreciate (although maybe not actually embrace) these little poems. I needed a bit of an attitude adjustment. That's when (by FATE's ironic turn) I found and bought a book of Japanese death poetry. I bought it because I was fascinated and intrigued, not by the haiku therein, but by the notion that people actually took the time and had the impetus to write a poem as life was slipping away. By the way, this is always a good condition (fascination/ intrigue) for me to be in for buying books that turn out to be gems. I wanted to know more about writing death poems. The trade-off: haiku. It was there and it was good and I needed to revisit my previously dug-in position.

As a result of reading the book, I have a new respect for haiku. I enjoy it in its pure (read pure as Eastern) forms. However I still have a bit of a grumble. My "point of irk," if you can call it that is that many English speakers/writers do not GET the point of a haiku: to make comments on human condition through observance of nature, and to show an element of surprise connection or a volta of sorts in the third line. What I see mostly in English language haiku is simply a thought or observation cut into the 5-7-5 syllable format of three lines. This was not the intent of the form in ancient times. By the way, written in English, it is written in 3 lines, whereas in Japanese it may be a single line. And there are other elements of haiku that are often ignored or changed by Western writers:

  • Rather than counting syllables, the Japanese haiku counts sounds. 
  • Haiku requires a natural setting. It is designed to suggest a single season, however the poet makes that happen. It could be done in a direct manner, using a symbolic word for the season such as ice for winter, blossom or plum or bamboo for spring.
  • Haiku should also have a bridge in the final line or a somewhat vaguely linked thought, a leap if you will that makes the reader think beyond the written words or to consider an outcome or result that is beyond the poem itself. This may seem disconnected or disparate, but if done well, it is far from that.
Here are a couple of haiku (yes the same in plural as in singular) that show the bridge thought:

The blossom falls soft,
drifts down to her waiting hand.
Doves drop from the trees.

In this poem (haiku) we see a natural setting wherein the woman or girl is in the springtime of her life (blossom) but that is about to change (falls, waiting hand). In line three, the change is shown and the hint is that this change may not be positive.  We see the loss implied in line 3. It leads the reader to consider that doves drop, They do not fly but drop. Her spring (her virginity) is dead, her life as a maiden (young girl) is over. Dropping is a sign of ending, while drifting is a sign of leisure and languor. The dove is a symbol of her once peaceful life and uncomplicated existence. Trees are a symbol of long life. Girlhood is brief, agedness is long.

The cherry opens,
showing its womb filled with seed.
Laughter of children.

This is clearly a birth/motherhood poem. Cherries are symbols of fecundity, speak of a blooming/fruiting season. The opening of the cherry exposing its contents (the seed) speaks to the process of birth, something that is needed to be able to bring the seed to fruition. The bridge is a positive one: after this rending of the womb, there are the pleasures of children and their easy play.

OK... so now let's talk about what YOU think of as haiku... I'm waiting to hear from you.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


The Greek word symbolon meant something "put together." This was originally a coin or potsherd that was broken into 2 parts and given each to the parties of a legal contract or agreement. The significance was that there was something to come later, some kind of promise that would be fulfilled. In other words, there was a missing element needed to finish the deal, to complete the meaning. The potsherd was a symbol of that promise. It was also, literally a broken coin.

This is true of symbols in poetry (and in other kinds of writing). There are natural symbols and contrived symbols. Natural symbols are those we take on universally, such as the heart for love, the apple or rose for beauty, the dove or olive branch for peace. A danger in poetry writing is to make these natural symbols clichés. In using them as direct symbols, we risk this: I hand him the olive branch is one of these. What if the line were written instead showing a single olive on a plate, lying on its leaf next to a handwritten note? What if the line never was a direct reference to the olive branch at all? Can the reader get there, make the leap to a peace offering? The astute reader, one well-versed in symbolism, will do so with ease, or at least after reading IN CONTEXT. However, there is risk in writing and in reading when symbols are over-thought, over-used, or just plain exploited for meaning. Sometimes an olive is only that, a green fruit on a plate. It may be mere window dressing to the poem, lending texture to a line, setting a scene richly. Or it may be a symbol of loneliness or a symbol of peace-offering.

Finding symbols where there are none can lead to great distortion of reality in the poem. A symbol that needs explaining is a sick symbol, an apology for itself. We don't want to fill our poems with those. What makes symbols so wonderful is the surprise of connections. Making one thing stand for another can accentuate or actuate meaning. Poets who work in symbols are careful of the images they employ, prefer oblique connections of images to any abstraction. It is also true that being too overt, lacking in symbol, can flatten out a poem or make it "too much what it is," that is totally without subtlety or layers. A wise poetry professor told me that for every abstraction in a written piece, there need to be at least two concrete images. In other words, don't write the word love, write about the things that show love is present. He scoffed at a "Christmas poem" I'd written, saying it risked sappiness by being so overt and "Christmassy." He suggested I write the same poem, using an image that would lead the reader TO Christmas, rather than being so obvious. I needed a symbol, something subtle in the poem that would do this. I chose to use the word amaryllis to describe the color of the skater's cheeks. It is common knowledge when the amaryllis blooms. I had my symbol, my image, my half a potsherd. My readers could make the connection for themselves and place the poem at Christmastime.

Images are real, are the "things of the world." As poets and readers of poetry, we take a risk in that images can be taken at face value and not be seen as symbols when they might indeed be symbols. Sometimes they are just what they are: strong images on their own, not symbolic of something deeper. The poet ought to make the difference clear in her/his own mind before sending the poem out into the world. Images that are indeed symbols carry on their backs far more than their physical references. If a poem is seemingly a description of an object or objects, and yet transcends its physical self, we call it a Dinggedichte, a thing-poem. The details of such poems may be vivid, realistic, grounded, but HINT at something more, stand for something more. Consider the following: A poem describes a room devoid of people, but rich with details of images such as an empty chair, a table with a glass or cup turned down, a broken pencil, a lone feather, a curtain blowing at an open window, peeling wallpaper. Is this mere description of place and quietude or a dinggedichte of loss? A bitten yellow pear (lipstick visible on the skin around the bite) on a highly polished table, next to a wedding ring... still life or dinggedichte? It's intriguing to peel back the layers of poems to see what might be lurking there.

The extension of symbolism is metaphor, a forest of symbols (Beaudelaire) that serve together to make a larger portrait, or perhaps in some cases oblique meaning. And where does symbolism give way to allegory? We all know that allegory is a narrative in which characters and events stand for ideas and/or actions on another level. One thing happening may be standing for another deeper truth or event. Animal Farm is a good example of an allegory, where out of control, yet controlling, behavior of animals stands for the same kind of societal behavior of humans, in this case totalitarian society.  Poets are not excluded from narrative or allegory. Indeed, narrative poetry is making a comeback in a big way. I for one am happy about this. People are interested in connecting themselves with the stories and experiences of others. We all love a well-told story. Poets tell these too, perhaps more succinctly, in fewer words.

I leave you today with a poem, written a few years ago when I was thinking about how our words either support others, or are perhaps insensitive to others. Have a look. Get back to me.

See if you can determine the symbolic from the overt in the following poem (HINT: there may be both working here). Is this an allegory?

After Your Divorce
I asked you to read my poems
I wrote table and forced you out
into the woods to choose a tree,
maple, oak, or maybe an exotic teak.
You had to decide the shape too,
round or rectangular or oval. I wrote 
a cobalt bowl filled with orange day lilies 
and a white coffee mug, rim smudged 
with Dior’s Infra Rose. I might have 
written an apple on an ivory table runner 
from Brazil, but I wrote a half-eaten 
nectarine set on a white paper towel the way 
she did to keep from messing up a plate 
for just one item. I knew about your divorce
and yet I wrote table, leaving so much 
for you to do. I should have written door.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

My Two Dylans

I keep pictures of Bob Dylan and Dylan Thomas on the bookcase in my office (along with a collection of antique inkwells and some other interesting little items). I keep the Dylans at hand to remind me about what it is that makes me keep writing. For me, these two Dylans represent what is good in poetry: image and music, heart and gut. I began my relationship with these two brilliant writers when I was in high school, reciting Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night and listening to A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall. Even now, when I get into a tough spot with my writing, I can put Bob Dylan on the iPod or computer (Nowadays I listen to Rainy Day Women or The Man in the Long Black Coat) and haul out my collection of Dylan Thomas and get back on course. I offer you here the poem I wrote about these two influences on my poetry:

My Dylans
       after Bob and Thomas
I’ve been ten thousand miles too,
hell and back in your hard rain,
been screaming into the good night 
a few times and wrote it down like you
just to keep from throwing it all away.
My hands were blazing, my face to the hard 
light of my own rainy days, smoking 
late but freed still from an obscure childhood.
Been wounded, been down the road
a few times and wrote it down. I needed to
look at your tweed face, your hair 
billowed like some fuckin’ angel. Look at me
here with a hard rain fallin’ on me, few
colors shining, ten thousand silver moments ringing. 
You knew the grave before it opened to you.
Times change, time stays toxic. Too full 
of blood to taste the way out, too much dust
to see where I’m going. Formed of sand, I too
will trickle away, one grain at a time, and change 
is the curse that’s been cast; first let me be last. 

Dylan Thomas wrote only 6 poems in the final 6 years of his life. He had done what poets everywhere do: taken on other work to support himself and his family. He had gone to war as a tail-gunner and had taken on the job of writing for the BBC. His poetry was never far from his mind, but he lived life outside of that mind too. Of course POETRY is the lifeblood of Wales. I understand that recitation of poetry is common as fish and chips. One of these days I will do a poetry residency somewhere in Wales and immerse myself in the sensibilities of Thomas' countrymen and their love for poetry. It's on my bucket list, close to the top.

Thomas once said that his poems were written "for the love of man and in praise of God." He was a man clearly in love with language, with all its crudities and confessions. His imagery shines with freshness and vivid light. His poems are a celebration of the divine purpose he saw in human and natural processes. He took on the cycle of birth and flowering, death and dying, love and brutality. He was pastoral in a sense, celebrating the sea, the fields and hills and towns of his country. He often (in later poems) tried to highlight a childlike innocence of the the world. One of my favorite pieces of his is A Child's Christmas in Wales, which I read every Yule.

He was fiercely dedicated to his art, making over 200 versions of Fern Hill before being satisfied with it. His earliest poems are somewhat mysterious in sense, but simple and straightforward in form as contrasted to later poems which are complex in sound and simple in sense. What I find very interesting is that he felt a need to create for himself an image, a public persona. He called this image "instant Dylan" and felt that it gave him mystery or attraction, that of the hard-drinking messed-up poet. It is said that his image became who he was at the end. In fact that image prevails to this day in the notion that he drank himself to death. It may well have been that he suffered from brain encephalopathy. But it is more intriguing to have the death of instant Dylan that the death of a man with a brain malfunction.

I am also interested in his ideas of poetry as a way to comment on the human condition. He was influenced by Freud and saw the inner mind as a place from whence poetry comes to heal or reveal. He stated: Poetry is the rhythmic, inevitable narrative, movement from an over-clothed blindness to a naked vision... Poetry must drag further into the clear nakedness of light more even of the hidden causes than Freud could realize.  Certainly his poetry is that: dragging into clear nakedness of which he spoke. His images and rhythms are clearly explorative of the inner struggles of the human dilemma and the aftertaste is at once sweet and acrid. In Do Not Go Gentle... we see his admonition to his own father to stay the course and not give up. He is didactic while being the loving son. Rage, rage against the dying of the light is how I want to exist as a poet. When I am up late working on a poem, that line runs through my head. It is okay to keep on when others sleep. Also the line says what I feel in terms of ever giving up on poetry: I want to keep writing until the pen falls from my hand. I never want anyone to say "she only wrote ____ poems in the last ____ years of her life."

And what of my other Dylan: Bob Dylan? He is as big an influence on my writing as Dylan Thomas because they are so much alike in what their words do. Of course Bob Dylan is more of a political animal than Dylan Thomas. His lyrics not only comment on the human condition, the psyche, but also on the political and social condition. He is unafraid to make blunt observation and to tinge his words with a sultry and acerbic flavor. He will take on topics others mock or avoid. He will lace tender stories with irony and salt any wound. I listen to his music frequently. It takes me into an honesty and bluntness that every poet ought to seek. I feel empowered to say what needs saying and to say it plainly, with images that cut to the chase. Like Thomas, Bob Dylan is somewhat a persona of his own making. His lyrics and the time frame in which he came to the public eye lead us to see him through the lens of substance abuse. His "everybody must get stoned" lyric (Rainy Day Women 12 and 35) perpetuates this. However, there is so much more substance to Dylan than that. I find his lyrics to be rather timeless (and isn't that what we want our poems to be?). They are a commentary on our nature, flawed yet sympathetic. I offer you here the lyrics to Man in the Long Black Coat. You'll see what I mean:

Crickets are chirpin' the water is high
There's a soft cotton dress on the line hangin' dry
Window wide open African trees
Bent over backwards from a hurricane breeze
Not a word of goodbye not even a note
She gone with the man in the long black coat.

Somebody seen him hangin' around
As the old dance hall on the outskirts of town
He looked into her eyes when she stopped him to ask
If he wanted to dance he had a face like a mask
Somebody said from the bible he'd quote
There was dust on the man in the long black coat.

Preacher was talking there's a sermon he gave
He said every man's conscience is vile and depraved
You cannot depend on it to be your guide
When it's you who must keep it satisfied
It ain't easy to swallow it sticks in the throat
She gave her heart to the man in the long black coat.

There are no mistakes in life some people say
It is true sometimes you can see it that way
But people don't live or die people just float
She went with the man in the long black coat.

There's smoke on the water it's been there since June
Tree trunks unprooted beneath the high crescent moon
Feel the pulse and vibration and the rumbling force
Somebody is out there beating on a dead horse
She never said nothing there was nothing she wrote
She gone with the man in the long black coat.

I find especially poignant the first three lines of the penultimate stanza. I see these words as a distillation of the "Dylan attitude" as I call it. In this very simple lyric about a woman who's had enough, he gets to the meat of the human condition.  When he says, Feel the pulse and vibration and the rumbling force, he is honoring the forces of nature that exist in us all, whether we actuate the connections or not. When I listen to Dylan sing this in his scratchy voice, I get goosebumps. I can see clearly the harsh emotional and physical landscape and the dress on the line left behind without so much as a good-bye note. What was she leaving that she bolted like that? I can imagine and I can feel the leaving in my gut. This lyric definitely influenced my poem of 3 years ago, written in response to Girl in a Punt (Winslow Homer). I looked at the painting on display in the Farnsworth Art Museum here in Rockland and the words to this song began playing in my head. Don't you just love when that happens, when visual and auditory art forms get together to feed poetry? At any rate, I can trace the roots of that poem backwards from Homer's painting to Dylan's lyrics and voice. It is a gift. I am blessed by it. I cannot think of my world of poetry without both my Dylans.

Here is the poem I wrote fed by Homer and Dylan:

There is some strange power
that brought her to the reedy shallows,
girl in a punt, slipping her left hand
into the cold water to release
her wedding ring, to watch it sink slowly

where a fish circles, gold
eye catching sight of the prize settling,
wavering as the girl herself, 
hand hesitant above. Retrieve or row?

I am so very thankful
for all his tender mercies. She feels the flutter
of the ribbon under her chin, breathes
in her former life, exhales it slowly.

Homer might well have painted her husband
tomorrow, slitting the belly of his fish,
finding her decision there in the entrails,
a divining in what he scoops into the barrel.

And she, sailed out with the tide, casts
her new life upon it.
There is some strange power
that lets us leave sometime.

after Girl in a Punt, Winslow Homer

Monday, July 4, 2011

Romantic Era and Emotion

Some scholars of the Romantic Period (British Romantics) argue that this era of poetry began with Wordsworth's and Coleridge's Lyrical Ballads in 1798. Therein are contained Wordsworth's Lines Composed A Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey, On Revisitng the Banks of the Wye During a Tour, July 13, 1798 and Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Others believe the period started with Burns' poems or Blake's Songs of Innocence or even Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Women. (GREAT reading by the way) These scholars also would include the following authors as part of the First Generation of Romantics: Charles Lamb, Jane Austen and Sir Walter Scott.
However we might settle the argument, these authors were one and all worthy examples of Romanticism. This is perhaps my favorite class of poets and writers along with the Second Generation of Romantics, which includes Byron, Shelley, Keats, and Mary Shelley (Frankenstein, 1818). Nearly everyone who studies the period agrees on one thing:  it ended with the coronation of Queen Victoria in 1837. 
According to Wm Hazlitt, in Spirit of the Age, the period (The Wordsworth School) had its origins squarely in the French Revolution, a time of promise, a renewal of the human world — and consequently of letters. Indeed revolution served as a hallmark for the period. Rather than embracing politics however (which some writers did), the Romantics used Nature as their backdrop, embracing the ways Nature provided self-fulfillment and emotional satisfaction. This was indeed a new stance. It was a time for these poets when the powerful overflow of emotion provided by observing nature could be distilled and passed on to others after that emotion had cooled significantly enough to touch. The focus of the writing of the period was not on reason and intellect, but on the radical idea of the self and individual freedom and expression. Gone was the religious striving for perfection and in its place was the glorification of the imperfect. Head was replaced by heart. It was fine indeed to be a flawed human being, as nature was perfect. It was a worthy partnership indeed. It is of note here that one difference between the 1st and 2nd generation Romantics was that the 2nd generation writers believed the 1st generation was not revolutionary enough, did not go far enough in making it personal and natural. Still though there was a solid focus on being alive in the poems, being willing to show nature as a model for humanity. This is perhaps best exemplified in Lyrical Ballads. W & C liberated the poetic aesthetic from its previous stodginess in a revolutionary manner, declaring that poetry ought to show genuine human experience through personal emotion and imagination. They were certain that this true emotion was found in Nature. Herein we see the concept of the Sublime strengthened. After all, was it not in wild nature that the Sublime felt immediately and with a tug at the wildness within the human heart? Searching for the Sublime, the Romantics wrote about the supernatural, the marvelous, the exotic, and in the lives of simple rural people and the details of the everyday world. All of this was to reflect the breathtaking beauty of being alive, fully human. Of my favorite pieces in the period is Wordsworth's Prelude to the Lyrical Ballads, his great autobiographical poem. It serves me well when I lose heart about my writing. I love to read it and get myself refocused. Another great poem of the period is Frost at Midnight, wherein C compares his sleeplessness with the calmness of his baby's sleeping, nature's steadiness with his own restlessness. If you recall my earlier post about leaping, you will see the influence of this poem. I love how C leaps from nature to himself and his baby, making solid the relationship between outside influences and the emotion he felt. No matter the religious overtures in the poem, it is a poem of nature and mankind (humankind for those of you whose gender references are offended by "man"). I am unabashedly in favor of the Romantics' stance on the connections between Nature and humanNature. Maybe it is, in part, my Abenaki lineage and intrinsic tribal thinking that has me squarely here in this period. Not sure. But be that as it may, I tend to think of myself in a yet reviving Romantic trend. My writing is more often than not a pairing of nature and human nature. I do not see myself as detached from nature, do see nature as a Great Teacher. I know (for myself) that lessons are to be learned, comfort is to be had, and humanity is to be saved by keeping in sync with Nature. We are of earth, we are of water, we are of air. No one will convince me opposite. My own writing is a testament to that thought school. My writing keeps company with the principles of Romanticism: that emotion, expressed by observing Nature, can be experienced, cooled to the touch, and expressed in such a manner as to share the experience of it with readers. I do mean share the emotion of the experience of emotion induced by Nature. It is not a copy of a copy here... it is the thing itself, revived on the page. When I write, I want to put the thing on the page for you, to embody the experience and the feeling of the experience. It is my goal, always. I can only strive to accomplish that. Sometimes I do.

If you have a few minutes to do so, I suggest reading some of the wonderful poems of the period. Start with Frost at Midnight or Preface to the Lyrical Ballads, or the Lyrical Ballads themselves. You can't go wrong there.

Sunday, July 3, 2011


Have you noticed how many more flags have been flying in the ten years post 9/11 and wondered where they were before? I have been. At first it was a nice thing to see such nationalism. Then it got to be a little nauseating for me. There were flags everywhere, ON people, pasted onto various items where flags usually are not found. I grew suspicious and curious. I wondered about all the folks who had flag shirts, flags on the butts of their jeans, flag hats, flag pens, flag pocketbooks, flag golf balls.... the list goes on and on. I decided to investigate where and when the flag is legally flown or used as a symbol. I was fairly certain a flag coffee mug or a flag golf ball was not exactly kosher. Now I admit I have been bothered for a LONG TIME by the various "renditions" of the National Anthem, which is only supposed to be sung as written. But the flag thing was now bugging me too. (some of you are shaking your heads now and saying I ought to take meds and lighten up... really, I know you're out there thinking that!)

I digress. I needed to know about this uber-patriotism. I found the US Flag Code. (Who knew there was such a thing?) According to the Flag Code, all these "items" are not okay. The flag is supposed to be flown, not worn. Yes, a tasteful flag lapel pin is very okay. But grandma's flag sweatshirt is not. Here is a section of the Flag Code:

§ 8. Respect for Flag.
No disrespect should be shown to the flag of the United States of America; the flag should not be dipped to any person or thing. Regimental colors, state flags, and organization or institutional flags are to be dipped as a mark of honor.
(a) The flag should never be displayed with union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.

(b) The flag should never touch anything beneath it such as the ground, the floor, water, or merchandise.
(c) The flag should never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and free.
(d) The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery. It should never be festooned, drawn back, nor up, in folds, but always allowed to fall free. Bunting of blue, white, and red, always arranged with the blue above, the white in the middle, and the red below, should be used for covering a speaker’s desk, draping in front of the platform, and for a decoration in general.
(e) The flag should never be fastened, displayed, used, or stored in such a manner as to permit it to be easily torn, soiled, or damaged in any way.
(f) The flag should never be used as a covering for a ceiling.
(g) The flag should never have placed upon it, nor on any part of it, nor attached to it any mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture, or drawing of any nature.
(h) The flag should never be used as a receptacle for receiving, holding, carrying, or delivering anything.
(i) The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever. It should not be embroidered on such articles as cushions or handkerchiefs and the like, printed or otherwise impressed on paper napkins or boxes or anything that is designed for temporary use and discard. Advertising signs should not be fastened to a staff or halyard from which the flag is flown.
(j) No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform. However, a flag patch may be affixed to the uniform of military personnel, firemen, policemen, and members of patriotic organizations. The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing. Therefore, the lapel flag pin being a replica, should be worn on the left lapel near the heart.
(k) The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning.

I fly a flag from my front porch. It flies free and unfettered. It represents something sacred to me and it is a honored part of my home. I take it in when it rains, keep it lit at night. I do not wear flags or drape them on things for Fourth of July. I stand with my hand over my heart when the flag passes by and respect what it stands for in our history. My father was willing to give his life for what it represents. When I saw his remains under the flag at Arlington Cemetery in 1993, when I heard taps played, when I recoiled from the guns saluting his service, I knew that the flag was way more than a symbol. 

On this 4th of July, I will write a poem about the flag. I will stop for a few moments and think about my father. I will give thanks for being able to live here where my opinion and my vote are as free as the flag on my porch.