Category Archives: Uncategorized

One Little Word–part 1

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, drug user of note

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, drug user of note

Listen to the Music

I’ve sort of been collecting — that is, I note mentally and forget to write down — instances of One Little Word having a colossal impact. Perhaps, by way of illustration, you’ll recall the ruckus that ensued when Washington, D.C., official David Howard used the word niggardly in a meeting:  

WASHINGTON CNN (February 4, 1999) A white aide to Washington Mayor Anthony Williams who resigned [under duress] after using the word niggardly in a conversation will be returning to city government, ending a flap over what critics derided as political correctness run amok.

On Thursday, saying he acted too hastily in accepting David Howard’s resignation, Williams offered Howard his job back as director of the Office of the Public Advocate. Howard agreed to come back to city government, but he has asked the mayor to find him a different job.

In fairness to those who objected to the word, its use was probably ill-advised. Niggardly is hardly ubiquitous (another word not universally understood) in text or conversation. Anyone with common sense might have predicted the brouhaha.

English—It’s a trip

The Beatles 1964

The Beatles 1964 (clockwise, from top left: John, Paul, Ringo, George)

My tale is very different (its impact hingeing on a single letter, in fact), having to do with the fluidity of English-language vocabulary, which readily accepts ethnic and street slang (‘ho’, yo’ mama, homie [homeboy], the ‘hood, blunts [for marijuana], reefer) and technojargon (encryption, teleconference, CPU, whiteboarding, to name just a few).

Drug-subculture terms were conspicuous in the lyrics of rock music in the late 1960s and early 1970s, “acid rock” and “heavy metal” in particular. Sometimes the references were subtle, as in the Beatles’ (1967) “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “Strawberry Fields Forever.” There was nothing subtle about “Cocaine,” written and recorded by JJ Cale in 1976 and memorably covered a few years later by Eric Clapton, who claims “Cocaine” is “an anti-drug-song. The fans only listen to the refrain: ‘She don’t lie, she don’t lie, she don’t lie, cocaine.’ But it says, ‘If you wanna get down, down on the ground, cocaine.’” (Stern magazine, 1998.)

Child Julian Lennon's drawing, upon which John Lennon claimed "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" was based

Young child Julian Lennon’s drawing, upon which John Lennon claimed “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” was based

John Lennon insisted, by the way, that “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” was based on a picture his son, Julian, had drawn and that no allusion to LSD was intended.

I had long been in the habit of tuning out lyrics. For one thing, they were often indifferently articulated. I’m one of the many who thought that CCR was singing, “There’s a bathroom on the right” in the group’s 1969 hit “Bad Moon Rising” (actual lyrics: “There’s a bad moon on the rise”). Do check out kissthisguy.com, the utterly hilarious “archive of misheard lyrics.”

A more compelling reason for not listening to lyrics was that they were so often just stupid, especially compared to the music and the musician.

My favorite male musicians tended to be lyric-impaired. You have to go back to Ira Gershwin to find any substance in masculine lyrics, or perhaps I am simply out of touch. I read In Watermelon Sugar all the way through, and the only thing I remember is that everything was an odd color, so it might be that I lack the refined sensibilities to perceive subtlety and nuance in songs such as…  

“Layla” (Eric Clapton): “Layla. Layla. Layla. Layla. [indecipherable] Layla. Layla….”

“Peggy Sue” (Buddy Holly): “Peggy Sue. Peggy Sue. Pret-ty, pret-ty, pret-ty, pret-ty Peggy Sue. Oh, Pe-eg-gy; my Peggy Sue-ooh-ooh, ooh, ooh-ooh-ooh ooh, ooh. Oh, I need you, girl, and I want you, Peggy Sue….”

“La Bamba” (Ritchie Valens).

Buddy Holly, from txhome.org

Buddy Holly, from txhome.org

I’ll be honest: “La Bamba” is my all-time favorite song — the Ritchie Valens version, not the Los Lobos version or the Yum!Yum!ORANGE version. The lyrics have never been a factor, because they are in Spanish and thus, by definition, exotic.

Judging by the lyrics to “Donna,” Ritchie Valens’s other monster hit — released before his short career was cut shorter as a result of dying in the plane crash that also killed Buddy Holly — Valens was no Ira Gershwin: “Oh, Donna. Oh, Donna. Oh, Donna. Oh, Donna. I had a girl. Donna was her name….”

Cover of the Ritchie Valens 45-rpm single "La Bamba" (1958)

Cover of the Ritchie Valens 45-rpm single “La Bamba” (1958)

But Ritchie Valens can take neither the credit nor the blame for the “La Bamba” lyrics, it turns out, because “La Bamba” is a three-hundred-year-old Mexican folk song. I wanted to know what a Bamba was, but apparently there’s no equivalent in English. The closest Spanish word to Bamba is bambú (“bamboo”), which, if you substituted it for Bamba, would make the song, if anything, less silly. Basically, Valens is singing about a dance, the Bamba, which either is a funny dance or is not to be attempted unless you, yourself, are a humorous, practical-joker type, plus you have to have speed and height, which [antecedent unclear] “I’ll be [be what? Speedy? High?] for you. I’m not a sailor. I’m not a sailor. I’m captain. I’m captain. Damn your eyes, I’m captain.”

If you are expecting a rebuttal here — “No, I’m captain” — you will be disappointed. The other shoe, in “La Bamba,” never drops. Wikipedia claims that the song’s message has to do with a groom’s promise to be faithful to his bride, fidelity being (according to Wikipedia) a virtue practiced by captains but not sailors, which shows how much Wikipedia knows about the privileges of rank.

Drawing the line

In the fall of 1971, I started working as a bookkeeper at an MOR radio station. MOR (middle of the road) describes the station’s “format,” which was soft rock: the mainstream music of Bread (“Baby, I’m-A Want You”), Cat Stevens (“PeaceTrain”), Elton John (“Rocket Man”), Harry Nilsson (“Without You”), the Spinners (“One of a Kind [Love Affair]”), Dobie Gray (the truly lovely “Drift Away”), and so forth. Drug-free and hamless to children and puppies.

In those days I could and did listen to the radio while I worked, so I knew every song on the station’s playlist by heart. Sometimes I sang along, making up lyrics when the real ones were just a mumble. I didn’t mind being clueless about who “Daniel” was in the Elton John hit… “You’re a star in the face of the sky…,” and “It looks like Daniel; must be the stars in my eyes.” I guessed that Daniel was probably in Heaven, but it turns out he was going only as far as Spain. Fine with me.

And then my very favorite song, the one that made me feel Up when I was Down or relaxed when I was tense, disappeared from the playlist. The artists, Brewer and Shipley, were fairly obscure, though the song I adored was on their third album, Tarkio. I couldn’t imagine why such a sweet, innocuous, folk-y song would be found objectionable. After all, Lawrence Welk considered it “a modern spiritual,” and it was performed on his weekly white-bread TV program by Gail Farrell and Dick Dale, who were apparently laboring under the same misapprehension I was.

I asked one of the deejays about the song’s disappearance. “What happened,” I said with complete ingenuousness, “to ‘One Toe Over the Line’?”

Then I waited patiently while he picked himself up off the floor and controlled a tedious series of fits of the giggles. Whatever it was, it was gonna be good.

“Honey,” he croaked, the giggles having not completely subsided, “it’s not ‘One Toe Over the Line.’ It’s ‘One Toke Over the Line.’”

“Okay,” I said, still at sea. “What’s a toke?”

“Oh, honey, you are an innocent, aren’t you?”

I wasn’t, but I let it pass.

“It’s a hit,” giggle, choke, “off a joint—a marijuana cigarette.”

“I know what a ‘joint’ is,” I said irritably. But my annoyance was directed at Brewer and Shipley, for taking me in. No wonder they were “showing off [their]… smile” there at “the railway station.” They were stoned.

The divorced mom of a sweet 4-year-old girl, I was terrified of drugs. I would mellow some in the months to come. It soon became apparent that if I were to cross every occasional toker off my friend list, I’d be down to Mom and Dad and one or two insufferable Republicans I knew from high school, when they were regular people. Not every Republican is insufferable, but these guys were stiffs in suits, believe me.

So I reconciled with Brewer and Shipley, who had surely missed me,  and “One Toke Over the Line” remains a favorite, even though Spiro Agnew called it “subversive.” Below are links to the videos, performed by the original artists and also by Gail and Dick, who I’m sure have long since recognized the enormity of their mistake. You’ll also find the B & S version on the Feelgood Music page of my website. Don’t look for “Cocaine.” I’m saving it for my Bad-Trip, Downer, FeelShitty Music page, for those who find this happiness thing to be so been-there-done-that….

Brewer & Shipley video

Lawrence Welk video

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Poem J—The Only Act in Town

Old postcard showing an Arizona motel

To illustrate this post, I used a number of vintage postcards featuring motels that were new and gleaming when my family took summer road trips in the 1950s. The amenities, in order of their importance to us kids, were (1) a swimming pool, (2) air conditioning, and (3) television. The roadside motel, no reservation required, was a novelty. We were used to hotels or "cabins."

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Final Poem in the Series—
Last Chance to Rate

To help my friend and colleague Queen Jane Approximately decide which of my poems to submit to publications and contests, I have posted ten “possibles,” poem A, poem B, and so forth, through the current post, poem J, and have invited readers to comment.  

Below is the last poem in the series. Please feel free to comment at any time, but I’d be especially grateful if I could hear from you by May 1. Along with comments, I’d love it if you’d give me your ranking of the ten poems, 1 being your favorite and 10 being the worst of the lot. You can leave your assessment as a blog comment or e-mail it to Mary@LifeIsPoetry.net. Thanks very much!    

Rusted Motel Sign

This sign is NOT representative of the motels my family stayed in; we required neon in our motel signs

 _____   

What follows is actually a unit: a poem set into a silly story. All comments enormously appreciated!   

_____   

Q & A with Gutroach and Boogerdung at the Sleep-Cheep-We-Peep Inn

Recently I had the honor of being asked to serve on an authors’ panel at the first annual meeting of the Virtually Unpublished Writers of Tasteful Religious Books Society. I did not, as it happens, actually participate, because I went to the wrong hotel.*    

* Which I didn’t find out until the next day. The conference was at the Cheap Bed Sheep Shed. I showed up at Sleep Cheap, We Peep. Anyone could have made the same mistake.   

I wondered why the concierge gave me an odd look when I asked him to direct me to the conference room. “Well, we have meetin’s in the back of the bar sometimes,” he said, pointing at a faux-hardwood door, which you could tell was flimsy and hollow by the multiple holes at about the level where a man’s fist would be if the man were driving his fist into the door.   

Postcard from an Elk City, Oklahoma, motel on the now-defunct Route 66

Postcard from an Elk City, Oklahoma, motel on the now-defunct Route 66

Plainly, the VUWTRBS was on a very tight budget. Even so, given the fragrance (Eau de Bud Light Breath with notes of Stale Sweat and Bratwurst Aftermath) wafting from the bar, and the ambience (storm sewer, but darker), I made a mental note to suggest renting the KMart employee break room for the second annual meeting.   

Entering the room behind the bar, I was relieved to see a dais, a couple of folding chairs, and an audience of more than a hundred of God’s children who were, like the rest of us, seekers of the holy inner light. I walked confidently onto the little stage, knowing I looked my best, in my navy patent-leather pumps and navy-and-white-polka-dot linen sheath dress with a white Peter Pan collar.  

I chose one of the folding chairs—the one without an overturned beer can and a glob of Cheez Whiz on the seat—sat down, demurely crossed my ankles, and waited.   

Michigan motel postcard

Michigan motel postcard; note absence of swimming pool

I looked at the audience. They looked back at me. Probably. I can’t be sure, because a spotlight was shining directly into my eyes. The few things I could actually see had this sort of pulsing halo around them, like they were radioactive and about to blow. Someone at the lighting board was evidently experimenting with various effects. It was unsettling. The live sound engineer was even more adventurous, as I was about to discover. 

After half an hour, the audience was getting restless, as evidenced by what sounded and smelled a great deal like a certain unseemly type of competition my brother and his friends had sometimes entertained themselves with after they’d had a few beers. Since there didn’t seem to be anyone in authority, I thought it was a good time to show some initiative.    

‘We’re gonna tear this place apart’

I stood up and walked to the microphone, adjusted it for my height, smiled a huge, joyous, I-love-everybody smile, and spoke a hearty “Welcome,” hoping I would come across as friendly and approachable. Evidently, I made a very different impression— more in the style of Linda Blair pre-exorcism, when she intoned (in a deep male voice), “Keep away. The sow is mine.” 

Determined to retain my dignity, I switched the microphone off, waited a few minutes for my hearing to return, and tried once more to charm the audience members and put them at ease. 

Another Route 66 motel, this one in Oklahoma City

Another Route 66 motel, this one in Oklahoma City

I smiled more broadly and spiritually than before, if that were possible, though I had the feeling that my ears were actually meeting on the back of my head and thought I’d probably reached my maximum smile diameter.    

“Well,” I said perkily, “this is supposed to be the Q & A session led by Mr. Edmund Digby. Mr. Digby, you’re not out there in the audience anywhere, are you?”    

There was no answer, other than a signal that the competition might be starting up again, so I hurried on: “Well, let’s just begin. I’m sure that Mr. Digby and the other authors on the panel will be here any moment.” 

A Springfield, Missouri, Route 66 motel

A Springfield, Missouri, Route 66 motel

I held up a copy of my book. “My name is Mary Campbell,” I said. “You’ll see it there on your agenda, next to Unfamiliar Territory, which is, obviously, the title of my book. I assume you’ve read it and you have some questions. Who wants to go first?”    

“I’ll go first,” said a young man in the front row, and the invisible lighting technician obligingly illuminated his face. He was pulling on an odd little pipe, which he then handed to the young lady beside him, and she inhaled deeply from it too and passed it on, and I was about to say something about How Germs Are Spread when the young man spoke again. “My name is Gutroach and my question is, where’s Puking Maggot Progeny?”    

I glanced at my roster, pretty sure I would have noticed such an unusual name; as I had suspected, there was no “Progeny” on the list.  

“Mr. (or is it Ms.?) Progeny isn’t on my attendee roster,” I said. “Is he or she a late registrant, perhaps?”     

Vintage postcard depicting "the South's Finest Colored Motel"

This one speaks for itself

“Well, perhaps he is or perhaps he ain’t, but we paid to see Puking Maggot Progeny and by G__d, we’re gonna see Puking Maggot Progeny or we’re gonna tear this place apart.”     

She Who Must Be Obeyed 

At this I became a little indignant. I had never read any of this Progeny person’s books, nor had I heard of him, but I knew that my work had merit too, and I said as much, with all the asperity at my command.     

“So,” I concluded icily, “perhaps Mr. Progeny ain’t gonna be here, in which case you can listen to me and then we can go to the wine-and-cheese buffet before the banquet, or you can all go home and I’ll see that your registration fees are refunded.”     

“Wine and cheese?” said Gutroach, grinning as broadly as I had, but not, I thought smugly, as spiritually. In fact, what his grin most eloquently demonstrated was poor dental hygiene.    
1950s-style motel in Nevada (pronounced ne-VAY-dah), Missouri

1950s-style motel in Nevada (pronounced ne-VAY-dah), Missouri

“WINE and CHEESE? Yummy, YUMMY,” he chanted. “Yummy in my tummy.”     

Then he licked his chops, scratched his… lower torso, and started to get up from his seat. The odd little pipe, I noticed, had made its way back to him, and I was opening my mouth to give a brief lecture on Hygiene, when he shouted to someone else in the room, or perhaps to someone on the Isle of Wight.     

“Hey, Boogerdung,” he yelled, as if Boogerdung were lying inside a sealed casket instead of dozing in the second row, “I got the munchies. You got the munchies? Let’s go grab that wine and cheese and head over to the Scab Zombie.”     

I had reached my limit with Mr. Gutroach and I had no interest in hearing whether or not Mr. Boogerdung had the munchies.     

Postcard from what looks like a VERY old motel; it's located in Tennessee

Postcard from what looks like a VERY old motel; it's located in Tennessee

Sit down, Mr. Gutroach,” I said firmly, sounding (I was selfishly gratified to notice) just a bit scary.  “The Scab Zombie is closed. Raided. Shut down. Everyone’s in jail. I’m the only act in town tonight, and I’m ON!”     

‘He loves that little girl, man’ 

Mr. Gutroach actually sat down, even looking a little sheepish. The audience was quiet. I cleared my throat and began to read the poem I had selected.    

“Anna Sighs     

“Pressing on my pearly window, Night inhales—”     

“Hey!” Mr. Boogerdung interrupted owlishly. Evidently he hadn’t “gotten his nap out,” as my mother-in-law used to say if one of the babies was cranky. “Who gives a shit about your f–ing pearly window?”

“I have no idea,” I replied. “Who gives a shit if Bing Crosby is dreaming of a white Christmas?”     

Silence. Faces blank as notebook paper.     

“Okay,” I said. “Let’s try this another way. Who gives a shit if Mr. Marshall Mathers’s public persona intimates that he’s a pistol-packing drug addict who bags on his momma but he wants to take time out to be perfectly honest ‘cuz there’s a lot of shit that hurts deep inside o’ his soul, and he grows colder the older he grows, and the boulder on his shoulder is like the weight of the world, his neck is breaking and he wants to give up but he doesn’t? And why doesn’t he?”  

A motel along Route 66 in St. Louis, Missouri

A motel along Route 66 in St. Louis, Missouri

“’Cuz he’s bringin’ in the big bucks, baby,” said the girl next to Mr. Gutroach.     

But Gutroach wasn’t listening. “Man, that’s some sad shit,” he said, shaking his head, “’cuz Eminem, he loves that little girl, man.”     

“Is that right?” I said. “Well then maybe, if he wants to take baby steps toward responsible parenting, he could refrain from making music videos that end with his doing a great imitation of himself slitting that little girl’s mother’s throat and yelling, ‘Bleed, Bitch, bleed!’”     

In the ensuing silence, I read my poem:     

Anna Sighs

Tranby House Kerosene Lamp, photo by Gnangarra, commons.wikimedia.org

Tranby House Kerosene Lamp, photo by Gnangarra, commons.wikimedia.org

Pressing on my pearly window, Night inhales and, bloated
with the noxious air, it tries to come inside and take its
pleasure there. My little lamp is proof against the first
assault, and bears the siege with dignity, but we are only
three—the lamp and Anna here with me, but Anna sleeps
while Night retreats to breathe the venom that it needs
so it can swell again and burst the breach.     

All-engorging, thick with vile effluvium, and restive, Night
still heaves against the pane and probes the porous mortar,
thus to gain a continent, and breathe again, but holding
breath within, as if release would leave it spent of form
and substance, vanished in a photon storm.     

No, to find fragility and penetrate, just as the hungry sea
assaults the levee where it groans, and swallows up the
shore—except that Night can but devour and look for more,
can ebb but not abate, for it is powerless to moderate
its gluttony, nor would it, if it could.     

Anna tosses in her sleep, and if she feels the indolent
oppression, swollen with its kill, she feels it inwardly,
and moans, the speech of wan resistance, drained of
will, a feeble protestation, habit murmuring, “I am.”
Something in her knows the enemy and would arrest
it, summoning a name, essaying ownership. It rises
out of bounds before the net is thrown.     

Bereft of thought and consciousness, it senses
nonetheless that I alone am here to watch and to
resist — to fill the lamp until the fuel is gone.     

One forgets at midnight that this too will pass; not
even Night outlasts the unremitting circle. But at
midnight one unreasoning expends what has been
grown and gathered season after season, sacrifices
every treasure, throws into the flame a hundred
fragile artifacts, to gain a moment’s clarity. At
midnight, friends have settled in and locked their
doors, oblivious to ghastly appetite, now
thickened by the certainty that Anna will comply
and abdicate her shape, to be a pool, a fog, and
then evaporate.     

Perhaps she dreams that Night will hide her
face and nobody will notice that the Anna space,
once occupied by negligible molecules, is
vacant now. But Night and I were taken by
surprise; we had forgotten that the planet
turns. At sunrise, the tenacious lamp still
burns, and Anna sighs.     

_______   

Sunrise on the Nebraska plains, photo by Deb Kirwan

Sunrise on the Nebraska plains, photo by Deb Kirwan

I knew I had them with the ‘vile effluvium’

“Man, you musta been WAY down when you wrote that,”  Mr. Gutroach said softly. “Lookin’ at you, who’d of thought you ever felt that dark?”     

I moved my chair to the edge of the dais so I could see the audience better. About twenty-five people remained in the tawdry room, with a combined (visible) tattoo count roughly equivalent to that of the U.S. Navy’s Third Fleet.     

“You all aren’t members of the Virtually Unpublished Writers of Tasteful Religious Books Society, are you?” I asked.     

An older motel in California

Somewhere in California

There were a few puzzled looks, a few guffaws, and one nonverbal comment from a Rude Bodily Noise contestant.  I had to bite my lip to keep from telling the offender that he was a lightweight compared to my brother and his friends, who could have, so to speak, blown all the “contestants” out of the water.

“Well, you sure ain’t Puking Maggot Progeny,” said Mr. Boogerdung, fortunately interrupting my train of thought.     

The girl next to him whispered something in his ear. He shook his head. “Please,” she said urgently. I thought she probably had to pee.  

“She wants me to read a poem I wrote for Mama who died.”    

“Oh, please do,” I said, meaning it. “My mom died a long time ago, and I still miss her. I’d be honored if you’d read your poem.”     

Apparently Mr. Boogerdung always kept it with him, in his wallet. I noticed he had a library card in there too.     

The sheet of paper had clearly been taken out of and returned to the wallet a hundred times. It was about to fall apart at the folds. He opened it carefully, held it reverently, and began to read:     

Mama, sometimes at night, when everything’s quiet,
I wonder if you’re near. I wonder if you hear
Me when I talk to you ‘bout bein’ sad and say I’m sorry for bein’ bad.
When you were here on earth, were you sorry you gave me birth?
Daddy always said I was jest a waste of human flesh.
But you always made me feel better inside, like if I tried
I could be great and do you proud. Is that still true now? 
  
  

Mama, I know you’re in Heaven. I hope the angels up there are givin’
You clouds & harps and such, ‘cause down hear you never got much.
But sometimes I watched you prayin’ to God, and you were sayin’
Watch out for my boy when I’m gone, and if his daddy carries on
’Bout him not bein’ worth a lick, you give that  mean old fart a kick. 
  
  

(Beg pardon, Ma’am, but that’s what Mama said.)     

But after you weren’t there to yell at, Daddy didn’t seem to care
’Bout nothin’ else and died hisself. I love you, Ma. Am I too bad for God to help? 
  
  

Neo Punk dude

Not a member of the Virtually Unpublished Writers of Tasteful Religious Books Society

You could have heard a pin drop. I was so moved by his sentiments and so impressed with his untutored eloquence that I didn’t know what to do except hug him. He hugged me back, probably thinking of his mother.     

“What was her name?” I asked. “Your mother’s, I mean?”     

“Well,” he said, “her given name was Charlotte Rae but everybody called her Sugar.”     

“Sugar Rae? Oh, wait. Your mother’s name was Sugar Boogerdung?”     

Mr. Boogerdung and Mr. Gutroach laughed so hard that Mr. Gutroach belched prodigiously mid-laugh and almost choked to death.     

“Them ain’t our real names, Ma’am,” Mr. Boogerdung said after picking himself up off the floor. He leaned toward me and said in a low voice, “I was christened Jody Leonard Bodie. You can call me Len if you want.”     

“What about you, Mr. Gutroach?”     

“Arthur Billy Clovis Dewitt at your service, Ma’am,” he said obligingly but almost in a whisper and more to his shoes than to me. “My folks thought it’d be cute for my initials to be ABCD. But if you don’t mind, please call me Gutroach or Billy, or Buttface, I don’t care as long as it ain’t Arthur or Artie or Clovis.”     

“Great to meet you gentlemen,” I said, taking Len’s left arm and Billy’s right arm and leading them toward where the wine-and-cheese buffet ought to have been if we hadn’t been at the wrong motel.     

“I haven’t introduced myself properly either,” I confessed. “’Mary Campbell’ is my nom de plume. At home I’m known as Festering Pustule, but you guys can call me Pus.”     


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Printed on 100-percent-recycled papers processed chlorine-free; only $2.25

Poem H–Going Fishing


Clover near West Emma Creek

Clover near West Emma Creek

Find sample blogs on a gazillion topics at Alpha Inventions

To help my friend and colleague Queen Jane Approximately decide which of my poems to submit to publications and contests, I am posting  ten of my particular favorites — poems A through J  (yes, I had to count off the letters on my fingers). I’d like your comments as we go along and, in particular, when all ten have appeared, your ranking. Which do you like best (10 points)? Least (1 point — I can’t bear the thought of getting Zero points)?

WEST EMMA CREEK

It was a halcyon day in June
with nothing in particular
to do, so we decided to go to
West Emma Creek
to catch fish
and lie in the sun
and read about mockingbirds
and antelope herds
and constellations.

We decided not to go by limousine
to Houston, or aeroplane to Dublin,
or submarine to Arabia, or flying
carpet all the way across
the world to Marrakech.

We decided to go to
West Emma Creek
to catch fish
and lie in the sun
and read a novel by Jane Austen.

We decided not to go by subway
to the Pentagon
or run into the jungle
or drive into the desert
or fly beyond the sun.
We decided not to be going, going,
going somewhere.

Now we are walking to
West Emma Creek
to catch fish
and lie in the sun
and read about Little Bear
to children.

STUDENTS

  1. West Emma Creek is an actual stream in central Kansas, but in this poem it serves as a metaphor for _________.
  2. This is, for me, anyway, a short poem, and very little of its vocabulary is accidental.  There are several possible answers to the following question: Why might the poet (moi) have chosen the following words or phrases: mockingbirds? antelope herds? constellations? limousine? aeroplane (with its nonstandard spelling)? submarine? novel by Jane Austen? subway? Pentagon? walking? Little Bear?
  3. Please identify the following poetic (rhetorical) devices in the poem: anaphora, euphony, cacophony, hyperbole.
  4. (There is no single right answer to this question, either.) What, beyond the superfluous (she likes to lie in the sun), do you discover about the poet in “West Emma Creek”— something she might not have known about herself until she wrote the poem?
  5. Does “flying carpet all the way across the world to Marrakech” suggest any particular type of journey?

Music heals

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Speaking of Homophones

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Sidebar: Sound-Alikes

Charlie Chan (http://www.impawards.com/1934/posters/charlie_chan_in_london_xlg.jpg)

Charlie Chan

I read this afternoon — in a novel, by a usually careful or at least painstakingly edited author (Nora Roberts, writing as J.D. Robb) — about how the heroine’s strategy wasn’t succeeding so she decided to try a different tact.

I can’t even imagine what that would look like. Pretending she is British, perhaps? Or emulating Charlie Chan?

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    And Then We Shall Return

    How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

    Free E-Course Assignment 37.1

    Chapter 11: Living Poetically
    Sestina Time

    Join now! Find details about this free E-course at Lesson 1 … 

    goldharvest_okWe’re almost done! This is the final assignment for Chapter 11, and Chapter 12 will be the last chapter.

    I recently wrote a sestina for a poetry contest. I thought, why should I have to suffer alone? So I am asking you to write a sestina as well.

    It’s a rather demanding form, but it’s a very good exercise for “writing poetry and living poetically,” because, while your left brain is busy putting the puzzle pieces together, your creative, intuitive right brain remains free to romp and frisk.

    Harvest moon

    Harvest moon

    Below is Wikipedia’s definition of sestina:

    sestina (also, sextinasestine, or sextain) is a highly structured poem consisting of six six-line stanzas followed by a tercet (called its envoy or tornada), for a total of thirty-nine lines. The same set of six words ends the lines of each of the six-line stanzas, but in a different order each time; if we number the first stanza’s lines 123456, then the words ending the second stanza’s lines appear in the order 615243, then 364125, then 532614, then 451362, and finally 246531. This organization is referred to as retrogradatio cruciata(“retrograde cross”). These six words then appear in the tercet as well, with the tercet’s first line usually containing 1 and 2, its second 3 and 4, and its third 5 and 6 (but other versions exist, described below). English sestinas are usually written in iambic pentameter or another decasyllabic meter.Wikipedia

    Let’s see if I can clarify that a bit.

    • Choose six words. We’ll call them A, B, C, D, E, and F.
    • Your sestina’s first stanza will have six lines. The first line will end with Word A, the second line will end with Word B, the third line will end with Word C, and so forth.
    • You will write five more six-line stanzas. The six lines in each stanza will also end with Word A, Word B, and so forth, but in a different order for each stanza, as specified in the pattern below.
    • The seventh stanza will have three lines. All six words will appear in these three lines, as follows: A and B in the first line, C and D in the second line, and E and F in the third line.

    pumpkin_field

    Here is the pattern, using the words I chose for my sestina (than, round, day, wide, great, countryside):

    Stanza 1
    Line 1-than (A)
    Line 2-round (B)
    Line 3-day (C)
    Line 4-wide (D)
    Line 5-great (E)
    Line 6-countryside (F) 

    Stanza 2
    Line 7-countryside (F)
    Line 8-than (A)
    Line 9-great (E)
    Line 10-round (B)
    Line 11-wide (D)
    Line 12-day (C) 

    Stanza 3
    Line 13-day (C)
    Line 14-countryside (F)
    Line 15-wide (D)
    Line 16-than (A)
    Line 17-round (B)
    Line 18-great (E) 

    Stanza 4
    Line 19-great (E)
    Line 20-day (C)
    Line 21-round (B)
    Line 22-countryside (F)
    Line 23-than (A)
    Line 24-wide (D) 

    Stanza 5
    Line 25-wide (D)
    Line 26-great (E)
    Line 27-than (A)
    Line 28-day (C)
    Line 29-countryside (F)
    Line 30-round (B) 

    Stanza 6
    Line 31-round (B)
    Line 32-wide (D)
    Line 33-countryside (F)
    Line 34-great (E)
    Line 35-day (C)
    Line 36-than (A) 

    Stanza 7
    Line 37-than (A), round (B)
    Line 38-day (C), wide (D)
    Line 39-great (E), countryside (F)

    …And Then We Shall Return

    Now, here is my poem:

    paintbox_farmstead

    Laverne and I like nothing better than
    to climb the oaken steps that circle round 
    and round up to the steeple; to this day
    intact with bell and rope, its windows wide
    and open in the summer to the great
    green quilt of rolling countryside.

    And in the autumn, this same countryside
    is rusty red with sorghum, riper than
    the melons, yellowing upon their great,
    thick, ropy stems. The fruit grows round
    as basketballs — not striped and lush and wide
    like watermelons picked on Labor Day.

    We try, Laverne and I, ‘most every day
    to mount the steps and view the countryside,
    horizon to horizon. On the wide,
    wide world beyond, we ponder gaily then,
    imagining the wonders of the round,
    revolving planet: bustling cities; great

    metropolises, great blue seas, and great
    the mountain forests we shall see some day,
    and then we shall return: The world is round,
    our place in it the motley countryside,
    in which our twisted roots are deeper than
    the sun is high, the stormy seas are wide.

    Wide seas, wide roads we do not crave, but wide
    green fields of corn and wheat; and harvests, great,
    sweet-scented harvests, more abundant than
    the ones before. We pray for cool, dry days
    so laborers can clear the countryside;
    and sometimes, in the evenings, they sit ‘round

    a blazing campfire, as the full, bright, round
    and heavy harvest moon throws shadows, wide
    as haystacks, on the now-still countryside.
    Is there, in all the earth, a work as great
    and satisfying as a harvest day?
    Is there a job more fine and noble than

    the farmer’s? More than seasons turning ‘round
    the wheel, each day is new-made glory, wide
    as seas, great life-bestowing countryside.

    * * *

    Please send your assignment via e-mail to Mary@LifeIsPoetry.net. I will not grade your assignment, but I will return it to you with comments.

    tree_landscape_beautiful

    The Riley Factor

    How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

    Free E-Course Lesson 36

    Chapter 11: Living Poetically
    Case Studies in Poetic Living — Riley

    Join now! Find details about this free E-course at Lesson 1

    A Wallace Nutting colorized photograph
    A Wallace Nutting colorized photograph

    Case Study No. 2 — The Life of Riley

    When I met Riley, in 1995, he was living in a charming duplex — one of three that surrounded a grassy courtyard, where there were eucalyptus and grapefruit trees and flowering shrubs. By September of 1996, he — and his plants and antiques and yellow Labrador retrievers — had outgrown the small duplex, so he bought a three-bedroom house at the end of a cul-de-sac near a park in the central area of Tucson.

    Hoosier cabinet

    Hoosier cabinet

    Riley and I had much in common: Both of our fathers had the name “Horace,” neither of us had a spleen, and both of our mothers were antique dealers. It was from his mother, Rachel, that Riley inherited his love for antiques. Rachel had given him, or he had bought from her, many of the chests of drawers, art prints, rugs, pieces of crockery, and century-old bottles he collected… although, when I was living in Tucson, he and I spent a great deal of time at antique fairs and in antique malls, and his collections have probably doubled in the fourteen years I’ve known him.

    Riley is not what you’d call religious, though he almost unfailingly practices the principles set forth by Martin Buber in his 1923 book I and Thou. (See Lesson 33.1, “What Do You Want?”) He beholds the world, in all its particularity, with reverence, although he does not care for cats and he has periodic attacks of road rage.

    Creative outlets

    "Farmer reading his farm paper," by George W. Ackerman, Coryell County, Texas, September 1931

    "Farmer reading his farm paper," by George W. Ackerman, Coryell County, Texas, September 1931

    Here is an example of what I mean by reverence, as it applies to Riley:

    I have an oak rocking chair, a modest little thing that has served four generations of Campbells. The chair had been smashed to smithereens (“shattered fragments,” from the Irish Gaelic smidirīn, diminutive form of smiodar, “fragment”). I would estimate that this chair was in at least twenty smithereens, some of them no larger than a toothpick. I had given up on finding someone to repair it, but I kept the pieces anyway, in a grocery bag.

    Eastlake bed (bargainjohn.com)

    Eastlake bed (bargainjohn.com)

    Riley took the bag of shards home one day, not long after we met, and brought the chair back to me in one perfect piece within a week. If you could see it, I would defy you to find any trace of smithereen. With the limited tools then at his disposal (he now has a large workshop and a respectable, manly set of tools), he put every fragment back in its place, seamlessly. He had had to replace one of the curved back pieces, but he chose the oak so carefully and stained it in such a way that it is impossible to tell the replacement from the corresponding back piece on the other side.

    There was a small, dark, discolored area on the seat that, as far as I knew, had always been there. Riley said, “I could have fixed that, but it’s part of the character of the chair” (or words to that effect). “The character of the chair” — What a concept! Riley taught me to see into the souls of inanimate objects.

    Living in southern Arizona, Riley can garden year-round. When I visited him recently, he took pride in showing me the new raised garden beds, the brick walkway between them, the automatic watering system, and the handmade compost bin. That’s another thing we have in common: We can ooh and aah about compost.

    Prickly pear (Opuntia; photo by Stan Shebs)

    Prickly pear (Opuntia; photo by Stan Shebs)

    In precisely the same way, he approached the restoration of a broken-down Hoosier cabinet and the reconstruction of an Eastlake bed (similar to the one pictured above), converting it from three-quarter size to full size.

    Pothos (www.plantdirections.com)

    Pothos (www.plantdirections.com)

    I think he must have been a Druid in a previous life, because he has great reverence for wood, especially oak, and for all growing things, whether they’re in pots or in forests. There are dozens of potted plants in the house and dozens more on the covered patio. The vast majority are from cuttings he took from his own plants.

    A little scary

    In 2001, my sweet Monica, a medium-size mongrel my boys and I had rescued from the Humane Society, died at the age of 13. Riley buried her — reverently — in the bit of yard west of his house and planted three rosebushes over her grave. The roses are the color of coral, and they flourish every year. Riley has planted mesquites and acacias, asparagus fern and ivyprickly pear and jalapeño peppers in the large back yard and the smaller front yard. Everything grows for him. He would no more neglect the care and feeding of a plant than he would of his yellow Labradors, Truman and Dani.

    Riley, me, and my son Eli, 1998

    Riley, me, and my son Eli, 1998

    Riley sometimes refers to himself as “anal-retentive,” but he’s not, really — not quite, just as he is almost but not quite a perfectionist — because he can laugh at himself. Every job he undertakes — from making salsa to building a bookcase — is done lovingly and systematically, and he never hurries.

    Blooming acacia

    Blooming acacia

    There is, however, a teensy suggestion of anal-retentiveness that is evident in the storage of his clothing, which is regimentally folded, or hung, according to type, color, and so forth. It’s a little scary for someone like me, who can never find socks that match.

    More Riley facts

    Riley always pays his bills on time and he never spends money he doesn’t have.

    He knows the names of all the members (and the instruments they played) of every blues or rock band that performed from the 1950s through the 1990s. He owns, I am guessing conservatively here, 120 blues albums on CD.

    He has a complete set of books by Mark Twain, signed by Mark Twain.

    He was something of a rogue in his youth, and that’s all I have to say on that subject.

    Grand Canyon: The muddy Colorado River from Navajo Point

    Grand Canyon: The muddy Colorado River from Navajo Point

    He is loyal. If you become Riley’s friend, you are Riley’s friend for life. Every spring, until recently, Riley went with five or six other men on ten-day backpacking trips in the Grand Canyon. He is one of the younger guys; several of his elders have developed back problems or knee disorders, so most of their hiking these days is done in the mountains that surround Tucson.

    Riley has a graceful, athletic, quietly reassuring way about him. He is confident but never (hardly ever) arrogant. Without having to work at it, Riley lives more poetically than almost anyone I know. As his mother once said to me, justifiably proud of her son, “Riley is a gentleman, literally, in the best possible way — a gentle man.”

    When he’s not at work or on a hike, you might find him refinishing furniture in the workshop, mulching the garden, reading science fiction, or (in season) watching college sports on television. Sometimes he takes Truman and Dani for walks along the dry bed of the Rillito River (there’s a trail about a quarter-mile from his house).

    wallacenutting_road_blossoms1

    Wallace Nutting colorized landscape

    The Wallace Nutting photos, shown above, are typical of the kinds of framed prints Riley favors. He has dozens of prints of that ilk, including several Wallace Nuttings, usually in lovely antique oak frames. But despite all the art, the antique furniture, the valuable glassware (which I won’t even begin to describe) and pottery, and the lovely old rugs, the house is neither museumlike nor cluttered. It feels, and looks, comfortable, soft, pleasing in every way… unless you are allergic to or don’t like dogs.

    evening_after_rain_worcestershire

    Out of Order

    How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

    Free E-Course Lesson 33.1
    Chapter 11: Living Poetically

    What Does It Mean to ‘Live Poetically’?

    Moonlight Sonata, by Harrison Cady
    Moonlight Sonata, by Harrison Cady

    We are getting rather close to the end of this course, and I am finding bits and globs of material that should have been included earlier. If it’s a small bit or glob, I just quietly insert it. But if it’s a big fat key to the understanding of a major concept, which is the case here, I feel bound to call your attention to it. The left-out part is What Does It Mean to Live Poetically?” and I have stuck it in its logical place, namely, Chapter 11, “Living Poetically,” which began with Lesson 33. The new segment is Lesson 33.1 and you will find it here. 

    A Living Poetically Fortune Cookie

    I believe, when all is said and done, all you can do is show up for someone in crisis, which seems so inadequate. But then when you do, it can radically change everything. Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith

    redoute-four-1

    What Do You Want?

    How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

    Free E-Course Lesson 33.1
    Chapter 11: Living Poetically

    What Does It Mean to ‘Live Poetically’?

    Moonlight Sonata, by Harrison Cady

    Moonlight Sonata, by Harrison Cady

    This journal… does for me what prayer must do for the truly religious—sets things in proportion again…. What is interesting, after all, is the making of a self, an act of creation, like any other, that does imply a certain amount of conscious work. Ellen is very much aware of this, I feel. She would agree with Keats about “a vale of soul-making”…. May Sarton, Kinds of Love

    Jean Lall… calls housework “a path of contemplation” and says that if we denigrate the work that is to be done around the house every day, from cooking to doing laundry, we lose our attachment to our immediate world…. [Something as homely as a scrub brush can be] a sacramental object, and when we use this implement with care we are giving something to the soul. In this sense, cleaning the bathroom is a form of therapy because there is a correspondence between the actual room and a certain chamber of the heart. The bathroom that appears in our dreams is both the room in our house and a poetic object that describes a space in the soul. —Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul : A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life

    nebr_purple_coneflower-140x138

    I can’t tell you, item by item, how to live poetically any more than I could write my poetry and call it yours. The only “rule” that I know of for poetic living is practicing the “I-Thou” relationship that Martin Buber wrote about in his 1923 book I and Thou. 

    The Parable of the Good Samaritan, Van Gogh, 1890

    The Parable of the Good Samaritan, Van Gogh, 1890

    I and Thou, Martin Buber’s classic philosophical work, is among the 20th century’s foundational documents of religious ethics. “The close association of the relation to God with the relation to one’s fellow-men … is my most essential concern,” Buber explains in the Afterword…. “One should [never view]… the conversation with God … as something that occurs merely apart from or above the everyday,” Buber explains. “God’s address to man penetrates the events in all our lives and all the events in the world around us, everything biographical and everything historical, and turns it into instruction, into demands for you and me.”

    Throughout I and Thou, Buber argues for an ethic that does not use other people (or books, or trees, or God), and does not consider them objects of one’s own personal experience. Instead, Buber writes, we must learn to consider everything around us as “You” speaking to “me,” and requiring a response…. Walter Kaufmann’s definitive 1970 translation contains hundreds of helpful footnotes providing Buber’s own explanations of the book’s most difficult passages. —Michael Joseph Gross, Amazon.com review

    In a way, Buber’s book is an elaboration on the “do unto others…” maxim often referred to as the Golden Rule

    As ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.
    —Luke 6:31

    —which scholars refer to as the Ethic of Reciprocity and which exists in some form in virtually every religion. Anne Lamott has expressed it thus:

    Jesus said, “The point is to not hate and kill each other today, and if you can, to help the forgotten and powerless. Can you write that down, and leave it by the phone?”  —Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith

    Anne Lamott (www.metroactive.com)

    Anne Lamott (www.metroactive.com)

    If you can consistently and joyfully practice I-Thou relationships (or the Ethic of Reciprocity), I have nothing more to tell you. You are already gentle with others and gentle with yourself. You never, ever beat yourself up. When you make a mistake, you correct it or, if that’s not possible, you learn from it and go on with your life. 

    If — and this is more likely — you flounder around like the rest of us, then you might benefit from the modest wisdom I have gained on living joyfully and poetically:

    Lighten up! The title of the late Richard Carlson’s 1997 book says it all: Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff — and It’s All Small Stuff.

    Defy entropy. Have a plan but don’t be a slave to it. Find and practice your dharma, your “righteous path, way of living, and ethical system… largely found within oneself, through contemplation, rather than in the external world.” ProQuest

    Engage your imagination. As Nora Roberts points out in her novel Captivated, “The imagination [is] portable, unbreakable, and extremely malleable.” Be creative. Know that your potential is literally unlimited.

    Show up. Be conscious and aware and totally in the moment.

    Liberate yourself. Be larger than life. Do what you do with class and panache, beauty and grace. Practice courage. Be brave. Go the distance to become not just a good singer/dancer/accountant/cashier but a great one. 

    Nelson Mandela

    Nelson Mandela

    Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate, but that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, handsome, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us. It is not just in some; it is in everyone. And, as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others. Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles” quoted by Nelson Mandela in his inaugural speech of 10 May 1994

    Keep moving. Continually co-create yourself. Let your actions be learned and practiced but not slavishly habitual. Play. Pretend. Always be aware that you have choices. Solve your problems as they arise.

    Find your balance — that place between (a) spontaneity and intuition and (b) wisdom and orderliness. Napoleon Hill, in The Law of Success, maintains that the most successful people are those who trust their sixth sense.

    Assignment 33.2

    garden-of-eden-print-c10101487

    1. Make a list of 100 things you want. We’ll call these your goals. The items on your list can be grand or trivial: a movie you want to see, a new restaurant you want to try, habits you want to form, things you want to do before you die, places you want to visit, people you’d like to meet, desired changes in relationships….
    2. Choose just one thing from your list. It makes absolutely no difference which goal you choose.
    3. Write loosely in prose about, or make a diagram of, the distance between you and the goal and the steps you can take to overcome that distance. Conclude with reaching the goal.
    4. Close your eyes and imagine, but don’t write down, how you will feel when your goal is reached.
    5. Condense your prose into a Spenserian sonnet with the rhyme scheme abab, bcbc, cdcd, ee. An example is the following sonnet (1595) by the English poet Edmund Spenser. The metrical pattern is generally iambic pentameter, and it is easier to discern if you understand that, four hundred years ago, many words were pronounced differently, with added syllables. The first line, for example, might have been spoken thus: “Hap-PY [or, more likely, HAP-py, making the line slightly irregular] ye LEAV-es! WHEN those LIL-y HANDS”; and the word derived in line 10 was probably pronounced “de-RIVE-ed.”

      Happy ye leaves! when those lily hands, (a)
      Which hold my life in their dead doing might, (b)
      Shall handle you, and hold in love’s soft bands, (a)
      Like captives trembling at the victor’s sight. (b)
      And happy lines on which, with starry light, (b)
      Those lamping eyes will deign sometimes to look,(c)
      And read the sorrows of my dying sprite, (b)
      Written with tears in heart’s close bleeding book. (c)
      And happy rhymes! bathed in the sacred brook (c)
      Of Helicon, whence she derived is, (d)
      When ye behold that angel’s blessed look, (c)
      My soul’s long lacked food, my heaven’s bliss. (d)
      Leaves, lines, and rhymes seek her to please alone, (e)
      Whom if ye please, I care for other none. (e)

      NOTE: Do not overtly express your feelings of victory or accomplishment in your poem. Let your artistry, and the rhetorical devices you use, do that for you.

      • Send your assignment via e-mail to Mary@LifeIsPoetry.net. I will not grade your assignment, but I will return it to you with comments.
      • Keep exploring the meditations at www.LifeIsPoetry.net, and continue with your meditation journal.

      Edmund Spenser 1552-1599
      Edmund Spenser 1552-1599

       

       

       

    Lady Irene

    How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

    Free E-Course Lesson 33

    Chapter 11: Living Poetically
    Case Studies in Poetic Living — Irene

    Join now! Find details about this free E-course at Lesson 1 … 

    athens_school_of

    Case Study #1: Living Poetically

    Anne Bancroft

    Anne Bancroft

    None of my case studies is a perfect example of the poetic liver (or pancreas, or gallbladder…). We are, after all, talking about human beings, not gods or angels. But these are human beings who, in nearly every exigency, see not disaster but an infinite number of choices, and from these they select the most elegant or the kindest.

    Irene is an exquisitely complex individual; accordingly, her life has always been complex. She is gifted in a hundred ways, and, with luck (and a bit more focus), she might have excelled in any of a dozen fields.

    Irene the Artist 

    She is an artist in the Renaissance sense: she sketches, she paints, she sculpts, she sings and plays the guitar. We met in high school — we were both singing in our school’s elite A Cappella Choir.

    During our junior year, she had the lead in the Madwoman of Chaillot,

    (French title La Folle de Chaillot) … a play, a poetic satire, by French dramatist Jean Giraudoux, written in 1943 and first performed in 1945, after his death. The play has two acts and follows the convention of the classical unities. It follows an eccentric woman who lives in Paris and her struggles against the straitlaced authority figures in her life. —Wikipedia

    Without Irene, such an ambitious production could not have been attempted at our school. Her performance was so exceptional that even the most lowbrow of our peers, the guys who still thought it was hilarious to make farting noises with their armpits, were agog.

    Mel Brooks, 1984

    Mel Brooks, 1984

    Likewise, Irene’s appearance was, and remains, dramatic. Her late mother strongly resembled the actress Anne Bancroft (1931-2005), perhaps best known for her Academy Award–winning role as Annie Sullivan in the 1962 film the Miracle Worker. Bancroft was married for more than 40 years, until her death in 2005, to Mel Brooks, now 82. (1)

    As Irene ages (she is nearing 62), she looks more and more as her mother did when I knew her — more glamorous, more Anne Bancroft-ish. For the past ten years or so — after decades of supporting herself, working hard at interesting jobs (she was, for example, the executive director of a ballet company) and learning, learning, learning (she studied under Robert Bly in Chicago) — Irene has lived almost entirely on disability income. She suffers agonies from spinal stenosis and fibromyalgia. In terms of material possessions, she is quite poor — though she reverently keeps the family china from two generations — but poverty has never made her hard or bitter. It has, instead, fueled her imagination and called forth her creativity.

    Gifts of the spirit

    Irene's double cartouche, the ideal wedding, anniversary, or Valentine's gift

    Irene's double cartouche, the ideal wedding, anniversary, or Valentine's gift

    Irene has always been more independent than rebellious. Her spirituality is eclectic, embracing paganism, Wicca, and other fringe religious practices… but she never judges the religiosity of others, and she often prays fervently to “Whoever Is On Duty.”  She begins each day with a ritual of gratitude and a salute to the sun. Many years ago, she dramatically quitted the Presbyterian church she was attending when the pastor’s wife unceremoniously ejected a homeless man from the assembled congregation.

    She knows more about Egyptology and pre-Christian Celtic religious practices than do many academics with doctoral degrees in folklore. She privately performs elaborate sacred rituals on the Celtic festival days:

    • Imbolc, celebrated on the eve of February 1st,… sacred to the fertility goddess Brigit, and as such … a spring festival. It was later Christianised as the feast of St Brigid….
    • Beltaine, held on the eve of May 1st., …devoted to the god Bel, and a common practise was the lighting of fires. It was later Christianised as the feast of St John the Baptist, and the festival of May Day is generally thought to have been based upon it.
    • Lughnasadh, … in August, [which]… revolved around the god Lugh, who, according to mythology, was giving a feast for his foster mother Tailtu at that time.
    • Samhain, held on October 31st, [marking]… the end of one pastoral year, and the beginning of another, and … similarly thought of as the time when spirits of the Otherworld became visible to humans. It was Christianised as Halloween, which has kept its associations with spirits and the supernatural right into the contemporary period. —Wikipedia, accessed January 31, 2009
    Lunar-phase diagram donated to Wikipedia by "Minesweeper"

    Lunar-phase diagram donated to Wikipedia by "Minesweeper"

    In spite of the fact that she dances under the full moon and observes certain traditions associated with the new moon… and that she believes herself to be (half seriously, half with tongue in cheek) a latter-day priestess of the Egyptian goddess Isis (or is it Bastet?), and carries forth the goddess’s legacy of protecting and sheltering cats… she is the farthest thing from a fanatic. She is in some ways vulnerable and in others impervious to the opinions of others, and she would be equally comfortable at Buckingham Palace, in an archaeological dig at the sites of the pyramids and tombs of Egypt, and at a roadside diner drinking coffee and munching on a cheese omelet.

    Irene of the generous spirit

    Irene's Isis print, signed and numbered, 11 x 17 inches; the original was done on real papyrus

    Irene's Isis print, signed and numbered, 11 x 17 inches; the original was done on real papyrus

    Irene is a vegetarian and an accomplished cook — chef might be the more accurate term — and she never comes to see me without a gift of food or the loan of a book. Her makeup is always perfect, her hair beautifully styled, and her clothing artistically accented with earrings or beads, or both. Her own home is approximately half of the second floor of a Queen Anne–style Victorian mansion, with a flank of long bay windows, doorways framed with intricately carved woodwork, and a stained-glass transom.

    Her adopted cats live long, pampered lives, protected as they are by Irene and Isis (or, perhaps, Bastet). She (Irene — presumably Isis and Bastet as well) is patient; it took years, but she finally wore me down, in her gentle way, until I adopted two feral kittens, offspring of fecund mama Jezebel, whom Irene has never been able to trap in order to have her spayed. Irene speaks Cat fluently, to my shame, for I have not managed to pick up more than a few words of the language.

    A Queen Anne–style Victorian house

    A Queen Anne–style Victorian house

    The yard of her mansion apartment is tiny, but Irene has found room for a small cat cemetery and for her summer fairy garden of herbs and flowers and stone pathways. She is an aficionado of meditation, visualization, and Tong Ren, and she is a healer by nature and experience.

    I do not know if Irene has ever read Martin Buber’s I And Thou, but she relates to people in the way Martin Buber would have us do — as sacred, each and every one. As was often said about my late mother-in-law, she “never knew a stranger,” and she has instant rapport with everyone from the drive-through-coffee-shop personnel to the postal-service mail clerks and the other folks waiting for their prescriptions to be ready at the pharmacy.

    Sweet basil from Irene's herb garden

    Sweet basil from Irene's herb garden

    Irene lives poetically about seven-eighths of the time. The lost eighth falls at the end of the month, when she has run out of money, in large part because of her excessive generosity. She is something of an adventurer and spent much of her life on the edge, marrying wildly unsuitable men, one of whom spent an entire night holding a gun to her head. She is far too intelligent and resourceful to have remained in these treacherous relationships, though they afforded her some interesting travel opportunities.

    Thwarted

    Among the top ten of My Most Embarrassing Experiences is the Incident of the Thwarted Escape Attempt. We were 19 or so, still living with our parents, and she had made plans to run off to meet one of the unsuitable men, who lived, I think, in Indiana. What was supposed to have happened is that I was to drive to her neighborhood and wait on a side street to the south of her house. Her parents left for work — they owned and operated a meat market — quite early, around 6:30, as I recall, and “always” turned north after reaching the end of the driveway, so I was, theoretically, in no danger of detection. As soon as they were out of sight, I was to pick Irene up and take her to the airport, where she would soar away to her assignation.

    The view from the bay windows (photo by Mike Pedroncelli)

    The view from the bay windows (photo by Mike Pedroncelli)

    Unfortunately, her parents had detected her packed suitcase the night before and had prevented her from phoning me to warn me off. So there I was, at 6:30 a.m. on the designated side street, watching her parents back out of the driveway and turn… oops… southward. I scrunched down in the seat,  hoping to become invisible, but I heard their car pull up beside mine, and I heard her mother say, “Mary?” with a question mark in her voice. Well, there was nothing to do but pop back up into view, only to be scolded, berated, and forbidden ever to have anything to do with Irene again as long as I lived.

    Fortunately, I did not obey. My life would be much the poorer without Irene and her charm, her grace, and her optimism, which sometimes flags but never fails.

    ___________

    (1) Mel Brooks, born Melvin Kaminsky; June 28, 1926)… an American director, writer, composer, lyricist, comedian, actor and producer, best known as a creator of broad film farces and comic parodies. Brooks is a member of the short list of entertainers with the distinction of having won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony award. Three of his films (Blazing Saddles, The Producers, and Young Frankenstein) ranked in the Top 20 on the American Film Institute‘s list of the Top 100 comedy films of all-time. —Wikipedia

    Single cartouche with blessing

    Single cartouche with blessing

    For Honest Poverty

    How to Write Poetry and Live Poetically

    Free E-Course Lesson 32.2

    Chapter 11: Living Poetically
    Robert Burns, Part 2

    Join now! Find details about this free E-course at Lesson 1 … 

    robt_burns_alex_nasmyth_18281

    Robert Burns wore his heart in his poetry. His topics range from romantic love to radical politics. In meter and rhyme, he attacked the church, the class system, and the inequality of gender roles.

    An incident in the 1745 Scots rebellion, painted by David Morier

    An incident in the 1745 Scots rebellion, painted by David Morier

    Burns was born thirteen years after the Battle of Culloden, the beginning of the end of the traditional Scottish Highland way of life, and of the clans. The British, who had nominally controlled Scotland since the 1707 Acts of Union but had never been able to harness the independent Highlanders, mercilessly seized Highland farms, killing the occupants or driving them off their land summarily, with nothing but the clothes on their backs. The Highlands were cleared, the clan system abolished, the wearing of the tartan prohibited.

    Thus, Robert Burns

    belonged to a nation which had lost its independence but was at the same time part of a larger state in whose successes he could rejoice and in whose better government he was interested, so that his patriotism was always of a peculiarly double sort. His attachment to what, for want of a better word, must be termed his class, that is, to the lower orders, broadly conceived, reinforced and buttressed his nationalism. —Robert Burns Plus, accessed January 28, 2009

    He is regarded as a pioneer of the Romantic movement and after his death became a great source of inspiration to the founders of both liberalism and socialism. [Burns was a] cultural icon in Scotland and among the Scottish Diaspora around the world, [and] celebration of his life and work became almost a national charismatic cult during the 19th and 20th centuries…. His influence has long been strong on Scottish literature. Wikipedia, accessed January 28, 2009

    Jane Austen, c. 1810; a sketch by her sister Cassandra

    Jane Austen, c. 1810; a sketch by her sister Cassandra

    The poem “Is There for Honest Poverty” is a plainspoken, songlike expression of Burns’s democratic principles. These were radical for the time. Read, for historical perspective on class distinction, the delightful novel Emma (1816), by Jane Austen. The title character is a wealthy, beautiful, clever, and basically kindhearted member of the rural aristocracy, but one with a misguided rigidity in matters of social class.

    Emma persuades her young and impressionable friend Harriet not to marry the well-spoken, prosperous farmer who is courting her. The girl would be marrying beneath herself, Emma explains, and Emma herself would have to “drop the acquaintance.”

    emmaAusten, in her gentle way, exposes Emma’s folly; she is properly ashamed. The author writes satirically, of course, as in all her novels, about artificial distinctions between “gentlemen” with inherited wealth or social position and those who had to earn their living — as merchants or tenant farmers, for example. The egalitarian fervor of the French Revolution (1789-1799) had not gone unnoticed in England, and it certainly influenced the politics and poetry of Robert Burns. 

    As well as making original compositions, Burns also collected folk songs from across Scotland, often revising or adapting them. His poem (and song) Auld Lang Syne is often sung at Hogmanay (the last day of the year), and “Scots Wha Hae served for a long time as an unofficial national anthem of the country. Other poems and songs of Burns that remain well known across the world today include A Red, Red Rose,” “A Man’s A Man for A’ That” [“Is There for Honest Poverty”], “To a Louse,” “To a Mouse,” “The Battle of Sherramuir,” “Tam O’Shanter,” and “Ae Fond Kiss….”

    He is generally classified as a proto-Romantic poet, and he influenced William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Percy Bysshe Shelley greatly. The Edinburgh literati worked to sentimentalise Burns during his life and after his death, dismissing his education by calling him a “heaven-taught ploughman.” Wikipedia, accessed January 28, 2009 

    Lady Georgiana, Dutchess of Devonshire, and her siblings, Lady Henrietta Frances and George John Spencer, by Thomas Lawrence, c. 1780. Georgiana was a celebrated beauty and a socialite who gathered around her a large circle of literary and political figures—a salon. She was also an active political campaigner in an age when women's suffrage was still over a century away. —Wiklipedia

    Lady Georgiana, Dutchess of Devonshire, and her siblings, Lady Henrietta Frances and George John Spencer, by Thomas Lawrence, c. 1780. Georgiana was a celebrated beauty and a socialite who gathered around her a large circle of literary and political figures—a salon. She was also an active political campaigner in an age when women's suffrage was still over a century away. —Wikipedia

    Assignment 32.3

    1. Analyze one of the poems at “The Ploughman Poet“: (a) What intimate glimpse of Burns’s soul does it provide? (b) How does it do so (through language, rhyme, meter, metaphor, and other poetic conventions)?
    2. Write a poem patterned after Burns’s style that illustrates one deep conviction of your own.
    3. Identify the poetic devices in your poem.
    4. Send your assignment via e-mail to Mary@LifeIsPoetry.net. I will not grade your assignment, but I will return it to you with comments.
    5. Keep exploring the meditations at www.LifeIsPoetry.net, and continue with your meditation journal.
    6.  * * *