Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Dandy, Focus, Joy

"Banish the will to be dreary," said the designer Dorothy Draper, when she wrote about giving parties. Draper was a dandy. The dandy chooses high style--bella figura. Cut a beautiful figure. In the end, nature triumphs but until it overcomes us completely, twirl, dress up, decorate. Yet let me tell you, I'm not decorating much--a few strings of bright lights--but I'm enjoying gazing at my neighbors' lights, and avoiding what some have called "a false sense of urgency," by staying away from my computer except to check e-mail and work on poems. There's been enough real urgency. You can imagine--the same things that cause urgency in your lives.

I've seen a few friends in the flesh and gazed at their faces and listened to their stories. I watched artist Melissa Shook's video, Kemper and Me, in which she and Kemper, to whom she was once married, talk about theirs lives with remarkable candor. They are honest without being hurtful, a remarkable feat, especially to someone like me who is quick on the trigger. (I mostly show that side of myself to J.--poor J.) I turned off the flash on my camera and set it for long exposures to pick up night light and motion.

Long exposures on modern cameras are short but take in a lot. So do our eyes and so do we if we focus. I can't force joy. It comes when it will. But let me focus! Tell me: what do you wish for?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Nobility and Self Oblivion

The word "noble" is out of style. "Noble" meaning "honorable." "Noble" meaning "superiority of mind or character." Roland Barthes gives these attributes to his mother and to literature: "Since maman's death, no desire to 'construct' anything--except in writing. Why? Literature = the only region of Nobility (as maman was noble)." I believe him!

Mourning Diary is a record of his mourning for his mother. But this morning I'm also interested in his surprising, idealistic view of literature as the only "region of Nobility." A tremendous claim in these relativistic times. Reading Barthes I feel I return to the idealism of my youth when my teachers, friends and I recoiled from materialism. To Barthes' equation I would add another: Literature = Freedom.

A few weeks ago my friend N. and I were looking at one of her paintings. "The paint takes over," N. said. When paint takes over, the artist is freed from herself. When language takes over, the writer is freed from herself. When artists express the seemingly impossible to express, there is freedom in the work. So today I won't beat a poem to death trying to get it right. Or scrub a pot to an inch of its hard-metal life.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Writing is harder than breaking stones, Yeats wrote. Not first drafts but revising. I've been away, revising. Now it's bliss to walk to the pond and bumble around rocks. The dog pack thinned out. I didn't have to avoid the larger dog gang, people with their dogs, sometimes more than a dozen, chattering, beside themselves with cozy fellow feeling. J. calls them smug, entitled, while I say these suburbanites seem to know little about animals. They like to see dogs frolic in packs on play dates. They call it freedom.

Between rocks and dog gangs, I choose rocks--these from Ice Age glaciers.

In the woods a single chocolate lab ran at me hard, eager to play. I liked him, spoke to him, then went on bumbling toward the sun.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Does private life exist anymore? In 1960, E.M. Forster thought private life was finished, at least in England. Without wild nature, he believed, there can be no secret life. England's "greenwood" is gone:

There is no forest or fell to escape to today, no cave in which to curl up, no deserted valley for those who wish neither to reform nor corrupt society but to be left alone. People do still escape, one can see them any night at it in the films. But they are gangsters not outlaws, they can dodge civilization because they are part of it. ("Terminal Note" to Maurice, Forster's novel about men loving men.)

This gentle-sounding notion of "wild"--"forest or fell," "cave" with "curl"--reminds me of Duke Senior's appreciation of the Forest of Arden in As You Like It:

I also like to take "wildness" with goodness and shelter--not sermons, though--and walk in woods as close to my town as Concord Center is to Walden. Forster does not write solely about solitary life. His frame of reference is plural: "those who wish," and "outlaws," not outlaw. I believe he was also thinking of shelter with comrades. "Homosexual acts" were a crime in England until the 1960s.

Some people I know, J., for instance, go into the deep wild woods alone and read books like Alone: The Man Who Braved the Vast Pacific--and Won. When I go for my solitary walks, I sometimes "double off" (Thoreau's language) and enter a story I tell myself, a way of changing one to two--no, not quite. Instead, let's say: oneness deepened as well as lessened. "Tell" maybe too strong. It's a place between telling and reverie.

There's no one way to be. But I wish wild kids had not set fire to this tree no matter how interesting the burn pattern.

Secret places, caves, burrows, deserted valleys, forests, Ardens, Edens, brains--please, don't tell.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Wear and Wild

My work glove split; my thumb poked through. Now I've lost this glove and its mate in the garden, where they are wearing more, like these B. found when digging up a sumac.

B. said she wondered whether she would find a body. No body, no bones, yet right for my kind of Halloween. I lost those gloves years ago. B. and I admired them together--lacy holes, leather thumb dangling, rootlets. I found the label, still intact. The leather was still pliant. After a few days in the house the gloves have stiffened. I'll bury them again.

Some say gardens are tame. Don't believe it! Look closely. The ground hog is digging deep.

A creature has eaten a window-like hole in the pumpkin, carved it, scattered seeds, a wonderfully neat job. My efforts for Halloween will not involve gnawing and digging--no pumpkin carving. Ghosts only in my dreams.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Morris Engel, Photographer

Morris Engel took wonderful pictures! Here's one, "Coney Island."

When I was out walking in the woods with M.S., I pointed to a rocky ledge. "It's comprehensible," said M. The figures in this photo are comprehensible too, aren't they? Tell me, what do you comprehend?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Poetry Party at The Liberty Hotel

Please join the Poetry Party at The Liberty Hotel, formerly the Charles Street Jail!

I'll be reading with Richard Hoffman and Kathleen Spivack, open mike to follow.

Thursday, Oct. 14, 6:30 PM, 215 Charles Street
Boston, MA 02114

Thanks to sponsors Harris Gardner of Tapestry of Voices, The Grolier Poetry Bookshop, and here's to Liberty!

The grunge of the derelict Jail is gone, but the renovation is too sand-blasted clean. The building will age again; new dirt will stick. Let's help those surfaces build up a patina. Our hands will do it. I plan to have a beer in the bar before the reading. Look for me a little before six.

Here are before and after pictures:

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Kathleen Spivack's, "A History of Yearning"

It's a pleasure to have poet Kathleen Spivack's A History of Yearning in my hands and admire the blurb-less back cover--generous margins, white space, and a black and white photo of the much published author. Her poems have arrived and speak for themselves: lyrical, elegiac, super-sensitive, intelligent.

Among my favorites, "The Path into Night":

Two drawn out
calls of birds
falling in fifths
in late evening
and now the tree frogs
start to throb.
Solitude sinks in
like a blanket, bluish
absence inhaled: skin
a sheen of sadness
finely silver-edged.
If one's whole life
were to be this
solitary would the
true notes
start to sound;
repeated bird song
measuring darkness?

It was also a pleasure to hear Spivack read from this--her just-out book--last Sunday at the Pierre Menard Gallery on Arrow Street in Harvard Square. The event, sponsored by the Grolier Poetry Bookshop, brought out keen listeners.

Kathleen Spivack and Ifeanyi Menkiti, owner of the Grolier, poet, publisher, and professor at Wellesley, warmly commanded and engaged the audience.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Forster's Fruit-Bats

It's been marvelous to re-read E. M. Forster's novel, A Passage to India. Some people say we read to experience beauty and also to learn how to live.

After I read this passage about fruit-bats--and other things--I felt I could live more peacefully; but, to be true to Forster, only for a moment, before the peaceful mood changed, yet he beautifully describes a moment of acquiescence.

The promontory was covered with lofty trees, and the fruit-bats were unhooking from the boughs and making kissing sounds as they grazed the surface of the tank; hanging upside down all the day, they had grown thirsty. The signs of the contented Indian evening multiplied; frogs on all sides, cow-dung burning eternally; a flock of belated hornbills overhead, looking like winged skeletons as they flapped across the gloaming. There was death in the air, but not sadness; a compromise had been made between destiny and desire, and even the heart of man acquiesced.

Often I don't acquiesce but give up in exasperation. Tell me, when does your heart acquiesce?

The window is open: sparrow chirp gets in, a warm breeze too, but no sounds as evocative and foreign as fruit-bats kissing. Here it's still day. At twilight the crickets will start. My friend, L., said that crickets don't hear each other except when one loses the beat. They hear that one! Then what? I wonder. Do they get the out-of-beat, off-beat cricket back in rhythm?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Innisfree: "Beauty Secrets of the Dead"

Thanks to Greg McBride, poet editor of Innisfree Poetry Journal for including "Beauty Secrets of the Dead" in the fall 2010 issue. I hope you enjoy my poem as well as the work of other contributors.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Still Life: Garbage

We compost garbage. "Garbage" meaning "food waste." Rather than wasting, J. and I save, yet if we accumulate garbage in a container in the kitchen before putting it on the compost pile, it attracts ants, fruit flies, etc.--no mouse in the kitchen yet--and gives off a ripe-rotten odor even when covered. J. has solved the problem. Following his lead, I freeze garbage! The peels, stems, seeds, cores, and pith pile up, but naturally do not overflow. This morning the frozen pile made a zany still life, but I won't call it "still." Frozen, on the table, in 95 degree heat, the little garbage tower gave off a frosty cloud that my camera couldn't catch. A pleasure!

I rapped the container against the hard black bin, and the garbage slid out; the still-frozen tomato-peel 'torta' split off from the banana peels and tough eggplant ends. (The tomato meat had gone into a sauce.) By now wasps, fruit flies--and who knows what else--and the action of a layer of soil are bringing the mess back to life.

What does all this have to do with my August writer's retreat at home? Let me think. Although I wrote an essay, roughed out some poems and buffed up others, read till my eyes crossed, I was forced to listen to plenty of rubbish during 8/2010. Maybe some of it will find its way into stories. I'll trust to time and the vagaries of memory to transform some of the truly worthless parts into material--comedy, I hope. If you were here with me, dear Bloggerones, I might tell you about it. How was your August? And how are things on September first?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Writing at Home

Thank you for stopping by! For the month of August, I will leave the blog world to work at home on poems and essays. I hope some of that work will be good. We'll see. All the best to you. Goodbye for now and good luck! Until September, Mim

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Patterns & Veterans

Some years ago at Boston University there was an undergraduate literary magazine called Patterns, a name that fit the age of New Criticism in which we scrutinized the text for forms. Color, metaphor, design. Seldom did we look beyond the text. New Criticism was a convenient way to instruct undergraduates who, it was believed, were not ready for research. I'm still interested in patterns. In a small town in upstate New York I liked the parallel lines of paint indicating utility lines, though the sight of paint on top of grass was jarring. Yet safe digging requires these marks. Cut a gas line and risk an explosion. Cut a water pipe and risk a flood.

At the local office of the Division of Veteran Affairs on the main Street I read these notices as history, a pattern of history.

Finally, a credit to the Obama administration, Agent Orange benefits have been changed for the better. In time, there will be a notice for veterans of the War in Afghanistan.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Bubble Fun?

The three of us--Ms. B, Mr. H. and I--were uneasy when, walking through Davis Square on our way to a friend's book party, we saw children thrashing about inside these huge plastic bubbles at the Art Beat Festival, which we ignored: there wasn't much art. The temperature was in the nineties; the sun cooked the plastic; sunlight flared off the plastic. The bubbles turned and collided.

We spoke up about the child who appeared to be exhausted--a small boy with fair hair--and were told the rule: children under two and under are not allowed. This boy was older than two but small. Finally his father and the attendant released him.

The older children could take it--the falls, the bumps.

There were air holes, small air holes.

As the bubble turned and the child flopped, thrashed, slipped and slid, the bubble took a little water, making the concave surface even more slippery.

Have you seen this amusement, which was not amusing to me?

Sunday, July 18, 2010


Democracy is not exclusive. In theory: power to the people; all the people. I am a democrat. I vote; I belong to no exclusive clubs and shop at no exclusive stores. I frequent public libraries and belong to a union. I am a graduate of a public grammar school and high school.

Yet democrat though I am, I'm aware of my many acts of exclusion. Take these two pictures. Imagine how much I have left out.

Some of my colleagues at work would say, "My door is always open." Not mine, I would think. "Please knock," said the sign on my office door. (I was lucky to have an office with a door. I'd freak in a cubicle.)

Oh, the luxury of privacy! I've heard about the punishing lack of privacy in prisons, except when there's too much in solitary.

Though in the larger sense, I'm one person among many, crowds, conventions, huge gatherings turn me off. You won't see me at a fireworks extravaganza. Let me have a table for one or two people or a larger round table where a congenial group may talk and eat something delicious. Do you have a favorite dish?

Friday, July 9, 2010

Exude, Extrude

The fungi living on the oak tree exude liquid. A clear ooze.

A creature, whose name I don't know, a spinner but perhaps not a spider, has extruded these webs along the top of the clipped yew hedge, pushed out fine threads through tiny openings. The webs mist the severe line.

I also think of the way breath clouds a window: a category different from exudations and extrusions. But back to the Realm of Ooze and Extrusion, what are you thinking of? Tell me, please.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Independence Day

This Mac computer, which already feels too hot under my wrists, had been turned off since Friday.

Our Fourth of July was quiet, J's and mine. In the early morning while the house was still cool he read the Declaration of Independence out loud as I walked up and down the living room, my bare feet on the carpet.

He read from the booklet containing The Declaration of Independence, The Constitution of the United States, and The Constitution of New Jersey, which I had received at graduation from Junior High School along with the engraved "Certificate of Promotion to the Senior High School." The Board of Education gave us--in lavish blue and gold with ribbons--this gift to officially welcome us to the Republic. Not that I thought in those terms on graduation day. Yet many of my teachers had already schooled us by example and by drawing us out with questions, in Civics class, and in the regular classroom. They raised questions; we answered; sometimes we fumbled; we thought. Most of our teachers had come down from New England, unmarried women--that was the rule when they were hired--to work in New Jersey. Hazel Putnam, descendent of the Revolutionary War General Israel Putnam had taught me about the Republic.

I had been nervous about letting J. touch this gold-stamped memento and artifact of another time and a past life and I made him promise not to "slop it up." I administered the oath--"I promise, I swear . . . "--and he took it. You see, earlier he had tried to read from the print facsimile in the New York Times and found it unreadable even with a magnifying glass, so I had volunteered my treasure and then took the risk. It was worth it, and the documents are still in good shape.

We both loved the inditement section in which the crimes of George III, King of England, are rolled out one after another, gathering force, in 27 succinct paragraphs beginning mostly with "He." He the king had done this; he had done that. He had gone too far. His acts, his crimes, had piled up. Enough!

Our founders indited a king.

"A prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people."

The passage in which the founders' recounted their unsuccessful appeals to their "British brethren" lit up for me and J:

We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them, by the ties of our common kindred, to disavow these usurpation, which would inevitable interrupt our connections and correspondence. They, too, have been deaf to the voice of justice and consanguinity.

Consanguinity: with blood, with common blood. Blood brothers: English to English.

Don't we all have blood in common, aren't we all commoners? Blood when it shows in my veins through my pink skin is blue, which does not make me and others like me superior blue bloods as distinguished from darker-skinned people who do not appear blue-veined. All blood is red; when it dries it is purplish. Royal purple, common red: all of us. Red, white, and blue, etc., etc. Bring on the colors! But flag raising is not to my taste.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Tuesday Poem: "I am Raftery . . . "

Translated from the Gaelic of Anthony Raftery (1784-1835)

I am Raftery the poet,

Full of hope and love,

My eyes without sight,

My soul without torment,

Going westward on my journey

By the light of my heart,

Weary and tired

To the end of my road.

Behold me now

With my back to the wall

Playing songs

To empty pockets.


Is Mise Raifteirí an file,

Lán dúchais is grádh,

Le súile gan solas,

Le ciúnas gan crá.

Ag dul síar ar m'aistear

Le solas mo chroí

Fann agus tuirseach

Go deireadh mo shlí

Féach anois mé

Is mo chúl le bhfalla

Ag seinm ceoil

Do phócaí folamh.

For "Tuesday Poem" based in New Zealand.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Stroll Report: Bumming Around

Smilla Dankert from Cologne, whose blog I follow, asked how I was. In the same message she wrote:

Your blog changed a bit; at the time you were in Miami you always wrote these little stroll-reports
and so it was more easy to get to know your all-day-mood (sort of)
Now it's not that easy anymore...

I thought, Back north in Fast Land, it's not so easy for me to know my moods. Photos pile up, details scatter, work increases. At the southern tip of Miami Beach I was three blocks from the ocean and got there almost every day. I could see the horizon.

Spring up north came all at once this year after flooding rains. Epiphany spring. Boom! Poems came in electric spurts. Electric for me. Who knows which ones will be left standing.

It's been lovely to stroll again: to artist Mimi K.'s garden--poppies and butterfly plants in bloom; it was lively to find a cast-off undergarment that heavy rain washed to the sewer grate.

This bike was meticulously organized to carry a light cargo of materials for recycling: plastic bags sorted into types. There was a paper bag neatly filled with plastic bottles. There were pairs of protective gloves clipped to the carrier. At first I foolishly thought the bike belonged to someone dedicated to green, recycling, etc. I shot a few photos and as I walked away I saw a man cross the main street and head for the bike. "Is it yours?" I asked him, and he said yes. When I told him I had taken photos of the bike--"so beautifully organized"--he said, "I'm trying to earn a few dollars." He had come from the return-for-deposit machines at the supermarket across the street. He works on his own at collecting discarded, tossed, for-deposit bottles people don't bother to redeem for money. He redeems. We shook hands. He gave me permission to take his picture. His name is John. Will I see him again? I was so happy he didn't say something like, 'You're a nice little lady.' Lady I'm not.

At the pond the faucet gleamed. The water was clean. I wish I had the skill and time to rebuild that rotted-out piece of wood so that it still bore marks of age and the grain. Or find a piece of salvage I could cut to fit that round opening. Marked salvage.

Stroll rhythm--now too as I write and quiet down. (Bummel is a German word for stroll--just found it on Google. Does the word Bummel have anything to do with the English "bumming around"? I hope so!)