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I started April writing several poems, partly because it’s fun to write poetry, partly because I’ve been all about doing projects of all sorts in order to keep myself from working every waking hour (or feeling guilty about not working every waking hour).
I painted a china cabinet. I’ve continued to have fun with my Irish tin whistle (that phrasing sounds inappropriate, but I’m talking about playing the instrument….okay, that still sounds inappropriate, so I’m just gonna let it go). I’ve done some workouts available on OnDemand. I visited some colleges with my favorite daughter (I only have one daughter, and she’s my favorite), and I worked on some mega spreadsheets to help her make a decision about where to enroll. I’ve done some reading.
And I wrote poems at the start of April, which is National Poetry Month.
This morning, I was hanging out on social media, and suddenly I didn’t need to look for a poem because a poem found me. Or at least the inspiration for a poem. We will see what happens. Here goes.
faith hope love for $7
—clearly the best deal available at the Putnam Yard Sale.
You’re imagining knick knacks and tchotchkes
in unceremonious rows and piles on cheap folding tables
while browsers scan for treasures and see only junk,
sometimes saying a cheery hello to the sellers in their suburban driveways
but mostly shifting eyes away, ashamed to see the sad spoils of a household,
ashamed at all that ends up relegated to the sales table,
ashamed if they want the leftovers Susan has affixed a fluorescent stickered price to
and embarrassed for Susan if they see nothing of value
You’re hoping for a meet cute, for two hands reaching for the ceramic frog at once.
You hope that the relentless pursuit of treasure among yard sales of consumer waste
might be a symbol of faith and of hope and
might result in love
—the unexpected take-away as they each pitch in $3.50
for shared custody of the ceramic frog (originally priced at $10)
and it eventually sits on their mantle
and they tell the story to their grandchildren
and they don’t mind when little Bobby drops the frog and chips it, exposing its fragility.
After all, it was imperfect when they bought it, so many years ago,
But my story is of a Facebook notification:
“Susan added 6 photos in Putnam Yard Sale.”
I click and scan the china place settings, imagine the dinnerware in my household.
I scroll down: toy box, dog cage, mattress, blazer.
This page is a veritable folding table
overflowing with household castaways,
The Island of Misfit Toys or Corduroy
hoping, always hoping, a little girl will take him home despite his missing button.
After the mini travel blow dryer and
before the huge estate sale
the poem arrives.
FAITH LOVE HOPE
Susan has posted it, the same Susan with the 6 photos of china that drew me here.
I imagine it is her hand in the photo, holding the framed piece upright
on the quartz countertop
with dark kitchen chairs in the background.
In her ad she has switched the order of the words from the “art” she is selling.
She has transformed lowercase swirly script into capitalized block.
They appear on a heart stretched vertically to hold the words
offset by polka-dot backgrounds in complementary pinks and browns
and double matting.
It is the best deal of the day—
in whatever order, faith hope love for $7.
I predict no one will buy it
maybe because it’s in the wrong place and needs other hands to pick it up, to hold it,
to sense some value in it
—to at least see the potential in the frame and matting
that could hold something, someday, worth keeping
I uploaded this post by accident when showing a student how to “publish immediately.” Hopefully I’ll have more books I’ve read by the end of 2018 because this is a pretty short list!
JAN 7: Fever Dream: A Novel, by Samanta Schweblin, translated by Megan McDowell, 2014.
I was at MLA in NYC and one of the people working in the Penguin booth recommended this book. It’s the kind of book you read in one day, she said. And so I did. Two characters have a conversation for the entire book as one of them seems to be dying and recounting events that led her to this point. When I finished it, I wanted to look up other people’s reactions online because I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. If you read it, and you’re in that boat, you might want to check out this brief article from The Guardian or this reader’s take on the story.
I recommend it if you like psychological, environmental, eerie kinds of stories that play with the lines between reality and imagination.
It would pair well with Don DeLillo’s White Noise.
JAN 11: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, 1890.
My daughter Callie read this book for school and asked me about it. I hadn’t ever read it, oddly enough, though I was familiar with the basic premise. I told Callie all I knew about Oscar Wilde and showed her some of the quotes from the monument in Merrion Square in Dublin.
When I first began reading, I could hardly believe how clever the dialogue was. It was even more clever than The Gilmore Girls or Grace and Frankie or The Newsroom. But only just. I recognized at least two quotes from the Merrion Square monument, but I no longer remember either one because the book was so chock full of cleverness.
As the story progressed and the difference between one Dorian Gray visage and the other sharpened, I kept thinking about the way Wilde is portrayed in the Merrion Square statue. If you look at him from one side, his expression is sweet and pensive. From the other side, he has a bit of a sarcastic sneer on his face.
The whole thing made me ponder beliefs and goodness and beauty and the way no one is fully innocent and pure. We all have our dark sides.
The novel put me in mind of Against Nature by Joris Karl Huysmans, and when I went to look up the spelling of the author’s name, I discovered that the book Dorian Gray reads is widely believed to be Against Nature. That explains everything. I read Against Nature in a humanities class during the spring semester of my first year of college at Brandeis way back in the day. I’ve been a hedonistic fool with a dark secret in my attic ever since. Huysmans is clearly to blame.
The Picture of Dorian Gray would also pair well with Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Birth-Mark” and perhaps even Dangerous Liaisons (though I’ve only seen the movie), and I might even get a kick out of reading it against some Edna St. Vincent Millay poetry such as “I, being born a woman and distressed.” That’s an awesome poem. It’s good no matter what else you read.
And I think it would also be interesting to read alongside Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth because of the portrayals of social circles and exclusions of the wealthy.
I recommend this book if you like any of the books it pairs well with. If you don’t like books written before 1990, you might get into this one if you’re feeling very patient and remember that it was written in 1890. It’s all about getting your expectations in the right place.
JAN 13: F*cked: Being Sexually Explorative and Self Confident in a World that’s Screwed by Corinne Fisher and Krystyna Hutchinson, 2017.
Last weekend I was in NYC at a conference, and I ended up unexpectedly meeting Krystyna Hutchinson and Stephen Penta. I wasn’t familiar with Sorry about Last Night or Guys We Fucked: The Anti-Slut Shaming Podcast, but as soon as they used the term “anti-slut shaming,” my jaw dropped and I said, “I’m writing a book about slut rhetoric!” I was really excited to hear more about the podcast, and I was really curious.
We briefly bonded over the work of Jon Ronson in his podcast The Butterfly Effect that explores the rise of internet porn and its far-flung consequences; Krystyna and Stephen gave me a copy of the book she wrote with Corinne Fisher; and in a short conversation with Krystyna and a longer one with Stephen I learned a bit about their history and the excitement of the podcast series that has taken off (Stephen produces) and the unbelievable influx of listener email that deserves attention and a pilot that Krystyna and Corinne are developing.
Needless to say, before I opened the book I was impressed. These women have tapped into something that needed tapping into. Their willingness to be completely out there, open and vulnerable, in order to grow and learn in public ways that allows others to grow along with them—well, it’s cool of them. And they are funny and fun. What’s not to love?
As I read, I didn’t know exactly what to expect, but I ended up enjoying the personal narratives of both writers while also hearing a bit about their life philosophies and their advice on matters ranging from how to deal with exes to anal sex to sexual assault. One of my feminist philosophies regarding sex is rooted in the work of Carol Vance who explains that addressing sex as only pleasure or as only danger is problematic; we need to talk about both. Here, that mission is accomplished.
As a person who is older than the authors and far less hip, I have to say that I love hearing their healthy messages and being reminded of the kinds of positive and accepting self-talk I still struggle to use. This good work is done without preachiness and with a lot of humor. That makes what they say easy to embrace, and the entire book was fun to read (although I do admit to also crying more than once).
It’s also a quick read, partly because it’s so conversational and partly because it’s about sex.
I’m not sure what book this one would pair well with, so I’m going to let that be for now.
I recommend it if you like thinking about sex and gender issues, how to be healthy, and what it means to be a woman in the twenty-first century. This book is also helpful if you’re looking for a way to talk about intimate matters with a partner.
Eventually, as I keep working on my Slut Rhetoric book, I’ll be addressing the Guys We Fucked podcast. These women are doing fun and cool work that I really appreciate!
FEB 24: Cave in the Snow: A Western Woman’s Quest for Enlightenment by Vicki MacKenzie, 1999
One of my colleagues sent this book to me, and I really appreciated gaining a fuller sense of Buddhist ways via this story of a western female mystic, Tenzin Palmo, who left her home in England and sought enlightenment, with a huge chunk of her journey taking place in an isolated cave in the Himalayas.
I struggle with a lot of the concepts associated with Buddhism, or my limited knowledge of Buddhism (which is not exactly what the book was about, but the book reminded me of my frustrations). On the one hand, the main character survives without setting goals, making money, or worrying about how things will be taken care of. On the other hand, she relies on gifts and help coming from people who do set goals, make money, and take the time to worry about how things will be taken care of.
In this way, the mystic reminds me of Henry Miller’s persona in Tropic of Cancer; he’s able to shed all kinds of worldly ways because he crashes in the homes of his friends and lives off their generosity. What kind of shedding is this? Tenzin Palmo is different in that she really lives without many worldly needs considered, but when she’s excited about randomly being given money to travel back to England and that sort of thing, I’m thinking, “Someone worked and worried so you wouldn’t have to.”
Similarly, part of the Buddhist way (as presented in the book anyhow) is about seeing things as neither good nor bad but just seeing them as they are. Yet the book shifts eventually. Women who have been marginalized by Buddhist traditions start speaking up, and many men realize how unfair things have been, and pretty soon activism and change is the thing of the day.
I don’t see how acceptance and activism go together.
I know that the contradictions I identify may be appropriately addressed in Buddhist teachings. They were not acknowledged within this text, however, and I am regularly frustrated in real life by people going around believing things will work out without making an effort.
It also seems way easier to achieve acceptance if you don’t have people you care about in your life. As soon as I care about people, I want things to be better when I see them treated unfairly. As a parent, a teacher, a citizen—I care way too much and cannot hang out “accepting” as things go awry.
I’m just way too much of a fixer to be a Buddhist.
You probably won’t understand my fourth poem of National Poetry Month, but I simply
I was trying to say that I really
maybe if I tell you that yesterday she texted me a photo of her English paper assignment and followed it with a row of exclamation points, you might begin to understand how much I
What?! Shall I try to tell you a different way?
She is versatile, able to move from artist to mathematician, from deep thinker to goofball.
We love to shop for her prom dresses together.
She doesn’t want to have kids but she loves to babysit.
She asks repeatedly if she is similar to me and doesn’t seem bothered when we both realize she is.
She has photos of friends and family all over her room.
She tells me stories of her days at school. She asks for my stories.
She loves music and watches terrible TV and reads nonfiction books about Russia.
Whenever we go to the mall, we make time for ice cream, or pretzels if it’s a lame mall without an ice cream shop.
She can write.
I’m feeling all Cordelia-like, except I’m actually trying to capture something and failing badly instead of saying “nothing”—what a stupid premise for tragedy, really! Use your words, Cordelia!
And I’ll use mine as I end this poem about how much I
It’s National Poetry Month and I’m writing a poem a day. It’s 11:07pm. I’ve been working on the fall schedule, which mostly involves telling people they cannot teach when they want to teach because classrooms are not available at that time (whatever time faculty have requested). It’s one of the suckier parts of my job—trying to make things work with constraints beyond my control.
And I’ve been working on taxes.
It’s 11:08pm. Now 11:09pm. I’m in a horrible mood. But remembering about writing a poem is helping. I’ve got something to do with my pent-up negative energy.
A soft blanket covered with elephants and
my super-pretty lamp nearby and
the sound of my daughter blowing her nose upstairs are
not enough to keep the wolves at bay.
The bristly beasts stir inside my bones, wrestling to
get fully out, growling as
my son’s phone buzzes over and over and over to
my left and the folder of tax information lies open to
my right, accusing me of screwing things up and
emptying the accounts, and why does that
freaking phone keep buzzing and buzzing don’t
these kids ever need to sleep and leave me the
ah. I haven’t written the poem yet. I
feel the wolves settle into my
bones, soothed, knowing they
will speak and be
And now I’ve made myself laugh because I’m a sucker for a wolf pun.
April is National Poetry Month, and I just saw a Twitter challenge to write a poem every day. @WTangerine is providing a prompt each day, and today’s prompt is: Write an Ode to Your Heart.
Ode to My Heart
Today is your day, oh heart of mine.
April 1 foolishness
the fibs and lies and tricks
the jokes laughter silliness bubbling up & over & out
—Our human condition?
cycles of dying resting stirring in the tomb & suddenly
against all boulders of reason
walking freely & rejoicing in the feel of sunlight on the face
bare feet on the dirt
and the 1916 passion to stand
to arouse the hearts of others who had been walking numbly
as if barely okay in loose shackles is all they dared hope for.
You, my brave heart, know better. Or perhaps
it’s that you depend on laughter, that you find ways to get a kick
out of the ongoing trick.