Elsewhere on the Internet: Writing in Public

Did you know that it is NaPoWriMo? Last year I challenged myself to read a poem every day, since I knew I’d be too busy to write so many and too shy to share. This year I made no such committment, but fortunately I follow a few poets who are churning them out, so I am more or less reading a poem a day after all. Nicole Steinberg has been posting poems that riff off the headlines of posts and articles from high-traffic websites like The Awl and Salon; I like that they veer into territories I’m familiar with from her other poems, but they are their own strange new beasts. She plans to take them down after a week, so today might be your last day to read “Why are millenials so unfuckable?” which is my favorite so far, probably due to 90s video game references. Hannah Stephenson, too, posts poems at an alarming (to a slow writer like myself) rate. You’ll probably like “Let’s Have Class Outside Today” especially if, like me, you’ve been both the student and the teacher in that conversation, and the ever-so-slightly warmer sunshine of April makes you want to do everything outside.

Former museum colleague Kara linked me to this Museum 2.0 post about Hemingway, an online tool designed to help streamline your writing. I felt very wary at first–remembering too well my encounter with the unfortunately named Writer’s Diet–but 2.0’s Nina Simon makes a good case for the tool as a way to produce concise copy for exhibit labels or grant applications. I was intrigued, since right now I am rushing to polish up piles of catalog copy by the end of the month and a key element of that task is streamlining. I ran a couple of works-in-progress through the app and was unsurprised to see them both rated “bad” (too many “very hard to read” sentences plus passive voice and excessive adverbs); however, they are in pretty good form for copy which must appeal to a fairly specialized class of people and fit in a number of keywords to increase search relevance. You can’t please everybody!

Approximately a thousand years ago in internet years, I linked to an article in which two scholar looked at the question of “Should Academics Blog?” and came up with a resounding yes. Their evidence mostly comes from an quantification and analysis of the reception of an immensely popular article (also about academic blogging) which they wrote, promoted, and tracked through social media. I’ve been meaning to compile a longer post on the debate for some time, but I have to accept that I never will, so here’s a quick rundown.
First, my entrypoint to this argument is that I am an academic (sort of) who blogs. I blog because I read a lot about the topics that interest me, and my response to the reading tends to spill out of me in writing. The blogging platform has other benefits: namely, it has brought me into conversation with other thinkers and writers, which never ceases to surprise and gladden me since I began my research in comparative isolation. Blogging also has certain costs: mostly time, I think, as it takes a certain amount of time to write and briskly proof or factcheck the posts before I make them public and attached to my given name. It also takes a certain amount of time to engage with that broader community through social media–rewarding and pleasant time, but that’s time I’m not spending on further research or writing. But for me, there’s no question of whether to blog or not; it’s just something I do.

But the question is often posed to me by academic friends who’ve observed my blogging and wonder if it would be worthwhile for themselves and by first-time authors who ask me, as a university press marketer, what they can do to promote their book. And my answer is quite different from the post I linked above: only if you want to. The authors of that post (Inger Mewburn and Pat Thomson) authored an extraordinarily successful article in terms of clicks and downloads for several reasons, and their social media platform was only one of them: they also had a much more broadly relevant topic than the average journal article can claim, and their work was available (non-paywalled) for much longer than a typical article for that academic journal. So while blogging can allow academics to seize a greater part of the “attention economy” (I am fascinated by this term, indicating that attention is finite and commodifiable), like any economy, you have to pay in to get payout.

Here are the pros of academic blogging, near as I can make out: Blogging is in most cases a free public forum; this is less of an issue in the States, one of the last bastions against mandated Open Access, but in many overseas publications, it does or will cost scholars money to have their work published. A blog can be a broad forum, reaching many more people than a journal, and it may be linked up with social media to exponentially increase readership if social media is handled effectively. An author’s existing social media platform is very appealing to publishers. On the web, scholarship can become much more of a conversation, since your feedback and response can be instantaneous. And–this is more important for some authors than others–you can reach a broader range of people, nonacademics as well as fellow scholars. (However, Mewburn and Thomson note that the academic-general reader dynamic is not usually what’s at play: “While arguments are made for blogging as an outreach activity, where academics ‘translate’ their work for a non-academic audience, in our sample we saw more evidence of conversations happening between academics – and much of it about academia itself. This led us to conclude that the blogging discourse, is similar in purpose, if not necessarily in form or content, to the academic discourse happening in journals: academics talking to academics in an effort to advance knowledge and understanding.”)
The cons include: blogging and social media promotion is just one more example of unpaid labor that the young academic is expected to perform in order to compete in the academic economy. It takes time–a valuable resource to the busy academic–and the time you spend is not always repaid. Managing blogs and social media effectively is a skill: it’s one that many of us develop to some degree in our personal lives, but deploying social media savvy for promotion is a delicate business of getting the relevant information to your target readers without annoying them. And there’s nothing more annoying–and sad–than an author who signs up for Twitter or WordPress for the first time just to promote their work; tweeting is a genre, blogging is a genre (or a collection of subgenres), and promotional writing is too; it takes time to learn and adapt to writing in those modes. (Which can be a pro as well, if you are invested in reaching nonacademic readers.)
Those of my readers who are also blogging academics, I am deeply interested in your thoughts on this.

Finally, just to make this a truly eclectic linklist, here is an adorable infographic to breakdown the effectiveness of serif and sans serif fonts in print and electronic contexts.

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NaPoWriMo Week Four Point Five: Sarcastic Sonnets

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This is a short week at the end of a challenging month, so I decided to treat myself to some sonnets by Edna St. Vincent Millay. As I used to tell my literature students, Millay offers great break-up poetry–she gives a great kissoff, as in “I being born a woman and distressed,” but she also conveys the sadness and loneliness of being beautiful and popular and having many lovers. So relatable!  But in any event, sonnets are fun to read aloud in general, and these are delicious in particular.

Millay’s sonnets are all over the internet, so I’ll just post a couple here in entirety and with little comment. Enjoy!

Monday

This one has been my favorite for many years. It’s a little bit of a tongue twister to speak aloud–that’s a long clause!–but when you do so, you can really feel the long, langorous, meditative lull of the first eight lines compared to the swift candle-snuff of the last six.

Only until this cigarette is ended,
A little moment at the end of all,
While on the floor the quiet ashes fall,
And in the firelight to a lance extended,
Bizarrely with the jazzing music blended,
The broken shadow dances on the wall,
I will permit my memory to recall
The vision of you, by all my dreams attended.
And then adieu,–farewell!–the dream is done.
Yours is a face of which I can forget
The colour and the features, every one,
The words not ever, and the smiles not yet;
But in your day this moment is the sun
Upon a hill, after the sun has set.

Tuesday

This sonnet appeared in the anthology I used to teach my last Intro to Literature class, so I borrowed it to make a playful point about skirting the line between comedy and tragedy. It’s a sad poem, sure. But it thwarts our expectations so wildly–even in the 21st century, my students were a little surprised to read a female poet writing about how many conquests she’s had, and comparing male lovers to birds. I like to think that the sonnet doesn’t take itself too seriously.

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in the winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.
Thus concludes the first part of my committment to NaPoWriMo! 30 days, 26 poems, plus a few bonus poems linked by way of discussion. I’m languidly polishing up my poetic responses to the verses discussed here–I’m no hurry to share them, but I am trying to maintain some integrity of purpose here.

NaPoWriMo Week Four: Aleatory Selection

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For this sextet of poems, I will not make a pretense of having read one per day. In truth, I felt a little at sea after week three; I wanted to leave more up to chance and to be surprised, but I wasn’t sure how to invite random poems in. I asked friends for recs. I followed links and favorited poetry tweets. Some of these poems I read once during the week, others I read over and over again.

One

“Today,” by Walter Butts, arrived in my inbox exactly when I needed it. I was fielding some Emails from an aggressive, bullying author, and though I could laugh off his bad behavior while it was happening, this poem made me tear up a bit and want to commit to pursue more beautiful, more delicate ways to pass the time. Because I haven’t seen it posted in too many places and because Butts has very recently passed away, I will reproduce it here in full.

Today is your lover, asleep
and dreaming the continuous fountain.
It is your body
dying without you.
It is the darkness
of distant trees
poised on the horizon,
like those strange shadows
of small animals
that danced across the moonlit ceiling
of your childhood.
It is a long-tailed kite,
or random bird.
It is a child
grasping the tenuous cord
of delight.
Today is the desire
of sudden rain, or it is you
driving through that rain,
not knowing the difference
between curved road and sky.

Two

“Currying the Fallow-Colored Horse” by Lucy Brock-Broido was posted on The Hairpin earlier in the month, while I was still flipping through my Imagist anthologies. My mind kept coming back to it, though. It’s an odd, spiky poem, written to a “you” in terse lines, almost couplets in that almost every two lines concludes a thought, but the links between the thoughts and their relevance to “you” isn’t totally clear. It’s like a secret message. Yet, I like it, and I kept coming back to it, because I found some of the images so memorable: I feel sympathetic to the narrator who “did not like the wool of him” and kisses her fragile lover “blondly on the mouth.”

Three

Through a Facebook friend I learned that Apiary Magazine was celebrating NaPoWriMo with various Philly-area folks’ favorite poems. One of these led me to Louise Erdrich’s “Advice to Myself,” which I am tempted to print out and pin up as advice to my self too. “Leave the dishes,” the poem begins, and then advocates the leaving of numerous other small household chores in favor of cleaning out that far more neglected space, the heart. It’s a powerful poem, even when humorous–“Pink molds will grow within those sealed cartons/in the refrigerator. Accept new forms of life,” the narrator advises  None of the dusty things, decayed things, or messy things mean much when the more powerful organizations of language, writing, and passion are at stake.
I think I’ll enjoy reading that one out loud periodically in the way I occasionally revisit Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art,” which I find placating when I’m ruffled. In truth, though, I don’t want to lose so many things or leave so much undone. The small household chores can be an annoyance, but living alone, I do them for myself and no one does them for me. They are small ways of reminding myself that I am cared for. (By me.)

Four

Speaking of “One Art,” I read a parody in Berfrois during the week: the timely “NaPoWriMo Suite” by Daniel Bosch. His parodic “Two Arts” is not the most skillful villanelle you’ll ever read, but I am willing to forgive much for the hilarious line suggesting that getting a Master’s permits you to glide through a few years “on casters.” Clever!

Five

Someone on my Twitter feed linked to “Cat in an Empty Apartment” by Wisława Szymborska on the NYReview of Books website. It’s a fine balance between humor and sadness, with the titular cat experiencing ennui and a bit of existential angst (“what can a cat do/  in an empty apartment?/ Climb the walls?/  Rub up against the furniture?”). Someone is still feeding him fish, but the timing is all wrong. Through the cat’s unease, one gets the idea that something sadder is going on–perhaps his person passed away–yet there is the cat plotting how to theatrically convey his offense and displeasure when his person returns.

Six

While I was poking around for biography links for an earlier cited poem, the Poetry Foundation website slyly suggested I read “Gravitas” by Sara Miller. A thoughtful image for someone like me, whose griefs tend to manifest in physical heaviness, both real and imagined. But for the heavy words of ghosts and nightmares, the narrator rose anyway.

If anything, the accidental theme of this week’s poems–all brought to me by the good offices of friends and social media feeds–is the struggle to regain levity: the balloon of hope, the relief of shedding petty concerns, the busywork of planning ahead in the face of the gaping maw of uncertainty.

NaPoWriMo Week Three: That’s the way it is with me somehow

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A busy week that I began in one state and finished in another, playing catchup all the while. I decided to pick up my Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams this week, since reading H.D. put me in the mood for another Imagist-ish poet, and I particularly enjoy the short descriptive verses from WCW’s earlier collections. Besides, spending time with family in Memphis put me in mind of Monday’s poem.

Monday

I went looking for “January Morning” before I flew back home to Philadelphia. It’s longer than most of the WCW poems I love, but arranged in short stanzas with roman numerals. It’s a little bit ars poetica–opening with the odd claim that the domes of a Weehawken can be just as beautiful as more celebrated European cathedrals and most of the subsequent stanzas offer snapshots of life in a small New Jersey town–in keeping with WCW’s lifelong commitment to writing what he saw. He writes himself into the poem as a gleeful figure, the “young doctor dancing with happiness,” which is really how I see him when I read his poetry. I hear the final section, XV, in my mind whenever I am thinking about what I want to do with my expensive and sometimes burdensome education or when I am explaining my passions to the people I love.

All this–
was for you, old woman.
I wanted to write you a poem
that you would understand.
For what good is it to me
If you can’t understand it?
But you got to try hard–
But–
Well, you know how
The young girls run giggling
on Park Avenue after dark
when they ought to be home in bed?
Well,
That’s the way it is with me somehow.

In my mind, I nearly always hear the last line as “That’s the way it is with me sometimes.”

 Tuesday

“Transitional” is one of my favorite poems, period–it’s short and simple, and its argument still bears a lot of relevance. The narrator begins: “First he said:/ It is the woman in us/ That makes us write–” (note the rather Dickinsonian dash at the end there. I like to imagine “he” is Ezra Pound, a fried with formative influence on WCW’s young life and early literary explorations. “He” goes on to suggest that their “two sides”–the masculinity they were born with and the femininity they experience in writing, presumably–essentially makes them better writers. The narrator is scandalized by this suggestion, but the poem ends on a vague but positive affirmation: “he” answers, “am I not I–here?”
This idea–that writing is somehow a feminine thing to do–haunts more than one early twentieth century writer. I’m not quite sure why; women’s writing wasn’t very well celebrated at any point in history. I suppose that male poets have often been depicted as womanish, or perhaps the surprisingly modern poetry of Amy Lowell had her modernist male contemporaries on edge. In any case, the poem’s “he” is not the only one to declare himself somehow superior for being male with feminine powers of poesy: Henry Miller, the classic image of a hardboiled novelist, sometimes depicted his writing process as birthing. I was reminded of this when one of my own press’s authors did the same thing in a recent Email, which is only the second weird way he has appropriated female experience to describe his book.)

Wednesday

To a Poor Old Woman” used to disturb me, because I didn’t like the thought of WCW watching and pitying the old woman sucking on fruit in sensual enjoyment. But re-reading it, I like it more. I don’t read pity in his repetition of “They taste good to her,” and if he’s a little patronizing in his projection that she finds comfort and solace in them, at least the whole poem is given over to her pleasure.

Thursday

Apology.” [Link goes to a JSTOR viewing window.] Writing about writing, with very little embellishment or mystification of the writing process. “Why do I write today?/ The beauty of/ the terrible faces/ of our nonentities/ stirs me to it.”

Friday

Flipping through idly, I found “Mujer,” a quite short poem with a quite simple premise: his black Persian cat is pregnant again. What makes this a poem? It rolls easily off the tongue, but its rhythm is not finely calculated, nor does it have much of an argument. It feels as though the poet said to himself, “Oh, black Persian cat. Was your life not already cursed with offspring?” and then, noting the meter of what he just said, jotted it down in a notebook with line breaks. (I am projecting: this is how I wrote many haiku for a haiku year once I got sufficiently in the habit of counting syllables.) I like this poem for its brevity and directness, as well as the reminder that a poem doesn’t have to reach for a higher argument about the condition of life. It could just be a sublunary lyric, an everyday chant.

Saturday

Finally a weekend at home, and time for a longer poem from one of WCW’s later collections, playing more wildly with form (wide open spaces) and punctuation (or lack thereof): “Rain,” which caught my eye because of its beautiful last lines.

                But love is
unworldly

and nothing
comes of it but love

following
and falling endlessly
from
her thoughts

The poem compares (but does not equate) love and rain; both fall everywhere, into anything that’s open. But not everything is open; the narrator describes the dry rooms “of  illicit love” which contain beautiful objects (and “all the whorishness”) but are not “washed” (he writes “wash” more than once) by the rain. It’s hard not to read a contrast between marital love and extramarital love there, especially considering the ongoing speculation about WCW’s faithfulness or lack thereof–he writes so openly and frankly and greedily about admiring beautiful women. But though he writes about seeing the rain fall from the window of the dry room, and admits so much of his life is spent “to keep out love,” he also writes of the “kind physician” “running in between/ the drops” of love, which falls like rain.
I find this poem lovely, but sad and exhausting. I’ve watched love from the dry room of worldly objects, and I’ve also been the female natural world dripping seemingly inexhaustible love always and everywhere. Both positions were unhappy, and I read of the kind physician running in the rain with envy, though I think it’s just as impossible a position as the rest of this yearning poem describes.

NaPoWriMo Week Two: The City by the Sea

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For week 2, I carried around a book of the collected poems of H.D., one of the first poets to be identified with the Imagist movement and a fascinating lady in her own right. Her love life alone would make an amazing book.

Monday

Just a short poem, “Sea Violet.” Like many of the poems in her early collection “Sea Garden,” the narrator both describes and addresses its subject (“Violet / your grasp is frail.”) and conjures images of a bleached, windswept beach, all “torn shells” and white flowers. In my mind, it is always an overcast day on this beach, the kind that glares white from the low cloud ceiling and causes you to squint against the blanching light and the salty wind.
Many other poems in this collection describe the tough grasses, the hardened fruits, and other plant life that has been seasoned and strengthened by rough elements into something less beautiful and fragrant but also less fragile. I like to imagine the poet writing herself into many of these hardened sea roses, her femininity roughened by the harsh winds of the world. But “Sea Violet” is one of few occasions when the poem’s subject is at once soft and pretty and strong or vibrant: the violets are “fragile as agate” and have a frail grasp, but they “catch the light–/ frost, a star edges with its fire.”

Tuesday

From the same book. “Sheltered Garden” really probes at what is so unwanted about femininity, why it’s necessary to weather into something tougher. The narrator describes herself lost in a maze of “border on border of scented pinks,” and she feels that she has had enough of them. She misses natural matter with rougher sensations: bark, resin, a sharp branch. She objects to the swaddling and cosseting of fruit, suggesting that they will grow sweeter and tarter on the branch–“For this beauty,/ beauty without strength,/ chokes out life.”

Wednesday and Thursday

H.D. goes in for long poems, which is not what I had in mind when I conceived of reading one poem a day. She also goes in heavily for Greek imagery: she conjures the names of ancient gods and a sense of old founts and marble temples, as bleached as the previous poem’s flowers by the sea. It’s a challenge to read aloud, but I’ve found myself absorbed in the cool white world, interrupted by the heat of the sun’s glare and the eruption of primal emotion–love, sex, hate, envy, despair, immortality.
In particular, I am obsessed with a set of poems written around the time H.D. discovered her then-husband’s infidelities: “Amaranth,” “Eros,” and “Envy.” I definitely recognize that cycle of self-righteous anger, of yearning for repair, and then seething, brittle hatred.

In these longer poems, the lines are fairly short, as are the words–usually 4-8 syllables a line–with a lot of repetition, so they take on a quality both songlike and keening. (“Amaranth” begins: “Am I blind alas,/ am I blind,/ i too have followed/ her path./ I too have bent at her feet.”) Even in this triad of poems which radiate angst, there are classical allusions throughout (to altars, to white houses, to Greek gods) that transpose the rawness into a spare choral tragedy.

Friday and Saturday

Flipping through the collection, I came across a poem called “Other Sea-Cities” in the section for unpublished poetry, so I don’t know when it was written. I wish I did know. Was it written during H.D.’s greekmania, of a piece with her Sappho-inspired love songs and reimagined mythical figures? Or was it written after the war, when H.D. and her family survived bombings and looked out at a ruin less bloodless and stoic than the marble tombs of her imagining?

It’s a long poem–that’s why it takes up two days–of several stanzas that describe cities lost to ruin. “Other sea-cities have faltered,/ and striven with the tide/ other sea-cities have struggled/and died:” the poem begins, addressing a single remaining beautiful sea-city. Throughout, she invokes in vivid detail of the material goods that were crafted and traded in the sea-cities, the faiths and rituals of the people that lived in them, occasionally interrupted with apostrophes (“were their women/as beautiful?”) to question the justice of only one city spared by the sea. There is a more frequent rhyming in this poem than others I’ve read, so it’s more noticeable when the verse breaks out of the tidy sing-song pattern.
You’ll notice that throughout this project I avoid posting the entirety of poems that don’t already exist elsewhere on the web; in this case, I’ll post the entirety of the last stanza, as it repeats several of the refrains and concludes the poem’s lament. Try reading it aloud; “sea-cities” feels really different off the tongue than it looks on the page.

Tell city,
your secret:
for others built beautifully and well,
but fell
to lie
like a bleached hulk
other sea-cities have faltered
and striven with the tide,
other sea-cities have struggled
and died:
other sea-hulks
were stricken, riven
and the pride of galleys
broken,
not one beside you,
remained, beautiful,
o, sea-bride.

I thought of this poem and H.D.’s other bleached shores when I visited my hometown of Memphis last week. I haven’t visited frequently since moving to Philadelphia eight years ago, and the neighborhood I remember no longer exists. The recession wiped out many of the businesses I grew up next to; some of them  have been replaced with smaller, less showy businesses wearing the too-large buildings like a hermit crab would carry a shell too big and spiked. Some of the buildings lie empty, faded by the sun and neglect. It’s a lot like a fallen sea-city, actually. Were its women not as beautiful? Did it love sea-beauty less than other cities that struggle less?

When I get around to writing my NaPoWriMo poem inspired by this week’s reads, it’s the sea-cities that will stay with me most.

Anyway, on the seventh day I rested and visited with my family.

NaPoWriMo Week One: Kitchen Magic

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My first NaPoWriMo goal–to read a poem every day–was an easy pleasure. Whether I picked a poem at random to read aloud at the end of the day or read several poems in quiet quick succession on the subway, I looked forward to the daily routine.

My second NaNoWriMo goal–to write one poem every week–is proving more difficult. I have a lot of words and ideas echoing in my head from the poems I read during the week, but felt too busy and stimulated to listen to them or to try shaping them into something new. This weekend was beautiful and warm; friends got married, had birthdays, wanted to get coffee and walk around in the sun. I am not one to put off transient pleasures, but I’ve promised myself to catch up later. Knowing me, I’ll probably let all four poems for the month percolate until the last week, and write them all at once.

Considering my failure to set aside time for solitude and writing, it’s slightly ironic that many of the poems I read this week focused on quiet, meditative moments for one or two people at home–namely, in the kitchen. In my recently relocated and not yet unpacked book collection, the most locatable volume of poetry was The Hungry Ear, an anthology of food related poems I wrote about on my food blog. Hence, most (but not all!) of these poems have to do with cooking.

Monday

Time only for one poem. I opened the book at random to “Poem With a Cucumber In It” by Robert Hass. As the title hints, the poem is a just little irreverent and whimsical–the second-to-last stanza teases the reader for assuming the poem would include a sexual joke–but most of its lines trace quiet, calming, lovely spaces. The cucumber-green light on a hill, the “opal flesh” of cucumbers, the peaceful ritual of slicing cucumbers and the kiss-like experience of eating them. The final stanza imagines the heat and tumult of the earth’s creation culminating the cooling dream of cucumbers.
What I like about this poem is its gentleness. In addition to its pale green and tranquil imagery, it’s easy and comfortable to say aloud with an almost conversational tone.

Tuesday

Flipping idly though The Hungry Ear, I came across “Squid” by Michael C. Blumenthal. “So this is love:” he begins, and then describes the slippery, surprising scene of preparing squid to cook with his beloved. There are eyes and entrails and ink sacs to remove. It is not pretty.
But the poet makes it pretty, noticing that the squid turns “soft and transparent, lovely” in the pan while the beloved cooks it, comparing the peeled back membranes to “a man peeling his body / from a woman after love” (that visual really moves me), and ultimately converting this ugly process to a hunger for what is “naked and approachable,/ tangible and delicious.”

I. LOVE. this poem. I can’t even explain it, although I’ll probably attempt to do so on my food blog later in the week. It’s an easy, conversational read but the tension between disgusting and inviting is delicately balanced and lyrical. It’s probably the most convincing poem about lovers cooking that I have yet read.

Wednesday

I liked “Squid” so much that I read it aloud at dinner with friends. Then I skimmed the anthology for a Wednesday poem until I saw Lucille Clifton’s name. I have a lifelong love for Lucille Clifton; I saw her speak when I was a teenager, bought all her books and carried The Book of Light from college to New Orleans to Philadelphia.
The narrator in “cutting greens,” unlike the solitary cucumber peeler or the messy squid cookers, does not specific whether she is alone or with family. I am inclined to think she may be cutting greens for family, since who besides me cuts greens by and for herself?–and she does note that kinship is far from her mind. To hell with other people, though. Cutting greens is a confident, sensual, and enjoyable process for her. Unlike the previous two poems’ key ingredients, both compared to precious metals or gems and reflective light, the beauty of the greens is black and livid. The collards and kale embrace, kiss, strain, roll, and twist in her hands and under her knife like living things. “i taste in my natural appetite/ the bond of live things everywhere,” the poem concludes, and I can practically taste her satisfaction, and love it. 

Thursday

The Hairpin’s poetry pick this week was “Save the Candor” by Amit Majmudar, a poem that is not about food but about birds (with a punny play on candor/condor). At first my eyes skimmed over the narrow pole of verse, on to the next post, but then I saw that the lines were so thinly sliced to carefully frame internal and suggested rhymes with a lot of alliterative play. I decided to read it again, thinking that I might be able to steal the strategy. More than a single standout line, I like the overall effect of the breaks and rhythm which cause me to murmur the lines when reading aloud (which is echoed in the murmurs and flusters of the tenth stanza).

Friday

I idly read through dozens of poems in The Hungry Ear on my Friday commute. Of them, the one I liked best–or perhaps the one I was most in the mood for–was “Stepping Westward” by Denise Levertov. Like “Save the Condor,” it’s a narrow poem, so each word falls a little more heavily. “If woman is inconstant, good” she says; she ebbs and flows. If woman is meant to be true, that’s good as well, as she holds steady. If she bears burdens, she remembers them as a basket of goods, heavy but bountiful. It “hurts/ my shoulders but closes me/ in fragrance. I can/ eat as I go.”

Saturday

What better way to end a week of food-ish poems and private moments than with Gertrude Stein‘s Tender Buttons? This collection of odd nonsensical poems takes numerous household objects as its supposed subject, but many of those objects are food stuffs.

Asparagus
Asparagus in a lean in a lean to hot. This makes it art and it is wet wet weather wet weather wet.

Nonsense poem strategies will need their own post another time, but when you encounter these strange little cameos of prose-poems, it’s important to read them aloud. On the page they look like nonsense; aloud you can hear the way certain sounds repeat or transform, like declining Latin verbs; you can hear internal rhymes and intended rhymes, or notice when and what sorts of phrases repeat.
Besides, “wet wet weather wet weather wet” is simply fun to say.

Custard
Custard is this. It has aches, aches when. Not to be. Not to be narrowly. This makes a whole little hill.
It is better than a little thing that has mellow real mellow. It is better than lakes whole lakes, it is better than seeding.

In some ways, these poems seem to refuse a human presence: the starting point is an object, the grammar mocks sense-making syntax, the sentences and fragments are bloated with the more meaningless noises of the English language. (Which is why Gertrude Stein doesn’t do so hot on The Writer’s Diet.) All the same, I can’t help imagining the poems as private messages between two people, maybe a lover’s secret language. The objects can’t break totally free of anthropomorphic verbs and the suggestion of movement. Some of the short poems seem like inside jokes, something absurd put together purely to make an intimate partner laugh.

Salad
It is a winning cake.

On Sunday, I rested. In fact Sunday is the day I meant to write my weekly poem, but instead I helped to prepare a bountiful birthday brunch and later drank wine with ladyfriends until drowsy. In all likelihood, my eventual Week One poem will honor one of those shared communions.