Reading: Résumé by Dorothy Parker

Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) has lead a tempestuous life with several marriages, some suicides attempt and employment by Vanity Fair. One of her collections is called ‘enough rope’ and I can’t supress a sinister feeling. However, she stayed alive and became a productive screenwriter and poet. I sample a very short piece here, because short verse sometimes captures an author best:


Résumé

Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.

There is not much to comment here. Rhythm and rhyme work perfectly and the conclusion smacks of the sort of cynicism we like best, having gone full circle. Yeah, you might as well live. It is the Schopenhauerian attitude to suicide, who was critical of the contradictory active stance to one’s demise. He preferred the eastern wisdom of Nirvana, of the overcoming of the will. Mrs. Parker was to my knowledge not a buddhist but a socialist, who bequeathed her literary estate to dr. Martin Luther King, jr. who died a little later than she did. But perhaps a certain lax and melancholic attitude to life, that ‘you might as well live’ is what befits the spirit of socialism better than wild, consuming ideology?

Reading: Résumé by Dorothy Parker was originally published on Meandering home

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Reading: Taking off Emily Dickinson’s clothes by Billy Collins

Billy Collins (b. 1941) is ‘the most popular poet of America’ according to some. He was poet laureate of the US several times and won a prize or something for the America’s funniest home poetry – he manages to tell a good joke without destroying the poetic wager. I fell in love with this poet, that is somewhat longer than I usual quote here. Give it up for Emily’s striptease:

Taking off Emily Dickinson’s clothes
First, her tippet made of tulle,
easily lifted off her shoulders and laid
on the back of a wooden chair.

And her bonnet,
the bow undone with a light forward pull.

Then the long white dress, a more
complicated matter with mother-of-pearl
buttons down the back,
so tiny and numerous that it takes forever
before my hands can part the fabric,
like a swimmer’s dividing water,
and slip inside.
You will want to know
that she was standing
by an open window in an upstairs bedroom,
motionless, a little wide-eyed,
looking out at the orchard below,
the white dress puddled at her feet
on the wide-board, hardwood floor.

The complexity of women’s undergarments
in nineteenth-century America
is not to be waved off,
and I proceeded like a polar explorer
through clips, clasps, and moorings,
catches, straps, and whalebone stays,
sailing toward the iceberg of her nakedness.
Later, I wrote in a notebook
it was like riding a swan into the night,
but, of course, I cannot tell you everything –
the way she closed her eyes to the orchard,
how her hair tumbled free of its pins,
how there were sudden dashes
whenever we spoke.

What I can tell you is
it was terribly quiet in Amherst
that Sabbath afternoon,
nothing but a carriage passing the house,
a fly buzzing in a windowpane.
So I could plainly hear her inhale
when I undid the very top
hook-and-eye fastener of her corset

and I could hear her sigh when finally it was unloosed,
the way some readers sigh when they realize
that Hope has feathers,
that reason is a plank,
that life is a loaded gun
that looks right at you with a yellow eye.

Tippet, tulle and bonnet, such lovely words! And such a gentle language Collins employs to remove them from Emily’s body. It is funny when he calls our attention to how she is standing by the window, looking at wide-eyed at the orchard, seemingly unaware of horny Billy’s attempt to undress her.

Her white dress already lies deliciously at her feet, and the puddle becomes ice and he a polar explorer mixing metaphors of undergarment and the shipping industry. It’s a common observation that the more we approach nakedness, the more it becomes clear that we don’t have access to everything. Some observations – Billy doesn’t care to mention them, we don’t understand it anyway – remain private: her hair tumbling free, how she closed her eyes, and the dashes when she speaks. Emily Dickinson, for us, is pure text: lines, dashes, but here they come to life.

He provides some more coordinates before taking off that harrowing and imprisoning undergarment, the corset. There he is, enjoying the iceberg of mrs. Dickinson’s nakedness, sinking like a Titanic at her pale skin, and he throws the baton of poetry to the readers. The realize:
– that Hope has feathers (fly, imagination)
– that reason is a plank (the wide-board floor again?)
– that life is a loaded gun looking at you with a yellow eye (yeah, happiness is a warm gun, we look into the barrel where we see the color yellow and we can never explain)

I’m not sure about this dramatic culmination, but I love the poetic courage displayed here. Perhaps one day, when we have finally overcome that irksome gadfly of our society called sexism, we can laugh at a poem entitled ‘Taking of Billy Collin’s clothes?’ Maybe I should write it.

Reading: Taking off Emily Dickinson’s clothes by Billy Collins was originally published on Meandering home

Reading: A motel in the hotel of time by Dale Houstman

Dale Houstman is an extraordinary poet from America and I am his friend on the Internet. Today, I want to read a poem from his collection ‘A dangerous vacation’. There is a lot of extraordinary stuff but I stick to a not so long poem that has an enigmatic metaphor as a title:

A motel in the hotel of time
The highway reflects its sea
as the rain analyzes its bottle

(a white lamp
in the chaperoned lust of shapes
in a motel in the hotel of time

) There are many sentimental cakes
in the hands of childish warlords
pumping for a grander purpose (

You are noises
leaving noises behind
(A motel in the hotel of time.

A compact and powerful poem. The opening and closing brackets are real and denote hand gestures of the poet to accompany the poetic flow (at least in my interpretation). We are thrown on a David Lynch-like highway scene and don’t quite understand what is analyzed and reflected. Everything seems to be awake and aware, a panopticum of gaze. The lust of shapes is chaperoned, a triangle and an ellipse can’t make out on their own, mind you. They are carefully observed in the white light.

The whole purpose thing is childish and sentimental. What do you want to accomplish? In the end, you are only noises / leaving noises behind. The hotel of time: you can check out but you can never leave. It has full board, and its guests are bored, so bored they build a motel inside the hotel, a noisy motel where little children cry out for a grander purpose.

In a poem, not far away from this one, there is the line “Every name / garments in its day.” Is a motel in the hotel of time the same as the garment of a name, donned to evade the naked and anonymous flow of time?

Reading: A motel in the hotel of time by Dale Houstman was originally published on Meandering home

Be Farecul When You Ross The Croad

You learn very fast now. Lately, we have been playing “lettertjes omdraaien”, exchange letters in words. Even though you don’t really get the concept of spelling yet and how several letters make up a word (it is interesting that this mental apparatus is apparently rather complicated; letters are an abstraction, the unit of our language are words insofar as they are the shortest sentences), you understand the fun of jumbling the letters of words.

How I enjoy your laugh when you say “hey! you confused the letters!” Do you want to raw a drabbit? Do you pake a ticture? Do you want to vlay the piolin? What is a Pomcuter? A Sinodaur? Shall I bring you to Dinkergarten? Be Farecul when you ross the croad!

It is a misunderstanding that it would “confuse them”, just like it is a misunderstanding that toddlers wouldn’t be able to handle several languages well. They can, if they grow up in an environment where they are fully immersed in both languages simultaneously. It won’t confuse them, because the correct speech is constantly reinforced. Similarly, my letter jumbling game will only remind them of the correct word and reinforce that. Of course, I always make it explicit that we are joking.

Be Farecul When You Ross The Croad was originally published on Meandering home

Reading: After Love by Sara Teasdale

Today I discover a short gem written by Sara Teasdale (1884-1933), who wrote a lot of love poetry and committed suicide at the age of 48. I came across this timeless poem about passion:

After Love
There is no magic any more,
We meet as other people do,
You work no miracle for me
Nor I for you.

You were the wind and I the sea —
There is no splendor any more,
I have grown listless as the pool
Beside the shore.

But though the pool is safe from storm
And from the tide has found surcease,
It grows more bitter than the sea,
For all its peace.

A very simple first stanza says what most of us feel who have experienced the end of a love affair. Magic and miracles gone, but are the former lovers still together, for example in marriage? Perhaps, she employs that wonderful metaphor of the pool beside the seashore. The elements don’t play with each other any more, danger has been banned ‘from storm’ (the ‘you’ in the poem is the wind, does the storm mean he was getting abusive?)

The pool has found ‘surcease’ (a beautiful word) but that makes it only more bitter than the sea. I don’t really see the bitterness of the sea, but do see how that pool turns into a reeking rotting puddle of listlessness. Standing water that, the longer it stands, the less inviting it gets to take a splash and revive the old magical wind-and-sea passion.

Reading: After Love by Sara Teasdale was originally published on Meandering home

Reading: My Madonna by Robert W. Service

Robert W. Service (1874-1958) was known as the bard of Yukon, because a lot of his poetry was inspired by his time as a cowboy in Canada. He is also a war poet, having been a reporter of the Balkan war of 1912-13 and an ambulance driver during World War One. I read a funny poem titled My Madonna:

My Madonna
I haled me a woman from the street,
Shameless, but, oh, so fair!
I bade her sit in the model’s seat
And I painted her sitting there.

I hid all trace of her heart unclean;
I painted a babe at her breast;
I painted her as she might have been
If the Worst had been the Best.

She laughed at my picture and went away.
Then came, with a knowing nod,
A connoisseur, and I heard him say;
“’Tis Mary, the Mother of God.”

So I painted a halo round her hair,
And I sold her and took my fee,
And she hangs in the church of Saint Hillaire,
Where you and all may see.

That is an opening you could be arrested for in #2017. “To hale” is archaic and means to cause to do through pressure. I hear “to hail”, like hailing a cab. Shameless but oh so fair is a great way to say in a compact way what philosophers would say in long and boring sentences about how esthetic truth precedes moral truth.

So, he paints a portrait of the ‘haled’ woman, making her look pretty perfect, even putting a babe at her breast. He basically paints the opposite of what he sees. Of course the woman laughs at him and his picture, but it is the true Mother Mary, can’t you see?

I can’t find the church of Saint Hillaire; there are several Saint Hilaire’s. Is it simply a silly way to say the painting, and the Church itself, is hilarious? I always enjoy a good mocking of the Catholic church, but do you know a stronger poem by mr. Service?

Reading: My Madonna by Robert W. Service was originally published on Meandering home

Reading: The Reckoning by Theodore Roethke

Theodore Roethke (1908-1963), a sickly boy who transformed into a bear of a man with father issues, was according to many critics the greatest of the American poets. While browsing a collection of his poetry on the Internet, I stumbled upon a poem about reckoning. I understand from his biography that he sought for redemption or some way to find closure with his father, who died of cancer when Ted was fourteen. The reckoning in this poem is political:

The Reckoning
All profits disappear: the gain
Of ease, the hoarded, secret sum;
And now grim digits of old pain
Return to litter up our home.

We hunt the cause of ruin, add,
Subtract, and put ourselves in pawn;
For all our scratching on the pad,
We cannot trace the error down.

What we are seeking is a fare
One way, a chance to be secure:
The lack that keeps us what we are,
The penny that usurps the poor.

The vanity of accumulation is a common theme in poetry. I like to approach it with rhyme and humor like here. This reminds me of Bertold Brecht (I would have expected a verse with penny or pence, and hence…). Grim digits of old pain are that the numbers in the books that ‘litter up’ the home like the home of a real pathological 21th century hoarder is littered up with stacks of newspaper or piles of assorted junk.

The next step is of course borrowing at a pawn shop (or taking a second mortgage perhaps? This poem is prescient of the 2007 subprime mortgage crisis). The error cannot be traced down: The failure is systemic. I’ve heard economists like Krugman or Stiglitz say the same thing…

A fare here means subsistence if I’m not mistaken. Being secure means just to be able to live and eat in your house – even if it means remaining in debt bondage. ‘We’ are seeking security by succumbing to usury, by buying into ‘the lack that keeps us who we are’, by always being in debt with the shadow of your creditor looming over you, extracting any possible surplus that you may produce.

So, I read this as a strongly anti-capitalist poem of revolt. What do you think about that interpretation?

Reading: The Reckoning by Theodore Roethke was originally published on Meandering home