Wayne continues his quilting ways. This picture is of the quilt I sleep under & a runner he made of Chanukkah fabrics. I could have draped the runner over the giant quilting machine that shares my cabin but it's not nearly as pretty as the work Wayne makes on it. He's retiring in a few months. Even more quilts? I used to joke about Wayne making phone calls: Hi, you probably don't remember me but in third grade you gave me one of your cookies so, here, I made you a quilt. We have one at home & I treasure it.
I learn something every time I come to Spartanburg. Love the Dixie Nightingales & to think that Ira Tucker sang with them from the time he was 13 for 70 years. The only job he ever had. I forgot to take pictures of the yummy grilled carrots at the Kennedy, or my meal at Wade's, or Steve & his lifelong friend (met in 1959) who lives in England & who I was meeting for the first time, or the calm lake in front of Steve's house, or the new dogs, or the garden. Probably because it's so normal to be here that I don't think to whip out my camera. I'm simply here.
Everytime I hear a little sound in my office, I think it's a rodent. Once it was & now it always seems to be. It's been the wind, my sneakers squeaking against each other, my breathing, my neighbor... I put down a glue trap & put away snacks.
Note: Leaving early tomorrow for a week in South & North Carolina, my annual trip to see friends & go up into the mountains. I may be inconsistent with the blog till I get back. We'll see. Happy start of December!
It's snow I want but it was a joy to come upon this bush in the East River park. I suppose it's a signal of terrible climate change but it came as a surprise pleasure. The way I could be traveling so much because of worrying about a bleak future (the economy! my knees!) or because I finally get to again & it's what I enjoy. Or both.
Little boldness is needed to assail the opinions and practices of notoriously wicked men; but to rebuke great and good men for their conduct, and to impeach their discernment, is the highest effort of moral courage.
~ William Lloyd Garrison
Not entirely true. I'm thinking of something I just read, that only one Norwegian policeman protested the rounding up of the Jews 80 years ago (November 26, 1942). He was shot. Hundreds of Norway's <2,000 Jews were sent to Auschwitz, where most of them perished. If 2 or 3 or a handful (or 50) of the police had refused the Nazi orders, would they all have been shot? Or maybe the police were considered to be great & good, & the blue silence protected their actions, & Garrison is exactly correct.
Nothing makes me (re-)fall in love with New York more than a long walk, which I've done the last couple of days (it's raining now, so probably not this afternoon). The first thing I ever did in NYC was walk on Galway Kinnell's Avenue C: "The Avenue Bearing the Initial of Christ into the New World." I'd never seen the like: fruits & vegetables right out on the sidewalk in bins. Which wasn't anything my Midwestern/New England eyes had ever seen. People hanging out, who for a long time I thought must work nights, like I thought all those young girls were babysitting their little brothers & sisters.
Our Nesselrode pie (made by Petee's) was light yet substantial, with chestnut mousse, gobbets of whipped cream & a few cherries (said to be rum-soaked but I didn't taste any alcohol). It was popular in the 1940s to 60s in New York but I had never had it or known anyone who had. I don't exactly know why I even knew the name. Read the interesting history here.
There was a full Thanksgiving dinner of food, laughter & warmth leading up to the pie.
This year we're going across the hall to Wanda, my wonderful new neighbor. I'm bringing a Nesselrode pie, made of chestnut custard, rum-soaked cherries, & cream. I'm grateful for so much but I'll keep my list internal in case I omit someone or something. I've learned a lot this year, & for that I'm even more thankful than for all the support & pleasures.
And once again, my traditional Thanksgiving poem:
Thanksgiving Almost Found Poem
Many years we go to my grandmother's in Virginia.
My mother, father, aunts and at least two of my brothers are there.
My son has a football game that morning.
My daughter is home, but needs to get back to school this weekend.
My wife doesn't want to ride for nine hours and turn right back.
Sometimes I have gone alone, but not often.
A couple of neighbors were vying for our company.
One of those my daughter's boyfriend's family,
Which we did last year and had fun.
But this year it will be another family,
One we have visited on two or three other Thanksgivings.
I have a turkey freezing in the garage.
Nothing to do with it.
Even though she'd been sick a long time, it is sad that Bernadette has died. The last time I saw her, Annabel & I drove up to her place in upstate New York. We sang our version of her "Essay" to the tune of "Streets of Laredo," her moving closer & closer in delight. I recently translated a poem of hers ("Carlton Fisk Is My Ideal") into Norwegian. Her wonderful Midwinter Day.
An image of love allows what I can't say,
Sun's lost in the window and love is below
Love is the same and does not keep that name
I keep that name and I am not the same
My friend Diana had an extra ticket to see Mike Birbiglia's one-man show at the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center. Soon I'll stop pointing out great it is to be back in the whirl but not quite yet. I'd never heard of this comedian/storyteller but I'll try to watch his previous shows on a streaming service. It was simple & profound ~ life, death, & swimming. Funny, gaspingly poignant. Not a moment or a phrase to pull out from a seamless whole. Totally satisfying. And it was at 5 o'clock, so I even got home at a reasonable hour.
For poetry there exists neither large countries nor small. Its domain is in the heart of all men.
~ Giorgos Seferis
Orange you glad I stopped talking about politics?
If only it were headed our way. I'm sure a lot of people up there would be happy to trade. They got five & a half feet! I'm sooooooo ready for winter, even though we didn't really have fall - it went from a week or 2 of 70° days in November to the 30s without passing through crisp cool days.
My dad's poem:
Snow. Snow. Snow.
Ho. Ho. Ho.
Absolute fun to do an in-person reading last night. To look up & make eye contact. To get a response in real time, not silence through a screen. To hear people laugh! That was my first in-person reading in at least 3 years & I loved it. Also, I read with two fantastic poets, Evelyn Reilly & Brenda Hillman. Someone said it was like one reading by 3 poets ~ we felt in synch. I tried out a bunch of new works & was happy with them. It was bracing to be outdoors, giving my new Irish sweater a good run; it kept me cozy. So totally glad the world is opening back up!
Maggie wondered if my insomnia was related to Covid. Voila, it's a common aftereffect & should go away. That might have been all I needed to hear, as i slept soundly last night (though yawning again now, mid-afternoon). O Covid, what a trickster you are.
I've never had insomnia before & I have no idea why this unlovely gift has arrived, unordered & unwanted. Help! I thought once the midterms were over, I'd sleep like a baby but nope. I can't be lucid about it because my head's in a whirl.
I love the Authors Guild & how easy they make it to have a website, but they have this crazy new system that makes using photographs unwieldy & time-consuming, which is why I haven't been including so many images of late. Many "improvements" are far from that. Planned obsolescence was a term from way back when but it applies now to technology as much as appliances. I admit I sometimes do grow to prefer what I resisted ~ for example, I was the last in my gang to get an answering machine but then it was wondrous not to have to sit at home waiting for a phone call. I hope to embrace this AG update, & others, but a big part of me wants everything to stop.
"We Are Going to Pick Potatoes: Norway and the Holocaust, the Untold Story, by Irene Levin Berman, reminds us that there are Jews everywhere & that Hitler wanted to kill them all. There were around 2,000 Jews in Norway when WWII (Den andre verdenskrig) began, of whom around 700 died in Dachau. The author, a toddler at the time, escaped with her family to neutral Sweden. I'm glad she has told this story but it's devastating to read.
Back in the 70s, KOFF, which I co-edited, included centerfolds of naked male poets in part because poetry magazines were boring, we proclaimed, & a naked man might enliven ours. Not much has changed except no naked poets. I've read all too many dull reviews & pointless, self-serving anecdotes, presented with line breaks. Occasionally there'll be a last line with a timid kick as if to prove that what they wrote is indeed a poem. Why? Their opinions are banal &/or inoffensive, their language has no life or magic, they seem not to have learned a single technique beyond enjambment.
It will cease to exist without me, so I need not exercise myself over it, except to worry that this drivel will prove what non-poets already believe, that there's nothing in it.
Ah, this is such an old rant.
Off to read this week's offering in Terence Winch's well-chosen Best American Poetry blog. And then a little Hesiod & a reading later this afternoon. Ever hopeful am I.
As part of my Norwegian class, I watched Max Manus: Man of War this week. It's about a hero of the Norwegian resistance, & there's a lot of killing, but also love & friendship. On yet another Veterans Day, it's hard to think about & hard not to think about war, violence, armed struggle, unnecessary deaths of young people, Ukraine & other current conflicts. My two grandfathers fought on opposite sides in WWI & my favorite book (Ford Madox Ford's Parade's End) is about that war, with a memorable scene of the chaotic Armistice. No one is untouched by war.
Great night at the Poetry Project in celebration of Get the Money!, a just-published collection of Ted Berrigan's prose. Happy to hear the dozen or so readers with excerpts & stories, happy to hug so many people Ted mattered to. I loved Anselm saying that many of his dad's friends are now his friends, & to relish this contentious, loving community of 40, 50, 60 years. Happy that Johnny read, who of everyone there had known Ted the longest, since he was (in a poem of Ted's) "19-year-old knife fighter Johnny Stanton." Get the book!
Coulda been worse.... not a Red Wave.... The antisemite lost in PA.... Reproductive rights preserved in several states, including Kentucky. All over the country, lots of diversity: first black/out lesbian/trans/Gen Z elected etc.... That's encouraging but also surprising that there are still so many firsts of that sort.
Quite a few races still undecided & Georgia's senate race goes to a runoff.
Couldn't sleep & did everything I could to avoid looking at the returns till I felt ready.
Could've been worse.
Wearing my lucky (I hope) shirt. Vote early, vote often! Too nervewracking. I'd like to sleep till tomorrow but instead I signed up for a class after YAI. Hope to come home tired & calm. That's the best I can do today...
Update: One person at the polls said, "I like your shirt." Disappointing. Johnny wore it later, when he went to vote, and he said when he walked in people started clapping. So!
The natural flights of the human mind are not from pleasure to pleasure, but from hope to hope.
~ Samuel Johnson
That's as good a pre-Election Day quote as any, yeah?
Lefty's routine is to wake me up nice'n'early & make me let him out by plaintive & loud explanation of how much he NEEEEEEEEEDs to see Jojo & Harry, his friends across the hall. But since it's usually before 6 a.m., Wanda isn't up. He barrels out, cries outside her door & then drags himself home. He often waits on his scratchpad till he hears her open her door. Off like a shot with cries of gladness.
Totally fun to go to Midtown this afternoon. First Maggie & I had lunch at a gluten-free vegan BBQ joint on Lex & 24th called Pure Grit. It was good! Ever so slightly reminiscent of my beloved meat & 3s of the South.
Then I walked up to the Stavros Niarchos (nee Mid-Manhattan) library for some Norwegian-language DVDs & on to a meeting with a lawyer about getting our wills prepared. (He's great, hit me up if you need a NY recommendation.)
Then a block to Grand Central through this casual display of public art. I guess lots of people must still be working from home, because Grand Central, at 4 on a Friday afternoon, wasn't crowded, nor were the trains. Lovely warm day, everyone chill, I'd almost forgotten the pleasures of other parts of town.
And then that summer my boyfriend gave me a car.
This was amazing as I was not that kind of girl
boys made grand gestures toward, my boyfriends
were the kind of morons who liked
Dave hung his arm over my shoulder—
his stiff Swedish version of a hug—& laid me up
against the last elm on the block that hadn't succumbed to disease.
"My Mustang," he said.
"Yeah," I said.
"I'm getting a Firebird," he said.
My other boyfriend Ken had a black Firebird.
We cruised up Main & down Dakota
for rubbery burgers at Teddy the Greek's drive-in
or to sneak in to the Dew Drop Inn.
"You can have the Mustang," Dave said.
"OK, cool," I said.
My parents would kill me so I figured he didn't mean it.
I called my friend Debbie whose dad let me park it
in their field where nothing but horseradish grew
till I thought to tell my folks
Dave was letting me drive it
that one last summer before we blasted off to college
or the army or the moronic jobs
my boyfriends would have for the rest of their lives.
Gas was 20¢ a gallon
a dollar's worth could gallop us halfway across the prairie,
a nighttime ride to wherever we weren't supposed to go.
Alas the hidden treacheries—the shocks, the sparks,
the struts & timing I was heir to, what Dave wanted.
I'd forgotten all about this poem until I looked again at Ladies, Start Your Engines because we were watching a car race movie & I was filled with car lust. It's the kind of poem I used to write, I guess.
Do you know the song "I've got sixpence"? I don't remember learning it but I'm pretty sure the last time I thought of it was when I lived in Maine, almost 50 years ago. I'm quite sure that it was because I was living in Maine that I always sang "I'm happy as a clam" rather than a lark. And "no pretty little girls" became "no sassy little boys." And when the song continues "rolling home..." we always responded "squares don't roll!" I just listened to Bing Crosby singing it & there's a line I don't remember ever hearing: "happy as the day when we line up for our pay" ~ I've always sung "happy as a clam believe me," which is really a line from elsewhere in the song. So there you have two things ~ the folk editing of a song that happens when a line is forgotten or misremembered & can easily become the or a standard version. More interesting to me is that it burst upon me all these decades later, without any trigger that I know of, complete in melody & words. I found myself singing it out of the blue. Where has it been all this time? I need more songs to bellow as I ride around town on my bike so I hope there are a few more lurking in whatever corner of my memory "I've got sixpence" was sleeping.
Come to thing of it, I probably learned it from my mom, since I see now it was a hit from 1941, when she knew all the popular songs.
Here's the words:
I've got sixpence, jolly jolly sixpence, I've got sixpence to last me all my life. Oh, I've got tuppence to spend, & tuppence to lend, & tuppence to send home to my wife (poor wife). / No cares have I to grieve me, no sassy little boys to deceive me, I'm happy as a clam believe me, as we go rolling rolling home. / Rolling home (squares don't roll), rolling home (squares don't roll!), by the light of the silvery moo-oo-oon. I'm happy as a clam believe me, as we go rolling rolling home.
Next verse is fourpence & there's nothing for the wife. Then tuppence & nothing to lend or for the wife.
How great is this? My Norwegian class homework is to watch a car race movie called Børning. Car race/chase films are the only kind I really like & I've already spent hours watching, backing up & trying to make out what they're saying under the vroom, looking up the songs, rewatching some of the exciting bits. I thoroughly enjoy it. I suspend my critical faculties when I see cars moving fast, even though this one's a little hard to get behind, given that no one really seems to be in a hurry. I mean, is it a race or not? But seeing fast cars is totally satisfying. I hope to have more to say (på norsk) by class tomorrow.
Nobody will give you freedom. You have to take it.
~ Meret Oppenheim
She of the fur-covered cup, saucer, & spoon has a big new exhibition at MoMA, which I have yet to see.
Some people know almost by instinct that nothing is given. Some figure it out in time. Some never do. All I ever wanted was not to have a boss. I was like my cat fighting with every muscle against us trying to cut his pawnails. It didn't matter what I was being held down for, I couldn't stand it. I messed up plenty but have always taken responsibility for my life. No blame, ever. It's on me.
Someone sent me these, from the early Abstract Expressionist sculptor. While they are clearly aimed at young people & some specifically at visual artists (I omitted a couple of those), a few are worthwhile challenges to anyone—artist, poet, citizen.
David Smith's questions for students of art
1. Do you make art your life, that which always comes first and occupies every moment, the last problem before sleep and the first awaking vision?
2. Do all the things you like or do amplify and enjoin the progress of art vision and art making?
3. Are you a balanced person with many interests and diversions?
4. Do you seek the culture of many aspects, with the middle-class aspiration of being well-rounded and informed?
5. How do you spend your time? More talking about art than making it? How do you spend your money? On art materials first—or do you start to pinch here?
6. How much of the work day or the work week do you devote to your profession—that which will be your identity for life?
7. Will you be an amateur—a professional—or is it the total life?
8. Do you think the artist has an obligation to anyone but himself?
9. Do you think his contemporary position is unique or traditional?
10. Do you think art can be something it was before? Can you challenge the ancients?
11. Have you examined the echoes of childhood and first learning, which may have once given you the solutions? Are any of these expectancies still operating on your choices?
12. Do you hold with these, or have you recognized them? Have you contradicted them or have you made metaphoric transposition?
13. Do you examine and weigh the art statements of fellow artists, teachers, authorities before they become involved in your own working tenets?
14. Or do the useful ideas place themselves in a working niche of your consciousness and the others go off unheard?
15. Do you think you owe your teachers anything, or Picasso or Matisse or Brancusi or Mondrian or Kandinsky?
16. Do you think you work should be aggressive? Do you think this an attribute? Can it be developed?
17. Do you think your work should hold within tradition?
18. Do you think that your own time and now is the greatest in the history of art, or do you excuse your own lack of full devotion with the half belief that some other time would have been better for you to make art?
19. Do you recognize any points of attainment? Do they change? Is there a final goal?
20. In the secret dreams of attainment have you faced each dream for its value on your own basis, or do you harbor inherited inspirations of the bourgeoisie or those of false history or those of critics?
21. Why do you hesitate–why can you not draw objects as freely as you can write their names and speak words about them?
22. What has caused this mental block? If you can name, dream, recall vision and auras why can't you draw them? In the conscious set of drawing, who is acting in our unconscious as censor?
23. In the conceptual direction, are you aiming for the successful work? (To define success I mean the culminating point of many efforts.)
24. Do you aim for a style with a recognizable visual vocabulary?
25. Do you polish up the work beyond its bare aesthetic elements?
26. Do you add ingratiating elements beyond the raw aesthetic basis?
27. If you add ingratiating elements, where is the line which keeps the work from being your own?
28. Are you afraid of rawness, for rawness and harshness are basic forms of U.S. nature, and origins are both raw and vulgar at their time of creation?
29. Will you understand and accept yourself as the subject for creative work, or will your effort go toward adapting your expression to verbal philosophies by non-artists?
30. If you could, would you throw over the present values of harmony and tradition?
31. Do you trust your first response, or do you go back and equivocate consciously? Do you believe that the freshness of first response can be developed and sustained as a working habit?
32. Are you saddled with nature propaganda?
33. Are you afraid to exercise vision, seek surprise?
34. When you accept the identification of artist do you acknowledge that you are issuing a world challenge in your own time?
35. Are you afraid to work from your own experience without leaning on the crutches of subject and the rational?
36. Or do you think that you are unworthy or that your life has not been dramatic enough or your understanding not classic enough, or do you think that art comes from Mount Parnassus or France or from an elite level beyond you?
37. Do you assert yourself and work in sizes comparable to your physical size or your aesthetic challenge or imagination?
38. Is that size easel-size or table-size or room-size or a challenge to nature?
39. Do you think museums are your friend and do you think they will be interested in your work?
40. Do you think you will ever make a living from museums?
41. Do you think commercial art, architectural art, religious art offer any solution in the maturing of your concepts?
42. How long will you work before you work with the confidence which says, "What I do is art"?
43. Do you ever feel that you don't know where to go in your work, that the challenge is beyond immediate solution?
44. Do you think acclaim can help you? Can you trust it, for you know in your secret self how far short of attainment you always are? Can you trust any acclaim any farther than adverse criticism? Should either have any effect upon you as an artist?