I made up the word
in a dream
What does that mean—
in a dream?
Of all the things on my to-do list I only did the one that took 5 minutes. And pretty soon I'm going home to read Kristin Lavransdatter. I'm 75 pages into a thousand-page book & already I know it's too short. After working furiously to get my story ready for my last Norwegian class of the semester, I'm ready for an easy day. But just one—I already know I have a busy schedule tomorrow. This might be the least interesting post I ever write.
Update: Changed a lightbulb.
Read an encouraging short article in The Economist on how several musical genres were invented by accident. Extreme metal came about because the band Venom was using bad musicians in a second-rate studio. Louis Armstrong invented scat singing by improvising lah-lah-lah syllables when he dropped his sheet music during a recording session. And so on. Nothing like a lucky accident to change everything. Oh that an apple would drop on my head!
Years ago, Johnny & I went over to the KMart near us to buy a coffeemaker. Maybe it was when we turned off the gas so our little espresso pot no longer was of any use. All the electric coffeemakers cost maybe $25. But one came with a free package of 100 paper filters. THAT was the one we had to have. We didn't consider anything else, not price, reputation, warranty... we wanted those free filters. A hundred pots later, we discovered that filters cost a dollar.
Not sure why that anecdote came to me this morning but it makes me realize that probably all of us have strange lacunae of ignorance. Why would we all know how everything works? I understand banks, having had an accountant for a father but it doesn't surprise me that people get scammed into opening accounts. For example. When I once had to go to some welfare-type city department, I discovered — because I did it wrong first — that I knew less than everyone else there on how to behave in order to get what I wanted.
Still not sure where I'm going with this, except to say I like when I rub up against my own obliviousness. (Except when a young person patronizes me. For that matter, why does everyone, young or not, like to tell everyone else how to unmute on zoom?)
Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage.
~ Anais Nin
So if our life shrinks through no fault of our own, do we lose our courage? That's what it feels like, more than a year into this pandemic. All the things we took for granted seem impossible to do again. Get on a plane? No, I don't think so. Eat in a restaurant? Are you mad?! What good is the courage to carry on? We can't go on we must go on. The courage of the caregiver, the courage of the parent. Not admired bravery but sometimes that's all you get.
Fredric Wertham, a psychiatrist who denied Pound had ever been insane, blamed the psychiatrists at Pound's sanity hearing for not distinguishing between delusion and political conviction, with the ultimate delusion a national one: "We have let ourselves be deluded—into a belief that responsibility is not responsibility, guilt not guilt, and incitement to hate not incitement to violence." This is from John Tytell's excellent 1987 biography, Ezra Pound: The solitary volcano. Tytell also quotes critic Irving Howe, who called the "abstract quality" of Pound's views what makes them so terrifying, the expression of a "theological hatred that never sought a particular victim or even envisaged the consequences of its rhetoric" but resulted nevertheless in a "blind complicity in the twentieth century's victimization of the innocents."
From this remove it's shocking how casual & widespread vile language like Pound's was at the time. How he learned nothing from what happened right under his nose. Stuck to his horrendous, ignorant, half-uneducated beliefs.
And yet, I still read his work.
I don't remember ever seeing hail in New York City but we got some on Wednesday. It suddenly got so loud that I thought the window was broken ~ & then I knew what it was. It felt so midwestern that I could almost smell the green prairie.
Turns out that it hails here a handful of times a year, from none to 5. After Texas, South Dakota leads the nation with 377 major hail events in 2020 alone ("major" meaning hailstones 1" in diameter or larger), according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, Storm Prediction Center, National Weather Service. Hey, wow, yet another reason to be proud of my home state.
Around the falling waters the Furies hurl!
Violence gathers, spins in their heads summoning them.
This beautiful remnant of the Industrial Age is near the Park & probably why I was discouraged from visiting Paterson, back when I was working in NJ & had a car. I always am drawn to shabby & like to see the trees through the open window frames. Gorgeous as the park is, if you wander randomly down paths you come to an animal shelter. Given that there's no parking & no visitors, one can only imagine that the pets aren't there to be adopted.
If you peer over the fence & look down through the tangles, there indeed is the Passaic River. Why this sign? ("Passaic River," with a down arrow.) Do people wonder what river they are seeing? Or where the tremendous amount of water goes? Or are we being alerted to the presence of a river, which happens to be the Passaic? For a national park, there wasn't a lot of signage (this & a recent plaque on the history of the area were it, & almost no guidance to get to the spot. Oh, but that's New Jersey, I just recalled—I never knew what town I was in when I was driving around out there: Jersey for Jerseyites! must be their motto) or any park rangers that I could see, & a LOT of trash, because, as Dawn pointed out, the national park budget was severely cut in the previous administration. We were seeing a real-world outcome of a D.C. decision.
Tomorrow: the abattoir.
I met them (1) in person for the first time on Sunday to (2) leave New York & go out to the Great Falls + to a Swedish bakery where ate an amazing cardamom loaf. Earlier that morning I had to try to remember what it's like to go on a social outing. It seemed both familiar & like something I had never done before so I was trying to remember what kinds of things people say to each other. Luckily non-Zoom conversation came back to me pretty quickly. 3D is a million times better than 2D in case you are uncertain like I was.
Paterson lies in the valley under the Passaic Falls
its spent waters forming the ouline of his back.
Say it, no idea but in things
a man like a city and a woman like a flower
—who are in love. Two women. Three women.
Innumerable women, each like a flower.
only one man—like a city.
~ William Carlos Williams, from Paterson
I took this photo yesterday at the Great Falls National Park. How is it that I worked nearby for years & never moseyed over here. I was so moved to see the same sight as the cover of Paterson, a book I've been reading constantly for decades.
This post begins a week of Williams or until I run out of pictures that I took yesterday.
The wonderful, brilliant, insightful, discerning Terence Winch has chosen a poem of mine for his Best American Poetry blog. I am flattered. Although it's an ancient work, I still like it. And of course please that he does. That brightened a day that started with me mournfully singing "I ain't got a home in this world anymore" & feeling blue. Not no more!
The Day the Cheering Stopped
was the day the looting began
by young white men in bandanas
who knew they'd soon be masters,
they riot to let everyone know
they will get their way
on America or maybe it's a summer rain
how much I want everything
to be easy (how easy I have it
if I can want that) every day
I go to the roof
& look farther, longer
let's sleep till it's over
A joy to hear "Paradise Lost" last night, thanks to the Red Bull Theater and my friend Carol, an actor who told me about & participated in this reading. Actors performing poetry often go against the language or lean on the rhythm in order to be dramatic. This group understood that the language IS the drama; they spoke clearly & understood what they were saying. Part 2 in 2 weeks.
The Painter and the Thief is a recent Norwegian documentary that is put together so neatly that I had to stop it a couple times to check again that it wasn't scripted. On the spur of the moment, a young man and an acquaintance cut two of Czech painter Barbora Kysilkova's large paintings out of their frames in a Oslo gallery. Somehow she meets him & they become friends. Of a sort. It is interesting to see a woman artist with a male muse, his attempts to get clean, their attempts to be honest with one another. In a way they are both serious artists, although she has found a medium to pour herself into & he has only drugs.
Every once in a while I want to say here that karate continues & it's great. Mostly I'm part of an informal black belt review, & I've grown to appreciate our coterie more & more. In regular classes there's not much personal interaction—we follow the teacher—but since this isn't a class, we chat more, assist each other with karate, celebrate non-karate successes & events. Rank, which is usually very rigid, is relaxed so everyone gets to be competent & helpful when they know something. I love karate now more than ever before.
Happy 136th birthday to my grandmother, Alice Woodland Phillips (1885-1982), on the right in this picture with her four sisters, Nellie, Jessie, Eva, and May. I knew all of them. I was at Eva's 100th birthday party in 1979 in Cowbridge, just outside of Cardiff. She had one of those chuckle-laughs that made everyone around her laugh along. Auntie May I visited many times in Cardiff—I adored her. We had a real friendship. Jessie & Nellie I didn't know as well. Their mother was Annie Spruce, who married Bill Woodland and had 10 or 11 kids, all of whom or all but one of whom survived into adulthood. Annie, known as Nana, lived to be 100 or thereabouts & most of the others lived into their 90s. In my family someone is "taken so young," always said in hushed tones, if they only make it to 80.
The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.
– Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890)
I find this so profound & am unable to say why it appeals to me so much. Maybe it's that I love the world in all its quotidian glory, & don't need supernatural or spiritual explanations to be awed by everything around me.
So funny to see this for sale, at a ridiculous price. Though anyone can charge whatever they want; it doesn't mean they'll get it or that the magazine is worth it. What is worth what? Oh, don't get sidetracked. Here's this little magazine we did 40+ years ago, with construction paper covers &—delicately not mentioned here—a nude male poet as a centerfold. We thought poetry was boring so we should spice it up. I mean, we loved poetry but still, wouldn't it be better with naked men? Eventually we did a calendar with 12 naked poets & then that was the end of it. Even I had had enough of naked men.
Buy it & join the fun! Not that we get a cut.
Ah, they all hurt but this death is really cutting me up. Gary was part of our small coterie of same-generation poets at the Poetry Project from the late '70s into the 80s. He was a peer, a friend, part of my daily life, a mensch, a soft-spoken guy who I can't remember ever being angry or rude. Once, early on, I told him it was my birthday (it wasn't) & he bought me a hamburger at the Grassroots bar on St Marks, where we all hung out after readings. When I fessed up, he was completely fine about it. He didn't feel tricked or taken advantage of. Never working the angles or caring if anyone else did. No reproach. I hadn't seen him a lot since he & Louise moved to New Hampshire, at least 25 years ago, but it always seemed like he would be around & we would pick up where we left off. A nice guy and a good poet.
Halldis Moren Vesaas (1907-1995) and her husband, Tarjei Vesaas, are both totally great. Here's one of her best-known poems, followed by a version by me based on the Norwegian & 2 translations, neither of which satisfied me. You can listen to it here (the clip is mislabeled). A bit of it was featured in a 2019 Norwegian movie I liked a lot called Barn (in English, it was called Beware of Children although "barn" means just "children").
Ord Over Grind
Du går fram til mi inste grind
og eg går òg fram til di.
Innanfor den er kvar av oss einsam,
og det skal vi alltid bli.
Aldri trenge seg lenger fram,
var lova som gjaldt oss to.
Anten vi møttest titt eller sjeldan
var møtet tillit og ro.
Står du der ikkje ein dag eg kjem
fell det meg lett å snu
når eg har stått litt og sett mot huset
og tenkt på at der bur du.
Så lenge eg veit du vil kome iblant
som no over knastrande grus
og smile glad når du ser meg stå her,
skal eg ha ein heim i mitt hus.