Sunlight buttered on the grass.

In a poem where the speaker repeatedly mentions an inability to remember the names of things, there comes this splendid evocation of roses that turns for all its colour and specificity upon the mention of names.

Do the roses bloom? I hope so: how I love roses!
        Bunches of roses on
The dining table, Georg Arends, big and silver-
        pink with sharply
Bent-back petals so the petals make a point: no
        other rose does that:
or Variegata di Bologna, streaked and freaked
        in raspberries and cream,
The feast is limited to two types of roses but seems in its precision to invoke a whole gamut of hybrids. And later in The Morning of the Poem by James Schuyler one finds a similar abundance conveyed by a repetition with variation: "Sunlight buttered on the grass" will some lines later be reprised "Light freshly buttered on the grass." Same effect. Different wording. Once would be showing off. Twice is the mark of a master.

And so for day 1524
14.02.2011

Radish Pyrotechnics

Rhea Tregebov. "The fire under control" in no one we know.

This is a poem that begins with the collection and consumption of vegetables (such as peppers and rhubarb and of course radishes) and moves on to consider fire that is not to be dug up.

Radishes figure a peevish,
proletarian vegetable.
When you bite them, they bite back.
This seems likes a simple innocent remark about the pungent taste of radishes. However, by poem's end we are aware that the fire under control is radioactive — after Chernobyl. The burn burns deeper.

And so for day 1523
13.02.2011

Waiting

A line from Tu Fu (translated by J.P. Seaton in Bright Moon Perching Bird)

Wind, and dust, but no news comes.
Reminds one of "Waiting for the Barbarians" by Cavafy.

Not because of the wind. Not because of the dust. But because no news comes.

And turn again to Tu Fu, the sixth of the six quatrains from a group of twelve ("Grief Again")
Barbarians. How can there be so many?
Shield and spear: unwilling to put by.
At the village gate, listen to the children
Laugh and shout; play war.
We skip a beat. Where Cavafy cannot carry us over — his speaker is arrested ("And now, what’s going to happen to us without barbarians? / They were, those people, a kind of solution."), Tu Fu brings us close to the integral.

And so for day 1522
12.02.2011

Anaphora

I was debating whether to buy this handsome edition of the Collected Poems of Stephen Spender in its red jacket. In the time-honoured tradition of the browser, I opened the volume and read "The War God" which begins with the following question

Why cannot the one good
Benevolent feasible
Final dove, descend?
Not put off by the Christian allusion to the Dove of Peace, I read the next stanza with its anaphora
And the wheat be divided?
And the soldiers sent home?
And the barriers torn down?
And the enemies forgiven?
And there be no retribution?
Sold, I headed to the counter to finalize the purchase and so home to read the rest of the poem and rest in the resonance of its final line: "Love's need does not cease."

And so for day 1521
11.02.2011

Acrostic Beginning with the Letter F

Autumn : an alphabet acrostic by Steven Schnur, illustrated by Leslie Evans

From the window the
Rows of
Orange pumpkins
Seem clothed in
Thin white shawls.
There is a nice description of the book in the front matter on the copyright page.
Summary: Describes the autumn season, with its animals, rain, cold winds, and harvested food. When read vertically, the first letters of the lines of text spell related words arranged alphabetically from "acorn" to "zero."
F R O S T

I came across this book through the illustrations of Leslie Evans who had captivated me with illustrations to The Spice Alphabet Book by Jerry Pallotta where one of its charms is the clever use of insets. Here each page presents a moment from an ongoing action or process which bolsters the impact of the poetry of Steven Schnur. One parting example: "Gloves and coats hang / Under the stairs, some / Even lie upon the bed / So many friends have come / This cold and / Snowy Thanksgiving day."

Brrrr.

And so for day 1520
10.02.2011

Before Rock Musicians Smashed Guitars

Yosano Akiko (1878-1942)

River of Stars: Selected Poems of Yosano Akiko translated by Sam Hamill and Keiko Matsui Gibson.

The gods wish it so:
a life ends with a shatter —
with my great broadax
I demolish my koto.
Oh, listen to that sound!
No date is provided for the tanka about the demolished koto but we are quite confident it predates instrument smashing by rock musicians.

And so for day 1519
09.02.2011

Shaped and Stuffed

Hannah Glasse Everlasting Syllabub and the Art of Carving [Penguin Great Food Series] excerpts from The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy (1797) on the various ways to prepare stuffed pigeons (Pigeons au Poire):

Or thus: bone your pigeons, and stuff them with force-meat; make them in the shape of a pear, with one foot stuck at the small end to appear like the stalk of a pear […]
The stuffing with force-meat reminds me of a recipe given by Ed Baines in Entertain for whole roast quail stuffed with thyme, garlic and lemon which uses sausage meat. Baines writes
Quails have very little fat, so it's a good idea to add a stuffing to keep the meat tender, especially if your are going to cook and chill them for a picnic.
Plain and easy. And note no pears in Pigeons au Poire.

And so for day 1518
08.02.2011

Frottage Fancy

Frank Kermode Forms of Attention led me to be acquainted with a Donne poem that I had not studied in school and if I had it might have been recuperated in workings of allegory as Kermode reports "Attempts were made to preserve it [Donne's fame] in an epoch professing different standards, and having different notions of excellence, but even in the early seventeenth century they have a somewhat desperate air, as when a commentator argues that 'The Good Morrow' is not a wickedly erotic poem but an address to God; and that the lesbian epistle 'Sappho to Philænis' is an allegory of the relationship between Christ and his church."

Sappho to Philænis [Literally 'Female Friend']

[…]

And yet I grieve the less, lest grief remove

My beauty, and make me unworthy of thy love.

[…]

My two lips, eyes, thighs, differ from thy two,

But so as thine from one another do;
And, O, no more; the likeness being such,

Why should they not alike in all parts touch?
Introduction by Ilona Bell to John Donne: Collected Poetry
If Donne's portrayal of Sappho arouses male voyeurs — and it pays to look closely at the ending — it also gives female creativity and female pleasure a voice that vies with the much-vaunted 'masculine persuasive force' of 'Elegy 11. On His Mistress'.
So much depends on the placement of "touch". I really how it is prepared by the twist of narcissistic loss braided to the argument that sorrow would make the speaker unattractive.

And so for day 1517
07.02.2011

List Power

Jan Zita Grover would move from San Francisco to Minnesota and produce a meditation upon landscape and grieving … North Enough: AIDS and Other Clear-Cuts. But before that migration, she contributed a review of the discursive counters set down by actors in the unfolding of the social and medical story of AIDS. She did this in "AIDS: Keywords" with acknowledgement to borrowing the form from Raymond Williams. The piece appeared in an earlier version in October 43 (1988) and revised form in The State of the Language edited by Christopher Ricks and Leonard Michaels (1990).

Here are the keywords:

Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS)
AIDS … The Disease
AIDS Test
AIDS Virus
AIDSpeak
Bisexual
Bod(il)y Fluids
Carrier
Condone [the verb condone not the noun condom]
Family
General Population
Gay/Homosexual Community
Heterosexual Community
Lesbian
Prostitute
PWA (Person with AIDS)
Risk Group
Risk Practice
Spread
Victims
War on AIDS
Reminds me that collectively those affected took a crash course in science and forced clear direction on using words in all their explicit glory to protect people and fight demonization. At this remove in time I learnt something that escaped us in Canada; in California a senate bill was sponsored to legalize the "creation of designated-donor pools to keep donated blood within families so as to prevent transmission of HIV from anonymous donors to "the general population."" Turns out
Evidence of how much more problematic real American families are comes from a recent State of Washington study that found directed-donation blood (that is blood donated by a family member or other designated donor) had a higher rate of HIV infection than randomly assigned donations. So much for the family as bulwark against the coming chaos.
If the tone is sharp it betrays the urgency of the times and the constant struggle against stigma and paranoia. Repeated statement of the facts is the tactic that Grover excels at. Take the evidence on safe sex practices by sex workers.
in the long-term study of sexually active women (professionally and nonprofessionally) conducted by Project AWARE at San Francisco General Hospital, for example, the incidence of HIV infection among non-intravenous-drug-using sex-industry workers was lower than it was among nonprofessional, non-intravenous-drug-using women. The difference is accounted for by prostitutes' widespread demand that clients use condoms, something that most nonprofessional women do no demand of their sexual partners. Other U.S. and European studies that distinguish between prostitutes who use intravenous drugs and those who do not have produced similar findings.
Churches. Africa. Rates of Condom Use. — other contexts, other keywords; same science.

And so for day 1516
06.02.2011

Fire & Darkness

Herb Nabigon and Anne-Marie Mawhiney "Aboriginal Theory: A Cree Medicine Wheel Guide for Healing First Nations" in Turner Social Worker Treatment 4th Edition.

Cree elders teach that fire is symbolized in the center circle, opposite the dark side of not listening.
Jon Kabat-Zinn "Sitting by Fire" in Wherever You Go There You Are
For million of years, we human beings sat around fires, gazing into the flames and embers with cold and darkness at our backs.
What voices come out of the dark unlistening?

And so for day 1515
05.02.2011