Anger Of Women

jmp Keillor
Garrison Keillor

“It’s a shallow life that doesn’t give a person a few scars.”

Garrison Keillor

The Anger of Women

by Garrison Keillor

The anger of women pervades the rooms
Like a cold snap, and you wait for the thaw
To open the window and air out the anger fumes,
And then a right hook KA-POW to the jaw!
And she says three jagged things about you
And then it’s over. She bursts into tears,
The storm spent, the sky turns sky-blue.
But a man’s heart can hurt for many years.
I have found the anger of women unbearable.
And when my goddesses have cursed the day
They met me and said those terrible
Things, I folded my tent and stole away.
I yielded to their righteous dominion
And went off in search of another opinion.


There are very few men whose reputations have been upended by the #metoo movement that I have felt compassion. For the vast majority the weight of the accusations has been overwhelming. Whatever disruption in their lives came about by shining a light on their criminal behavior or bad behavior is only a start to the justice the victims deserve.  I want to make it clear that I think the #metoo movement is an important force for positive change which I fully support.

However, I have read the accusations against Garrison Keillor and scratched my head a little by the response from Minnesota Public Radio. If there is nothing more behind Keillor’s behavior than what was reported in the news, then the actions taken by Minnesota Public Radio feel to me like he is the aggrieved not his accuser. It’s not that my fondness for Keillor’s writing and Prairie Home Companion is clouding my judgement.  It’s when does a lifetime worth of good work get erased without a day in court?  When do we allow a person’s reputation to be destroyed without allowing them to address their accuser?  It felt extremely hypocritical by MPR, a very profitable non-profit that was built on the back of Prairie Home Companion’s success. Let’s make no mistake, Prairie Home Companion was the brain child of Garrison Keillor and although he was just one artist among a talented group of artists, the bulk of the creation that was PHC was Keillor’s.  He was responsible for not only its sustained quality over decades but he wrote virtually the entire show every week. I cannot listen to Chris Thile’s Live From Here and completely enjoy it, until Garrison Keillor is welcomed back for a cameo. Thile is a talented artist and his show entertaining but everything he will accomplish is tainted in my mind if he and MPR do not acknowledge that the road to this show’s success was paved by Keillor.

The question is whether the sentence fits the crime in this case?  If taken at face value,  Keillor is guilty of inappropriate leering and flirting in the workplace. It’s not acceptable behavior, but I wonder why was it not dealt with professionally at the time by management? There is zero accusations of sexual assault, nor was there multiple women accusing him. If blundering, inappropriate sexual attraction is sufficient cause to destroy a person’s career and legacy, enough to justify MPR turning its back on its biggest star, then the legacy of the #metoo movement in this case is not justice or a move forward, it resembles more mob action with a guillotine running a muck in the streets of St. Paul, looking for its next victim for blood sport.

In this situation, I hope there is justice for both the accuser and the accused.   I hope that the art that Garrison Keillor created is judged on its merits. Art created by an artist who may be a flawed human being, but when is being human and flawed a fatal disease to be shunned?   Keillor crafted a world I enjoyed visiting on Saturday afternoons for decades. He was committed to support of poetry and support of book arts over his entire career on the radio.  He wrote countless books that bring me enjoyment. If we are to judge each other on only our worst actions and ignore all the good on the other side of the ledger, we will all look ugly in the eye’s of our judges. I for one, do not want to live in that world.  I want to live in a #metoo world that is also equally focused on forgiveness. And for what its worth, I forgive Garrison Keillor.

 

 

Happiness Is Woven Out of The Peace of Hours

May Sarton
Polly Thayer portrait of May Sarton

Fruit of Loneliness

by May Sarton (1912 – 1995)

Now for a little I have fed on loneliness
As on some strange fruit from a frost-touched vine  –
Persimmon in its yellow comeliness,
Or pomegranate-juice the color of wine,
The pucker-mouth crab apple, or late plum –
On fruit of loneliness have I been fed.
But now after short absence I am come
Back from felicity to the wine and bread.
For, being mortal, this luxurious heart
Would starve for you, my dear, I must admit,
If it were held another hour apart
From that food which it alone can comfort it –
I am come home to you, for at the end
I find I cannot live without you, friend.


“Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help.”

May Sarton


The Work of Happiness

by May Sarton

I thought of happiness, how it is woven
Out of silence in the empty house each day
And how it is not sudden and it is not given
But is creation itself like the growth of a tree.
No one has seen it happen, but inside the bark
Another circle is growing in the expanding ring,
No one has heard the root go deeper in the dark,
But the tree is lifted by this inward work
And its plumes shine, and its leaves are glittering.

So happiness is woven out of the peace of hours
And strikes its roots deep in the house alone:
The old chest in the corner, cool waxed floors,
White curtains softly and continually blown
As the free air moves quietly about the room;
A shelf of books, a table, and the white-washed wall –
These are the dear familiar gods of home,
And here the work of faith can best be done,
The growing tree is green and musical.

For what is happiness but growth in peace,
The timeless sense of time when furniture
Has stood a life’s span in a single place,
And as the air moves, so the old dreams stir
The shining leaves of present happiness
No one has heard thought or listened to a mind,
But where people have lived in inwardness
The air is charged with blessing and does bless;
Windows look out on mountains and the walls are kind.

Dearest, Teach Me How To Hope

Lincoln_Beachey_at_Grant_Park_in_1911
Lincoln Beachey in 1911

The Skipping Rope

by Alfred Lord Tennyson

SURE never yet was antelope
Could skip so lightly by.
Stand off, or else my skipping-rope
Will hit you in the eye.
How lightly Whirls the skipping-rope !
How fairy-like you fly !
Go, get you gone, you muse and mope –
I hate that silly sigh.
Nay, dearest, teach me how to hope,
Or tell me how to die.
There, take it, take my skipping-rope,
And hang yourself thereby.


Lincoln Beachey was a pilot and daredevil beyond compare during the hey day of the bi-plane in the early days of human flight. Beachey mastered flying in ways that other pilots couldn’t conceive, maneuvers so difficult that copycats often lost their lives in their attempt to learn them. Then Beachey committed the greatest flaw of the human condition, he made an assumption that proved fatal. When the monoplane came along, the early versions were constructed with the same flimsy materials that bi-planes were made of, but since monoplanes require faster speeds to provide lift, it meant the g-forces exerted on the structure of the plane are greater as well in aerial manuevers, and when Beachey took his first monoplane up to test its ability to execute the skills he had mastered in a bi-plane, the wings fell off and he plummeted to his death.  Some mistakes you don’t come back from.

Beachey’s ignoble death has relegated him to the back lot of history, with the only early aviators who are commonly known are the Minnesotan Charles Lindbergh who made the first crossing of the Atlantic in 1927 and Amelia Earhart who is famous for crashing into the Pacific Ocean somewhere and was never heard from again.

What does Beachey have to do with poetry? Sometimes we have to fly faster than our wings were designed, and then like Tennyson says, “Teach me how to hope, or tell me how to die.”

Check out the Radiolab podcast link below to hear the whole wonderful story about Lincoln Beachy and how he became immortalized in San Francisco culture as a line in a jump rope song.

https://www.wnycstudios.org/story/159748-loop-loop


Sonnet

by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Me my own fate to lasting sorrow doometh:
Thy woes are birds of passage, transitory:
Thy spirit, circled with a living glory,
In summer still a summer joy resumeth.
Alone my hopeless melancholy gloometh,
Like a lone cypress, through the twilight hoary,
From an old garden where no flower bloometh,
One cypress on an inland promontory.
But yet my lonely spirit follows thine,
As round the rolling earth night follows day:
But yet thy lights on my horizon shine
Into my night when thou art far away;
I am so dark, alas! and thou so bright,
When we two meet there’s never perfect light.

Love Is Proved In The Letting Go

 

Pearl

“poetry is not—except in a very limited sense—a form of self-expression. Who on earth supposes that the pearl expresses the oyster?”

O Dreams, O Destinations

Sonnet 1

by Cecil Day Lewis

For infants time is like a humming shell
Heard between sleep and sleep, wherein the shores
Foam-fringed, wind-fluted of the strange earth dwell
And the sea’s cavernous hunger faintly roars.
It is the humming pole of summer lanes
Whose sound quivers like heat-haze endlessly
Over the corn, over the poppied plains —
An emanation from the earth or sky.
Faintly they hear, through the womb’s lingering haze,
A rumour of that sea to which they are born:
They hear the ringing pole of summer days,
But need not know what hungers for the corn.
They are the lisping rushes in a stream —
Grace-notes of a profound, legato dream


In the last blog I ended with the question that arose from James Baldwin’s poem The Giver; does an artist give up something integral of themselves in giving their art to the world? I didn’t write it at the time, but what was also in my mind is does the same hold true of parents with their children and children with their parents? The greatest act of giving that we can provide to each other is to embrace independence, a belief that our greatest achievements are gifted to the world. But Cecil Day-Lewis’ quote above is equally true. Our children are not an expression of their parents, they are entirely of their own wonderful creation, we only provide a thin shell of protection along the way, their real beauty of their own volition.

March is coming in like a lion, a cold lion in Minneapolis.  It’s -9 F this morning, but the sun is shining and the snow is beautiful. Ice dams decorate every 1950’s era home in my neighborhood and despite the inconvenience of needing to warm up the car before heading out it’s awfully pretty in this big wintry world I live in.  I refuse to grumble about the snow and cold as I sleep most contentedly when its this chilly in a drafty old house next to my beautifully warm partner,  our bodies naturally needing the touch of the other in the night beneath the covers.   I think therapists should send feuding spouses to sleep in old farm houses in Minnesota as touch therapy as they would settle their differences pretty quickly in search of heat in the other’s arms.  If I could sleep every night in winter with my partner, I would get a much better nights sleep all the year round.

Enjoy this brisk Sunday and let your pearls out, whatever they maybe, to roll around freely to catch the sun in all their glory.


Walking Away

by Cecil Day Lewis

It is eighteen years ago, almost to the day –
A sunny day with leaves just turning,
The touch-lines new-ruled – since I watched you play
Your first game of football, then, like a satellite
Wrenched from its orbit, go drifting away

Behind a scatter of boys. I can see
You walking away from me towards the school
With the pathos of a half-fledged thing set free
Into a wilderness, the gait of one
Who finds no path where the path should be.

That hesitant figure, eddying away
Like a winged seed loosened from its parent stem,
Has something I never quite grasp to convey
About nature’s give-and-take – the small, the scorching
Ordeals which fire one’s irresolute clay.

I have had worse partings, but none that so
Gnaws at my mind still. Perhaps it is roughly
Saying what God alone could perfectly show –
How selfhood begins with a walking away,
And love is proved in the letting go.

 

 

I Cannot Tell How Much I Owe

Duke-Ellington-Library-of-Congress
Duke Ellington – Such Sweet Thunder

“Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.”

James Baldwin

The Giver  (For Berdis)

By James Baldwin

If the hope of giving
is to love the living,
the giver risks madness
in the act of giving.

Some such lesson I seemed to see
in the faces that surrounded me.

Needy and blind, unhopeful, unlifted,
what gift would give them the gift to be gifted?
 .     . The giver is no less adrift
 .     . than those who are clamouring for the gift.

If they cannot claim it, if it is not there,
if their empty fingers beat the empty air
and the giver goes down on his knees in prayer
knows that all of his giving has been for naught
and that nothing was ever what he thought
and turns in his guilty bed to stare
at the starving multitudes standing there
and rises from bed to curse at heaven,
he must yet understand that to whom much is given
much will be taken, and justly so:
I cannot tell how much I owe.


James Baldwin was a prolific writer but not a prolific poet. At first glance The Giver is not a sonnet.  However, look closer. From the line Needy and blind, unhopeful, unlifted to the close every line is exactly 10 syllables long except the two lines: The giver is no less adrift than those who are clamouring for the gift.  The entire final two stanzas are 15 lines, because of one triplet.

If they cannot claim it, if it is not there,
if their empty fingers beat the empty air
and the giver goes down on his knees in prayer

I have written several sonnets which could not be contained by traditional rhyming sequences or by fourteen lines. These sonnets fall under the umbrella of protection of the same muse, but force their way out into unique forms because the poet has a need to break the rules and let the poem find its own way. Atypical sonnets can challenge us with questions about why the poem is structured the way it is. The themes of The Giver fall squarely in the purview of sonnets throughout literature with its personal first person voice and its message of reconciliation and atonement.

Another great artist of the Harlem renaissance, Duke Ellington, wrote and recorded a series of jazz songs that were inspired by the plays of William Shakespeare and titled several of the songs sonnets as a way to honor the great bard. I have included the Sonnet for Caesar below, preformed as a collaboration between Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, as a sound track, as you read The Giver a second time and ponder the question whether Baldwin’s opening line is true, and why many artists who give their art to the world are a little mad;  If the hope of giving is to love the living, the giver risks madness in the act of giving.

 


 

The Giver  (For Berdis)

By James Baldwin

If the hope of giving
is to love the living,
the giver risks madness
in the act of giving.

Some such lesson I seemed to see
in the faces that surrounded me.

Needy and blind, unhopeful, unlifted,
what gift would give them the gift to be gifted?
 .     . The giver is no less adrift
 .     . than those who are clamouring for the gift.

If they cannot claim it, if it is not there,
if their empty fingers beat the empty air
and the giver goes down on his knees in prayer
knows that all of his giving has been for naught
and that nothing was ever what he thought
and turns in his guilty bed to stare
at the starving multitudes standing there
and rises from bed to curse at heaven,
he must yet understand that to whom much is given
much will be taken, and justly so:
I cannot tell how much I owe.

Go Ahead, See Where It Goes

Dove
Rita Dove

“There are times in life when, instead of complaining, you do something about your complaints.”

Rita Dove

Demeter’s Prayer to Hades

by Rita Dove

This alone is what I wish for you: knowledge.
To understand each desire and its edge,
to know we are responsible for the lives
we change. No faith comes without cost,
no one believes without dying.
Now for the first time
the trail you have planted,
what ground opened to waste,
though you dreamed a wealth
of flowers.
  .                 . There are no curses, only mirrors
hold up to the souls of gods and mortals.
And so I give up this fate, too.
Believe in yourself,
go ahead – see where it gets you.


I got shivers when I read for the first time Rita Dove’s poem titled Sonnet, which I have shared below.   It cut into me, the words laceratingly familiar as I read them.  Does that ever happen to you with poetry? The hair on the back of your ,neck goes up after the second line, you suddenly feel naked before the author’s words, as if they had burst in on you in a dressing room at Macy’s by accident, witnessing all your humanness and then had the audacity to write a poem about it.

My friend Liz described to me her thrill in hearing Auden lecture in person at the University of Minnesota and the lightning bolt that experience created in her mind. She had been trained in college to think that poetry was something academics interpreted and then they told you what to think. Auden declared, use your own brain, let poetry speak to you in your own voice and make of it what you will. (A bit ironic coming from a retired Presbyterian minister who was already ordained at the time, since wasn’t the reformation about not needing an elite group of academics to interpret what you find sacred?) But we all learn through parables in our lives at our own pace and at the proper time.

Rita Dove’s sonnet, Demeter’s Prayer to Hades’ cements in my mind my feeling that these sonnets about Persephone are not solely about parenting in the traditional sense, except the parenting we all do of ourselves.  The truth is, we never truly parent our children, we live by example. Our children have their own minds, their own filters, their own experiences. We pretend we help them grow when in reality we feed and clothe and shelter them and what they learn of love and life they learn by watching us how we parent ourselves. If we parent ourselves with wisdom, forgiveness and compassion they likely will be influenced by the example. If we parent with excessive anxiety, then do not be surprised if they follow suit. I learned as much from my parents humbly admitting their mistakes than from the 98% of their lives they lived in prosperity. If we parent ourself with consistent recklessness, stupidity and anger, they will either by seduced by its ugliness or become orphans to find their own way.  So like Dove says – “believe in yourself – see where it goes.”  Parent yourself in ways, you will be honored if your children follow suit, and if nothing else, “one learns to walk by walking.”


Sonnet

by Rita Dove

Nothing can console me.  You may bring silk
to make skin sigh, dispense yellow roses
in the matter of ripened dignitaries.
You can tell me repeatedly
I am unbearable (and I know this):
still, nothing turns the gold into corn
nothing is sweet to the tooth crushing in.

I’ll not ask for the impossible
One learns to walk by walking.
In time I will forget this empty brimming.
I may laugh again at
a bird, perhaps, chucking the nest –
but it will not be happiness,
for I have known that.

This Is Important, Stop Fooling Around!

Rita Dove
Rita Dove (1952 –

The poetry that sustains me is when I feel that, for a minute, the clouds have parted and I’ve seen ecstasy or something.

Rita Dove

Persephone, Falling

by Rita Dove

One narcissus among the ordinary beautiful
flowers, one unlike all the others! She pulled,
stooped to pull harder—
when, sprung out of the earth
on his glittering terrible
carriage, he claimed his due.
It is finished. No one heard her.

No one! She had strayed from the herd.
(Remember: go straight to school.
This is important, stop fooling around!
Don’t answer to strangers. Stick
with your playmates. Keep your eyes down.)
This is how easily the pit
opens. This is how one foot sinks into the ground.


There are several well-reasoned analysis of this poem which say that it is about parenting and cautioning children about the dangers of strangers, with Hades in his carriage from the underworld a pretty grandiose stranger. But that is not what this poem speaks to me.  I find in her words an artist’s admission to the lure of poetry and writing. The splendid terribleness of having to let go and fall and fall into your own pit of your imagination. And then find in that falling the beautiful truth of whatever it is that you are going to write about and the courage to share.

The goddess Persephone is a crazy metaphor to begin with in shaping this sonnet.  She is the goddess of the plant kingdom and prosperity of the harvest.  Yet she is kidnapped by Hades into the underworld to be his wife, bringing famine to the world as nothing can grow where no light reaches. There is not a true poet alive who feels they have any choice but to write even if they starve in some ways for it. Their purpose in life has been kidnapped in search of the right words, to write words, to impart the intangible in a way that they themselves and possibly their readers can grasp ecstasy for a moment.

Artists, teachers, clergy and everyone else who peddles in matters of the soul eventually have to give themselves wholly over to the pursuit of their vocation, even if it means entrapment in a place that does not always serve their best interest.  It is not a choice that can be made halfway. You either commit and succeed or are reticent and fail. Hades’ Pitch, the sonnet below, I think is a continuation of this admission, that in finding her artistic voice, she had to accept the lure of fire and darkness that comes with commitment, passion and desire.  A poet experiences unpleasantness, the process of writing comes easy to some, but for most is hard work and not everything they are going to write is going to be about subjects that want to visit or revisit. Great art sometimes is about scars or leaves them in its creation. Fisherman have callouses on their hands. Writers have callouses on their reputations, for half the critics will evaluate you for your best work and the other half judge you only by your worst.

I love the quote from Audre Lorde below and believe it to be true of all great artists like Rita Dove as well; “that poets must teach what they know if we are to continue being.”  What are you teaching or creating today to continue being?  

Audre Lorde

I am Black, Woman, and Poet—fact, and outside the realm of choice. I can choose only to be or not be, and in various combinations of myself. And as my breath is a part of my breathing, my eyes of my seeing, all that I am is of who I am, is of what I do. The shortest statement of philosophy I have is my living, or the word ‘I.’

Having made homes in most parts of this city, I hang now from the west edge of Manhattan, and at any moment I can cease being a New Yorker, for already my children betray me in television, in plastic, in misplaced angers.

Last spring, under a National Endowment to the Arts Grand, I spent some time as Poet in Residence at Tougaloo College in Jackson, Mississippi, where I became convinced, anti-academic though I am, that poets must teach what they know if we are to continue being.

At the City University of New York, I teach young people.


Hades’ Pitch

by Rita Dove 

 

If I could just touch your ankle, he whispers, there
on the inside, above the bone—leans closer,
breath of lime and pepper—I know I could
make love to you.
She considers
this, secretly thrilled, though she wasn’t quite
sure what he meant. He was good
with words, words that went straight to the liver.
Was she falling for him out of sheer boredom—
cooped up in this anything-but-humble dive, stone
gargoyles leering and brocade drapes licked with fire?
Her ankle burns where he described it. She sighs
just as her mother above ground stumbles, is caught
by the fetlock—bereft in an instant—
while the Great Man drives home his desire.