I have been re-reading Allen Lacy’s charming and informative book The Garden in Autumn. I first read it years ago and enjoyed his writing as much as I appreciated his useful ideas about landscaping with autumn in mind. I treasure books that offer more than information–well-written and inspirational texts which in this case includes attractive photographs, as well. I am outside in the clear, cool weekend days and doing some garden cleanup, but I don’t tidy things up as neatly as I used to: many insects and other small animals need some vegetative cover, and incautious hoeing can disturb nesting bees. I was almost 40 years old before I learned that most bees don’t live in hives and that our precious pollinators of many varieties need winter shelter.
Meanwhile, haiku drafts. Meant to kick myself back into creative writing gear. Practice/Zen practice.
drinking the last of my morning coffee
under my bare feet
remember to practice
resting Buddha face
Jays and chickadees call—
louder but not as constant as
crickets in the dew
on the vine
I didn’t plant!
In the profusion
of morning glories:
one gold leaf
good morning, cicadas!
at least some of us
feel wide awake
in the tulip poplar
red squirrel scolds
a Carolina wren
on crabgrass is
fresh eggs for
a dying friend
six young sparrows—
Three bats flit
at dusk the doe huffs, sneezes—
bedtime for fawns.
Many thanks to Lesley Wheeler for giving my chapbook Strange Ladies a mention on her blog! Given the circumstances of the past month or so, I have not been on the ball about promoting the publication. Word of mouth and social media platforms have helped the sales, but I have been remiss about scheduling readings, book signings, etc. These days, even well-known mid-list authors often have to be self-reliant about promoting their books. Agents for poetry are few and costly, so while getting the book into the readers’ hands may more easily happen thanks to online bookstores, finding an audience of interested readers takes effort and imagination on the part of the poet. Effort and imagination that, at present, I lack.
But–as Kurt Vonnegut reminds us in Slaughterhouse 5–so it goes. (106 times.) At the close of this quick post, I’ll try to remind myself to add the link to Strange Ladies.
As life has afforded few spare moments of uncluttered mind-time in which to write, I’m back to scribbling notes, phrases, and ideas on random pieces of paper and in my journal. This fallback method works well for me, an old-school pen & paper poet. Quite a few colleagues-in-poetry use various smart phones and electronic devices to write notes-to-self and even to draft poems, but when I resort to that–on the rare occasion that I have my cell phone but not a writing implement or bit of paper–I forget about my ideas, which are filed somewhere “in there” (on Samsung Notes’ app). It’s a good thing I am not considered a significant author whose work is worthy of preserving, because my poet-life drafts and mementos would be challenging to archive.
For the moment, my writing has a work-centered locus: curriculum, to-do lists, meeting schedules and agendas, orientation and presentation scripts, group emails to announce this or that Important Thing that likely 80% of the recipients will ignore. I get home, eat dinner, pick beans, tomatoes, zucchini, and zinnias. And I read. The one thing I always seem to have time for!
While I didn’t purposely take up the Sealey Challenge, I have continued reading poetry books more than once weekly, mixed in with creative non-fiction of various sorts, histories, and a novel or two (recently re-read Our Mutual Friend, by Dickens, to cheer myself up). Here’s a list of the recent poetry books I’ve perused: Linda Hogan’s A History of Kindness, Maggie Smith’s Goldenrod, Jill Alexander Essbaum’s Would-Land, and Sumita Omaya’s The Life and Zen Haiku Poetry of Santoka Taneda, tr. William Scott Wilson.
The least exciting was Smith’s book–I liked her previous collections Good Bones and The Well Speaks of Its Own Poison better (this is not to say Goldenrod was “bad.”) The most exciting was Alexander Essbaum’s book, which I devoured and have already read a second time. I find Hogan’s work meditative and calming, even when she writes of trauma and disturbance; it’s her style, I believe, that creates that mood in me. And I knew very little about Taneda or his standing in literary Japan, so that’s been interesting.
~ And, as promised, there’s always a book! Here’s my latest:
We just passed the vernal equinox, and here in the Lehigh Valley (the Lehigh is our resident river, though the Delaware is awfully close) the early jonquils are blooming. As are crocuses, forsythia, ornamental plums; the magnolias are starting to burst their fuzzy, cocoon-like bud scales. These vernal events seem somewhat ahead of schedule–not by much, but enough for a nature-nerd like me to notice.
I also notice the redwing blackbirds arrive earlier than they used to. Twenty-five years of keeping a garden journal provide evidence of that.
We live 340 feet above sea level in zone 6A, or what used to be zone 6A–we’re definitely trending warmer, despite occasional fierce storms that drop deep snow unexpectedly, despite weeklong stretches of winter temperatures below 15 degrees F. Summers linger longer and are either much wetter or much drier than “average,” and overall degree days for the past 15 years are above historical averages. Indeed, 2020 was the warmest summer on record here; I checked. Told you I was a nerd.
When my daughter lived in Asheville NC about 12 years ago, I noticed the rain, as well as flourishing vines, and lichen, on so many of the trees. She said that the Blue Mountains in that area are a temperate rain forest, but the humidity bothered her less than here in eastern PA because of the higher altitude: Asheville’s at about 3000 feet elevation. In the last 8 years or so, I’ve noticed the same tree-clinging lichen in my region–a new development. I have lived here over 30 years and had never seen it before. Another thing I notice is how much more vigorous the vining plants, many of them non-native, have become and how rapidly they shoot up into the overstory, choking off the tops of tulip poplars and oaks and pulling down the trunks of dead ash trees. The growing season has lengthened a bit, which is worrying from an environmental perspective even if it means I may eventually be able to grow camellias and figs.
And I can’t deny finding some of the milder weather pleasant, especially the sounds of tree frogs filling the nights earlier in the year. They soothe me at the end of day. Yet these crucial amphibians are very much at risk as the world warms. I may have little choice about whether we can return to cooler, damper summers, but I can make choices about how I live in the world and about what matters. It bears keeping in mind as I work the soil for another season in my garden.
witch-hazel’s yellow threads // flung by warming gusts // where crocuses emerge
oh! they cheer me : jonquils emerging : green leaves spearing brown leaves
When students struggle, I nod as kindly as I can. Do they need to know they’re not alone? Seven billion of us, each with struggles of our own. It takes practice, I tell them, and practice takes time. But persistent patience isn’t common among young folk, who seek strategies, shortcuts, miracles.
They yearn to know what I know so easily, are astonished that words and thoughts can spool smoothly–they think so, bless them–as though there were dictionaries and references in my mind. If they would believe me when I say: it’s possible to learn–
They never realize I haven’t always been old or knowledgeable, that practice continues and, dear students, so does struggle.
I love how the first three books all have BOOK in their titles. The Adnan and the Mitchell are re-reads that settle my soul while keeping my mind active and inquisitive. The Book of Joy has been surprisingly helpful to me so far (I am reading it a bit at a time while other things are going on).
Anyway, I can garden. We have had plentiful rain and now I have plentiful beans, basil, zucchini, carrots; numerous tomatoes cluster under leaves, so whenever they ripen we’ll have more splendid organic tasty produce. I will continue to pull out the crabgrass, wild mustard, pigweed, smartweed, etc. Culling, cultivating, collecting sunlight through my vegetables and through my skin (yes, I wear sunscreen–and a hat)…there are worse things in life than an inability to compose poems. And I can read, thank heaven. Reading poetry, and reading about poetry, provides plenty of joy.
One of the practices of joy mentioned in the Dalai Lama’s & Desmond Tutu’s book is gratitude. Fortunately, that practice has never been difficult for me.
under clouds /heat rises from soil /beans grow plump
After three cloudy, seasonable days–with no rain (we are in a drought)–the temperatures here got up to around 80° F and the cicadas emerged. I took a long walk around campus to observe the hatch.
Judging by the divots in the mulch around the trees, skunks, squirrels, raccoons, and other omnivores had a feast last night. But enough fourth-instar nymphs made it up the trees that I quickly lost count of how many exoskeletons clung abandoned to the bark of pines, maples, rowans, and assorted campus-landscape trees. There were also pale, newly-emergent cicadas–not yet imagoes–most of which were drying out their wings and bodies in the breeze. A few were still in the haemolymph stage (teneral adult stage), which is fascinating. Their wings are still furled, as they haven’t yet inflated with whatever fluid circulates through their systems, and the insects look particularly weird.
Brood X hatches mostly south of us, though this county is right on the border. Definitely seeing more of them this year than I have for many years past.
Magicicada are justly famous for their loudness. There were not many full-fledged adult bugs on campus at noon today; but when I return (on Friday or, perhaps, Tuesday), I expect the place will be buzzing. The students are not here to make the place buzz–I’ll be happy to hear the cicadas.
I feel as though a haiku might be needed here. Can anyone supply one? I’d be grateful…
A friend has been sending me the occasional haiku she’s written; she says that the haiku form has kept her busy and creative during a time when her attention feels divided. I am reminded that, in the past, composing haiku has been a useful practice for me, as well–a method of retaining images and moments that might later prove useful in other types of poems..
My colleagues Dave Bonta, Michael Czarnecki, and Marilyn Hazelton, among others, find in haiku and tanka a wide range of possibilities for expression–and compression. Though I suppose that is true for any poetic form or strategy.
I just want to get writing again.
This morning I made some attempts at writing again. Writing poetry, I mean–different from my other acts of writing. Writing against frustration, grief, and absence and pain…obstacles, for me, to composition.
If I were a fiercer poet, a fiercer person, I might manage to write in media res, the midst of the goings-on; I might accomplish poems through my anger or sorrow. Instead, I have to wait it out, mull, observe, speculate. It’s just my natural modus operandi.
Maybe I’m lazy, or afraid.
No luck with haiku. I wrote a couple of mediocre tanka that might be salvageable once I work on them a bit.
I wrote this–no form, just words. Putting it out there for now, with an illustration. Not exactly haiga, not nearly luminous or complete.
Hey, Muse. This is all I got.
its own vine
twists and curls.
There is something
fantastic in its nature,
imprinted in seed,
patterned and tendriled--
an urge to
hidden though it is
beneath broad leaves.
Decades ago, when I worked in the graphics and typography industry, I became fascinated with ligatures * and “special characters” (which sounds like a euphemism of some kind). Some font designers seemed to share my interest and to design particularly elegant or amusing symbol characters and ligatures as options, though the classic ones have long since gone out of style.
The symbol ampersand supposedly evolved out of the Latin word et (as in et cetera), into “and per se and”–but now it simply means “and.”
That character-ligature-symbol gets used frequently in logos, headlines, labels, cartoons. I like the over-the-top swash versions of ampersand just for fun, though I would not specify them in a design; they tend to be hard to read.
Several of the special characters find employment in legal documentation or academic writing, the only places you are likely to find ‡, §, and ¶ . They’re quaintly antique, but useful. The symbol for “at,” however, was underused when I worked in the field in the 1970s and 80s. It seemed to be going the way of the §.
What a difference a world-wide web makes! Now, of course, @ is ubiquitous, instantly recognizable, and used in logos, brand names… etc.!
What we might notice here is that symbols change over time; status varies as social requirements vary, and what’s considered relevant or useful in one era or with one technology can fall into disuse or neglect depending upon the times. Do we regret their fall from grace? Perhaps for a generation or so, and then “they’re history.” If we value history, we geek around in scholarly or enthusiastic amateur ways, recovering past usages and the social norms of past eras. But we seldom insist upon a return to most of them. What endures overcomes the norms. I am curious as to what will endure.
Yes, this is another one of my analogies to the present moment.
@ 6 am wren & sparrow chitt-errrr etc.
(Just a lot of twitter noise.)
*The etymology of the word is as follows (thank you Online Etymology Dictionary): c. 1400, “something used in tying or binding,” from Middle French ligature “a binding” (14c.), from Late Latin ligatura “a band,” from Latin ligatus, past participle of ligare “to bind” (from PIE root *leig- “to tie, bind”). In modern musical notation, “group of notes slurred together,” from 1590s; of letters joined in printing or writing from 1690s.
cf : The term ligature, when used in medicine, means a thread or cord that ties off a blood vessel. Now you know!