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Archive for the ‘women’s poetry’ Category


I planted chrysanthemums this week

I woke three time in the dark predawn. First in sorrow, then in joy, and at the last, in solitude. The tears of a bone-deep loss work me slowly, bathing my face like the comforting touch of a damp cloth in soothing hands. I turned my face to the wet pillow and sailed a salty river into the salty taverns of grief remembered, into the subterranean depths of sleep.

I came awake then in fierce joy, body arched bow-like in the throes of physical joining, the touch of him fresh on my skin, dying along the paths of my nerves as the ripples of consciousness spread from my center. I repelled consciousness — turning again, seeking the sharp, warm smell of a man’s desire, in the reassuring arms of my lover, sleep.

The third time I woke alone, beyond the touch of love or grief. The sight of the stones was fresh in my mind. A small circle standing stones on the crest of a steep green I hill. The name of the hill is Craigh na Dun; the fairies’ hill. Some say the hill is enchanted, others say it is cursed. But no one knows the function or the purpose of the stones.

Except me –Claire, Prologue to Diana Gabaldon’s Dragonfly in Amber.

Friends,

Lately this past week or so. I am lying in bed and have half-woken, and I remember something it seems to me that Jim and I did during the day just gone. I feel intensely happy again, so comfortable. It’s something Jim and I used to do as a matter of course, go somewhere together, buy something together, maybe seen a play — walked in Old Town together down to and along the Potomac together. I think to myself, well we’ll continue it when the morning comes. And I fall back to sleep (or worse) I find I cannot fall fully to sleep and lie there with the cats snuggled in tight. Sometimes bad thoughts come; sometimes I feel so tired, look at the clock and discover it is but 3 am, and I’ve been sleeping at most an hour and a half and know this is not enough. So one night-before dawn I took a temazepam and had three drugged hours. As with other times this sort of thing has happened by the third time I realize this is a dream. These events are not happening. He’s not here any more — And last night as I again half-woke, this time four hours after sleep had begun, if I had had such a dream, I couldn’t remember it.

And as with my dream life before, now that I sit down to the computer to try to describe the experience, it fades from me, and nearly vanishes. I wish I could remember the details but they are now beyond my conscious mind, hidden, obscured beyond in that realm my mind when awake and rational or feeling-clear-lucid can’t reach. Did I dream he was alive again? I don’t know.

As you might remember (I mentioned this last week), I didn’t participate in the “#metoo” meme. It went too deep, the results of that wretched and fearful three years in my early teenagehood. It was responsible for a pattern of behavior to protect myself I can’t throw off — because it has protected me, from much hurt and the kind of pain we feel in the marrow of our bones. I know it has to do with why I married Jim, why I behaved with him the way I did, and my inalienable, unalterable love. There is no time long enough because it has become so part of me. It’s what I meant when I’d say he was the blood that flowed through my heart, outside he and I lay the junkyard of what did not matter. But it was also pain-filled this and a reaction-formation to cruel misogynistic social life and the women (or at the time, girls mostly, but my mother too with her corrosive “nasty” [another ruined word now] tongue) that supported it.

Some of this — these dreams, these half-sleepless nights — brought on by doing too much. This coming week starts a ten-week photography course for 2 hours at a Smithsonian site. I signed up because it is for utter amateurs and I’d like to learn practical realities about photography, since I love art so and am so interested in film, which is finally moving photography, moving pictures. I worry it will be too much. Yesterday I was out between 10:40 am and around 5 pm, and came home so depleted I craved specific things to eat, salty pita chips, wine. I am glad fall is here, and soon this hectic schedule will be over — by mid-November I’ll be teaching in just one place, and all conferences will be over.

I miss my one good friend who enabled me to do many things badly. I can never replace him. The organization or structure of society as I have found it is not one which I am able to thrive in so as to publish conventionally or even at my age anymore achieve what people admire. So I lose myself in activities, passing friendships, reading and writing here on the Net about movies too. As ever in my life, I am doing what it is in me to do, what I can. I am learning a new mode too: being alone, that much of social life is performative in the sense of in any deep way insincere, a matter of forms, and having to teach myself to do without support companionship.

So I turned tonight to read some women’s poetry volumes that have been mounting up, the kind that don’t lie (the other meaning for that word now) and are not there to soften the blows. All four of these books and authors write greatly at moments; all four volumes have powerful great women’s texts. Two are as volumes masterpieces: Patricia Fargnoli’s Harrowed and Margo Berdeshevsky’s Before the Drought. Millicent Borges Accardi is near that; she is still maturing. I’m not sure about Maggie Smith; the verse pieces are much weaker; what she might want to say originally not as clear. Ferrante is baring her soul’s nightmares to us once again, this time as a pretend child’s picture book; she must’ve had a terrible relationship with her mother. Hers is a graphic novel. I quote or describe them here in order of the age of the putative narrator or subject.

Perhaps had I gone out at night two weeks ago at Huntingdon beach, and stood there when the bonfires are on in winter, I might have thought of a book of poetry in disguise, that I read some months ago now, Elena Ferrante’s The Beach at Night.

Since what I have read about this book doesn’t make sense, is essentially contentless, or misleading. It’s a truly terrifying book. Masquerading as a children’s story, it is a kind of prose poem where a doll is left behind on a beach in favor of a kitten the girl child has been given a present of. The doll gets covered with sand, is treated badly by a Mean Beach Attendant, ends up laying next to a dead beetle with his feet up (shades of Kafka’s metamorphosis), is set on fire at one point, then doused with water, come near drowning. She is abandoned, deserted, motherless. I cannot imagine anyone giving this book to a child, European or not. I remember when by mistake (or not knowing) I bought the first Barbar book for Laura; she was traumatized by the sudden death of the mother elephant, shot wantonly and without warning by a hunter. It took hours for her to calm down.

It’s not a novella. It looks like a child’s picture book. It’s not quite though because it has full paragraphs and will suddenly swerve into lines of verse and then back again. I suppose the full paragraphs are a give away that this is not a child’s picture book. It’s pretending to be that. It’s an art book, not a graphic comic but an art book because the art work — nightmare pictures with horrible things coming out of terrifying creatures’ mouths: this looks like some kind of twisty corkscrew the monster is eating — reminding me of illustrations I’ve seen of Dante’s hell where in one of the deep circles there are three creatures being munched for all eternity by Satan. It now strikes me as disingenuous the people who say in passing this is a children’s story book and then that European children can take this kind of thing more than Americans: no child could find it appealing.

It’s a distillation of Ferrante’s deeply powerful novellas before her Quartet. It’s like Rachel Cusk in two life-writing books, with full attitudes to motherhood, how she was treated by her husband, what marriage is about. Here we have the anguished nightmare core of Ferrante’s fiction. The doll is saved, just, lest you worry, not by the child, but the kitten who spots it, curious and trots off with it and is noticed finally by the child. The art work is gothic, all colors, reminding me of Audrey Niffenegger; the illustrator is Mara Cerri. I should say the cover is more reasonable — the doll sits up, there is a watering can, a piece of wood which is whole.

Then the student, younger woman.

Millicent Borges Accardi’s Only More So, autumnal, is on the surface more prosaic than the others (mostly narratives like Fargnoli’s), stories of her life and those around her, and equally about women’s bodies, in Accardi’s much younger case, being fixed, having cancer, the world we live in being taken from us, or left to rot (as unsellable). I offer this as characteristic:

Portuguese Bend

Every semester, Doc would take
His geology students from Long Beach City
to Mojave, the painted desert
Anza Borrego for unapproved field trips.
But his great delight was predicting
What would happen next at Portuguese
Bend, the last and largest area
of natural vegetation on the Peninsula.
Doc would look Sideways at the road,
Following the black ribbon of ever-changing
reality, about how the tarmac had jumped
three feet since last semester.
The shaky red cliffs, that once held the future
N ow left to wild, the opposite of development.
But that which was and is now unsuitable
for building also holds our planet’s future.
He smiles in morbid glee, about his
Game of predicting the next house to
Fall. We crouched under stilts, walked gently
Across dried out lawns, examining the movement
Of the earth, the landslides, the slow slippage
Of time back into the sea. The Orange-crowned
Warblers, the coastal sage brush and the Pacific-Slope
Flycatcher our arms entangled with a species of
Love-forever Dudleya virens on the Peninsula headland.
Long before our field trips, this was the homeland of the
Tongva, for thousands of years before Portuguese explorer
Joao Cabrilho wrote of Chowigna and Suangna settlements
And of how Native Americans blessed Palos Verdes
I stoop to look under a house,
half fallen into the sea, leaning against itself
as if it were terminally ill. Soft. Weak.
Yellow caution tapes drawn around its waist.
Portuguese Bend, named after Captain Jose Machado
Who, sailing past Deadman’s Island,
brought a crew of Azorean whalemen in 1864.
Taking barrels of oil from the blubber £lenses
of gay whales off the coast of California.
The ground slips beneath my feet,
a slight landslide of broken rubble,
rock fragments, shale, sand and silt, basalt.
Hollow channels cut beneath the earth
form channels for soft zones to settle …

Then the middle years. Maggie Smith’s Good Bones, about mother-and-child, to me mother-and-daughter relationships, conceived in bone and blood and flesh, a water world


Jane Goldman, Tidal Pool (2001)

And last night Margo Berdeshevsyky’s spectacular Before the Drought about this world of death for “the other” immediately, and the rest of us not-so-long range begun when, well before last November. It’s hard to choose which part of a poem to quote (for these are long and odd shaped so I cannot reprint them properly).

Smith’s book is said to have re-told fairy tales, which it does, and very well done too, its eponymous poem, “Good bones” is said (albeit in the book’s blurb) to be well-known. I like these lines:

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine …

…………………….The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,

but even more the bitter ending about the jackass realtor:

…………………….Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.

I also like from “Transparent”

Once the girl
was part of the woman, tethered,

inside her, transparent herself
until the winter she writhed into air …

If she held a lantern
before the woman, would she see

what became of the unfinished child
bled away on the far field. She wonders

if it’s ghost is still on the mountains,
hovering birdlike ….

Dark birds hover over Margo’s volume, natural beauty haunting by the killing going on everywhere. Carolyn Forché crowds the imagery into a splendid paragraph:

Before the Drought is a lyric meditation on corporeal existence, suffused with atavistic spirit and set in historical as well as cosmic time, a work of radical suffering and human indifference but also sensual transport. The tutelary spirits of these poems are the feminine principle, and a flock of messengers that include blue heron, ibis, phoenix, egret, and blood’s hummingbird. In the surround we find ourselves in the magical world of a floating balcony, and a field of cellos, but it is a world in peril, now and in the time to come, on the night of the Paris massacres and in a poisoned future. In the City of Light, Berdeshevsky writes poems commensurate with her vision, poems that know to ask How close is death, how near is God? Hers is a book to read at the precipice on which we stand.

From “Whose Sky, Between”

This day, how many white cranes remember all the bombs we’ve made to make the ‘other’
dead. Said: so we may never die. Said: hang a thousand small wings from our branches.

May one crane fly, one jasmine open, one thrush sing — all fragile night. One bloom of
a peace that cannot die.

Margo’s volume is probably the greatest of all four, set in Paris, the one that comes closest to Sylvia Plath’s vatic, only more soaring.

The way I like the 18th century poet Cowper for his quiet calm sense of keeping order, his winter poetry, I will return to the poems in Fargnoli’s volume.


Elizabeth Armstrong Forbes

Soothing consolation steady-now, keep your sanity type, woman aging, Patricia Fargnoli’s Winter and Harrowed. I can’t resist her “To an Old Woman Standing in October Light.” I can go back to Hallowed (a compilation) again and again. It’s not that she’s forgotten what’s happening outside the place she’s lucky to live in. I see the same desperation in a neighborhood feral cat, the saddest one I’ve seen, calico, so thin, so scared. I’ve tried to give her food, but am not sure she came near enough long enough:

The Undeniable Pressure of Existence

I saw the fox running by the side of the road
past the turned away brick faces of the condominiums
past the Citco gas station with its line of cars and trucks
and he ran, limping, gaunt, matted, dull-haired
pastJim’s Pizza, past the Wash-O-Mat,
past the Thai Garden, his sides heaving like bellows
and he kept running to where the interstate
crossed the state road and he reached it and ran on
under the underpass and beyond it past the perfect
rows of split-levels, their identical driveways,
their brookless and forestless yards,
and from my moving car, I watched him,
helpless to do anything to help him, certain he was beyond
any aid, any desire to save him, and he ran loping on,
far out of his element, sick, panting, starving,
his eyes fixed on some point ahead of him, some fierce
invisible voice, some possible salvation
in all this hopelessness, that only he could see.

The above is probably not characteristic. How the composer says this is how we should live our lives; leave-taking, how to live without companions, arguing for life, watching the light, the hours (as in “Compline:” “I have done only a little … forgive”).

How can other women readers I come across on the Net make do with men’s books (which is what they cite they reading, especially novels), men’s films, which either excludes or re-frames them for men’s use. All these women poets write women’s lives, out of a woman’s body.


From Elena Ferrante and Mara Cerri

I miss Jenny Diski, because there will be no more new great books from her — as there have been several, Skating to Antartica, What I don’t Know About Animals, Apology for the Woman Writer. I need to read much more by her — the way I am reading Woolf nowadays. I have become deeply engaged, now reading Orlando. I must make the next blog for Austen reveries after I finish the JASNAs one on Ferrante, wade into this controversy about her attempt to remain anonymous.

Miss Sylvia Drake

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Dear friends,

This morning Izzy and I take our last trip for this year: we are going to the California JASNA AGM held at a Huntington Beach hotel (Hyatt Regency). I will write about it in my usual way on my Austen reveries blog when we return; in the meantime, I thought I’d share until we came back another of her songs. This one is especially lovely for the music itself, listen to the piano:

Last night before we left she rose her voice in song:

She has been expending herself in watching and writing on her and Laura’s new blog, Ani & Izzy, ice-skating (a popular culture, entertainment and attitude blog), writing her fan fiction, and singing creatively.

**********************

For myself I have reached the stage of addiction to Outlander, the mini-series, not the books — albeit the books are written from a woman’s point of view, with Claire at the center far more than she is in the series (Jamie-centered scenes are invented continually), and violence is high as well as (qualified for the first time this third season with the introduction of a kind ethical hero, Lord John Grey, as a bisexual man).

It has not been this way with me since the early 1980s when I watched Brideshead Revisited and then Jewel in the Crown. I was strongly attached to Wolf Hall, but since if I missed the 10 pm broadcast I knew it would be on streaming by 11, it was not an addiction the way this is. I put on Outander 4 at 8 last night and sat mesmerized. I would have been bothered had someone interrupted. This teaches me that scarcity is part of an addiction. Outlander is streaming on Starz Network online but Comcast has not paid for that. They do run it on and off all week after Sunday — rather like metromedia, Channel 9 in NYC in the 1950s but not regularly and I can’t find schedules to depend on I will put on 369 and there it is, going on, well I drop everything and re-watch to the end. I remember at ages 9 to 11 I’d sit and re-watch say The Hunchback of Notre Dame over and over again. The series is filmically brilliant, and the over-voice and presence of Caitronia Balfe (to me) mesmerizing. When she finally returns to Jamie through the stones, and they beat death — for time-traveling is a mode of ghostly experience finally — I must not underestimate the acting skills of Sam Heughan who has managed to overcome my distaste for the over-muscled body.


Claire grieving over her still-born child, Frances De La Tour POV as mother superior (Faith)

I’ve been watching the whole of Season 2 for a third time, and just re-saw Je suis prest, a powerful episode leading up to Prestonpans, the one Scots big victory in 1745 (they had the element of surprise on their side), an electrifying historically resonant episode which uses martial and other music of the era, still sung and played to until today, and noticed (it’s a third watching) on this wholly characteristic dialogue between the pair, variations on which repeat throughout seasons 1 and 2:

He: I’ll have Ross and Fergus take you home to Lallybroch.
She: – No.
He: – Claire.
She: I can’t do that either. Listen to me. If I if I go back, then it will just be like lying in that ditch again [in World War II], helpless and powerless to move, like a dragonfly in amber except this time it will be worse, because I’ll know that the people out there dying alone are people I know People I love. I can’t do that, Jamie. I won’t lie in that ditch again. I can’t be helpless and alone ever again. Do you hear me?
He: I hear ye. I promise whatever happens, you’ll never be alone again.
She: I’m going to hold you to that, James Fraser.
He: You have my word Claire Fraser

The features on this DVD set (of which there are many, very like Breaking Bad, another spectacularly good mini-serise) show that Ronald Moore is responsible, he is the executive producer, a producer for each episode too, writes a numbers, directs a number, does all the features. He understood the deep dream potential of this material potential.

I end on a poem which does justice to movie watching in this vein:

Watching Old Movies When They Were New

I grew up in grey and white,
in half-tones and undertones,
sitting by a bakelite telephone,
watching grainy and snowy kisses on the small screen.
This was New York.
I was thirteen. Outside my window the gardenless
and flowerless city, with its sirens
its cents, was new to me. And I was tired
of being anywhere but home. So I settled back
to get older quickly.
And the crescent moon,
and the shirt-collar of that man
as he kissed the girl under it and her face
as she turned away and the ocean beginning
to burn and glisten in the distance:
They were like me: what they lacked was
outside them. Was an absence within which
they could only be
less than themselves: Anyone could see
their doom was not love, was not destiny, was only
monochrome. But a time was coming. Is coming. Has come
and gone. And I will know what I am watching is
a passionate economy
we call the past. Although
its other name may be memory. And somewhere else
the future is already growing consequences. They are blue
and yellow. They are vermilion or a vivid green.
*Pick us,* they will say. *Bring us indoors.
Arrange us into a city.
Into a situation. See how quickly
you tire of us. How soon you will yearn
for these tones. But I know
nothing of this as I lean back. As the screen flickers.
— Eavan Boland, Irish (from The Lost Land)


The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Charles Laughton, Maureen O’Hara, Quasimodo and Esmeralda, 1939)

Miss Drake

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This is the maple tree you see through the window in my new room of my own ….


Perennials in my front garden

Dear friends and readers,

Izzy and I passed a pleasant the spring Sunday holiday (call it Easter, say it’s still Passover, its beauty is the spring renewal) together and apart today. We went together to see a remarkable post-modern political film, Pablo Lorrain’s Neruda, one of whose main actors is a favorite with both of us. Naturalemente, a blog soon: every film I’ve seen with Gael Garnia Bernal I’ve blogged about. In the later afternoon I alternated from rereading Michael Ondaatje’s extraordinary The English Patient to Anthony Trollope’s Framley Parsonage, and she watches ice-skating and/or tennis, and blogs on Anibundel’s I should have been a blogger. She is now in a sense an equal blogger there. Two sisters together. Our garden is blooming with flowers. We had a good meal last night and this evening left-overs. She cooks, I wash up. Then I walk in the neighborhood, different blocks different nights.

My porch is now a small livable space, a very pretty room, light green walls, white trim, soft carpet (wall-to-wall, first time for me on this kind of thing, a sort of rusty color), and I’m beginning to move furniture into it. Its first small bookcase filled with CDs of books read aloud and DVDs of film adaptations, a cat bed (necessity) a fan on the floor, a ladder to reach high bookcase going to be put against one of the walls … I am not going to try to make it a conventional room for visitors to come, to please other people, but an extension of my study. It’s more living space, more breathing room, more light and air and access to the outside of the house. I’ll take down the shutters from two of the windows in the kitchen and on all four windows facing east have light weight pretty shades easy to pull up and down.

I am happy to be able to hope you have had a good day by sending along her latest song:

Here are the lyrics:

She says “wake up, it’s no use pretending”
I’ll keep stealing, breathing her.
Birds are leaving over autumn’s ending
One of us will die inside these arms
Eyes wide open, naked as we came
One will spread our ashes ’round the yard

She says “If I leave before you, darling
Don’t you waste me in the ground”
I lay smiling like our sleeping children
One of us will die inside these arms
Eyes wide open, naked as we came
One will spread our ashes round the yard

She is playing on her Yamaha PSR-185, Voice Setting #51.

I’m still reading a book which upsets me some: Abigail Tucker’s The Lion in the Living Room. I believe it’s a stealth attack on cats as ruining our environment. Rather like Kate Chisholm’s Hunger Games was a ferocious attack on anorexics; except Tucker pretends to be a cat lover. It insists my sense of my cats as loving me and part of a relationship is a delusion. I know how Jane Goodall would reply, and have to find another book to refute Tucker. It hurts me to be told my cat is not attached to me, not happy, but just wants sex and hunting. Not so. Clarycat grieved over Jim’s death, truly grieved. I saw it. And nowadays Ian Pussycat is my friend-cat-companion too.

Miss Drake

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herbertanne
Susan Herbert for Anne Boleyn (her Shakespeare’s Cat)

Friends, readers,

It’s common to list the ten best new-to-me books one read this year as the year ends; my problems with this are

I often cannot remember what I read specifically this year, so at first I included Jenny Diski’s Apology for the Woman Writing (a historical novel centering on Marie le Jars de Gournay, her maid and Montaigne); Hillary Mantel’s Wolf Hall (a revelation of sorts);and Linda Porter’s Katherine the Queen [Katherine Parr, Henry VIII’s sixth wife], but they were what I remembered best from last year. Paula Byrne’s A Life in Small Things [Jane Austen] was the book I most remembered from the year before (no new good books on Austen, though some superb individual essays on Austen films): I so love Austen and she shed genuine new insight into Austen and her texts, taught me new relevant contexts, evidentially sound facts about Austen (though she’s wrong on her new portrait, it’s the only book on Austen’s texts to do this written in the last couple of years).

I reread a lot and in rereading I find new things, re-discover old in a new way — as I just did in Oliphant’s ghost story, “The Library Window;” and

It’s hard to choose and impossible to list in any meaningful order

Books are so different; genres, functions matter.

Nonetheless, to join in and look back on what I took real pleasure in: which books taught me, absorbed me deeply, I felt sorry when I came to the end, enjoyed so much. That’s a lot to ask, so let’s say did some of the above. In the order I remember them (which must say something)

herbertrussian
Herbert’s Russian Blues (Movie Cats)

My very favorites:

1) Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace (mostly Maude’s translation; spent best part of year if I include listening to David Case’s reading of Constance Garnett’s text, deeply satisfying text)
2) Susan Sontag’s Volcano Lover (most brilliant and relevant for politics today book of the year for me)
3) Anne Boyd Rioux’s Constance Fenimore Woolson: Portrait of a Lady Novelist (you are missing out on a great American later 19th century writer if you’ve not read any of her books)
4) Judith Cook, Melissa Hardie, and Christiana Payne’s Singing from the Walls: The Life and Art of Elizabeth [Armstrong] Forbes (moving, beautiful pictures)
5) Daphne DuMaurier’s Vanishing Cornwall: The Spirit and History of Cornwall (uplifted and told truths)
6) Charlotte Smith’s Collected Letters (about courageous abused woman alone)
7) Hermione Lee’s Virginia Woolf (for the first time, close to Woolf)
8) Angela Rosenthal’s Angelica Kauffmann: Art and Sensibility (on women’s art)
9) Jane Jill’s The Art of Carrington (revelation)
10) Miranda Seymour’s Mary Shelley (about 3/4s of Shelley’s life I hadn’t known and her other great writings)

herbertafteradelaidelabilleguiardselfportraitwpupils
Herbert’s Adelaide Labille-Guiard with her pupils (a painting cat, imitating Labille-Guiard’s picture)

Runners-up or a not-quite my very favorites:

1) Diane Reynolds’s The Doubled Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (I won’t forget her portrait of Nazi Germany)
2) Carla Sassi’s Why Scottish Literature Matters (insights into how literature works, into an unusual colonialized people)
3) Virginia Woolf’s Memoirs of a Novelist (three brilliant novellas, historical fiction one of them: “The Journal of Mistress Joan Martyn;” the extraordinary feminist “Mysterious Case of of Miss V” (a woman alone, how thwarted, how silenced)
4) Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Bookshop (unforgettable, a middle class kind of Cathy Come Home)
5) Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge (taught me the mini-series distorted this deeply compassionate book about a wise woman not well understood)
6) Adhaf Soueif’s Map of Love (deeply Middle Eastern historical novel as Neo-Victorian epistolary narrative)
7) Charlotte Smith’s Marchmont (for its depictions of life in a debtor’s prison)
8) Carol A Martin’s George Eliot’s Serial Fiction (for reading Eliot)
9) Margaret Oliphant’s The Ladies Lindores, together with Lady Car (a continuation) (so rich and painfully insightful)
10) Elena Ferrante’s The Lost Daughter (I’m just now reading Frantumaglia: mothers-and-daughters her true theme)

Best new-to-me greats plays I read (and saw) — texts becoming plays and/or movies:

John McGrath’s The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black Black Oil (Scotland’s history, a masterpiece of song and words)
1979 Danger UXB (everyone should watch this profound anti-war mini-series once a year)
Debbie Horsfield’s Poldark Scripts for Seasons 1 and 2 (bit of a disappointment because no indications of camera work or thinking behind choices & themselves could have been better but drew enormous strength from where faithful to Graham’s historical fiction)

My favorite long poem reread this year: Charlotte Smith’s Beachy Head
My favorite (new) movie (not a mini-series): 45 Years
My favorite mini-series: 1972 Jack Pulman’s War and Peace (one of the best of the 1970s BBC and that’s saying something)
Undefinable: both series of the BBC The Hollow Crown (Shakespeare’s history plays, Wars of Roses and Henriade)

herbert
Susan Herbert’s drawing for Duchess of York (Shakespeare’s Cats)

Old books made new, seen in some new way:

1) Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones
2) Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse

I did not like yet read to the end (worth citing because they are strong, possibly widely-read and/or reviewed texts as what is bad in them is importantly bad):

1) Henry James’s Aspern Papers and The Other House (I detested the cruel spiteful Greville Fane) (perverse in who he critizes and accepting evil)
2) Patti Smith’s M Train (she’s posing as a man, seems hardly to have heard of any woman writers or musicians)
3) Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander (pernicious in several crucial ways, pro-violence, and against women, seriously anti-LBGT, yet as women’s historical romance and about Scotland in others it sent my spirit soaring; the mini-series, especially from its adapted scripts & acting much better)

susanherbetproscribedroyalist
Jacobite cats (Herbert, from Millais’s “Proscribed Royalists”)

I asked Izzy if she could name some new great best books for her this year, and she cited two I know she read and re-read slowly:

1) Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy Caste: Hamilton: The Revolution [stageplay, music book)
2) Mary Beard’s SPQR: The Senate and People of Rome

victoriancatsskating
Herbert’s “Ice-Skating” (from Victorian Cats) — Izzy read and wrote a lot (professionally too now) about ice-skating

I promise you I omitted some: many good ones were rereads e.g., first five Barsetshire books by Trollope, read and taught; Rachel Ray; Shelley’s Frankenstein, read astonishingly eye-openly aloud by Gildert Jackson (and taught); several I didn’t finish but recognize I should have e.g., Adhaf Soueif’s very great In the Eye of the Sun; Norma Clarke’s Ambitious Heights on 19th century women of letters, especially on Jewsbury Sisters, Jane Carlyle; some I reviewed and wrote about for conventional journals and/or blogs (Martha Bowden’s Descendants of Waverley), a few more novels, literary critical books, film studies, biography, autobiography …

victoriancats
Susan Herbert’s “Train Riding” (Victorian Cats)

Miss Drake

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leonardcohen
Leonard Cohen, his most recent album, You Want It Darker

I did my best, it wasn’t much — Leonard Cohen, Hallelujah

She has accordingly had three teeth drawn, and is decidedly better, but her nerves a good deal deranged — Jane Austen, Sanditon

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve been writing political blogs for three days: Two nights from now it won’t be over; The morning after; tonight Post-Mortem. As eleven o’clock on November 8th approached, and I realized Trump was headed to win by the electoral college voting system, my stomach began to twist and turn. I felt so bleak the next day; and I’ve not yet begun to be able to sleep a full 6 hours in a row. Indeed it will not be over many many nights from now. It will take some time before we begin to feel whatever pain Trump manages to have in store for us, the 99%, and perhaps longer to suffer from his incompetence, human ignorance, bad temper and ruthless use of power. The new lies have started already: the protest marches are “incited by the media.”

My daughter, Laura, picked herself up, dusted herself off, and carried on much more briskly and earlier than I did: We get up, we move on. Izzy had a period of deep upset; I was overpowered by even the start of the coming underbelly of fascism masked as democracy as outlined in Trump’s plans for the first 100 days. But this morning, the third day in, I took heart, and said “We must hold firm, carry on staying together and doing what we know is valuable as long as we can: people are stronger when they stay with those they care about, and work at what they value.”

So Izzy changed her sheets, we took her quilt to the cleaners. There was a flood on the new kitchen yesterday morning and by afternoon I had been told the water heater had burst. That night I had a hose out the back down pouring the water into the yard or we’d have had a big flood in the kitchen. Had to leave said door ajar all night. Then today a man from First Class Plumber was at various tasks in my kitchen all day, and we now have a brand-new water heater, computerized, spiffy, works beautifully. It’s “only money,” as my father would say ironically: First Class Plumber sent another hard-working super-courteous black man who did a very good job. I then cleaned out the storage closet, throwing out all the filthy things I didn’t understand and now it is clean, with only a few implements whose use I understand neatly set out.

Some other losses this week: I have lost two more teeth (it’s almost miraculous I have any left) and also my irreplaceable library card to take books out of George Mason Library. The teeth are serious; had I not questioned this dentist I would have lost three. I now have but three teeth left and will have a new bottom denture on Monday afternoon. In the meantime it’s not easy to eat (yoghurt and soup for lunch, eggs and pasta for dinner)

I wish there were no such things as Teeth in the World; they are nothing but plagues to one, and I dare say that People might easily invent something to eat with instead of them. –Jane Austen, Catherine, or the Bower

and I feel my age.

meatsmithluncheonsireldredsmithgordondescendentfromlionelsmith
Here is what I looked like at one of the luncheons at the Charlotte Smith conference: next to me Sir Eldred Smith-Gordon, a many time great-grand son of Benjamin Smith (who he whispers we are not to mention), a witty companion, publisher of medical books

As to my card, I don’t need it to use the vast database, which is what I avail myself of for serious literary work, and the library itself is hard to park near, itself the most demoralizing place, with the English department having less books in the areas I’m interested than me. Inside it looks soulless, with few books to be seen, like some vacant department store, with plastic chairs and tables for the customers to sit at with their laptops; the books are in these rolling shelves hidden away in corners on higher floors, lest they get in the way. The last time I took a book out, the librarians were just delighted at such a rare event. I can’t deny that this is a blow of sorts; the ID had a picture (so a second form of identification) too.

Today Izzy was working on two songs (not just one). And my two proposals for next spring are accepted and I look forward to the courses: short versions:

OLLI at AU: Pivotal City and County Victorian Novels

We’ll read 2 best-sellers, never out of print: Gaskell’s North and South (1855), and Trollope’s Framley Parsonage (1860). Gaskell’s tale of Manchester, from Dickens’s Household Words, is a radical graphic tale of the life of factory workers, based on a strike and time of near starvation (depression), by a woman . Trollope’s made the Cornhill, the New Yorker of its day, a 4th Barsetshire concoction; followed as intensely as Downton Abbey (Gaskell wrote she wished it would go on forever and didn’t see why it couldn’t), seen today also as a complacent pro-establishment book is a Thackerayan ironic pleasure. We’ll explore how the books intersect and connect to our era.

OLLI at Mason: Booker Prize books: a marketplace niche or sub-species

We will discuss 4 gems of Booker Prize fiction. Some have said the prize functions as a brilliantly exploited marketplace tool aimed at a specific readership niche, just perfect for quality film adaptations and literary criticism. The books are characteristically historical fiction, self-reflexive, witty and passionate, post-colonialist, and three filmed: of Penelope Fitzgerald, The Bookshop, Ondaatje’s The English Patient (with Minghella’s screenplay); J. L. Carr’s A Month in the Country (screenplay Patrick Grey) and Graham Swift’s Last Orders (screenplay Fred Schepisi)

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J.W. Turner’s Fall of the Rhine at Schaffhausen (1806)

I am reading at least seven books at once (tonight I was reading Carrington’s letters for a coming woman artist blog), and having an especially splendid time with one on historical fiction and romance (about which I mean to blog separately). My Daphne DuMaurier Companion is enthusing me to give a “The World of Daphne DuMaurier” course at OLLI Mason this summer (historical romance, The King’s General, to be included), and maybe I will return to my beloved Poldark books in the AU OLLI this fall, to wit, the 1970s great trilogy (Black Moon, Four Swans, Angry Tide). Karen Solie’s “An Enthusiast” (for geology, archealogy) captures what I am implying in about cultivating one’s garden (as Voltaire’s Candide advises):

Endless heritage beneath the heavenly soundshed.
Jet-black amphiboles. Ten varieties of scones
in Elie. Giant centipedes and petrified tree stumps ofthe Devonian
fossil record. Pyrope garnets at the foot

of the Lady’s Tower aren’t quite rare enough
to acquire significant market value, much like the self-taught experts
in autobrecciation and exfoliation weathering
who work their way to the surface of the Coastal Path

at the close of a hard winter. Amateur
geologists, rockhounds, and collectors may be distinguished
by commitments to task-specific outerwear,
but a bin bag rain poncho is not the measure of a person.

Ideas gather around phenomena as though for warmth …

I end on a YouTube of the great song, Hallelujah by the great poet-musician Leonard Cohen. We lost him yesterday. Jim just loved his music, lyrics, the performances, I have several CDs.

Sylvia

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darkredfloweringbush
My hardy bush turns fall colors, next to it the silver ferns have morphed into three plants

Friends,

As of yesterday morning, we are waking to sunlight on the east coast of the US. On Saturday night I stayed up an extra hour to finish a blog, watch a movie, read a poem. Then when I woke I was sure I would feel the light and more warmth too.

How it gladdened my eyes. And again this morning — after I went to sleep at my usual midnight hour and woke somewhat earlier. I so hate the black mornings forced on me in October into November. I cannot forget that when I was young, mornings were not dark in October. What a relief. More living time is the way I feel it, to rise to cheer.

Do you know the poetry of Ann Stanford? I once wrote a blog on her poetry — see my “I’ve discovered another great poet!”; this from the Poetry Foundation.

A modern Georgic:

Dreaming the Garden

It is so comfortable there in the garden
You can wear an old toga — Pliny the younger

It must first of all be fun.
There must be an air of insouciance,
of je ne sais quai about it.
Someone else has already moved the stones,
limed the soil. You have only to turn
the shovel lightly. The rains have left
moisture, but not too much.
You plan the lawn, sloping to the terrace,
the marble balustrades, cracks hidden
under the wash of plumbago.
You are half down the slope. Beyond
are oaks and beech trees surrounding the view
of the lake. Beyond it – the lake –
are mountains – green overlaying the hidden villas.
A single boat loiters among lily pads.

But there is work to do.
You put the shovel deep in and turn
up humus, earthworms, a bulb or two
beginning to send a green shaft skyward.
By the lake, back from the point where the
trees obscure the boat now
a cluster of statues watches the view
from atop the columned wall
above the anchorage.
The boat will be heading this way.

To your left past the maze
the lawn edged by nymphs hip-deep in azaleas,
moves toward the folly.
Beside the stairs to the terrace
geraniums flow out of their vases, pink and lavender.
Off toward the south, aisles of lantana
and cannas, the air harsh where the sun
drags the strong scent from the strident blooms.
But on the right, the cascade
plunges through pools, descends in shallow falls
noisy as a brook. Grottoes and archways span and interrupt.
Dolphins rise from the pool
and a great shell collects
the last outflow, from which it vanishes.

You have done so much this morning —
­two shovelfuls of earth. The third
leads to the clipped ilex on the terrace.
Diamonds, circles of low hedge
hold bouquets. The square pool marks
the heart. Beyond,
water and light make the statues move,
the sky a lake of clouds under the arches by
the shell. You walk under the falling tide
with the nymphs who hold spirals of shells
wreathed in ivy.
You go up the water stairs. Cascades rush by
on either hand. Shade dapples the path.
You reach the main pool:
against the hillside a grove,
in the grove the goddess
white, serious, stone, follows the deer
at the edge of the glade. You have come just in time.

2

Start with the bounds. What’s to go out or stay.
The view you’ll keep, the lake, the fading ranges.
Columns of cypress shield the western slope,
as for the south, arrange a grove of olives.
On the north, white oleander
can form a wall beside the avenue.
Over the walk you put an arch of vines.
You must be firm with space. Even the sky
becomes your own.

Divide the sky, let it be lanes or views,
parterres, or rounds of blue above the pool.
Cut it with branches, winter-white, in shapes
of leaded glass, break it with scattered leaves
into shimmering drops, or panes
between the arches of the hedge, or dark with lines
or circles from your vista under the trees.
You’ve set the bounds, laid out the earth and sky.
Whatever you do, things will not stay this way.

3

It helps if you have something old
to set among the hedges:
say a column topped by a statue of Ceres,
behind her a rondure of privet,
or a sundial on a post of white marble
in the circle of lawn.
Where that pile of native stone backs the fountain
a group of nymphs, sporting jets of spray
from the cascade hidden behind the potting shed.
Some urns of terra cotta
can hold salvia, the yellow anthers bright in sun.
Not too much color though.
Let the subtle glow of marble hold your attention.

If you are fortunate, you will find fragments ­–
a broken head of an emperor
the pediment of an altar
or, truly blessed, a faun
tangled in grape leaves.
Set him among boxes of orange
against the ilex hedge,
the gravel path widening before him.
Even a few broken shards
will enhance the wall behind the fountain.

The past must be used –
the sarcophagi flaunting geraniums ­–
and where the wood overtakes you, a path
through the overgrown laurel
the tangle of oak and acacia
always at war with one another.

4

It rains. The lake drowns in haze.
The grove beside it is a distant country.
Fog moves in billows like nymphs escaped from the fountains,
their white drapes drawn about them.
Rain shoots from the downspouts, jets from the mouths
of gargoyles,
or rolls off the roof, splashing and rebounding.
The terrace is a pool catching the gush of waters
from the mouths of eagles, the vases of naiads,
the horse-maned dolphins of the seagod.
The villa is a fountain, where you swim like a minnow
in the green light of leaves dripping their cascades.

The sky darkens. It is a grotto
filled with swaying moss, the dark niches holding satyrs
grinning as they wave obscene fingers
or sneer at you from the green solace of vines.
The terrace where you dug is mud; it melts
sliding down the water stairs
between the troughs where freshets leap
from banks of honeysuckle.
Water runs between the balustrades
in waterfalls that merge
like the outflow of a thousand breasts
into the great pool on the lower terrace
where the hedge floats like a carved isthmus
among islands of clipped lavender.
Water flows from the boughs of the pine trees
pours from the laurels, circles the oranges, dangles in
narrow streams from the walnuts.
The lake must be rising among the oak trees
making a water temple of the columns by the landing.
The statues gaze at their reflections
pocked by descending drops.
You hear the counterpoint of the shattering cascade
off the edge of the roof, the tattoos of rain,
a slow drip, drop, somewhere it shouldn’t be.
The birds have taken to cover.
You hear no sound
but the steady water music of the garden.

5

But it must make sense. The mad cascade
the storm dropped yesterday has destroyed the parterres.
They are sunk in mud. The stairways slipping with dirt
and leaves.
Everything drips – the eaves, the edges of trees, the hedges.
It was more than a water garden, a meeting of too many streams.
After a day of sun, you can clean out the path
wash off the terraces, put drains where streams carried away

the soil.
But today while the clouds decide whether to go or stay
get to details. What is the garden made of?
Planes, levels, paving, paths, trees and hedges,
low plantings and high, sun and shade, color and light.

Down by the lake already there are beeches and oaks,
a drift of wild cyclamen. Farther up for sun
plant a spread of lantana, a border of lilies,
on the terrace end, magnolias; around the reflecting pool
urns of geraniums, plumbago, purple
bougainvillea, vases of lemon set on balustrades
and hedges of laurel, cypress, holly.
For the old walls, jasmine, clematis, honeysuckle, roses
beside iris and loquat, oleanders, mandarins.
For autumn color liquidambars, persimmons, against the
pine trees.
Pomegranate and flowering thyme,
lavender, shrub roses, fuchsias
and wisteria on the steeper banks.
You will want mimosa and orange trees
the acrid scent of alders by the stream.

But your list is already too long
and you’ve left no room for the kitchen garden.
You have forgotten the plan, the cool laying out of the ground.
You have overwhelmed the garden, unthinking as any god.

Stanford’s is a dream garden out of classical tradition by way of Miltonic-Cowperesque traditions as felt by a modern woman poet. So notice how like in Mary Poppins, our gardener can impose order and peace on the sky. How out the waters of the world everything comes alive — as in Burnett’s Secret Garden. it puts me in mind of Vita Sackville-West’s book-long Georgic, The Land and the Garden (for which I wrote a foremother poetry entry in an on-line festival site — so it was called). And for a picture I think of Emily Carr’s bejewelled Canadian landscapes:

emily_carr_tree_in_autumn_
A Tree in Autumn

******************************

Mine is nothing like this; realistically, one of the sides of my body, the right, is too weak to do any effective digging. Still, my small maple tree carries on thriving and come Christmas I’ll be winding colored lights around its branches. A small sign of continued hope.

midafternoonsmallmapleautumn2016
Yes, that’s a Clinton/Kaine sign you see peeping out from in front of my fence, facing the road.

Miss Drake

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While I was gone, Izzy added another performance on video to her repertoire:

Sylvia

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