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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Sunday Poetry XL -- "The Third Coast," 1979

There is no more sure-fire way to ensure the "datedness" of a book than subtitling it, in part, with the word "contemporary," in this case, "Contemporary Michigan Poetry," another book, very much like You've Been Told, from a couple weeks ago, that I have (didn't buy, but inherited) but haven't read.  So, today, I will peruse the collection and, in real time, randomly choose three poems.  Here they are, contemporary or not, in all the glory (your thoughts are welcome):

Death and the Pineapple
Dan Gerber, pp 57-58
The fruit itself a giant pinecone
Texture of an apple     the taste
An apple flavored with pine
If I died I couldn’t eat pineapples
Couldn’t slice them with a large knife
Or say the word that conjures the taste
Pie-napple     pine-apple
Couldn’t run my hands
Down the rough sides
Or over the bushy top
Let its juice drizzle down my chin
Or wipe it away
With the back of my hand
Rub it in my hair     gargle it
Ponder the origin of its name
Throw it at a strange and beautiful
Woman on the rue Saint-Jacques
Imagine a trip to Hawaii

The pineapple
Is what we give up when we die
Along with strawberries     coffee and sun
The room hovers about me
One more skull
The trees around the house
The sky around the tree
The stars around the sky
How could I escape so many enclosures
What would I see
What tastes     what sins
And if existence exists in space
What space     I can’t imagine nothing

A house I once visited
Had a pineapple over the door
A pineapple over the newel post
A pineapple in the center of the table
Surely these people had lived
They said it was their family crest
My sign     my life
A galaxy of pineapples

I considered all the pineapples
Growing under the sun
And will enjoy the good of my labor
All the days of my pineapple
For there is a wicked man
Who prolongeth his pineapple
In his wickedness
And not a just man on earth
That doeth good and sinneth not

In the Winter of Tigers
Tom McKeown, p150
In the winter of tigers,
After the zoo closes, the sun
Smokes and thins out, seeds
Leap from an apple’s core,
Wheat whispers loudly
To the earth, to startled snow.

A crow plummets
Through the calm sky
Like a black parachute
That never opens.

In the middle of winter, the tigers
Walk up the snowy mountains
And spread out with the snow,
Until there is only snow and tigers,
And the memories of tigers,
Invisible against the snow.

At St. Mary’s for the Aged
Eve Shelnutt, p235
She thinks God wants a wife.
She would like to lie with Him.
Would He make her pretty,
Or take her as she is?
Where, around Him, do the arms go?

The jealous Sisters see her rise;
Their hands cross on the door.
She dies and, dead,
Is not denied.
The Sisters lifting bones
Are satisfied.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sunday Poetry XXXIX -- Robert Ripley and Poetry (KAY RYAN)

I'm about to go back to school.  Again.  Third time's a charm.  I hope.  The preparations of which have made it near impossible to maintain my once-steady stream--or flooding river, really--of posts and commentaries and questions.  Be that as it may, and trying to think of something for today's installment of Sunday Poetry, I remembered a silly verse I once read in the original Ripley's Believe It or Not--something about school and the futility of studying.  I can't remember the exact verse, and as the book is buried in a box somewhere out in the garage, yet unpacked, I took to Google and the great gaping expanse of the www.  I did not find what I was looking for, as is often the case, and as is as often or even oftener the case, found something even better: a poem from a Pulitzer Prize-winning collection by a poet, former poet laureate Kay Ryan, inspired by Ripley's reported oddities.  Here is the title work:

The Jam Jar Lifeboat 
invented in 1831 by a man named Bateman who 
insisted it was unsinkable, sank the first time it was tested. 
Ripley’s Believe It or Not! 
It was quixotic to think
the cold grey North Atlantic
might be survived in a jam jar boat.
It is not enough that one of something
can be made to float with its lid sealed tight.
One rat might survive one night
on a single treadmill bottle
but even that would be a battle.
Bateman always hated how small truths
extrapolated so poorly. He came up with
really good small ones almost hourly.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

INVISIBLE CITIES XXXIV -- Chapter 5, ..... 1

(I know it's self-indulgence, but I can't help but think of T.E. Hulme's "Above the Dock," reading the Khan's description of the moon's progression in his dream.)
  1. If a person is, or may be[come], master of his/her domain, and if Kublai Khan's entire empire exists merely--or maybe just possibly--as words and dreams, mightn't any person gain leadership of grand empire?
  2. What of the notion that the Khan's empire is so huge and that it's impossible for him to ever visit all the cities?  Is this and Polo's descriptions anything like the famed tree that falls in a forest with no one to hear?
  3. Regarding the structure of the book, do the opening expositions to each chapter--the situation the Khan finds himself in--dictate the meme of Polo's coming descriptions?  (And any thoughts at all on how much time passes during or between each chapter?)


One of the many great things about being a teacher, or English teachers, anyway, and especially for those working in old buildings, is book inheritance.  Pretty much every time a teacher changes classrooms, especially in the case of assuming the former classroom of a now-retired English teacher, is the mass of books left behind.  Sometimes hundreds.  Really.  Literally.  Over the last ten years, I have been the move-inner to the former space of three departed English teachers and have duly reaped the literary benefits.  (Of course, I assume that these teachers left behind only the books they didn't want to take home with them, but still, I've scooped up some pretty awesome windfalls.)

As all of my favorite books are boxed up in the garage, and as I used some of my less-favorite books as buffers in the stacking and packing before the drive eastward, which books are not in boxes, it is from this latter pile (quite, again, literally, I'm sorry to say) that I draw today's material: You've Just Been Told, by one Elizabeth Macklin, whose book has just been out in the garage, unprotected, alone, and (oh, I'm embarrassed) left on the concrete floor.

I've never read any of Macklin's poetry.  I kept the book because, honestly, it looked nice and, originally, I thought it might serve as potential inspiration for coming English students.  Well, that's out, so I probably ought to determine if the book's worth holding the space it takes.  I will randomly open the book three times--yes, in just the moment between right now and final typing of this sentence--and copy out the three poems I find there.

***and as I crack open the book, it literally crackles.
I don't think it was ever read, even by the former owner[s]***

The Lazy Girl Was Never Scolded
Then: New-painted ceilings shed light, in our place,
as if they were living, or holy/  That smell was early

spring, with the windows open.  Ambition was only
sleeping, or shortly to be awakened, and would not disappear

forever into compliant ambition.  One time, I sat down
on the steps of a ladder, holding a cup of black

coffee that nearly woke the world.  Paint was spread bright-
yellow into the corners.  Turpentine curled

from woodwork and settled.  I did not sit straighter.
A willow outside the window reeked in the sun of doing

nothing, up in its branches, its leaves whole stories,
all summer.  A long blond girl, dark in the backlight,

I seized what is nowadays made to seem
nearly nothing.

A qualifier of superlatives
How much of this
was misunderstanding--
how much was almost blindness?
We did math at the table

almost forever.  Or I "helped"
around you finicking chores.
I almost certainly thought
you couldn't see me.

You almost always said
yet again "You with me?"
I was certainly
angry with you.

Dear Old Dad (your almost ironical
nickname; y our invention), explain
our delay in getting the gist
of kindness.  I didn't see you almost

might've but couldn't;
you didn't tell me stories
about your childhood.
You were maybe afraid, almost.

And so, almost maybe, was I.
But beatings, chiggers in Texas,
butter borrowed on welfare
are almost laughable

after a lifetime,
fears of a planet
or angry passion
almost a memory.

Wholly unique (though yes we
have no degrees of uniqueness)
your almost irreconcilable

qualifying the present
and almost the past
by strict, strong, stronger
grammars of attention--

just when you're thinking 
of dying, you marry again,
quickly, almost ecstatic,
trusting at last your almost

perfect decision, your superlative.
Yet almost just as jealous
of each wife, child/children:
how our love is apportioned.

See? I'm almost
with you again.
I'm almost angry
with you again.

At 43, She Thinks What
to Name Her Children
Oh . . . Firstborn, Asher!--asher means "happy"--
because I am happy.  Carlyle, Joseph,
Robert and Richard, for family names:
namesakes all unspeakably loved, for all their flaws.

Jean, Margaret, Ila for girls,
to say they were loved, and will be loved.
All of them out of two originals--Margaret Jean,
Ila Margaret--not to be copied.

Or--she hopes, does she?--uncopied by me.
Because not wishing harm on a daughter?
Margaret, Jean, Ila, Margaret--all
speakable now, since now chosen.

Or else--can it be a name for a woman?--
the lastborn, Asher: no, possible Asher,
"Do what you can--I love you, Asher,"
because I'm alone but I am happy.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

INVISIBLE CITIES XXXIII -- Chapter 4, ..... 2

Have we arrived at 
the process Calvino employed 
to "create" each of his cities?



  1. Aside from providing a potential pair of names for Calvino's book, what inspiration is there for the account of this particular city in the plot description, or anything else in the description, of the play Aglaura, as put up by Wikipedia?
  2. As the others in chapter four, is Aglaura a double city, or a city accompanied immediately by its reflection?
  3. Polo's cursory description of the city identifies it as remarkable only by its drabness--by its unremarkableness, yet he claims the periodic and spontaneous appearances of things "unmistakable, rare, perhaps magnificent."  In the context of any other city, would these spontaneities be less remarkable?

Droodle 14

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


  1. Another element of duality in Zemrude, this one becoming less metaphysical or fantastic, as it is something one would experience in any city or walking anywhere.
  2. There is also another element of water, as it is the drainpipes rather than anything else, that rail our attention as it drops.
  3. What is Calvino's commentary made through Zemrude?
from here

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Sunday Poetry XXXVII -- ISAAC WATTS . Yes, THAT Isaac Watts

Isaac Watts
I am not a fan of Isaac Watts, the English hymn-writer.  If you take a few minutes and learn a bit about him, it comes as no little mystery that Lewis Carroll so enjoyed lampooning him; aside from the terribly condescending didactic nature of Watts' writing--at least that of the stuff Carroll reported that Alice was forced to memorize for lessons--he seems to have no small amount in common with Carroll: both wordsmiths, both theologians, but logicians.  Generally I don't--okay, I've never--defended the older, stuffier of the two, until just last Sunday, when in church (a meeting, nonetheless, in which I'd been invited to speak) we sang a hymn of his (I'd never realized any of his words were even in our hymnal! and how lousy of me: now that I look, it appears he penned lyrics for ten hymns in our book!) and, apart from a sharp, nearly parallel correspondence with the particulars of my subject, I really enjoyed the hymn.  The problem is that I still don't like Isaac Watts, and, if I'm being honest with myself, I must admit that if I'd encountered this hymn outside the context of church, and particularly the combination of the thoughtfulness of my spiritual "place" that day and the beauty of the music, I'm fairly sure I wouldn't have liked it at all.  Funny the effect and influence the reader (and I'm leaving out the debate over the contribution of music) brings to a poem.

Come, We That Love the Lord
Isaac Watts
Come, we that love the Lord,
And let our joys be known.
Join in a song with sweet accord,
And worship at his throne.

Let those refuse to sing
Who never knew our God,
But servants of the heav'nly King
May speak their joys abroad.

The God who rules on high
And all the earth surveys--
Who rides upon the stormy sky
And calms the roaring seas--

This mighty God is ours,
Our Father and our Love.
He will send down his heav'nly pow'rs
To carry us above.

Saturday, August 6, 2011


  1. So, chapter 4 motif?
  2. Back to Calvino's imagination: hasn't he proved himself?  Isn't it good enough?  Is it overkill to keep going with more and more "invisible" cities?  Can you identify--or at least feel--a progression?
  3. What of the absurd impracticalities (and thus indulging the impossibilities) of such a place?  Maybe the fact that no one spends more than a year or two at any one job has something to do with the overall level financial playing field.  Of course, that begs the question: if they're happy anyway, do they need the money or influence or power that comes by and/or causes class stratification?
  4. Define the irony of the last two sentences: "Alone, among all the cities of the empire, Eutropia, remains always the same.  Mercury, god of the fickle, to whom the city is sacred, worked this ambiguous miracle."


  1. "Sophronia" means "self-controlled" or "sensible."  If the half-city that bears permanently the name, Sophronia, is the carnival, then what is Polo (I daren't say Calvino here) getting at?
  2. The two preceding cities, both Olivia and, if you're willing to stretch a little, the unnamed city of departures, both hold as part of themselves a reflection, double, or twin--a repetition of itself (herself?).  Is this the motif?
  3. What do you think of Calvino's imagination?
  4. Is the banking, concrete half a reflection of or just a balance of mass to the permanent half?
from here

Friday, August 5, 2011


OLIVIA: It makes sense that Olivia, the city, is a wealthy city, as olives are historically a symbol, not mention evidence, of wealth.

The opening sentence continues to emphasize the deconstrivist motif of the entire book (and, again, such an Umberto-Eco, at least as far as this blog is concerned, kind of motif it is), that words [or signs] and the things they represent are not necessarily the same thing--they occupy different spaces--though, as Polo tells the emperor, there is a connection between the two.
  1. Is there a theme or plot-device (as it were) tying together each of the chapters?  If so, what's going on in chapter 4?
  2. Does Olivia exist?
  3. "If there really were an Olivia of mullioned windows and peacocks, ... it would be a wretched, black, fly-ridden hole....": why?  The literalist in me wants to say that, well, there must be a natural hierarchy supporting any wealthy city, that below the luscious green apex with its mansions and gold filigree and white peacocks, must be churning away a massive mechanism of industry with all its accompanying soot and slag.  I don't know if this is what Calvino's getting at.  Is he being less literal, more figurative?
  4. And I just can't wrap my brain around the last sentence.  The abstraction is too much for me.  What do you make of it?

INVISIBLE CITIES XXVII -- Chapter 4, ..... 1

Of Distant Lights and Crystalline Structures
  1. "Your cities do not exist.  Perhaps they have never existed.  It is sure they will never exist again."  Whether they existed before or will exist later, when is it that Marco Polo's stories do indeed exist?
  2. Discuss Marco Polo's salesmanship.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

INVISIBLE CITIES XXVI -- Chapter 3, ..... 2

  1. The ending italicized section of Chapter 3 is less exposition than it is a sharing of a city by the Khan rather than by Marco Polo.  Considering what we read in the opening italicized section, is there any difference between the book's cities by the one who experienced them or how (in this case, by a dream) they were experienced?
  2. This issue of relative impartiality (if that even makes sense) seems reflected (sorry) by the concept of the city of Valdrada.  Thoughts?
  3. The premise here of a city of departures, to me, comes over a little less gracefully than all the other cities, but I expect it's less for weak writing than it is for a characteristic ascribed to Marco Polo by Calvino.  What sort of person is the explorer?
  4. The idea of a city that "knows only departures" is interesting, regardless of Polo's know-it-all identification.  Do such cities exist in reality or elsewhere in literature?


  1. The fundamental idea behind Valdrada is fascinating to me: how would life be different if your actions were always before you, and how is this question different from the similar question (for those who are religious), "How would life be different if God weren't always watching?"  As far as I'm concerned, actions always before self and peers is very different from actions always before God.  Thoughts?
  2. How do the two halves of Valdrada differ; why is it not a parallel city?
  3. Can you think of examples when the reflection will increase the value of an action and examples of when it will diminish because of the reflection?
one more Escher; why not?

Monday, August 1, 2011


  1. There's a language issue present in Chloe, very similar to that of Hypatia, inasmuch as words and expectations have practically nothing to do with signs or the reality containing them.  Thoughts?
  2. Is Chloe a virtual world?  Where does Chloe exist, especially concerning the all-cities-are-one?  Heck, even this: is Chloe science fiction?
  3. If this is a city of commerce, a "trading city," what is the merchandise?  Where is everybody going when they pass each other on the street and "all combinations are used up" in their minds?
  4. Regardless of the lack of physical contact, is this indeed a chaste city, let alone "the most chaste of cities"?
from here


  1. There is a semi-recurring theme of water, fountains, pipes, wells and windlasses, and the like.  Thoughts?
  2. "Lavabo" is a great word, isn't it?
  3. If all the cities are just a million impressions or vantages of the same city, what is the point from which Armilla is being viewed?
  4. Contrast Armilla to Hypatia regarding Polo's proximity to them.  For example, Armilla: "In the morning you hear them singing" connotes, to me anyway, distance, as opposed to Polo's extended residency in Hypatia.
  5. Is there a difference, fundamentally (and perhaps perspective is a required component to this answer), between a city destroyed and a city unfinished?


"I realized I had to free myself from the images which in the past had announced to me the things I sought: only then would I succeed in understanding the language of Hypatia."  So what, then, is the language of Hypatia--or better, how is it nothing like our language in its regard to signs (signs being the referents of our words) --or best, what is the relationship between signs and the mind's expectations?  So then, if "there is no language without deceit," how does one communicate, and is the language of Hypatia actually any different from our languages anyway?

The real question here (because the first is just another of the countless un-answerables really) is what makes this place so attractive or comfortable that Polo apparently doesn't want to leave--at least not any time soon?
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