Please join us today at 4:00pm to discuss A.R. Ammons' poem "Target". Because of this week's Get Outdoors Camp at The Green Center, we will be meeting in our newly renovated Nature Room, formerly the garage of Mr. Green's lovely home. Tea, lemonade, snacks, and community all remain the same. See you this afternoon!
On the website of Poetry magazine, Tina Kelley conducts a wide-ranging interview with poet Pattiann Rogers, who was born in Joplin, Missouri, graduated from Mizzou, and has taught at (among others) Washington University in St. Louis. The whole piece is a wonderful exploration of a life and working method that seek to integrate the wonder of science and the ecstatic creative values of art. As a taste, here is Rogers on her point of departure--one many of us might share...
"When I was in college, I read an essay by Richard Feynman, a Nobel-winning physicist, titled “The Value of Science.” In one section of that essay, “The Grand Adventure,” he describes the process of science. “The same thrill, the same awe and mystery, come again and again when we look at any problem deeply enough…we turn over each new stone to find unimagined strangeness leading on to more wonderful questions and mysteries. …” Then the two sentences that stunned me: “It is true that few unscientific people have this particular type of religious experience. Our poets do not write about it, our artists do not try to portray this remarkable thing. … Is nobody inspired by our present picture of the universe?” He called what I had been experiencing … “a religious experience.” I knew then that this is what I wanted to write about."
This is a brief reminder that this Wednesday, June 28th, at 4:00pm, we will be having tea (and lemonade and such) and a conversation about A.R. Ammons' short poem "Target". As always, prior experience with poetry, tea, or targets is completely unnecessary--just bring yourself, an openness to the world, and a mild appetite. We will do the rest.
Something to think about: the "A.R." in "A.R. Ammons" stands for "Archie Randolph". Do we read a poem written by "Archie Ammons" in a different way? What about "Archibald Ammons"? Randy? What other universes or timelines of possibility do we open up when we consider our own initials and middle names? What expectations do we bring to poets and artists to have properly "literary" names?
Born in Kirkwood, modernist poet Marianne Moore composed an ode to Mt. Rainier after a trip out West in 1922. Her poem, "An Octopus", can be found at the link below (it's a bit long for a blog post). The eponymous octopus refers to the shape of the several glaciers emanating from the peak's "head" when viewed from above:
For a bird's-eye view courtesy of a National Park Service map, have a look here:
And finally, to begin your deep dive into Marianne Moore's art through some commentary on "An Octopus", check out this wonderful mini-anthology of criticism from the University of Illinois' library on Modern American Poetry:
*a note for grammarians, pedants, and all who love words...while octopus looks like a Latin word that gets the -us/-i treatment for plural endings, it actually has a Greek root. Therefore, the funny sounding "octopuses" is correct, though since language is a living community of usages, "octopi" is generally acceptable as well. Use this knowledge for good, not ill...fun facts, not pedantry! :)
At the Beach
by Robert Wrigley
What are they, those burrowing crustaceans, the ones
my son and I unbeach each summer
building sandcastles? Thumb-large
helmets with dainty, iridescent feet
and as far as I can see no eyes,
no head, no front or back at all, only
the shove and pull of the waves,
or only the quick, attentive gulls, who love them
just as they would love us, my son and me, if they could,
and who, the truth be told, cannot name us either.
At Popham Beach
by Thorpe Moeckel
Haze of wave spume towards Small Point,
Seguin Island Light like a whale's spout--
maybe life washes itself here, cools off.
It never comes clean. See all the sails up
and full in the windy parade of skin
and sand and brine. Soon the rocks will pluck
each wave's feathers. Soon the beach
like the moon, waning, will be 1/8th its size.
Somewhere else—maybe Ireland—the tide
will bottom out then. For now the sun
blesses the bodies at home in theirs,
and those less so, to ruin and ruin's aftermath--
whatever that is—and the waves rolling in,
little snowplows, nimbus in miniature; how
the beach fishhooks east, one child--
is that mine, or some spirit I was one more
usher of?—face up, arms and legs
scraping a temporary angel in the sand.
Commanded by Alan Shepard, Apollo 14's lunar module Antares landed on the moon February 9, 1971. The following poem by Tom Disch appeared in Poetry magazine one year later, in the February 1972 issue:
by Tom Disch
At this height there is neither winter
Nor any form of weather--an absence
In which the only turning
Is the turning of the eyes to view
Unvarying stars, the only bending is the heart's
Slow bendings on its soft stem;
The months become enormous--years,
Millennia--distended spheres that rise
Above the bordered oceans, the mere dapplings
Of day and night, until they reach
This fleshless moment here--
Every voice every gesture
Compressed into a single point of light.
In the first volume of Marcel Proust's novel In Search of Lost Time, the narrator has a much celebrated encounter with a petite madeleine, a trigger for childhood memory that has become well known to many non-readers of Proust:
"Many years had elapsed during which nothing of Combray, save what was comprised in the theatre and the drama of my going to bed there, had any existence for me, when one day in winter, on my return home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea, a thing I did not ordinarily take. I declined at first, and then, for no particular reason, changed my mind. She sent for one of those squat, plump little cakes called "petites madeleines," which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted valve of a scallop shell. And soon, mechanically, dispirited after a dreary day with the prospect of a depressing morrow, I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me..."
Proust, M. (1913-27). Remembrance of Things Past. Volume 1: Swann's Way: Within a Budding Grove. The definitive French Pleiade edition translated by C.K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin. New York: Vintage. pp. 48-51.
However iconic the madeleine, the tea itself is just as much a source of the narrator's reverie. In fact, given the importance of the sense of smell, it might be more accurate to refer to these pages as the "lime-blossom tea episode":
"And suddenly the memory revealed itself. The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray (because on those mornings I did not go out before mass), when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom , my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane..."
"And as soon as I had recognized the taste of the piece of madeleine soaked in her decoction of lime-blossom which my aunt used to give me (although I did not yet know and must long postpone the discovery of why this memory made me so happy) immediately the old grey house upon the street, where her room was, rose up like a stage set to attach itself to the little pavilion opening on to the garden...
The tea the narrator's Aunt Leonie served with the madeleine was made from the flower of the European lime or linden tree, Tilia platyphyllos. According to The Oxford Companion to Food, edited by Tom Jaine, the flowers "are dried to make lime tea, popular in France, Spain, and elsewhere for its relaxing properties, but are also used sometimes to flavor dessert creams and similar confections."
Back to Proust:
"And as in the game wherein the Japanese amuse themselves by filling a porcelain bowl with water and steeping in it little pieces of paper which until then are without character or form, but, the moment they become wet, stretch and twist and take on colour and distinctive shape, become flowers or houses or people, solid and recognizable, so in that moment all the flowers in our garden and in M. Swann's park, and the water-lilies on the Vivonne and the good folk of the village and their little dwellings and the parish church and the whole of Combray and its surroundings, taking shape and solidity, sprang into being, town and gardens alike, from my cup of tea."
And so I ask you not to forget the European linden tree, the companion of Proust's madeleine.
In bonus material from last week’s discussion of Emily Dickinson, here are several variations critic Helen Vendler points out in the encounter between the speaker and the bird. Who is acting cautious? Why? What changes in each reading for the speaker? For the reader? First the poem…
A Bird, came down the Walk – (359)
by Emily Dickinson
A Bird, came down the Walk –
He did not know I saw –
He bit an Angle Worm in halves
And ate the fellow, raw,
And then, he drank a Dew
From a convenient Grass –
And then hopped sidewise to the Wall
To let a Beetle pass –
He glanced with rapid eyes,
That hurried all abroad –
They looked like frightened Beads, I thought,
He stirred his Velvet Head. –
Like one in danger, Cautious,
I offered him a Crumb,
And he unrolled his feathers,
And rowed him softer Home –
Than Oars divide the Ocean,
Too silver for a seam,
Or butterflies, off Banks of Noon,
Leap, plashless as they swim.
Variations in Stanzas 3-4 of Poem #359 by Emily Dickinson
1.) As sent to Thomas Wentworth Higginson:
He stirred his velvet head
Like one in danger, cautious.
I offered him a crumb
2.) In a version kept by the poet:
He stirred his Velvet Head
Like One in danger, Cautious,
I offered him a Crumb
3.) A fair copy inscribed in a fascicle:
He stirred his Velvet Head. –
Like one in danger, Cautious,
I offered him a Crumb
Here they are rendered as prose:
1.) “He stirred his velvet head like one in danger, cautious. I offered him a Crumb”
2.) “He stirred his Velvet Head like One in danger, Cautious, I offered him a Crumb”
3.) “He stirred his Velvet Head. Like one in danger, Cautious, I offered him a Crumb”