Friday, January 16, 2015

"January Jumps About in the Frying Pan"

Don't you just love how the New Year stretches out in front of you this time of year? From January to December, there's very little filled in yet on the calendar. Possibilities abound. By December, it will be a jumble of scribbled notes, circled days, reminders, appointments, annotations, and cross-outs.

Translation: Fog in January, sunny year. Free downloadable calendar with original artwork by Sophie Kukukita

Below is a little months-of-the-year poem that I like for its asymmetrical rhythms - the poet, George Barker (about whom I know very little other than the fact that he was English and T.S. Eliot declared him a genius) takes his time line-wise, syllable-wise, and stress-wise in getting to the rhymes he wants, a little like a jazz musician who arrives at his logical destination despite unpredictable digressions. November is my favorite stanza, with February a close second. How about you?

January Jumps About 

January jumps about
in the frying pan
trying to heat
his frozen feet
like a Canadian.

February scuttles under
any dish's lid
and she thinks she's dry because she's
thoroughly well hid
but it still rains all month long
and it always did.

March sits in the bath tub
with the taps turned on.
Hot and cold, cold or not,
Has the Winter gone?
In like a lion, out like a lamb
March on, march on, march on.

April slips about
sometimes indoors
and sometimes out
sometimes sheltering from a little
shower of bright rain
in an empty milk bottle
then dashing out again.

May, she hides nowhere,
nowhere at all,
Proud as a peacock
walking by a wall.
The Maytime O the Maytime,
full of leaf and flower.
The Maytime O the Maytime
is the loveliest of all.

June discards his shirt and
trousers by the stream
and takes the first dip of the year
into a jug of cream.
June is the gay time
of every girl and boy
who run about and sing and shout
in pardonable joy.

July by the sea
sits dabbling with sand
letting it run out of
her rather lazy hand,
and sometimes she sadly
thinks: "As I sit here
ah, more than half the year is gone,
the evanescent year."

August by an emperor
was given his great name.
It is gold and purple
like a Hall of Fame.
(I have known it rather cold
and wettish, all the same.)

September lies in shadows
of the fading summer
hearing, in the distance,
the silver horns of winter
and not very far off
the coming autumn drummer.

October, October
apples on the tree,
the Partridge in the Wood and
the big winds at sea,
the mud beginning in the lane
the berries bright and red
and the big tree wildly
tossing its old head.

November, when the fires
love to burn, and leaves
flit about and fill the air
where the old tree grieves.
November, November
its name is like a star
glittering on many things that were
but few things that are.

Twelfth and last December.
a few weeks away
we hear the silver bells
of the stag and the sleigh
flying from the tundras
far far away
bringing to us all the gift
of our Christmas Day.

                 ---George Barker

Speaking of time passing - month-by-month or year-by-year - here are two photos of George Barker - young and old. A life lived in between those two snapshots.

If you want to read what other people are posting for Poetry Friday, head over to Irene Latham's blog, Live Your Poem, by clicking here.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Poetry Friday: Going All Apple-y

"Behold, the apple's rounded worlds...."
Whenever a new year approaches, I get a little corny - or maybe I should say "apple-y." I want to post a poem with some gravitas to it - not just the Irish ditties or the jump-rope rhymes I'm drawn to under normal circumstances. After all, it's the end of one year, the beginning of another year - so the world turns, one kind of time fades, another kind of time entices.

Each December 31st, this apple-y feeling comes on like the scent of mulled cider - I can almost taste it, and it always leads me to Laurie Lee's poem, "Apples." It isn't the right season to be thinking of apples; still, I get more apple-y (or even "wanton," as Lee puts it) as each day of the lunatic old year finishes up. 

In this poem, Lee (whose Cider with Rosie, a description of life in the Slad Valley of the Cotswolds circa 1920, is not to be missed) recognizes the need to "take entire my season's dole" and welcome whatever comes, be it ripe, sweet, sour, hollow, whole. Life doesn't dish out any one of those things exclusively - it offers up the entire selection to you, to me, to the boy in the poem, to the stallion and starling, to the bent worm and the waltzing wasp. No one gets just the sweetness - life isn't like that - it's a "rounded" world. Yes, there are sweet bites; there's also the black polestar, and there's the rind with its crimson stain.

Still, don't we all want to greet life with the "easy hunger" Lee describes? So I offer "Apples" again - it's turning into my annual New Year's poem - as the year's opening post for Poetry Friday 2015. 

The round-up is being hosted by Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect - when you're done here, head there to see what other people have posted. And Apple-y New Year, everyone!


Behold the apples’ rounded worlds:
juice-green of July rain,
the black polestar of flowers, the rind
mapped with its crimson stain.

The russet, crab and cottage red
burn to the sun’s hot brass,
then drop like sweat from every branch
and bubble in the grass.

They lie as wanton as they fall,
and where they fall and break,
the stallion clamps his crunching jaws,
the starling stabs his beak.

In each plump gourd the cidery bite
of boys’ teeth tears the skin;
the waltzing wasp consumes his share,
the bent worm enters in.

I, with as easy hunger, take
entire my season’s dole;
welcome the ripe, the sweet, the sour,
the hollow and the whole.

Laurie Lee as a young man...

...and older, walking through the hills above the Slad Valley.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Cuba Feliz, America Feliz!

Comida rica, musica para llorar y bailar, cantantes elegantes y tristes, coches viejos, revolucion....

Delicious food, music for crying and dancing, elegant and sorrowful singers, old autos, revolution - that's the idea I have of Cuba. If it's a narrow vision, that's because Americans haven't been able to travel there for many, many years. But now:

"Change is hard –- in our own lives, and in the lives of nations.  And change is even harder when we carry the heavy weight of history on our shoulders.  But today we are making these changes because it is the right thing to do.  Today, America chooses to cut loose the shackles of the past so as to reach for a better future –- for the Cuban people, for the American people, for our entire hemisphere, and for the world."

Wonderful!! And to celebrate the announcement that the United States is, at long last, re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba, I want to offer up this wonderful video of a serenade in the streets of Havana. The song is sad, but if you take the time to watch all the way through, you'll see the joy slowly growing in the faces of those musicians, and the camaraderie they share, and the beauty of that woman they're serenading, and the quick glance we get of people in the street.  Here's to getting more than a quick glance - here's to getting to know the Cuban people better.

Pope Francis and President Obama, among others, worked to open up paths of communication after more than 50 years of stubborn silence (not to mention a long campaign of poisoned cigars and exploding seashells, and USAID's infiltration of hip-hop groups,  - ??? - for Heaven's sake....). A short poem first, in the voice of Rosa, a character from Margarita Engle's lovely verse narrative, The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for Freedom:

I love the sounds 
of the jungle at night.

When the barracoon
where we sleep 
has been locked, 
I hear the music
of crickets, tree frogs, owls, 
and the whir of wings
as night birds fly, 
and the song of un sinsonte,
a Cuban mockingbird, 
the magical creature
who knows how to sing
many songs all at once, 
sad and happy, 
captive and free...

songs that help me sleep 
without nightmares, 
without dreams.

 She sings: "...and I cry without you knowing that my crying has black tears, like my life."

The Poetry Friday round-up is being hosted today by Buffy at Buffy's Blog. Head over there to see what other people have posted.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Why Does a Chicken?

I've been thinking a lot about riddles lately, since I've been reading a review copy of Peter Turchi's wonderful new book A Muse and A Maze: Writing as Puzzle, Mystery and Magic (my review of it will be in January's Numero Cinq.)

Turchi, who wrote another favorite of mine (Maps of the Imagination) has written a book full of tidbits writers should be thinking about all the time. His observations about how puzzle-making enters into creative writing confirm my own: Good stories always ask a few questions we have trouble answering. Poetry is especially dependent on riddles, since metaphorical thinking is a form of puzzle-making (observing something to be equal to something else.) When we remember a story or a poem, isn't it because it has asked us questions that required contemplation? We  linger in the mystery. Genre fiction, on the other hand, leads readers to solutions. So the more generic (genre-centered) writing is, the less it approaches unknowns and the more it offers up answers. Nothing wrong with that, if reading is done for entertainment - at the end of a good detective story, you usually can hear the final click of the box that contains the solution to the puzzle closing again.  Granted, some genre work does push itself into literary territory. But if you read literary fiction and poetry, too, then you have to be comfortable with riddles that can't be solved - you don't hear that box lid clicking closed.  That's what Turchi's book is all about, and I encourage you to read it - you can find out about it at this link

Ah, the unsolvable riddle - give me one of those from time to time and I'm happy. So my Poetry Friday contribution this week is a poem by A.A. Milne, made all the better since it convinces me that unanswerable questions can be introduced to kids from the time they learn to walk. I mean, why does a chicken? If you know why, you can answer in the comments!


Cottleston Cottleston Cottleston Pie,
A fly can't bird, but a bird can fly.
Ask me a riddle and I reply
Cottleston Cottleston Cottleston Pie.

Cottleston Cottleston Cottleston Pie,
Why does a chicken? I don't know why.
Ask me a riddle and I reply
Cottleston Cottleston Cottleston Pie.

Cottleston Cottleston Cottleston Pie,
A fish can't whistle and neither can I.
Ask me a riddle and I reply
Cottleston Cottleston Cottleston Pie.

Today's Poetry Friday round-up is being hosted by Paul at These Four Corners. Head over there to see what other people have posted. 

Friday, December 5, 2014

Poetry Friday: Happy Birthday, Calvin Trillin!

Deadlines like little fish floating past me....
I haven't been posting very often on The Drift Record lately, not sure why. Since retiring from my teaching position with Vermont College of Fine Arts, I find myself more than a little thrilled with the non-push and non-rush of not even knowing what day of the week it is. Deadlines float past me like little fish that I don't need to catch, I just want to enjoy their liveliness and their shimmer. I don't mind seeing these little fingerlings swimming around down there under the water - I like knowing life is bustling somewhere around me. But it's like being in the back of a rowboat that's being rowed around a calm lake by a good friend - there's no need for conversation, we're just lolling around in the sunshine (well, yes, it's December, but I mean the interior glow) and I'm letting my hand drift in the water alongside the boat. Drifting over smooth, silky, cool water - a painting by Claude Monet - that's what retirement has been feeling like.

Smooth, silky, cool water...

On certainly special days, I feel like I'm still at that lake, but this time I'm a fresh-water turtle on a log at the lake's edge, and I have my neck out and I'm absolutely still, soaking up the sun. All's right with the world. My breathing is all I hear. No, that's not true - I hear kids laughing in the distance. Maybe a dog barking. Maybe a crow cawing. No need to respond.
Basking and not knowing what day it is....

So if I don't post regularly on Poetry Friday - that's why. I'm out at that lake. I'm taking a turn at being a quiet turtle on a warm log....

Today, however, I'm not a turtle - I'm popping in because it's Calvin Trillin's birthday, so I want to say Happy Birthday, Calvin.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Trillin

I love the way that man writes (could that explain why I have a whole shelf full of his books?) He's a master of the humorous essay, and he writes fine satirical poetry - political commentary with meter and rhyme.  Reading his work can quickly change a bad mood (when I'm not drifting around on a lake, I'm in the Titanic and it's going down fast) into an okay-it's-not-the-end-of-the-world mood. He makes me laugh out loud, and that's not easy to do because I'm often a cranky, judgmental, hard-to-satisfy reader.

Here is a little something he said about writing poetry, so that's what I'm going to share for Poetry Friday. I think I've got it right:

When people say 'How do you think about what to write about in the poems every week?'  I say, 'Well, I have to turn it in on Monday, so on Sunday nights I turn the shower to iambic pentameter and it sort of works out that way.'

Iambic pentameter in the shower -not as easy as he makes it sound.

Hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving and that you are looking forward to being with family and friends over the holidays. I love the bustle of's still a season when I stop being a turtle on a log and I become one of those shimmering fish.

Poetry Friday this week is being hosted by Anastasia at Booktalking - head over there to see what other people are sharing. Don't miss the poem by the late Mark Strand over at Diane Mayr's Kurious Kitty.