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{April 19, 2015}   Dead Poets Make Great Friends

Jane Kenyon

My Latest Library Books

Dead poets make great friends; they let you know they understand, and they don’t reject you or make you feel untalented like live ones do.

Whose quote is that? My own.

After I read Donald Hall’s essays, the next thing on my library list became Jane Kenyon, A Literary Life by John H. Timmerman and Jane Kenyon Collected Poems., because I am fascinated by poet/poet relationships (e.g. Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath). For those who don’t know, She was the wife of Donald Hall and she died tragically at the age of 47 from leukemia.

Although I had heard of Jane Kenyon, I had not sat down and done a concentrated reading of her poetry. WOW…She became a favorite in seconds flat. It could be that reading about someone’s life at the same time as reading their poetry makes for a feeling of closeness that reading the poetry alone does not give. Or maybe having read about her from her husband’s point of view first also adds to the feeling that she is someone I know, a friend that I haven’t seen in a long time.

I put the books down and immediately wrote three poems in my notebook. Hallelujah!

This one was not the best of the three, but it goes with this post. Copying it fresh off the notebook page without editing here reveals my immediate spontaneous feelings without polishing:

TEA WITH JANE KENYON

I look up from a book of your poems

expecting to see your face in an opposite chair,

your cup paused halfway,

like it is floating in the air.

Your words hang in the air too

like an echo, though your mouth doesn’t move.

You look me in the eyes

with first a question, then recognition;

we share a smile, the same smile,

like looking in a mirror.

But I blink and focus

and my opposite space is empty.

I think if I say out loud,
“My grandmother was a Methodist too…

and “she liked to listen to Teleevangelists…”

and “I know that yearning — the need to rebel

against rules instilled by someone you loved…”

Then I hope you’ll be interested enough to walk

back into the empty space and sit down

and talk awhile

and I would not be alone

with my demanding white paper and pen,

a strict teacher forcing me

to write something

over and over

until I learn my lesson

and get it right.

Susan Merrifield Desrocher

But now I leave you with a unpublished nugget from Jane’s college years, quoted in Timmerman’s book:

Today

I got

no mail.

What is it about the world that it wants

my cubby hole

kept in poverty.

My mailbox is bloated with emptiness

its opening —

an orifice

waiting for a word.

Hey.

Occupant,

That’s me.

And, my lesson to learn, this poem…

The Clothes Pin

How much better it is

to carry wood to the fire

than to moan about your life.

How much better

to throw the garbage

into the compost, or to pin the clean

sheet on the line

with a gray-brown wooden clothes pin!

Discover her or rediscover her during National Poetry Month…you won’t regret it! And maybe. like me, you’ll feel like you have found a new friend. 🙂




We are halfway through National Poetry Month and I haven’t posted a poem. Shame on me!

I decided to post one of my own today and share someone else’s before month end! Enjoy…

Clock made of Wood

Roy’s Clock

 

REMEMBERING ROY

On my wall, the clock Roy made

loses time every day, but I dutifully reset it.

I keep it for the picture of my grandmother

he varnished onto the pine wood tree slice

that reminds me of a knotty pine cabin

in the mountains of California she once owned,

a string to a memory of a summer visit there that made me soar with dreams and happiness.

I keep it to remind me of him.

The clock of Roy’s heart stopped long ago

in a tragic way:

he was run over by his own car

as he tried to stop it from rolling down a hill.

Our possessions sometimes betray us;

our death can be entwined with them,

just as our life is entwined with them,

like ivy running wild,

over time crumbling the very bricks

it is attached to.

Roy, maybe you knew this;

you thought you could bypass it

by giving away your dreams:

the bricks of your life repurposed.

I remember the day you turned us loose

in your garage of clocks;

you told us to take what we wanted.

After their crafting was done

and your time was spent,

they no longer affirmed your life

or made money to live on,

just collected dust.

With bitter generosity you let them go

 to pseudo grandkids,

like released birds you had once loved,

with hopes they would soar

somewhere you couldn’t.

Roy, I don’t even know where you are buried,

but across the country your clocks tick in small apartments,

twigs in the nests of lonely people;

where will they go from here?




Donald Hall, "Essays After Eighty"

Donald Hall’s latest book

Why would a fifty-something-year-old woman relate to the essays of an eighty-something-year-old man? Does that say something about him, about me, or both of us? This is not really a review, but a review of sorts; my stream-of-consciousness emotional reaction to his latest book. In all reality, just what a writer really wants…a confirmation of a connection made, not just an intellectual criticism of the writing.

I have always liked Donald Hall’s poetry, and when I read John Freeman‘s well-written interview with him in Poets and Writers (Nov/Dec edition) and read the excerpts from the book, Essays After Eighty, I was burning to read it. So off to the library I went.

Sitting down to read the first essay “Out the Window,” (without a window in sight) I can see what he sees — the old barn, the snow falling, the birds at the feeder — because he describes his view in vivid language, in a poet’s way. But I also feel what he feels — the isolation of New Hampshire in winter (having just been through the worst winter in my life in MA), feeling unable to do what used to be easily accomplished, and feeling abandoned by contemporaries and left to spend time with the ghosts of old ancestors (those to be joined sooner rather than later). His writing just seems to add credence to what I already know…why? Because my best friend right now is my mother, who is 86. I talk to her daily. She watches out the window when she can and has dreams of cooking and cleaning and doing things she can do now only with difficulty, so I understand the mindset and the feelings. That, and the fact that timing and circumstances took me out of challenging but ultimately satisfying work too young; I have felt abandoned by a changed world that no longer values my skills and my abilities ($9 to $10 an hour to proofread…really?), and no longer believes in my beliefs.

Donald Hall describes old age and aging as “…alien, and old people are a separate form of life. They have green skin, with two heads that sprout antennae…If we forget for a moment that we are old, we are reminded when we try to stand up, or when we encounter someone young, who appears to observe green skin, extra heads, and protuberances.”

And though I have some decades to go before I officially get to his age, I feel the separateness as he describes, as if I went to sleep and woke up on a planet I didn’t recognize, where I was suddenly an outcast, where suddenly people could see my antennae.

Well, that is easily rectified you might think: study the creatures of this new world and remake yourself to be like them. Hide those antennae or — better yet — cut them off. But I can’t do it, ugly as they seem to be, all of my beauty is there. And all the positive personal development books I read tell me to value them. They represent that last crumb of hope I still possess that someday another alien will show up at my door with their own antennae displayed in all their glory, smile, and come in and sit down for tea. Maybe that being will tell me of a colony of others like us, which still exists, and that my isolation has kept me from finding. And we will set out together, where the warm sun and exercise will make me feel 50 again. The gears of my mind will squeak and groan, at first reluctant with pain, but begin to chip off the rust and neglect, and then revel in something too long lost and left behind. But I digress…as old people do.

The book also contains an essay entitled “A Yeti in the District.” Each of the essays in the book ends with Hall’s tongue in cheek, a wry twist on what has come before. This one made me smile from ear to ear. Its truth reflected in my librarian’s reaction to my checking out of the book.

Mr Hall reminisces about trips he made to Washington DC over the years, including the year he was Poet Laureate, and the most recent trip to receive a National Medal of the Arts from President Obama. Let me be clear: the author is “scruffy” in his advanced years, but it doesn’t bother me (he looks much like my own brother!) In the “Yeti” essay, the author writes of the picture published in his local paper of him receiving the Medal. “Top of the first page was a photograph of the President looming over me, hanging the medal around my neck. My mouth is open in life’s widest smile as I confront the neatly dressed Obama in my sports coat and khakis, with my frizzy hair and reckless beard.”

He goes on to tell of the picture then being picked up by a blogger for the Washington Post named Alexandra Petri. “She identified me, called me a poet, and assured her audience that I was not a yeti. She announced a contest for a caption.” But of course in this age of Internet bullying, the picture brought in entry after entry “…gleeful with ridicule. Then there were reactions. I was praised and Ms. Petri was scolded. I was defended as a poet, and flattered despite my appearance.” He ends the essay with this: “…With our increasing longevity, Ms. Petri should live to be a hundred. May she grow a beard.”

Now back to my librarian. She handed me the book and said, “That’s quite the cover art,” with what I sensed as some distaste (and perhaps a little insult to me for wanting to read it??) I said, “well, yes, it is a bit of a close-up.” I chuckled to release the sense of “judgment(?)” I felt. And she went on, “Yes, I wouldn’t want to put that on my bedside table.” (I hadn’t read the book yet or I would have questioned whether she knew Ms. Petri?). This time I didn’t answer. And she still went on, “Yes, I wouldn’t want to put it on my bedside table because I would feel like someone was watching me.” I then made a judgment on her in return…You are a librarian and you are passing judgment on a Poet Laureate and Medal of the Arts winner???? But again, I digress.

Bottom line is that I enjoyed the book because I enjoy Donald Hall’s writing, his irreverence, and his sense of humor. I’m glad that after eighty he is still writing. And I hope there are plenty of people who won’t judge a book by its cover!



et cetera
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