Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Taking turns

For years, I thought the poet Wallace Stevens was one of my favorite all around great guys. But then somewhere down the line, I found I had been confusing his verse with John Ashbery’s.

Well, never mind. Stevens is still one of my heroes, because he served both the muse of poesy and insurance. By day, he was a lawyer for Hartford Accident and Indemnity.

That might not seem such a big deal to you, especially if you can tee off both the left and right side of your brain. But that’s not the way I swing. In my little mind, shifting from linear to creative is like turning the Titanic, except right turns are relatively easy. On a turn to the left I have to dive into the drink and rescue stuff that, when the sun is shining, I evidently jettison with mad abandon.

Normally, I have freelance writing jobs; but right now, I’m working in Steven’s day. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not complaining; almost anything pays better than writing. And I’m working with good people, and blah blah blah. But for the first couple of days I felt faint and dizzy; on the third, when I got home, you could find me spatchcocked to the couch, drooling.

On the fourth day, I grabbed my dormant left brain by the stem and slapped it around. When it finally woke up, it staggered about, flabby, inarticulate, and disoriented. By the fifth day, we found a suit and remembered some of the old language.

Of course, I’ve lost the right side for now – it’s somewhere, singing mournful Elizabethan tunes and sulking. I promised it a great dinner, champagne, and a new roof if it holds out for a month or two. Life goes on, I tell it; with this, and sometimes because of this, life goes on.

Late Echo
BY JOHN ASHBERY

Alone with our madness and favorite flower
We see that there really is nothing left to write about.
Or rather, it is necessary to write about the same old things
In the same way, repeating the same things over and over
For love to continue and be gradually different.

Beehives and ants have to be re-examined eternally
And the color of the day put in
Hundreds of times and varied from summer to winter
For it to get slowed down to the pace of an authentic
Saraband and huddle there, alive and resting.

Only then can the chronic inattention
Of our lives drape itself around us, conciliatory
And with one eye on those long tan plush shadows
That speak so deeply into our unprepared knowledge
Of ourselves, the talking engines of our day.

43 comments:

Virginia said...

Is it possible to only have a right side? I think I dropped my left way back there somewhere.

Good luck , KB. You'll be fine and god your co-wokers are gonna love you sistah.
V

altadenahiker said...

It's just an 8 weeker, Virg, else I wouldn't have taken it. I'm just whining because it's hard.

Desiree said...

Poetry is too damn deep. I fall in every time.
Hold out for the champagne, lady. Maybe there's a tasting in the cards

Tash said...

J. Ashbury is a marvel. Don't believe I've read any of his work.
You are a marvel ... cuz you can write like that about the dull & mundane. And yes, just sitting in a cube for 8 hrs and trying to be productive, let alone being productve is oh so tiring.

Tash said...

...Ashbery...that is.

Tash said...

Off topic but one of my fave's (that I rediscovered and learned the title of at a small resort near Altus, OK where I was on a work trip.)

Tension
By Billy Collins

Never use the word suddenly just to create tension.
-Writing Fiction

Suddenly, you were planting some yellow petunias
outside in the garden,
and suddenly I was in the study
looking up the word oligarchy for the thirty-seventh time.

When suddenly, without warning,
you planted the last petunia in the flat,
and I suddenly closed the dictionary
now that I was reminded of that vile form of governance.

A moment later, we found ourselves
standing suddenly in the kitchen
where you suddenly opened a can of cat food
and I just as suddenly watched you doing that.

I observed a window of leafy activity
and beyond that, a bird perched on the edge
of the stone birdbath
when suddenly you announced you were leaving

to pick up a few things at the market
and I stunned you by impulsively
pointing out that we were getting low on butter
and another case of wine would not be a bad idea.

Who could tell what the next moment would hold?
another drip from the faucet?
another little spasm of the second hand?
Would the painting of a bowl of pears continue

to hang on the wall from that nail?
Would the heavy anthologies remain on the shelves?
Would the stove hold its position?
Suddenly, it was anyone’s guess.

The sun rose ever higher in the sky.
The state capitals remained motionless on the wall map
when suddenly I found myself lying on a couch
where I closed my eyes and without any warning

began to picture the Andes, of all places,
and a path that led over the mountains to another country
with strange customs and eye-catching hats,
each one suddenly fringed with colorful little tassels.

altadenahiker said...

Suddenly, Tash, I don't find that off topic at all. I find it suddenly perfect. Thank you.

Mister Earl said...

Great stuff, Karin and Tash.

You're OK, Karin. After all TS Eliot worked at Lloyd's Bank for a time. And on my shelf, I was reminded by this post, I have a book of poetry, So That It Flower, by Melville Cane, a very successful New York copyright lawyer, who wrote lots of poetry and was somehow related to a friend of our family. He lived almost 101 years, from 1879 to 1980, and among his clients were Sinclair Lewis, Upton Sinclair, William Saroyan, and Thomas Wolfe.

Do you need a lawyer?

Petrea said...

I don't love poetry that strives to be obscure, but I like this stuff. Your contribution, too, Tash. Lovely, lovely.

I know it's silly but the line, "Beehives and ants have to be re-examined eternally" seemed like a line a dog would write. If a dog could write. And even then, would a dog write poetry?

Jean Spitzer said...

A new roof is a very fine thing. Lovely poems.

Shell Sherree said...

A right side like yours would never stray too far from home, KB.

BaysideLife said...

And I'm whining because my health insurance just rose to $1,000 month, the stock market isn't recovering fast enough and now I have to hit the bricks and look for employment once again only to find out that between my last employment and now I seem to have become obsolete.

At least I don't have to worry about abandoning my right brain. It left a while ago.

Pierre said...

You have a gift for writing. To call one gifted can be dangerous. A lot of those folks tend to go off the deep end. So lets just say you're highly talented. What a great right brain. I'm jealous.

Wayne said...

spatchcocked? I won't be able to erase that image anytime soon.

Ken Mac said...

off to the US open as we speak! What a memory you have Karin!

BANJO52 said...

I usually have little or no luck with Ashberry, but I like this one a lot. Where did you find it? I was going to single out a couple of parts I especially like, but there are too many (let’s say the opening line and most of the final stanza).

I doubt if you could kill YOUR right brain if you tried, but I know the feeling you’re talking about. Maybe the workplace doesn’t suffocate creativity unless we let it—by surrendering too many hours, too much energy and thought. But maybe I'm giving too much credit to the notion of self-control.

I'd be interested in more specifics about your work if you care to go into it.

Thanks to you and Ashberry for sending me for a reminder on sarabandes. YouTube comes through again, with Segovia playing, as one example.

Oh yes, one more (comforting?) example--poet William Carlos Williams was an M.D., who routinely went on house calls (I think).

TheChieftess said...

"spatchcocked to the couch, drooling" Such a visual!!!

-K- said...

I told someone once that I can never remember if right brain means creative and left brain logical and she said that proves you're right-brained.

But even now I'm not sure if I have the two confused.

Am I making any sort of sense?

BANJO52 said...

Tash, I agree with AH. The Billy Collins is excellent. Maybe Ashbery tells us what we need to do, and Collins says, "Yes, slow to the pace of a sarabande, but make sure you see the frequent Suddenlys within it."

Also, I must add that "our unprepared knowledge / Of ourselves" is fantastic. "Unprepared." One word. And it might apply as well to each of Collins' Suddenlys. They're unprepared; that's a major reason they're sudden.

Sorry to go on and on. But it's not every day that I'm invited (coerced, really) to re-think two poets I thought I might be finished with. Thank you.

-K- said...

Also, Ashbery's good friend James Schuyler wrote in a much more down-to-earth style:

A gray hush
in which the boxy trucks roll up Second Avenue
into the sky. They're just
going over the hill.
The green leaves of the tulips on my desk
like grass light on flesh,
and a green-copper steeple
and streaks of cloud beginning to glow.
I can't get over
how it all works in together...

("February")

Schyler and Ashbery wrote a novel together, A Nest of Ninnies, which is done entirely in dialogue.

Margaret said...

Mournful tunes? I'm thinking ditties, I'm think bar songs, I'm thinking limericks. You think that because you're not utilizing that part of your brain that it's sulking. I think it's on vacation

Pasadena Adjacent said...

Your having a second act because you have some leftover "left" left.

Living on the wrong side of right; for you a cube, for me, greeter at Wall Mart.

altadenahiker said...

Just so I don't sound ungrateful about this contract, and I'm not, I actually have a very nice office with windows.

This poetry swap and the interpretations have been wonderful. So sudden; I was pleasantly unprepared. We even have our official greeter on board.

(Banjo, yes, I always remember those lines too, so it was easy to find. K, just think: left/linear. And what a great poem. Did not know about the ninnies. And W & C, spatchcocked is my new word for 2010. I am using it often and proudly. It was a present from Marjie.)

TheChieftess said...

I'm right there with you -K- !! Right brain-left brain...isn't it the connecting threads that make the difference???

altadenahiker said...

Aye, C, that's the rub, as a famous switch hitter once said.

TheChieftess said...

Two days ago the Fed Ex delivery guy rang my doorbell so that he could get my signature (I got a new Droid!!!) After a bit of hemming and hawing he asked me if I was related to the new Chief in town...I told him yes and he proceeded to tell me about how he's on his "second career" after retiring from law enforcement in Redding. His wife is a CHP officer in Bishop and the commute from Bishop to Redding was too much...he got to retirement age and decided to make the change...He said he thoroughly enjoys what he's doing now...no stress, don't have to talk anyone out of a weapon or a suicide, and lot's more time to enjoy life...

(if only Verizon would get the iPhone!!!)

altadenahiker said...

Uh, PA, I think that's two votes for walmart greeter.

(Paula, I've been doing fine all along. This is just another gig, but it makes my head hurt.)

Anonymous said...

"Alone with our madness and favorite flower" "Suddenly, you were planting some yellow petunias"

DAYo.

Petrea said...

I've noticed the abundant use of "spatchcock." Looking forward to more fun with this word.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

Wall Mart allows you to say fuck. It's in the employee handbook. I'm hoping to advance to the garden section

Mister Earl said...

@PA Can you say it over the loudspeaker? "Attention WalMart Shoppers: We have some fucking good deals for you today!"

This could sway me to change my retirement-job dreams from FedEx to WalMart.

BANJO52 said...

Here we go again, PA and Earl in another effing competition. I tell you . . .

K, AH's way is much simpler, but if it doesn't work, this did it for me. Right brain controls left side and vice versa. Left-handers are more creative, AND a minority, which is more INTERESTING than the majority. Right-handers are the boring, linear majority, controlled by left brain.

Did I get it right? Remember, I admitted AH's way is simpler. But mine's full of penetrating characterization.

Virginia said...

Forget my aspirations of being the concierge at the Apple Store, I'm headed to Wal Mart!!
V

Petrea said...

I just remember the book, "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain."

altadenahiker said...

Banjo, I know you're a poetry prof and all, but don't you think you're being a little unfair to all the brilliant left-brainers out there? And which are mathematicians? Because if they're left, so are musicians.

Susan Campisi said...

I'm so happy I knew what "spatchcocked" means, having learned it in the Mr. Tomato Head post. Great word.

Office work is a shock to the system, especially after a long hiatus.

Love the Ashbery and Collins poems. My dormant right brain (or is it left?) thanks you and Tash for posting.

Anonymous said...

Right or left? No, the question is: Are they communicating or not.

Btw: Was Shake-speare left-handed?

DAYo.

Virginia said...

Petrea, That is an excellent book!!!
V

pasadenapio said...

For years we had a marketing campaign themed "A city that satisfies both sides of your brain." On one side of an illustration of a brain, there were images of arts and culture; on the other, images of science and technology. It was a big hit.

Rob said...

"Alone with our madness and favorite flower
We see that there really is nothing left to write about.
Or rather, it is necessary to write about the same old things
In the same way, repeating the same things over and over
For love to continue and be gradually different."

Damn, he must have been in the hallmark section looking for a good birthday or some such Hallmark made-up holiday card to send to a family member.

altadenahiker said...

I guess we know who won't get another 3-D sunset Christmas card from me this year.

BANJO52 said...

AH, wow, music and math. I forgot about that. They certainly would seem to be in the same hemisphere. Is it relevant that really, really higher math is closer to philosophy and/or physics than to math (or so I'm told)? Also, of course, it's not either-or; maybe that figures in.

Bec said...

One of my favorite lines from Wallace Stevens (in "The Necessary Angel: Essays on Reality and the Imagination") is when he says that imagination " always makes use of the familiar to produce the unfamiliar." With a 3 year old, I have a front row seat every day to the imagination!