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:

  1. 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

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

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

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  4. 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.

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  5. 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.

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

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  7. 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?

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  8. 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?

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

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

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  11. 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.

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  12. 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.

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

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

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  15. 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).

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

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  17. 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?

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  18. 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.

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  19. 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.

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  20. 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

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  21. 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.

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  22. 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.)

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

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

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  25. 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!!!)

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  26. 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.)

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

    DAYo.

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

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

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  30. @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.

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  31. 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.

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

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

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  34. 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.

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  35. 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.

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

    Btw: Was Shake-speare left-handed?

    DAYo.

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  37. Petrea, That is an excellent book!!!
    V

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  38. 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.

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  39. "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.

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

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  41. 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.

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  42. 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!

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