Friday, April 29, 2011


I wish I knew more about poetry.  I wish I had the composure and capacity to sit and read a volume of poetry, because I imagine that some erudite people do this.  I wish I could sit on my veranda and gaze out at the trees, looking down once and again to savor a phrase, a verse.  The fact is...I'm too manic to ponder for long and most of my quieting-down happens in the moments before sleep or when I am forcefully detained, such as in the dentist's chair yesterday, where I came upon a fabulous idea for a play.

At any rate, there are some poems that stay with me and I return to them countless times for inspiration and pleasure.  Reading Seamus Heaney's The Rain Stick is like having a piece of rich chocolate cake, or whatever food stuff causes fireworks to explode in your mouth.  It's like listening to your favorite music while someone massages your back.  It's a one-stop, all-you-can-eat buffet for the literally-minded. 

A word from it came to me this morning..."sluice."  See how Heaney has paired it with "rush."  Say this over and over; note context in poem; look up sluice at  I promise you won't be disappointed.

Without further ado:

The Rain Stick
Seamus Heaney

Upend the rain stick and what happens next
Is a music that you never would have known
To listen for.  In a cactus stalk

Downpour, sluice-rush, spillage and backwash
Come flowing through.  You stand there like a pipe
Being played by water, you shake it again lightly

And diminuendo runs through all its scales
Like a gutter stopping trickling.  And now here comes
A sprinkle of drops out of the freshened leaves,

Then subtle little wets off grass and daisies;
Then glitter-drizzle, almost-breaths of air.
Upend the stick again.  What happens next

Is undiminished for having happened once,
Twice, ten, a thousand times before.
Who cares if all the music that transpires

Is the fall of grit or dry seeds through a cactus?
You are like a rich man entering heaven
Through the ear of a raindrop.  Listen now again.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Resolutions: Late and Absurd

We’re well into 2011, certainly too late for New Year’s resolutions, but as I avoid work today, I’m dreaming big.  No “lose weight” or “clean the attic” aspirations for me…no, today I’m thinking about all the:

Big Things I Would Do If I Had The a) Ambition and/or b) Time and/or c) Mental Stamina:

  1. Learn to play the guitar, preferably sappy songs of the variety I like to belt out and cry to in the car.

  1. Study Russian. The language, in the original form, with all the crazy symbols that look like they’d make a cool tattoo.  Then use knowledge of Russian to read Tolstoy and tell everyone that I did so.

  1. Get hair weaved with a long, thick, curly black mane.  Toss around on the street, lift from neck when hot.

  1. Become a yoga master.  Not sure what this entails, but I think I could commit a solid hour a day, especially if I’d get a bum you could bounce coins off.

  1. 5.  Build a tree house, complete with Moroccan rugs and a multi-colored beaded entry.  Uncertain whether I get this image from a book about a harem or that Brady Bunch when the girls upgraded their room (or was it Greg’s hippy room?).  Can’t remember.

  1. Google episode of The Brady Bunch where somebody had a cool room

  1. Win the lottery (amendment:  insert Thing number 6a:  buy lottery ticket).  Use fabulous winnings to pay off mortgages on the homes of mother and siblings, so that they will always agree to drive to my house for future holidays.  Forever.

  1. Be very judicious with my shoes.  Throw away most, keeping only those that make me happy.

  1. Learn how to meditate.  Tap into vast, spiritual reserve that must lurk somewhere underneath the constant buzzing sound.  Mustn’t it?

  1.  Travel back in time.  Feel the superhuman energy of youth.  Climb fences, run through fields, etc.  This last one is probably outside the realm of even this fantastical list, but wouldn’t it be fun?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Reading: Better Than Sex!

From the Dutch Daily News today:

"Dutch people rather read a book in bed than have sex, researchers say.  22% would rather read a good book and only 11% prefer sex.

Sleeping is still the most favorite activity in bed with 63%, according to a recent study among 1238 Dutch people.  The bed is the favorite place for reading a book for 44%.  The couch comes in second place with 41%.  Also reading on the toilet, bath, beach and public transport are preferred, but these places are with 2.5% considerably less popular.

The book wins as favorite reading material (68%).  29% of respondents prefer to read a magazine.  20% prefer the newspaper, 14% prefer to dive in the advertising leaflets and 2% indicate that they prefer something else to read.

When asked what the most special place was where people had ever read, there were extraordinary answers. There are people who read on the back of a camel, during working hours or even in the shower."

I don't know any Dutch people, but they seem very practical to me, with sleeping being their preferred in-bed activity and bed being the favorite place to read.  Where else do you have pillows, at the ready, for propping?  So...what the most "special" place you've ever read?  Can anyone top "on the back of a camel?"

Friday, April 8, 2011

Collaboration: A Cautionary Tale

S. wrote a lovely novel about two ordinary middle-aged women, C. and M., who join forces to find the murderer of C.’s oldest son, a feckless yet beloved young man.  S. brought the novel to her writing group, where a few readers suggested that S. inject more humor into the novel, moments of levity despite the dire circumstances.  So S. turned M. into a wise-cracking optimist, rather than the inhibited widow she once was, and she cut the whole bit about M.’s love of chamber music and the purchase of an antique violin and well, even the part at the end where M. hesitantly enters her first violin lesson, trembling with desire.  M. became someone who laughed too loudly and fried bacon, and always had a smart remark for C.  Another aspiring writer in S.’s group thought that more should be known about the crime.  “It didn’t pull me in,” he claimed.  So despite the fact that the whole novel hung on the solving of this murder, and what the ramifications would mean to the lives of C. and M. and all the presumptions they had about this son, despite this, S. wrote in a bit about the murderer and the drug situation that escalated into violence.  Which meant that she had to amend later sections, of course.

A friend of S.’s had another friend who had published a instructional book about herb gardens, and she introduced S. to the editor of the small publisher who had printed it.  This man, Mr. H., thought that the novel needed a bit more sex, and although he crossed and uncrossed his legs in a disturbing manner as he relayed this, S. thought that perhaps he knew best.  Originally, M. was a widow and C. was long-divorced and bitter on men, but S. wrote in a new character, a neighbor, G., and she had him flirting with M. at her mailbox and admiring the aromas of her bacon. 

“A journey is what you need,” S.’s mother told her after reading the novel.  “These women need to get out of town, experience something.  Wouldn’t hurt to have a younger man on the scene, something to look at.”  S. patiently told her mother that the solving of the crime was the thing that had these women uprooted from their normal lives, but S.’s mother just gazed out the window, past her own herb garden, out to Route 14.

In the end, S. was lucky enough to meet with a literary agent, another referral from someone in her writing group.  The agent thought that C. and M. really should act more their age, that cavorting with young men and leaving their responsibilities for a joyride was probably something that wouldn’t resonate with middle-aged women, the audience for whom S. should be writing, he said, since she herself appeared to be middle-aged and quite ordinary.  S. sat in his sunlit office, smiling to herself as she recalled the murder scene as she had originally written it, and excitedly waited for him to stop talking so she could return home and fix her book.
"As soon as we express something, we devalue it strangely. We believe ourselves to have dived down into the depths of the abyss, and when we once again reach the surface, the drops of water on our pale fingertips no longer resemble the ocean from which they came...Nevertheless, the treasure shimmers in the darkness unchanged." ---Franz Kafka