29 April 2010

It bears repeating

This is one of the very first poems I discovered, when I discovered poetry; at that time I knew nothing of villanelles, or indeed, of Theodore Roethke, although he was born in Saginaw, Michigan – and don't you think, at the very least, that schools could teach kids the significant poets of their own state? Good god, when I think of the times these words have consoled me, and given me courage. Why do we rob our children of these voices? Why do we rob ourselves?

by Theodore Roethke

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me; so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

23 April 2010

Writers Myth No.217: Writing is Interesting!

I know, I haven't been posting. If you're blogging, you're not writing, and vice versa.

Writing is not an inherently interesting activity. Want to know what writing looks like? It looks something like this: a pen and a notebook. A hand, moving that pen across the page. The ink from the pen, filling up the page with words and phrases. Some of them make sense. Then the hand turning the page, and filling that page too with ink and words. And then again. And again and again.

Alternatively, it occasionally looks like typing.*

Regrettably, I suspect that it does not much resemble fishing but it feels the way I imagine fishing must feel – long periods of biding time, then a bite and a pull and a reeling in, until all of a sudden there's a slippery, silvery creature gasping for breath on the bottom of your boat and you have to decide: do I keep it, or throw it back in?

*cf. Truman Capote on Jack Kerouac: "That's not writing, that's typing."

17 April 2010

The museum that time forgot

We visited the African Musuem yesterday (official title: The Royal Museum for Central Africa). I love that place. It's old-fashioned, full of diaramas with type-written cards and no electronic interaction, and heavy wood cases of specimens. I spent a lot of time in the fish room,


But there are far too many closed corridors...

.... where surely so much else could be displayed. (Although yes, these empty wings add to the ambiance.)

Stuffed baby lion, anyone?

I keep hearing rumours of renovation (or innovation) but I hope they are not true. I love this place in all of its early-1900s era splendor.

12 April 2010

You come across one sometimes

You come across a one sometimes

In the middle of a journal entry

Write three pages of drivel

And a little nugget pops-


Poems never pop

They seep to the surface

They slither in slow motion

If you have the wit to

Pick it up quietly and place it

Carefully on a page

It may take

Spread a little over the lines.

Rush it or

Try too hard

Like a dream it disappears

Back where it came from.

Leaving you feeling cheated.

Don’t listen well enough

For the poems these days

Miss most of them.

They don’t care, they don’t need you

But they can make a day-

Or even two-

Like nothing else, if you find one.

– Where would you find a poem ? by Loretta Fahy (Thank you Loretta for letting me post this!)

07 April 2010

In which I have a realization, probably later than most people

I was reading the dedication to a book this morning when I realized: we're all going to die at some point and there's nothing we can do about it. The book was by Deborah Tannen about communication between mothers and daughters. She dedicated it to her mother, who had died while she wrote the book. The dedication went something like this (I'm doing this from memory): "For my mother, born Dina Rosin, May 12, 1911 in Minsk, died Dorothy Tannen, July 23, 2004." The first thing that struck me was the date, July 23 – Helsinki's birthday. But then came the other: she was born, then she died. It wasn't just a range of dates, the numbers 1911-2004, but the verbs: born, died. There's no getting around it, is there? No matter what happened to this woman, the things she went through, born Dina in Minsk, to get to Dorothy in America, at the end of the day, she died. There was nothing she could do about it, there is nothing we can do about it. We don't know how or when it will happen, and we live with this fact every day. Well, mostly, I think we ignore it. And maybe that's the only way to live, because if you think about it too much (the way I am doing now), you'll do your head in. But this seems incredible to me, today, the way it never has before, that we can go about ignoring or forgetting this particular fact of life.

05 April 2010

Poetry in the Making, So what do you think, Heaven?, and Frozen bagels are so not "Bagels!"

I am working my way through Ted Hughes's book, Poetry in the Making, and trying not to want to go to Habitat and buy new sheets, as I made the mistake of going there the other day and saw some lovely robin's egg blue ones. Actually now I am NOT going to buy them, I have now officially determined this, as I just searched for an image and found habitat.co.uk, which is on-line-order friendly and has tons more stuff than the store here in Brussels. Now I am thoroughly disgusted with Habitat Belgium, and will get my fix from the UK thank you very much. I don't see how commerce survives in this country sometimes, I really don't. You can only buy so many croissants.

And speaking of breakfast foods, the other thing that pisses me off here is the "Bagels!". More and more often, I see signs featuring "Bagels!" at little eateries and cafés, so I get all excited until I go in and discover that the "Bagels!" are frozen. Don't they understand? It's so not really "Bagels!".

But Ted is good, Ted's a poetry god, and his little "handbook for writing and teaching"

sorry the image is crap

is really the first thing anyone should look at if they're thinking about writing poetry. I've jotted down several quotes in my journal but I don't think they'll mean very much out of context to anyone else, so instead I'll leave you with a quote from Lorrie Moore's story "Dance in America", from her collection Birds of America. I had lost faith in Moore a little after reading her latest collection Like Life; the impression I was left with, to be honest, is that those stories were written by someone who's just a little too hung up about living in Wisconsin. As though she had to prove something to the world because she lives in the mid-West, or more precisely, doesn't live in New York City. But her back catalogue revived my opinion -- Self-Help in particular. Birds was published in 1998 and feels a little dated, when I read it now, but when you find a quote that you're moved to write down, well, that's pretty significant, no matter when the piece was published. So here's the quote – the narrator of the story is talking about dancing, what she calls the "dancing body":

This is how we offer ourselves, enter heaven, enter speaking: we say with motion, in space, This is what life's done so far down here; this is all and what and everything it's managed – this body, these bodies, that body – so what do you think, Heaven? What do you fucking think?

OK now, back to the grindstone....

02 April 2010

File under: wow, maybe what I do as a mother is worth something after all

Catching up with my Reader, I found the following in a post by Suzette from Shooting Stars:

The other day my teenage son came home from school with this story: “So I was in my Financial Literacy class, and our teacher had us each tell what our parents did. I said my dad is a pilot and flies all over the world. Everyone thought it was neat. Then my teacher asked what my mom did. I said my mom is a writer, which is alright, but every morning she gets up and makes me and my sisters a hot breakfast before school. Kids were like, 'Your mom makes breakfast every morning?' And I was like, 'Yeah. Every single morning.' And everyone thought that was the neatest thing of all.”


01 April 2010

My life in a bowl, continued

It was a short week this week, plus, I made the major error of trying to avoid eating pasta and ended up eating emmenthal cheese with mustard, tomato, and mixed sprouts on baguette for two days (and was so hungry, I forgot to photograph it). However Monday was leftover blanquette de veau*, which I managed to reheat in the microwave without curdling the broth, but no one at home was as thrilled with the dish as I was, so we may not be seeing it again soon.

* I used, more or less, the NY Times recipe linked to, with the following alterations: added an onion studded with 3-4 cloves in the initial step; didn't have pearl onions so just skipped them; used crème fraiche instead of the cream at the end and A LOT LESS OF IT. It is delicious, no matter what Lichfield says about cloves.