Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added) is the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers. --John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Until later--

It's a good time to be quiet and dream, though I haven't left yet--not quite. The storm is almost behind us, though the sleet and ice and rain have gone on too long.

Last week a village boy died in an accident, and more than a third of our population turned out for the funeral. This week brought the sorrow at Blacksburg. I've been surprised to find that far-flung friends of mine knew some among the murdered. The world's web is so large, so small.

And we humans are such fragile little flies, dancing our dance in the streaming sunshine and the starlight that comes so far to be with us. How tragic to lose teachers in their prime, to lose our beautiful young women and men--even the murderer, a boy wandering in a maze of evil. He let go of Hawthorne's "magnetic chain of humanity."

So let's kiss our children, and hold fast to the "magnetic chain." How often that phrase comes to mind. Dear Hawthorne, what a reservoir of grief and spirit and beauty you are!

I go off to my fishing soon. Wish me luck, will you? The shining pools at Yaddo are quiet and still. Perhaps I'll come home with silver minnows, or a fish like a metal rapier, or a bouncing great whale...

I won't be posting again until I return. Perhaps spring will come by then. Pax tecum.

***
Here's something small and old, but a favorite lyric of mine--from somewhere in medieval England:

Westron wind, when wilt thou blow,
The small rain down can rain?
Christ, if my love were in my arms
And I in my bed again!

***

Circles of water courtesy of Hilde Vanstraelen of Hasselt, Belgium and www.sxc.hu/.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Marly is Snowed Out

Locals: yes, tonight's talk at the Huntington Memorial Library in Oneonta has been hailed-, sleeted-, and now snowed-out. Nestle by the fire and hope those cabled-with-ice power lines don't fall! The event will be rescheduled for September or October. Snowflake by N.

Friday, April 13, 2007

The Pot Boy Spouts Off

THE TEA COSY

See the prior post for an introduction to one of the important issues of our time, having to do with proper headgear, general happiness, and decorum. Questions relating to this matter are answered here.

The Pot Boy Replies to Questions

annie said...
I don't have a tea cozy. :( Is there anything else I can use instead?

The Pot Boy: Sadly, no. After examining your very interesting and attractive pictures, I suggest that you of all people need a cozy/cosy in the house. You find yourself shivering amid all that shaved-off hair? Go for the cozy/cosy. Your elegant head feel all prickly and sharp with tiny pieces of hair? Drive that pate into the welcoming expanse of a cozy/cosy. Come in from a Savannah ice storm? Make a pot of tea; install cozy/cosy; take warmed cozy/cosy and shove onto head. Presto! Life is Georgia all over again.

zephyr said...
(OK here i am againwithout "blog speak" shorthand for"giggling happily while posting"anyway)i do not own a tea cozyhowever, the Easter Bunny gave me the most delightful chapeau yesterdaymade from a floral fabric that looks very much like it could be a tea cozydoes that count?because i think you have explained the slightly curious, yet welcome wave of silliness and general feeling of well being that i felt while modeling it around the house yesterday. i confess attributed the feeling to the lovely chocolate egg i was eating at the same time, but i'm now thinking it could very well have been my new tea-cozy-like chapeau. goshnow i'm wondering what marvels i might experience with an actual tea cozy...?oops...!maybe it was actually a tea cozy EB left in my basket...?

The Pot Boy: The unusual elevation of spirits suggests that this chapeau may have been made by an experienced maker of tea cosies/cozies (Will someone please solve this important question of spelling?) She (it is more likely a she than a he, I suspect, the great tradition of millinery having been primarily in the female line) may have inadvertently talked it into being a cosy/cozy. It is well known that milliners talk to their hats, a tendency immortalized in Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones.

Keeper of the Snails said...
Dear Pot Boy,
As a long-time keeper of snails I am thinking of branching out and acquiring some peacocks. I was wondering if you have any valuable advice in this regard. Do you think peacocks would be more troublesome than snails, for instance, and do you have any tips for sprucing up peahens who in comparison always seem to be so very dowdy.

The Pot Boy: It will not matter if the peacocks are more troublesome than snails, because soon after they arrive you will have no more snails--hence the level of trouble will be about the same. You will then have to change your blog to "Keeper of the Peas" or "Keeper of Peacocks & Dowdy Peahens" or "Something of That Sort."

However, you may find the tiny screams of impaled snails to be exquisitely painful.

The peahen is certainly a plain little tea cup next to the grand and glimmering Aurene vase stuffed with Himalayan blue poppies that is the peacock. If it is the hen's spirits you are concerned about, I recommend starting the decorating with the ankles. Those little peahen heads are quite often bobbing about at the ankle level, and a few inexpensive ankle bracelets ought to jazz up self-respect and keep the peahen pleased with her loveliness.

Jan said...
I inherited several tea cosies when I cleared out an aunt's house; I gave them to Oxfam. Now I am regretting this.

The Pot Boy: I call this extraordinary generosity to Oxfam. I must drop them a line that an English tutor is in line for a medal (tea cosy rampant upon crossed eyes.)

Susangalique said...
Does the Pot Boy think its ok to write publicly about killing a cricket in the middle of the night? or does it make one sound like a murderous beast? I would as soon hear the beating of pots than a lone cricket.

The Pot Boy: Given your current status as hapless student being boiled in the oil of exams, I think we may forgive much. But the beating of pots is as music to a Pot Boy's ears!

zephyr said...
Dear Pot Boy, i am here to report that the floral topper left by EB in my basket on Sunday fits the 6 cup "Brown Betty" (tho ours is cobalt blue Betty) teapot of the house just fine. And, i must add, it is lined, making it quite cosy (and cozy), in my humble estimation. Also, some more information for you to consider as you meditate on this matter:the consensus of the household is, after i have modeled it about, that i should refrain from wearing EB's gift out and about around town. Further deliberation and experimentation reveals that it looks quite nice on the counter and table top...so, it seems to me that it could be seriously considered, even though it does not fit the exact domed profile of the ideal cosy. Perhaps there needs to be a period of time where its role is clearly defined, a prescribed period of actually cosy-ing the teapot before it can fulfill its cosy role?

The Pot Boy: This case grows curiouser and curiouser. I consider my first opinion to me a lucky hit, and I suggest that the "floral topper" is, indeed, of confused identity. This is rather like the trendy, longwinded academic topic of gender identity but more easily mastered. My suggestion is that you place said floral topper upon the cobalt blue Brown Betty at least once a day for a week, making sure the pot is quite hot and full of some classic tea (no herbal muck, no tea with "tinctures" of apricot and so on. (Brown Betty is quite fond of pouring out Earl Grey.)

The suggestion that the floral topper not be worn "out and about" is a quite a hint, isn't it?

Consider how very few people actually choose to wear a cosy/cozy (Somebody! Please! Spelling!) "out and about," and that of those, a good many end up in the looney bin. *

*The Office of Palace P. C. respectfully reminds the pot boy that "looney bin" is not on the acceptable list "out and about" in the world.**

**The Pot Boy respectfully tells The Officers of Palace P. C. to soak their heads in an over-sized Dansk teapot.***

***The Office of Palace P. C.: Tsk.

jarvenpa said...
Oh, gosh. Now I am wishing that I had my grandmother's Brown Betty teapot (it was a true Brown one, brought over from England by my grandfather after the war...the first world war, that would be). But I never ever have had a tea cozy. Nor, for that matter, have I hats, except one with purple fuzz crocheted for me by a friend. It looks something like a demented, wrongly colored flower and stands out from my head.Perhaps that will work?And does the Pot Boy do house calls? (or bookstore calls?). I notice the little dust mice are growing into large rabbit size clumps.

The Pot Boy: Alas, my specialty is large, encrusted pots. I am also willing to take on scullery maids.

I wish you had that Brown Betty. And I wish she could be properly clothed in a generous English chintz cosy/cozy. (Sigh. Which?) I trust that you do have a teapot. And since you live in a cabin torn open by a large bear, I believe that any teapot wild enough to reside in such a spot will be willing to wear a demented purple flower for a cosy/cozy. This attire appears to fall into the category of "camping out."

* * *

Thank you, dear visitors, for helping me fulfill by dream of being a Palace Advice Columnist. While I am devoted to the pots, there is more to life than pots. There are scullery maids, and there are other delights.

***
The photograph at top is courtesy of www.sxc.hu and Piotr Bizior of Poland. He took this picture of "tea gardens in India, Munnar, Kerala State." Click the image for a big view!
***

Monday, April 09, 2007

The Pot Boy Meditates on the Tea Cosy

Nobody has asked me for a smidge of advice in months—aside from the Alabamian Maid, who asked me for hat advice. Mine was sterling, as she would attest. This lack of interest from the lovelorn, the irate, and the generally upset is rather heartbreaking to a Pot Boy and would-be Palace Advice Columnist. So I shall offer some advice, gratis: for first-rate mental health, be sure to frequently slap a tea cosy on your head.

Wearing a tea cosy on the head is a harmless, pleasant little activity. I am surprised to find how many of my acquaintance have sported a tea cosy. It lends most a sort of Comic Bishop appearance. A scullery maid with the cosy set at a rakish angle is irresistible. Small children like to don a cosy, grab a poker, and strike a martial attitude.

There’s a Billy Connolly quote that deserves to be a pop-up, I see it so often: “Never trust a man who, when left alone with a tea cosy, doesn’t try it on.” Although a comedian, he must have some wisdom, because I find that there’s truth in that line. Is it his, or did he pilfer it from some statesman or oracle, I wonder?

It occurs to me that if Attorney Clendon—remember him?—had worn a tea cosy on his head while reading that Bilge Karasu novel, Night, he might not have vanished into the shadows. Perhaps he will, feeling about in the dark, find his fingers closing on a cosy. Perhaps it will serve as a sort of domestic life preserver and buoy him up.

Many claim that the cosy that is used as an occasional, spur-of-the-moment garment must be one of those hand-knitted or crocheted cosies that look like woollen hats. This is entirely false. The proper tea cosy attire is the traditional ‘dome’ cosy.

On my head is a grand dome cosy in orange, with blue and red polkadots. The interior is stained and ringed, and looks rather like cloth once stuffed in a mummy’s cranial cavity. In it I am grand and playful, ancient and boyish, wise and silly, an answerer of questions too deep for my understanding.

***
Update: How satisfying to immediately get a question about proper attire, and another on peahens! I look forward to more questions, and when I have a sufficiency, I shall scrub the pots in great meditative circles and then reply.

***

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Art & Tenebrae

As the usual martyrdoms have been fearsome of late—much of Yeats’s “rough beast,” much torture and death, the beheading of three young girls walking through a cocoa plantation on their way to school, and the heartbreaking scene of children rising up to slaughter their teacher and then burn her pulp of a body because she had touched a satchel containing a book belonging to another religion—I call it good to reflect on the inheritance passed to us by our ancestors.

For centuries past, artists in the West (and often elsewhere) created out of a Judao-Christian landscape. Not so long ago, Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote, “I believe there is nothing lovelier, deeper, more sympathetic, and more perfect than the Savior; there is in the world only one figure of absolute beauty: Christ.” A dominant Christian worldview held that, despite the frail fabric of human nature, good and evil could be discerned and brokenness in the world redeemed and healed. For many artists in ‘developed’ countries, that lens for accurate seeing and restoration has been lost.

Every artist and lover of art ought to think about these things. Does one perform a metanoia, and turn one’s face away from trends and toward the handed-down vision of the timeless? Does one build an entirely different worldview? Or does one simply slide on into the gulfs of not-quite-thinking, never really being conscious of having a worldview at all? The last of these is a mushy state, and a shadowy destroyer of art and culture, quite prevalent in the West.

Me, I’m still thinking about the words of Tenebrae that stream forth in the darkness, closing with shivers of thunder. Afterward comes silence that waits on the footsteps of beauty.

***
The image of shadowy forms passing in front of an Easter bonfire were captured by Radu Lucian of Bucharest, Romania, and are used courtesy of the photographer and www.sxc.hu.

***

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Ekphrasis + SFWA Glory + Reply to Zephyr

1. Qarrtsiluni: Ekphrasis
Update:
April 3rd

Laura Murphy Frankstone and I have a linkage of image and poem at Qarrtsiluni. Other poems of mine are coming out or forthcoming in Books & Culture, The Raintown Review, Electric Velocipede, etc., but this one is special because it's yoked with one of Laura's pictures. You can expand the picture, and there's a place for comments. As a new formal poem, this one's probably due for tweaking down the line... (To the left is a sketch from one of Laura's notebooks, a picture of cardoons in her front garden.)

2. President of FSWA
Update for the confused:
Yes, this was April fooling--part of a group hoax.

This morning I woke up to two grackles in the dryer hose pipe, fluttering and madly grackling. In fright, my hair stood on end and began to burn. What surprise to find that the birds' remarks, once decoded, were a nomination to head SFWA. Naturally, I felt flattered. However, I did not grasp this mystic injunction because, quite frankly, I am Out Of It. I was not familiar with these letters. After much questioning, I find that these impetuous, noisy birds meant for me to head up the Small Furry Wombats of America.
*
This has caused me considerable confusion, since wombats are not native to this continent. Weasels, yes. I refuse to be president of Weasels. I have known many a weasel entirely too well, and if elected to a confederation of Small Furry Weasels, I will not serve. However, wombats are endearing, at least from the distance between the States and Australia. Gladly will I run, and gladly will I serve. I imagine there are three or four wombat pets lolling about on the Southern beaches, and a few more resident in zoos, but there shouldn't be much to it except the honor. Thank you. Our ensign will be a Wombat Rampant Upon Crossed Grackle Feathers. I understand that I have the complete support of the grackles, who have now laid an egg in the dryer pipe.

Update: My suspicions were raised to the level of my still up-ended hair by some careless birdwords. The grackles, after I threatened to dry a sopping load of laundry, admitted that they had been sent by an Evil Monkey and his henchman Vandermeerkat, in order to scuttle my nomination elsewhere. Evidently the Monkey has designs on SAWF as a steppingstone to world domination, and has a messenger army of grackles, bluejays, and escaped budgies to do his bidding.

3. Reply to a zephyr

The high heaps of crystals on my two cottage garden beds have abruptly melted away, and little crowds have taken their place--pale blue crocuses, crocuses white on the inside and purple on the outside, sunny aconite, and snowdrops. Close by, the snow is deep; what bravery in the tiny things, to begin blooming while deep in their crystal hills.
*
Now is the time for mirth,

Nor cheek, or tongue be dumbe:

For with the flowrie earth

The golden pomp is come.

--from Robert Herrick, To live merrily, and to trust to Good Verses

Zephyr left me--and you--a request after that last startling post--startling and heartening that a love note to poetry could elicit so many comments. Here she is:
...so, here's my question
for you and others:
what poem or picture
do you keep in your head
to keep the soul eaters at bay
while taxing, ferrying amidst stupid drivers,
herding dust bunnies when you'd rather be writing poems....etc?

Yesterday was the sort of day she describes; I had finished the taxes, but had to take children to lessons, did a major amount of housecleaning, and performed as a Saturday Mama must. In between, I sat down and read, in various snips of time, some poems by Andrew Marvell, Robert Herrick, and Hugh MacDiarmid.

Mean while the Mind, from pleasure less
Withdraws into its happiness:
The Mind, that Ocean where each kind
Does streight its own resemblance find;
Yet it creates, transcending these,
Far other world, and other Seas;
Annihilating all that's made
To a green Thought in a green Shade.
--Marvell, The Garden

All is lithogenesis--or lochia,
Carpolite fruit of the forbidden tree,
Stones blacker than any in the Caaba,
Cream-coloured caen-stone, chatoyant pieces...
--MacDiarmid, On a Raised Beach

I also read "A Blue Tale" and two other stories by the young Marguerite Duras, translated by Alberto Manguel. The "blue" story is more like poetry than many a poem: "They had to crawl on their knees into the cave, which opened to the world through a narrow mouth with cracked lips. But its deep throat was unexpectedly spacious, and once their eyes had befriended the darkness[that phrase is a bit weak, isn't it?], they discovered everywhere fragments of sky between the fissures of the rocks. A pristine lake occupied the center of the underground chamber. When the Italian merchant threw in a chip to measure its depth, no sound was heard; instead, bubbles formed on the surface as if a mermaid, suddenly awoken, had breathed out all the air from her blue lungs. The Greek merchant dipped thirsty hands into the water, which colored them up to the wrists like the boiling liquid in a dyer's vat, but he failed to catch the sapphires floating like schools of nautilus on these waters denser than the ocean. Then the young woman undid her long tresses and dipped her hair into the water, catching the sapphires as if in the silky mesh of a dark net."

Zephyr wants to know what comes into my mind when I have "thirsty hands" that reach for "sapphires" in the midst of a too-busy day. I find that there are too many to tell. But the poems that came into my mind yesterday--the ones that floated zephyr-like through, rather than being read--were the lovely "Spring and Fall," by Hopkins, that begins with "Margaret, are you grieving / Over goldengrove unleaving," and Shakespeare's sonnet that begins, "From you have I been absent in the spring, / When proud-pied April dress'd in all his trim / Hath put a spirit of youth in every thing, /That heavy Saturn laugh'd and leap'd with him." Those two are among those that often put in an appearance because I know them well, and I wish that I possessed a whole anthology in my head. I'm going to work on that idea.

One day is easier to master than all days: that one will have to stand for the others.

And she asks about pictures. My house does tend to be a bit picture-heavy. One of my more absurd goals is to obliterate the wallpaper in my office by hanging too many pictures! I have a lot of prints and paintings by friends, some of them people I've "lost" in my many moves. And I've had a passionate love for the works of various painters. Again, it's hard to say, because there are so very many. My favorite fairly-recent art show was the splendid gathering of paintings and fragments of Fra Angelico at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. To think of somebody who can knock socks off a crowd, more than five hundred years after his death! And I did think about a painting or two today: one was "The Sleeping Gypsy," by Rousseau. Growing up, I saw a reproduction of that one often, because one hung in my mother's office at the university library. Another one that drifted by was Friedrich's oil of a procession of monks winding through a leafless oak forest, toward the ruins of an abbey. When I went to MOMA last year, I found that so many painters I loved in childhood held up for me. (But I went through the traveling show of Munch paintings and found that he had lessened in his impact--and was not the same for me as he was when I saw a Munch show in London, years ago.) I suppose others may have slipped through my mind today, but those I recall.

So I didn't quite answer the question.

I answered it for only one day, and Zephyr asked for all days. But perhaps you can answer that question, asked of us all, better than I can...

***
Wombat is courtesy of www.sxc.hu and wombat fan Xavier Lukins of Paris. The photograph of aconites and snowdrops comes from www.sxc.hu and Helen Humphrey of Lincolnshire, England. Those bloomed at Belton House.
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