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

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Appreciation Corner: "Spring Pools," for the season in-between + Stories

SPRING POOLS
I always think that Robert Frost must have been somehow remembering—in some vague, inchoate way—Philip Freneau’s “The Wild Honey-Suckle” when he wrote “Spring Pools.” The form is very close: Freneau ends a six-line tetrameter stanza with a couplet; Frost begins a six-line pentameter stanza with a couplet. Freneau and Frost turn to weak rhymes, expressive of the shivery frailties of flowers, and both poets rhyme flower with power or powers. Freneau closes “The Wild Honey-Suckle" with this: From morning suns and evening dews / At first thy little being came: / If nothing once, you nothing lose, / For when you die you are the same; / The space between, is but an hour, / The frail duration of a flower."

In both poems, the flower is tied to the brevity of life. Powers are opposed to the flower: in one, autumn and the seeing death of nature; in the other, a more surprising move—the onrushing sweep of life. There will be more life, but the flowers and pools will be lost in its great pour:

SPRING POOLS

These pools that, though in forests, still reflect
The total sky almost without defect,
And like the flowers beside them, chill and shiver,
Will like the flowers beside them soon be gone,
And yet not out by any brook or river,
But up by roots to bring dark foliage on.

The trees that have it in their pent-up buds
To darken nature and be summer woods--
Let them think twice before they use their powers
To blot out and drink up and sweep away
These flowery waters and these watery flowers
From snow that melted only yesterday.

The pools and flowers belong to that tenuous time when the Snow Queen’s grip on the land has loosened and the first brave flowers bloom. The simplicity—the tendency toward monosyllables, the parallelism (“And like the flowers beside them”/“Will like the flowers beside them”, “To darken”/“To blot”) the almost “total” lack of flowery ornament—save for the very appropriate use of antimetabole to describe a mirrored scene: “These flowery waters and these watery flowers.” The use of the antimetabole, the repetition of words in transposed order, means that all ends “in balance,” though it is a balance that will soon be gone. The last line reinforces that balance by returning to a regular metrical line.

This is no allegory, and yet we sense our parallels to these small shining pools and tiny flowers and are capable are feeling grief for their passage in a reading of the poem. The unthinking trees whose branches lend “defect” to the reflected sky loom above in dark patterns, their pent-up life about to break from the bough. Their powers will make a fantastic Black Forest of the land; they will annihilate and suck away the delicate life of pool and blossom. The force is over-bearing; they do not merely “blot out” but “blot out and drink up and sweep away.” Any one of these would do, but the heaping up stresses the utter blank and dark to come.

Instead of joining with the greater life of streams, the pools will be strained through roots and not transformed into darkness but lost there. The snows that melted yesterday have assisted the rule of winter, and the forest likewise is a great power. Flower and pool are but ephemeral: “frail duration.” Already ruffled by chill breezes, they will yield to the dark forces of death and destruction, their own lives taken that there might be more life.

"Spring Pools" came to mind last week. During a sunny day, the snow melted from the two flower beds next to the warm southern wall of the house. Underneath proved to be many yellow flowers, tightly closed, of aconite. Then it rained and mist rose up from the heaped banks of snow, and melting snow and rain puddled in the flower beds. And then I thought of Robert Frost’s “flowery waters” and “watery flowers.”

Addendum, March 26, 2:00 a.m.: Without thinking, I posted something about Frost yesterday--and here today it is his birthday.

***

UPDATE ON STORIES

Last night I sent off some stories, and this morning I woke up to find them accepted. I always find that sort of thing pleasing. Enthusiam is always dear. New forthcoming stories: "The Red King's Sleep" (continuing the Carroll motif of the last post) and "The Horse Angel" in Postcripts (U.K.) The "Sleep" takes that old chestnut "then I woke up and it was all a dream" and turns it inside-out and sideways. "The Horse Angel" began with an elderly neighbor here in Cooperstown, and I make use of her character, her house and handed-down possessions, and her marriage of 63 contented years. There are a lot of stories in the pipeline labeled forthcoming, and that is good because I have been devoting myself to poetry lately. Another forthcoming story (from the same editor as the two last, so I just found out about this one as well) is "Static," scheduled to come out this year in Extraordinary Engines: The Definitive Steampunk Anthology, ed. Nick Gevers (U.K./U.S.: Solaris Books). Never had my innocent little mind turned to the thought of writing a steampunk story, but I had a splendid romp in the writing. Lots of steam as well as peculiar characters, an imprisoned young woman, perilous lightning, and some enlivening combustion.

MEMES

I know. Haven't done them. Will do, honest. At least one or two. Soon.

Photograph credit: The "spring shot of Llantisilio churchyard with snowdrops" is courtesy of www.sxc.hu/ and "Plutarch" or Sandi Baker of "Chester, Cheshire, U. K." It's not in the woods, and it has no spring pools. But it has spring flowers and bare branches and more than a hint of time's passage.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Falling toward Easter

CARROLL AT EASTER

As it is a busy week in the snowdrifts of upstate New York, I shall just wish friends and passers-by a happy and blessed Easter-to-be.

And if you are in need of some writing advice while I am out-of-the-palace, please take this: "'Begin at the beginning,' the King said, very gravely, 'and go on till you come to the end: then stop.'"

That is, of course, from the immortal nib of a pen held by Lewis Carroll or Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, the kaleidoscopic, the myriad-talented, and the Reverend. Ah, to be born under the tilted grin of a Cheshire moon, caught in the branches of the Daresbury parsonage tree!

I am glad of his tenderness for little girls because he gave me a gift at an early age that has served me all my life and given me much joy.

***

HOMOMONOJOT

Here's an on-line poem of mine that just popped up today: "Homomonojot" at The Round Table Review (U. K.) If you're wondering where the name came from, it is a portmanteau word (thank you again, Lewis Carroll) that puts together bits of "homonym" + "monometer" + "jot." Does that sound a little smart-alecky? Blame it on the one-stress lines. Thanks to Jon Stone for suggesting that I submit to The Great Monometer Challenge.

***

ILLUSTRATION CREDIT

The contemporary Alice falling into a marvelous rabbit hole can be found on DeviantArt; it is by "Tahra" or Kyoung Hwan Kim of South Korea. Some rights reserved. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Youmans - Spitzer connection

Poet William Harmon gets the grandest kind of a prize for being the very first person to drop me a note about my young music-minded cousin who has just hit the big time under her professional name of "Kristen": "In 2006, Ms. Dupré changed her legal name, according to records in Monmouth County Superior Court, from Ashley R. Youmans to Ashley Rae Maika DiPietro, taking her stepfather’s surname since she regarded him as 'the only father I have known.' But in . . . interview, she referred to herself as Ashley Alexandra Dupré, which is how she is known on MySpace" (The New York Times March 13, 2008). The just and jolly reward for dropping me a line on this important political matter of forbidden fruit will be an immediate name change from "William Harmon" to "Billy Rae Taylor D'Anunnzio," with alternate monikers of "Jonesie" and "Brandyn."

Billy Rae has expressed the thought that life is a lot more lively in New York than back home in the Carolinas. The North Carolina governor is downright boring "except for 30 mins. a year when he drives around a NASCAR track." Perhaps we can fax him Eliot Spitzer, who is terribly available this morning. Client-9. Kristin. Let's hope they can stand the excitement of their lives. Maybe even hope for a smidge of redemption and a scrap of good sense. As a dyed-in-the-cotton Southerner raised to be riddled with guilt, I have a hard time smacking anybody. Besides, Randall Jarrell told us all, "You know what I was, / You see what I am: change me, change me!" (“The Woman at the Washington Zoo.”) Of course, the context was a bit different.

Is "Kristin" of "Kristin and Client-9" related to me? I suppose so, since it's said that people in the U. S. who bear the name of Yeoman(s) or Youman(s) are all descended from four brothers who sailed to New York before the Revolution. Three (including my direct ancestor) skedaddled to Georgia, but one dug in where he landed. Evidently his branch was doing very well in the nineteenth century, but perhaps some of them have come on hard times since. By the Depression, most of mine had had their skinny Georgia butts vigorously kicked by history.

My husband, having read the Times and The Drudge Report over breakfast, suggested that I tart up a good nom de plume. I'm working on it, now that I've finished laboring over Billy Rae's reward. And Mike reminded me about all the mightly hordes of people who will be googling the young was-Youmans and discovering their passion for poetry and novels . . .

Now ain't that a thought?
***
Photograph credit: I've wrested this piece of forbidden fruit from the pictorial tree by permission of http://www.sxc.hu/ and J. G. or "LittleMan" of Belgium. Seems as though we all have at least two names today . . .

Monday, March 10, 2008

Darconville's Cat, Ugga-Bugga, etc.

What bookish bloggers say when they have nothing to say
I am going to tell you what I am reading, as I do from time to time when I refuse to write a proper blog post (whatever that might be) because I do not feel like writing a proper blog post. So now I will undertake to write an improper blog post, born like a slatternly, slovenly Venus from a sea of laziness.


What I'm rereading or reading on this very day

Alexander Theroux, Darconville's Cat

W. B. Yeats, The Poems of W. B. Yeats (Feeling queasy? Want a bit of basalt in a world that's boggy and squelchy underfoot? Remember that I will be reading Yeats.)

Romans 8

Wislawa Symborska, Poems New and Collected

Paul Celan, Speech-Grille and Selected Poems, trans. Joachim Neugroschel

Archibald MacLeish, Collected Poems 1917-1952

What I wrote today

I wrote a poem having to do with Celan (yes, that sounds evasive--my rule is "don't talk about new things!") in the wee hours of the morning and fiddled with it again in the afternoon. I didn't mean to; the thing just seeped in, all those Celanese stones and the man himself, his terrible losses and death.

Rereading

While I may have been a rather different person when I last read Darconville's Cat, I am pleased to announce that Darconville's Cat is the same book that it was before. This is a valuable piece of news and not always what comes of rereading a book. I have read many a book that turned out to be another book entirely on rereading. Darconville's Cat appears to be a book that can be relied upon--in contra-indication to those mutable books that refuse to be the same thing twice.
*
Later the same day: What I meant by the above is that they are still "good books" twice. As happens with a lazy post, I now have to add an explanation. Here it is:
*
More on rereading; or, what comes of a lazy post; or, a note to Lucy
*
All books are different when reread. That's obvious. But some books shouldn't be tried again--one could only read them at a certain age, it seems. As Heraclitus keeps on saying, even after all these years, "You cannot step into the same river twice, for fresh waters are ever flowing in upon you."

It's sad when you try to greet an old-friend book and find it is a stranger with little to interest or hold the attention. What I like is meeting a beloved book once more and finding that it still has something to say--often something very different from what it said before.

Overheard in Cooperstown, also this very day

On the general decline in vocabulary: "In another generation, people will just be saying 'Ugga-Bugga, Ugga-Bugga.'"

Suggestion for reversing tendencies toward Ugga-Buggadom

You know those horrid let-everybody-read-the-same-dratted-book programs? (Of course, if everybody was assigned one of my books, I'd have to change my mind about the "horrid" part.) Let's make everybody read Darconville's Cat. In that way, Alexander Theroux can take a long sabbatical from the Augean Stables of teaching because he will be so Lydian-Croesus rich from everybody on the planet reading Darconville's Cat. I suspect that the mass reading of Darconville's Cat will cause an important shift in human history and increase the sale of dictionaries. Have I mentioned the title often enough? That's Darconville's Cat. You might read it. Theroux has a new novel as well: Laura Warholic. I'll have to get around to that later.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

The Return of the Pot Boy


the Pot Boy,
Palace Advice Columnist
& general answerer of questions

Lori Witzel said...

Dear Pot Boy:

Who wrote the Book of Love?

Sincerely,

Sorry, that was the best question I could come up with on Short Notice.

Ms. Witzel,

The Book of Love was written before the worlds were made. If you don’t believe it, just read more Yeats. We are made to read much Yeats here.
*
Yours truly,
the Pot Boy
*
****

blog queen said...

Ah, I have one. What is it like to be a boy/man in love? I've wondered lately. We girls get all giddy, look starry eyed, feel weak in the knees when kissed, etc. I've wondered if boys and men feel the same or is it different for them? I read also that usually one of the couple is "more in love" with the other, and saw this played out today at McDonalds. I saw a chap with his arm around a girl looking totally besotted. Giving rise to the above questions in my mind. She on the other hand looked like she was just tolerating his being there and was more in love with the ice cream cone she was holding. I was thinking, poor chap, she's probably going to dump him sometime... but anyhow, do boys/men go all gagga like girls/women do when they are first "in love".?


Ms. Blog Queen,

I cannot speak for all men, but I can certainly speak for myself. In love, I have floated past the moon head over blue-lit heels and found butterflies in my bed in the morning. Nevertheless, I have managed to keep a straight face, gaga being alien to my nature.
*
Sincerely yours,
the Pot Boy
*
****

Susangalique said...

I have been working with my profile and looks like I will just have to be faceless and hatless, I so wanted to wear my turbin hat for the potboySusangaliques question, is how a soul might beat the lethargy of bla


Miss Galique,

I will be happy to see you in your turban, whenever it appears!

A soul might beat the famous Lethargy of Blah by waking up. As Thoreau said, most people are sleepers in a long railroad track. Spices and hot oil, a pan full of suds, a book or picture I almost understand and want to grasp, unearthly encounters, music, the opposing sex: all these wake me up.
*
Snappily yours,
the Pot Boy
*
****

Dear Pot Boy,


What we would all do without pot boys?

please, i'm being rhetorical.

After all, armies and families must be nourished on a frightening regular basis. And this requires pots. Clean pots. Lots and lots of clean pots.

So, dear pot boy, please let me off the hook if you can. What i need to know is this:is it absolutely necessary for me to keep my copper pots shined at all times? i only have two in my humble kitchen, but they are used frequently and while i do often enjoy shining them 'til them gleam, i am almost always compelled to fly away with dishes dripping dry on the rack while the last of the soap bubbles slips down the drain. This means, of course, that the copper pots develop a well-worn patina i've often spied on tv chef's copper pots...but...please tell me the truth: am i slothful for not polishing them every night?

Humbly yours,

Fitful Zephyr

Fitful Zephyr,

Shine not at all times! You are a zephyr, not a sun.

Women ripen, copper tarnishes. I am also fond of copper as it heats quickly and is responsive to temperature changes. Some people clean tarnish with vinegar or salted lemon halves or other easy home remedies, but I do not dislike the evidence of time.
*
Mythologically yours,
the Pot Boy
*
****

blog queen said...

I have another question for the pot boy. Are there ghosts in your palace? I was with a friend tonight at our local coffee house and we had contact with a ghost. Details are on my blog, but I want to know about your palace, does it have ghosts, and what are they like?


Dear B. Q.,

How satisfying! A second question.

There is some disagreement about the matter of ghosts. This place is a regular rabbit warren, and it’s possible to get lost… Generally it is people who are lost who see ghosts. Some shriek and depart as quickly as possible. Others attempt to bless the ghost and lay it to rest. “In the name of Christ, be at peace!” is a common utterance. So the numbers of the ghosts may be in continual decline. Of course, some ghosts plug their ears.

I believe that the kitchen and butler’s pantry are haunted by the ghosts of vegetables. Ghosts of avocados rock back and forth in the tiered basket. Melons skitter about on tiny legs like unexpectedly graceful pigs. I once saw the ghost of a large rutabaga tapdancing on the kitchen table, surrounded by a ring of bobbing scallions.
*
Peace-be-with-you yours,
the Pot Boy
*
****

Amanda J. Sisk said…

Dear Pot Boy:

Pls do not feel unloved and come out and play! There are few worse fates than being unloved, it is true...but you could have a name that means "worthy of love" and feel the weight this title adds to the burden that is absence.

I've a query for you, but perhaps you require some gentle coaxing. Since you spend your hours in the kitchen, I assume you like to eat and also approach the edible with a certain creative flair. I've just perfected my recipe for simple home-made pasta sauce here in Italia and shall give it to you. It is not a bribe, just a gentle offering.

1 lb sun-ripened tomatoes
1 lb spaghetti
1/2 cup grated ricotta salata or pecorino
salt and pepper to tastea pinch of red pepper flakes
olive oil
6-8 basil leaves
3 cloves of garlic, chopped

Cut a small "x" in the tops and bottoms of your fresh tomatoes (pls avoid grocery tomatoes... grow them yourself or go to a market). Boil them in hot water until their skins loosen. Peel the skins whilst making sure you don't singe your own skin. Chop up the tomatoes and and put them in a saucepan with the garlic (finely chopped or pressed). Let this mixture simmer eight-ten minutes - stir occasionally. You can add a TBS or two of olive oil at this point. This is a personal choice. I find too much olive oil makes the sauce less hearty. Also add salt, pepper, and the red pepper flakes (be very sparing on the flakes). Boil your pasta in salted water. Add shredded basil and cheese to your sauce just a few minutes before serving.

Variations: Eggplant - Peel and slice into 1/2" slices and salt them. Place in a colander for 1-2 hours. Then rinse, pat dry, and fry in hot oil, turning so both sides brown. Drain on absorbent paper and add to your sauce before serving.

Black olives - 1 1/2 cups black olives, pitted and coarsely chopped. I don't use canned olives... I remove the pits myself. Try adding these with a tsp or two of oregano and a little chilli pepper for a second variation on the sauce.

Serves 6.

Some people like to add a pinch of sugar to cut the acidity of our tomato friends. I did not detect a difference when I tried it.

There will be pots to scrub, of course.

Now: Do you think it is a person's duty to build a life around a gift/skill (one recognized by the individual but also one others have defined for him or her)? Suppose it is a skill that few possess, but that the person only enjoys him or herself 95% of the time? Is it the greater duty for the person to follow his or her bliss, even if it is unrelated to the gift?

Joyful Amanda,

The recipe is in the file, waiting for the appearance of lovely red orbs of tomato. I look out the window and see much snow. A ripe tomato would make a fine contrast.

Your question is challenging. It seems, perhaps, that you may have more than one gift (sculpture, printmaking, drawing, painting?) but that you have been repeatedly urged to follow a certain way. The gift or gifts you relish are ones that you enjoy more than 95% of the time. The gift that seems “right” but lesser you enjoy a mere 95% of the time.

First, I would suggest that 95% is quite high.

Yet you love something else more.

Since I am somewhat in the dark—not completely, from what I gather of you—I would give these examples.

Here’s one that’s bliss followed in despite of gifts. A man I know—shall we call him X—was talented in the theatre and writing. Nevertheless, he had a pronounced to become a doctor and did so, despite the fact that math was not one of his favorite enterprises and was a thing that had to be endured along the way. Many people protested his decisions.

As a doctor, he has a notable talent at diagnosis because he has a strong memory and can make imaginative leaps to new possibilities. It seems that the old gifts have not vanished but give strength to the new vocation. He still does a little theatre. He still writes. But these will never be his life. They add much—very much—but the art of medicine is his.

And let us consider a stubborn woman, Y, who is an example of braided gifts. She writes poetry, she writes stories, she writes novels. Yes, you know who I mean. When she calls a stop to one thing, something else bubbles up. One mode influences another. Has she been writing a novel and turns to poems? Well, then, narrative and characters creep into the poems. Has she been writing poems and turns to fiction? Then maybe this time she wants the prose to go bow-string tight. The three fertilize one another. Borges said of his fiction and his poetry that he didn’t know which was the dog and which the tail, and whether the tail wagged the dog or the dog wagged the tail.

Let us consider Z, a Pot Boy and Advice Columnist. The mystical circles that I inscribe on the shining bottom of a pot as I scrub are what bring forth the gush of truth.

Those are examples I well know: gifts united or gifts abandoned and yet somehow bound to new vocation. But you are a mystery, somewhat to yourself as well as me. Are you better at one pursuit now than the other or others? Years can change that: persistence can change that imbalance, swing it around to the other side.
*
Yrs in chasing bliss,
the Pot Boy
*
****

Lucy said...

Dear Pot Boy

Verily my pot runneth over and there is little I need to ask. But while we're on pots and pasta sauces, are green bell peppers, capsicums, what you will, the same species as the red ones, only at a different stage of ripeness, or are they something of a different kidney? (Always loved Eliot for rhyming that with 'Sir Philip Sidney...)

Dear Lucy, resident of Box Elder--

The delightful green of Capsicum annuum or the bell pepper is, I believe, its immature state, while ripeness leads to red, yellow, or orange. (There are more than 20 species of Capsicum, and within these are many more varieties—as here, with the bell pepper.)
*
Yrs in affection for peppers,
the Pot Boy
*
****

Illustration: Credit goes to sxc.hu and Nathan May of Durant, Oklahoma for the photograph of the inside of a copper pot.