Monday, June 25, 2012

Sometimes a Rattlesnake

We walked past the pool in the heat of the afternoon.  A rattlesnake was leisurely swimming there.   I had planned to go in.  Nope!

Then I had a strange dream.  I lost my roller board suitcase at the station.  There were many black bags with red yarn tags like mine on the handle.  I spotted one in a group that was labeled "Anne Lauterbach."  I'm not in that group, I thought, traveling together, L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E P=O=E=T=R=Y.  Next, Louis showed me his shiny new gold medal.  I'm not in that group either,  I thought, shiny new gold medal winners.  Feeling pretty low.  Like Hemingway's first wife, Hadley, after losing all his manuscripts on the train.  Or T.E. Lawrence, leaving his only manuscript copy of Seven Pillars of Wisdom at Redding Station.  Gone.

Earlier, I was in the library at my childhood home, which had a name similar to the house I live in now, called Cedarside.  Suddenly, everybody was leaving.  The dog, like our dog, was lying in the middle of the living room rug, something my parents would never have allowed.  One of the maids told me to put on my nightie because I was carrying my brown linen dress, and I was naked above the waist.  I followed her in her pretty yellow uniform, bearing a tray with a box of Cheerios, up the stairs to my old bedroom, which Louis and I were sharing.  Then we were on the train into the City, amazingly close, I thought, as I looked at the upscale stores, a gorgeous mall like The Grove in Los Angeles, and I realized we were still in Westchester County.

The whole time I was carrying the brown linen dress that needs, in real life, to be shortened to do away with the hole and material thinned from too much use.

So, I thought, it's all all worn out or gone.  I'll start afresh, a brand new passport.  A new passport to poetry.   Cheers!

Not sure what that means.

By the time evening came and we looked in the pool again, the rattlesnake, too, had gone on his own sweet way.  Hooray!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Blurb girl!

A nice surprise arrived in the mail yesterday.  In 2006, I reviewed in American Book Review a book of poems by Sandy McIntosh called The After-Death History of My Mother.  Now Marsh Hawk Press is about to publish (September 1, 2012) his Selected and New Poems, called Cemetery Chess.  An excerpt from my earlier review appears as a blurb on the back of the new book.  It reads:

"Sandy McIntosh's entertaining new volume might be mistaken, at first, for a merry romp through personal and literary history conducted by a slightly confused, well-meaning people pleaser.  His confusion begins with his bemused revelation that he has (maybe) two mothers, and continues through various other doublings (dream transformations, reincarnations, literary 'forgeries,' literary mothers both male and female, poems masquerading as prose and vice versa) to a final doubling (double-crossing) that brings with it a 'broade [sic] awaking' to reality...This is a book of elegies -- eulogies, really -- to all the literal and literary bastards who have made McIntosh an artist and (maybe) a con."

Whatever you may think of that mixed review, McIntosh seems to have liked it!

Having a review of mine excerpted for a blurb  has only happened to me once before that I know of, when I wrote an anonymous review for Publishers Weekly, back when all their reviews were anonymous, of Albert Goldbarth's Marriage and Other Science Fiction, a book I loved.  Here is the full (short) review:

Goldbarth (Original Light) has written yet another quirky, compassionate book, drawing together his many enthusiasms-for the sciences, the arts and literature-into a new and expansive universe. The writer's focus shifts constantly. His diction moves from scientific to colloquial to raunchy with the ease of time-travel. Goldbarth's subject matter, human love, also ranges in character, from sublime to ridiculous to simply ordinary: in his world, everything from cheese to causation is somehow connected. Many of the best poems in the book are sequences of 14-line stanzas. Like 17th-century meditations, they find inner life writ large in the universe, and the universe writ small in our hearts. Such poems are like Donne's, bursting at the seams with new information; but they are more than intellectual exercises meant to show off the poet's wit. Instead, Goldbarth ventures intimate, caring explorations of life at the end of the 20th century, when it is harder than ever to be sure about anything. He's like a benign big brother who believes in an underlying order and goodness-and makes us believe in it, too. (Jan.)

It's a thrill to be a blurb girl!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Diamond Jubilee Report

Then, coincidentally, Angela wrote from Wiltshire about her experience at the Jubilee:

I did go up to for the Jubilee. I did not go to the River Pageant as the weather forecast was for wet conditions, and I was glad, as it was extremely wet and everyone was soaked to the skin, very cold, and nobody saw very much. It seems almost certainly to have caused the Duke of Edinburgh's illness.

Being of a restless nature, however, I said to Val on the Sunday I am off to London to see the concert in the Mall. I got there at about 4pm and managed to find a nice spot in the crowd two thirds of the way down. Already there was a great atmosphere, large groups of families and friends. The Mall was closed to traffic and every one was picnicking on rugs or whatever in the road. Green Park was full of the Campers and had the biggest screen. There were screens all down the mall and two gigantic ones on either side of Buckingham Palace. The traffic roundabout at Victoria monument was filled with spectators and the concert stage was set high up around the monument. There were also huge screens in Trafalgar Square , Leicester Square and Hyde Park. London was really jumping. When Robbie Williams opened the concert I have never experienced anything like the roar that erupted from the Mall. It was a marvelous evening. The crowd was such fun. I caught my last train home all right and came back up the next day for the Royal Carriage procession and the balcony scene and that was lovely. This time I got right to the front by the railings around Buckingham Palace so I had an excellent view of the Balcony. All together an unforgettable experience. The following day I was totally exhausted but it was worth it.

The Royal Carriage procession is magnificent. The Queen travels in the open-topped State Landau coach so that the crowds can see her. It was built for King Edward V11 in 1902. The procession is a glorious spectacle of bands, bugles, gold brocade and breastplates of the thousand who accompany the Carriage. The Carriage was used last year for the royal wedding. Adding ceremonial grandeur to the procession was the Sovereign's Escort, provided by the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment. A magnificent sight in their breastplates and gold helmets with red plumes. The two Clydesdale drum horses, Mercury and Achilles led the way, trotting proudly as their riders controlled the golden reins with their feet to keep their hands free for the drumming.

The crowds in the Mall were held back from the road by barriers. Once the procession entered Buckingham Palace, the crowd started to agitate as they wanted to get the barriers taken down, so that they could get down the Mall to Buckingham Palace. The crowd control was absolutely amazing. No one knew whether it would be the top end of the Mall or the bottom end of the Mall, but some know it is never the middle part that comes down; but very gradually a section at a time was released, and when the Mall was, say, about half full with thousands of people, the row of policemen at the bottom near the statue started slowly advancing and allowing this massive crowd of a million plus to walk towards the Palace. It was scary, as it was a tightly packed crowd and there was quite a bit of pushing. Finally all the barriers were down and then all the crowds from around Admiralty Arch and Trafalgar Square were allowed to pour into the Mall. In addition to the Royals on the Balcony there was a big fly past of planes, a Lancaster bomber, four Spitfires, and a Hurricane and the Red Arrows. The estimated crowd was one and a half Million.

I myself only saw the Jubilee on TV: the service at St. Paul’s, the procession back to Buckingham Palace, and the scene on the Balcony.  There were clips from the night before; the fireworks at the end of the concert were thrilling.  I love to think of Angela’s being in that crowd.  Of course, I looked for her in the crowd at Buckingham Palace, too, but I didn’t see her.  Wouldn’t that have been fun?

I felt sad for Prince Philip that he couldn’t accompany the Queen on this wonderful occasion, and sad for her, too, walking alone down the aisle at St. Paul’s.  She suddenly looked so vulnerable, so human, so small.  But it was also my favorite moment: as she walked close behind the Mayor of London in a straight line down the middle of the aisle, she sort of suddenly veered off to the side momentarily and had to correct her course back to the middle.  I found it so touching. 

God Save the Queen.

Empty Nests

My friend Pamela lives in Bedfordshire, England, where she volunteers with the Tree Register of the British Isles, identifying specimen trees around the country.  She and I met onboard the wonderful little cruise ship Explorer (since, tragically gone down to the bottom of the Southern Sea) on our 1999 “expedition” to the Antarctic Peninsula.  Pamela and I and two other English women, from Wiltshire, Angela and Val, formed fast, long-lasting friendships on the high (and I do mean high!) South Atlantic seas.  Birds were a big part of the adventure: gulls, King, Adelie, and other kinds of penguins, the glorious, endangered albatrosses soaring or sitting, large and white and gentle on their hilltop nests. 

Pamela recently wrote me the following sad bird story:

My daughter Anne and her husband bought me a miniature camera last Xmas and we set it up in a nest-box very close to my window - a Blue-tit built its nest (in full view of its 'audience').  She laid 8  eggs and then incubated them for about ten days, being fed by her doting mate. Then the weather turned colder and wetter and stayed like that for most of April.  In the midst of all the very bad weather the babies were born - all 8 survived and we watched and watched as the parents desperately tried to find enough caterpillars.

We put out meal-worms.  We are always told not to interfere, but Nature can be so very cruel.  The parents’ calendar brain told them that day 15 was the day the babies should fledge, so they stopped going into the nest-box, just taunted the babies with food from the hole and the babies just scrambled over each other to try and get something to eat.  They gradually got weaker and weaker, and eventually they succumbed to the cold and the wet and starvation.

My son-in-law came over and we took the little dead babies out; they were so tiny I couldn't believe it. I actually weighed them (there were only 7. I dare not think what happened to number 8, unless he was the strongest and managed to escape).  Anyway, they weighed just one and a half ounces - not one of them  - ALL SEVEN - only weighed that much or, in other words, approximately A QUARTER OF AN OUNCE EACH - all their little feathers were in place and their little eyes had opened.  They are always filming inside nest-boxes on TV, but I’m not sure having these cameras set up is a very good idea.

I’m happy to report a different story: I went out to look yesterday at the tunnel nest in our outdoor shower room, and those baby birds, who had been looking like Pamela’s birds, tiny, feathered, and with open but glazed-looking eyes, were gone!  We had thought we were going to have to clean out that nest ourselves, as Pamela did, but we had a happier ending!  Fledglings!  Hooray!


Congratulations to Sarah Gridley for winning the Omnidawn Open Book Contest for her manuscript Loom.   

Sarah Gridley is the author of two books of poetry: Weather Eye Open (2005) and Green is the Orator (2010), both from the University of California Press. She is an assistant professor of English at Case Western Reserve University.  

The judge was Carl Phillips.

Ra-fa! Ra-fa!

I was worried there for a few hours.  When the Men's Finals match at the French Open was suspended because of rain, a different but similar rain to the one we were simultaneously experiencing here at home, Rafa was down one game (1-2) in the fourth set.  He was two sets up, but the momentum had shifted to Djokovic, the conditions were soggy, and the rain was getting, not just onto, but under Rafa's skin.

I haven't actually seen the close of the match, because for some wrong-headed reason having to do with profits and the general public, NBC didn't carry the championship this morning, and the Tennis Channel is playing everything else.  But I will see it!  I love to watch Nadal whip Djokovic, who has to be the most intensely angry, off-putting competitor we've seen since Jimmy Connors.

So Rafa  has denied Djokovic his (maybe) only chance to join the elite two - Don Budge and Rod Laver - who have held all four Championship titles in a single year.  Plus, Nadal becomes the only man in tennis history to have won seven French Open titles, surpassing Bjorn Borg's six, and with no reason to believe he can't continue to pile up numbers on clay and elsewhere.  Way to go, Rafa!

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Full House!

For years, we hosed mud, twigs, leaf bits and bird from the column in the carport where she liked to build her nest, up against the wall and protected from wind, weather, dog and cat, but not from human beings who didn't like the mess she made.  We sprayed the nest daily, hourly, obsessively, to keep her from building, rebuilding, rebuilding and rebuilding.  We ended up each summer with a mass of debris at the base of the column, but at last, angry and triumphant, no bird, no nest, no eggs, no babies.

This year, finally, for no particular reason (age, compassion, laziness, despair), we relented.  She made her nest in peace and returned to find it whole, not in wet and dribbling pieces.  I use the pronoun because I have yet to determine what kind of bird we're talking about here.  Some say she is a swallow, but I don't think so.   She has a pale yellow breast, a tuft at the back of her head (or he does, perhaps), and not a forked, or an especially long tail.

Then she disappeared.  We thought she had abandoned the nest.   The column was too high for us to see if she had laid any eggs.  We waited.   One day we found part of an eggshell on the driveway.  We saw a little movement above the sides of the nest.  The mother came back.  The father came back.  They perched on the laundry line, on the edge of the roof, in the branches of the trees across the driveway, leaving white streaks of droppings on the blacktop as they flew back and forth to feed their chicks.  Three chicks who, two weeks later, are climbing all over each other in the nest and flapping their wings, or sitting together, hearts beating, two of them facing out, the other facing in.

We're watching, expecting them to fledge any day.  Hoping they won't fall.  Expecting them to fly away.  We feel like, I believe the expression is, empty-nesters!

Meantime, we discovered in the outdoor shower room we use for storage that another bird of another breed unknown to me has tunneled a nest into the pine straw that filled an overturned terra cotta pot.  We found it because one day, when we opened the door, the bird darted past us!   Peering into the tunnel, one day we saw eggs, one day we saw three tiny bodies that looked like slugs, then the slugs grew feathers, beaks and faces, we could see their three hearts beating.  Now we haven't seen the mother bird for days and days, once again we think she's gone for good and the babies not moving, but, indeed, they seem to be growing, eyes open now, and in different positions each time we go to look.  We're keeping the cat inside.  We're hopeful the chicks will survive.

Not to mention the babe in the nest on the column at the end of the terrace outside our bedroom, a beak and a ball of fluff I can see if I stand on the two-step ladder.

And to think we deprived ourselves of this anxiety and adventure for all those years!  City folk finding our way into the country.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Shelf Unbound Makes a Splash!

Shelf Unbound, the literary brainstorm of publisher Margaret Brown, is an online magazine devoted to the fruits of independent publishing.  The magazine features excerpts, summaries, and reviews of nonfiction, fiction both long and short, and poetry, in a gorgeous format.  Its excellent editorial and artistic quality rivals the best magazines to be found anywhere (I'm thinking The New Yorker).  I read the magazine with pencil and mouse to hand, in case I need (as I always do) to write down a piece of useful information or go to Amazon (linked) to buy a recommended book or visit a website to which also Shelf Unbound provides a link.  I cannot recommend this fine literary review more highly.  Authors may advertise their books in its beautiful pages.  Readers may subscribe for free.

Meantime, in the June/July issue, there is two-page spread featuring an excerpt from my introduction to Splash! Great Writing About Swimming, and a sidebar with my recommendations for five top swimming stories.   Check it out!