Aug 12, 2010
Maybe everyone has met a bird lady at least once in a lifetime. In a way, the woman in the photo doesn’t exactly qualify because feeding the pigeon nation was a first for her. She kept repeating, “This is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.”
Cynics might urge her to get out of the house more, but I liked her delight in a simple pleasure. Pigeons are probably no one’s favorite animal, but the sheer numbers of greedy, gluttonous birds were impressive, and the woman became a girl again.
Then, behind me, I heard a gruff male voice, a stranger with a thick Brooklyn accent: “Those birds shit all over the place. Somebody oughta shoot ‘em all.”
“Shooting Pigeons in Brooklyn.” Sounds like a Mickey Spillane title. But that was the guy’s comment, and I wondered what I’d done to invite it.
There are certain kinds of tough-guy language and behavior that suck the joy right out of October blue and laughing children. Sometimes I worry about making such statements myself, just as I worry about being too sappy at the other end. Good writers have to walk that tightrope, among others, every time they put pen to paper. (By the way, I've just learned that Mickey Spillane briefly worked as a trapeze artist).
Somehow that’s the kind of decision I was asking for yesterday in comparing Sharon Olds’ “Sex without Love” to Yeats’ “When You Are Old.” Compared to honoring the Yeats, I can probably explain much more thoroughly what I like or respect about the Olds poem—its boldness and ingenuity in making serial sex a metaphor for our condition in the universe, its brazen repetition, its Oldsian decisions about line breaks, its mix of the trendy and the ontological, and on and on.
But “Sex with Love” also strikes me as a chunk of gravel shredding ancient parchment. Yeats and others have a feel for sacred documents; they know how to lay palms upon it, or gently unfurl it. I don’t know if Yeats could be crass if his life depended on it. But maybe that means he couldn’t be realistic either. He paid for that.
Perhaps it’s in this context that I offer Yeats’ “Adam’s Curse,” about work and beauty, poetry and love. The casual elegance of its language might cause readers to miss the fact that it’s written in rhymed couplets. Apparently the poet followed his own directions and labored so hard that we sense only the graciousness of his lines, not the labor that went into them. Isn’t that what he said he was going for, that illusion of naturalness? I wonder if he’s been to Brooklyn.
Adam’s Curse by William Butler Yeats : The Poetry Foundation [poem] : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry.