Feb 27, 2013

"Frying Trout While Drunk" by Lynn Emanuel

Eye to Eye

Frying Trout While Drunk by Lynn Emanuel : Poetry Magazine

At the risk of belaboring the osprey photos, it recently occurred to me to crop them for a still more Gothic effect. Then of course I felt I had to find a poem that was at least loosely connected. I ended up at Lynn Emanuel’s “Frying Trout While Drunk,” which I find disturbing and moving.
Mother and Child?
The osprey—for convenience I’m making her female—seems to have more control over her cornetfish than the poem’s Mother has over her trout (or her man, or her daughter), but who knows. That huge bird had to work so long and hard at the skinny, bug-eyed fish that l I eventually lost interest. Who’s to say that this was easy work for the predator? Maybe she was struggling to stay balanced atop that pole. Maybe it was her first cornetfish, which required new skills for consumption.

Maybe she’d eat only a fraction of the fish before flying it home and offering it to her osprey-man “of lechery so solid/you could build a table on it/and when you did the blues would come to visit.”  Maybe it will be “with the care of the very drunk” that she hands him the plate.

In a poem full of strong images, these lines struck me as particularly powerful:

            She is a beautiful, unlucky woman

            mother’s dress falling to the floor,   
            buttons ticking like seeds spit on a plate.   

            the knife in one hand and the trout  
            with a belly white as my wrist.

These are images of a domestic scene I haven’t had to know. I think Lynn Emanuel presents it with admirable restraint and minimal self-pity or self-righteous accusation. I find myself thinking of Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy,” but Emanuel might have more control over her subject than Plath did. 

Feb 13, 2013


Here is an osprey lunching on a long, skinny blue fish with a ridiculously long nose and bulging eyes. It’s a blue cornetfish. He’s usually a brownish-grey color with bright turquoise spots, but like the chameleon, he changes colors to blend with his environment. So I’ve decided this guy is imitating the sky because he knows he’s going to cornetfish heaven when the osprey gets full or takes the one bite that finishes everything. The osprey himself is a gorgeous animal. I think of him as a swamp eagle—maybe I heard that or maybe I made it up. In any case, he’s a great soaring bird, a fisher. The blue of the cornet fish is also beautiful, but he’s otherwise one of those ocean oddballs. He’s interesting because he’s odd, yet how seriously can we cheer for those alligator eyes and snout? Also, he feeds on other fish, not plants. Once again I offer Stephen Crane’s odd and chilling little poem, a poem that encourages modesty: A Man Said to the Universe by Stephen Crane : The Poetry Foundation And speaking of eating flesh, here again is Crane again with “In the desert”: In the Desert by  Stephen  Crane  : The Poetry Foundation *

Feb 9, 2013

Zapruder, Day Two. Windbag Alert. Teacher Instruction. Bed and Breakfasts, continued.

The Prelude by Matthew Zapruder : Poetry Magazine

From time to time, visitors’ comments get me all wound up, because they open new windows onto a poem, and I use those comments and my responses as a post unto themselves. This is such a day.  Lucky you.

I just said to a friend that sometimes I weary of blogging, but I realize that it leads me to new poems and poets, and it usually makes me like the poems better as I look at them more carefully. Zapruder’s “The Prelude” is a case in point.

Add to that the comments I get from readers—whole new humans opening up aspects of the poem that I hadn’t considered, and sometimes aspects of themselves—I tell you, it’s better than NASCAR, and I bet it’s better than crack.

Speaking of a need for artificial stimulation . . .

So many, many times I’ve heard teachers, parents and other putatively caring adults who need to tone down their advice-giving to young people who have stalled, or gotten into real trouble. Instead simply asking, then asking again, searching for specifics, “What do you like? What would you rather be doing? How can we work that into a course of study and, with some luck, a career? I don’t care if Mommy’s a CEO. If you like woodworking, let’s look into that.” 

But in a sad miracle, the talk—it’s not a conversation—stops at, “You have to do better . . .  because I said so.”

I predict the geezer will toss out 20 times as many words as the teen. What are the teen’s options, beyond being overwhelmed and probably resentful and maybe enraged? Oh, he may obey, but look it up:  obedience is not a synonym for cure.  

End of Sidebar.  Beginning of Comments, Yours and Mine.

logger Brenda's Arizona said...
"...should the chosen guide
Be nothing better than a wandering cloud,
I cannot miss my way.” 
So did Wordsworth follow his desire whereas Coleridge couldn't? 

I have been told by B&B owners that the reason they have the business is to fulfill the need to follow a desire. You have come full circle, Banjo!
And I'd love to see more photos of the B&B where you stayed. These are inviting, but please - more coffee.
February 8, 2013 at 11:19 AM

logger altadenahiker said...
Filled with self-deprecating humor, isn't it. And comparing himself, as a poet I think, with Wordsworth the nature boy and Coleridge the tortured soul, he comes up short in his own estimation. 

I find B&B's creepy, too. Especially when they've filled your room with stuffed animals. But maybe that's a Northern Calif thing.

B and AH, about the poem, what you say is the way I see it. I seem to remember that Wordsworth’s hikes were considerable. I followed one of his routes in the Lake District, and it was much more than a stroll in those almost-mountains. Maybe he really was more adventurous than Coleridge—or Zapruder.

I was at first curious that Coleridge’s “love of friends” wasn’t more comfort than it was, but Zapruder, ever the poet, adds more threatening stuff:  “love of friends and the wind.” Oh, that wind.

And there’s more. The wind is “taking his arrow away.”  Is it a phallic arrow? Whether or not, it’s his edge, and most of us would say, I think, that we want our edge (as well as our “ease”—face it, we want it all).

Do you think the last two lines hint at suicide? If so, is that too “big” for a  poem that opens with Diet Coke?

The more I read this thing, the more I like it. I’ve said umpteen times here (not that it’s original) that poems almost always need to offer surprises (sometimes “gifts”) along the way. In that context, compare the tone and mood of the first two lines with the last two lines. Talk about a journey! 

And that thorough analysis of chocolate, leading into vapor (“nothing”), then back to a field and finally to “ham and rustic chambered cheese”—I hear a dialectic between airy nothing and richly sensuous items, items of appetite and delight, culminating in chocolate.

I’m also drawn to the almost confessional mode of his wishing to be “at least a little more than intermittently/at ease with being loved. I am never at ease.”  That has a peculiar power for me.  Is it just me?

Even in terms of grammar and syntax, how does Zapruder get away with the gangly “at least a little more than intermittently”?  But the speaker is something of a brainiac, and brainiacs say stuff like that. Or at least they think it.

Did anyone see baseball on the horizon?  But it fits. It’s the more common pleasure to accompany his more “poetic” and neurotic items like the hallway and time?  What’s bigger than time? What’s more ordinary than baseball? How do we get them into the same poem? Zapruder does, and for me that’s a happy surprise, a gift. 

Feb 8, 2013

Matthew Zapruder's "The Prelude" : Bed, Breakfast, Cupfulls of Darkness

The Prelude by Matthew Zapruder : Poetry Magazine
Blogger is disallowing paragraphs and photo captions (I thought, for example, about "Baby in the Fireplace"). So I apologize, but I'm also sick of messing with Blogger, so here we go. I recently spent a night at a Bed & Breakfast after years or decades of avoiding the forced intimacy I’ve felt at those places. I do not want conversation until my third coffee, and with strangers you never know whether you want chat at all until you’re in the middle of it. Even if it’s going well, you have to gauge whether the other party has had enough of you. Are your questions a bit invasive? Are you not sufficiently enthusiastic about their grandbaby or the golf game? Of course the upside of good B&Bs is the lack of predictability, the potential uniqueness of buildings, hosts, and other guests, the change of pace from chain motels, which are rectangles of stone on stone in the midst of asphalt parking lots beside interstate highways. So I did what anyone would do—went to Poetry Foundation and typed into the search bar “bed and breakfasts,” expecting to find little or nothing, for surely real poets don't do tea and crumpets Bed and Breakfasts. At first I didn’t trust what I found, Matthew Zapruder’s “The Prelude,” the title of which is an allusion to Wordsworth's major poem. Zapruder opens with the jaunty, sarcastic, “Oh this Diet Coke is really good.” Are we headed for a puerile satire on bourgeois superficiality and tastelessness? That deserves satire, but haven’t we had enough? Isn’t it too easy for anyone over 25? http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poem/239964 However, in Zapruder’s third line, he got my interest. Diet Coke, it turns out, "tastes / like nothing plus the idea of chocolate, or an acquaintance of chocolate" He’s looking for a specificity about, and shades of meaning in, Diet Coke that I find both absurd and intriguing. And here are two passages in the poem that make it well worth our consideration: "All I follow is my own desire,/ sometimes to feel, sometimes to be/ at least a little more than intermittently/ at ease with being loved. I am never/ at ease. Not with hours I can read or walk/ and look at the brightly colored/ houses filled with lives . . ." And his ending: Come to the edge/ the edge beckoned softly. Take/ this cup full of darkness and stay as long/ as you want and maybe a little longer.
I don’t trust bold, defiant, heroic, hippie claims such as, “All I follow is my own desire.” I’m skeptical about his having “Come to the edge,” and I’m not at all sure I want “this cup full of darkness.” They smack of daredevil bravado. Also, if you have to tell us about the great danger, loneliness, and isolation you’ve experienced and still seek—you the loner, adventurer, outcast, rebel—I wonder what’s inside you. Fear of others? Intolerance of others because others get in the way of your Me, Me, Me. Your death wish or misery wish—because those who aren’t miserable aren’t deep?
But of course I’ve engaged in those very thoughts, however briefly and foolishly. My edges are probably pretty rounded, even padded, and I might have thimbles where Zapruder finds cupfulls of darkness.
So Zapruder’s lines would be bogus if I spoke them in earnest about myself, but maybe he’s earned them. After all, he started with his confession that he’s anxious and rarely “at ease with being loved.” He likes books and walks that include snooping just a little into other people’s lives. Maybe he’s not going for a Kerouac-James Dean-counter culture hero status. Maybe he’s just inviting us to take in some more of the color and the darkness that might make our lives fuller if we’ll stand up and notice them. Once again, I don’t mean to force a false connection between the poem and a Bed & Breakfast, which after all gets only a brief mention in Zapruder’s “The Prelude.” And was that B&B an edge? Or a cup full of darkness? No, but at that quirky old house I did find still more ways to wonder about and enjoy what’s quirky enough to keep myself a little off balance about things. The Prelude by Matthew Zapruder : Poetry Magazine

Feb 3, 2013


Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. (Matthew 5:9)
I clipped off some of the sign on the left. It's trying to say, "Aids: God's Cure for Sodomites."

Lovers' Lane