Dec 26, 2012

"Elegance" by Linda Gregg

Here is “Elegance,” another Linda Gregg poem. At first I liked it more than “Winter Love” (last post), thought it had more to say; now I’m not so sure.

Elegance by Linda Gregg : The Poetry Foundation

The whole issue of elegance interests me—what is it and who or what has it?  Also, I like Gregg’s finding it in nature and in things worn down by natural processes. “All that is uncared for,” that’s what’s elegant. Having a thesis sentence in a poem might seem odd or simply wrong; ditto for arriving at a conclusion about elegance in the first line. But I like the way the immediacy and challenge of the line give us something to bounce off of right away.

I hope the comparison between manmade art and natural beauty never goes away as a topic for discussion; there can be no winner, but we’ll understand both art and nature better by seeing them in the light of each other—as foils, I suppose.

Gregg narrows all this even further to the question of what’s elegant, and her choice of nature, which decays and causes decay, creates a compelling strategy. I’m also fascinated by her choice of accuracy as a factor in perceiving what’s beautiful, especially as a companion to “unexpected,” which might seem too spontaneous to go with the exactness of accuracy. It helps that she follows up with “rattling/and singing.”  “Rattling” is a bit raggedy and out of control, like “unexpected,” while "singing" conjures the mathematical precision of music and seems a natural partner to “Accurate.”  Then again, it also calls to mind the song of wild birds.

We are having our first significant snow in southern Michigan today. The photos show a cardinal whom the wind and snow might turn into “a door off its hinges” or a thing “Raw where/the tin roof rusted through.”  But is he elegant nevertheless? I wouldn’t argue against it, especially if the alternative is my probably comic arrangement of fruit for an asymmetrical still life.  

Elegance by Linda Gregg : The Poetry Foundation

Dec 23, 2012

"Winter Love" by Linda Gregg

Winter Love by Linda Gregg : The Poetry Foundation

 Because of the season, I wanted to post a poem that was pleasant but not mindlessly dripping sugar, the way so much of the holiday oozes syrup and celebrates noise and stuff-gathering .

I came across Linda Gregg’s “Winter Love,” a quiet and modestly affirmative poem that calls us to experience and cherish small things, like chimes stirred over a heating vent. I also like the opening implication that decorating silence might be a natural human urge, but something essential in the speaker (or all humans?) leads to simplification rather than decoration. Does that process boil down to entropy, or is it a maturing awareness of what is beautiful because it is fundamental and plain?

Christmas nest-featherers and pile-builders—we’ve heard it before:  listen up and pare down. We should savor what’s left of our tea. We can look at the gifts already in the room and just outside the window, even if they’re not the perfect strength or temperature. That’s the way to pad the odds for Happy Holidays.

Red-Tile Roof

Little Birch Tree

Winter Love by Linda Gregg : The Poetry Foundation

Dec 14, 2012

Robert Frost's "The Wood-Pile": Karma, Monuments, Warmth and Decay

The Wood-Pile by Robert Frost : The Poetry Foundation

Yesterday on my walk in the woods, I tried to get a glimpse, and maybe a photo, of a noisy woodpecker high up in a birch. She wasn’t shy, yet she kept the tree between herself and me. 

female Downy
Just yesterday I wondered who first told me that birds hide that way. Did I believe him? Even yesterday I wondered how much of it might be an old wives’ tale, though it makes sense that an animal, even a jackhammer like a woodpecker, would have that much strategy for survival—plus plain old, inglorious fear, or at least wariness, of some inelegant, leaf-stomping Other.

With our absence of snow in Michigan this year, and daytime temps in the 40s, I’ve also decided to stop protesting the bareness of stripped winter and to start noticing more the rich variety of wood and the patterns of branches, plus the few colors that do remain, muted but present.
So I go to Poetry Foundation, again, and “google” wood. They offer Frost’s “The Wood-Pile,” which I haven’t read for several years. In spite of its quiet understatements, one after another, I like it all over again. But when I get to the small bird (around Line 10), “careful/To put a tree between us when he lighted,” I remember the woodpecker, and there’s a whiff of my old suspicions about destiny, or some such thing, though the two atheists among my Sunday breakfast buddies chide me for such musing.

I’m pretty sure the dark-eyed juncos are staying around longer this year—I suppose because it’s warm. So I’ve had more time to appreciate how unexpectedly, humbly gorgeous they are. They’re almost a simple black and white, but their topsides are a kind of slate color, with a trace of blue in certain light, rather than simple chickadee black. And the white on the juncos’ bellies is creamy, not chickadee white. The division of color between their dark backs and off-white bellies is strangely precise, but it's also a soft, forgiving, subtle boundary. Juncoes make me think of some miraculous, downy version of porcelain. 
Except for the tails when they fly!  There are some crazy white feathers in the bottoms of those tails, but they appear only in flight, and the flash of them still surprises me every time.

Then comes Frost’s bird, with “a feather— / The white one in his tail.”  How many events do I have to chalk up to mere synchronicity or banal coincidence before I can start trumpeting Karma, Karma, Karma—and tell my more empirical friends to go sit on a log?

Or make it a wood-pile. Abandoned. A monument, discovered quite by accident, which causes a pretty wise, articulate old New Englander to wonder about it. Then wonder some more.

The wood-pile is peculiar; it seems to be all about decay—or the preposterous proposition of its warming the frozen swamp. With what? No fire is lit; the wood’s been idle for at least two years. 
 Maybe it’s a human warmth—which is implied in the monument’s very existence, plus the human labor that went into building it. Maybe it’s a ridiculous, futile, yet affirming act; maybe warming a frozen swamp is a gesture of defiance. I will die; this wood will die. But I have made something here, whether or not I get back to it, or anybody sees it, or thinks it’s fine. I’m a maker, and that’s better than decaying without creating and thereby protesting mortality. 

And finally, another human, a stranger, has discovered the monument,  stumbled onto it, pure dumb luck.
Or is it destiny? Or Karma, Karma, Karma? Whether or not that’s the right word, the music of it wins the day.   

The Wood-Pile by Robert Frost : The Poetry Foundation

Lovers' Lane