Friday, January 27, 2006

William Carlos Williams
"To Elsie"

The pure products of America
go crazy--
mountain folk from Kentucky
or the ribbed north end of
with its isolate lakes and

valleys, its deaf-mutes, thieves
old names
and promiscuity between

devil-may-care men who have taken
to railroading
out of sheer lust of adventure--

and young slatterns, bathed
in filth
from Monday to Saturday

to be tricked out that night
with gauds
from imaginations which have no

peasant traditions to give them
but flutter and flaunt

sheer rags succumbing without
save numbed terror

under some hedge of choke-cherry
or viburnum--
which they cannot express--

Unless it be that marriage
with a dash of Indian blood

will throw up a girl so desolate
so hemmed round
with disease or murder

that she'll be rescued by an
reared by the state and

sent out at fifteen to work in
some hard-pressed
house in the suburbs--

some doctor's family, some Elsie
voluptuous water
expressing with broken

brain the truth about us--
her great
ungainly hips and flopping breasts

addressed to cheap
and rich young men with fine eyes

as if the earth under our feet
an excrement of some sky

and we degraded prisoners
to hunger until we eat filth

while the imagination strains
after deer
going by fields of goldenrod in

the stifling heat of September
it seems to destroy us

It is only in isolate flecks that
is given off

No one
to witness
and adjust, no one to drive the car
There was one point last week where the craziness of my situation really hit home. I was holding my baby (who is sick with bronchitis), reading Plato (or should I say attempting to read Plato!) while Barney blared in the background with my older son marching back and forth singing the barney song.

Reading for exams with small children is crazy. In between all these serious texts I've been reading a memoir called The Color of Water. It's really beautifully written. I've always had a soft spot in my heart for memoir. (Ever since I read Michael Ondaatje's Running in the Family. It's always so poetic.

Friday, January 20, 2006

I had the great opportunity to see the critic John Carey speak at the city club of Cleveland today. He's a really approachable academic. He's brilliant, but he doesn't flaunt his knowledge in an elite way. It was an excellent lecture on the topic (he addresses in his new book) of What is art. He said some interesting things about literature and why, to him, it is the ultimate artform. He claimed that in the act of reading the reader essentially becomes an author in the way he or she participates with his or her imagination while interpreting the words. It's an interesting comment. (One that Wolfgang Iser and Martha Woodmansee no doubt have also spoken about in their writing about reader response theory and authorship respectively). But it is something that as a writer, you think about. You aren't always driving the car. You put the words on the page but you can't guess at the way they will be perceived. It's the reason why reading your work aloud to an audience is so important in the writing process because you just can't predict how your words will be responded to. You can't anticipate the authorship of the reader.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

I've found a great daycare for my son. It's in a good neighborhood and it just happens to be across the street from my favorite bakery, so I don't see myself losing the baby weight anytime soon. I see a lot of croissants soothing my Mama-guilt in the future. Max isn't too excited about eating from a bottle. But, the people at the center assure me the eventually he'll do it. It seems like he's teething too -- poor guy. Luckily, he won't remember any of this later.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

I've been looking at daycare centers for Max lately and this search has led to the expected tidal wave of emotion. It's easy to look from the surface of it and see the reason and logic of leaving your baby for a few hours a day with a care provider. I need to work. I need to study for exams. But that surge of guilt and responsibility to be home with him is strong and it has quite an undertow. I looked at a great place today that's affordable but it's in a sketchy neighborhood. So, we'll see.

I've moved on from reading Emily Dickinson to Walt Whitman and Hart Crane. This week though I've been reading Sappho again. In fact yesterday I read everything by her in a sort of binge reading (it's not much to brag about since not that much of her work survives and what does is mostly in fragments). Today, I've been reading Burnett's commentary on her poems. It is interesting that so many modern women writers either referred to Sappho in their poems (Emily Dickinson), or wrote letters to her (Amy Lowell) or responded to her fragments because the Sappho's poems were written as part of a type of creative writing class or as part of a finishing school for girls where writing good lyrical poetry was of the highest priority. Maybe it's not just that Sappho was one of the few female poets in the classical cannon, maybe modern female poets were responding to an almost pedagogical tone in her verse?