One of the most common-sense ideas for saving money is this: make your own meals and take them with you. Restaurants, coffee shops, and vending machines all charge a hefty markup on food, for both the service and the convenience. These temptations are plentiful around my office, but oddly, it’s not my appetite that leads to me spending too much money there. No, I overpay for food, because my lunch is sitting on the counter at my house, getting licked by my cats and growing room-temperature bacteria.
I’ve always been this way. In elementary school, lunch forgotten, I’d walk the two blocks home and my mom would cook for me and let me watch a little TV. In college, I was perpetually broke and could usually only scrape together enough change ($1) for a Wendy’s baked potato to replace whatever food I had meant to bring along on my marathon school-work-meeting days. It was only at my first real grown-up job that lightning struck:
by Philip Larkin
January 1972, from High Windows
I thought it would last my time –
The sense that, beyond the town,
There would always be fields and farms,
Where the village louts could climb
Such trees as were not cut down;
I knew there’d be false alarms
In the papers about old streets
And split level shopping, but some
Have always been left so far;
And when the old part retreats
As the bleak high-risers come
We can always escape in the car.
Things are tougher than we are, just
As earth will always respond
However we mess it about;
Chuck filth in the sea, if you must:
The tides will be clean beyond.
– But what do I feel now? Doubt?
Or age, simply? The crowd
Is young in the M1 cafe;
Their kids are screaming for more –
More houses, more parking allowed,
More caravan sites, more pay.
On the Business Page, a score
Of spectacled grins approve
Some takeover bid that entails
Five per cent profit (and ten
Per cent more in the estuaries): move
Your works to the unspoilt dales
(Grey area grants)! And when
You try to get near the sea
In summer . . . It seems, just now,
To be happening so very fast;
Despite all the land left free
For the first time I feel somehow
That it isn’t going to last,
That before I snuff it, the whole
Boiling will be bricked in
Except for the tourist parts –
First slum of Europe: a role
It won’t be so hard to win,
With a cast of crooks and tarts.
And that will be England gone,
The shadows, the meadows, the lanes,
The guildhalls, the carved choirs.
There’ll be books; it will linger on
In galleries; but all that remains
For us will be concrete and tyres.
Most things are never meant.
This won’t be, most likely; but greeds
And garbage are too thick-strewn
To be swept up now, or invent
Excuses that make them all needs.
I just think it will happen, soon.
So many people, many of whom enjoy other forms of the arts, are quick to declare, “I hate poetry.” I suspect that what they really mean is that they hate bad poetry. But perhaps I should agree with them and say, “I hate poetry too.” That is, I hate this terrible definition of poetry that has become standard in American culture (and perhaps other parts of the Anglophone world? I don’t know it well enough to say).
The first part of the problem is that poetry has become interchangeable with rhyme. Not all rhymes are poems and not all poems rhyme. But the collective consciousness seems to have decided that two lines of varying length and cadence can tied together with an end rhyme (or near-rhyme), and voila! You have a poem. It seems that kindergarten teachers start us off on the wrong path and most of us never get corrected.
The second major issue I’ve observed is that people take confession a bit too far. While personal touches or revelations can make a poem great, overdoing it is uninteresting at best and downright awkward at worst. Often some of the worst offenders on issue #2 aren’t also committing sin #1 of rhyming any- and everything (but when they do, it is AWFUL). Rather, they take what is basically a diary entry, add some haphazard line breaks, and call it a day. Processing that deep emotion through poetry should not be so quick nor so simple.
All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling. To be natural is to be obvious, and to be obvious is to be inartistic. –Oscar Wilde
The third problem is that because the subject matter is often so personal and deeply felt, no one wants to offer the budding poet anything but praise. Certainly it does take courage to share one’s works and experiences, but just as with any other art form, or any skill at all really, the beginner needs honest feedback, direction, and constructive criticism to grow. You probably wouldn’t let your friend try to exhibit his finger paintings in an art gallery if he was older than 8, and yet you might give him a pat on the head when he pays lots of money to have his terrible poem included in an anthology (which is a scam, by the way).
We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry. –William Butler Yeats
The fourth problem isn’t unique to poetry: people want to be producers and not consumers of the art. In other words, people want to write poetry, but not read it. Or write novels, but not read them. Make films. Take photos. And so on. One novelist often laments how his publishers pass on his new fiction work, but offer him a nice advance for a “how to write a novel” or “how to get published” guidebook, because those will be sure to sell. The more poetry you read, though, the better your poetry will become. And not just good poetry, either: read BAD poetry, really really bad poetry, for a nudge in the right direction.
And of course, one should read good poetry. We share our favorites on this site (with perhaps a crummy poem or two for variety). There is the Academy of American Poets. AllPoetry.com. The Poetry Foundation–and they’ll even email you one poem per day if you sign up for their newsletter.
So, how do you stop writing bad poetry and start writing good poetry? (more…)
I have been alone in Paris, alone in Vienna, alone in London, and all in all, it is very much like being alone in Green Town, Illinois. It is, in essence, being alone. Oh, you have plenty of time to think, improve your manners, sharpen your conversations. But I sometimes think I could easily trade a verb tense or a curtsy for some company that would stay over for a thirty-year weekend. –Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine
The White Birds
William Butler Yeats
I would that we were, my beloved, white birds on the foam of the sea!
We tire of the flame of the meteor, before it can fade and flee;
And the flame of the blue star of twilight, hung low on the rim of the sky,
Has awakened in our hearts, my beloved, a sadness that may not die.
A weariness comes from those dreamers, dew-dabbled, the lily and rose;
Ah, dream not of them, my beloved, the flame of the meteor that goes,
Or the flame of the blue star that lingers hung low in the fall of the dew:
For I would we were changed to white birds on the wandering foam: I and you!
I am haunted by numberless islands, and many a Danaan shore,
Where Time would surely forget us, and Sorrow come near us no more;
Soon far from the rose and the lily, and fret of the flames would we be,
Were we only white birds, my beloved, buoyed out on the foam of the sea!
Morning in the Burned House
In the burned house I am eating breakfast.
You understand: there is no house, there is no breakfast,
yet here I am.
The spoon which was melted scrapes against
the bowl which was melted also.
No one else is around.
Where have they gone to, brother and sister,
mother and father? Off along the shore,
perhaps. Their clothes are still on the hangers,
their dishes piled beside the sink,
which is beside the woodstove
with its grate and sooty kettle,
every detail clear,
tin cup and rippled mirror.
The day is bright and songless,
the lake is blue, the forest watchful.
In the east a bank of cloud
rises up silently like dark bread.
I can see the swirls in the oilcloth,
I can see the flaws in the glass,
those flares where the sun hits them.
I can’t see my own arms and legs
or know if this is a trap or blessing,
finding myself back here, where everything
in this house has long been over,
kettle and mirror, spoon and bowl,
including my own body,
including the body I had then,
including the body I have now
as I sit at this morning table, alone and happy,
bare child’s feet on the scorched floorboards
(I can almost see)
in my burning clothes, the thin green shorts
and grubby yellow T-shirt
holding my cindery, non-existent,
radiant flesh. Incandescent.
To Sir Richard Fanshaw, Upon His Translation Of ‘Pastor Fido’
Sir John Denham (1615-1669)
Such is our pride, our folly, or our fate,
That few but such as cannot write, translate.
But what in them is want of art or voice,
In thee is either modesty or choice.
While this great piece, restored by thee, doth stand
Free from the blemish of an artless hand,
Secure of fame, thou justly dost esteem
Less honour to create than to redeem.
Nor ought a genius less than his that writ
Attempt translation; for transplanted wit
All the defects of air and soil doth share,
And colder brains like colder climates are:
In vain they toil, since nothing can beget
A vital spirit but a vital heat.
That servile path thou nobly dost decline
Of tracing word by word, and line by line.
Those are the labour’d births of slavish brains,
Not the effect of poetry, but pains;
Cheap vulgar arts, whose narrowness affords
No flight for thoughts, but poorly sticks at words.
A new and nobler way thou dost pursue
To make translations and translators too.
They but preserve the ashes, thou the flame,
True to his sense, but truer to his fame:
Fording his current, where thou find’st it low,
Let’st in thine own to make it rise and flow;
Wisely restoring whatsoever grace
It lost by change of times, or tongues, or place.
Nor fetter’d to his numbers and his times,
Betray’st his music to unhappy rhymes.
Nor are the nerves of his compacted strength
Stretch’d and dissolved into unsinew’d length:
Yet, after all, (lest we should think it thine)
Thy spirit to his circle dost confine.
New names, new dressings, and the modern cast,
Some scenes, some persons alter’d, and outfaced
The world, it were thy work; for we have known
Some thank’d and praised for what was less their own.
That master’s hand which to the life can trace
The airs, the lines, and features of the face,
May with a free and bolder stroke express
A varied posture, or a flatt’ring dress;
He could have made those like, who made the rest,
But that he knew his own design was best.
Our deeds still travel with us from afar, and what we have been makes us what we are. –George Eliot, Middlemarch
I carried an undeveloped roll of film with me, through moves to no less than 11 houses and apartments, for at least 12 years.
I had shot it with a cheap hand-me-down Vivitar camera, for which I had never owned the flash attachment, before I went away to college. It was the first and last time I ever used the camera. There were shots of my dogs and of my favorite haunts. As much as I was interested in photography, I was painfully aware of how little subject matter I had. No travels, no close friends, lonely solitary hobbies like reading and cross-stitch. Pocket money was stashed away in hopes of a time when things would be different, so there was no cash to spare for processing photos that might not even turn out.
As you may know, the next decade was a frantic series of attempts to change, to grow, to learn, to travel, to make friends. Money got shorter than ever as I took on massive debts to make these things happen. Somehow the roll of film was always packed in the office supply box for each move I made, across town and across country. Both of the dogs photographed on the film died.
It seemed more impossible than ever to develop this film. It would hurt too much, I told myself. And who knows if it even took in the first place?
I had a vague knowledge that film expires, turns red like the glow of a memory. Finally, two years after my last move, 6 years after my beloved American pit bull terrier died, 3 years after my last international travel (my honeymoon), it felt as though the time had arrived to see what this film would look like. In some ways I am poorer and lonelier than ever, and even less accomplished at hobbies and less mentally alert than I was at 19, but I have the strength to survive a look at anything these days. Even a portrait of the sad little self I still carry inside me.
I developed the film this past weekend. With the exception of a few frames decayed beyond recognition, I think they came out rather well.
Love After Love
The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.