Litany by Billy Collins & performed by He Who Must Be Adored

Litany

You are the bread and the knife,
The crystal goblet and the wine…
-Jacques Crickillon

You are the bread and the knife,
the crystal goblet and the wine.
You are the dew on the morning grass
and the burning wheel of the sun.
You are the white apron of the baker,
and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.

However, you are not the wind in the orchard,
the plums on the counter,
or the house of cards.
And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.
There is just no way that you are the pine-scented air.

It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge,
maybe even the pigeon on the general’s head,
but you are not even close
to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.

And a quick look in the mirror will show
that you are neither the boots in the corner
nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.

It might interest you to know,
speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the sound of rain on the roof.

I also happen to be the shooting star,
the evening paper blowing down an alley
and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.

I am also the moon in the trees
and the blind woman’s tea cup.
But don’t worry, I’m not the bread and the knife.
You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and–somehow–the wine.

plums

One of my favorite movies to rewatch is Crossing Delancey.  The Mathematician and I saw it on the day it came out, which happened to be  two months to the day since our wedding. And I was just barely pregnant with the Girlchild.  I often have very personal memories attached to my recollections about movies. Why this should be, I have no idea. But I remember the exact circumstances of seeing Star Wars, When Harry Met Sally, Animal House, Saturday Night Fever, Groundhog Day and dozens of other movies on the weekends they opened.

Cover of
Crossing Delancey

And still, Crossing Delancey is one of my favorites, partly because it’s set on Manhattan’s lower east side, and partly because of the way it pokes fun at literary pretentions, and partly (a big part) because of [[Reizl Bozyk]], who spent sixty years performing in Manhattan’s Yiddish theaters.  She played Bubbie (Amy Irving’s grandmother) in the stage production of Crossing Delancey and then carried that role over to the film. This picture is from one of the best scenes of the movie, when Bubbie (on the left) finagles Amy Irving’s character (middle) into meeting with a matchmaker (on the right).

The reason all this came to mind is that I’ve been thinking about fruit trees and whether to plant a couple, and the idea of plums came into my head. Which brought to mind  a poem recited by the obnoxious narcissistic novelist character thatAmy Irving’s character  has a (totally inexplicable) crush  on, to her Bubbie’s consternation.  So I have to go watch the movie again, right now, no matter how late it is.  I’ll leave you with the poem.

Ripe plums are falling
Now there are only five
May a fine lover come for me
while there is still time

Ripe plums are falling
Now there are only three
May a fine lover come for me
while there is still time

Ripe plums are falling
I gather them in a shallow basket
May a fine lover come for me
tell me his name.
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anonymity, part 2: cautionary tale

In the spring of 2004, a weblog called Foetry.com made its anonymous appearance. Foetry was not about reviewing poetry, as you might guess, but instead it set out to be the watchdog of the poetry prize and award-giving universe, under the banner: Exposing fraudulent contests. Tracking the sycophants. Naming names. (Every time I read that, I hear the theme music from Superman in my head.)

The claim was that there was rampant cronyism and plain old cheating of a fraudulent and criminal nature going on in the way poetry prizes were awarded. The anonymous blogger set out to expose the wrong-doers, and went about it with gusto.

The furor in the poetry world was tremendous, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Entry fees for contests are all many poetry publications have in way of serious income, but the process has to be fair and transparent. Maybe Foetry was a good idea, but the execution (and I use that word purposefully) was troubling. Suspicions about the motivations of the editor only grew with every new trumpeting of a conspiracy uncovered.

Accusations were broad, loud, and often defied both logic and evidence (detailed examples from an article that appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education). Many of the accusations were small, but a few were big and messy and litigious. (And how do I know this? Because (here comes the revelation) I know a couple people who were targeted and accused by Foetry, and I know where the facts were misstated or plain wrong. And as it turned out, once the Foetry editor was outed, I know him, as well. Or at least, I’ve met him and I knew his wife pretty well at one time.

Then he got outted.

Alan Cordle is 36, pale and round with thick glasses and soft fleshy cheeks. He smiles often and speaks in a wispy voice, which suits his day job as a librarian at Portland Community College. (San Francisco Chronicle by Tomas Alex Tizon, Los Angeles Times, Sunday, July 10, 2005)

And here’s where the cautionary tale comes in. This mild-mannered university librarian is married to a poet. Not an unsuccessful poet, but somebody whose career was bobbing along at half mast. The librarian was angry on behalf of the poet, and so Foetry came into existence. (There is so much stuff about this whole kerfuffle on the internet, it would be tiresome of me to repeat it all, so here, some links if you’re interested in the gritty details: the archives of the now defunct Foetry weblog; a detailed article at the San Francisco Chronicle; a summary piece from the New York Times Book section; commentary from the Kenyon Review (a major literary publication); and a discussion of the underlying issues. )

Let me cut to the moral of the story, as I see it. The idea behind Foetry was not bad or unreasonable, but the motivations that brought it into being are suspect. The librarian knew that if he were honest about his identity, everything he had to say would be viewed as huffing and puffing in indignation about honors denied to his wife. Of course, he still might have announced his connections right at the start, and if he had then gone on and done scrupulous work, he could have proved his point anyway. But because he was anonymous, he got over confident and sloppy. He let himself go. Unfounded accusations shrilly voiced do not inspire confidence. They just make people really angry, and angry people who consider themselves wronged want to face their accuser. That’s one of those basic rights we take for granted.

So the angry parties went after the anonymous editor, and the anonymous editor got outed, and his conflict of interest cost him whatever credibility he had left. If he did have strong evidence of major wrong doing, who was going to pay attention at that point?

The editor’s anonymity is what garnered so much attention to begin with, because it raised questions in people’s minds. Was this a Big Name Insider, a Whistle-Blower? That titillating possibility got Foetry a lot of press. Was that the whole idea to start with?

The only thing that seems sure to me is this: anonymity was entirely the wrong way to go about this. If you’re going to express an opinion, it’s best to put your name on it front and center. If you’re going to toss around accusations, then you have no choice, if you want to be taken seriously, but to identify yourself and clearly state any conflict of interest.

Better to avoid anonymity, if at all possible.

writing workshops

Bunny woke me up at two-thirty in the morning because he was in need of a belly rub and, no connection whatsoever, a stroll around the garden to make sure there were no lurking beasts from which he had to protect us. That is the nature of our relationship: the dogs provide me with unconditional love, and I rub their bellies. Sometimes at an ungodly hour. Seems like I’ve got the better end of the deal.

Sometimes though I find it hard to get back to sleep, so I read or I go wandering around the internet. I just got back from that little jaunt around the webby world, and here’s what I stumbled across, an interesting opportunity.

Once in a while I have posted about Cary Tennis’s work. He’s an advice columnist at Salon.com who has been answering questions from the public for years now. If I remember correctly, he’s a writer, and not a psychologist or psychiatrist or therapist of any school. He’s just a writer with a gentle approach that appeals to a lot of people.

He has written columns that I loved, and some that I really, really disliked. I often disagree with him completely on how to approach a problem, but then that’s okay; he doesn’t need my approval and nobody asked my opinion, anyway. And there are dozens — if not hundreds — of regular Salon readers who are quick to comment on his columns. A few of them are sure to make the points I would have made, and many are not afraid to tell him that he’s got the wrong end of the stick. So really, it’s not about an advice column so much as it is a discussion set off by his answer to a letter from a stranger.

At any rate, Cary has a website, a collection of his columns in a new book, and also if you live in the San Francisco Bay area, you could take a writing class from him. In his home. His description:

If you write, if you want to write, if you dream of writing, this workshop can help you discover ideas, dreams, emotions, images and stories of profound significance, and recall them in tranquility, in their original voice, with all their original brilliance and luminosity. And it can give you the structure and support you need to make those stories, poems and memories as good and true as they can be.

I invite you to join us. The workshop will take place at my house in San Francisco on Tuesday nights from 7 to 10 p.m. The price is $380 for 10 weeks. Enrollment is limited to 12 writers. E-mail me at workshops@carytennis.com,

I suggest that you read about his approach and philosophy of writing, and then if you live in his area, have the time, interest and money, you go on ahead and take his course. And then let us know how it went, okay? Because I’m dead curious.

Writers are always looking for ways to make a living that cuts out the publisher. A great many serious writers end up teaching — not because they like it, or are good at it — but because it’s one way to pay the rent that doesn’t involve contracts and marketing and all that other awful business that goes along with publishing a book. My guess is that if you polled everybody who writes seriously and who also teaches writing, you’d find that the vast majority would give up teaching immediately — if such a thing were financially feasible. This doesn’t mean the individual is a bad teacher. There are some excellent teachers out there who would simply rather be doing something else with their time.

I have to assume that Cary Tennis likes teaching and wants to do more of it, because there he is offering the opportunity to work with him, in his home, on your writing. This is not a get-rich-quick scheme. If my arithmetic is right (and that’s an iffy proposition right there), you’d bring in an annual salary of about 20k if you ran these workshops back to back for fifty-two weeks, and had an average of ten people in each class. Certainly taking a class at a college would cost you more.

So there you are: somebody who is teaching writing because he wants to.