Saturday, August 25, 2012

Prose Means You're Crazy

I'm re-reading Hamlet right now (pregaming Infinite Jest) and the introduction of my edition made a fascinating point that everybody else (especially Serena) probably already knows: apparently in Elizabethan English drama, characters only spoke in prose to indicate a formal proclamation, a low conversation, or insanity.

Let me say that again: when a character in Shakespeare speaks in discursive prose, it usually means s/he's nuts. Joshua Mehigan points this out about King Lear (in an essay I'll dig up and link to because it and him are both great), but I didn't realize that that's standard.

So this raises a few questions: What would Shakespeare think about contemporary theater, where things tend to be a bit, um, prosaic? Would he assume everyone was crazy? And would he be a little bit right?

Other question, for people who paid more attention in school than I did: when and why did we decide that human speech doesn't sound like poetry? And can we trace the decline and fall of contemporary poetry to that shift?

*Disclaimer: I don't actually feel that gloom-and-doomy about contemporary poetry, but let's be a little bleak about its current state for the sake of the conversation.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Cloggers, haunted houses, and cowboy hats

"When you're waiting, you're not doing nothing. You're doing the most important thing there is. You're allowing your soul to grow up. If you can't be still and wait, you can't become what God created you to be." --Sue Monk Kidd, When the Heart Waits (thanks to Marieke van der Vaart)

I named my car Gabor after the Hungarian mechanic I bought him from, and he and I have had a delightful time jetting around Floyd County in the last two weeks. I'm pretending that he doesn't get as good of gas mileage as he should because I'm in denial that I've put over 400 miles on him. Gas, folks, is expensive even here in rural Virginia.

But anti-depressents are expensive, too, and the car makes an excellent substitute (I jest). I was without a phone for the first month on the farm, and without transportation for three months, and while I've enjoyed the solitude and contemplation immensely, sometimes I get lonely. Actually I get lonely a lot. But as my priest back home reminds me, that's probably good for me. As my time on the farm draws to a close, I'm thankful for the time I've had to be present with myself. I am thankful.

But enough introspection. It's time for pictures!

Flounced young cloggers at the Floyd Jubilee last Sunday dancing to "You don't know that you're beautiful" or whatever that travesty of a pop song is called.  

Bluebird Road

On Sunday, I explored some little gravel roads and came across this dude. Yes, that hat is camo. He bounded over the fence to stop my car and give a friendly holler. He's a Floydian, born and raised.

Marieke van der Vaart popped by for a quick visit this week. It so lovely to share my new life here with an old friend. One night, while we waited for my stone oven to heat up so that we could make pizza (which never worked out.... the fire we built was too small), we wandered a bit down the road to trespass private property and explore this old farm house:

Oh, look. It's poison ivy.  
If I were going to shoot a horror movie, it would be here.

I show my arms to the poison ivy to prove that I've already offered my body up as an oblation. 

This shot is straight; the house isn't.

You can view more photos in my consistently updated Google web album

Monday, August 20, 2012

A machete, an African, and a whole lot of meat

Today I helped butcher a fawn with a machete.

After my escapade with the groundhog, I had kind of sworn off slaughtering things. The groundhog just smelled really bad, and it tasted bad, too. Yes, I know I said otherwise at the time, but after the fun of being a tough girl wore off, I admitted to myself (you begin to talk to yourself a lot when you live alone, I've found) that I didn't really enjoy it at all.

Well, today as I finished up a light lunch of salad and a cheap chardonney (my favorite summer beverage right now), I heard gunshot down the hill. Dane (one of the day employees at the products business) has been trying to get a deer for the last, oh, month, ever since they reached plague-like levels of destruction, munching the delicate centers out of ever single head of lettuce we had and mowing down the bean patch. And yes, we do have deer fencing--which is about the animal equivalent of the child safety lock on medication. Meaning that it's only us human beings and adults which the darn thing frustrates.

It's not hunting season, but we got a permit from the game warden and last week our hunters took out two old does.

An orphaned fawn haunted the pond all weekend with its cries, like a little child.

Fortunately, that little fawn has now found its mother in the celestial fields where, I'm sure, God provides them with unlimited lettuce and tender bean tops. She's certainly not chowing down on ours anymore.

So back to the afternoon: I finish lunch and wander down the hill toward the gunshots to see what all the fuss is about, and the guys are doing a sort of absurd masculine war dance over the poor little corpse. It was too small to justify running it over to Willis for processing that afternoon, and obviously you have to gut and drain them as quickly as possible, so Nii'Anung and I hung it by its hocks over by the backhoe and went to work with a machete and a cleaver. By "we went to work" I mean Nii'Anung was the pro with the blade and I assisted--though I did my share of yanking internal organs free of fascia and cutting the skin loose, pulling it over the fawn's thin shoulders where it caught like a child pulling off a sweater.

Along with the bottle-green flies, a little orange butterfly daintily sipped the spattered blood from an old log.

Perhaps I'm getting used to death, but it was a lot better than that disgusting groundhog. For one thing, fawns smell nice and clean and groundhogs smell like...hairy gym socks.

So now my freezer is full of the most tender, lean meat, free of charge. I think I'll make stew tonight.

[Full disclosure: this actually happened last week; I only just finished the post.]

Sunday, August 19, 2012

"Poetry" Magazine Provides Insight Into Why Nobody Reads Poetry

-Requisite explanation for why I haven't posted here in so long, something about being busy at work and moving, bla bla bla nobody cares-

Hey guys, here's a fun fact: "No one, other than poets themselves, really gives a damn about poetry." That's Michael Corbin writing for City Paper in 2001, and he's pretty close to the truth. Although I stopped writing poetry around the time I stopped being an angsty 15-year-old, I think it's safe to say that 80-90% of people who regularly read poetry also regularly write it. That's terrible news. Can you imagine if only moviemakers watched movies, or only chefs liked good food? We'd assume that either A) something was wrong with the creators of this narrowly appealing product, B) something was wrong with the target audience, or C) Both. 

I posit C, but for the purposes of this little rant, I'm going to focus on the people pumping out poetry that only appeals to like 1% of the population. 

Seriously, guys, just stop. 

I understand that Eliot wanted to reclaim poetry for the elites. I understand that maybe Frost watered it down a bit and made it too pop-culturey. I understand that college professors get grants for being cutting edge/avant garde/innovative (read:inaccessible). I understand that America's sad little education system does a pretty lousy job of cultivating ears for artful language. And I understand that the Facebook generation might not have the attention span for oblique, insightful, subtle verbal stylings. 

But whatever. No excuses. If the only people who want to read what you write (poetry geeks) are just like you, you're doing something wrong. 

The July/August issue of Poetry gives us a great example of this. It has a section pretentiously titled "The Poetry of Other Things" (which actually has a bunch of really great essays; highly recommended), prefaced by a short paragraph starting with this sentence:

"We thought it might be interesting to ask a few poets to write on subjects other than poetry that are close to their hearts."

Wow!! Neato!! What a crazy idea!! Golly gee willikers, I would love to know what my favorite contemporary poet thinks about something besides my favorite contemporary poetry!

Just kidding. As long as we're surprised to hear poets' thoughts on the non-poetic, nobody besides poets will want to read it. Let me say that another way: If poets only write about poetry, they make their entire craft a sort of intellectual Rotary Club -- super super interesting to the tiny fraction of the population that cares, and totally worthless to everyone else. 

In one of the only good poems about why poetry matters, "In Memory of W. B. Yeats," W. H. Auden writes that poetry is "[a] way of happening, a mouth." (Heads up, poets! Auden already explained why poetry matters, so you don't have to! Please stop it!) In other words, poetry is a means to an end. It's a lens; it helps us see other things, other people. If the only role of poetry is to help us value poetry, it's a stupid waste of time, and it's no great tragedy that only 8% of Americans read a poem in 2007

Now, granted, this poetry-about-poetry house-of-cards garbage isn't the only thing contemporary poets are doing wrong. And not all contemporary poets do it (Thank you, Averill Curdy, A. E. Stallings, Steve Gehrke, Roddie Lumsden, et al; may you live for a thousand years). But here's the point: As long as we expect our poets to only have insight on poetry, we're wasting our time on them. I don't know what the solution is (probably not ranting on the Internet), but for now, all I can think to do is praise the poets who get it right and say snarky things about the ones who get it wrong. Our culture is on the line.