Posted in Altadena, Poesy

Fruit of the Vine

First, Altadena Hiker posts this lovely photo (you can read the original post here—it’s quite nice):

Tomato envy is a big deal in these out-West parts.  Oh, we feign niceness, we pepper each other with niceties.  But let’s face it, the green thumbs out here (I am not in their number) are in pitched battle to grow the Best Tomato West of the Rockies.

I don’t care who’s growing.  Tomatoes are better back east.  There.  I’ve said it.

The Scout has been growing Early Girls and Purple Cherokees this summer, but his plants are too much stalk without enough broad leaf.  Is he over-watering?  His admiration for the Hiker’s tomatoes resulted in the following (to the tune of California Girls by the Beach Boys):

Well east coast fruits are hip
I really dig the red they wear
And the southern shades with the way they stalk
They knock me out how well they bear

The mid-west beef marauders really make me eat a fright
And the northern looms are the heirs so fair
They keep the palate warm and bright

I wish they all could be ‘Dena Hiker’s
I wish they all could be ‘Dena Hiker’s
I wish they all could be Hiker’s early girls

What The Scout lacks in green thumbery is made up for by clever wordsmithery.  He’s my Best Boy.

Posted in Let's Get Visual, Poesy

The Good Fight

The Good Fight
I am doing battle
in my dreams every night.  High on a tower toppled
perched, not yet fallen; about to fall My job is to scramble
down without upsetting the balance. My job is to fight
off the intruder who calmly enters the bedroom. Says I
want you.
Last night the innocents left me (do I mean
the others?) the fight so real so real I didn’t go
back to sleep but instead consulted Emily
Post via The New Yorker. Mrs. Three-in-One, she
calls me. At my life party: I am apothecary, chief strategist
and custodial crew. If you think elementary school,
you’re right. I looked up perfidy, then stayed home.

– – –

Ah yes. Sometimes, nothing but a poem will do. Ask Miss Havisham.

– – –

The Big Island, Hawaii. Photo by The Scout.

Posted in Poesy

“Words That Make My Stomach Plummet” by Mira McEwan

Words That Make My Stomach Plummet

by Mira McEwan

Committee Meeting. Burden of Proof.
The Simple Truth. Trying To Be Nice.
Honestly. I Could Have Died. I Almost Cried.
It’s Only a Cold Sore.
It’s My Night. Trust Me. Dead Serious.
I Have Everything All Under Control.
I’m Famous For My Honesty.
I’m Simply Beside Myself. We’re On The Same Page.
Let’s Not Reinvent The Wheel.
For The Time Being. There Is That.
I’m Not Just Saying That.
I Just Couldn’t Help Myself. I Mean It.

from Ecstatic. © Allbook Books, 2007

Posted in Poesy

Inspired by Miss Havisham

Miss Havisham’s love poem to Pasadena aroused ‘Curmudgeon Kel.’ So here’s my sardonic lament.

You’re a living doll, Pasadena, a Twilight Zone special
Bashed, bloodied but breathing
Learning to wear your skyward spikes
Condos of stucco and tile, offices of glass and steel
Your mix your uses like a Bond martini—shaken, not stirred
Developers’ pockets dream to bulge
Dear girl, they’re in your bloomers
Your Greene and Greene’s shadowed, your Julia Morgan widowed
Your Ernie Junior’s deported, your Beadles plum gone
Your Bullock’s tea room a sea of furniture
Made in China.
I raise my Budweiser-sponsored Dodgers glass
(from Hooters) to your vertical growth
That train has left the station, the station itself dwarfed
The big boys from Chicago now pass you by
Their whistles meant for some other girl

Posted in Around Town, Poesy

The Poetics of Community

The world is lousy with poetry. I like poetry because it makes a point in the most interesting way possible. I like irony, even though it hurts, like a little four-year old Latina girl wearing a full-color Barbie t-shirt. When I first heard the word irony, my kid-mind went straight to the image of a wrinkly piece of fabric. You are trying hard to iron the fabric, but the wrinkles don’t come out. The truth of the wrinkles remains. That’s irony.

“The making of community against anti-social technology is the chief object of the poetry gathered here.” – Andrei Codrescu, New Orleans, April 16, 1987 – Introduction to the first edition of American Poetry Since 1970: Up Late.

I first read those words in December 1993, and they might as well have leaped off the page and danced around the room. Making community has always been important to me: it is vital to our survival and yet one of the most difficult things in the world. Our American society is based on rugged individualism. Think of the Marlboro man belting out Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” – then devolving into a paroxysm of coughing thanks to his two-pack a day habit.

What can break down the cultural and economic divisions in our society? I moved to Northwest Pasadena in 1982 because of John Perkins. Since 1960, John’s been preaching about the 3Rs – Relocation, Reconciliation, Redistribution. In addition to his work in Jackson, Mississippi, he founded Harambee here in Northwest Pasadena and, more recently, The John Perkins Center at Seattle Pacific University (which not very ironically happens to be my alma mater, though I was there long before the Perkins Center). I have not maintained a close relationship with Harambee, but I’m still here in Northwest Pasadena.

John travels around the country telling the church that it has molded itself in its own image, that it is more concerned with preserving cultural and economic divisions than with the deep love that is the heart of the gospel. John says that 11:00 a.m. on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America. I would add to that – in the cases where the church is more integrated, all the members tend to come from one economic group.

Few worldwide institutions have wreaked more havoc than the Christian church. “Taking the Lord’s name in vain” is not a word couplet that comes out of your mouth. Taking the Lord’s name in vain is doing whatever you want to do to spread your own political, economic and sexual interests while pretending that God told you to do so.

Around the time that Harambee opened Harambee Preparatory School, I was the PTA President at Washington Middle School (about 4 blocks away). While I admire Harambee’s work and must respect their decision to open a school, I couldn’t help but think how great it would be if all the effort going into starting a new school could go into the local public school. At the time I was there (mid-1990’s) there were 240 students in the eighth grade class, and around 70-80 did not graduate. That’s a crisis.

Today is a tough day for those of us who love Pasadena. Two more people have died in violence, in vain. The headlines of the local papers: “Man watches as son, nephew gunned down” says the Pasadena Star-News. “A booming Pasadena fights rise in gang killings” says the Los Angeles Times.

Here in Pasadena, we are writing the poem of our community. So far the poem is about two education systems and great economic disparity. Our poem is awash in blood and hate and neglect.

There has got to be a way for kind-hearted, intelligent people to turn this poem around. It will take more than the do-gooders’ sense of wanting to help “those people.” I want the next line of our poem to say that we overcame embraced our myriad differences and, through participation, made our existing institutions do the work they were intended to do in the first place. Now that would be ironic.

Posted in Film, Poesy, Writing

This Day in Literary History

I am a huge fan of Garrison Keillor, something for which I sometimes feel the need to apologize. I’m not sure why. Too white, middle-class, mid-Western? Not hip enough? Hey, if Robert Altman makes a film based on your long-running radio show, that’s about as cool as it gets.

I’m also a huge fan of The Writer’s Almanac. Here’s a bit of today’s edition (14 October 2006):

It’s the birthday of poet E. E. Cummings (Edward Estlin Cummings), born in Cambridge, Massachusetts (1894). He was a man who wrote joyful, almost childlike poems about the beauty of nature and love, even though he was actually a conservative, irritable man who hated noisy modern inventions like vacuum cleaners and radios. He spent most of his life unhappy, struggling to pay the bills, ostracized for his unpopular political views.

He had published several books of poetry, including Tulips and Chimneys (1923), when he traveled to Russia in 1931, hoping to write about the superior society under the rule of communism. He was horrified at what he found. He saw no lovers, no one laughing, no one enjoying themselves. The theaters and museums were full of propaganda, and the people were scared to talk to each other in the street. Everyone was miserable.

When he got home, he wrote about the experience, comparing Russia to Dante’s Inferno. Most of the publishers at the time were communists themselves, and they turned their backs on Cummings for criticizing communist Russia. Many magazines refused to publish his poetry or review his books. But the attacks only made him more stubborn. He said, “To be nobody-but-yourself—in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else—means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.”

He tried to write a script for a ballet, but it was never performed. He tried writing for the movies in Hollywood, but found that he spent all his time painting humming birds and sunsets instead of working on screenplays. He had to borrow money from his parents and his friends. He said, “I’m living so far beyond my income that we may almost be said to be living apart.” A few years later, he decided to make some extra money by giving a series of lectures at Harvard University. Most lecturers spoke from behind a lectern, but he sat on the stage, read his poetry aloud, and talked about what it meant to him.

The faculty members were embarrassed by his earnestness, but the undergraduates adored him and came to his lectures in droves. Even though he suffered from terrible back pains, and had to wear a metal brace that he called an “iron maiden,” he began traveling and giving readings at universities across the country. By the end of the 1950s he had become the most popular poet in America. He loved performing and loved the applause, and the last few years of his life were the happiest. He died on September 2, 1962.
In the first edition of his Collected Poems, he wrote in the preface, “The poems to come are for you and for me and are not for most people—it’s no use trying to pretend that mostpeople and ourselves are alike. … You and I are human beings; most people are snobs.”
It’s the birthday of short-story writer Katherine Mansfield, born Katherine Mansfield Beauchamp in Wellington, New Zealand (1888). She’s the author of short-story collections such as Bliss and Other Stories (1920) and The Garden Party, and Other Stories (1922); and she is known as one of the originators of the modern short story in English.

Her father was an incredibly successful businessman in the growing economy of New Zealand, and he sent her away to school in England. After her 18 birthday, when her parents came to pick her up from her English school and bring her back to New Zealand, she found that she no longer had anything in common with them or their values. She wrote in her journal on the boat ride home, “They are worse than I had even expected. They are prying and curious, they are watchful and they discuss only the food. … For more than a quarter of an hour they are quite unbearable, and so absolutely my mental inferiors.”

As soon as she got back to New Zealand, she became one of the wildest members of the small artistic community there. She had affairs with men and women; she traveled deep into the countryside and lived with the indigenous people; and she published a series of occasionally scandalous stories under a variety of pseudonyms. In a letter to an editor, asking for money, she wrote, “[I have] a rapacious appetite for everything and principles as light as my purse.” Eventually, her parents gave her an allowance so she could move to London, and she never returned to New Zealand.

Mansfield lived so freely in the London bohemian scene that she eventually had to destroy her own diaries for fear of incriminating evidence. At one point, she married a man she barely knew, but left him before the wedding night was over, because she couldn’t stand the pink bedspread and the lampshade with pink tassels in the hotel room. She had to settle down a bit when her mother came to London and threatened to put her in a convent. She said, “How idiotic civilization is! Why be given a body if you have to keep it shut up in a case like a rare, rare fiddle?”

She wrote sketches and essays for various newspapers and journals, but she didn’t begin to write the stories that made her famous until her younger brother came to visit her in 1915. They had long talks over the course of the summer, reminiscing about growing up in New Zealand. She hadn’t seen him in years and found that she had more in common with him than any other member of the family. He left that fall to start military duty as a soldier in World War I. She learned two months later that he had been killed while demonstrating how to throw a grenade. She was devastated, and she dealt with her grief by writing a series of short stories about her childhood, including “The Garden Party,” which many consider her masterpiece. She died of tuberculosis a few years later in January 1923, at the age of 34. She wrote, “How hard it is to escape from places. However carefully one goes they hold you—you leave little bits of yourself fluttering on the fences—little rags and shreds of your very life.”

Rock on, all you writers out there.