Monday, April 30, 2007

The more things stay the same

It's the last day of April, so you get one more poem. Then I go into homework-hibernation until the semester ends.

I was walking back from class tonight and the moon was brilliant and almost full, and it was really windy. Everything was, you know, stirring. A lot of things have come at me lately from my past in one way or another (like the girl wearing the Kentucky shirt on the bus today), and to go along with a quote from Clare's Facebook profile, I've been trying to separate a sense of history from a sense of nostalgia. I've been thinking about the inverted and faux-deep sentence: the more things stay the same, the more they change. All this has something - though certainly not everything - to do with this poem. Wallace Stevens can be impenetrably abstract, in contrast to his detail-oriented day job (insurance executive). But I fell in love, hard, with this poem last fall. I hope you like it too.

Re-Statement of Romance by Wallace Stevens

The night knows nothing of the chants of night.
It is what it is as I am what I am:
And in perceiving this I best perceive myself

And you. Only we two may interchange
Each in the other what each has to give.
Only we two are one, not you and night,

Nor night and I, but you and I, alone,
So much alone, so deeply by ourselves,
So far beyond the casual solitudes,

That night is only the background of our selves,
Supremely true each to its separate self,
In the pale light that each upon the other throws.

from The Collected Poems by Wallace Stevens. New York: Vintage Books, 1990.

Monday, April 23, 2007

A poem full of lies

The other day, I went into a bookstore with a friend who was looking for something. She didn't find it, but I bought something that I've been meaning to buy, and just never did: Matthew Zapruder's second book of poems, The Pajamaist. I saw Zapruder read my sophomore year (I think) in college; we share an alma mater. I stupidly didn't buy the book (American Linden) he was reading from. But I thought I'd share some excerpts (from the beginning and the end) from a poem called "Haiku," which isn't...well, not really. I guess I would say the syllabic structure approximates haiku. Anyway. These poems are being posted kind of as they organically remind me of my life, or vice versa. It's very self-directed, as usual.

from "Haiku" by Matthew Zapruder

Yesterday for you
I wrote a poem so full
of lies it woke me
stunned like someone
bitten in the middle of the night
or a bird that just
smashed into a very clean window.
Now it's so early
it's still night
and this time I'm hardly
trying at all, holding carefully
in my palms
the knowledge that
I don't know anything about you.
You keep sleeping
and I'll stop trying
to decide if it's better
to change other people
or how they see us,
or what's more
urgent and futile,
to unlock
or to invent the past.

from The Pajamist by Matthew Zapruder. Port Townsend, WA: Copper Canyon Press, 2006.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

We drowned in Eden

This weekend the weather finally broke from its wet, gray, cold, hunker-down-and-use-your-umbrella-as-a-shield streak. Yesterday, a friend and I went to sit in the Public Garden and do homework, and pretty much the whole city--from bridal couples to anti-war protesters--was out, just so glad not to be wearing coats or huddling. Even though this poem is about this "drowning in Eden" eventually ending, I was reminded of it yesterday, and how much I love it. I wrote a (mediocre) paper about it in college, in which I talked about the tension between motion and motionlessness. I'm definitely feeling that tension lately, both in a day-to-day sense and a bigger life sense. Birthdays will do that to you, I suppose. Anyway, here's your latest National Poetry month installment. (I should probably post a poem next that doesn't belong to this particular generation of poets, just for variety. Stand by for updates.)

The Public Garden by Robert Lowell

Burnished, burned-out, still burning as the year
you lead me to our stamping ground.
The city and its cruising cars surround
the Public Garden. All’s alive—
the children crowding home from school at five,
punting a football in the bricky air,
the sailors and their pick-ups under trees
with Latin labels. And the jaded flock
of swanboats paddles to its dock.
The park is drying.
Dead leaves thicken to a ball
inside the basin of a fountain, where
the heads of four stone lions stare
and suck on empty fawcets. Night
deepens. From the arched bridge, we see
the shedding park-bound mallards, how they keep
circling and diving in the lantern light,
searching for something hidden in the muck.
And now the moon, earth’s friend, the cared so much
for us, and cared so little, comes again—
always a stranger! As we walk,
it lies like chalk
over the waters. Everything’s aground.
Remember summer? Bubbles filled
the fountain, and we splashed. We drowned
in Eden, while Jehovah’s grass-green lyre
was rustling all about us in the leaves
that gurgled by us, turning upside down. . .
The fountain’s failing waters flash around
the garden. Nothing catches fire.

Text taken from Poets of Cambridge.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Two more poems.

Last night, I came across two short James Merrill poems I wanted to post here. The first is about (among other things) a storm in April, which is superficially timely. The second struck me, because I was trying to write a poem about a moment like this, but of course, Merrill does it more neatly and easily.

Another April

The panes flash, tremble with your ghostly passage
Through them, an x-ray sheerness billowing, and I have risen
But cannot speak, remembering only that one was meant
To rise and not to speak. Young storm, this house is yours.
Let your eye darken, your rain come, the candle reeling
Deep in what still reflects control itself and me.
Daybreak's great gray rust-veined irises humble and proud
Along your path will have laid their foreheads in the dust.

After the Ball

Clasping her magic
Changemaking taffeta
(Old rose to young spinach
And back) I'd taken

Such steps in dream logic
That the Turnstile at Greenwich
Chimed with laughter--
My subway token.

from Collected Poems by James Merrill. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Kindness, philosophy, art, vampires

I've got a lot to write about tonight. First, I just want to say that this was one of the best weekends in recent memory. I had a number of very different cultural experiences, encompassing Joe Pesci movies, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, prom, the Gardner Museum, and the string quartets of Dmitri Shostakovich - all wonderful. I'm so lucky to know the people I do, and that they're (for some crazy reason) my friends.

As everyone knows, Kurt Vonnegut died this week. His obituary in the New York Times was very good, I thought. I kept thinking about one line they quoted from his book God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater: "There's only one rule I know of, babies - 'God damn it, you've got to be kind.'" It echoes for me the Philip K. Dick line painted large on the wall of my English classroom in high school: "It's how kind you are." These two are both - generally - known as science fiction writers, and I wonder if it takes the artificiality of imagined backdrops to throw into relief what humans are really about, what damns and redeems us. Vonnegut's and Dick's philosophy is one to which I can wholeheartedly subscribe - and one I could definitely be working on a little harder.

My readings for cataloging this week have also been on the philosophical side lately. The subject this week is classification, and I've seen quotes from George Lakoff and Michel Foucault as well as the usual commentators from the library field. Classification is all about the categories people make - the classic example cited in my textbook is of different cultures' conceptions of color - some have names for seven colors (roygbiv), and some have names for two ("cool" and "warm"). I'm terribly excited about the whole thing; I love this kind of stuff.

Last week, though, we were talking about subject headings. These are a lot of fun to play around with. This blog, for instance, could have the following subject headings:
********, Elizabeth - Navel-gazing.
Literary criticism - Amateur.
Dysfunctional relationships - Over-analysis.
Bishop, Elizabeth - Obsessed fans.
Library science - Graduate students - Complete and utter nerds.

Finally - I can't leave you, this month, without a parting poem. I think something by Philip Larkin would be appropriate, since he was a librarian.

Reasons for Attendance
The trumpet's voice, loud and authoritative,
Draws me a moment to the lighted glass
To watch the dancers - all under twenty-five -
Solemnly on the beat of happiness.

- Or so I fancy, sensing the smoke and sweat,
The wonderful feel of girls. Why be out there?
But then, why be in there? Sex, yes, but what
Is sex? Surely to think the lion's share
Of happiness is found by couples - sheer

Inaccuracy, as far as I'm concerned.
What calls me is that lifted, rough-tongued bell
(Art, if you like) whose individual sound
Insists I too am individual.
It speaks; I hear; others may hear as well,

But not for me, nor I for them; and so
With happiness. Therefore I stay outside,
Believing this, and they maul to and fro,
Believing that; and both are satisfied,
If no one has misjudged himself. Or lied.

from Collected Poems by Philip Larkin. New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 2004.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

A Cold Spring

In my collection development class the other night, we had a guest speaker - a librarian from Lesley University. There's no other way to put it--she was awesome. She was informed, informative, funny, and very practical. There's this man in the class who's always going on long, self-important ramblings about the nature of the historical object and how we should save everything because it might be important or relevant to someone in some capacity somewhere, someday. And she answered his questions and eye-rolling calmly and intelligently, explaining that reference books from the 1980s need to be weeded--as do many other books that aren't relevant to the needs of the population your library is serving. Sometimes books (and other resources) become irrelevant over time, and so you weed them. You don't have to pitch them in the trash; you can find new homes for them. But this, to me, is the key to so much in library science/school: the user/patron/whatever you want to call her is why we're there, why we're gathering and organizing information and providing reference to it. (S.R. Ranganathan - one of the deities in the librarian pantheon - knew this. I really want to read his autobiography, A Librarian Looks Back.)

Anyway, those are my thoughts on that subject. I think Lesley would be a really interesting place to work, and the librarian who spoke to us has worked her way into my own personal librarian pantheon. I hope you'll stay tuned to A Room Full of Books the next couple of weeks, because it's too late in the evening now to write about Library of Congress Subject Headings and the fun to be had with them, and the messing to be done with them. That will be coming soon.

Now for some poetry. It is National Poetry Month. I've been thinking about this poem a lot lately, partly because it's so literally apt; it's supposed to snow here in Boston tomorrow. But I love it for many reasons. "The violet was flawed on the lawn," for example, is one of my favorite lines of poetry of all time. And I hope you stay with it until the fireflies at the end, because that part is so utterly lovely. Well, here you go. Any typos are mine and not Miss Bishop's.

A Cold Spring by Elizabeth Bishop

for Jane Dewey, Maryland

Nothing is so beautiful as spring. -Hopkins

A cold spring:
the violet was flawed on the lawn.
For two weeks or more the trees hesitated;
the little leaves waited,
carefully indicating their characteristics.
Finally a grave green dust
settled over your big and aimless hills.
One day, in a chill white blast of sunshine,
on the side of one a calf was born.
The mother stopped lowing
and took a long time eating the after-birth,
a wretched flag,
but the calf got up promptly
and seemed inclined to feel gay.

The next day
was much warmer.
Greenish-white dogwood infiltrated the wood,
each petal burned, apparently, by a cigarette-butt;
and the blurred redbud stood
beside it, motionless, but almost more
like movement than any placeable color.
Four deer practised leaping over your fences.
The infant oak-leaves swumng through the sober oak.
Song-sparrows were wound up for the sumer,
and in the maple the complementary cardinal
cracked a whip, and the sleeper awoke,
stretching miles of green limbs from the south.
In his cap the lilacs whitened,
then one day they fell like snow.
Now, in the evening,
a new moon comes.
The hills grow softer. Tufts of long grass show
where each cow-flop lies.
The bull-frogs are sounding,
slack strings plucked by heavy thumbs.
Beneath the light, against your white front door,
the smallest moths, like Chinese fans,
flatten themselves, silver and silver-gilt
over pale yellow, orange, or gray.
Now, from the thick grass, the fireflies
begin to rise:
up, then down, then up again:
lit on the ascending flight,
drifting simultaneously to the same height,
--exactly like the bubbles in champagne.
--Later on they rise much higher.
And your shadowy pastures will be able to offer
these particular glowing tributes
every evening now throughout the summer.

from The Complete Poems 1927-1979, by Elizabeth Bishop. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1983.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Totally unprofessional, first-impression album review.

I bought Erin McKeown's (relatively) new album Sing You Sinners tonight. I love Ms. McKeown's albums; they're all different, but all thoughtful and audacious and very enjoyable. This one is a collection of jazz and swing standards, ranging from 1930 to 1956 - to put it in archival finding aid terms - with bulk dates 1930-1941, with one EK original, "Melody." It's pretty delightful. I'm not crazy about the opening song, "Get Happy," but I think that's an issue of mine with the song, not her interpretation of it. I also don't think I would listen to "Thanks for the Boogie Ride" just to listen to it, but I'd love to dance to it. I love "Rhode Island is Famous for You," a song I guess Blossom Dearie popularized, but which EK has been singing at concerts for quite a while. There are also songs I grew up on (in Sinatra and Connick, Jr. incarnations), like "Paper Moon," "Something's Gotta Give," and "They Say It's Spring."

A nice surprise was "Just One of Those Things," which has this slow, sinister, private-eye-ish musical setting. It's like, it was just one of those things...just one of those dangerous things. After all, the song is about an intense and short-lived affair, which can be a little dangerous. On a personal note, I appreciated "I Was a Little Too Lonely (You Were a Little Too Late)" - a song about surrendering your hangups on people who don't respond, even when they belatedly decide they like you, too. I need to work on that.

Anyway. I recommend it. There are bonus tracks on iTunes, too, which I'll probably buy as soon as I finish this. Erin McKeown had an inaugural concert for this album at Club Passim in January (I think), and I didn't go because of some lame reason. I wish I had...I bet these songs are really great live.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

The Lives of Others

This semester has got to be one of the busiest on record. It's up there with my junior year in high school. Like that year, there are these labor-intensive classes alongside personal events - this time, it's this steady stream of visitors, which I am really happy about, but my attempts at planning and getting ahead are somewhat foolish in the face of it. That's why sometimes I just have to halt everything and spend evenings like I did last night. I went to a movie alone, which is something I like but haven't done in a long time. The movie was Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others), and while it was sort of depressing (could a movie about the Stasi be upbeat?), it was very good. (My friend Katelyn made the excellent recommendation.) I waited for the last T; Coolidge Corner was very quiet, and I didn't have to bother anyone with my sillinesses.

Anyway. We went on a real live field trip for archives class the other night, to the Massachusetts Historical Society. We got to see the conservation lab, the stacks, the gorgeous rooms upstairs. They just finished digitizing the fifty-one volumes of diaries that John Quincy Adams kept during his life. Apparently, he had several going at once: a line-a-day, a longer one, and one somewhere in the middle. I have to say -- and I know I'm prejudiced because I worked there, and I'm overly romantic/idealistic about the place -- but the Newberry really is my favorite library. It's beautiful, and I love the collections, and their policies are most in line with my fledgling ideas on access, copyright, etc. Or maybe they influenced me in the first place; it's hard to tell.

Okay, one more thing, and that's another passage from Elizabeth Bishop's letters, which has a lot of pages dog-eared in it by now. They're so funny. And maybe other people don't find her stories as amusing as I do, but I'll post them anyway. This one's from when she was living in Brazil, in a house she and Lota (her "companion") were constantly renovating.

"I just locked myself in the studio toilet. Shrieks & screams finally brought Sebastiao, Joao, and Albertinho to my rescue. They have been handing all the screwdrivers in the house through a slit in the shutter to me and I have been taking the door off its hinges, very clumsily. Lota was off helping Mary build her new house -- she arrived just as the door gave way at last. I was imprisoned exactly one hour and everyone had an awfully good time."
-letter to Lloyd Frankenberg, 22 March 1960, from One Art: Elizabeth Bishop Letters, ed. Robert Giroux. New York: The Noonday Press, 1995.

Well. I have to go read about ways of determining the aboutness of an item. I love cataloging class, with a passion, and I'm not ashamed to say it.