My brain is not made for lyric-poetry-reading, I am not a dipper-in but a start-to-finisher with a longer-and-faster-the-better kind of attitude; but it was with shame that I realized that my friend Stephen Burt's reading in Cambridge was coming up this Thursday and I still had not read his new book of poems, Parallel Play. Which he personally gave me a copy of in January so I had absolutely no excuse.
(Here are the details on the readings, including this Thursday's at 7pm at the Harvard Advocate, 21 South Street, Cambridge but also various subsequent ones in New York, Washington and Storrs, CT.)
I sat down with the book this evening & while I must revisit it to really get the whole thing (I like the way it's organized, though, with these little lyrics "After Callimachus" at the end of each of the four sections) I totally fell for some of the poems. Three definite favorites:
(1) "Paysage moralis'e," for sure (this one's superb--here's an earlier version that's slightly different from the one in the book, scroll down to get to it).
(2) "Six Kinds of Noodles," very clever and funny and rather moving (also the source of the title of this post). Here's the first bit:
You would have to have been reading John Ashbery
to have seen anything like this in a book,
and yet here it is in real life:
an almost already intelligible tangle
of verities, and an intimidating menu,
disfigured, almost, by all the things you can have
at once, though all are noodles. Have
you, too, been trying to keep up with John Ashbery?
(3) My very favorite one, though, is definitely "At the Providence Zoo," which is happily available at the Academy of American Poets site though I am going to paste it in since I like it so much:
Like the Beatles arriving from Britain,
the egret's descent on the pond
takes the reeds and visitors by storm:
it is a reconstructed marsh
environment, the next
best thing to living out your wild life.
Footbridges love the past.
And like the Roman questioner who learned
"the whole of the Torah while standing on one leg,"
flamingos are pleased to ignore us. It is not known
whether that Roman could learn to eat upside-down,
by dragging his tremendous head through streams.
Comical, stately, the newly-watched tortoises
mate; one pushes the other over the grass,
their hemispheres clicking, on seven legs
in toto. Together they make
a Sydney opera house,
a concatentation of anapests, almost a waltz.
Confined if not preserved,
schoolteachers, their charges, vigilant lemurs, wrens
and prestidigitating tamarins,
and dangerous badgers like dignitaries stare
at one another, hot
and concave in their inappropriate coats.
Having watched a boa
eat a rat alive,
the shortest child does as she was told--
looks up, holds the right hand
of the buddy system, and stands,
as she explains it, "still as a piece of pie."
Frivolous & inappropriate (further) thoughts:
(1) When I read the lines "Above the New York Eye / And Ear Hospital, the dawn / Breaks promises, its coffee turns to cream" I could only think of the unfortunate Olivia Goldsmith (although that was the Manhattan Eye and Ear Hospital, come to think of it).
(2) I haven't had a candy necklace for many, many years, but it seems like it would be a nice thing to get one of ("A girl sprints over the bridge in a Superman sweater, / her candy necklace tight around her throat"). And eat.
I particularly must thank Steve for introducing me to some words by Randall Jarrell that have since echoed through my head on many occasions, this is probably one of my very favorite quotations of all time:
A shrew or a hummingbird eats half its weight in twenty-four hours; when I was a boy I read half my weight in a week. I went to school, played, did the things the grown-ups made me do; but no matter how little time I had left, there were never books enough to fill it--I lived on the ragged edge of having nothing to read.
The ragged edge of having nothing to read....
I will also share my first memory of Steve (this was fall of 1989 or thereabouts): it was quite late at night and on the steps outside Lamont Library I was accosted by a most peculiar guy wearing a most extraordinary tie-dyed t-shirt who proceeded to treat me to a long discourse (he seemed to assume I knew who he was) on why the production of No Exit he had seen me in a few weeks earlier was aesthetically admirable. It was very strange, but fortunately turned out to be the first of many, many long & aesthetically stimulating conversations in years to come.