It's autumn, and a (not so) young woman's thoughts turn to Keats.

We have had three truly glorious days of autumn weather here in Wisconsin, and it almost makes up for the climate in the state all the rest of the year.

At this time of year my thoughts turn to my dear tubercular John Keats, most specifically these lines from his poem "Ode to a Nightingale":

"Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
No hungry generations tread thee down;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
In ancient days by emperor and clown:
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
She stood in tears amid the alien corn..."

When I first read those lines I was in my first year of college in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, ninety minutes away from home, and I burst into tears. I was so homesick. And Keats couldn't have landed any better an image on me to turn on the waterworks.

During this time of year I need and crave to be near cornfields. I mean it's a desperate physical and bodily requirement. Which is funny, because growing up I always had a difficult relationship with corn. Yes, I'm not lying, it felt like a relationship in that my feelings about it were very complex and it took a lot of work. My farmer dad grew field corn, of course, to sell and to use as feed for the cows, but the corn I am thinking of is sweet corn. We sold veggies at the local farmer's market, a job I helped with from about the age of 8 onward. There was always a lot of work and at first our biggest cash crop was raspberries (I have never been a fan of raspberries and I was gobsmacked that anyone would willingly pay--holy shit--three bucks for a pint of the little bastards) and other fruits, but then one year the idea of also selling sweet corn was discussed. And, although we kept selling a variety of fruits and veggies, corn became THE crop. It made the most money but it was also a lot of work.

In my life I have picked probably a million ears of sweet corn. (Actually, I know about how much corn we used to sell, so I should actually do the math on how many ears that amounted to per year, per years of work. But "million" is certainly what it felt like, even if that is not numerically accurate.) And I picked it in the wet Wisconsin summer heat, when every part of your body sweats, and when you're going among corn stalks to pick corn, all of the itchy tassels and pollen drop on you and stick to every available surface, and its knife-sharp leaf edges slice up your arms and your face, so by the time you are done you are a sweaty, sticky, sometimes bleeding mess. And I picked that corn mostly with my father, who, even at the age of fifty-seven, could physically work me under a table, and who never, ever slowed down. He also had some heart problems and I often watched the sweat roll off his nose, wondering if I should be worried if we were both going to make it out of that field alive.

But also: it was satisfying to pick. It was a systematic task that began at the start of the row and was done at the end of the row, and those are my favorite types of tasks. It required some subject expertise in that I developed a way of feeling for which ears were ripe, which was to grasp an ear lightly at the tip and to feel, very carefully, for the ever-so-slight juicy bursting "pop," under my fingertips. It was not enough pressure to actually crush a kernel of corn through the husk, but it was more that I could feel, through husk and silks, and in a split second and over the course of hundreds of ears in a picking, that slight promise of juicy ripeness.

When I buy sweet corn now I still use that technique to find good ears, and I pity all the poor clueless city dopes who have to rip open each ear, without nuance, to see if it's ripe.

But I digress. The corn was a lot of work, and it made us a lot of money (by farm marketer standards, mind you). But the true glory of any kind of corn is to look at a field of it in the glowing autumnal sun. Depending on which angle you view the field from, it can look just like dying plants, their lush summer green being replaced by light tan and brown stalks. It can look absolutely dry and colorless and dead. But if the sun is shining through it at just the right angle, the tan is gold and all those purple tassels are still covered with dried pollen that has gone fuzzy and lends the entire field an almost angelic halo. Then the wind comes along and the entire field moves and undulates, although it's a dry and somewhat stiff undulation, but it's still unified moment that is hypnotizing to the eye. And the sound. The autumn wind in a drying cornfield is unlike any other sound on earth. You know what the wind sounds like in the trees? It's like that, but simultaneously bigger and softer. It is countless dry leaves rustling against one another rather than crackling; it feels both warm and full of life but still, all the time, dying. There's the immediate noise of the leaves rubbing together, but there's also an underlying constant swish of all the sound waves from the entire field converging together at the same time. I could listen to it forever.

I hope you are having a good autumn. I hope you can find a cornfield somewhere and enjoy just listening to it for a while. I hope, wherever you are, you are not sick for home, in tears, amid alien corn.

Poetry Month: Leo Marks's Code Poem for the French Resistance

I'll admit it. I'm a sucker for love poems (even when they're disguised as code poems). Who isn't, really?

So today's entry is Leo Marks's Code Poem for the French Resistance:

The life that I have
Is all that I have
And the life that I have
Is yours.

The love that I have
Of the life that I have
Is yours and yours and yours.

A sleep I shall have
A rest I shall have
Yet death will be but a pause

For the peace of my years
In the long green grass
Will be yours and yours and yours.

But you haven't really lived until you've heard British actor Richard Armitage read it.

April is National Poetry Month.

I've never read a lot of poetry, but because it was shelved with the nonfiction in the public library where I worked, I've always considered it "honorary nonfiction," in the best possible way.

So, Happy April as National Poetry Month!

When I got married a very dear friend of mine wrote this in his card to us:

"i thank you God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any - lifted from the NO
of all nothing - human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)"

It's a poem by e.e. cummings, of course. I loved this card the most of all my wedding cards and presents, although I must admit the awesome baking pans and silpats from one of Mr. CR's aunts also remain close to my heart (and in near constant use).

And now my dear friend tells me he is getting married. I am so happy for him.* Buddy, marriage is not all like that poem, I can't lie, but it does have its moments, and they do make you glad the ears of your ears are awake. I'm making it my mission this April to find a poem at least this good to write in your card. I don't know if it can be done, though.

*I'm so happy for him I won't even make the obvious joke about discussing marriage on April Fool's Day.

Just in time for April as National Poetry Month.

Just in time for National Poetry Month, I am trying something new. Check it out over at:


Yes, I know, just what I need, another blog, when I am not posting enough at this one. But I want to learn about other social media platforms (and God help me, I just don't have the strength to tackle Twitter yet), and I find it's been oddly soothing to fit my daily housewifely crankiness into 17 syllables. Let me know what you think.

In other news, the other night I had a lovely dream about the author John Green*. We went on a fantastic date. And during the dream, I thought, wait a second, John Green is married...or is he? I have to check IMDB.com and see if he's gotten a divorce!! (Very excitedly.) It didn't occur to me until I woke up (dammit) that, oh yeah, I'm married as well. Oh, well. I told Mr. CR about it and he took it like a good sport, although, now that I think about it, he was also happy to move on from the subject. It occurs to me now that I probably should have asked him how many celebrities he's dreamed about.**

*I think it was precipitated by the fact that the day after I posted about Tony Hawks's fantastic book Round Ireland with a Fridge, John Green vlogged about the VERY SAME BOOK and called it underrated. John Green, how I love thee, let me count the ways.

**Mr. CR's policy is that he will tell me stuff, but only if I ask the right questions.

Homemade haiku day.

No reading notes today, as I am still working on Emma and am in the middle of a few other books (but not far enough along to form opinions).

However, I would like to note that I have not done very well with my project to read more poetry this year. This is not your fault--everybody made great suggestions last time I brought it up, but I have been too lazy to track them down. I will browse the poetry section of my library next time I go in, I promise.

But, on that topic, last night it felt so good to go to bed (traditionally my favorite part of the day anyway, after morning coffee) that I actually composed a little haiku to my bed on the spot. It's lame, but it'll have to count for my poetry this week.

My bed, soft and cool
When I get in. Soon enough
warm and toasty bliss.

Have a good Wednesday, everyone.

No one should feel like this in their twenties.

My goal for the weekend: I have got to find some lighter reading material.

Last night I was looking for something new to read on my pile of library books, and my glance fell upon a slim book titled The Two Kinds of Decay. I had requested this book at some point, but I couldn't remember why I had asked for it or what it was about.

Decay Turns out it's a memoir of a young woman in her twenties, who suffered from mutliple bouts with a rare disease called chronic idiopathic demyelinating polyradiculoneuropathy (CIDP), which (as far as I can understand) is a disease in which the immune system attacks the healthy myelin around nerves, leading tingling and numbness of the extremities, and eventually difficulty breathing.

The author, Sarah Manguso, is also a poet, and that sensibility can be seen easily throughout her memoir, which is comprised of short chapters of short paragraphs, all displaying a masterful use of language. What's disturbing are the procedures she's often describing (such as apheresis, in which the plasma in her blood was replaced) with that economy of language:

"The fresh frozen plasma was thawed before it was infused. The four half-liter glass bottles of albumin were left at room temperature.

For the first twenty or thirty apheresis sessions, I lay under several blankets, which didn't help the cold but helped me think at least I was trying.

The temperature in blood vessels is warmer than room temperature, of course, by about thirty degrees Fahrenheit. I was very clowly infused with several liters of fluid that was thirty degrees colder than the rest of my body." (p. 39.)

And that's one of the less scary descriptions; it only gets worse from there. This is an unsettling book, and I won't tell you how it ends or what happens (although, mirroring my thought when reading the above of, "Christ, they can't warm the albumin up a bit first?", they do eventually address that issue). But it's quite different from anything else you'll read, and I would recommend it. I must say that I for one am impressed at Manguso's lack of hysteria, considering that she is a woman who knows a little something about idiot doctors and half-ass nurses.

But the fact remains: I need to find something lighter going into the weekend.

The Poetry Project 2010

One of my reading resolutions (I've given up making any real ones, like eating healthier or being a nicer person) for 2010 was to try and find and read more poetry. Poetry is often considered part of the Nonfiction Universe, after all, so I feel like I should at least try to read it sometimes. I have found it hard to read and enjoy poetry in the past for several reasons:

1. I don't know anything about poetry; 2. I don't understand most poetry even when I do stumble across it, and 3. I like for people just to say what they mean, damn it.

But there is no denying I have found some joy in poetry. Although I loved Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-5, one of the things I remember most about it was not written by Vonnegut, but rather by the poet Theodore Roethke, and it is one of the lines from a poem: "I learn by going where I have to go." Likewise, I have never found a string of words more beautiful than the lines from Aeschylus that Robert F. Kennedy* spoke in tribute to Martin Luther King Jr., and which are carved on Kennedy's tomb in Arlington National Cemetery:

"In our sleep, pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God."**

I have attempted poetry before, but it never took. So what I am going to do this year is try to find and enjoy some poetry the way I always do: without putting pressure on myself to understand it. To stop reading poetry I'm not enjoying at all. To read snippets of poetry, and enjoy the cadence of words and thoughts, even if I don't make it through the whole poem or book. And I'll post snippets that I like here.

Koethe So, to kick things off, a snippet from a poetry collection titled Ninety-Fifth Street, by John Koethe, which I really only picked up because I liked the cover. Evidently Koethe is the first Poet Laureate of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, so consider this post a nod to my state pride, as well. On Wisconsin! The snippet below is from a poem titled "Clouds," and I love it because it explains exactly why I love travel, even though I am not good at the mechanics of travel:

"I love the insulation of strange cities;
Living in your head, the routines of home
Becoming more and more remote,
Alone and floating through the streets
As through the sky, anonymous and languageless"

*I am conflicted in my feelings for Robert J. Kennedy, but the man could really use poetry.

**We owe translator Edith Hamilton for the beauty of this line as well.

Now that's poetry.

So lately I have been trying to work more poetry into my regular reading schedule. I'm doing it the way I do everything--in a completely disorganized and unplanned manner, relying largely upon the serendipity of lucky discovery--but so far I've been enjoying myself.

Last week I became interested in the poet Sappho (after reading a Salinger novel in which she was quoted) and took a wander through my local library catalog to see what I could find. What I came up with is a slim volume called The Soldier and the Lady: Poems of Archilochos and Sappho, translated by Barriss Mills. I don't know anything about it, or who Archilochos was, but the last page of this book informs me it is only one of 400 that was printed by The Elizabeth Press. I love finding books like that. And the poetry's, well, rather blunt and lovely. Consider this:

"That bulge under your dress
makes it obvious to everyone
what you've been up to, slut.

Hipponax, the well-digger
knows all about it, and so
does your husband, Ariphantos.
(It's a lucky thing for him
he never did catch the thief
flagrante delictu.)

                            But he
had his eye on Aischylides,
the potter, while Hipponax
was getting his pick and shovel
in the door.

       Now the whole story's
showing, under your robe."*

That's a poem that'll make you sit up and take notice. I've read this book once (it's only about 40 pages long) but I'm going to read it again and just let it soak in. I've enjoyed it very, very much. Here's another poem, slightly less Jerry Springer-ish than the first: "Soul, o my soul, you're beaten down with trouble. Lift your chin and fight back against whatever torments you."

*Now that's poetry! This reminded me of the Simpsons episode where the psychiatrists are trying to get Homer to goad Ned Flanders into anger by having him read off a card that says "I slept with your wife/significant other," at which point Homer looks up and says, "now THAT'S psychology!"

Wanna read, wanna read, wanna read.

As you know, normally the only thing I feel like doing is reading. And normally, I feel like reading anything and everything, including nonfiction and fiction (although nonfiction remains my one true master). Very rarely, however, I'll admit, do I pick up either plays or poetry. I'll wander through some poetry as I find it, every now and then, but with the exception of being IN plays, way back in the dark ages of high school, I don't think I've ever actually READ a play.

That may have to change, as last night Mr. CR and I saw a performance of George Bernard Shaw's "The Philanderer," and it was AWESOME. Full of good stuff about the ongoing battle between men and women, and what it means to be a manly man and a womanly woman. (It was also quite funny, and, by play standards, relatively short, which also made me happy.) But in the second act I started to lose the thread of the conversations a little bit. So now, I think I may actually look into reading a play for the first time ever. Further bulletins as events warrant.

Sappho In other wanna read news, the other night I couldn't sleep and, as per usual, hooked up a little J.D. Salinger comfort reading, in the form of his novella Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters. Of course one of my favorite bits in that book is his character's quoting of a line of poetry from Sappho: "Raise high the roof beam, carpenters. Like Ares comes the bridegroom, taller far than a tall man." Other than being a bit concerned at the comparison of a bridegroom to the god of war, I think that's a stellar line of poetry. And now I may have to hook up some Sappho as well.

May you all have a good weekend, filled with things you want to read and actually get the time to read. And on Monday? Report right back here for our Book Menage, starring Michael Perry's Population 485 and Tom Bissell's The Father of All Things! I never say this about a Monday, but it's the way I feel: I can't wait!