August 17, 2014
Napa valley, native plants, photos, poetry, tanka
My back yard has acquired its post-rain carpet of green. When it first appears I can’t tell which plants will be weeds and which will be wildflowers. I feel a bit that way about the results of my participation in the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference. I’m sorting out my drafts of poems and my new ideas and deciding which pieces have most potential.
Many of my poems centered on the past. Perhaps this was because I was back in California where I grew up, though the Napa Valley wasn’t part of my home turf. Perhaps it was because when one has 20 hours to produce a poem, one goes back to basics. Here’s one piece which may be complete in itself, having taken the shape of a tanka. The assignment was to show passage of time:
Almond blossoms in spring,
tiger lilies in summer. Our height
marked on the door post.
Before my brother grows tall,
the house is no longer ours.
Another piece is too short for a tanka, too long for haiku. Perhaps it is the beginning or end of a longer poem, though right now the rest isn’t working.
cannery by the tracks. I bury questions
in my grandfather’s orchard.
Since I’ve been working on a different poem about trying to put my ancestors behind me, I may put this aside for a while. I have researched all the main lines of my ancestry and after writing John Emerson Roberts: Kansas City’s “Up-to-date” Freethought Preacher (see Books page) I thought I was done. But here is my grandfather and his orchard once again.
Meanwhile, in a corner of my yard not as covered in new green shoots, a little clump of purple mat, my favorite local wildflower, is flourishing. It didn’t have to wait for the rain to get started. And I have lots of other material to work with while I decide what to do with my new pieces from Napa..
August 13, 2014
balloon, Caifornia, grapes, Napa valley, photos
Napa and its valley are known for wineries, and the territory lives up to expectations. There are fields of grapes everywhere you look. I even found a small plot of grapes in a small park in St. Helena, the town where our conference was held.
There was a vineyard across the street from where our conference met. The first day I had time to wander over for a closer look, the plants looked much like the one in the park, the grapes tucked among the leaves. The next day I went back with my camera and found this:
My guess is that this is to give the grapes more sun. This would also make them easier to pick, but I think the savings in labor at that point would be balanced out by the work of pulling each laden vine down.
My hotel didn’t serve breakfast until 7:00, so I was often up and working on my writing assignments before then. One morning I looked at the usually empty field outside my window and saw:
Though New Mexico is famous for its balloon events, I had never seen one being filled. A slow process, requiring patience, and from the look of the number of people walking around, considerable co-operation and precision.
I continued to watch until the balloon left the ground. Two people remained behind to fold up the ground cloths which had protected the balloon from the dirt.
By the time I left for my workshop, I could find no trace of the balloon in the sky.
August 8, 2014
California, Calistoga, photos, Robert Louis Stevenson, writing
I’ve been off at a writers’ conference, without my laptop, and so not blogging. My “re-entry” has been slow this week; I seem to be way off schedule.
Yesterday I baked bread and also spent time reviewing my recent poems to see what is ready to send out, what might go with what, what needs more work. Only afterward was I reminded that it was Lammas Day, the cross-quarter day between the summer solstice and the fall equinox. Lammas celebrates the first harvest; baking bread acknowledges the harvest. A cross-quarter day is a time for checking on the progress of one’s goals and intentions.
Without being conscious of what I was doing, I was getting back on track with the calendar.
I’ve been at the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference. I stayed in Calistoga. On one break I went for a hike in the Robert L. Stevenson State Park. The drive up twisty Route 29 reminded me of trips along the California coast in my childhood.
Looking Down the Canyon
I found a nice trail up to a monument, which marks the spot where Stevenson and his wife stayed in 1880. There’s nothing left of the structure or any evidence of their having been there except a monument which was set up in 1911.
There’s plenty of attention to Stevenson in the local museums as well, a curious situation considering that he only stayed in the area for a few weeks. His writings must have been good publicity for the mineral springs of Calistoga.
July 16, 2014
Made and Remade, poetry, William Paley
Just a reminder that I am giving away two copies of my book, Made and Remade on Goodreads. This pre-launch giveaway closes on July 20.
Of course, if you don’t win, you can buy a copy from me by using the contact page.
Here’s a sample from the book. I’ve organized the poems in six sections, responding to different statements by William Paley. One is this:
I know no better method of introducing so large a subject, than that of comparing a single thing with a single thing; an eye, for example, with a telescope. As far as the examination of the instrument goes, there is precisely the same proof that the eye was made for vision, as there is that the telescope was made for assisting it.
Natural Theology, 16
And one of my responses to that text is:
Treasured image: curved back
of a worker bent in concentration,
watchmaker with tiny tools,
or potter with clay-covered hands:
each has a skill prized in its time.
When human minds are
compared to computers, no one calls
God a computer nerd, and though
bodies are treated like machines,
repaired, regulated, no one says,
“We are watches.”
We break, are mended
like serviceable jars, more kin to
vulnerable clay than clipped metal.
Paul wrote “earthen
vessels” and it stuck.
July 14, 2014
summer, tanka, word play
Travelling disrupts writing just as it disrupts blog posting. Getting back into the routine (I hope) I’m sharing two brief pieces which came from prompts. The first was a suggestion to play with the possibilities of homonyms (two words with the same sound or spelling):
Blessings of the light:
his even breath beside me,
the little bulb
that lifts the weight of dark.
One little bulb has a very big effect in a cottage down a dirt road far from any street lights.
Another small piece came from a suggestion to “write the spectrum,” that is, to choose one color and see where it takes you. There could be a great deal more to say on this subject, but sometimes brevity is more fun:
The Color Purple
Burbly, gurgly sound,
the term purports precision:
a dye from Greek shellfish.
It purrs, in regal pose, between
red velvet and blue suede.