Connections: Color and Ducks

It’s not always books that remind me of one another. Sometimes random, non-reading related things remind me of things I’ve read, like this bright yellow umbrella from ModCloth, called the “Duck, Duck Umbrella,” which reminded me of the Sylvia Plath poem, “Child,” which begins “Your clear eye is the one absolutely beautiful thing. / I want to fill it with color and ducks.”

Photo: hz536n

One of several Plath poems I know by heart, “Child” has always impressed me with the earnest simplicity of its phrasing and the love that seems to fill the poem, especially since so many of Plath’s other works are filled with anger, pain and death. “Child” certainly isn’t an untroubled poem…even the first two lines hint at a world that is desperate, a world with only “one absolutely beautiful thing”, and that thing itself in danger of being lost forever, one way or another.

In college I had a waterproof plastic color-changing ducky named Claude.

Ducks on a dashboard. Two of Claude's mates.

The ducks came from Target in sets of two, and I gave a lot of them out as gifts and kept several for myself, but Claude was always my favorite, even after his battery started to fail and he had to make regular trips to the “Ducky Hospital” to be revitalized.

When I’m feeling lost, unsettled or depressed, I always find Claude inexplicably comforting. Plath is right to wish for color and ducks.


Connections: Divers

When I asked my friend Rebecca-Ellen to pick a poem for National Poetry Month, she picked a poem by Mary Oliver, and I remembered that earlier in the year she’d recommended another of Oliver’s books to me, a collection of lyrical essays titled Blue Pastures. (Incidentally, in relation to my forthcoming posts on literary awards and prizes, the cover of Blue Pastures notes that Oliver is a winner of both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.)

In one of the final essays, “The Poet’s Voice,” Oliver writes poetry is written from a “dark and lustrous place,” a place that is neither “casual” nor “ordinary,” a place that Jung refers to as the collective unconscious. Oliver writes that the poet is like a diver, who “must wear a mask to live” and that “in such a mask, the writer goes down, into the ocean, under its luminous tonnage, and through, and out from the levels of the person life.”

If the writer is like a diver, then “whatever the diver takes with him—and the diver without equipment is soon a drowned diver–is of immeasurable importance.” The writer, like the diver, has tools, and not only tools essential to their trade, but essential to life—as essential to life as oxygen.

This metaphor of writer as diver reminded me of a collection of poems by another awarding-winning (and more famously, award-refusing) woman poet Adrienne Rich titled Diving into the Wreck. The title poem begins

First having read the book of myths,
and loader the camera,
and checked the edge of the knife-blade,
I put on
the body-armor of black rubber
the absurd flippers
the grave and awkward mask.
Rich’s poem is also a metaphor for poetry–for the act of writing poetry, and the experience of being a poetry. Interesting, that two of the greatest contemporary  American female poets both chose this metaphor to express their understanding of their art, and both expressed it with such similar language, albeit one in poetry and one in prose. Rich describes “the book of myths,” the camera, the knife, the diving suit, flippers, and the “grave and awkward mask,” and Oliver writes of the writer’s tools: “a modest attitude, technical adroitness, language skills altogether,” and most importantly, “an abiding and previously thought-out sense of what a poem is, of what its purpose is.”
Rich, again:
I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.

Happy June: Three New Types of Posts!

Hello there and Happy June! I know I’ve been more than two-weeks-worth of remiss with my posts, but I’ve got some new ideas and am excited to get started with them. I’m introducing three new types of posts: Connections, Reading ‘Round the Nation, and to-be-titled section on literary awards and prizes (and their winners).

First, Connections:  As the appendices to The Wasteland or Ulysses clearly show, literature is full of references and allusions. Authors create their texts in relation to other works around them, so novels, poems and plays etc. are filled with intentional and unintentional references to other writing and other writers. This dense and ever-growing tapestry of connections threads the broad expanse of literature together, bringing disparate works into conversation with one another. The more I read, the richer these connections become for me, which apparently is lucky, because “reference and allusion” are major chopping blocks for the GRE Literature in English Subject Test. Joy.

I’m hopeful the GRE will stick to references as direct as Faulkner titling The Sound and the Fury after that line in Macbeth or John Steinbeck refashioning the Genesis story of Cain and Able into East of Eden. That way, I can pretend I have a fighting chance. For my purposes, however, “connections” mean resonances as well as references: passages whose tones remind me of one another, disparate images which coalesce in the bizarre arena of my headspace, or single lines from one text which seem as if they could have been drawn word for word from another.

I love these connections because they remind me of the role my own mind plays in my reading, and they show me the improvements I’ve made as a reader, how much broader my reading experiences have become. So look out for new “Connections” posts, which will likely come in the form of “I was reading this, which reminded me of this, which reminded me of this…” Thrilling for you, I know. And probably, for the psychoanalytically-minded among you, far too revealing of my mental landscape. Please keep your observations to yourself…I don’t want to be told anything about myself that I don’t already know.

Next new post type, Reading ‘Round the Nation:  I’m not exactly sure what form this project will take, but the basic premise is that I’ll read a book a week from a particular state (I’m starting with this moment’s home sweet home: Rhode Island) and write about it. I think I may choose to only write about books by contemporary authors, as that will be the surest way to expose myself to as much new literature as possible. Stay tuned.

And finally: I’m going to start writing more about the world’s myriad literary awards and prizes. There are gazillions of these, even if you’ve only heard of the Pulitzer. All sorts of organizations give out prizes to writers, and I’m going to uncover a lot of prizes and a lot of writers I’ve never heard of before.

That’s the theme of this summer for me: discovering new writers and new writing. Realistically, my theme should probably be “Memorizing the Norton Anthology in preparation for the GRE” but that doesn’t sound like much fun. Especially not for summer. Cramming works much better for me in the fall.

More coming soon, and promptly this time!