Thursday, September 29, 2016

Grace Paley / That Country

That Country

This is about the women of that country
Sometimes they spoke in slogans
They said
       We patch the roads as we patch our sweetheart’s trousers   
       The heart will stop but not the transport
They said
       We have ensured production even near bomb craters   
       Children let your voices sing higher than the explosions
                                                    of the bombs
They said
       We have important tasks to teach the children
       that the people are the collective masters
       to bear hardship
       to instill love in the family
       to guide the good health of the children (they must
       wear clothing according to climate)
They said
       Once men beat their wives
       now they may not
       Once a poor family sold its daughter to a rich old man   
       now the young may love one another
They said
       Once we planted our rice any old way
       now we plant the young shoots in straight rows
       so the imperialist pilot can see how steady our
       hands are

In the evening we walked along the shores of the Lake   
                                                of the Restored Sword

I said   is it true?   we are sisters?   
They said   Yes, we are of one family

Grace Paley
Begin Again: The Collected Poems of Grace Paley. 
Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2000

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Grace Paley / Autumn



What is sometimes called a   
   tongue of flame 
or an arm extended burning   
   is only the long 
red and orange branch of   
   a green maple 
in early September   reaching 
   into the greenest field 
out of the green woods   at the 
   edge of which the birch trees   
appear a little tattered   tired 
   of sustaining delicacy 
all through the hot summer   re- 
   minding everyone (in   
our family) of a Russian 
   song   a story 
by Chekhov   or my father 

What is sometimes called a   
   tongue of flame 
or an arm extended   burning 
   is only the long 
red and orange branch of 
   a green maple 
in early September   reaching   
   into the greenest field 
out of the green woods   at the   
   edge of which the birch trees 
appear a little tattered   tired 
   of sustaining delicacy 
all through the hot summer   re- 
   minding everyone (in   
our family) of a Russian 
   song   a story by 
Chekhov or my father on 
   his own lawn   standing   
beside his own wood in 
   the United States of   
America   saying (in Russian) 
   this birch is a lovely 
tree   but among the others 
   somehow superficial 

Grace Paley
Begin Again: The Collected Poems of Grace Paley 
The Feminist Press, 1999

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Grace Paley / On Mother´s Day

On Mother’s Day

I went out walking 
in the old neighborhood 

Look! more trees on the block   
forget-me-nots all around them   
ivy   lantana shining 
and geraniums in the window 

Twenty years ago 
it was believed that the roots of trees 
would insert themselves into gas lines 
then fall   poisoned   on houses and children 

or tap the city’s water pipes   starved   
for nitrogen   obstruct the sewers 

In those days in the afternoon I floated   
by ferry to Hoboken or Staten Island   
then pushed the babies in their carriages   
along the river wall   observing Manhattan   
See Manhattan I cried   New York! 
even at sunset it doesn’t shine 
but stands in fire   charcoal to the waist 

But this Sunday afternoon on Mother’s Day 
I walked west   and came to Hudson Street   tricolored flags   
were flying over old oak furniture for sale 
brass bedsteads   copper pots and vases 
by the pound from India 

Suddenly before my eyes   twenty-two transvestites   
in joyous parade stuffed pillows under   
their lovely gowns 
and entered a restaurant 
under a sign which said   All Pregnant Mothers Free 

I watched them place napkins over their bellies   
and accept coffee and zabaglione 

I am especially open to sadness and hilarity   
since my father died as a child   
one week ago in this his ninetieth year

Grace Paley
Begin Again: The Collected Poems of Grace Paley
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Grace Paley / House: Some Instructions

House: Some Instructions

Related Poem Content Details

If you have a house 
you must think about it all the time   
as you reside in the house so 
it must be a home in your mind 

you must ask yourself (wherever you are)   
have I closed the front door 

and the back door is often forgotten   
not against thieves necessarily 

but the wind   oh   if it blows   
either door open   then the heat 

the heat you’ve carefully nurtured   
with layers of dry hardwood 

and a couple of opposing green   
brought in to slow the fire 

as well as the little pilot light   
in the convenient gas backup 

all of that care will be mocked because   
you have not kept the house on your mind 

but these may actually be among   
the smallest concerns   for instance 

the house could be settling   you may   
notice the thin slanting line of light 

above the doors   you have to think about that   
luckily you have been paying attention 

the house’s dryness can be humidified   
with vaporizers in each room and pots 

of water on the woodstove   should you leave   
for the movies after dinner   ask yourself 

have I turned down the thermometer 
and moved all wood paper away from the stove 

the fiery result of excited distraction   
could be too horrible to describe 

now we should talk especially to Northerners   
of the freezing of the pipe   this can often 

be prevented by pumping water continuously   
through the baseboard heating system 

allowing the faucet to drip drip continuously   
day and night   you must think about the drains 

separately   in fact you should have established   
their essential contribution to the ordinary 

kitchen and toilet life of the house   
digging these drains deep into warm earth 

if it hasn’t snowed by mid-December you   
must cover them with hay   sometimes rugs 

and blankets have been used   do not be   
troubled by their monetary value 

as this is a regionally appreciated emergency   
you may tell your friends to consider 

your house as their own   that is   
if they do not wear outdoor shoes 

when thumping across the gleam of their poly- 
urethaned floors they must bring socks or slippers 

to your house as well   you must think   
of your house when you’re in it and 

when you’re visiting the superior cabinets   
and closets of others   when you approach 

your house in the late afternoon 
in any weather   green or white   you will catch 

sight first of its new aluminum snow-resistant   
roof and the reflections in the cracked windows 

its need in the last twenty-five years for paint   
which has created a lovely design 

in russet pink and brown   the colors of un- 
intentioned neglect   you must admire the way it does not 

(because of someone’s excellent decision 
sixty years ago) stand on the high ridge deforming 

the green profile of the hill but rests in the modesty   
of late middle age under the brow of the hill with 

its back to the dark hemlock forest looking steadily 
out for miles toward the cloud refiguring meadows and 

mountains of the next state   coming up the road 
by foot or auto the house can be addressed personally 

House!   in the excitement of work and travel to 
other people’s houses with their interesting improvements 

we thought of you often and spoke of your coziness 
in winter   your courage in wind and fire   your small 

airy rooms in humid summer   how you nestle in spring 
into the leaves and flowers of the hawthorn and the sage green 

leaves of the Russian olive tree   House!   you were not forgotten

Grace Paley
Begin Again: The Collected Poems of Grace Paley. C
Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2000

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Sharon Olds's silence is golden in an era of endless media exposure

Sharon Olds

Sharon Olds's silence is golden in an era of endless media exposure

By Catherine Bennett
Sunday 20 January 2013 00.06 GMT

If only more writers were like the poet Sharon Olds and realised that discretion is better than endless revelation

he poems in Stag's Leap, the collection that has just won Sharon Olds theTS Eliot prize, were written years ago, but not published until much later. The delay, Olds has explained, was to protect her family. The poems document the end of her 32-year marriage, when her husband left for another woman, and Olds promised her children not to write about it for "at least 10 years". In the end, it was 15; the collection came out last autumn.

Although the children must be middle aged now and the husband has not, some readers may conclude, done very much to merit such delicacy about his feelings, Olds remains protective. Last week, for instance, she was reluctant to elaborate on her ex's reaction to eventual publication. "It seems to me bad enough to be in the family of an autobiographical poet," she told the Huffington Post. "It's bad enough without me actually talking about it." To another journalist she said: "No one would sign up to be in the family of an autobiographical poet."

Her discretion has, in fact, aroused almost as much interest as her confessions. When autobiographical prose narratives about domestic breakdowns, written while the bruises are fresh and the fellow injured still in sight, are routinely justified as necessary or inevitable, Olds's insistence on delays and limits is striking and, implicitly, a reproof to the fashion. Publishers, at least, must hope it will not catch on.
Supposing the authors had imposed, like Olds, a 15-year moratorium on writing that could upset their children, we might still be waiting for, among others, Hanif Kureishi's Intimacy, Julie Myerson's The Lost Child, Candia McWilliam's What to Look For in Winter and Rachel Cusk's Aftermath. More recently, Salman Rushdie would have had to choose, in Joseph Anton, an autobiography in which no living ex-wife escapes uncharitable reassessment, between the joys of still tepid revenge and his own story of malicious misrepresentation, when his enemies expected him to "keep my mouth shut for the rest of my days".
A conspicuous indifference towards the feelings of the Rushdie wives, who signed up for magical realism, not autobiography, suggests a reading public that is, unlike Olds, increasingly disposed to accept the argument that, to people who belong – or used to belong – to a writer's family, the appropriate response to complaints about literary misrepresentation is: tough. These relations have, after all, little enough to complain about in comparison with the nearest and dearest of confessional newspaper columnists, recording real-time grievances. Moreover – judgmental literalists should understand – creativity cannot be delayed or thwarted. "I am a writer and so that is what I do," Rachel Cusk said last year, after an outraged response to extracts from Aftermath, in which she depicted her daughters' pain and denigrated their father. To her great credit, she made no attempt to defend the revelations as being in the public interest.

In contrast, readers who feasted, in 2009, on the details of the Myerson family's troubles, involving skunk and a suddenly rebellious teenager, were assured how useful this experience might be, should their own lives take a similarly unfortunate turn. "People need to know this happens to families like ours," Julie Myerson told theBookseller about her decision to out her estranged son in The Lost Child. "When we were in our darkest, loneliest place, it would have been helpful to read a book like this." If this sounds familiar, it's probably because the same argument, or its threadbare variants, featured so often during the Leveson inquiry, as the excuse for invasions of privacy.
In the press's case, of course, reform is imminent. Soon, it will be more difficult than ever for a British journalist to lay bare people's private behaviour because: their situation is instructive for the public to talk about/they are not what they seem/they didn't mind selling pictures of their wedding to Hello! a while back. Last week, in a written judgment, a judge stopped the Sun from publishing embarrassing pictures of Ned Rocknroll, Kate Winslet's new husband, because they added nothing, as the newspaper had tried to claim, to public debate. But the key argument against publication of photographs, which had already featured on Facebook, was the possible impact on Rocknroll's stepfamily. "There is real reason to think that a grave risk would arise as to Miss Winslet's children being subject to teasing or ridicule at school," the judge said, concluding that "the consequences of publication, in terms of risk of harm and distress to Miss Winslet's children, are matters tending towards a conclusion that the claimant's privacy should prevail".
Increasingly, if you wish to embarrass children in public, it may be advisable to be their parent. What the Sun will not be allowed to do to the stepchildren of Rocknroll should still be possible for writers on, say, the Daily Mail's Femail pages, trading revelations about sexless or otherwise flawed relationships, and for the authors of autobiographical narratives, misery and otherwise.
For now, assuming the presence of shared DNA, there is no onus on the author of, say, "My 14-year-old looks like a slapper" to explain why her article 10 justification under the human rights convention (freedom of expression) should trump the child's rights under article 8 (to a private life). A while back, Amy Chua, self-styled "tiger mother", was invited to account for her parenting methods, as opposed to defending the decision to use her daughters like a pair of upscaleHoney Boo Boos, as a means to a professional end.
Equally, if more public figures emulateJodie Foster, whose public defence of reticence was mainly well received, the most likely assailants on their privacy may not be Facebook gossips or a newspaper, but miserable or resentful family members, justifying their conduct as pained altruism or an exercise in the examined life. Will anyone ever write about Padma Lakshmi more harshly than the man who fell in love with her in 1999, Salman Rushdie?
"Everything is copy" is the aphorism generally employed by professional writers attempting, less successfully than its principal advocate, the great Nora Ephron, to transform painful experiences into something with artistic merit. Her own revenge novel, Heartburn, converted marital betrayal into a brilliant joke at the expense of the cartoon-like transgressors, the man, "Mark", being "capable of having sex with a Venetian blind". That the phrase should bring to mind Rushdie's Joseph Anton, whose "needs were like commands", only demonstrates how brilliantly Ephron succeeds in transcending the particular.
Although Kate Winslet's regular duties to fame could not, the judge said, justify exposure of the obscure Rocknroll, marriage to a writer remains a less protected option that the more shy type of civilian might want to avoid. But children can only pray for restraint. The example of Sharon Olds, letting her poems cool for 15 years, shows that it can, even by a major writer, be done.