September 08, 2006

Of Monarchs and Men

Now that the the sun has decided to visit for a while, we discover that monarch butterflies are drawn to the fields of golden rod by the barn. They flutter by constantly. Lest I lose credibility, we've also been tracking the appearances of bats and mice. If you leave an apple on your desk, they will come. One nice thing about such a small group is that each evening's dinner at the table settles into one coherent discussion, often about philosophical and pragmatic aspects of the arts--you know, the kind of gossip your non-artist friends *really* tire of. Our roundtable of 6 did go astray the other night on rather pedestrian topics, leaving Robert to observe that all three courses of food had been accompanied by talk of "taxes and vermin," as he good-naturedly retreated to his studio.

A few of you know that I have a side project while I'm here--a biographical entry for Pablo Neruda (and seven brief critiques of individual poems) for a forthcoming compendium of 20th C. World Poetry. Part of me regrets taking on anything that competes with my time for poetry here--I don't think it will keep me from drafting, but it does guilt trip me out of any of the "fun" prose reading I brought. (Dennis Lehane, I hardly knew ye.)

Neruda's life story is an exceedingly interesting one. He struggled for his entire life on how to define himself in terms of politics versus poetry. No, that's a lie--Neruda himself embraced BOTH definitions, politican and poet, (he also embraced a lot of wine, and three overlapping wives) and it was all around him who were left to struggle to reconcile the two. For all his bravery, Neruda's unwillingness to use his heft within the Communist Party to speak out against the persecution of Russian writers under Stalin (his great hero, later his "great mistake") may be unforgivable. But oh, the poems! I love some of the poems, and I sympathize with his disdain for critical dogma. He revised word by word, sound by sound; the antithesis, some said, of his close friend Lorca. But unlike Lorca, his long life yields a chronology of his philosophical and moral development as expressed in his body of work--his sentimental days, his polemics, his epics, his odes--a reader can literally track his values in poetry as they shift, and I find that deeply satisfying.

I may end up posting one or two drafts over the month. We'll see. So far, I have four, one for each full day here, and theoretically I'll write another tonight. They are going hand-in-hand with a strategic redesign of the first book MS; I'm not sure the book NEEDED a strategic redesign, but I have all these push pins and blank walls and hey, nothing better to do but shuffle and ponder. One slap-my-forehead moment: "The Fish"? Isn't that title already very much taken? Does this mean it has to be "The Goldfish"? Argh.

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