Monday May 23, 2016

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At the Store

Clumps of daffodils along the storefront
bend low this morning, late snow
pushing their bright heads down.
The flag snaps and tugs at the pole
beside the door.

The old freezer, full of Maine blueberries
and breaded scallops, mumbles along.
A box of fresh bananas on the floor,
luminous and exotic…
I take what I need from the narrow aisles.

Cousins arrive like themes and variations.
Ansel leans on the counter,
remembering other late spring snows,
the blue snow of ‘32:
Yes, it was, it was blue.
Forrest comes and goes quickly
with a length of stovepipe, telling
about the neighbors’ chimney fire.

The store is a bandstand. All our voices
sound from it, making the same motley
American music Ives heard;
this piece starting quietly,
with the repeated clink of a flagpole
pulley in the doorway of a country store.

“At the Store” by Jane Kenyon from Otherwise. © Graywolf Press, 1997. Reprinted with permission.  (buy now)

Today is World Turtle Day. American Tortoise Rescue founded the day in 2000 to increase knowledge and respect for turtles and tortoises. Dressing as a turtle or in green is encouraged.

Turtles first appear in fossils of the Triassic period, 220 million years ago. They also live for astonishing periods of time because their cells don’t age like most animals. The largest turtle is the Leatherback sea turtle at up to 2,000 lbs. and six-and-a-half-foot shell length.

It’s the birthday of American poet Jane Kenyon (books by this author), born in Ann Arbor, Michigan (1947). She was the daughter of bohemians: her father was jazz musician who taught piano to make ends meet, and her mother was a nightclub singer who taught people to sew. Kenyon’s childhood home had two upright pianos and a battered Victor record player. Kenyon’s grandmother was a fire-and-brimstone Methodist, which frightened Kenyon when she was a child — and eventually led her to abandon religion. She was introverted and shy and didn’t come into her own until college at the University of Michigan in the 1960s, where she participated in rallies and began to write poetry in earnest.

It was at the University of Michigan that she met poet Donald Hall. He was her professor; she was 19 years younger than he was. She graduated and they got married, moving to Eagle Pond Farm, his ancestral home in Wilmot, New Hampshire.

Kenyon is best known for her collection Let Evening Come (1990). She wrote spare, elegiac poems about rural life, depression, and melancholy. Of her work, poet Gregory Orr once remarked, “If Sylvia Plath was Our Lady of the Rages, Jane was Our Lady of the Sorrows, Our Lady of Vulnerability.”

At Eagle Pond Farm, Kenyon and Hall lived simply. They got up every morning, walked the dog, made coffee, ate breakfast, then went upstairs to write. Kenyon wrote in a cozy attic room and spent a lot of time reading John Keats, Elizabeth Bishop, and Anton Chekhov. After writing, they had lunch, took naps, opened correspondence, and then wrote again until dinner. They had a pingpong table and Donald called Jane “Stubbsy” because of her short arms. She called him “Perkins.”

Kenyon wrote every day and acknowledged that the simplicity of her poems might seem banal. She once wrote to a friend, “I went to Ann Arbor, helped my mother put on a yard sale, came home and wrote a poem called, ‘Yard Sale.’ Boredom.”

People often asked if she felt competitive with her husband, whose poetic reputation outshone hers for a time. From her attic study, she could see Mt. Kearsarge from her window, and she told people, “That mountain treats everybody the same.” In time, her work garnered praise and her readings drew large, devoted audiences. She translated the work of the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova and converted to Christianity, attending the local Congregational Church. When asked if her newfound faith influenced her writing, she answered, “My spiritual life is so much a part of my intellectual life and my feeling life that it’s really become impossible for me to keep it out of my work.”

Her advice to aspiring writers was: “Tell the whole truth. Don’t be lazy, don’t be afraid. Close the critic out when you are drafting something new. Take chances in the clarity of emotion.”

Kenyon died in 1995 after a 15-month battle with leukemia. She was serving as the poet laureate of New Hampshire when she died. Her collections of poetry include From Room to Room (1978), Twenty Poems of Anna Akhmatova (1985), The Boat of Quiet Hours (1986), and Constance (1993). A Hundred White Daffodils: Essays, Interviews, The Akhmatova Translations, Newspaper Columns, and One Poem (1999) was published posthumously.

Jane Kenyon said: “Be a good steward of your gifts. Protect your time. Feed your inner life. Avoid too much noise. Read good books, have good sentences in your ears. Be by yourself as often as you can. Walk. Take the phone off the hook. Work regular hours.”

It’s the birthday of Edward Norton Lorenz, born in West Hartford, Connecticut, in 1917. He started out as a mathematician, but turned to meteorology during World War II. In an attempt to explain why it’s so difficult to make a long-range weather forecast, he spawned chaos theory, one of the 20th century’s most revolutionary scientific ideas.

Chaos theory is sometimes known as “the butterfly effect,” a term coined by Lorenz in an attempt to explain how small actions in a dynamic system like the atmosphere could trigger vast and unexpected changes. He discovered the effect in the early 1960s while entering values into a computer weather prediction program; instead of entering the number to the full six decimal places, he rounded it to three to save time, and the resulting weather pattern was completely different. He first framed it as the effect a seagull’s wing has on the formation of a hurricane, but he changed it to the more poetic butterfly in his 1972 presentation, “Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?”

Though the term dates back to 1972, the concept actually predates Lorenz’s discovery. Science fiction writers had been playing around with the idea for several years in their time-travel stories: usually the hero goes back in time and makes some seemingly insignificant choice that ends up changing the course of history.

It’s the birthday of Margaret Wise Brown (books by this author), born in Brooklyn, New York (1910). She wanted to become a writer, but she had trouble thinking of ideas, so she went into education and got a job researching the way that children use language. She was frustrated by a lot of children’s books, which didn’t use patterns in their language or point to things that children could touch and see, and instead were often fairy tales or fables that most children couldn’t connect to their own lives. So in 1937, she started writing her own books, and she wrote prolifically. She had already published 20 books when, one day, she looked around her house and started writing a poem about all the things in it:

In the great green room
There was a telephone
And a red balloon
And a picture of —
The cow jumping over the moon.

That, of course, is Goodnight Moon (1947), which is ranked in the top-selling children’s books of all time.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®