Monday, September 28, 2015

'The Name of the Flower': a Blooming Day in Plymouth

Here's one of the poems I read at the Poetry Showcase in Plymouth last weekend. And, above it, a recent photo of the plant that continues to be my September favorite (and muse).

The Name of the Flower

Anemone. It’s the name that speaks to me,
The name that is its own poem.
When all else fails, a single green plant begins to flower
Pink, daisy-shaped, soft fleshy ears around a clock face of yellow
Coming so late; a message from another world
Buds round and puffy before they open.
With such buds you know what is coming
You wait, like a lover, for the sensuous unfolding,
A prolonged anticipation of the moment.
Do not (a voice tells me) make love to a flower.

But it’s timing, as in music, as in love, that lands the punch.
September: the turn in the year,
The turn in the poem of time.

Not so showy as some,
They keep their heads down
No one calls them “cheerful, sun-loving”
But deep-feeling, hearty, September’s half-light loving
They smile, contemplatively,
soaking up thoughts too deep for words.

            It was a fine day for a poetry reading, or pretty much anything else, in Plymouth on Sunday afternoon. Perfect early fall weather, brilliant sunshine, dry air. We read in the Plymouth Center for the Arts, the town's former library building rescued a few years ago from development when the town bought it back and leased it to a local arts organizations. Now it houses an ongoing series of art exhibitions throughout the year, and the large, juried Plymouth Guild Annual Art Show.
            The Poetry Showcase has taken place in conjunction with this show for ten years. The center's largest gallery, formerly the reading room of the library, fills with chairs and a podium (some tables for programs and poetry books) for events such as readings and plays. We had a good and a very responsive crowd Sunday, generous with applause for the readers.
            Two of the poets, Philip Hasouris and Richard Wiley, recited from memory. Elizabeth Hansen read from her two poetry books. Moira Linehan read from her book of poems about dealing with the death of her husband. Mary Pinard read poems on her off the beaten track travels such as visiting American Indian sites in South Dakota.
            The audience was in such a good mood they laughed at the humorous asides in my poems. People also applauded after a couple of the current-event, topical style poems, probably because they shared the political sentiments, such as feeling sick of being poked at for money in every email. Outraged that a boy who brought the clock he made for a science project to school was accused of making a bomb, apparently because he has a Muslim name. It's as if you sent your kid to the local school and found Dr. Turnip-Jump in charge.
            Oh well. Two of these poems on the theme of "Election Fever, Too Hot, Too Soon," will appear this week in the October edition of (Titillatingly titled "Out of My Mind, But Still in My Inbox" and "The Perfect Candidate.")
            Of course I also read some poems on my usual obsessions, plants, seasonal changes, birds, and squirrels who messily eat acorns above me while I'm eating breakfast below: cereal with banana and scattered shell waste.
            I've posted a couple other background photos here. When the squirrels, and the flight paths to Logan Airport, and the power mowers leave me alone, I really like this time of year.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Garden of Poetry: Flourishing in Plymouth

          I'll be one of the readers at the Poetry Showcase for the Plymouth Guild's Annual Juried Art Show this weekend along with Elizabeth Hansen, Philip Hasouris, Moira Linehan, Mary Pinard and Richard Wiley. The reading takes place at the Plymouth Center for the Arts, 11 North St. in Plymouth Center, on Sunday, Sept. 27, at 1 p.m. 

          Six poets sounds like a lot of words at one gulp, but the readers are carefully timed, so the program doesn't go on too long.
          According to Jack Scully, who shepherds the event, the tradition of a Poetry Showcase reading in conjunction with the annual juried art show goes back 10 years when the late Plymouth poet Mike Amado sponsored and hosted the first Poetry Showcase on Sept. 23, 2006. The Plymouth Guild for the Arts' Marsha Hanby reached out to Amado, a poet and a musician, who had been participating in and finding homes for open mike readings and performances at various venues in Plymouth Center. Hanby's goal was to partner with other local groups and provide entertainment during the first two week-ends of the annual show. Amado offered to put together a poetry reading. 
           The first Poetry Showcase was held under a tent at the Old Training Green in downtown Plymouth, where the art Guild was exhibiting work that year. It featured a number of poets who will be back this year for Sunday's 10th anniversary show, including Hasouris, Wiley and Hanson.  
          Elizabeth Hansen has been published in Boston's Bagel Bards journal and by the Ibbetson Street Press. Philip Hasouris is the host of the Brockton Library Poetry Series. Moira Linehan, a former English teacher and school administrator, has published two volumes of poetry. Mary Pinard, who recently published her first collection of poetry, has also published essays on poets Lorine Niedecker and Alice Oswald. Rich Wiley, who took part in that first event, has long been prominent in the Plymouth poetry circuit. 
          Two years after the first event, the Plymouth Showcase moved indoors, along with the art show, and its organizers began a new monthly poetry reading series that's been running since 2008 at the Plymouth Center for the Arts.    
           However, as Scully states in a press release for this year's Poetry Showcase, the year 2008 marked both "the beginning and ending of an era. On Sunday April 6, 2008, POETRY:The Art of Words debuted, bringing a monthly poetry venue to Plymouth, and ten months later Mike Amado succumbed to end stage kidney disease and passed to the other side on January 2, 2009." 
          A few years later a further collaboration by local poets and the Plymouth Guild was launched. Called "Visual Inverse," the project invites poets to write in response to selected pieces of visual art. Altogether, the three Plymouth-based programs, Poetry the Art of Words, Poetry Showcase, and Visual Inverse, bring more than a dozen poetry events to Plymouth Center each year. "Almost every month of the year," Scully writes, "poetry is spoken here. That was much of what Mike Amado envisioned when he first assembled word artists under the tent on the Old Training Green back in 2006."
           The arts center is located in the former Plymouth town library on North Street. We used to take our daughter there to the children's library years ago when we first moved to Plymouth, so it's fun (and a bit nostalgic) for me to be going back there to read.

Monday, September 21, 2015

September Songs and a Couple of 'Pray-ers' in the Garden of Nature's Business

            September in the garden. The world still looks like summer, but it feels like change is in the air.
            A look at new arrivals prominently features the asters. Best in show is the red flowering plant (top photo) given to us a few years ago by a neighbor who had too many for the allotted space. This one took over the corner of the flower island (do islands have corners?) I allotted to it and now gets up high enough in the air so no competitor blocks its sunlight. We have some violet flowering asters out back as well, which have shown only the first signs of flowering so far; just as well to save some color for early next month,
            We also, as the photo shows, have some blue asters flowering in the front garden.
            My favorite September symphony is the dark pink variety of the late-flowering anemone, a really rich color (last photo down). It waits until this month to bloom -- though a flourishing, younger plant with a profusion of lighter pink blossoms has been going since late July. The flowers on that variety have all faded now, tough I see a second layer of buds (not at all like sharks' teeth) forming below the faded blossoms I've recently snipped off. I can hope, but it's hard to encourage perennials into a second bloom when the season has been so consistently dry. I don't ever expect to be watering in mid-September. We have a white flowering anemone too (photo above).
            I also don't expect such a run of warm summery days in the first couple weeks of the month that could at that point be confused with July. The difference is the days don't last so long, so the heat does not build up, and, happily, humidity was never very high.
            It turned cooler last weekend, which may keep some plants from fading so quickly. 
            We have a little jewel of pink chablis sedum (fifth photo) flowering this month, but its size has declined this year. Maybe I can something to improve the setting.
             We're getting color from the annuals as well. Some zinnias (orange blossom) which I grew from seed, a lengthy business, have with good timing begun flowering this month. They're considerably more robust than those bought from a nursery as seedlings this spring and planted in pots. I'm not sure I've proved anything, but zinnias are the one species that grow well here from seed. Most of my other attempts yield spindly little nothings that won't survive the first cold day.
            September morning-glories are a gift as well. We've only had a few this year, but one blossom (shown at left) caught the sunlight just right.
            September's 'couple of the month,' however, belong to the animal kingdom (if insects are animals). We have annual visits from significantly sized preying mantises. This year I found two of them playing piggyback while hanging from a butterfly bush (second photo from top).
            It's good to know nature has plans to keep us supplied with praying mantises, which prey on others of their phylum (unfortunately including butterflies), because she definitely does a good job providing us with an abundance of insects.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Garden of Relationship: 'Just an Ordinary Man'

            George Bernard Shaw did not wish his masterly social satire on the relation of speech and class in Great Britain, "Pygmalion," to be turned into a love story. Shaw died in 1950, at the age of 94, and six years later one of the classics of the American musical theater, "My Fair Lady," opened on Broadway.
            We saw the show last weekend at The Lyric Stage in Boston. The thing about a classic is that it's good wherever, and in whatever medium, you see it. You keep discovering new lineaments of pleasure in the work's sturdy 60-year-old bones. It helps to have a top of the line production, of course, and that's what The Lyric delivered.
            Shaw was right about "Pygmalion." His play is not a love story, and its ending is provocatively ambiguous. Happily, good stories can be told in different ways, and each with its own enduring vitality. "My Fair Lady," while not a conventional love story, does give us some enduring love songs ("The Street Where You Live," "I've grown Accustomed to Her Face"), some purely light-hearted songs ("Get Me to the Church on Time"), and does deliver the predictable romantic ending -- exactly the one Shaw refused.
            But it also includes songs that offer a very cagey endorsement, in a Shavian vein, of Henry Higgins' claim of the right to do what he pleases. It's not an idea that has an place in the typical love story. But it is an idea that has ancestry in the British notions of the lifestyle of the gentleman. It's what what Mr. Bennett means, it seems to me, in "Pride and Prejudice" when he demands the right to escape his family (and his visitors) and their emotional claims on his attention by retreating to his 'library.' "I must have leisure!"he says.
            Two brilliant songs are "I'm An Ordinary Man" and "Why Can't a Woman Be More Like a Man?" The first begins:
            ...I'm an ordinary man,
who desires nothing more than just an ordinary chance
to live exactly as he likes, and do precisely what he wants.
An average man am I, of no eccentric whim,
who likes to live his life free of strife,
doing whatever he thinks is best for him.
Just an ordinary man...

            As the play makes abundantly clear, Higgins is anything but 'ordinary.' Still when he says he wants to do is "live exactly as he likes... doing whatever he thinks is best for him," I am brought back to a seminal thesis in my freshman-year philosophy seminar with all those intimidating sophomores. The thesis: Why should our conduct not be guided purely by what we believe benefits the self?
           In the manner of musical comedy, the song takes off from there in a brilliant satire on the dangers posed by marriage to bachelor peace of mind:
           BUT, Let a woman in your life and your serenity is through.
She'll redecorate your home from the cellar to the dome,
then go on to the enthralling fun of overhauling you...
            Higgins's mischaracterization of his own personality is part of the fun: 
I'm a very gentle man,
even tempered and good-natured,
whom you never hear complain,
who has the milk of human kindness
by the quart in every vein.

            This paradigm is then contrasted to his amusing slander of typically 'female' behavior:
In a line that never ends comes an army of her friends,
come to jabber and to chatter
and to tell her what the matter is with YOU!
She'll have a booming, boisterous family
who will descend on you en masse.
She'll have a large Wagnerian mother,
with a voice that shatters glass...

            Given these notions of the disaster to be expected by allowing a woman to transgress on your bachelor freedoms, we can understand that even after Higgins acknowledges that he wants the absconded Liza Doolittle back in his life, he's unwilling to make even most base-line commitment to behave with consideration toward her. Why should she object to his rudeness, he argues, when hes not polite to anyone else?
            This leads to the second lyrical statement on gender differences:
            Why can't a woman be more like a man?
Men are so honest, so thoroughly square;
Eternally noble, historically fair;
            As for women, however:
Why does ev'ryone do what the others do?
Can't a woman learn to use her head?
Why do they do ev'rything their mothers do?
Why can't a woman behave like a man?
If I was a woman who'd been to a ball,
Been hailed as a princess by one and by all;
Would I start weeping like a bathtub overflowing?
And carry on as if my home were in a tree?
Would I run off and never tell me where I'm going?
Why can't a woman be like me?

            That little pronoun at the end of the song gives the game away. Higgins want his bachelor freedom, the freedom to pay no attention to the feelings of others, even as he wants others to hang about in case he needs them. He wants it both ways. He's grown "accustomed to her face," bachelor Higgins says of working class/new woman Eliza. He likes to see her around the house, but is determined to be free of any obligation to pay any attention to her existence as a human being as gloriously human and real and complex as he is.
            In Shaw's Pygmalion Higgins is just as self-centered and selfish, though in somewhat less floridly narcissistic terms. Liza demands "consideration" if she's going to remain, on whatever basis, in his life. In Pygmalion, Higgins's position is less hypocritical. He's for freedom and reason, rather narrowly viewed, as guides for human conduct, with scarce attention paid to the heart.
            But for Liza caring for no one but yourself is not acceptable. Shaw leaves the ending up to to us. For me, the better choice is pretty clear.
            If in fact you do want anyone "in your life," you've got to give a little. 

[The Lyric's production runs through Oct. 11. Here's a link to info and tickets: ]