Thursday, June 15, 2017

Gardens and Verse: On the Reasons, and the Seasons, for Writing About Your Own Home Garden.

           I've written about this subject before. Quite a bit actually. Recently, however, I was following a National Poetry Month poem-a-day program that offered an interesting prompt on the subject of land use. And one which invoked one of the oldest traditions of poetry in Western Civilization.
            The prompt called for writing a "Georgic," that is, a poem dealing with practical aspects of agriculture and rural affairs. This is the subject for a major poem by Virgil, generally judged the greatest of the Latin poets, titled "The Georgics," a term drawn
from the Greek word “Georgicon.”
            I never studied the Greek language, so I'm relying on secondary sources for an idea of what Virgil was up to. According to the Ancient Literature website, “Georgicon” translates to "agricultural things." A Georgic, I'm told, is a didactic poem in the tradition of the Greek writer Hesiod, and the ostensible subject of the verses is rural life and farming. "Part farming manual, part hymn of praise, part allegory ['The Georgics'] contains some of Virgil's finest descriptive writing, with patriotic overtones and rich mythological allusions."
            In the third and last part, however, Virgil wanders off from a discussion of bee-keeping to give readers an account of the story of Orpheus and his attempt to rescue his beloved Eurydice from the underworld. The tale is one of those unforgettable myths that human beings in succeeding centuries, countries, and civilizations keep coming back to.
            The agricultural (or pastoral) subject material of Virgil's great poem called to poets writing in English many centuries later. English poets in the 18th century wrote their own "Virgilian styled Georgics and country themed pieces with an emphasis on withdrawal from city life, the rustic arts, and an embrace of a happy life on the country estate," according to the Wikipedia.
            And yet again in the early 20th century, the term "Georgian poetry" was applied to the work of lyrical poets who "took inspiration from the countryside and nature," including Hilaire Belloc, Edmund Charles Blunden, Rupert Brooke, William Henry Davies and Robert Graves.
            Among these, Brooke and Graves are still widely read, though the tag 'Georgian' came to be applied to merely conventional, backward-looking writing and was widely applied as a pejorative term.
            Well, we can't have that. I'm happy to take on the role of restorer of the "Georgic" in contemporary verse. And since the only form of 'agriculture' I know anything about is the style practiced in residential backyard (and front yard) gardens -- as you may just possibly have heard me say before -- here's my introduction for the kind of poems collected in my recently published chapbook "Gardeners Do It With Their Hands Dirty."
            Many of the poems in this book, especially those that relate to its title "Gardeners Do It With Their Hands Dirty," spring from a decision, following our move to a house with no garden and precious little lawn to dig up all the turf grass on the property and plant flowers, perennials, ground cover, shrubs, a small tree or two, berry bushes, potted annuals, and vegetables. My first title for poems about the garden project was "The Amateur." From its Latin roots -- the word means "lover." I have no training, no claim for expertise, I'm not a professional -- I don't even belong to a garden club -- I just began digging things up and planting. So, to be an amateur means to do something not for money, but for love, or desire.
            We hired a company to remove the surface, level the earth, add topsoil (which they didn't). Then Anne and I laid out a design, I spend a lot of money (for us) in a garden shop, and we started digging. And planting -- sort of, before we realized how little soil we had. We had truckloads of soil dumped on our parking area and then transported it by wheelbarrow to the planting beds. Then came more digging. Then some more planting. We laid out brickwork paths. Our plants grew, most of them were successful from the start. It took a few years for the plantings to fill the spaces. 
           I loved the development stage. I like learning by doing things, and try to learn from experience. I love to see things growing. I love the idea that when we step outdoors, we are in nature. The "environment" begins at the doorstep. Open the door; breathe the air; listen... One day a cardinal sat on the head of a sunflower, bobbing and calling, looking for all the world as if he had just lost something. (A mate?) I noticed he ate a few sunflower seeds while he was there too. There is always something to see...

            My latest offering on this subject, currently up on the June Verse-Virtual, reverts to the theme of what to do with our own good patches of earth, though in a more baroque, occasionally self-mocking, and frankly over-the-top style.
            The title itself is kind of a give-away: "Snarky George and the Georgics: New England, New Jerusalem, New Lawn."

            Here's the first stanza:

Land should be used for growing things that are beautiful or useful, or both.
A case may be made for parking lots, but it's an ugly one
Better to park our cars in the sky,
especially on gray days
when we would hardly notice them above the clouds
Land is too precious to suffer pavement,
significantly reducing its earth-given ability to nourish life.
Sure, cracks will appear, all works of man eventually giving way to water,
biota, and eventually sun-seeking plants.
Why fight it? Love your mother, and ask forgiveness...


            Please take a peek at the whole poem at