31 January 2014

Haiku 2014/31

stopping at red lights
sweaty runners jog in place
as we wait for green

Friday photo 2014/5

Chinatown, San Francisco, September 2010

31 January 2014: happy Year of the Horse!

30 January 2014

Haiku 2014/30

it had been so long
that I could not place the sound:
rain dripping from eaves

29 January 2014

Haiku 2014/29

from the compost bin
pungent smell of rotting leaves
a forest appears

28 January 2014

fun stuff I may or may not get to: February 2014


At the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts you can see Young Jean Lee's Untitled Feminist Show, 30 January to 1 February.

At Cutting Ball Theater Ubu Roi, in a new translation by Rob Melrose, continues through 23 February. And on Sunday 9 February if you'd like some dark-tinged Eastern European absurdity, you can experience The Police by Slawomir Mrozek, directed by Rem Myers, in the Hidden Classics Reading Series.

Shotgun Players presents Just Theater's production of A Maze, written by Rob Handel and directed by Molly Aaronson-Gelb, 14 February to 9 March, at the Ashby Stage.

San Francisco Playhouse presents the west coast premiere of Jerusalem by Jez Butterworth, directed by Bill English, 21 January to 8 March.

New Music:

On 1 February you can hear the Del Sol Quartet in the San Francisco Conservatory of Music's Alumni Recital Series, playing works by Ken Ueno, Lembit Beecher, Mason Bates, and Chinary Ung.

Earplay presents works by Tamar Diesendruck, George Crumb, Dan Reiter, David Schiff, and Ann Calloway on 10 February at the ODC Theater (3153 17th Street in San Francisco).

At the Center for New Music you can hear west coast premieres by Mohammed Fairouz played by the Del Sol Quartet and pianist Lara Downes on 25 February. Find more info on that here, and the Center's other concerts here.


Seguing from the new music section, we have the Berkeley Symphony presenting the world premiere of Samuel Carl Adams' Violin Concerto, with soloist Anthony Marwood, as well as Stravinsky's Pulcinella Suite and Mendelssohn's "Scottish" Symphony; Joana Carneiro conducts. 6 February at Zellerbach Hall.

At the San Francisco Symphony, Osmo Vänskä leads the Sibelius 6 as well as that composer's Night Ride and Sunrise, along with Stravinsky's Symphonies of Wind Instruments and Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, with pianist Daniil Trifonov, 30 January to 1 February; Lionel Bringuier conducts Ravel's La Valse, Dutilleux's Métaboles, and the Brahms Piano Concerto 2 with soloist Hélène Grimaud, 5 - 7 February; and Michael Tilson Thomas conducts the Mahler 3 with the glorious Sasha Cooke as mezzo-soprano soloist, 27 February and 1-2 March; get details and this month's other SF Symphony concerts here.

Baroque Music:

Ya-Fei Chuang on fortepiano and Robert Levin on harpsichord join conductor Nicholas McGegan as Philharmonia Baroque continues its musical grand tour through eighteenth-century Europe with stops in Berlin and Vienna, as represented by works of Haydn and CPE Bach, 5 and 7 - 9 February; check here for more information, including concert locations. On 6 February at the SF Jazz Center PBO is presenting a variant of this concert, shortened and interspersed with discussions of the instruments and the music as well as projections, followed by a reception; more details on that here.

The American Bach Soloists present their titular master's Missa Brevis in G Major, Orchestral Suite No. 1 in C Major, and Herkules auf dem Scheidewege (Hercules at the Crossroads) with vocal soloists Kathryn Mueller, Ian Howell, Derek Chester, and Jesse Blumberg, 21 - 24 February, in different location each day; check here for details.


New Century Chamber Orchestra presents operatic pleasantries (by Mascagni, Verdi, Massenet, and Strausses both Richard and Johann) arranged for string orchestra, along with the main event, Donizetti's one-act comedy Rita, with vocal soloists Maria Valdes, Thomas Glenn, and Efraín Solís; 12 and 14 - 16 February; check here for concert locations and other information.


San Francisco Ballet alternates Program 2 (From Foreign Lands, Borderlands, and a world premiere from Val Caniparoli, 18 February to 1 March) and Program 3 (Firebird, Ghosts, and the Kingdom of the Shades from La Bayadère, 20 February to 2 March). They are also presenting the Hamburg Ballet in John Neumeier's A Midsummer Night's Dream (12 - 13 February). Neumeier was the choreographer of the brilliant Little Mermaid, set to Lera Auerbach's score.

Soloists/Chamber Music:

San Francisco Performances presents violinist Alina Ibragimova and pianist Cédric Tiberghien playing Mozart, Cage, Webern, and Beethoven on 15 February; pianist Christian Zacharias playing Beethoven, Schubert, and Schumann on 16 February; and pianist Lise de la Salle playing Brahms, Schumann, Ravel, and Debussy on 28 February.

All of the Above:

Cal Performances presents what is sure to be a highlight, Gerald Finley with Julius Drake on piano performing Schubert's Winterreise, on 2 February. The Martha Graham Dance Company performs in Zellerbach 31 January to 1 February. Countertenor Philippe Jaroussky and the Venice Baroque Orchestra perform works by Veracini, Porpora, Vivaldi, and Geminiani on 7 February. The resident new-music group, the Eco Ensemble, plays works by Bedrossian, Ligeti, and Jodlowski on 22 February. And the Calder Quartet plays Schoenberg and Schubert on 23 February.

Haiku 2014/28

random phrases float
loosely around and through me
detached from it all

27 January 2014

Haiku 2014/27

Classical music
died again the other day.
I'll mourn with Mozart.

(Today is Mozart's 258th birthday.)

Poem of the Week 2014/5

Naturally the Foundation Will Bear Your Expenses

Hurrying to catch my Comet
     One dark November day,
Which soon would snatch me from it
     To the sunshine of Bombay,
I pondered pages Berkeley
     Not three weeks since had heard,
Perceiving Chatto darkly
     Through the mirror of the Third.

Crowds, colourless and careworn,
     Had made my taxi late,
Yet not till I was airborne
     Did I recall the date –
That day when Queen and Minister
     And Band of Guards and all
Still act their solemn-sinister
     Wreath-rubbish in Whitehall.

It used to make me throw up,
     These mawkish nursery games:
O when will England grow up?
     – But I outsoar the Thames,
And dwindle off down Auster
     To greet Professor Lal
(He once met Morgan Forster),
     My contact and my pal.

Philip Larkin

This strikes me as lesser Larkin, but it has always amused me for a couple of reasons which I'll get to in a moment. What struck me when I re-read it before typing it here, and what I had not remembered, is how dense it is with references that need some explanation (for some of which I have relied on Archie Burnett, editor and annotator of The Complete Poems of Philip Larkin, from which I took this poem). The speaker is at the intersection of two different worlds, and makes references to both, casually and knowingly.

There's the social/political world of Great Britain: the "Comet" is a type of jet, the "dark November day" turns out to be the 11th, what used to be called Armistice Day, commemorating the end of World War I, when the Queen and other representatives of Britain's military and political establishment lay wreaths honoring the British war dead at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, the area of London where most government offices are located. "Auster" is the south wind, hence the direction in which the speaker is traveling: towards warmth and light, away from the grayness and conformity he perceives in London.

There's also the more global cultural world, which is larger than any individual country, and which the speaker clearly prefers: he has recently been to California ("Berkeley" is the University of California at Berkeley) and is on his way to Bombay. He has his eye on "Chatto" (the publishing house Chatto & Windus) and "the Third" (Radio 3, the BBC radio network devoted to higher culture), and can tie them together with an apt and witty reference to 1 Corinthians ("for now we see as through a glass, darkly"; surely this speaker knows these lines for their literary fame, and not in the same way as might the more piously inclined members of the "colourless and careworn" crowd). He refers excitedly, and by the name used by friends and family, to "Morgan" Forster, better known to us as the novelist E M Forster.

Mentioning Forster in the context of a trip to Bombay can't help but remind us of A Passage to India, and the memory would associate the speaker with that novel's examination of (among other things) British imperial power in that country, which was given up not that long before this poem was first published in 1961. Forster's name might also bring to mind his famous quotation, "If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country"; a line which perfectly encapsulates the speaker's preference for personal relationships over the nation-state (I have to say that although I'm drawn to the sentiment, it strikes me as a bit inadequate, better in its high-minded sound than in practice; if Forster had, in fact, betrayed his country to the Germans in order to protect his friend, or even what used to be called euphemistically his friend, then you have to wonder how he thinks the victorious Master Race would have treated leftist intellectual/artistic homosexuals like himself and many in his circle of friends).

Here are the two things that amuse me about this poem: first, the subject of Larkin's satire here – this hanger-on in Academia, this globe-trotting internationalist, so contemptuous of official patriotism ("their solemn-sinister / wreath-rubbish") and so excited about any contact, however slight, with significant artists ("He once met Morgan Forster" – you feel there should be an exclamation point there); so dismissive of the anonymous crowds who inconvenienced him by delaying his taxi, and himself a bit childish and petulant ("it used to make me throw up") – this acidly etched portrait is, basically, of me. Not me personally, of course, and I don't have either the employment or the connections or the travel opportunities of the speaker here, but the poem clearly is about people like me: I too regularly express contempt for my fellow-citizen's mawkish and ignorant patriotic ceremonies (though I would make a clear distinction between official ceremonies and personal mourning of the actual dead), I too would turn away from the Queen but would be thrilled at the thought of meeting someone who once met Larkin. I still admire the wit and satire of the poem; it's always useful to be reminded that political beliefs cover a wide and always changing spectrum, and we can't necessarily expect great artists to hold the same beliefs we might hold dear, or at least conventionally accept. (I remember how saddened I felt when I realized how many great writers in the early twentieth century flirted, or in some cases actually tied the knot with, totalitarian systems both Communist and even Fascist; later on I came to have a better sense of why authoritarianism would appeal to an artist, impatient of the uncomprehending sheep that constitute his or her fellow citizens, but how can any artist, at least in self-interest. approve of any system that limits freedom of expression?).

The second thing that amuses me: the name of my alma mater is pronounced "BER-klee." Burnett's annotations note that when Larkin read the poem he gave the name a British pronunciation, so that it rhymed perfectly with "darkly," but he does not note that that pronunciation is incorrect. I once read that Nabokov had had the narrator of Lolita use an anatomical term incorrectly, but he later changed it, fearing that the error would be ascribed to him instead of Humbert Humbert. So is the mispronunciation of Berkeley a subtle master-stroke of characterization, showing that the speaker is more inextricably British, more provincial, than he thinks? Or does the error belong to Larkin himself?

26 January 2014

Haiku 2014/26

scraggly rosebushes
strangely expectant and still
in the leaden light

25 January 2014

Haiku 2014/25

silent birds sitting
surrounded by singing trees
an expectant air

24 January 2014

Haiku 2014/24

clouds drift overhead
crowds drift over shadowed streets
clouds drift through my head

Friday photo 2014/4

Clay Street, San Francisco: red, white, & blue, July 2010

23 January 2014

Haiku 2014/23

filled with strange sadness
to realize I'm always
filled with strange sadness

22 January 2014

Haiku 2014/22

write something pretty
and maybe it will be real
this wonderful day

21 January 2014

Haiku 2014/21

why should I kill you
spider go ahead and spin
no one will enter

20 January 2014

Haiku 2014/20

late afternoon light
slants so low through the garden
the day turns golden

Poem of the Week 2014/4

A young prince pleads his case through a serenade to a woman held prisoner in his castle, but she, alas, loves another:

The music was of cornets whereof one answering the other, with a sweet emulation striving for the glory of music, and striking upon the smooth face of the quiet lake, was then delivered up to the castle walls, which with a proud reverberation spreading it into the air, it seemed before the harmony came to the ear that it had enriched itself in travel, the nature of those places adding melody to that melodious instrument. And when a while that instrument had made a brave proclamation to all unpossessed minds of attention, an excellent concert straight followed of five viols and as many voices; which all being but orators of their master's passions, bestowed this song upon her that thought of another matter:

The fire to see my wrongs for anger burneth;
The air in rain for my affliction weepeth:
The sea to ebb for grief his flowing turneth:
The earth with pity dull his centre keepeth.
          Fame is with wonder blazed;
          Time runs away for sorrow:
          Place standeth still amazed
To see my night of evils, which hath no morrow.
          Alas, alonely she no pity taketh
To know my miseries, but chaste and cruel,
          My fall her glory maketh;
Yet still her eyes give to my flames their fuel.

Fire, burn me quite, till sense of burning leave me:
Air, let me draw thy breath no more in anguish:
Sea, drown'd in thee, of tedious life bereave me;
Earth, take this earth wherein my spirits languish.
          Fame, say I was not born:
          Time, haste my dying hour:
          Place, see my grave uptorn:
Fire, air, sea, earth, fame, time, place, show your power.
          Alas from all their helps I am exiled,
For hers am I, and Death fears her displeasure.
          Fie Death thou art beguiled:
Though I be hers, she makes of me no treasure.

Sir Philip Sidney, from The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia

As in some baroque opera arias, the elaborate patterning and repetition here signal not artificiality but rather intensity of emotion. The speaker sees a reflection of his rejected love in the entire world: each of the first four lines is devoted to one of the four elements (earth, air, fire, and water) that at the time were thought to make up the world. Each of them is doing what it naturally does – fire burns, the air lets loose rain, the sea ebbs and flows, the earth just lies there – but so all-absorbing is his passion that he can only see these elements as reflections of his woe. The same is true of the next three dimensions he mentions (fame, time, and place). Fame (that is, rumor, gossip, reputation, how one is seen by the rest of society) "blazes forth" (that is, spreads, which is what fame does); time runs on, though the speaker personifies it as running away for sorrow; place just stays put, as one might expect, but the speaker personifies it as petrified with astonishment at the sight of his unhappiness.

The stanza ends with praise of his beloved, who is chaste and (therefore) cruel; he feels it adds to the luster of her reputation that she rejects him ("my fall her glory maketh") but he can't help loving her. As often in these poems, it is her eyes that draw him in and make him burn with love (eyes that he sees of course with his own eyes). The unattainable and gloriously perfect loved one is a staple of love poems, going back from Petrarch and Dante to the troubadors.

In the first seven lines of the second stanza, the speaker revisits in order each of the elements mentioned in the first stanza, only this time, instead of simply seeing them sympathizing with his plight, he asks each of them to end it in its appropriate way: the fire to burn him up, the air to suffocate him, the sea to drown him, the earth to bury him (he refers to his body as part of earth, dull and sluggish: "Earth, take this earth": remember, "dust thou art, and to dust shalt thou return"), fame to deny his existence, time to hurry on to his death, place to be the location of his grave. In line 8 he calls on each of the seven, again in order, pleading with them to show their power by extinguishing his existence.

The last four lines of the second stanza also echo the first stanza by ending with praise of her: the powerful elements he has called on have no power over him, since he belongs solely to his indifferent beloved, who is such a paragon that even Death is afraid of displeasing her. The speaker ends by chiding Death for cheating himself of a victim, since she is indifferent to him ("she makes of me no treasure") and would not care if Death took him from her.

His devotion is as idealized as her perfection; The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia is more what we would call a romance than a novel. Even so the moods and emotions reflect a psychological reality to a novelistic extent; it is a shifting tale of complicated disguises, deceptions, and very theatrical self-representation and mis-representation (including one young hero who spends a large chunk of the book disguised as a woman, the Amazon warrior Zelmane, and is referred to by the narrator as "she" even though she is really a he. . . .). The linguistic devices here (the use of repetition, citing the elements, personifying Death) and the conceits (in the sense of elaborate metaphors and fanciful thoughts) are typical of poetry during the Renaissance, a period that valued rhetoric, learning, idealization, and exuberance. But I think they also appealed deeply to Sidney personally; I suspect he would have written along these lines even if it weren't the fashion (a fashion which he, as a leading poet of his time, to some extent created). His prose throughout the Arcadia is exuberant, musical, and patterned, "artificial" in a good way: he is constantly working changes on words, aware of how slippery their meaning is (or their meanings are), how much of it is mostly musical. There is a filler section of the Arcadia written by a friend of his after Sidney's untimely death in battle, and it is notably more straightforward and tamer in sound than the sections written by Sidney himself.

The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia has a very convoluted composition and publication history, which isn't really my concern here; I'll just say that the copy I used is the Penguin Classics edition, edited by Maurice Evans.

19 January 2014

Haiku 2014/19

black cat on brick wall
jumps into the outstretched arms
of the girl next door

18 January 2014

Haiku 2014/18

these "beautiful days"
(so clear and dry the earth cracks . . .)
what is "beautiful"?

16 January 2014

Haiku 2014/16

loud overly friendly voice . . .
such desperation!

15 January 2014

Haiku 2014/15

river of white lights
snaking down the expressway
between inky banks

14 January 2014

Haiku 2014/14

a smudge of white moon
pale afternoon companion
she'll shine in the dark

13 January 2014

Haiku 2014/13

when spring brings new leaves
I will miss seeing the moon
behind bare branches

Poem of the Week 2014/3

We Real Cool

The Pool Players.
Seven at the Golden Shovel.

We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.

Gwendolyn Brooks

How would you know that the Golden Shovel is a pool hall, unless Brooks told you so in the head-note? You wouldn't. One of the things this poem is about is being cool, and thinking of yourself as cool, and that means excluding the non-cool, the ones without your knowledge, your style. What else do these young men have besides their coolness? Although Brooks doesn't explicitly state that they, like her, are African-Americans, that is generally the community she writes about, and the use of "jazz" as a sexual synonym, particularly in a poem from 1959, is also going to indicate their race. Although African-Americans had been struggling for full legal and social rights since the end of the Civil War, a young black man in 1959 faced a deeply (and often legally) segregated society. Cool comes in at the margins, outside the mainstream. Cool is compensation, a way of spiting exclusion.

This brief poem builds with astonishing rapidity, increasing with intensity in each off-kilter couplet, from dropping out of school and staying out late to shadow-market activities like bootlegging to the sudden but inevitable mention of early death. The words flow naturally, with a jazzy streetish sound (the use of "real" instead of "really"), but they are carefully patterned, and keep you off-balance the whole way, with heavy use of alliteration and strong internal rhymes, each rhyme followed by a syncopated beat, the "We" that starts the next brief sentence – in a poem of just 24 words, 8 of them, a third of all the words, is "We." What else do these young men have, besides their cool? They have "We" – their self-contained community, their gang. It's striking that the first seven lines (one for each player, perhaps) end with "We," until we get to the isolated eighth and final line, about death, because of course you die alone. What makes this line particularly poignant here is that this poem is the young men speaking about, conceiving of, themselves: they are very aware that an early death is their probable end. It adds a desperation, a fatalistic sadness, to what starts as a self-celebration of their own coolness. What else do they have? An early death. How far have we really come, for young men like these, from 1959?

I took this from the Selected Poems of Gwendolyn Brooks.

12 January 2014

Haiku 2014/12

I turned off the news
who needs the noise if you can
listen to silence

11 January 2014

Haiku 2014/11

heavy night dark skies
a cool breeze crosses my chest
I dreamt you held me

10 January 2014

Haiku 2014/10

no mindful moments
mar the marked monotony
these marching minutes

fun stuff I may or may not get to: January 2014

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival celebrates the centennial of the Little Tramp – not Charlie Chaplin himself, but his famous creation, who first appeared on-screen in the Keystone comedy Kid Auto Races at Venice in 1914. The program is Saturday, 11 January at the Castro Theater; check here for a list of the programs, including the musical accompaniment. If you want to check out the films in which Chaplin first figured out how to make films, Flicker Alley, always a reliable and high-quality source, is selling its Chaplin at Keystone set at a special low price for a limited time.

Cutting Ball presents a new translation of Alfred Jarry's modernist classic Ubu Roi, directed by Yury Urnov, 24 January to 23 February.

ACT presents Shaw's Major Barbara,  directed by Dennis Garnhum, from 8 January to 2 February.

San Francisco Playhouse presents the first American production of Jez Butterworth's Jerusalem, directed by Bill English. That's 21 January to 8 March.

Shotgun Players present a revival of last summer's Sea of Reeds, by and featuring Josh Kornbluth. I recommend it highly. Please note that it's not at Shotgun's usual home, the Ashby Stage in Berkeley, but at the Jewish Community Center in San Francisco, through 12 January.

San Francisco Ballet opens its non-Nutcracker season with Giselle, 25 January - 2 February.

Magnificat performs works by Monteverdi, Schütz, and some of their compatriots, in San Francisco on 10 January, Berkeley on 11 January, and San Jose on 12 January. More information may be found here.

San Francisco Performances presents Wayne McGregor's troupe Random Dance in FAR at Yerba Buena 17 - 19 January. They end the month with some powerhouse performers: mezzo-soprano Alice Coote and pianist Graham Johnson in an all-French program on 24 January; soprano Heidi Melton and pianist John Parr perform Haydn, Schubert, Berlioz, Sibelius, and Richard Strauss on 26 January; and pianist Marc-André Hamelin performs music by himself, Medtner, and Schubert on 31 January. The two singers are at the Conservatory of Music; Hamelin is at the Nourse, which is a handsome room but, uh, problematic. I heard a concert there last October and people could not stop talking about the restrooms, and not in a good way. It didn't help that it was one of last fall's unusually cold and windy days and the restrooms are out in the courtyard. There was a sign up in the men's room apologizing and saying that they would be improved in early 2014. So look on it as an adventure!

Cal Performances has a full and varied slate; highlights include pianist Richard Goode playing Janáček, Schubert, and Debussy on 19 January; pianist Emanuel Ax and mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter in a "Brahms and Beyond" concert, featuring music of, obviously, Brahms, but also Bay Area premieres of new works by Missy Mazzoli and Nico Muhly, on 23 January; and Wu Man on the pipa on 26 January. Check out their whole schedule here and note the instructions for getting their winter sale price, through 26 January.

Friday photo 2014/2

On Jackson Street, San Francisco, September 2013

09 January 2014

Haiku 2014/9

heavy mists nightly
tease the dry earth with a slick
lick of sweet moisture

08 January 2014

Haiku 2014/8

a moment to teach
more than a lifetime to learn
can you catch your breath

07 January 2014

Haiku 2014/7

down our cubicles
calendars all in a row
counting down the days

06 January 2014

Haiku 2014/6

empty morning streets
distant trains; a car rolls by
my plodding footsteps

Poem of the Week 2014/2

One of the ways I delight people during the holidays is by explaining why Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is a horrible song. Another is by explaining that the twelve days of Christmas do not start on the 12th or the 13th of December, but actually start the day after Christmas and end on 6 January, also called Little Christmas, Epiphany, The Feast of the Three Kings (or the Three Wise Men), and . . . Twelfth Night. So, since today is 6 January, here is a poem for Twelfth Night, and the end of the holiday season, by American poet Phyllis McGinley.

Twelfth Night

Down from the window take the withered holly.
Feed the torn tissue to the literal blaze.
Now, now at last are come the melancholy
Anticlimactic days.

Here in the light of morning, hard, unvarnished,
Let us with haste dismantle the tired tree
Of ornaments, a trifle chipped and tarnished,
Pretend we do not see

How all the rooms seem shabbier and meaner
And the tired house a little less than snug.
Fold up the tinsel. Run the vacuum cleaner
Over the littered rug.

Nothing is left. The postman passes by, now,
Bearing no gifts, no kind or seasonal word.
The icebox yields no wing, no nibbled thigh, now,
From any holiday bird.

Sharp in the streets the north wind plagues its betters
While Christmas snow to gutters is consigned.
Nothing remains except the thank-you letters,
Most tedious to the mind,

And the gilt gadget (duplicated) which is
Marked for exchange at Abercrombie-Fitch's.

Phyllis McGinley

I should probably point out that before it became known for marketing heavily branded clothing to teenagers by using homoerotic prep school fantasies, Abercrombie Fitch was known as an elite purveyor of outdoor and sporting equipment to would-be Teddy Roosevelts in the northeastern part of the United States. That information is going to tell you a lot about the place, time, and social level of the speaker (the use earlier of the word "icebox" for what we now usually call a "refrigerator" is also going to tell you that this is a mid-twentieth century poem – the copyright date is 1940, if you want to be exact – but it doesn't say as much about the place and social level; the use of tinsel on the tree is also going to indicate that this poem was written decades ago).

I love that she simply refers to the duplicated item as a gilt "gadget" – no specifics about what exactly it is or what it's used for; it's just a gadget. And it's gilt, which makes it fancy. And she, or maybe her husband, received two of them, so it's the kind of useless but "nice" item from a high-quality store that you'd give as a gift when you had an obligation to give but no real idea of what to give. The joy of receiving has turned into just another errand to run.

This is a woman who runs a lot of errands. The speaker's perspective is that of a home-maker; she is observant of the wear-and-tear on the Christmas ornaments, of how shabby the rooms look when stripped of their holiday finery, of the need to run the vacuum cleaner over the rug, of what leftovers remain to be disposed of. She is one of the women who keeps the social life of her family running (the thank-you letters: it is unclear whether she needs to write them, or whether she is receiving them, or both, but they are the obligatory social end of the gift exchanges). As such she has a realistic sense of what everyday life is like; another type of poet (another type of person) might have wanted to leave the decorations up, stretch the snug seasonal joys out as long as she could, maybe even into spring; but the speaker here looks at things in the "hard, unvarnished" morning light and sees that holiday time is over: the holly is withered, the tissue is torn, the tree is tired. In fact once the holidays are over she seems eager to move on; "the light of morning" implies that she is getting a fresh start, almost as if the holidays were a bender; she wants to take the tree down "with haste"; and I take "feed the torn tissue to the literal blaze" to mean that she had metaphorically already told the tissue/wrapping paper to go to blazes.

Yet she also misses Christmas once it's passed; the house emptied of decoration is described as "tired," just as the tree is, and the emptied rooms seem "shabbier and meaner" and "a little less than snug"; something "we" (presumably the speaker and her family, or maybe just her spouse) go back to pretending they do not see: how much can you realistically do about life's shabbiness, except enjoy the occasional holiday, however shabby it in turn becomes? The spirit of the holidays is recognized as something special, not part of everyday life; it's not only that the postman bears no gifts, he also has no "kind or seasonal word." The harsh winter weather certainly continues, as the north winds  keep blowing, and the little treats in the icebox are gone. The mood is wistful, but of resigned, slightly regretful, acceptance. The days are melancholy, and mostly a lot of work followed by the let-down feeling of the anticlimactic, but that's how life usually is. This seems like a very adult poem to me, perhaps because of my usual wish to keep the ornaments up as long as possible. The regular rhymes and rhythm help give us the sense of an order and structure proper to the speaker's way of seeing the world, though the cleverness of such rhymes as holly/melancholy and which is/Abercrombie-Fitch's adds some sparkle to the routine.

I took this from Christmas Poems, edited by John Hollander and J D McClatchy, though I have corrected a typo in the fourth line (my copy has "anticlimatic" instead of anticlimactic). I will now put that volume away, with the tree and the stockings and the nativity scene, until . . . well, it'll be sooner than we think, won't it?

05 January 2014

Haiku 2014/5

sleepless in the dark
sleepy during the daytime
life is but a dream

04 January 2014

Haiku 2014/4

Christmas lights glowing
over brown branches and leaves
for a few more nights

02 January 2014

Haiku 2014/2

empty house for sale
ragged bushes, browning lawn
an abandoned toy

"who loses and who wins; who's in, who's out"

Not to sound too Harold Bloom here, but I recently re-read The Egoist and was wondering if I was the only person left who still reads George Meredith. I have since learned that I am not, but I think he's not a name that springs to many minds these days – I was recently speaking to a retired librarian who loves nineteenth-century English novels, and she had never heard of him. He flutes and pirouettes a bit too much for twenty-first-century taste (probably I do too), though I think some of his contemporaries also disparaged those tendencies in him, but he's very witty, and intelligent on the subject of wittiness (among other subjects), and astute and lyrical. If you think you'd like something that reads like Jane Austen as written by late-period Henry James, let me suggest The Egoist. Here's some sample hilarity. Clara Middleton is speaking to her fiancé, Sir Willoughby Patterne, as she is starting to realize her engagement was a mistake, and if you find this exchange as hilarious as I do, let me recommend the novel:

". . . but if you read poetry you would not think human speech incapable of —"

"My love, I detest artifice. Poetry is a profession."

"Our poets would prove to you —"

"As I have often observed, Clara, I am no poet."

"I have not accused you, Willoughby."

So speaking of accusing people of poetry, my actual subject here is to list the most popular poems from 2013's "Poem of the Week" series, insofar as I can determine them from Google's analytics, not that those are as extensive as I would like.

#3 is Love, Too Frequently Betrayed (Tom Rakewell's aria), by WH Auden and Chester Kallman, from their libretto for The Rake's Progress.

#2 is the Sonnet On Being Cautioned against Walking on an Headland Overlooking the Sea, because it was Frequented by a Lunatic, by Charlotte Smith.

#1 is the first one in the series, The Reactionary Poet by Ishmael Reed.

That's an eclectic assortment, and I have no idea why those are the most popular; they don't seem like things students would steal for homework, and as far as I could see on Google analytics no one was linking to them, and no comments were left on the top two. Actually one of my personal favorites among my entries also became popular for mysterious reasons. It started as a few goofy jokes about Christmas music but got longer and darker as I wrote ("Tyger, Tyger, burning bright, Won't you guide my sleigh tonight?"). The weird thing is that only about two years after I wrote it did it start climbing the charts, so to speak. At the time I had Statcounter as well as Google Analytics, and I could never tell from either one why that entry was suddenly popular: no one ever left a comment, and I never discovered who, if anyone, was linking to it or forwarding it. Such are the mysteries of the Internet. (If anyone reading this knows the answer, I'm curious to hear it.)

Anyway, the 2014 series has started, so off we go, and as always thank you for reading.

01 January 2014

Haiku 2014/1

Moon, did you miss me?
You spend your silver freely
even when I'm gone