March 21, 2021

Spring and All

Spring slipped into place yesterday morning. Did you feel it? Perhaps not, since there is a good chance that where you are now doesn't look or feel like spring. In my neighborhood, it still looks like winter but for a few buds on trees or shoots poking out of the muddy ground. Of course, you might be south of me and it looks like summer, or far north where winter still reigns. Still, the universe tells us that in the Northern Hemisphere will begin on March 20 and ends on June 20 and by that last day of spring, it will probably look and feel like summer here. 

In William Carlos Williams' poem, "Spring and All," the opening is rather ominous. 

By the road to the contagious hospital
under the surge of the blue
mottled clouds driven from the
northeast—a cold wind.

Williams wrote the poem not long after T. S. Eliot's "The Waste Land," was published. Eliot's poem also opens with a not-so-favorable view of early spring.

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

Eliot goes on to use an image of winter that is not typical: 

Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.

When we brought my first son home from the hospital, it was the first day of spring and the daffodils, crocuses, and wood hyacinths were covered with snow.  Spring is a fickled season.

In literature and mythology, spring usually concerns themes of rebirth and renewal with symbols from the season. Spring also refers to love, hope, youth and growth. The seasonal symbolism for this period may also allude to religious celebrations such as Passover or Easter.

The Vernal Equinox: "vernal" translates to “new” or “fresh” and equinox comes from the Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night). The time of daylight between sunrise and sunset has been growing slightly longer each day since the Winter Solstice in December. Of course, we messed with the celestial plan last weekend with Daylight Saving Time.

I still try to mark the vernal equinox as it has been seen for centuries as a turning point. It is not the only turning point, but daylight does defeat darkness, and that is a reason to celebrate.

Soon, I hope the only things like snowfall here will be the storm of blossoms from cherry and other spring-blooming trees.

A version of this post first appeared at Weekends in Paradelle.  

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March 12, 2021

Blake's Unanswered Questions

art print of Blake's The Number of The Beast is 666

Last month, while thinking about a new prompt, I considered using "The Tyger" as a model poem. It might be the most famous poem written by William Blake, though "The Lamb" and "Jerusalem" are also contenders. The opening line, "Tyger Tyger, burning bright" is among the most famous opening lines in English poetry.

It turns out that I have already used "The Tyger" as a prompt about questions since the poem is a series of questions, as is "The Lamb."

Little Lamb who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?

The poem appeared in Blake’s 1794 volume Songs of Experience, which complemented his earlier collection, Songs of Innocence. I was taught that the poem was a kind of answer to the earlier "The Lamb." 

"The Tyger" is a series of questions as the speaker wonders about a creator who would make something so fearsome. The tiger is "burning bright" and its creator is a kind of blacksmith.

In the fifth stanza, Blake brings in the "stars" which I have always associated with both astrology and destiny.

Blake seems to ask why this all-loving God made such a fearsome animal? "Did he who made the Lamb make thee?"

"The Tyger" is in Blake’s Songs of Experience, and is seen as a complement to the earlier Songs of Innocence with its innocent "The Lamb." Was Blake reconsidering the innocence of the world?

Scan of a plate printed by William Blake from Songs of Experience (1794)
British Museum, Public Domain via Wikimedia


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March 4, 2021

Prompt: Toys

Dolls by ErikaWittlieb

I have a new granddaughter and so I now have an excuse to play again with toys. It would be the rare adult who doesn't have at least a few strong emotional attachments to some childhood toys. Although I am a collector of things, I have very few toys from my childhood. There were some that survived to be toys for my two sons - such as my Matchbox cars - but the toys I have the fondest memories of have vanished - a stuffed lamb and dog, my "medical bag" for playing doctor (often on that lamb and dog).

Having your own children or grandchildren is a wonderful excuse to shop in toy stores, buy toys (perhaps ones you want more than the child) and play again.

My favorite toy poem is "Kinky" the title poem from Denise Duhamel's collection Kinky (Orchises Press, 1997). I thought of her poem recently after reading that Mister Potatohead is no longer a "mister." Now he can be Mr., Mrs., Ms. or whatever combination you want. Of course, it's not like kids haven't already playing gender games with this and other toys.

 In Duhamel's poem, Barbie and Ken dolls are brought to life and: 
...decide to exchange heads.
Barbie squeezes the small opening under her chin 
over Ken's bulging neck socket. 

It's not something I didn't see my older sister do with her dolls. It even shows up in the Toy Story film series both as villains who make hybrid dolls and as those hybrids come to life. Duhamel's dolls don't go in the direction of evil but rather to the kinky side.

The two dolls chase each other around the orange Country Camper 
unsure what they'll do when they're within touching distance. 
Ken wants to feel Barbie's toes between his lips, 
take off one of her legs and force his whole arm inside her.

You don't have to tell us (maybe tell your therapist) about any strange fetishes you may have acted out with your dolls or action figures, but this Barbie and Ken (who Duhamel reminds us have "only the vaguest suggestion of genitals") finally get to act out some of their repressed feelings.

Soon Barbie was begging Ken 
to try on her spandex miniskirt. She showed him how 
to pivot as though he was on a runway. Ken begged 
to tie Barbie onto his yellow surfboard and spin her 
on the kitchen table until she grew dizzy. Anything,
anything, they both said to the other's requests,
their mirrored desires bubbling from the most unlikely places.

But our writing prompt this month is not necessarily dolls or anything kinky but rather simply TOYS. What are your memories of them? What is your current connection to them? How did they fuel your young and now adult imagination?

Submission Deadline: March 31, 2021.  Please read our submission guidelines.

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