a book trail

I have Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God to hand. It’s been on my shelf for a few years now. What I want to write about is not it, particularly, but I’ll do that quickly and move on.

Much interesting about Rilke’s attitude to God at this period. In paraphrase: – You are not where or what I have thought you to be. I create you. You need me as much as I need you. And oh, what will you do when I am gone? You are my heir, my protégé.

He writes, and this strikes one as  signature:

I feel it now: there’s power in me
to grasp and give shape to my world.

I know that nothing has ever been real
without my beholding it.
All becoming has needed me.
my looking ripens things
and they come toward me, to meet and be met.

Who knows what would have happened if I had read this at the right time? Which would have been, would it not, the time I bought it. But I almost never (that bad fairy at my christening) buy a book and read it. The burst of light and eagerness in which I buy, and that in which I read, always seem far removed from each in other in color, in quality, in intensity. With my books I have to squint hard – very hard, sometimes – to remember that first light, how first acquisition felt. So, puzzling over the presence of Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God in my bookcase, I have thought a bit, squinted a bit, and reconstructed the book trail, the thought/feel trail, that led me to it. As follows:

In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden.

Story of a high-powered female executive in the very early 20th century who throws it all in to join a Benedictine monastery, she becomes a Benedictine nun. This is where I first focused on the beauty of the Divine Office, in concept and execution, and on the Liturgy of the Hours, the eight of them: –Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline.

Then China Court also by Rumer Godden.

A story about a story about a story of a strained, impoverished country house and a fabulously valuable Book of Hours.

Then (or before, or during?) – the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, that of a sudden sprang out of worn mumbo-jumbo meaningless back-groundness into clean bristling gleaming language. Suddenly, just like that.

Followed by The Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark.

About many things, including and especially that language. The steadying, rallying bone-clean language of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.

And so to Rilke.

But, once again, the light in which I bought is not the light in which I read. I read it as rather thin,  now, and disappointing. Its appeal very intellectual. One is constantly presented with broad literal (if that is not a contradiction in terms) abstractions –  love, blindness, peace, wretchedness, loneliness, silence. As a reader you are asked to do a great deal of filling-in (fill in lonely, loving, wretched sensation here), but not in a bracing challenging way, just in wearying  draining way, at the end of the day.

Much spiritual shorthand, requiring the sort of brainwork that would be (one can easily tell) easier and more joyful and much more resonant were one in the proper spiritual place.

Which one isn’t at the moment, but, oh well.

Update: Thinking about it and realizing that St. John of the Cross and On A Dark Night should be in there too, somewhere. George Herbert and Henry Vaughan too, probably, if one were going to be properly accurate. I haven’t ever tried to map a book trail before. Better luck next time.

Are you a mom or a fresh pancake?

If you weren’t a mom, you’d be a fresh pancake.

So my six-year-old son informs me this evening. The same one who sings: A+A=B! and D+M=4! The same one who has memorized my cell phone number and calls me at work to tell me his name is Alan. (Which it isn’t. Even remotely.)

I think he’s channeling Plath. I think she snuck growling into the house through the attic (or through Ariel, which is as good as any attic) and slunk invisibly down the loft ladder and possessed him while I was cooking.


The Pope’s Penis

by Sharon Olds

It hangs deep in his robes, a delicate
clapper at the center of a bell.
It moves when he moves, a ghostly fish in a
halo of silver seaweed, the hair
swaying in the dark and the heat — and at night
while his eyes sleep, it stands up
in praise of God.


I’ve been reading Sharon Olds’ Strike Sparks – selected poems from 1980-2002. If you’ve been reading Sylvia Plath (as I have), you should definitely read Sharon Olds next, if only to rest your brain and unkink it a bit after all that mental squinting. Another confessional poet, just as diamond hard, but far less allusive and with much much less of that fevered thick Amazon rainforest with so much bright and brilliant going on that in the end you just want a blindfold.

Everything you read about Olds talks about how she uses frank, direct, sometimes shocking language etc in dealing with the body and with sexuality. I don’t know, I think those must have been pretty old people writing those reviews. (Although, that said, I put The Pope’s Penis on here because at some level I’m betting that my blog will explode in the night with this on it, and I’m not even Catholic.) She’s not so much shocking as just very capable and disinclined to take long cuts where a short one will do. She tells a very very good story, a lot of her work is like snapping micro-fiction. Killer images…your/eyes filling with a terrible liquid like/balls of mercury from a broken thermometer/skidding on the floor. I love her linebreaks – I love the way she constantly breaks on the and and and but and all those really bad words to break on. And the way they really work.

She’s good on family, really good on family, and does what poets are maybe meant to do, which is make you look again at your own experiences, look at them in carefulness, in a picky, dissatisfied, but good sort of way.

So go read some Olds.

Trouble with feeds

I’m just letting some of you know that your Bloglines feeds are having problems. If you click on my Bloglines feeds list, you will notice that several of the listed blogs have a red exclamation mark by them. All of these blogs were frozen in time on November 16, 2006.

Were you all at some drunken, drug-ruled, blank-inducing party together that night, or what?

I’ve unsubscribed, re-subscribed, shut down, shut off, restarted, re-booted, etc etc, a dozen times, and I can’t fix your Bloglines feeds. Luckily, through yet another heroic act of technology subduance, I have found actual direct RSS feeds for some of you (that would be Rob, Julie, Twitches and Poet Mom). So NOW I now what you have been up to for the last two weeks.

But don’t blame me if the rest of the world is thinking, gee, I wonder what’s up with Rob, Julie, Twitches and Poet Mom? I haven’t heard a peep out of them since November 16.

All this feeds stuff is great, though. It’s making nonsense of blogstats and counters and comments-as-a-way-of-proving-I’m-reading-your-blog-so-you-better-darn-well-be-reading-mine-and-where’s-your-comment.

A new generation already, and I only just found out about the old.

Moving house

   Welcome to the new site. Please update your links and bookmarks to reflect our new address. Getting to be very mobile in cyberspace. Tired of fuming about the limitations of LiveJournal, tired of watching my blog over there get bigger and bigger while I dither and fret. Livejournal is HISTORY. By a superhuman feat of technology subduance, I managed to get my LJ posts transferred over here in toto. The casualties were the comments, very sad in many cases, so please add lots of pithy new ones over here.

   Will this be the place I settle?  Will WordPress do what Livejournal failed to do? (Which would be, make me happy.  Heh.) This is the new skin I have chosen from the WordPress bouquet for the moment. It’s called Quentin.  “An older feeling and dignified theme,” says its blurb. Good. I can think of nothing better than being regarded as old and dignified, so kindly take your cue from Quentin.