New Year’s Eve holds a lot of promises. Whether you’re hoping to complete your resolutions and hoping for big changes, or just going about business as usual, January 1st marks the beginning of something. The start of a new calendar year, new bills, new paychecks, another school year, birthdays to celebrate.
We are hopeful on December 31, but there is no magic in the clock striking 12. We wake up in the morning the same as we were the day before—with our own bodies, our experiences and our thoughts. There’s no harm in seeing January 1 with fresh eyes, but we must be the agents of change in our lives.
The holidays are a busy for me, between family events and eating leftover food, it’s difficult to find a time to write. But writers learn sooner or later that we can improve by simply reading more. If you’ve seen my “Tranquil Tuesday” posts in the past, you won’t be surprised that I found a poem to bring in the new year. “To the new year” by W.S. Merwin embodies that beautiful feeling of hope that reminds us what is possible, despite what happened the day or year before.
Happy New Year!
To the New Year
by W.S. Merwin
With what stillness at last
you appear in the valley
your first sunlight reaching down
to touch the tips of a few
high leaves that do not stir
as though they had not noticed
and did not know you at all
then the voice of a dove calls
from far away in itself
to the hush of the morning
so this is the sound of you
here and now whether or not
anyone hears it this is
where we have come with our age
our knowledge such as it is
and our hopes such as they are
invisible before us
untouched and still possible
People tend to compare themselves to others at different stages of their lives. Sometimes these comparisons can help us set goals and find confidence in our identity. You might have seen yourself in a parental figure or a celebrity. But have you ever felt like lion at heart or a graceful fish in the water? Has your soul felt as one with a leaf falling slowly from its tree in autumn or have you found yourself ingrained in the cobblestones of a city?
That’s the spirit of Paean to Place by Lorine Niedecker: We see ourselves in others, like family, and also in our surroundings. I read Niedecker’s work for the first time as a college freshman, and sometime during that class I copied some of my favorite lines into a notebook. Unfortunately after almost a decade after “discovering” this writer, I’ve never seen anyone share her work. You can read the entire poem here.
Water lily mud
in the leaves and on water
My mother and I
in swale and swamp and sworn
thru marsh fog
from high ground
saw her face
Looking back to the past for help
“Paean to Place” centers around a woman who we learn several things about almost immediately. She was from an area constantly flooded by water. She grew up poor. Her parents are dead.
It is written in the past tense so I always read it as the narrator looking back at her life. She is not only remembering things, but recounting her story in order to accept who she is. I’m pretty sure of this as I get to the last stanza. Read it on your own and let me know if you agree.
So she’s a product of her surroundings? Yes, but more than that. She finds that herself and her parents can be described in reference to the water or the creatures living around it. Things that help her construct an identity and figure out what’s important.
Up in the sky and in the water, she was surrounded by birds that she knew by their official names: Plovers, sora rails, canvasbacks, woodcocks. She remembered all of their sounds (even wishing in one line, that her mother could hear them). At one point the girl considers herself a “solitary plover”. Like the marsh birds, she had a unique song and one outfit. She wore it as long as the birds kept their feathers. (Apparently seven years). But as much as the girl wants to be like them, ultimately it’s the wings that really set them apart. Her feathered neighbors had more freedom to leave the marsh in which they resided. This is pretty sad, given that within the first few stanzas she reveals her parents dreams: “that their daughter/ might go high/ on land/ to learn.
Niedecker’s narrator does not have feathers but “a pencil/for a wing-bone.” Words are what carry her out of her difficult world. This is the line that really resonated with me. (Please leave your sarcastic gasps for the end of the show. I’m sure that other writers and lovers of words will feel the same.)
You with sea water running
in your veins sit down in water
Expect the long-stemmed blue
speedwell to renew
It seems that the girl, now a woman, left her home in an effort to escape the water and the flooding. She’s different now. But when she returns to visit her parents’ graves, the narrator finds herself a part of it all again.
Though she tried to be a bird and fly away, it’s not the wings that were missing. Her identity was shaped like the water lillies, irises and speedwells that spread around her. Ordinary flowers grew toward light and pleasant conditions, but these survived flooding and grow on top of graves. She had just grown roots in one place for so long, but that was okay.
The water haunted her but it also renewed her, and gave her life.
O my floating life
Do not save love
to the flood
It’s not easy to figure out what defines us. For me, like in Niedecker’s poem, there’s always been a small battle going on to accept things that have shaped me for better or worse. Those things can feed us and help us grow instead of keeping us down.
So what would you say has shaped you? Is it something that holds you back or helps you forward?
It’s freezing in the Northeast and a lot of people are cranky. My area could get another foot of snow this week. There’s no denying that this winter is brutal. One of my favorite posts was about “vacation moments” — or good times that make you feel better when you remember them. Now I have to take my own advice and think about my warm vacation in the Turks and Caicos. If you’d like, grab a hot mug of coffee or a margarita (whatever sets the mood), and let me take you on a tour.
We left for our trip on a day like today — amidst freezing and miserable weather — to spend five nights in Providenciales (or Provo). My husband and I booked the trip several months before with our cousins, who had been there previously. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect. All I knew from them was that they loved the ocean. Most of the top attractions here are either Carribbean-facing beaches or small bays. That wasn’t a huge selling point for me, as well as the fact that food and drinks weren’t included at the resort.
Before the trip, we rented a RAV 4 from “Scooter Bob’s“. Though we had some laughs because it didn’t seem like a “real” rental place, everything turned out well. It was convenient to have a car to get to the places we wanted to see, as you’ll read below. There was a supermarket nearby, where we went to grab some snacks and drinks on the first night. The prices there were at about Whole Foods/organic food prices for regular things. Regardless, the car served us well and we had enough cheese, crackers and fruit to last us through the week.
We stayed at Seven Stars Resort, which is located at Grace Bay along with most of the large hotels in Provo (Point B on the map below). I know I had low expectations but our cousins definitely did not oversell the beaches. I was in love the first time my feet hit the sand! The water was extremely calm — practically still — for most of the week and so clear that I could see my bright pink pedicure. So now the important part…
What to do for six days in Provo
Our morning started with the free continental breakfast. We got up fairly early to an empty beach and spent the next five hours floating, tanning and reading. The concierge helped us make reservations and many of the people working at Seven Stars gave us recommendations. We left the resort for lunch and dinner to visit the local establishments. Some were fancy places, others were… off-road experiences. (I’ll tell you why).
The menu at almost every restaurant featured seafood. Some of the fancier dinner options had steak, but I can’t say I was impressed. The fish on the other hand was always fresh and seasoned very well. Mr. Grouper was probably the closest to our hotel and we had a great lunch there, thanks to a tip from a staff member.
One of my favorite places was Bugaloos (Point C, above). Here you can have lunch right on the beach and watch someone catch conch (the island’s specialty), which could end up on your plate. We walked around and picked up a giant conch shell to take home. They sell polished shells but if you’re fine with a rougher looking one, there are a ton on the beach. After our lunch there we got directions for our road trip to Taylor Bay — a private beach with extremely shallow water. First, the waitress gave us her version of where to go, and then from a group of tourists who were “just there.”
Take a left onto the main road, they said, then another left and another left. Well, we ended up on a road that rivaled the moon in the amount of craters. Given that we were told the beach would be hard to find, we kept driving through these craters until we saw people. They weren’t any help, so we turned around and bounced through the craters again. We finally made it and spent some time amused by how far we could walk in the shallow bay. It was a great photo-op, but we didn’t stay for more than an hour.
We also visited Yoshis Sushi Bar (Point H) for dinner twice. The sushi was as good as some of the expensive places in New York City and the menus were iPads. It was crowded on Friday night, but we never made reservations. We were told by a waiter that Friday’s are always busy in Provo, which is saying a lot. The stores and restaurants did not seem crowded at all during the week considering how many hotels were in our area.
For our second to last night in Provo we made plans to celebrate my cousin’s birthday at Mango Reef (at Alexandra hotel). It was also on the beach and our dinner was candlelit. We had a great time although the next day my husband got food poisoning. I have no idea what caused it so visit this place at your own discretion.
I won’t go into much more detail about the other locations, but everything’s there on my map.
Tips & tricks in TCI
The first time we got lost in Providenciales trying to get from the airport to our car rental place, we drove the entire length of the island (Leeward Highway). That didn’t take all too long — the entire island is about 38 miles long. If you have international data on your phone, use the map! We started out using a paper map and missed several turns. Driving was generally fine, but keep in mind that you’ll be on the left side with the steering wheel on the right (unless you get an American car). If you’re from the U.S., it’s backwards. Also, I didn’t see anyone stopping at stop signs — not even a pause. Basically, be careful.
Another tip is to ask people at the hotel (bother visitors and staff) for recommendations on activities and food. We spent a lot of time at our hotel’s beach, and I imagine everyone else did too. We found that they provided beach toys for kids and floating lounge chairs for adults. That’s me floating in the photo at the top. There was supposedly a library, but I never saw any books in the lobby. (Yes, I care). We were told the hotel also rented out DVDs, bicycles and provided non-motorized water sports. I didn’t take advantage of those during our stay but it was good to know what was available for free.
At sunset, we’d walk on the beach, explore other hotels and collect seashells. It was a beautiful vacation and a nice break from winter. I’ll probably be thinking about it a lot while I’m huddled under layers of sweaters and blankets.
What’s your dream vacation to escape the winter? Let me know in the comments below or on Facebook.
During the week, some of you get an early start for work or whatever else you have in store for the day. A poem like this one by Campbell McGrath reminds me that there’s someone — whether human or animal — who’s up at the same time, getting ready for another day. It makes me feel better, but of course a large cup of coffee helps as well.
You can also read the poem and find out about the author here.
On a side note: Tranquil Tuesday has become a project for me to discover new poems, so I would love to hear suggestions for poems that you enjoy. If you’ve written something you think would be a good fit, I’d love to feature it as well.
Feel free to share your suggestions in a comment below or on Facebook.
Frankenstein’s monster, like any stranger in the night, wants someone to love. Of course his problem is that he can’t love just anyone, and Dr. Frankenstein refuses to create his match. So the monster tries to solve it the only way he can — with a threat. His strength and wit should not be underestimated, the monster tells his creator.
If things aren’t going the way you want this week, try saying this simple line out loud. (Picture yourself eight-feet tall if you need to). You’ll get a few looks if you’re in the office or shopping for groceries, but you’ll remember the things that you are capable of.
Despite the events throughout the rest of the novel, it is in this one moment that Frankenstein’s monster says that he has the same free will that we are all born with and takes responsibility for the things to come.
If I were to ever choose a favorite book, this one would be among the top contenders. The prose is eloquent and raw. It can be simple and complicated at the same time. (It’s extremely quotable.) Much of the story is told through twins — children trying to understand the way the world works, and later adults dealing with the repercussions of their earlier actions. “The God of Small Things” is set in Kerala, India in 1969. You’ll learn some things about the social culture at the time, with what Roy describes as the Love Laws: “That lay down who should be loved. And how. And how much.”
Here’s an extended quote from “The God of Small Things”:
“It didn’t matter that the story had begun, because kathakali discovered long ago that the secrets of the Great Stories is that they have no secrets. The Great Stories are the ones that you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably. They don’t deceive you with thrills and trick endings. They don’t surprise you with the unforeseen. They are as familiar as the house you live in. Or the smell of your lover’s skin. You know how they end, yet you listen as though you don’t. In the way that although you know that one day you will die, you live as though you won’t. In the Great Stories you know who lives, who dies, who finds love, who doesn’t. And yet you want to know again.
That is their mystery and their magic.”
This book has everything on from heartbreaking romance to philosophy on life. You won’t regret reading it.
We find out the heart only by dismantling what
the heart knows. By redefining the morning,
we find a morning that comes just after darkness.
We can break through marriage into marriage.
By insisting on love we spoil it, get beyond
affection and wade mouth-deep into love.
We must unlearn the constellations to see the stars.
But going back toward childhood will not help.
The village is not better than Pittsburgh.
Only Pittsburgh is more than Pittsburgh.
Rome is better than Rome in the same way the sound
of raccoon tongues licking the inside walls
of the garbage tub is more than the stir
of them in the muck of the garbage. Love is not
enough. We die and are put into the earth forever.
We should insist while there is still time. We must
eat through the wildness of her sweet body already
in our bed to reach the body within the body.
You know that feeling when you say a word over and over again, and all of a sudden it’s no longer English? It becomes an alien word that’s void of all previous meaning. This is actually called semantic satiation — your brain becomes so overwhelmed by words that it has to digest and start over.
With that phenomena in mind, I think it also roughly covers what reading poetry feels like. I’ve heard so many people say that they don’t like poetry. Poems can be intimidating when you can’t translate the meaning, can’t relate to it or find it difficult to read (see: e.e. cumming’s “falling leaf”).
When I read “Tear It Down” by Jack Gilbert, it felt like the perfect poem to share. It’s the type that’s easy on the eyes, with sentences and punctuation (I think that’s a real poetry standard).
If anything gives you pause, I’d bet it’s around the first few lines when it sounds like Gilbert is repeating words just for the fun of it. Is it semantic satiation in a poem? You’re hearing the words but not getting the meaning.
I want to say that is exactly the point (and I’m sorry!). What the poem tells you comes true. In the first line: “We find out the heart only by dismantling what / the heart knows” and later on in a different way: “We must unlearn the constellations to see the stars.” By repeating what might sound like nonsense, unfiltered out of the poet’s mind, is really showing you that you have to “tear down” what you’re meant to think or feel and create your own meaning.
I’d argue that for the reasons that people avoid poetry is exactly the reason to read poems such as this one by Gilbert. Because the poem makes you think twice, the possibilities of its meaning become endless.
If you’re interested in Gilbert’s view on poetry and writing, here’s a great interview in The Paris Review.
What’s your take on this poem? Comments are open under the post, and on Facebook.
Autumn is undeniably my favorite season. The air gets crisper and the leaves change into a display that is as impressive as any work of art.
When November comes around, the big question is when the red and orange treetops will disappear. A few years ago, we had a snowstorm in Connecticut before Halloween, which weighed down the trees — many of which were still “blooming.” This year, it’s the first week of November and I’m still looking up.
“Autumn Movement” by Carl Sandburg perfectly captures that feeling of “how long will it last.” He doesn’t waste any space, choosing to start off with tears. The poem is short but between the first and last stanza, you feel both anxiety and wonder. The image of ‘cornflower yellow’ leaves is destroyed by a reminder that Nature will tear them off one by one (‘not one lasts’).
It’s over before it starts, but every word is worth it. Just like watching the seasons change — I know it will happen but I can’t help that melancholy feeling when it does.
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The question Larkin asks in the first line of “Days” is so simple, it’s almost silly. ‘What are days for?’ you can almost hear a child asking. The simple answer Larkin doesn’t give us: days, counted off from the first one, make up our life.
Instead, he responds that days are something that engulf us. They are the agent of change. The day is the friend or partner or sibling, that rouses us from our sleep. Days are where we live, and what other choice do we have, he wonders. The magic of this poem is that it might have been Larkin’s existential composition or something written on a napkin at a bar. The English poet wrote this reflection on life in 1953 and three decades later, it can still remind us that it is our days that define us, even though both clergymen and scientists believe it to be something more.
Was “Days” the right Tranquil Tuesday choice? What poem would you have featured? Your thoughts, suggestions and comments are welcome!