Review of Firsts: 100 Years of Yale Younger Poets

Firsts is a curiously democratic gathering of poems by poets who have won the Yale Younger Poets Prize. The title could stand for the first time these poets were brought into prominence by winning a prize, or that they rank first in the company of poets. Each poet gets three poems, much like the guidelines of a proper contest. At first, the anthology seems to be about the judges. Indeed, the editor has written an introduction that is mostly about the judges of the prize, and if you turn to the end, you will find a list of judges, listed by year, followed by a list of the winning poets. Turning to the poems, you might be mildly irritated that each poet is presented to the reader with a mini cv, stating place of birth, books, and prizes, as well as occupation. Could there be a stuffier volume of poems? What was Carl Phillips thinking, augmenting tweediness with tweed, the fustiness of academia?  
Obviously, Phillips knew what he was doing.

The world these days

Amid the real suffering, and the insidious politics, the nervous fear some have of not knowing the end day, there is the ordinary day to day life of someone like me who still believes this is a situation that will only get worse, who is enraged by the racism arising from naming the virus as particular to an Asian country, but who is also, so far, darn lucky.

My problems are minor. If you live in a remote area, tend to be a loner, keep company with your work, books, cats, then social-distancing should not be a problem.  Yet all the things that make a life pleasant –the runs to a cafe for coffee and companionship, the excitement of the transformation of a sleepy town to full-blown cultural candy store as the season comes round again, the pottering about in garden centers to see what is available, and how things are growing, the daydreaming that lets the imagination take flight via airline websites and possible flights, the concerts and plays one had planned ahead with tickets already bought, the room for spontaneity in a movie run, a dinner with friends–all of that is now in the past.  

So I’ve been writing, teasing a plot of nonsense, and I’ve been reading.  Book after book I download onto my iPad, overcoming my distate of electronic reading, my appetite limitless.  I am saving Hilary Mantel’s latest, waiting until I reach a point of exasperation, so I can remember, but wait, there’s still Cromwell’s end to come. I watch Jane Austen adaptations, akin to a comparative study, and Gardener’s World, both providing ample comfort.  

And yes, I wonder if a stray cough is more than what it is, a stray cough brought on by dry inside air. And yes, I am on social media far more than necessary. And yes, I woke at four am for no reason. But right now, as I type these words, a Bach cello concerto is being played by Yo Yo Ma over the airwaves.  Read that sentence again. Is that not itself is a miracle?

There Are Always Sweet Peas

sweet peas with Clematis

How prescient or coincidental or hubristic I wrote about my roses last week.  Bragged if you will.  Yesterday I went out to prune them, and did a fairly good job in creating empty vase shapes, taking out dead and skinny branches, despite my trepidation in cutting a living, budding thing.  I did notice that the branches had splotchy markings, and much later I investigated.

Rose Canker.  A virus of the rose that appears as splotchy spots of purple and brown, which will ultimately destroy the rose.  After researching numerous sites, including the agricultural extensions and rose societies, I determined I did infact have to act fast, and cut down each affected branch to a several inches into good healthy growth.  After my radio show, I went out with the hand pruners and tried my best.  I hacked away at my newly pruned beauties, and discovered the damage was too severe.

With heavy heart I went inside and called an old friend for sympathy, and then called my local expert at the nursery who promised to take a look.  I admit I was deeply upset.  Five bushes in all, and no recourse but to dig them up.  Then I visited a gardening friend to get some seeds for another friend, and looked at her roses, which also had canker.  I wondered if I had been too rash in cutting down the bushes so severely.  Perhaps I could have let them bloom, and enjoyed the roses until the plant gave up.  Kind of like my plan for my beloved ’92 Honda Civic.  But when the Honda began falling apart, yet still had life in her, I traded her ruthlessly in for fifty dollars toward a newer model, regretting the purchase all the while.  They don’t make Hondas like the ’92 anymore.

After a while, I rememembered I had to plant the sweet peas I had soaked overnight.  I constructed a wigwam, amd sowed the seeds.  In a week, if I am lucky, they will poke their heads out.

Meanwhile, the world as we know it has changed rapidly.  Universities, museums, and public institutions have closed to combat the spread of Covid-19.  We are told to socially distance ourselves and wash hands constantly.  The shelves are emptied of paper products, though I still fail to see the connection.

Gardening is the balm.  Getting fresh air, working in the soil, and planting for the future.


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