#WPLongform

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?

The back yard

Seven summers ago, I started a new life devoted to writing, in Provincetown. Naturally, I wanted to distract myself. My apartment was surrounded by growth. The front garden was tamed by the former tennant, an admirable writer, who grew epic tomatoes and many herbs.  I was told repeatedly, though,  that nothing would grow in the back, though; too much shade, poor soil; wind.

Nothing motivates me more than a gardening challenge. I researched Cape Cod garden peculiarities, studied books on soil improvement, and shade gardens all winter long. In the spring, I got to work.

The back had two bare plots, divided by a common gravel path.  The north-facing cement wall, aka foundation,  featured a tangle of wires and meters, and wooden fences ran along the east and west sides.  The front was seperated from the wetlands by another gravel footpath.  It wasn’t a secret graden, or a reading nook to escape with a book and tea.  Without privacy, the backyard became a place to landscape and learn.  The nooks and bits of garden I’d had before mostly consisted of pots, and not much dug into the ground.  So, right off, I bought a shovel, pruners, and a rake, and the first in a series of garden hoses.   The pruners especially rusted magnificantly.    

Two hostas already grew along one fence, so I took the cue, and planted a few more. I found cinnamon fern, dicentra, astilbe, Forget-me-not, sweet woodruff, and huchera in the local nurseries. I added that year’s star perennial, geranium Rozanne, and some annuals, guided by garden catelougues, books, and sales.  

2012

Things grew slowly that year, but steadily. Clematis came next, and buddleia. I tried a potted dahlia, trout lilies, and to my surprise, I had a volunteer Joe Pye’s Weed. The latter was good for the bees, my gardener friend told me, and she gave me some monarda to plant as well.

2014

I kept trying new things, like margoton lilies, heirloom glads, snake’s head fritilleria. Some plants reassuringly appeared year after year, while others, like the trout lilies and buddleia, last only a five years. One year, the cinnamom ferns kept having babies. But the garden feels incomplete. It lacks a sense of sanctuary, a sense of safety. It looks good in parts, but does it have a sense of harmony? I have my catelogues and graph paper out. I’m watching garden shows and taking notes. If you have suggestions, I’m listening. (Below the next two photos is a slideshow.)740″] Fern explosion, 2017?[/caption]

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