Last run in Austin before Scott’s parents move. I will miss running through the town, past the SPAM museum, then getting coffee from Kyle at the Coffee Place. Scott was feeling nostalgic and told me stories about many of the places we passed as we walked back home after the run. A good and necessary move for aging parents with health problems. A little sadness, but mostly relief.
3 miles marshall loop in reverse 66! degrees wind: 20 mph
Ran with Scott after the rain stopped on a (finally) warm spring morning. It was so windy I had to hold my hat then take it off while running on the lake street bridge. It was warm and sunny and wonderful. We talked about Debussy (Scott) and mycelium (me) and tried to avoid loud-talking-only-slighter-faster-than-us runners. Didn’t hear any rowers or roller skiers or radios blasting from bikes. Did hear some geese honking and some crows cawing and wind howling.
Spent the morning reviewing my notes and re-reading descriptions of fungi and mushrooms and mycelium. Here are a few notes I took:
a different sort of We, not a me or an I, but a we, an us
a different way of looking/sensing/becoming aware: not seeing straight on, but feeling, looking across and to the side, down, beneath and below
stop looking up to the heavens, start feeling/sensing what’s below
a hope that is not predicated on evidence, when evidence = seeing and Knowing and fully understanding (seeing things as parts or discrete categories or individual things)
entangled is not separate or pure but messy and enmeshed
this is why we are all here — from my haibun and what I heard coming out of the little old lady’s phone
this why we all here
why = curiosity, wonder
The why is not an explanation — this is why/this is THE reason — but an invitation to imagine differently, expansively, wildly.
we all = ecosystems, organisms, networks, asemblages
Organisms are ecosystems. I find myself surrounded by patchiness, that is, a mosaic of open-ended assemblages of entangled ways of life, with each further opening into a mosaic of temporal rhythms and spatial arcs (Tsing, 4) .
here = a place, located in history, a specific place, not transferable or easily translatable, can’t be scaled up or turned into assets
1.5 miles winchell trail, south/42nd st east/edmund, north 41 degrees
Headed to the gorge with Scott this morning — a quick run above the river. I know I looked at the river, but I can’t remember much about it. Most likely, with this gloomy sky, it was a brownish-gray or grayish-brown with no sparkle. We talked a lot about Lizzo and what a great job she did on SNL last night, both as the host and the musical guest. The only other thing I remember right now is running the opposite way on the Winchell Trail (usually I run north on it) and noticing how much longer the Folwell hill was this way. The other way it’s steep but short, this way it’s slightly less steep, but winding (or wind-y?) and long.
before the run
Yesterday I suggested that my next dirt topic should be gardens/gardening. Here are a few ideas:
1 — tune my body and my brain
My exploration of dirt began when I started thinking about the phrase from a kids’ song, or a song often sung to or by kids: “the worms crawl in, the worms crawl out.” Here’s another kids’ song that doesn’t have the word dirt in it, but is about dirt and death and life and gardens. Both my kids sang it in elementary school concerts:
Here are a few verses:
Inch by inch, row by row Gonna make this garden grow All it takes is a rake and a hoe And a piece of fertile ground
Inch by inch, row by row Someone bless these seeds I sow Someone warm them from below Till the rain comes tumblin’ down
Pullin’ weeds and pickin’ stones Man is made of dreams and bones Feel the need to grow my own ‘Cause the time is close at hand
Rainful rain, sun and rain Find my way in nature’s chain Tune my body and my brain To the music from the land
2 — Alice Oswald and “echo-poetics”
It is perhaps this blending of the ecological sensibilities learned through gardening with those of the poet that makes reading Oswald’s editorial and poetic work so compelling, and not only for the many pleasures it brings. It also offers an acoustically informed aesthetic, a way of re-tuning how we think about and make beauty and meaning in verbal forms, especially those inspired by the earth’s processes, things, places. Principled with the desire to bring living things unmediated into text, Oswald’s writings illustrate a heightened and recursive sensitivity to the acoustics of environment, with the ear, of course, in its critical role as converter of signals. They recognize sound as summons, access, and mode. They value gardening (and other physical work) for the ways it creates possibilities for encounter by situating the body in motion and out-of-doors. They invite and invent expressive forms that are organic to these encounters, or that modify existing forms so they are apt and up to the task. They reveal a rootedness in rhythm, syncopation, harmony, or some other musicality within the external world. They practice acute hearing and engage in humble, patient, and empathie listening. They gesture toward the sonic rounding out of envi-ronments and their many natural, social and cultural complexities. And they practice accretion as a writer’s technique inspired by a natural process. Thus Oswald begins to define what I might term an “echo-poetics.”
Voice(s) of the Poet-Gardener: Alice Oswald and the Poetry of Acoustic Encounter/ Mary Pinard
3 — digging work
It’s certainly true that when you’re digging you become bodily implicated in the ground’s world, thought and earth continually passing through each other. You smell it, you feel its strength under your boot, you move alongside it for maybe eight hours and your spade’s language (it speaks in short lines of trochees and dactyls: sscrunch turn slot slot, sscrunch turn slot slot) creeps and changes at the same pace as the soil. You can’t help being critical of any account of mud that is based on mere glimpsing.
“The Universe in time of rain makes the world alive with noise” / Alice Oswald
Between my finger and my thumb The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.
Under my window, a clean rasping sound When the spade sinks into gravelly ground: My father, digging. I look down
Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds Bends low, comes up twenty years away Stooping in rhythm through potato drills Where he was digging.
The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft Against the inside knee was levered firmly. He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep To scatter new potatoes that we picked, Loving their cool hardness in our hands.
By God, the old man could handle a spade. Just like his old man.
My grandfather cut more turf in a day Than any other man on Toner’s bog. Once I carried him milk in a bottle Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up To drink it, then fell to right away Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods Over his shoulder, going down and down For the good turf. Digging.
The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge Through living roots awaken in my head. But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.
Between my finger and my thumb The squat pen rests. I’ll dig with it.
4 — listening work
People often ask me what I like best about gardening. . . . The truth is it’s the sound. I don’t know anything lovelier than those free shocks of sound happening against the backsound of your heartbeat. Machinery, spade-scrapes, birdsong, gravel, rain on polythene, macks moving, aeroplanes, seeds kept in paper, potatoes coming out of boxes, high small leaves or large head-height leaves being shaken, frost on grass, strimmers, hoses . . .
“The Universe in time of rain makes the world alive with noise”/ Alice Oswald
Poems are written in the sound house of a whole body, not just with the hands. So before writing, I always spend a certain amount of time pre- paring my listening. I might take a day or sometimes as much as a month picking up the rhythms I find, either in other poems or in the world around me. I map them into myself by tapping my feet or punch- ing the air and when my whole being feels like a musical score, I see what glimpses, noises, smells, I see if any creature or feeling comes to live there. Then, before putting pen to paper, I ask myself, “Am I lis- tening? Am I listening with a soft, slow listening that will not obliter- ate the speaker?” And if, for example, I want to write a poem about water, I try to listen so hard that my voice disappears and I speak water.
“Poetry for Beginners” for the BBC’s Get Writing/ Alice Oswald
5 — In Search of our Mother’s Gardens*
*a reference to the powerful essay by Alice Walker, “In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens,” that I often taught in my Fem Theory classes.
things to think about while running:
How can I “tune my body and brain to the music of the land”?
What is digging work? Where can/do we do digging work?
What are the sounds of my backyard garden?
What can I plant in my garden this year?
Why do I love doing physical, outdoor work? How is digging/gardening/weeding work different from listening/noticing/caring/writing work? How is it similar?
during the run
Ran with Scott, and we didn’t talk about gardens or digging until the end, when I mentioned gardening, digging, and the digital story about my mom. He suggested that I look up the lyrics for Peter Gabriel’s “Digging in the Dirt.”
after the run
Here are a few lyrics from Gabriel’s “Digging in the Dirt”:
Digging in the dirt Stay with me, I need support I’m digging in the dirt To find the places I got hurt Open up the places I got hurt
The more I look, the more I find As I close on in, I get so blind I feel it in my head, I feel it in my toes I feel it in my sex, that’s the place it goes
This time you’ve gone too far This time you’ve gone too far This time you’ve gone too far I told you, I told you, I told you, I told you This time you’ve gone too far This time you’ve gone too far This time you’ve gone too far I told you, I told you, I told you, I told you
And the refrain at the end, repeated several times:
Digging in the dirt To find the places we got hurt
And here’s the video, which I can’t embed). Wow, the imagery in this fits with so many things I’ve been discussing! Worms, digging as excavating deeper truths (I think I’ve mentioned this before), death, dust, grass, pebbles, sand, rocks, mushrooms speaking! (in the video they spell out “help”).
addendum, 18 april 2022: almost forgot to add this image from my notes for my memoir (still in progress) about my student and teaching life”
Instead of cropping out the key part — the picture of a plant growing inside a head in the lower right with the text, “planting a seed” — I decided to post the entire image. When I taught feminist and queer classes a decade ago, my aim was to plant seeds. Not to force ideas on students or to expect instant results — where they could immediately “get” something or be transformed, but to introduce ideas and offer up invitations that might, in the future, lead to transformation and deeper understandings.
Ran/walked the ford loop with Scott. Sunny and warm with a bright blue sky. Wonderful. Stopped at the 2 overlooks on the St. Paul side. Heard and saw rowers on the river! The first time this spring, I think. Also heard someone playing guitar on a rock below the Monument that juts out over the river. Heard lots of birds, encountered lots of walkers, some runners, a biker or two.
Right after we finished our run, as we walked by Becketwood, I saw something flash in the trees. At first I thought it was a squirrel jumping, but Scott said it was an owl! Excellent. It took me about a minute to see it, but when it flapped its wing, I did. My favorite part: the owl was facing the other way, but they turned their head to check if we were still there. What an awesome head swivel!
before the run
Although Entangled Life never lapses into polemics or preaching, the book has an evangelical message all the same: humanity is neither innately special nor truly dominant; rather, we emerge and are sustained by a web of interspecies interdependence and diverse kinship; and our human notion of individuality is chimeric. The book is a call to engage with fungi on their level. “Is it possible for humans, with our animal brains and bodies and language, to learn to understand such different organisms? How might we find ourselves changed in the process?” Like fungi, “‘[w]e are ecosystems that span boundaries and transgress categories. Our selves emerge from a complex tangle of relationships.”
The underlying questions of Entangled Life, and other mycophilic media today, are: How can we be more like fungi? How are we already like fungi? How can we, as Paul Stamets puts it, ally ourselves with the fungal kingdom? How can we mycologize ourselves and our world? How can we break down our waste for fuel and sustenance, rather than let it accumulate in garbage dumps, oceans, and bloodstreams? How can we organize ourselves flexibly and responsibly so each part of the social web gets what it needs? If we fail and our own species does not survive the next few centuries, we can at least trust that a resilient species of fungi will evolve to consume the copious remains of our civilization and renew the planet again.
The need for new understanding, metaphors for working together (and living together) — and NOT as individuals. Beyond Darwinism and survival of the fittest and competition. Survival of the fittest/dog-eat-dog world are dead metaphors.
Plague Notebook, Vol 11/ Sara Lynne Puotinen
Found this video from the BBC about the “wood wide web”:
Near the end, the voice-over says: “scientists are still debating why plants seem to behave in such an altruistic way.” Why are these collaborations and symbiotic relationships and networks understood as altruism? Looking up altruism, I found these definitions:
1: unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of otherscharitable acts motivated purely by altruism 2: behavior by an animal that is not beneficial to or may be harmful to itself but that benefits others of its species
Plants and fungi are not being selfless, if selfless means doing things for others that don’t benefit, or maybe even harm, you. I dislike the term altruism, btw. This is not sacrifice of individuals, or individual groups, for the good of the whole. The idea of altruism is tied up with the old, outdated understanding of us as individuals who either act selfishly or purely selflessly.
during the run
Tried to explain some of this stuff about mycelium to Scott. Also ranted about altruism. Mentioned how the discussion about the wood wide web focuses more on marveling at trees and how they communicate, and much less on the amazing fungi network and the cool stuff fungi do. Trees are the actors, with fungi only the medium. But, fungi are actors too, just in a way that we don’t see or understand as easily. Also ranted against TED talks and how formulaic and forced they seemed. Scott got distracted when I asked him what scientists who study trees are called. He couldn’t think of it. The particular type I was trying to remember was: forest ecologist.
after the run
Mushroom Hunting in the Jemez Mountains/ Arthur Sze
from The Glass Constellation
Walking in a mountain meadow toward the north slope, I see red-cap amanitas with white warts and know they signal cèpes. I see a few colonies of puffballs, red russulas with chalk-white stipes, brown-gilled Poison Pie. In the shade under the spruce are two red-pored boletes: slice them in half and the flesh turns blue in seconds. Under fir is a single amanita with basal cup, flarinannulus, white cap: is it the Rocky Mountain form of Amanita pantherina? I am aware of danger in naming, in misidentification, in imposing the distinctions of a taxonomic language onto the things themselves. I know I have only a few hours to hunt mushrooms before early afternoon rain. I know it is a mistake to think I am moving and that argarics are still: they are more transient than we acknowledge, more susceptible to full moon, to a single rain, to night air, to a moment of sunshine. I know in this meadow my passions are mycorrhizal with nature. I may shout our ecstasies, aches, griefs, and hear them vanish in the white-pored silence.
4.05* miles minnehaha creek path, between lake nokomis and lake harriet 40 degrees
*Scott’s watch said 4 miles, mine 4.1, so I’m splitting the difference here. Also did the .05 because my total miles was at a .45 and needed the .05 to round it out.
Ran with Scott along the Minnehaha Creek trail between lake nokomis and lake harriet. Nice. Not too cold or windy, relaxed. An easy pace with several walk breaks. I haven’t run this route in many years. Crossed over the creek several times, noticing the water: blueish gray, gently flowing, almost whispering its splashes.
before the run
At the end of my post from 2 days ago I decided on my project and, of course, I am already abandoning it, or maybe just wandering with it a little? This wandering is one joy of my undisciplined approach to writing/engaging/being in the world. The project/challenge: do a different B Mayer “Please Add to this List” experiment each day. Yesterday, I picked my first one: “Compose a list of familiar phrases, or phrases that have stayed in your mind for a long time–from songs, from poems, from conversation.”
I began a list:
You’ll get no commercials
There’s a new girl in town
As long as it’s gum and that’s for me
Life is life, and death but death, Bliss but bliss, and breath but breath
I am the wind and the wind is invisible
Think of a sheep knitting a sweater, think of your life getting better and better
Like sands through the hourglass, these are the days of our lives
Wake up in the morning, feeling sad and lonely. Gee, I got to go to school
What a world, what a world!
Heaven, I’m in heaven, and my heart beats so that I can hardly speak
Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens
What do you do when your kid is a brat?
The buzz saw snarled and rattled in the yard
I’m a wheel watcher
Remember I love you, I won’t be far away. I’ll just close my eyes and think of yesterday
I’ll be yours in springtime when the flowers are in bloom. We’ll wander through the meadows in all their sweet perfume
Of course you do
Eastbound and down, loaded up and trucking’
trouble is inevitable, and the task, how best to make it, what best way to be in it
You were not there
All will be revealed
And you never will be
Tell all the truth but tell it slant
Try to remember the days of september
the boobie hatch
the worms crawl in, the worms crawl out, the worms play pinnacle on your snout
Miss Suzy had a steamboat, the steamboat had a bell. Miss Suzy went to heaven, the steamboat went to…
Then I stopped. I started thinking about “the worms crawl in, the worms crawl out” and remembered my sister Marji singing that to me when we were kids, then us gleefully singing it together. Something clicked. I thought about worms and dirt and death and graves and really gross things about bodies and being delighted in singing about those gross things and Diane Seuss’s commencement address and her invoking of these lines by Walt Whitman:
I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love, If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.
I decided what I really want to do this month is study dirt. It’s fitting for April as I begin to notice dirt again as it emerges from under the snow. It also follows nicely from Oswald and her emphasis on physical labor — working in the dirt and gardening, getting your hands dirty — and minerals all the way down. And, it returns me to my extended exploration of both ghosts and haunting and earth/rock/stone/erosion. So many different ways to wander and wonder with this word!
I’ll start today with a little more on “the worms crawl in” song. Here’s how I remember singing it when I was a kid:
Did you ever think when the hearse went by that you would be the next to die? They wrap you up in thick white sheets bury you down 6 feet deep.
All goes well for about a week then your coffin begins to leak. The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out the worms play pinnacle on your snout.
Your stomach turns a slimy green. Pus runs out like thick whipped cream.
It starts getting fuzzy at this point in the song. It would end with something like, “And that’s where you go when you die.” I can’t quite remember. I decided to look it up. Found some interesting things about it. Here’s a brief summary from Wikipedia:
“The Hearse Song” is a song about burial and human decomposition, of unknown origin. It was popular as a World War I song, and was popular in the 20th century as an American and British children’s song, continuing to the present. It has many variant titles, lyrics, and melodies, but generally features the line “the worms crawl in, the worms crawl out”, and thus is also known as “The Worms Crawl In“.
And here’s a cover that adds many more lyrics than I remember and sounds like the Violent Femmes:
There are LOTS of variations of this song. Check out the comments on this post for some of them. I’m fascinated by this song as part of an oral tradition of poetry — the poem/words aren’t owned by any one poet, they travel and transform. The best (most compelling, memorable) are kept as people recite/sing it, the others discarded. What holds it all together is: “the worms crawl in, the worms crawl out.” If I’m getting it right, those lines are iambic dimeter — 2 feet of unstressed/unstressed.
This focus on the worms reminds me of Cornel West and how, in lectures and the film, The Examined Life, he liked to say:
For me, philosophy is fundamentally about our finite situation. You can define that in terms of being towards death, featherless two legged linguistically conscious creatures born between urine and faeces whose body will one day be the culinary delight of terrestrial worms. That’s us. Beings towards death. At the same time we have desire, why we are organisms in space and time, and so desire in the face of death.
When I was a kid, I loved singing this song, took delight in the grossness. It didn’t scare or haunt me with it’s reminder that I would die one day. Now, as a middle-aged adult, it doesn’t either, even as I encounter more death and reminders of death. I actually find it comforting (is that the right word?) or helpful to think about the relationship between bodies and dirt and worm food.
during the run
Because Scott and I were talking about many different things (most of which I can remember now), we didn’t talk about “the worms crawl in…”. Possibly we didn’t talk about it because he never sang the song as a kid and doesn’t find it fun now. Boo. I do remember remarking on all the brown and noticing the mulched leaves on the ground. Thinking about things that decompose or have decomposed.
after the run
Not much to add here, except this poem I found when searching, “worms and poetry”:
Ever since I found out that earth worms have taste buds all over the delicate pink strings of their bodies, I pause dropping apple peels into the compost bin, imagine the dark, writhing ecstasy, the sweetness of apples permeating their pores. I offer beets and parsley, avocado, and melon, the feathery tops of carrots.
I’d always thought theirs a menial life, eyeless and hidden, almost vulgar—though now, it seems, they bear a pleasure so sublime, so decadent, I want to contribute however I can, forgetting, a moment, my place on the menu.
Ran with Scott in Austin. Forgot to bring my running tights. This might have been the coldest temp I’ve run in with bare legs. It wasn’t too bad. Don’t remember much about my run except for discussing how to help aging parents.
Anything else? Gloomy, windy, some mist. Spring decided not to stay; winter’s back.
Slowly the fog did what fog does, eventually: it lifted, the way veils tend to at some point in epic verse so that the hero can see the divinity at work constantly behind all things mortal, or that’s the idea, anyway, I’m not saying I do or don’t believe that, I’m not even sure that belief can change any of it, at least in terms of the facts of how, moment by moment, any life unfurls, we can call it fate or call it just what happened, what happens, while we’re busy trying to describe or explain what happens, how a mimosa tree caught growing close beside a house gets described as “hugging the house,” for example, as if an impulse to find affection everywhere made us have to put it there, a spell against indifference, as if that were the worst thing— is it? Isn’t it? The fog lifted. It was early spring, still. The dogwood brandished those pollen-laden buds that precede a flowering. History. What survives, or doesn’t. How the healthiest huddled, as much at least as was possible, more closely together, to give the sick more room. How they mostly all died, all the same. I was nowhere I’d ever been before. Nothing mattered. I practiced standing as still as I could, for as long as I could.
The lifting of the veil reminds me of a quote from Alice Oswald that I read the other day on twitter:
“The Greeks thought of language as a veil which protects us from the brightness of things, I think poetry is a tear in that veil.” —Alice Oswald
After picking up FWA from college for spring break, drove back to Minneapolis and ran the Marshall Loop with STA. It feels like spring. Most of the snow has melted. The river was open and rippling in the wind. As we crossed the lake street bridge, I looked for the eagle that used to perch on the dead tree many years ago. I’m not sure I’ve seen eagles anywhere for some time now. Are they gone, or am just not seeing them?
Read some more of Dart, including this great part voiced by “the swimmer”. I love so much about this, but right now, I’ll just point out the third line as a stand alone poem: “into the fish dimension. Everybody swims here”
from Dart / Alice Oswald
Menyahari — we scream in mid-air. We jump from a tree into a pool, we change ourselves into the fish dimension. Everybody swims here under Still Pool Copse, on a saturday, slapping the water with bare hands, it’s fine once you’re in.
Is it cold? Is it sharp?
I stood looking down through beech trees. When I threw a stone I could count five before the splash.
Then I jumped in a rush of gold to the head, thought black and cold, red and cold, brown and warm, giving water the weight and size of myself in order to imagine it, water with my bones, water with my mouth and my understanding
when my body was in some way a wave to swim in, one continuous fin from head to tail I steered through rapids like a cone, digging my hands in, keeping just ahead of the pace of the river, thinking God I’m going fast enough already, what am I, spelling the shapes of the letters with legs and arms?
Slooshing the Water open and
for it Meeting shut behind me
He dives, he shuts himself in a deep soft-bottomed silence which underwater is all nectarine, nacreous. He lifts the lid and shuts and lifts the lid and shuts and the sky jumps in and out of the world he loafs in. Far off and orange in the glow of it he drifts all down the Deer Park, into the dished and dangerous stones of old walls before the weirs were built, when the sea came wallowing wide right over these flooded buttercups.
57 degrees? Wow, was I over-dressed. Shorts + tights + shirt + jacket. Ran with Scott through Austin, ending at the coffee place downtown (as usual). No snow on the ground, hardly any puddles on the sidewalk. Returned to Minneapolis in the afternoon: a mucky mess! Lots of snow and puddles. Still, spring is coming.
What a morning. After talking with one parent about anxiety, and another about the gamma ray that obliterated their small brain tumor, I only read a few pages today of Dart. Here’s some of my favorite lines:
woodman working on your own knocking the long shadows down and all day the river’s eyes peep and pry among the trees
when the lithe water turns and its tongue flatters the ferns do you speak this kind of sound: whirlpool whisking round?
woodman working on the crags alone among increasing twigs notice this, next time you pause to drink a flask and file the saws
Ran with Scott this morning. Sunny, spring-like. Lots of black-capped chickadees. I mentioned to Scott that lately I’ve only heard the fee bee call, but not the response. Notes that ascend, but never descend. Today, we also heard woodpeckers and cardinals. Yesterday, the river was covered with a thin sheet of ice; today it’s open again. We stopped at the falls and leaned over the stone wall. I could hear the creek water moving. Scott said he could see it; I hardly ever rely on my vision for things like that anymore.
As we were heading over the tall bridge, above the creek, that leads to the Veterans’ Home, Scott told me about a Sesame Street video with Luis he watched the other day. Scott watched a lot of Sesame Street as a kid; me, not so much. Was it because I had HBO and sisters older than me? Not sure. Anyway, in this Sesame Street clip Luis is helping Telly deal with his worries about forgetting a friend’s name. In giving advice, Luis is super chill and talks to Telly like he’s an equal person, not a freaked out little kid. Wow, I would love to be that chill.
The friend’s name is Alexander Cheesefloss Hollingsworth Cantaloupe the IV. Wow.
Our run was a combination of running and walking. I like running and walking, sometimes stopping to study things more closely. I should try to do more of these in the spring and summer. It’s especially fun doing them with Scott.
So, a few days ago I was reviewing a thread I had saved about meter and how you learn it. In addition to advice (memorize and speak it, move with it, think of it as swing notes in jazz, spend a lot of time breaking it down, focus on poems with very strong meter), many people discussed their struggle with hearing meter because of dialects and english not being their first language. One person mentioned a great essay by Nate Marshall about this, and I found it: A Code Switch Memoir. Nate Marshall describes how, as a young elementary school student, he would struggle with the set of questions on his vocabulary test that asked for the stressed syllable:
This absolutely stumped me. My grandmother, the librarian, was from Montgomery, Alabama and I often heard her pronounce words in ways unlike many of my white friends at school. Her friend, the Arab dude who ran Fame Food & Liquor a few streets from our house, had his own wild pronunciation. Even my mother, her daughter, would shift her vocal patterning on words and phrases depending on if she was talking to us kids after a long day at work or calling the police to report men drinking and shooting dice in the park across the street. The idea that words had specific patterns to be followed did not make sense to me, though I did not know how to articulate why.
I struggle with meter. Before reading this essay or the tweets on the meter thread, I hadn’t thought about my own experience with accents and dialects. I was born in the remote Upper Peninsula of Michigan, with its thick Yooper accent until I was almost 5. Then I moved to Hickory, North Carolina, a small southern town with thick southern accents until I was 9. Then southern Virginia (more of the south), and norther Virginia (more East Coast), and Des Moines, Iowa for high school (midwest twang). I went to college in southern Minnesota (lots of Canadian long os), and grad school in the LA area and Atlanta, Georgia. My dad grew up in the UP, my mom in St. Paul. Both of them spent a lot of their early adult life in Illinois (Rock Island, then Chicago). All of these locations and their distinctive dialects have crept into how I speak and how I hear words. Could this be one of the reasons meter is difficult for me? Maybe.
Speaking of accents, as Scott and I were running back from the falls, we talked about cycling and the amazing and unstoppable Tadej Pogačar. In one sentence, Scott said Pogačar’s name in 2 different ways: 1. sounds like Po GA cha and 2. sounds like: PO ga char. The tv announcers often use both of these pronunciations interchangeably. When I pointed it out to Scott, we talked about which one might be right. I mentioned my own name, Puotinen and how there’s the “right” way to pronounce it (as in, how it’s supposed to sound in Finnish), and then there’s the way I pronounce it. My version has much more of a puWAtinen sound, as opposed to the “right” way, which is more PUwotinen. Anyway, I thought I’d find a video of Tadej Pogačar saying his own name:
What do you hear?
I’m fairly new to studying poetry (only seriously since 2017), but my sense is that poetry people have lots of different feelings about meter and whether or not it’s still important. Here’s what Nate Marshall writes about it:
I’ve grown to have a great fondness for formal poetry. I still don’t understand metrical prosody very well but I understand its importance in the tradition. I was asked the question recently whether or not meter was still a useful tool in poetry. I think meter, like anything else, is at play when building the small geniuses of a poem. I think form and verse are important ways to give artistic challenges that can lead to great results. With that said, I believe that every poet and generation of poets has to define and redefine their relationship to form and the role it will play. Whether it’s the fourteen-line sonnet, the sixteen-line rap verse, the six-line stanza of a sestina, or the tercet of a blues poem each poet has to figure how to find and employ the weapons that offer each poem its truest voice.
3.5 miles around austin, mn 28 degrees 0% snow-covered
The return of a Christmas tradition: running with Scott around Austin on Christmas day. In past years, there has been snow on the ground, but not this year. Bare, brown, beautiful, at least to me. We ran alongside the cedar river, which was partly frozen in pale blue, and littered with geese or ducks or both. We also walked out on the dock by the old mill pond, which winds behind the library, the new fitness center, and the pool. The ice looked thin and barely frozen, but one person was walking across it, fishing. They didn’t fall in, at least while we were there. In Minneaplis, these docks are unmoored and left to float out into the middle of the lake. Here in Austin, they stay linked to land and accessible. It was very strange walking on the dock, over unmoving ice instead of water.
We started and ended the run at the parking lot by “skinner’s hill” and Scott told me, not for the first time, about sledding there in the winter. Scott: “This hill always seemed steeper when I was kid.” Me: “I bet it was a struggle walking back up that hill to the top!”
It was a nice Christmas. I wasn’t planning to, but I read a few of my poems from my new collection on ghosts to Scott’s parents. They really liked them. While some of their enthusiasm was just because they love me, I think some of it was also out of a genuine appreciation and connection with the words. Very cool.