An earthquake last night, the second recently, and a good jolt (4.5), though the epicenter was in the East Bay towards Walnut Creek. I happened just as i was dozing off, around 10:30 and I leapt out of bed, grabbed my robe and prepared to flee, if necessary, though it is really hard to decide whether to stay put and let the building collapse under you, or run into the street and get hit by debris. Still, if we had to get out, I needed some clothes. But nothing more happened and I went back to bed.
I am about to get my bike off the balcony, get into my biking shorts (etc.) and take a ride. Weather sunny, but cooler than yesterday. Maybe I’m going to have another go at the bottom half of Old La Honda, maybe as far as the narrow passage between the redwood trees. It’s not the prettiest ride around, because it’s house after house most of the way up, but it is the most challenging, and at some point I want to be able to say I made it to the top: Skyline, the ridge, whence the roads go down to the ocean. I won’t be going down to the ocean because then I’d have to ride back up, and in my books a good hike or ride is always uphill, then downhill.
I borrowed a novel by the Polish Nobel prize, Olga Tokarszuk: House of Day, House of Night. It’s lovely, I highly recommend it, though it’s probably not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. Still reading Pessoa, Tabbuchi. The reals estate agent who sold us this apartment managed to tamp down my enthusiasm for visiting a new apartment. Of course, I know she’s right; not a good idea to move, but I do love my nesting dreams, new rooms to arrange. My daughter sent me a funny story about buying greengages in the fruit and vegetable shop in the Vaucluse, and it makes a good poem. I think I’ve nailed the one about—again—bedsheets.
I had two to-me-unexpected responses to my poem ‘April Thieves’ which appeared in the New Yorker earlier this year. Both were from West Coast fruit-growing societies, one in Oregon and one in Washington, both asking to reprint the poem in their newsletters.
Bob Baines, of the Western Washington Fruit Growing Society, told me in his email how he happened to come across my poem:
‘I am currently president of this organization, We are dedicated to supporting research and educating the public about the special fruit growing practices and concerns of our Pacific Northwest region. Most of our activity centers around management and maintenance of our 6 acre temperate zone fruit display orchard.
‘This morning, I was sitting in the waiting room of my sports medicine doctor and on the table next to me were two issues of “New Yorker” magazine from earlier this year. I picked one up and glanced through the list of articles not seeing anything remotely of interest to me until I saw the entry “Apple Thieves” … ah, some hope. I have been involved in growing fruit in public places for nearly 40 years and quickly recalled several different lines of thought on that topic. Let’s see, I thought, where the poet takes this.
‘Expecting a whimsical treatment, I quickly realized that this was someone who understood the essence of fruit gardening. I read on, enjoying the knowledgeable treatment of my favorite subject.
‘But with the gentle revelation of the last line, you sprung open the door to an infinite number of lines of positive thought beginning with gardening and encompassing life and love and time.’
Well, that is as a good a review as I’ve ever had, and I asked Bob if I could pass it on, and he kindly agreed.
What a happy way to start the day. Opening this week’s TLS online this morning, I came across a review of The Hotel Eden by Suzannah V. Evans:
The Hotel Eden opens with an opening: “Madame Martin will throw back her shutters at eight / One arm will scoop up sun”. This is typical of the sense of immediacy and physical ease that characterizes Beverley Bie Brahic’s fourth collection. Later in the poem, it is imagined that Madame Martin will “tie an apron about her waist / Fingers doing that brief couple dance” in an image that is as quotidian as it is sensual, and it is this attention to the everyday stuff of life that makes Brahic’s poetry shine. A people-watcher as well as a flâneuse, Brahic fills her poems with regulars at the Luxembourg Gardens, who sit “Toasted round the edges like chestnut leaves”, “paysans”, boulistes, belotte players, Provençal storytellers and friends. The poems revel in companionship, as in “Landline”, which discusses a father’s aversion to the telephone, “that hard-shelled crab / Hunkered in the den”, and ends with amiable silence: “We sloshed back across the shingle / With our buckets of oysters, / The silence not uncomfortable”. “A Community Garden” also features intent activity; this time weeding, rather than oyster picking. The speaker’s work is interrupted by an old man who “squats down” and joins in with the difficult task of “Pulling weeds / Without breaking the roots” in the Californian heat: “His wife and children grow impatient. / He ignores them. He is happy weeding. / We are happy too”. Immersion in the present moment is shown to be a “recipe for peace – of a sort”. Group gatherings are equally cherished, and Brahic celebrates both storytellers and listeners in a prose poem set on Christmas Day evening in southern France, drawing attention to the “pauses, the winks, the sotto voce, the gestures, the audience as claque and chorus”.
The collection also thrums with a delicious erotic energy. Often, it is food, and particularly fruit, that lends a sensual or sensuous element to Brahic’s poems – there is a translation from Baudelaire here which speaks of “fruit oozing with flavour”. (Brahic is an esteemed translator as well as a poet, and has published translations of Guillaume Apollinaire, Francis Ponge and Yves Bonnefoy, among other French or francophone writers.) “Red Berries” sees the speaker savour produce at a farmer’s market – “I bought two slabs / Of the wild salmon / Sweet butter / To seize it in” – while “Winter Pears” ends with the slow simmering of translucent slices of fruit. Both these poems, like the collection as a whole, are simple, painterly, offering the same “abundance” for the reader that Beverley Bie Brahic finds in her pears.
each morning: I get a cup of instant coffee and my computer and I check the news. A year ago I got Trump Fatigue and dropped my subscription to the New York Times, deciding I could write the stories myself, and just reading the headlines would suffice. I started reading The Guardian, because of Brexit, in which I feel that, as a citizen of the EU, I have a stake. I don’t want the UK to leave the EU, I was hoping, I was almost, in fact, convinced, that the UK would see the light and reverse course. But this doesn’t seem to have happened (and it may be that my own point of view is, if not marginal, not ‘majoritaire.’) Still, having lived in France for a large part of my adult life, having French citizenship as a result of my marriage, having French children, I love my second home and I also love the idea of ‘Europe’. When I went to London, I was chuffed to think I was almost British, that our passports were the same colour.
Besides, in Canada we studied ‘English’ literature, not ‘American,’ about which I learned little, if anything, in school and even university. In 11-12th grade, my school had an extraordinary English teacher, who took us on a guided tour of English literature from Beowulf to, well, where did we stop?, Yeats? Hopkins? Hardy? Lawrence? I still have the textbook, a doorstop, but it’s in France.
She was a heavy woman with bird ankles and I remember her tromping back and forth across the front of our classroom, chanting ‘We are foot-foot-foot-slogging over Africa!’ a poem I doubt anyone reads in school any more, even in the far flung parts of the Empire, like British Columbia.
Where this was headed was to say that now I fear I’m going to have to stop reading The Guardian too, because PM Boris Johnson’s tousled head and emerging policies are becoming as antipathetic as you-know-who. One should be angry, but not first thing in the morning.
Meanwhile, the temperature has dropped, overnight, from 90 degrees F + to 57 degrees this morning. It’s time for heavier/more quilts, hotter hot water bottles, woollier socks. And now that I’ve finished with the news and several cups of coffee and a bowl of porridge, and my husband is up and out on his bike, I’m going to have a shower, make the bed, and settle down in the living room to read and write. And that’s what I do in the morning.
“I could kill him for interrupting what I was not thinking.” (Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet).
it is 94 degrees fahrenheit and still climbing outside, and our apartment faces north, so it has been relatively cool all day. For the past two days we have been receiving warnings about extreme heat, and wind, which so far has not materialized, but if it does might cause the power company to shut down its electric lines, to reduce the danger of fires, very high, right now. It was this time last year that some of the biggest and most destructive wildfires occurred, some of them, it is thought, caused by power lines. Lots of brush-cleaning going on, here, and in the hilly towns between the Bay and the coast.
Yesterday was also hot, but a little less, I think. I did manage to take a bike ride late afternoon, sticking to roads I knew would be in the shade by then. Tomorrow we are going to San Francisco, which will probably be cooler, as usual.
Trump impeachment: I still don’t know what planet the man lives on, but it isn’t the planet I think I’m living on.
That’s one difference between him and the British PM, who I think lives on the same planet as I do, even though, as a citizen of the EU, I will not celebrate if the UK leaves the EU.
Neighbours are having a late afternoon party. I don’t see them, don’t even know in which of several backyards they might be, but I hear the voices, speaking in a foreign language, European, possibly Slavic, and cutlery striking dishes. The sun which has been absent for most of the day is now slanting in long streaks across roofs and the bank of the creek our apartment building overlooks—recently cleared, presumably as a precaution against wildfires, of all its brush and some blue-flowering vines I was attached too. Now the ground is a golden-brown litter of leaves, mostly, I think, live oak, which, I think, sheds constantly, but never completely.
Yesterday I went on a steep ride, but didn’t make it to the top of road, Old La Honda at Skyline, though I think I was close. But I was pooped, couldn’t go another half-mile, and so turned around and headed down. At home I looked at a video of someone else climbing the road: 20 minutes bottom to top. I was on the road for 45 minutes and not yet at the top. I’ll try again.
Reading a book of essays by Freeman Dyson. Also Pessoa, poems, wonderful in a translation that seems to me (I don’t read Portuguese) excellent. Also read and found very good Georg Buchner’s play, The Death of Danton.
We woke to rain, a drizzle, and the sound of tires on wet streets, on Monday—a sound unfamiliar to the Bay Area recently. The drizzle turned into full on rain, enough to soak the ground, and then stopped, and we were treated to a day of burgeoning clouds. This morning the sky is grey and has an it-could-rain look to it; either clouds or fog blanket the top of the western hills whose tops we can just see through the street trees. Yesterday, taking it easy I bike the ‘Loop’: up Alpine (where Trump had been earlier in the day), along Portola Valley Road, with a short hook up Old La Honda, and home along Sandhill—an hour and a half, easy ride for me now.
It’s grown a little colder in the mornings, almost-not-quite time to turn the heat on for an hour. The days ‘are drawing in’—an expression I love, that I learned from a Welsh friend and teaching colleague in France. We used to put off dinner until the sun had set at around 8 and stopped shining straight in the window; now there sun is down by 7 pm.
Some exciting news. I won the Alastair Reid Pamphlet prize at the Wigtown (Scotland) Book Festival, with my pamphlet (chapbook) Catch and Release. The prize will be awarded on Saturday October 5th at the Wigtown Festival. I have been trying to see how I could be there (from the San Francisco Bay Area), but it looks like it is going to be too expensive. I am sorry, because Scotland for me, as for many Canadians, is in my blood. If I were in Paris it would be simple and relatively inexpensive, but from here…
The Pamphlet has been designed by Gerry Cambridge, a Scottish poet, publisher and print designer, and it is very beautiful. I’m going to upload an image of it later.