Category Archives: Grandmother

April Poetry

I love the month of April, not just because Spring finally arrives after all the rainy grayness of our area, but also because it’s National Poetry Month. Poetry is a big part of my life. My grandmother was a poet, and there was always poetry in my family as I was growing up. I loved teaching poetry to elementary students for 27 years (there was so much young talent!!), and I love to write poetry, although I don’t do it often. I am in awe of the poets, the wordsmiths. They seem to have a direct line to the collective wisdom of the centuries. They definitely have a direct line to my heart.

Throughout April I always try to keep ‘a poem in my pocket’ and read as much poetry as I can.   This month, I’d like to share a few of my favorites with you.

So here’s an all time favorite of mine…one I discovered when my son was a newborn 45 years ago. It touched me very deeply way back then, so I always include this poem with the knitted baby blankets and sweaters I give as gifts to friends and family when a new baby is born.

Morning Song

~ by Sylvia Plath, from Ariel

Love set you going like a fat gold watch.
The midwife slapped our footsoles, and your bald cry
Took its place among the elements.

Our voices echo, magnifying your arrival. New statue.
In a drafty museum, your nakedness
Shadows our safety. We stand round blankly as walls.

I’m no more your mother
Than the cloud that distils a mirror to reflect its own slow
Effacement at the wind’s hand.

All night your moth-breath
Flickers among the flat pink roses. I wake to listen:
A far sea moves in my ear.

One cry, and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and floral
In my Victorian nightgown.
Your mouth opens clean as a cat’s. The window square

Whitens and swallows its dull stars. And now you try
Your handful of notes;
The clear vowels rise like balloons.

A photo with my newborn daughter. I love that big brother is in the background of this one, barely visible but there.

Between Two Grandmothers

Leap Year! For me, the 29th of February is always special because it’s a day to stop and remember my two Grandmothers. Maternal grandmother, Maude, (a poet…you can read about her here) was born on February 28th. Paternal grandmother, Mary, (a farm girl who had a very humorous way with words) was born on March 1st. So this day is sandwiched between the birthdays of those two wonderful women whom I remember so fondly and miss even after all these years. I was so lucky to have both of them in my life until I was an adult. They influenced me in many ways, and their unconditional love is more than just a memory, it is something I carry in my heart and treasure every day of my life.

I’ll talk about my February reading in a post tomorrow. Today, I just want to focus on remembering those two lovely women.

Goodbye, Ivan Doig

IvanDoig

Sad news yesterday about Ivan Doig. We’ve lost yet another wonderful author. I have a special place in my heart for Ivan Doig. My father loved reading his books, and so did I. When I read his memoir, This House of Sky: Landscapes of a Western Mind, I felt that we were most definitely kindred spirits. In this memoir, his stories of his Dad and his Grandmother and their Montana ranching lives reminded me in many ways of my own Dad and my own Wyoming Grandmother. They didn’t ranch, but they, too, were real characters shaped in similar ways by that western landscape.

As a girl from mountains, I also loved his descriptions of the western landscape that was so familiar to me.

The western skyline before us was filled high with a steel-blue army of mountains, drawn in battalions of peaks and reefs and gorges and crags as far along the entire rim of the earth as could be seen…

When my husband and I decided to relocate to the Pacific Northwest from the Intermountain West 25 years ago, I read his books, Winter Brothers: A Season at the Edge of America and The Sea Runners. Both were amazing stories that capture the heart of the Northwest, and those books, along with Wintergreen, by Robert Michael Pyle, and The Good Rain, by Timothy Egan, helped turn us into Northwesterners at heart.

If you visit Doig’s website, he has a note for his readers. He didn’t consider himself a “western” writer, and this is why:

One last word about the setting of my work, the American West. I don’t think of myself as a “Western” writer. To me, language—the substance on the page, that poetry under the prose—is the ultimate “region,” the true home, for a writer. Specific geographies, but galaxies of imaginative expression—we’ve seen them both exist in William Faulkner’s postage stamp-size Yoknapatawpha County, and in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s nowhere village of Macondo, dreaming in its hundred years of solitude. If I have any creed that I wish you as readers, necessary accomplices in this flirtatious ceremony of writing and reading, will take with you from my pages, it’d be this belief of mine that writers of caliber can ground their work in specific land and lingo and yet be writing of that larger country: life.

Ivan Doig was a writer of caliber, and his “poetry under the prose” spoke to me directly and touched my life in many ways. King County Library, on Twitter today, paid him a wonderful, simple and perfect tribute:

“Scene: The flat plain is a brilliant green. A lone figure walks toward the distant mountains. Goodbye Ivan.”

 

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Author Ivan Doig for Seattle Magazine © Jeff Corwin

 

A Life-Enhancer

Virginia-Woolf-007

I’ve long been fascinated by Virginia Woolf. I have a number of books on my “special books” shelf — three volumes of her Diary, and two volumes of her Letters. All were read years ago, and as I read them, I wrote down quotes that particularly impressed me at the time.

It is her birthday today. She was born 132 years ago, and I realized that she was born just two years before my grandmother. Somehow, that makes her feel much closer and not so long ago.

So to celebrate her today, I’ll share with you one of my favorite quotes about her.  It’s a quote from Nigel Nicholson, included in a book that introduced me to her, called Recollections of Virginia Woolf by her contemporaries, edited by Joan Russell Noble.

…Virginia had this way of magnifying one’s simple words and experiences. One would hand her a bit of information as dull as a lump of lead. She would hand it back glittering like diamonds. I always felt on leaving her that I had drunk two glasses of an excellent champagne. She was a life-enhancer. That was one of her own favorite phrases. She always said that the world was divided into two categories: those who enhanced life and those who diminished it.

virginiawoolfwritingdesk

On Grandmothers

Grandma C.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my two grandmothers, both gone now for many years but still very much alive in my memory. Their birthdays were a day apart, one born on February 28th, and the other on March 1st.  From 1884, or 1896, to now is a vast expanse of time, I realize as I look back over my shoulder at them. I’m a grandmother now, too, and can’t quite figure out where the time went. How lucky I was to have the chance to know them well, to have them both an important part of my life.  And how I miss them at times, like this birthday week.

Without planning it, my reading has taken a grandmother turn recently.  Last week, I read two lovely books by one of my favorite poet/writers, Naomi Shihab Nye. The first book was her novel called Habibi, which I’ll be reviewing in a few days, and the second one was a picture book called, Sitti’s Secrets, a story based on Nye’s own grandmother who lived in Palestine.

Sitti means “grandmother” in Arabic, and this lovely story is about a young girl whose grandmother lives on the other side of the earth, and her journey to meet her.  In an interview, Shihab Nye describes the story:

The book is the story of a little girl who grows up in the United States and then travels to meet her grandmother in Palestine. She feels the deep link between them. They invent their own language together. They share the small details of the grandmother’s life. Of course, as happened to me, she is a changed person. She goes home with a new thread connecting her to the Earth.

I love that idea of “a new thread connecting her to the Earth” because I’m grateful to my own two grandmothers for those threads that connect me with the Earth.  And I’m very happy now to be experiencing the beginnings of those threads and connections as a Grandmother to my sweet little Grandboy.

Art and Aging

Claude_Monet-water_lilies

I discovered a wonderful poem about art and aging called “Monet Refuses the Operation,” by Lisel MuellerClaude Monet developed cataracts as he grew older and he was very unhappy with the condition. He was advised by his doctors to have surgery and finally agreed to the operation in 1923. It was not a quick and relatively easy surgery then. He had to be immobilized for days afterward, so as to not move his eyes at all, but the surgery was successful and he was able to continue with his painting with renewed passion. Interestingly, he destroyed or repainted many of the paintings he had made during the period of time when he was most impacted by his cataracts.

This poem is a wonderful exploration of art and of the genius of the artist. It is full of color and nuance, words painted with insight and imagination.  Poetry is an important part of my life (my grandmother was a poet), and so I get really excited when I find a poem and poet that speaks to me.  This was an exciting discovery, and I look forward to reading more of Lisel Mueller’s wonderful poems!

MONET REFUSES THE OPERATION

Doctor, you say that there are no haloes

around the streetlights in Paris

and what I see is an aberration

caused by old age, an affliction.

I tell you it has taken me all my life

to arrive at the vision of gas lamps as angels,

to soften and blur and finally banish

the edges you regret I don’t see,

to learn that the line I called the horizon

does not exist and sky and water,

so long apart, are the same state of being.

Fifty-four years before I could see

Rouen cathedral is built

of parallel shafts of sun,

and now you want to restore

my youthful errors: fixed

notions of top and bottom,

the illusion of three-dimensional space,

wisteria separate

from the bridge it covers.

What can I say to convince you

the Houses of Parliament dissolve

night after night to become

the fluid dream of the Thames?

I will not return to a universe

of objects that don’t know each other,

as if islands were not the lost children

of one great continent.  The world

is flux, and light becomes what it touches,

becomes water, lilies on water,

above and below water,

becomes lilac and mauve and yellow

and white and cerulean lamps,

small fists passing sunlight

so quickly to one another

that it would take long, streaming hair

inside my brush to catch it.

To paint the speed of light!

Our weighted shapes, these verticals,

burn to mix with air

and changes our bones, skin, clothes

to gases.  Doctor,

if only you could see

how heaven pulls earth into its arms

and how infinitely the heart expands

to claim this world, blue vapor without end.

~Lisel Mueller

Does a poem count for my Art History Reading Challenge?  I hope so because I want to include it on my list of very enjoyable reading for that challenge.

Autumn

Fall has been lovely here in the last week, so to celebrate the season and the colors, I’d like to share one of my grandmother‘s poems with you:

Autumn Artistry 

With artistry the Autumn
Has hung a vast display
Of paintings rich with color,
In a riotous array.

Along the slopes and by-ways,
The aspen’s golden hues
Give accent to the maples
In crimson and chartreuse.

Beyond are purple mountains,
With sun-tipped peaks that rise
Above the hills and valleys
To pierce cerulean skies.

This brilliant Autumn showing
Will please you and enthrall,
Just bring a love for beauty,
It is free to one and all.

 

A Whisper of Spring

A Whisper Of Spring 

The wind is bringing a song today,
A hopeful song — a new rounde-lay.
It whispers Spring is about to be
Ushered in with a melody
From larks and robins in greening trees —
Now bare and grey in the chilling breeze.
Yes, Spring is coming, soon all may know
That bluebells live through the ice and snow.

An early spring photo from my morning walk and a poem written by my grandmother, Maude Osmond Cook

FROM THE GARDEN OF THE YEARS: Reminiscences of My Poet Grandmother


She was a gentle soul with tremendous strength. My grandparents had ten children, and their home was a dusty “dry-farm” in northern Utah. Subsistence was dependent on the weather. If just enough rain came during the growing season, and the summer thunderstorms didn’t ruin the crops, then the family did well for the winter months. It was a tenuous existence, and the strain and anxiety of raising ten children under such circumstances was very hard on Grandmother.

She must have decided early on that poetry would help her survive those hardships and terrors (lightening storms were particularly terrifying to her, and she would gather the younger children together under the stairs during those storms). Each afternoon, for one hour, she would quietly retreat to a table in the living room, close the doors, and write poetry. No one disturbed her during that hour, and it wasn’t until many years later that the family discovered what treasures were produced during those solitary hours. Her poems were quiet reflections and introspections, thoughtful and gentle, phrases that put chaos into order and reminded us of the beauty and preciousness of life. I grew up reading her poems and I always found one to express my feeling at the moment, whatever moment that might be.

In 1958, my father gathered her poems and published them for the family in a small, pink, paperback volume called THE GARDEN OF THE YEARS. Years later, my uncle had them republished in a hardback collection called YOU LEFT US WITH A SMILE.

These two irreplaceable books are the most treasured on my bookshelves.