Eat, Pray, Love: Five Poets' Summer Flings
What did you fall in love with this summer? Poets.org asked five poets about their summer flings—the results: a rendezvous with philosophy, TV, and architecture, topped off with a fantasy summer recipe.
I'd been living in a castle in Italy, Civitella di Ranieri, on a fellowship and she'd been flying for days. The least I could do was send a car to Rome and have it take her to Perugia where we'd meet. Diego, one of the angels of the castle, set up the car. He is beloved in Perugia; say his name and every door seems to open. Leonardo drove to the airport and I took the train from Umbertide. I sat at Bar Grifo in the main piazza. I was drinking espresso, which I had fallen in love with at the castle. More to the point, I had fallen in love with making espresso for the Italians and watching their horror and amusement, "Gaby! No! This is impossible." Too much water. Too little espresso. Who puts that much sugar in? What I came to learn is that the perfect espresso is all about instinct and putting in as many grounds as seem sensible and then adding some more. And patience. And you don't need a fancy machine when the metal one on the stove suited your grandmother just fine. Every day I'd try again until finally Diego said, "This is good." Better than all the poems in the world.
So, I sat at the bar reading Gatsby, realizing that I really didn't read it the first ten times, when I heard her voice say my name and looked up. My goodness, sometimes life really is like a movie. A woman gets out of a car in the center of an empty piazza and says your name. Have you ever seen someone see Italy for the first time? It made me so happy. I got her a cappuccino and we just stared at each other for a while. I'd been to Italy before with a girl that I loved who didn't love me. Both have their charms but in the end this was better. This summer, the chickpeas tasted sweeter and the gnocchi more surprising because I could concentrate on the way the sauce coats it instead of wondering if I'd finally get kissed later that night.
We've been together almost fifteen years, which is its own little empire of sorrow and joy. One late afternoon we walked along the aqueduct and came upon a wall where someone had spray-painted, "Empress I Love You So!!!" That's everything I love about love right there. Right in the middle of the something that's been there forever, something surprises you and makes you look at the person you're walking with. I made her take a picture. And then we kept going.
Photo by Angeline Shaka
This summer I've been very stimulated by my involvement in a small, informal reading group centered on Kant's Critique of Judgment. I was attracted to Kant initially because I wanted to test his aesthetics against contemporary evaluative practice. Specifically, I was interested in his account of "taste," and whether there was anything in it that could survive transplantation across the centuries into our own highly context-dependent environment. In the course of reading Kant's dense and difficult arguments, I've become more and more engrossed, sometimes in direct proportion to how much his mindset appears as hopelessly dated. Even though Kant's definition of beauty, for example, is extremely narrow and ideologically fraught, its own beauty is in its details. It may no longer seem feasible or even desirable to talk about an appreciation of beauty that does not rely on some "interest" attending the object, but Kant's breakdown of judgment-pleasing categories into the beautiful, sublime, merely agreeable, and (morally) good nevertheless provides a useful framework for a consideration of how art works on our sensibilities—or, more to the point perhaps, how our sensibilities are conditioned to be more receptive to certain aesthetic gestures than others depending on the motivations of all concerned, and how the various degrees of subtlety and sophistication marking our individual responses to cultural products form a complex algebra whose proofs contain the formulae for both an understanding of the mechanics of our manipulation by outside agencies and for our own possible reclaiming of aesthetic semi-autonomy.
Also this summer, I've been rewatching and thoroughly loving Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The show is even funnier and sharper than I remembered.
When I'm somewhere new, I like to take the time to get to know the place intimately, or else not at all: I have an abiding terror of playing the casual tourist. Last summer I spent ten weeks in the British Isles, most of it in residence either at the Hawthornden International Writers Retreat in Midlothian and the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Co. Monaghan, Ireland, and capped with a ten-day ramble across Wales, from Pembrokeshire in the southwest to Conwy in the north. I wanted to know as much as I could about the places where I stayed, house by house, street by street, village by village.
I've spent the last six weeks of this summer pining for Wales and completely engrossed, page by page, in an architectural guide to Pembrokeshire (published on this side of the water in 2004 by Yale University Press as part of the series The Buildings of England, ...Scotland, and ...Wales). Some of the villages and buildings I remember well from last September; some I never visited. But how can a poet not fall for a guide that includes casual riffs like "An abundance of extruding square crockets," "Censing angels in the spandrels," and "Tortured expressions in thin, tepid colours"?
This is muscular architecture—architecture with attitude. Every sixth word appears to be "mutule" or "anthemion," "ogive" or "aumbry," "ashlar" or "quoin." "With the eyes half-closed, some of the unity may be recaptured,...whose nakedness a later hand has tried to clothe." Yes, that's it, precisely.
Llandeloy St. Eloi, Pembrokeshire; Photo courtesy of Friends of Friendless Churches
Photo by Karen Thomson, 2009
Last winter I was gifted Karl Jung's The Red Book. It sits on a side table of my home. I display a different page whenever I think of it. Sometimes children's toys land there –a plastic figurine "rhino warrior" with a half moon hatchet axe landed on a page which asks, "Who exhausts the mysteries of Love?"
This book is related to how, over the summer, I fell in love with dreams—dreams that articulate symbolic possibilities to help me understand what I'm doing as a poet. What does it mean when the apple unhinges to reveal a cute cartoon worm bearing a golden ring? What of the expanding electric ball that contains contrasting co-joining figures and blooms from naked feet touching?
In The Red Book, Jung writes, "Dreams are the guiding words of the soul. Why should I henceforth not love my dreams and not make their riddling images into objects of my daily consideration?"
One summer dream ends with a party in the home I make with my husband, the poet Dale Smith. Our flat, in the dream, is marvelous and loft-y with art entirely covering the walls. I am showing a guest around and point to the fluid metal sculptures mounted on every wall. These pieces are like lively alien alphabets and I say, "Isn't it amazing that all this art has been left here for us?"
Maybe dreams act as messages, as alien alphabets both liquid and solid, to give access to the apprehension of life's grand patterns as they move and twist. These fluid alphabetic encounters help me see me beyond me, as the figures of dreams proceed to greater recognition. I do so love their moving forms—and the odd occasions of their offerings.
A bonus recipe: Summer Flunge
1 brown pillowcase
2 cans 20W20 motor oil
1 DVD William Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet
2 pony tails
1 1854 edition of Leaves of Grass
6 matching leatherette banquettes (beige)
3 sarcastic innuendos
4 oil paint sticks (ochre)
1 tube tanning oil
Play DVD chapter 3 in loop while grinding Leaves of Grass with the innuendos. Soak pony tails in motor oil and shake gently over banquettes. Let motor oil sink in then apply tanning oil by hand. Garnish with pillowcase and paint sticks. Release nightingales.