And while we are on the subjects of gardens and the writers who love them I would not rest easily if I did not encourage everyone to pick up a copy of The Wild Braid – A Poet Reflects On A Century In The Garden by Stanley Kunitz. The book, written in his one hundredth year, with the poet Genine Lentine, is an absolutely beautiful reflection not just on the garden itself but on life, loss, death and renewal. It is scattered with poems, prose, conversations between Genine and Stanley, and stunning photography by Marnie Crawford Samuelson. I was quite surprised to discover that reading the book was much like wandering in a well-loved garden in the sense that there was always something new and unexpected to discover. Walking through a conversation between the two poets, stopping to admire a photograph of the poet tending his plants and then, suddenly, oh look over here… a poem in the middle of this page right here, growing just where it should.
Needless to say, this little book is as well tended as the poet’s garden. There is nothing here that should be moved around or weeded out.
Stanley Kunitz was honored and awarded just about every prize for poetry one can think of including the Pulitzer Prize, The National Book Award, A National Medal of the Arts and the Frost Medal from the Poetry Society of America. He served twice as consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress and as the U.S. Poet Laureate. He was a teacher at Columbia University, an editor of the Yale Younger Poets, the founder of the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown and also of the Poets House in New York City. And he was a gardener. He died in 2006 at the age of 100.
All these beautiful photographs are from the book, taken by Marnie Crawford Samuelson.
“Thinking of a new season in the garden feels different from imagining a new poem. The garden has achieved its form; it doesn’t have to be new each year. What it has to do is grow. You’re not going to uproot the entire garden and start all over. The poem is always a new creation and aspires to a transcendence that is beyond telling at the moment when you’re working on it. You know you are moving into an area you’ve never explored before and there is a great difference.”
“I wonder if those birds ever tire of their song –I wonder whether a bird ever thinks, ‘Today I’ll try a new song.'”
For the first time in 35 years, the Pulitzer Prize judges did not award a work of fiction. This, despite that fact that three very good finalists were up for consideration. They were, the late David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King, Karen Russell’s Swamplandia and Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams.
Needless to say, the Pulitzer committee beat a hasty retreat with no explanation given. No doubt for the obvious reason that they could not string a sentence of explanation together themselves, or, for that matter, recognize a good sentence if it was presented to them. It’s quite sad, in this reader’s honest opinion, that when the average person reads fewer and fewer books every year the Pulitzer Prize committee seems to agree with the majority of the population which is constantly saying: “There is nothing worth reading”. Or, even worse, “It is not worth your time to read.”
But…perhaps I am too harsh? Maybe the Pulitzer judges were simply too busy. They were probably so terribly caught up in The Hunger Games trilogy that they simply did not have time to read these three excellent finalists.
Since they can’t seem to do their own job, does anyone mind terribly if I do it? This years Pulitzer Prize for fiction…no, wait, what am I thinking? Scratch that. Who cares about the Pulitzer now anyway? This years Persnickety Reader’s prize for fiction goes to The Pale King, by the late David Foster Wallace.
Blogging about E. B. White on National Grammar Day put his all time classic Charlotte’s Web into my head and now I find I can not get it out. This is one of the very first books I remember reading, and I can tell you exactly when and where I was when I received it. Christmas morning, 18 degrees below zero, a new pair of pajamas, a fire in the grate and a brand new book by someone I had never heard of before in my then very short life. Little did I know when I cracked the spine what awaited me. Life. Death. Friendship. And everything in between explained in the gentle tones of a talking spider hanging by E. B. White’s imaginary thread. Needless to say I reread this classic this week and I can only say it stands the test of time. Do not see the movie. Do not buy the audio book. Sit down and turn the pages slowly, stopping to linger over the beautiful illustrations by Garth Williams and open your mind and heart. You will be rewarded. I promise. It is some book.
“You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die. A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.”
― E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web
“Wilbur never forgot Charlotte. Although he loved her children and grandchildren dearly, none of the new spiders ever quite took her place in his heart. She was in a class by herself. It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.”
― E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web
If ever I needed a book to remind me of the joys of reading, or why I read, or the transporting power of the written word, all of which I do not need reminding of — no, trust me, I do not, but, if I did — then I would sit down and read this powerful book front to back in a single sitting. Which, to be quite honest, is what I did anyway because I simply could not put it down. Also intriguing is Bennett’s depiction of those non-readers who fear those of us who do read and who will do almost anything in their power to stop us before we read more. All of this and, let’s be honest, is anyone funnier than Alan Bennett? We think not.
“I would have thought,” said the prime minister, “that Your Majesty was above literature.”
“Above literature?” said the Queen. “Who is above literature? You might as well say one is above humanity.”
― Alan Bennett, The Uncommon Reader