Monday, September 21, 2009

Indirection


     There is a round aboutness in all poetry, but particularly in contemporary language poetry, and even in – what is very different though with some of the coloring of it – what I write (see Poem: Anarchist here).  My friend Mark Kramer – we were brought together sometimes awkwardly in childhood by the friendship of my mom and aunt (inseparable) and his mom (my aunt’s dearest friend) – wrote me a beautiful letter seemingly about JJ [the anarchist, cigarmaker, educator and newspaper editor who had fled the tsarist police, the Cossacks, in 1898 – see also Poem: From a distant spot here] but actually about care and surprisingly blogging.  I was distracted by my cousin’s death at 7 in a car accident – we had been raised together and she was nearer to me than any one else -  and JJ, whom he remembers in a vivid image, died shortly after in the same year. A kind person Mark remembers me then as something of an arrogant, athletic sort – actually he was like my brother a sailor and found his own striking way in life, he senses the inside of things, and we did not connect so much then.  But we are closer now, living so far away, virtually (seeing the decadence of 24/7, the shadow of relationships and activities, the isolation – and the corruption and poisoning of American culture - one can miss some new connections). Mark himself writes elegantly (teaches journalism at Harvard) and finds his way round to the beauties of wrapping Christmas presents at my house (ah, assimilating Jews who celebrate Christmas) – not mine of course, I am often a klutz in the physical world, lacking the skill of delicate wrapping, admiring at a distance many family members, the Japanese and other artists in this respect - and realizes the dedication of women under the forms of patriarchy that are fading, the affection and consideration that flowed in and around and despite the awful harms, the love given through social form and sometimes not recognized or requited or in the grimness of the patriarchal social transaction abused…

Hi Alan,  I remember your grandpa JJ.  It was right around the time of Tessa's death.  You were not yet living in Westport, but in, was it . . .Rowaton, Darien? [the house was rented in Darien near Greenwich for a fateful summer, Jews not yet being permanently admissible to upscale Connecticut properties]. I'm guessing it was ~ 1953?  There was a big white house, and a pool with a picket fence around it.  JJ had set up his work outside, perhaps in the alcove of the pool house or under a sun umbrella.  I particularly remember walking near the table where he was writing, in longhand, him looking up and saying something friendly, but going right on with his work, and that he wrote with  a fountain pen that he held 180 degrees rotated along its axis--so that the nib's backside contacted the paper, and the fins of the nib's belly showed to the sky, like a flipped-over bug. 

        I think we visited that house a few times--Esther and I, and perhaps my sister-- always during the day--but it seems, perhaps it's one of memory's conflations, that in one conversation I recall, you were impatient, and walking past JJ, perhaps after we'd played badminton.  I asked if you were distracted by Tessa's death, and you said you were.  It's as likely that you were impatient because I was a poor athlete and you couldn't get a decent badminton game from me.  I also remember, by the way, visiting your Westport home on successive Christmas Eves, because we didn't do much with Christmas, and stopped to behold the under-the-tree display-- gift-wrapping had been raised to a craft in your home, and the boxes were surrounded by origami-like flanges and ties and visual jokes and built into models of other things.  I recalled that scene in the 70s when, living in the country a few hours west of Boston, I accumulated a few antique quilts and supposed that as family gifts by the maker, they'd represented the embodied hours of devoted labor that it had taken to make them, hours spent thinking about, presumably with benign delight, the person to whom they'd be given.  They also represented consent to the social order that had women performing these solo ritual deeds, assembling that evidence of compliance and the shaped charge of contemplating another. I even ran across wire coathangers girded in embroidery.    I learned more about what early 20th c. sociologists called 'exchange behavior' from Lewis Hyde's "The Gift," some years later.  Oddly, and with the object of generosity diffused, blogs are about the only current example of such time-lavish gifts I see around in our culture.  And longer-than expected emails. best, Mark

1 comment:

Jenny Schwartzberg said...

I enjoyed this post. One correction. JJ came to the US in 1903. I can send the passenger manifest. Also, I hadn't consciously realized that our family tradition of elaborate Christmas present wrapping came from the Gilberts. Of course it had to, since Dad's family didn't observe Christmas. It's also interesting that in the poem you link to, you state that Granny Emma didn't raise you on family stories of her childhood. Hmm. I heard a lot of them growing up and I know Mom did too. I wonder what shifted by your childhood? Also, children vary in interest in family stories. You may simply not have been interested at that time and wandered off when people were telling stories...

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