Poetry Friday: To Be of Use —
Naomi Shihab Nye, Marge Piercy, & Haven Kimmel

h1 March 9th, 2007 by jules

{Note: Today’s Poetry Friday round-up is being handled here by Kelly at
Big A, little a} . . .

So, one of the books I’m currently reading is The Solace of Leaving Early (Doubleday; 2002). At the risk of sounding like we here at 7-Imp are All Haven Kimmel All the Time (which wouldn’t be a bad way to be), I am reading it because I’ve always wanted to (yes, Eisha handled the questions about her novels when we interviewed her, since I had read the memoirs but am just now getting to the fiction — hey, when I tried last, I had a newborn. And, let me just tell you that writing this good deserves the kind of attention you can’t give when you have a tiny, needy, hungry human demanding your attention) . . . Where was I? O yes, not to mention we just might be getting an advanced copy of Haven’s upcoming novel, which is part of a trilogy which includes Solace. Needless to say probably, Solace is rockin’ my world, people.

And a few things that I have read thus far in this novel have brought to mind two of my favorite poems I’d like to share with you on this Poetry Friday. Here’s how it goes — First, I read the following in this engrossing novel of Haven’s:

Amos had called on James once at home, when James was ill and couldn’t come to church, and had found James’s farmhouse, which sat down a short lane lined with dogwoods, to be one of the most beautiful houses he’d ever seen; the starkest, sanest aesthetic. Singular care. The light in the entryway ceiling, for instance, was surrounded by yellow roses that swirled out in a tangle . . . Amos had brought dinner, and James’s kitchen was like something in a painting by Chardin; every object was resonant with its own usefulness and nothing was out of place. In the center of the oak table, handmade and shining like glass, there sat a single lime with a leaf still attached, and a pewter salt cellar that probably dated from the Revolutionary War.

And then later, I read this:

Langston had often mentioned to her mother that it seemed preferable to have no furnishings at all — to live a life of austere beauty — than to live with “things” that assaulted the eye and battered the aesthetic conscience.

These passages speak to me right now (particularly, the first one), as I’ve been thinking about all the clutter in our home — and in our lives, to be honest — and making an effort to live a bit more ascetically (but, with a three-year-old’s birthday party coming up, wish me luck on that, as well-meaning family and friends will bestow many toys upon her, I’m sure). Subsequently, they made me think, as I’ve mentioned, of two of my favorite poems that I think (partly) speak to what those passages mean when they speak of objects that are “resonant with {their} own usefulness” . . . And, by extension, they bring to my mind a person actually living a life in such a manner.

But let’s just get right to the poems and let these two brilliant poets explain what I’m not explaining very well myself. First, Naomi Shihab Nye (Jump back! Here’s a post with Naomi and Haven together — you may remember that they are two of the three authors I’d invite to my Fantasy Author Wine/Cofee Soiree). This is from “Famous” (which is from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems, The Eighth Mountain Press, 1995. I believe it was originally published in Hugging the Jukebox):

“The river is famous to the fish.

The loud voice is famous to silence,
which knew it would inherit the earth
before anybody said so.

The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds
watching him from the birdhouse.

The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.

The idea you carry close to your bosom
is famous to your bosom.

The boot is famous to the earth,
more famous than the dress shoe,
which is famous only to floors . . .”

To read the poem in its entirety (and to perhaps fully understand why Haven’s passage brought this one to mind), read here.

{And, you know, I believe I have Eisha to thank for first introducing me to that poem many moons ago} . . .

And here’s the second one that Haven’s passages brought to mind (and I have my friend and Eisha’s friend Chris Lance to thank for sharing this one with me — also many moons ago). This is from a poem by Marge Piercy and is called “To Be of Use” (from Circles on the Water: Selected Poems, Alfred A. Knopf, 1982). The poem begins:

“The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half submerged balls.”

And it ends . . .

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

To read that one in its entirety, go here.

And then when you’re done reading some poetry, go and read Solace already, ’cause it’s some superlative, flat-out transcendent writing, dear readers. Happy Poetry Friday to all. And here’s to less clutter, to resonating with usefulness, to those “thing{s} worth doing well done,” to the brilliance of buttonholes . . .

4 comments to “Poetry Friday: To Be of Use —
Naomi Shihab Nye, Marge Piercy, & Haven Kimmel”

  1. Jules, this was lovely. Thanks for putting together such a lovely PF post. I’d totally forgotten about that Naomi Shihab Nye poem, too.

  2. Jules,

    You selected poems by two of my favorite poets. I would especially like to meet and chat with Naomi Shihab Nye, too. I love her book RED SUITCASE.

  3. […] Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem “Famous,” which we’ve talked about here at 7-Imp before? Well, the lyrics that Karen composes and the melodies that she and her husband put to them are […]

  4. […] Old Year,” originally published in 1995’s Words Under the Words: Selected Poems (also mentioned before and once upon a time at 7-Imp). I’ll take those spaces—and what they offer us— […]

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