Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Too much salt in the oatmeal

Too much salt in the oatmeal
and too much heat for September.

I make these judgments
surrounded by thriving stands

of bamboo, pine and cedar.
There has been enough

rain so all is green.
My belly fills and sloshes

— grain milled for easy prep
and milk, berries, pecans —

deconstructing what I feed it
as it always does, morning

after morning. The orchard
drops and drips fruit. Frost

will come perfecting the apples, that’s
a fact, nothing subjective in it.

There is too much salt
in the oatmeal, and too much heat

for September. It can be argued
that these are the fault of man.

But there are also the berries,
the blackberries sweet

and soft, the ones we picked
from among thorns.,

knowing how they would
balance everything.

[Note 1: Trying it without the final couplet; see comments.]
[Note 2: Adjusted penultimate stanza; see how that works.]


  1. Once again, I am far more interested in content than form. One hopes that form will assist the content. Of course.

    I am fiddling in my mind with the last line. It may be too easy to use the word "balance." It could be many things, though, couldn't it?

    ripen everything
    fulfill everything
    deepen everything

    It could be come a litany of outcomes, just from the blackberry alone.

  2. a couple of quick thoughts (i will come back to read this poem properly later when time allows, though a first impression is that it is gorgeous and true:-)

    charles olson writes that "form is never more than an extension of content" ... i think he mean that form speaks in concord with content, and the form of this poem speaks to me ...

    the last line -- one possibility would be to write the litany :-) i read through the end of the poem into your comment -- "balance everything / ripen everything / fulfill everything / deepen everything" ... litany seems an appropriate form :-)


    1. Thanks so much, James! I thought of writing out the litany too. :) Why not?

  3. Just quickly... You think and observe your way through the poem in a delightfully fresh way, as if 'on the hoof' (Laurentian?!). The form — couplet then a pause — is instrumental in showing your thoughts/observations being considered and balanced, formed as it were. And personally I think no litany at the end, but whether there's a better verb than 'balance' I'm not sure! Perhaps.

    1. Thank you for reading, and for your feedback, Robert!

  4. ... and such a lovely poem, I don't think I said..!

  5. Ruth, someone wise one told me to always reconsider the last lines of a poem and ask if they are necessary. Sometimes we want what becomes a conclusion that is not needed. Consider what happens when you end the poem with the word "thorns."

    I like this poem very much.

    1. Maureen, I've had the same advice from Diane Wakoski and others. Often our final lines tend toward a wish to tidy up and make it feel "complete" and the poem can do without them. I will take your suggestion to heart. (I ended it like that in the original draft.)

  6. I would never tell a poet how to end a poem, but, as one solitary reader, I'm inclined to agree with Maureen. To my ear, the next-to-last couplet, ending in "thorns," resonated strongly.

    Reading your reply to Maureen's comment, I'm reminded of some great advice I received from the best art teacher I ever had. He frequently reminded me that it's a mistake to provide too much information to the viewer. Good art, he said, engages the viewer by leaving something to their imagination. He also felt that one of the keys to success in painting is knowing when to finish.

    This is not meant as any kind of criticism, but the comments, particularly your own, seem to invite discussion on your approach to the poem, and I find your statements about the instinctive need to "tidy up" and "complete" a poem to be indicative of a challenge that all artists face, whether they work in words, paint, stone, or otherwise.

    1. George, you are right, by my comment I invited opinions on the ending. So thank you for stepping in and bringing your teacher's excellent advice for painting. Show, don't tell is what I think it means. It's important for the reader or viewer to have some work to do, I think. In some way, maybe it is his/her task to "complete" the work of art by bringing to it the resonance, the returned vibration. If the artist or writer goes too far, the viewer or reader leaves with a disconnect, a rejection almost, of the telling. One must be able to return again and again and find something new, maybe even a new path for the ending, a new revelation. I appreciate very much your artist's perspective.

      As you can see, I have paled out the final couplet for easier imagining of the less telling ending.

  7. My feeling is to leave the last two lines out...
    leaving things a little open and lovely and ambiguous...
    I agree with your comment to George.

  8. I must say, for me the 'new' shortened ending does not read as well, it seems abruptly left off and unfinished. The 'but' promises a little more, to my sensibility.

  9. Reading the comments and your replies has been most inspiring and educational, Ruth. I make no response or suggestion other than this of "paying attention." Thanks for engaging us in the process.

  10. Most interesting, this window you have opened into poetic process....I think that the last couplet needs to be written only in your readers' imaginations....

    What I see is that your last lines "But there are the berries,/....sweet/ and soft" clearly balance the first lines. And if they connote fully ripe-ness, even more they speak of enjoyment despite anything that the first lines might suggest and despite any difficulty in plucking sweetness from among the thorns.

    As an aside, I eat my daily oatmeal with dried dates and fresh berries, saving the nuts for my dinner salad :) .

  11. ruth, i admire the way you contemplate issues of perception. all of life is a perception of sorts, because of how we humans are wired, but this falls beneath awareness. you, however, bring it to awareness and place it before us in a beautifully contained and thoughtful manner, much in the way i would contemplate one of joseph cornell's boxes. I don't know much about meter in poetry, but what i do relish in your delicious, intelligent words are the apertures they introduce into our consensus reality, challenging us to see beyond and ask: is this really so?


All responses are welcome.