Jun. 23, 2011

Graduation Speech

by Charles W. Pratt

Like much that matters, baking bread is easy
Enough, with good ingredients, a simple recipe:
To water, sweetener, salt and yeast
Add flour, and mix. Oh, yes, there's Mystery,
But who demands to understand
When the dough is answering the hand
Under a morning window facing east?
Do they teach this at the University?

Cover the dough—left in the dark alone
It knows to take the next step on its own.
And when it's risen with the sun
Towards noon an hour or two, punch it back down,
Shape it into loaves, and wait
Again while it again grows great—
But not too great: just peers above the pan.
Then, as the good book says, "Bake until done."

The Zen of loafing? Eat a metaphor?
Now's the time to try if bread is more
Than bread alone. Taste. Devour.
Firmly yielding? Moist and crunchy? Or
Evidence scattered on the plate
Of a loaf the knife disintegrates?
You've made it, anyhow. The day is yours—
Yours and the sun's, now at its tallest hour.

"Graduation Speech" by Charles W. Pratt, from From The Box Marked Some Are Missing: New and Selected Poems. © Hobblebush Books, 2010. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of novelist C.E. Morgan (books by this author), born in Cincinnati (1976). Her first novel was published in 2009, and it took her just 14 days to write the first draft, during a break from Harvard Divinity School. She said: "I did nothing but write for those two weeks, walking outside only once to put a bill in the mail. I wasn't eating or sleeping much, only transcribing the story as I received it. I felt completely open during that time in a way that's hard to describe — as if there were a continuous transfer of energy between myself and everything that I normally conceive of as being 'outside' of me. It lasted the entire 14 days." The day after she finished her novel, she went back to grad school and spent the next two semesters editing her manuscript. It was published in 2009 as All the Living. Morgan was named one of The New Yorker's"20 under 40" best young writers and made the National Book Award's "5 under 35" list; and she was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway First Fiction Book Award and several other major awards.

All the Living is the story of a young woman named Aloma, an orphan, who moves to the rural South to live with her boyfriend, Orren, on his tobacco farm. Orren has recently lost his mother and sister in a car accident, and the land is hit by a terrible drought, so he is withdrawn and silent. Aloma is a talented pianist, and she gets a job playing music at a local church, where she befriends a talkative young preacher named Bell Johnson.

All the Living begins: "She had never lived in a house and now, seeing the thing, she was no longer sure she wanted to. It was the right house, she knew it was. It was as he had described. She shielded her eyes as she drove the long slope, her truck jolting and bucking as she approached. The bottomland yawned into view and she saw the fields where the young tobacco faltered on the drybeat earth, the ridge beyond. All around the soil had leached to chalky dust under the sun. She looked for the newer, smaller house that Orren had told her of, but she did not see it, only the old listing structure before her and the fields and the slope of tall grasses that fronted the house. She parked her truck and stared, her tongue troubled the inside of her teeth. The house cast no shadow in the bare noon light."

It's the birthday of Russian poet Anna Akhmatova (books by this author), born in Odessa in 1889. In her poem "The Sentence," she wrote:

Today I have so much to do
I must kill memory once and for all
I must turn soul to stone
I must learn to live again
Unless ... Summer's ardent rustling
Is like a festival outside my window.
For a long time I've foreseen this
Brilliant day, deserted house.
(translated by Judith Hemschemeyer)

From the archives:

On this day in 1801, Samuel Taylor Coleridge (books by this author) sent a letter from his house in Keswick, in Cumbria, part of England's Lake District. He wrote: "O that you had now before your eyes the delicious picture of Lake, and River, and Bridge, and Cottage, and spacious Field with its pathway, and woody Hill with its spring verdure, and mountain with the snow yet lingering in fantastic patches upon it — this, even the same which I had from my sick bed, even without raising my head from the Pillow! O God! all but dear and lovely Things seemed to be known to my Imagination only as Words — even the Forms which struck terror into me in my fever-dreams were still forms of Beauty — Before my last seizure I bent down to pick something from the Ground, and when I raised my head, I said to Miss Wordsworth — I am sure, Rotha! that I am going to be ill: for as I bent my head, there came a distinct and vivid spectrum upon my Eyes — it was one little picture — a Rock with Birches and Ferns on it, a Cottage backed by it, and a small stream. — Were I a Painter I would give an outward existence to this — but I think it will always live in my memory."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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