Wednesday, July 4, 2007

A Fruitful, if Fanciful Origin of Poetry

Once upon a time, Edgar Allen Poe pondered, weak and weary from staying up late past a midnight dreary, thinking how quaint and curious that many a volume was now forgotten lore. While he nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping, as of some one gently rapping, rapping at his noggin’s door. “’Tis an apple!” Poe then muttered, “Falling on my head before. Only this—but damn it’s sore!”

He was right—the apple had left a gash, and Poe’s head was bleeding. However, this was just the nogginly nudge he needed to move past writing more forgotten lore to his new way of writing. It would become known for it’s inventor, the poe-m, and the art of crafting it for the source of it’s inspiration, the poet-tree. And just as Poe’s head was now red, just as an apple is red, so would the new art form become fruitful and be read.

And fruit would remain a theme as the art grew more complex. Blake wrote a pear of poems, “The Lamb” and “The Tyger.” He was also concerned about the health of the trees, recording in “A Poison Tree” his efforts to “[water] it in fears, night and morning with my tears…and it grew both day and night, till it bore an apple bright.”

Other poets were concerned with the trees, noting the weather. Percy Bysshe Cherry, I think it was, wrote an “Ode to the West Wind”: “Destroyer and preserver; hear, O hear!” [Given that his wife was occupied writing about monsters and society, we can appreciate his concern.] Williams Carlos Williams was also concerned, noting in “Spring and All” “small trees with dead, brown leaves,“ relieved by “the profound change” when “rooted, they grip down and begin to awaken.”

Williams was really more concerned with possession, preservation and consumption of fruit, though, as he shows in “This is Just to Say”:

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

Not everyone protects their fruit so carefully. I once had to post this on my department’s break room fridge (titled “This is Just Dismay”):

I have discarded
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were evidently
for eternity

Forgive me
they were decomposing
so soft
and so old

But even less high-brow forms of poetry, such as song lyrics, are concerned with enjoying tree fruits, like this excerpt from The Eagles (or Linda Ronstadt):

Why don’t you come to our senses?

and in a later verse:

Now it seems to me, some fine things
Have been laid upon your table

Nor is the avocado the only tropical fruit featured in poetry. After all, when we really like something, it has “appeal.” Consider Gary Soto’s “Oranges,” where he notes that the first time he walked with a girl, he had two oranges in his jacket. And Frank O’Hara appreciates the inspiration he gets from oranges, even just their color, in “Why I Am Not a Painter”:

I am not a painter, I am a poet.
Why? I think I would rather be
a painter, but I am not. Well,

for instance, Mike Goldberg
is starting a painting. I drop in.
"Sit down and have a drink" he
says. I drink; we drink. I look
up. "You have SARDINES in it."
"Yes, it needed something there."
"Oh." I go and the days go by
and I drop in again. The painting
is going on, and I go, and the days
go by. I drop in. The painting is
finished. "Where's SARDINES?"
All that's left is just
letters, "It was too much," Mike says.

But me? One day I am thinking of
a color: orange. I write a line
about orange. Pretty soon it is a
whole page of words, not lines.
Then another page. There should be
so much more, not of orange, of
words, of how terrible orange is
and life. Days go by. It is even in
prose, I am a real poet. My poem
is finished and I haven't mentioned
orange yet. It's twelve poems, I call
it ORANGES. And one day in a gallery
I see Mike's painting, called SARDINES.

Not all poets write about fruit trees, of course, but they still retain their attachment to trees, as Frost shows us in “Birches”:

I'd like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth's the right place for love:
I don't know where it's likely to go better.
I'd like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.



Ross12345 said...

That is actually really clever! I like this post!

Two Write Hands said...

My question to you, Writer, is are all of those poems kept tucked away in your mind, or do you need a reference? Rodger has memorized a few poems--I never have.

Writer said...

2 Write Hands --

Both, although more of the former. Ya do the same poem over and over, it sticks. Others are favorites, so they float through my brain unfettered (Williams and O'Hara, for instance).


Kim said...

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regards Kim