Words of Cheer, Words of Cheese

It’s International Poetry Month! IPM is the brainchild of my friend Bonnie; she collects a poem a day from international writers and publishes them on her site with an intro and a reading – very cool! Subscribe and you’ll get a poem a day in your email, and then – POOF!- they disappear at the end of the month! Check her out here: http://bonniemcclellan.wordpress.com  Today’s poet is a sassy French minx who is very special to me – yeah, I know famous writers!

In honor of International Poetry Month, here are a few words about words:

“The picture of the universe shifts from tongue to tongue”  – Davis S. Thomson, linguist from his essay “The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis: Worlds shaped by Words”

The inner voice and the social world are in endless dialogue; like form and content  it can – and should-  be difficult to tease apart”  -Poet Mark Doty, from the Introduction to The Best American Poetry 2012.

The “Ding-Dong Theory” “… [is] a theory of Karl Wilhelm Heyse… it maintains that the primitive elements of language are reflex expressions induced by sensory impressions; that is the creative faculty gave to each general conception, as it thrilled for the first time through out the brain, a phonetic expression…”    Webster’s New International Dictionary of the English Language, Second Edition, 1958

“Words have no power to impress the mind without the exquisite horror of their reality.” Edgar Allen Poe

“I can sum up what I’ve learned about life in three words: It goes on.” – Robert Frost

“…political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging, and sheer cloudy vagueness…such phraseology is need if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them…where there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink.”  – George Orwell, from the essay “Politics and the English Language”, 1946.

“The poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.” — GK Chesterton

Icelandic ponies. Japanese cats on the Internet. Yawning puppies. Toddlers who give each other hugs. Goats climbing all over everything. Pink and green macaroons. Red pandas. Sparkly nail polish. Do you get where I’m going? Cute things. This cheese is so perfect and cute and delicious you just want to marry it. Or buy one and eat it.”  – Charlotte Kamin of Bedford Cheese Shop, describing the cheese Andante Terry Nocturne

 “The Lindsay Lohan of the cheese world, this pecorino has a tan, leathery exterior that surrounds a delicate yellow paste. With hints of herbs and the aroma of hay, you can almost hear the bleating of Lindsay up in the Italian hills. Pair with nicotine, Red Bull and an alcohol monitor.”  -Charlotte Kamin of Bedford Cheese Shop, describing the cheese Mastorazio, Madaio

“Big and floral in the very best way possible, this firm Sardinian sheep has the cool unaffected strut of Mick in his prime, Lou in middle age or Polly Jean* today.” – Martin Johnson, Gastrononmie 491, describing the cheese Calcagno.

“It is still made only at night, I am led to believe, as it was when I last visited the cheesemaker, and what I haven’t told you is Serpa’s texture and flavor are like sex. There’s just no other way to describe the effect this cheese has on me. Even though I barely remember sex.”       -Steve Jenkins from Fairway Market, describing the cheese Queijo de Serpa

A Parable


The cheese-mites asked how the cheese got there,
    And warmly debated the matter;
The Orthodox said that it came from the air,
    And the Heretics said from the platter.
They argued it long and they argued it strong,
    And I hear they are arguing now;
But of all the choice spirits who lived in the cheese,
    Not one of them thought of a cow.
Thanks to all two of you who helped me out with my assignment! As it turned out, I wrote four poems and didn’t have to turn in any of them!

Ode to the Midwest


The country I come from
Is called the Midwest
—Bob Dylan

I want to be doused
in cheese
& fried. I want
to wander
the aisles, my heart’s
supermarket stocked high
as cholesterol. I want to die
wearing a sweatsuit—
I want to live
forever in a Christmas sweater,
a teddy bear nursing
off the front. I want to write
a check in the express lane.
I want to scrape
my driveway clean
myself, early, before
anyone’s awake—
that’ll put em to shame—
I want to see what the sun
sees before it tells
the snow to go. I want to be
the only black person I know.
I want to throw
out my back & not
complain about it.
I wanta drive
two blocks. Why walk—
I want love, n stuff—
I want to cut
my sutures myself.
I want to jog
down to the river
& make it my bed—
I want to walk
its muddy banks
& make me a withdrawal.
I tried jumping in,
found it frozen—
I’ll go home, I guess,
to my rooms where the moon
changes & shines
like television.

Source: Poetry (July/August 2007).

 AND: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/179327

Goals are for A-Holes

I’m finished with having goals. I’m not really what you’d call an ambitious person. Goals kind of suck because you have to strive to attain them. The word “strive” sounds a little painful, doesn’t it? “Strive”, “strain”, “stress”… see what I mean? It is a little unsettling that  I was unable to go a full week with goals, but I have decided to remain content waiting for things to fall into my lap. “Lap.” Now there’s a peaceful word. Rhymes with “nap”.

So, what did I learn from this little experiment?

First and foremost, I don’t like to be told what to do. Even if I am the one doing the telling. When that happens, I get on my nerves. First I ignore myself, then I tell myself what I think I want to hear, then I get angry, and I become belligerent, and more than once, sneaky. Then I have to beat myself down, and eventually I do, because I am relentless. Finally I do what I am supposed to, but only at the last minute, and kind of half-assed.

In the end, it’s best that I just don’t ask myself to do anything. My new strategy is to wait until I have actually done something, and then praise myself profusely. If there is one thing I have learned in doggie obedience school, it is this: positive reinforcement for good behavior is key. And it’s working already! I didn’t want to write this post, because to write it I’d have to start it, but then I did it anyway, and look how far I am already! Yay me! Who’s a good girl? Who’s a pretty lady! It’s me! I am!

I also learned that when it’s 252 degrees outside, it is relatively easy to stay inside and nap. The more you lay around, the more exhausted you become. I now sleep about 18 hours a day. And I sweat a lot less.

The reading goal worked well for me. I finished another big best seller- I’m trying to be au courant and hip, so that when I am invited to fancy parties with hors d’oeurves on silver trays and fountains of sake running through ice sculptures of bears catching salmon in glittering sake streams, I will be able to say, “Oh, yes, I read that! As you can tell by my love of reading, and the fact that I have read many modern bestsellers, I am no dummy! I would be a welcome addition to future parties of this ilk! Now please, accompany me to the sake bear, and we will intelligently and animatedly discuss current works of stimulating literature, while I fill the perfume bottles in my purse with sake that tastes of mountain air and harmony!”

The novel I last read is A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan. It was good, especially at the end. I gotta say though, I’m still partial to the Shteyngart, though the title is a pain in the ass to type. If you want to read it again, look it up. You have the Google. Anyway, the two books had some things in common that I really like. They both jump around in time and person; neither are totally linear. The authors examine the characters’ inner monologues in interesting, new ways. Both do a great job with dialogue and making the characters distinct and sympathetic, while weaving complex plots that are compelling, though not fantastic or extraordinary. They make the every day, common stuff seem pretty darn riveting. Thematically, they explore missed opportunities and mistakes that can’t be undone, as well as those that are of the “shit happens” or “wrong place, wrong time” type, and other things that are eternally fascinating, like love, loss, and the passing of time. They both look at the future, and the future these authors imagine is dystopian and sad. They are indebted to 1984, which is still the greatest book ever. All three books point out that in the near future, a different language is spoken, and people are unable (and increasingly unwilling) to  attempt to express themselves openly and directly. Here is a passage from the end of A Visit from the Goon Squad:

Rebecca was an academic star. Her new book was on the phenomenon of word casings, a term she’d invented for words that no longer had meaning outside quotation marks. English was full of the empty words – “friend” and “real” and “story” and “change – words that had been shucked of their meaning and reduced to husks. Some, like “identity”, “search,” and “cloud,” had clearly been drained of life by their Web usage. With others, the reasons were more complex; how had “American” come to be an ironic term? How had “democracy” come to be used in an arch, mocking way? (p.324)

True that, right? In an age where we have Face Friends and Friends With Benefits (how many of those friends are you still friends with after the benefits stop?), and reality tv sets a new definition of real, when “natural” often has nothing to do with nature, and when “awesome”  or “epic” or “great” all basically mean “good”, etc., etc., we lose the precision of language, and with that the ability to say exactly what we mean. Perhaps we lose the ability to pinpoint exactly what we feel or think.

All three expect increased government and media control, and reliance on technology, and less individual creativity and will.

I love torturing myself thinking about that gloom and doom stuff.

The goals thing taught me that there is a lot to do that I don’t want left undone. Tick, tock, tick, right? So I hope that I get a bee up my butt and start to do something soon. I hope I don’t regret wasting my summer by laying on the couch admiring the red, yellow and green leaves of the Japanese Maple outside my window until my eyes grow heavy, or  crawling to the window sill to get a close-up view of a skinny, spring-grass green lizard, bobbing up and down and puffing out his rose-pink throat, maybe just for me. I love these moments, but I worry…

Of course, this is the ambivalence that started the whole goal thing in the first place. I am right back where I started. I have learned absolutely nothing.


These ice sculptures were handcrafted by Brazilian artist Nele Azevedo. They were displayed in 2009 by the German branch of the World Wildlife Fund to highlight global warming. You can see more photos of them here: http://www.streetartutopia.com/?p=1089 This street art site is terrific! Go to their home page and check out the more modern stuff.

Stay cool, fools!