Persuaded to Poetry

 

Some years ago,  I published The Sentinel,” an essay about Florida environmentalist Charles Torrey Simpson and a pair of shells I found washed onto a Texas beach.  

The shells, a deep, rich purple, are known in scientific circles as Janthina janthina. Elegant, tiny sea snails, they form great rafts, then float around the world. When Simpson found such a raft in the Florida Keys, he chronicled his experience, and through his notebook entry I was able to identify my own bits of purple. 

Soon after I posted about Simpson, one of my readers offered a request.  Her love of all things purple had been stirred by the piece, and she wanted a “purple poem.”  At the time, I didn’t think of myself as a poet, and demurred. As it turned out, she did think of me as a poet, and was convinced  I could produce some verse for her.

We went back and forth, teasing one another about it for days, until she finally became insistent. “Please do give me that poem,” she said. “I know it’s in there, and I can’t wait till you spit it out.” Wanting to be polite, I said, “The poem, she is a-percolating. Or should I say, “a-purple-ating”?

When I heard nothing more, I assumed our discussion had ended. Then, this note arrived:

Ahoy Shore,
Can you see my right foot a-tappin’?
Bet you know why.
I’ll give you a hint. It’s small and shiny and purple and yearns to be heard (or read). I cannot wait to hear its
voice.

I felt like an over-scheduled fresco artist with the Medici breathing down my neck. I tried to put her off, saying:

“My dear ~ you can’t force the creative process. Poems have come in their own good time.
However: in the spirit of things, I can report that the phrase “amethyst breezes” is on the clipboard. Nice, huh? And, just for you, a little ditty to tide you over, like an apple before dinner.
“There once was a small purple shell
that traveled the ocean’s deep swell.
It floated and blew
across seas green and blue,
in a hurry its story to tell.”

And that, it seemed, was that. On the other hand, while my friend stopped talking about the poem, I didn’t stop thinking about it. The phrase “amethyst breezes” brought to mind Georgia O’Keefe and her vibrant colors. I began pondering her relationship with Steiglitz, intrigued by the way “color” and “black and white” related to one another. I started fiddling a bit with the poem.

But Hurricane Dolly came along, threatening the Texas coast with storm surge. Through all the surges yet to come — Gustav, Rita and Ike — the poem lingered in my files until one day, looking at photographs of hurricane destruction, I saw more clearly what can happen when hurricanes overcoat the world with layers of ghastly gray mud. 

As I compared the vibrant colors of the natural world with the monochromatic tones of a storm, one phrase came, and then another, until — at last — the poem was complete. No longer a generic “purple poem,” it had become a celebration of color in the midst of a gray and dingy world.

Storm Surges
Left to their own devices,
oceans sigh away the sunset,
strip horizons bare
and leave their swells to mutter
beneath the bruising dark.
Fearful, nearly frozen, the moon
ascends the ratlines of the stars —
missteps, then falls
and disappears from view.
Scaled by the wind’s cold knife
clouds release their torrents across the flying spume —
bits of stinging darkness
tumbling to the sea.
Bereft of fuschias,
emptied of limes,
heaven’s palette drips gunmetal,
gray —
smeared by unwashed foam
and streaks of mud-tinged spray.
Beaneath the surging water
earth dissolves herself away,
flowing into silence
to dream a dancer’s dream —
cerulean tangos beneath tangerine clouds,
amethyst breezes,
and goldenrod skies.

Comments always are welcome. 

7 thoughts on “Persuaded to Poetry

  1. I like your blog very much
    Thank you

    Alexandr,

    I’m pleased that you enjoyed it. Thank YOU so much for being kind enough to leave your comment.

    Linda

  2. I knew you can venture out of the essay mode… here’s the evidence. I believe you are capable to sculpt with words whatever form you set your heart on: fiction, poetry, memoir, scripts, documentaries…

    Also, as I ponder the notions of ‘slow’ and ‘fast’, ‘temporal’ or ‘enduring’ in the writing of my latest post, I had in mind your post about “quality” and “quantity”. Oh… this is fun indeed, to be able to exchange ideas and to draw out that which otherwise would remain latent in our intellect.

    Arti,

    There’s nothing like having people around who have confidence in your abilities! Step by step by step… And thank you so much for the kind words.

    I went to sleep last night thinking about your new post. I’ll stop by with a comment later. I’m outside Kansas City just now, getting ready to take Mom back home. She’s been here with her sister since Hurricane Ike, and the time has come to end this little chapter in our lives. I’ve nearly got my list of bloggers in mind for the prize you passed on to me, too, so I’ll be able to address that wonderful responsibility when I get home, too.

    Again, many thanks for your inspiration and encouragement!

    Linda

  3. Whoa, I love that. The words, the imagery, the everything of it.

    Ella,

    It’s like a perfect dish, isn’t it? It’s the “everything” that counts – fresh ingredients, the right proportion, solid technique and a beautiful plate to serve it on!

    Glad you enjoyed it!

    Linda

  4. Linda;
    I found your blog getting to my own..:) don’t ask!! And I loved your poem Storm Surges, your philosophy, and other writings. So wanted to respond.

    I adopted the name Janthina because I always felt connected to the shell which exists at the mercy of the forces of nature, does not control its own path but rather, and remains basically undirected. My small boat is an inflatable I named Janthina not that it is undirected (heaven forbid) but for the air bubbles it rides on. For your friend I am sharing a poem here written by a friend of mine long ago when we lived in the Pacific. For I feel that a poem never read, a photograph never seen, or an essay never read or shared…are worth nothing!! So here’s to the past and present and to tiny purple shells…

    Janthina

    Violet are the sails she sets
    on her voyage through the sea.
    Sunlit shafts, like spiral stairs
    guide her up from eternity.

    A pelagic journey aboard her shell,
    she spins in wind -blown rain,
    And drives through waves in her violet hull,
    her life on the endless main.

    Summer’s gone and winter’s come
    with storms and winds and waves;
    She’s thrown about in her fragile shell
    for an eternity of days.

    On the horizon there mounts a speck
    that will soon become her home;
    an island in the tropic seas
    with its beach as white as bone.

    Tossed up the beach by a passing wave
    there, glistening in the sun,
    her violet hues, like precious jewels;
    Janthina’s journey’s done.

    by TC Good, 1971

    Judy

    Judy,

    I’m so glad you found my blog. I agree with what you say about the importance of sharing, and the poem is lovely.

    I confess I am filled with fear for the future of the janthina, and all sea creatures. We are far beyond the usual meaning of “oil spill” with this incident in the Gulf, and if, as some suggest, an unchecked gusher will continue for some time, waters and land far beyond the Gulf will be affected.
    I’m trying my best to deal with what has happened, but the thought of the myriad innocent creatures living their lives with no conception of what is to befall them is more than I can bear.

    So. I will re-read your lovely poem, and be sure my friend sees it, and we will hope for the best for the janthina – and us!

    Thank you so much – you’re welcome any time!

    Linda

  5. OH…and really good question about O’Keefe and Steiglitz!!

    My quote of the day is of Monet (rhyme unintended!):

    “Colour is my day-long obsession, joy and torment.”
    Only for me its due to sRGB,Adobe 1998 vs CMYK, transmitted vs reflected color not paint!!

    Judy

    Judy,

    Hmmm… I do believe you’re speaking photography – yes? The Adobe and sRGB were my clues. I didn’t begin taking photos on purpose until I began my blog two years ago, so I’m pretty uninformed about such things.

    I’m laughing, too, because on another site a fellow posted some images of wild iris that were just stunning. I looked and looked and thought, “Why isn’t my color like THAT?” Well, as it turns out, his images were film images he scanned and reproduced. It was just amazing to see the difference. Obviously, digital can come very close – to my eye, even equal. But not the way I shoot photos, for sure! I’ve got some learning to do.

    Linda

    ps…. I just took a look at your site. Oh, my. You do beautiful work, and I look forward to browsing.

  6. Linda;

    The truth is that I am much more relaxed about the issues of color space than when I first started. Back when I barely knew how to get the pictures from my memory card into my computer and was learning Photoshop, I’d read a lot of blogs on color space. It all seemed very scary and the likelihood of things looking in print as they did on my monitor a remote proposition.

    In my quest to get in print what I saw on my monitor, I have actually been pretty lucky. To start I learned to shoot in Adobe 1998 if you intended to print your work, sRGB if you planned web display mainly. If in doubt…Adobe 1998..for the bigger gamut. I always feel that you can go down but never back the other way. So I shoot Raw and 1998 period. This story is pretty long so I’d better just say that after I started selling calendars and getting into the CMYK commercial printing and the agonies of converting, I got to a point where I realized that it is all ok. Even in my own printing I use sRGB or Adobe output depending on the image. The CMYK conversion turned out easy and intuitive. Yes, various schemes take on slightly different tones but mostly though it still looks quite fine and not the horrible artistic downer I’d expected.

    One thing that really clarified things for me was realizing that the monitor shows transmitted light and is ‘additive’…all colors add up to white. Like breaking white light into a spectrum. CMYK on the other hand is subtractive…all the colors put on the sheet of paper combine to make black. Color you see is reflected light. So this basic explains to me why CMYK printing not done expertly looks muddy. But a good commercial printer will give amazingly close results. Of course I do prefer the clarity and detail of my giclee printing but I don’t agonize anymore. We live in a wonderful age as regards print. And what a boon for artists to be able to digitize paintings and make such lovely prints more accessible to fans.

    This is way too long!! Yikes!! And BTW….I do like the photos you are doing with your writing……they are very emotive and I was drawn to them too.

    Judy

    PS I too am hopeful as regards the oil spill. Although I am not one who is against using natural resources…it must be done responsibly and there is no excuse for this!!

    Judy,

    Your comment may have felt long to you, but it read wonderfully for me. It’s very interesting and informative, and gives me another path into these mysteries. One of the first things needed when we enter a new world is a bit of usable vocabulary – you can’t begin to ask questions without it!

    Your phrase “the agonies of converting” tickled me. Not so many months ago I sold an article to a local magazine and the printer asked me to provide my photos at – what? 300 dpi, I believe. I didn’t have a clue. Resolution was what you reached after working through a conflict! ;-) I learned a good bit through that process, and now can move on to learn a bit more.

    I loved looking through your site. I was especially taken with this fellow, and suggested to a friend on another site that we might send him over to talk to the BP folks!

    Thanks so much for stopping by, and your willingness to share so much. I truly appreciate it.

    Linda

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