Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Poetry As Resistance

Let's face it, we're not all as limber as the Greenpeace activists who are protesting the Trump administration's war on the planet by climbing up a crane in Washington, D.C. Many of us have neither the time, nor the strength, nor even enough spare cash, to travel from march to protest to sit-in.

Resistance can be boisterous, and it can also be quiet and quietly shared. Since knowledge is power, and reading is the ammunition of that knowledge, what better time than now to just say no to Trumpian "ignorance is strength" and pick up a good book to read for both inspiration and pleasure?

And that brings me to my friend Nan Socolow, a frequent New York Times commentator and also a sometime guest blogger here at Sardonicky.  Her collection of poems, some of which have previously appeared in such publications as Rolling Stone, New Republic and  Washingtonian Magazine, has just been published by Pisgah Press in Asheville, N.C.

Nan Socolow (back jacket cover, Invasive Procedures)

Invasive Procedures, the title of the volume, is an apt one. Her subject matter is as penetrating as her Times commentary, running the gamut from marriage, separation, motherhood, growing old, and intimations of mortality, to the fragility and beauty of our endangered planet and its varied life-forms. She finds humor and meaning even in such mundane tasks as changing the sheets and pondering the patterns in dirty dish water; in short, she takes everyday life and infuses it with unique and insight -- and plenty of startlingly piquant neologisms.

Biting the Bullet

When we reach
the overtime stage of life,
over 70, not the golden years,
there is no bible to tell us
what to expect.

And what to do about
the startling aches and pains
that befall our elderly
wellderly illderly bodies.
So we bite the bullet.

and tough it out
to avoid
the undertaker's
waiting room

Pulling 14
to 16 hour days
was de rigeur
in our thirties
and forties.

And now
in our overtime
we pay for the
crazy dancing
of those days.

In this vale of tears
weltschmerz and 
sporadic joys
are the coins
of our realm.

 Nan Socolow describes her literary sculpting methods in the introduction to her collection: "A poem is like a chunk of raw marble. I chip away and chip away at the chunk, and it takes form and becomes far smaller and when nothing further can be chipped away--when only the finest essence of a marble scrap is left--that is my poem."

An ardent environmentalist, her love and concern for our planet shine right through the suffocating murk of Donald Trump's unprecedented war on climate science and, as is becoming all too scarily apparent, life itself.
Bodies of Water

Aeons past
before the plates
became continents
when this Earth
was young
bodies of water

Now our
blue planet
is a dying zone
a waking
pillaged and
its watery
places ravaged
by mankind.

Detritus dumped
debris dreck
bottles jars
and enough
plastic to gyre and
gimble and
strangle the 
Pacific wabe.

Bizarre fish
Asian snakehead carps
sea lamprey eels  
with round sucking mouths
and razor sharp
teeth encroach
in the freshwater
Great Lakes and
mighty Mississippi.

from the Indian
and South
Pacific oceans
loosed from 
American aquaria
gauzily dressed
to kill in
fetching saris
swirl en masse
in the Caribbean Sea.  

Pythons, boas
gators lurk in the
marshy sawgrass
of the Everglades,
eyes aslit for innocent
to squeeze
and swallow.

The five continents
that were once one
Pangaea, connected
jigsaw puzzle pieces
like the carapace on a
hawksbill's shell
are now apart
and prisoned by
waste waters.

Billions of people
dying for a taste of their birthright
of potable water.
Global warming
climate change
inconvenient truths
of our lives on Earth,
truths denied by
some who buy
and chugalug
clean, birthright water
in billions of little
plastic bottles
that will remain
on Earth
long after
we've gone. 


Invasive Procedures is available for purchase from and also directly from the publisher, Pisgah Press.


Zee said...

I confess that poetry has never much pierced my thick head or heart. Though I have appreciated the hard mental effort that goes into expressing a thought or event in rhyme—and, yes, I have always thought that poetry was supposed to have both rhyme and meter per my narrow education—I have to say that it has never much penetrated my soul nearly so much as prose, some of which has brought me to tears through the years.

Except, perhaps, for bits of humorous doggerel from Ogden Nash,

e.g.,“Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker,”


“Consider now the Coelacanth,
Our only living fossil,
Persistent as the amaranth,
And status quite apostle.
It jeers at fish unfossilized
As intellectual snobs elite;
Old Coelacanth, so unrevised
It doesn’t know it’s obsolete”

And, of course, Mad Magazine’s “new versions of old poems,” of which I only remember fragments. I think this was a re-do of Kipling:

“When you’re lost in the woods and things don’t look too good
And you’re face with a terrible plight,
When your back’s to the wall and your chances are small,
Run off like a thief in the night!


Heroes’ songs may be sung, but them suckers die young,
While you, you’ll live ninety-nine years!”

As you can see, my tastes in poetry are, well…er,,, limited.

Still, Ms. Socolow’s words have touched me in a couple of ways:

First, as someone who is rapidly and unavoidably becoming an oldster. My bold emphasis added:

“the overtime stage of life,
over 70,
not the golden years,
there is no bible to tell us
what to expect.

And what to do about
the startling aches and pains
that befall our elderly
wellderly illderly bodies.
So we bite the bullet.

and tough it out
to avoid
the undertaker's
waiting room

And second, as one who has seen first-hand the ravages of invasive species on both our Caribbean reefs (lionfish) and our southwestern deserts (tree-of-heaven and salt-cedar);

Clearly, Ms. Socolow has trod ground that I, too, have walked—or am about to—and expressed the experience in ways that I never could. Even if the words don’t rhyme, they have meaning to me.

So “Thank you,” Nan Socolow, for your poetry .

Jay–Ottawa said...

Thank you, Ms Socolow. Yes, yes to poetry and to every form of communication from poetry to stamping our feet on the ground till the dishes rattle in the White House. Can you hear us now?. Anything but silence, which will only be taken as defeat or acceptance. Resist! If this is not the hour to write, talk, send smoke signals or spray wild graffiti on the walls, then when?

The White House issues an insult every day. This will continue just as we all sit here dumbfounded. Let's get loud.

Trump thinks it an accomplishment to replace Kim Jong-un as the world's most deranged head of state? How do we let him know that's not so smart? Give me a verse or a bumper sticker that will go viral.

Trump just told Mexico he's slapping a 20% tariff on all their goods coming into the US. Under NAFTA Mexico can now sue, I do believe. Is there a Latino lawyer on that side of the wall and this side of the wall? I want a brief or two, both in Spanish. It's got to make a plutocrat or two say, "Oh, wait, Donny."

Who's got a song, any ditty that takes the wind out of his blowhard cheeks? Write me a tune that's so good it will chase him off the stage and make America great again.

If you can't get something going with everyone around the dinner table tonight, at least start a fight with those who just want to take it. Nobody has the right to ease back now. And that's not my negativity showing. That's positive thinking in line with the New Year's resolution I mentioned days ago. Let's get louder.

Stev-o said...

This is totally amazing! I travel to India for five weeks and return to the good ole USofuckinA and finally accept the fact that we have jumped out of the pan into the fire, not that I wanted to, and decide to look at Sardonicky and this is what I read. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Nan also pens some amazing comments to propaganda in the NYT.
By the way, India is totally amazing. It is a country of 1,000,000,000+ people and seems to work. Certainly not like a westerner would expect, but if can erase the idea that what we do and how we do it in the west is the best, and accept the fact, not alternative, it is what it is, you can have a wonderful time. And be ready with the upcoming demise of the EPA. India is a mess, environmentally, and unlike Sinclair Lewis declaring that it can't happen here, it can. There were many times I held my breath, a lot of good that did, as unfortunately you have to breath, I came to realize that clean air is a good thing. And that we have probably taken it for granted. Since I live in VT and we have at least 1,000,000,000 trees and we love our water, I feel some relief. And Indian food is amazing, too.

Carol S. said...

Thank you, Nan Socolow and Karen,

"Bodies of Water" is especially interesting and scary. My work is environmentally related (wetlands protection). Many landowners (and politicians) seem not to understand that coastal erosion, which they fight against to save their homes, happens naturally and creates beaches; and the sea is rising faster due to human interference.

Some of my favorite poets are Donne, Keats, Yeats, and Sylvia Plath. One of the greatest finds on the internet for me, was recordings of Sylvia Plath reading the AriaI poems. They can be found on under “Hear Sylvia Plath Read 15 Poems From Her Final Collection, Ariel, in 1962 Recording” (just a few months before her death). My awe and admiration increased immeasurably after hearing her exquisite delivery of this intense work, poems which poured from her twice daily at that time. The lovely “Nick and the Candlestick” is a poem for her baby.

(Conversely, do not listen to recordings of Yeats reading, lest you ruin the excitement.)

Plath’s mother described a time when her little girl was eight and she took her children to the beach to see the new moon. Sylvia gazed at it and slowly said, “The moon is a lock of witch’s hair. Tawny and golden and red. And the night winds pause and stare at that strand from a witch’s head.”