"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words. " ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Monday, September 28, 2009

Superstitions for the Fall: Whiskers, Eyelashes, Dreams, and Wishes

A HOUSE WHERE ALL'S ACCUSTOMED, CEREMONIOUS
Ceremonious Pine:
"Dream of a Tortoiseshell Tabby
and You Shall be Lucky in Love"

Ceremonious Marcus,
A Cat Of Amazing Whiskers

If you have the Agnes Browne soundtrack, today would be a good day to set your CD player to "repeat" and listen to Laura Smith's sad, sad version of "My Bonnie," over and over again (as in over the ocean, over the sea). It is so perfect for this time of year when the mornings are cold and yellow leaves drift down onto the driveway, one or two at a time, confirming autumn's inevitability.

I never tire of listening:

The leaves haven't even started falling
Already there's such a chill in the air
Someone's got a kite on the wind . . .
Well, I've got a tramp's whisker that tells me you still care


I had been puzzling for some time over that mysterious "tramp's whisker" in Smith's song, when I came across a seemingly similar reference in KT Tunstall's "Through the Darkness" (on her CD Eye to the Telescope). Somehow, the time - honored custom of blowing a fallen eyelash off your little finger was unknown to me until I heard Tunstall singing the words "wishes on eyelashes fail." Then, as so often happens when something new enters your frame of reference, I began encountering the eyelash motif everywhere I turned! But the tramp's whisker? No luck. My thought, however, is that it may be a bit of folklore along the same lines of wishing on an eyelash (?).

I found some helpful explanations on The Mudcat Cafe . One writer thought the Tramp's Whisker might be the name of a flower; another claims that it's the real whisker of a lighthouse keeper. There's also the childhood pet theory: that the whisker once belonged to a dear old dog named Tramp or is perhaps a keepsake from a long lost cat. Another contributor writes that "tramp's whisker" is an old expression for some very slight, yet worrying little thing that just won't go away. Most importantly, no matter what the objective correlative, the tramp's whisker remains a homely image of loss and separation.

Another wishful superstition that I was unacquainted with until recently is described by contemporary Scottish poet, Helen Lamb in her poem "Spell of the Bridge." It seems that you should keep quiet when walking over a bridge; otherwise, the bridge might hear your secrets and let them fall into the water:

. . . For the river would carry
Your hopes to the sea
To the net of a stranger
To the silt bed of dreams

Hold the wish on your tongue
As you cross
And on the far side
Let the wish go first


From The Thing That Mattered Most
(Black & White/Scottish Poetry Library, 2006)

I like to read these words and hear these songs on the first cloudy days when the summer goes. Give them a try. They won't exactly cheer you up, but as the seasons change, these wistful figures will enter your heart. Moving hopefully into a misty future, Lamb's character crosses the bridge guarding her wish with care; Tunstall's voice travels through darkness, as she looks over her shoulder, "To see what I'm leaving behind." And Smith's "My Bonnie" is ready to move on, into an icy world of global freezing:

Soon there'll be no difference between the land and the water
I can walk out on the ice to places I've never been
When I get as far as I can go
Oh, I'm gonna turn and throw my cares over my shoulder
Along with your memory
I'll just let it all float down the Gulf Stream

And I'll walk home singing
My bonny lies over the ocean
My bonny lies over the sea
My bonny lies over the ocean
C'mon bring back, bring back my bonny to me


P.S. Yes, it's true, I'm so old - fashioned that I still listen to actual CDs on an actual CD player right here in my kitchen!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Not a Memo, A Mission Statement

ACCUSTOMED, CEREMONIOUS
"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song,
read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words."

Back in February, when I clicked on "Create Blog," I picked this self - explanatory comment from Goethe to appear continuously as part of the header above. At the start I didn't think to explicate it any further, but now that my literary blog is six months old, perhaps I should.

When I designed this page, the space I had in mind was one where readers would encounter everything on Goethe's list: selections from all the wonderful poetry that I have been reading and collecting ever since forever, the song lyrics that make up the soundtrack of my life, and a few reasonable words of my own (or so I'd like to think!), tying it all together with the perfect visuals into an image that you won't forget.

Goethe makes it sound so simple, I thought I'd give it a try. For a title, I decided to start with my name. That would be easy enough: Kitti Carriker: A Fortnightly Literary Blog of Connection & Coincidence.

Fortnightly: Well, that just sounds so cool and literary, plus I felt pretty sure I could commit to an essay every two weeks.

Connection: I wanted, if possible, to create a place of connections, in the spirit of E. M. Forster, who implores us in Howards End to connect: "Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect . . . ."

Coincidence: As I wrote in an earlier blog post: "Sometimes life is so full of coincidences that I think my head will split open trying to take them all in! It's enough to make me believe in the whole Universe at once!" I stand by that. I want to capture all the unexpected connections that amaze and surprise and suggest a pattern.

Back in college when I worked on the literary magazine, I was known as the editor with "a poem for every poem" because no matter what I read, I was always reminded of something else -- kind of like that "Scooby-Doo" episode when Daphne asks Velma: "Do you have a book for every occasion?" And Velma answers, "Actually, yes."

A poem for every poem, and a book for every book! Those are the literary connections and coincidences that I am always on the lookout for, not that they require much tracking down, since they usually find me before I find them.

In addition, I wanted the blog to include my favorite passage from Yeats' poem "A Prayer For My Daughter." Naturally, he wants so many things for her, but chiefly a heart full of "radical innocence" and a life "Rooted in one dear perpetual place . . . a house / Where all's accustomed, ceremonious."

How but in custom and in ceremony
Are innocence and beauty born?
Ceremony's a name for the rich horn,
And custom for the spreading laurel tree.


From childhood -- perhaps impressed upon me when I first read The Little Red Story Book (more on that later), anyway long before I ever read Yeats -- one of my goals was to organize the kind of home described in his poem, where order would triumph over chaos and no holiday would ever go unremarked: accustomed and ceremonious, familiar yet celebratory.

Thus the line from "A Prayer For My Daughter" has became the perpetual caption for the pictures that change with every post. I hope that in some way (though not always in the same way) these photographs and illustrations portray "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." Sometimes it's my own house (or former houses), other times, a cathedral, a log cabin, a playground, an historical custom house, a neighborhood mural, a village mosaic, a medieval tapestry. I admit, these last two were not created by me, though I take most (not all) of the photographs and did help paint the mural!

And those raspberry parfaits you see up there? I didn't make them myself either (the credit goes to my dessert specialists, Ben and Karen . . . and to Gerry for growing the fruit). But I did line them up on the windowsill and photograph them. And I did eat one a little while later -- delicious!

So that's what's happening on this page every couple of weeks! Oops, I mean, every fortnight! Maybe it all made sense before. If it didn't, I hope it does now, perfect sense!

New Paint Colors: Silver Lace Vine and Raspberry Parfait