Thursday, December 4, 2008

Poetry Friday: Abbott and Costello and Steinbeck

This Day In History tells me that 67 years ago today The Sea of Cortez was published. It was co-written by John Steinbeck and his friend, marine biologist Ed Ricketts (the model for Doc in Cannery Row), and it chronicles their voyage (in a sardine boat!) around Baja California and into what we know as the Gulf of California. The day after the book was released, Pearl Harbor was attacked, and the two men were soon serving in the military. Many people feel that Steinbeck revealed more about his personal philosophy in The Sea of Cortez than in any of his fiction. In honor of the sea creatures those friends observed and documented on their trip, and in honor of my good friend, fellow poet Sierra Nelson, who once captained the Cephalopod Society in Seattle, I offer up a poem of my own, written on a ferry home from a writer's retreat at Sierra's mom's place on Hood Canal, about creatures who live below the surface of the water. Things underwater, where I cannot see them, definitely worry me:

Returning to Seattle

Invocation to the gods of this ferry,
impaired as they are by surf, wind, waves, currents,
torrents, etc. (though no more than I am by
eyes, ears, hair, my own superficial ripples lately):
Make me (please) cognizant (unmummy me), keep me
deeply aware and bewondered by the gilled, the dim
swimmers and crawlers beneath me, the bullheads
and dead-eyed dogfish, the cockles, the unlucky clams—
what am I forgetting?— ah, the octopuses, those
hose-armed cephalopods with their predations, their
scary (embold me) tentacles and their slippery nature.
Deter me from disliking (unloving) these creatures and their
unaired (I seek but cannot see) surroundings. Please accept
regrets, etc., for the unkindness of the above & my limitations.

The assignment on the ferry trip home was to write what we call a "hot rivets" poem - one where the last word of one line rhymes with the first or second word of the line below it, having the effect of welding the two together. It's a wonderful form to work with, taking the poem many directions that surprise you (which is one of the great satisfactions of writing, no?)

Today Poetry Friday is hosted by Mommy's Favorite Picture Books (so maybe I should have chosen a sweeter poem.....)


And now for something completely different: This Day in History also tells me that it was on December 5th, 1952 that The Abbott and Costello Show debuted on TV. Probably not an event to remember for most people, and I don't think my parents bought a TV until about 1955, but oh, Abbott and Costello - I used to love going to matinees at our local theater, The Garden, to see their movies. Lou Abbott was so foolish , so sweet, so accident prone and so constantly confused. Here is a little YouTube clip - what can I say? It was a simpler world...


  1. "hot rivets"---I like that description. Those rhymes are rivets, but hinges, too, no?

    I also like the picture of writers scribbling on a ferry ride. Isn't it a gift how different locales are the habitat for unique fears/creatures/words?

  2. Julie! You amaze me. Thanks for sharing your poem today.

    btw, I still hear your voice reading HAVE YOU EVER DONE THAT in Laura's basement in Janet's poetry class. It's a great memory!

  3. Oh - must try this "hot rivets" notion.

    Brilliant work, Julie. I really loved the prayer-like quality, which was added to by the parentheticals.

  4. Wow, Julie. I just love "Returning to Seattle." Thanks for sharing it with us!
    Kelly called it "prayer-like" and there *is* something very visceral and "internal" about this poem -exactly as it should be, no?

  5. Sarah - so right, the "hinges" image works, too.

    Lorie - wasn't that class great! And to get a book out of it - that was a bonus. Hey - congratulations on When I get organized, I'll add a link to it from The Drift Record and post something about it. Nice job, highlighting the infant/toddler books, an under-reviewed category.

    Kelly - I like the effect of parentheticals in a poem, too & I'm working on a sonnet that is about 90% parentheticals held together by one non-parenthetical sentence of glue! Ouch. We'll see if I can do it.

    Dianne - you're right, the more internal, the more it resembles something both the fear and the something "under water." Neat observation.