Friday, April 4, 2014

Poetry Friday: On Knots and Gardens

Knot Garden - Sudeley Castle near Winchecomb, England
April is the cruelest month? I don't think so - not by a long shot. 

In Seattle, all the cherries trees are blooming, ditto the daffodils; little chickadees and even littler nuthatches are chirping and cheeping away at the birdfeeders around town. Neighbors see each other working in their yards - we say hi and catch up with all the neighborhood news. April, cruel? No.

February  - now that's cruel: drippy and gray, and grayer, and grayest, averaging only about nine hours of daylight every 24 hours (which means 15 hours without) and all the deciduous trees just tangles of aggressively bare branches. We huddle in the house.

By the beginning of April, though, those same branches are covered with blossoms; by the end of April with sweet, dazzling leaves. We begin to remember that the sky is blue from time to time, and that there is something called color - yellows and pinks and greens, oh, my!

In honor of gardens everywhere, I'm going to post one of my own poems, the only one I have with a garden in it (oh, that's not so - I can think of another one, but it describes our yard and shed in December - definitely not an April feeling....)

The garden in my poem is Italian. I began to think of writing the poem after standing in the stairwell at the Villa Medici in Rome and being transfixed by the gardens outside. Later, I went to Tivoli, and that was that - the poem came. All around Italy there are examples of the Italian Renaissance garden - many include knot gardens. A knot garden is a special kind of space - tremendously constrained in some ways, symmetrical, orderly, beautiful. Still, it's playful. I tried to catch both those aspects. [The columns look a little wavier than they do in Word.] Here it is, with an explanation about how to approach it below: 

Knot Garden

Order      and   dis-                    order    and   dis-
order       and   blessed            order     and   dice
martyrs  and   missed             rollers   and   ditched
turns       and   moist                rulers    and   torched
gardens  and   molto               portals  and   porpoises,
grazies   and    sotto                 putti      and   dormant
voces      and    grottoed          popes    and   duomos,
vaults     and    golden             doves    and   the forno’s
altars     and   cloven               loaves   and   cell-phoned
satyrs    and   cleavage,           lovers   and   losers.

How to read it: I tried to echo the restrictive nature of the knot garden design by making two sections on each side of a central larger "path" which runs down the middle. You start by reading the stanza on the left - the three-word lines - with the words of the "rows" on each side of the "and" chiming off the one before it. It's not really rhyming...more like morphing...finding some key sound and changing it, the way an echo changes the original word.. For example, the second "row" on the left reads dis-/blessed/missed/moist/molto/sotto/grottoed/golden/cloven/cleavage. I think each of the four rows (the and's are not really "rows" - they function the way a little lavender hedge does in a real knot garden) is fairly successful at that. There are also rows across for each stanza, and if you read across this way (for example, if you read "Order and dis /order and blessed / martyrs and missed / turns and moist / gardens and molto / grazies...") it actually all makes sense. You can't read all the way across - that is,  you can't "jump the path" that separates the two stanzas of the poem-garden, but once you're finished with one "side" of the garden, you can go back up to the top and continue reading down the other "side." It's a puzzle-garden, in some ways - at least that's how I felt when I was putting it together. But I hope the effort behind it disappears, and that it reads as knotted but graceful. It was hard to grow this particular garden - but most gardens require a little planning, a little digging, some dirt under the nails, some water, some waiting, some effort, don't they? If you would rather plant a knot garden than write a poem about one, here's how.

By the way, I am suddenly reminded of something that's also knotted but graceful: If you haven't yet seen Paolo Sorrentino's La Grande Belleza (The Great Beauty) then definitely rent it (it's out on DVD now) and watch. It won this year's Oscar for Best Foreign Film and it is a WONDERFUL movie - the hero drifts and winds his way up and around and back, the music does the same, as does the camera, the Tiber River, the daylight, the nightlife, and life in general.  The writing is witty and intelligent, the actors (the great Toni Servillo) perfect, and the cinematography takes your breath away.  And if Rome ever got into your bloodstream - or if you've ever longed to be adrift or be a flaneur in the city -  this movie will give you the fix you need.
Still from La Grande Belleza
 Here's a long and languid montage of scenes from it - especially lovely is the scene of the children running in the garden. An Italian Renaissance-style garden, in fact. Gardens, everywhere, gardens.
Head over to Amy VanDerwater's blog, The Poem Farm, to see what other people have posted for the first Poetry Friday of National Poetry Month. 


  1. This poem is layered in so many wonderful ways! I love all of the gorgeous words and reading them all of the ways. Reading, too, about how to plant a knot garden is inspiring. I am hoping to just be a bit of a better weeder this summer, and reading this knocked my socks off. Happy Poetry Friday!

  2. So fun to read this in different ways--I admire the way you put it together like a puzzle.

  3. I first read your poem straight across. I enjoyed it even more after learning about your intricate puzzle-planning process. Now I'm tempted to try a knot garden--thanks!

  4. Wow,just WOW. Julie, what an amazing poem! I think I need to close my eyes for a minute. :)

  5. Now I see that it was those chickadees and nuthatches that inspired your Five for Friday today! Now you've inspired me with your knot garden poem-- how very, very clever you are, Julie.

  6. Such an ingenious form and structure and wonderfully unique voice. Thank you for sharing this!

  7. I couldn't help but snort when I accidentally "jumped the path" on those last lines and got this:

    satyrs and cleavage, lovers and losers."

    I love that your poem was about the garden and ALL that could be found in it, living and non-living, ancient and modern.

    Fun form to match the topic!!

  8. Glad you all enjoyed the convolutions and entanglements of this. For those of you who "jumped the path," I had fun doing that myself - it might not quite make sense to read across both sections, but then that means you're in the territory of nonsense (cell-phoned satyrs right!) and I do like being there once in awhile, if only for a quick smile.

  9. This will be read several times over the next hour or so. I'm a slow one as far as puzzling things out are concerned, but I've enjoyed the first reading.

    I just ordered La Grande Belleza for the library and I'll be sure to watch it as soon as it's processed.

    April is showing no color here, but at least the snow piles are almost gone.

  10. I love this, Julie, kind of like a cleave poem but knot (couldn't resist). I like how the words morph - like word association games.
    Do you have a knot garden?

  11. No, no knot garden, B.J. - it's all in my head (definitely a few knots and tangles there, but less dirt under the fingernails!) I'm going to go look up "cleave poem" - a new term for me! By the way, you and J.J. Close are tied at exactly 285 votes right now over at the March Madness Final Four round - I have my fingers crossed for you! No matter how it shakes out, congratulations on getting to the Final Four - that's quite an accomplishment (especially with words like "incontinent"!)