Happy Poetry Friday!
It’s nice to be back in Virginia after a wonderful visit with family and friends in Hawai’i. I think I chatted and chewed enough to last me at least a year – quite a change from my usual quiet, solitary life. I admit to suffering from a little Poetry Friday withdrawal, so I’m anxious to remedy that today.
In line with my current Fall for Restaurants theme, I’m sharing this radiant gem by Amy Lowell. A proponent of the Imagist movement, she hailed from upper crust New England society and cut quite the figure in her time (a woman of substantial girth who enjoyed puffing on a good cigar). In addition to her choice of subject matter, I am quite taken with this particular poem because:
1) It nicely exemplifies the primary criteria for imagist poetry: use of common, everyday language, presentation of a specific image, use of unrhymed cadence (also known as polyphonic prose). It is indeed “poetry that is hard and clear, never blurred nor indefinite.”
2) Rice pudding ☺.
I like the “Study in Whites” approach; I’m happy to enter Lowell’s set piece rendered in glorious whites and ivories with green, red, orange, and silver highlights. Her succinct description of the sights and sounds of the lunch room fairly sparkles. There is the comparison to magnolia petals at the beginning, the unfulfilled chairs opening to receive at the end. The spring magnolia contrasts the “snow-peaks of chipped sugar,” and the progression of wax-white, chalk-white, vitreous-white, green-white, and grey-white rhythmically unfolds in a lovely cascade of sound echoing sense.
Now I suppose you’re expecting me to extol the virtues of rice pudding. I confess it was never part of my upbringing; the mere thought of mixing cooked rice with milk almost makes me gag. But alas, I married into rice pudding (I’m sure there are worse things). Len is so enamoured with it, that in the absence of proper pudding, he will pour milk on cooked rice and inhale it like it was the best dessert in the world. Blurgh.
In all other ways, he is practically perfect.
I will gladly read him this poem in lieu of either making rice pudding and/or watching him eat it (thanks, Amy). She has included not one, but two orders of the stuff near the end. With other types of comfort food (oyster stew, cornbeef hash, frankfurters, and chicken-pie), Lowell has succeeded in creating a most satisfying poetic feast. Secret: Len always uses the tiniest spoon in the kitchen when eating pudding (an English teaspoon), just to make it last longer. Perhaps this is the very same spoon that falls upon the floor with its “invisible zigzags of silver.”
Savor this poem, small spoonful by small spoonful:
THOMPSON’S LUNCH ROOM — GRAND CENTRAL STATION
by Amy Lowell
STUDY IN WHITES
Floor, ceiling, walls.
Over the pavement
Polished to cream surfaces
By constant sweeping.
The big room is coloured like the petals
Of a great magnolia,
And has a patina
Of flower bloom
Which makes it shine dimly
Under the electric lamps.
Chairs are ranged in rows
Like sepia seeds
The chalk-white spot of a cook’s cap
Moves unglossily against the vaguely bright wall —
Dull chalk-white striking the retina like a blow
Thru the wavering uncertainty of steam.
Vitreous-white of glasses with green reflections,
Ice-green carboys, shifting — greener, bluer — with the jar of moving water.
Jagged green-white bowls of pressed glass
Rearing snow-peaks of chipped sugar
Above the lighthouse-shaped castors
Of grey pepper and grey-white salt.
Grey-white placards: “Oyster Stew, Cornbeef Hash, Frankfurters”:
Marble slabs veined with words in meandering lines.
Dropping on the white counter like horn notes
Through a web of violins,
The flat yellow lights of oranges,
The cube-red splashes of apples,
In high plated épergnes.
The electric clock jerks every half-minute:
“Coming! — Past!”
“Three beef-steaks and a chicken-pie,”
Bawled through a slide while the clock jerks heavily.
A man carries a china mug of coffee to a distant chair.
Two rice puddings and a salmon salad
Are pushed over the counter;
The unfulfilled chairs open to receive them.
A spoon falls upon the floor with the impact of metal striking stone,
And the sound throws across the room
Sharp, invisible zigzags
photo by diego_carolyn.
When it’s creamy like this, rice pudding looks kind of yummy and reminds me of tapioca (which I love). Just don’t let me see those individual grains of rice (which are fine by themselves, but should never go near a drop of milk).
In case you are of the rice pudding persuasion (I won’t hold it against you), here is a good recipe. I hope you don’t mind if I close my eyes while you eat it.
Sample the other delicious poetic offerings around the blogosphere by checking in with Laura Salas at Writing the World for Kids!
Copyright © 2009 Jama Rattigan of jama rattigan’s alphabet soup. All rights reserved.