The Orchard on Fire

Just finished Shena Mackay’s “The Orchard on Fire,” a bittersweet and beautifully-writ account of two little girls growing up in 1950s England. Had I not been living in England myself, I wouldn’t have understood half of the English references, but I did, and it’s somehow a funny sensation. Almost as though I know too much now, and there’s no going back. After finishing my MA, I’ll return to the States and Minnesota culture and will no longer be surrounded by West Country accents, Georgian architecture, tea shoppes and pubs. Thankfully, I’ll have pictures and memories and maybe a couple future visits to look forward to, but this experience will have largely stopped. For all my trying I can’t recreate it and that will be that. Hmmm…Mackay has me feeling all melancholy! I guess the only remedy is to make the most of the remaining months. Press it all into memory like a bouquet of pressed flowers.

Yesterday I attended the day-long “Penguin Poetry & The 1960s” conference at the stunning Wills Memorial. Can’t say I knew much of modern poetry before going, or that I suddenly understand poetry after shaking the hand of A. Alvarez (such a lovely man!), but it has me interested and honestly excited to try and “get it.” Listening to Alvarez, a poetry giant for those of you unfamiliar, talk of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath by their first names and relating stories of his friendship with the couple was, for lack of a better word, surreal.  Even someone who has never read a poem by Plath knows who she is. Plath has become a part of our cultural psyche, and it’s easy to forget she was a breathing, living person.

Alvarez said the difference between prose and poetry is that “a poem has to be perfect.” If it’s not, you know it. You can’t stop rearranging, crossing out and crumbling words till it’s right. Whole. Exact. And I think he is absolutely right. Finding the exact words in a world of speed and convenience and finite time takes a discipline most of us don’t have. Or don’t try to have.  Hmmm…just something I’ve been thinking about.

I’ve also been feeling a bit guilty about leaving Bristol for three weeks on Thursday for a bit of traveling (Paris-Nice-Monaco-Venice-Florence-Pisa-Goteborg). Surely this should be someone else’s life! I don’t know why God has been so good to me.

Alright! Back to studying up on T. Hardy.

E.

 

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