Almost Random Notes, Part 6
1. Not to go all Galway Kinnell on you, but I'm making some McCann's Irish Oatmeal for breakfast. I am not really an oatmeal person, but it is supposed to be good for one's cholesterol and though mine is (amazingly) low, it never hurts to work at it. Heart-wise, I figure on balancing a bowl of oatmeal this morning against a grilled steak tonight.
As far as oatmeal goes, McCann's is pretty good.
This means that you, dear reader, are in the role of Galway's imaginary breakfast companion, John Keats.
2. Not quite a year ago, Marcia had a lobe of her thyroid removed and it proved to be cancerous. She is okay for the moment, but must take medication that both suppresses the operation of (what is left of) her thyroid and replaces the hormones, etc., normally produced by the gland. The principal difficulty lies in getting her on the proper dosage. The wrong amounts can render her "hyperthyroid" (too much medication) or "hypothyroid" (too little). Neither situation is good, (the thyroid helps regulate a person's mood and energy levels) but insufficient suppression is a particular problem for those with thyroid cancer, since it can reactivate the thyroid (or any remaining thyroid cells in the case of a complete removal), which risks the reactivation of the cancer. Anyway, there is a growing body of medical literature which suggests that not all generic thyroid replacement drugs are equally effective and that these differences among drugs pose particular problems for cancer patients. So we are going to try to get her on what has been rated as the most effective medication and get a "dispense as written" order from her physician, so that the pharmacy and the insurance company cannot switch her to a generic. I am not a physician (Keats: "Well, I am!") but if you are in a similar situation, or know someone who is on thyroid replacement medication for any reason, you may want to check this out.
3. Keats: "Mmmlf! (*slurp!*) Good porridge!"
4. I enjoyed the article in yesterday's New York Times about our old pal, Jim Harrison.The video segment on the NYT website was a nice touch-- I wanted to yell, "Hey, Linda!" when Jim's wife walked on-screen. It's good to see Jim getting around, but sad that he does not seem well. It's hard to think of Jim Harrison as an old man, (he's 69, according to the article) though time passes and he warned us often enough that the day would come. I guess I will always see him as the figure in his '80's-era poem, "The Theory & Practice of Rivers":
The river is as far as I can move
from the world of numbers: I'm all
for full retreats, escapes, a 47 yr. old runaway.
"Gettin' too old to run away," I wrote
but not quite believing this option is grey.
I stare into the deepest pool of the river
which holds the mystery of a cellar to a child,
and think of those two track roads that dwindle
into nothing in the forest...
For my money, "The Theory & Practice of Rivers" is one of the great longer poems of the past 50 years. I suppose it isn't necessary for me to make more extravagant claims for the poem (and for Harrison's work in general) because the passage of time will eventually sort this out. Still, you may want to take a look at The Shape of the Journey: New & Collected Poems (Copper Canyon, 2000)--which includes "Theory & Practice," to get a measure of what I'm talking about. You may also like his latest collection, Saving Daylight (Copper Canyon, 2006).
5. I'm reading the late Lynda Hull's Collected Poems (Greywolf Press, 2006). Lynda Hull was a genius and a brilliant poet. I distinctly remember how sad I was in 1994 when I heard that she was gone. I saw her read at Western Michigan Univiersity not long before her death in that mysterious car accident. She was an absolutely compelling reader. I remember that she read "Fortunate Traveler," (contained in The Only World, her final--posthumous--collection) a poem I had originally seen--and been knocked out by--in the Iowa Review. I remember she was leaning on a cane as she read (this, because of an injury she had suffered in another car accident!) and that she spoke almost sideways to the audience, often moving her free hand through the air.
Such a small, brave, fragile, fierce creature.
I have no idea what happened to my copies of her books Star Ledger and The Only World, so it is good to have everything of hers together in one place.
6. Keats! Pass the cream, would you, old boy?
7. I am also just starting Dante: Poet of the Secular World (New York Review of Books Classics, 2007)* by Erich Auerbach (1892-1957). The Introduction by Michael Dirda was published in the New York Review of Books on January 11, 2007, and the book looked interesting. Not to sound like an idiot, (Keats: "Oh? Why stifle yourself at this point?") but I'd never heard of Aurbach before reading Dirda's essay. So I also ordered a copy of Aurbach's most well-known work (that is, to everyone but me, it seems!), Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, which was originally published in 1946. That book hasn't yet arrived.
8. I was thinking about John Milton the other day... (Keats: "Please God! Not onto Milton again, are we?") Seriously. There is this Miltonic thread that runs through Figured Dark and the good blind poet actually appears in two of that collection's poems. Anyway, I was thinking of what Mark Van Doren wrote...(Keats: "So, you were actually thinking about someone else thinking about Milton. Isn't that a bit attenuated?") Perhaps. Anyway, Van Doren suggests that Milton failed badly with "Paradise Lost" and failed for many reasons. Among them:
"His Eden is not so interesting as it ought to be. Satan out argues God. God is a dull dictator, and the absence of character in Adam is something we notice too often. He is the hero, but Satan, because he is more attractive, has been thought to be. Milton's catalogue of the things born into the world with sin––the seasons, wind, weather, war, the rebellion of beasts, death, women, disease, and history––is a catalogue of all that poetry knows, and it kindles the reader as Eve's bower never did. Nor can Milton escape the conclusion that in the long run our experience of the Fall has built within us, if we are virtuous, another paradise, and 'happier far.' These are some of the things in 'Paradise Lost' that work against its author's aim."**
That is probably all true. But still, I think there is something magnificent about Milton's failure; perhaps because he persisted long after it must have been clear to him that the project was not turning out as planned. There is something so poignant and brave about his determination to go on "justifying the ways of God to men" in the face of what must have become so obvious halfway through the effort.
Keats: "Are you talking about that speech you made me watch Tuesday night?"
Me: "Definitely not!"
9. I did get some good news last week regarding my eyes. I have an appointment in mid-May at the Carver Family Center for Macular Degeneration at the University of Iowa, one of the top research and treatment facilities in the world for retinal disease. I will be meeting with a low-vision specialist and with an opthalmalogist who is interested in working with writers. I'm hoping my follow-up with my local retinologist in April will generate enough data (along with whatever they find at Iowa) that the doctors at Iowa will be able to provide me with a short-to-medium-term prognosis. I mean, I know that the overall situation is hopeless--there is no cure for this and not much in the way of treatment options-–and I know that I will eventually be nearly sightless. But it would be helpful if I just knew how soon that will come. My vision has deteriorated so rapidly in the past several months that I'm thinking I have two, at best three years of functional sight.*** If all that can be done is to confirm that and help me acclimate to what's happening, I will be much happier, I think.
Here is a link:
At least I made an attempt do something. It was the best idea I could come up with.
Keats: "Yes. So as I understand it, your wife has cancer and you are going blind."
Keats: "And you have two children, ages 3 and 5."
Me: "Yes; and two adult children. And three dogs and two cats, but who's counting?"
Keats: "And you are 53."
Keats: "And a poet."
Keats: "And you live here among them all, with your many thousand books in this...this simple artisan's cottage, shall we say?"
Me (after pause): "Yes."
Keats: "Ha! Good man! Now please, if you would, kindly pass the sugar."
*Originally published in 1929.
**In The Noble Voice: A Study of Ten Great Poems (Henry Holt and Company, 1946), Pp. 125-126.
***Almost no one gets AMD at age 53. And for whatever reason, mine seems peculiarly aggressive. My retinologist has been professional but not encouraging about my prospects.