We returned on Saturday from a truly wonderful vacation in Los Angeles. I could say many wonderful things about our time there, but today, I'll share one particular souvenir.
On our last full day, HC and P and I went to Venice Beach and walked the long pavement lined with hippies, musicians and street vendors. It made us feel very exotic and dangerous to see medical marijuana advertised via sandwich-boards and stroll casually by oxygen bars in that bohemian grunge that is just gritty enough to emphasize the joys of clean sheets and shampoo. It was a beautiful clear day, a little chilly. The sand was clean, the sea calm and the dramatic outline of the mountains in the distance reminded us that despite the lightness of the air and sand and water, the Earth is indeed quite heavy.
I was interested but sleepy, and as we wandered I looked for a place where we could sit inside, looking out with a view of the ocean and drink coffee. This was a surprisingly difficult challenge, and the quest inspired us further and further down the sidewalk (not a bad thing, considering all the wonderful things to spy along the way). Finally, we reached a promising looking place the three of us ducked in to be seated inside an outdoor seating area that was temporarily sheltered with maroon and white striped canvas walls and plastic windows that made everything outside seem to wobble as we looked through them.
By sheer serendipity, the restaurant turned out to be The Sidewalk Cafe, which I had read about both in an English class in college and some of my California literature while planning the trip. The building that houses the restaurant has a vivid history and shares a roof with the independent Small World Books, one of the best bookstores I've seen. After a few onion rings and iced coffees, we went in a poked around the shop -- HC to play with the resident bookstore feline, and me to find some reading material for our five hour plane trip home.
I picked up two books: a volume of collected poems by Dylan Thomas, and "The Best of It", a new collection of poems by Kay Ryan, current United States Poet Laureate.
As a side note, I'd like to point out that I have looked for Ryan's poetry in many a Borders and Barnes and Noble to no avail. I'm not very widely read in poetry, despite my love of it, but she is my absolute favorite nonetheless. Small World Books had her book prominently displayed, along with copies of some of her earlier published collections.
I've since been sucked into reading poem after poem, and then going back and rereading the ones I already read. Ryan's poems aren't long, but they pack a huge amount of meaning into sharp, witty and easily accessible language. I love that they aren't obscure academic experiments wandering off into the ethers, and neither are they brutal confessions and self-examination.
I'll share with you one of my favorites:
A Hundred Bolts of Satin, by Kay Ryan
have to lose
and the mind
all the way back.
to have been
to have been
life: a crate of
a dozen dozen
bolts of satin --
I'm not going to kill the effect by analyzing all the aspects of this poem that inspire me. However, there are a few things I'll say. First and foremost, this poem pretty much describes me in a nutshell and what better way to charm an audience than to give it personal and amusing attention. Second, the concise but light nature of the poem itself is just so wonderful. There aren't any spare words or concepts -- and when it closes, there's this feeling of completeness, like everything that needs to be said has been so and anything more would be superfluous. To me, this aspect of her writing is the most inspiring.
But inspiration is uncomfortable sometimes. It can arouse such a distressing restlessness. The power of the inspiration itself is like a reprimand of what little has been accomplished so far.
It's one thing to be inspired to learn to sew. There are instructions. One learns.
The call to wisdom, precision and wit prove more difficult to answer.