Saturday, February 20, 2010

going subterranean

The other day the former assistant of Jacques Cousteau, Susan Schiefelbein, came to one of my journalism classes to speak about her part in writing The Human, The Orchid, and The Octupus: Exploring and Conserving our Natural World. She was an amazing speaker, and hearing her talk about her travels all over the world with Cousteau was extremely interesting. I have had an affinity for Cousteau since I was in 2nd grade, when there was a set of children's books about explorers in my homeroom. The book about Cousteau was always the most popular in my class, probably due to the fact that the cover had a picture of him swimming next to an octupus in a coral reef. Cousteau fascinated me, and I wanted to be a marine-bioligist for years afterward so I could have the kind of adventures that he did. I envisioned my career as swimming through acquatic wonderlands with schools of brightly-colored fish following me. Being able to listen to stories about him for an hour and a half from one of his closest friends made my week.

once I spoke the language of the flowers,
once I understood each word the caterpillar said,
once I smiled in secret at the gossip of the starlings,
and shared a conversation with the housefly
in my bed.
once I heard and answered all the questions
of the crickets,
and joined the crying of each falling dying
flake of snow,
once I spoke the language of the flowers
how did it go?
how did it go?

Listen to the mustn'ts, child. Listen to the don'ts.

Listen to the shouldn'ts, the impossibles, the won'ts.

Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me...

Anything can happen, child.

Anything can be.

Shel Silverstein


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  2. Dear Carolyn Writer,
    Your latest essay made me think about one of the great poetic examples of Imagism. In a sense, the Ezra Pound poem "In A Station Of The Metro" funhouse-mirrors the title of Cousteau's book you referenced. This poem has wildly influenced me. I've written a few of my own versions using a Chicago El-stop as the setting or Walt Whitman's study or a Greyhound bus depot in the Delta. Here's the Pound masterpiece:

    In a Station of the Metro

    The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
    Petals on a wet, black bough.

    Damn! That little poem is gargantuan. Damn! In two lines plus a title used as a line, Pound sets a bad-ass scene and presents as his subjects: technology (the train), the spirit world (apparition), humans and animals (faces), and nature (the tree). They're all walking around intertwined in the train station in Paris. It's all there. What else could be used as a subject? Hmm... Ah-ha! Underwater creatures! In our case, the octopus. Though Pound does use water with the bough of the tree being wet presumably from rain, let's go under the surface for our mimicry. Cousteau's version of the poem may be written like this, doing a little scansion and giving attention to the same syllable count:

    Off a Dive-Boat in the Ocean

    The apparition of these eight-arms in the sea;
    Orchids on a grooved, white stem.

    Thanks for the inspiration that made my morning bright,
    Walt Reader

  3. What a fantastically thought-out parallel. I like how they are all intertwined in the Parisian metro station. Thank you.