Trees in the Concrete, the 11th — and first themed — edition of the Festival of the Trees, appeared yesterday morning at Flatbush Gardener. Xris did a great job of finding articles and blog posts to fit his theme. Also, I and the Bird #48 — “A Field Guide to the Bird Posts” — is fresh this morning at Greg Laden’s blog. (The next edition of I and the Bird will be right here at Via Negativa on May 17! Those of you who know me personally can wipe the coffee off your computer screens now.)
And as long as I’m posting links: fans of my mother’s nature writing can find three new posts from her at the Marcia Bonta and Plummer’s Hollow sites — Saving the Future; Spring wildflowers: back on track; and April Journal Highlights (2).
Almost every morning I have a choice: stay inside and write, or go for a walk. Yesterday, I went for a walk. I was rewarded with a rare daytime sighting of a southern flying squirrel, supposedly our most abundant tree squirrel species here in Pennsylvania but seldom seen because of its nocturnal habits. This one was fleeing a pair of gray squirrels — it wasn’t clear how the altercation started — and landed on a big black locust tree right beside the road.
I didn’t get going until around 10:00 o’clock, but I did so with a great sense of accomplishment, having just solved a fairly complex coding problem on my own. This had to do with the way my recently revamped Shadow Cabinet site displayed in Internet Explorer. In essence, post titles were being messed up by the next page and previous page navigation links, and the fix involved pandering to a proprietary IE property known as “hasLayout,” which I’d never heard of until yesterday and still barely understand. But it occurred to me afterwards, as I started off through the woods, that the feeling of getting way in over my head is very similar to what I experience when I write a poem. In both cases, I really have no idea what I’m doing; I just keep trying different things until something works. The process (or stylesheet) may not be pretty, but as long as the product looks good, who cares?
WordPress has this dumb little slogan, “Code is Poetry.” No, it isn’t. The elegance and simplicity that WordPress coders pride themselves on may possess a certain kind of aesthetic appeal, but they are borne of an utter lack of nuance and ambiguity. Good poetry, by contrast, may or may not adhere to a minimalist aesthetic, but is almost always dedicated to exploring nuance and ambiguity, rather than eliminating it. Such devices as metaphors or puns have no equivalent in the necessarily literalist language of code (although there is a new form of poetry that depends on a detailed knowledge of scripting). All of this probably seems fairly obvious, but the slogan bothers me because it suggests that poetry is, in turn, a type of code — and in fact, I’ll bet that a sizable majority of people who state that they “just don’t understand poetry” are reacting to this very misperception. “Why can’t the poet just say what s/he means?”
Writing code and writing poetry may have a few things in common, though. In both, there’s almost always more than one way of saying something, and the trick is to find the best one. A concern of conscientious web designers these days is to “futureproof” their work: to try and anticipate which tags will fall out of favor as web standards evolve, and to avoid using them so that the page they’re working on will still render properly five or ten years down the road. For poets, something akin to futureproofing occurs when we weigh the extent to which the appreciation of our works depends on a knowledge of local conditions, ephemeral slang expressions, or current events. The anticipated shelf-life for poetry may be a bit longer than for software or web pages, but at some level we must realize that there are no true universals; even the concept of romantic love is a little over 800 years old, and might not be very well understood a millennium from now.
This realization ought to bring us down to earth, but somehow most poets — like many computer geeks — still tend to be rather full of themselves. The power of language at its most suggestive (poetry) and at its most tool-like (commands of any sort) is intoxicating, and power tends to turn people into assholes.
While stalking an ovenbird yesterday morning, I almost stepped on this box turtle. Both creatures are very well camouflaged for a lifetime spent on, near, or — as seems to have been the case with this turtle shortly before I found him — underneath the forest litter. Wildflowers and tree seedlings aren’t the only things pushing their way out of the ground these days.