Today I am hosting Celia Lisset Alvarez, a wonderful poet from Miami Florida.
Her blog location is: http://writingwithcelia.blogspot.com/
Her post for my blog is "Poetry of the Urban Pastoral" :
Poetry of the Urban Pastoral
Having lived all my life in urban Miami, I often feel at odds with the majority of poets, who continue to find inspiration in pastoral themes and landscapes that I can only imagine. How does one know the names of the flowers that grow in the back yard, the names of trees and birds, the sound of silence, if the back yard is paved in concrete and separated from a busy street by an aluminum fence?
It might be odd to think of Miami as an unnatural landscape; after all, isn’t it a tropical paradise? Down here, don’t we all roll out of our hammocks and into the ocean, and spend our days sipping mojitos on the sand? If one thinks of Miami apart from the beach at all, it’s only to imagine pastel-colored Art Deco hotels lined up against the sand like sharps and flats on a keyboard. In reality, however, Miami-Dade County is a vast urban and suburban sprawl where the majority of spaces are crowded and paved. The beaches and certain other oases, like Coral Gables or Coconut Grove, do little to mitigate the overwhelming traffic jams of the Palmetto Expressway or the cemented front lawns of Hialeah.
Where’s my Tintern Abbey? Such a landscape changes one’s approach to poetry. I don’t often write poems that I feel can be described as “contemplative,” since contemplation is a mode I seldom experience. The poems of the city are not necessarily what one would call antipastoral, either, since when one does find openings to the natural world it’s difficult not to sentimentalize them.
I prefer the term “urban pastoral,” a way of finding meaning in the urban
spaces that surround us.
Sunset at Antonio Maceo Park, in the heart of Miami.
Here is a wonderful example of the urban pastoral from Miami poet Campbell McGrath, an excerpt from “Nights on Planet Earth”:
Sometimes, not often but repeatedly, the past invades my dreams in the form of a
familiar neighborhood I can no longer locate,
a warren of streets lined with dark cafés and unforgettable bars,
a place where I can sing by heart every song on every jukebox,
a city that feels the way the skin of an octopus looks pulse-changing from color to color,
laminar and fluid and electric,
a city of shadow-draped churches, of busses on dim avenues, or riverlights, or
canyonlands, but always a city, and wonderful, and lost.
Sometimes it resembles Amsterdam, students from the ballet school like fanciful
gazelles shooting pool in pink tights and soft, shapeless sweaters,
or Madrid at 4AM, arguing the 18th Brumaire with angry Marxists, or Manhattan
when the snowfall crowns every trash-can king of its Bowery stoop,
or Chicago, or Dublin, or some ideal city of the imagination, as in a movie you can
neither remember entirely nor completely forget,
barracuda-faced men drinking sake like yakuza in a Harukami novel, women sipping
champagne or arrack, the rattle of beaded curtains in the back,
the necklaces of Christmas lights reflected in raindrops on windows, the taste of
peanuts and their shells crushed to powder underfoot,
always real, always elusive, always a city, and wonderful, and lost. All night I wanderalone, searching in vain for the irretrievable.
Here you see the city landscapes imbued with possibilities, much as natural landscapes are in the pastoral tradition. Though he doesn’t mention Miami in this poem, one can see here the poetry that emerges from a life in cities—McGrath has lived in Chicago and Washington D.C. as well as in Miami.
In my own writing, I don’t necessarily always find the redemptive qualities of this city, nor do I idealize it the ways other do. Yes, it is a tropical paradise, a multicultural capital. But it is also poor and dirty, congested and contested. Nevertheless, it defines us in both positive and negative ways. I drive through Hialeah, Miami’s sister city, often, on my way to work in Miami Gardens or to visit my in-laws. Some days the drive is depressing:
All day long the traffic groans
like a birthing woman,
all day long and all night, too.
This is the city that never sleeps,
that works all day.
The old men, too tired to stand or sit,
wait on their haunches
for the liquor store to open.
In a few hours they turn into beer bottlesgirdled in brown paper bags, scratched-off
lotto tickets, spit thick as bird shit.
They go back to the dog track,
to Mango Hill, to their daughter’s houses.
The women sigh like bus brakes.
There are no girls in Hialeah.
The factories stack up like cardboard boxes.
All day long they make uniforms and
Every corner has a clinic,
a convenience store, a gas station, a fast-food pit.
At other times, however, these very details can be seen another way, and the city’s industry becomes a testament to its motto, “La cuidad que progresa”—the city that progresses.
photo: Siesta Beach, Sarasota, Florida
long wait on Midnight Pass Road to get to Siesta Beach on weekends. We can be like the egrets, and enjoy the patch of grass, or we can plant an umbrella near the water, and claim a patch of sand. Preferably, a little of both.