See J.C.'s Feature on Lithuanian poetry, including eleven well-known poets in Lithuania in Winter 2002.

For J.C.'s other columns on Lithuania:

Lilacs and a Resinous Will: Poetry Spring in Lithuania

International Poetry Festival


For J.C.'s look at the aftermath of September in Spring 2002

Her debut column in Spring 2001

For J.C.'s translations from the Spanish of Ivón Gordon Vailakis

For another review by J.C. Todd


J.C. Todd's work can be found online at:

"Why I Teach Poetry," an on-line supplement to the PBS special Fooling with Words with Bill Moyers, Fall, 1999 is located at


J.C. Todd is a Contributing Editor of The Drunken Boat


Email J.C. Todd

riverviews At water's edge is how I locate my life: Great South Bay marshes and beaches of Long Island; peninsula of Pittsburgh narrowed by the Monongahela and the Allegheny rivers; bank of the Susquehanna in Harrisburg; and now the Delaware's levee in Philadelphia, the Schuylkill at my back. As a poet, too, I've stood to the side of the mainstream, in the marshy detritus of language from which new language emerges, myself a river and reiver, splitting and splicing, plundering and rescuing, making a language of my mother tongue, being made by it. So, a reiver's view of riverviews, this column of musings on language and poetry.


By J.C. Todd

***** All winter I read from collections on my study shelves, picking through poems as if picking through a larder when ordinary household fare failed to pique interest. It wasn't exotic flavors I was seeking but a catholicity of taste as reminder of the reach of the word, how it gathers up the world. Reading became an act of retrieval, of practicing memory, not only revisiting favorite or long-forgotten images but also recalling the weather or where I had been sitting when I read that poem or first heard that poet read. I was fitting the bitten morsels back into the apple, reassembling the core of the world.
***** Now summer on the coastal plain with its peculiar, stunning heat and long evenings of massing shadows under sycamores and copper beeches. Now the season that assures “there is no lost feast at the bottom of memory.”1 Picnic time. My pleasure is in the reading room, not the kitchen, so it's a potluck picnic with poets and you, dear readers, as guests.
***** We'll gather in “the corny backyard. . . , a four course dinner under American trees,”2 or, perhaps, we shouldn't count the courses since guests will be arriving catch-as-catch-can from mid-afternoon until star-rise. From “the dining room abandoned to the silence of mahogany,”3 we'll drag out the heavy table and chairs and grandmother's silver plate--forks that “must have crept right out of hell,” old spoons, “polished to an evil glitter,”4 and “a knife all blade.”5 One knife like that will suffice.
***** For children and nostalgics, “what a bang to start with--lime jello on lettuce.”6 For sophisticates, a spring salad of “bitter dandelion, onion grass, asparagus that makes your urine reek,”7 seasoned with “wild oregano fuming,”8 and another of “first cut sprouts,. . .salt soft cheese, and the tender leaves of crinkly lettuces,”9 tossed with “fresh basil leaves. . . , potent green stems to airway knowing.” 10 Beside the salads, a “green clay pot full of vegetables,”11 a steamer of “trout seasoned with slivers of ginger, two sprigs of green onion, and sesame oil.”12 and a moon-shaped plate of “cucumbers and apples and pears.”13 Across the table, breads “invented on the nonchalant yeast”14 and, to accompany “well-chilled vodka, herring in olive oil.”15
***** By evening appetites are heating up. Bring on the widower's potluck, the “ham saved for Christmas.”16 Bring on the wild game “garnished. . .with red pepper & basil as it cooked with a halo of herbs & sweet potatoes.”17 Bring on the “pig's ears. . . , blanched, singed, tossed in a pot, boiled, kept hot, scraped, served, garnished with thyme”18 and the savory “wet meat of the steamed dumpling.“19 That “big white bucket of panfish sitting on ice,”20 put it on the patio near the sizzling grill where the chef has “tossed down a great chopping block into the firelight, and laid upon it the back of a sheep, and one of a fat goat. . .and cut it well into pieces and spitted them,” and, for the honor of all poets, “sprinkled the meats with divine salt.”21
***** Spitted roasts spatter; glasses sweat; a child whines, “Why didn't you bring me any chocolates?”22 when “jellybeans, honeycomb & chocolate kisses”23 magically appear. At this picnic, no sweet is vulgar, not “the thick whipped cream like a froth of hope and the perfect strawberries,”24 nor the “heart red, sexual red, wet neon red. . . , exotic. . .maraschino cherries.”25 We are not “living in the orchard and being hungry;”26 we are feasting on “banana and pear, plump apple, gooseberry,”27 and ume--plum “often served shriveled, soaked in some attar or other, an odd shade of red.”28 In the garden, a few little girls “dance the orange. . . .become sisters with the pure, resistant rind.”29 One “nestles with chameleons, eating melons,”30 ephemeral as the fantasy of grape sherbet, “swirled snow, gelled light. . . , just how we imagined lavender would taste.”31
***** We have been transported although no one's smoking dope. For those who prefer their steaks altered, someone is offering a platter of “oysters. . .swished with Red Tide.”32 Another has brought “a bowl of ambrosia. . . mixed and ready,”33 and someone else “a huge barrel of wine, but no cups.”34 For the conservative, “mason jars of tea,”35 in which are floating “lemons gold as the balls of Etruscan lions.”36 The dark lady comparing lions and lemons sips “a silky martini, chilled from its small bout with the ice.”37 Over salad, all she ate, she mentioned that the baby California peppers “hang in clustered pairs like newly hatched sex organs.”38 After dark, she'll “fill a milk jug with beer”39 and slip into the boxwood maze with a cowboy poet who spurs have never urged a horse. Their tryst might call up censure were it not that “pleasure is for you. Joy is for itself.”40
***** Unlike other picnics, there has been no lightning,41 except “the lightning-flash of meeting,”42 and no arguing except “only how much salt to eat at last.”43 Because “a poet. . .never speaks directly,”44 we converse in “a language not disguised by etiquette. . .and not reduced to table chatter.”45 More wine and we'll begin “to hear inside the maundering drunktalk of drunkards the Presence of the Winemaker.”46
***** By starset most guests have said their goodbyes, taking “the inconsequential roads leading home, full of red wine and fresh peach shortcake.”47 In a backseat, someone's “son full as a tick on Snapple.”48 A few people linger, but the cintronella's burning down. Now for the final grilling: if you “hold the mysteries true,”49 match the dishes and provisions with the poets who offered them through poems.

Potluck Guests and Dishes:

1Robert Ganzo, cited in Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Reverie, trans. Daniel Russell.
2Marianne Boruch, “Memory Biscuit,” View from the Gazebo.
3Ivon Gordon Vailakis, “Diningroom abandoned to mahagony,” Hummingbirds in Exile, trans. J. C. Todd.
4Charles Simic, “Fork,” “Spoon,” Selected Poems.
5Joao Cabral de Melo Neto, A Knife All Blade, trans. Kerry Shawn Keys.
6Marianne Boruch, “Memory Biscuit,” View for the Gazebo.
7James Richardson, “272,” Vectors.
8Olga Broumas, “After Lunch,” Perpetua.
9Philodemos, “Roses are already here,” Poems from the Greek Anthology, trans. Kenneth Rexroth.
10Heather Thomas, “ Wanting,” Practicing Amnesia.
11Anuradha Mahapatra, “To the Mountaintop,” Another Spring, Darkness, trans. Carolyne Wright.
12 Li-Young Lee, “Eating Together,” Rose.
13 Praxilla, Greek Lyric Poetry, trans. Willis Barnstone.
14 Marianne Boruch, “The Funny-looking Biscuit,” Descendant.
15 Czeslaw Milosz, “A Confession,” The Collected Poems.
16 Derek Walcott, Chapter VI, Omeros.
17 Yusef Komunyakaa, “A Good Memory,” Neon Vernacular.
18 Carol Ann Duffy, “Circe,” The World's Wife.
19 Toi Derricotte, “On Stopping Late in the Afternoon for Steamed Dumplings,” Captivity.
20 David Dodd Lee, “A Poem About Bluegills,” Downsides of Fish Culture.
21 Homer, Book IX, Iliad, trans. Richmond Lattimore.
22 Charles Bukowski, Bring Me Your Love.
23 Yusef Komunyakaa, “A Good Memory, Neon Vernacular.
24 Elaine Terranova, “Strawberry Fete,” Damages.
25 Thomas Lux, “Refrigerator, New & Selected Poems.
26 Denise Levertov, “O Taste and See,” O Taste and See.
27 Rainer Maria Rilke, “13,” Sonnets to Orpheus: First Series, trans. A. Poulin, Jr.
28 Eleanor Wilner, “Ume:Plum,” Otherwise.
29 Rainer Maria Rilke, “15,” Sonnets to Orpheus: First Series, trans. A. Poulin, Jr.
30 Heather Thomas, “Altared Pages,” Practicing Amnesia.
31 Rita Dove, “Grape Sherbet,” Museum.
32 James Richardson, “How Things Are: A Suite for Lucretians,” How Things Are.
33 Sappho, Sappho: A Garland, trans. Jim Powell.
34 Rumi, “1319,” Open Secret, trans. John Moyne and Coleman Barks.
35 Ellen Bryant Voigt, “Bright Leaf,” The Lotus Flowers.
36 Derek Walcott, Chapter VII, Omeros.
37 Eleanor Wilner, “How to Get in the Best Magazines,” Reversing the Spell.
38 Maxine Kumin, “Surprises,” Nurture.
39 David Dodd Lee, “Mount Garfield Road,” Downsides of Fish Culture.
40 James Richardson, “336,” Vectors.
41 Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita; Billy Collins, Picnic/Lightning.
42 Jane Cooper, “The Weather of Six Mornings,” The Weather of Six Mornings.
43 Olga Broumas, ”Native,“ Perpetua.
44 W. B. Yeats, cited in Billy Collins, Picnic/Lightning.
45 Czeslaw Milosz, “The Hooks of a Corset,” The Collected Poems.
46 Rumi, “The Churn,” This Longing, trans. Coleman Barks and John Moyne.
47 David Keller, “After Supper,” Land That Wasn't Ours.
48 Dzvinia Orlowsky, “Turnpike Vending Machine,” Edge of House.
49 HD, “The Mysteries: Renaissance Choros,” Collected Poems.