Day 25 – 30 Days, 30 Readings: Edna St. Vincent Millay, “Portrait by a Neighbor”

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Edna St. Vincent Millay (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I love used book stores, and if the used book store has a coffee shop, I will think that I have somehow passed from this life into my great reward. I remember my ex did not like going shopping for books or shoes with me, the shoes because I am hard to fit, and the books because I never want to leave the store. Any other shopping experience for me is nothing less than a hunting trip. I know what I want; I go in and get it; I get out.  But after a leisurely time in a used bookstore one day some time ago, I picked up the copy of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s book, A Few Figs From Thistles, the one pictured in the video. It’s the expanded edition with a few poems not published in the first 1920 version. The lady at the counter looked at me over her glasses when I handed her the book.

She said, “I don’t like her.” I wanted to respond, “I don’t care.” But I smiled and gave her my two dollars and fifty cents. I have heard Millay called a hedonist, and according to the Poetry Foundation, the publication of A Few Figs from Thistles “caused consternation among some of her critics and provided the basis for the so-called ‘Millay legend’ of madcap youth and rebellion.”

But what I like about her is her honestly, no false nobility, no taking herself too seriously. Whatever she may have been, Millay was, it seems, truthful, and her satire and bite seemed tamed with a heart of kindness in her work, as evidenced in poems like “Ricuerdo.” You can find the text of the entire little booklet at Digital Library.

The images in the video are from my balcony and back porch, and the ugly little courtyard that I am trying to make homey.


BEFORE she has her floor swept
Or her dishes done,
Any day you’ll find her
A-sunning in the sun!

It’s long after midnight
Her key’s in the lock,
And you never see her chimney smoke
Till past ten o’clock!

She digs in her garden
With a shovel and a spoon,
She weeds her lazy lettuce
By the light of the moon.

She walks up the walk
Like a woman in a dream,
She forgets she borrowed butter
And pays you back cream!

Her lawn looks like a meadow,
And if she mows the place
She leaves the clover standing
And the Queen Anne’s lace!

Bonus Track: Frank O’Hara’s “Poem”

Frank O'Hara postcard [scan]

Frank O'Hara postcard (Photo credit: m kasahara)

Actually there are several poems by Frank O’Hara entitled “Poem.” This is just one of my favorites. Since I did a newer Frank reading last night, I thought I’d dig into the old cloth bag and see what I read in the past by him that I could share with you. The video was crudely made off my laptop two years ago when I was still a little new at this video making venture. The dislikes again were the result, I think, of a political or religious discussion elsewhere on YouTube. I really don’t recall. But a dear poetry reading YouTube friend of mine once said, a little controversy is good for you. In any case, having some a few stupid enemies may be as helpful as having a few good friends?

I should point out that while recording this two of my sons were laughing on either side of me just out of camera range.

Below is the text.

by Frank O’Hara
I don’t know as I get what D. H. Lawrence
is driving at
when he writes of lust springing from
the bowels
or do I
it could be the bowels of the earth
to lie flat on the earth in spring, summer
or winter is sexy
you feel it stirring deep down slowly up to you
and sometimes it gives you a little nudge in
the crotch
that’s very sexy
and when someone looks sort of raggedy and
dirty like Paulette Goddard
in Modern Times it’s exciting, it
isn’t usual or attractive
perhaps D.H.L. is thinking of the darkness
certainly the crotch is light
and I suppose
any part of us that can only be seen by others
is a dark part
I feel that about the small of my back, too
and the nape of my neck
they are dark
they are erotic zones as in the tropics
whereas Paris is straightforward and bright
about it all
a coal miner has kind of a sexy occupation
though I’m sure it’s painful down there
but so is lust
of light we can never have enough
but how would we find it
unless the darkness urged us on and into it
I am dark
except when now and then it all comes clear
and I can see myself
as others luckily sometimes see me
in a good light