Tag Archives: poetry

Blue Willow Special

Blue Willow. They are common, everyday dishes. The pattern has been around since the 18th Century, massed produced in various countries, and widely used in diners and restaurants in the 1920s to serve up a hardy, inexpensive meal, commonly called “Blue Plate Special.” The plates are so familiar that unless you’re a collector, you probably wouldn’t give them a second glance at a second-hand shop.

Common in ubiquity. Common in color – blue image on white background. Common with an unvarying arrangement of objects. Common in terms of everyday functionality. Now, close your eyes. Can you recall the detail?

The Blue Willow pattern is actually complicated. It depicts a traditional Chinese waterside garden with images that tell a traditional folk tale of wealth, arranged marriage, forbidden love, honor killing and transformation. The lovers turn into the pair of doves prominently featured at the top center. The pattern is a feast for an imaginative mind.

IMG_1870The single place setting now in my possession could have been purchased almost anywhere in the early 20th Century. Maybe even today. But it wasn’t purchased. It was a gift from the Pungo River, nudged along with dozens of similar pieces, amazingly intact, to the water’s edge. It solidly served as the everyday tableware for the good folks who owned our house and inn about 100 years ago. Their descendants recently gave me this five-piece set. Yes, it’s complicated.

Not just any common Blue Willow plates, these particular Blue Willow plates, are among the things Linda Shavender Sluck remembers about her grandmother Ruth Wilkinson:

“She never used anything else. I remember standing at the sink and helping to wash them after a meal. Especially remember all of the delicious food that was prepared and served on them like her famous fried chicken.”

Linda was a little girl then, and her memories are more feeling than detail. “One thing I remember about staying on the street you live on was the predawn sounds of people coming to work at the crab house across the street,” she wrote to me. “Sometimes they would be singing.”

There are condos where the crab house once stood. The workers are long gone, but the river – the same one that delivered the special Blue Willow plates –  still carries their tune. When it’s quiet. Before dawn.

These oh-so-common plates are neatly stacked in our living room — not a typical place for a set of dishes. They are there to remind me that the most familiar things deserve a second look and that an uncommon story can turn an everyday dish into a family  heirloom.

Two birds flying high

A Chinese vessel, sailing by

A bridge with three men, sometimes four

A willow tree, hanging o’er

A Chinese temple, there it stands,

Built upon the river sands

An apple tree, with apples on

A crooked fence to end my song.

–A variation of a short Willow Pattern poem

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In Defense of Dylan

 

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There’s nothing I can say about Bob Dylan that hasn’t already been said.  Analyzed, categorized, finalized or advertised. I’ve defended the man for most of my life against the accusation: “He can’t sing.” Whether you agree or disagree is not important. Whether you agree or not that he deserves a Nobel Prize (adding another weighty honor to his collection that includes a trifecta of Grammy, Oscar, Pulitzer) is not important.  What matters is that it is important to me.

It’s personal.

I’ve been listening to Dylan since 1971. I was 11, collecting UNICEF money for children starving in war-torn Bangladesh.  A Beatles fan like everyone else, I continued to favor George Harrison’s music after the Fab Four split.  So when he organized The Concert for Bangladesh – an event that set the precedent for rock charity – I could not wait to listen to the album, which I’m sure cost me a lot of babysitting money. And there was Bob Dylan, buried on Side E, singing A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall. I was instantly hooked, inspired by the poetry, the imagery and the simplicity of the ballad. I went back to discover nearly a decade of Bob Dylan’s music that I had missed, simply because I was born too late.

I might have been described as obsessed. I started taking guitar lessons – a budding folk singer in my own mind. I read Rolling Stone magazine, seeking out any reference no matter how insignificant about Dylan. I read Dylan’s own prose, Tarantula, and Anthony Scaduto’s An Intimate Biography.  I wrote my 8th grade term paper about Bob Dylan: his life, his music, his impact on society. I quoted him like some people quote movie lines. He inspired me to make music my hobby, write poetry, become politically active, major in Political Science and writing and build a career in public affairs. He was the mentor I would never meet, but who was always there for me, growing, changing and maturing with the times.

I was fortunate to see Bob Dylan perform for the first time at Madison Square Garden in New York City during his Rolling Thunder Revue tour in 1975 and most recently at the Mann Center in Philadelphia, 2016. I was able to share that occasion with my middle son, Alex, another Dylan fan who had some catching up to do, but ultimately surpassed me in his knowledge of Dylan’s later works.

The day Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, I was ecstatic. The news propelled me out of a bad mood.  I felt vindicated. Yet, 45 years later, I found myself defending the man to anyone who questioned his right to win.

Read Dylan’s lyrics as poetry. Listen to A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall, Masters of War, Shelter from the Storm, The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll in Dylan’s own voice, delivering his songs like no one else can, complete with gravel, grit, spit and strum. In my mind, no one else does them justice. Whether insightful (Blowing in the Wind), inspirational (The Times They Are A-Changing), harsh (It’s Alright, Ma), spiritual (Not Dark Yet), or loving (Forever Young), it’s raw Dylan.

It’s personal.

I’m sure I’ll be defending Dylan until I die, and when that day comes, someone will respect my wishes and play a recording of Dylan singing the five-and-a-half-minute version of Mr. Tambourine Man. With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves, I’ll be following still.