Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Moving to WordPress

After six years with Blogger, I'm having serious technical problems and I'm no techie. Perhaps Blogger bogs down after several years of use?

I've decided to move View from Federal Twist to WordPress.

I'll provide a new address within the next few weeks. Meanwhile, posts will continue here, and the old blog will remain accessible.

Now for some diversion:

Anecdote of the Jar

I placed a jar in Tennessee,
And round it was, upon a hill.
It made the slovenly wilderness
Surround that hill.

The wilderness rose up to it,
And sprawled around, no longer wild.
The jar was round upon the ground
And tall and of a port in air. 

It took dominion every where.
The jar was gray and bare.
It did not give of bird or bush,
Like nothing else in Tennessee.

  - Wallace Stevens

From Wikipedia:  'This famous, much-anthologized poem succinctly accommodates a remarkable number of different and plausible interpretations ... Helen Vendler ... asserts that the poem is incomprehensible except as understood as a commentary on Keats's "Ode on a Grecian Urn", alluding to it as a way of discussing the predicament of the American artist, "who cannot feel confidently the possessor, as Keats felt, of the Western cultural tradition." Shall he use language imported from Europe ("of a port in air", "to give of"), or "plain American that cats and dogs can read" (as Marianne Moore put it), like "The jar was round upon the ground"? [He vows] "to stop imitating Keats and seek a native American language that will not take the wild out of the wilderness."'

Has American gardening also been in the same predicament? Should we continue to use models "imported from Europe" (oh, how many times have I read that Americans want English gardens!), or "seek a native American [garden] that will not take the wild out of the wilderness"? 

Noel Kingsbury and many others have noted that many American gardens are surrounded by woodlands, and this is one distinguishing characteristic.

I don't mean to be abstruse (though I'm doing just that) but when I stumbled upon Helen Vendler's comments on this old favorite poem, I was struck by a parallel concern in American gardening.


  1. I have been with wordpress for five years and am quite pleased with it, no complaints. I find it easy to use. I know of a few people that have transferred from blogger to wordpress recently, I think it is a slow process and takes a number of hours to move across so be prepared.

    1. I'm getting someone in London to set it up for me (recommended by Anne Wareham), then I hope I can learn how to use it quickly. I'll get her to move over a few posts, but since I'm nearing 400 posts on the original blog, I don't think I'll try to transfer many. Thanks for the advice.

  2. and all the fresh old posts pour into your subscriber's Reader. I've learnt when I get hit with a huge number of posts from one blogger - to mark all as read.
    When will we see your Brooklyn garden again? Must I wait for your spring?

    1. Diana, I won't move most of the old posts, you you needn't worry. I'm waiting for spring to post on the Brooklyn garden again. It's not looking like much in winter. I really need to get some climbers on the walls, and that may take a while. I also am considering replanting part of the shady side. The perennials there don't have durable structure, so in winter it's just a flat mess. I need to get some lasting structure there.

  3. James,
    I'm not sure what makes a garden "American" but I'm sure it is not using only native plants. I look to the other arts for direction. Jazz, for instance, is an American creation but it comes from a mix of African and European traditions. I think of America as a mixing pot of cultures and traditions that allows for mixing in almost anything that is personally relevant. I am not drawn to American gardens that copy vignettes of Sissinghurst, for example, but why can'y we bring back ideas stolen from Vita but make them personal and our own, For me, as I garden in New Hampshire, (which wants to be a forest if left untouched) having a woodland garden that is wild is essential. I will include native plants, but I'm not a purist and I will mix in exotics as well. I also need to take into consideration living in a historic small New England town but I feel free to add in some elements from other places in the world (maybe Haiti, for instance, in my case) Above all, I hope my garden will reflect who I am as an individual. You've got me thinking...a good thing to do this time of year...thanks!! I look forward to the next version of this excellent blog.

    1. Michael,
      I'm not sure what an American garden is either. Frankly, I just stumbled onto the Helen Vendler interpretation of Stevens' poem, and it occurred to me to consider whether a similar situation exists for gardens. Though I didn't mention it, I've always wondered why so many American singers--Bob Dylan, for example--adopt an obviously "created" singing style rather than singing naturally as people in America actually speak. Why hark back to older times, lower classes, highly inflected, artificial ways of singing? And it occurred to me Dylan might be viewed in the same way Vendler viewed the language in Steven's poem.

      I do think most American gardens tend to be defined in some way by our pioneer experience with open land vs. wilderness, and many are situated amid woodlands. I don't, however, think American gardens need to be planted with exclusively "native" plants (what is native has changed many times over past geologic ages, and will continue to do so). I like your comparison to jazz, a synthesis of things from many cultures, in some way made uniquely American--a concept I still can't define. My garden has so-called native plants in it (are my mid-west prairie plants native here in New Jersey?) as well as very many plants from Asia, Japan in particular. I read that my Inula racemosa, which I have much of, comes from the Himalayas. I also think there is a place for traditional gardens modeled, probably, largely on European models, such as yours, so that they are appropriate to a historic New England town. And I think many American gardens owe debts to the 18th century English landscape garden, and others to the Arts and Crafts garden, both of which I love. I'm running on so I'll stop. This is material for some future post.

      But I do get annoyed when people talk about wanting an "English" garden because the term means nothing. English in the sense of a pastoral landscape garden, an informal cottage garden, an Arts and Crafts garden with garden rooms? Do Americans who use that term just mean a garden with lots of plants instead of a naked American lawn and "foundation plants" around the house? Probably.

    2. James!! Will you write this piece about American gardens for thinkingardens??? You're nearly there !!! (XXXXXXXXXXXX)

      Glad you went with Karen and are moving. You are in good hands - she's amazing and works incredibly hard, over and beyond her remit. She keeps Veddw and thinkingardens in good nick (along with her colleague, Gary): wouldn't be without them.

      Hope you'll say yes to the article!!???

      XXXXX Anne

    3. Anne, I don't want to make promises I can't keep, but I think I can do this one. I won't have the answers, just some speculations to kick off a discussion if anyone's interested. So yes, I'll give it a go. Yes, Karen's great. I just wish I could keep all the old posts for continuity, but I can always recycle some of them when so moved.

  4. James, I am afraid that most Americans think a garden is a lawn with foundation plants but I think that might be changing.

    1. Michael, I think we're seeing a slow change. There's a guy, John Markowski, near me in the country who does the blog Obsessive Neurotic Gardener on his work to make a garden in suburbia. Check it out; it's lively, even inspriring. While he's atypical in that interest, he may be pointing the way to a better future for gardening in this country. The lawn and foundation plantings still seems to be de rigueur in the vast majority of new residential developments but perhaps "the times, they are a-changing."

  5. I love the Wallace Stevens, James: cryptic, simple, direct, earthy, real.

  6. At time, a difficult poet too, Faisal. I find familiarity works wonders. Even when I don't understand, it's like magical incantation.

  7. This poem sent me back to an old book The Poetics of Gardens and sections on "Occupying the Site" and "Shaping Spaces," and under that "Raising Landmarks": "One of the most universal of human instincts is to raise a landmark from the surface of the earth. This gives a center to a fragment of the world. . . ." What kind of center is the jar? I get no further than that. I'm going to continue to scratch away at this. There is an incantatory quality to the poem.

    1. I wonder if there's any connection between Andrew Marvell's "The Mower against Gardens":

      "He first enclosed within the gardens square
      A dead and standing pool of air"

      and the jar being "of a port in air," which "did not give of bird or bush."

    2. Cindy, your question sent me on a long search through on line sources and I have to say I don't know. I certainly can't find any reference to these two poems in the same context. But both have voluminous commentary and are rife with various interpretations. I have always wanted to know the source of "of a port in air" because it means nothing literally to me, though it evokes a powerful visual image of the jar standing up, perhaps proudly, almost with a superior attitude (if a jar can have such). Interesting question.



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