Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Owner of the House by Louis Simpson
 Water Lillies by Claude Monet (1840-1946)

 I'm listening to La Mer by Claude Debussy.  French Impressionist Music is one of my favorite genres. Ideally you should listen to Debussy or Ravel while looking at paintings by Monet, Cezanne, or Pissaro.  The flood of brilliant chords washing over each other with their stretched tonality, which at the time was pushing the musical envelope in Western culture, is the audible equivalent to the Impressionist painters pushing contemporary artistic limits defining form and color.

The Owner of the House: New Collected Poems 1940-2001The Owner of the House: New Collected Poems 1940-2001 by Louis Simpson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A fellow blogger reviewed a poem by Louis Simpson and it intrigued me so I bought this book.

I find his poems to be reflective and as capable as giving me a vision of what he's writing about as if he had taken a professional, artistic photograph. A photograph with the same dream like, haunting quality of Diane Arbus' work, except Simpson does it with his writing.

Simpson's parents are European, his mother is Russian Jewish, but Simpson was raised on the island of Jamaica. His poetry encompasses his heritage, particularly the persecution of Jews in WWII, culture on a Caribbean island and his later immigration to America.

Poetry provokes aesthetic responses. The style and substance may resonate with the reader or not. Simpson's did with me.

Here is one of his shorter poems.  Like the impressionist music and art, it suggests images through the words as they enter into the reader's mind.

As Birds Are Fitted to the Boughs

As birds are fitted to the boughs
That blossom on the tree
And whisper when the south wind blows-
So was my love to me.

And still she blossoms in my mind
And whispers softly, though
The clouds are fitted to the wind,
The wind is to the snow.

And perhaps someone could explain the following poem to me.  I've been puzzling and puzzling over it.


Adele said, "I know a game.
Each of us has to describe
his or her most embarrassing moment.
Then we'll all four take a vote,
and the winner will have a prize."

Joe told of going for a swim
and walking out of the showers
to find himself standing naked
at poolside, in plain view.
He had walked through the wrong door.

Maura's most embarrassing moment,
she said, was the evening
Joe's parents came to dinner
She made a shrimp remoulade,
and ruined it entirely.

Adele's most embarrassing moment,
she said, was at Carnegie Hall,
in the Divertimento for Strings
She played a wrong note, a clinker.
She could have died.

Maura was staring at Adele.
Then she said it was late
and they had to be going.
Maura and Joe are no longer
 a foursome with Frank and Adele. 

So what actually went on there?  Was Adele setting everyone up to feel stupid so she could then brag about playing at Carnagie Hall?  Did she not foresee that she would lose Maura and Joe's friendship?  Or was this her way of getting rid of Maura and Joe and in a nasty way to boot?  Or am I assuming the worst?

A thank you goes out to Tim Davis at Informal Inquiries for making me aware of Louis Simpson.  I also have his biography which I will review as soon as I read.

View all my reviews

Louis Aston Marantz Simpson (March 27, 1923 – September 14, 2012) was an American poet  born in Jamaica. He won the 1964 Pulitzer for his work At the End of the Open Road. (source:  Wikipedia)


  1. an amazing era artistically, it was... love Debussy and his friends...

    i think the last cited poem might have tried to show the dangers of too open revelation falling afoul of social criteria... people get along with each other because of, not in spite of, strictures on their behavior... this is true among any group, no matter what their nationality... if it were otherwise, humans would be fighting and killing each other even more than they do currently... Miss Manners was right; politeness is the oil that allows humanity to roll down the highway of life...

    1. Mudpuddle: I think you're right and I also think we are living in a culture that does not have the sense of privacy it once possessed. Maybe because we have become inured to viewing many private, intimate situations on TV or in books; but I am surprised sometimes the personal information practical strangers have shared with me.

      At first this would fool me into thinking that I had a closer relationship with that person. After all, they just shared some pretty personal stuff. Then the next time I see them they act like they've never seen me before.

      It leaves me with a strange feeling. As though I just had a one-night stand kind of friendship with that person.

      How quickly friendships should progress is an interesting subject.

      I think the reason the poem resonates with me is because it reminds me of people I've encountered over the years who seem to thrive off manipulating others in order to have some kind of hold over them.

      I fell for their little games when I was young and inexperienced. Now I know to avoid them.

      And as far as French Impressionism goes. I need to write a whole series of reviews on it. France in the 19th century is a wonderful source of fascination.

    2. With regard to the personal information that people share with you, I have the same experiences and I agree, it can be disconcerting. But I think it happens to me because I do really care about people and what is happening in their lives, even if I don't really know them. Are you the same way? I think people are so isolated nowadays that anyone who shows them a little compassion, they'll open up to, even if they don't know that person. Then later they might feel embarrassed about it, but it goes to show how "alone" people are and it's really quite sad.

      It's wonderful that you were able to appreciate these poems. Poetry is such an underrated form of reading and I wish we were exposed to more of it. Every year I have good intentions to read it regularly but never read as much as I want. Even so, I do read more than if I didn't have those intentions, so I will hold onto that. Thanks for the review!

    3. Hi Cleopatra

      I am very interested in people. Maybe voracious readers are like that because that's why we read. I tend to ask people a lot of questions about themselves. Everybody has a backstory.

      Of course, I do like to know people a little better if they start giving ultra personal information. I've met a few interesting souls in waiting rooms.

      Some of them are now characters in my short stories.

      I am actually guilty of not reading much poetry. Other bloggers reviews have inspired me to read more.

      Thanks for your comment. :)

  2. I had never read Simpson before. I like poems that you posted above.

    Foursome is enigmatic. I wonder if anyone has an explanation. I am curious.

    1. Hi Brian. Mudpuddle made a good observation. I think the reason the poem interests me is because I've had friends in the past (operative word: past) that got some kind of charge by controlling situations by playing people off of each other.

      I always wondered what their motive was. Because they don't want lasting friendships? Or maybe they have intimacy issues and this is their way of keeping people distant. Or they like feeling in control. I don't know. Or maybe I'm reading to much into it. My husband thinks I give people too much credit for thinking through their actions. Human psychology fascinates me.

    2. Sharon: i think your better half might be right; in my experience, most people don't really think about things very much, but just react and sort of hack-handedly use whatever is handy in their relations with others to get along or ahead regardless of the consequences...

      LaMer is sweeping through my brainpan as i'm writing this, causing a kind of giddy echo to the words... haha... wonderful composer...

    3. Hi Mudpuddle: Josh is usually right. He's great for me because I tend to obsess and read waaaaaay too much into other people's words and he allows me to see when something (or someone) needs to be dismissed.

      Really, it's their words, not the person, that needs to be dismissed. As you and Josh say, most people don't mean anything with what they say and should be cut some slack.

      Now that you mention La Mer, I have to go and play some Debussy for myself now. So glad you're enjoying it.

  3. Sharon,

    Definitely seems like a game of oneupmansship being played out here.

    1. Hi Fred. You know. I think you're right. Maybe Adele used the whole thing as an excuse to inform everyone she had performed at Carnegie Hall. It cost her a couple of friends so I hope it was worth it.

    2. Sharon,

      If I read the poem correctly, she suggested the game, which tells me that this was, as they say in the murder mysteries, that this was premeditated.

    3. Fred, it definitely sounds premeditated.

  4. I love your choice of paintings and music. And the short poem is so beautiful. Simpson’s book definitely looks worth adding to my reading list. My initial take on the second poem was a little bit different. I didn’t think Adele was going out of her way to mention Carnegie Hall. I felt Maura became furious because she and her husband had revealed what may have been up until that moment very private humiliations (although a spoiled dinner seems pretty common), whereas Adele who’d come up with the game in the first place only had hitting a single wrong note as her most embarrassing moment. Depending on how well they know each other, perhaps Maura and Joe already knew she was a brilliant musician. So, although Adele may be an over-the-top perfectionist, I think Maura is the one who comes across as being impolite (especially if Adele and Frank were the hosts and their invitation was never reciprocated). I mean, gosh, poor Frank didn’t even get a turn and who knows, maybe Joe would have got a really great prize if they’d only stayed long enough to win!

    1. Marcia,

      I had not looked at the poem that way at all. I wonder what that says about me? Do I interpret other people's motives through my own emotional scars?

      The poet certainly leaves the possibilities wide open.

      And, unless Frank had come up with something really bad, you're right. I think Joe would have gotten the prize.

      You know, something similar happened to a friend of mine. She lost her bikini top in the high school pool in front of the entire basketball team. (I don't remember why they were in there.)

  5. Either way, it was fun to analyze this poem. Shows how well it's written when we want to know more about the characters. Seems I always side with the under dog or at least try to see their thought process. Poor Adele may have purposely chosen a tiny humiliation just so she wouldn't have a chance at winning her fabulous prize, lol. How horrible for your friend! A similar incident happened to one of my friends; she lost her top jumping off the diving board at a pool party. Unfortunately those kind of memories stay with everyone for years and years. Happy weekend, Sharon!

    1. Hi Marcia! And I also think that our interpretation can depend on our own personal experiences. As I said in a previous comment, I recognized in Adele's actions girl-friends in my past who enjoyed manipulating people. So I tended to assume that was Adele's motives as well.

      But, it doesn't follow that is the case. Perhaps the author left it deliberately open so the reader could form their own conclusions.

      I'm so concrete I prefer things spelled out for me.

      Have a great weekend, too!


I welcome comments from anyone with a mutual interest in the subjects I written about.