I am heartily sick of the political disaster this country has become. So I am intentionally focusing today on poetry, my 2nd refuge when the world is too much with me. Tea being the first.
In fact, an afternoon pot is steeping even as I write, and ‘biscuits’ – that lovely English name for cookies that are not the sickly sweet American type, but instead almost a slightly sweet cracker – await, in a ruby glass saucer, next to the bee cup & saucer my niece & nephew gave me. Plus I just added to a long email thread, sent to a dear friend who is working on her MFA, in which we’re discussing (among other weighty matters) why it’s always ‘the poets.’ And why folks think poetry is just not ‘using all your words’…???
Sigh. It’s always interesting to me when folks (especially writing folks…who should know better!!) define poetry as merely ‘fewer words.’ Even that famous ‘compression of language’ definition is — to me, at least — reductive and simplistic. Poetry is about images, and the sound(s) of language. It can also be (as fiction and/or non-fiction often are) about narrative. About story, even about character(s). The dramatic monologue that made Robert Browning so famous.It’s about music, really — even so-called narrative poetry has to have certain beauties & elegances of sound. Poetry has to move, which is why many songwriters also do poetry: music is fine training for a poet.
To see poetry as just a ‘shorter’ version of prose is sooo … well, if I were arguing this in person, w/ an academic colleague, I’d say it’s both reductive & dismissive. And uninformed, as well. (Tell them what you really think…!) Only a non-poet would say that, someone who doesn’t understand either the project(s) of poetry, or poets.
You simply CAN’T do Pound’s ‘In a Station of the Metro’ in prose, for instance. Imagine this with ‘all your words’:
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
Pound’s poetic project is not simply compression — although yes, of course he’s compressing. It’s also about the fleetingness of the experience, the way the faces flee past. You could do that w/ prose, but you would lose sooo much! The short, haiku-like simplicity of the form captures the briefness of the faces. And the image that perfect image that has stunned poets since Pound wrote it would be sooo clunky if you simply wrote: The fleetingness of faces seen from a railway car are like white petals on a black tree branch. It’s the cadence: wet. black. bough. And the assonance: crowd & bough. It’s the MUSIC, folks!
Another big sigh. Time to chill out w/ a hot cuppa, and a biscuit. What do you think poetry ‘is’? How do you know poetry, other than by its shorter length and line breaks? Why would someone choose to write a poem instead of a story, or an essay? And who — besides me & my friend, obviously! — cares??
My cousin reminded me I haven’t said much recently about one of my favourite topics…TEA! And I even have a new one to rave about! So if tea is not your cuppa, sign off now…? (N.B.: if coffee is your thing, tune in another time; I’m bi-beverage-al!)
Tea… Today’s ‘lesson’ is based on what I’m learning these days, which is matcha. I’m an anomaly among many tea fans — I don’t care much for matcha. Which is kind of strange, given how much I love the ritual of tea (matcha has an entire code of rituals), tea history, and tea accessories. There are tools that are pretty helpful if you’re going to prepare matcha; the bamboo matcha‘s whisk — the chasen; the matcha bamboo scoop used to measure out the optimum 2 grams of powdered tea — the chashaku; the little spoon to stir the tea, so that the matcha powder doesn’t settle to the bottom of the cup… There’s even a super cute ‘rest’ you can buy to put the whisk on. My kind of toys.
But all I’ve ever had, apparently, is either ghastly matcha lattés, or super vegetal powder mouthfuls, or bitter bowls of tepid green stuff. Nothing to write home about. Then one of my favourite tea purveryors — Harney’s — sent me a note on their white peach-infused matcha. Verrry different!
I didn’t do the whole ritual, although I’m going to try it soon. Instead, I heated water in a glass kettle, as I usually do for tea, and poured it over the finely ground powder (Harney’s has sachets in the white peach matcha, but I usually buy looseleaf), in a small glass teapot, so I could see the colour. Didn’t add any sugar, either. Or honey. Just poured it in a small cup, and tried something new (which we should do regularly!).
Wow. It was GREAT! I know I’m a wimp to need the white peach to get me over the bad experiences of the past, but oh well! It WORKED. And since one cup of powdered matcha tea is equivalent to several cups of regular green tea (which is already über high in antioxidants), I can feel healthy! And it turns out, I’m not the only person who doesn’t like the junk masquerading as matcha; there are several pieces on the Net re: what’s ‘authentic,’ etc. Including YouTube lessons on how to make it ‘right.’
But I’m here to tell you: I didn’t make it right, & it was still great. Even when served from an English ironstone teapot, alongside Southern red velvet cake. So take a risk: go for it, sans the sugar & milk of a latté, or slushy, etc. (Although the red velvet cake was a definite bonus!). It’s definitely worth all the hype!
I’m drinking more tea these days. Often in the morning, I want the jolt of espresso — and we have a bangup cappuccino machine. But lately, I crave the comfort of tea, the ritual of measuring & steeping. The choice of a tray, a tea cloth, a cosy to blend. Rock sugar, honey, or Demerara? Or maybe a green tea, w/ no sweetener at all…?
It’s a hard time. I’m not happy with my country, & I have no recourse other than to keep on keeping on. I withdrew from FaceBook; my social media ‘outlets’ are Instagram — where I can post pics of teapots & my grandson!! — and Twitter, where I sometimes post current events, but mostly poetry & arts links. FaceBook became a place of such…anger. At least for me. I can’t feel the same about people I once liked well, knowing they elected a man who is, to me, a veritable monster. The lack of logic, & the double standards, visible in the totally unpresidential Tweets, media, et al…. I can’t handle them.
So I’m thinking about our upcoming move from the house where we’ve been so very happy these past many years. I’m creating gardens in my head, and tea in glass & china pots. I ordered a new tea cosy, with cats! I’m snuggling with our own two in my chair, & trying to ignore their ceaseless kneading (with their none-too-tiny claws!). It’s a wonderful way to spend time, infinitely better than considering a political situation rife with injustice.
Tea is good for all kinds of situations, from the grief I feel for a world gone crazy with greed & hate, to the discombobulation attendant on moving. I hate moving, as a process and as a situation. I will love being settled in our new house by the grandson(s), but getting all moved up? UGH. Shades of my itinerant childhood!
Hence the tea tray, the tea cloth, the choosing of a strong black tea. The pouring of milk, the measuring of sugar. And the temporary escape so very necessary some days!
Today I sat down to afternoon tea, as I do many days. I often start the day w/a cappuccino, which I make myself. But in the afternoon — especially one where I’ve been doing a lot of this & that — I want tea. In a pretty teapot, swathed in the perfect tea cosy. Set on a tray with a plate of some small treat. In other words? An oasis of calm & peace in an otherwise hectic day.
Since I had a pumpkin scone left over from a foray into town to look at lamps for our new house, I made plain tea — a nice English breakfast. With milk & Demerara sugar cubes. And a small pot of strawberry jam to go on the slathering of butter I swiped over the scone pieces. Then I sat down at the breakfast table, in the slant afternoon light, & inhaled tea steam. And peace.
Tea is such a peace-maker. Probably a peace-keeper, as well. For me, however, it brings in its fragrant leaves the reminder that life is best when we breathe. ???? Slooooowly. Deeply. And inhaling tea is as good a way to practice that as any!
This next afternoon, you should find a mug (or a cup & saucer), and pour some boiling water over a tea bag, or a scoop of loose tea in a strainer. Add a dollop of honey or raw sugar. Milk is good, if the tea is suitable for milk. If not? Just stick w/ honey. Hold that mug of peace & comfort up to your face & breathe. Let the warmth remind you of sunlight, and the smell of leaves startled by the hot water take you back to childhood tea parties, when life was far less complicated.
It’s a good practice, and one I give thanks for daily.
As we all know, I adore tea. But I go through periods — especially in the summer — when I don’t drink much hot tea. I drink a LOT of iced tea, and that satisfies my tea cravings. In the morning, I drink coffee (usually iced). My beloved bought me this amazing cappuccino machine, & I can froth w/ the best of them. So it’s mostly iced tea, and iced coffee. And I don’t do tea trays much in the hot Oklahoma summer.
But come fall — or even those lovely late summer days when it ‘only’ gets to 89º or 90º — I want a tea tray. And lately? I’ve been drinking spiced tea, something I haven’t always liked. But it seems just right on morning when the Okie mercury ‘dips’ into the upper 60s. I pull out my mother-in-law’s galvanised tray, with its lovely repoussé rose, so like the ones she loved. And then I have to decide, as always, what teapot. And what tea!
Since I’ve been drinking spiced tea — which doesn’t hold well; I can’t really iced tea from leftovers — I use a small glass pot I’ve had for a while. Recently, in an effort to get rid of broken things I don’t really use anymore, I replaced two sugar & creamer pairs w/ a ‘new’ one: a small vintage set from the 50s, sterling base & thin glass balloon shape for both the creamer & the sugar. It looks soooo cute w/ my teapot!
I decided it needed sugar tongs, so I spent more of last night than I should confess looking on Etsy for some I like & can afford. After a rather lengthy search, I remembered: I have sugar tongs! Although I remembered, looking at descriptions, a lovely British term for sugar tongs I’m reviving: sugar ‘nips,’ with which (of course!) you nip the sugar cubes. I sooo love words… Especially ones having to do with tea.
Today I got up, polished my own sugar tongs, and set the tea tray. As you see, it’s gorgeous! What you can’t see is the sugar tongs, so here they are. Look nice, don’t they? And I already had them. I just had to remember they were there, in a cupboard. Get them down, polish & wash them. Ta da!
How many times do I think I don’t have the resources to do something? Don’t know how, don’t have the skill set, just don’t don’t don’t… When whatever I ‘need’ is right there? Just something I forgot about, didn’t think about. Because I don’t use it all the time. I suspect I have all kinds of skills I’ve flat forgotten! My son is occasionally surprised that I can buy toys for my grandson that T loves. Hello! I raised two little boys! And classic toys may not be Captain America, but they still entertain kids for hours. (Let’s hear it for pull -oy bees! And big bowls full of water & measuring cups!)
Anyway, that’s my metaphor for the day. Happiness is sugar tongs you forgot you had. Honest. It’s something you already know how to do. You just have to remember where it is, and polish it up. Then have a cup of tea & enjoy.
The tea came! A big box, full of possibility. I don’t have the budget for ‘teas of renown,’ but I do splurge on good tea. And I don’t rebrew it. Well, hardly ever :). Maybe if there’s company and I double-splurged on Sunday’s tea (Hao Ya A, for anyone interested).
Most times I order tea, I’m just replenishing the house tea (Panyang Congo), or buying everyday tea. Occasionally I buy a couple of samples (one of the great things about Harney’s) ~ a nice way to try a new tea. And every so often (especially if a tea I liked in sample is available on sale) I buy a new tea. This most recent package has two adventure teas ~Pu-erh and Temi Sikkim. I confess: I was sucked in by the fact that Temi Sikkim was on sale (and it’s a great full-bodied Darjeeling, w/ that lovely floral aftertaste I find so seductive in a good Darjeeling) and the Pu-erh is billed as an ‘ancient’ tea.
The other day I made the pu-erh, a dark, ruby-red brown tea. A China black tea tasting of chocolate, almost sweet. I added my usual lump of Demerara, and then stirred in my usual milk. No change in colour ~ this is seriously dark tea. Still, it’s lovely: lightly astringent but smooth. A great breakfast tea. Makes me wonder: just how old is ‘ancient’ …?
When I make tea, it is always ~ even at the most hectic of times, like early in the morning as I rush to some appointment ~ a moment of quiet. Often it becomes, almost accidentally, an evocation of other days, when my children were small, when I was a young mother dependent on my expat family. Even now, with those two small boys (and early on, there was only one…) grown to manhood, fragrant steam curling from a curved spout takes me back 20 years. Or more.
Tea is an ordinary magic. Like coffee (which I also love dearly), it provides an enforced STOP. Halts my thoughts, distracts me from the hectic mania of contemporary life. Puts a gentle finger to my lips and reminds me to sssshhh…
So why write about tea, in the months running up to something as important as elections? Why take time for something so small, so intimate, when the world seems to be collapsing around my ears? Why take the time to celebrate these fragile, ephemeral moments that fall to the bottom of a china cup wreathed w/ flowers? Moments that curl in the heart of a summer rose, or hover on the wings of a drowsy bee.
We live in such a frenetic, frantic world. At least most of us do. There is never enough time… Right now I should be working up a course for September. Constructing a class schedule for another. I should be reading books for two presentations next month, and figuring out what I’m going to need in the way of help during my beloved’s upcoming surgery. I should be should be should be…
Instead, I be. Trying to not try tooo hard to breathe, as the pebble in the garden says. Just resting in the moment, sipping tea from that thin-handled china cup. Sitting in the early morning sun and remembering big sky mind…
I don’t know that tea, or coffee, or the quiet music of bees working the blue bells of the caryopteris can solve the world’s larger problems. But I wonder if we took the time to listen to them, to watch and pay attention, what we might learn… Who knows what we could do?