• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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Calling Out Around the World

Today ‘s comments reminded me of a book I always wanted someone to write. The working title: The Ring of Truth. In my mind it would explain why one sentence rings true and another false. Why certain aesthetics seem cheesy and others authentic. Why some people have multiple orgasms at poetry readings while others roll their eyes. And why we return to a certain poem or quote, over and over throughout our lives.

When I was fifteen, I went to an alternative camp called Cornwall Workshop. (Doesn’t “workshop” sound more authentic than “camp” if you’re looking for a certain kind of artsy experience?) There I met  an older boy — I believe Fred was sixteen. He had long hair and a world weary cool that I found utterly intoxicating. Until the day we got into a fight about ee cummings. I no longer remember what precisely was said, but the gist was that all Fred cared about in a poem was the authenticity of its feeling. Though we never got started, we were done.

Fervently as I believe that all art is artifice, I also believe it to be true. More than that: I believe words have the power to save you. But if words only have the ring of truth, are they false? And if something is true, how do we know it if not by the ring?


This is the first thing

I have understood:

Time is the echo of an axe

Within a wood.

–Philip Larkin

Two things: if anyone out there sparks to the idea of writing a book about The Ring of Truth, I will eagerly read your proposal and if it’s promising help you get it into shape and try to sell it.

Second thing: If you feel like leaving a comment, please offer a quote or line of poetry that rings true to you.

60 Responses

  1. “you ain’t a beauty, but eh you’re all right / and that’s all right with me.”

  2. Picasso, I want my face back
    by Grace Nichols


    Picasso, I want my face back
    the unbroken photography of it

    Once I lived to be stroked
    by the fingers of your brushes

    Now I see I was more an accomplice
    to my own unrooting

    Watching the pundits gaze
    open-mouthed at your masterpieces

    While I hovered like a battered muse
    my private grief made public.


    Dora, Theodora, be reasonable, if it weren’t for Picasso
    you’d hardly be remembered at all.
    He’s given you an unbelievable shelf-life.
    Yes, but who will remember the fruits of my own life?

    I am no moth flitting around his wick.
    He might be a genius but he’s also a prick –
    Medusa, Cleopatra, help me find my inner bitch,
    wasn’t I christened Henriette Theodora Markovitch?

    Picasso, I want my face back
    the unbroken geography of it.

  3. “It is a joy to be hidden but disaster not to be found.”
    — D.W. Winnicott

  4. And indeed there will be time
    To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”

    –T.S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

  5. “It is with man as it is with the tree. The more he aspires to the height and light, the more strongly do his roots strive earthward, downward, into the dark, the deep–into evil.”


  6. *allows you to prepare yourself, clutching it territorially to her chest in the meantime*

    Ships at a distance hold every man’s wish on board.


  7. Here’s me at 15: after ricocheting from one remorse of mamas to another, her captive for most of my childhood, I became a ward of the state of Missouri and went to live with a young Christian couple who really wanted a toddler, not an angry girl who no longer believed that anyone cared about anyone least of all her. Immediately enrolled in the local high school, I started skipping and ended up in detention, held in the library, where I sat in the 800’s and, bored out of my swirling skull pulled out a book and read this:

    may i be gay
    like every lark
    who lifts his life
    from all the dark
    who wings his why
    beyond because
    and sings an if
    of day to yes

    It wasn’t just the way the poem played on the page. It was the very idea that somebody somewhere
    understood the effort it would take for me to keep living. For me they were the right words at the right time. They rang true.

  8. yes I said yes I will Yes.

  9. Here is a poem of Simon McConachy who was repeatedly victim of sexual abuse at the age of 8. For me, his words tell the truth…


    the little boy
    raises his head
    a thin bead of cum
    gently trickles
    from the corner of his mouth

    sore and tasteless
    he looks at the man
    tries to say something
    he can’t
    his throat is stinging

    the man notices
    and shushes him
    with an unused corner
    of the sheet
    he protectively wipes the cum
    from his lips

    the little boy
    dead silent
    is confused

    he doesn’t want to thank him
    but he doesn’t know what to say
    his body screams no
    as his lips tremble
    and then give in


    • PS: the 200 pages of Simon’s victim impact statement, writen in poems, rang true to the judge and jury … the pedophile went to jail.

  10. I’m not a bad boy
    I’m not a mad boy
    I’m just a broken down sad boy

    – My 8 yo son, when he was around age 5, was rapping this free-verse in the back seat about 6 months after we adopted him.

  11. Words fascinate me. This ringing you speak of sounds like translation to me–a topic I studied at length in college. Philosophers have long debated what TRUE MEANING is and how to convey it into words that will mean the same thing to all people. Which is a near impossibility unless you believe in the theory that only in the reverberations of all languages can the truth be heard.

    No two people will ever read the same line of poetry in the same way because we understand every word differently. It hearkens back to Plato’s cave and all that…when I write about my grandmother picking roses, an image comes to mind that is probably nothing like the image that springs to your mind. For some people a grandma picking roses is a macabre image. For others it might be a nostalgic memory.

    That said, since no one hears or reads a sentence and feels exactly what the writer was feeling (because of the limits of language), a sentence doesn’t hold any inherent truth. For example, a poem that may have significant meaning for a person as a teenager may seem completely foreign and meaningless to that same person five years later.

    Language is malleable and fluid. To imagine that it has any ring of truth is to imagine that language is staid. It’s too late at night for me to recall which big brain said it, but Someone Important said that as soon as you try to nail down meaning, it shifts and slips from your grasp. Sadly that means that language can be manipulated, so the words themselves don’t carry any truth.

  12. Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
    (Still the dead one lay moaning)
    I was much too far out all my life
    And not waving but drowning.

    Stevie Smith

    BTW Betsy, I love this line:

    “Though we never got started, we were done.

  13. I would buy this book you speak of. I assume you will be getting a prop for it soon!

    He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven
    W.B. Yeats

    Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
    Enwrought with golden and silver light,
    The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
    Of night and light and the half-light,
    I would spread the cloths under your feet:
    But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
    I have spread my dreams under your feet;
    Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

  14. These words have rung true to me many times:

    The thing Is

    to love life, to love it even
    when you have no stomach for it
    and everything you’ve held dear
    crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
    your throat filled with the silt of it.
    When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
    thickening the air, heavy as water
    more fit for gills than lungs;
    when grief weights you like your own flesh
    only more of it, an obesity of grief,
    you think, How can a body withstand this?
    Then you hold life like a face
    between your palms, a plain face,
    no charming smile, no violet eyes,
    and you say, yes, I will take you
    I will love you, again.

    –Ellen Bass

  15. “Once we’re thrown off our habitual paths, we think all is lost; but it’s only here that the new and the good begins.”
    –Leo Tolstoy, War & Peace

  16. “Why do I write? What sin to me unknown
    Dipt me in ink? My parents’, or my own?”
    -Alexander Pope

  17. Let me guess: Fred thought e e cummings was, like, deep; and you thought cummings was a toe rag. Right?

    I’ll never forget a discussion I had with the wife of a collegue who loved The Bridges of Madison County. She was astonished that I was appalled by the book; “Well”, she said: “You’ve obviously never been in love.” It was the only time in my life that I have experienced speechlessness. And I felt deep pity for the man who’d married her, if The Bridges of Madison County was her yardstick against which she measured l-o-v-e.

    And the wierd thing was that she was married to a man I really respected as an horologist, and we all know that horology (watch works) is one of the purest expressions of esthetics. This was a guy who understood the awesomeness of a Fasholdt two-pallet escapement. How could such a guy have married someone who loved The Bridges of Madison County? Oh, right; she was really pretty.

    There’s an analogy in there somewhere, re: authenticity. The Ring of Truth should have alternating chapters, discussions of authenticity in the decorative arts versus (or aligned with) authenticity in the liberal arts. One comes in at the eye, one comes in at the ear, but it all goes through a sieve. I call it a brain, some might call it the heart. I can’t stand people who call it the heart.

    Favorite authentic quote:
    Everything is everything.

    Bruce Springsteen.

  18. I did not know
    the ring of
    Truth until
    I read the morning

    Today is the day of
    The Great SpaghettiOs
    Recall measuring
    fifteen million

    Oh, lord, give us
    This Day
    Emmanuel Kant
    is laid to rest

    Truth with a Kapital
    Life without boundaries
    I go to the kitchen

    And Mama’s not there
    no more SpaghettiOs
    On a hot summer day in
    Abbeville, Louisiana

    This Truth Rings True
    no more little round rings
    of slimy, ringed maggots
    in petro sauce

    No Mama
    No daddy
    fleeting was of the
    empty, serrated can

    Gone is all there
    All that Rings True

    Ly Lyn LeJeune

    The title of my proposal will be: When The Truth Clanged True: Growing up on the Bayou – it will either be non-fiction book about perceptions of truth from childhood to the “age of reason,” or a book of poems about Truth; Or When Kant Died

  19. “When did I ever speak the heart’s truth? Pride was my wilderness, and the demon that led me there was fear. I was alone, never anything else, and never free, for I carried my chains within me, and they spread out from me and shackled all I touched.”

    Margaret Laurence – The Stone Angel

  20. Sorry Betsy, that book’s been written. You should know, you were its agent (Ahem, The Thing Itself).
    Of course, you could write another one because isn’t that what we writers do? Of course, to do so is a risk– some just might call you passe.

    Insert appropriate quote here.

  21. Oh, Petro, I don’t think that was what Betsy was looking for, given you are referring to Richard Todd’s book subtitled On The Search For Authenticity of Self.
    Todd’s book was a modern existential memoir about his/our existence vis-a-vis objects. Whether our conclusions of self are true or false really don’t matter.
    Perception is all there is.
    To me Betsy wants a work that is more empirical in nature: I listen to Rush Limbaugh and how do I know what is Truth. I look at the oil spill and the thing itself is true only as we sift through the words that either obscure, convolute or enlighten. My mother told me that my daddy was a good man but I had proof otherwise via-a-vis some kind of moral standard perceived by a child of seven Etc, etc. Lastly, can there be enligthenment is the world were truth is not Truth and truth is almost never self-evident.
    we are all pragmatists or we are crazy.

    BetsY. Help us here or perhaps the simple statement you give is just yur way of getting some really great ideas!

    • I was being tongue in cheek– you know, dismissing Betsy’s idea because it’s been “done” while implying that everything’s been done and so we might as well do it again anyway.

      I understand Betsy’s idea was more a “how to” for the pragmatists out there– and, to state the obvious, I think she’s being tongue in cheek as well because, ultimately, the rest of her post is in agreement with Todd’s conjecture that profundity is subjective and to not to get too lost in the hunt for ‘real’. What resonates with one person will inevitably sound like utter crap to the next. I say, love what you do without apology and be easy on what you don’t– you may think something’s complete dribble but, hey, there’s a reader out there for everyone.

      Great case in point: I happened to have LOVED Frey’s Million Little Pieces when I read it four years ago. I was drunk out my gourd but, hey, it was my first literary exposure to addiction and recovery and so, at the time, I would’ve definitely said that it “rang true,” and reading it helped me.

  22. Making dinner dates?
    What, are you blind?
    I hold down two jobs just to keep one from flying

    It was late, my mistake
    A whole two hour left of daylight
    My dinner date was hung-up on sun

    – “Unsalted Butter” from The Long Winters

  23. “Misery is boring, because misery is easy. Misery is the easiest reaction to life. Look around you, look into your own past. I don’t have to tell you that the world is hard, cruel, unfair, and tragic. Sometimes it hurts to pee but honey, that’s the least of it.”

  24. “In a weak moment I have written a book….”

    Margaret Mitchell

  25. “if I feel as though, physically, that the top of my head has been taken off. Then I know it is poetry.” Emily Dickinson
    And I might had–poetry and truth.
    If it doesn’t ring, it ain’t true–to me, the story, or life.

  26. While I find the subject of words and meaning endlessly fascinating, at some point the dialogue is nothing more than mental masturbation. This poem always captured the essence of the dilemma for me:

    What Survives

    Michael Blumenthal

    Over the dulling years,
    you write poems for hundreds of women-
    about love, the impossibility of love,
    the way light bounces off the edge
    of a table. Those survive best-
    the ones about light, that is.

    Very few write back.
    It’s like a long correspondence
    with an autistic child: Every cry’s
    a cause for ecstacy. The ones who do
    always say something about Chopin:
    How it is difficult to sleep to his music,
    how the dance of your tongue to his nocturnes
    seems insincere.

    It could go on like this forever.
    You develop theories about Jungian typology,
    the specialized function of the sides of the brain.
    You begin looking at furniture as if it mattered.
    You reflect upon the multiple meanings of silence.

    There’s one consolation-
    You know all this must be teaching you something.
    About love.
    About language.

    About the light on the table.

  27. This is a haiku I wrote. I was becoming too concerned about creativity and writing but not producing anything. The reason I wasn’t producing anything was because I was too busy worrying about it. Once I stopped, I started to write.

    Title: Writing prompts gone awry.

    With papers scattered.

    She became unglued at the sight.

    A lack of writing.

  28. If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
    If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
    If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same

    -Rudyard Kipling

  29. So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

    Erma Bombeck

  30. The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.

    – Mark Twain


    Ring the bells that still can ring
    Forget your perfect offering
    There is a crack in everything
    That’s how the light gets in.

    – L. Cohen

  31. Travel, trouble, music, art,
    A kiss, a frock, a rhyme-
    I never said they feed my heart,
    But still they pass my time.
    -Dorothy Parker

  32. If it’s not one thing, it’s your mother.

  33. “My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life, to be remembered simply

    as a good and decent man,

    who saw wrong and tried to right it,

    saw suffering and tried to heal it,

    saw war and tried to stop it.

    Those of us who loved him and who take him to his rest today

    pray that what he was to us and what he wished for others will someday come to pass for all the world.”
    (-Ted Kennedy’s eulogy for RFK.)

  34. Apparently, our human biology prevents us to access the truth…

    ” None of our cerebral devices allow us to distinguish hallucination from perception, dream from waking state, imagination from real, subjectivity from objectivity. What allows the distinction is the rational activity of the mind, which uses the control of the environment (physical resistance of the environment), practice (action on things), culture (reference to common knowledge), others (do you see the same thing as me?), memory and logic. Rationality can be define as the whole of qualities of verification, control, coherence, appropriateness, which allow to assure the objectivity of the exterior world and to understand the distinction and the distance between us and the world.
    Despite its capacity of control and verification, human knowledge has run and still runs the considerable risks of error and illusion. They are individual (self-deception or lie to oneself, false memory, unconscious repression, hallucinations, abusive rationalisations, etc.); cultural or social (certitudes printed in the mind, norms, taboos of a culture); paradigmatic (when the organiser principle of knowledge imposes dissociation where there is unity, unity where there is plurality, simplicity where there is complexity); noologic ( when a god, a myth, an idea take over an individual who become possessed by the god or the idea). The problem of illusion crosses the whole of history, societies and individuals” (Edgar Morin, 2001) .

    Betsy wrote “I believe that all art is artifice, I also believe it to be true”. I think it’s even true for the art of being and living…because we have to permanently create and re-create ourselves in order to survive: being and living may be an artifice to serve our survival, but it is true anyway.

    Words have been created to serve human beings, not to serve a God of Words. So, as long as they have the power to save us…let them be written!! They may help us to grow and save our life.

    Someone said there are different ways of knowng a rose. We can compare it with other roses, describe every aspect of it or write a poem about it. We also can, just looking at a rose, enter in communion with a rose and become a rose. It is another way of knowing the truth about a rose…
    One of my Preparatory students (5 y.o) told me: “I have discovered a secret…if you look at someone in the eyes, just looking… not talking…you can feel the feeling of that person…you don’t always need to talk to know someone!”
    Unfortunately, it seems that being able to enter in communion with someone or something, is a quality we lose when we develop our mind.
    The adult asks: “how do you know that?”
    The child answers: “I just know”…but we don’t believe him.

  35. “Some people smoke, some people drink…I just write.”

    Wish I could give credit, but I read this quote a long time agao in an article interview with a writer. All I remember is it was from a woman, and since I was struggling to define why I was compelled to write, it had the ring of truth to me.

  36. “My broken arms heal themselves around you.”

    Little Sleep’s Head Sprouting Hair in the Moonlight
    Galway Kinnell

    This poem is full of such lines.

  37. What happened to the June 16th post? (The one that featured Erin’s review of the Bill Clegg book?)

  38. Good question tricky

    • one with an answer so obvious it hardly needs a question

      • What do you mean. Is it a legal thing? A peer pressure thing? Was a code violated?

      • I don’t know and it’s not my concern. I just meant it seemed obvious that Betsy wanted to take it away so she did.

      • What if Bill Clegg went on another crack and whores binge, kidnapped Betsy, and deleted the post himself? Maybe one of us needs to call the FBI.

      • what if Bill Clegg got you a seven figure advance in exchange for not calling the FBI?

      • Poor Betsy, kidnapped by a hophead on a bender.

      • I wouldn’t trust that bastard with my seven figure advance.

      • Sorry. I don’t think I answered that question honestly. So you’re asking me would I not call the FBI if that scummy bastard Bill Clegg secured for me a seven figure advance, even though he has Betsy tied up and is smoking crack out of her belly button? I’m pretty sure that’s what you’re asking me. Well, I’ve thought long and hard about it. My answer is still no.

  39. Thus play I in one person many people: and none contented.
    -Richard III

    The art of losing isn’t hard to master
    -Elizabeth Bishop

    Everywhere you turn there’s mystery and wonder. And I’m just a child playing cops and robbers forever. Please forgive me if I cry.
    -James Tate

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