Friday, August 7, 2009

Poetry Friday: Looking them in the eye

I don't like eels. They make me shudder. They are so alien I can't pity them. I can't even dredge up a desire to observe them for the sake of understanding their off-putting power.

So as I watched this slideshow of drawings by author and artist James Prosek, I was delighted to see his watercolors of birds, his first "obsession" from the age of nine. Then he moved on to trout, rendering them in beautiful swirls of color and exquisite details. Just as I was about to laud him for making me care about fish, not just as creatures, but as a spiritual guides, he declares himself to be obsessed with EELS.

Okay. Let me deal with this. He says the eel is "a rare creature that has kept a large part of its mystery from human beings." Certainly, it's kept any allure from me. And me from it. Not Mr. Prosek, though. He's working on a book about them.

I hope his book might do for me what the following poem by Harry Clifton doesn't. It's not that I don't appreciate this poem; it's that it makes me even more aware of how unknowable an eel is. How unknowable most alien things are. Especially if you can't bear to look them in the eye.

The Eel
by Harry Clifton

In the crowded yard, in the oily blue smoke
Of an eel supper, the eel looks on.

He is home for the summer. She is home for the summer,
Metamorphosing, the one in the other,

Androgynous, ambivalent, slipping in and out
Of the local, the universal,

Reading about itself, in the Book of the Eel,
As a disappearing species,

The rest is here.

Please do go watch James Prosek's slideshow. It's incredibly beautiful, plus there's a whole podcast from Speaking of Faith that goes with it, in which he reflects on "preserving the sources of our awe and inspiration." He almost has me believing that me and eels could come to terms.

James Prosek also has this children's book out:

Maybe I should start there.

Poetry Friday is hosted today by Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect


  1. The one and only time I went fishing, I caught an eel.

    ...did I mention it was the only time I went fishing? After it ate the little floaty ball thing and snapped off the tip of the pole, I dropped it, screaming, and fled.

    Me and eels. Don't. Mix.

    However. I'm willing to... give Mr. Prosek a chance to explain them...

  2. Love the sound of this and the message resonates with me. I share Mr. Prosek concern for our planet and all her creatures.

    Thanks for sharing this.

  3. Thanks so much for the link. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing his perspective.

  4. Me, too, Tanita! I was eleven years old.

    Okay, I'm sold and must find his book. His paintings and drawings are beautiful. "Magic and what we don't know is so much greater than what we do know." I love that. I've been trying to explain to my girls, who watched that slide show with me, what faith is: believing in something, even if you can't see it. My three-year-old keeps asking me to escort her places in the house; she's afraid of monsters. I told her they were only made up things for stories, and she said, "What if they're real, but you just can't see them?" Touche.

    And the Speaking of Faith series looks all-around fabulous. Thanks for this...

  5. Eeewww on the eels! But jaw dropping admiration and love for Prosek's gorgeous paintings and perspective. Loved the slideshow!

    P.S. I take it you've never had unagi (eel) sushi? :D

  6. or the night phosphorescence

    Of cities, the lifelong shedding of skins.

    Tanita's story made me laugh out loud (and also made me thankful I'd never caught an eel).

    At first, I thought your references to looking eels in the eye had something to do with Disney's Little Mermaid, in which Ursula's eels - Flotsam and Jetsam - have hypnotic powers.

  7. The worst thing I remember about catching eels off my grandmother's dock is the way the flip flop and slap around your ankles while you try to unhook them to throw them back. Yuck. I could live without them.

  8. OK, Sara. Seriously.
    Did you read the column in the NYT last Sunday about the dad backpacking with his daughter and how licking an eel makes your tongue go number????
    It was all about how kids need to get out in nature and you KNOW I'm down with that, but licking an eel??? I don't think so....

  9. Okay, I'm glad you're all with me on the eel thing. I'm trying, I really am, to open my eyes. :)

    Jules, I KNEW you'd love his art. Maybe you can do a 7-Imps interview?

    Jama, I avoid eel in sushi also. Maybe I shouldn't. I have no problem with squid.

    Tanita and Andi, remind me not to fish where you fish.

    Color Online, yes, his message is beautiful. That's why I'm trying so hard to change my own mind about eels.

    Kelly, Flotsam and Jetsam! I'd forgotten all about those evil two. Eeek!

    Liz, I'm not even going to go there. Nope.

  10. Hmmm. I've never seen the mystery of eels either. Some of them (particularly the larger variety), their eyes scare me a little. Maybe it's time to be more open to the eel...

  11. Sounds like I'm the only person in the world who hasn't ever seen a real, live eel. Hm. Maybe growing up far away from the east coast did it. I met eels through Prosek's book Bird, Butterfly, Eel. It is a brilliant and beautiful book. I'm glad to know more about Prosek as an artist and naturalist. Thanks!

  12. Eeeuw. Eels? Yuck. So simple-looking, but as you said, so unknowable. Impossible to assign human emotions to them, which is why it's hard (for me) to empathize with them in any way. They're just...ick!

    And flip-flopping around your ankles? Eeeeuw some more. That's nightmare stuff.

    I did really like the poem, though, the moodiness of it!


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