On Cabbages, Friendship and Facebook


A game of poem-tag started the other day over at Facebook, with friends tagging each other and assigning poets to each other. The only rule? You had to post a poem by your assigned poet. The goal? To blanket Facebook with poetry…and why not? Poetry makes a pretty nice blanket on a brrrrr-ish winter day.

So far, I’ve had two people tag me, one asking for a poem by poet Ruth Stone, the other asking for one by Kay Ryan – lucky me, because I love both those poets. Below I’ve posted the poem I chose by Ruth Stone (“A Cabbage.”) In turn, I’ve asked some Facebook friends to post poems by Linda Bierds, Linda Gregg, Catherine Wing, Steven Kuiisisto and Raymond Carver (yes, he wrote poetry before he ever wrote fiction.)

Though I’m not a huge fan of Facebook (nervous about the way it’s used to track certain things about its users – I’m not attentive to it, not even quite comfortable with it) I do use it to link to my  posts here at Books Around the Table and to my personal blog, The Drift Record. It’s easy to trash Facebook  and say that the “friendships” are artificial, and I suppose they can be. But they can be more, too.

What I like about Facebook is the sense of community it can generate quickly, as is the case with the sudden game of poetry tag or the occasional call for political action. Sure, I have my own friends in my life on a daily basis – my friendship with them has the patina that comes with rubbing elbows over and over. But there are “friends” out there that I’ve never met, friends who share my enthusiasm for a good poem or who ask interesting questions about writing, art, life, whatever.  I don’t care if their friendship comes to me online – that’s fine. Writing can be isolating – and I’m comfortable with my friends arriving via different modes of delivery. I like the connective tissue that gets formed no matter how we meet.

Some of these Internet-only friends are beginning to feel very real – one in Italy I hope to visit some day, another one whose three blogs consistently appeal to me – she’s smart as heck and very energetic, and she loves poetry. I have the feeling we would be good friends if she lived close by – once upon a time that was the only way to become close.

I’ve never met some of the writers who participate in Poetry Friday (hosted by Keri at Keri Recommends this week) but I sometimes find myself thinking “I wish I knew this person,” and I suspect that between the two of us we’ll make that meeting happen. We’ll shake hands at a Writers Conference one day and feel immediately like old friends.

A Facebook friendship is not unlike the relationship that developed between avid reader Helene Hanff and used bookseller Frank Doel (described in Hanff’s book 84 Charing Cross Road – made into a sweet film with Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins.) An ocean separated them, but they were close friends thanks to the letters they exchanged. I do envy them those letters, mostly for the handwriting – I miss handwritten letters. But now it’s keyboards, and the ocean is virtual – and that’s okay with me. Sometimes the aggressiveness of 21st-Century technologies drives me absolutely crazy – everything coming at me too fast, too blurred.  But certain things about it are useful. I spent time reading Ruth Stone and Kay Ryan on Wednesday because of friends on Facebook. I can live with that.

Here’s the poem by Ruth Stone, mentioned above. Hope you like it. It speaks to me in cabbage language.

A Cabbage

You have rented an apartment.
You come to this enclosure with physical relief,
your heavy body climbing the stairs in the dark,
the hall bulb burned out, the landlord
of Greek extraction and possibly a fatalist.
In the apartment leaning against one wall,
your daughter’s painting of a large frilled cabbage
against a dark sky with pinpoints of stars.
The eager vegetable, opening itself
as if to eat the air, or speak in cabbage
language of the meanings within meanings;
while the points of stars hide their massive
violence in the dark upper half of the painting.
You can live with this.

— Ruth Stone

19 responses to “On Cabbages, Friendship and Facebook

  1. Thanks for this wonderful post — love Ruth’s poem and your words about online friends and FB. I’m grateful we were able to connect via the internet; I do feel like I know you and hope we get to meet in person someday. Perhaps we can speak in cabbage language 🙂 . . . .

  2. Great post! Your words are so true and I love your poem choice. With some of my very closest friends, (whom I’ve known since childhood) I find I often don’t discuss as deeply as I do with a few of my never-met online friends—it’s wonderful to have both. Rather like the old campfire song—’make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver, and the other’s gold’. On that note, the internet is the perfect place to find kindred spirits. 🙂

  3. Hello friend! Many thanks for playing with poetry with me. Funny thing: I decided to try the poetry assignment thing on my library’s FB page. I posted a short Amy Lowell poem, “Balls.” The post had 109 people view it, three “likes,” but no one wants to play so far. I guess the general public just isn’t ready yet. 😦

  4. Hi, Julie. The poem spoke to me because we live with two paintings by my grandmother, made when she was in her teens or twenties. She died ten years ago, but I feel that my children know her a little because these paintings are in their space. Thanks for sharing it.

    • So right, Laura – in some ways you give your kids not only those paintings, you give them their great-grandmother again.

  5. Yes, yes, yes, Julie! I’ve actually been turning around these ideas/questions a good bit lately – how new friendships are formed online, and how they are alike/different from the kinds we grew up with, etc. You articulated this new social reality so well – especially for us creative types. I do hope to meet you in person one of these days, too. I’ll share some cabbage, but don’t make me eat Brussels sprouts.

    Thanks for sharing that fantastic poem, too. “The eager vegetable, opening itself / as if to eat the air…” Gorgeous.

  6. I understand the desire to not let online communication replace face-to-face communication, but I think you hit the nail on the head that there are people whose company we would enjoy, but they *aren’t* nearby, and “the connective tissue gets formed no matter how we meet.” Loved “A Cabbage” — thanks!

  7. I’ve enjoyed hearing from various connections through FB, Julie, some Poetry Friday friends, some blogging friends, and old friends who now live in other parts of the country. It’s fun to keep up, to do what letters cannot, connect with more than a few! I liked reading your own ideas of it. The Cabbage poem seems so lonely, but interesting when I consider his thoughts, acceptance perhaps? Thanks for making us think!

  8. Loved the post and the poem!

  9. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about FB, Julie. I love that you’ve made a friend in Italy you hope to meet some day. And thanks for the Ruth Stone poem–I’m not familiar with her work.

  10. I began ambivalent about Facebook, but now I find that it’s a way for me to connect, as Linda does, with friends and family who are much too far away. loved this line about cabbages…and so much more:
    language of the meanings within meanings

  11. Ooh that was an interesting post! I often feel like you expressed–things come at me too fast and furious and I can’t take it all in. And so I have to choose where I want to immerse myself. My 2014 word is FOCUS. Whenever I start feeling overwhelmed I’m trying to remember to rein myself in and focus on one thing at a time. Your response to the poetry challenge on FB seems to be a bit of that.

  12. Oh Julie, this is lovely. I feel the same way about Facebook at times. I love 84 Charing Cross Road. Will have to get it from the library again.
    Thanks for sharing this all.

  13. I, too, am of two minds about Facebook, but this poetry challenge seems like a fun way spread poetry love. Thanks for sharing, Julie. =)

  14. I am dreaming of a Poetry Friday “conference” where we could all get together and meet in person!

    Never thought of stars with “massive violence” to hide. Hmm…another example of Laura S.’s “it’s how you tell the story”…

  15. Glad this post resonated with so many people – thanks for sharing your thoughts here. And Mary Lee, oh, wouldn’t that be wonderful!!

  16. I feel like I’m following Mary Lee around to all the posts and saying “ditto” – but that’s just another example of how FB can link you to kindred spirits who say what you were just about to say. 🙂 Loved this poem, and I am intrigued by cabbage language.

    I refused to join FB for years, then suddenly I did. It took about a year to feel comfy with it, but now I cannot do without. Living so far away is hard (and yes, I do look forward to your visit one day SOON!), especially when it comes to being involved in the writing community. FB, Poetry Friday, and NWR have opened all sorts of doors for me to meet wonderful poets and people like you and form actual friendships. Now get over here and have a glass of Prosecco!

    The next step is to get people to use SKYPE so we can actually meet in person, more or less. Hm…time to talk to Mary Lee about a Google hangout or something…

  17. I totally agree with you about online friendships. And thanks for the introduction to a new poet!

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