Even if this winter's been mild, we've had plenty of chances to appreciate our knitted scarves, shawls and sweaters. I think the hand-knitted ones are the warmest, holding all that personal care and attention in their fibers.
I have a group of old friends in Delaware who recently decided to attend a university basketball game together. You have to understand, these women are mostly academics, plus a priest. Not particularly sports fans. The report I got was that two of them knitted during the whole game. That image amuses me to no end.
I hear that if you knit while listening to a lecture, your brain actually absorbs the information better because part of it is involved in the rote activity of knitting. I don't know if that's true, but knitting can be meditative, as can anything that requires our steady attention.
"Knotting a Fringe" is by Adrian Koesters, my former Master of Fine Arts student in the low-residency program in Tacoma, Wash., where I teach in the summers. Adrian has now just finished her Ph.D. in creative writing at the University of Nebraska. She's a bright woman who's headed for a splendid writing career.
Her poem is beautifully and artfully knotted up. Right away she says knitting is like love — it can be restful as well as hell-bent. Whatever fabric is being used — cotton, wool, silk — whatever color, the work slides off the needles like a love note. You can see the rows of letters that make up a note, and the rows of stitches that make up the garment. Sometimes things go wrong, both with love and with stitches. The whole finished thing can ravel up and around even the most sedate neck.
But the poem really wants to tell us about the fringe. We think we're into it, while we knit, but it's really the fringe that exposes appetite. You can see how that would be true. It's the part that hangs out there. It's less controllable, the part we throw over our arms with a kind of graceful abandon, hoping it lands where we want. Even when it's being made, it requires an especially intense appetite for getting it right.
It all feels loose, but a fringe is made of nearly exact loops, plus a tug, a clear definition to pull it together.
The interesting thing about this poem is that it is just like knitting. It's loose — it doesn't rhyme and it travels in unexpected ways — and at the same time it's very tight. Each line has four beats. The thoughts in the poem are all knotted and knitted — notice the colons, how tightly the ideas are interwoven. And then it's all pulled tightly together at the end. It's a tour de force. A little something to keep us warm for February.
Fleda Brown is professor emerita, University of Delaware, and past poet laureate of Delaware. For more of her work and to see her new website, go to www.fledabrown.com.