The Glut

It is that time of summer here - the one where you can't eat all the vegetables pouring out of the garden, and the farmers can't keep up with all the stuff their farms are producing, and many things that are precious and rare much of the year are cheap and abundant. Besides eating yourselves into a coma on ripe tomatoes, okra, eggplant, peppers, blackberries, peaches, sweet peppers and the ubiquitous zucchini, it is time to think ahead to the days when the idea of thinking "oh, no, more ripe vegetables" will seem strange and alien, and you will be desperate for red and green and orange and juice that drips warmly down your chin. Today my food preservation and storage class begins (I've still got two spots left if anyone wants them!), and we will begin talking about how to keep up with the gloriously wretched excess in the garden. But first, I leave you with a poem about zucchini, because, after all, everyone needs poems about zucchini to think about while they are chopping.

...Get rid of old friends: they too
have gardens and full trunks.
Look for newcomers: befriend
them in the post office, unload
on them and run. Stop tourists
in the street. Take truckloads
to Boston. Give to your Red Cross.
Beg on the highway: please
take my zucchini, I have a crippled
mother at home with heartburn.

Sneak out before dawn to drop
them in other people's gardens,
in baby buggies at churchdoors.
Shot, smuggling zucchini into
mailboxes, a federal offense....

- From Marge Piercy's "Attack of the Squash People" from _The Moon is Always Female_

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Sharon, I'm interested in the course. Please contact me.

By Nancy Trowbridge (not verified) on 17 Aug 2010 #permalink

Beg on the highway: please
take my zucchini, I have a crippled
mother at home with heartburn.

Good lord...the whole poem had me snickering but when I got to this line, I about snorted tea through my nose! So true!

But I am full of woe because summer abundance, at least for me, is a memory. Unfortunately, the garden I planned and started was passed to another and it became painfully and quickly obvious to him that it was too ambitious a project for one person with a full time job. He warned me prior to my visit that he hadn't been able to keep up with it.

When I arrived...

I took a deep breath and gently assured him that he'd done pretty well considering the circumstances. After having two years of lush, abundant growth, it was painful to see some things that had always done well struggling and other things that went straight to bolt without having developed much growth first (in fact I still haven't figured out one of the plants that bolted because the seed pods and leaves could be any form of mustard). The whole yard and all the perennial food plants had disappeared under mountainous dandelions and chickweed. There were some successes though - the asparagus had settled in and is producing new growth and a lot of it. The daylilies I planted last year flowered and the dwarf blueberries I planted two years had some fruit on them for the first time. Both rhubarb plants looked exceedingly healthy and happy. But the biggest success was the strawberries. Not enough to put up any jam but more than the small handful we got last year. This variety likes to runner all to heck and I've got lots of random babies to deal with but overall it was a good year for strawberries.

But it has been a rainy summer. Over 30 days in a row with measurable rain, in fact, and who knows how much more of this will come. While it's been unusually warm in parts of the US this year, it's been unusually wet in southcentral Alaska. In the farmers markets everything is later and smaller - except the zucchini. I swear it will do well as long as the sun comes up in the morning. One friend has already pressed upon me a bag full...

Enjoy this time of much-too-much and I'll try not to grind my teeth out of envy. Okay, maybe just a little bit...

By Kerri in AK (not verified) on 17 Aug 2010 #permalink

I wish this poem were true for us. Depite a record breaking heat wave with three days over 90 F, we have but one decent Zuke. We had a cold damp Spring here in Western Washington (state) that lasted through June and the beginning of July.
And but one ripe tomatoe, and that in the greenhouse.
On the bright side, the one Jalapeno plant in the greenhouse is bearing nicely. We need a bigger greenhouse.
Send me your Zukes, your proud, monsterous, massive Zukes, striving to be baked and stuffed...

Marrowstone Island

Ah, if only the garden was giving me more than I could eat! It's been a hard year for gardening in my neck of the continent. I still don't have peppers, and it's nearly sept! What tomatoes I have are cherry sized, and I just picked my first cucumber two days ago, and my first beans yesterday.

The collard greens are doing well, the chard is bursting out of its bed, and the grape harvest from my neighbor's yard was fantastic -- I picked and put up 19 pounds and that was about a tenth of what was there.

So, I guess I get out the solar dehydrator rather than the canner this year and get busy drying greens for soups.

I'm feeding zucchinis to the chickens.

By darwinsdog (not verified) on 17 Aug 2010 #permalink

Only people with no gardening friends grow zucchini.
Let someone else grow it and they will thank you when you take if off their hands.

Rinse them off and toss them in the freezer. They make good cold ballast to save electricity. In the winter thaw them out and use them for filler in oxtail soup.

"And thus the people every year
in the valley of humid July
did sacrifice themselves
to the long green phallic god..."

Gosh, are we back on the road to Canterbury again? "Heere bigynneth the gardynner her tale."


We planted only one zucchini plant this year and that has provided plenty for us, especially with all the rain that we have been receiving in central Wisc. We say in Wisc. that people make a special point of closing their car doors in August to prevent other people from leaving zucchini in their vehicles. A Wisconsin author writes of his first year gardening: he planted 20-30 zucchini plants, not knowing anything about the plant. He kind of wandered around trying to elicit information about how you grew zucchini, and what you did with it, and when to pick it. In the end, he writes, he had nearly a cord (4'x4'x8') of baseball-sized zucchinis. Said they made good compost.

Sharon, I love you, this poem, and Marge Piercy. It is wildly appropriate to the season. But. I have been a member of a listserve that Marge Piercy also belonged to, and I have reason to believe that she would not be pleased to have her poetry quoted in full without permission. Unless she gave you permission to use it for free on your blog, but you don't say that in the blog post. If she did not, I think it's not right of you to use the poem. My guess is that quoting the whole poem, even in the context of a blog post may go a bit beyond fair use, and I suspect she would see it that way.

I didn't plant any summer squash this year, but we have no want of it. Plenty is available in the local farmers markets (no surprise, of course), and even locally produced zucchini and yellow crookneck squash can be found in the supermarkets.

But I did plant some winter squash--delicata--and for some strange reason it's not setting fruit. It will flower, the bumblebees will visit the flowers, but then the flowers fade and nothing happens. Can anyone speculate a possible reason this is happening?

You know I originally replied to you several ways, Zuska, most of them directed with some peevishness at Piercy and all poets who treat their poems as islands, entire in themselves, and thus complain about any kind of reproduction in whole.

I think there are a number of things wrong with this idea, but I also bow to your superior knowledge of Piercy.

I've shortened my excerpt - effectively, I think making the poem way less interesting on first view, dramatically reducing the number of people who will bother reading the whole, and making sure that a majority of my readership doesn't have the faintest idea who Marge Piercy is, because they will barely remember this.

That's the issue I have with this kind of copyright fundamentalism - in order to believe that a poem is entire of itself, you have to believe that it has no connections to the book that it comes from, that the ideas held in it have nothing to do with the ones on either side of the page next to them, that poems all magically stand alone, even though they mostly appear in books with other poems. Of course poets don't believe this - they are quite explicit about the connections between poems, and that they constitute a whole thing called a "book" even though they can also stand alone, but the pretense in copyright terms is that each poem is all, and one thus can never treat it as a part of a whole.

My own feeling is that those who choose really short disciplines like short poetry can basically suck it up and deal with the fact that someone can take the equivalent of a couple of paragraphs of a book (for the record I've owned _The Moon is Always Female_ since I was 15) and quote the single short idea represented in there. If you choose to write 140 page books with short poems in them, you will have to deal with the fact that someone trying to excerpt, while also trying to do the writer the service of not mis-showing what they have written will have to probably take a whole poem - it is very hard to meaningfully and compellingly excerpt a short poem in a way that makes other people both fully appreciate it and want to read the rest.

The imagist could complain that quoting one line from their two line magnum opus is a violation of fair use, because, after all, it has two characters more than half the poem. Hard line poets on copyright make it almost impossible to reproduce their work with meaning.

And what bothers me is that reproduce too little and you get what we have in the US - a reading public that would rather have their fingernails pulled off than read good poets. When poets insist that their short works be reproduced only in part, as fragment, and a couple of cutesy lines, we increase the incoherence of poetry, and the unlikelihood of people reading it.

I know authors who fall on every end of the spectrum of copyright protectiveness - I fall hard on the liberal end, and I try to live up to my convinctions, allowing people to use my work as freely as I can, But not everyone does, and that's fair enough. But I think poets do themselves a serious disservice by chasing down innocent, occasional and limited exposures of a single poem.

It is extremely hard to get a sense of how funny and wonderful this poem is from a fragment, and most readers won't click through. Nor will they remember the name of the author of something they only read part of, and that didn't make them laugh all that hard.

Frankly, if this blog didn't have a tiny commercial element to it, I'd leave it up - I keep forgetting that because science blogs actually makes a little money the exposure of short text to the air could be seen as wild profitmongering by me or Seed.

As I got older, I admit, I have come to think that Piercy is a weaker poet than I thought she was when I was 15, but I still have a residual fondness for her, and when I sort through my old books and give some away, I still find this volume in its place on the shelf.

When I was a teenager her poetry of feminist liberation seemed new and fresh and exciting, and I've found several opportunities over the years to expose other people to her better work. Learning that she's a rigid copyrightist even about short poems is vaguely disappointing in someone who I thought did her best work in getting people to feel that poetry was not fragmentary, but whole. Pity - I'll quote someone else next time.


We refer to this time of year as the time of "zucchini wars".

So Marge Piercy is a copyright Nazi? That's too bad. I would think a poet would want their short poems quoted in their entirety rather than just a few lines or a stanza or two, resulting in missing context. Oh well.

Maybe I'll post this poem on my Facebook page. I had already sent it to a few gardening friends.


It seems a shame that what amounted to excellent advertising for a poet I had never heard of has turned so sour. Never having been exposed to her work, I would never have bought a book of her's. Enjoying her poem for free I might have. I think there is a line between protecting copyright and sharing something new.

Well, you can call it copyright Nazi if you want, but I notice that when I ordered your book "Independence Days" from Amazon, I did not get it for free. I had to pay for it. There was no option available to download the entire book for free or "make a donation to the author if you like". Poetry doesn't pay tons, and precious few poets are able to make a living from their writing. If I started photoduplicating your book and handing it out on street corners, or posting it bit by bit on my blog, I doubt you would be overjoyed with my effort "let the content be free" and avoid being a copyright nazi. I just checked, and inside the book it says it is copyrighted by you, Sharon Astyk, and all rights are reserved.

Marge Piercy has a pretty easily found web presence, and on it she makes it pretty easy to figure out how to contact her if you want to quote from her poems.

To me, that suggests (along with what I know, having read it in an email she posted to the listserv I was on), that she does not actually want people quoting her poems without permission. You can call that copyright nazi if you want, and you can disagree with it, and criticize it - I have seen plenty of arguments that make some sense to me about why our copyright laws in the U.S. are crazy as all get-out. But the fact remains that we do have such laws, and they protect Sharon from me posting her book on my blog as well as they protect Marge Piercy from Sharon posting Marge Piercy's poems on Sharon's blog without prior authorization.

Zuska, "Attack of the Squash People" constitutes one poem in a volume of her poetry of 140+ pages - if you were to photocopy 1/140th of _Independence Days_ and distribute it on a street corner with full credit and a reference to the book it came from as I did, the chance of me objecting would be zero. I doubt even my publisher would give a damn, much less me - I'd offer to let you go ahead and charge whatever the market will bear (I wouldn't hold my breath for it being a lot, but hey), but then you'd have permission from the author and that wouldn't be any fun at all ;-). So no, definitely don't do that - I'd hate to have more people read some of my work and maybe a few of them seek out the rest - how awful - please, please don't throw me into that Briar Patch! God forbid that a single penny might be lost by someone getting something for free!

Implying that copying one short poem from an entire volume is the same thing as copying an entire book is an argument that is, IMHO, extraordinarily weak. In any other case, excerpting a few paragraphs worth of content would constitute fair use, but because we implicitly buy the (crazy) argument that one short poem itself is exactly the same as a novel or larger book, you can imply that this is the same as me running off photocopies of the entire collected works of Marge Piercy and trying to get rich on them.

A four paragraph poem about zucchini is not a book - and that was precisely my point before, actually - neither poets nor anyone else actually thinks that short poems are books 99% of the time - they publish them in groups as books, rather than as one short poem at a time in its own volume, for example. They tie the poems together in relationships of meaning in their books. They explicitly say "these poems are linked by themes or time or something else" when they separate them into groups, date them and organize them. The only time they treat poems as books is as a convenient fiction for copyright purposes - and to most poets' credit, they recognize that it is a fiction.

I certainly didn't call her a Nazi (that's not language I would ever use), but I think poets that write four paragraph poems and then want them to be treated as though each poem was a book, paid for individually, get a treatment that no other genre author on the planet gets for their writing - that's precisely my point.

Yes, poetry is a dense form and most poets work very hard on their poems - but no more so than the best dense prose. And yet, I can copy an equivalent amount from Ishiguro or Coetzee without any spectre of copyright violation - even from books shorter than _The Moon is Always Female_. Neither you nor anyone else would have raised an eyebrow if I'd quoted that much prose from any short book using prose - the issue arises only for poetry.

Again, I think the most compelling reason to ignore the copyright fiction that a short poem is a novel is that it is foolish and bad for the poets - excerpting the poem makes the whole thing terribly, terribly weak, and it dramatically reduces the number of people who will read it, because we both know most people don't click on links. Think about how that excerpt works - given the constraints of fair use, I had the choice - do I leave out the funniest lines or do I leave out the lovely turn at the end that brings us to something serious? I chose to keep the funny lines, which turns her poem into a little comic jingle about that most mocked of summer vegetables. There's no way for a reader to see why you might want to ever read another Marge Piercy poem.

But if she prefers to preserve her legal rights over expanding her readership, that's really her choice, as you say - that's why I bow to your knowledge of her. But you aren't going to convince me that making her poem look like a Hallmark jingle is a greater honor to the poet than risking a technical copyright violation, and you aren't going to convince me that worrying about people who don't excerpt very short works isn't petty.

I used to study poetry for a living and I care a lot about it - I know a lot of poets and I know they don't make an easy living, and I want people to read poetry. When poems are very short, as this one is, I feel I do the writer and the reader a greater service by quoting the poem in such a way as to make it comprehensible, whole and thoughtful, rather than by emptying it out of meaning and context. And yes, that sometimes means I technically violate our insane copyright laws, which impose a one-size-fits-all approach to every text. My observation and experience is that most poets are grateful not to be treated as Hallmark Card writers mined for good lines, and are pleased to see poetry taken seriously. Most poets recognize that if they write a very short text, it is hard to meet the technical guidelines for fair use without quoting more than a tiny percentage of the poem, and expect that sometimes their pieces will be used whole or in larger proportional fragments, because of the nature of their work. But if Piercy isn't one of them, I can respect that, while still thinking it is a foolish and petty response - both for poets in general and in particular.

I don't ask any author if I can use four paragraphs from a book length work, and it is a matter of principle to me not to do it for poets, because poetry is wonderful and special, but not because every poem is equivalent to a novel. That's bullshit, and it ought to be treated as such. As for the law, well, I break a lot of laws and always have - I sell bread I bake without a license, I registered for the draft when I was 18 even though I was female, I put up fence on my property without zoning permits (no one has noticed in 6 years), I plan to violate NAIS, I do civil disobedience, I do not always adhere to the strictest definition of fair use. I gauge my relationship to the law based on several things - how stupid it is, how repressive it is, whether there are any other competing principles, and frankly, I'm willing to take my medicine when I violate the law. If I cared more, I'd be glad to see if Piercy wanted to get a lawyer or talk to Seed about getting me fired and fight it publically - because I do think the idea that a poem and a book are the same is idiotic and worth fighting, at least a little. But I also think that if Piercy really cares so much, I don't care quite enough to bother - quite.


I confess: I'm the one who asked whether Marge Piercy was acting like a "copyright Nazi." I'm sorry if use of that word offended anyone. I was thinking of Seinfeld's "soup Nazi" as an analogue when I wrote it.

I thought fair use included attributing the source, "source" being author and publication--like Sharon did. That's what I teach students. I had no idea that individual lyric poems, published in books of collected poems, were being treated the same as individual novels for copyright purposes. That stinks; and that being so, I've been teaching students to violate copyright law because I usually ask them to quote the poem so I can read it before discussing and interpreting it in their essays. Sharon is right--one normally cannot quote one or two lines from a short poem and convey anything close to the sense of the poem as a whole. Doing so destroys the context.

_The Moon is Always Female_

Really? From Moon Lore by Timothy Harley (1885):

We have already in part pointed out that the moon has been considered as of the masculine gender; and have therefore but to travel a little farther afield to show that in the Aryan of India, in Egyptian, Arabian, Slavonian, Latin, Lithuanian, Gothic, Teutonic, Swedish, Anglo-Saxon, and South American, the moon is a male god. To do this, in addition to former quotations, it will be sufficient to adduce a few authorities. "Moon," says Max Müller, is a very old word. It was móna in Anglo-Saxon, and was used there, not as a feminine, but as a masculine for the moon was originally a masculine, and the sun a feminine, in all Teutonic languages; and it is only through the influence of classical models that in English moon has been changed into a feminine, and sun into a masculine.

By darwinsdog (not verified) on 20 Aug 2010 #permalink

Look, I don't have a dog in this copyright fight. I don't know enough about it, haven't paid enough attention to the whole fair use/free access/copyright debates to know where I stand or what's a reasonable position for me to take at this point. I don't know how I, personally, feel one way or the other about respecting or not respecting copyright laws. What I wanted to convey to you, is that in this one instance I happen to be in possession of knowledge of how one author feels regarding the works she has personally produced vis-a-vis copyright laws. You feel one way about your works, she feels another. It is fine for you to say "here's my stuff, I don't care if people take parts of it and go do stuff with it." But Marge Piercy, apparently, does not feel that way. Just as you would like your wishes to be respected regarding the production of your labor, isn't it appropriate to respect the wishes of another person when you know what they are?

My husband is a hobbyist taper - he records live music. There are artists who are quite willing to let anyone record their live shows and let them be shared with anyone, for free. They believe it helps get the word out about their music and bring a wider audience to their shows. There are other bands that absolutely forbid recording of live shows. In the taping community, there is an absolute code that you do not upload to the shared archive, shows that do not explicitly allow recording, and you do not distribute "stealth" recording of shows that do not allow live recording. You respect the wishes of the artists. They are the content producers, and they are the ones who have the say over what they want done with their live content - even if all the tapers think that all live music ought to be recorded and archived and shared.

I think I would be unhappy if someone copied one of my blog posts in its entirety and reproduced it on another blog site. Even if they linked back to me. Even though it's just "a piece" of my whole blog.

I can imagine that there are poets who would be thrilled to have their poems in full on your blog - and poets who would not. If Marge Piercy wants to be asked first before anyone even quotes her poetry, then that's the way she rolls. She is pretty upfront about that on her website, so it's not like it was hard to know that. And it's not like it would have been hard to ask. She is actually pretty easy to contact.

I understand your point, Zuska. Mine is that for tiny amounts of content, it is virtually impossible to bear the strict legal standard of fair use - and I don't on principle ask authors to use tiny bits of their content that would be fair use for anyone else. It isn't that I can't contact her, it is that if you choose to write in micro-units, you can't say "oh, you took six of the 11 words on my page, that's not fair use." I do have a dog in this fight - and as I said, I adhere to Piercy's guidelines. But I don't respect them, because I think they do harm to the literary community in general, and demand she be held to a different standard than other writers - even though I do respect her.