friday roundup: nash equilibrium edition

"The Pretty Housewife" by Amedeo Modigliani

“The Pretty Housewife” by Amedeo Modigliani

Friday again? What have I done all week? Oh yeah — there was the abandoned nestling (a sparrow, I think) that we nursed and delivered to wildlife rescue. There were anywhere from 3 to 5 kids in the house depending on the day and time. Many meals — mostly the scraped together kind, but one decent dinner. Swim practice. Doctor’s appointments. Laundry in there somewhere. A few early mornings at my desk revising, revising, and revising. Not as much reading as I’d like, not as much poetry time as I’d like, but there you go. Here is my humble offering for the week:

poetry and the Nash Equilibrium  Well, I never thought my economics background would come in handy in my poetry life, but just this week it did. The Nash Equilibrium is a concept from economics (specifically game theory) wherein people reach the best decision they can, taking into account other people’s preferences. In a Nash Equilibrium, it’s possible (maybe even probable) that no one ends up with their first choice, but overall utility is higher than it would be if people were not taking into account other people’s preferences. (I think this is right. It has been decades since Economics and I were in the same room together). The theory won John Forbes Nash, Jr. the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1994. Its real-life  implementation won Anne Sexton the Pulitzer in 1967.

Let me explain. Well, no, I’ll just let this article explain. But the bottom line is that Anne Sexton was nobody’s first choice for the Pulitzer in 1967. The jurors couldn’t come to agreement. Eventually, they settled on Anne.

What’s fascinating about this to me is that, as a mere earthling, I always assume that whoever gets the Pulitzer (or any other prize for that matter) was everyone’s first choice — that their work stood head and shoulders over everyone else’s, even the rock stars they were up against. This story tells us that, no — sometimes the jury can’t agree, sometimes they settle on nobody’s first choice, but a choice they can begrudgingly agree on. Even in poetry, even in the Pulitzer. Something to chew on.

the work of play  Summer vacation ain’t what it used to be. At least, here in the P-town it’s not. Remember going outside after breakfast, finding a pack of kids to run around with, going home for lunch, reuniting with the pack, and then going home for dinner (then reuniting with the pack until the streetlights came on or your dad’s voice drifted through the neighborhood dusk, calling you home)?

I’m sure I’m romanticizing this. But I’ve watched my kids — especially the eldest — try to find friends to hang out with this summer, and it’s rare that anyone is available. They are at this camp or that camp or this class or that class. I’m not against camps and classes as a rule, but I’m definitely for time to just be — to play (or “hang out” when they get older), to get bored, to lose oneself in the shade of a tree or the pages of a book.

Madeline Levine is a child psychologist and researcher who argues for the importance of play (amongst other things). Here’s a brief article on why it’s important. Maybe this has nothing to do with poetry, but I can’t imagine how I’d have become a poet if I hadn’t had hours upon hours to be in the world, and in my head, on my own terms. And we all know that play is a crucial ingredient of art.

between the chopping board and the stove  I haven’t read much this week, and what I’ve read is Larry Levis’s Elegy, which is a-MAZ-ing, but does not lend itself to sharing poems in a blog post. But sometimes just the right poem finds us even when we are not reading much, or reading very long poems that can’t be shared in a blog post. This happened yesterday when I was reading through the current issue of flycatcher, and came across Francesca Bell’s poem “Housewife’s Meditation.” This poem saved my life yesterday. That is all. Go read it here.

And while we’re on housewife poems and Anne Sexton, here is that glam lady-poet’s contribution to the subgenre:



Some women marry houses.
It’s another kind of skin; it has a heart,
a mouth, a liver and bowel movements.
The walls are permanent and pink.
See how she sits on her knees all day,
faithfully washing herself down.
Men enter by force, drawn back like Jonah
into their fleshy mothers.
A woman is her mother.
That’s the main thing.


And now for me it’s back to the work that is always undoing. Happy Friday, and thanks for reading.

6 thoughts on “friday roundup: nash equilibrium edition

  1. I was a little surprised by the Pulitzer/Sexton thing too. I guess I also, naively, thought that the person/work receiving the prize was receiving it purely because the work was exceptional. What’s interesting is that we (I) think this way at all, I mean, the way we (I) *assume*…after all, it really isn’t much of a leap from the idealized version of awarding to the logical reality of awarding– life *is* all about compromise– but our tendency to look at things in that idealized version….that’s interesting. And what does that do to the way we look at the work? I’m not a huge Sexton fan, but I certainly gave it more time and respect because of the award.

    Speaking of idealization…no, I don’t believe you are “romanticizing” summer vacations as a child. Mine were *exactly* the same. 🙂 Seriously.

  2. Molly, I feel your pain – we are having an equally hard time finding time for Madeleine to get together with her friends! So many camps and classes and practices and family trips. And it’s hard because all the friends require driving back and forth.. gone are the days of “go outside and play”!

    • Yes, gone are those days. I’m trying to find a new equilibrium with some structure but not too much, and resisting the occasional urge to jump into action when eldest complains of boredom. Boredom is good, after all.

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