Spring Break Short Story Recommendation 2023 & Supporting Friends Friday: Stacey C. Johnson’s “Survey of Poetry”

To finish out this year’s Spring Break Short Story Recommendations I’m also reviving (albeit temporarily) an old feature, Supporting Friends Friday.  I’m rounding out my short story selections with Stacey C. Johnson‘s “Survey of Poetry,” found at her excellent blog Breadcrumbs.

“Survey of Poetry” isn’t exactly a short story, and it’s not exactly fiction.  Indeed, much of Johnson’s writing derives inspiration from observations of the world around her, or what she has been reading lately.  It’s a style that is some magical blend of poetry, short-short story, and non-fiction—almost like magic realism, but that label doesn’t quite do it justice.  Maybe her label is the best:  “breadcrumbs,” little bits of literary and poetic inspiration dropped on the page like petite crumbs on a splendid tablecloth.

“Survey of Poetry” is, contrary to its name, largely about a (real-life) octopus, Otto.  Otto is a mischievous scamp, one who likes to juggle hermit crabs and short out the light above his tank with squirts of water.  His is an intelligence, one both familiar and alien to our own intelligence.

Johnson also explores our own blind spots, both literal and metaphorical.  The octopus has eyes like ours, but does not have blind spots, while we do.

Like us, too, the octopus has intelligence, but his intelligence is of a different sort.  His limbs operate independently of one another, each almost like its own intelligence, but working together towards the fulfillment of the whole specimen.

Here is a wonderful excerpt at the end of the piece:

Each arm has a mind of its own, unobstructed by central control. And now I cannot stop thinking about this looming intelligence of the sea, how when we’re not reminding ourselves to fear its presence, we are replacing it with a cartoon caricature.

I want to talk about the art of this cephalopod, the poetry of its symphony of intelligent parts in motion. But between this blind spot and the limits of my language, I cannot take it in.

We do “replace it with a cartoon caricature,” the sea and its denizens.  Most of my paintings are of googly-eyed octopuses (octopi?; even in trying to pluralize these amazing creatures, we cannot reach agreement on our grammar for them; how much more daunting, then, our attempts to “talk about the art of this cephalopod” with him?), grotesque caricatures of majestic, otherworldly minds.

As I did to Johnson, I’ll highly recommend to readers the book Other Minds by Peter Godfrey-Smith (and his blog, Metazoan).

I also highly—highly!—recommend Breadcrumbs.  Poetry, short stories—whatever these breadcrumbs are, they are delicious literary morsels.


3 thoughts on “Spring Break Short Story Recommendation 2023 & Supporting Friends Friday: Stacey C. Johnson’s “Survey of Poetry”

  1. Port, deep bow to you for this generous share. Thank you for this honor. I love how you describe Otto as “a mischievous scamp,” a term that pairs beautifully with this painting! I am loving “Other Minds” and am so grateful to be introduced to Peter Godfrey-Smith’s work. Light and peace to you, friend!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was my pleasure, Stacey. Honestly, it was hard to pick just one! But the story of little Otto was too good to pass up.

      You possess a real gift for writing, and the way you play with the written word is inspiring and inventive.

      So… when might readers expect a _Breadcrumbs_ anthology? I’d sure love a copy to keep on my nightstand.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you so much, Port. I have a few manuscripts in the works. Not quite an anthology, but different collections that have parts and themes that were born on Breadcrumbs. Your encouragement is much appreciated! : )

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s