Saturday, December 31, 2011

The End of Science Fiction: Poem In Your Post

The End of Science Fiction

This is not fantasy, this is our life.
We are the characters
who have invaded the moon,
who cannot stop their computers.
We are the gods who can unmake
the world in seven days.

Both hands are stopped at noon.
We are beginning to live forever,
in lightweight, aluminum bodies
with numbers stamped on our backs.
We dial our words like Muzak.
We hear each other through water.

The genre is dead. Invent something new.
Invent a man and a woman
naked in a garden,
invent a child that will save the world,
a man who carries his father
out of a burning city.
Invent a spool of thread
that leads a hero to safety,
invent an island on which he abandons
the woman who saved his life
with no loss of sleep over his betrayal.

Invent us as we were
before our bodies glittered
and we stopped bleeding:
invent a shepherd who kills a giant,
a girl who grows into a tree,
a woman who refuses to turn
her back on the past and is changed to salt,
a boy who steals his brother’s birthright
and becomes the head of a nation.
Invent real tears, hard love,
slow-spoken, ancient words,
difficult as a child’s
first steps across a room.
                  - Lisel Mueller

This is my pick for Poetry Out Loud.  Any poem that gives me a shiver and speaks a truth I didn't know I knew is a poem I'm ready to learn and perform.  Plus, it boasts many allusions to mythology that my students will "get", a true bonus.

If you're a parent, student, teacher, or poetry lover, you will admire and enjoy the offerings at the Poetry Out Loud website, which also provides information about this nationwide poetry performance contest sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts, in partnership with state arts councils.

What's your poem du jour?  Post the poem or a link to it in the comments below...


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Top Ten of 2011: Edgy Does It.

What a fine year in reading.  So many potential "bests".  For this blog hop, I'll limit myself to the requisite ten, but I hope you'll take a gander at my "Books, Ratings, Reviews" page tabbed above to sample the many additional worthy tomes that didn't quite fit today.

That said, I would recommend each and every one of these books to readers who enjoy the skillful use of language to illuminate thought-provoking content. The links below are (except when otherwise noted) to my longer review posts for the books.

A word to the wise reader: Many of these books shake us out of our everyday thinkin,g in part through the use of some decidedly edgy content (sex, violence), so I would not necessarily recommend them for all readers.  Write to me in the comments if you're considering some of these reads and would like additional background on them - I'd be happy to elaborate.

Do you agree with my choices below?  Of those on my list, which would you champion too?

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Greene and David Levithan.  Certainly the best young adult novel I read this year, this also boasts two protagonists, each voiced by one of today's top Y.A. novelists.  Themes: love, tolerance, identity.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid. Reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe in Hamid's use of an unreliable narrator plus elements of mystery to keep us hooked from cover to cover in this novel of globalization, terrorism, the lure of the dream of America, and the tyranny of the dollar.  Bonus:  The title reveals our own prejudices or preconceptions as it doesn't refer to what you'd expect...

My Tender Matador by Pedro Lemebel.  I've never read prose like this:  luminous, dreamy, sensuous, elegiac.  And the content's anything but predictable.  Another multi-voiced novel: an aging and delicate one-time drag queen, General Augusto Pinochet of Chile and his malcontent wife.  Definitely not for the prude, but a reading experience and characters you'll never forget.  (I didn't review this novel here - I read it for my IRL book group - so I linked to Amazon so you can "look inside".)

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy.  Yes, it's long, but the characters in this classic set in the Napoleonic Wars become so intimately known that they feel like friends and neighbors to the reader, and one reads this chunkster with increasing emotional investment in the soap opera of their lives. Definitely worth your (considerable) time. (I didn't review this novel here - I read it for my IRL book group - so I linked to Amazon so you can "look inside".)

Bright's Passage by Josh Ritter. Standout all-American post WWI novel, set in Virginia when a returning soldier must escape with his young child when his wife dies giving birth and her despicable family members vow to take their son.  It's the literary debut of a lauded singer-songwriter, so the prose and imagery are as gorgeous as you'd expect too.

Nothing by Janne Teller. This young adult novel explores not only the lengths a small group of young people will go to to find meaning in their world (think Lord of the Flies themes, in a tranquil suburban/rural setting with escalating acts of surprising betrayal and violence), and then moves on to help us consider the commodification of meaning.  Yet it's all concrete, substantial, psychologically intriguing, and even darkly funny. 

And The Pursuit of Happiness by Maira Kalman.  Perhaps the single uplifting tome in my list, Kalman's illustrations and quirky prose make this luminous recounting of her pilgrimages to historic American sites a joy from cover to cover.  Kalman's engaging voice with a unique perspective on life landed this one on my list.

The Memory Palace by Mira Bartok. Simply gorgeous, this memoir of Bartok's childhood, which was dominated by the actions of her beautiful, artistic, but also mentally ill mother, seems to have set the standard this year.  Mira's a wonderful artist herself, and this book's popularity is well deserved, in my view, as she recounts the saving graces of day-to-day beauty with intensity and grace and offers a compassionate yet sometimes painfully honest perspective on her mother's illness and its ravaging repercussions.

Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel. This semi-allegorical novel is Life of Pi author Martel's allegory about the Holocaust, with nods to the tragicomic worldview of Beckett.  For me, a reader reasonably fluent in literature of the Holocaust, it packed an emotional and intellectual wallop well worth experiencing. 

Off to find the best book finds of the year from the other bloggers at The Broke and The Bookish.

With gratitude for a year of plenty, at least as far as books were concerned,

Saturday, December 24, 2011

It's In Every One Of Us: My Favorite Holiday Sentiments (with Muppets!)

"Alfie the Christmas Tree" is a beautiful little poem for all, Christmas-celebrators or not.

And then there's one of my favorite tunes, with a beautiful lyric:

It's in every one of us to be wise:
Find your heart, open up both your eyes.
We can all know everything
Without ever knowing why.
It's in every one of us, by and by.

(song lyrics by David Pomeranz)

A little whimsy, a little beauty for this holiday season. 

Happy Holidays, One and All!
(Yes, it's John Denver.  Get over it!)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

last minute gift idea: writer, illustrater, filmmaker Peter Sis (any of his books!)

Yes!  I charmed it and it arrived!  The Conference of the Birds by Peter Sis is everything I'd hoped for and more.  Consider it for your bird- and book-loving friends this year.

And talk about a sensorily satisfying reading experience: even the texture of the pages is a tactile luxury. 
What is it?  Sis's illustrated re-telling of the classic twelfth century Persian epic poem that's a sort of allegory or parable about life's journey and spiritual transcendence.  There's really no need to say more, as The Conference of the Birds is truly a visual road one should travel directly.  And in this season of over-abundance and sensory overload, it will be a welcome respite of peace that one can certainly experience in one sitting, and then return to many times over.

I'd recommend it to anyone who admires mythic storytelling, haunting illustrations inviting many explorations, or birds.

This is a book that might appeal more to teens or adults, but Sis has also crafted gorgeously illustrated books suitable for younger readers as well.  All of them are worth exploring.

MFB, and I don't even know the guy!

Here's what it looks like.  Now go get it
at your local bookseller or
or betterworldbooks.

And here's the one that got me hooked on Sis:
a gorgeous visual homage to the life and legacy
of Charles Darwin.

And another (about the subtitle).

And another (about Galileo).
See what I mean?  They're all good and giftable for most any adult - or sophisticated younger person - on your list.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Top Ten Books I Hope Santa Brings

Where to start?  In fact, I'd be grateful for any book a friend or family member thinks I'd enjoy.  That's the truth.  But if The Broke and the Bookish affords me the opportunity to proffer a few bold hints, here goes...

1. The Conference of the Birds by Peter Sis.  I've already ordered and paid for this illustrated text based on a twelfth century Persian poem, but I've been waiting on alibris to deliver it for a couple of weeks now.  Can't wait to enjoy this promising new work from one of my favorite illustrators.  (I linked to an Atlantic Monthly article about the book.  It includes slides of some of Sis's illustrations and a review too.)

2. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides.  The latest novel from my fellow Brunonian has garnered strong reviews, and I'd enjoy reading it.

3.  The Complete New Yorker on CD rom.  Can you imagine?  Eighty years of impeccable stories, poems, in depth journalistic pieces, and cartoons, all at your fingertips?  Ultimate gift!

4.  The Apothecary by Maile Meloy.  Somehow, my copy never arrived from her publisher, but I'd love to read Meloy's new middle reader fantasy.

5.  My own copy of Howl's Moving Castle and the other two in Diana Gwynne Jones's fantasy trilogy.  Loved Howl's, but I'd appreciate my own copy to lend out to friends - pay it forward, I say.

6.  T.C. Boyle's newest: When The Killing's Done.  I simply enjoy anything that guy writes.

7.  The Best American Short Stories 2011.  This collection always offers treasures and pleasures aplenty, and I tend to purchase my own copies if I don't receive them as gifts. Bonus this year: Geraldine Brooks, one of my favorite American writers, is this year's guest editor.  And among this year's authors: Jennifer Egan, Nathan Englander, Elizabeth McCracken, and Joyce Carol Oates.

8.  Wildwood by Colin Meloy (Maile Meloy's brother, of The Decemberists).  This children's fantasy reads well from its first sentences on, and I'd love to enjoy it in its entirety.

9.  2011 National Book Award non-fiction winner The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt.  I adored his speculative biography of Shakespeare, Will In The World, and would be grateful to read his latest.

10.  Whatever Santa and his elves wish deliver, I'll read with relish.

What's on your list this year?  Visit The Broke and the Bookish if you're looking for a few more good books to add...


Sunday, December 18, 2011

In My Mailbox: Cyborgs and Fairy Tales

I still can't get over finding excellent books at my doorstep.  This week I was happy to find...

Cinder by Marissa Meyer (ARC copy of this Jan. 2012 futuristic young adult fantasy from Macmillan: Thanks!)


A Princess and Her Garden by Patricia Adson, PhD. (perusal copy from the Center for Applications of Psychological Type - again, thanks!)

Clearly, I am channelling Cinderella... I'll keep you posted on how these twin volumes illuminate the age-old fairy tale that's really so much more - and frankly more empowering - than the Disney version might lead us to believe...

In My Mailbox is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren.  Link up there to find out what others are reading (or at least collecting) this week...


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Poem In Your Post: The Death of Santa Claus (read on at your own risk!)

The Death of Santa Claus

He's had the chest pains for weeks,
but doctors don't make house
calls to the North Pole,

he's let his Blue Cross lapse,
blood tests make him faint, 
hospital gowns always flap

open, waiting rooms upset
his stomach, and it's only
indigestion anyway, he thinks,

until, feeding the reindeer,
he feels as if a monster fist
has grabbed his heart and won't

stop squeezing. He can't
breathe, and the beautiful white
world he loves goes black,

and he drops on his jelly belly
in the snow and Mrs. Claus
tears out of the toy factory

wailing, and the elves wring
their little hands, and Rudolph's
nose blinks like a sad ambulance

light, and in a tract house
in Houston, Texas, I'm 8,
telling my mom that stupid

kids at school say Santa's a big
fake, and she sits with me
on our purple-flowered couch,

and takes my hand, tears
in her throat, the terrible
news rising in her eyes.

-          Charles Webb

I admire how Charles Webb works me up into a fit of shocked indignation and then uses the surprise he's conjured to create empathy for the young speaker and his mom here.  It's a skillful manipulation of emotion for a worthy end, reminding us how painful the loss of our imaginary heroes and their magic can be.

Then I thought of this Wordsworth sonnet, a classic of the Romantic period, in which he more straightforwardly exhorts us to return to the magical intensity of times past (albeit focused on connection with the natural world).  Rather interesting to ponder the first few lines in this season of shopping as well. (Did I say shopping?  I meant 'giving'.)

                                                                  The World Is Too Much With Us

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.--Great God! I'd rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

                                      - William Wordsworth

Do you have a favorite seasonal poem to offer?  I would be so grateful if you would share it in the comments, or on your blog with a link in the comments.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Book Beginnings: The Last Werewolf

 "It's official," Harley said.  "They killed the Berliner two nights ago.  You're the last."  Then after a pause: "I'm sorry."
    Yesterday evening this was.  We were in the upstairs library of his Earl's Court house, him standing at a tense tile between stone hearth and oxblood couch, me in the window seat with a tumbler of forty-five-year-old Macallan and a Camel Filter, staring out at dark London's fast-falling snow.  The room smelled of tangerines and leather and the fire's pine logs.  Forty-eight hours on I was still sluggish from the Curse.  Wolf drains from the wrists and shoulders last.  In spite of what I'd just heard I thought:  Madeline can give me a massage later, warm jasmine oil and the long-nailed magnolia hands I don't love and never will.
    "What are you going to do?" Harley said.
      I sipped, swallowed, glimpsed the peat bog plashing white legs of the kilted clan Macallan as the whisky kindled in my chest.  It's official.  You're the last.  I'm Sorry.  I'd known what he was going to tell me.  Now that he had, what?  Vague ontological vertigo, Kubrik's astronaut with the severed umbilicus spinning away all alone into infinity... At a certain point one's imagination refused.  The phrase was:  It doesn't bear thinking about.  Manifestly it didn't.         
                                            - Opening moments of The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan
I am so not a paranormal kinda gal.  But, even though I'm only just beginning The Last Werewolf, I am loving this novel's wit and edge and unpredictability in a most predictable genre.  The very first two lines drew me in with both big-time plot revelations and an enduring relationship built in two terse words:  "I'm sorry."

Warning:  As noted in the comments, this novel can get quite graphic and uses all the words (if you catch my meaning).  I haven't quite reached the intensely violent parts yet, and normally I don't do well with such fare, so I'll keep you posted.  For now, I'm willing to brave it because the other aspects of the novel are so good thusfar.

Now, if you'd like to enjoy many more "book beginnings",
go on the hop at A Few More Pages.

Check it out:  You can get it for 4 bucks on the iPad too.  I did the research, because my library copy must go back tomorrow and I'm only a few chapters in... (Don't have an iPad myself, but plan to mooch off the Dave.)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

What She Read Review: The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman (briefly)

Find it at or your local bookseller.

Bottom line:  Any well-told tale with fiercely independent female protagonists who fight for their own individuality and live lives of no regrets, I can't help but applaud. And if you - like me - enjoy learning about a time in history and a variety of cultures that might be new to you, and if you are ready to be moved by traveling for five hundred pages with characters targeted for brutal genocide, then you will indeed benefit from reading this novel, as I did. 

  • The history of the Jews at Masada in 70 C.E.: A fascinating cultural journey and a heart-wrenching tragedy I had known next-to-nothing of prior to reading Alice Hoffman's latest novel
  • Proud, fierce women - both quite young and quite old for the time period - cast as the heroes in their own classic journeys to save their people and themselves: Priceless.
  • Language as literal magical power-bearer: Writer-reader me likey quite a bit, thanks.
  • Sure-voiced storytelling with elemental truths as foundations for the tale: well played, Ms. Hoffman.
  • Animals as co-equals and life-givers and talismans: me love.
  • Our four protagonist-narrators each endure so many tragedies that returning to this novel again and again proved daunting.
  • Cultural/historical/religious details often weighed down the novel's pacing, as did sometimes-heavy-handed symbolism and repeated iterations of symbolic motifs that felt a bit forced at times.
  • So, so brutal were the Romans and the desert that it was difficult to bear at times.
I do not regret investing many hours in this novel, although often I felt as though I was enduring it as much as reading it.   And I cannot but count my manifold blessings when I compare my relatively easy life to the horrible circumstances of the women - and men, for that matter - depicted in The Dovekeepers

If you do decide to invest your reading time in this novel, I suggest that you wait for a moment when you're feeling strong - or at least balanced - and when the natural world offers you some solace.  Then, if you are brave and dogged in the pursuit of truth, pick up The Dovekeepers

You'll remember it for many moons.


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: Perfect Gift Books

To my way of thinking, a book with beautiful illustrations and a theme of compassion and/or following your bliss is the ultimate gift.  Whether sitting on a shelf looking gorgeous or sitting in a lap offering contemplation, these ones should lift the lives of those in their care.  Second most perfect type of gift-book: a warm-and-witty fantasy or a book that we can return to daily for solace.  All my picks below reflect these values. 

I've linked titles to Amazon below because you can "look inside" the books, but might I suggest that you enjoy a lively seasonal visit to your local bookseller? If it's possible for you, why not give - and live - local?

1. Olivia by Ian Falconer.  I would offer to every young'un in my world.  Boy or girl, you can't find a better role model than the irrepressibly creative (and just a touch diva-esque) Olivia.

2. The Arrival by Shaun Tan. I will give to every person who doesn't see the merit in non-linguistic storytelling.  This entirely-pictorial tale is mesmerizing and transcendent.

3. Peace Is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hahn.  How about a non-judging, non-denominational, clear and practical and brief and poetic guide to making your life happier and the world a more compassionate place?  Perfect stocking-stuffer for any evolving soul on your list. 

4. The Tree of Life by Peter Sis.  Got scientists in your sphere?  This gorgeously illustrated and complex picture book honoring the life of Charles Darwin is bound to win them over as it calls to their creative, non-linear (dormant?) side.

5. Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. Great new old-school find: For every middle schooler and Harry Potter fan on my list, I will offer what clearly must have been a JK Rowling influence.  Let's just say that the 'cloak of invisibility' and talking hearth fires predate HP by decades...  Thanks to my friend M who loaned this to me: I love it!

6.  Bright's Passage by Josh Ritter. For all my book blogger friends, I'd give this sleeper of 2011.  I still think it's one of the best books I've read this decade, and anyone looking for a spare, luminous, and quintessentially American novel with mythic vision, not to mention gorgeous prose, will love it.

7.  The Sibley Guide to Birds.  In conjuring magic, one could do no better than birds.  Cultivate the art of calling blessings to you by noticing when the feathered grace your days.  David Sibley's illustrations are both beautiful and precise, so this guide functions as both a source of aesthetic pleasure and an accurate field guide.  For everyone, from the child to the newly-retired with time for birding at last, from the hiker to the shut-in with a bird feeder in the window, this guide offers pleasures aplenty.

I think that's enough for everyone on my list and yours, but if you've got a personal favorite to add to the list, champion it in the comments below and I'll stop by later today for a quick update!

Thanks for visiting, and do let me know what you thought of my list, then go check out the super-abundance of suggestions at Top Ten Tuesday's at The Broke and the Bookish!


Saturday, December 10, 2011

Poem In Your Post: Out Loud.

This year, I'm choosing one from among the poems below to learn and perform for Poetry Out Loud.  You can weigh in for your favorite by voting for it in the comments below.  Then I'll videotape my performance and post it in January.

The river is famous to the fish.

The loud voice is famous to silence,  
which knew it would inherit the earth  
before anybody said so.  

The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds  
watching him from the birdhouse.  

The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.  

The idea you carry close to your bosom  
is famous to your bosom.  

The boot is famous to the earth,  
more famous than the dress shoe,  
which is famous only to floors.

The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it  
and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.  

I want to be famous to shuffling men  
who smile while crossing streets,  
sticky children in grocery lines,  
famous as the one who smiled back.

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,  
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,  
but because it never forgot what it could do.

                                                    by Naomi Shihab Nye 


Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

                                                     by David Wagoner


Monday, December 5, 2011

Best. Present. Ever.

... is a book that conjures your childhood self.  Such treasures never grow old.  (You neither.)

Even if these weren't your "Read it again, Mommy!", under-the-covers-with-a-flashlight, back-seat-of-the-car (get off my side, bro!) -for-a-two-day-family-road-trip books, I guarantee they'll charm you and every kid (at heart) on your list this year.

My Top Ten Childhood Faves, in no particular order:

What Do People Do All Day? by Richard Scarry.  Go, Lowly, go!

Go, Dog, Go! by P.D. Eastman. Can I get a puppy, please?  How about now?  Now?  How about now? 

Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator by Roald Dahl. Vermicious Knids vs. Oompa Loompas!

A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L'Engle.  Meg: Every bookish girl's role model, and a time-travel adventure to boot.

Horton Hears A Who by Dr. Seuss.  I still think a person's a person no matter how small (or what the species!).
The Misty of Chincoteague series by Marguerite Henry.  Can I get a pony?  How about now?  Best present ever: My parents took us to Chincoteague (Virginia) and we awoke at the crack of dawn one morning to meet a park ranger on a dawn beach walk WITH THE PONIES!!!!  Still gets me a little choked up that my parents - not rich, but ever willing to invest in a roadtrip to expand our horizons - were that good to me.
The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White.  Oddly, although I loved Charlotte's Web as much as anybody else, this one's my favorite of his.  And perhaps it's no surprise that I wound up living in a place where these swans winter every year and that watching them flying above me never, ever gets old.

The Encyclopedia Britannica.  Yup.  My parents - again: awesomeness on a stick they are/were - bought us the whole set and then set it on shelves in the dining room for most of my childhood.  The go-to tomes for resolving dinner table "discussions".  Habit of seeking knowledge to resolve conflict and banish ignorance: priceless.

Eight Is Enough for now, no?  Oh, wait: That was a guilty-pleasure childhood TV show, not a book... But I'm leaving room for inspiration from everyone else on the hop today.

Here's to keeping the child in each of us right out front in our lives!


Please get going now:  Go get inspired by the childhood faves of terrific book bloggers everywhere.  Visit The Top Ten Tuesday blog hop at The Broke and the Bookish!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Sunday Salon: Or, the torpor spreads...

As I poked around in the blogosphere this morning, procrastinating from doing the hours of grading and lesson planning that I really should get to in a few more minutes, I noted how many of us seem to feel less-than-enthusiastic right now about writing.   Oh, we're still reading - perhaps less than usual, what with the extra demands of the season - but we just can't seem to get up the ganas to blog about it in these dark days.

And then I thought:  Well, perhaps that's natural.  Literally. 

As daylight shortens and so much of the plant kingdom goes dormant, perhaps we too are meant to rest rather than to generate.  So why question?  Why not simply do what comes naturally?

When I asked readers last week to offer suggestions about how to re-light my blogging fire, you offered heartening and wise advice, and I'll be taking it.   But I'm just now realizing that one of the few areas in my life that's entirely under my control, allowing me to work with the ebb and flow of my own natural rhythms and desires, is this blogging endeavor.  So shouldn't I - and perhaps we - treat it as the rare gift it is:  The opportunity to share ourselves with the world when we wish, as we wish?  And shouldn't I - as many of you advised - cultivate that? 

I think yes.


I did finish a book this week: The Secret River by Kate Greenville.  I appreciated this award-winning novel offering one man's journey from England to Australia during the early days of colonization.  Perhaps I'll write a brief review of this one later, but suffice to say for now that I recommend it, and every single member of our book group found it a worthy read too.  That's rare, of course, and pretty high praise.

I'm in the middle of The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman, and although the first hundred pages or so didn't capture me the way her typical light fictions do, I'm glad that I stuck with it as the story's blossoming and deepening now into what feels like a lastingly memorable historical fiction set in 70 C.E. on Mount Masada in the Judean desert.  It's a period in history that I know little about, and I find myself looking forward to my hour-a-day reading time to return there to the lives of the four women around whom this story revolves.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Poem in Your Post: Out Loud!

This week rocks:  Our first week of the 2011-2012 Poetry Out Loud extravaganza at our school! 

What's Poetry Out Loud?  A nationwide poetry performance contest in the United States, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts (and our national government: whoda thunkit in this day and age?). 

And I get the amazing honor of leading my students in a journey through many poems from around the world and across the ages as we sample and select those we want to make our own through performance.  Theater background meets passion for literature: How lucky am I? 

Never heard of it?  Find out more here, and then get it going in your local 'hood! 


Shawntay Henry performing
Robert E. Hayden's "Frederick Douglass".
Most movingly perfect dramatic performance:  Shawntay Henry, "Frederick Douglass" by Robert E. Hayden
Click here to see it:
Poetry Out Loud : Learning Recitation

Frederick Douglass

When it is finally ours, this freedom, this liberty, this beautiful
and terrible thing, needful to man as air,   
usable as earth; when it belongs at last to all,   
when it is truly instinct, brain matter, diastole, systole,   
reflex action; when it is finally won; when it is more   
than the gaudy mumbo jumbo of politicians:   
this man, this Douglass, this former slave, this Negro   
beaten to his knees, exiled, visioning a world   
where none is lonely, none hunted, alien,   
this man, superb in love and logic, this man   
shall be remembered. Oh, not with statues’ rhetoric,   
not with legends and poems and wreaths of bronze alone,
but with the lives grown out of his life, the lives   
fleshing his dream of the beautiful, needful thing.
                        Robert E. Hayden 

Here's Hayden reading his own poem.   So wonderful to note the differing performances, the perfection of both renditions.

IMHO:  Most light-hearted yet mature performance: Jackson Hille, "Forgetfulness" by Billy Collins

Click here to see it:
Poetry Out Loud : Learning Recitation


The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

And here's a throw-down for the holiday travel season, one that's enriched my life every year for many years: Take along a short poem to memorize at the airport and in the air, on the train or bus, in the auto, or on the hoof.  Somehow, taking a new poem into your heart and memory during the transitory moments - and taxing wait-time - of travel works perfectly and offers rewards year after year after year.

MFB, in abundance, out loud,

p.s.  As always, I encourage you to leave a poem in the comments below, or to post one on your own blog and leave the link for us. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

"Burn Out and Buttons: I need your help!"

First:  What do you do when you're just plain burnt out on blogging?  How do you amp yourself up to blog again?  Do you take a break?  Change your focus?  What?

Oh, I'm still reading every day for a couple of hours; I've just (temporarily, I pray) lost the will to tell people what I think about the books I'm reading.  I'm simply enjoying my reading and then taking an action with each book, but for some reason I'm resisting blogging about it all.  Most of my creative energy is now going into teaching, and it's pretty well drained those capacities to the point where I've scant interest in opining here these days.

I wish this weren't so, and I'm looking to all of you for ideas on how to reinvigorate my blogging spirits, or to suggest what you most enjoy reading about, so I can focus on that.

My gratitude in advance for any thoughts you can offer here.


Second:  I'm currently working on an action-reading book challenge for 2012 because I'm still convinced it can change our lives and the world.  Can anyone recommend a how-to video on creating a button for the challenge?  Or can you recommend a blogger who makes them in exchange for her/his choice of books from my "Loved 'Em, But Don't Feel The Need To Shelve 'Em Indefinitely" pile?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Walking Poems: Action-Enhanced Poem-In-Your-Post Blog Stroll

    Do you find yourself repeating particular lines of poetry - or apt quotes or song lyrics - when you're on a walk through the woods or upon the city streets? 

   I do.

   So for this weekend's poetry hop, I bring you the link to a wonderful piece reprinted in The Millions on Friday.  It's from place-based blogger and Columbia University MFA student Marni Berger, on Jon Cotner's November installation at New York City's Botanical Gardens called "Poem Forest".

   Some of the lines Cotner posted strategically seem worthy of setting to memory for future walkies, no?
“Like a dog / CĂ©zanne says / that’s how a painter / must see”
–W.G. Sebald
“Under the trees / under the clouds / by the river”
–Gary Snyder
“One stone is not like another.”
–Denise Levertov
“What meadow yields / so fragrant a leaf / as your bright leaf?”
“It isn’t true that Nature is mute.”
–Eugenio Montale
“Robins, starlings, wrens, warblers / they pay no rent”
–Bernadette Mayer
“Walking, walking, walking, / I shall spend my life”
–Pablo Neruda
“Turning seasons turning wildly / away”
–T’ao Ch’ien
“O grace of wild, wild things”
“To be spellbound – nothing’s easier.”
–Tomas Tranströmer
   Blogger Marni Berger does a lovely job of bringing us right into her experience of this walk - and her conversations with its creator - via both text and a few telling photos like the one above, and of musing upon grief, natural beauty, and - with Cotner - one "use" for poetry: to wake us up to our own possibilities for perception. To see for yourself, read A Wanderer In Poem Forest and Berger's follow-up on her blog

   Which lines bubble up while you're out walking?  For me, it's often the first stanza from the e.e. cummings poem shared here for Thanksgiving on What She Read or Yeats' "The Lake Isle of Innisfree". Sometimes, meditation poems by Thich Nhat Hanh also arise.

   Share a few lines or a whole 'walking' poem with us today, or offer us any other poem-of-the-moment.


   My action:  I pledge to initiate a walk with a friend this weekend and to bring along a poem I want to memorize, plus some of the lines offered above.  We'll test Cotner's notions to see if we can bring ourselves more fully into the present moment as we use poetry to focus our perceived experiences.

   FYI:   Cotner's walking-and-talking performance art is near-legendary in some circles.  He and co-author Andy Fitch produced the much-lauded book Ten Walks/Two Talks, through which we may accompany them on some of their philosophical rambles.  And here's a sample of Cotner's recent walk down Bedford Avenue with his fiance, Claire ,on the GuggenheimLab site. It's a tad more - if you'll pardon the pun - pedestrian than his other works, but thoroughly engaging anyway.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Gratitude Poems for Your Thanksgiving Table

i thank You God for most this amazing

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any--lifted from the no
of all nothing--human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)
                        - e.e. cummings

Around Us

We need some pines to assuage the darkness
when it blankets the mind,
we need a silvery stream that banks as smoothly
as a plane's wing, and a worn bed of 
needles to pad the rumble that fills the mind,
and a blur or two of a wild thing
that sees and is not seen. We need these things
between appointments, after work,
and, if we keep them, then someone someday,
lying down after a walk
and supper, with the fire hole wet down,
the whole night sky set at a particular
time, without numbers or hours, will cause
a little sound of thanks--a zipper or a snap--
to close round the moment and the thought
of whatever good we did.
                        - Marvin Bell

For more wonderful gratitude and praise poems, and for the single best American poetry site on the interwebs (IMHO), visit .

If you can find a moment for poetry today, please grace us with your favorite in the comments section below.

Happy Thanksgiving all, with gratitude to all who visit here,

Monday, November 21, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday: A Literary Feast

Who's on my fantasy Thanksgiving guest list this year?  Take this top ten, and join me in gratitude!

Appetizers:  Poetry 180.  OK: Not a single author, but a collection of immediately consumable yet surprisingly satisfying and layered poems.  Trust me: It'll go on your list of must-serves for next year...  And then I could let all the poets stay or go, whatever their whim.  Genius, no?

Cocktails:  T.C. Boyle. Verbally limber and controversial enough to tweak everyone into letting their hair down.  And I can't wait to see him when he's gone through a few glasses of Pinot too!

Salad/palate cleanser:  Jane Austen.  A little astringent, a bit sharp to the tooth, light, somewhat satisfying, but always leaves me wanting more depth.   And I'd love to see what T.C. Boyle does with her...

Soup course:  Maile Meloy. Satisfying but not heavy, deliciously contemporary-American, and in my super-brief correspondence, an unpretentious yet sophisticated person.  The sort you'd want at Thanksgiving.

The big bird:  Faulkner.  Yes.  A stroke of genius.  Rich, succulent, crispy about the edges.  Would he not just knock everything sidewise, in the true family spirit of the holidays?

Sides:  Reynolds Price as the stuffing.  That's by far my favorite part of the meal.  His honeyed voice, elegant Southern charm, and generous brilliance as a raconteur cannot be matched.  I miss him, and would welcome him back home with gratitude.  Let's pair him with the reclusive Harper Lee as the sweet potato.  For the piquant cranberry, let's summon up the saucy Tina Fey.  One more brilliant wit won't harm the holiday vibe.
Dessert:  Rich and comforting and sweet, with a touch of sugar-high.  I'm thinking Alice Hoffman and Kaye Gibbons

The fine wine:  Salman Rushdie and Margaret Atwood.  Layered and fresh, with long finishes both.

Now that looks like a party.

And OK, so it's twelve.  But what's Thanksgiving for if not over-abundance?

Who did you pick?  Go check out the faithful bloggers at The Broke and the Bookish for more exceptional holiday ideas...


FYI:  I tried to pick British and American authors this time, for the Thanksgiving theme...

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Poem In Your Post Blog Hop: The animals in that country

In that country the animals  
have the faces of people:

the ceremonial
cats possessing the streets

the fox run
politely to earth, the huntsmen  
standing around him, fixed  
in their tapestry of manners

the bull, embroidered
with blood and given
an elegant death, trumpets, his name  
stamped on him, heraldic brand  

(when he rolled
on the sand, sword in his heart, the teeth  
in his blue mouth were human)

he is really a man

even the wolves, holding resonant  
conversations in their  
forests thickened with legend.

            In this country the animals  
            have the faces of  

            Their eyes
            flash once in car headlights  
            and are gone.

            Their deaths are not elegant.

            They have the faces of  

                      - Margaret Atwood

   Leave it to Atwood to once again show us ourselves as she reminds us of other worlds.  I'd been haunted - as have some of my students - not by the heroes in our myths, but by the "monsters" and the dead.  Atwood reminds me that at least those characters held magic, and were imbued with a certain gravitas that today we do not often afford the creatures we encounter.
   Offer us a poem out of your experience today, one you've create or one you admire.  (Copy it into the comments and/or link to a post on your own site.)

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