Saturday, October 29, 2011

Poem In Your Post Blog Hop: If I Were

If I Were

There are lots of ways to dance and
to spin, sometimes it just starts my
feet first then my entire body, I am
spinning no one can see it but it is
happening.  I am so glad to be alive
and in love and loved.  Even if I were
to be separated from love, even if
I were at my final breath, I am here
to take a stand, bereft of such astonish-
ments, but for them.

If I were a Sufi for sure I would be
one of the spinning kind.

                                   - Mary Oliver (recently published in Parabola magazine)

Me too, Mary, me too.

Grace us with a poem today, won't you, either linked below or in the comments.

MFB, as autumn turns toward dusk,

Thursday, October 27, 2011

My Invented Country: What She Read Review (briefly)

What to say about this out-of-print memoir by Isabel Allende? 

My mother always taught me: "If you don't have anything nice to say, then don't say anything at all."

So I will try to be nice.

The virtues of My Invented Country:
* readable prose punctuated by the occasional humorous moment
* plenty of details on her family background and her early years in Chile
* an insider look at the culture and politics of Chile in the 20th century
* occasional social commentary relevant to both her native nation and her adopted one (the U.S.)
* connections to her novels that will engage Allende fans
* snippets from the brilliant Chilean poet Pablo Neruda's works

Its vices:
* rambling, associative, almost stream-of-consciousness style
* despite a loose focus within each chapter, the progression of topics seemed haphazard at times
* no significant depth on any one topic, although she briskly covers everything from Chilean salmon fishing to Pinochet's sunglasses to Catholicism's influence on Chilean society to her grandmother's seances
* in the end, one feels as though a somewhat witty, if narcissistic, neighbor has sat down to tea and ramblingly recounted her life story, yet you know that if she came over again tomorrow, she'd regale you with an entirely new account...

Although I may pick up another Allende novel in the future, I'm unlikely - after reading both My Invented Country and Paula - to invest in another of her memoirs.

My action:
I'm going to look up Chilean recipes and create at least one this weekend. Allende claims that their seafood is the best in the world, and notes that salmon is king there, as it is here in the Pacific Northwest, so I'm planning a fishy feast. Shall I snap a photo and post it here?

MFB, getting back into the blogging habit,

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Luminist: Through a glass darkly.

See inside The Luminist at
First, let me say that this novel will be difficult to forget.  Despite having read four books since, this one - dark and disturbing though it certainly is - burns bright in memory, eclipsing all the others.  I might not have predicted this, but it is so.

This literary fiction set in colonial Ceylon in the mid-1800's surprised me.  David Rocklin's story of a headstrong woman obsessed with reanimating her dead baby at times carries the macabre weight of a Frankenstein tale.  Only here, the vehicle for raising the dead isn't an electrical contraption to literally jolt flesh into life, but rather a camera set to capture life itself upon a page.

The cover image sets - or rather amplifies - the dark and near-spectral atmosphere crafted by first-time novelist David Rocklin, while providing a vividly haunting representation of our title character Catherine.  Oddly though, it's beleaguered young Ceylonese servant Eligius, symbol of native Ceylonese in this time period, who burns brightest in memory because his life is - in the end - much more challenging.  While Catherine, despite some economic constraints, chooses her own life path even when it conflicts with her husband's and brings shame upon her own family, Eligius seems forced to adapt, again and again, to the whims of fate and to those more physically and economically powerful than he.

With English protagonist Catherine and her foil Eligius, we explore the very beginnings of photography itself, when stabilizing an image in two dimensions was by no means an easy or sure thing, and when the process itself could kill with caustic toxicity.  What to us now is often a quotidian act - we whip out a cell phone, snap a pic, and send it through the interwebs or from tower to tower across the world - was then a rare and delicate miracle, requiring hours of work and just the right quantities of light. 

Such an interesting juxtaposition our writer Rocklin has set up:  The events of the times in Ceylon could hardly have been darker, with colonial England pillaging the country's resources, leaving the natives destitute and dying, yet the tropical setting, Catherine's obsession, and Eligius's expert pursuit of light ring an ironic counterpoint at every turn.

For me, fascinating as Rocklin's historical details may be, the overwhelmingly depressing and seemingly intractable circumstances of all the characters, plus our protagonist Catherine's consistent state of manic despair-tinged-with-obsession, proved daunting.  This was a difficult book to keep picking up, despite the often luminous and certainly unique prose style and the interesting setting, because events inexorably kept devolving, yet somehow the potentially tragic plot line just didn't gain momentum.  I suspect that this is because, ultimately, Catherine's not built to be a sympathetic character nor has she the social status necessary for a tragic hero, and Eligius's character suffers the fate of having to embody both a fully fledged human being upon the page and all of the oppressed Ceylonese people.  It's just too heavy a load for one character to bear gracefully, empathetic though he is.

Who would find The Luminist illuminating?  Anyone interested in a little-known pioneer of photography - Julia Margaret Cameron, whose face graces the cover and on whose life the novel is very loosely based - but especially anyone ready to reexamine the psychological repercussions of colonialism on both the colonizers and the colonized, and anyone who does not mind a tale that begins with the death of an infant and spirals downward slowly into darkness.


My Action: I'll be researching more about the history of Ceylon in this period and beyond, as well as the real life of Julia Margaret Cameron.  It is indeed a fascinating subject!

p.s.  My thanks to Tracee at Pump Up Your Book, who kindly offered me a perusal copy in exchange for my candid review.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Poem In Your Post: Perseus


Her sleeping head with its great gelid mass
of serpents torpidly astir
burned into the mirroring shield--
a scathing image dire
as hated truth the mind accepts at last
and festers on.
I struck. The shield flashed bare.

Yet even as I lifted up the head
and started from that place
of gazing silences and terrored stone,
I thirsted to destroy.
None could have passed me then--
no garland-bearing girl, no priest
or staring boy--and lived.

                           - Robert Hayden


The Triumph of Wit Over Suffering

Head alone shows you in the prodigious act
Of digesting what centuries alone digest:
The mammoth, lumbering statuary of sorrow,
Indissoluble enough to riddle the guts
Of a whale with holes and holes, and bleed him white
Into salt seas. Hercules had a simple time,
Rinsing those stables: a baby's tears would do it.
But who'd volunteer to gulp the Laocoon,
The Dying Gaul and those innumerable pietas
Festering on the dim walls of Europe's chapels,
Museums and sepulchers? You.
Who borrowed feathers for your feet, not lead,
Not nails, and a mirror to keep the snaky head
In safe perspective, could outface the gorgon-grimace
Of human agony: a look to numb
Limbs: not a basilisk-blink, nor a double whammy,
But all the accumulated last grunts, groans,
Cries and heroic couplets concluding the million
Enacted tragedies on these blood-soaked boards,
And every private twinge a hissing asp
To petrify your eyes, and every village
Catastrophe a writhing length of cobra,
And the decline of empires the thick coil of a vast
                 Imagine: the world
Fisted to a foetus head, ravined, seamed
With suffering from conception upwards, and there
You have it in hand. Grit in the eye or a sore
Thumb can make anyone wince, but the whole globe
Expressive of grief turns gods, like kings, to rocks.
Those rocks, cleft and worn, themselves then grow
Ponderous and extend despair on earth's 
Dark face.
                 So might rigor mortis come to stiffen
All creation, were it not for a bigger belly
Still than swallows joy.
                                  You enter now,
Armed with feathers to tickle as well as fly,
And a fun-house mirror that turns the tragic muse
To the beheaded head of a sullen doll, one braid,
A bedraggled snake, hanging limp as the absurd mouth
Hangs in its lugubious pout. Where are
The classic limbs of stubborn Antigone?
The red, royal robes of Phedre? The tear-dazzled
Sorrows of Malfi's gentle duchess?
In the deep convulsion gripping your face, muscles
And sinews bunched, victorious, as the cosmic
Laugh does away with the unstitching, plaguey wounds
Of an eternal sufferer.
                                  To you
Perseus, the palm, and may you poise
And repoise until time stop, the celestial balance
Which weighs our madness with our sanity.
                                      - Sylvia Plath

Long live the legend of  Perseus, transformed through the minds of famed poets.

What hero-poem calls to you today?  Share it with us in the comments below, or link to your website or blogpost...


Saturday, October 15, 2011

Poem In Your Post: Siren Song

This is the one song everyone 
would like to learn: the song
that is irresistible:

the song that forces men
to leap overboard in squadrons
even though they see the beached skulls

the song nobody knows
because anyone who has heard it
is dead, and the others can't remember.

Shall I tell you the secret?
And if I do, will you get me
out of this bird suit?

I don't enjoy it here
squatting on this island
looking picturesque and mythical

with these two feathery maniacs.
I don't enjoy singing
this trio, fatal and valuable.

I will tell the secret to you,
to you, only to you.
Come closer. This song

is a cry for help: Help me!
Only you, only you can,
you are unique

At last.  Alas
it is a boring song
but it works every time.

                           - Margaret Atwood

Ms. Atwood, looking very much the siren
We're all about the monomyth this month, and this poem just drips with witty irony yet packs a wallop of truth in the end.  And who doesn't admire Margaret Atwood, still fighting the good fight for equality, the environment, and freedom of speech all over the interwebs and in her current works.

Which poems offer you a fresh (and perhaps even funny) glimpse of an ancient subject?  What poem's caught your fancy today?  Share it with us in the comments or link to it on your blog/website.


Saturday, October 8, 2011

Poem In Your Post: Sidekicks

They were never handsome and often came
with a hormone imbalance manifested by corpulence,
a yodel of a voice or ears big as kidneys.

But each was brave. More than once a sidekick
has thrown himself in front of our hero in order
to receive the bullet or blow meant for that
perfect face and body.

Thankfully, heroes never die in movies and leave
the sidekick alone. He would not stand for it.
Gabby or Pat, Pancho or Andy remind us of a part
of ourselves,

the dependent part that can never grow up,
the part that is painfully eager to please,
always wants a hug and never gets enough.

Who could sit in a darkened theatre, listen
to the organ music and watch the best
of ourselves lowered into the ground while
the rest stood up there, tears pouring off
that enormous nose.

                                  - Ronald Koertge

Next week in my classroom, we're starting a yearlong journey exploring the heroes, heroines, goddesses, gods, villains, and monsters that populate the stories which shape our psyches, our cultures, and our world.  So why not celebrate the sidekicks, too?  Most of us, that's who we are.

If you enjoyed this poem, you might check out the other offerings over at Poetry 180 and Koertge's well-respected and often-edgy young adult novels, as well as his poetry collections.

If you've got a poem to share this weekend, why not offer it - or a link to its space on your blog or website - in the comments below.  I'll visit, and others might too.

MFB, on the morning the varied thrushes returned to our little suburban oasis,

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Waking the Morning Dreamless After Long Sleep

But with the sentence: "Use your failures for paper." Meaning, I understood, the backs of failed poems, but also my life. Whose far side I begin now to enter— A book imprinted without seeming season, each blank day bearing on its reverse, in random order, the mad-set type of another. December 12, 1960. April 4, 1981. 13th of August, 1974— Certain words bleed through to the unwritten pages. To call this memory offers no solace. "Even in sleep, the heavy millstones turning." I do not know where the words come from, what the millstones, where the turning may lead. I, a woman forty-five, beginning to gray at the temples, putting pages of ruined paper into a basket, pulling them out again.

                                                                           by Jane Hirshfield, 2001

Sometimes, just the right poem comes along, and often Jane Hirschfield's words have stumbled into my path exactly when I needed them.  This one - though a prose-poetic piece - reads to me like beauty and truth.

What poem has asserted itself into your life this week?  What poem alit on your shoulder at just the right moment?

Please be sure to note our Poem In Your Post blog hop in your own post when you link here.

If you'd prefer, leave a poem or a poetry website in the comments here instead.  Anything that spreads the word will do.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...