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 http://marnileigh.tumblr.com/.

   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 http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/16765 .

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.)


Sunday, November 13, 2011

Mailbox Monday: Howl's Moving Castle & Chi Running

What a fabulous combo: One fanciful, one practical.  One a borrow, one a buy.

I'd heard of Howl's Moving Castle, read about it in fact on a few book blogs.  And then when a friend-colleague (another divine Ms. M.) raved about it it and offered it to me, I simply had to snatch it up.

Once I'm through with the outstanding Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller (an ARC, coming out in the spring, so put it in your queue because it will wow you, guaranteed) and American Gods by Neil Gaiman (I've read many of his but somehow missed this one), I'm off to chase the modern-classic YA fantasy Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones.

And then I simply had to get back into a running routine despite a constantly-aching-and-worse-during-exertion Achilles tendon (and how apt that re-exploring his story is such bliss while experiencing his pain is such agony), and so I invested in a kit from ultra-marathoner Danny Dryer, including his book Chi Running.  In just two runs, my injury's starting to stabilize, and I can feel myself shifting toward a much more fluid gait.  If you're at all interested in a uniquely non-harming approach to building technique for a lifetime of energizing and peaceful running, I urge you to visit his website to check out all his approach might offer you.

Off to take a blissful run and then curl up with a good book.


p.s. Need to know what other readers found on their doorsteps this week?  Why not visit The Story Siren for her weekly "In My Mailbox" blog hop AND "It's Monday. What are you reading?" blog hop at Book Journey?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Poem In Your Post Blog Hop: "Hope"


Human beings suffer,
they torture one another,
they get hurt and get hard.
No poem or play or song
can fully right a wrong
inflicted or endured.

The innocent in gaols
beat on their bars together.
A hunger-striker's father
stands in the graveyard dumb.
The police widow in veils
faints at the funeral home.

History says, Don't hope
on this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
the longed for tidal wave
of justice can rise up
and hope and history rhyme.

So hope for a great sea-change
on the far side of revenge.
Believe that a further shore
is reachable from here.
Believe in miracles
and cures and healing wells.

Call the miracle self-healing:
The utter self-revealing
double-take of feeling.
If there's fire on the mountain
Or lightning and storm
And a god speaks from the sky
that means someone is hearing
the outcry and the birth-cry
of new life at its term.

- Seamus Heaney from The Cure at Troy

And here's another reason to love book blogging: everybody in your day to day life can get into the act too!  This one's courtesy of my mom, who's been following my Greek trend and offered it up from one of her favorite sources: "Inward/Outward" daily emails. 

And, of course, Seamus Heaney rocks.  If you haven't read his Beowulf translation or any of his multitudinous poems, perhaps you should! 

Share us a poem that landed on your doorstep or in your inbox today, or simply post whatever poem feels perfect right now...


Friday, November 11, 2011

To Join The Lost by Seth Steinzor: What She Read Review

I'll say this: I admire Seth Steinzor for pursuing his passion with this book.  His own admiration for Dante's Divine Comedy shines on every page of this unique new fiction, and his desire to bring that master work back to modern life is certainly a laudable one as well.

To be sure, To Join The Lost, Steinzor's modern re-imagining of Dante's Inferno, returned me to that classic with a contemporary spin.  If such an updated literary undertaking is on your agenda this year, then you might find this narrative poem a worthy read.

Chock full of 20th century historical references (imagine Dante's Hell peopled with the likes of Bobby Kennedy, Adolf Hitler, and James Joyce, among others), Steinzor's journey with Dante as his guide funhouse-mirrors the famous poet's own fictional journey.  Plot parallels abound, and I suspect that at least a passing acquaintance with the original would benefit any reader considering this new work as well. 

Happily for me, I recently re-acquainted myself with a light-hearted graphic reimagining of the Divine Comedy, and I did read a more "serious" translation back in college, so I found this contemporary version fairly easy to follow and even grinned from time to time at Steinzor's recastings of Dante's 'crimes and punishments'.

All in all, this happened to be one of those reading experiences when I wanted to find more personal and intellectual satisfaction in a book than I did, but I do not necessarily fault Mr. Steinzor for it.  I do believe that this work could offer much to the right person at the right time, so if you're already a fan of Dante or hoping to find a more accessible entry into his work, you might pick this one up and give it a go. 

Ready to sample a chapter?  Head on over to Seth Steinzor's website.

Want a second opinion?  Hop onto the To Join The Lost blog tour.

Ready to buy?  Here's how.


p.s. Gratitude to TLC Book Tours and to Mr. Steinzor for offering me a perusal copy.

My action:  Mr. Steinzor's work has convinced me: I simply must return to Dante again this summer.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Ghellow Road by T.H. Waters: What She Read Review (briefly)

Literary memoirist T.H. Waters has crafted an earnest portrait of a challenging childhood that reads almost like a fiction. 

Working class Minnesota settings offer a rich backdrop for this coming of age tale with a decidedly serious twist, and Ms. Waters impresses with her unflinching portrait of a childhood colored by her mother's mania, depression, and schizophrenic breaks.  Shuttling from her mother's care to foster homes and the couches of relatives and school chums, "Twink" or "Thera" always comes across as your average kid just hoping to be accepted and to find a day or two's normalcy amid her tumultuous circumstances.  By the time she's a high schooler, both her father and her brother are out of her life (to avoid spoilers, I won't say why), and her mother abandons her to her own devices on a regular basis, so this plucky young teen learns coping strategy after coping strategy on the fly while going through all the typical trials and triumphs of teenage life as well.

My Opinion:  Treading the line of believability at times with her uncannily detailed anecdotes, even from early childhood and all the way through high school, Ms. Waters nonetheless captured my compassion in this character-driven account of how her mother's mental illness scarred her husband and children. I found this memoir to be a pleasant diversion from my workaday life, and a solid reminder of how lucky most of us are in that we are not coping with mental illness and its effects on a daily basis.

My action:  I'm going to respectfully reconnect with a couple of past students who also have coped with circumstances similar to Tera's, just to make sure they're still doing OK.  I hope that she would approve.


p.s.  Many thanks to the warm and generous Ms. Waters for offering me a perusal copy of her memoir, which ranks very well over at Amazon.com...

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Poem In Your Post Blog Hop: In honor of Sisyphus...

After working sixty hours again for what reason

The best job I had was moving a stone
from one side of the road to the other.
This required a permit which required
a bribe. The bribe took all my salary.
Yet because I hadn’t finished the job
I had no salary, and to pay the bribe
I took a job moving the stone
the other way. Because the official
wanted his bribe, he gave me a permit
for the second job. When I pointed out
that the work would be best completed
if I did nothing, he complimented   
my brain and wrote a letter
to my employer suggesting promotion
on stationery bearing the wings
of a raptor spread in flight
over a mountain smaller than the bird.
My boss, fearing my intelligence,
paid me to sleep on the sofa
and take lunch with the official
who required a bribe to keep anything
from being done. When I told my parents,
they wrote my brother to come home
from university to be slapped
on the back of the head. Dutifully,
he arrived and bowed to receive
his instruction, at which point
sense entered his body and he asked
what I could do by way of a job.
I pointed out there were stones
everywhere trying not to move,
all it took was a little gumption
to be the man who didn’t move them.
It was harder to explain the intricacies
of not obtaining a permit to not
do this. Just yesterday he got up
at dawn and shaved, as if the lack
of hair on his face has anything
to do with the appearance of food
on an empty table.
                         - by Bob Hicok

We've been studying words with origins in mythology and when I read this poem on the Poetry Out Loud website, I thought: Ha!  Here again is the relevance of myth to modern folk.  Our very lives take on a sisyphean cast most days, do they not?  And perhaps, as we're climbing into our professional attire and pushing that boulder up the mountain for the 364th time this year, with futility ever our companion, we may from time to time stride alongside a Muse or two, and catch a fleeting glimpse of Humor as she winks past.

What poem's captured your fancy today?  Share it with us in a link below or post it in the comments.

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