Saturday, September 29, 2012

These are the days when Birds come back - : Poem In Your Post

These are the days when Birds come back—
A very few—a Bird or two—
To take a backward look.

These are the days when skies resume
The old—old sophistries of June—
A blue and gold mistake

Oh fraud that cannot cheat the Bee—
Almost thy plausibility
Induces my belief.

Till ranks of seeds their witness bear—
And softly thro' the altered air
Hurries a timid leaf.

Oh Sacrament of summer days,
Oh Last Communion in the Haze—
Permit a child to join

Thy sacred emblems to partake—
Thy consecrated bread to take
And thine immortal wine!

-          Emily Dickinson, #130

Ah, Emily.  Once again, you nailed it. 

Autumn's summer's nod to Night -
when dwindling light,
geese in flight -
heighten sight.
(My imagined 'Dr. Seuss's response to Emily'.)

MFB, gleefully,

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller : Review (in brief)

The Dog Stars is one of those rare novels that literally recalibrated my vision. 

I read the final fifty pages on my front porch, accompanied by the shrill intermittent grinding of a power saw and the sudden shrieking of a bay window slipped from fingers, exploded on the asphalt amid exclamations of surprise and anger and frustrations and forgiveness.  It was the dimming of a grey, drizzly day, and clouds shredded apart into salmon on dusky purple.  Then the sweeping of shards, disbursement of the neighbors' remodeling work party, a deeper purple above, shaft of yellow-green sunlight almost perpendicular over the crest of our high hill, and silence.  Stutter of sparrow's wings.  Flicker's final white flit.  Homeward.  And the closing of the story.

The story harrowing and beautiful and surprising and inevitable and fleetingly hopeful at once. 

Stylistically impeccable, clipped phrases inextricably linked to the stuttering, moment to moment acumen of survivors in a post-apocalyptic world. 

The pacing sure-handed, the characters singular and solid, sometimes satisfyingly surprising.

And the natural world proceeding inexorably on in its specific beauty and fell fierceness, unsentimentally celebrated in reverent detail - and in contrast to the appalling violence of the few humans left behind after the one-two cocktail of flu pandemic and blood disease extinguishes most of us homo sapiens.

And the narrator, our window to this world, the pilot Hig, worthy of due consideration.  Impossible to be good in this kill-or-be-killed world.  And yet.

And yet there's a dog.  Jasper.  Perhaps the most honest representation of a man-dog relationship I've ever read, and believe me, as a young one and in recent years too, I've read quite more than my share.

I had to set this book aside at regular intervals, so intense was the action and the emotional content.  And the loss.  Yet I am so glad that I persisted. 

This one will find a place of honor on my favorites shelf.

If you love this, our entirely imperfect, entirely real world, or you would like to remember to love this world, you might want to pick up this book. 


In case you've not encountered reviews of this book yet (it debuted in August) here's the blurb from Peter Heller's website, on which you can also find more articulate reviews than mine and myriad means to buy the book.  Which you will do now, please.

Hig survived the flu that killed everyone he knows. His wife is gone, his friends are dead, he lives in the hangar of a small abandoned airport with his dog, his only neighbor a gun-toting misanthrope. In his 1956 Cessna, Hig flies the perimeter of the airfield or sneaks off to the mountains to fish and pretend that things are the way they used to be. But when a random transmission somehow beams through his radio, the voice ignites a hope deep inside him that a better life–something like his old life–exists beyond the airport. Risking everything, he flies past his point of no return–not enough fuel to get him home–following the trail of the static-broken voice on the radio. But what he encounters and what he must face–in the people he meets, and in himself–is both better and worse than anything he could have hoped for.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Autumn Sonnet : Poem In Your Post

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west;
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire,
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the deathbed whereon it must expire,
Consumed with that which it was nourished by.
This thou perceiv’st, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

                                                        - William Shakespeare

Take that, equinox.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Love, In Theory : Review

Find it now at Amazon or - for an e-copy -
at UGAPress.  Your local bookseller can order
it for you too!

Do all books, all stories have a "best audience", that group of readers for whom the writer's insights and singular style hit right in their literary sweet spot?  I think so. 

So I'll say this:  I thought that Love, In Theory by E.J. Levy would hit right in that sweet spot for me.  Sadly, it didn't, but I don't necessarily fault the writer or myself; we simply weren't the perfect reader-writer fit. 

Why?  Well, these stories - in the main - feature a somewhat detached stance on the part of their various narrators, plus quotable humor of the sort one might scribble down when a colleague snaps out a tasty bon mot that cracks up the whole lunch table, or when a friend posts one of those breezily ironic,visual-plus-verbal "postcards" on Facebook.  Both of those features work just fine for me.  But after a few such stories, one bled into the next due to the repetition of these qualities. 

But isn't the recurrence of an author's stylistic quirks an inevitable downside to a short story collection?  Often, the answer is yes.  Which is why I don't want to disparage Levy's writing.  In my experience with short fiction collections, the danger of sameness is always present.  Only true virtuosos, true masters of the form, can produce a collection with varied textures, structures, perspectives, characters, and insights.  We can hardly expect that from anyone's first collection.

An aspect of these stories that may be a draw for "perfect fit" readers is their content focus.  For the most part the fictions feature:
* Love as the theme, filtered through theories from a variety of disciplines (hence the title), resulting in that distanced stance I noted above.  Many who are in the throes of an imperfect passion or a love recently lost will find solace here, and perhaps a means to reflect upon their lives in comparison to the characters featured.
* Moderately to extremely well-educated protagonists addressing the highest, most passionate emotions in a rather cerebral manner, "emotion recollected in tranquility".  (This added to the moderate sameness of tone, despite differing protagonists.)
* Quiet finishes.  Reflection marked the final sentences of many stories, with one surprising and notable exception: My favorite story was the sole offering that surprised me with its final paragraphs and left me pondering for days.
* Many wry-smile-worthy insights about stories and writing and art.  Loved these: it's where reader and writer synced up.

I suspect that if I had encountered a single E.J. Levy short story in The New Yorker or some such, it may have made a stronger, more lasting impact on me.  And one singular story packed such a wallop that I'd like to use it in my classes some day.  I'll be writing Ms. Levy to beg her permission to explore "Small Bright Thing" with students and friends.

Looking for another view or for more details on Ms. Levy and her writing?  Hop on over to Love, In Theory's tour at TLC.

My gratitude to Ms. Levy, her publishers at The University of Georgia Press, and all the fine folks at TLC Book Tours for allowing me to sample the early work of a writer who promises to keep producing worthwhile short fiction for many years to come.


p.s. My action is to take what I've learned through reading this collection straight into my classroom.  We'll pay particular attention to writers' choices of narrative distance and how they interact with other short story elements to create an intended (or unintended!) effect in the reader.  Looking forward to it!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Wordless Wednesday : End of the Season Edition

The obsession with our farm share continues... Those tomatoes slayed me: so luscious.  And they tasted as fine as they looked. 

Hope your autumn's ripe with abundance.


Saturday, September 15, 2012

Do You Have Any Advice For Those of Us Just Starting Out? : Poem In Your Post

“Do You Have Any Advice For Those of Us Just Starting Out?"

Give up sitting dutifully at your desk. Leave
your house or apartment. Go out into the world.

It's all right to carry a notebook but a cheap
one is best, with pages the color of weak tea
and on the front a kitten or a space ship.

Avoid any enclosed space where more than
three people are wearing turtlenecks. Beware
any snow-covered chalet with deer tracks
across the muffled tennis courts.

Not surprisingly, libraries are a good place to write.
And the perfect place in a library is near an aisle
where a child a year or two old is playing as his
mother browses the ranks of the dead.

Often he will pull books from the bottom shelf.
The title, the author's name, the brooding photo
on the flap mean nothing. Red book on black, gray
book on brown, he builds a tower. And the higher
it gets, the wider he grins.

You who asked for advice, listen: When the tower
falls, be like that child. Laugh so loud everybody
in the world frowns and says, "Shhhh."

Then start again.

-          Ron Koertge

Ours were much gutsier and more
inventive, but you get the picture.

This week my students and I went on a book troll, sifting through piles and piles of our school library's most popular books to find the ones that grabbed us.  We'll use them for our "personal inquiry" book projects, creating our own burning questions about 'how books mean' to focus our responses.  Inevitably, even with the focused excitement generated by such literary abundance, the loose piles of books became just too tempting:  On day two of our searches, the piles called out a challenge for the budding engineers among us, and towers grew.   And you know what?  The towers only added to the joy of it all.  In fact, some built towers as display racks for their favorite book-finds: love!  I say, if enthusiasm for (or even near) books can be cultivated, I'll take it.

I knew I'd read a poem about book towers in a library once, so I went on my own search.  And I found the poem at Poetry 180, one of my favorite places to troll for easily accessible yet richly-worth-re-reading poems.   Now I know which poem I'll bring to class on Monday. :-)

Koertge’s also a fine creator of young adult books, and you can find more of his writing at his website:


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Sailing on the Lake Edition

The last day of summer.  Sigh.

Hanging out with two- and four-legged friends watching little sailboats race across the lake?  Bonus bliss.

Hope your memories with pals in the sun will burn bright in the darkening days.


Saturday, September 8, 2012

Advice to My Students : Poem In Your Post

Advice to My Students:  How to Write a Poem

Forget, now, for a moment
that you were the blond boy
whose father jumped off the bridge
when you were only eleven.  Forget
that you are the brokenhearted,
the cuckolded, the windswept lover
alone beneath the dangling pines.
Forget that you are the girl
of the godless cry, that no one
took you into his arms
during the cold night, that you have cried
from the fathomless depths
like a blue whale, and the world
has called back to you only its oracles
of relinquishment and moonlight.
Forget, now, my young friends,
everything you can never forget,
and hear, in the untamed wind,
in the perorations of the ravishing air,
the words for your life: omelette,
divestiture, Prokofiev, stars.
Forget, even as you gaze up at them,
the astral bodies and the heavenly bodies,
forget, even, your own ravenous body
and call out, into the beckoning light,
the names of everything you have
never known: flesh and blood, stone
and interlude, marmalade and owl -
those first syllables of your new world:
your clear and forgotten life.

                               - Michael Blumenthal

Welcome back into the world of school, the school of life, young friends. 

Let's write. 


Thursday, September 6, 2012

Sitting Kills, Moving Heals : Review

Look inside at Amazon, and purchase it there
or via your local bookseller at Indiebound.
What a marvelously practical book!

* For anyone wondering how to remain active for as long as they can without necessarily becoming an athlete, this book's for you.

* And if you have a friend whose mobility seems a tad compromised for any reason, the activities advocated by this NASA scientist - based on her years of research with (lack of) gravity's effects on astronauts - will quickly and painlessly help that friend get right back up on his feet again.

What's the premise?  That keeping our bodies engaged with the earth's gravity via small, natural movements throughout the day is what will keep us flexible and strong enough to maintain a high quality of life, unencumbered by unnecessary physical limitations

Of course, Dr. Joan Vernikos isn't against other forms of exercise.  It's simply that she has come to learn via years of research while directing NASA's Life Sciences division that daily functional moves to improve and then maintain our posture, flexibility, and core strength should be the foundation of our fitness, and our trips to the gym or hikes up the mountain won't necessarily provide the same benefits that simple, daily gravity-based activities will. 

For a quick summary of Sitting Kills, Moving Heals, hop over to the JKS book tour site

A few key take-aways for me:
* 32.  Remember that number.  Vernikos notes that if you stand up and sit down throughout that day at least thirty-two times, gravity's effects will kick in and your balance and stability will improve.  But you can't simply do them all at once in a minute or two to achieve the effects; rather, simply making sure you get up from your desk or chair every half an hour or so, using your core and leg muscles if you can rather than pushing off with your arms, will do the trick.  For some of us, the magic 32 will be achieved easily due to the nature of our daily routines, but for those with some physical challenges or sedentary habits, this simple practice could significantly improve their quality of life.

Yoga, for many reasons, all of which you can read in Sitting Kills, Moving Heals, is a good thing.  As is tai chi.  Of course, we may believe this already, but reading about it here will strengthen your resolve to keep up your daily (or near-daily) practice.

And, gentle readers, try this:  Sit in a less-than-comfy reading chair - at least from time to time.  Sitting upright in a hard-backed, armless dining chair will improve your posture, and as you shift around from time to time to reach a more comfortable position, you'll be working against gravity and thus improving your fitness.

Dr. Vernikos offers many many more ideas in Sitting Kills, Moving Heals, any and all of which take NO EXTRA TIME and can be performed by folks of all fitness levels, regardless of age.  How sweet is that?

I would recommend this to anyone wishing to begin a journey toward full health and fitness, and I'd wager that even those who run 5K's or play soccer every weekend or walk daily or hit the gym five days a week will also find ways to improve their overall fitness as they read this interesting book.  And it's a slim volume too, and so an "easy" read!  Vernikos provides plenty of fascinating background in the science upon which her practical recommendations are based, and it's all quite accessible.  Each chapter closes with plenty of documentation for her sources, and her credentials are strong, so one feels that the advice here is not simply opinion but rather the result of years of research - highly credible.  The writing is fluid and clear as well.

My actions?  Simple: I'm re-committing to my yoga routine and weaving in one of Vernikos's suggested movements into my daily routine each week for five weeks.  Then I'll re-evaluate. 

And I'm suggesting this book to friends and family members, especially those who may feel they don't have the time or physical fitness yet to engage in strenuous exercise: The actions "prescribed" in Sitting Kills, Moving Heals seem to hold great potential for strengthening not only their bodies but also their confidence toward building a life-enhancing exercise routine.


p.s.  For more information about Dr. Joan Vernikos and her work, visit her website.

Thanks to the folks at JKS Communications for offering
me a perusal copy of this book!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Fort Borst Edition

Dang, my dog is cute.  This was CJ's second visit to Fort Borst Park in Centralia, WA.  While we ate sandwiches, she vogued for us in hopes of scoring a tidbit.  One guess as to whether she got one.

If you're ever driving down (or up) I-5 through Washington, we heartily recommend a visit to this large and lovely park.  Here's the city site with details: plus a photo or three of the park.

Just one of many historic buildings at the park.

Gorgeous, soaring Doug firs made us feel right at home,
and they're integrated beautifully with human-friendly

We met a wonderful little poodle mix and his
friendly, helpful owner in the fenced dog park
during our first visit.

Looking for more fabulous photos?  Try

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Planet On The Table : Poem In Your Post

The Planet On The Table

Ariel was glad he had written his poems.
They were of a remembered time
Or of something seen that he liked.

Other makings of the sun
Were waste and welter
And the ripe shrub writhed.

His self and the sun were one
And his poems, although makings of his self,
Were no less makings of the sun.

It was not important that they survive.
What mattered was that they should bear
Some lineament or character,

Some affluence, if only half-perceived,
In the poverty of their words,
Of the planet of which they were part.
                                 - Wallace Stevens
And here's the poem being read by Bill Murray. Lovely. 

You can find more of Wallace Stevens, one of our great American literary lights, at his page on
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