Saturday, December 29, 2012

Actaeon : Poem In Your Post

The hounds, you know them all by name.
You fostered them from purblind whelps
At their dam’s teats, and you have come
To know the music of their yelps:

High-strung Anthee, the brindled bitch,
The blue-tick coated Philomel,
And freckled Chloe, who would fetch
A pretty price if you would sell—

All fleet of foot, and swift to scent,
Inexorable once on the track,
Like angry words you might have meant,
But do not mean, and can’t take back.

There was a time when you would brag
How they would bay and rend apart
The hopeless belling from a stag.
You falter now for the foundered hart.

Desires you nursed of a winter night—
Did you know then why you bred them—
Whose needling milk-teeth used to bite
The master’s hand that leashed and fed them?
                            - A.E. Stallings
I love when Poetry Out Loud rolls around each year, because not only are all my students learning and performing poems themselves, but I too get to troll the site for a new one to memorize alongside them.
I honestly knew nothing about A.E. Stallings when I stumbled upon this one: Where have I been?? 
And this is my front-runner in terms of personal attraction, but I'm wondering if using a poem with both "teats" and "bitch" in it will divert some of my ninth graders' attention.  Hmmm...
It's well worth enjoying for all of us here though, especially those of you with a classics background.  Actaeon was a hunter who displeased Artemis.  The most prominent version of his legend notes that one day, while he was out on a hunt, he stumbled upon a naked Artemis while she was bathing in a pond.  He stood and gaped at her beauty, but she, offended, cursed him thus:  if he spoke a word, a single word, he would be turned into a stag.  When, fleeing, he heard the others in his hunting party and reflexively called out to them, a stag he did become, whereupon his own dogs tore him to bits.  Pleasant, eh?  But I thought you should know...
MFB, out loud,

Friday, December 28, 2012

An Extraordinary Theory of Objects : Mom and Me Review

Look inside at Amazon.  You can purchase a copy at
Indiebound as well.
You can't judge a book by its cover.  A cliched bromide in the extreme, yet often true.

Fashion writer Stephanie Lacava recently penned her first memoir, focused on her psychologically troubled childhood in France.  And its cover is gorgeously evocative, promising a textured, fine-penned, lucid, and elegant experience for readers.  Some may find that this book fulfills that promise.  We weren't so sure about that.

Mom said...
When I received my copy of this little book I thought: what a lovely and interesting way to announce yourself. I'm really excited to see what you have to share with me.  The binding with title and objects printed directly on it is beautiful and invites the book lover to pick it up and look inside: no bright look-at-me dust jacket needed.

And there are insights within of a young girl growing up in a strange place. Paris is the strange place, but I doubt that the locale actually makes a huge difference for Stephanie as she always feels different and knows that she's different. Insights include being the stranger, being lonely, being odd-person-out, not being part of the 'in' group.

Stephanie has a great relationship with her father. He seems to understand her well and tries very hard to encourage her but isn't always there due to his work. Her mother appears to recognize Stephanie's needs but seems to impact minimally on her daughter, who totally disregards mother's directives, particularly when she disappears at night without notice to anyone. Lots of teenagers have done the same thing so they would probably relate to many of the events.

I'm thinking that Stephanie is so different from me that I found it hard to relate to her.  And I found that the stories of the objects on the book's cover and those noted within chapters, though intriguing, became simply a distraction for me. The footnotes, offered in tiny print and sometimes extending over 2 pages, though integral to the narrative, just didn't do it for me.

I'm not sorry I read the book--I just felt disappointed. I think I didn't want to know as much about the 'objects' as the writer wanted me to learn. 

My take...
I suspect that we all feel - from time to time, and far more frequently during adolescence - that we are more acutely attuned to the world than our peers or even our family members, and that we don't fit in, aren't normal.  This is the central internal conflict for Lacava in this memoir as well.  As a result, most readers will find that aspect of this book provides an opportunity to reflect and to sympathize.  Young adults, particularly, might see themselves in this struggling teen adrift in a sea of affluent private-school children-of-celebrity, an angst-ridden version of the "American in Paris".

However, this memoir's title is a bit misleading, in my opinion.  The "theory" refers to Stephanie Lacava's lifelong interest in all manner of "things" - objects both natural and human made, as well as historical personages received as objects, that capture her attention and help her cope with her exceedingly sensitive and depression-prone nature.  The "theory", I suppose, is that objects can do that for people: help them make sense of - or at least cope with - the world.  But that seemed a rather obvious idea to me, and by the time I finished this memoir I had no more refined a sense of how or why that theory is extraordinary than I did when I started it.

Ms. Lacava's prose throughout is straight-forward, and the narrative pace reasonably quick. Yet I turned the last page thinking that I will remember An Extraordinary History of Objects primarily for its lovely illustrations (created by Matthew Nelson, who doesn't even receive a cover credit?), biographical information on eccentric women like Lee Miller and the Marchesa Casati, locations in France, and the physicality of the book itself rather than for any new insights this memoir might have provided about adolescence/coming-of-age or about how objects become "extraordinary".
Bottom Line: We both expected more from this memoir than we received, but each of us felt that perhaps we were too old to be its best audience.  Rather, young adults may see themselves in the teen Stephanie, finding hope in her ultimate success.  They might also pause to reflect on how the objects they connect to reflect their own inner conditions and conflicts. 

And we both applaud  Harper for investing in this book's aesthetic qualities, which will appeal to bibliophiles like us.

Many thanks to Trish and all at TLC Book Tours, as well as to Ms. Lacava and her publishers at Harper, for the opportunity to sample this unusual book.

Mom & Who? 
Mom's a retired science librarian/tech writer in New Mexico; I'm a high school English teacher in Washington state. We share a love of our imperfectly tended gardens (OK, mine's oh so much more imperfect than hers), lifelong learning (not a day goes by...), Jacques Pepin, travel, show tunes, our two-legged and four-legged family members, and - of course - books.

Once a month or so, we offer up a tandem review about a new book we both suspect you'll enjoy.  We hope you'll find our "dialogue" valuable reading in and of itself, and that we'll inspire you to try your own inter-generational read-along, be it with our picks or with your own.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Rest Is Silence : Not A Poem In Your Post

MFB, with prayers for all, that we may find a way to do what needs to be done, even when we don't know what to do,

Saturday, December 8, 2012

I Know, I Remember, But How Can I Help : Poem in Your Post

The northern lights.         I wouldn’t have noticed them
    if the deer hadn’t told me
    a doe         her coat of pearls         her glowing hoofs
                      proud and inquisitive
                      eager for my appraisal
and I went out into the night with electrical steps
    but with my head held also proud
                      to share the animal’s fear
                      and see what I had seen before
    a sky flaring and spectral
                      greenish waves and ribbons
and the snow         under strange light         tossing in the pasture
    like a storming ocean caught
                      by a flaring beacon.
    The deer stands away from me         not far
                      there among bare black apple trees
                      a presence I no longer see.
    We are proud to be afraid
                      proud to share
the silent magnetic storm that destroys the stars
                      and flickers around our heads
    like the saints’ cold spiritual agonies
                      of old.
I remember         but without the sense         other light-storms
    cold memories discursive and philosophical
                      in my mind’s burden
    and the deer remembers nothing.
We move our feet         crunching bitter snow         while the storm
    crashes like god-wars down the east
                      we shake the sparks from our eyes
    we quiver inside our shocked fur
                      we search for each other
    in the apple thicket—
                      a glimpse, an acknowledgment
    it is enough and never enough—
we toss our heads         and say good night
    moving away on bitter bitter snow.

                                       - Hayden Carruth

Another Poetry Out Loud gem.  We eagerly await our first snow, and our suburban deer daily remind us that natural wonders are but an observant glance away. 

Northern lights here? Not so much.  But through this poem we may vividly imagine...


p.s.  I love a poem whose title adds a dimension or question to the whole.  This one fits that bill for me.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Married Love : Review

Find out what all the hype's about: Look inside
at Amazon and read the stellar reviews.

Or: Moments of quiet crisis in ordinary lives.

That's how I might have subtitled this collection.

And, yes, both the crises and the lives seem to fade back into measured calmness or purposeful obscurity by stories' end.

"Married Love" is the title of the first story in Tessa Hadley's most recent collection, but the implied theme doesn't carry through into the other stories in any reliably consistent way.  Love in its many permutations does.

With five of the twelve in this collection published in The New Yorker and others made public in Granta and equally prestigious journals, Tessa Hadley hardly needs me to sing her praises.  Name the major reviewers: They're lauding this collection.

So I will simply state that if you are a fan of the short story, this collection is certainly worth pursuing.    

In Hadley's "P.S." notes on writing Married Love, she discusses the art and the particular merits of short fiction as a genre: "The short form is so good at catching life on the wing, flashes from the intensity and mystery of people's inner lives, their strange motivations, their yearnings."  She adheres to this focus in Married Love and other stories.  If you're looking for subtle shadings of emotion as you inhabit everyday people's the inner lives via the slightly distanced stance of third person perspective (for me, Joyce's Dubliners and Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour" came to mind in this regard), this collection will satisfy.

My personal favorites in Married Love featured male protagonists, and I always marvel when authors can "switch genders" believably.  Hadley seems to excel in this regard.  If you're sampling from this collection, I suggest you try "The Trojan Prince" and "Journey Home" first, with "She's The One" and "Because the Night" next.

Thanks, as ever, to TLC Book Tours for offering me the opportunity for my first taste of a short fiction writer I'll be certain to follow in future.  And do see what others thought of Ms. Hadley's collection: click the TLC link above.


p.s. If you're looking to gift Married Love for the holidays, you can do so via,,, or any of the electronic platforms.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Snow Is Deep Upon The Ground : Poem In Your Post

The snow is deep on the ground.   
Always the light falls
Softly down on the hair of my belovèd.

This is a good world.
The war has failed.
God shall not forget us.
Who made the snow waits where love is.

Only a few go mad.
The sky moves in its whiteness
Like the withered hand of an old king.   
God shall not forget us.
Who made the sky knows of our love.

The snow is beautiful on the ground.   
And always the lights of heaven glow   
Softly down on the hair of my belovèd.

                       - Kenneth Patchen, 1943

What a lovely, puzzly poem, perfect for a December day, not to mention for reading out loud.  Each read enriches its impact - no over-analyzing required.

This one hails from a poet and visual artist who inspired the Beats, and although I couldn't sleuth out a particular term for Patchen's form here (gentle readers, if you know it, do tell), I do find the poem sinking down and swirling around its meanings and images.  It made me ponder how Patchen made his choices of stanza length and line length and gently morphed repetition.

I found this one while trolling on Poetry Out Loud's website for my next performance poem, and then I did a bit of research and found this wonderful series of illustrations by graphic novelist Ron Regé, Jr for the poem, complete with an intriguing discussion of the similarities between comics and poems, on   (For the complete four panels, just click the link above, read the thought-provoking article, and hit the link for the slide show.)

And if it's all the same to the weather-maker(s) up there, I'd like to ask for a smackerel of snow right now, please.


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