Happy Book Lovers Day!

img_0515According to my Twitter feed, today is Book Lovers Day! How can I pass up an opportunity to celebrate! <throws some confetti>

I wrote a whole post about books and why I love them so much, and it wasn’t quite hitting the right note. So here is the thing…

I am grateful for books. I am grateful that I grew up in a country and a house where I learned to read and it was encouraged. I am grateful that I am in a position to buy books, to get them from the library. I am grateful that I have time to spend reading.

Upon reflection, I take the fact that I can read anytime/anywhere/anything for granted. I don’t think twice about picking up a book and reading it.

Today, I am taking some time to appreciate the gift of books and reading.

 

 

 

 

 

Happy World Poetry Day!

poetryI was on Twitter and saw that #WorldPoetryDay was trending. (I really need to keep track of these things.)

Then I thought – wait – didn’t we do a poetry post in the fall? Yes we did. That was for #NationalPoetryDay. Wait, what?

UNESCO has declared March 21 to be World Poetry Day. According to the United Nation’s Website:

Poetry reaffirms our common humanity by revealing to us that individuals, everywhere in the world, share the same questions and feelings. Poetry is the mainstay of oral tradition and, over centuries, can communicate the innermost values of diverse cultures.

One of the main objectives of the Day is to support linguistic diversity through poetic expression and to offer endangered languages the opportunity to be heard within their communities.

The observance of World Poetry Day is also meant to encourage a return to the oral tradition of poetry recitals, to promote the teaching of poetry, to restore a dialogue between poetry and the other arts such as theatre, dance, music and painting, and to support small publishers and create an attractive image of poetry in the media, so that the art of poetry will no longer be considered an outdated form of art, but one which enables society as a whole to regain and assert its identity.

I couldn’t have said it better myself (that’s why I quoted it).

I literally just finished hearing someone speak at a breakfast about the Global Women’s Movement (I capitalized it because I think it’s important). What does this have to do with poetry? We need to tell our stories. We need to have a way to show other points of view. And poetry is one way to do that. THAT is why it’s important.

Of course I picked out a poem. I am reppin’ my homeland of Canada and one of my favourite authors Margaret Atwood. I remember reading this in grade 11 or 12 english class and railing against it – a poem about an orange? Are you kidding me? (I would have said WTF if that had been invented back then.) “Orange in the middle of the table…” <insert teenage eye roll here>

Here is the thing, as I read it later in life, I need to tell my cheeky teenage self – it’s actually brilliant. Who knew that some life experience could change your mind about something?

So happy World Poetry Day! Here is my challenge: go read a poem that you hated in high school (don’t say I hated all of them!) and see if you hate it less today.

Against Still Life by Margaret Atwood

Orange in the middle of a table:

It isn’t enough
to walk around it
at a distance, saying
it’s an orange:
nothing to do
with us, nothing
else: leave it alone

I want to pick it up
in my hand
I want to peel the
skin off; I want
more to be said to me
than just Orange:
want to be told
everything it has to say
And you, sitting across
the table, at a distance, with
your smile contained, and like the orange
in the sun: silent:

Your silence
isn’t enough for me
now, no matter with what
contentment you fold
your hands together; I want
anything you can say
in the sunlight:
stories of your various
childhoods, aimless journeyings,
your loves; your articulate
skeleton; your posturings; your lies.

These orange silences
(sunlight and hidden smile)
make me want to
wrench you into saying;
now I’d crack your skull
like a walnut, split it like a pumpkin
to make you talk, or get
a look inside

But quietly:
if I take the orange
with care enough and hold it
gently

I may find
an egg
a sun
an orange moon
perhaps a skull; center
of all energy
resting in my hand

can change it to
whatever I desire
it to be

and you, man, orange afternoon
lover, wherever
you sit across from me
(tables, trains, buses)

if I watch
quietly enough
and long enough

at last, you will say
(maybe without speaking)

(there are mountains
inside your skull
garden and chaos, ocean
and hurricane; certain
corners of rooms, portraits
of great grandmothers, curtains
of a particular shade;
your deserts; your private
dinosaurs; the first
woman)

all I need to know
tell me
everything
just as it was
from the beginning.

Happy Robbie Burns Day!

robert-burnsI saw on the old social media that it’s Robbie Burns Day!

Here is the thing, apparently I wasn’t paying attention in poetry class, or somehow I suffered some sort of memory loss…I had NO IDEA that Robert Burns wrote Auld Lang Syne. You know the song you sing on new year’s eve…should old acquaintance be forgot…yeah, that one.

I feel like I need to turn in my English major badge for not knowing that fact.

As I was doing some research, I also didn’t realize that there is a whole Robbie Burns dinner thing. I knew it had something to do with haggis, but that’s it. Not surprisingly, Mr. Burns wrote a poem about haggis, which (I learned) is read as the haggis is being brought out for the dinner, if you are following your Robbie Burns traditions.

Also he was an influence on JD Salinger (Burns’ poem Comin’ Thro’ the Rye is referenced in Catcher in the Rye), and on John Steinbeck.

I found this on a BBC page talking about why Robert Burns is popular today (and it kind of cracked me up):

Burns is often mythologised in Scottish life and literary circles especially at the time of year when Burns suppers are held across the country. But what is interesting about him is that he was a farmer’s son with a dubious reputation, both as a womaniser and later as an exciseman, who had a way with words which ultimately became his legacy.

Dubious reputation. Ha!

Although I am not going to participate in the celebrations by eating haggis (eek!) I might raise a glass of scotch and sing Auld Lang Syne in his honour!

 

 

Happy National Poetry Day!

nationalpoetryday2015

Apparently it’s National Poetry Day! Who knew.

Here is my poem, and my story about it:

The Tyger
by William Blake

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
In what distant deeps or skies.
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?
And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?
What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp,
Dare its deadly terrors clasp!
When the stars threw down their spears
And water’d heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?
I will set the scene: It’s my grade 11 English class (many years ago). It’s possible we were griping about poetry and how difficult it is to understand it. The teacher (Miss Cole) was like look, sometimes the meaning is obvious and don’t try so hard to look for hidden meanings. Her example was: on an exam, she had The Tyger by William Blake. She asked questions about it. The first being, what is the main image of the poem (or something like that). Here is the thing, people said, fire….hammer….stars…sky…..no one said a tiger! THE TITLE OF THE POEM IS THE TIGER!
It’s obvious when you see it, but I get it. You think that poetry has to be a thing, and it must be representational and you must be missing something. (See BJ’s post on The Waste Land.)  But sometimes, a tiger is just a tiger. Poetry doesn’t have to be hard.
Enjoy National Poetry Day! Read a poem. Write a poem. Be poet-y. You will thank me later.

National Poetry Day…

I am told by a reliable source that today is National Poetry Day.  And here I am…at work.  So here is my poetry story.

I pretty much spent most of my life thinking that I didn’t like poetry.  Of course, I studied it in college, and it was fine, but I didn’t really enjoy reading it and I never read it for pleasure.  I felt a decent amount of intellectual guilt about this, but it boiled down to the idea that when I read poetry I felt like I didn’t “get it.”

 

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The Robert Frost Home at Greenfield Village–from when he was in Ann Arbor

If asked who my favorite poet was, I would have said Robert Frost, which, I recognize, is the most bourgeois answer possible.  Well, I guess I could have said Rod McKuen, but you get the idea.

 

In fact, Dr. Crow (the same professor from my Waste Land post) told us that Frost speaks to Americans in their DNA.  They understand so instinctively that they can’t even explain why they like it.  This was an insight he had learned while teaching overseas and finding that foreign students didn’t have the same reaction to Frost.

Anyway, as I get older I find out that most of the stuff I didn’t like when I was younger amounts just to lazy prejudice.  With poetry, I first realized this when I watched Meryl Streep on Prairie Home Companion’s poetry show.  She read Wild Geese by Mary Oliver and it was really good.

Now, if there is an heir to the Robert Frost throne of American Obviousness, Mary Oliver is sitting on it.  Nonetheless, she pulls human truths from nature.  We learn, as we do in more spiritual pursuits, that we can suffer from an addiction to our human experience, losing sight of where we belong in, as she writes, “in the family of things.”

I also began listening to The Writer’s Almanac.  This was eye-opening.  The poems were better crafted for me…partly because they are, by definition, short, and partly because they are being read.  That matters.  I do better listening to poetry than reading it.

I still don’t want Barb reading the Waste Land to me.

Growing older is an opportunity to open up your life.  You have time, now, and maybe the mental security to peer into rooms you locked up when you were young.  And that’s true for this.  I’m still not a big poetry fan, and I like my poetry short and, let us be charitable here, light on obtuse metaphors and references.  With that in mind, I’m much more in than I thought I would ever be.

Beyond Oliver, I might point to Jane Hirschfeld as someone who insights have been particularly moving to me.

But for now, the search for something in the public domain will allow me to end this post with something from Frost that I suspect you have not read.  Enjoy.

To the Thawing Wind
Robert Frost, 1874 – 1963

Come with rain, O loud Southwester!
Bring the singer, bring the nester;
Give the buried flower a dream;
Make the settled snowbank steam;
Find the brown beneath the white;
But whate’er you do tonight,
Bathe my window, make it flow,
Melt it as the ice will go;
Melt the glass and leave the sticks
Like a hermit’s crucifix;
Burst into my narrow stall;
Swing the picture on the wall;
Run the rattling pages o’er;
Scatter poems on the floor;
Turn the poet out of door.

 

 

Happy birthday T.S. Eliot!

img_4107-1When I was in university I got hooked on T.S. Eliot. When I look back, I don’t know how or why this happened. This is reinforced by the fact that I have multiple books on Mr. Eliot, one of his letters and one that is a critical analysis of The Waste Land (here, see!) I am assuming that during my time at school The Waste Land was touted as ‘one of the most important poems of the 20th century!’

I guess in retrospect it doesn’t really matter why I got sucked in to this vortex, but I did.

When I saw that it was his birthday, I picked up my old Norton Anthology of Poetry, flipped through the onionskin pages and found Mr. Eliot. Oh! The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. I totally forgot about that. I can’t quote much poetry, but I will say that the few lines I can, come from this poem. .

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

And my personal fave:

I have measured out my life with coffee spoons

How can you not love that?! Ok, maybe I’m the only one.

When I read this poem at my advanced age today, I get it, and quite frankly I like it even more than I did. I really get the anxiety that is written in the lines, (“a hundred visions and revisions”, welcome to my life) and maybe this spoke to me back in the day, and I didn’t realize it. Now that I have embraced my anxious nature, these lines really do speak to me. Well done T.S.!

img_4116
Actual footage of me reading The Waste Land while on lunch at work.

Now, on to The Waste Land. If I had to guess what had me beguiled it was in the figuring out of the poem. That to be a true literary gal, I needed to figure it out. When I found out that the original title of the poem was He Do the Police in Different Voices, that was mind blowing. How cool is that?

Here is the thing, when I read this again, I actually realize that T.S. Eliot was basically showing off. Look ma, no hands! See how many obscure references I can cram into 435 lines of poetry. It reminds me of the linguistic acrobatics of <insert eye roll> David Foster Wallace (and brought me back to the reading of Infinite Jest). Just because something is not understandable and different, doesn’t make it good.

Has my life been worse off because either I never understood The Waste Land, or I didn’t retain what I learned. I actually don’t think so. The poetry of T.S. Eliot doesn’t come up much in general conversation. Quite frankly the only time it has, is when I mentioned to BJ that I was going to write a post for his birthday (T.S. Eliot, not BJ’s).

So happy birthday Thomas Stearns Eliot! I may not understand all of what you wrote, but I have fond memories of the time we spent together.

Also, let’s not forget that it was T.S. Eliot’s book of poems ‘Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats’ was the inspiration for Cats.

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