Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Lemon Balm

Lemon balm could easily take over the world yard.  I know because I have just been out there, pulling some up. Weeding out the tiny maple trees that have sprouted up in the flower bed. Re-mulching. Transplanting the celandine poppy from the Farmers Market. (I picked the right one, with buds not seedpods, and it is blooming now, that yellow poppy!)

Lemon balm is in the mint family and spreads itself and comes back. We had some actual spearmint in the back yard last summer, good for iced tea or mint juleps or mojitos, but where is it? Alas, only the lemon balm has returned.

A mojito is the Cuban highball. We like mojitos in our house due to specific and general attractions to 1) Cubans 2) James Bond movies 3) Halle Berry 4) lime and mint.

Later in June, I'll probably tell you about day lilies taking over the world yard.

After Memorial Day--love, family, remembrance--I am glad to enjoy this abundance of life after the rains, even if I pull some of it out.

And then smell like lemon Pledge.

Credits: Melissa officinalis (lemon balm)
Franz Eugen Koehler (public domain)

And now today's wonderful random (reading) coincidence: After I pull up the lemon balm and smell like lemon polish, I read, in Unless, by Carol Shields, "I won't even mention the swift, transitory reward of lemon spray wax." The kind of sentence that defies itself, in a passage about the common experience of comforting oneself with housework. (Or gardening.)

And on the next page, the main character, a translator, tells the writer she is translating that she might want to use the word "brain" instead of the word "heart," because "heart" is fey and passé and not-very-enlightened in a feminist way.

"But this is where I feel pain," says the writer. "And tenderness."

And that is what I must tell anyone who tells me not to use the word "heart" in a poem or that taking up gardening, and writing about it, is clichéd or risks sentimentality. So what? I take the risk.

Even if I am writing in my own language. Not in a language of the heart, being translated, which generally allows the trendy American translator to say the old-fashioned, straight on, wonderful thing...and get away with it, because it was written by someone from another country.

Oops, I sound a little bitter. Or bittersweet. But that's a plant of a different color.

Monday, May 30, 2011

War is Hell

Imaginary playlist:

"The Scarlet Tide" sung by Alison Krauss

"You Will Be My Ain True Love" sung by Alison Krauss

from T. Bone Burnett's soundtrack to Cold Mountain

Yesterday's reflection in church reminded me that Memorial Day had its origins in Decoration Day, a day set aside for remembrance of the dead after the Civil War, and that William Tecumseh Sherman was the General who said, "War is hell."

Wikipedia reminds me that the day was created and first celebrated by black Americans, particularly former slaves honoring the dead Union soldiers.

After World War I, this day of remembrance in the United States began to extend to all Americans lost in war, and gradually it became a day to decorate the graves and remember all our dead.

Susan Ryder's reflection begins with "The Young Dead Soldiers," a poem by Archibald MacLeish, who was himself a veteran and also served the United States as Librarian of Congress and in the Secretary of State's office. Giving voice to the young dead soldiers, he says, "We leave you our deaths. Give them meaning."

Please read Susan's thoughtful piece, and be sure to click and read the article by Kevin Cullen, called "The fatal touch of war," which makes you keep asking whether particular military and civilian deaths during wartime had meaning or were for nothing. It clearly demonstrates that war is hell.

And I continue to be struck by what General Sherman said about the impulse to war: "Suppress it!"

I woke this morning to bright sunshine and the joy that family will gather today for this Memorial Day holiday, but also with the phrase "lost to me" floating in my consciousness like the ethereal voice of Alison Krauss.

I thank our veterans, whether they served in a "good" war or not. I remember the dead, particularly those lost to me.

Sunday, May 29, 2011


I have climbing roses just starting to pop open on a trellis on the south side of the house!

The other trellis remains bare, with a small rose bush at its base that is slowly resurrecting from a rabbit-induced nothingness some years ago. The trellis of abundance survived absolute hacking after a house fire in 2006 and dramatic repairs.

The roses on this nice, white picket fence come from South Texas Gardening with Bob Webster, where you can find great advice and information on rose gardening.

More great advice at Rose Gardening 101.

Hm, I should take some of this advice! But I imagine I will continue with my wild Edenic gardening, which produces erratic and glorious eruptions of whatever wants to grow here, my own private prairie restoration and honoring of beauty, bugs, butterflies, rabbit & squirrel (stew), and wildlife in general.

Speaking of which, what exactly is Hellzapoppin? Oh! A crazy musical comedy revue! Kind of like my garden if it could sing and tell jokes.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Farmers Market

I was not exactly a slattern on this Slattern Day in the blog, rising early and heading off to the Farmers Market with my mom. I got a celandine poppy to plant in the tree-shaded area of the front yard, hoping it will thrive and spread, and I have an under-a-tree spot for one in the back, too, once the seedpods mature. Must remember to wear gloves as celandine can stain like nicotine.

Also got some organic green onions and green onion cheese for the Memorial Day weekend, and a poppy for the veterans.

Reading: Unless by Carol Shields. At the perfect time.

Baked a vegan banana bread!

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Heat is On

Imaginary playlist:

"The Heat is On" recorded by Glenn Frey

(because the heat is on)

"Kaleidoscope Heart" by Sara Bareilles

(just because)

Yes, the heat is on in our house, because 1) we did not turn off the furnace for the season 2) we recently replaced the thermostat, and it is working fine, and 3) it is cold outside.  But the prediction is for a clearing off by Sunday, so we hope for a fine family wamily get together on Monday, Memorial Day.

And some baking in the meantime, and preparation of fruit salad.

Baking will warm up the house, too.  And to warm you up on the inside, go see the new poetry feature up at Escape Into Life:  Jessy Randall! Wonderful warm, short, love poems, some funny, in a natural voice & style + fabulous artwork by Anka Zuravleva.

Jessy Randall is a fiction writer, too, so click those Amazon links to learn more about that!  And a librarian!

Thursday, May 26, 2011


I confess I missed the tornado sirens because I was watching Glee on Hulu. I guess the song they were singing at nationals in New York (show choir competition) was 1) too loud and 2) in the same key as the sirens.

I can gleefully report that damage was minimal around here, no injuries, and that the tree in rural Heyworth did not fall on the farmhouse!

(But yesterday's Judy Garland singing "Over the Rainbow" just before the twister did fit the weather post-blog entry.)

Everybody else around here went to their basements, I discovered later on Facebook.

I should pause to say I did check on my family--was talking to folks on phone, who had come in from mowing before bad weather rolled back in, so I knew of the warning in the area. Called daughter, elsewhere with my car, to tell her to stay put, not travel if it was bad, OK to stay longer where she was, etc. Hubby had come home from his staff/student junior high volleyball game, gone out again for gyros, and returned safely, saying daughter shouldn't drive in it--"I called her," I said.

I should have noticed the funny, sly grin he was giving me as the Glee kids kept singing.

Vanity Fair, a sort of glamor magazine with good articles, used to be my guilty pleasure. Now it's Glee, high school kids singing, silly plots, tortured romance, ridiculous grownups. Sue Sylvester, the cheerleading coach you love to hate. (I've played volleyball with her!) I cried when her sister died.

Glee has plenty of redeeming social value. Gay kids get to love one another. Bullies are exposed, resisted, given a chance to change. Incompetence and school politics look as bad in Glee as they are in real life.

But mostly it's unreal life--sudden singing with professional musicians and sound engineers and rolling cameras.

Sometimes life is unreal in this way. I have a poem coming out in Sow's Ear this summer, called "Mowing." It's got five white funnel clouds in it, hanging over the farmhouse I grew up in, doing no harm.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Rolling Through

The long-predicted thunderstorms are finally rolling through.

It's Ralph Waldo Emerson's birthday.

Q: "Where's Waldo?"

A: "Somewhere over the Over-Soul."

If you are not already in love with Yael Naim, as I am, hurry on over to Susan Rich's blog, The Alchemist's Kitchen, and click the youtube here to see the music video for "New Soul."

I've been reading Noah's Compass, a novel by Anne Tyler, for my book group.  I love her work, always so human, compassionate, and quietly hilarious, and always so clear; she has a prose style that renders her invisible, like a good theatre director! We just watch the play, or read the story, caring about the people and what happens.

In fact, I finished it outside yesterday, in sunshine, before the rain came rolling through overnight.

There is only a glancing reference to Noah, the ark guy. Other Bible stories are mentioned, by way of a Bible coloring book. But here's a snippet of dialogue that demonstrates Tyler's humor, spot-on observations of real life, and ability to be deeply provocative in a subtle way that resonates later, or on re-reading:

"Louise, what's the meaning of the Joseph story?"

"Which Joseph story?"

"The coat of many colors, the slavery in Egypt--what are people supposed to learn from it?"

"They're not supposed to learn anything," Louise said. "It's an event that really happened. It's not made up; it's not designed for any calculated purpose."

"Oh," he said.

(This is Louise's father asking, and deciding not to pursue the conversation further, after babysitting the boy with the Bible coloring book.) The sentence, "They're not supposed to learn anything" made me laugh out loud, in a choked-in-the-throat kind of way. That's exactly the problem, isn't it, with a literal and fundamentalist interpretation of the great stories from the Bible (or any religious text). The conversation stops.

Progressives cannot talk to fundamentalists. Too often, atheists and agnostics assume anyone who goes to church or reads about religion must be a fundamentalist, or some kind of literalist. So the conversation halts there, too.

Of course we are meant to learn something! Of course there are helpful and harmful "calculated purposes," all around. Open your eyes! Etc., etc., laughing and choking.

So I do like Ralph Waldo Emerson's idea that we can intuit what's out there, in terms of a spirituality, or a moral or political philosophy, from Nature. No one text or one spiritual or political leader has to teach it to us, or could. The conversation is ongoing, and scientists and historians and political philosophers and poets participate in it, too. And marvelously funny novelists.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Purple Ink of the Iris

Dark purple iris has opened in my own yard, yellow next door, and lavender lush and tumbling all over the neighborhood.  Even the irises my mother gave me last year, transplanted from her yard and not expected to bloom this first year, are about to open.

Two of my tall regal stems were nearly flat to the ground on Sunday after a strong wind, so I clipped them and brought them inside.  This morning I found them dripping dark purple ink on the table tops.

I've been working on a script built from Civil War letters and just yesterday sent the latest draft to the director with a section of text changed to purple, as for "purple prose." It is the true patriotic sentiment of the times but drips purple in its rhetoric. I think it can be cut!--leaving just streaks of purple here and there.

Above is the "Mary Todd" iris!

Did you know gin can be flavored with iris?

As Johnny Carson used to say, "I did not know that." Now I do.

One of my favorite books of poetry ever is The Wild Iris, by Louise Gluck.

One of my favorite artists ever is Vincent van Gogh, who famously painted irises.

And a heartbreaking film, about a philosopher and  author, is Iris.

And today, a day in which I woke to the radio saying, "It's 61 at 6:01," a day full of the purple ink of the iris, is both a Fat Tuesday and a Random Coinciday in the blog.  Have a good one, full of beauty, joy, and random coincidii.

Monday, May 23, 2011

When the Birds Begin

Yesterday I woke to a pink dawn and today, before dawn, to all the birds singing at the first glimmers. 

A window chorus. 

The sky is blue, the day calm.

But it is a blue Monday in Joplin, Missouri, visited yesterday evening by a tornado. 

So, once again, I hear Emily Dickinson's line, "Let us keep fast hold of hands, that when the birds begin, none of us be missing."

I know people in Joplin are seeking the missing right now.

All the recent disasters ripple again, the earlier tornadoes in the South, the earthquakes, the tsunami.

And all the recent Rapture silliness slinks away, and should, shamefaced. This is real and always will be.

Sympathy goes out, as will donations. Quiet gratitude stays, for my own moment of blue sky. And joy in it. I was so moved, many years ago, reading about a woman who had survived an awful terror. She was committed to joy, so the terror would not win. 

Ever since, I've felt a responsibility not just to people and work, but to joy. For her.

[Mary Cassat, Lilacs in a Window, public domain, Wikimedia]

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Pink Dawn

I woke to a pink dawn today, filling the window where the pink curtain is missing and the curtain rod broken. I may leave it that way!

Yesterday was gorgeous, and I was out in it, writing poetry and reading essays. And now and then weeding and planting.

I have seeds in envelopes, harvested from last year, like a regular Emily Dickinson.

At moments, I walk over to a particular bed. "Please," I say to the squirrel, "step away from the coreopsis.

Really, I am usually more urgent and less polite.  "Don't eat my mum!" And the squirrel races up the television antenna leftover from a previous century.

I am ready for today's poetry workshop with new assignments, thanks to Donna Vorreyer!  I am using her "line by line" assignment for a "modern" sonnet, as is, and also adapted (so it's two assignments now) to the subject matter of an upcoming reading. (Planting Ourselves in McLean County, June 11, at the McLean County Museum of History.) We've already tried the sonnet, in a unit on forms, so this opening up of the sonnet will be very good as flowers open up all around us.

Yes, if the weather holds, we will sit at the picnic table on the patio and drink wine!  If it clouds over, at the kitchen table!

Happy Birthday to Mary Cassat.  This is her Baby John, Being Nursed [public domain, Wikimedia].

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Rapture

As I am still here on the day predicted as the end of the world, I am just going to recommend, again, a book: White Teeth, by Zadie Smith. It opens with a sort of rapture party, or post-rapture party, after another predicted end-of-the-world didn't happen, leaving behind some disappointed Jehovah's Witnesses.

I loved it when I read it, and I loved it when I discovered it again as a PBS mini-series. It is an amazingly optimistic look at our various cultural clashes during the 20th century, after World War II. It is not always a cheerful book--crap happens--but it handles the crap with just the right amount of dark comedy.

Here's a good interview with the author!

I do think we can love one another, and find a way to live with one another on this earth. If we fail, the earth will clean itself up without us, but I hope it doesn't come to that.

And now, left behind and not eaten by zombies, I must manage to eat some breakfast. Backwards as I am, I brushed my teeth first.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Make Lemonade

Yesterday I did not dust, and I did not post a blog entry.  Does that make me a slattern?

I was exhausted. Probably from reading poems all day to sweet, sweet kids the day before, but also in some other undefinable way.

I did work on various writing projects, I did recover my energy, and I did discover I am not addicted to blog posting.

So that's good!

And this lemon came from painter Jonathan Koch, so I send you his way for a painting!

And you might like this National Geographic picture, too, that people are sharing at Facebook!

I am off to do a little gardening before the rain comes, and before the Rapture.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Girl Who Goes Alone

Today I am going alone to read poems to 3-5 year-old pre-schoolers! From this big Golden Book of Poetry.

But The Girl Who Goes it Alone is really Elizabeth Austen, whose chapbooks I recently reviewed for Fiddler Crab Review, an online journal entirely dedicated to the chapbook (current, recent, or past!).

Austen's good news is a new book, Every Dress a Decision (Blue Begonia Press), and a feature about it on ArtZone, a Seattle arts program on television.  You can watch it here and, as she says in her own blog, her segment starts at 1:50, but I also enjoyed seeing the paintings of the visual artist just before that.  It's a fun program all around.

Elizabeth, who used to work in the theatre, reads her poetry beautifully!

And if you haven't yet seen the owl and pussycat video on youtube, here's that, too. (Brief ad precedes the animal play.)

"The Owl and the Pussycat" (pictured above on The Golden Book of Poetry) is by Edward Lear, and it rhymes!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

To Tell The Truth

As part of the Versatile Slattern Blogger award, I was supposed to tell you 7 random facts about myself. OK, I am just now getting around to it.

1.  I am old enough to have watched the original To Tell the Truth on TV. (I hear in my head "a Goodson-Todman production!")  With Bud Collyer as host and, often, Kitty Carlisle as panelist.

2.  I always think Kitty Carlisle was once Miss America. Am I confusing her with a panelist on another game show? Kitty Carlisle was married to Moss Hart.

3. I played Alice in You Can't Take It With You, by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, in the Steppenwolf production of this play in Chicago.

4. Alice is the "normal" member of a wacky family.  I am the wacky member of my Normal family.

5.  Dove soap is 1/4 moisturizing cream! (I think they used to say "one quarter cleansing cream" on television commercials during To Tell the Truth.  My mother told me that once Kitty Carlisle, doing the live lead-in to the commercial, pronounced it "dove" with a long "o," so it was about the past tense of "dive" instead of the bar soap with the bird of peace as part of its logo, but the past tense of "dive" as "dove" is also a bit apocryphal and was earlier, and more correctly, "dived," though "dove" is now in common use and perfectly acceptable. That's what happens to language. It wears down, like a bar of soap.)

6.  "Will the real Justin Evans please stand up?"  To Tell the Truth is a game show in which three people answer questions about the identity of one real person, who is there, the other two being imposters. The celebrity panelists, usually including Kitty Carlisle, try to figure out which one is the real bar of soap. At the end, Bud Collyer asks, "Will the real so-and-so please stand up?"  (But he never called anyone a so-and-so.)

After reading all about the poet Justin Evans in some recent poet blog entries, I stumbled on Justin Evans in the blog of Margaret Evans Porter (via Julie Kistler's theatre blog); she was claiming him as her cousin and the author of White Devil. When I checked Amazon, I found yet another Justin Evans (Justin Wayne Evans), who has written a book of poems called Moonlit Memories.

They can all stand up, and Kitty Carlisle can, too!

(Not really. She died in 2007.)

7.  I love random coincidii. But you already knew that. For example, Kitty Carlisle was in the opera The Rape of Lucretia, by Benjamin Britten, mentioned in yesterday's blog entry.

Who gnu? Not me, until I went on one of those infinity loops in the Internet. Now all that's left of me is a little sliver in danger of getting stuck in the drain.

Monday, May 16, 2011

She Hearts Short Stories

...and writes them, too!

Lindsay Tigue has a short story in the new issue of Bearcreekfeed.  Her story, "Shudder, Click," is wonderful and compact, somehow starting in a photo booth and stretching back a lifetime, and forward, too.

Lindsay blogs about short stories, too, at I Heart Short Stories, also in the blogroll here.  And May is Short Story Month, so 1) give her a visit and 2) read some short stories!

I am celebrating Short Story Month by returning to Alice Munro, The View from Castle Rock. I'd started it earlier, intrigued by her introduction about weaving family history and fiction, and then life and other reading tore me away.

Rejoining the book, not sure where I'd left off (bookmark taken out for re-shelving), I started with the stories in Part Two, Home, and loved them. Munro has that ability to just say it, to include everything true and of interest, down to Canadian geography and exploring crypts in an old cemetery.

Now I've returned to Part One, No Advantages, where I'll learn more about family history and people who left Scotland to settle in Canada.

Good that I'm reading it how, as I'm headed to Canada this summer for this, a week of Toronto Pursuits, and specifically this, Strange Bedfellows, for which I'll need to re-read Billy Budd, by Herman Melville, Death in Venice, by Thomas Mann, and "The Turn of the Screw," by Henry James, linked by the marvelous coincidence that they were all made into operas by Benjamin Britten.

This and other fantastic "learning vacations," chances to travel and talk with literary-minded people, are available at Classical Pursuits, the lovechild of Ann Kirkland.

Additional random coincidii here are that the discussion leaders for Classical Pursuits are often also discussion leaders for Great Books Chicago, where short story writer Lindsay Tigue helps it all happen in her job with the Great Books Foundation.

This "full circle" moment is in the twisted shape of the infinity symbol.

Sometimes the travel pursuits go to the Blyth Theatre Festival, with Blyth in the heart of Munro Country. And sometimes Alice Munro stories come to Joliet, Illinois, just up the road from me!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Blue Monday on a Poetry Someday

My son moves back to Chicago today, to work over the summer and then resume his college education as a senior in the fall.  

My husband is taking him, as I won’t fit in the car with all the stuff, and I have a poetry workshop to teach this afternoon. 

So I am blue. But also so excited for him!
Some links today.  Here is a preview of the forthcoming Magnolia Journal posted in the One World Cafe at Her Circle Ezine.

You can hear several poems in advance of the issue, including my “Lazy Heart,” about the civil rights movement and the space program in the 1960s. It sounds a little scratchy, from a Skype call to Germany. (We also did an interview in that call, so I guess that’s forthcoming, too, and I hope it worked out!)

Here is a link to the Rose Hunter feature in Escape Into Life.  It has amazing art by Kirsty Whiten.  The poems make you think, the art makes you think, and the juxtaposition makes you think again.  That’s what I hope, anyway, when I match up art and poetry! 

Once again, if you deeply admire a poet you think is right for Escape Into Life, send me contact info for that poet & some links to the poet’s work online (or blog, or press) to Kathleen [at] escapeintolife [dot] com. Speaking of which, who can put me in touch with Jeanette Allee?!

(I do appreciate the effort it takes to nominate another poet. Sometimes it seems that many poets are eager to promote themselves, but that fewer poets take the time and effort to promote others, and/or to do the necessary reading! Other times, I see great generosity in this regard! The upcoming Jessy Randall feature comes from just such a nomination, for which I am very grateful!! Also grateful to Nic Sebastian, who uses this refer-a-poet method at Whale Sound, and who inspired me.)
In other news, it rained plenty, good for the grass, perennials, and new plantings.  And I have 4 gigantic bags of mulch to spread once it stops.  The hydrangea (from Solace reading!) is in the ground and thriving. Thank you again, Ellen Wade Beals, for the gorgeous flower. And her good news is a new review of her just-launched anthology, Solace in So Many Words!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A Versatile Slattern

have been honored with another blog award, this one the Versatile Blogger Award, by the lovely poet and blogger Donna Vorreyer. Her rules are listed below, and her own random facts are listed here, at Random and Fandom!  Thank you, Donna!
The "rules":

--Thank the person who honored you and print a link to their blog. (Done and done.  See above.  Also, I did this in more personal, less slatternly ways, as well.  Thank you again, Donna!)

--Tell 7 random facts about yourself.  ("Maybe tomorrow," said the slattern.)

--Pass the award to 15 new-found bloggers. (I might do this gradually, referring back to this post, and I might not reach 15, as I have given out other awards, and some blogs I read don't do this kind of thing. Others will have already been awarded!)

--Contact each blogger who receives this nomination. (Will do this in a slatternly way. For instance, if you are a regular blog reader, and you see yourself here, you are notified!  You can let me know if you want to follow these rules or not. I don't want to oblige or barrage you.)

--Let the giver of the award know whether you accept it or not. (Done.)
The fabulously versatile slatterns bloggers:
--Hummus Anonymous! A blog not just about hummus! That's what makes it so versatile. You might read about her kids, her player boyfriend guy, her family history, book group, food, or the Cubs!
--Dog is My Co-Pilot!  A blog not just about dogs co-piloting planes! You might read about dogs, yes, but also see adorable babies with adorable cheeks riding air mattresses, or learn about gay marriage legislation. Not updated very often, as this blogger confesses to some slatternliness, and looks good in a bra. (She does look good in a bra, but I thought I'd better cross that out.)
--We Are Family!  Family, yes, and more adorable baby pix; in fact, the babies in these two blogs are in ongoing "cheek wars" for cuteness.  Plus, you will drool at the food photos and learn to cook. Virtually, in my case.
--Musings of an Old Woman!  Exactly as titled, only not really so old.
--About Time!  Musings of an "old" man.
--Collage Mama's Itty Bitty Blog!  She knows I love her.  For her versatility, among other things! You will see gorgeous nature photos, marvelous collages (if you click around), and learn about the education of the young and the care of the elderly, all done with compassion and humor.
--Dick Jones' Patteran Pages! Newly reading this versatile blog, finding lovely stuff on poetry and great family wamily pix!
--City Bird!  Hilarious and kind.  You can read about odd behavior in a duck.  Cathy Douglas, I am not calling you an odd duck.
--the rain in my purse!  I love this poet's blog. Today, like a true slattern, she has posted a previously written poem, "Shady," and a favorite of mine. Put on your sunglasses; she's brilliant.
--Ian Belknap! Brace yourself! I blogged about him yesterday, so this is a further testament to his brilliance and my slatternliness.
--Dave Awl's Ocelot Factory! Likewise, previously blogged about this wonderful fellow. I'm a slattern. If he's one, too, he will not see this nomination.
--Bacon and Chocolate! What could be more versatile than bacon and chocolate?!
--Via Negativa! Talk about versatility! Click around! (He's not a slattern, but he's gone for a little while. Fear not, stuff will keep appearing there.)
--Confessions of Ignorance! This is one of my favorite blogs, as it fully explores the meaning, origins, and usage of various words. This blogger, Seana, has more than one blog, so she's versatile in that way, too, but there is also versatility in the kinds of words she chooses! She explored the word "skedaddle" for me upon request, helping me do some Civil War research. I thank her!
and, last but not least, for I seem to have indeed cited all 15 in one day, is the Queen of Versatility, Maureen E. Doallas of
--Writing Without Paper!  A blog about so many wonderful things! Art, writing, neat things. Today she posts her Saturday Sharing (My Finds are Yours) feature. And she's no slattern.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Ian Belknap is Brilliant

1) Ian Belknap is brilliant!

2) Today is Cranky Doodle Day in the blog.

How do these two "fun facts" connect? Ian Belknap is the best cranky doodler I have ever met.  And I have met him.  Briefly.  At the Encyclopedia Show.  Where he is the stern, frequently cranky "fact-checker."  He scares me.

Just look at his rants here, at his blog!  There's a lot of swearing as well as ranting.  I think he might like Clockwise Cat, where there is also swearing and ranting.  The new issue, #21, is up there now.  I do think Alison Ross, editor/publisher of Clockwise Cat,  might like the ranting of Ian Belknap, formerly attractive man.

One of my favorite rants by Ian Belknap is this Essay Fiesta about the difficulty of obtaining corporate sponsorship. And it's not just because it was written to benefit the Howard Brown Health Center. I like it because it is funny, right on, and descends into the depths.

One of my persistent cranks is how corporations keep trying to improve their images by aligning themselves with causes, and the brilliant Ian Belknap decimates them and himself for that impulse.  (Wait. "Decimate" means to kill every 10th person. Oh, never mind. I'm cranking at myself now.)

For instance, yesterday I was watching The Daily Show and The Colbert Report--both were doing a nice job of decimating idiots--and a J.P. Morgan Chase commercial kept playing, muted grays and white animation showing how great a company they are, and how good they are to people! I loved the irony of it all.

And I love the Japanese Hornet.

And this guy, at Arthropoda.

I would say more, but it's late in the day. Blogger was down in the morning (which made me cranky), and I am headed to a Cinco de Mayo party with margaritas today.

Yes, I know, it's not Cinco de Mayo. It's Friday the 13th. But here is the Battle of Puebla, and there will still be margaritas, so I am going!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Forest of Sure Things

Many thanks to Karen Weyant, who sent me The Forest of Sure Things, poems by Megan Snyder-Camp, because I was a winner in her Big Poetry Giveaway in April.  (Once again, Nandini, Where are You?  You are the winner in my Big Poetry Giveaway, the fine event initiated by Kelli Russell Agodon to celebrate National Poetry Month!)  Anyhoo…

I read the book in my back yard yesterday, in the new summery sunshine, and enjoyed it so much! This account will be more personal reaction/connection than formal review, and probably more interpretive than evaluative, because that’s the way I am.  I do encourage you to read the book and discover your own connections & interpretations!

Right away, in the pre-poem “Sea Creatures of the Deep,” I was socked in the eye (“O sockeye O rock sole O starry flounder”) by recognition and connection (“Dear threespine stickleback”), having written my own poem with species of mussels in it in just such odd juxtapositions.  So there was delight, and the pang of “Oh no! It’s been done!” that a fellow poet sometimes feels.  But, fear not, our poems are significantly different!  And hers has sea creatures; mine, the mussels of creek and river.

Much later in the book, I thrilled to “Confession,” a poem that begins, “I used to pretend the ceiling was the floor.”  So did I!  So do I still, sometimes, hanging my head off a bed or couch to recreate that surreal landscape first discovered in childhood.  This poem is also fun for the artists’ shared dilemma: “I faked my way through office job / after job, the boss’s approach triggering / my blind clamor on the keyboard,” which is a fine reminder to me not to take a fake office job as I continue the search to make a living!

I like “Parks Inspector,” too, another poem about a job-job, as I like to call it, one the poet has to have in addition to being a poet.  In this one, the speaker writes reports on “[w]hat the land did wrong,” and it gets fixed, sometimes immediately, by a “cold-patch truck” that follows her around.  Not surprisingly, with the inspector around, park “wardens hid in their huts,” a nice reminder that it’s not necessarily the “land” that’s doing something wrong.  (Pause to recall a sitcom, Parks & Recreation.)

But the heart of the book, for me, is found in the poems of marriage, family, pregnancy, pregnancy dreams, birth, or (imagined? feared?) stillbirth in a seacoast locale, sometimes called Oysterville, where interesting things keep washing ashore.

We get our bearings in the poem “Bearings,” which doesn’t really ground us in anything but mystery.  Has a little stillborn baby been buried in the back yard or not? It’s OK not to know, to let the grief and uncertainty build, the poem ending without end punctuation.

In “Dream at 39 Weeks,” which sounds like a pregnancy dream to me, we are invited into another surreal landscape, a river with real but mechanical fish in it and a sudden quarry right in the middle of town, “The quarry held, among other things, / other ways we could have gone.  Softened boats / and our parents’ clothes, everything we’d been afraid to want.”

I love the poignancy of that and the weird image of “softened boats.”  How could they float? In a poem later in the book, too, there is the image of a tree parting “a soft slab of rock.” I love this softening of hard things.  And, as you must have imagined by now, there are hard things tucked in among the mysteries in this book.

One mystery unfolds as a sort of fabled ekphrasis in “Still Life as Landscape.”  The ocean stops, the tide “quit[s] its ebb and flow,” making the fish easy prey for the seabirds and confusing the townspeople: “We hoped it was a glitch, / a toe in the drain or a typo in the almanac.”  Nobody knows why it stopped or what to do to fix it. Together with the other poems, this, too, might be about a stillbirth. Or not. “Outside our sea held its breath.”

I will simply mention a title, “41 Weeks,” to suggest a bit of relief here, and to sustain the mystery as well, as this is not a spoiler. After all, the titles are all there, laid out for you in the table of contents.  There is also a poem called “Wake,” and it has chairs and casseroles in it.

And the title poem is one that grips from the first line: “In this land the children tear their hearts in half.” It makes me scared of “the forest of sure things” and pretty sure I should not live my life expecting any sure things, which might not, however, halt the desire.

Now, having mentioned a central mystery in the book, I’ll mention that a blurb on the back cover offers a narrative summary I couldn’t quite gather—or didn’t want or need to—from the poems.  Either I’m dense, or it truly doesn’t matter that there be a prose explanation for how the poems fit (or don’t fit) together. I’d prefer to get my bearings (or not) from the poems themselves.

For instance, and the title makes this pertinent, in “Narrative Distance,” we get a brief unlikely story of scientists experimenting with rats on empty islands with vacation potential.  We don’t know what these scientists hope or intend to find! We have no hypothesis. And yet I have a strong sense that random experimentation is 1) senseless and 2) these poems hope and intend to have meaning. So I continue to trust that poems will have their meaning in ways unaided by prose explanations, including my own!

Now I want to point to a favorite poem from the book, called “As Light as Dark,” that exactly captures this inability to capture things…! (See what I mean about poetry?) The speaker of the poem is leaving a museum at a certain time of day, and there are no lights—“just pale roses”—to light the way.

There is a word for this
but I can’t remember it, a word
for the sky in balance, just as light
as dark. For years I have tried to call it up.

(Here’s where I urge Seana, word definer in Confessions of Ignorance, to find that word for Megan. Unless this is a mystery to be sustained, to go unsolved!) The speaker continues to long for it—the word or the sky in balance or the kind of light—as the poem goes on, until the constancy of not being able “to hold a single thing” must be accepted as part of movement and change—“even the good days seem rolled / in some other carpet”—and perhaps transformed:

May this slipping away protect us,
may the loss of days ease the ones I love
from their anger, that sturdy chair
circled all day by its shadow, without which
a dim sea would come to level our yard, level
as in make right.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Sudden summer here in central Illinois, with temperatures in the 80s, maybe going up to 90 today. The back yard is full of birds--the annual cardinals who nest in a pine shrub, robins, cedar waxwings, juncos, a woodpecker who comes and goes, a variety of sparrows and finches, and, lately, the brown-headed cowbird.

The cowbird is so named because it tends to live near herds at the edge of agricultural areas, but we had three shiny males in the back yard. The males go ahead to "case the joint" and females come along later to lay their eggs in other birds's nests! In this case, probably the cardinals' nest. I saw a brown female a day after the visit from the males...

The fate of these eggs varies. Some birds raise them, some recognize and toss them out, some build a new nest over the old. Yes, I've been working on a poem about this!

You can learn more about the cowbird and hear the song at the link above, and learn all about birds at All About Birds, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Another fun place to listen to bird calls is Birdjam, where you can even get an app for your phone. Great bird pix at both places.

These bird pictures are familiar to regular blog readers as paintings by Pamela Callahan (used by permission). You can see more of her work in her portfolio at Woman Made Gallery, or via the website and art studio she shares with her painter husband, Otter Creek Arts.  You can see from the photos of their environment that they must hear plenty of birdsong all the time!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Up the Down Staircase

Oh, my gosh, it's Bel Kaufman's 100th birthday!  Thank you, Writer's Almanac!  You can read all about Bel there, or a brief article here, at Wikipedia.  As you can see if you click the wik, there is no free image of Bel for me to use, so I am showing you Sandy Dennis, from the film version of Up the Down Staircase, a book that just thrilled me when I read it, probably as a pre-teen preparing for high school!

Then, when I got to high school, there was sort of an "up the down staircase" situation! It wasn't as strict or ludicrous a rule as in the book, but there was a preferred time for going up and down a certain staircase, sort of like rush hour lanes on Lake Shore Drive or escalators at the train station. Well, not even that strict. You could go against the flow and be smashed.

Hmm, as I ponder my life, that is my life. But that's another story.

Bel Kaufman's story is hilarious and satirical and could warm the cockles of many a frustrated or urban teacher's heart. It's an epistolary novel, proceeding mainly by way of letters and memos, the story unfolding inside these documents, as with Dracula! And there are urban high school horrors, as well.

The Writer's Almanac tells us how Bel Kaufman really, really wanted to be a teacher and had a hard time passing the oral exam because of her Russian accent; it seems the examiners were predisposed against her, as well, flunking her on her interpretation of an Edna St. Vincent Millay poem even after Vincent herself praised the interpretation! Kaufman then used her novel to expose this kind of incompetence and bureaucracy as well as other obstacles in the public school system of her time, also revealing the dedication to teach and the desire to learn that can survive alongside such obstacles.

Speaking of high school teachers, I enjoyed learning more about Justin Evans, teacher and poet, in two blogs this week. Sandy Longhorn discusses his new book, Town for the Trees, here, and Kristin Berkey-Abbott, who had earlier also reviewed this book, interviews him in her blog, here. Look closely at his answers to questions #7 and #8, aspiring poets and teachers!! Read, read, read, he says! And don't enter into teaching lightly!

(And I'd add, read Up the Down Staircase!)

I was tickled that, in the Wikipedia article, Bel Kaufman confesses that she hates writing. It is hard to do, for many people, including writers! My daughter was working on a paper for school last night, and there I was advising some "prewriting," which indeed she tried, despite resistance. Encouraging her, I also called it her "messy draft," the fun term from elementary school. I thank all those teachers who work so hard to help our children and students learn, think, and write! Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Hang in there, all you tired public school teachers, here in May as the year winds up and down!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Blue Lobelia

Last year my dad started a new fundraiser for his Kiwanis Club, the Mother's Day weekend flower sale. It was a wild success, as was the second annual event this past weekend. He modeled it on the Kiwanis flower sale in Akron, Ohio, after visiting family and hearing about it there.

So, loyal to my dad, the local Kiwanis causes, and to flowers, I added sweet annuals to my perennial gardens yesterday.  I love tiny blue trailing lobelia, so that is in a couple hanging pots. I am also hoping my fantastic Swingtime Fucshia returns in its pot! Something is growing in there! Last year it bloomed gloriously, was entirely eaten by caterpillars, then bloomed gloriously again.

Meanwhile, violets (the state flower) are blooming in the yard, along with wild strawberry. Both of these infiltrate the garden beds. My friend Lorel laughed when I told her I transplanted violets from the back yard to the front, as she yanks out and tosses all wild violets, but I am still trying to get something to grow naturally and return in front, shaded by two large trees.  The violets are taking, and the lily-of-the-valley are valiantly returning.

Speaking of valiant, my poetry workshop, given the assignment of a poem-a-day in April, survived and resumed yesterday at the picnic table on my patio! With sparkling Prosecco and Rex-Goliath Free Range Red. Wine, poetry, beautiful blue sky on Mother's Day.  What could be better?

If you need some blue lobelia, and didn't have a Kiwanis flower sale fundraiser handy, you can go here for these.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mothers, Mist, Solace, Hydrangea

I woke this morning to mist and the alarm, at six, and sent my husband off to his volleyball tournament (spring club season, middle school age girls). I woke again, at seven, to mist and the howling of a dog, and it was time to get up and see the white-misted world on this Mother's Day.

Happy Mother's Day, if you are one, a fine thing to be. Many thanks to our mothers--we all technically had one--and I feel so glad and lucky to have a wonderful mother, still alive. My mother and I have been asked to read in church this morning the Mother's Day Proclamation by Julia Ward Howe, abolitionist, suffragist, poet, and author of the lyrics to "Battle Hymn of the Republic." The proclamation is a call to women of the world to arise and stand against war, for mothers to meet and choose not to train their sons for war. Alas!

The Proclamation is from 1870, and this country had just been through the Civil War, with Julia's "Battle Hymn" (1861) a popular song among the Union soldiers, says Wikipedia. I am impressed by the apparent contradictions here, the ultimate pacifist (post-war) having written a "battle" song.

Now here are two connections:

1) I met D. J. Lachance and his wife Lucile at the Solace in So Many Words release reading this weekend. He listened to her when she advised that he write in order "to reunite with his family after returning from the Gulf War," as it says in his Solace bio. Many soldiers do not wish to speak of their war experience, but Dave (D. J.) has found a way to transform it to express it. Interestingly his piece, "Nagasaki Shadows" (referencing another war), is part of a stage piece, Voices From the Cafe, to be performed in Iran. Here again, war and peace, hand in hand.

2) Ellen Wade Beals, editor of Solace in So Many Words, chose an anthology as her way to spread comfort in the world after 9/11 because she had contributed to a previous anthology of pieces by women who had lost their mothers when they were young, Kiss Me Goodnight.  As she said in her introduction to the book and in her opening remarks at the reading, she wanted this new anthology to include men's as well as women's voices and to address all kinds of needs for solace. And that's indeed what the book does!

You can find the book at Amazon and independent bookstores, including Women and Children First bookstore in Chicago, site of this recent release reading, and at Barbara's Books on Halsted, near University of Illinois, site of the next release reading, Thursday, May 12, at 7 p.m.*  Here is the Events page for the book, and here is the home page. Ellen is eager for submissions of questions and comments on the book, or for your own slice of solace; go here for that!

*And Seana, perhaps you would be interested in hosting a West Coast reading, as contributors include Ellen Bass!  [And I just realized--so I am back to edit in this link--that Seana has also written of Howe in her post on Mother's Day, including the text of the proclamation.  Go here to see that!]

As I approached the bookstore on Clark Street, some gigantic gorgeous hydrangea plants were emerging from a car, hiding the humans behind them. It flashed on me that perhaps these were decorations for the reception after the reading, and indeed they were. What I couldn't have guessed was that I would get to take one home!

And that it would fit in the jam-packed car of my son's belongings after he moved out of his dorm at UIC. In fact, I didn't fit in the car after that, and was left on the street to be scooped up later after he was dropped at a friend's place. He had a fun day at the Shedd and came home on the train. We had a fun day unpacking his stuff and buying a few more flowers at the second annual Kiwanis Mother's Day flower fundraiser, already in the ground or pots: white impatiens, blue lobelia, bright yellow marigold, variegated vinca and dahlia.  And on the patio sits the beautiful lavender blue hydrangea.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Nandini, Where Are You?

Nandini, where are you?  You are the Winner of the Big Poetry Giveaway! Leave a comment with your address, and I will send you the books! (I won't publish the comment to the world, so no one else will turn up in your life unexpectedly!) The books are listed here, in the Big Poetry Giveaway post.

I guess if I don't hear from you in a week, I will draw another blue slip try again!

More tomorrow!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Speaking of Pomegranates

Speaking of pomegranates, here's a poem by Melissa Broder, from Loaded Bicycle, with a pomegranate it, a "pomegranate on high alert."

And speaking of Adam and Eve, as we were earlier in the week, I have a poem in the new issue of Blood Lotus called "The Apple." And it has a pomegranate in it, too. And a psychiatrist.

Blood Lotus is an online magazine where you click the issue to turn the pages, or click on the string of pages or dots below to find a particular page or move to the next section--here's issue #20!

And if you clicked on the pomegranate phone on hump-of-the-week day, after reading about Izanagi and Izanami, you might have ended up, not in Japan, but in Nova Scotia. Here's why! (From that brief Wikipedia link, you can also click the official Pomegranate phone website link at the bottom of the article, if you haven't yet seen all the phone's features.)

Headed to Chicago again for another reading, this time the book release reading for Solace in So Many Words, edited by Ellen Wade Beals, at Women and Children First Bookstore.

I have essays in it, too, but I'll be reading my two short poems, "Postponing a Response to the Fact of Mortality" and "The Heartbreak House." If there's time and it's not pouring down rain, I might walk through my old neighborhood and over by the heartbreak house itself, the one that got away....

Speaking of which, by random coincidence I saw Up on tv last weekend, while we were discussing Genesis, Brave New World, and "Tom Outland's Story" by Willa Cather at Great Books Chicago, looking closely at ideas of paradise, utopia, dystopia, human nature, civilization, free will, and so on.

is the Disney/Pixar film about an old man with a lost dream taking a house via helium balloons to a place called Paradise Falls. I love my life.

Happy Random Coinciday!