Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Pajamas or Pyjamas?

OK, do you wear "pajamas" or "pyjamas"? If you wear "pyjamas," you are "chiefly British," according to my American Heritage Dictionary. I love to look up words, and have looked up this one before, forgetting and then remembering that pajamas are loose-fitting Persian trousers, intended for sleeping or lounging. I wear mine to drive my daughter to school in the early, early morning.

While I did not see a windmill or a little person standing on the peak of a barn roof, as in this wonderful screenprint by Daniel Danger, the sky was this blue that early. Danger's art accompanies the new poetry feature just up at Escape Into Life: Bertha Rogers. I hope you will visit it to see more and to read her wonderful poems. Notice how she's a bit of a Chesire cat in her author photo!!

And I love that this one, in its title, hast thou slain the jabberwock?, references "Jabberwocky," by Lewis Carroll!

Have a good hump of the week!

(I don't think the Jabberwock is wearing pajamas.)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Feeding Time

I remember when this book arrived in summer, just in time for me to take it to the beach to read! It's full of fiddler crabs and other marine creatures. Of course, I was at the lake, not the ocean, but there was sand and water. I'm glad to be reading FeedingTime, by Emily Scudder, again now, as the cold comes on, so I can remember that summery shore.

The first poem, "Transitory Adhesion," introduces the conversational tone and a fine "transitory" randomness:

Seagulls bore me.  I like this boredom.
The mind can wander, like this.

Snails latch onto other snails. Or a rock.

With drop lines, kids fish.
Pull them up. Throw them back.

I once did that.
Sand robins are ugly fish.

And so forth. I can hear the water plopping. I can look around and see what she's seeing. I'm leaving out the heart of the poem now, the center, the personal, a loss, something for you to find on your own.  Now I'm looking around again, as she does, to recover. The poem resumes

Is it the fiddler crabs?
I count on crabs when other things change.

I call this monotonous attachment.

The ocean is like this: reused, remembered.
The mind can wander, like this.

And morning fog burns off, like it does.

Oh, I love that repeated line, "The mind can wander, like this," and the perfect use of a comma there, as demonstration of how easily it's done, this mind wandering, which the whole poem also demonstrates. I love the use of "like" here, too, conversationally, and especially in that last line, to resist simile and insist on what really happens, the morning fog burning off.

I have so many favorite moments in this book, and so many come from its blunt honesty, its simplicity of statement. It's like the opposite of Virginia Woolf, but here's one I love called "A Room of One's Own" that takes place at a writer's retreat and begins:

I am not very happy.
I am supposed to be very happy.
I am supposed to eat very well.
I order clam dogs and Cokes.

Clam dogs! I didn't even know such a thing existed, but I've wanted one ever since I read about it in this poem.

The women at the Lobster Pot like me.
The women at the women's bookstore like me.
The women at the women's bookstore offer me
the lesbian discount and I am pleased.

I would be pleased, too! This poem keeps building to its solitary writing room and attached "supposed to's" and with wry humor and poignant honesty goes somewhere new that is somewhere familiar, too. I'll let you find it via Pecan Grove Press!

But before you (and I) go, I want to give you the heart of another poem, this one called "Because We All Die Someday." It opens with a Woolfean sentiment, "And all I want is an hour to myself," which is also a Rita Dove sentiment...or any hardworking woman's sentiment, especially the writer kind. But here's exactly what I identify with, connecting me to my mother, who mows, and grandmother, who picked up sticks in the yard, and to the chores we ask our kids to help us with:

When I pick sticks off the lawn
my kids hate to help. Groan.

Why are we doing this anyway?

Because I did when I was a kid.
Because sticks jam the mower.
Because we all die someday, and picking
sticks is a small thing
and makes Grandma happy.

I love that "Groan," like the earlier "Clump." I love, again, that simple repetition that gets the job done.

Despite the reminder of death and the line "I am not very happy," this book is full of animal joy and family joy. I love the poetic renewal of vows in "If I Married You Again" with its new wedding attire--"I'd wear pants / and black boots"--and its raw desire! (Ah, I appreciate this "monotonous attachment" so different from the snail's!) "Throw my flowers like a shortstop."

I celebrate this book the way she'd re-do her wedding:  "Raise a fist / for the real of it."

Poet Emily Scudder is also the founder of Fiddler Crab Review, dedicated to reviewing chapbooks, new or old. I was thrilled when I first found this site, kept reading and admiring, and now I do reviews there, too! So if you have a chapbook, here's where to send it!

Monday, November 28, 2011

First Snow

Supposedly we've had the first snow of the season, not far from here, and there might be more of a dusting tonight, also not far from here, but I'll be fine if it wants to hold off.

The local flora is in that in-between stage--some trees totally bare, others still flaming, several shrubs half-clothed and shivering. The garden has two stalwart mums in bloom and new growth: columbine and pinks just up from the ground, thanks to that long Indian Summer in October and a warm November.

There are even patches of new grass since the last mow. And on the curb, mountains of leaves awaiting the post-holiday leaf pickup. I took a chilly walk into town for fresh air and to shake off any post-holiday blues. All the time now I am buoyant on an ocean of joy, a calm ocean in this metaphor.

And now a time of advent is coming, that death of the year that makes us put up lights and bring out candles. Soon I'll begin my own incessant playing of "In the Bleak Midwinter." Pink Martini's Joy to the World. Blind Boys of Alabama singing "Go Tell it on the Mountain."  The Trans-Siberian Orchestra's Lost Christmas Eve.   New this year, thanks to a gift last year, Tori Amos, Midwinter Graces.

I love Christmas music! But then, I haven't been out shopping yet. And may not go out shopping at all!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Emotional Opinion

Ah, I like this definition of poetry as "emotional opinion," which I found in Ruth Stone's obituary in the New York Times. She died at 96, so she had a good (I hope) long life, though filled with sorrow and struggle. A poet's life.

I read her book In the Next Galaxy last year and will seek out her others, gradually, if I can bear it. The obituary quotes from a couple of the poems about her husband's suicide, and here's another set of lines: "What is imperative is the Off switch; / which he, at one point some time ago, / opted for himself." She opted to live, and to write, and I am glad of it, but now the Off switch has been flicked for her.

Also sad to learn of the death of biologist Lynn Margulis, a favorite of mine. She was a trailblazer in evolution-ary theory, proposing symbiosis as one path to new life forms, not just random mutation. She allows for a kind of altruism as the basis of life, not just selfish survival, as evolution is so often interpreted, and her definition of "altruism" is, likewise, not the selfish conventional one in biology, which reduces it. That is, to preserve life itself, Margulis suggested, two organisms may share materials and give up their own lives, which is different in essence from those who say the organism is simply desperately trying to save itself and randomly produces something new. Since, in both cases, this is an unthinking intention, as far as we know, someone might say it is just two ways of seeing/stating the same thing. Fine. But they are importantly different ways of seeing/stating, with ramifications beyond biology, and Margulis's own research provided evidence at first rejected, now accepted in mainstream evolutionary theory.

Not surprisingly, she is also the mother of Gaia theory, which should interest and please some science fiction lovers, and was once married to Carl Sagan ("billions and billions" of stars).

And one more recent loss: Shelagh Delaney, the author of the play A Taste of Honey. I am thankful that these women lived and wrote, teaching us what to value and how to live, which, as always, is why I read.

And thanks, again, to Jonathan Koch, for the persimmons, pears, and mandarin.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanks and Praise

I wake early. Unless I stayed up too late watching the Star Trek movie with my kids. Then I might loll in bed for a half hour, awake but pondering life. I love when I wake in joy. Waking in anxiety, or in nothingness, tends to happen at 3:00, or 3:03, or 3:06. An excellent time to read a book. But, hey, what isn't an excellent time to read a book?

This morning I woke remembering to post Poems of Thanks and Praise over at Escape Into Life, a mini-anthology of lovely poems by 4 poets whose names link to their solo features there. It has gorgeous art by Christy Lee Rogers, reminding us of the glory and beauty of the human body and the eternal dance. Of the swirls of water and air and color everywhere in our lives. And the darkness always in the background.

And there is a quiet political statement in the center of her feature in a piece called The Promise that seems terribly pertinent this particular Thanksgiving in America, when many are hungry and suffering, or fearful and uncertain; when many are actively protesting injustice; when many are still not seeing or solving the problem; when a few keep a brutal hold on the money, power, and status quo. I'd like to see us instead come together in a feast of thanksgiving and peace. But I see that the promise holds the shape of a V, as for Victory, and remains open to interpretation.

Please enjoy the poems of thanks and praise of Susan Rich, Richard Jones, Maureen E. Doallas, and Robert Lee Brewer, and escape into your beautiful life.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Bravo, Farewell

This beautiful magazine, the fall issue of Confrontation, arrived in the mail this morning, with a poem of mine in it. For that honor, I give thanks. The cover art is a detail from a painting by Claudio Bravo, called Red, Rose and Orange Paper, courtesy of the Marborough Gallery in New York. Bravo's art is featured inside as well in a color portfolio at the center of the magazine, beautifully done.

Alas, Bravo died this summer in Morocco, where he made his home. He was Chilean, and his work was shown all over the world. I am glad he had a long life, and that his art had come to this "crescendo," as Edward J. Sullivan puts it in his essay in Confrontation.

I look forward now to reading the poems and stories in this issue! So far I have allowed myself the prizewinning poem by Zoe Donaldson, "Nonesuch," a gentle elegy and a villanelle.

I will also allow myself some pumpkin bread this morning, as I have baked loaves for Thanks-giving gatherings and an extra loaf for us to eat now, and some pumpkin muffins with cream cheese frosting...but those are to take to Phyllis, home from surgery and rehabilitation just in time for the holiday.

Monday, November 21, 2011

A Handy Image

As I had hoped and predicted, the subject in church yesterday was the sheep and the goats on the left and right hands of God in Matthew 25:31-46, and you can read it here, in the Reflecting Pool. It is written by Bob Ryder, the husband half of the powerhouse duo that is Our Double Pastor, aka the s/he unit. I am comforted by Bob's suggestion that division into sheep and goats is "a handy image," not a casting of aspersion onto goats, whom I dearly love for their drunken goat cheese. (See handy image at left hand of blog.)

Though I did not attend church that morning, Matthew turned up at the kitchen table during the poetry workshop, as we tracked down a reference to "Rachel weeping for her children" in one of the poems, a New Testament Rachel (common name) weeping after Herod's murder of the children.

All too timely, this harming of the innocent by those protecting the powerful and the status quo. Sigh.... A reason to be blue on a Blue Monday, despite the beautiful blue sky. (See handy image at right hand of blog.)

Yet, in the midst of my country's current troubles, and trouble all over the world, I am thankful and full of praise and a sustaining joy as we enter Thanksgiving week. For those of you who celebrate this holiday, have a good one. I will probably post on into mid-week. If I am silent for a time, I am giving thanks with family.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

How Did I Miss This?

Much as I love my church, today I will probably stay home from it. (Fortunately, I can read the reflection online at the Reflecting Pool later.  Or sooner, as s/he sometimes posts it before s/he says it!) (Yes, my pastor is a female/male unit.)

My son has come home for Thanksgiving, and it's my daughter's birthday weekend, and I feel homey. And thankful.

Plus, I can reflect right now on this post by The Bloggess: God and Jesus.  It's like when your parents get on Facebook.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Shall Not Perish

It's true that I get a lot of my news from NPR and Comedy Central (via Hulu). So I often get it highlighted and/or a day late.

Or on Facebook, via links to timely stuff in various publications. It's random but not more biased than Fox News--indeed, much less so, as I can glean from clips from Fox News on The Colbert Report.

My scatter shot method works rather well in keeping me informed and exposing me to a variety of points of view. It is a far cry, of course, from my days at the City News Bureau, where my job was to read the paper--several papers, every single day, and clip the leading news stories, especially local, to have background information to give to reporters who called in for it so they could understand the context for what they were covering that day, and to flesh out the story for their readers, as needed.

Today various things come together on the anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln's famously succinct speech at the dedication of the soldiers' cemetery in Gettysburg, PA. In honoring the dead, Lincoln also encouraged us to recommit to democracy itself and make sure that "government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth." I think the Occupy movement is another instance of this, a reminder "by the people, and for the people" that the "government of the people" ought to remember its purpose and not favor the rich nor continue to rig the system toward the advantage of the few.

Comic and cosmic ironies are the specialty of sweet Stephen Colbert, whose feature "The Word" on November 17 pointed to the idiocy of a Super Congress who would take health benefits from the 1%, meaning veterans, to help balance the budget, instead of taxing the 1%, meaning the super rich, which would be fairer.

Meanwhile, on The Daily Show, Sarah Vowell came on to remind us of Evacuation Day, November 25, when the last of the British troops left Manhattan, marking the very end of the American Revolutionary War. Many of us are unaware of that former holiday, as it was taken over by Thanksgiving, as Vowell notes, humorously casting the blame on Abraham Lincoln, the same guy who did not want us to forget the Civil War dead and what they had done for us.

And for another interesting war connection and collection of observations on what's going on today and how it fits into a historical context, please visit Confessions of Ignorance on the Bonus Army, a World War I soldiers' protest during the Great Depression...

The winding and layering of our stories somehow also coincides with Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man, a documentary film about the songwriter, and his story of a great general who suddenly sees the truth about war, with a Lincoln-like melancholic awareness, but is reminded by Krishna that he is a warrior and must do his work and be what he is, anyway, though all these people will die, including himself. What are we to do?

We shall perish. What shall not?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Presumed Dead

Speak of the devil! Or the "presumed dead," as I sometimes mark poetry submissions that have been gone far too long. I refer here to the submission, or even the magazine itself, not to my poems. Many of my poems may be presumed dead, too, but I can resurrect them, or, egad, cannibalize them, and voila! new poems, or, rather, the poems they were probably always meant to be.

In What Counts, a recent blog entry on tallying submissions, rejections, acceptances, etc., I referred to the "presumed dead" that I try to deal with responsibly by inquiring about and then officially withdrawing. Today I finally received back in the mail my self-addressed stamped envelope with 5 poems submitted August 26, 2010--so, a year and 3 months ago--with a nice, handwritten note apologizing for the delay and ending, "Best of luck, & try us again."

It's been an emotional morning. I finished Home, by Marilynne Robinson, and wept. Why? It's hard to explain, but I think I wept at the beauty, the mystery, the love, and the hope. OK. Read it yourself, then, as in read it and weep.

And I've been listening to Leonard Cohen songs all morning while baking red velvet cupcakes for my daughter's birthday. It's the beauty again, in Cohen, and the raw truth. Hearing them in the light of Home was almost unbearable, in a good way. Cooking, without Cohen, might have been unbearable in a bad way.

And speaking of Joan of Arc and the song of Bernadette...that is, Leonard Cohen songs...what you see above are some exotic angels from this website, with info about them. I found some exotic angels recently at my grocery store and took them to a friend in the hospital, and then they were marked down, tempting me terribly, so I got some for myself, too. Mine are a paler yellow and a paler orange than these but similarly beautiful.

Here's another website with info "all about exotic angel plants," the name for a variety of houseplants trademarked by Hermann Engelmann Greenhouses of Florida, and I was glad to learn that some are begonias, what I had guessed about my own, based on leaf and stem. I had been afraid to Google "exotic angels," so finding solid plant info instead of scantily-dressed dancers or Victoria's Secret models, or worse, was a comfort!

Not that there's anything wrong with exotic dancing or fancy bras.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Gather Ye Rosebuds

The rosebuds I gathered on Sunday while pruning the church garden have opened in a little bowl on my kitchen table, I am glad to say!

And I cut back the blooming mums at just the right time, too, the purple ones with yellow centers, as everything was nipped with frost again last night. So the mums are in a crystal vase, a wedding present nearly 22 years ago!

This painting, by John William Waterhouse, in the public domain, is titled Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May, a quotation from the poem by Robert Herrick about enjoying youth and beauty while you can.

Today, another "bright sunshiny day" but colder than yesterday, I celebrate ekphrasis (poetry in response to painting) in addition to this painting in response to a poem! Ekphrasis journal, which gave me the Ekphrasis Prize for my poem "Repose," has honored and delighted me again by now nominating it for a Pushcart Prize. I am so grateful to editors Laverne Frith and Carol Frith for this special attention to my poem. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Bright Sunshiny Day

It's another bright sunshiny day out there today, so I've got this Johnny Nash song running through my head: "I Can See Clearly Now." I'm not sure I can see clearly now, about all things, but I'd like to, and I do have some perspective on a few things. Wouldn't it be nice to become a true elder, a repository of some of the wisdom of the ages? Sigh...

But now, thanks to the word "clear," I've also got the song "On a Clear Day You Can See Forever" running in my head, sung by Barbra Streisand, though I don't know if I've ever actually seen the film all the way through. Is there a scene with Barbra standing like a figurehead singing on a ship? The plot of the film and the play involve clairvoyance, based on reincarnation.

Clearer in my head, is a scene from the play version, with Barbara Harris, played live on television, in black and white, probably as a promotion for the Broadway show. Fuzzier in my head is how and why I viewed this recently. Barbara Harris is an utterly charming performer, and a wacky one! The play, a musical, as is the film, is sort of loosely based on Berkeley Square, a sort of time travel adventure, so the layering and reincarnating just keep going on, not increasing my clairvoyance, but definitely enhancing the origami of my brain.

For more bright sunshine, plus clarity, wisdom, rust, and high heels, see this guest blog post by poet Karen J. Weyant at Escape Into Life!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Then Again

Yes, I had a "driveway moment" listening to this NPR interview with Diane Keaton about her new book, Then Again. Today is its release date, so you can order it at Amazon. It's a memoir about her life with her mother, who kept journals and supported her children in their artistic aspirations.

I had forgotten that Diane Keaton's real last name is Hall and learned that she was known as "Dianie" growing up. Hence, Annie Hall, the role in the film that made her so famous!

What a sweet book this sounds like, a way to capture her mother's life, lost gradually to Alzheimer's and finally to death, but not lost at all. And Diane Keaton sounds as charming as ever!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Pruning Roses

Yesterday was fall clean-up day at the church garden. I remembered thick gloves, and could not fit my rake into my car, so I was given the job of cutting back the roses. Happy to do it. I should have worn longer, thicker sleeves, but no harm done. I took a windbreaker but did not need a coat at all, after all, thanks to the warm weather. The wind was feisty but the roses are in an enclosed area.

After the fact, I read this advice on pruning roses from the All-America Rose Selections ( website, but, if I remember, I can apply this to my own trellis roses, in late winter, as they recommend. Perhaps a little later than January or February in my weather/gardening zone, depending on the actual conditions this winter warming.

Meanwhile, I am pruning poetry, always a good idea. And still reading and marveling at Home, by Marilynne Robinson. I admire the subtlety and focus, the attention to the inner life.

Today I gasped at this, a description of the "black sheep" of the family, or prodigal son, Jack:

The brightness in his face meant anxiety. When he was anxious a strange honesty overtook him. He did understandable things for understandable reasons, answering expectation in terms that were startlingly literal, as if in him the skeletal machinery of conventional behavior, the extension and contraction of the pulleys of muscle and sinew, was all exposed. 

I am like this, too, so I identify with Jack, though not a black sheep nor a prodigal son. In terms of life narrative, I am more like Jack's sister, Glory, the good girl who came home to tend her father, after some trouble away from home. But not trouble of Jack's sort, as the paragraph goes on:

And he was aware of this, embarrassed by it, inclined to pass it off, if he could, as irony, to the irritation of acquaintances and strangers, and, she [his sister, Glory] could only imagine, employers and police. 

I am aware of and embarrassed by my own excruciating honesty and transparency and tendency always to make things worse by way of this awareness, so that everything I do is the "wrong" thing, only reinforcing the conventional expectations of those who find me in the wrong. There's no way out. But what a comfort to find a character to identify with in this, and an author who understands it.

But more than that, the man was at once indecipherable and transparent. Of course they watched him. 

That is, in the moments after their conventional expectations about his wrongness are confirmed, he is his usual transparent, indecipherable self, and I think I strike some of my friends and acquaintances this way, too. May they forgive me. I have, I hope, a good heart.

Blue roses thanks to Wikipedia and Wikimedia! And Christopher Goodband.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Third Servant

Ah, my excellent pastor has sent me back to my bible (King James version, blue cover), Matthew 25:14-30, the story of the three servants, which comes right after the story of the ten virgins, five of them foolish and without lamp oil. 

Here is Susan's account of "The Third Servant--Coward or Hero?" at the Reflecting Pool. I very much appreciated her historical reminder that the listeners at this time would not have identified with either master or slave, and would not have approved of "usury," or interest (money making money), or "ursury," as it is spelled in my King James version. 

What struck me on this third reading was that the master gave his slaves each 5 talents, 2 talents, or 1 talent "to every man according to his several ability," an odd reversal of communism: from each according to his ability, to each according to his need. (A talent is a huge unit of money, also important in Cleopatra's time!) 

And also that these verses are followed by the famous sheep and goats verses, which might tempt someone to connect the sheep on the right hand with rich usurious slaves and the goats on the left hand with the poor one-talent slave sent off to weep and gnash his teeth. Watch out for temptation, I'd say. I suspect that this is a contrast, not a comparison, this sheep and goats business, or a completely new metaphor, nothing to do with slaves or virgins!

Anyhoo, Susan pointed out this section of Matthew often shows up during the fall stewardship campaign at a church, and she did not use it that way. Instead, she challenged herself and us to think of it in light of current events (Occupy Wall Street) and local protests (against high interest rates on payday lending) and/or not in light of that, but for its own sake. 

What are we to glean from such a parable?

I glean a warning similar to that of Philip Levine, the current poet laureate of the United States and a champion of the working person. He is a feisty troublemaker, as you can see in this interview in the New York Times Magazine, and a courageous man, not at all afraid to say what he thinks. A "slave" to no one.

"There’s a kind of Protestant ethic that believes that if you’re really a good person, God will reward you with a full table and a garage full of automobiles and a beautiful husband or wife — that we should be judged by what the world has delivered to us," says Levine, and I see that as a typical and problematic interpretation of the story of the third servant, as if 1) we are supposed "create wealth" given to us by an unjust, "hard man," a master of slaves and/or 2) we are to be judged by our apparent privilege, luck, and wealth, by our goods and not our deeds or our intent.  Sigh....  But the parable in Matthew is very rich, and very open to interpretation, however conveniently it may be used by anyone to make a point or justify a particular way of life. Eh?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

What Counts

This morning, after all the delight of yesterday's 11/11/11 Nerd New Year, I am pausing to take count of things in my writing life. (This, you will recognize immediately, is a delay tactic to avoid 1) dusting 2) laundry 3) a crucial cleaning-out of the giant purse, in which I hope to find that missing slim volume of poetry I am supposed to be reviewing...).

I am right on track in the 1 Year, 100 Rejections project begun on September 1. The aim is to send out enough work to earn 100 rejections, and here in the "first" quarter (Sept., Oct., Nov.) I have sent out 25 packets, and we are only halfway through November, a nice cushion in case of a later slump. I've had 11 rejections since September 1, 2 acceptances, and the rest are still pending. In the meantime, of course, there have been rejections, acceptances, and publication of work sent out earlier--including a couple nice surprises.

Also, as we approach year's end, I am tidying up by officially withdrawing poems from places that have exceeded their usual reporting time, or marking others as "presumed dead" if even the withdrawal process seems not to matter here. In the Accepted folder, awaiting publication, are 15 poems yet to appear in fall, winter, and spring publications. And I'm doing a pretty good job of sending more when a publication says, "Please send more."

Meanwhile, in the blog, hedgehogs still lead the pack, with 80,471 hits on "Hedgehog Hodgepodge." My origami brain still runs second and has no hope of catching up. Posts with picture of bananas and mousetraps are also very popular. And, alas, thanks to the earthquake in Oklahoma, there has been a surge of interest in Tim Hunt's poetry chapbook, Fault Lines.

And, thanks to genetics, my cholesterol count is still high, so I have to take one statin pill a day, at night, and can no longer eat grapefruit.

OK, the family will wake I am off to take care of what counts.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Nerd New Year

Happy Veterans Day and Happy Nerd New Year (11/11/11, with my hope being to post my doubled good wishes at 11:11 a.m., my time). You can celebrate and donate to charity here, at Nerd New Year, right on up to 11:11 p.m.

Meanwhile, thanks for everything to the veterans and the nerds.

I’m reading Home, finally, by Marilynne Robinson, the companion book to Gilead, a book I loved. I have to read things at the right time, and this is the right time.

I am powerfully moved by her quiet, character-driven prose. Here we are in Glory’s point of view, via third person limited omniscience:

Maybe great sorrow or guilt is simply to be accepted as absolution, like revelation. My iniquity/punishment is greater than I can bear. In the Hebrew, her father said, that one word had two meanings and we chose one of them, which may make it harder for us to understand why the Lord would have pardoned Cain and protected him, and let him go on with his life, marry, have a son, build a city.  His crime was his punishment, which had to mean he wasn’t such a villain after all.

I’m not going to make my 11:11 posting time, as I have to run out now…

Once again, Happy Veterans Day and Happy Nerd New Year.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Three-Quarter Time

I fall in love with singers, usually female, all the time. I never fall out of love, but I do play certain female singer/songwriters over and over, then make myself move on, in order not to make too much of a fool of myself and/or drive my family crazy,* and then, inevitably, I return to my infatuation at a later date. 

I am infatuated again with Eddi Reader, a Scottish folksinger.  I first heard her on Acousticity, a program on WGLT, the local NPR affiliate, singing “Jamie, Come Try Me,” from her CD Eddi Reader Sings the Songs of Robert Burns. After that, and “Ae Fond Kiss,” I was in love with Eddi Reader (and Robert Burns, of course, whom I had met in high school) forever.

*Have I mentioned that I must listen to music in order to cook? My family always forgives my infatuations.

Currently I am listening to Angels & Electricity and obsessing on the song “Wings on My Heels,” which I think of, fondly, as “Three-Quarter Time.”  

To quote Eddi Reader:

(and please hear this in three-quarter time!):

I never was too good at dancing
somewhere I’d step out of line
but I knew that I had
wings on my heels
when they played
in three-quarter time

I love that line “somewhere I’d step out of line” for its rebellious as well as its self-deprecating qualities. And I’m sort of OK at dancing! What I was never too good at was math.

As the song continues, the local boys have a lot of swagger but then they “hold on for dear life / when they played in three-quarter time.” Love that.

To continue with Eddi Reader:

one by one
they pulled down those mirrored halls
one by one
the winters came forgetting names

This may comfort me as winter comes.

To return to Eddi Reader (and Boo Hewerdine):

money might slip through my fingers
and there won’t be much to call mine
but I’ll know that I had
wings on my heels
when they played
in three-quarter time

This may make ¾ sense, but, with full joy, I say, “Happy full moon!”

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Public Space

"We're number one!  We're number one!"  This morning, in addition to my ongoing job as poetry cheer-leader, I get to be a cheer-leader for my hometown.  Beautiful Uptown Normal--specifically its beautiful green space traffic circle, part of a major downtown renovation over the past several years--is #1 of the Top 100 public spaces in the U.S. and Canada, over at Smart Planet, via a "crowdsourced survey."  Close-up and distance shots of the circle at the link!

Meanwhile, the surreal "public space" with balloons you see here is art by Michal Giedrojc that accompanies the new poetry feature--Sherry O'Keefe--just up at Escape Into Life.  O'Keefe is a wildly busy editor as well as a poet, and I am glad to have bumped into her in the virtual world, where bumps are as light as balloon volleyball bumps!

And that should bump us on though the hump of this week!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Insane Grain

You say it's a Fat Tuesday in the blog? I say it still looks like Rainy Day & Monday to me, but in the 60s, so just fine out there!

You say not to go grocery shopping when hungry? I say that's why I came home first after the fasting blood test and ate breakfast before I went grocery shopping!

You say to avoid cholesterol?  I say Insane Grain has no cholesterol in it, only corn & salt & (uh oh) partially hydrogenated soybean oil. But at least no HFCS (high fructose corn syrup).

My current crop of Insane Grain came from Candace, with the return of a borrowed book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan. I am halfway through it, and now I'll read the rest.

Insane Grain is, as you see, a Beer Nuts product, so you can get some here. I did not have beer as part of this nutritional breakfast. I didn't have Insane Grain, either. I had pumpkin bread. But I am going to have some Insane Grain now, because it's lunchtime.

And Fat Tuesday in the blog! Brought to you by circular thinking!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Rainy Days and Mondays

Because, yes, it is a rainy day and a Monday.  A Blue Monday, to be exact.

Imaginary background music: "Rainy Days and Mondays," sung by the Carpenters, song by Roger S. Nichols and Paul H. Williams

Go here for full lyrics and if you want "Rainy Days and Mondays" as a ringtone.

And here are Karen Carpenter and Richard Carpenter at the White House, with Richard Nixon cut out of the public domain photo. As he should be.

Me, I'm just coping with the first line of the song: "Talkin' to myself and feeling old." I don't think that feeling's going away, but I will try to stop talking to myself.

Me: But why do you also have an open tab up with the lyrics to "Ding, Dong, the Witch is Dead?"

Me: I don't know. Different writing task?

Me: Could be. Why would anybody be interested in your answer to that question?

Me: I don't know. Why did you ask?

Me: I don't know. Just feeling hurluberlue, I guess!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Cinq vièrges hurluberlues

Hurluberlues? Well, that's what it said in French when I tried to track down the five virgins from Matthew, the subject of today's reflection in church, and specifically "The Five Virgins," a poem by Thomas Merton.

You can read about them here, in "Bridesmaids Revisited," by Susan Ryder, who tastefully avoids any reference to the recent film Bridesmaids. (Unlike me.) The text of the poem (in English) is there, too.

However, Merton's bridesmaids (aka virgins, but the word for "virgin" back then pretty much meant "young woman" or "maiden," and hence quite a bit of confusion ever after) do arrive at the wedding on motor-scooters, with burned-out motors, having run out of gas.

In Matthew they had run out of oil for their lamps.

In Merton, these gals knew how to dance, so they were asked to stay!

Et voilà: il y avait
Cinq vièrges hurluberlues
Sans pétrole
Mais bien engagées
Dans le mouvement.

You've got to have bridesmaids at a wedding! Especially hurluberlues ones--"foolish" or "scatterbrained." 

If it must be known, I am 1) not a virgin 2) quite hurluberlue.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Geographer of Bliss

If you are a regular reader, you know I'm in a book group and we are reading The Geography of Bliss, by Eric Weiner.  We'll get together to discuss it next week, and I already know some of us love it (me) and some of us don't like it very much because 1) "I won't ever be able to go to those places" and/or 2) Weiner is sort of whiny, as he is well aware and mentions in the book.  I love his kind of whiny.

Anyhoo, at this point in our monthly-book game, I sometimes send along some questions for people to ponder as they finish up their reading or do a little re-reading (which I often have to do, having read some other books in the meantime).

So, because it is Slattern Day in the blog, and I am a slattern not planning to clean my house or do anything very productive today (oh, except that job interview), here are my previously typed questions for the book group, which cheered a couple of us yesterday in the surgery waiting room of a local hospital where one of us was actually having surgery.  (It went well.)  Generally, hospital rooms, waiting rooms, surgery and recovery rooms are not the happiest places to be, of course, but there was morphine. And a piano player: hymns + the "making whoopee" song.

Geography of Bliss Questions

Which country/countries appealed to you most?

Was that primarily due to the geography, climate, personality of the place, or the chapter title* attached to it?

*Chapter titles, for your convenience:

The Netherlands: Happiness is a Number
Switzerland: Happiness is Boredom
Bhutan: Happiness is a Policy
Qatar: Happiness is a Winning Lottery Ticket
Iceland: Happiness is Failure
Moldova: Happiness is Somewhere Else
Thailand: Happiness is Not Thinking
Great Britain: Happiness is a Work in Progress
India: Happiness is a Contradiction
America: Happiness is Home

Which country would you least like to visit, besides Moldova, a no-brainer, and why?

If you would like to go to Moldova, what is wrong with you?

Which countries appealed to you, even if you would not want to visit there, and why?

Have you been to any of these countries?  If so, how did your experience compare/contrast to Eric Weiner’s?

Is Eric Weiner any relation to Anthony Weiner.  If so, why?

A fun place to visit: [Eric Weiner's website

While there, you can tell Eric Weiner about your own happiest places, here.

What would make you happy, wherever you are?

What is the relationship between happiness and place?

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Jackal at the Door

OK, I am in love now with Eleanor Lerman, who wrote this book of poems, The Sensual World Re-Emerges. It had been on my wish list for a while, and, yes, I judged a book by its jackal-headed cover, and I read it now, end of October, beginning of November, at the end of my first surge of Cleopatra research (for a project next October!) I quoted from Lerman's days-of-the-week poem in yesterday's blog entry.

You can learn about more Eleanor Lerman here, her own web site, which lists her books, and where I was pleased to find her new novel, Janet Planet, from Mayapple Press. I had seen the cover (wolf head floating on crescent moon) visiting Mayapple before, but this time I got smacked in the head with it.

The Egyptian God Anubis wore a jackal head and was associated with mummification and the afterlife. (Thank you, Wikipedia, and thank you, Wikimedia, for the free-use images!) Lerman's poems have death and worry lurking in them and are also hilarious, often, so I am gripped with fear and haunted by...a weird vicious delight while reading them. They speak with an odd floating urgency.

They also give me something to be cranky about in the proofreading department. Just like my mom, I find myself reading with a pencil and making little corrections—adding a "d" here, deleting a "y" there, and shuddering at the use of "lightening" for "lightning." Once again, I ask, "Why, why isn't an editor doing this?" How can a fine book of poems like this get out into the world with errors like that? (And I don't know who to blame, a proofreader or the lack of a proofreader, or a copy editor who introduced the errors instead of correcting them...and why am I so darn persnickety?)

The lack of periods also drives me a little crazy, but that is a clear choice so I tell myself it has something to do with the meaning and the inextricability of form and content of poetry. I choose to think the lack of periods adds to the eerie floating quality in these poems. And sort of suggests immortality or afterlife

**please note lack of period above**