Inspiration

I am *finally* reading If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho, translated by Anne Carson. This is one of those books that I knew I’d love from the moment I heard about it. Fortunately, I haven’t been disappointed. Phelps Lake

Inspired by the title poem, and a recent trip to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, I sat down and wrote a poem of my own:

Long summer days

So many hours in the hot sun

Burning skin

Until refuge is taken in the shadow of a mountain

If not, winter

With its crisp icy beauty

Broken by the crunch of our feet in the snow

Cold puffs of hot breath

Anticipating your hands

Building a fire

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Tears on My Pillow ~ Summer Lovin’ Day 4

Summer Lovin' Readathon

And Happy Independence Day!
Statue of Liberty with fireworks in background

Today’s prompt:

  • Share a quote from your current read or tell us about a book that really pulled on your heart strings. What was it about that book/quote that made you cry?

This week I’ve been reading Anne Tyler’s The Accidental Tourist. I picked it up on Sunday from one of those coffee shop bookshelves when I had dinner with some friends in Queens. I made my friend Eva promise to bring one back to the shop to make up for the one I took 🙂

I came across a sad little paragraph that certainly tugged on my heartstrings. For some background: the “he” is the main character, Macon. He’s back with his wife after a year separation. In that time he had moved in with Muriel, someone completely different than his wife or himself. When he left Muriel, she accused him of using her up, and going on his way. Now that he is back with his wife, he’s having second thoughts about his life.

Thinking back on that conversation now, he began to believe that people could, in fact, be used up – could use each other up, could be of no further help to each other and maybe even do harm to each other. He began to think that who you are when you’re with somebody may matter more than whether you love her.

I just found that so sad. Who does he love? Who does he think he loves? What is love, anyway? Is it just selfishness to think about who makes you your better self? If so, then why do we talk about other people “completing us” or bringing out the best in us? If it is selfish to think this way, is there anything inherently bad about that?

This is a lovely, quiet book about family and tragedy and life change and all that good stuff. I’m really, really glad I found it.

What book is tugging on your heartstrings lately?

~~~~~~~~~~

Now a little book spine poetry for Oh Chrys’s challenge

poetry The North of God
By Night in Chile
The Road
Shadow Tag
The Girls of No Return

May in Review

reading nook

Relaxing

Another solid reading month, thanks this time to a lovely vacation.

The hubby and I went to Marrakech, Morocco, where we enjoyed a nice mix of sight seeing and lazing around the riad (basically a bed and breakfast). It was pretty hot during the afternoons, so I took to lounging on my “reading nook” under the canvas awning during those times. It was pretty comfy.

I read two books of poetry (which I’m counting as nonfiction becauseIsaidso). I know National Poetry Month was April, but poetry is worth reading every month. Plus, I did buy both books in April 🙂

I’m trying to stop buying books that then linger on my shelves, unread, for far too long. It’s a process.

Total books: 10
7 Fiction:                  70%
3 Non-fiction:          30%
8 Women Authors:  80%
2 Translated:            20%

I know this isn’t a photo blog, but Morocco was so gorgeous, I thought I’d share a few shots.

Here’s a detail of my reading nook. I loved the little carved hearts. It seemed like everywhere we looked the buildings were decorated somehow. I mean, who have a plain archway when you can have an elaborately curved one? Why have a plain floor when you can have a tile mosaic? Color! Fancy! Pretty!

reading nook detail

Reading nook detail

Here’s the prayer chamber area from the Ben Youssef Madrasa, an Islamic school founded in the 14th century. The carvings everywhere, of inscriptions in Arabic calligraphy and geometric patterns were just gorgeous. I guess if you got distracted by all the beauty when you were praying that you could just say you were reading the walls for insight!

madrasa

Madrasa

At night we would curl up with a blanket and look at the sunset. This picture is from our last night in the city. Can you see why I loved it? Seriously, anyone who has the opportunity to visit should certainly try to do so. Of course, now I’m already thinking of where I’d like to go next…

nook sunset

Sunset in Marrakech

#Readathon Time!

readathonbutton2

Update 9:35
So this break was a little longer than I anticipated, but all the budget reading was time well spent because I got a call that our offer on a house was accepted! Holy crap, it doesn’t even seem real. I was convinced the deal was going to fall through. I mean, it still could, but this is one step closer. Good thing I like to use the library, because the hubby did not put a book buying line in the budget, and things are going to be *tight*.

But on to the books: Just So Stories is finished. A glass of wine has been poured. I’ve getting ready to immerse myself in Magdalena Tulli’s In Red.

Update 5:51

Finished my first book! Bottle Rocket Hearts by Zoe Whittall. Very good.

Just So Stories is playing in the background as I update this post. Then I need to do some boring reading, reviewing a budget the hubby has proposed for us. We’re talking about buying a house, so we’re going to have to really watch what we’re spending.

Update 3:36
I’ve been listening on and off to Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories. (talk about problematic!) I’m mixing it up with a little 1990s Canadian lesbianism courtesy of Zoe Whittall’s Bottle Rocket Hearts.

I participated in two photo challenges so far.

Here’s my entry for Book Spine Poetry:
spine

And here’s my readathon self portrait:

Self portrait with book

Introductory Questionnaire

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?
Gorgeous South Florida – I will have to read from somewhere outside at some time today.
2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?
Nikky Finney’s Head Off and Split
3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?
Um, I haven’t planned snacks. I know.
4) Tell us a little something about yourself!
I watch Game of Thrones, but have no interest in reading the books. Heresy!
5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?
I’ve never full-on participated in the readathon. I’m more of a dipper-inner. This morning I had to work, and I have another commitment until about 1:30. I guess I hope to devote more time than before? I’m looking forward to knocking out a few books, since I’m behind pace to meet my yearly goal.

101 Great American Poems

101 Great American Poems101 Great American Poems
Edited by The American Poetry & Literacy Project

This is an excellent book of approachable poems, perfect for the classroom, a reluctant poetry reader, or someone looking for some comfort reads. That’s not to say all the selections were predictable. Yes, there’s Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Emily Dickinson, but there’s also Abraham Lincoln(?!) and Countee Cullen.

I often think that I don’t like poetry. It takes patience. I can’t just romp through pages at a time, eager to get to the next plot point. Apparently I’m not alone in “disliking” it, as Marianne Moore says in “Poetry”

“I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond all this fiddle…”

Of course, in the end, Ms. Moore is a poet, and appreciates the art, as I do as well.

Here’s  a little poem for today, a selection from the book. Won’t you try another tomorrow?

The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

– Fog, Carl Sandburg

Want more like this? Try:

  • American Negro Poetry, Arna Bontemps. Back when I was teaching high school, this was a favorite with some of my students.
  • Our Gleaming Bones Unrobed, Grant Loveys. A debut collection from a Canadian author.
  • If Not, Winter, Sappho, translated by Anne Carson. I still have not read this, but desperately want a copy for my bookshelf. Anne Carson takes fragments of Sappho’s poetry and translates them as is, rather than trying to fill in the missing pieces.

Poetry After 9/11

Book cover, showing a view of lower Manhattan from the New York Harbor, showing the Twin Towers still standing.
Poetry After 9/11

Poetry After 9/11: An Anthology of New York Poets*
Edited by Dennis Loy Johnson and Valerie Merians

As with all poetry, this collection is not something to rush through. Especially with this collection, there is an intensity, even with the more lighthearted pieces.

Alicia Ostriker writes in the introduction, “Not many of the voices in this book are solemn. Now do they repeat. Like an explosion, the poems fly out in all directions from an ignited core…. This book is a portrait of the New York temperament, a tangle of cynicism, pride, humor, compassion, and of course confusion. Plus the capacity to absorb hurt and rebound.”

One of the more lighthearted pieces was Paul Violoi’s “House of Xerxes,” which describes a scene that it a cross between the Olympic Parade of Nations and the best of Paris is Burning. Here’s the first stanza:

Here come those splendid Persians!
We were expecting fireworks
And here they are!
Short bow, long arrows,
Colorful long-sleeve shirts
Under iron breastplates –
Nice fish-scale pattern on those breastplates.
Just the right beach touch, very decky.
Quivers dangling under wicker-worky sheilds,
A casual touch, that.
And those floppy felt caps
Make it very wearable, very sporty.
Huge amounts of gold,
A killer-look feel
But it still says A Day at the Shore.

There are, of course, poems that deal more directly with the attack, such as Ostriker’s “The Window, at the Moment of Flame”:

and all this while I have been playing with toys
a toy superhighway a toy automobile a house of blocks

and all this while far off in other lands
thousands and thousands, millions and million

you know – you see the pictures
women carrying bony infants

men sobbing over graves
building sculpted by explosion –

earth wasted bare and rotten
and all this while I have been shopping, I have

been let us say free
and do they hate me for it

do they hate me

***

My favorite line in the whole collection, and maybe one of my favorite lines, period, came from Charlie Smith’s poem “Religious Art”

I press hard with my feet
against the earth and
call this fighting back

Every day.

*This book was sent to me by the publisher, Melville House

A Poetry Challenge

Nikky Finney

In 2011 I read a single volume of poetry. That’s not really all that surprising, as poetry is not typically one of my go-to genres. I would like to read more of it, though. So I’m signing up for the 2012 Fearless Poetry Exploration Challenge hosted by Serena over at Savvy Verse & Wit.

Here’s what you have to do (your choice):

a. Read and review up to 2 books of poetry throughout 2012 and leave the full link to each review in Mr. Linky.

b. Participate in at least 3 Virtual Poetry Circles throughout the year.

c. Sign up to feature poetry on your blog for April’s National Poetry Month as part of Savvy Verse & Wit’s Blog Tour.

d. Or some combination of the above.

At the very least, I’m aiming to read and review two books of poetry. I’ve got them picked out, now I just need to go buy them: Nikky Finney’s NBA award winning Head Off and Split and If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho, translated by Anne Carson.

Do you have a favorite poet? Any suggestions for what I should read? Tell me in the comments!

Feeling Woefully Under-read

The past two years I’ve wanted to attend the Brooklyn Book Festival, but life got in the way. This September, it’s going to happen. I recently checked the list of authors and participants. Know how many authors I’ve read?

Five.*

That seems to be an incredibly paltry number. In preparation for the September event, I will read, um, more. How many more? I’d like to at least double my number. I’ve got a month and a half, so that is definitely doable.

Some possibilities:

Half-Lit Houses, Tina Chang, who apparently is Brooklyn’s poet laureate. I didn’t know that such a post existed! Her New York Times profile makes her seem irresistible, and I love the title of her first collection.

A Tiger in the Kitchen, Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan. I like food. I (often) like memoirs. I’m not crazy about the cover (and yes, I often judge a book that way) but her blog is beautiful, so I’m willing to give it a try.

Vaclav & Lena, Haley Tanner. I like Brooklyn. I’m a bit trepidatious about this one, as the Times review says that it’s overly dramatic in places. I usually like reserved writing. 

I think I’ll print the list of authors and stick it in my wallet to have handy next time I’m wandering the library or bookstore.

Oooooh! After printing the list, I realized that my good friend’s brother, David Ezra Stein, is on it! He’s a children’s book writer and illustrator. I wasn’t paying too much attention to that section, as I don’t typically read children’s books. Maybe it’s cheating, but I’m going to make sure to read one of his books (Interrupting Chicken, maybe?) to count towards my five to be read.


*For the record: Johnathan Safran Foer, Chuck Klosterman, Nicole Krauss, Joyce Carol Oates, Téa Obreht.

Travelling to a far off island

Available at Amazon

My Urohs
Emelihter King

As I’ve mentioned, I’m currently trying to complete a couple of reading challenges. To say that getting books from Oceania is a challenge in itself would be a severe understatement. I was happy to find this poetry collection published by Kahuaomānoa Press. According to the “about the author” blurb, Emelihter King was born on Guam, and has spent much of her life back and forth between her native Pohnpei, Hawai’i and Guam. 

The title comes from the traditional Pohnpeian skirt. In a footnote to one poem King states that she is likens the uroh to Pohnpeian culture as a whole. I confess I know pretty close to zilch about Pohnpeian culture, so I was eager to dig into this when it finally arrived from Amazon.

King is at her best when describing slices of life in tantalizing detail. One of my favorites in the volume is “Kool-Aid.”

Kool-Aid

doesn’t taste good here in Honolulu
I wanna eat it sweating in the heat,
sitting on a rock,
under a guava tree
with my red-fingered friends
dip, dip our green mango
lick, lick our fingerstongues turning dark red



Gorgeous. I want to be sitting there eating Kool-Aid with her.

My biggest complaint is the gender essentialism in a couple of places. In “Ngih Kohl O” (The Gold Tooth), King talks about young Micronesian men who have gone and taken government jobs, and now come by,
“speaking English while strutting around
with that white man’s attitude…
when was the last time you
planted something in the ground
and felt like a real man?”

I understand this is a reaction to colonization – and this is a collection that speaks powerfully to the colonial experience. King is fiercely proud of her culture, and rightly so. But just like colonization is a harmful process, so is reinforcing the idea that “men” and “women” are to act in fixed ways and no one should deviate from them.