osprey_archer: (books)
We owned a copy of Owl Moon when I was a child, and while I don't remember reading it much, I always loved the cover: a little girl and her father walking up a snowy hillside, silhouetted by the moon. It's a scene of absolute peace and joy and just looking at it gives me a feeling of contentment.

The story is very sweet, too: the little girl and her father are going out in the woods at night to go "owling," that is, looking for owls. Not to hunt them or anything, just to see them in the peaceful quiet darkness of the woods.

When you go owling
you don't need words
or warmth
or anything but hope.
That's what Pa says.
The kind of hope
that flies
on silent wings
under a shining
Owl Moon.
osprey_archer: (books)
There was a little Island in the ocean.
Around it the winds blew
And the birds flew
And the tides rose and fell on the shore.


So begins Margaret Wise Brown's The Island. It's like a free verse poem: you can almost track the ebb and the fall of the waves in the length of the lines.

It strikes me that picture books are one of the last bastions of popular poetry that is widely read by ordinary people, rather than mostly by dedicated poetry-lovers. Poetry used to be widely loved and read and quoted and even written (although by people who were quick to declaim that they weren't true poets, true poets being rarified creatures who live on air), and then after World War I it all seemed to peter out until you end up with the situation today where so many people see poetry as impenetrably high brow with nothing to say to them.

I read a book, Gregory Orr's Poetry as Survival, about the ability of poetry to help people build bridges through suffering, a theme that both Eugenia Ginzburg and Aleksandr Solzhenitzyn elaborate in their gulag memoirs: they found reciting remembered poetry and writing poems of their own central to their survival, both in the purely physical sense but also as preserving their intellectual integrity (in the meaning of wholeness, although probably honesty also applies).

It is perhaps worrisome that the great mass of the American population is now armed with nothing but Dr. Seuss.

The other thing that strikes me about this book is the fickleness of fame. The Little Island won the Caldecott in 1947, but I had never heard of it; Margaret Wise Brown's reputation now rests on Good Night Moon. The award hit the right author but the wrong book.
osprey_archer: (art)
The Lake Isle of Innisfree
by W. B. Yeats

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee;
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.
osprey_archer: (cheers)
One of my Facebook friends linked to this poem about old age: Old Age Requires the Greatest Courage.

It's awfully good.
osprey_archer: (books)
Another Ladybug Girl book today! This time, it was Ladybug Girl and the Best Ever Playdate, in which Ladybug Girl is super-excited for her play date with her buddy Finny... and Finny's awesome new Rolly-Roo toy, which is like a giant plush rocking horse on wheels that you can ride around anywhere. (Heck, now I kind of want a Rolly-Roo, it looks amazing.) The Rolly-Roo breaks! Finny accused Ladybug Girl of like the Rolly-Roo more than she likes Finny! But fortunately, in fixing Rolly-Roo together, the two girls remember that they actually share more than just a fondness for Rolly-Roos: namely, superhero secret identities! Finny is GRASSHOPPER GIRL! And then they run around propping up sunflowers and hula-hooping to fix Saturn's rings and then sidewalk-chalk drawing some new planets to be Saturn's friends.

That actually sounds like an amazing playdate. I also want a friend who will sidewalk chalk new planets with me. (I am beginning to suspect that I like these books so much because, in fact, I am Ladybug Girl, never mind that she's four.)

But I have to admit, I kind of wanted a book about what to do if you realize that you like a friend's toys more than you like the friend. Or, conversely, if you realize that one of your friends only likes you for your toys. These are hard-hitting issues for a four-year-old!

I also fixed Margaret Mahy's Bubble Trouble, which is poetry in picture-book form. Consider the opening lines:

Little Mabel blew a bubble, and it caused a lot of trouble...
Such a lot of bubble trouble in a bibble-bobble way.
For it broke away from Mabel as it bobbed across the table,
where it bobbled over Baby, and it wafted him away.

And then of course Baby gets blown all over town, and all the neighbors get in on the act of chasing him down and bringing him back to earth before the bubble pops. Adorable!
osprey_archer: (art)
The House Was Quiet and the World Was Calm
by Wallace Stevens

The house was quiet and the world was calm.
The reader became the book; and summer night

was like the conscious being of the book.
The house was quiet and the world was calm.

The words were spoken as if there was no book,
except that the reader leaned above the page,

wanted to lean, wanted much most to be
the scholar to whom his book is true, to whom

the summer night is like a perfection of thought.
The house was quiet because it had to be.

The quiet was part of the meaning, part of the mind:
the access of perfection to the page.
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

I finished Ann Patchett’s This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, which I liked more than I expected per last week’s review. Of course it helped that there are a couple essays near the middle of the book about Truth & Beauty and the controversy that erupted when the book was assigned as summer reading for incoming freshman at Clemson University. (Some of the parents thought the book was way too gay - it talks about two women being best friends and stuff! Clearly a front for homosexuality! - and also referenced drug usage and extramarital sex and OMG, how could this be required reading???)

I also read Cece Bell’s El Deafo, which is a comic book memoir about growing up deaf. El Deafo was the name Bell gave her superheroine alter ego, who got superpowers from her amazing Phonic Ear and later from a glasses. It’s cute and sweet and not very memorable, although I did particularly like it’s portrayal of Cece’s first best friend, a girl who always insisted on doing what she wanted to do, exactly how she wanted to do it.

I had a friend like this is sixth grade. It was exactly as exasperating as Bell describes it: she came up with good ideas just often enough that it’s hard to extricate yourself, but it’s still extremely grating to have the games fall apart every time you assert your own opinions on things. (“How about the imaginary game we’re creating together doesn’t revolve around your princess character, hmm?”)

And finally, this year’s Newbery Winner, Alexander Kwame’s The Crossover, which like Brown Girl Dreaming is a book in verse. Another verse from the book:

Basketball Rule #10

A loss is inevitable,
like snow in winter.
True champions
learn
to dance
through
the storm.

Spoilers )

What I’m Reading Now

Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, which is an expansion of his article “Is Google making us stupid?” and, like many books that are expanded forms of magazine articles, doesn’t seem to have quite enough to say to make writing a whole book worthwhile. Carr argues that internet usage atrophies our attention spans: that, as we get used to digesting text and images in small chunks and jumping from one thing to another, we lose the ability to concentrate deeply that is central to reading books. I think he has a point, but I am somewhat doubtful that he needs 224 pages to make it.

I’ve also started Rosemary Kirstein’s The Steerswoman, which has not grabbed me so far, but I’m only a little ways in.

What I Plan to Read Next

I’ve finally gotten Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park from the library, which I’ve been meaning to do since I read Fangirl.

I’m also waiting for Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch.
osprey_archer: (art)
The Second Half
by Kwame Alexander (from The Crossover)

Vondie strips the ball
at center court,
shoots a short pass
to JB, who
skips
           
downtown

zips
           
around,
then double dips
it in the bowl.
SWOOSH
Man, that was cold.
We're up by two.
These cats are BALLING.
JB is on fire,
taking the score
higher and higher,
and the team
and Coach
and Alexis
and me...
we're his choir.
WILDCATS! WILDCATS!
My brother is
Superman tonight,
Sliding
and Gliding
into rare air,
lighting up the sky
and the scoreboard.
Saving the world
and our chance
at a championship.
osprey_archer: (books)
What I've Just Finished Reading

Jacqueline Woodson's Brown Girl Dreaming. Here, have an excerpt from another poem:

When I hear the word
revolution
I think of the carousel with
all those beautiful horses
going around as though they'll never stop and me
choosing the purple one each time, climbing up onto it
and reaching for the golden ring, as soft music plays.

The revolution is always going to be happening.

I want to write this down, that the revolution is like
a merry-go-round, history always being made
somewhere. And maybe for a short time,
we're a part of that history. And then the ride stops
and our turn is over.

We walk slow toward the park where I can already see
the big swings, empty and waiting for me.

And after I write it down, maybe I'll end it this way:

My name is Jacqueline Woodson
and I am ready for the ride.

I also finished reading Rosemary Sutcliff's Lady in Waiting, which I enjoyed. It has a sad ending (which it telegraphs on like page 5, so I don't feel like I'm spoiling anything by saying this), but it's not a sad book, not the way for instance The Lantern Bearers is: the main characters have great vitality and life.

And although Queen Elizabeth only appears briefly in the book, I though Sutcliff did an excellent job with her. Often writers seem to be either loyal partisans or bitter opponents (I have the impression that Philippa Gregory loathes Elizabeth Tudor), but Sutcliff's portrayal is more nuanced: Elizabeth is lively and charming, impetuous and sometimes cruel in a cat-like manner, ad while she ultimately puts her realm first, it's sometimes only after she has exhausted all other options.

What I'm Reading Now

I just remembered that I have Zilpha Keatley Snyder's The Velvet Room, so I started that. So far, Robin has climbed over a stone fence with a wrought iron gate into a tangled apple orchard. This seems promisingly Gothic.

What I Plan to Read Next

Perhaps Courtney Milan's The Countess Conspiracy? I haven't quite decided yet.
osprey_archer: (art)
The Butterfly Poems
by Jacqueline Woodson (from Brown Girl Dreaming)

No one believes me when I tell them
I am writing a book about butterflies,
even though they see me with the Childcraft encyclopedia
heavy on my lap opened to the pages where
the monarch, painted lady, giant swallowtail and
queen butterflies live. Even one called a buckeye.

When I write the first words
Wings of a butterfly whisper...

no one believes a whole book could ever come
from something as simple as
butterflies that don't even, my brother says,
live that long.

But on paper, things can live forever.
On paper, a butterfly
never dies.
osprey_archer: (art)
I found this poem through the Yuletide posts. It's awfully good.

Conscientious Objector
by Edna St. Vincent Millay

I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death.
I hear him leading his horse out of the stall; I hear the clatter on the barn-floor.
He is in haste; he has business in Cuba, business in the Balkans, many calls to make this morning.
But I will not hold the bridle while he clinches the girth.
And he may mount by hinmself: I will not give him a leg up.

Though he flick my shoulders with his whip, I will not tell him which way the fox ran.
With his hoof on my breast, I will not tell him where the black boy hides in the swamp.
I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death; I am not on his pay-roll.

I will not tell him the whereabout of my friends nor of my enemies either.
Though he promise me much, I will not map him the route to any man's door.
Am I a spy in the land of the living, that I should deliver men to Death?
Brother, the password and the plans of our city are safe with me; never through me
Shall you be overcome.
osprey_archer: (art)
One Art
by Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.


I just saw Reaching for the Moon, a movie about Elizabeth Bishop's love affair with Lota de Macedo Soares, which uses this poem as a framing piece. It's ultimately a sad movie, almost crushingly sad, as any movie about Bishop's life would have to be: she was born under an unlucky star.

It is perhaps sadder because it comes so close to being happy - because Lota and Elizabeth are so close to being what the other person needs, and when it's working it works beautifully. Lota builds Elizabeth her own personal poetry studio overlooking the beautiful grounds of the estate. A poetry studio, you guys! What could be more romantic? And Elizabeth reciprocates with a poem about how Lota's smattering of gray hairs are like shooting stars.

But at the same time, their relationship fails, and it fails not because of societal pressure but because of an inherent clash between their personalities. This is very much an unstoppable force meets immovable object match - only Lota, the unstoppable force, didn't realize that Elizabeth was immovable when they first got involved.

Elizabeth is an intensely withdrawn person, shy and anxious: she almost radiates a need to be taken care of, which is like catnip for Lota. But the surface weakness is only one aspect of her personality, and it masks the more important truth, which is that Elizabeth can't stand being dependent, and even more can't stand being depended upon.

She might be happier and healthier with someone taking care of her, but she would rather be free. Free, she may not live happily, she may not live well, but she will survive anything.

This is very much a case of "If you love something, set it free." But Lota can't bring herself to set Elizabeth free, and so Elizabeth ends up bolting; and it is Lota, the one who seemed so strong, who ends up crumbling.

It is a sad movie, but it's beautifully made. Miranda Otto's performance as Elizabeth Bishop is particularly stunning: so tightly wound that sometimes the tension simply rolls off her, spilling out of the screen. It isn't a fast-paced movie, but it is an engrossing one: one of the best movies I've seen all year.
osprey_archer: (art)
Out of context, the first line of this poem is awfully useful. There are so many things I would like to do, like learn Italian or read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell, except they would take so long... Still, had we but world enough, and time...

To His Coy Mistress
by Andrew Marvell

Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love's day;
Thou by the Indian Ganges' side
Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the Flood;
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow.
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.

But at my back I always hear
Time's winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long preserv'd virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust.
The grave's a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.

Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may;
And now, like am'rous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour,
Than languish in his slow-chapp'd power.
Let us roll all our strength, and all
Our sweetness, up into one ball;
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life.
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.
osprey_archer: (art)
I’ll Tell You How the Sun Rose
by Emily Dickinson

I'll tell you how the sun rose,--
A ribbon at a time.
The steeples swam in amethyst,
The news like squirrels ran.
The hills untied their bonnets,
The bobolinks begun.
Then I said softly to myself,
"That must have been the sun!"

But how he set, I know not.
There seemed a purple stile
Which little yellow boys and girls
Were climbing all the while
Till when they reached the other side,
A dominie in gray
Put gently up the evening bars,
And led the flock away.
osprey_archer: (art)
I first read this poem in my high school poetry class. I love the vividness of the imagery, and the way the short lines work with the words to create this picture of this swift, joyful, flashing dance.

College Formal: Renaissance Casino
by Langston Hughes

Golden girl
in a golden gown
in a melody night
in Harlem town
lad tall and brown
tall and wise
college boy smart
eyes in eyes
the music wraps
them both around
in mellow magic
of dancing sound
till they’re the heart
of the whole big town
gold and brown
osprey_archer: (art)
It’s National Poetry Month! I only realized this yesterday, after I had posted the Browning poem, in fact. I don’t think I have enough beloved poems on file to post one every day this month, but I will try to post a bunch.

I’ve been reading Pamela Dean’s Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary and really loving it. Here, then, is a poem that the Gentian’s best friend Becky writes in the book, which kicks off a discussion between them about religion. Dean’s characters are always discussing ideas, religion, feminism, their ambitions and dreams; it gives the books an extra layer of interest and deepens the characters, too.

Dean also has a beautiful poem in Tam Lin, but I left my copy in my parents’ house, so I can’t post if just now.

On the Snow in April
by Pamela Dean (from Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary)

It’s enough to make one turn to pagan rites,
Burn incense with sly purpose, promise anything,
To bring to these obediently shortening nights
Some herald of the obstinate spring.
Dear Heaven, has it not been cold long enough?
Remember that the regular is beautiful.
Things stretched past their due time are not the stuff
Of loveliness, and all chaos is dull.
What shivering sad time is this for Easter?
There are not even natural miracles.
Is it that through this gaunt delay there pulls
The gleeful string of that essential jester?
They say, let spring bring Christ to mind; this year,
Christ must persuade there will be violets here.
osprey_archer: (art)
Robert Browning's poems sometimes remind me of Poe: not only are they totally creepy, but they have the same strong rhythm and rhyme scheme that makes them easy to read and remember. But in personality they were almost opposites: Browning was a sweetheart, and Poe argued with basically everyone he ever met.

Probably that explains the big underlying difference between their poems. Poe plays his poems straight - if he knows they're creepy as well as romantic, it's not at all clear to me - while Browning seems gleefully aware of how creepy his work is.

Porphyria's Lover
by Robert Browning

The rain set early in to-night,
The sullen wind was soon awake,
It tore the elm-tops down for spite,
And did its worst to vex the lake:
I listened with heart fit to break.
When glided in Porphyria; straight
She shut the cold out and the storm,
And kneeled and made the cheerless grate
Blaze up, and all the cottage warm;
Which done, she rose, and from her form
Withdrew the dripping cloak and shawl,
And laid her soiled gloves by, untied
Her hat and let the damp hair fall,
And, last, she sat down by my side
And called me. When no voice replied,
She put my arm about her waist,
And made her smooth white shoulder bare,
And all her yellow hair displaced,
And, stooping, made my cheek lie there,
And spread, o'er all, her yellow hair,
Murmuring how she loved me — she
Too weak, for all her heart's endeavour,
To set its struggling passion free
From pride, and vainer ties dissever,
And give herself to me for ever.
But passion sometimes would prevail,
Nor could to-night's gay feast restrain
A sudden thought of one so pale
For love of her, and all in vain:
So, she was come through wind and rain.
Be sure I looked up at her eyes
Happy and proud; at last I knew
Porphyria worshipped me; surprise
Made my heart swell, and still it grew
While I debated what to do.
That moment she was mine, mine, fair,
Perfectly pure and good: I found
A thing to do, and all her hair
In one long yellow string I wound
Three times her little throat around,
And strangled her. No pain felt she;
I am quite sure she felt no pain.
As a shut bud that holds a bee,
I warily oped her lids: again
Laughed the blue eyes without a stain.
And I untightened next the tress
About her neck; her cheek once more
Blushed bright beneath my burning kiss:
I propped her head up as before,
Only, this time my shoulder bore
Her head, which droops upon it still:
The smiling rosy little head,
So glad it has its utmost will,
That all it scorned at once is fled,
And I, its love, am gained instead!
Porphyria's love: she guessed not how
Her darling one wish would be heard.
And thus we sit together now,
And all night long we have not stirred,
And yet God has not said a word!
osprey_archer: (art)
A poem I stumbled upon (because that is the best way to find poems, in the wild, by means of serendipity). It's very striking.

Luck in Sarajevo

In Sarajevo
in the spring of 1992,
everything is possible:

you go to stand in a bread line
and end up in an emergency room
with your leg amputated.

Afterwards, you still maintain
that you were very lucky.

--Izet Sarajlić, trans. Charles Simic
osprey_archer: (friends)
The Nineteenth-Century Novel
by Eve Grubin

Sometimes I just want to give in, become
the heroine in a great nineteenth-century novel,
an earnest and suffering young woman
who makes the decision that will ruin
the rest of her life.

Once the decision has been made
I want—in my white nightgown—
to unlatch the shutter, throw
open the window,
cry out into the rain.

If not Cathy could I at least be
Elizabeth Bennet living
on the precipice of vast disappointment,
on the edge of loneliness and family shame.
To dip just under the surface of the worst
and then be pulled out
just in time.
osprey_archer: (art)
Harlem
by Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

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