Writing and Ruminating

Thoughts on writing, reading, and poetry. With the occasional diversion, bien sûr.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Scorn not the Sonnet -- a belated Poetry Friday post

Well. Crap. I tried to set this up to post yesterday, and it so didn't. I can't find it on anyone's friends lists, etc. Grr. So here's a replay, if you've seen it, or a little something new if you haven't.

For this week's post, a sonnet by Wordsworth. In the past, I've posted part of his Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood and It is a Beauteous Evening.

Scorn Not the Sonnet
by William Wordsworth

Scorn not the Sonnet; Critic, you have frowned,
Mindless of its just honours; with this key
Shakspeare unlocked his heart; the melody
Of this small lute gave ease to Petrarch's wound;
A thousand times this pipe did Tasso sound;
With it Camöens soothed an exile's grief;
The Sonnet glittered a gay myrtle leaf
Amid the cypress with which Dante crowned
His visionary brow: a glow-worm lamp,
It cheered mild Spenser, called from Faeryland
To struggle through dark ways; and, when a damp
Fell round the path of Milton, in his hand
The Thing became a trumpet; whence he blew
Soul-animating strains--alas, too few!


In these 14 lines, which he claimed were "composed, almost extempore, in a short walk on the western side of Rydal Lake," Wordsworth has provided a brief bibliography of the masters of the sonnet, beginning with Shakesepare, moving throughout Europe, and ending with John Milton.

Francesco Petrarch was a Renaissance man -- literally. He's known as the father of humanism, in addition to being a scholar and poet. He fell in love with a woman named Laura from afar (while in church, no less), and wrote 366 poems about her, eventually collected by others and called Il Canzoniere. He used a form of the sonnet inherited from Giacamo da Lentini, which became known as the Petrarchan or Italianate sonnet. (Poor Lentini.) I covered the different types of sonnets in an earlier post.

Torquato Tasso was a 16th-century Italian poet most famous for his epic work, Gerusalemme Liberata, an epic poem about the battle between Christians and Muslims for Jerusalem in the First Crusades. He was welcomed by many royal patrons, but suffered from mental illness that prevented his enjoying it. Based on modern psychology, it would seem he was schizophrenic.

Luís de Camões, usually rendered in English as Camöens, was Portugal's greatest poet. Born in the 16th century, he wrote an epic poem called Os Lusídas about the glory of Portugal, along with a significant amount of lyrical poetry, including a great number of sonnets, ranging from a paraphrased version of the book of Job to poems about ideas (akin to what Wordsworth excelled at).

Dante Alighieri's life spanned the transition between the 13th and 14th centuries. His masterwork, La Commedia ("The Divine Comedy"), continues to be a source of inspiration for artists, authors and poets, even seven centuries later. The Commedia was broken into three parts: Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso, and features in part his beloved Beatrice, who was immortalised in another work, La Vita Nuova, from which I quoted in a post after my grandmother's death. (My guess is that the name Beatrice was chosen by Daniel Handler to be Lemony Snicket's unrequited love based on Dante's writings.)

Edmund Spenser was Poet Laureate of England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. His most famous work is The Faerie Queene, which was essentially a huge sycophantic poem for the Queen and her Tudor ancestry. He was venerated by Wordsworth, Byron and others alive at the turn of the 19th century. For those fans of the 1995 movie version of Sense & Sensibility, the lines which Colonel Brandon reads to Marianne near the end are from The Faerie Queen.

John Milton was a 17th-century poet known for his epic poems written in blank verse*, Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, and Samson Agonistes. Milton was opposed to the monarchy, and supported the republican ideas of Thomas Cromwell, which went swimmingly for him until the Restoration, when he was forced to go into hiding. He emerged after a general pardon was issued, only to be arrested. He was eventually released, and died a free man. During the course of his life, Milton went blind, probaby from glaucoma; as a result, Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained and Samson Agonistes were all dictated to others. Although they are frequently construed as religious works, Milton was writing about the revolution and restoration; his religious beliefs were outside the bounds of Christianity. In addition to his work in blank verse, Milton wrote a number of excellent sonnets, which were revered by Wordsworth and others.

*blank verse is the term for unrhymed iambic pentameter, used by Milton in his masterworks, by Shakespeare in his plays, and by many others as well. It remained quite popular as a means of composing verse until at least the late 19th century.

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Friday, July 20, 2007

The Last Express to Hogwarts -- a Poetry Friday post

Today's poem is about (what else?) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I found this beauty in yesterday's issue of Shelf Awareness, Thursday, July 19, 2007, Vol. 1, Issue 478. It's by Jennifer Brown, who contributes children's book reviews to Shelf Awareness on a weekly basis, with occasional, additional children's news stories. Jenny Brown's history in children's books includes a stint as children's reviews editor at Publishers Weekly for the past 10 years. Prior to that, she was was marketing manager at Scholastic Press, editorial director at the Pleasant Company, and worked in children's books at HarperCollins as editorial director of Trophy Paperbacks and educational marketing director. Much of the proceeding bio was ganked directly from Shelf Awareness's press release when Jenny came on board back in April, 2007.

Jenny wrote a poem which summarizes much of what I and many other Pottermaniacs are feeling in the final hours before the book goes global. Huge thanks to Jenny for so graciously allowing me to reprint her poem here for Poetry Friday.

The Last Express to Hogwarts

by Jennifer M. Brown

It is the eve of our last trip to Hogwarts.

Can you think back to that very first time?
The discovery that we are all merely Muggles?
That first taste of Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans,
Strawberry, curry, coffee and sardine?
Harry's maiden ride on the Nimbus Two Thousand,
And his victorious capture of the Snitch in Quidditch?
Wasn't it all a wonderful surprise?

For Harry it's been seven years,
For us, nearly nine.
The children themselves championed Harry Potter
And the Philosopher's-turned-Sorcerer's Stone in the fall of 1998.
Impatient readers ordered the sequels from Amazon UK.
Their infectious enthusiasm precipitated
A global [English-language] release date for the Goblet of Fire.
Generations read the books aloud together,
Stood in midnight lines together,
Filled movie theaters to capacity,
And witnessed Richard Harris's departure
Before it was beloved Dumbledore's time to go.
And, as Harry broke all records for sales and first printings,
The children prompted the birth of their own New York Times bestseller list.

The children grew up with Harry,
In a trailblazing series that literally matured with its hero.
Laura may have grown up in the woods of Wisconsin,
And on the shores of Silver Lake,
But, in the Order of the Phoenix, we suffered through Harry's adolescence,
Excruciating for its perfect resonance with our own.
When the insidious, unidentifiable threat of terrorism invaded our shores,
Voldemort was a knowable villain.
Evil had a face, and Harry had faced him down--
With a scar on his forehead to prove it.
What more heartening message
Could one give a child?

So, as we stand on Platform Nine and Three-Quarters,
Awaiting the last train to Hogwarts,
We taste the same bittersweetness
That those seniors must taste.
Excited, but a little sad, to graduate from a place
We've embraced as part of our own community.
And though we will bid farewell to Harry, Hermione and Ron
On the final page (one or two of them perhaps sooner),
They await our return at every rereading.

Millions of children grew up with Harry,
And whether they go back to their video games,
Or go on to be lawyers or teachers,
Writers or booksellers,
Their lives have been touched by magic.

They won't forget Harry.
And neither will we.


You can find today's Poetry Friday roundup at Mentor Texts and More.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

T minus 34 (or so) and counting

In just about a day and a half, I'll have my very own copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. You have no idea how very happy that makes me. And how very confunded it makes my husband, who doesn't get it, and was perplexed when I told him to make our dinner plans someplace fairly quick on Saturday evening, in case I wasn't done reading the book yet. And yet, there it is.

Here's some additional Potter-related stuff for you:

First up, Hank Green's song about Potter-mania, which I believe may be entitled "Accio, Deathly Hallows". It can be found at Brotherhood 2.0. And if you haven't already been a regular viewer/voyeur, then by all means check out the entries from earlier this week, because punishments? They're funny.

Next? The New York Times posted an early review from a bootleg copy of the book. Not sure how I feel about their morality, but Michiki Kakutani did a decent job of talking about the book without divulging much about what happened in it. But she does explain the word "hallows", and so anyone wanting no spoilers at all should avoid the review.

Third, J.K. Rowling updated her site today, with what I believe to be very useful, sensible advice. She follows up her plea for people to ignore spoilers by saying, "I'd like to ask everyone who calls themselves a Potter fan to help preserve the secrecy of the plot for all those who are looking forward to reading the book at the same time on publication day. In a very short time you will know EVERYTHING!"

Finally, a rant about an opinion piece in the Washington Post earlier this week, which I've already remarked on at my other blog. Ron Charles posted a seriously misguided piece about his inability to understand equanimity over the Harry Potter books, which included a bitch-slap worthy swipe against adults who read children's books, along with a sour-grapes-filled rant complaint about mass-marketing of books.

The smart and inciteful posted an extremely thoughtful essay about Mr. Charles's wrong-headedness over at her journal, where she says in part:

&emsp I think what’s so magical about the HP books is that touchable silence
&emsp that follows the pre-publication hysteria, when the books have at
&emsp last fallen into all those eager hands. Go to a reading marathon hosted
&emsp by your local amazing children’s or YA librarian. See a group of kids
&emsp all in their favorite spots, reading. Reading for hours. Getting shushed
&emsp when they cheer or groan out loud without meaning to because they
&emsp have been carried away by a book that somehow managed to so
&emsp completely submerge them in its world they forgot, for a time, that
&emsp this one exists. Do you think they are aware that the kid in the
&emsp corner is reading the same thing? I don’t. And even if they do,
&emsp what’s so bad about that? How’s it different from a book group who
&emsp reads the same book so they can discuss it? Share their thoughts
&emsp about it? Find new ways to enjoy or question bits and pieces?
&emsp Make them
think??

I responded to her about my own experience with relatives following our recent trip to see the latest Potter movie, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, which I discussed a bit in a post last Thursday.

My two daughters, their 14-year old male second cousin and I talked about it for hours -- what they left in, what they kept out, what scenes we'd really hoped for that weren't there, how some of the ways they changed the story added or detracted, etc. And then, at my cousin's wedding rehearsal dinner the next night, we discussed it with additional adult family members, who were eager to hear about the movie and what we thought, and to speculate about Book 7. That's right -- we were all chatting together, two and even three generations of us, because we've all read the book, and we share a bond that confuses and perplexes the people like my husband and mother, who haven't read the book. And I found myself feeling sorry for hubby and my mother because they are missing out -- they cannot understand the joy of being able to share enthusiastically in appreciation of the story, and love (or loathing) for the characters, and predictions for the future. And yet, if Mr. Charles is correct, those of us who were avidly engaged in enjoyable conversation, bonded together in our appreciation of the books, were the ones to be pitied -- poor cattle that we were, all having read the same thing. And yet, if we'd all read The Kite Runner instead, I'm sure he'd consider us literati.

My conversation with my extended family was with folks who will be getting book 7 this weekend, and tearing through it to find out what happens, even if they put off seeing the movie until later. The movies didn't sell them on the books. The hype didn't sell them on the books. The story sold them on the books, as it did for those first kids in England, who fueled sales via unprecedented word of mouth. Those first readers weren't wrong, anymore than the hype surrounding the first six books in the U.S. has been a mistake. I suppose it remains to be seen whether everyone will remain happy once the end is reached, but we'll all know by Sunday. Saturday evening, even, for the truly dedicated quick readers.

In the meantime, I will repeat my assertion (made in comments earlier) that Mr. Charles's child didn't like his unenthusiastic reading of the books, and I will hope that the Charles child manages to read the books on their own. I look forward to discussing the book with any of you who are so inclined in the future (but will not post anything spoilery here for at least a month, so you needn't feel you need to avoid looking at my posts starting next week).

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Friday, July 13, 2007

An original summer haiku -- a Poetry Friday post

Today, because I'm on the road and away from my huge cache of poetry books, I'm sharing an original summer haiku. It seemed fitting, with the temperatures here in the 90s, and the heat waves that have been sweeping the nation recently.

Humid July days
Oppressive sweat-drenched torpor
Unceasing swelter


If you're interested at all in my Harry Potter posts from earlier this week, by all means check out my Live Journal posts.

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Sunday, July 08, 2007

Harry Potter, Harry Potter, Harry

Yes indeed. I am nearly giddy with anticipation.

On Wednesday, July 11, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix opens in theatres. While I wish that Dolores Umbridge looked more toad-like than Imelda Staunton, I know her to be a terrific actress. And OOTP was one of my favorite HP books. Right up there with the other 5 I've read already (okay, possibly second to Azkaban, in a tie with the first book -- because, y'know, without a first book, there's no series). Can't wait to see the Weasley twins in action in this one!

On Saturday, July 21, starting at 12:00:01, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows hits stores. More accurately, having hit stores prior to then, it will hit the hands of legions of eager readers. I. Cannot. Wait.

And neither, apparently, can a lot of other folks. In fact, the *New York Times has asked a few writers to weigh in on the ending.

Damon Lindelof, one of the writers of LOST, tells us what he'd like to see in
The Boy Who Died.

Meg Cabot, she of so many books (teen and otherwise), brings us When Harry Met Davey

Larry Doyle, former writer for The Simpsons and author of the recent release, I Love You, Beth Cooper, gives us the darkest bit: Made in Hogwarts.

And last, but not least, Polly Horvath, YA author of such books as The Canning Season and Everything on a Waffle, brings us Hermione Tells All. (Not sure why her Hermione went Cockney or whatever, but her piece is brilliantly funny.)

* Not sure if you'll need to sign in to read these -- if so, it's a free membership.

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Friday, July 06, 2007

The New Colossus -- a Poetry Friday post

As a Jewish American, Emma Lazarus was particularly concerned with the plight of Jewish refugees who were entering the U.S. at the time in order to escape pogroms in Russia and eastern Europe; beginning in 1882, she began providing technical education to allow immigrants in New York City to become self-sufficient.

In 1883, Emma Lazarus wrote a sonnet that is literally etched into American history -- it's on a brass plaque affixed to the base of the Statue of Liberty.

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

I Hear America Singing by Walt Whitman

It seemed fitting to mark the 4th of July with a patriotic sort of poem, and so I've chosen one from Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman. Even though he was maligned during life, and despite economic challenges, Whitman believed in the ideas set forth in the U.S. Constitution, and in the notion that people can come to this country and make their way here. Those are notions I still subscribe to, even when sometimes it seems that our government does not. And yet I'm free to express that particular opinion here, while others, in other countries, can not even express dissatisfaction. And so, today, I too sing America. And I hear others out there, singing along.

I Hear America Singing
by Walt Whitman

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear;
Those of mechanics—-each one singing his, as it should be, blithe and strong;
The carpenter singing his, as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his, as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work;
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat—the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck;
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench—the hatter singing as he stands;
The wood-cutter’s song—-the ploughboy’s, on his way in the morning, or at the noon intermission,
&emsp or at sundown;
The delicious singing of the mother-—or of the young wife at work—-or of the girl sewing or
&emsp washing—-Each singing what belongs to her, and to none else;
The day what belongs to the day—-At night, the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing, with open mouths, their strong melodious songs.

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Monday, July 02, 2007

Wanted: Nerdfighters

So. I've been a Nerdfighter since the very beginning of the calendar year, when John Green and his brother Hank Green formed Brotherhood 2.0, a videoblog based on their mutual decision to forego textual conversation for the year of 2007.

Those of us who are fans and have been following along have been called Nerdfighters ever since February 17, 2007 when John posted this video, during which he sang the Nerdfighter's theme song. Other verses have since been written by various and sundry Nerdfighters, including yours truly.

Back in March, the Green brothers formed the Foundation to Decrease WorldSuck, which collects monetary donations from folks, then uses the funds to make the world a better place. But recently, after a family vacation in the Dominican Republic, the Greens got the Nerdfighters all fired about being microfinanciers, through Kiva.org.

And, as of today, John has figured out the Law of Compound Nerdfighting, which means that NERDFIGHTERS NEED YOU! To enlist as Nerdfighters or at least to help with the Kiva sponsorships going on over at B2.0.

Nerdfighters! Hoo-ah!

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