Friday, December 26, 2008

To Earthward - a Poetry Friday post

I know that for many people, the holidays are "the most wonderful time of the year." For others, based on medical statistics, they are stressful and possibly depressing. For me, they are a wintry mix. (I know - I kill me.)

I really enjoy Chanukah and Christmas and knowing that once we've passed the solstice and it's officially Winter, the days are actually trending longer, even though they remain short for now. In recent years, I find myself using the time between the holidays of light and the new year to reflect a bit, take stock of life, and plan for the new year. A bit of looking back over this year, and over the course of my life as well; a bit of planning for the future. Things are in balance. Happy memories combine with bittersweet (and occasionally, painful) ones, and I push to remember to look at now, too, amongst all that looking back and forward.

And so it is that today, I'm sharing with you a somewhat melancholy but decidedly feeling poem by one of my favorite poets, Robert Frost. First the poem, and then the analysis and discussion.

To Earthward
by Robert Frost

Love at the lips was touch
As sweet as I could bear;
And once that seemed too much;
I lived on air

That crossed me from sweet things,
The flow of--was it musk
From hidden grapevine springs
Downhill at dusk?

I had the swirl and ache
From sprays of honeysuckle
That when they're gathered shake
Dew on the knuckle.

I craved strong sweets, but those
Seemed strong when I was young;
The petal of the rose
It was that stung.

Now no joy but lacks salt,
That is not dashed with pain
And weariness and fault;
I crave the stain

Of tears, the aftermark
Of almost too much love,
The sweet of bitter bark
And burning clove.

Read the last two stanzas here.

Before moving to anything else, I'd like to take this moment to sigh. *sigh* And to pause and really let that one sink in, with all its weight and strength. It's dead sexy, I think, even though it speaks of sorrow. And not just because he's talking about his length and being stiff, although I do not believe those words were chosen idly.

About the form
It is written using eight cross-rhymed stanzas: ABAB, CDCD, etc. The meter selected is iambic, which was pretty common for Frost. The first three lines of each stanza contain three iambic feet; the fourth contains only 2. Folks familiar with hymnal representations of metre will recognize that this one would be written as 6-6-6-4, although it's not a highly common metre.

The poem splits in the middle, temporally at least. The first four stanzas are about the past. Whether it's long past or lost youth is up to interpretation, but it's clear that the first four stanzas are all about what the speaker thought "then". The latter four stanzas are about the present, what the speaker feels and believes "now".

"Then" was all about things that were sweet: kisses, scents in the air (honeysuckle, musk and more), the feel of a rose petal. Then, those sweet things were too much for him. The rose's petal was enough to cause a stinging sensation - not the thorn, the silken petal. The touch of a lip was almost overpowering. He was able to live off the scents in the air. One gets the sense of a young romantic intoxicated by the pretty, pleasant things of life.

"Now" is all about things that are salty. References to taste opposites (sweet vs. salty) are entirely intentional, by the way, as the poet works to engage all of his senses. Not content with the one so many poets rely on exclusively (sight), he's including smell, taste, touch and sound as well. He's seeking more complex, less straightforwardly beautiful things. He seems not to mind the salt of tears, if the tears are the aftermath of having loved too much. The scents he seeks out are no longer the sweet scents of honeysuckle, but include scents like bark and burnt cloves.

Now, the speaker sits on the ground, his hand pressed flat to the earth, leaning heavily on his arm, wrist flexed. When he stands, the pain and soreness he feels is not enough for him; he wishes he could feel the roughness of the earth along the full length of his body. Now, pain does not diminish his pleasure - and, in fact, pain appears to contribute to his pleasure. I don't think he's a masochist; he's a realist who accepts the complexities of the world, including the negatives along with the positives. It includes sensual details now that were lacking when he was a younger man, caught up in the pretty superficialities.

Throughout the poem, the speaker is interacting with the physical world, and not with another person. He focuses on love as represented by the gifts of the earth-- simple pleasures like honeysuckle, grapevines and rose petals, and more complex (one might say complicated) pleasures like burnt cloves, bitter bark and feeling the roughness of the earth along his length. Whether those last few lines refer to sexual desire or a longing for the grave is open to interpretation, and I am nearly certain any duality is intentional, particularly given some of the terms that Frost uses leading up to the concluding lines, which are, to my way of thinking, anyhow, a bit reminiscent of Whitman, if I'm being honest ("I sing the Body electric" anyone?)

This poem is spectacular, in my opinion, for looking back and looking at the now, and maybe, maybe looking forward. It suits my mood in this time between the holidays. And it makes me think - and I do so love to think.

In closing, I think I'll thank Jennifer Knoblock at Ink for Lit for the lovely Christmas present she gave me: a butterfly award. Thanks, Jennifer, for your kind words, and for the lovely butterfly.

Today's Poetry Friday is hosted by my friend Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect. I just checked her post to be sure my little Poetry Friday button works properly and lo! She has posted something from Robert Frost as well. Great minds, etc.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

NEED by Carrie Jones

How to start this review? After all, it would indeed sound corny if I told you that you NEED to buy it, right away. Like, today, which is its official release date. But man, that is what I am so tempted to say, because my friend Carrie Jones? She has really done it this time. In a world where nothing is as it seems, you find the addition of things like glamours, so that things that actually are seem not to be. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

First, I should confess that I have been trying, somewhat unsuccessfully, to wean myself off what became a Twilight binge. After seeing the movie with M, I read the whole series in a few days. And then, I read it again. And I read Midnight Sun online (at least twice), and then compared it to Twilight. I was trying to figure out why I like the books so much even though I find many aspects of them completely maddening (my feminist principles are offended by much of the series, to say nothing of the creepy stalker factor and the controlling boyfriends factor and the whiny MC factor and my authorial principles are offended by the abuse of words beginning with "ch" such as "chuckle" and "chagrin", overuse of comparisons to gods and angels, to say nothing of the "why the hell did the author make everything morally easy for all her characters in that last book?" factor and more). I do not have an answer to my questions. But I digress.

Today, I'm talking about the book that has made me say "Stephenie who?" for the first time in weeks: NEED by Carrie Jones, which has a kick-ass cover, a kick-ass heroine, and the hottest (in many ways) hero/boyfriend I've read in a while. In fact, it's so awesome that I am going off tomorrow to score another two copies of it (one for me, one for S) so I can be sure to have first editions. And then, I'm going to re-read it. Like, tomorrow. And now, on to the actual review part of our program:

First, a few words about the cover. The on-screen image doesn't quite do it justice, because it just looks like the girl's mouth is wearing some shiny lipstick. On the actual book cover, it's obvious that she's got gold dust on her lips. And there's a trail of gold dust across her neck behind the gold letters of the title, too. It is, sadly, not actually sparkly glitter, but it is plainly and clearly gold pixie dust.

Yeah, I said it. Pixie. And in the cold, snowy world of Bedford, Maine, pixies are not small, fictional creatures a la Tinkerbell. They are tall. And real. And far more dangerous than you might imagine. And I'm not telling you anything more about them because, y'know, spoilers. But man, Carrie did a great job with them.

Second, our kickass heroine is Zara White. She is sent from Charleston, South Carolina, to the outer corner of Nowhere, Maine by her mother, who is concerned about Zara's emptiness after the death of the stepfather she loved - the only father she's ever known, in fact. Zara goes off to stay with her grandmother, who is named Betty White, but who has precious little in common with the actress of the same name, as best I can tell.

Now, I was certain that there were all sorts of fishy things going on in town early on in the book, because there were references to people not liking her for the way she smelled, for instance. Also? I developed a crush on Nick Colt immediately upon him assisting her into the school on her first day there. But I don't want to get ahead of myself. I want to talk about the kickass heroine for a bit. Because even though she's a damsel who ends up in distress, this is no princess waiting to be rescued. She is proactive all the way. Maybe flawed in being too brave, really, which is a nice change of pace. (At one point - or possibly more than one point - she openly threatens to kick some ass if any harm has come to a friend of hers, using the words "I'll kick your ass" - how much do I love her for that? Oh so very much.) She doesn't just kick ass, she takes names. She is smart and conscientious and clever. And resourceful. And proactive. I like her for that. Plus? I like her quirks, including her fondness for listing phobias.

Back to the hot guy, Nick Colt. I have to agree with M, who has told me more than once that Carrie writes the best boyfriends of any author she knows. (This does not mean, all my many author friends, that you do not write amazing boyfriends too. Honest.) In fact M, who also likes the Twilight books (but who thinks people will find her too geeky for having read them 8 times, so I'm no longer allowed to tell people that), has read Tips at least that many times, and likes Tom better than Edward. She also likes Paolo from Girl, Hero better than Edward, and would very much like a boyfriend who will watch John Wayne movies for her (or the M equivalent). I can't wait to get her reaction to Need, but it will have to wait at least another day, since the book isn't hers yet. *coughSantacough* Nick is charming and mysterious and adorable and hot (in many ways), and every single girl you know (including the adult ones) will have a massive crush on him, guaranteed.

And then there are the supporting cast. I really like the supporting cast, including Meghan the bitchy announcements girl, the obsequious tall guy Ian, the excellent Gram, the bunny-loving Issie, and the wheelchair-bound boy, Devyn. And the pixies, and what they're up to, is really, really creeptastic. And the backhanded paean to Maine's master of horror, Stephen King, is just extra frosting roses on an already excellent cake.

I would be proud to be Carrie's friend even if she wrote idiotic phrases in crayon that didn't make much sense, because she's such a good person. But I am awed to know her, based on her achievement here. And I'm not saying that because she is my friend, because I'd be awed were she a complete stranger.

You're not still here, reading this are you? GO BUY THIS BOOK! You NEED it!

Friday, December 05, 2008

An original poem for Poetry Friday

In April, I wrote a Ring/Drum/Blanket poem entitled "Inside the Fairy Ring" based on a challenge issued by Elaine Magliaro at Wild Rose Reader. Today's poem came from a similar exercise.

Back in June, I attended the Philadelphia Writer's Conference, and spent time in sessions with Bonnie Neubauer, author of The Write Brain Workbook: 366 Exercises to Liberate Your Writing. During one of the sessions, Bonnie passed out a wallet-sized slip of paper containing a bunch of words. She calls it an "emergency generator." While waiting for M in the mall one day, I pulled out my generator and selected three words at random. The words were Alps, broccoli and apology. I jotted a draft of the poem at a table in the food court. Here's the "finished" version after several more passes:

They'd met in Europe on one of those
"see the world" post-college tours.
He was attracted to her hardiness,
her Stoic ability to carry a heavy pack
unassisted up the Swiss Alps.

She was lightheaded in the thin air,
giddy at open horizons, endless opportunities.
They talked of travel plans – tours through Africa,
all the places in Asia they'd see,
plans to partake of more than seven wonders.

Years later, stabbing in silence at Chinese takeout
chicken and broccoli in their windowless dining room,
she wondered how she'd come to this place—
a life without adventure. Each day
an apology, endlessly unfolding on itself.