Monday, November 30, 2009

LEGO Star Wars: The Visual Dictionary

For Nonfiction Monday, a review of Dorling Kindersley's LEGO Star Wars: The Visual Dictionary by Simon Beecroft, who, I am happy to tell you, would be Chewbacca if he were able to be any Star Wars character.

I received a review copy from the publisher and was smitten by the cover. Is it not awesome with it's giganto-Vader? What you cannot tell from looking at the image, however, is that the cover is about half an inch or so thick, because it holds within a little plastic window on the bottom right corner. That's not just an image of a limited-edition Luke Skywalker figure on the front - it's the real deal, and can be removed for LEGO play.

And then I opened the book and I was . . . overwhelmed. Confused, even. The book's pages are chockablock full of excellent photographs of Star Wars LEGO figures and transports and spaceships and Death Stars. It's all organized exceedingly well, by year of release and with information as to which items were limited release, how many are in the wild, and so forth. It's just that there's so very much information and, it being a visual dictionary and all, so very many photographic images that I was boggled by it.

So I did the logical thing, and sent it to my very own testmarket of Star Wars-loving, LEGOS-loving, Star Wars LEGO-loving boys - the children De Groot, whom I will refer to as Obi Wan and Luke for purposes of this review, since I know that their mom doesn't call them by name at her blog. Obi Wan is in 6th grade, whereas Luke is in first, but they can both play happily for hours together with Star Wars LEGOS, so I figured I'd see what the experts had to say.

Both of the young Jedis liked the book. Luke liked it so much, in fact, that he forced encouraged Mr. Big, Angela's husband (yes, I'm mixing my fandoms - what of it?), to read it to him at bedtime, and he evidently spent quite a bit of time toting it around, looking at it and (quite possibly) petting it. The Jedi knights were only too happy to tell me why they liked the book. Quoth Luke: "It's about Star Wars and LEGOS - my two favorite things!" Said Obi Wan (who, being older, spends his time mastering the nuances of the Force, and is therefore less prone to using lots of words): "It has lots of LEGOs in it."

I made an assumption that the limited edition Luke Skywalker figure might be a huge hit, and I was right. I asked both of the Jedi to tell me their three favorite things about the book, and here are their replies:

Luke: 1) "It has lots of facts about the Star Wars story and the LEGOs"; 2) "great pictures showing all different Star Wars LEGOs and especially all the different Star Wars LEGO figures"; and 3) "the free LEGO dude."

Obi Wan: 1) "It has interesting facts"; 2) "it shows lots of LEGO sets and scenarios"; and 3) "it comes with a limited edition LEGO figure."

Both of the Jedi have many LEGOs, including a great number of Star Wars LEGOs, which (they were happy to tell me) were in the book. When asked what they didn't like about the book, neither of the young warriors could come up with a single thing - they liked it all. Both of them said that their friends would definitely like this book.

And there you have it, from the mouth of young Jedi experts. This is the book to buy for LEGO-loving boys come Chanukah or Christmas. It's pretty much a guaranteed hit. The good folks at DK Books have set up a webpage for the book, if you're interested, which includes a sweepstakes to win the book and a Wii bundle including the game system plus the Star Wars: The Complete Saga game just released in October.

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Sunday, November 29, 2009


Today's icon is a quote from a novel by Dorothy Sayers entitled Busman's Holiday. The full sentence is "How can I find words? Poets have taken them all, and left me with nothing to say or do—" Is not that wonderful?

Three book review quotes attributed to Dorothy Parker:

1. This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.
2. This book of essays ... has all the depth and glitter of a worn dime.
3. This must be a gift book. That is to say a book which you wouldn't take on any other terms.

Truthfully, I've got nothing else for today. I hope, however, that if you've been reading a book, none of Dorothy Parker's sentiments apply.

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Friday, November 27, 2009

The Walrus and the Carpenter by Lewis Carroll

me for the day after Thanksgiving with so many people feasting (and, perhaps, overeating; also, it's possible that some of you had oysters in your stuffing). Today's pick is The Walrus and the Carpenter by Lewis Carroll, from Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There, which I have posted once before:

The Walrus and the Carpenter
by Lewis Carroll

The sun was shining on the sea,
Shining with all his might:
He did his very best to make
The billows smooth and bright--
And this was odd, because it was
The middle of the night.

The moon was shining sulkily,
Because she thought the sun
Had got no business to be there
After the day was done--
"It's very rude of him," she said,
"To come and spoil the fun!"

The sea was wet as wet could be,
The sands were dry as dry.
You could not see a cloud, because
No cloud was in the sky:
No birds were flying overhead--
There were no birds to fly.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
Were walking close at hand;
They wept like anything to see
Such quantities of sand:
"If this were only cleared away,"
They said, "it would be grand!"

"If seven maids with seven mops
Swept it for half a year.
Do you suppose," the Walrus said,
"That they could get it clear?"
"I doubt it," said the Carpenter,
And shed a bitter tear.

"O Oysters, come and walk with us!"
The Walrus did beseech.
"A pleasant walk, a pleasant talk,
Along the briny beach:
We cannot do with more than four,
To give a hand to each."

The eldest Oyster looked at him,
But never a word he said:
The eldest Oyster winked his eye,
And shook his heavy head--
Meaning to say he did not choose
To leave the oyster-bed.

But four young Oysters hurried up,
All eager for the treat:
Their coats were brushed, their faces washed,
Their shoes were clean and neat--
And this was odd, because, you know,
They hadn't any feet.

Four other Oysters followed them,
And yet another four;
And thick and fast they came at last,
And more, and more, and more--
All hopping through the frothy waves,
And scrambling to the shore.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
Walked on a mile or so,
And then they rested on a rock
Conveniently low:
And all the little Oysters stood
And waited in a row.

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings."

"But wait a bit," the Oysters cried,
"Before we have our chat;
For some of us are out of breath,
And all of us are fat!"
"No hurry!" said the Carpenter.
They thanked him much for that.

"A loaf of bread," the Walrus said,
"Is what we chiefly need:
Pepper and vinegar besides
Are very good indeed--
Now if you're ready, Oysters dear,
We can begin to feed."

"But not on us!" the Oysters cried,
Turning a little blue.
"After such kindness, that would be
A dismal thing to do!"
"The night is fine," the Walrus said.
"Do you admire the view?

"It was so kind of you to come!
And you are very nice!"
The Carpenter said nothing but
"Cut us another slice:
I wish you were not quite so deaf--
I've had to ask you twice!"

"It seems a shame," the Walrus said,
"To play them such a trick,
After we've brought them out so far,
And made them trot so quick!"
The Carpenter said nothing but
"The butter's spread too thick!"

"I weep for you," the Walrus said:
"I deeply sympathize."
With sobs and tears he sorted out
Those of the largest size,
Holding his pocket-handkerchief
Before his streaming eyes.

"O Oysters," said the Carpenter,
"You've had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?'
But answer came there none--
And this was scarcely odd, because
They'd eaten every one.

This is one of those poems that I don't know in its entirety, but I have parts of it committed to memory. My particular favorite lines are the following stanza, which I most often quote by saying only the first two lines, and frequently quote using the first four - only seldom do I add the final pairing, but I will point out that the "whether pigs have wings" line is related to the term "when pigs fly", used to indicate an opinion that something is impossible or at least highly improbable. This is not the first time in his writing that Carroll referred to winged or flying pigs, since the Duchess in his earlier book, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland tells Alice in chapter nine that she has "Just about as much right [to think about something] as pigs have to fly...." Carroll appears to have drawn the images or ideas from a Scottish proverb, "If a pig had wings, it could fly", which predates Carroll's lines by a few centuries in usage, and at least a few years in print. But I digress. Here's my favorite stanza:

The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes--and ships--and sealing-wax--
Of cabbages--and kings--
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings."

Form: The entire poem is written using the same metre, which is very song-based (and was likely sung or set to music even when it was conceived and written). The lines alternate - a line of iambic tetrameter followed by a line of iambic trimeter (a classic song form - 868686 if you're a church-music aficionado), with a rhyme scheme of xAxAxA in each stanza, meaning that the even-numbered lines all rhyme, but the odd-numbered ones (designated by an "x") do not. As there are 18 stanzas, it would run xAxAxA through xRxRxR.

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Sonnet 75 by William Shakespeare

It being Wednesday, it's time for the Bard. And it being the day before Thanksgiving here in the United States, a day known for its feasting and gluttony, it's time for Sonnet 75, in which Shakespeare uses metaphors based in food (and gluttony) and in wealth (the hoarding of) - but more on that after the poem.

Sonnet 75
by William Shakespeare

So are you to my thoughts as food to life,
Or as sweet-seasoned showers are to the ground;
And for the peace of you I hold such strife
As 'twixt a miser and his wealth is found.
Now proud as an enjoyer, and anon
Doubting the filching age will steal his treasure;
Now counting best to be with you alone,
Then bettered that the world may see my pleasure.
Sometime all full with feasting on your sight,
And by and by clean starvèd for a look;
Possessing or pursuing no delight
Save what is had or must from you be took.
  Thus do I pine and surfeit day by day,
  Or gluttoning on all, or all away.

About the form: Why, it's a Shakespearean sonnet of course. Written in iambic pentameter (five iambic feet per line - taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM), with the rhyme scheme ABABCDCDEFEFGG, as per usual.

Analysis: In the first four lines, he introduces to us his two metaphors - You're as necessary to me as food is to life or rain is to the earth, and thinking about you is the same sort of peaceless situation as a miser has with his wealth. In the next four, he explains that miser thing more - sometimes a miser enjoys his hoard, but at others, he frets and worries that he'll lose his fortune over time; similarly, he can't decide whether he'd rather keep his beloved at home and to himself, or be seen and admired by the world at large.

The turn, or volta, turns up in the third set of four lines (beginning with "Sometime all full with feasting on your sight"), where he returns to his food analogy: Sometimes I'm glutted with you, sometimes I'm starved (i.e., sometimes I see you a lot and/or get a lot of attention from you, and othertimes, not so much); either way, the poet has no delight except what is given to him by his beloved. It's not much of a turn, really - in some ways, it's just a further expansion of his earlier topics. That said, he does switch from simply saying "it's like food, or rain, or miserliness" and starts to talk about it on a far more personal level, and in a way that explores various degrees of love, longing or obsession (depending on how you want to read the poem).

The closing couplet takes the turn that much further (or harder, if you prefer), saying, in essence, "because of you I take turns missing you or having too much of you all day, depending on whether you are here or gone". Only he has, of course, returned to his food metaphor with his use of the idea of gluttony.

Between the tradition of spending time with family - and perhaps too much time with at least some family - on Thanksgiving and the tradition of eating (or in many cases, overeating), this poem seemed just right to me today. That said, I hope you'll all remember this old adage: "All things in moderation." Then again, perhaps you prefer its opposite: "Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess." (That last one is from Oscar Wilde.)

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Sunday, November 22, 2009


Mostly just the quotes today.

"I'm a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work the more I have of it."
~Thomas Jefferson. This one works well, I think, with the quote below from Ryan Hipp, who wrote an entry at Tara Lazar's blog for Picture Book Idea Month.

Ideas are cheap. They come too easily to all of us. The truth is, there is not a shortage on ideas. Everyone has ideas. Everyone. I am more impressed with something more rare and valuable than an idea: perseverance, practice, dedication, commitment, hard work, and patience. The best idea in the world is a moot point until you start climbing that mountain and joining the other hard workers on the summit.

I don’t want to discount the importance of ideas. Every good book starts with a good idea; but they are just building blocks, not a castle. So my advice is to keep dreaming, and keep generating ideas; but don’t forget the more important step: bring those ideas to life.

And a few from the Winter Blog Blast Tour:

First up, a quote from Derek Landy, author of the Skulduggery Pleasant books, who was interviewed at Finding Wonderland:

To be honest, populating these books with strong female characters never occurred to me--this was never the objective. The fact is, this is merely how I see most women, and these are the only kinds of women that interest me. My mother is fiercely intelligent, my sisters are formidable, my female friends are admirable--I have been surrounded by strong women my entire life, and this is the only thing I know.

And this from Vivian's interview with R.L. LaFevers at Hip Writer Mama:

Kids are so much more open to the world of possibilities around them than many adults. Their minds are fresh and eager and willing to go along on an adventure. They are soaking up everything like little sponges, trying on ideas and philosophies, worldviews and ideologies—often without even realizing it.

Also, I’ve had a rather satisfying adulthood, whereas my childhood was another matter. I felt powerless, voiceless, swept along by events I barely understood and couldn’t control. For me, those were the ages that were most ripe with material and issues that act as good story fodder.

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Friday, November 20, 2009

An interview with Lisa Schroeder

Over at my LiveJournal blog, I've been participating in the Winter Blog Blast Tour. Today, I've got an interview with the lovely and talented Lisa Schroeder, author of the forthcoming verse novel,Chasing Brooklyn. I hope you will head over there to check it out!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

An Interview with Amanda Marrone

Over at my LiveJournal blog, I've been participating in the Winter Blog Blast Tour. Today, I've got an interview with the lovely and talented Amanda Marrone, author of the recently-released Devoured. I hope you will head over there to check it out!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

My November Guest by Robert Frost

It's Wednesday, which usually calls for a bit of Shakespeare around here, at least since June and Brush Up Your Shakespeare Month. And so, dear friends, this quote from The Life and Death of Richard II, which I've not yet read. (I know, I know - I shall get to it, I promise. But if you could only see my ridiculously ginormous TBR pile . . . )

'Tis very true, my grief lies all within;
And these external manners of lament
Are merely shadows to the unseen grief
That swells with silence in the tortured soul[.]
Richard II, Act IV, sc. 1.

Today, though, a poem from an American bard, Robert Frost, who, as I discussed before when I talked about his poem, "Desert Places", back in March of last year appears to have struggled a bit with depression. In this particular poem he personifies his sorrow, making it a female companion. (Or perhaps his wife had seasonal affective disorder? Kidding. Mostly. I actually think it was Frost who had this particular condition, although I can't say so for certain.)

My November Guest
by Robert Frost

My Sorrow, when she's here with me,
Thinks these dark days of autumn rain
Are beautiful as days can be;
She loves the bare, the withered tree;
She walks the sodden pasture lane.

Her pleasure will not let me stay.
She talks and I am fain* to list**:
She's glad the birds are gone away,
She's glad her simple worsted gray
Is silver now with clinging mist.

The desolate, deserted trees,
The faded earth, the heavy sky,
The beauties she so truly sees,
She thinks I have no eye for these,
And vexes me for reason why.

Not yesterday I learned to know
The love of bare November days
Before the coming of the snow,
But it were vain to tell her so,
And they are better for her praise.

*fain: happy
**list: listen

This poem is in iambic tetrameter (four iambic feet per line - taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM), with a rhyme scheme (per stanza) of ABAAB. In this poem, Frost personifies his sorrow, whom he sets apart from himself, saying that his sorrow loves the bleaker days of winter, but he (or rather, his unsorrowful part) couldn't see it. For a while, his melancholy side pestered him about it, and he finally learnt "the love of bare November days before the coming of the snow", perhaps in the same way that Catherine Morland "just learnt to love a hyacinth" in Northanger Abbey.

I confess to finding much beauty in the bareness of November, with its shorter days and longer shadows. That said, I find I still prefer the sunnier days to the grey, although I have a dear friend who loves the November rain. I suppose this poem celebrates that grey November rain, and when it comes (as it will), I shall do my best to appreciate its beauty.

I particularly admire Frost's decision to use two obsolete words in that second stanza - and within the same line, no less. He says he is "fain to list" to his Sorrow as she speaks of the beauties of the season, meaning he's happy to listen. I would fain use the word "fain", and almost put it into the poem I wrote over the weekend, but a quick reality check with assured me that most people would not know what I'm talking about, which is pretty much what I thought when I asked. Still, those words were already obsolete when he used them, and I think that a more mature Frost would not have made the same choices. Today's poem, however, comes from A Boy's Will, his earliest collection of poems, which was published in 1913.

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Breathing Out, by Bruce Niedt

Tonight I went to one of my local B&N stores to hear my friend Bruce Niedt read from his new poetry collection, Breathing Out, which is available from Finishing Line Press.

I've known Bruce for several years now. I met him at the Philadelphia Writer's Conference a few years ago, and we've kept in touch ever since. Bruce is one of those poets who can find inspiration almost anywhere, and in almost anything. Tonight, for instance, he read a poem from his new collection entitled "Little Shoplifters", written about the birds who break open and eat birdseed inside home improvement stores. I've stood and watched those birds any number of times, yet it never once occurred to me to write a poem about it.

My favorite piece that he read tonight from his new collection might have been his homage to Billy Collins (or so he said in introduction), "All the Clocks in My House Are Set to Different Times", although it's a tough call, since "Dream", which he wrote about his now-deceased father-in-law was marvelous, and brought tears to my eyes. Also in this collection, his poem "Sultry", which is one of my favorites of his poems (I've heard him read it before, although he didn't read it tonight). Bruce shares it at his occasional blog, Orangepeel (possibly named after another of his poems, which he did read tonight, entitled "How to Peel an Orange"), and it also appeared previously in the online journal, Thick With Conviction.

by Bruce Niedt

On the weekend, you were a steady rain.
Yesterday, when you were mostly cloudy,
it was hard to read your sky.
But today you’re bright sunshine and warm
with a light southerly breeze
and a high in the upper 80’s.
Everything blooms around you
and fragrances follow your path.
I want to meet you on the veranda
as lemonade glasses sweat the afternoon.
Let’s generate a strong Bermuda high.
Tonight, let’s make a little thunder in the bedroom,
and glisten afterward, twisted in dampened sheets.
It’s not your heat, baby,
it’s your humidity.

Is that not steamily wonderful? *fans self* If you're looking for a "new" poet to discover, I hope you'll give Bruce's work some consideration. His collection is available online from the publisher and at Amazon (if you shop there) for $12.00. Oh, and if you are shopping at Amazon, I hope you'll consider clicking through to Amazon from the CYBILS website, since they get a small contribution from Amazon if you do that, which is used to pay for fountain pens for the award winners.

I read two poems at the open reading following Bruce's half-hour tour de force performance: "In the New Mall" (short free verse poem) and "The Wild November Sea" (two-page poem written during this weekend's writing retreat - iambic pentameter with a variable rhyme scheme). Both of the poems "played" well. Huzzah!

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Today, a return of my once-established Sunday tradition: a quoteskimming post. As it appears I sort of lost the habit back in July of this year, I shall explain what the word means. It's a term I coined in September 2007 - I shall be pulling some writing-related quotes from here and there and sharing them with you.

The quote in today's icon at my LiveJournal blog is from Lemony Snicket (who will be writing a new series at Little, Brown, having followed his editor when she moved, so it seemed fitting to use one of his quotes). It's from his book, Horseradish, and reads "If writers wrote as carelessly as some people talk, then adhasdh asdglaseuyt[bn[pasdlgkhasdfasdf."

On the need for solitude

First up, a bit of Jane Austen (since I'm working on one of my Jane poems at present). This is an excerpt from a letter she wrote to her sister, Cassandra, who had gone away for a while, leaving Jane in charge of running the household in her absence. (They lived with their mother and a friend, Martha Lloyd, with frequent visits from family and friends - both of the short social and long house-stay kinds.)

Jane's comments might be understood as being in favor of writing retreats, such as Angela and I are now on, in that she said she wished for:

. . . a few days quiet, & exemption from the Thought & contrivances which any sort of company gives.--I often wonder how you can find time for what you do, in addition to the care of the House
. . . Composition seems to me Impossible, with a head full of Joints of Mutton & doses of rhubarb.

On Writing Picture Books

I've started reading Writing Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul, whom I had the pleasure of meeting in LA in 2007. Ann really knows her stuff. As many of you long-time readers are already aware, I have a particular fondness for form meeting function (as in E.B. White's #17 in "Elementary Principles of Composition" from Strunk & White: "Omit Needless Words."), and so I give you this tidbit from Chapter One of Ann's book, from the section entitled "Make Books Easy to Read Out Loud":

Besides avoiding words adults have difficulty pronouncing, don't write humongous sentences like this one that will make your poor unsuspecting reader gasp for breath way before reaching the desperately-needed punctuation mark that finally at long last signifies the end.

On Characters

I'm still enjoying John Mullan's How Novels Work, which I've mentioned here before. I intend to go back and re-read it, in fact, since much of what I read while in the hospital failed to stick. Yes, I shall be re-reading a book that is essentially about re-reading. Oh the irony.

Here's a bit from the opening of Chapter 3, "People", in which he introduces the idea of characterization, and discusses how it is a topic often left out of critical narratives - and/or viewed by academic critics with suspicion:

Nothing is stranger or more important in our reading of novels than the sense that we are encountering real people in them. Academic critics tend to steer away from the business of characterization, even though it is invariably the ordinary measure of a novelist's achievement. It is as if succumbing to the illusion that a 'character' in a book is a person implies losing your critical faculties. Long ago, in a famous essay called 'How Many Children Had Lady Macbeth?', the critic L.C. Knights made it clear that the discerning reader should resist this weakness. How can we maintain 'the necessary aloofness from a work of art,' he asked irritably, if we 'treat a character as a human being'? Literary theory, while speaking in different terms, has preserved this aloofness. Sometimes its determination to avoid all talk of characterization is inadvertently comical. Here is Mieke Bal, a renowned narrative theorist, solemnly perplexed in her 1985 book Narratology when faced by the troubling illusion of a human presence in texts. "That no one has yet succeeded in constructing a complete and coherent theory of character is probably precisely because of this human aspect. The character is not a human being, but it resembles one." Just so.

And because I re-read The Thirteen Clocks by James Thurber this weekend, I give you this bit from Neil Gaiman's introduction to the reprinted version, which you can still order from the New York Review of Books Children's Collection:

I was fairly certain it was the best book I had ever read. It was funny in strange ways. It was filled with words. And while all books are filled with words, this one was different: it was filled with magical, wonderful, tasty words. It slipped into poetry and out of it again in way that made you want to read it aloud, just to see how it sounded. I read it to my little sister. When I was old enough, I read it to my children.

The 13 Clocks isn't really a fairy tale, just as it isn't really a ghost story. But it feels like a fairy tale, and it takes place in a fairy-tale world. It is short -- not too short, just perfectly short. Short enough. When I was a young writer, I liked to imaging that I was paying someone for every word I wrote, rather than being paid for it; it was a fine way to discipline myself only to use those words I needed. I watch Thurber wrap his story tightly in words, while at the same time juggling fabulous words that glitter and gleam, tossing them out like a happy madman, all the time explaining and revealing and baffling with words. It is a miracle. I think you could learn everything you need to know about telling stories from this book.

And now, I am off to enjoy the final few hours of my time here at our retreat in Brigantine, where I hope to finish that in-progress Jane poem to add to my pile of "what I've accomplished while here", which is, for the record: two sets of interview questions for the Winter Blog Blast Tour, which commences tomorrow - more on that later today, a manuscript critique for one of my dearest friends, the first draft of a lengthy non-Jane poem about which I am positively tickled just now, several ideas for Picture Book Idea Month, and the complete reading of two books (that includes the re-reading of The 13 Clocks), as well as blog posts and whatnot. Still, it's getting back into the swing of the Jane project that I most wish to accomplish, and so I shall take my own advice from yesterday and persist.

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Saturday, November 14, 2009

Persistence pays off

So, here I am, still in Brigantine, NJ, where for two days we have stayed through the worst nor'easter in recent memory - one that involved a declared state of emergency and evacuations in some areas (although thankfully, not here). We lost power for a grand total of, what, 8-1/2 minutes yesterday - just long enough to find and light some candles, then blow them out.

This morning, a miracle: the rain was gone, the wind was down to something like 10 m.p.h., and, eventually, a bit of watery sunshine made its way through the clouds, burning off the lingering fog. After lunch, Angela and I headed outside for an actual walk. We went to the nearest beach access path to find that it was mostly underwater. We went to the next one up the beach, which we knew had an elevated wooden causeway. We got there and walked to the end of the elevated part, only to discover that the stairs led to a massive puddle nearly deep and wide enough to swim laps in. We decided to see if there might be another access point in the third development up the way and lo!, there was. And the path was mostly clear until we could see the ocean, at which point we began picking our way slowly through something that looked like (and undoubtedly was) sea-demolished bales of straw, no doubt set there in the path as a sort of levee. Those levees were unsettling to walk on, I can assure you, and by the end we were perilously close to walking in the forbidden dunes, but we persevered and made it to the beach.

There we were, on the sand, watching waves roll in (nowhere near as high as the past few days, although now that high tide is approaching, they are once again impressive - from a distance, no less!) and sandpipers skittering about at the water's edge, along with a few fat gulls standing watch or gliding low along the shallows. We walked a ways along the beach, south past where we were staying, since we knew those two accessways to be, well, inaccessible, to the fourth path, which was clear pretty much the whole way. There was evidence that it, too, had had strawbale levees smashed and carried inland (and out to sea) by the recent tempest, but it was drier still than the one on which we'd come.

In beach walking, as in writing or seeking publication, persistence pays off. Keeping going to find a way onto that beach or into the story can be challenging, and you may get muddy or acquire wet shoes or some burrs along the way (Angela sure did - maybe because she was wearing track pants instead of jeans?), but once you find your way there, it can be such a wonderful place. The trick is to keep going, to keep searching for that access you need, or the proper story opening, or the right word to make that poem sing, or that enthusiastic agent or editor who is willing to champion your work. The trick is also to pay attention and notice when the path you're on is going wrong - when the boardwalk is sinking into the mire (true story from today) and the water is bubbling up through the nailholes, it's time to turn back and try something new. There's a difference between carefully picking your way along a 40-foot stretch of destroyed wet straw bales (difficult, but not dangerous) and walking along planks that you know are going to sink you if you keep going ahead (possibly dangerous and definitely stupid).

So, stay alert, heed your gut instincts, but whatever you do, keep going. Because as I said before, when you get there, it's worth it.


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Friday, November 13, 2009

Excerpt of Eliot

I've posted the entire poem of "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T.S. Eliot at least thrice here over the years - most recently as part of my National Poetry Month posts, but today, as I sit here in Brigantine, New Jersey in the midst of a nor'easter of grand scale, watching the mists blow through the scrub on the dunes and seeing the white waves cresting and crashing off in the distance, I was reminded of the poem yet again. I got to thinking about the final stanzas of the poem and the lines that Stephen Colbert quoted to Elizabeth Alexander shortly after President Obama's inauguration: "I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each./ I do not think that they will sing to me."

The final set of stanzas begins with references to Prince Hamlet, and, as many of you already know, I saw a production of Hamlet only last week on Broadway. So many personal associations to this bit of the poem have had me reading and re-reading it this morning, pondering all the while. As for the Hamlet references, Eliot (or rather his poem's speaker, Prufrock) disclaims a starring role. How sad, to cast oneself as a walk-on or minor player when the play is one's own life. It reminds me of a quote from a movie in which Jude Law (who played Hamlet in the production I saw) was a character: The Holiday, of which I am fond. I particularly like the character of Iris, who is played by Kate Winslet, and her interaction with Arthur Abbott, played spectacularly well by Eli Wallach. During a conversation between the two of them, troubled-in-love Iris comes to this realization: "You're supposed to be the leading lady of your own life, for god's sake!" (Or leading man. J. Alfred Prufrock never managed to sort that bit out, poor guy.)

Here, the final section of "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T.S. Eliot (who is, my brother informs me based on recent genealogical research (we jointly work on our family tree) our eighth cousin, thrice removed). You can read the poem in its entirety (with much fuller analysis) in my post from April:

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.

I grow old . . . I grow old . . .
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Devise, wit; write, pen

Today I return to these lines from the comical character Don Armado in Love's Labour's Lost: "Devise, wit; write, pen; for I am for whole volumes in folio." I am, of course, quoting them out of context, as one inevitably does when quoting Shakespeare. (Just think of Catherine Morland - from Austen's Northanger Abbey, quoting from Twelfth Night as if it were a good thing for a young woman to sit "like Patience on a monument", for instance.)

Don Armado is, as I said in a post in September, an ass; that does not make his words completely misguided, any more than it lessens the words of Polonius (from Hamlet), many of which are widely quoted (including "Brevity is the soul of wit" and "This above all things: to thine own self be true"). He may be a tedious old man who is misguided, long-winded and has a propensity to speak in platitudes, but Polonius is one highly-quotable (and highly quoted) guy.

Back to my reason for returning to the words of Don Armado:

I am going away for a few days on a writing retreat with my frequent writing partner and good friend, . She will be working on a new short story, assuming that she's finished this pass of revisions on her fantasy novel. And I? I shall be turning back to Jane, I believe. I haven't done any work on the Jane project in the past six weeks (first the gnomes interrupted, and then life became completely topsy-turvy).

From tomorrow morning until Sunday afternoon, I'll be in Brigantine, which is just north of Atlantic City along the Jersey shore. Just in time for what used to be Hurricane and/or Tropical Storm Ida but is now a Nor'Easter to move on in for days. So much for long walks on the beach, but it ought to mean more cozying up for writing (and reading, and a nightly movie).

Theoretically, we'll have WiFi down there and, if so, I shall post a bit. Meanwhile, I have from now until 8 a.m. tomorrow to finish laundry and packing and whatnot.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Vampire Haiku

Remember me talking about my affection for Zombie Haiku by Ryan Mecum, whom I later interviewed for the 2009 Summer Blog Blast Tour? Well, let me tell you something: Ryan has done it again with VAMPIRE HAIKU, in which he combines haiku and story, humor and horror, and adds history, a hint of romance, and social commentary to boot. While the vampires in it may, this is one book that doesn't suck. Also? This book is as much a survey of American history as it is the story of one vampire through the ages.

You can read my full review over at Guys Lit Wire, but I figured I'd leave you with a few juicy tidbits. (I know - I kill me, too!)

Two vampire revelations for our main character, William, who was turned on The Mayflower by a woman named Katherine:

She explains to me
that wood through my heart will kill.
I don't think that's new.
. . .
Blood tastes like cherries
mixed with a lot of copper
and way too much salt.

And a few of the pop culture references - I'm pretty certain you'll be able to guess which TV shows or movies they go with, assuming you've seen the more popular/mainstream vampire fare over the past 20 years or so:

Now I've seen it all.
Vampire puppets on TV
teaching kids to count.
. . .
My favorite show
stars the cutest little girl
killing fake vampires.
. . .
Those were not vampires.
If sunlight makes you sparkle,
you're a unicorn.
. . .
What would be better
than biting on a Corey?
Biting two Coreys.

I hope you'll check it out!

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Friday, November 06, 2009

On the benefits of seeing live productions of Shakespeare's plays

Rather than (merely) taunting all of you with my having seen Hamlet on Broadway last night starring the lovely and talented Jude Law in the title role, with Kevin R. McNally ("Mr. Gibbs", first mate to Johnny Depp's "Captain Jack Sparrow") as Claudius, I thought I'd also generalize a bit about the benefits of seeing live theatre. My celebration (I shall try to refrain from out-and-out crowing) over my attendance at the play last night will be mixed in with some general points. But first, a few facts about my trip:

1. I purchased the tickets over a month ago. At the time, I was seriously hoping that Jude Law would be healthy and in attendance at the performance, which he was (not positive about healthy, but he looked mighty fine and turned in an excellent performance, so I shall assume that he was okay). It did not occur to me to wish that my girls and I would all be totally healthy. I remain itchy, but worse yet, poor S came down with the flu on Tuesday. Thank heavens for those -Quil products, which got her into okay enough shape to keep us company after all.

2. At the time I purchased the tickets, I believed we'd be in the third row from the stage on the outside aisle to the right (as you face the stage, aka "stage left" for you theatre folk). Turns out I was misinformed, and we were, in fact, in the SECOND row from the stage to the far right. S, who was on the outside aisle seat, couldn't see people if they were upstage stage left, but nobody really delivered any lines while there, so she only missed seeing the occasional courtier or whatever who was lingering in a "big cast" scene. The vast majority of the action was center stage. None of the main players were ever on stage where S couldn't see them.

3. Our seats were so close that we could see lots of things. Like the tears dropping from Ophelia's face onto the stage after Polonius's death. Or the sweat that spattered everywhere when Hamlet smacked himself in the head (hard enough to snap his head back) at one point. Or the spittle that went flying from, well, almost everybody's mouths on occasion depending on what they were saying - F, P, K, and T were the grossest (and I kinda mean that) offenders. Most prodigious spittle-producer was Peter Eyre, Hamlet's ghost father/the player king (a dual role), although "most flying spittle total" undoubtedly goes to Jude Law. Then again, he has the vast majority of lines in the play, so that's to be expected. Thankfully, he delivered all of his monologues from center stage (including a few so far downstage that I'm pretty sure the folks in the first two rows got hit now and again). Not sure if this particular point counts as gloating or complaining. Believe me when I say that I totally meant to gloat.

4. Jude Law was AMAZING as Hamlet. He played the role in a very physical manner - lots of energy, lots of struggle (with other characters) and lots of tightly wound movements throughout - even in repose, he didn't seem relaxed. It was fascinating to watch. He also cried actual tears, screamed so loud that the cords in his neck were probably visible from the balcony, and more. And he completely hoisted Polonius up to "lug the guts into the neighbor room", with only a brief assist from Ron Cook (who played both Polonius and the more chatty of the grave diggers), who planted his heels only momentarily as Law pulled him from flat-on-the-ground to lifted-up-from-under-the-arms. And then Law carried/dragged him off the stage in a hybrid sort of move.

The range of emotions displayed was excellent. He was decidedly a more serious Hamlet than some I've seen, but by no means dour. And some of his comical bits - his humping of Polonius whilst calling him a "fishmonger" or his mimicking of an ape come to mind - were flat-out funny. The tortured nature of his soul and his willingness (and/or desire) to embrace death came across clearly. It was a brilliant turn.

5. Plays are, of course, rely on an ensemble, in the same way that an orchestra does. One truly excellent star is not enough to elevate a mediocre cast. This particular cast did not have mediocre components. Heck, even Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were great.

Kevin McNally was wonderful as Claudius - he seemed more affable and less menacing at first than did some of the screen performances I've seen (such as Derek Jacobi's, for instance), yet his manipulative nature fueled by his own selfish motives unfurled quite naturally over the course of the play. Horatio, played by Matt Ryan, was (a) dead sexy, especially in his black leather jacket and black leather boots, (b) the perfect foil for Hamlet and (c) completely foxy. Two of those points may overlap. Did I mention that he was beautiful and talented? Then my work is done.

Also dead sexy and talented? Gwilym Lee, who played Laertes, on whom M is now crushing. Hard. Not just for his beauty and talent, but also because she likes his first name so well. Gwilym, not Laertes, in case you were wondering. Also terrific? The aforementioned Ron Cook, who played Polonius (and got HUGE laughs for his advice to Laertes and his speech to Gertrude and Claudius about being brief and Hamlet being mad - don't know what I'm talking about? You can always read my summary of the play or my essay on why Polonius is a bad guy from Brush Up Your Shakespeare Month). Also smoking hot? (Sensing a theme here yet? Sorry. But truly, it was an awfully pretty cast.) Alan Turkington, who played three different roles: Francisco (a Danish guard), one of the players, and Fortinbras (of Norway). And I really thought that Henry Pettigrew, who played Marcellus (a Danish guard), a player, and the second gravedigger, was both cute and extremely talented.

Speaking of actors, Geraldine James was eventually great as Gertrude. It was hard to get a read on her during the first two acts, but her character decidedly came alive once the players did their thing and Hamlet came to her bedroom and killed Polonius and stuff. And Gugu Mbatha-Raw did a good, but not great, job as Ophelia. I have, I confess, been spoiled by some on-screen performances, including Kate Winslet's marvelous turn in Branagh's Hamlet and Rachel McAdams's performance (brief though it was) as Ophelia in the Canadian TV series Slings and Arrows. Both were so exemplary in their ways that I set the bar pretty high for Ophelia, which is undoubtedly unfair to Ms Mbatha-Raw, who was beautiful, but seemed undecided as to whether she was defiant or compliant as relates to Polonius, and didn't seem truly into Hamlet, although his grave-side performance and tears-in-eyes delivery of the lines about her (below) gave me to understand more clearly than any screen performance I've seen that Hamlet really truly did love her:

I loved Ophelia: forty thousand brothers
Could not, with all their quantity of love,
Make up my sum. What wilt thou do for her?

. . .

'Swounds, show me what thou'lt do:
Woo't weep? woo't fight? woo't fast? woo't tear thyself?
Woo't drink up eisel? eat a crocodile?
I'll do't. Dost thou come here to whine?
To outface me with leaping in her grave?
Be buried quick with her, and so will I:
And, if thou prate of mountains, let them throw
Millions of acres on us, till our ground,
Singeing his pate against the burning zone,
Make Ossa like a wart! Nay, an thou'lt mouth,
I'll rant as well as thou.

Hamlet, Act V, sc. 1.

6. My girls have both read a bit of Shakespeare. For school, S read Romeo and Juliet in 9th grade, and M read A Midsummer Night's Dream in 8th grade (she'll get to R&J later this school year). M also read Twelfth Night and Much Ado About Nothing because she wanted to (yes, she is in some respects her mother's daughter, and being an avid reader is one of them). Neither of them had read or seen Hamlet before, although M saw the last 1/2 hour or so of the Branagh film when I watched it in May or June. Still, seeing the play live, they understood most - if not all - of what was going on (there was the occasional bit that sailed over their heads, but they even understood why Polonius's going on about "brevity is the soul of wit" was funny, so they did pretty well). That we were seated in the second row probably helped them to pay attention - I'm sure they'd have wandered a bit more if we'd been in, say, the middle of the balcony, which was significantly removed from the stage (although still with a good view, from what I could work out). Where we were, however, there was no way for them to look at anything other than the stage, because they'd have had to turn around in their seats to do it. Both of the girls (ages 16-1/2 and nearly 15) LOVED it. Wholeheartedly. Which was cool, and made me happy. Especially since I became a bit concerned as the play opened with the guards - and, in a wee bit, Horatio - yakking about the state of the State of Denmark in Elizabethan English that perhaps the entire notion of bringing them along had been a mistake. But lo, it was a triumph.

7. The take-home messages are, I believe, that when seen live, you can really judge how the characters are interacting in a way that you cannot always do in a movie version. And it's actually easier to find your way inside the language of the play live than it is on-screen. And finally, it's truly easier to follow the play if you've done a wee bit of homework ahead of time, and have either (a) read the play itself, (b)seen another version of the play, or (c) at least read a summary of the play. Like, say, the one I wrote.

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The Monsterologist by Bobbi Katz, ill. by Adam McCauley

There are books that I like, and books that I love, and books that I wish that I'd written. This book falls into that last category (actually, all three categories, really), for a number of reasons. Because it's gotten far later in the day than I'd anticipated (I had to take M and her friend into Philly for the day, and managed to lose the entire afternoon along the way), I'm going with a list-like review in discussing The Monsterologist: A Memoir in Rhyme "ghostwritten by" Bobbi Katz and illustrated by Adam McCauley.

1. Even though this is nothing over which an author (usually) has control, this book is the complete package. It has (as you can see) a terrific cover. What you can't tell is what it's made of. Now, I don't know all my publishing terms, really, so bear with me. The cover has the feel of a yearbook to it (at least the types of yearbooks they had back in the late 70s and early 80s when I was in high school - I graduated in 1981, for those who are curious). And the black vines that you can see on the front of the book (and the inner black-line frame) are stamped into the cover. The gold stuff is actually metallic gold. Even before you open this book, it feels good in your hands. And then, you open it up, and there are fabulous end pages. Want to see them? (The only acceptable answer to that question is "yes", really). Here they are:

They look like a page full of stamps. Kind of like Christmas Seals, but with monsters. And the best part? On the flip side of the loose end paper, which is slick and glossy, is a tan field with cream-colored perforations. As if the page were really stamps. If I didn't love this book so much, I might be tempted to cut the page out and do something crafty with it. Of course I won't, because I love the book. But really, it's awfully tempting.

The pages of the book are not shiny or glossy or coated or slick. They are instead very thick indeed, and matte, and, well, paper-feeling. They feel substantial and important in your hand. And that's just the feel of them. Since this item is going on far too long already, I'll tackle some of the other design-related elements in the following numbers, where I talk about things like art and text and fold-out pages and tables of contents and stuff.

2. The front matter is both clear and creatively presented. The "short title" page is a map of the world drawn from above the North Pole, along with a figure of a guy's back, striding into the map, and a "business" card with the book's title on it (along with a gate number, a room number, and what I presume is a phone number: "HEMLOCK 9736" - N.B. for the younger set: In the olden days, the first three numbers (called the exchange number") were often a combination of names and numbers - my grandmother's exchange in Narberth years and years ago was "Mohawk 4", which one dialed as "664". Brilliant.

There follows a dedication page and "A Preliminary Note" from "The Monsterologist", written in rhymed couplets. It's essentially a Preface. Again, brilliant. Then follows the front matter, which includes an (entertaining) illustrator's note as well as all the copyright information, in a collage format including artwork, and the "long title" page with the requisite information cleverly presented as a piece of correspondence from "Ct. Vl. Dracula" lodged on what appears to be a patterned piece of paper, followed by a two-page table of contents that includes page numbers. Those of you who know me know how much I love my tables of contents and page numbers when dealing with a poetry collection. Major props to Katz and/or Sterling for ensuring that one can find one's way around the book this way.

Seriously? The layout (and artwork) just in these opening pages before we get to the actual poetry collection is genius. GENIUS, I tell you. As are the bios for Katz and McCauley at the back of the book.

3. This is a 50-page picture book, which includes three different fold-outs. The first contains the poem "Understanding Grendel" along with a recipe for "Danish Pastry". The second contains "Frankenstein's Monster". The third fold out is not a full-page fold out, but is instead about 5" worth - on one side, it appears to be an envelope, on the reverse side it contains an "International Zombie Survey" - one of the only elements in the book that is not in poetry, but which is highly amusing and related to the zombie/research poem on the facing page, "R.I.P." Below, a copy of the Grendel poem (folded out) from the B&N website:

This seems as good a place as any to feature a poem, and why not give you the text of "Understanding Grendel", which refers to the famed monster from Beowulf?

Many centuries ago, long before my birth,
the monster Grendel roared a roar,
  then stomped
        the earth.
All I knew about him were stories that I read:
Beowulf killed Grendel. For years they've both been dead.
Grendel is still famouse for his dreadful appetite:
sneaking snacks of snoozing danes, noshing every night.

Grendel had a mom, they say, who doted on her son.
She called him "Tootsie-Wootsie" and "Mommy's Honey Bun."
Yet I suspect that Grendel was tutored by none other
to indulge his crude food cravings by his very monstrous . . .
I happened upon evidence that makes me think this way,
when wandering in Denmark on a hiking holiday.
Exploring a dank mossy cave, what did I see?
A moldy piece of parchment with this ancient recipe:

Whereupon follows this recipe, which I'll give you only a taste of. Get it? I kill me!


Take half a dozen dozing Danes.
Split their skulls.
Pull out their brains.
Tear off arms.
Tear off legs.
Add flour to
well-beaten eggs.

To get the rest of the recipe (and read the rest of the highly entertaining and diverse poems), I urge you to get your oven mitts on a copy of this book ASAP. But I'm getting ahead of myself. A head. See what I did there? Oh, never mind!

4. The book contains a rather large and diverse assortment of monstrous poems. (Monstrous is used here to mean "concerning monsters", and not "abominable" - although there is a poem about the Yeti, come to that.) Some of the monsters here can also be found in Adam Rex's rather playful Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich and Frankenstein Takes the Cake, including (but not necessarily limited to) Dracula, Medusa, Godzilla, Frankenstein's monster, Werewolves and the Yeti. Some of them are missing - for example, there are no mummies in The Monsterologist. And some of them are just plain . . . different.

In addition to Grendel, there are poems about the ghosts of various musicians, including Franz Shubert, Louis Armstrong and Elvis Presley, about trolls (hilariously positing that perhaps the days of trolls collecting tolls are not actually bygone), the Golem (a so-called "kind monster"), the Kraken, the Compu-Monster (which gobbles data and files, naturally), the "Verbivore" (that snacks on the verbs in library books) and a demonstration of its power in a piece called "The Worms ____ In", which invites readers to fill in the holes where the verbs have been eaten, a poem putting forth a theory about an as-yet undiscovered monster ("The Suds-Surfing Sock-Eater: A Conjecture"), and this chilling piece entitled "Bluebeard's Personal Ad" (chilling if you know the story of Bluebeard, that is):

Widower seeks maiden fair
to share a life of ease:
large yachts and gorgeous castle;
right girl gets ALL the keys!
Respond to the address below;
send recent picture, please.
    - Bluebeard
    General Delivery, London

Bluebeard's poem is accompanied by a short note/poem from the Monsterologist that is seen lying on the page (along with a rather hefty iron key ring full of skeleton keys):

Each year or so I see this ad
  and feel a helpless chill.
Will some young damsel answer it?
  Alas, I know one will.

5. The book has its own website,, which includes a book trailer with a scratchy recording of the short poem that can be found on the back of the book, as well as recordings of four poems from the book, a game, and other things including a series of Q&As.

Edited to add: I've learned from a lovely email from Adam McCauley that the design work (material choices, fonts, design decisions, etc.) were done by Cynthia Wigginton. Major kudos to her for her work.

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Thursday, November 05, 2009

Happy Guy Fawkes Day!

On November 5, 1605, Guy Fawkes and a group of collaborators planned to ignite a large quantity of gunpowder beneath the halls of Parliament at a time when King James I was speaking there. The plot was foiled, Fawkes was tortured and slated for execution (but jumped to his death, thereby avoiding the "being drawn and quartered" portion of his sentence), and the identified co-conspirators were all killed one way or another.

In due course, rhymes about the day sprang up, as they are wont to do. At the end of this post, one of the most popular versions of the full rhyme that was traditionally chanted by children in the street as they collected up firewood, coins and more in anticipation of the large bonfire, at which (initially) the Pope and/or the Devil were hanged in effigy (in Protestant England during the 16th century, the Pope and the Devil were largely considered close consorts). In later years, once it was legit to be Roman Catholic again, they took to hanging Guy Fawkes in effigy. These days, it's not just Fawkes, but also unpopular leaders from around the globe, who are hanged in effigy and/or set alight by the bonfire.

Little-known fact that I've dug up during my research for the Jane Austen biography in verse on which I'm working: Jane Austen and her sister Cassandra were both in Lyme Regis when a large portion of the town caught on fire in November of 1803 as a result of a Guy Fawkes celebration gone awry.

And now, the rhyme, plus a link to the Parliamentary Archives from 2005 (the 400th anniversary of the plot), where you can click on a button to hear schoolchildren chanting the rhyme below in eerie unison.

Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder treason and plot.
We see no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!

Guy Fawkes, Guy, t'was his intent
To blow up king and parliament.
Three score barrels were laid below
To prove old England's overthrow.

By God's mercy he was catched
With a darkened lantern and burning match.
So, holler boys, holler boys, Let the bells ring.
Holler boys, holler boys, God save the king!

Here's the link to the page on Parliament's site where you can play a recording of schoolchildren reciting the chant. (Creepy!)

I hope those of you in the U.K. enjoy your bonfires and fireworks!

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Wednesday, November 04, 2009


It's Wednesday, and I ought, therefore, to be providing you with Shakepearean content. So today, discussion of a magazine I just acquired during yesterday's trip to Barnes & Noble. (I know, I know, independent book stores are miles better, but the nearest one to me involves a toll, a change of states and paid parking and I didn't have the time for it.) Anyhoo, my purchases were the latest Blue Bloods novel for M, a new crossword puzzle book for me(Cranium-Crushing Friday Crosswords, if you're interested), and issue 3 of a small biannual British publication called ShakespeareScene.

This particular issue includes, among other things, a highly interesting article about The Tempest (are you listening, Tanita and Lisa?) that suggests that part of the "source material" for this play (usually considered to be unsourced) is drawn from the real-life doings of Francis Stewart, Earl of Bothwell, who liked to consort with witches (and, apparently, with Queen Ann as well - wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more) and wear robes, and once tried to sink King James's ship by conjuring a storm through magic. Stewart (aka Bothwell) also founded the Free Masons as a way of keeping magic alive.

The article, written by Brian Moffatt, a retired policeman who is now a goldsmith living in the Scottish Borders, and specializing in Celtic jewelry as well as study of 16th-century artifacts, is brilliantly done, and supported by extremely interesting hard evidence, including a wooden chest that involves Stewart and representations of Common Riding ceremonies involving the Cornet and his lass (and the Horned God and the Green Man and more), as well as references to the epilogue to The Tempest, which is not always performed, but which includes lines by "Prospero" that appear to refer directly to the life of Bothwell.

Seriously, I thought that article alone worth the purchase price of $8.

Other articles include a feminist take on Portia & Cordelia and an extract from a speech given by Professor Stanley Wells that addresses various rumors about Shakespeare's life, including the identity of the Dark Lady, whether Henry Wriothesley was the Fair Youth, whether Shakespeare batted for both teams (it's World Series season here in the States, so I felt a baseball reference to be appropriate), and rumors about Shakespeare's death. It's quite an article, needless to say. There are interviews and other articles as well, plus a rather long list of Shakespeare productions from around the globe. Oh - and an article on the thatched roof at The Globe, as well.

You can bet I'll be looking for the 4th issue, when it comes out soon-ish. (Subscriptions are available at for 8£, 12 Euros, or $24. (I should note, however, that the copy I purchased at B&N was $9.99, less 10% since I have a B&N member card). And tomorrow evening, I'll be in New York, watching Jude Law in Hamlet. *Does a somewhat lackluster dance of joy*

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