Saturday, February 27, 2010

Six Things on a Saturday - the links edition

1. Common Sense Media fails to live up to its name. Adam Rex (you may remember I interviewed Adam here in 2007) has put up a post entitled "Common Sense" about the new Common Sense Media ratings at Barnes & Noble's website. The mere mention of an alcoholic beverage in Smekday scored him a 3 (out of 5) rating on that count - even though the reference is to an adult having an occasional drink, and nobody drinks on-page. The CSM people found NO good points about his book, even though it deals with overcoming prejudice and preconceived notions, friendship and more. Other outrages are enumerated, including that Judy Blume's Are You There, God, It's Me, Margaret, a marvelous book about puberty beloved by generations of readers, is deemed suitable only for POST-pubescent readers.

For another take on this issue, you can read "Are You There God? Margaret's Not OK for Tweens" over at Meg Cabot's blog, where she points out that CSM guidelines list Blume's book as suitable for ages 14 and up, whereas Cabot's own Being Nikki - featuring a 17-yo protagonist who certainly gets up to more shennanigans than Margaret - is rated okay for 12 & up.

2. Whitewashing of covers is not okay. Not that I think any of you think it is. But this post at The Book Smugglers does a great job of pointing out that a) it's nothing new and b) it won't stop unless people in the industry adopt Mad-Eye Moody's principle of CONSTANT VIGILANCE! (*Reference to HP is mine, not theirs.)

I should note that I don't understand the "people don't like covers with non-whites on them" argument. At all. I've bought and/or borrowed from the library plenty of books with non-whites on the covers, ranging from nonfiction (We Are the Ship, Dear Mr. Rosenwald & more) to poetry (Becoming Billie Holliday, A Wreath for Emmett Till & more) to children & YA fiction (Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters - a particular favorite when my girls were little, Project Mulberry, Stanford Wong Flunks Big Time, Mare's War, Sunita Sun, A Girl Named Disaster, Bound & more), to say nothing of adult titles. I like reading about people who are different than I am, and so do my kids.

3. Thoughts about online platform. I have one - you're reading it, in fact - but not every author is comfortable with it. And guess what? That may just be okay. Check out Mary Kole's article on "Online Platform Do’s and Don’ts".

4. Haiti still needs your help. Just because the news isn't all about Haiti anymore doesn't mean they don't need your help. You can still send money to the Red Cross, Medécins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), Hope for Haiti and other groups. You can send gently used crutches and canes to Haiti through and other groups (there have been so very many amputations there that these are in high demand). And you can buy music. Not just the Hope for Haiti Now album available from iTunes (or We Are the World, remade, but also this new version of "Put A Spell On You", recorded by Nick Cave, Chrissy Hynde, Johnny Depp, and Mick Jones. Yes. You read that right - Johnny Depp.

5. I hate to say it, but Chile is going to need your help, too. And maybe Hawaii. If you're like me, you might be having some monetary struggles these days (vet bills and fender-bender have put a drain on our finances lately), but the folks who are responding to these tremendous natural disasters are struggling for their lives. Even $5 can make a difference. Or those crutches & canes. Or tents. You get the idea.

6. Feminism: dead or not? I was very much interested in the post What a Girl Wants #11: Feminist is not a dirty word, a discussion hosted by Colleen Mondor over at Chasing Ray. I don't believe we live in a "post-feminist" word, but I do believe that today's young women (especially the teens) don't realize how "new" many of their rights are (relatively speaking), how tenuous some of them remain, and what additional issues (such as pay parity) exist.

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Friday, February 26, 2010

Lines from Percy Bysshe Shelley for Poetry Friday

Today, some lines by Percy Bysshe Shelley, the opening lines of which seemed terribly appropriate given that we've just had another Nor'easter come through, and it's a snow day for the kids. Since the final two stanzas seem to refer to a dead person, I figured I should make clear they do not apply.

The cold earth slept below;
  Above the cold sky shone;
    And all around,
    With a chilling sound,
From caves of ice and fields of snow
The breath of night like death did flow
    Beneath the sinking moon.

The wintry hedge was black;
  The green grass was not seen;
    The birds did rest
    On the bare thorn’s breast,
Whose roots, beside the pathway track,
Had bound their folds o’er many a crack
    Which the frost had made between.

Thine eyes glowed in the glare
  Of the moon’s dying light;
    As a fen-fire’s beam
    On a sluggish stream
Gleams dimly—so the moon shone there,
And it yellowed the strings of thy tangled hair,
  That shook in the wind of night.

The moon made thy lips pale, belovèd;
  The wind made thy bosom chill;
    The night did shed
    On thy dear head
Its frozen dew, and thou didst lie
Where the bitter breath of the naked sky
    Might visit thee at will.

Each of the stanzas follows the rhyme scheme ABCCAAB, and mostly uses iambs (two-syllable poetic feet consisting of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed one - taDUM), although some of the lines incorporate anapests as well (ta-da-DUM). I like the rhythm of the poem, the way it trips along, the clever line scheme, and the varying line lengths.

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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Gods & Heroes by Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart

The talented creators of beloved pop-up books including versions of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Star Wars: A Pop-Up Guide to the Galaxy as well as the Encyclopedia Prehistorica books have created the first in what I assume will be a series of Encyclopedia Mythologica titles, Gods & Heroes.

The book features six main page-spreads, each of which contains its own title. The spreads feature a central pop-up as well as three (in two cases, four) smaller, additional pop-ups, usually folded into a smaller "page" applied to the main one. In the case of the page about Greek heroes, however, there's a pull-tab that provides information and illustrations on twelve different heroic deeds, most of which were performed by Herakles (Hercules).

The first main spread (Lords of the Two Kingdoms) includes an introduction to what mythology is as well as information on ancient Egyptian gods and myths. The second (The Classical Pantheon)features an eye-popping Mount Olympus and information about various of the Greek gods, along with pop-outs about Atlantis. The third spread, which is entitled Mortal Champions of the Old World, features a pop-up reproduction of the Argo, Jason's ship, the aforementioned pull-tab that flips 12 short scenes and stories, and a small pop-up page that holds the Trojan horse and an even smaller pop-up with the story of Icarus, showing him as he fell to earth. Just earlier this week I read a poem that involved Icarus - I wish I could recall where - that made the point that "Icarus also flew." But I digress. You can see the ship and close ups of some of the other art in the book at Robert Sabuda's website.

The fourth major spread (Kingdoms of the Frozen North) features a large central pop-up of Thor, wielding his hammer in a most muscular way. Additional pop-ups include the Valkyrie, a marvelous representation of Yggdrasil, and a cross-dressed Loki. The penultimate spread is devoted to Mighty Eastern Dynasties featuring ancient gods of Japan and China, as well as Gods of Oceania: the central pop-out on the page is of the Polynesian goddess, Pele. The final spread also holds two titles: Great Spirits of the New World, about North American Native American myths and legends, and Empires of Blood, devoted to the Aztecs, Maya and Inca people.

Encyclopedia Mythologica: Gods & Heroes would make an excellent addition to classroom libraries, to the shelves of anyone interested in mythology, and to fans of pop-up books. The attention to detail in this books is such that even the insides of places that you don't necessarily see are well-finished. In the story of Japanese storm god Susano-Wo and his sister, the sun goddess Ameratsu, for instance, he shuts her inside a cave. If you pay close attention and open (or close) the small page very slowly, you can see Ameratsu back in the cave, but when the page is actually open so that you can read it, she is obscured. Similarly, the back of Zeus's throne is finished in the elaborate central pop-up on the page about the Greek gods, even though there's no good reason for people to be peeking in sideways to figure that out. (Yeah, I know I did it. Curiosity killed the cat, but satisfaction brought it back.)

A hearty thank you to the good people at Candlewick for sending me a review copy of this title. It has already given my teen-aged daughters and me hours of enjoyment.

Edited to add: The poem I referenced with respect to Icarus is Failing and Falling by Jack Gilbert, which was featured on The Writer's Almanac two days ago. It begins "Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew."

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Sonnet 105 by William Shakespeare

Today, a sonnet in which Shakespeare claims that his love is not idolatry, although he promptly claims to worship a three-in-one love, rather than the Holy Trinity. Cheeky, no?

Sonnet 105
by William Shakespeare

Let not my love be called idolatry,
Nor my belovèd as an idol show,
Since all alike my songs and praises be
To one, of one, still such, and ever so.
Kind is my love today, tomorrow kind,
Still constant in a wondrous excellence;
Therefore my verse, to constancy confined,
One thing expressing, leaves out difference.
'Fair, kind, and true' is all my argument,
'Fair, kind, and true,' varying to other words;
And in this change is my invention spent,
Three themes in one, which wondrous scope affords.
  'Fair, kind, and true,' have often lived alone,
  Which three till now never kept seat in one.

Form: Shakespearean sonnet, of course, which means it's written in iambic pentameter (five iambic feet per line - taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM) and with a rhyme scheme of ABABCDCDEFEFGG.

Discussion: Shakespeare begins the sonnet by disclaiming idolatry - the worship of pagan idols or polytheistic gods - but makes clear that he is engaging in idolatry of a different sort, as he establishes the Fair Youth as a godlike figure - one that he essentially worships through his verse, and a tripartite god at that: "Fair, kind, and true" is not only established as a trinity, but is repeated itself thrice during the poem, and he makes plain in the final couplet that they form a sort of trinity of characteristics never before united in one being.

In the first quatrain (or first four lines, if you prefer), Shakespeare says: Don't call my love idolatry or depict the Fair Youth as an idol: all my songs and praises are to only one person, so it doesn't count as idolatry. The third and fourth lines in particular sound to me like a parody of hymn lyrics or phrases from the Book of Common Prayer, but an hour of online searching and reference to my Folger Shakespeare Sonnets hasn't helped me sort out if that's so. Still "Since all alike my songs and praise be/To one, of one, still such, and ever so" sounds close to language used in the Church of England at the time, while being slanted to suit Shakespeare's purposes.

In the second quatrain, Shakespeare describes his beloved as kind, saying that he's constantly kind. His argument in the second two lines of the quatrain runs that since his poems are confined to the Fair Youth, who is constant (now invoking the additional meaning of "faithful"), he expresses only one thing, not many. The phrase "leaves out difference" serves the double purpose of explaining that he only writes about one thing (the Fair Youth) and also that he doesn't write about discord or argument (an alternate meaning of the word "difference").

In the third quatrain we find the volta, or turn. (Dance afficianados may enjoy knowing that the term volta was also a dance move in Shakespeare's time, in which the male dancer picked the female up and turned with her - there have been some rather sexy depictions of it in movies about Elizabeth I. But I digress.) In the third quatrain, he makes explicit what he says about the Fair Youth: "Fair, kind, and true" is his claim; this is his theme, he claims, when he speaks of the Fair Youth, and all of his sonnets are various ways of saying this same thing. (Let us put aside that if one reads all the sonnets about the Fair Youth, "kind" and "true" essentially go out the window now and again.) What he essentially argues in the last two lines of this quatrain is "I spend all my time and invention figuring out different ways of saying the same thing" - a true statement in many instances, as we see multiple sonnets on almost any point he wishes to make about the Fair Youth. In the final line, he makes plain that he is engaging in a form of idolatry when he references "Three themes in one" - a form of trinity meant to echo the Holy Trinity ("God in three persons, blessed Trinity").

In the final rhymed couplet, he repeats the words "fair," "kind," and "true" for the third time, thereby echoing a lot of the repetitions within the Common Book of Prayer ("God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit", or even repentances of the "Lord have mercy; Christ have mercy; Lord have mercy" vein). He says that the three characteristics or themes that he attributes to the Fair Youth have often lived apart, but have never all combined into the same being before. The inference to be drawn is that the Fair Youth is godlike in some way, although Shakespeare quite carefully doesn't actually go there - he would not have wanted to go to prison for heresy, you see.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Book want

I recently read this review in the The Guardian of a new biography about Emily Dickinson that questions quite a lot of the information that has been put about and repeated about her . . . by the family of the woman her brother had an adulterous affair with. The book is entitled Lives Like Loaded Guns: Emily Dickinson and Her Family's Feuds by Lyndall Gordon. Gordon examines the evidence and, best as I can tell, reveals a more authentic Dickinson - and one that better comports with the sassy voice found in so many of her poems and in her correspondence.

Among Gordon's postulations is the notion that Emily Dickinson suffered from epilepsy, possibly with quite a number of petit mal seizures, which would account for quite a bit of "outsider opinions" on her, as well as explaining why she was such a recluse, given the prejudices and ignorance about epilepsy at the time, especially in light of contemporary evidence that she was actually quite plain-spoken and outspoken in conversation when she actually met with others. It would also explain why she refused to marry, an act that may have been illegal for her at the time if she indeed had epilepsy.

Those of you interested in Miss Dickinson ought to read the review. Unfortunately, those of us in the U.S. have to wait until June for this new book to come out. Woe. (Dear Penguin - if you're reading this, please send me an ARC. Pretty please?) And, of course, some of her work:

I Felt a Funeral in My Brain
by Emily Dickinson

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,
And Mourners to and fro
Kept treading – treading – till it seemed
That Sense was breaking through –

And when they all were seated,
A Service, like a Drum –
Kept beating – beating – till I thought
My Mind was going numb –

And then I heard them lift a Box
And creak across my Soul
With those same Boots of Lead, again,
Then Space – began to toll,

As all the Heavens were a Bell,
And Being, but an Ear,
And I, and Silence, some strange Race
Wrecked, solitary, here –

And then a Plank in Reason, broke,
And I dropped down, and down –
And hit a World, at every plunge,
And Finished knowing – then –

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Friday, February 19, 2010

Dear Dolores - an original poem for Poetry Friday

Yestereve, I mentioned the writing exercises I undertake with . This week, I set out to write a poem based on this prompt from The Write-Brain Workbook by Bonnie Neubauer: "Dear Dolores, I know it has been 37 years since I have been in touch". Since the line following the greeting falls naturally into iambs (two-syllable poetic feet composed of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed one), I resolved to write a sonnet using iambic pentameter, and following one of the usual sonnet rhyme schemes (if you're interested in them, I've discussed them before).

I wrote the first four lines using the ABAB rhyme scheme. The last word of line four was "clutch", so as I entered into the fifth line, I was surprised to find what my gentleman narrator was clutching at. If I was surprised in line five, I was positively startled in line six to learn he had an official diagnosis.

I should mention that these are supposed to be 5-10 minute exercises, and by this point, I'd already put more than three hours into this poem, and I was starting to ponder how to get out of it so I could get back to work on the Jane project, what with Jane standing over my left shoulder, arms crossed, foot tapping, throat clearing and all. And I realized that just as I'd interrupted myself, perhaps someone might interrupt my gentleman writer.

Having given you Angela's response to the short poem, I figured I ought to let you see it. It's no masterpiece, but I don't think it sucks, either. It would undoubtedly benefit from time and revision and a better title; nevertheless, here it is as it now stands:

Dear Dolores
by Kelly R. Fineman

Dear Dolores,

I know it has been 37 years
since I have been in touch. You meant so much
to me back then. I find, as old age nears,
I think of you quite often, and I clutch
at memories as if they'd hold me afloat,
a life preserver in Alzheimer's sea –

"Excuse me, Mr. Loomis, here's your coat."

"This note – it's to Dolores. Who is she?"

Analysis of form: It ends up being two cross-rhymed quatrains written in iambic pentameter. This means there are five iambic feet per line (taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM), and the ending words use the following rhyme scheme: ABABCDCD. The second quatrain is split to make the alternating lines of dialogue easier to follow, but otherwise it's a fairly simple, traditional form.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Who is Silvia? by William Shakespeare

Today's selection is a song that comes from Two Gentlemen of Verona, Act IV, sc. 2. I confess to not having read this particular play yet, although I hope to remedy that situation this year, particularly since the synopsis I read tells me that it includes a woman in drag as a man, which is one of my all-time favorite literary tropes. But I digress.

In the text below, I've retained the spelling as "Silvia", although it is sometimes recast as "Sylvia". Silvia is a pretty young lady who is sought after by quite a lot of young swains, including the pair of friends at the start of the book, Valentine and Proteus (who has already exchanged rings and vows with the fair Julia, who turns up in drag as Sebastian). This song is performed outside her tower window by musicians, hired by yet another guy (Thurio, Silvia's father's choice of suitor) in order to woo her.

Who is Silvia?
by William Shakespeare

Who is Silvia? what is she,
That all our swains commend her?
Holy, fair and wise is she;
The heaven such grace did lend her,
That she might admirèd be.

Is she kind as she is fair?
For beauty lives with kindness.
Love doth to her eyes repair,
To help him of his blindness,
And, being helped, inhabits there.

Then to Silvia let us sing,
That Silvia is excelling;
She excels each mortal thing
Upon the dull earth dwelling:
To her let us garlands bring.

Analysis of form: The song is organized into three five-line stanzas. Each of the stanzas uses the rhyme scheme of ABABA within it, including the third stanza. While you might, at a glance, note the "-ings" in all five lines the A lines are a simple "-ing", while the B lines are "-elling" endings.

The A lines are all written in trochaic meter with a truncated (or masculine) ending or, if you prefer, consist of two trochees (DUM-ta) followed by an amphimacer or cretic foot (DUM-ta-DUM). Regardless what you call it, the stress pattern alternates, starting and ending with a stressed syllable: DUM-ta DUM-ta DUM-ta DUM.

The B lines are opposite - either iambic meter with a truncated (feminine) ending or, if you prefer, two iambs (ta-DUM) followed by an amphibrach (ta-DUM-ta). Either way, you have alternating stress patterns, starting and ending with an UNstressed syllable: ta-DUM ta-DUM ta-DUM ta.


Franz Schubert did a setting of this song, known in German as An Silvia, and in English as Who is Silvia?, which can be found in a host of performances on YouTube and elsewhere. Here's a rather dizzyinv video that "reads along" with the lyrics auf Deutsch while a recording by one of my favorite baritones ever, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, sings to a simple piano accompaniment by Gerald Moore. Seriously, it doesn't get much better than that pairing when it comes to art songs. But again, I digress:

Steve Winwood did a bit of a rewrite and came up with Silvia (Who is She?) on his 2003 album About Time. The song also appeared (evidently) as part of a musical called Shakespeare, Sonnets, and Rock 'n' Roll, which I wish I'd known about before today. But I have found it out on the YouTube, and present this song (which starts after a few sentences of introduction by the lead singer):

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sonnet 116 by William Shakespeare

I've posted about this poem (with analysis and explanation) before, so today I'm simply posting the poem, which is one I've been memorizing. Yeah - is going to memorize and perform full-on soliloquies on film and broadcast it on the internet, whereas I am memorizing poems to recite aloud to myself. And maybe the cat. This is why Tessa's plan is one to take over the internets, and is likely to succeed. Still, I take pleasure and pride in learning poems by heart.

I also sent this one to one of my favorite people in the whole wide world today. Because when you don't have words of your own, stealing from Shakespeare is a really good idea.

Sonnet 116
by William Shakespeare

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose Worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom:
  If this be error and upon me proved,
  I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

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Friday, February 12, 2010

"and a partridge in a pear tree" - a Poetry Friday post

Today is the first day of the Great Backyard Bird Count in the U.S. and Canada. I already spent 20 minutes this morning going snowblind counting birds at the feeders in my yard. Thus far, I've spotted:

10 dark-eyed juncos
3 purple finches
5 gold finches
2 cardinals
3 chickadees
2 Carolina wrens

The numbers above are the highest number of each species that I was able to count at once in my yard, in keeping with the instructions on how to participate - so the five juncos I saw at first may or may not be included in the 10 that were here all at once a bit later. I'm not ready to file my report yet because I frequently see tufted titmice, blue jays, mourning doves and nuthatches in my yard, with occasional special appearances by woodpeckers, and none of them have turned up yet. I'll go watch again once I'm done with my post to see if anyone else shows up of if any of the above numbers skew higher, and then I'll fill in my information at the Great Backyard Bird Count site a bit later.

The GBBC takes place today, tomorrow, Sunday and Monday, and you have until March 1st to enter your information online or, if you don't have a computer handy at home, you can print off a form and mail it in.

Seeing as today is Poetry Friday, I thought I'd take a moment to spotlight a recent anthology that pairs well with the GBBC. No, not The Cuckoo's Haiku, which I reviewed here last year, although that is also a fine pairing, but Bright Wings: An Illustrated Anthology of Poems About Birds, edited by Billy Collins, with paintings by David Allen Sibley.

Billy Collins has eschewed some of the most-anthologized poems about birds. No "Something Told the Wild Geese" by Rachel Field, or "The Oven Bird" by Robert Frost or "The Wild Swans at Coole" by William Butler Yeats. This is not to say that he hasn't included some old poems - there is, for instance, "In Walden wood, the chickadee" by Ralph Waldo Emerson, some Wordsworth, Dickinson, Tennyson and even a selection from "The Parliament of Fowls" by my ancestor, Geoffrey Chaucer. But Collins favored setting aside some of the poems that are found in nearly every bird- or nature-related anthology in favor of including more works by modern poets. And so it is that I found, on page 167, "December Notes" by Nancy McCleery:

December Notes
by Nancy McCleery

The backyard is one white sheet
Where we read in the bird tracks

The songs we hear. Delicate
Sparrow, heavier cardinal,

Filigree threads of chickadee.
And wing patterns where one flew

Low, then up and away, gone
To the woods but calling out

Clearly its bright epigrams.
More snow promised for tonight.

Read the rest.

And, on p. 203, I can read a poem named after those lovely crimson birds that were on my feeder just now:

The Cardinal
by Henry Carlile

Not to conform to any other color
is the secret of being colorful.

He shocks us when he flies
like a red verb over the snow.

Read the rest.

There are poems about lesser-seen birds, like the blue-footed booby, and about commonplace birds such as sparrows, and most of the poems are accompanied by paintings by noted ornithologist and illustrator David Allen Sibley. There are some well-known poems, such as Wallace Stevens's "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" Truly, a must-have for poetry fans and birders alike.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

To be or not to be

Today being Wednesday, it's time for a bit of the Bard. Here's what may be the best-known and best-loved soliloquy ever crafted by Shakespeare (and that is truly saying something). Heck, I have TWO icons I could have used for this one, but I've gone with my lovely "To sleep, perchance to dream" one over the "To be or not to be". I hope that will eventually perform this (or another) of the Hamlet monologues as part of her plan to take over the internets. And I guarantee that is gonna want to watch the video clip below, as should, well, anyone, but particularly any Dr. Who fans out there. Yeah, I'm lookin' at you and .

From Hamlet, Act III, scene 1:


To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely*,
The pangs of despisèd love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? who would fardels** bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.--Soft you now!
The fair Ophelia! Nymph, in thy orisons
Be all my sins remembered.

*contumely: harsh language or treatment arising out of haughtiness or contempt
**fardels: bundles; burdens

Today, rather than a clip from, say, Mel Gibson or Laurence Olivier or Kenneth Branagh, here's David Tennant's Hamlet from the 2009 BBC production. (Dear BBC: Whyfor has this not yet crossed the pond? WHERE'S MY DAVID TENNANT HAMLET? *shakes fists*)

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Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Blizzard by William Carlos Williams

This evening, another snow storm is coming our way here in New Jersey. We appear to be located on the border between "major" and "crippling" snowfall, if our local forecast is to be believed. It will be a classic Nor'easter, with the snowstorm that's currently in Chicago joining forces with the storm tracking across the south, so that we'll end up with a very strong snowstorm that includes some blizzard conditions (which requires visibility of 1/4 mile or less and winds in excess of 30 m.p.h. for a period of 3 hours or more, as it turns out).

What is more appropriate on a day like today than a poem about a blizzard by one of New Jersey's native sons?

by William Carlos Williams

years of anger following
hours that float idly down —
the blizzard
drifts its weight
deeper and deeper for three days
or sixty years, eh? Then
the sun! a clutter of
yellow and blue flakes —
Hairy looking trees stand out
in long alleys
over a wild solitude.
The man turns and there —
his solitary track stretched out
upon the world.

The poem is written in free verse. Given his use of the word "anger" and his time period extending to 60 years, I have to note that Williams was not restricting himself to writing about a snowstorm, but is also speaking about the accumulation of a life, and he compares looking back at his footsteps in the snow to looking back at the course of his life.


1. Today I've got a brief review of a book called Quicksand: HIV/AIDS in Our Lives up over at Guys Lit Wire. The book is written by a woman who prefers to remain anonymous, given that she shares some information about her brother-in-law, who was diagnosed with HIV, developed AIDS and, eventually, died from related illnesses. Having lost a dear friend to this illness several years ago, I was eager to read the book, which provides concise, clearly presented factual information about the HIV virus, how it is (and is not) spread, what the treatment is like, and what it feels like to receive word that someone you know has HIV or AIDS. I hope you'll check out my review and, more importantly, that those of you in the library field will be sure to get this one for your libraries. The book says it's suitable for ages 10 and up, and that felt about right to me, given the content.

2. This month, I've got an article up at Kid Magazine Writers about the clerihew: what it is and how to go about writing one. It includes two original poems I wrote to illustrate my point: one about Edmund Clerihew Bentley and another about, well, Derek Zoolander.

Derek Zoolander,
Model grand-stander,
Excellent eugoogolizer
And terrorist neutralizer.

3. Those of you who've written poetry and are interested in free verse, and who happen to be interested in attending the New England SCBWI Conference come May might be interested in the workshop I'll be leading on Sunday, May 16th: "Tactics and Techniques to Fix Up Your Free Verse". Here's the official write-up on it:

Whether you write individual poems or entire novels in free verse, this workshop is for you. It will focus on improving free verse poetry using devices such as alliteration and assonance, refined imagery, improved use of line breaks, fine-tuned similes and metaphors, and more. The workshop is suitable for experienced poets working in free verse who are interested in taking their work to the next level, and will include a folder with handouts and exercises for reference and use at home.

*Note to self: get those folders and handouts together!

And here are three things I hope people will take home from the workshop:

1. Enhanced understanding of the importance of structural components such as line breaks and stress patterns.
2. Knowledge of specific strategies, devices and poetic techniques to improve the quality of free verse poems.
3. Revision pointers and tactics to polish your work, with take-home exercises.

Here's the link to the conference website, where you can learn more about this terrific event.

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Saturday, February 06, 2010

The Snowstorm by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Given the near-blizzard conditions outside - lovely large flakes blowing nearly sideways, piling atop fenceposts and blowing the birds about as they try to light on the feeder - I thought this poem was pretty much perfect for today.

The Snowstorm
by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Announced by all the trumpets of the sky,
Arrives the snow, and, driving o'er the fields,
Seems nowhere to alight: the whited air
Hides hill and woods, the river, and the heaven,
And veils the farmhouse at the garden's end.
The sled and traveller stopped, the courier's feet
Delayed, all friends shut out, the housemates sit
Around the radiant fireplace, enclosed
In a tumultuous privacy of storm.
Come see the north wind's masonry.
Out of an unseen quarry evermore
Furnished with tile, the fierce artificer
Curves his white bastions with projected roof
Round every windward stake, or tree, or door.
Speeding, the myriad-handed, his wild work
So fanciful, so savage, nought cares he
For number or proportion. Mockingly,
On coop or kennel he hangs Parian* wreaths;
A swan-like form invests the hidden thorn;
Fills up the famer's lane from wall to wall,
Maugre** the farmer's sighs; and at the gate
A tapering turret overtops the work.
And when his hours are numbered, and the world
Is all his own, retiring, as he were not,
Leaves, when the sun appears, astonished Art
To mimic in slow structures, stone by stone,
Built in an age, the mad wind's night-work,
The frolic architecture of the snow.

*Parian: denoting or relating to a fine white marble mined in classical times in Paros
**maugre: in spite of

Emerson's poem is written in blank verse, which is to say, in unrhymed iambic pentameter (five iambic feet per line: taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM), except for a single line written in iambic tetrameter (four iambic feet per line): "Come see the north wind's masonry."

That line is the turning point in the poem, which opens with an evocative but quick overview of the storm and its effect on people. After Emerson's invitation to "see the north wind's masonry," however, he moves to a personification of the storm and enters into an extended metaphor (known as a "conceit"), in which the north wind (representing the storm) is compared to a mason (and perhaps to a sculptor as well), who spends his night constructing structures of snow.

The use of sensory details is terrific in this poem, from the opening use of sound - it's quite the Stürm und Drang beginning, isn't it, with "all the trumpets of the sky" and the frenzy of the snow's arrival? And the central conceit - "the north wind's masonry" - produces some phrases that are entirely swoon-worthy: "his wild work/so fanciful, so savage, nought cares he/for number or proportion"; he "leaves . . . astonished Art to mimic in slow structures . . . the mad wind's night-work,/the frolic architecture of the snow."

I hope those of you in the snowy places of the world are safe and warm inside. I'm off to enjoy a cup of tea. And to watch the birds on the feeder - so many of them at a time, and such an interesting assortment. Usually they would not all tolerate one another so well, but on a day like today when they need the calories, they seem inclined to allow more company than usual (12 on the one feeder at last count - and it's not what one would call an overly large feeder).

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Friday, February 05, 2010

Snow Moon - an original poem

Today, a poem from my never-been-published collection of moon poems. It seemed appropriate to post, given that we are supposed to get hit with a snowstorm that may reach blizzard proportions starting in the middle of the afternoon.

Snow Moon
by Kelly R. Fineman

Around the moon,
a ring of mist
foretells the ground
will soon be kissed
by snow.

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Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Sonnet 56 by William Shakespeare

This week I've managed to keep my days straight, so I know it's Wednesday. And it being Wednesday, I've got a Shakespeare post for you.

Sonnet 56
by William Shakespeare

Sweet love, renew thy force. Be it not said
Thy edge should blunter be than appetite,
Which but today by feeding is allayed,
Tomorrow sharpened in his former might.
So, love, be thou. Although today thou fill
Thy hungry eyes even till they wink with fullness,
Tomorrow see again, and do not kill
The spirit of love with a perpetual dullness.
Let this sad int'rim like the ocean be
Which parts the shore where two contracted new
Come daily to the banks, that, when they see
Return of love, more blest may be the view.
  Else call it winter, which, being full of care,
  Makes summer's welcome, thrice more wished, more rare.

Form: Shakespearean sonnet, meaning that it's written in iambic pentameter (5 iambic feet per line, taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM), with the following rhyme scheme: ABABCDCDEFEFGG Note that Shakespeare has taken a bit of liberty in the lines ending with "fullness" and "dullness" (which would have been exact rhymes in his time - that's not the liberty taken). Both fullness and dullness consist of a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed one - something which is known as a "feminine ending", which is totally allowed in iambic ptenameter now and agian, and which results in 11-syllable lines. Only if you count up pronounced syllables in those lines, you end up with 12 and 13 pronounced syllables, assuming you enunciate all of them. My guess is that the "even" in the "fullness" line is supposed to be elided to the poetic "e'en", which would take that one back down to a standard iambic-pentameter-with-feminine-ending length. The line ending with dullness is a bit trickier - if you say "spirit" quickly (with both syllables getting stressed), then count the "ual" of perpetual as a single slurred vowel sound rather than saying it "you - uhl", you end up at the iambic-pentameter-with-feminine-ending length as well. Tricky, but do-able. And then the penultimate line (Else call it winter, which, being full of care), which requires both syllables of being to be unstressed in order for the meter to work. Very tricky stuff, Mr. S!

Analysis: In the first four lines, Shakespeare addresses love - but love as a notion or spirit or emotion. He implicitly compares love to appetite (for food), urging love to stay keener/sharper than the appetite for food, which is quickly satisfied today, returning again tomorrow. His analogy, therefore, is read by some people to be a comparison between lust (appetite for "love") and hunger (appetite for food).

In the second four lines, the "love" he addresses is a person (the Fair Youth), urging him not to get his head turned by others, but to realize that even if he's tired of it today, his "hunger" will return tomorrow. The use of the word "dullness" is probably to indicate depression or apathy, and not, say, stupidity. The poem is a wish that absence will make the heart grow fonder, essentially.

The volta or "turn", a characteristic element of any good sonnet, occurs in the next four lines, where Shakespeare turns his attention to his actual point: he and the Fair Youth, in love though they are, have been separated for a time. Although the precise circumstance is not clear - whether they are actually at some distance from one another, or are merely precluded from spending time together as they might wish - Shakespeare finds an analogy for their circumstance. He makes reference to the physical separation of amorous young lovers separated by an ocean, waiting eagerly to see the other person once again. This particular set-up sounds like a reference to the story of Hero and Leander, which I discussed a bit in this post about Romeo & Juliet during last year's Brush Up Your Shakespeare Month. The story was quite popular during Shakespeare's time. It was the subject of a poem by Christopher Marlowe (unfinished at the time of his death), as well as an influence on Shakespeare for Romeo & Juliet, Much Ado About Nothing, and A Midsummer Night's Dream, at the very least. Knowing that, I don't think it's a stretch to say that Shakespeare referenced the story of Hero & Leander in his sonnets as well.

The final couplet "turns" the poem further still by introducing a new analogy: Think of our separation as winter, which is "full of care" in Shakespeare's poem - a time of isolation and introspection, perhaps? - making summer (or the lover's reunion) that much more wished-for, and that much more "rare" - a word that here means "marked by unusual quality, merit or appeal" rather than "seldom occurring". No matter what, this poem expresses hope that absence will managed to rekindle the strength of their love. If one subscribes to the interpretation that brings lust in at the start of this poem, it will be quite a reunion, no?

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Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman

Just before bed last night, I finally settled down to read Odd and the Frost Giants, a smallish book by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Brett Helquist.

There was a boy called Odd, and there was nothing strange or unusual about that, not in that time or place. Odd meant the tip of a blade, and it was a lucky name.

He was odd, though. At least, the other villagers thought so. But if there was one thing that he wasn't, it was lucky.

Thus begins our story, which is set in the land and time of the Vikings, in a world known as the Midgard. Odd's father was a Viking who obtained his wife on a raiding trip to Scotland, along with a herd of sheep. Odd's father died, however, after rescuing one of the valuable ponies, and Odd managed to cripple his right leg in a tree-felling accident, so life for Odd is a bit hard - and harder still after his mother remarries, to a guy named Fat Elfred.

One year, when spring failed to come when it ought, Odd takes off into the woods on his own and meets three unlikely companions: a fox, a huge bear, and a one-eyed eagle, who turn out to be gods under an enchantment. Specifically, Loki, Thor, and the All-Father, Odin. (Are you listening ?) Turns out a Frost Giant has come from Jotunheim, invaded the Alsgard, tricked Loki, put a curse on Loki, Thor, and Odin, and intends to marry Freya. Odd does what any crippled, orphaned hero would do and sets off to put things right.

The book is full of charm and whimsy and forms a wonderful introduction to the personalities of the four Norse gods in question. It is quite fun to read and, judging from the free clip available at Barnes and Noble's website, wonderful to listen to if you're an audiobook afficionado, since Gaiman reads the book himself and, as anyone who has listened to his other books can tell you, he's a marvelous reader.

Here's the book trailer, so you can get an idea of what some of the illustrations look like (although there are only a few throughout the book, and they don't, y'know, move at all on the pages, Hogwarts-like):

This title is on the list of CYBILS finalists in middle-grade fantasy and science fiction. The story was originally penned for World Book Day 2008 in the U.K., where it sold to school children in exchange for £1 book tokens. The HarperCollins edition will run you $14.99 at full price, although it's widely available for less than that. Definitely one for the re-reading pile, in my opinion. And should you be inclined to order it, I hope you'll consider going through the CYBILS site as a portal - no additional cost to you if you do so, but it will get a few pennies for the CYBILS coffers, to help pay for the pens that they give to winning authors as an award, and to pay for the lovely bookmarks they create to be handed to libraries, etc.

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Monday, February 01, 2010

14 Cows for America

Today being "Nonfiction Monday" in some corners of the interweb, I figured it was as good a day as any to post a short review of 14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy, with Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah, illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez, which is one of the finalists on the CYBILS list of nonfiction picture books this year. I have to say that as the poetry coordinator, I know a very little about what's going on in poetry (nope - not a word from me on that point) and absolutely no clue what's going on in any other categories, although I'm pleased that two of my nominated titles are finalists (including Mermaid Queen in NFPB and Edgar Allen Poe's Tales of Death and Dementia in Graphic Novels).

I will say that I read this book after seeing it mentioned on someone else's blog - can't recall whose just now (sorry!) - and that it moved me quite a bit. As I stood crying in the middle of the children's section in the Barnes & Noble near my home (I do prefer indies, but I have to drive at least an hour, pay tolls and/or cross state lines to get to them), I knew it was one powerful book, made all the more so by its marvelous illustrations, which are explained in marvelous detail by Franki Sibberson at A Year of Reading following a conversation with Thomas Gonzalez.

This picture book, written in omniscient perspective, tells a story set in a small Maasai village in Kenya. The book opens as Kimeli returns from New York City, where he's been studying to be a doctor, and shares with his family and friends the horror of the September 11th terrorist attacks. The words convey that there was fear and danger and loss of life without being at all gruesome - no mean feat, by the way, and yet Deedy conveys what happens for a generation of children for whom September 11th has always been and will always be history - something that happened when they were infants or before they were born. Because the story is set in Kenya, the primary illustration is of Kimeli telling the story to his tribe, with a blear of smoke- and fire-colored strokes between his hands as he relates the tale, again conveying a sense of confusion and tragedy without a graphic depiction of what took place.

The Maasai are a nomadic tribe of cattle herders these days, with a proud history as warriors. Kimeli's tribe are horrifed to hear of the loss of so many people, and when Kimeli seeks the blessing of the elders for his plan to offer his cow to America, the tribe agrees . . . and comes forward with an additional thirteen cows: 14 cows for America, which are presented as a gift of support to the U.S. Ambassador to Kenya in a full-day ceremony. The story is moving and touching and, moreover, true.

The copy I purchased is being sent to my brother today, for him to carry with him to Kenya when he and my mother leave in two weeks' time for a visit to the Kinyago-Dandora School. This will be Keith's third trip to Kenya to do faith-based mission work, and he's looking forward to being there to photograph the first class to graduate from the school so they'll have the photos available for future mission work. KDS serves children born into extreme poverty who would otherwise live (and work) among the humongous trash heaps in the area. Education is the way out of poverty not just for the child, but often for their family as well.

To read other Nonfiction Monday posts, click on the blue box below , which I turned into a button, just as the Poetry Friday button is a workable link on my blog:

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