Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!

It's a bit early here in the eastern U.S., but I'm sure it's not too soon for some of you in other parts of the world.

It's been an interesting year - and in some ways, I mean "interesting" in the sense of that ancient Chinese blessing/curse: "May you live in interesting times."

Lots of ends, lots of new beginnings.

We lost our two oldest pets - Mojo the cat in the spring and Katie the dog in July. In August, I found a wee calico kitten named Kismet who is a joy and a terror and entirely perfect for us. My older daughter, S, graduated from high school, then started college at the College of Charleston, a good 11 hours away from home. My younger daughter, M, is now a junior in high school with an after-school job, and, as of about two weeks ago, a licensed driver.

My 9-year second marriage came to an end. A run of good health also came to an end, but as it turns out in both cases, things are improving, the health a bit more slowly than I'd like, but still - it's all good. In fact, despite the ends, it's the beginnings that have me saying it's been a Very Good Year.

Here's wishing you and yours a very good new year - I hope you find peace, prosperity, and love.

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Thursday, December 29, 2011

All In by Benjamin Percy - another commitment post

I have a confession to make. Within Word, I have a folder labelled "Other People's Writing." It holds things like favorite short stories written by Tessa Gratton, stories people have asked me to critique (so I can find them), and things that really spoke to me found from a variety of places. Some of them are poems, some of them are blog posts, and some of them are articles.

And thus it was that I remembered I had a piece stashed in that folder that discussed the idea of commitment, maybe slightly differently than my last two posts. I won't post the whole article here, since you can go straight to Glimmer Train and read it yourself, but it's a piece called "All In" by Benjamin Percy. Here's brief excerpt.

I used to be the same way, nervously rationing out my ideas.

Tony Early (the author of Jim the Boy) cured me of that. Years ago, I was talking to him about his story, one of my favorite stories, "The Prophet from Jupiter." He said that he put everything he had into it. "I was tired of holding back," he said. His stories up to that point, he felt, had been good. But he wanted to write something truly great, an earth-shaker. So he put every last drop of himself, all of his best material, into a single story.

And it worked. "Prophet" appeared in Harper's, scored a National Magazine Award, and to this day is widely taught and anthologized.

There was a price. After he finished the story, he lay on the couch feeling emptied, carved-out, certain he would never write anything again. This lasted for two weeks. And then the well filled back up.

I encourage you all to read the full article.

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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Jude Law talks about HAMLET - another post about commitment

Once upon a time (in April of 2010), I put up a post about Carl Sandburg's poem, "They All Want to Play Hamlet". The poem includes at its heart these lines:

Yet they all want to play Hamlet because it is sad like all actors are sad
   and to stand by an open grave with a joker’s skull in the hand and then
   to say over slow and say over slow wise, keen, beautiful words masking
   a heart that’s breaking, breaking,
This is something that calls and calls to their blood.

And I think Sandburg was onto something, because just the other evening, I caught Jude Law on The Charlie Rose Show, where, around the 24 minute mark or so, the discussion turned to Hamlet. I loved what Law had to say, and it resonated especially because I was already thinking about commitment (albeit from a much lighter sort of entertainment).

So I did what I do, and I watched and rewatched (and rewatched and rewatched . . . ) and transcribed some of their conversation for you:

LAW: I would certainly say it's the most rewarding part I've ever read or played

ROSE: Because?

LAW: Because not only do you have on paper some of the most beautiful, introspective and revealing speeches written in the English language, you also have the opportunity to imbue them with yourself. It becomes a very personal journey, so somehow you are playing a character that ultimately is a journey into your own being.

. . .

And yet also on top of that, it's just a great story. You have a great journey. You see. Faustus is a great character, with many levels that allow you to interpret – to put yourself on him - it's not a brilliant story, the way its structure kind of falls apart in the middle. Hamlet is this phenomenal journey which has every peak, every trough, you know, rhythmically worked out.

ROSE: You said once that you don't play Hamlet, Hamlet plays you.

LAW: . . . .Yes he does, because the spirit of him, as I said, it sort of tattoos itself on you for a time, for the duration of your run. And then it's passed on.

ROSE: You said to me as you sat down, for a while there you didn't go see other Hamlets because you felt like he still was within you.

LAW: . . . . Funny enough, I think Alan Rickman said that to me when I was about to play it, he said, "You won't want this play for a few years." Because, and he was right, you feel a sense of – it's not ownership - If you're playing something that taps into your emotions on that level, where you feel that you're really putting yourself out there as, in the end, a human stripped, a human revealing their sense of what it is to be a human, a character that's revealing what it is to feel alive, and to play with the idea of being alive and dead, mad, not mad, every night, I think the key's in you, that just hearing that dialogue, would open. I was a little scared of it.
Turns out that Rose's next guest was none other than Ralph Fiennes, who was also talking about Shakespeare because he stars in and directed a modern version of Coriolanus, co-starring Gerard Butler, Vanessa Redgrave, Brian Cox, and Jessica Chastain. It looks extremely violent and extremely good. (Hear that, Tessa Gratton?)

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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

On commitment

I have a confession to make: I haven't been all that committed to the writing process of late. I could bore you with explanations as to why that's so, and they include valid reasons like health issues, my divorce, S leaving for college, etc., but part of it has been a lack of commitment.

I was reminded last week how important it is to be committed to what you're doing, and the thing that reminded me of it was my annual watching of the movie Elf starring Will Ferrell. Really, this could apply to any of his screen work, whether it's his Funny or Die piece where he's dealing with a potty-mouthed toddler landlord, his cheerleader skits on SNL, Ron Burgundy, Ricky Bobby, or any of those other goofy characters, or even (or perhaps especially) Harold Crick in Stranger Than Fiction, but what reminded me of the need for commitment was Elf, and, in particular, this scene:

He commits 100% to being a guy raised as an Elf. A guy raised someplace where everyone is happy, and Santa is real, and work is fun. A guy who doesn't understand human culture, really - at least not yet. A guy who thinks Christmas and Santa are the Best Things Ever. Will Ferrell inhabits the character (all of his characters, really) so entirely that he never winks at the camera (in reality or even impliedly). He doesn't hesitate. When Will Ferrell played Buddy the Elf, he was really and truly Buddy the Elf. His excitement over Santa is palpable, just as in a later scene, when a guy in a Santa suit shows up who is not really Santa, his outrage and disgust are genuine, and you can sense they are both bone-deep.

Will Ferrell's commitment to becoming whatever character he's playing - no matter how off-beat or quirky - is inspiring to me. And it's reminded me that when I sit down to write, I need to do it with actual commitment. This means a few different things. First, that I need to make the commitment to sit down and do the work. Second, that when I sit down to do the work, I need to be willing to really and truly go wherever it is that I need to go for that particular piece. If it's a serious poem about real emotions, I need to be willing to open that particular vein. If it's a picture book, I need to be willing to commit to playing with the text and the ideas, and to be willing to commit to allowing my inner 4-year old to run wild. If it's my YA novel, I need to commit to writing the emotions and actions down in a way that will communicate to an eventual reader precisely what the character feels and what they are doing or sensing.

So today, I'm really glad for Will Ferrell's performance as Buddy the Elf. And I aspire to be more committed - I'm not even going to wait for the new year.

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Monday, December 26, 2011

Happy Boxing Day!

I hope you have all been enjoying your holidays. I've been enjoying lighting candles each night for Chanukah, and the tree looks quite pretty (with occasional un-decorating by Kismet, who finds the origami giraffe to be really fun to play with - any breakables are too high for her to reach, and there's no garland and certainly no tinsel on the tree, tinsel being deadly for kitties).

Last night I spent a "traditional" Jewish Christmas, which means that I went out for Chinese food for dinner. (The kids spent the day with their dad, doing the Christmas dinner thing last night.) Tonight I'm serving brisket and latkes - must make applesauce this afternoon! - for Chanukah dinner.

And over the next few days, I'll undoubtedly ponder things like What Happened This Year and What I'd Like To Happen Next Year and such.

Meanwhile, if you're in the mood to celebrate Festivus, you can participate in the Annual Airing of Grievances over at Mother Reader.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

On Writing by Stephen King

You can read some of my thoughts about Stephen King's marvelous book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft over at Guys Lit Wire.

And now, I'm for bed.

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Friday, December 09, 2011

Holiday Dinner To-Do List by Kelly Ramsdell Fineman

With Chanukah starting on the 20th and Christmas only days behind, most everyone I know is getting ready for a major holiday meal (or two, or three, depending). Today, I thought I'd share an original poem of mine. It's an instruction poem, which means just what it sounds like - it's a poem written as a set of instructions. It's not exactly a Martha Stewart checklist.

Holiday Dinner To-Do List
by Kelly Ramsdell Fineman

Begin your preparations five days ahead.
Defrost the silver,
Polish the turkey until it gleams.
Iron the table,
Fold the extra leaves into the tablecloth.
Four days ahead, shop.
Remember pie; forget salad – it is better left too late.
Start the oven two days before,
neverminding a day has been skipped.
Develop the cranberry sauce;
Combine the gravy giblets;
Finish the pie, but not whip the cream.
If stuffing the turkey, stale the bread.
Put rings on the glasses, lay knives to guard the plates.
One day before, store the casseroles:
Peel them into the fridge for safekeeping.
Remember salad.
On the holiday itself, baste the white wine.
Preheat the turkey. Stuff the oven.
Baste the potatoes; mash the salad;
Reheat the conversation; enjoy the side dishes.
After the meal: Brew the whipped cream.
Beat the coffee into stiff peaks with a bit of sugar.
Remember the rolls, unbake them.
Clear the guests, wash the table, wait for next year.

Check out other Poetry Friday entries by clicking the green box:

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Monday, December 05, 2011


I am dancing - nay, almost prancing - about with glee because of an email I received this afternoon. I've had a poem accepted in a forthcoming Steampunk Shakespeare anthology - my rewrite of Shakespeare's Sonnet 55 has been deemed "very well done" and will be in the forthcoming antho. My version mentions Babbage and the "difference engine".

Here is the Bard's original:

Sonnet 55
by William Shakespeare

Not marble, nor the gilded monuments,
Of princes shall outlive this powerful rhyme,
But you shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone besmeared with sluttish time.
When wasteful war shall statues overturn,
And broils* root out the work of masonry,
Nor Mars his sword nor war's quick** fire shall burn
The living record of your memory.
'Gainst death and all-oblivious enmity
Shall you pace forth; your praise shall still find room
Even in the eyes of all posterity
That wear this world out to the ending doom.
  So, till the judgment that yourself arise,
  You live in this, and dwell in lovers' eyes.

*broils: tumults, battles

**quick: probably intended for its double meaning: 1) fast-burning and 2) the sort that burns something to its quick, or its very heart/center

Form: A Shakespearean sonnet, of course, written in iambic pentameter (5 iambic feet per line, taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM), and with a rhyme scheme of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. The first eight lines are grandstanding, in a way: "Monuments shall fall into ruin, but not your reputation" is the gist of it. The next six lines take a slight turn (or volta) when the focus shifts away from monuments falling to wars and the ravages of time and more to the active nature of the poem and its ability to preserve the memory and reputation of the Fair Youth: "My poems about you will keep your memory - and therefore the essence of you - alive until Doomsday".

Discussion: First, let me say how very much I love the line about "unswept stone besmeared with sluttish time", "sluttish" being a word which here means "disgustingly dirty", and not actually something sexual. Second, let me say that this poem conjured for me an image of fallen statues, which naturally called up "Ozymandias" by Percy Bysshe Shelley, which I discussed as part of last year's National Poetry Month posts, with its image of trunkless legs standing in the desert.

Of particular interest are the personification of war through the invocation of Mars, the Roman god of war, and how Shakespeare claims that Mars is no match for poetry. In fact, he claims that poetry will outlast war, while the physical things built by men will not. (A different sort of take on ars longa, vita brevis, which is usually interpreted as meaning that a particular work of art - say, a marble statue - will long outlast a human life. Shakespeare's art is his poetry, which he claims will outlast even those marble statues (and he has been correct in some cases, as with respect to works of art destroyed by war or the ravages of time).

The final couplet is an extremely pithy summary of what he's been saying all along: "So, until judgment day, you live in my poem, and as a result, your spirit is kept alive in that of all lovers."

Pretty bold claim, and yet who am I to argue? Four hundred years or so after it was written, this poem is still around and we're still talking about it and about Shakespeare's obvious love (platonic, romantic, sexual, or otherwise) for the Fair Youth, whose identity can only be guessed at (although many believe it to be Shakespeare's patron, Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton). Still, that Fair Youth's spirit is kept alive, is it not, by these poems? And while it would be tempting to dismiss Shakespeare's talk of "powerful rhyme" and his claims of keeping the Youth's reputation and memory alive until Doomsday as hubris - and I'm nearly certain he took crap for it during his lifetime and was undoubtedly accused of puffery, to say the least - it would seem that the Bard might be having the last laugh. For while it is not yet time for the final judgment (best as I can tell), there are plenty of folks still admiring Shakespeare's "powerful rhyme".

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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Noël by Anne Porter

Today, I found this lovely poem by Anne Porter. It's from a collection of hers that came out in 2006, a collection of poems that incorporates her earlier work (a National Book Award nominee) plus additional work. Although Porter is known for her religious Christian poems, I think this one makes sense regardless of one's particular religion (unless, perhaps, one is atheist and opposed to any mention of God).

The poem is only seven stanzas of free verse, and addresses the singing of carols at this time of year. I've excerpted the middle three stanzas of the poem here, providing, in essence, the "turn" in the particular poem. Those of you with a few minutes to spare may want to check out the full poem at The Academy of American Poets website.

We hear and sing
The customary carols

They bring us ragged miracles
And hay and candles
And flowering weeds of poetry
That are loved all the more
Because they are so common

But there are carols
That carry phrases
Of the haunting music
Of the other world
A music wild and dangerous
As a prophet's message

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Monday, November 28, 2011

Recent purchases

For my niece, who is going to be 18 months old at Christmas:

Baby's ABC by Anita Shevett, a small board book (as in this image is nearly actual size). We went through TWO copies of this one when my kids were toddlers, due to the edges being so badly chewed by one of the kids (I'm not saying who). Photos of babies and real items, and both of the girls found it fascinating once upon a time.

Sheep in a Jeep by Nancy Shaw - the board book edition, which comes with instructions on making your own sheep adventure inside the back cover. We had the regular edition of this one, but my niece will fare better with the board book, given her age. (My younger daughter was three when this book was first published, and already careful with page turns and such.)

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle - again in board book format - which is incredibly brilliant for teaching counting (to five) and the days of the week, in addition to explaining that caterpillars become butterflies. My kids always added a loud "POP!" on the page turn to the butterfly, echoing the "pop!" that occurs at the start of the book when the caterpillar first emerges from the egg on the leaf. I wonder if my niece will do the same . . .

I bought all three books at my "local" independent children's book store, the marvelous Children's Book World in Haverford, PA, on "Small Business Saturday" - a shopping idea that I really like and support, although the news articles seem to indicate that it hasn't exactly caught on. Yet.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

I have much to be thankful for this year, and one of the things I'll be giving thanks for tomorrow is all the wonderful people I've met (virtually and, in many cases, in person) as a result of this blog. Without meaning to be corny or put a Debbie Boone earworm in your brainradios, you light up my life. I'm thankful for you, and grateful to you as well.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Tough Boy Sonatas - a One Shot World Tour/Under the Radar post

Today is a One-Shot World Tour celebrating books about city living, with a focus on books that have managed to stay under the radar and deserve more attention. I've decided to revisit a book I read a few years ago when I was a judge for the CYBILS - a book that is all about what it's like to be a teenaged male in the city of Gary, Indiana. Specifically, what it's like to be poor, and living in a gritty city, dealing with violence and racial prejudice and more. So perhaps this particular book isn't so much a celebration of city living as it is an examination of what inner-city life can be like.

The book is a poetry collection, Tough Boy Sonatas by Curtis L. Crisler, illustrated by Floyd Cooper. It was a pleasure because Crisler has put together a collection of poetry specifically for teenage boys, and more specifically, for kids who come from the 'hood or the wrong side of the track (or those who feel that way, wherever they may be from). The collection includes stories of innocent kids in a bad neighborhood and stories of kids dealing with massive life issues: drugs, crime, racism, social isolation, politics, religion, and more.

As most of you know, I often write about poetry on my blog. One of my reasons for wanting to write about poetry for Guys Lit Wire, where I first reviewed this book, is kinda summarized in the title of one of my favorite poems from the collection: "Boys Love Words".

boys love words
by Curtis L. Crisler

we slog to library to
do reports on satchmo
in rustic brick-red after-
school afternoons. little
brown-faced hood rats
sneaking chocolate-
covered donuts into library.
don't got milk or red cream
soda to stop-stick to roof
of mouth. half in study --
laughing, hungry amongst
tart, stale smell of old
books, cedar chairs -- dead
authors and miss library
-- she looks beyond
her white, cate-framed
glasses like we stink
of piss. we too breathe
the once dank lines of
whitman, the open pores
of petrarchan lady who
makes shakespeare sweat,
and we try nhot to sigh
when we open the hard
backs. she knows we
can smell the sex
bonded and glued,
sandwiched between
black and white lines--
no short attention span,
it's our curiosity in love
w/ the words she oversees,
checks in, hands out, in
love w/ what trickles out
our mouths, we flush her
cheeks, flex our callow
pecs-- callous lotharios
tugging at that new
itch in genitalia.

This is just one of the 39 poems that make up the collection, and it comes from the third section of the book, which is entitled "Tough Boy Sonatas". The first two sections are "Gary" and "Son of a City". The language used is indicative of the sort of rawness that appears in many of the poems, some more dark or violent, others more blunt or sexual. Each poem in this collection packs a bit of a punch.

This book is a great collection for teens interested in looking at edgy poetry for their age group, or who are interested in writing (in poetry or otherwise) about some of the inequities that still exist in today's American society, including racism, poverty, education and societal expectations. Most of the poems in the collection are serious poetry, almost all of them touching on serious issues, although with an infusion of sly humor now and again, as in "The Black of Gray", when Crisler writes:

. . .I prayed to the prototype
re-creation reprint of Jesus, never knowing this
dude was Michelangelo's relative or running
buddy or model . . .

Or in "Day Dreamer", which starts

In third grade on first floor of bliss
or was it hell? at David O. Duncan School

I'd lose chatter of overzealous teacher
talking-talkity-talk 'bout someone famous, white,

and dead or how many manias lived in texbooks--
how history declares, "Columbus revealed America"--

and we knew Indians gave Chris's ass a little help. . . .

The poems in Tough Boy Sonatas will challenge readers and make them think, which is probably one of the reasons that this book was on the 2008 ALA list of Best Books for Young Adults. The illustrations by noted illustrator Floyd Cooper contribute to the ambience of the book.

The full line-up of Under the Radar posts can be found by clicking the link in this here sentence, or that gorgeous graphic below:

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The I Hate To Cook Book by Peg Bracken

Somewhere during my travels in 2010, I picked up an ARC of the The I HATE TO COOK Book: The 50th Anniversary Edition of The American Classic. This week I finally delved into it, and I am completely and utterly charmed.

Looking for the perfect holiday gift for someone who cooks, or who wants to start? Look no further. Seriously - no need for Paula Deen's Southern Cooking Bible or the latest offerings from Ina Garten or Martha Stewart. Just put this book in their hands.

Here's a bit from the Introduction, written by Peg Bracken over 50 years ago:

Some women, it is said, like to cook.

This book is not for them.

This book is for those of us who hate to, who have learned, through hard experience, that some activities become no less painful through repetition: childbearing, paying taxes, cooking. This book is for those of us who want to fold our big dishwater hands around a dry Martini instead of a wet flounder, come the end of a long day.
There are recipes - nearly all of them simple - interspersed with chatty bits. And the recipes have funny names. Here, for instance, is the recipe for Stayabed Stew, followed by a chatty bit, so you can get the flavor for the book:

5-6 servings

(This is for those days when you're en negligee, en bed, with a murder story and a box of bonbons, or possibly a good case of flu.)

Mix these things up in a casserole dish that has a tight lid.
2 pounds beef stew meat, cubed
1 can of little tiny peas*
1 cup of sliced carrots
2 chopped onions
1 teaspoon salt, dash of pepper
1 can cream of tomato soup thinned with 1/2 can water
  (or celery or mushroom soup thinned likewise)
1 big raw potato, sliced
piece of bay leaf*

*If you don't like this, leave it out.

Put the lid on and put the casserole in a 275º oven. Now go back to bed. It will cook happily all by itself and be done in five hours.

Incidentally, a word here about herbs and seasonings. These recipes don't call for anything exotic that you buy a box of, use once, and never again. Curry powder, chili powder, oregano, basil, thyme, marjoram, and bay leaf are about as far out as we get. And if your family says, "What makes it taste so funny, Mommie?" whenever you use any herbs at all, you can omit them (although if you omit chili from chili or curry from curry, you don't have much left, and you'd really do better to skip the whole thing).
Truly a charming book, with plenty of recipes that I'm fixing to try . . . including "Pedro's Special", which bears the notation Very easy; very good with beer; good even without it.

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Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Gulls Hold Up the Sky by J. Patrick Lewis

Today, a long-overdue review of one of the poetry collections I've read and loved this year: Gulls Hold Up the Sky: Poems: 1983-2010 by J. Patrick Lewis (whom I will now refer to as Pat, since I know and love the guy and am telling you that straight out so that you can go ahead and impute all the bias you want to me, if you'd like. Hey - I never claimed to be fair or balanced.)

Many of you who are familiar with the world of children's literature are familiar with Pat's poetry collections, picture books, and easy readers for children, and most of you who are familiar with Pat's name are aware that he is the current Children's Poet Laureate in the United States - a well-deserved position, for a man who once described himself as "the village idiot for poetry". But Pat has also written poems for adults, some of which are "adult poems", even, for years, and early this year, a hardcover collection of those poems became available from Laughing Fire Press.

The collection is organized into six sections, each somewhat thematically organized and ranging from autobiographical poems to thoughts about poetry, philosophy, Russia (where Pat lived for a time with his family) and history. There's free verse and form poetry, light verse and heavier, and it's a well-crafted, thoughtful, and intelligent collection - just what you'd expect from Pat Lewis, if you've ever met him or read much of his work.

As a fellow laborer in the poetic fields, I admire Pat's range, his willingness to experiment, and the way he refuses to allow himself to be placed in any particular box. In fact, I interviewed him once for the Winter Blog Blast Tour and he had this to say:

. . . it is no criticism of him to say that you can tell a Seuss poem coming from a mile away. That distinctive voice is always there. But I don’t want to find my own voice. No subject on earth or apart from it is immune from poetry. I am trying to write in a hundred voices and as many forms on as many subjects, to write across the curriculum, about everything under heaven. The poem is always more important than the poet. Poets biodegrade; poems, if they have any merit, stand a middling chance of living on for a little while. My advice is to stretch your mind’s muscles. I set for myself the hard, well-nigh impossible task of writing great poetry every day. Do I succeed? No, but so what? Otherwise, why bother to write?
Pat has several "collected" poems that I admire - "Poets Lariat", "Mini Book Reviews", "Irony", "Quatrains on Love, Sex and Marriage", "Quatrains on Poetics", and "Quatrains on the Writing Life". Here's one of the quatrains from that last-mentioned poem, "Quatrains on the Writing Life", this one with the subtitle "The Difference":

The Difference
from "Quatrains on the Writing Life"
by J. Patrick Lewis

Academic exegeses
Labor over which is which.
Simple. Verse is quick and easy.
Poetry's a bitch.
Those of us that write it nod and say "ain't that the truth?", although we all know that verse is no walk in the park either.

The Acknowledgments in the back of the book are further evidence of how wide-flung Pat's writing (and interests) are. He's had poems published in such academic venues as The Gettysburg Review, in journals including Rattle and American Literary Review, and in places such as Eratosphere, Light Quarterly, and Diner.

I'll leave you with one of my favorite poems, a poem written as if it were a Dashiel Hammett detective novel, maybe . . .

The Death of Poetry
by J. Patrick Lewis

It was still dark. There were no witnesses,
no leads.

Poetry had been jogging before daybreak
in Central Park, bothering no one. And now
she lay there bleeding verbs and rapture.

A passing editor tried to erase the crime scene.
Unnoticed, a General Lassitude leaned into
the yellow tape, gloating.

Bereft of metaphor, the trees dropped leaflets
in protest.

A detective cliché read Poetry's ID bracelet-
an apartment in Chelsea, phone number,
next of kin. She lived with a sister named Desire.

He got the answering machine:
If I cannot stop for D-[garbled].
He'll kindly stop for me.
Dash it all. Leave a couplet.

The cliché shook his head. Mr. D., whoever
he was, would not be vigorously pursued
much less apprehended

Because the death of Poetry was nothing
more than a misdemeanor.
Clever, witty, intelligent, wry, with an underlying steel edge - poetry at its finest, and just what you'd expect from Pat Lewis. I can't recommend the collection highly enough, really - and hey: Christmas and Chanukah are coming sooner than you think . . .

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Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Dare to Dream . . . Change the World

As many of you already know, my poem, "A Place to Share", is going to be included in the forthcoming anthology from Kane Miller, edited by Jill Corcoran.

Today, Jill released the full line-up of the thirty participating poets, as well as confirming that the book is going to be illustrated by J Beth Jepson.

Can I tell you how lucky I feel to be part of that lineup?

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Monday, October 31, 2011

A Vampire Pantoum for Halloween

I ought to have told you a while back, but what with one thing and another, I kinda lost track of the fact that my poem, "A Vampire Pantoum", was published online at Blood Moon Rising Magazine back in June. (It got accepted last fall, and I kinda forgot all about it - oops!)

Today, I figured I'd share it with you here in honor of Halloween:

A Vampire Pantoum
by Kelly Ramsdell Fineman

Come with me
Midnight comes soon
Flying free
We soar beneath the moon

Midnight comes soon
The shadows shrink away
We soar beneath the moon
And over the bay

The shadows shrink away
The air is still
And over the bay
It’s time for us to kill

The air is still
But none can slow our pace
It’s time for us to kill
We leave without a trace

None can slow our pace
Flying free
We leave without a trace
Come with me

A word about the form: The pantoum is an evocative form that originates in Malaysia. It involves a lot of repetition, since each line will repeat once in the poem. A pantoum can have as many stanzas as one likes. Each stanza holds four lines. Lines two and four of stanza one become lines one and three of stanza two, lines two and four of stanza two become lines one and three of stanza three, and so on, until the final stanza, in which line three of the first stanza of the poem is line two of that final stanza, and line one of the poem is the fourth line, and therefore the final line of the poem.

It can sound a bit complicated, but it's exceedingly simple when seen in practice. I posted about the form once before, with a spectacular pantoum by poet Peter Oresick, from his book Warhol-O-Rama. Joyce Sidman is also a master at this form, with splendid pantoums in Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow and This is Just to Say. She's posted a pantoum called "Spring is the Time" at her website, with instructions on how to write one, if you're so inclined.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

To be read . . .

I have a terrible confession to make: I haven't been reading all that many books lately, largely because life got busy (divorce, S moving to college in Charleston, M starting junior year in high school, etc.) and I ended up with a health issue (my rheumatoid arthritis flared).

But M has been busily reading things, and she assures me that I need to put these books on my TBR list:

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson. We bought it because (a) Maureen Johnson, (b) it's set in London and (c) Jack the Ripper. Also, there was a wee bit of (d) "cool cover!" going on. M has been a fan of Maureen's books since she read 13 Little Blue Envelopes, and she's a huge fan of the Scarlett books as well. M hasn't told me much about it, but she found it so riveting that she pretty much didn't put it down.

After Obsession by Carrie Jones and Steven E. Wedel. We bought it yesterday because (a) Carrie Jones is M's favorite author ever. (Take that, J.K. Rowling and others who are in the top tier of M's list of must-read authors!) Also, there was a bit of (b) "cool cover!" going on. M is a bit behind on her French homework because she was more interested in reading it than starting her homework before she headed off for her part-time job this evening. I suspect she'll finish it tomorrow, since she seems quite fond of it.

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins. We bought it because (a) OMG! we both loved Anna and the French Kiss with a love that was epic and true, which really amounts to (b) Stephanie Perkins. M tells me there's plenty of Anna and St. Clair in the book, and that makes me happyhappyhappy. She also tells me that things are painfully wrong before they are set right. Win!

I am positive that M is correct on all counts, and so all three books are going on my TBR pile. If I can, y'know, get them back from M at all . . .

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Monday, October 24, 2011

Oh. Em. Gee.

I believe I nearly had a medical situation just now. A heart attack, maybe, or something close to a swoon.

You see, while I was at B&, I put my name into the browser - for giggles, really, as I sometimes do. Only this time, my book came up, cover and all. It's also listed over at Amazon now, only without the cover image.


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Sunday, October 23, 2011

I did it!

Today was the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk in Pennsauken, NJ, and I can happily report that I walked the entire walk. My right knee in particular had something to say about it afterwards, but that's all okay because hey: I DID IT! I walked the entire 5K around the park. Nice and steady the whole way proved to be the answer.

I'm considering it a pretty major accomplishment, since I'm still not over my rheumatoid arthritis flare and my knees woke me up, shouting with pain (the knees, not me) at several points last night. And hey - I raised $530 for breast cancer research and treatment, and my team as a whole raised $1756! MAJOR thanks to those of you who donated on my behalf - you and I know who you are!

And now, it's time for a well-earned nap.

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Friday, October 21, 2011

Troubled Water by Kelly Ramsdell Fineman

If you saw yesterday's post, then you know there's been a call for sweaters to be knit for penguins following an oil spill off the coast of New Zealand. The sweaters keep the birds warm and also prevent them from preening (and thereby ingesting globs of oil) while they wait their turns to be cleaned up.

Here in the U.S., last year's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico wreaked havoc on the environment, and still requires cleanup efforts. I was fortunate to have my poem, "Troubled Water", included in the anthology Breaking Waves: An Anthology for Gulf Coast Relief. In fact, it held pride of place as the final selection in the book - closing out an anthology that opened with a poem by Ursula Le Guin. I've been pleased to see the poem favorably mentioned in several reviews of the anthology, including this one by Helen Gallagher.

In light of the recent spill off New Zealand, I thought I'd share the poem here today. And in case you're wondering, the answer is "yes, you can still purchase a copy of the Breaking Waves e-book, which is available from Amazon in Kindle format, from Barnes & Noble for the Nook, and from the publisher, Book View Cafe for a mere $4.99 US. All proceeds go to Gulf Coast relief.

Troubled Water

by Kelly Ramsdell Fineman

"The first of the slick to reach the shores will not be the last."
Janet Ritz, The Environmentalist, 4/30/10

Long before St. Aidan's time,
ancient sailors cast their oil
on roiling seas to stay the waves.
No miracle, but science:
primitive, powerful as magic.

A modicum of oil could quell
a cresting swell, a thinning drop
enough to influence a distance
farther than the fingers
of its prismatic sheen.

Not more than a teaspoonful
calmed half-acre Clapham waves
for Benjamin Franklin, noted inventor,
Renaissance man. Reconnaissance now
cannot quantify the effect.

Two billion plus teaspoons of oil
gush daily into Gulf water,
quelling wildlife, not waves;
stopping sea life, not storms;
troubling water, industry, conscience.

Worried water – a geyser spews.
Gobbets of gull-coating crude expands in the sea.
Disturbed water – methane chokes oxygen.
Desperate dead zones nothing can survive.
Troubled water – upsetting the balance.

Economy and populace washed-out as wetlands,
unsteady as shifting beach sand.
St. Aidan's cruet will not quiet this squall;
St. Jude, he of desperate causes, waits offstage,
wringing his hands.

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Knitters Wanted

Dudes, how could I not pass along this Public Service Announcement once I knew about it? See, there was an oil spill off New Zealand, in a place where there are lots of penguins.

Specifically, baby penguins, who need warmth.

Specifically, they need sweaters. Or, if you prefer, jumpers.

You can read the entire call for action here at gothamist, complete with links to news articles, proof that the call for sweaters is real, and instructions on how to knit the sweaters/jumpers and where to send them.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

For the rain, it raineth every day

It occurred to me that we haven't spent a Wednesday with the Bard in a while. And I'd have to be a ninny not to have noticed the cold rain lashing against the windows today in my little corner of New Jersey. Every time it rains, (no - it does not rain "Pennies from Heaven") I think of one of my favorite of Shakespeare's songs, "The Rain It Raineth Every Day", from Twelfth Night. I especially love the version sung by Sir Ben Kingsley at the end of the excellent movie version starring Imogen Stubbs as Viola/Cesario and Helena Bonham Carter as Olivia, which is why I've included it here.

When that I was and a little tiny boy
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
A foolish thing was but a toy,
For the rain it raineth every day.

But when I came to man's estate,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
'Gainst knaves and thieves men shut their gate,
For the rain it raineth every day.

But when I came, alas, to wive,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
By swaggering could I never thrive,
For the rain it raineth every day.

But when I came unto my beds,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
With toss-pots still 'had drunken heads,
For the rain it raineth every day.

A great while ago the world began,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,
But that's all one, our play is done,
And we'll strive to please you every day.

Discussion: The song is written using rhymed couplets in iambic tetrameter (four iambs per line: taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM) interspersed with "With hey, ho, the wind and the rain" and "For the rain it raineth every day", which is changed at the end to be a more finite conclusion.

Like other poems or soliloquies from the plays, this song tracks the "ages of man" from little boy through adulthood to old age. It is performed by Feste, the "fool" in Twelfth Night. I will remind you that during Twelfth Night festivities, it's a topsy-turvy world (reference to Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame would not be entirely amiss here) where the lowest man might be king - and the fool might in fact be the wise man.

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Saturday, October 15, 2011

Did you know . . .

. . . that if you use 2 tablespoons of baking soda instead of 2 teaspoons when making pumpkin bread, you'll end up with something that looks like

(a) The Blob?
(b) a science experiment?
(c) a burnt mess on the bottom of your oven?
(d) some really ugly bread that has a weird texture and a slightly fizzy mouthfeel?

The correct answer, by the way, is probably (e) all of the above.

I completely misread the recipe, as you've probably already guessed. I am thinking of making it into Pumpkin Bread Pudding. Because at this point, I figure "what the hell". And as a card I have on my inspiration board next to my desk so aptly puts it, "Ever notice how 'What the hell' is always the right answer?" (The quote has been attributed to Marilyn Monroe.)

At least the pumpkin pie, which I made from the other half of the 29-oz. can of pumpkin, came out right.

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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Blowin' in the Wind by Bob Dylan, illus. by Jon J Muth

True story: I was born in the sixties, and my parents were . . . well, not exactly hippies, but let's say they weren't super far off. My dad opposed the war in Vietnam, as so many others did, and, um, may have mixed with radicals. As one does, I suppose, in uncertain times.

Anyhoo . . . it's no surprise that I knew all the lyrics to pretty much everything by Peter, Paul & Mary and, of course, "Blowin' in the Wind" by Bob Dylan, which got airplay, but also got plenty of play in sing-alongs involving campfires and/or candles, possibly incense, and men and women wearing kaftans. Look, if you were alive then, you know exactly what I'm talking about. If not, then picture something from Woodstock on a much smaller scale and you'll be close enough. I could sing along to "Blowin' in the Wind" since I knew all the words, even if I didn't really appreciate their meaning. I knew, however, that it was an anti-war song.

Flash forward to my teen years, when I learned to play guitar. One of the first songs I learned was "Blowin' in the Wind" - the chord changes were pretty easy, and hey, I already knew the tune and the words. The lyrics resonated differently then, since I could really take them in. There wasn't a major war raging at the time, but there had been talk during my senior year of the possibility of reinstituting the draft, and there was a lot of unpleasantness in the world; it was still the Cold War, and there were things afoot to do with Iran and Contras and the lyrics to the song pointed up the pointlessness of so much of it all. "How many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died?" Oh, the futility of it all.

Cut to the other day, when a copy of Blowin' in the Wind, a picture book forthcoming from Sterling Publishing in November of this year, arrived in my inbox. (Thank you, good folks of Sterling!) Sure, the words are the same as I've always known them to be, and I can listen to Dylan sing them on the CD that's lodged inside the front cover of the book - it's the original Bob Dylan recording, even. But this time, there's art that goes with it - and not just any art, but marvelous watercolors of Jon J. Muth, famous for Zen Shorts, The Three Questions, and his setting of Stone Soup.

The pictures provide a context and a narrative, as they ought to do in a good picture book. This one starts with one little boy holding a red ball, watching as a paper airplane flies by his window. It then moves to a pair of children with a red balloon, and eventually to a young girl with a guitar, each of whom have their own paper airplanes as well. After the end of the text comes "A Note from Artist Jon J Muth", in which he explains his own personal history with the song, and how he searched for a visual metaphor for young readers - an "answer" blowing in the wind. Says Muth:

The beauty of this song is that, while Dylan wrote it at a seminal moment, its sentiment is universal and timeless. just as each of the children in my illustrations has his or her own paper airplane, each of us knows what needs to be done in our worlds. The song speaks to a truth found in us all. When we approach life with an open and dedicated mind and heart, what do we experience? We learn that we are striving for the same things--love, honesty, justice. We find these are actions, not wishes or longings. Freedom and joy are not care-free. Escape from the burdens of life isn't freedom. Freedom is full of care for everything. That means we must be a part of what all people want for themselves and for humanity.

The doors of the heart will then be thrown open to wind from every direction. (Emphasis added.)
By the end of the book, all of the children we've seen end up playing together, thereby offering a hopeful counterpoint to the somewhat bleak lyrical ending of the book - that final question asking "how many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died?" In the foreground of that two-page spread is a pile of flags, draped over an obviously out-of-use cannon (there's a vine growing up it, and the red balloon has been tied to it), while the children play with the red ball a bit farther off. The final pages, when Dylan reminds us that "the answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind; the answer is blowin' in the wind" feature a fleet of paper airplanes being carried by the breeze, a lovely visual metaphor for what could happen if people worked in harmony.

At the very end of the book is an interesting addition - a note from Greil Marcus, a music historian, who explains what the world was like when Dylan wrote the song, and how the United States differed then from the way it is now (including, for example, the existence of segregation). Marcus continues by pointing out that the reason the song lives on (at least in his opinion) is because the questions it asks are Big Questions - "Why is the world the way it is? Why do we have war, cruelty, and hate? Will this ever change?" And because people who listen to the song can find themselves in there somewhere, or, as Marcus says "Yes. I am in that song. That song is about me, too." (Emphasis in original.)

I highly recommend this book for pretty much anyone and everyone, regardless of age, although that is based on my personal bias favoring the song and my massive appreciation for Muth's artwork. I must say, however, that it's a no-brainer as a potential gift for any Dylan fans you might know.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Making Strides Against Breast Cancer

I'm going to be walking (or possibly limping - same difference) 5k on October 23rd as part of my tai chi club's team in the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk run by the American Cancer Society.

See, I started taking tai chi class, and folks who take tai chi at my gym are automatically part of the tai chi club - it's kinda like Facebook, where someone just puts you in a group, only without all the annoying Facebook stuff that sometimes follows. Anyhoo, my friend Tess is the team leader for the club's team, "C Steps for a Cure". (A C-step is pretty much what it sounds like - your right foot makes a forward C, and your left a backwards one, as you swing your leg in and out while taking a step. Look, I don't know, okay?)

Only then Tess had to be in Florida for a month this summer as we were trying to get folks to join the team, and she's going to be back there for the month of October as well, so I became de facto team leader, which is why I make all the announcements and am in charge of the shirt orders and stuff.

Our team is, at present, on the small side - there are only 6 of us so far - and our donations are rather commensurate with that. I'm hoping that will change, of course - and I do have a few checks to enter online, so I've raised a bit more than my own $75 contribution. I'm hoping you guys will cheer me on - especially since this damned RA flare hasn't abated yet and I'm fixing to walk over 3 miles in about 3-1/2 weeks' time.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2011


I am very much looking forward to getting the mail tomorrow. My amazingly wonderful editor, Jamie Michalak at tiger tales books, has put her two advance copies of my picture book, At the Boardwalk, in the mail to me. Yes - two copies, one in hardcover and one in paperback, since my publisher is going to release the book in both formats when it releases next March.

This is months ahead of my author copies, which won't reach U.S. soil until at least January. I am very, very lucky to have such a sweetheart of an editor, who is willing to share what are essentially proofs/production copies with me so that I can see (and hug) my realio trulio book sooner, rather than later. *hugs Jamie*

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Monday, September 26, 2011

Hound Dog True by Linda Urban

Last Tuesday was the official release date of Hound Dog True by Linda Urban. It was not an especially noisy book release, but then again, it's not a terribly noisy sort of book. Fans of Linda's first middle-grade novel, A Crooked Kind of Perfect, will not be surprised by that. Come to think of it, fans of her picture book, Mouse Was Mad, won't be that surprised, either, since Mouse's display of anger is so very, very silent and still.

I must say up front that Linda is a friend of mine. And that I've been in love with this story for a very long time. As in, before it was officially a book, since I had the extreme good fortune to be one of the people who read it when it was still a manuscript. In fact, I still love parts of the book that aren't actually there anymore. So, you know, I'm not entirely unbiased.

However, I should add that part of why I love this book so much is that Linda nails how it feels to be a new kid at a new school - and as a kid who attended eight schools from kindergarten through high school (actually, it was eight between kindergarten and eighth grade), I know what I'm talking about here. My inner twelve-year old felt validated by reading the descriptions of how Mattie felt about getting ready to start at (another) new school.

So, even with my particular biases out in the open, I have to ask: What's not to love about a character-driven story that touches on important issues such as identity - who am I, and what is my place in this world? do I fit in? (I promise I'm not quoting lyrics from "Out Here on My Own" from Fame, though it sorta seems that way at the moment.) And family - how does family fit together? How do family members interact with one another? Is it possible to change established roles and act in a way that's different from an established pattern? And creativity: what is it? how does it manifest itself? and isn't it scary to put yourself and your work product out there where others can see it (and comment on it)? And, at its heart, it's about courage.

The kind of courage that's needed when you move to a new place. The kind of courage it takes to speak up for yourself when things aren't going the way you'd like. The kind of courage it takes just to show up or speak up when you're a shy person. The kind of courage it takes to make art, and to share it with the world. The kind of courage it takes, sometimes, to risk making a new friend.

All of these are things that kids face every day - even non-shy kids have trouble sometimes speaking up when they've got an issue with something going on at home. Or adjusting to a new house and/or school. Or dealing with new friends. Or sharing their music/art/writing/dance or whatever talent it is they have. The world can be a risky place, and this story about Mattie Mae Breen conveys that well, from the beginning of Chapter One, where Mattie notices the warnings on a ladder:

  The stick man has bolts of cartoon electricity shooting out of him. Attention! Avertissement! it says over his head. Atención! Achtung! Do not use ladder in electrical storms. May cause severe injury or death.

  Mattie is glad she is not in an electrical storm. She does not want little bolts of lightning to shoot out of her. Of course, she's just standing at the bottom of the ladder, holding it two-hand steady, eyes level with the warning labels pasted to its metal sides. It's Uncle Potluck up top, like the stick man, so probably Uncle Potluck would get the death. Mattie'd only get severe injury, she figures, and for a minute she thinks about what kind of injury that might be. Lightning could split a tree, she knew. Maybe it would split her. Take a leg off or something. Or maybe she'd singe all over, like a shirt ironed too hot. Either way, it is good they are inside, she tells herself.

  It is good that they are here, inside Mitchell P. Anderson Elementary School, inside Ms. Morgan's fifth grade classroom, inside the room that Uncle Potluck says will be hers once school starts.

  And she keeps it good by focusing on the stick man, not wandering her eyes to the rows of desks or the coat closet doors or the blackboard up front. She reminds herself there is a whole week before this new school starts and she doesn't have to think about any of that yet.

  She can just help Uncle Potluck fulfill his Janitorial Oath.

  She can steady the ladder.

  She can think about severe injury and death.
As you can see, despite the themes I've mentioned, there's a healthy dose of humor in the book - and not just here at the start, but throughout. I love how Mattie works to unbend and allow herself to at least consider the idea of making a new friend, and how she thinks up ways to avoid mixing with the student population at her new school, and how her relationship with her family (her mother and Uncle Potluck) plays out.

And oh, do I love the writing. And the voice. And if you or someone you know is a fan of middle-grade fiction, I am pretty sure they'll like this one, too.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Good news!

Poking my head up from my RA-induced haze to share a bit of good news with you.

My poem, "A Place to Share", is going to be published in Dare To Dream . . . Change the World (working title), a forthcoming anthology from publisher Kane Miller edited by Jill Corcoran. The anthology is going to contain a mix of biographical and inspirational poems. My poem is biographical, and related to the founders of YouTube. My friend Laura Purdie Salas wrote an inspirational poem on the same topic, and the pair of poems will be included in the anthology along with the work of 28 other poets - and just wait until you see the final line-up of people in this anthology. (List not yet public, I'm afraid, but trust me when I say that it's AWESOME, as is the potential illustrator!)

I am extremely excited and more than a little humbled to be included with so many rock stars from the world of children's poetry.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Guys Lit Wire news

As many of you know, I also post monthly over at Guys Lit Wire. In fact, I posted my review of Baseball Haiku over there the other day before putting it up here, too.

But today, I'm sending you over there to read Justin Colussy-Estes's awesome post What We Talk About When We Talk About Comics. Justin has drawn a comic as part of his ongoing book review. And dudes, it's awesome.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


It's almost playoff season, so today, I'm talking about baseball - specifically, I'm talking about a book that's a few years old now, Baseball Haiku: The Best Haiku Ever Written About the Game, edited by Cor van den Heuvel and Nanae Tamura.

This book of poetry is one that I found in the "sports" section of the book store when it came out, which gives you some idea exactly how sports-oriented it is. The book is intended for adults, but there’s no reason that baseball-lovers of all ages wouldn’t enjoy it (apart from a lack of pictures for the very young, that is).

The book contains a complete history of baseball haiku in both Japan and America, followed by sections of baseball haiku. Since we learn that the Japanese wrote baseball haiku first, I’m starting with them. Within the sections, the poets are listed chronologically by birth year, and are each given a full-page bio including both their poetic and baseball experiences. For the Japanese poems, the poems are presented in English, Japanese and transliterated Japanese (which allows us wacky Westerners who don't actually read or speak Japanese to try to pronounce the poems in their native tongue). I have to say, I thought that presenting the Japanese poems both (all three?) ways was pretty awesome.

The very first baseball haikus were written in 1890 by one of the four great haiku masters, Shiki. He’d learned baseball while at school, and was already writing haiku on other topics. Shiki wrote four baseball haiku in 1890, and wrote still more in later years. Here’s one from a later date:

the baseball rolled
through them

In the original Japanese, this followed the 5-7-5 syllable count typically associated with haiku, although the translation does not.

Same goes for this one by Mizuhara Shuoshi, from a set of poems called "Scenes at Jingu Baseball Stadium":

the player takes
his position in the outfield
a cricket’s cry

Here’s a bit of shocking news for you – the first known American baseball haiku was written by noted beat poet Jack Kerouac. The editors of the book explaint that one of Kerouac’s earliest baseball haikus was not printed, but was recited by Kerouac on an album called Blues and Haikus, with intermittent jazz riffs by Zoot Sims and Al Cohn:

Empty baseball field
— A robin,
Hops along the bench

As it turns out, Cor van den Heuvel not only edited the collection, but also has written quite a number of baseball haiku. Although his name is Dutch, Cor is a New England poet who originally hails from Maine. Here’s one that’s seasonally appropriate, but does not follow the 5-7-5 format:

autumn leaves
scatter across the infield
the pitcher blows on his fingers.

Baseball poems aren’t just the province of men. There are three American female poets included as well (but no Japanese women). Some of the sauciest entries in the book are by Brenda Gannam. I confess to liking all of hers, many of which adhere to the short-long-short format, but eschew the strictness of 5-7-5. Here’s one of Ms. Gannam’s poems:

the pitcher slyly adjusts
his equipment

Again, as it’s almost the end of the season – and the start of the playoffs draws nigh – here’s one last selection from the book, a haiku by Jim Kacian:

October revival
all hands lift
to the foul ball

After the selected haiku comes "Extra Innings", which provides the history of "American and Japanese Baseball," adds a "Baseball & Haiku Book List," and includes an "Index of Poets" as well.

Well, don’t just sit there on the bench – PLAY BALL!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Charlotte Jane Battles Bedtime by Myra Wolfe

An up-front disclaimer of sorts: Myra Wolfe is a close friend of mine. Close enough that I'd almost be willing to perjure myself and say really nice things about her book even if it was only so-so. Luckily for me, I don't have to whitewash a single word in this review of her forthcoming debut picture book, Charlotte Jane Battles Bedtime, illustrated by Maria Monescillo.

Shall I tell you why I love this book all for its own self? I believe so - and I feel a list coming on:

1. I was not a girly girl when I was young. Oh, I wore dresses on occasion. (Heck, I am of an age that when Easter rolled around, I wore a hat and little white gloves along with my Easter dress, roll-down lace-trimmed white socks and patent leather Mary Janes. Those of you who are scratching your heads asking "But aren't you Jewish?" aren't confused - I am. But I wasn't always. And boy have I digressed. Ahem . . . ) But I was more likely to be found up a tree than in a rocking chair, more likely to be making mud pies than having a tea party, and far more likely to be pretending to be a soldier, cowboy, or pirate than I was to be playing Barbie dolls or pretending to be a princess (unless, of course, I was a pirate princess or something similar).

2. As a result of #1, I have a soft spot for things like girls in drag (one of my favorite tropes, as long-time readers know) or girls in non-traditional roles. Like little girl pirates. Especially little girl pirates who have an eyepatch-wearing teddy bear named One-Eyed Tom.

3. I love excellent words and the use of wordplay. This is, again, no surprise to long-time readers and to those of you who know that I'm a poet. Check out the image and text from the first spread in the book:

Charlotte Jane the hearty came howling into the world with the sunrise.

"Arr. She's finer than a ship full of jewels," said her mother, smiling.

"Arr," agreed her father.

"Also," said her mother, "she's got oomph."

"Formidable oomph," said her father.
This book is ideal for every fan of pirates, for readers who (like me) appreciate girls in nontraditional roles, and for every family that's ever battled bedtime, this book is a must-have. And hey - it'll be available just in time for September 19th, which is (as we all know) "Talk Like a Pirate Day".

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