Saturday, April 30, 2011

EMMA starts tomorrow!

A quick reminder before I head onto the porch here in Kent, CT:

Tomorrow we'll be starting Emma by Jane Austen. I'll be covering a chapter a day until the book's done, so we'll commence with Chapter One.

There will, of course, be other posts along the way, including book reviews, poetry and bits and bobs about life in general. I hope you'll join me on the Emma reads, though!

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On the porch

I spent much of the morning on the back porch, sitting in a small patch of sunlight with a Martin guitar on my lap and working out the start of a new song.

But Kelly, you say, aren't you on a writing retreat? Shouldn't you be, you know, working on your novel or something?

Well, yes, and yes. However, the new song is directly related to my work in progress, since the main character's love interest is in a band, and it's time for him to write a new song.

I refuse to do this by half measures, so I'm writing actual songs (complete with chords and melodies), and today's project is the third song attributed to the budding rock star in my novel.

And now, it's time to head back out to the porch, guitar in hand, and work out the rest of the verse. The roosters seem to think it's something to crow about, but the horses in the back pasture don't seem to think about it at all.

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Friday, April 29, 2011

Trip notes

What a fun trip it's been so far!

Traffic behaved, meaning we didn't get into a single traffic jam, not even around NYC.

While tooling up the Saw Mill Parkway at around 10:30, I got a phone call from , who invited Angela and I to stop for tea, since we were quite literally driving past her house on our way to Kent, so of course we stopped, and let me tell you: Terri-Lynne DeFino has a lovely home and knows how to make a damn good pot of tea. I'm still thrilled to have met Teri in person, since we've been blog friends for quite a while now!

After a coze with Teri, Angela and I drove up into Kent, where we met Amanda Marrone for lunch and some shopping. I scored some candy at Belgique to send to my mommy for Mother's Day (only a week away! - don't worry, she doesn't read my blog so it's not like I spoiled her surprise just now, as long as you don't call her up and rat me out), and Angela bought a few items at a store that specialized in stuff from various countries in Asia, and then it was time to check in at The Spirit Horse Farm. Julie Berry was already here, and gave us the tour of the premises, which are every bit as awesome as they seem from the information you can find on the web, only in a much muchier sort of way. The chickens are fancy (possibly Cochins), there are miniature Highland cows (their picture ought to be in the dictionary under the word "adorable"), an outdoor enclosure containing peacocks and a small indoor aviary with finches in it in the living space and live plants and flowers throughout and it's quite simply fabulous.

As is the company I'm keeping, I must say.

And now, back to my novel. I'm reading chapters 12 through where I left off in chapter 16 in hopes it'll help me sling myself forward. Wish me luck.

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Thursday, April 28, 2011

How did my calendar get so full?

Holy cow, folks. My calendar is looking chock full of fun between now and the end of May. And lucky girl that I am, I'm going to be seeing a bunch of you between now and then. Here's some of the fun stuff I've got planned:

1. A writing retreat in Connecticut this weekend with Angela De Groot (), Amanda Marrone, Ammi-Joan Paquette, Susan Colebank and Julie Berry. We're staying in a barn. There will be fresh bread and eggs. And a heated pool. And Martin guitars. It should be good!

2. A trip to the Free Library in Philadelphia on Monday with intrepid friend Lisa to see/hear director, screenwriter & author John Sayles.

3. The Airborne Toxic Event in concert at the Trocadero in Philly on May 7th.

4. My now-annual writing retreat in New Hampshire with Angela De Groot and Jenn Hubbard () from May 8th to May 13th. I am extraordinarily lucky that my aunt and uncle are kind enough to allow us the use of their townhouse in Waterville Valley, which is a lovely, nurturing space. (Better yet, my aunt and uncle don't just allow us the use - they practically force it on us!)

5. The NESCBWI Conference in Fitchburg, Massachusetts from May 13th-15th. I'm not on faculty this year, so perhaps I'll have time to visit the waterpark. (Kidding about the waterpark. I mean, it exists, but I won't be visiting it.)

6. I am featured reader at a poetry reading in Marlton, New Jersey on May 16th at the Barnes & Noble located on Route 70 (near the intersection of Routes 70 and 73). YOU ARE ALL INVITED! I'll be test-driving some new stuff and reading for about half an hour. There will be an open afterwards, if any of you have poems of your own to share.

7. BEA in NYC! My wonderful publisher, Tiger Tales Books, provided me with a pass, so I'll be attending BEA for the first time ever - I'm still working out the timing/details. It seems that Tuesday and/or Wednesday is most likely for my trip. Not sure that I'll stay over, but then again, I might. *ponders*

Oh - and somewhere in there, I get to reveal the cover of my first-ever picture book, At the Boardwalk, due out from Tiger Tales next March! *spins with arms out and head tilted back* *falls down flat* *gets up and finishes post*

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Sunday, April 10, 2011

The 50 Books Every Child Should Read

According to U.K. Education Secretary Michael Gove, children should be reading 50 books a year in order to improve literacy standards. The Independent came up with a list of 50 books every child should read (suitable for Year 7 students, which is (I believe) equivalent to sixth grade in the U.S., and I figured I'd see how I fared. Of the 50 books on their list, I'd read a grand total of TWO by the end of sixth grade/Year 7: Little Women and Treasure Island.

The ones I've read, and when I read them:

1. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll. I've read both of them, although I never read them in their entirety until I was an adult.

2. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. I've read this many times. Always as an adult.

3. The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde. I read this for the first time when I was a teen.

4. Treasure Island by R.L. Stevenson. I read an abridged version as a child. Does that count? I'm going with yes.

5. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. I read this one as a sophomore. In college.

6. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. I read this a couple of years ago.

7. The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R Tolkien. Now we're talking. I first read these when I was 11 or 12, and by the time I went off to college, I'd read The Hobbit 2-3 times and LOTR at least a dozen times. In the ensuing mumblemumble years, I've read The Hobbit once more, and LOTR at least another eight times.

8. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Loved this as a kid. Still love it as an adult. Have read it at least half a dozen times, mostly when a child and teen.

9. Animal Farm by George Orwell. Read it as a teen.

. . . aaaaaand that's it for me. Although I do own a copy of the marvelous animation of The Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giono, which I've watched many times and adore. (I also own a copy of Disney's Pinocchio, but I'm not certain it's the same story as the original, so I . . . won't count it.)

Interesting to see what made The Independent's list and what didn't. How did you fare?

After you figure it out, check out Flavorwire's "What Your Favorite Kid's Book Then Says About You Now", which contains some of the books on The Independent's list. My faves were Lord of the Rings and Little Women. Says Flavorwire about Alcott's book: "Family may be the most important thing to you, but that wouldn’t stop you from stealing your sister’s ex-boyfriend." LOL!

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Ever notice . . .

. . . how sometimes it can take longer to write 350 words than it does to write 1,000?

Yeah. It was one of those kinds of days. Still, I'm at nearly 42,000 words with only eight chapters to go. Here's hoping the next scene arrives at a better pace.

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Saturday, April 09, 2011

The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan

As John Keats wrote in the opening lines of his lengthy narrative poem, Endymion,

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing
A flowery band to bind us to the earth,
Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth
Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,
Of all the unhealthy and o'er-darken'd ways
Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,
Some shape of beauty moves away the pall
From our dark spirits...
And so it is with The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan: the book is a joy to read, a thing of almost breathtaking loveliness that increases with reading more, or reading it again - a thing that "moves away the pall from our dark spirits", even as it sometimes dwells on despondence. It began as a Valentine's story for his friends - David has written one every year since his junior year in high school, and many of them can be found in his collection, How They Met and Other Stories (which I adore - the one about the Starbucks guy (called, appropriately enough, "Starbucks Boy") is a particular favorite) - and ended as this lovely, somewhat experimental novel. A thing of beauty indeed.

I bought this book the week it came out, and read it, but then didn't review it right away. I was too amazed and blissed out and completely incoherent to be able to write about it. Last month, David Levithan did a reading from The Lover's Dictionary at the Free Library in Philadelphia, and I grabbed my intrepid friend Lisa (who was keen on seeing the other reader that evening, Wesley Stace (sometimes known as recording artist John Wesley Harding)), and we drove into the city to be completely impressed. The evening felt like a present, like a complete gift, because both men are marvelous readers as well as writers, and both delivered wonderful, thoughtful, thought-provoking readings - the kind that get a lot of those resonant mmmmmms from the crowd as a particularly well-crafted phrase or thought goes by, that indescribable sound that readers like to hear as much or more as laughter, when they've read a funny bit. But I digress.

I re-read the book last night, and still I lack words to praise it properly. Hence the Keats, I suppose - what better than the words of one of the finest poets ever to walk the face of the earth to pay tribute to a thing of beauty such as The Lover's Dictionary?

If you haven't read it, you should know that it is, and is not, a dictionary. It is the story of a relationship between a young couple, told in nonlinear form using a series of entries, each of which is based on a word from the dictionary. It is, naturally, organized alphabetically, beginning with "aberrant, adj." and ending with "zenith, n." David said that he got the words from a book he'd received as a graduation present somewhere along the the way - a "great words everyone should know" sort of collection. To give you an idea how the book is organized, here are four entries. None of them is next to the other in the book, by the way. There's at least one entry for each of the twenty-six letters of the alphabet, but many, many more than that for quite a few letters. The letter A alone has twenty entries ("anthem, n." completely cracked me up, then blew me away, but it's not in this post). The first entry below is, however, the very first entry in the book:

aberrant, adj.

"I don't normally do this kind of thing," you said.
  "Neither do I," I assured you.
  Later it turned out we had both met people online before,
and we had both slept with people on first dates before, and
we had both found ourselves falling too fast before. But we com-
forted ourselves with what we really meant to say, which was:
"I don't normally feel this good about what I'm doing."
  Measure the hope of that moment, that feeling.
  Everything else will be measured against it.
Mmmmm said the audience, after David read this one aloud. Here are three more. Within the book, each entry starts at the top of its own page.

antsy, adj.

I swore I would never take you to the opera again.
continguous, adj.

I felt silly for even mentioning it, but once I did, I knew I
had to explain.
  "When I was a kid," I said, "I had this puzzle with all fifty
states on it -- you know, the kind where you have to fit them
all together. And one day I got it in my head that California
and Nevada were in love. I told my mom, and she had no idea
what I was talking about. I ran and got those two pieces and
showed it to her -- California and Nevada, completely in
love. So a lot of the time when we're like this" -- my ankles
against the backs of your ankles, my knees fitting into the
backs of your knees, my thighs on the backs of your legs, my
stomach against your back, my chin folding into your neck --
"I can't help but think about California and Nevada, and how
we're a lot like them. If someone were drawing us from above
as a map, that's what we'd look like; that's how we are."
  For a moment, you were quiet. And then you nestled in
and whispered,
  And I knew you understood.
hubris, n.

Every time I call you mine, I feel like I'm forcing it, as if say-
ing it can make it so. As if I'm reminding you, and reminding
the universe: mine. As if that one word from me could have
that kind of power.
I quite literally cannot speak highly enough about this book, even with the assistance of some of the great words contained within it.

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Friday, April 08, 2011

Roots and Blues by Arnold Adoff, illus. R. Gregory Christie

I am of the opinion that Roots and Blues: A Celebration by Arnold Adoff, with paintings by R. Gregory Christie, quite possibly deserves to win all the things. There. I said it. I'll be looking for this book on shortlists and award lists, and so should you be. Better still, look for this book.

Adoff's poetic style is somewhat idiosyncratic, relying on something he calls "shaped speech", which involves rather unusual text placement in many instances. Words that are meant to be read with more emphasis or duration are quite literally stretched out on the page. Gaps indicate a pause, sometimes replacing commas, sometimes dictating how you might emphasize the word before the gap in reading the poem aloud. As Adoff said in the past:

"It doesn't matter if my work has upper or lower case, or capitalization, or punctuation, or not. The structure is the shape. It's shaped form poetry. When I have done my job right, the shape and structure can
imply the subject. Sometimes it can give the feel of a first baseman or a catcher or some of the other subjects. If I have done my work right, the block of type and the double stanza breaks and the space between the words are like invisible rubber bands that hold the poem together and pull your eye along."
You can read a bit more about Adoff and his approach to poetry in this NCTE profile piece.

Roots and Blues traces the history of blues music, beginning with African songs, traveling on slave ships and through plantations and chain gangs and sharecroppers. Spirituals and lullabyes and church music and jazz. The book meanders chronologically, wandering the paths in the South that the music wound through, through fields and houses and the Mississippi River and more. Most of the poems have titles; many of those titles are complete sentences, or the start of the poem that follows. Sometimes reading just the titles in sequence tells a story (as in the poems on pages 16-18, entitled "The Giant Ice Mountains Slide South" "Down In the Delta   As Sure as River Rises" "Engineers of Memory Kept Plans During Generations.") Interspersed are a bunch of poems written all in italics, each one labelled "Listen"; those poems describe the sounds of the place and time Adoff has been (or is now) talking about. There are a lot of "Listen" entries interspersed, and they make complete sense in context, even though I fear I'm not doing them justice here.

Some of the poems are breathtaking, heartbreaking things. For example, this one, which employs a double meaning for the word sing that is chilling:

From   Africa   And   Caribbean   Shores

to those t i m e s   of   d i r t floors
and the blood  of mothers: moving
from c o t t o n fields a n d flooded
rice  acres   we arrive  at  the time
of   morning  greetings  of  b i r d s.

The g r i o t cackles   as  the  story
ends  and  the   p l a n t a t i o n
w h i p s   crack  high   into   treble
lines  of  lines  of  lines:
                      s i n g i n g.

Or this one:

Swamps And Smells   Old River Floods  Just Mud.

Prisons and chain gangs and cotton fields and
dogs howling on moonless nights and guards

And guys, I gotta tell you - the fact that I was willing to spend nearly two hours coding those two poems to get them even close to the right format for you should tell you how very much I admire them and really wanted to share them with you.

The later poems describe and evoke the music and instruments of the blues. "Blues Harp Called Mouth Organ Called Blues Harp" is all about the harmonica (of course), and describes how it feels to play it as well as what it is. There are poems about famous blues artists - Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Johnny Lee Hooker, Big Joe Turner, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan and more - and poems that evoke the music itself (such as "Singing" and "You Know You Never Miss the Water").

The book is a tour-de-force tour of the history of the blues, and one that belongs in every middle school library or collection of poetry, African American history, or music history books. I borrowed the copy I reviewed from my public library, but will be purchasing one for my very ownsome. Before it starts to win ALL THE THINGS.

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Thursday, April 07, 2011

The Corset Diaries by Kate MacAlister

I think I may have pulled a muscle. In my throat. See, I was reading the book late at night, and something got particularly funny - so funny that under usual circumstances I would have been howling with laughter, only it was after midnight, and people were sleeping, so I settled for clutching my abdomen and wheezing in a rather animated manner.

Such is the magic of Katie MacAlister's romance novel, The Corset Diaries, which had me from the time I read the cover. The front of the cover, which says "He was so handsome she could barely breathe. Or maybe it was just the corset ...." That the back provided an excellent premise was a bonus. Turns out that our heroine has been roped into flying to England to spend one month pretending to be a duchess during the Victorian era for a reality television show, filling in at the last minute for a woman named Cynthia who backed out of the role for reasons we don't learn until roughly 3/4 of the way through the book. Our heroine is a tall, plump 39-year old widow who gets paired with a taller, completely hot 34-year old divorced Englishman. I'd say that sparks immediately fly, but in fact, it is chunks that immediately fly when Tessa throws up on Max's shoes as they are introduced. And all I can say about her second meeting with Max is that she is very lucky there weren't any sparks in the vicinity, since she'd had beans on toast for breakfast, then been laced into a very tight corset, then bent over to pet the dog. If you think I'm implying that she, um, dealt it, then you are correct. (Fortunately, I read that scene the other night and at an early enough time that stealth laughter was not required. I guffawed for at least a full minute and had to wipe tears from my face afterward.)

The humor in this book was a complete gift, and I'm extremely glad I found and read it. I have a few quibbles with it, mind - there are at least two passages where Max and/or Tessa engages in rather detailed discussion of what they'd like to do (or have done) sexually that I found strained my credulity (really, I don't think that people go on like that under the particular circumstances in which they engage), and I'm still not entirely certain why the characters fell in love, really (Tessa believes in love at first sight, and Max seems put out at having fallen for her - perhaps it's her charming American ways?), but if one is in the mood for a light, humorous romance, this is your book.

I will be looking for other books by Katie MacAllister, who appears to specialize in contemporary romances that combine various role-playing sorts of scenarios. (E.g., Hard Day's Knight takes place at a Renaissance Faire, and Men in Kilts at a mystery conference.) I am looking forward to reading more of her stuff. You know, as soon as my throat muscles feel up to it.

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Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Know what's cool?

Besides bands that make excellent music, that is? It's bands that go above and beyond to express themselves through their music and to connect with their audience.

I'm a huge fan of The Airborne Toxic Event (concert tix for May 4th, yo!), and their new album All at Once comes out later this month (already preordered, of course). I've heard some of the songs in concert and from their live album, All I Ever Wanted, but in advance of the album release, they've been releasing a single-take acoustic performance video at the rate of one/week. They call it their "Bombastic" video series, and you can see all of them on YouTube.

The one released today, for the first single off the album, "Changing", includes not only the band, but also the Striker All-Stars, a group of (amazingly hott) dancers who combine dance with stomping. The SAS is also in the official video for "Changing". And the band's second official video, for "Numb", debuted last week.

But the Bombastic video I've watched most, just for the song and the performance, has to be "All for a Woman". (For those of you who are already fans, that's bassist Noah on guitar, and Stephen on the upright bass):

I'm sure I'll love the album version, too, but damn, do I love this version and wish it were available for audio download. (Y'know - legally.)

*Edited to add: The "deluxe version" of The Airborne Toxic Event pre-order at iTunes comes with all the Bombastic videos plus some unreleased tracks and both official videos shot to date. So now I've preordered the album there as well, for all that bonus content. Those of you who haven't preordered but might be interested will probably be happy to learn from my mistake.*

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Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal

The thing about Twitter is that it's possible to eavesdrop on other people's exchanges. And so it was that I saw Barry Goldblatt recommend this title to Jenn Laughran when she was in a Regency sort of mood, and I made note of it and scored a copy for myself shortly thereafter. It is (as I believe Barry may have described it) an Austen novel with glamours.

Kowal obviously has read her Austen, and the book pays tribute to several of her stories. Our heroine, Jane Ellsworth, (besides being named Jane) is 28 - one year older than Anne Elliot in Persuasion, with the same good nature, usefulness and (hidden) romantic nature as Miss Elliot. Jane has a younger sister named Melody who is reminiscent of Marianne Dashwood (especially in being somewhat melodramatic and self-absorbed), but rather more mean-spirited than Miss Marianne.

There's a neighbor girl named Beth Dunkirk, who proves to be a bit like Marianne Dashwood mixed with Jane Fairfax, and her brother, Mr. Edmund Dunkirk, who appears at first blush to be the sensible sort of neighbor that an Austen heroine might wed - an Edmund Bertram, perhaps, or Mr. Knightley (Jane Austen's two favorite of her own heroes). He is admired by both of the Misses Ellsworth, although Melody later sets her cap at the dashing Captain Henry Livingston, as do any number of other young ladies in the neighborhood.

Jane Ellsworth may be plain (or, depending on whom you ask, positively homely), but she is extraordinarily talented in her ability to manipulate glamour. Jane is too scrupulous to use her skills to improve her own appearance, knowing that at some point, people would see her without the glamour, and preferring them to know her true appearance. She can, however, manipulate glamour better than almost anyone in the neighborhood. That is, until Lady FitzCameron hires a professional glamourist to create a glamural in her dining room.

Mr. Vincent is as off-putting in his way as Mr. Darcy is in Pride and Prejudice, although rather than refusing to dance with Jane Ellsworth or declaring her "not handsome enough to tempt me", he seems insulted by and/or angry at her ability with glamour. I immediately starting shipping the pair of them, hoping that Jane's hopes for a match with Mr. Dunkirk would come to naught. I shan't tell you if I was right or wrong, but I shall say that I grinned my fool head off throughout this book and am looking forward to a second reading.

For Janeites, it includes sly pseudo-references to Austen's novels (at least, I assume they were intentional nods to the novels), such as this bit about Mr. Ellsworth, found on the very first page of the novel:

The Ellsworths of Long Parkmead had the regard of their neighbours in every respect. The Honourable Charles Ellsworth, though a second son, through the generosity of his father had been entrusted with an estate in the neighbourhood of Dorchester. it was well appointed and used only enough glamour to enhance its natural grace, without overlaying so much illusion as to be tasteless. His only regret, for the estate was a fine one, was that it was entailed, and as he had only two daughters, his elder brother's son stood next in line to inherit it. Knowing that, he took pains to set aside some of his income each annum for the provision of his daughters.
Compare this with the deceased Mr Dashwood, whose estate was entailed to his son (from his first marriage), leaving his wife and children without a home, or with Mr Bennet, who not only had an entailed estate, but also often wished that he'd set aside an annual sum for the provision of his wife and children, or with Sir Walter Elliot, who had to lease out his estate in order to "retrench", having overspent his own income. There are other similar instances, where something in Shades of Milk and Honey echoes or reverses something from an Austen novel. For instance, there's a scene where Mr. Dunkirk and Captain Livingston seek to outdo one another by discussing their horses and pointers - in an Austen novel, such conversation would mark the both of them as somewhat foolish characters, for it's only the foolish gentlemen (such as Sir John Middleton from Sense and Sensibility or Charles Musgrove from Persuasion) who fixate on "sport". And Mrs. Ellsworth, like Mrs. Bennet from Pride and Prejudice or Mary Musgrove from Persuasion is completely hypochondriacal, often engaging in something approaching competition with her neighbor, Mrs. Marchand, over which of them has the worse ailment or case of nerves.

Oh, the romance! The manners! The Regency details - plus magic! And the romance of the gift of a journal! And (call me crazy - I'm sure I would) the echo of Little Women in the description of Mr. Vincent - and, in some ways, in his interactions with Miss Ellsworth. I am all aflutter. And absolutely, blissfully happy that I happened to be on Twitter when this book was mentioned.

I bought the hardcover, which I had to order online as it was no longer in local stores; there's a paperback edition due out in June.

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Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Bat by Lewis Carroll

img src="" align="right" hspace="5">In Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, the Mad Hatter recites this short (but funny) parody poem.

Twinkle, twinkle, little bat!
How I wonder what you're at!
Up above the world you fly,
Like a tea tray in the sky.
Twinkle, twinkle—

The Mad Hatter didn't get to complete his recitation, but I'm pretty sure we all know how it would've ended.

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Monday, April 04, 2011

Poetry Basics by Valerie Bodden

The good people at Creative Education were kind enough to send me copies of the four titles in Valerie Bodden's series of Poetry Basics. Alphabetically, they are Concrete Poetry, Haiku, Limericks, and Nursery Rhymes.

In each of the books in the series, Bodden not only provides historical context for the particular form or type of poetry discussed, but also provides and explanation as to what the form is, and how to write it, along with a glossary, a bibliography and a list of books for further reading. I highly esteem all four volumes in this series, and I have to say quite honestly that I wish I'd written these myself. They are just the sort of thing I'd love to do, and Bodden organizes and presents the material brilliantly.

Concrete Poetry was nominated for a 2009 CYBILS Award, which is how this series came to my attention in the first instance. As Bodden says on the first page of text, the goal of concrete poetry "is to have the shape or appearance of a poem reflect what the words express." Bodden provides historical as well as contemporary examples of concrete poetry, which have been variously called "pattern poetry" and calligrammes, among other things. The point Bodden makes is that "While most traditional poems are meant to be read, concrete poems are meant to be seen." The book is quite simply a brilliant explication of what concrete poetry is, and where the form might be headed (including mention of animation).

Bodden establishes early on that "[t]he goal of the Japanese form of poetry called haiku is to help readers feel the emotion of a poem by presenting them with a brief image." Following an explanation of the history of the form - and how it made its way into Western literature - Bodden explains the technical requirements of the form quite nicely. She's quick to note that 5-7-5 is not necessarily a requirement of English-language haiku, since English syllables are not the same thing as Japanese onji (sound syllables, each of which takes roughly the same amount of time to say, while English syllable lengths vary). She explains the need for and use of a break (usually at the end of the first or second line) and a kigo, or word indicating what season the poem is set in, then takes up senryu, a non-nature poem using the same format as haiku.

Without so much as a passing mention about the man from Nantucket or the young lady from Lynn, Bodden explains the history of the limerick (a form that predated its actual name). The form predates Edward Lear's A Book of Nonsense, published in 1846, but it's Lear's work that helped cement the form as one popular with children. The rhyme scheme and rhythm of the form are explained, as are poetic terms such as alliteration. The book extends to other forms of nonsense poems and to poems using nonsense words (such as Lewis Carroll's portmanteau words), including a brief discussion and sample of Carroll's "Jabberwocky".

Bodden traces the history of the nursery rhyme back 2,000 years, while noting that some of the ones still known today date back prior to the 1600s. "And at least half of all nursery rhymes are probably more than 200 years old." The oral tradition of nursery rhymes is noted, as well as a mention of the sources for various rhymes, which are drawn from divergent sources including songs for adults, street vendor cries and religious traditions. Often violent in nature and/or containing nonsense, the variety of nursery rhymes is discussed, as are the variety of rhyme schemes and musical nature of these poems. The purpose of nursery rhymes is examined as well, including entertainment, teaching, and parody. Although not as in-depth, it is as interesting and informative in its way (and for its intended readership) as Heavy Words, Lightly Thrown: The Reason Behind the Rhyme by Chris Roberts, which I find terribly well-done and clever indeed.

I recommend the first three books in particular for library collections and classrooms for the elementary and middle-school age group, as a means of teaching the origin, history and forms contained in the books. Nursery Rhymes, while absolutely fascinating from a historical perspective, is recommended as well for those interested in history and origins of the poems, but not so much for use in a writing program.

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Sunday, April 03, 2011


Today's quotes are brought to you by the letter K. (Yes, I'm channeling my inner Sesame Street.) There are three selections, and each of them comes from a fairly lengthy blog post somewhere on the web. They are, however, worth the time, so I hope you can sit back with a cup of tea, coffee, or other beverage of choice and read one or more of them.

From 50 Things You Need to Give Up Today from Marc and Angel Hack Life:

1. Give up trying to be perfect. – The real world doesn’t reward perfectionists, it rewards people who get things done. Read Getting Things Done [by David Allen].
2. Give up comparing yourself to others. – The only person you are competing against is yourself.
3. Give up dwelling on the past or worrying too much about the future. – Right now is the only moment guaranteed to you. Right now is life. Don’t miss it.
4. Give up complaining. – Do something about it.
5. Give up holding grudges. – Grudges are a waste of perfect happiness.

From time to time, I stumble across something about how the people at Pixar work, and I pretty much always find something inspirational there. This week, I found an article entitled Pixar's Motto: Going From Suck to Nonsuck by Peter Sims, and, well, found a bit of advice that I think helps those of us in the creative trenches:

"My strategy has always been: be wrong as fast as we can," says Andrew Stanton, Director of Finding Nemo and WALL-E, "Which basically means, we're gonna screw up, let's just admit that. Let's not be afraid of that." We can all work this way more often.

What we see is not effortless genius. Through tireless iteration, toil, and (often) sleepless nights, the films start to come together.

Finally, from How to Steal Like an Artist (And 9 Other Things Nobody Told Me) by Austin Kleon, which I highly recommend (with thanks to Jules at 7-Imp for drawing it to my attention).

If I waited to know “who I was” or “what I was about” before I started “being creative”, well, I’d still be sitting around trying to figure myself out instead of making things. In my experience, it’s in the act of making things that we figure out who we are.

You’re ready. Start making stuff.

You might be scared. That’s natural.

There’s this very real thing that runs rampant in educated people. It’s called imposter syndrome. The clinical definition is a “psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments.” It means that you feel like a phony, like you’re just winging it, that you really don’t have any idea what you’re doing.

Guess what?

None of us do. I had no idea what I was doing when I started blacking out newspaper columns. All I knew was that it felt good. It didn’t feel like work. It felt like play.

Ask any real artist, and they’ll tell you the truth: they don’t know where the good stuff comes from. They just show up to do their thing. Every day.
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Saturday, April 02, 2011

Open letters

Dear Steve from Blues Clues,

Every time the mail arrives, I sing "Here's the mail". And once started, I CANNOT BE STOPPED, but must sing it through to it's conclusion. With jazz hands. I just thought you should know.

Dear Disney Studios,

Thank you so very much for the movie Tangled, which I bought on DVD earlier this week. Loved it in theatres. Still love it at home. In fact, I believe I'll watch it again later today. One of my fave Disney movies EVER, which was not my expectation going in, but there you have it.
Kelly R. Fineman

Dear Friends and Family,

Thanks for all the birthday wishes yesterday. It makes acknowledgment of aging almost pleasant!

Dear Universe:

I've leapt. I'm counting on that net to appear.
With all due respect,

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Friday, April 01, 2011

Notes from my poetry reading

In list form, made in no particular order:

1. I'm glad I got there on the early side, since it ended up being SRO.

2. Assam tea - yum!

3. Two teen boys were intently playing computer games on their laptops when I arrived. They were still playing when I left. In between, they almost never paused or looked up. Until someone read a poem about breasts. Turns out that might be the real Final Fantasy.

4. I really liked the second poem I read. It is not the one that made it in the journal. Funny how that goes.

5. I got to hear some pretty terrific poems tonight. That happens every time I attend a reading. This country is thick with talented writers, whether they're widely published or not.

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National Poetry Month

This year, I think I'm going to undertake a somewhat more private celebration of National Poetry Month. I am undertaking to write a poem a day, using Robert Lee Brewer's prompts over at Poetic Asides. This doesn't mean I won't be posting about poetry here, too, of course, but not in any massive push sort of way.

Still, since it is both the start of National Poetry Month and my birthday, I thought I'd point you to three original poems of mine that can be found over at Chantarelle's Notebook, where I'm still the current featured poet. The poems are "Shelling Peas", "Lessons I Wish I Could Share With My Teenage Daughter" and "Us".

The first poem, "Shelling Peas," is written in 7 parts, each one a separate reflection/image/observation that occurred to me as I shelled peas a few years back. The second ("Lessons") is a form of Italianate sonnet, written in iambic pentameter and rhymed ABBAABBACDCDCD, and is exactly what the title proclaims it to be.

The third ("Us") comes from one of my weekly writing exercises - this particular one was chosen by Angela De Groot from Bonnie Neubauer's wonderful writing inspiration book, The Write-Brain Workbook: 366 Exercises to Liberate Your Writing - you had to list two magazine titles, two book names and two song titles, then incorporate them in your writing. (The book anticipates that you will write short stories - I usually write poems instead.) And yes, "Us" was one of my magazine titles. That leaves one more magazine title, two book titles, and two song titles to find. (The song titles are conveniently labelled as such - one song and one book title are hiding, however.) The poem is not autobiographical per se, in that none of it ever actually happened, yet it is absolute truth. Funny how that happens, yes?

Tonight, I'll be reading two original poems at the Up and Under launch at the Daily Grind in Mount Holly, NJ - "San Francisco, Any Night", which is in the journal, and "Attention to Detail", which is a newer, unpublished piece that needs an airing. (It's amazing how reading a poem in public can help you find the parts that need to be reworked, regardless of how many times you've read it when you're alone.)

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