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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