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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