Wednesday, February 27, 2013

My recent rabbithole

Let's see . . . there's the continuing health stuff, which is tedious to discuss, so I won't.

On Friday, there was the "standing out in the cold for hours waiting for Stephenie Meyer to sign books" event, which was tiring, really, especially in light of the health stuff, followed by lunch with Maggie. And I baked hamentaschen, which are triangular filled cookies, since Purim (holiday celebrating the story of Esther) started on Saturday evening, and hamentaschen go with Purim. And then I spent hours being desperately ill, probably from a bad clam in the chowder I'd had at lunch after the Meyer thing. I was very fortunate that my wonderful boyfriend was here to half carry me and tuck me into bed.

On Saturday, I spent the day with my sweetheart and various of his relatives. For lunch, we were with his cousins, who are wonderful. For dinner, with the grandkids, whom I adore. I was, however, out of the box for the entire day, and still recovering from the blergh of the night before, and then too tired to do anything else once I got home Saturday night, after leaving my beloved and the kids to have their sleepover at his house.

On Sunday, there were errands with my sweetheart and, I believe, a nap. And then I sent my honey home, made a bangin' mac & cheese, and Maggie and I watched the Academy Awards coverage until the broadcast ended. (She really wanted it to be just us girls, I think, and he really didn't care to watch anyhow.)

Monday involved more health stuff and, frankly, I don't recall what else, although I did make dinner. Tuesday I managed to finish my income taxes and S's income taxes and file them, then complete her FAFSA, so I am now all done with financial-ish stuff for a while. To celebrate, I sent poetry submissions to three different journals.

Which brings us to today, and my earlier Emma post. (I also voted for AT THE BOARDWALK in my SCBWI region's Crystal Kite awards thing, since tomorrow is the end of voting, and I figured, "why not?") I hope to stay on track with Emma catch-up posts so that we can get moving forward again soon. But I have figured out that even if I don't manage to post every day, it's not a reason to stop entirely, so that is good. Right? Right.


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Catching up to where we left off, part three



So I fell down a rabbit hole, as sometimes happens, but I am back today with the third "bringing us up to speed on Emma" post. Later today, I hope to tell you a bit about my time in Wonderland, but in the meantime . . .

I have been remiss in not mentioning the entire cast of players, so here goes:

Emma Woodhouse: "Clever, handsome, and rich". She is the wealthiest of Austen's heroines by far, and has declared to her friend Harriet that she need not ever marry, because she's set for life - she's got money and a father who lets her do as she likes.

Mr. Woodhouse: The aforementioned father, who tends to be a bit of a hypochondriac and a worrier. He would be very happy for Emma to stay home and never marry. He's still upset that his older daughter, Isabella, got married (to John Knightley) and moved to London, and he's more recently upset that Emma's governess/companion has gotten married to a man in the neighborhood. He doesn't adapt well to change, you see.

Mr. (George) Knightley: Almost as in an allegory is he named. George after the King, showing him to be a Tory and a true Englishman, and Knightley as in a knight. Mr. Knightley's first name is barely used, and he is nearly always "Mr. Knightley". He is all that is good and proper about a country-dwelling gentleman - bound by duty and honor, generous to those around him, intelligent, honest, diligent, and . . . well, you get the drift. If he weren't so well-rounded and well-grounded, he might be insufferable, but he's like Mary Poppins: practically perfect in every way.

Mr. John Knightley: The younger brother of Mr. Knightley, who married Emma's older sister. Mr. John Knightley is a barrister, and works in London, where he makes a nice life for his wife and children.

Isabella (Woodhouse) Knightley: Emma's older sister, who spends most of her time managing her children and fussing about their health (and her own); she takes after her father in that respect.

Harriet Smith: A boarder and former student at Mrs. Goddard's School for Young Ladies, she is the illegitimate child of an unidentified person who sent her to be raised by Mrs. Goddard. She is a pretty girl in need of a bit of culture and education, whom Emma takes on as a protegée.

Mr. Robert Martin: A farmer, who would like to marry Harriet despite her being a bit impractical as a choice. He is one of Mr. Knightley's tenants.

Mrs. Weston: Formerly Miss Taylor, Emma's governess and then companion. She does a decent job steering Emma in the right direction, although like everyone in Emma's life except for Mr. Knightley, she tends to be too indulgent with her.

Mr. Weston: A big-hearted man who has made a fortune in trade, and bought himself a nice house in Highbury. He has a son from his first marriage, which ended when his wife died not too long after the child was born. His son was raised by his in-laws, Mr. & Mrs. Churchill, and has taken their surname in order to inherit from them.

Frank Churchill: He is as noisy in his absence as in his presence - always supposed to come for a visit, and seldom carrying through. Often the reason given is that he is required to be elsewhere by his adoptive mother, Mrs. Churchill, who claims illness more often than Mr. Woodhouse and Isabella combined. Frank is flirtatious and somewhat frivolous and more of a town dandy than a country gentleman. (Austen's bias comes through clearly here.) The Westons would like nothing more than for him to marry Emma.

Mr. Elton: The local clergyman, Mr. Elton is a gentleman with a decent income. He aspires to a much better one, however, by marrying a wealthy girl. He is described as being a good-looking young man, and he tends to be a bit obsequious to his betters.

Mrs. Elton: We haven't yet met her in my recaps, but she's a piece of work. She is likely nouveau riche, and she is ostentatious, opinionated, and loud.

Miss Bates: A local spinster gentlewoman, she's the daughter of a deceased clergyman. She lives with her mother, Mrs. Bates, who is nearly deaf. In the absence of any family fortune or any real pension, they have fallen on hard times. Mr. Woodhouse and Mr. Knightley ensure they are invited places and send them gifts of food, etc., now and again.

Jane Fairfax: The niece of Miss Bates, who was orphaned at a young age. She was taken on as a companion to a girl about her own age who has just married. Jane is poor, but otherwise an impeccable gentlewoman, often held up to Emma as an example by Mr. Knightley and Mrs. Weston. Jane is facing the unwelcome prospect of becoming a governess to earn her own keep.

That's enough to be going on with for now. Tomorrow, more of a plot catch-up.


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Saturday, February 23, 2013

So, that happened

Yesterday, Miss Maggie and I stood outside the Free Library of Philadelphia in the cold and wind for just over two hours so that M could get her copy of THE HOST signed by Stephenie Meyer. (I picked up a copy for S, and for my pseudo-granddaughter, A, who is going to go OFF HER NUT when she gets it for her birthday in April.) M also got to meet Max Irons (son of Jeremy Irons and in Red Riding Hood - SOOO cute and nice and funny - he was singing "Baby" by Justin Bieber to himself while signing) and Jake Abel (Luke in the Percy Jackson movies and a character in I AM NUMBER FOUR), the two male leads in the forthcoming movie of THE HOST. They also signed free (small) movie posters. And posed for a photo with Maggie and a girl she befriended while in the looooong line, despite lots of signs saying something like "no posed pictures ever. This means you. Don't even think about asking."

Let me just say that Stephenie Meyer (a) looks fabulous and (b) is super nice. As in, Maggie was star-struck and was just going to take her signed book and keep going, but Stephenie stopped her to mention that she was sorry the girl named Maggie in THE HOST isn't particularly nice, and then talked more about Maggie's name, etc. And she was very happy and generally sweet to everyone, which is just how an author should be when over 1,000 people stand in line for hours in the freezing cold and wind just to get books signed, but still - super nice.

On the way home, I posed the following hypothetical to Maggie: If you could have gone to only one table today - Stephenie Meyer or the hot guys - which would you have chosen? Her answer (without a beat): Stephenie Meyer.

Love that kid.

A side story about the general goodness of people: I failed to notice that we needed to register for the event, for which Maggie had left school and dressed up and such. On hearing of my dilemma, a kind-hearted soul produced an "extra" two-person registration. To quote Blanche Dubois, "I have always relied on the kindness of strangers!" (I totally hugged her for the registration.)


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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Catching up to where we left off, part two



In the weeks following Emma's spat with Mr. Knightley, things remain a bit strained between them. Emma believes that she is succeeding at setting up a match between Mr. Elton and Harriet. Harriet believes whatever Emma does, because that's how she rolls. And Mr. Elton believes that he's successfully wooing Emma. The reader can see it all coming a mile away, even though the heroine cannot - a writing skill that Austen employs throughout this novel, and part of what makes it so delightful.

Eventually, Emma and Mr. Knightley make peace. And then, in chapter 15, Mr. Elton declares himself, and Emma is not only flummoxed, but forced to be extremely blunt in her refusal. Turns out she's inadvertently been a tease the entire time - a point Mr. Elton makes most forcibly during a carriage ride. (I am rather fond of that particular post. I am also rather fond of Alan Cummings's and Gwyneth Paltrow's performance of this scene. But I digress.)

It is in Chapter 16 that I really start to like Emma Woodhouse. Picking up after Mr. Elton's proposal, we learn that Emma is not so much mortified that he proposed to her as she is mortified that he did not propose to Harriet Smith. Her intentions, hopes and wishes were all based in true affection for her friend, and she is devastated to find out that Mr. Elton has no interest in Harriet. At all. She even admits to herself that Mr. Knightley was correct about Mr. Elton having no interest in someone like Harriet, that her brother-in-law, John Knightley, was correct about Mr. Elton being interested in Emma, and that Mr. Elton was right in thinking that Emma led him on, even if that wasn't her intention.

Emma has to tell Harriet what transpired and deal with all the fallout of Harriet's broken heart, and while doing so, the next plot point arrives (or rather, doesn't arrive, at least at first). Turns out that Mr. Weston's son, Frank Churchill, is supposed to visit his father and new stepmother, only his visit is cancelled at the last minute. Thus we reach the end of Volume I of the novel (Chapter 18), with another minor disagreement between Mr. Knightley and Emma, this time over whether or not Frank Churchill is a proper, upstanding, trustworthy sort of English gentleman. Who says Jane Austen didn't use foreshadowing?

Again, a reminder that, should you be interested in reading along and not own a copy of have one readily available, I highly recommend reading the e-text for free over at Mollands.com.


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Monday, February 18, 2013

Catching up to where we left off, part one



Austen is reported to have told her family that Emma is "a heroine whom perhaps no one but myself will like", something I find rather funny, as I'm far more likely to attribute that phrase to the heroine of Mansfield Park, Fanny Price. But I digress already, and since I'd like to catch us up so we can continue on in Volume III starting next week, I figure I'd better limit myself to discussing Emma.

At the start of the book, we learned that Emma is a rather spoiled girl from a well-off family who has a bit too much free reign and a bit too much time on her hands - something that proves to be a slightly unfortunate combination when Miss Emma Woodhouse decides to meddle in the lives of those around her. The book starts just after the wedding of Emma's governess and friend, Miss Taylor, to a local gentleman, Mr. Weston. Emma fancies that she was somehow responsible for the match, a conclusion disputed by her neighbor, who happens to be both family friend and brother-in-law, Mr. George Knightley. Mr. Knightley assures Emma that she made a lucky guess in figuring out that Mr. Weston and Miss Taylor were interested in one another, as opposed to being a material part in their match.

"Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich" could also be described as headstrong, imaginative, and bored, and she decides to turn her attention to finding a match for the local clergyman, Mr. Elton. She is oblivious to the fact that Mr. Elton would very much like to marry Emma - not out of an abundance of affection, mind you, but for her fortune - even though readers can see it coming a mile away. Emma wants to set Mr. Elton up with her new friend and protegée, Harriet Smith, "the natural daughter of somebody", a way of saying that she was likely the product of a dalliance. Harriet has been raised without knowing her own parentage, and has been educated at a local school for girls. Too old for the school room, Harriet nevertheless remains at Mrs. Goddard's school as a boarder.

We learn just a bit about Harriet's back story, which includes the information that Harriet has a crush on Mr. Robert Martin, a local farmer (who turns out to be one of Mr. Knightley's tenants). Emma doesn't associate with farmers, who she considers to be "beneath" her. In a fascinating turn, illogical Emma overlooks Harriet's social circumstances, convincing herself that her pretty little friend must be a gentleman's daughter, despite zero evidence in support of such a notion.

Mr. Knightley observes to her friend and former governess, Mrs. Weston, that Emma's "elevation" of Harriet Smith is going to prove disastrous, and that Emma needs to cool her jets (not his phrasing) and find something useful to do with herself. Mrs. Weston thinks that Emma's decision to look out for someone else is a useful thing.

Emma not only convinces Harriet to decline a marriage proposal from Robert Martin, but she also encourages Harriet to have feelings for Mr. Elton, whom she invites to a variety of events for the purpose of spending time with Harriet. The reader (and Mr. Knightley) quickly deduces that Emma is barking up the wrong tree and is, in fact, encouraging Mr. Elton in his pursuit of Emma.

Meanwhile, Mr. Knightley tells Emma off for having convinced Harriet to turn down a proposal from his tenant and friend, Robert Martin, in one of my favorite exchanges in the whole book, which is set out for you below to give you a better idea of (a) their points of view, (b) the nature of the relationship between Mr. Knightley and Emma, and (c) the plot points and observations about society. Mr. Knightley's views reflect an intelligent, objective appraisal of Harriet's status and intellect, as well as of Emma's.

"Come," said she, "I will tell you something, in return for what you have told me. He did speak yesterday—that is, he wrote, and was refused."

This was obliged to be repeated before it could be believed; and Mr. Knightley actually looked red with surprise and displeasure, as he stood up, in tall indignation, and said,

"Then she is a greater simpleton than I ever believed her. What is the foolish girl about?"

"Oh! to be sure," cried Emma, "it is always incomprehensible to a man that a woman should ever refuse an offer of marriage. A man always imagines a woman to be ready for any body who asks her."

"Nonsense! a man does not imagine any such thing. But what is the meaning of this? Harriet Smith refuse Robert Martin? madness, if it is so; but I hope you are mistaken."

"I saw her answer!—nothing could be clearer."

"You saw her answer!—you wrote her answer too. Emma, this is your doing. You persuaded her to refuse him."

"And if I did, (which, however, I am far from allowing) I should not feel that I had done wrong. Mr. Martin is a very respectable young man, but I cannot admit him to be Harriet's equal; and am rather surprised indeed that he should have ventured to address her. By your account, he does seem to have had some scruples. It is a pity that they were ever got over."

"Not Harriet's equal!" exclaimed Mr. Knightley loudly and warmly; and with calmer asperity, added, a few moments afterwards, "No, he is not her equal indeed, for he is as much her superior in sense as in situation. Emma, your infatuation about that girl blinds you. What are Harriet Smith's claims, either of birth, nature or education, to any connection higher than Robert Martin? She is the natural daughter of nobody knows whom, with probably no settled provision at all, and certainly no respectable relations. She is known only as parlour-boarder at a common school. She is not a sensible girl, nor a girl of any information. She has been taught nothing useful, and is too young and too simple to have acquired any thing herself. At her age she can have no experience, and with her little wit, is not very likely ever to have any that can avail her. She is pretty, and she is good tempered, and that is all. My only scruple in advising the match was on his account, as being beneath his deserts, and a bad connection for him. I felt that, as to fortune, in all probability he might do much better; and that as to a rational companion or useful helpmate, he could not do worse. But I could not reason so to a man in love, and was willing to trust to there being no harm in her, to her having that sort of disposition, which, in good hands, like his, might be easily led aright and turn out very well. The advantage of the match I felt to be all on her side; and had not the smallest doubt (nor have I now) that there would be a general cry-out upon her extreme good luck. Even your satisfaction I made sure of. It crossed my mind immediately that you would not regret your friend's leaving Highbury, for the sake of her being settled so well. I remember saying to myself, 'Even Emma, with all her partiality for Harriet, will think this a good match.'"

"I cannot help wondering at your knowing so little of Emma as to say any such thing. What! think a farmer, (and with all his sense and all his merit Mr. Martin is nothing more,) a good match for my intimate friend! Not regret her leaving Highbury for the sake of marrying a man whom I could never admit as an acquaintance of my own! I wonder you should think it possible for me to have such feelings. I assure you mine are very different. I must think your statement by no means fair. You are not just to Harriet's claims. They would be estimated very differently by others as well as myself; Mr. Martin may be the richest of the two, but he is undoubtedly her inferior as to rank in society.—The sphere in which she moves is much above his.—It would be a degradation."

"A degradation to illegitimacy and ignorance, to be married to a respectable, intelligent gentleman-farmer!"

"As to the circumstances of her birth, though in a legal sense she may be called Nobody, it will not hold in common sense. She is not to pay for the offence of others, by being held below the level of those with whom she is brought up.—There can scarcely be a doubt that her father is a gentleman—and a gentleman of fortune.—Her allowance is very liberal; nothing has ever been grudged for her improvement or comfort.—That she is a gentleman's daughter, is indubitable to me; that she associates with gentlemen's daughters, no one, I apprehend, will deny.—She is superior to Mr. Robert Martin."

"Whoever might be her parents," said Mr. Knightley, "whoever may have had the charge of her, it does not appear to have been any part of their plan to introduce her into what you would call good society. After receiving a very indifferent education she is left in Mrs. Goddard's hands to shift as she can;—to move, in short, in Mrs. Goddard's line, to have Mrs. Goddard's acquaintance. Her friends evidently thought this good enough for her; and it was good enough. She desired nothing better herself. Till you chose to turn her into a friend, her mind had no distaste for her own set, nor any ambition beyond it. She was as happy as possible with the Martins in the summer. She had no sense of superiority then. If she has it now, you have given it. You have been no friend to Harriet Smith, Emma. Robert Martin would never have proceeded so far, if he had not felt persuaded of her not being disinclined to him. I know him well. He has too much real feeling to address any woman on the haphazard of selfish passion. And as to conceit, he is the farthest from it of any man I know. Depend upon it he had encouragement."

It was most convenient to Emma not to make a direct reply to this assertion; she chose rather to take up her own line of the subject again.

"You are a very warm friend to Mr. Martin; but, as I said before, are unjust to Harriet. Harriet's claims to marry well are not so contemptible as you represent them. She is not a clever girl, but she has better sense than you are aware of, and does not deserve to have her understanding spoken of so slightingly. Waiving that point, however, and supposing her to be, as you describe her, only pretty and good-natured, let me tell you, that in the degree she possesses them, they are not trivial recommendations to the world in general, for she is, in fact, a beautiful girl, and must be thought so by ninety-nine people out of an hundred; and till it appears that men are much more philosophic on the subject of beauty than they are generally supposed; till they do fall in love with well-informed minds instead of handsome faces, a girl, with such loveliness as Harriet, has a certainty of being admired and sought after, of having the power of choosing from among many, consequently a claim to be nice. Her good-nature, too, is not so very slight a claim, comprehending, as it does, real, thorough sweetness of temper and manner, a very humble opinion of herself, and a great readiness to be pleased with other people. I am very much mistaken if your sex in general would not think such beauty, and such temper, the highest claims a woman could possess."

"Upon my word, Emma, to hear you abusing the reason you have, is almost enough to make me think so too. Better be without sense, than misapply it as you do."

"To be sure!" cried she playfully. "I know that is the feeling of you all. I know that such a girl as Harriet is exactly what every man delights in—what at once bewitches his senses and satisfies his judgment. Oh! Harriet may pick and choose. Were you, yourself, ever to marry, she is the very woman for you. And is she, at seventeen, just entering into life, just beginning to be known, to be wondered at because she does not accept the first offer she receives? No—pray let her have time to look about her."

"I have always thought it a very foolish intimacy," said Mr. Knightley presently, "though I have kept my thoughts to myself; but I now perceive that it will be a very unfortunate one for Harriet. You will puff her up with such ideas of her own beauty, and of what she has a claim to, that, in a little while, nobody within her reach will be good enough for her. Vanity working on a weak head, produces every sort of mischief. Nothing so easy as for a young lady to raise her expectations too high. Miss Harriet Smith may not find offers of marriage flow in so fast, though she is a very pretty girl. Men of sense, whatever you may choose to say, do not want silly wives. Men of family would not be very fond of connecting themselves with a girl of such obscurity— and most prudent men would be afraid of the inconvenience and disgrace they might be involved in, when the mystery of her parentage came to be revealed. Let her marry Robert Martin, and she is safe, respectable, and happy for ever; but if you encourage her to expect to marry greatly, and teach her to be satisfied with nothing less than a man of consequence and large fortune, she may be a parlour-boarder at Mrs. Goddard's all the rest of her life—or, at least, (for Harriet Smith is a girl who will marry somebody or other,) till she grow desperate, and is glad to catch at the old writing-master's son."

Should you be interested in reading along and not own a copy of have one readily available, I highly recommend reading the e-text for free over at Mollands.com.

I believe we shall leave off for today with this argument, which puts Emma and Mr. Knightley out of sorts with one another for quite some time.


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Sunday, February 17, 2013

When Thunder Comes by J. Patrick Lewis

Today, my long-overdue revue of J. Patrick Lewis's marvelous collection, When Thunder Comes: Poems for Civil Rights Leaders, which is illustrated by five different artists: Jim Burke, R. Gregory Christie, Tonya Engel, John Parra, and Meilo So. (My apologies to the illustrators for not including them in the subject line as is my usual practice, but it got a bit unwieldy, I'm afraid.)

Pat Lewis has provided eighteen poems in this book: an introductory sonnet (using the Shakespearean format) that begins as follows:

The poor and dispossessed take up the drums
For civil rights--freedoms to think and speak,
Petition, pray, and vote. When thunder comes,
The civil righteous are finished being meek.

The seventeen people profiled in the book range from well-known civil rights activists such as Mohandas Gandhi, Coretta Scott King, and Nelson Mandela to lesser-known people, including Mitsuye Endo, who fought against Japanese internment in the United States during World War II, and Dennis James Banks, co-founder of the American Indian Movement, who fought for Native American rights in the U.S. Both the dead (e.g., Mamie Carthan Till, mother of young Emmett Till, and baseball players Josh Gibson and Jackie Robinson) and the living (e.g., Nobel Peace Prize winners Aung San Suu Kyi and Muhammad Yunus) are included.

Here is the two-page spread for "The Statesman", a poem about the long captivity of Nelson Mandela, now the former President of South Africa, illustrated by Jim Burke:



The poem is a sonnet, written using a Petrarchan scheme (ABBA CDDC EFFE GG):

The Statesman
by J. Patrick Lewis

It is as if he's landed on the moon
Five years before the actual event.
At Robben Island Prison, his descent
Into a nightmare world, an outcast dune,
Begins at forty-six. His fate derails.
There are no clocks, his life's defined by bell
And whistle, sisal mats (no beds), his cell
Is seven feet square. But destiny prevails.

He keeps for an eternity of years
His keepers, not the other way around,
Marked by a calm refinement so profound
As to alleviate his captors' fears.
He said, once they had turned the jailhouse key,
No man will rob me of my dignity.
One of my favorite poems in the book is the one about Harvey Milk, who was the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in the state of California, back in the 1970s. Although the poem does not mention it, Milk was shot and killed while still in office. The spread is illustrated by Meilo So.



The Crusader
by J. Patrick Lewis

I knew my rights meant nothing.
I kept them out of sight.
Seen and heard when the sun went down,
hidden in harsh daylight.

Then Liberation called one day
and asked would I consent
to tell the world that I was proud
of being different.

I took the fight to the city fathers.
They scolded me for that:
We don’t approve of boys who wear
an unconventional hat.


So I became a city father
to break the laws that kept
boys and girls from living lives
that Life would not accept.

They say I came before my time
but who else would redress
unmitigated suffering due
to such small-mindedness?
This book is perfect for discussion during February, which is African American History Month, or March, which is Women's History Month, but truly, it's perfect for reading year-round, and a must-buy for middle school libraries everywhere (in my opinion, of course).

You can read a great interview with Pat about this book over at Chronicle Books's website. My thanks to Chronicle for sending me a review copy of this wonderful, wonderfully important work.


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Saturday, February 16, 2013

Resuming our reading of EMMA

Since at least three people seem interested in picking up our chapter by chapter reading of Emma by Jane Austen, I am planning on picking it up again starting this Monday. I figure I'll start with a post (or two?) catching us up to where we left off before we launch into the individual chapters. In the meantime, if you're so inclined, you can read prior posts starting with Volume I, chapter 1 from May, 2011.



I am very much looking forward to picking this up again!

Meanwhile, it's the weekend, and I am enjoying a quiet weekend with my sweetheart (which will be interrupted this evening by a martial arts-related dinner celebrating Chinese New Year).


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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day!

I hope that wherever you are, and whether you are single or part of a couple, that you are having a happy day. This year, I am very happily part of couple, but I've spent lots of years in the past either single or not-so-happily part of a couple, so my feelings on the day are mixed.

As a result, I'm sharing with you this bit of loveliness from former U.S. poet laureate Kay Ryan, which was sent my way earlier in the week by the divine Jules of 7-Imp.

Sweet Talk
by Kay Ryan

Everything about Valentine's Day with its sentimental obligations makes me want to run the other way. Except the conversation hearts. I am a big fan of those little boxes of pale chalky candies stamped either with expired slang or with sweet talk of under ten letters.

The words do not pretend to be poems, as much else does on Valentine's Day. If you are handed a heart, it's quick to read and ok to dismiss—you can even hand it back. They are inconsequential, impersonal, random, a joke, a hundred for thirty-nine cents. You don't have to stand there under the tender eye of the giver and labor through the a-b-a-b of a real Valentine card, trying to decide if you're obliged to read it aloud or if you can just move your lips.

Read the rest here.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

O Mistress Mine by William Shakespeare

Tomorrow being Valentine's Day, I figured I'd go with a somewhat romantic song from one of my favorites of Shakespeare's plays, Twelfth Night.

O Mistress Mine
by William Shakespeare
from Twelfth Night, Act I, sc. 3

O mistress mine, where are you roaming?
O, stay and hear; your true love's coming,
That can sing both high and low.
Trip no further, pretty sweeting;
Journeys end in lovers meeting,
Every wise man's son doth know.

What is love? 'Tis not hereafter;
Present mirth hath present laughter;
What's to come is still unsure.
In delay there lies no plenty,
Then come kiss me, sweet and twenty;
Youth's a stuff will not endure.


Discussion and analysis:

The structure of the song is as follows: It is rhymed AABCCB DDEFFE, and it uses a mix of meters. The first two lines of each stanza are in iambic tetrameter (although in the first stanza, there's an extra "feminine" ending resulting in nine syllables in a line that has 4 iambic feet: taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM(ta)). The third and sixth lines of each stanza are trochaic trimeter (with an extra stressed syllable at the end of the line: DUMta DUMta DUMta DUM), for a total of seven syllables per line. And the fourth and fifth lines of each stanza are in trochaic tetramter (four trochaic feet per line: DUMta DUMta DUMta DUMta).

Of course, when I sing this to myself (which is far more often than most of you would guess), I sing the alto part to a choral setting by Ralph Vaughn Williams, seen performed here by a Graduate Recital Choir:



If you'd prefer, you can check out Sir Ben Kingsley as Feste in the 1996 movie version of Twelfth Night, which includes a nice performance (interrupted by some dialogue between Viola and Orsino):




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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Over at Guys' Lit Wire

In time for tonight's state of the union address by President Obama, my review of DOGFIGHT by Calvin Trillin. (Subitle: "The 2012 Presidential Campaign in Verse")

Also, please check out yesterday's post and let me know if you have any interest in a joint read-along of the remainder of Emma by Jane Austen.


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Monday, February 11, 2013

Where we left Emma

So . . . once upon a time, I was doing a chapter-by-chapter reading of Emma by Jane Austen, and then I basically dropped it (along with all my other posts). We were into volume 3, at chapter 6 (which is chapter 42 if you have one big unified version, the way things are published these days).

I've had someone ask if I was going to pick it up again, and as I don't really like leaving it unfinished, I've got a mind to do it. Anyone game to read along?


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Saturday, February 09, 2013

The Letter by Amy Lowell

Today would have been Amy Lowell's birthday. Amy Lawrence Lowell was a member of the same Boston Lowell family that later spawned Robert Lowell, who was Poet Laureate of the United States for a while. But she’s not a direct ancestor, on account of family names don’t pass that way. Also, she was a lesbian. She had a long-time affair (then called a "Boston marriage") with an actress named Ada Dwyer Russell, star of stage and screen.

Lowell was highly influenced early on by the poetry of John Keats, and she remained fascinated with him throughout her life; she eventually wrote a two-volume biography of his life. Lowell was an imagist (or, to use her word, an "imagiste"), along the lines of H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) and Ezra Pound, although Pound didn’t care for her or her poems, perhaps because he was annoyed when she published anthologies of imagist poems in the United States before he did. Lowell died in 1925. Her collection What’s O’Clock, which contains the full text of "The Sisters," won the Pulitzer Prize the following year. In addition to publishing the poems of poets including H.D. and T.S. Eliot, Lowell championed many other poets, including Robert Frost and Carl Sandburg. Lowell made enormous contributions to American poetry with her own writing (poetry and prose), and through her ardent support of other contemporary poets.

Lowell’s reputation suffered after her death, in part because she’d been ahead of her time, and in part due to prejudice: she was female, she was obese, and she was a lesbian. Those traits were seen as three strikes to a number of people in the literary "establishment", and she was marginalized as a result. Lowell’s poetry is being "rediscovered" these days, and she is commonly recognized to be the first female American poet to consider herself part of a feminine (some say feminist) literary tradition.

Her poems were often intensely personal and somewhat erotic. How can one not swoon at her wonderful words?

The Letter
by Amy Lowell

Little cramped words scrawling all over the paper
Like draggled fly's legs,
What can you tell of the flaring moon
Through the oak leaves?
Or of my uncertain window and the bare floor
Spattered with moonlight?
Your silly quirks and twists have nothing in them
Of blossoming hawthorns,
And this paper is dull, crisp, smooth, virgin of loveliness
Beneath my hand.

I am tired, Beloved, of chafing my heart against
The want of you;
Of squeezing it into little inkdrops,
And posting it.
And I scald alone, here, under the fire
Of the great moon.

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Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Sonnet 29 by William Shakespeare

Following the big news about the finding of the body of Richard III the other day, this sonnet came to mind today as I was casting about for what to post for this week's Wednesday with the Bard. It seems a good fit for poor Richard Plantagenet, who was portrayed as such a broken, evil man by Shakespeare (who was, after all, writing the play to curry favor with Elizabeth I, the descendant of Richard's opponent, Henry Tudor).

Sonnet 29
by William Shakespeare

When in disgrace with Fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man's art, and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate;
  For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
  That then I scorn to change my state with kings.


Analysis: In form, a Shakespearean sonnet, of course: rhymed ABABCDCDEFEFGG, written in iambic pentameter. This sonnet is one long sentence. The first eight lines set forth the general situation in a conditional sense: "When I am alone and unhappy with my lot in life, envying others and wishing things were different than they are", and the volta or turn comes in the ninth line with the word "Yet": "At those times, I chance to remember you, and thinking about you, my spirits rise." The final couplet concludes "Because when I remember you and your love, I feel so blessed that I would not trade places with a king."

If you're so inclined (and trust me, you ought to be), you can watch and listen to Matthew Macfadyen performing this poem here (in his lovely, deep voice):



Or if, like my friend Jules, you like your indie music (and especially your Rufus Wainwright), you might like this version better:




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Monday, February 04, 2013

Richard III - a reason to be discontent

If you've read the news today, you probably know that the remains of Richard III have been found in Leicester, England, underneath what was recently a parking lot. When Richard III was killed in battle, the site was occupied by the chapel at Greyfriars, a church that was later razed during the Restoration. It appears he may have been buried with his wrists tied together, and the grave wasn't quite long enough for his frame, so his head was in a bad position. No wonder he was discontent.

Richard's remains were identified by forensic evidence including circumstances (including location, wounds, and the scoliosis of the spine), carbon dating and DNA testing, and the results were positively identified here. If you're interested in hearing more about the historical Richard III and his treatment at Shakespeare's hands, you can read a past post from Brush Up Your Shakespeare Month a few years back.


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Saturday, February 02, 2013

Silver Linings Playbook

You may remember that I got diverted from this film a few weeks back (because it was sold out), so I went and saw The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey instead, which I already posted about.

What I've forgotten to do (until now) is to come back and tell you what I thought about the movie. If you don't care, that's perfectly fine - feel free to move along. But I figured I'd not only tell you about the movie, but about my conversation with 18-yo M about the movie. You see, she also read the book, and unlike most times when that occurs, she is of the opinion that the movie is far better.

I have always thought that Bradley Cooper was kind of cute, in a regular-guy-but-cute sort of way. He pulled off the charming-but-flip "Face" in the A-Team revamp really well, and is best known for his turns in The Hangover franchise. But this movie proves that he has superior acting chops, and his Oscar nomination is well-earned. Were it not Daniel Day Lewis's year to win All The Things, Bradley Cooper would give Hugh Jackman a run for his money as best actor. He plays a guy with bipolar disorder who starts the movie off his meds and obsessed with the idea of getting his wife back. (She has a restraining order against him, and it's pretty clear it's much-needed.) His personal progress throughout the course of the movie is well-done all around, with the reigned-in scenes being just as compelling (but nowhere near as mind-blowingly scary) as the more unhinged parts.

Jennifer Lawrence, last seen playing Katniss Everdeen in THE HUNGER GAMES, is amazing as a young widow with a reputation for sluttiness. (People work their way through grief in a lot of ways in this movie, as in life, and I guess that's part of the movie's appeal.) Her performance was ballsy and brittle and broken and completely perfect, and it's no wonder she's been winning Best Actress in the early award shows. Also, the chemistry between the two characters is undeniable, as is the chemistry between Cooper and his parents, played by Robert DeNiro (who is brilliant and earned that Supporting Actor nomination) and Jacki Weaver (also excellent and deserving of her nod as well).

Now, M had seen the movie before she went with me. And then she'd read the book, which had a couple of key differences. For one thing, the main character in the book is brain-injured, not bipolar - something she had to piece together over the course of the book, since he's the narrator. For another, the dance competition that you may have seen advertised (and which had me and much of the rest of the audience enthralled and in stitches), which takes place at the end of the film, is, according to M, a sort of minor event in the middle of the book. And the conclusion of the book, which is somewhat like the conclusion of the movie in the way the characters wind up, is much less purposeful and more shruggish (again, according to M).

She felt that the decision to change the character's issue to manic depression was a good one, and that the decision to have the dance competition be the end was brilliant. Based on her comments (which were much more detailed, but *spoiler spoiler spoiler*), I have to agree.

I am somewhat gobsmacked to report that I've seen several contenders for best film this year, which isn't always the case: ARGO (love it, and totally think Ben Affleck should've been nominated for Best Director), LES MISERABLES (liked it a lot, and Anne Hathaway should win Best Supporting Actress or there is no justice in this world), LINCOLN (amazingly good), and SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK (also amazingly good).

Interestingly, what has stuck with me most after the movies is the whole idea of ARGO, Anne Hathaway's performance as Fantine in LES MIS, and how completely remarkable Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence (and the rest of the cast, really) were in SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK. Yeah, Daniel Day Lewis so completely inhabited Lincoln that it felt as if he was Lincoln and wasn't acting, but Bradley Cooper's damaged, beautiful performance is truly spectacular.

I'd be interested to hear what you think, if you've read the book. And, of course, what you think about the movie, if you've seen it.


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Friday, February 01, 2013

Tea by Carol Ann Duffy

For Poetry Friday, a poem about tea from Carol Ann Duffy. It's one of those poems that I really wish I'd thought of myself. If you really love the poem, and you really love tea - or need something to dry dishes with - there is a tea towel version for sale at The Literary Gift Co. and elsewhere. You can see it to the right, below.

Tea
by Carol Ann Duffy

I like pouring your tea, lifting
the heavy pot, and tipping it up,
so the fragrant liquid streams in your china cup.

Or when you’re away, or at work,
I like to think of your cupped hands as you sip,
as you sip, of the faint half-smile of your lips.

I like the questions – sugar? – milk? –
and the answers I don’t know by heart, yet,
for I see your soul in your eyes, and I forget.

Jasmine, Gunpowder, Assam, Earl Grey, Ceylon,
I love tea’s names. Which tea would you like? I say
but it’s any tea for you, please, any time of day,

as the women harvest the slopes
for the sweetest leaves, on Mount Wu-Yi,
and I am your lover, smitten, straining your tea.

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