Saturday, October 8, 2016

Ephemera: The Brontes, Hemingway, and Joe Reader

One day while visiting my local used bookshop, I found a letter inside one of the books dated from the 1960s, I felt like I had found some sort of hidden treasure. Steve, the bookshop owner, was less enthusiastic, saying that these items dropped through his hands all the time on their way to the trash. So he had no problem parting with it. I went home, eager to explore this lost heirloom, something that was certain to shed light on a secret world long gone.

It turned out to be rather tepid: the mother of a college student relating all the social happenings in their obviously affluent world. And though it didn't come close to the interest level of the postcard collection I own from one turn-of-the-other-century woman in downstate Illinois, I still liked it; the address indentation is also something from a bygone era. And the daughter certainly didn't seem to treasure it enough to recall where she'd put it. That in itself is a story. 

Which brings me to the subject of today's post: literary ephemera. Apparently I'm not the only one who finds this sort of thing fascinating: there's an entire book with pictures of similar items called Forgotten Bookmarks. The author is himself a used bookstore owner who has kept a record of these lost bookmarks. What makes Forgotten Bookmarks so interesting is that he not only shows the letters, photos, and other fascinating/dull ephemera found in the middle of books but he also shows the books in which these items were found. Some of them make fascinating connections.

What about the ephemera of famous authors? When I first realized that there was a book on the Bronte's regarding some of their personal items, I somehow imagined a coffee table book. Never mind that the title contains the number nine, as in The Bronte Cabinet: Three Lives in Nine Items (duh!). But once I got over my ignorance-based disappointment, I came to see that The Bronte Cabinet is a brilliant idea for a book. Considering that these beloved authors left behind so little of their actual selves, it's fascinating to view their lives from the prism of some of their belongings, such as their handmade journals, their portable writing desks, etc. The author not only looks at these key items in themselves but as they appear throughout all of the Bronte novels.

And finally, the glossiest, most impressive-looking book in the group belongs to Ernest Hemingway, or at least a group of authors who decided to publish a book on the holdings of the Ernest Hemingway archives in Oak Park, IL, Hemingway's birthplace and boyhood suburb. 

I must admit that I am not a fan of either the man or his writing, even though my husband and I sing at the Birthplace Home each Boxing Day and I've volunteered in the archives. I just can't understand what the fuss is all about and far prefer the writing of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway's tortured compatriot. But the archive holdings certainly tell a story and if The Bronte Cabinet tells a detailed story of three authors from the point of view of a few pieces of ephemera, Hidden Hemingway tells the story of the ephemera. It doesn't necessarily shed any additional light on its subject but fans of the writer will find much to enjoy within its glossy pages. 

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Alcohol-enjoying librarians are honored in a Barbara Pym quote

"'I think I should prefer a glass of lemon squash,' said Miss Lydgate.

This was a relief, if only a slight one, Digby felt, as he assured Miss Clovis that he and Mark never drank in the middle of the day.

'I feel one shouldn't go into learned societies or libraries smelling of drink,' said Mark, at his most prim. 'It might create the wrong impression.'

'Oh, I hadn't thought of that,' said Miss Clovis, sipping her dark foamy drink. 'I don't suppose anyone would notice. Of course, it's all right for librarians to smell of drink,' she added jovially.

'Of course,' said Digby enthusiastically."

From chapter eight of Barbara Pym's Less Than Angels

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Scary Mary

When I first encountered this spoofy video on Facebook, I found it highly amusing. Yes, perhaps the cool primness of Julie Andrews' Mary Poppins bordered on the frigid. But she was nothing like the Mary Poppins of the book, a fact I realized when I finally read it a few years ago.

But even that icy creature is nothing compared with the Mary Poppins featured in the first few chapters of the sequel, Mary Poppins Comes Back. In this section are two scenes which paint her didactic personality with even colder, darker strokes.

For instance, just after Miss Poppins reenters the Banks household, following close on her heels is Euphemia Andrew, Mr. Banks' enormous, terrifying former governess. Miss Andrew has come to stay, unannounced, doling out unwelcome child-rearing advice to anyone who will listen. Mary Poppins will definitely not listen:

"'Thank you, ma'am' said Mary Poppins with icy politeness, 'But I bring the children up in my own way and take advice from nobody.'"

The miffed and shocked Miss Andrew makes a fatal mistake: during her retort, she refers to Mary, not by her name (she hasn't bothered to ask), but as "Young woman." All her subsequent demands for Mary's sacking are nothing to this.

So when Mary discovers that the formidable Miss Andrew keeps a caged lark, she speaks to the creature and discovers that it was once free. To make a long story short, Mary wields her magic and soon the lark is flying through the air, carrying in its beak a cage inhabited by a screaming Miss Andrew.

After a survivable crash, and a forced apology, Miss Andrew hightails it out of the Banks household quicker than you can say, "My, that was little creepy."

But the creepiness has, apparently, come to stay. In the very next chapter, "Bad Wednesday," Mary punishes a grumpy Jane by leaving her all alone in a room with a demonic plate; that is, a plate with painted figures who lure Jane into their Hotel California world, then refuse to let her leave.

Terrified, Jane begins to shout for Mary Poppins who eventually pulls her out of her captor's encircling arms. She's safe, yes, but apparently post-traumatic stress wasn't yet a thing back in Edwardian England.

I haven't yet continued reading, but yes, this Mary is a little scary.

Saturday, July 2, 2016


The train whistles
as the boys fight invisible enemies with gusto and plastic swords
forcing sound effects from their mouths with every thrust.

The conductor calls the stop
as the warrior knights fight each other. 
A few rays of the falling sun press between the nearby houses
to run glowing fingers through the boys' hair
as they join forces to scale castle battlements.

The train pulls away
as the boys swing together in the twilight.
I wish they could stay, defying gravity and the globe's motion,
forever entertained with swords and swings.
But the lights of the train are dim now and its rumblings distant
and it's time for us to go. 

The DesPlaines River at Twilight

A deer emerges from the woods.
The geese at river's edge silently make way
for this queen of twilight. 
When her neck bends to drink
I know a surfeit of wonder. 

But the moment grows. She steps into the water
till all is gone save a lovely, determined head.
Emerging, her hooves find a man-made bank
and its green reward.

(The deer in the above poem came out of the area near the clump of bushes on the right, swam/walked across the river to the cement bank appearing below the buildings on the left/center and began to eat the foliage seen there. This occurred about 45 minutes after this photo was taken).

Thursday, June 30, 2016


He is descended from Dutch farmers and Puritan nobles
and his truthful eyes whisper the promise of honorable manhood.
His conscience is as golden as his straight hair and as prominent as his perfect nose.
He tentatively offers this perfection to the world.
He is a generous pirate of story and humor, delighted to share each treasure he finds.

He is like the sun waiting impatiently behind the clouds for another turn at center stage.
He has passionate dreams of being Legolas, the warrior elf
but settles for fighting invisible Orcs on playground equipment.
His soul is full of music, played in his head with a full orchestra that comes into being through the tiny hole of his pursed lips.

A thousand tiny bright colors collide when she laughs at her brother.
Her porcelain skin envelopes a profile heartbreaking as a china doll.
Her blond curls are tight as her will and her skin transparent as her soul,
which pours out stories and music, strumming non-chords for clear song.


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Flotsam and jetsam from used books

Courtesy of my fav. used bookstore. He also had a large collection of paper clips and menus from local fast food restaurants. The three items in the above photo were by far the most interesting. More to come, I hope!

More treasures from The Looking Glass Used Bookstore

Available from The Looking Glass.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Thursday, April 21, 2016

A library sale treasure and "modern" poetry

This volume of "Modern British Poetry" was copyrighted in 1920, reprinted in 1925, and contains poems by the following: Thomas Hardy (including my fav., "The Darkling Thrush"), Gerard Manley Hopkins, Robert Louis Stevenson, Oscar Wilde, A. E. Housman, William Butler Yeats, Rudyard Kipling, G. K. Chesterton, D. H. Lawrence, Seigfied Sassoon, Rupert Brooke, Robert Graves, and many others.

Most of the poets I've listed above were alive when this volume was first published. What a thrill to read the table of contents and see only the dates of their birth; to consider a time in history when they were all alive, possibly well, and perhaps still writing.

But what I find most fascinating about this collection is the use of the word "modern" in the title. The modernist movement was just getting underway when this collection was published. Between printings, a youngish T. S. Eliot -- an American writing in England -- would published "The Waste Land." Seven years previous, he gave the world "Prufrock."

Those poems are not included here. They wouldn't have to wait long, but it would be another day before they were collected into anything similar. By then, only a handful of the poems included in this library sale treasure would be considered valuable enough to stand beside the peach-stained rolled trousers of Alfred J. Prufrock.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Rosalie K. Fry, World War II, and the Orkney Islands

Image originally found in Child of the Western Isles,
hand copied and colored.

A few years ago, a wonderful Fry fan mailed me Something About the Author Autobiography series. vol. 11, which includes a chapter written by Rosalie K. Fry. As Child of the Western Isles is my favorite Fry book, I was fascinated by the following excerpt in which Fry describes the lovely setting of one of her WRNS posts, a naval base in the Orkney Islands:

"We were based on Hoy, the second-largest island of the group and, incidentally, the hilliest and most beautiful of them all. Here we were housed in long wooden huts with thick hawsers fastened over their roofs at intervals to hold them down securely during the tremendous gales that sweep across these islands. As a defense against the wind, we always wore our hats tied on with woolen scarves.

Beyond the immediate surroundings of the naval base, Hoy was wild and very beautiful. As a watchkeeper I was often off duty in the daytime. So I was determined to explore as many of the islands as possible and bought a detailed map on which to plot my many trips...

Whenever one went on the islands there were seals and rare birds to be seen and luxurious masses of wildflowers which always seemed to be more brilliantly coloured than their counterparts elsewhere. There were also prehistoric remains, standing stones and buildings, and one marvelous Pictish village probably dating from about 500 BC...

Some years later these lovely islands helped to provide the settings for Secret of the Ron Mor Skerry and Mungo."

Image originally found in Child of the Western Isles,
hand copied and colored

Note: The Secret of Roan Inish film was based on Fry's 1957, London-published Child of the Western Isles, which in 1959 was published in the US as The Secret of Ron Mor Skerry.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Poem: The Year Jackie Became a Widow

Just months before Dallas,
Mom and Dad posed
on their new land
and Mom’s heels sunk in the mud
while the wind blew Dad’s suit
and carried his cologne across earth
which later cemented into the street
Gary would cross (after his crew grew
and long after Bobby got shot)
to see forbidden Sandy
while her brother danced hoop dreams
into everyone’s sleep.

Poem: The Poplar Tree


Childhood was observed by a tree

which was already grown

before the smell of almost replaced the sound of mud

and long before you could feel


in the sidewalk.


It watched us through croquet and dates

especially when boys brought us to the step,

except for Greg, who was timid of trees,

and who wanted to stay in the car;

he didn’t know the tree had sent its seeds

to the roof across the street so it could watch us



Frondi tenere e belle

del mio plantano amato.

Seasons swirled through its branches

and its leaves thundered down Grand

and echoed past the tracks

(where the train’s whistle smashed our pennies)

all the way to the forest

where its seeds will whisper long

of its children, forever gone.  


 (This bit of nostalgia was published by a Scottish journal sometime in the 2000s but I have lost the link).

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Skiing Through Time

On the street opposite the graveyard
I veer to the side so the car
hits the puddle head-on
and creates spray reminiscent
of my lost world.

But there, for a moment,
besides the ancient headstones,
I am water skiing once more,
no longer earth-bound.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Two More Haiku-ish poems reflecting on spring in urban suburbia

The traffic cannot overcome
the scent of new green
nor the sound of dripping rain.

The puddle holds a brown pine cone
and the image of white window panes.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Two Haiku-ish poems

Abandoned House

The dominoed roof tiles peek inside at the floor of plaster and pine.

Seen at a stoplight in Downtown Chicago

The stacked brown buildings squeeze the sky
until their windows splash with blue.