Monday, December 18, 2017

Turning on the Radio to Rachmaninoff’s 18th Variation on a Theme of Pagannini

You can’t expect, always,
to find a ten
or a presidential pardon
in a forgotten pocket.
But you might, on occasion,
turn on the radio
to find Rachmaninoff rising
one moment out of madness
into lucidity
as lovely as a butterfly
lighting on your hand.

Published on December 18, 2017, in Poetry Breakfast. 

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Barbara Pym references Jane Austen

Reading Barbara Pym is sometimes akin to prepping for graduate studies in English literature. Here is one literary reference that I caught immediately. The first quote is taken from Pym's A Few Green Leaves.

"'Two eggs?' Emma asked. 'And how do you like them?'

'Oh, just as they come.'

'Boiled eggs don't exactly do that.' On the hard side, then, she thought, five minutes. A too-soft-boiled egg would be awkward to manage, slithering all over the place in the way they did. Not to be coped with by a person in an emotional state, though Mr. Woodhouse in that novel about her namesake had claimed that it was not unwholesome.

'I'll have some toast too,' she said, 'to keep you company.'"

And now the source material:

"'Mrs. Bates, let me propose your venturing on one of these eggs. An egg boiled very soft is not unwholesome. Serle understands boiling an egg better than anybody. I would not recommend an egg boiled by anybody else--but you need not be afraid, they are very small, you see--one of our small eggs will not hurt you."
--Mr. Woodhouse from Jane Austen's Emma. 

Robert Liddell on reading as a child

"Andrew read books with a concentration and intensity which made him deaf and blind to the outside world. Grown-up people (who tend to think that a child must necessarily be doing mischief to itself or to others, wherever its whole energy is happily occupied and it has forgotten their existence) were always annoyed when they saw Andrew reading. They tried every means of plaguing him; they took his books away, or told him that his eyes were tired, or that he must go out. Sometimes they just sat and talked, and were angry if he did not answer. In spite of their persecution, he generally managed to read four or five books every week. They would never believe that he read them properly, or that he remembered anything about them. They themselves were found of boasting that they never had any time for reading. This never convinced Andrew, who knew that reading was a necessity of life, and that grown-up people wasted hours of valuable time in uninteresting conversation."

Excerpt from Kind Relations by Robert Liddell

Monday, October 9, 2017

Excerpt from Kind Relations by Robert Liddell

"The descent to the drawing-room was therefore not awe-inspiring, as it often is to small children -- like going to church, only worse. Grown-ups have all the fearful attributes of a Calvinistic deity, with the added terror of being visible. It is no use pretending they are not there, because they insist on being talked to and kissed. God, on the other hand, can easily be pretended away. Of course you know He is there all the time; but He does not obtrude Himself, as grown-ups do. It is always possible, if you are terribly bored in church, to press your fingers on your eyelids, and to watch the colours that come and go. Of course you ought to be saying your prayers, but it is far more amusing to play with this natural kaleidoscope. God is not petty enough to mind about a little thing like that. And after all it is no one's business but His."

Monday, September 4, 2017

Excerpt from A Few Green Leaves by Barbara Pym

[Emma} was just in the act of cutting down some [roses] when she saw Tom approaching with Adam Prince.

'What a charming picture you make, with the roses,' said Adam smoothly.

Emma tried to think of a gracious answer to this rather obvious compliment. Then, before she had been able to produce anything, Tom, suddenly and ridiculously, burst into poetry.

The two divinest things this world has got
A lovely woman in a rural spot. 

There was a brief stunned silence, surely one of dismay, then Emma broke it by laughing. The two men must surely realise that she certainly wasn't lovely, not even pretty.

'Leigh Hunt,' said Tom quickly, attempting to cover up his foolishness. 'Not a good poem.'

He was hardly improving matters -- there had been no need to make that kind of critical judgement. 'I thought of taking a few flowers along to the church,' Emma said. 'Mrs. G. does want things out of people's gardens, doesn't she?'

'I like to watch ladies arranging flowers,' Adam said. 'It was one of the aspects of my calling that I most enjoyed.'

Tom thought this an unusual way of looking on the duties of a parish priest, but made no comment.

From A Few Green Leaves by Barbara Pym, EP Dutton edition, page 76.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Pineapples, Pym, Narwhals, and Loch Ness

A piano student gave me these bookmarks which are perfectly matched to my current reading materials.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Book review: The Mountain Door by Rosalie K. Fry

The Mountain Door is the fourth Rosalie K. Fry book I’ve read and it currently ranks a moderately close second in my estimation to Child of the Western Isles (aka The Secret of Ron Mor Skerry). Fry's books have a certain ratio of magical wonder vs. a plainer sort of children-left-to-their-own-devices element. While the magical permeates Child  of the Western Isles, the ratio in The Mountain Door leans slightly more towards the down-to-earth element. As it’s about a pair of girls who were switched by the fairies at birth, magic is central to the story but not manifested much within its pages.

Ella, the human, and Fenella, the fairy child, spend most of the book on their own, wandering the beautiful Irish countryside together, both of them longing to live the life they were born to live, both seeking to undo the fairy mischief that has made them the proverbial fish out of water. Ella fears a return to the mountains and Fenella fears that some meddling human adults will snatch her up and prevent her from returning to the very place Ella dreads.

Fenella’s affinity for animals causes them to collect a charming menagerie of creatures who eventually land them in the perfect spot for a satisfying denouement, complete with quotes from W.B. Yeats and Francis Ledwidge.

Speaking of the Irish, Fry dedicated The Mountain Door to “The family at Caherbrack where most of this story was written.” Little tidbits like this one make me curious to know more. Along with my sporadic but determined quest to read through Fry’s charming books, I’ve tried to uncover her life story as well. There isn’t much biographical information out there but several years ago a wonderful fellow fan in the UK sent me a book containing an autobiographical chapter on Fry (thank you, Stephen!). In these pages I learned that (surprise!) Fry had an enchanting childhood filled with a Wordsworthian proximity to nature. Inside the Fry chapter of Something About the Author, she sheds little light on her writing of The Mountain Door except to explain that she traveled for some “foreign-based stories” and “later did a rather different book in Ireland.”

Fairy lore can be found all throughout the British Isles, so the Irishness of The Mountain Door is not necessarily apparent in its plot points but rather in its Emerald Isle setting and some of the character names. The rest of it—the love of nature, the aforementioned magical vs. ordinary adventure elements—is pure, golden Fry.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Illinois Reads Essay Contest Winners: Two Young Girls Who Really Love Books

I heard the following award-winning essays read by their authors at the Illinois Reads 2017 launch in Bloomington, IL , on March 11, 2017. They made me want to start writing children's fiction! Enjoy!

For as long as I can remember, I've loved reading! I read almost every day and my parents have told me that when I was three years old, I announced that I wanted to write books. That has never changed.

When I was a baby and a toddler, my mom rocked me and read stories to me and a book that I will never forget is Honey, Honey, Lion by Jan Brett. One day I memorized it so well that I read it back to my parents. It is a book that will stay in my mind forever. When I was five, my dad read The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis to me, which I understood pretty well, I loved those books because they were exciting with battles, good against evil! In the summer of 2016, when I was nine going on ten and my younger sister was seven going on eight, we read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling with our dad. I loved that book so much! I had been dying to read the Harry Potter books, and as soon as I read the first chapter, I knew I was in for a treat. At first, things were looking bad for Harry and his life with the Dursleys, but I was so excited for him when he got his letter asking him to come to Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry! Now we are on the second book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

While we read that book with our dad, we read another book with our mom, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'engle, which we are almost done with. I also love that book. It is exciting and adventurous, following fifteen year-old Meg Murry whose world is turned upside down as soon as a stranger knocks on the door and says something very peculiar. Another book I enjoyed thoroughly is Upside Down Magic by Sarah Minyowski, Laren Myracle and Emily Jenkins, about fifth grader Nory Horace, whose magic is very wonky. Her strict father sends her to live with her Aunt Margo to go to Dunwiddle Magic School, which has a program for kids like her. She soon finds not only friends in the Upside Down Magic class, but excitement, love, and comfort. The book encourages kids to embrace who they are.

I think if anyone reads good books that are worthy to be read, they will become pretty smart. I feel like I've learned so much from reading so many books. My favorite author is J.K. Rowling and my two favorite books right now are Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and A Wrinkle in Time. This had led me to a love of writing. Sometimes I even write fan fiction about characters in books, movies and television shows, but I mostly write stories of my own. Reading is very important to me. I honestly don't know what I would do without books!
--Daisy, age 10

Reading is one of my favorite things to do! There are so many books you can read and I love to read because you start to feel like you've stepped into an adventure when it's a really good book. But when I was really little, I never started to read myself until I was about four or five years old.

I have always loved penguins my whole life, and I didn't see too many good books about them. But one day when I was out with my friend and my sister for my birthday party, my friend gave me this book called Mr. Popper's Penguins. I saw that it was twenty chapters and got a little nervous about how long it would take me to read it, but then I discovered that it was one of the best books I had ever read! Even when I had only read the first page, I fell in love with the book. The book is by Richard and Florence Atwater. Now I think they are two of my favorite authors. The reason I fell in love with the book was because just on the second chapter, they started to talk about penguins! When I read the first sentence, boom! I knew this was going to turn into one of my favorite books!

But Mr. Popper's Penguins isn't the only book I love. Another one of my favorite authors is Ellen Miles. She wrote another one of my favorite books, Teddy. Teddy is in The Puppy Place series. The Puppy Place series is about a girl and a boy that foster puppies until they can find the forever home for them. It's a very fun book series for me because I love dogs. They are my second favorite animal after penguins. In the series, the two kids want to get a puppy of their own so in almost every book, they are asking their mom for a puppy saying, "Please? We'll take super good care of it!"

So I just think these are really cute books and I hope there are so many more books out there I didn't read that are as good as these so I might read them. Good stories mean extra fun! Right? I just wish every story in the world was as good as Mr. Popper's Penguins and The Puppy Place series. But that's the fun thing, you get to try new books! They might not be very good, or they could be one of the best books ever! So I hope you liked my essay!
--Ivy, age eight.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Definition of Poetry by Boris Pasternak (trans. Eugene M. Kayden)

Definition of Poetry

It's a summons sternly swelling,
The cracking of shattered icicles,
The night that blasts young leaves,
The contest of two nightingales,

The stifled sweet pea on the vine,
The cry of a world at birth,
Figaro from flutes and the platform
In a crashing fall among rose beds.

It's all that night will reveal
In the steep depths of a pool--
To carry a star to the lake
Alone in its trembling wet arms.

Like dank wood, the stifling air,
When the sky is choked by alders;
Gay stars could rock with laughter
At blockheads sunk flat in mud.

An English Lesson by Boris Pasternak (trans. Eugene M. Kayden)

An English Lesson

When Desdemona came a-singing,
And a little time to live had she--
Not love, her fatal star, she sobbed:
It was a willow, willow tree.

When Desdemona came a-singing,
With firmer voice and lifted head,
Her demon at her death prepared
A psalm of a weeping river bed.

And when Ophelia came a-singing,
And a little time to live had she--
Like storms that sweep a hayloft clean
Her soul was swept of misery.

And when Ophelia came a-singing,
Sick with bitter dreams and grief,
What trophies in her grave had she?
Sweet celandine and willow leaf.

Their passions fell away like rags,
And silent into the pool of night
And time they went, with aching hearts,
Their loving forms transfused in light.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Eighteen Sixty-One by Walt Whitman

Arm'd year--year of the struggle.
No dainty rhymes or sentimental love verses for you terrible year.
Not you as some pale poetling seated at a desk lisping cadenzas piano,
But as a strong man erect, clothed in blue clothes, advancing, carrying a rifle on your shoulder.
With a well-gristled body and sunburnt face and hands, with a knife in in the belt at your side.
As I heard you shouting loud, your sonorous voice ringing across the continent,
Your masculine voice O year, as rising amid the great cities,
Amid the men of Manhattan I saw you as one of the workmen, the dwellers in Manhattan,
Or with large steps crossing the prairies out of Illinois and Indiana,
Rapidly crossing the West with springy gait and descending the Alleghanies,
Or down from the great lakes or in Pennsylvania, or on deck along the Ohio river,
Or southward along the Tennessee or Cumberland rivers, or at Chattanooga on the mountain top,
Saw I your gait and saw I your sinewy limbs clothed in blue, bearing weapons, robust year,
Heard your determin'd voice launch'd forth again and again,
Year that suddenly sang by the mouths of the round-lipp'd cannon,
I repeat you, hurrying, crashing, sad, distracted year.