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Villanelle Lover

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2015-08-04 19.24.00

The key to a good villanelle is to come up with two lines that are genuinely attracted to each other but also wholly independent of each other, so that their final coupling will feel both inevitable and surprising.

Annie Finch, in introduction to Villanelles

I smiled when I read that. And before reading further, I paused to launch this blog post.

I thought of how I’ve heard it said that a good villanelle is like a great romance. So as I transcribed Finch’s words, I heard her sentence in my head with substitutions for two words: “The key to a good romance is to come up with two lovers that are genuinely attracted to each other but also wholly independent of each other, so that their final coupling will feel both inevitable and surprising.”

Romancing the Villanelle . . .

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Written by macheide

4 August 2015 at 8:12 pm

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Stretch Far Away

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ShelleyAlmost exactly 50 years ago, I memorized my first serious poem. More than likely, I’d earlier learned the words of many a childhood poem. But the first serious poem I recited from memory was a classic sonnet (yes, Turco, it is one) by one of our classic poets: Ozymandias, by Percy Bysshe Shelley. By now I can’t even recall where I was able to dig that poem up back then — perhaps one of my father’s books, although he was partial to Robert Browning; possibly a book from our school, although I recall only our high schools having libraries. Wherever I managed to find it, memorizing Ozymandias represented a threshold for me: crossing that threshold was when I became a lover of poetry. And now, less than 3 years shy of the 200th anniversary of the initial publication of Ozymandias, my poetry bookshelves finally gain a volume of Shelley poetry.

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Written by macheide

15 April 2015 at 6:30 pm

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Practically Up There

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The Practical AstronomerSince two full moons ago, only one night in seven has been clear enough for us to see the moon. Yet I always know where the moon is relative to the sun and the stars and our horizons, and I always know whether our moon ascends or descends and when it stands still and when it crosses over, and I always know whether it has come closer to us or is farther away, and I don’t need to see it to know. Even so, the moon is always a welcome sight, even when it is so close and full that its light makes nearby stars as invisible as on a cloudy night.

And since Jupiter went retrograde back in early December, we’ve had little opportunity to watch the majestic giant back away from Regulus. Yet from the rare evening clear enough to catch the planet rising to the morning clear enough to watch it fade to the sunrise, I can tell the hour of day by its path across our winter night, and I can tell how far we’ve gone into the season by how far the planet leads Leo. Still, Jupiter is always beautiful to witness so bright overhead, and this winter on clear nights it has become the first wanderer I turn to see.

And we’ve had mostly clouds and rain through the past dozen cycles of Algol. Yet as easily as knowing dawn and dusk I can tell when the demon winks, and I know where Medusa’s head floats even during winter’s daytime when it crosses over the other side of our earth, and I know it’s a glimpse of Algol I’m catching even if it’s the only star peeking through a passing break in our clouds. Nevertheless I love having skies open enough to trace the path I love to trace from Saiph through Bellatrix all the way over to Cassiopeia, then back to this fave.

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Written by macheide

13 January 2015 at 6:12 am

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Up Close and Intimate

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An Intimate Look at the Night SkyLike a love that never grows distant life after life after life, but grows only closer, more and more intimate, so is my friendship with the stars.

And like one can never study too many math books, like one can never lose oneself in too many chess books, like one can never fly too far on too many poetry books, likewise I can never have too many books about the skies around me. So yet another book purchased with the Christmas gift card given to me by Natalie: An Intimate Look at the Night Sky, by Chet Raymo.

When flipping through it while at the bookstore, what persuaded me to add it to my shelves: finding myself reading more than a few pages into Chapter 2 — “Dark: Why the Night Is Dark.” Start a discussion of darkness with a fave poem by Yeats and quickly hit escape velocity from there, and I’m caught as easily as a particle veering too close to the event horizon of a black hole.

Thank you again, Nat, for a Christmas gift that will last in my heart as long as the stars.

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Written by macheide

12 January 2015 at 6:16 am

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Sonnets Honestly Made

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The Making of a SonnetBecause she was adept at formal verse, a friend once had her poetry scorned as “less honest” than that of someone with no discipline at all to his scribbling. Her talent with sonnets was specifically targeted for unkind mocking. As for me, I always liked how she compared the fourteen lines of a sonnet to the natural cycles of the waxing and waning moon, the patterns of rhyme to the symmetry in a flower, the volta to the turning of the wind. Seriously, can anyone so crudely reject the sonnet, except by being ignorant to the making of a sonnet, let alone the true making of any art?

As many hundreds of sonnets as I already have in my private poetry library, and as many thousands as I have available through my local library, and as many tens of thousands as are available online, I still gladly welcome to my home shelves this new volume, courtesy of the gift card I received from Natalie for Christmas: The Making of a Sonnet, edited by Edward Hirsch and Eavan Boland.

Thank you, Nat, for the Christmas gift. Although I myself don’t write sonnets, I have always appreciated the honesty in a good sonnet. This book will be read many times cover to cover.

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Written by macheide

9 January 2015 at 5:41 am

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Legacy Castings

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The KalevalaOne of the books I’ve added to my private collection, courtesy of a Christmas gift card from Natalie: The Kalevala.

This version translated by Keith Bosley. I’d read this several times through a long time ago, long since forgetting enough details about the translation to be able to finger whose that was. Then recently had been reading through the version by John Martin Crawford — who may have done the translation I first read — posted online at Wikisource. Which I won’t be quitting while I pick up through this offline edition added to my library — since my knowledge of Finnish isn’t (yet) sufficient to work my own way through the Elias Lönnrot original, it helps having more than one English translation on hand. Hopefully most of the time the real meaning is somewhere in between these two, or can be pretty well discerned whenever outside the edges of either.

Whatever translation, this does belong in my own poetry library. One need not be authoring something as classic as Lord of the Rings to appreciate the legacy of The Kalevala to poetry and myth and spiritual heritage. Such castings as this don’t get rescinded on a passing whim. Such sampo never gets stolen or lost.

Thank you, Nat, for the Christmas gift.

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Written by macheide

7 January 2015 at 6:56 am

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Library Returns

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Hollis DedicationSuch things only happen in the movies, right? Actually, something like this did hit the big screen: think Serendipity, when Jonathan Trager’s bride-not-to-be hands him a copy of Love in the Time of Cholera and he opens the cover to find the name he’d been searching five years for.

About 44 years ago, William Hollis wrote Letters and Voices From the Steppes, a book of poems in which his friend and colleague Bernie — to whom the book is partly dedicated, and one of whose sculptures adorns the book’s cover — figures prominently throughout. Bernie’s children also put in appearances.

One of those children was Becky, who during that same year was beginning to take an interest in the poetry student who was editor of her high school’s poetry magazine: me. Influenced heavily by Becky and Bernie, I eventually doubled up on my math major during my closing years of college so as to have the opportunity for my major in English to be highlighted by some very delightful poetry studies with Bill. Upon college graduation, Becky and I married in a ceremony at Bernie’s home, surrounded by Bernie’s sculptures and the legend in which the Steppes poems were steeped. At which point Bill gave Becky and me a copy of Steppes, recognizing not only her own familiarity with the subject matter, but as much for me as a student of his. Ah, but when Becky and I divorced a decade later, in an effort to avoid any bitter arguments over division of joint property I asked only for Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited (and one other item, meant more as a symbolic gesture the significance of which was lost on her). So Steppes went off with her, although she had by that time demonstrated quite well that, as Leonard Cohen put it, “You don’t really care for music, do ya.”

Several lives later (quite literally so) I am finally rebuilding my own poetry library, so quite obviously needed to add Steppes back to my own shelves. Suzi had just recently introduced me to the online wonderworld of one of my favorite local hang-outs — second-hand book dealer Half-Price Books — where a few weeks ago she guided me through my first foray: four Hollis poetry books, led by Steppes. Coming from various book dealers with whom HPB works, shipping info indicated I would be receiving three separate packages from three separate sources.

My first shipment brought me two newer Hollis books. Although all these books are second-hand volumes, I found mildly intriguing and a bit disappointing that one of those first two books with a handwritten personal note from Bill to the original recipient was in almost mint condition, quite possibly never even opened before for so much as a single poem. My second shipment brought me Steppes which the HPB info had described as also being “Signed by Author.” Having recently read online a Hollis poem speaking of the memorial service for Bernie’s death some years ago (a poem in which many of the Steppes characters re-appeared in a rather sad, very distant echo of the power of the Steppes voices), and guessing that Bernie’s own copy of Steppes probably wasn’t held onto by his beneficiaries, I wondered aloud to Suzi whether I might find this copy of Steppes to have been given personally by Bill to Bernie.

And then opened the book’s cover.

To find the dedication shown here. “Ummm, even freakier than Bernie….,” I said, handing Suzi the book for her to see. “This is my book.” I am the “Richard” of “Richard and Becky.” Almost 3 decades after I forfeited Steppes to divorce, my own copy is the one that finds its way back to my shelves, to my eyes, to my reading.

“Take what you have gathered from coincidence,” Dylan sang. A huge difference between fiction’s Serendipity and my reality’s Steppes is that my coincidence is no sign, no forewarning that anything significant is about to happen. I grew up sincerely believing life made great circles such as those in Dickens’ Great Expectations, and perhaps it occasionally does so. And this nice little completion of a circle is worth a contented smile, like at least one little piece of the whole space-time continuum has actually found its rightful place for a moment. I know Bernie would smile at it, at least, almost as if his emissary from a far place had come home to stay. But past that, no message, no sign. Just that one fitting moment.

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Written by macheide

11 September 2014 at 12:46 pm

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