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Posts Tagged ‘poetry

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

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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The Boardinghouse Madrigals

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In our community drama group’s recent production of The Boardinghouse, I acted the role of Mr. Richards, a would-be novelist who becomes a would-be poet who then transforms into a would-be writer of political speeches. Always fashioning himself as a “creative artist.”

The perfect role for me to play, since the play’s Mr. Richards is such an abject failure at it. To play that part, I don’t even need to pretend very hard.

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Written by macheide

11 November 2014 at 5:46 pm

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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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Women’s Poetry?

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Women’s Poetry?

Undoubtedly gender does play an important part in the making of any art, but art is art and to separate writings, paintings, musical compositions, etc., into two sexes is to emphasize values in them that are not art.

— Elizabeth Bishop, 8 June 1977

 

That quote comes to me courtesy of The Faber Book of 20th Century Women’s Poetry, which I am currently reading, thanks to the first of the two renewals I’m permitted for borrowing the book from our county’s library system. Editor Fleur Adcock quotes Bishop to open that poet’s section of the anthology, observing, “Elizabeth Bishop’s executor has requested us to record the fact that the poet objected on principle to appearing in a women’s anthology for the following reason, which she stated in a letter dated 8 June, 1977….” Oh. So over your objections, which we choose not to respect, we’ll make you appear anyway, no reason given for why we do so. (Like, if Bishop were to object strongly enough, how could copyright permission even be granted to this anthology, since Bishop is not like Frost or Yeats, not yet having crossed the line into the public domain?)

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Written by macheide

27 July 2014 at 8:32 am

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Doubting Thomas a Little Less

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Doubting Thomas...a Little LessAh, nice, quite nice! I’m on a self-imposed routine to re-read one of Dylan Thomas’ poems per day through the rest of this summer and into the autumn, anticipating completing that re-reading course on October 27 of this year, the 100th anniversary of the birth of the poet.

To set my re-reading schedule, I’d relied on my own personal collection’s copy of Collected Poems of Dylan Thomas 1934-1952 (1971 New Directions paperback), together with a few other DT poems picked up elsewhere along the way. But then a few weeks before I was set to launch my DT re-reading, I lost track of where I’d left my book. Turns out I’d moved it from my bookshelves to my transit bag seeing most current Starbucks action . . . then hadn’t been to Starbucks for several weeks due to other activities. But by the time I relocated my own book (thanks, Suzi), I’d requested backup from my local library, which had to order theirs from another library branch somewhere else in the county.

Theirs came in sometime the past several days, but I waited to pick it up until I was ready to return the Stevie Smith poetry book I had out on an extended loan. Because I’d since found my own Dylan Thomas volume, I came close to just leaving theirs, which after a 9-day holding period would have been shipped back to its own library branch like an illegal immigrant. Ah, but it wouldn’t hurt to keep the library’s copy on my nightstand and send my own copy back to my Starbucks travel kit, right?

Turns out that I did right to proceed with borrowing the library version: The Poems of Dylan Thomas (1971 New Directions hardbound). Hardbound, paperpack, whatever – either way, they’re both New Directions publications copyrighted in 1971, so the library gives me a suitable substitute, right? Ummm, no . . . better! At first perusal while waiting in the check-out line at the library, it appears that this library book has all of the poems of my book, plus all the extra ones I’d collected along the way plus several I don’t recall ever having seen before! (I shouldn’t be so hard on myself about it — after all, I’m a general poetry reader, not a Dylan Thomas scholar, so I only had a vague impression that there was more out there beyond this DT-endorsed set I’d been re-reading since my college days.)

Anyway, since I’m already a week into my re-reading schedule, I’ll be doubling up on a few days, first re-reading the poem I’d originally scheduled for a particular day, then adding a first-time reading of a DT poem I’ll not have seen before, how many newbies on how many two-poem days yet to be determined over the course of the coming weeks as I explore this library book.

Sometimes you have to lose something you know you still have in order to find something you didn’t know you were missing.

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Written by macheide

23 July 2014 at 4:03 pm

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Again Of Math and Metaphor

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Two books new to my home stacks —

AtwoodMorning in the Burned House, new poems by Margaret Atwood. One of two copies that were on the used bookstore’s poetry shelves, and the book has no marks nor signs of wear; so this might actually be a new book, picked up from some other bookseller’s leftovers rather than a previously owned book. One or two of the poems in this book, I may have read online before, I won’t know for sure until I’ve read through them, first reading to be done over the course of the new several weeks, with initial place being a temporary spot on Daystand. Permanent place will be on my key poetry shelf in the living room. Update — Yes, re-reading “Helen of Troy Does Counter Dancing” upon encountering it during transcription of the book’s TOC for my Poetry Register, that one I know I’ve read several times before; it’s been rather frequently passed along elsewhere. But then starting back at the beginning after a preliminary scan of first lines, I know I’ve not previously read the first poem here, “You Come Back” – that closing line is the sort of thing I tend to remember long, the sort of thing that sends that poem to my memorization queue, the spark that has Atwood high on my list of favorite poets, precisely the reason this purchase today was so nice a find.

linear algebraLinear Algebra, by Larry Smith. (The Amazon link here refers to the paperback reprint of the hardbound version I purchased.) First copyrighted in 1978, obviously this is not the same text used by the linear algebra college class I did well at during my second semester at Houghton in early 1973; as I recall, the cover of my linear algebra book back then was a deep blue. Although I’m currently also reading several other math books I own (notably, one on Fermat’s Last Theorem), I’ll be using this linear algebra text to re-launch my own personal mathematics study program, curriculum to follow shortly. Temporary place, as I begin its study: Sewing room book stack. Permanent place: living room math bookshelf.

Susan had been off at the sewing center picking up two machines she’d had off for repair work, but cautioned me against making any purchases at Half-Price Books without checking with her first, then carefully reiterating her caution lest I had thought her to merely be teasing with the running joke about how I’m not to be trusted in a bookstore with spare cash in my pocket — ah, she’s got a surprise coming for me! So I did text her and tried a follow-up phone call after I’d found the Atwood, both book approval attempts seeing no response as she went about her business. Which was what gave me the time to find the linear algebra text — bad enough to let me run free in a bookstore with spare cash, but give me spare time too and I’m seriously dangerous! Finally I simply took the chance and made my purchases without her pre-approved stamp, risking that she’d not managed to find the one Atwood poetry book I’d be most likely to jump at the chance to get, with the even greater risk (ummm, not?) that she’d be giving me a linear algebra textbook. The bookstore clerk had to hear me chat about it, so he took it seriously enough to tell me that the back of my sales receipt described a return policy, should it turn out that I’d matched Suzi’s gift choice. I won’t be needing to use that, thanks anyway.

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Written by macheide

22 July 2014 at 2:38 pm

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