Friday, July 17, 2020

Poetry Friday: Summer Poetry Swap

Much thanks to Carol Varsalona, who sent me a lovely digital journal for the Summer Poetry Swap. Here are some screen grabs of it:

The thoughtfulness and creativity of these Poetry Swaps never cease to amaze me. They have really been bright spots this year.

Jone Rush MacCulloch is hosting the roundup today. Check out what everyone is posting!

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Reading Update

In an effort to lower my snarkiness level, I am going to write a post about what I've been reading. It's a challenge to find the perfect book to read in these times, as I've remarked before. I had chosen A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Bakman, to read aloud to my husband, and I abandoned it because it was the - whatever the opposite of a sweet spot is - combination of depressing and triggering and attempted but not succeeded endearing. I don't want fluff to read, but I can't handle majorly traumatic right now. Learning new things is good, up to a point. I feel as though I am not reading much, but then I see that I've finished eleven books since this time last month, so I guess that's not too much of a slump.

Book #28 of this weird and increasingly horrifying year was I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou. I thought I knew quite a bit about this book, but it's way more interesting and quirky than I realized. A memorable moment is her high school graduation, when she describes singing "Lift Every Voice and Sing" after a humiliating and obnoxious speech by a white man, and for the first time in her life really hearing the words.
We've been singing this at our church for the last few years, and it is such a beautiful song and so packed with meaning. I am sorry it took me so long to find it.

Book #29 was The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, by Suzanne Collins, the prequel to the Hunger Games books. This is the story of future Panem president Corialanus Snow. I found it depressing but absorbing.

Book #30 was Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman. I had somehow formed the impression that this was a light, fun read. Not so much.
Here's a taste: "He'd elected to look after me himself. I'd been pondering this, and concluded that there must be some people for whom difficult behavior wasn't a reason to end their relationship with you. If they liked you - and, I remembered, Raymond and I had agreed that we were pals now - then, it seemed, they were prepared to maintain contact - even if you were sad, or upset, or behaving in very challenging ways. This was something of a revelation."

Book #31 was The Clergyman's Wife, by Molly Greeley. I'd like to discuss this Pride and Prejudice sequel with a group. The clergyman's wife of the title is Charlotte Lucas Collins. There were things I really liked about this and things I really hated. One thing I liked was that it maintained the mournful ambiguity of the original presentation of Charlotte's story. I was glad to see things through Charlotte's eyes, rather than Lizzy's, because let's face it, however delightful Lizzy is, it does get tiresome to see her laughing merrily at everyone. Jane Austen herself sees there's more to Charlotte, I think. I also really liked the way I started to see endearing qualities about Mr. Collins. Again, having Lizzy a long way away helped with that. Please read it and let's talk about it.

Book #32 was Beach Read, by Emily Henry. I didn't love this, but it did hold my interest. And I enjoyed the focus on January's past, her family and her friendships. I enjoyed the portrayal of novel-writing, too.

Book #33 was Nothing to See Here, by Kevin Wilson. Wow! I loved this book! It was so quirky and unpredictable and I realized how long it had been since I had read something that just completely surprised me. It's also heartbreaking and beautiful in a very ugly and painful way. And the characters, while wildly improbable things happen to them, are completely believable. A lot of people won't like the language.
Here's a taste: "This was how you did it, how you raised children. You built them a house that was impervious to danger and then you gave them every single thing that they could ever want, no matter how impossible. You read to them at night. Why couldn't people figure this out?"

Book #34 was a re-re-re-re-re-read, Life of the Beloved, by Henri Nouwen. I hope some day I won't have the need to reread this book constantly, but so far I still need it. It's such a great reminder of how much God loves us, and how that's what we need, not the love and approval of other people. At least, we don't need the love and approval of other people nearly as much as we think we do. See how I can type those words and even believe them? Some day I will live as though I believe them.

Book #35 was Olive, Again, by Elizabeth Strout. "There were so many things that could not be said, and this had occurred to Cindy with more frequency and it made her heart ache." This is a sequel to Olive Kitteredge, which I read and reviewed here in 2010. Like the original, this one is told in interconnected short stories, and like the original, it's about loneliness. The characters are so finely drawn and their experiences are so realistic that they made me squirm. Elizabeth Strout is an amazing writer.

Book #36 was Meg & Jo, by Virginia Kantra. This is a retelling of Little Women, but happening today. I liked many things about it, but I wasn't sure I wanted to know that much about the sex lives of the March girls. But I saw there's going to be a sequel about the other two sisters, and I will totally read it.

Book #37 was Healing Maddie Brees, by Rebecca Brewster Stevenson. I had started this several months ago, but for some reason not finished it. It's beautifully written and a very realistic, serious look at a marriage. I recommend it.

Book #38 was The House Girl, by Tara Conklin. One of the goosebumps moments in this book - and there were quite a few - was when Lina, a lawyer working on a case that would demand reparations for slavery, is sitting in her room writing down what happened to a bunch of people in a historical document, from bad living conditions to abuse to rape to murder: "Lina wrote on her yellow legal pad: The harm is immeasurable." There's a lot going on in this story - motherhood, art, workplace politics, hideous racism, the Underground Railroad - yet somehow it never seemed too much. I thought Tara Conklin handled it beautifully and gave me a fresh look at a subject I've read about countless times before. It reminded me a little bit of Kindred, by Octavia Butler, which I read in 2016 and reviewed here, but without the time travel. Like that book, it makes absolutely zero effort to turn slavery into a pretty story. It's hard to read, but read it.

Thursday, July 09, 2020

Poetry Friday: Welcome to the Poetry Party

Welcome, fellow poetry lovers! I'm excited to welcome you to my blog to share your links. I have been participating in Poetry Friday for thirteen years, and yet this is the first time I have hosted. It's not that I didn't want to invite all of you over, it's just that I have always feared technical difficulties. My internet here in Haiti is slow and often unreliable, so I offer that in advance as an explanation if it takes a little bit before you see your link here. Please leave it in the comments. Moderation is enabled, so you won't see your comment right away, but I will get to it as fast as I can, and round up everybody's contributions the old-fashioned way in the body of this post. I guess this is the Poetry Friday version of giving you instructions about the dish you brought to share at a real-life party, with food and music and conversation - remember those? Put it over there on the table. Do you have something to serve it with? Looks delicious! Thanks so much for coming! 

As I tried to decide what I myself would bring to the feast, I started looking for poems about parties, the analog kind. I found some fun ones, like Adrienne Su lamenting that her guests have thrown away her non-disposable chopsticks. (Please, don't do that at my house. Like Adrienne's, our chopsticks are reusable, and we do use them, several times a week. This year my daughter is living in a house where we've never been with people we've never met, and my husband and I contributed a couple of packages of reusable chopsticks to their kitchen because that's just civilized.)

After the Dinner Party
by Adrienne Su

Dropping napkins, corks, and non-compostables
into the trash, I see that friends have mistaken
my everyday chopsticks for disposables

helpfully discarding them alongside inedibles:
pork bones, shrimp shells, bitter melon.
Among napkins and corks, they do look compostable:

off-white, wooden, warped from continual
washing - no lacquer, no ornament. But anyone
who thinks these chopsticks are disposable

doesn't live with chopsticks in the comfortable
way of a favorite robe, oversized, a bit broken.

Here's the rest.

And here's one by Jason Shinder:

The Party
by Jason Shinder

And that's how it is; everyone standing up from the big silence

of the table with their glasses of certainty and plates of forgiveness
and walking into the purple kitchen; everyone leaning away from the gas stove

Marie blows on at the very edge of the breaking blue-orange-lunging-

forward flames to warm another pot of coffee...

Here's the rest.

I really miss hanging out with people. On Wednesday morning as my husband and I were perusing Facebook together before starting our day, I commented to him that a lot of our friends were saying (usually in anniversary paeans) that their spouse was the one person in all the world they would have chosen to be quarantined with. I assured him that I feel that way too, but that while he is great and all, and I'm so happy that I picked him and had kids with him and ultimately ended up with him in this Year of our Lord 2020 when we are all locked indoors for many a month, I am extremely ready for some hanging out time with others. So again I say, welcome, welcome! Stay a while and chat! Share your writing or that of others that you've been appreciating lately! Share lots of words; I am totally up for that. In fact, you may have trouble leaving, as I'm likely to step outside with you in the moonlight and detain you in the driveway for just a few more minutes of conversation.

I'm organizing your contributions on the buffet table according to when they show up, from Thursday afternoon when this post goes live (hi, friends from Australia, plus anyone else who just likes to get a head start) until Friday night.


Our first guest is all the way from Switzerland! Welcome, Bridget Magee! She has brought a whole platter of goodies, what she calls "Writer's Retreat Wee-Sources." No matter where you are, these are opportunities to write in community, and boy, do we need that right now!

April Halprin Wayland arrived next, and even though her link doesn't go live until tomorrow morning, I'm going to post it here on the appetizer table. I'll visit it in the morning and update you on it further - all I know now is that she's going to share a tip from anthologist and poet extraordinaire, Lee Bennett Hopkins. I'm sure it will be delicious! Here's the link, for tomorrow.  (I was right - it's a good one! Check it out!)

Every Thursday I see Margaret Simon's "This Photo Wants to be a Poem" feature as kind of an introduction to Poetry Friday. Here's today's beautiful inspiration - a Bedouin bride! 

Michelle Kogan stopped by with some James Baldwin to share. She's been reading his poem "Staggerlee Wonders," and then she wrote her response to it. This is challenging fare, but we need it. Here's Michelle's post.

Tabatha's sharing wonderful poetry swaps! Thanks, Tabatha! (She's also brought a pitcher of blueberry-chamomile lemonade after "accidentally" buying 17 lemons. Accidentally, Tabatha? You're not going to share the story after that intriguing hint?) Update: I begged Tabatha to explain further, and here's what she said in the comments: "Sorry, Ruth! I get a box of fruit and veg every week from a place that sells ugly produce, and when I opened the box yesterday, it had SO MANY LEMONS in it. They just kept coming. I thought I was ordering three lemons, but I actually ordered three sets of five. Ha ha?? (I also had two in my Whole Foods delivery order -- forgot that I had ordered some already -- and I already had one. So my total is 18.) Guess I'm starting a lemonade stand!"

What could be more delicious than a villanelle? That's what Janice Scully is sharing this week!


I woke up to an inbox full of poems! That sure is better than the scrolling of the news that often starts my day.  Welcome, friends!

Little Willow always brings intriguing dishes to the party, and this week is no exception, even though as always I have problems commenting on her blog.  Here's her contribution!

Matt's generosity to the potluck leaves me reeling - he's brought wild berry shortcake with homemade biscuits, plus homemade mac and cheese, plus a mac and cheese poem! Enjoy the bounty!

Linda has a bunch of what she calls "clunker lines," but let me tell you, folks, there are some with great potential! Take one of hers and leave one of your own! She also has a lovely poetry swap. Take a taste!

Myra's brought a whole buffet of her own, with links to ten favorite PF posts from the time Gathering Books has been participating - since 2011!

I'm running into Carol Varsalona everywhere this week! She sent me a poetry swap (which I'm going to be sharing next week), we both contributed to This Photo Wants to be a Poem (see the link on the Appetizer table), and now she's brought a dish to pass at my party! Here it is! 

Welcome to Kat, first to show up from the Australian contingent! She's sharing poetry swaps today, too!

Linda's in with a sad reflection on the gun violence that shattered the July 4th holiday weekend. We share your grief, Linda.

Laura's got more swaps - that seems to be a theme this week! She's receiving from Margaret Simon, and she's responding with a poem of her own.

Whew. I need to sit down for a moment after all those posts and all those exclamation marks in my roundup. Keep the links coming and I'll be back to add them!

Oops! Before I sit down, I just realized I almost overlooked Mary Lee's contribution to the buffet table. She wrote an In One Word poem with the word FALLIBILITY.  It's perfect as the teachers among us (and there are many) look forward to the coming school year with a mixture of fear and hope.

BRUNCH (Friday mid-morning)

Margaret Simon tried out Irene Latham's nestling technique shown in Irene's new book "This Poem is a Nest." I can't wait to get my hands on that book, and I love Margaret's take on the idea, too! See what you think here!

Tim Gels wrote about a hike, and I have to say I am a bit jealous. It sounds so beautiful and restorative! Thanks, Tim!

Amy's sharing a beautiful moment that broke through sadness for her this week. I can't agree more with her assessment that "This is the power of paying attention...and too, the power of writing." You can enjoy Amy's moment here.

(By the way, Tabatha reappeared in the comments, explaining more about how she "accidentally" bought so many lemons, which she then turned into lemonade. Read all about it in the comments, or up on the appetizer table, where I cut and pasted it.)

MAIN DISHES (Friday afternoon)

Karen Edmisten shares a haiku about parties and laments that she and her family weren't able to celebrate her daughter's home-school graduation with proper fanfare. So sorry, Karen! I hope you're able to make up for it in the future!

Carol has two original poems today at her site The Apples in My Orchard. Maybe she'll bring some apples too? Cider? Apple butter?

Jane is going funny and light-hearted today, with a poem that was a favorite of mine as a child, and she sort of sounds like she's apologizing for it at first. I've been there, Jane - but I agree with you that we need funny and light-hearted more now than ever! Thanks for the laugh!

Rose has an original poem today, based, like Margaret Simon's above, on Irene Latham's new book. So cool, and I can imagine doing this with students, too. Here it is.

DESSERTS (Friday evening)

I never ate green beans for dessert, but I may have to start, since the last post I got yesterday was this one from Susan Bruck praising green beans! Thanks, Susan!

And hey, I just visited Irene Latham's blog and saw that she posted yesterday too, and there are strawberries involved!

Thank you, everyone, for coming to the party! I hope you enjoy perusing all the poems and leave lots of encouraging comments wherever you go. Have a wonderful weekend!

Friday, July 03, 2020

Poetry Friday: When People Say...

John Green referenced this poem on his podcast The Anthropocene Reviewed, which I frequently listen to with my son. In June's episode, he reviewed seventeen suggestions from listeners. One was the pandemic. While he acknowledged that people like to find silver linings and say that everything is really good even though it looks bad, he gave the pandemic one star, his lowest rating.

When people say "we have made it through worse before"
by Clint Smith

all I hear is the wind slapping against the gravestones
of those who did not make it, those who did not
survive to see the confetti fall from the sky, those who

did not live to watch the parade roll down the street.

Here's the rest.

Tune in next week when I will be hosting Poetry Friday here on my blog for the first time. Today's roundup is hosted by Linda Mitchell here.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Poetry Friday: Deserts

My daughter has lived in the desert this year. It's the first time she's lived somewhere I haven't been, and I squint at the rare photo she sends in an effort to understand what she experiences, what she sees. I don't know her friends, I don't know her life.

Each day I look at the temperature where she is and groan at how hot it is. (Yesterday it was 109 degrees.) "It's a dry heat," yes, but it's still unbelievable. She says you can't comfortably go outside during the day. I read an article about how homeless people die every year of heat in her city; air conditioning is nearly a necessity.

This past week I have thought a lot about deserts. We had several days of a dust cloud from the Sahara hanging over our normally idyllic blue skies. Here's an article about it. Experts named the cloud "Godzilla." It's a regular phenomenon to have desert dust in the atmosphere, but this was the thickest in fifty years, and this was the first year I was aware that they actually gave it a name. I read that we could expect extra beautiful sunrises and sunsets, but that turned out to be false; we couldn't see anything in the sky except grey, or feel anything but oppressive, heavy, heat. The Ministry of Health took a moment from their Coronavirus updates to tell us to be careful of this dust; don't exercise, stay indoors, wear your mask (at least you have a mask - see, it's multipurpose!). Now Godzilla has moved on, but reportedly we will get some more effects from it tomorrow.

I've also been reading poems about deserts, in a book called A Nostalgist's Map of America, by Agha Shahid Ali, a poet from Kashmir who wrote in English and became a U.S. citizen. He merges all the deserts of his life in his poems. Although I've been trying to learn more about him and read more of his work, I find my favorite poem so far is still the first one of his I read, "Snow on the Desert."

I had hoped to travel this year to visit my daughter and to see her home, but like so many things we'd planned, it didn't happen. I have to imagine what it's like, using my various source materials, and unfortunately those materials include articles about how COVID-19 is spreading there and how there, as everywhere in the US now, people are marching against their local examples of violence.
I bought a used copy of Agha Shahid Ali's book, and it's clearly been a textbook, judging by the marginal notes, some of which seem a bit confused. Here's my favorite example:
I imagine the professor explaining in passing, "Eurydice, the wife of Orpheus..." and then assuming comprehension from the students, but this student has scribbled, "and Orficace (he?)" and then after the first line of the poem, "I am a woman," added, apparently a little bewildered, "author a guy."

This summer I'm locked down, but it also feels a bit like wandering in a desert, a desert where I don't see a clear path and I don't get all the references in the poetry (Orficace?) and it's hot and hard to breathe.

Here's today's roundup. And over at Kat's blog, she's sharing some Summer Poem Swaps, including some I sent her. You can read them here

Friday, June 19, 2020

Poetry Friday: A Poetry Swap, and Pushing Statues into the Water

I recently received several beautiful poems from Kat Apel as part of the Summer Poetry Swap (organized by Tabatha Yeatts - thanks, Tabatha!). Here they are:

The Lord himself goes before you and with you;
He will never leave you nor forsake you.
Do not be afraid;
do not be discouraged.

He will never leave you nor forsake you;
He numbers the hairs on your head
and preserves your every tear.

Do not be afraid,
for the Lord your God will be with you;
Sleep in sweet peace.

Do not be discouraged,
but let God's unfailing love
comfort you.

That poem is a trimeric, which I confess I had to look up. Here's a nice clear definition of how it works.  Its words couldn't be more appropriate for this time of my life. Thanks so much, Kat!

I love that Kat knows I am a bird-lover.  The two other poems she sent are both bird-related.

Carolling Australian Magpies
Cracticus tibicen / Family Artamidae


black and white
warbling magpies
gargle sweet notes
into a new 
                dawn chorus.

Abound in hope,
believing there is
life brighter than the
noonday. Wait with patience for the thing
you cannot see. Face suffering with
rejoicing - shelter under the feathers
of His wings. Like the mustard seed that
matures for birds to find perches 
in its branches, grow in
faith as you put your hope in the
Lord. Seek him with all your heart and soul.

This is a golden shovel poem, and I bolded the last word of each line so you can see the quote Kat used; it's Emily Dickinson's line: "Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul." Perfect!

Thank you, Kat, for all three of these wonderful poems!

This week I read a poem written by the City Poet of Bristol, England, Vanessa Kisuule, on the occasion of the statue of slave trader Edward Colston getting pushed into the harbor in Bristol by Black Lives Matter protestors. It begins:

You came down easy in the end
The righteous wrench of two ropes in a grand plié.

Read the rest, right up until the devastating last line, here. Better yet, listen to her read it herself - wow, it packs a punch!

Here are videos of the statue going into the water and then being retrieved - I read that it's going to end up in a museum. (Look at how easily it is handled - especially notable after reading/listening to the poem! It is not heavy at all.)

In the city where I live, a statue was pushed into the ocean in 1986. That was before I moved to Haiti, so I looked up a newspaper article about it (unfortunately, that was pre-YouTube) here. The Chicago Tribune found the choice of Columbus' statue as a target of protestors' ire to be "whimsical." I don't know if some of the places they destroyed were chosen whimsically, but I'm pretty sure Columbus wasn't, because even back then, he was definitely associated with bad things in people's minds here. For the first couple of years we lived in Haiti, we still had a holiday for Discovery Day, December 5th, when Columbus got to Hispaniola (he's the one that named the island that, Little Spain). Then one year (I can't remember exactly when), we had school that day. My husband asked a Haitian friend why the change, and his dry response was, "Can you say genocide?" I found this photo of the statue in situ (notice the title the website has given it), and this one of where it lives now (bonus at that link: a Twitter thread suggesting what is to be done with these statues that are being taken down all over the place). I read a provocative essay on Facebook by author Philippa Gregory last week with her own suggestion: statue gardens where these disgraced statues lie flat on their backs.

It all went so wrong,
Christophe Colombe!
Your boat sank here, off the shore of Haiti,
and then almost 500 years later, you did, too.
Now you live in the Bureau of Ethnology
Where you have taken a knee.

Ruth, from

P.S. Happy Juneteenth!

Tricia, at The Miss Rumphius Effect, is hosting today's roundup.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Fragments of Light

"Survivors deserve crosses too."

This absorbing novel, Fragments of Light, by Michèle Phoenix, is about several types of survivors, and it explores the fact that surviving isn't as simple as just making it through. Often the trauma you've survived leaves scars on you and those around you. In Ceelie's case, the trauma was cancer, and she's just starting to come to terms with all the scars her illness left on her body, her mind, and her marriage. Right there for her is her friend Darlene, and it's through this friend that she learns about another survivor, this time a veteran of World War II. Coming back alive was just the beginning for him, too.

Whether she's writing about the French résistance in 1944, a hospital room in Illinois, a trip to Normandy, or the emotional minefields of a long marriage or a new friendship, Michèle Phoenix sensitively navigates what it means to survive. What comes after you ring the bell saying you've "Completed Treatment" or after you've left behind battles fought and won?

Get to know Ceelie, Nate, Darlene, Cal, Sabine, Lise, and others with struggles to go through in this beautiful book. The journey of a survivor is rarely neat and tidy, and can take you to some unexpected places. Find out why one of these characters concludes: "Survivors deserve crosses too."
Michèle Phoenix grew up as a TCK in France, and in addition to her career as a novelist (this is her fifth book, and the second I've read - this post contains a brief review of the other one), she works as a speaker and therapist specializing in TCK issues. She's also a breast cancer survivor. She knows complexity, and she knows survival.

Watch this video of the author meeting a veteran called Albert in Normandy. He was one of the inspirations for this novel, so much so that she even named a character after him.
I got an ARC of this book from in exchange for an honest review. This was book #29 I read in 2020.