Friday, December 19, 2014

Poetry Friday: Grief

I can't stop thinking about those parents in Pakistan who are burying their children this week.  And of the parents from Newtown, whose terrible anniversary rolled around last week.  And of parents around the world who are grieving the loss of a child, including some whom I know.  Kay Warren, whose son committed suicide last year, published an article this month about how the cards and letters so many people send this time of year, with photos of their perfect families, cause extra pain. 

Shakespeare, who himself lost an eleven year old son, writes about loss in the play King John.  This speech comes from Constance:

Grief fills the room up of my absent child,
Lies in his bed, walks up and down with me,
Puts on his pretty looks, repeats his words,
Remembers me of all his gracious parts,
Stuffs out his vacant garments with his form;
Then, have I reason to be fond of grief?
Fare you well: had you such a loss as I,
I could give better comfort than you do.
I will not keep this form upon my head,
When there is such disorder in my wit.
O Lord! my boy, my Arthur, my fair son!
My life, my joy, my food, my all the world!
My widow-comfort, and my sorrows' cure!

I read a news story in which one of the women in Peshawar spoke of her son getting up and getting ready to go to school to take his exams - and then not coming home.  She mentioned that her husband had already died.  And now her "widow-comfort," taken too. 

It is no comfort that this pain crosses boundaries of time, nation, religion - but how is it that we never learn, and that losses that we human beings could prevent continue to happen?  They happen, and then all we can do is try to give "better comfort."

Buffy, who is hosting this week's roundup, is focusing on light in darkness.  I'm afraid I've added more to the darkness than to the light with this week's contribution, but go and read what other people have shared, and I'm sure you will find something more festive!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Reading Update

The year is winding down, and it's almost time for the end-of-year reading lists.  I don't know how many more books I'll finish, but here's the latest:

Book #53 of the year was Lay It on My Heart, by Angela Pneuman.  I was in college with Angela and was pretty excited to see her new book favorably reviewed in O Magazine.  I found it riveting, disturbing, and unforgettable.  The book skewers the evangelical world in a way that is both uncomfortable and compelling.  The last scene, especially, will stay with me.

Book #54 was a reread, Mystical Paths, by Susan Howatch.  I wrote a bit about the series in this post.

Book #55 was Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You, by John Ortberg.  This is largely a tribute to Ortberg's friend and mentor, Dallas Willard, who died recently.  It is a quick but deep read, worth going back to.

Book #56 was another reread, Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen.  The link is to the audio version I listened to while exercising.  It is read by Maureen O'Brien and is wonderful. 

Book #57 was Rob Bell's new book on marriage, written with his wife, Kristen.  It's called The Zimzum of Love: A New Way of Understanding Marriage.  I read it aloud to my husband, and while it may not be "a new way of understanding marriage," which is rather a large claim, the zimzum idea is interesting and cool.  We enjoyed thinking and talking about it.  The zimzum could be used to talk about the space between people in any relationship, really, but the Bells focus on marriage in their definition of it as responsive, dynamic, exclusive, and sacred.  I liked the conversational way the book was written, with Rob and Kristen both contributing.  The examples from their relationship were fun.  Probably most of my readers already know what they think of Bell.  Some wouldn't pick up anything he writes.  (Full disclosure: I love to hear him preach.  He's a poet and a master communicator.)  But if you're seeking evidence for his defection from your average evangelical party line, look no further than the first chapter, where we are told: "Marriage has the uniquely powerful capacity to transform you both into more loving and generous and courageous and compassionate people.  Marriage - gay and straight - is a gift to the world because the world needs more - not less - love, fidelity, commitment, devotion and sacrifice."  That is the last time the g-word is mentioned, and the pronoun use throughout is exquisitely careful.  Other than that one line, I really don't think there's much here that any evangelical would quibble at.  The book doesn't go into gender roles at all, and given how dreadfully other marriage books have done at that one, I say, hooray!  It doesn't go much into the gospel, either, though there's a reference to John 3:16, concluding: "Divine love is the kind of love that does something."  Next we're going to read aloud Tim Keller's marriage book that he wrote with his wife (that's a thing right now, apparently, writing a marriage book with your wife - maybe my husband and I will try it!).  I'll let you know how that one goes.

Book #58 is the eighth - yes, eighth! - in a serious of massive books.  And the series isn't over yet!  I borrowed Written in My Own Heart's Blood, by Diana Gabaldon, from a library in the States (I've recently figured out how to do this on my Kindle), but I found the two weeks allotted to read it were not sufficient during a busy time of the school year, and I ended up buying it so I could finish it.  At the time I purchased it, there was a deep discount on it.  I remarked when I read the seventh book (post here) that I kind of had to force myself to finish it, feeling that I'd invested so much of my life in these characters that I was obligated not to give up now.  I didn't feel the same about this one.  It was enjoyable, and I hope it doesn't take five years for the next one to be published!

There are a couple more I'm working on that I might finish before the end of the year.  We'll see!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Poetry Friday: Mark Doty

I shared this poem back in 2011, and I thought it was time for an encore.  I love the way Doty juxtaposes the sublime music and the very ordinary, familiar performers in this local production of The Messiah. 

Messiah (Christmas Portions)

By Mark Doty
A little heat caught
in gleaming rags,
in shrouds of veil,
   torn and sun-shot swaddlings:

   over the Methodist roof,
two clouds propose a Zion
of their own, blazing
   (colors of tarnish on copper)

   against the steely close
of a coastal afternoon, December,
while under the steeple
   the Choral Society

   prepares to perform
Messiah, pouring, in their best
blacks and whites, onto the raked stage.
   Not steep, really,

   but from here,
the first pew, they’re a looming
cloudbank of familiar angels:
   that neighbor who

   fights operatically
with her girlfriend, for one,
and the friendly bearded clerk
   from the post office

   —tenor trapped
in the body of a baritone? Altos
from the A&P, soprano
   from the T-shirt shop:

   today they’re all poise,
costume and purpose
conveying the right note
   of distance and formality. 

Friday, December 05, 2014

Poetry Friday: Grading

I can't really think about poetry today, except that written by my middle schoolers, which I shall now be reading (along with their prose), in bulk, for the next several days.  This poem is appropriate, except that my creative, funny, original kids have chosen their own topics, and their writing will therefore be much more entertaining reading than what George Bilgere is avoiding. 

Robert Frost

by George Bilgere

Over there on the dining room table
are just twenty-five of the thousands of essays
on the poetry of Robert Frost
produced this week alone in the USA,
the world leader in essays on Robert Frost.

The essays are about ambiguity
in The Road Not Taken, and also ambiguity
in Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.

Every year the English majors of America
must read these poems and analyze their ambiguity
or compare and contrast their ambiguity
in five double-spaced pages.

Here's the rest, at the Writer's Almanac.

And here's today's roundup.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Poetry Friday: Praise!

Perhaps what I am most thankful for this Thanksgiving is some rest and time off.  So this poem seems appropriate:

In Praise of My Bed

by Meredith Holmes
At last I can be with you!
The grinding hours
since I left your side!
The labor of being fully human,
working my opposable thumb,
talking, and walking upright.
Here's the rest.   (Don't worry - it's short.  You'll still have time for a nap.)

Here's today's roundup.  Happy Day After Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Poetry Friday: Odes

I always do odes with my eighth graders at Thanksgiving.  I think I've started about four posts with that sentence so far on this blog.  (Here are my previous ode-related posts.)  We read several examples, and some of them write one. 

Here's a wonderful one, Ode to a Box of Tea, by Pablo Neruda.  It starts like this:

Box of tea
elephant country,
now a worn
sewing box,
small planetarium of buttons:
you brought
into the house
a sacred,
unplaceable scent,
as if you had come from another planet.

You can hear my brother reading the whole thing here.  

If you need some odes and don't have any Pablo Neruda books on hand, here's a link to a nice pdf collection you can start with, including the full text of the Ode to a Box of Tea:  Odes.

Why not write an ode to something you're thankful for?  And check out today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Poetry Friday: Beach Music

Last Saturday we went to the beach.  We went because our neighbors were having a party on Saturday night, and when they have a party, nobody in our house sleeps.  There aren't noise ordinances where I live, so the best way to handle it, remain on good terms with the neighbors, and sleep, is to go away somewhere.  When that somewhere is the beach, so much the better.

We slept peacefully and had a great time, but during the day, there was music playing most of the time.  On Sunday morning the morning peace was shattered by a DJ blasting out Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust."  Repeatedly.  At mealtimes in the hotel restaurant there were many musical offerings, such as "Turn Up the Love."  (This lyric made us giggle: "We're breathing in the same air/ So turn up the love...."  Our paraphrase: "You exist and so do I!  Turn up the love!"  Seems like a pretty low set of requirements to hook up with someone.)

But the one that amused us the most was a song called "Give me everything."  You can watch it here.  The lyrics, subtly, request, "Tonight I want all of you tonight/ Give me everything tonight/ For all we know we might not get tomorrow/ Let's do it tonight..."  The first time this song played, I commented, "Hey!  It's gather ye rosebuds while ye may!"

So in honor of our beach music, here's Gather Ye Rosebuds...

To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time
Robert Herrick
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
   Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
   Tomorrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun, 
   The higher he’s a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
   And nearer he’s to setting.

That age is best which is the first,
   When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
   Times still succeed the former. 

Then be not coy, but use your time,
   And while ye may, go marry;
For having lost but once your prime,
   You may forever tarry.

So yeah, we might not get tomorrow, yo.

We also thought of Andrew Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress."  Robin Hood Black posted it here back in September with appropriate musings about carpe diem and poetic invitations.  Marvell starts out:

Had we but world enough and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime. 

He goes on to explain that they don't have world enough and time, and in fact, turn up the love! You can read the rest, expressed far more beautifully, here.

I don't really have any profound conclusions to draw here, but as I commented on Robin's post in September (linked above), I think it's funny when people talk about poetry as something for sissies.  So much of it is about seduction.   My daughter asked whether I thought these poems, by Herrick and Marvell, were effective in their day, and I said, "Oh yes." I find them more effective than "Give me everything," for sure, but maybe that's just me.

Turn up the love and have a great Friday!  Here's today's roundup