Friday, February 26, 2016

Poetry Friday: What You Have To Get Over

I was looking up poems on aging yesterday, since this is my birthday week, in preparation for today's post.  As I scrolled, my husband walked into my classroom and gave me some life-changing news.  After that I don't really remember what happened. 

(Everybody is alive and well, and the news is about my husband's job.  So it's not life or death.  Don't worry.  We will be OK.)

This poem is included by the Poetry Foundation website under the category of "Growing Old," and that's pretty appropriate, since what is growing old other than getting over a whole series of things?

What You Have to Get Over 

by Dick Allen

Stumps. Railroad tracks. Early sicknesses,
the blue one, especially.
Your first love rounding a corner,
that snowy minefield.
Whether you step lightly or heavily,
you have to get over to that tree line a hundred yards in the distance
before evening falls,
letting no one see you wend your way,
that wonderful, old-fashioned word, wend,
meaning “to proceed, to journey,
to travel from one place to another,”
as from bed to breakfast, breakfast to imbecile work.
Wend your way over to today's roundup here.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Reading Update

Book #13 of 2016 was The Sleeper and the Spindle, by Neil Gaiman.  My daughter called it "slight," and she was right.  In fact, it's really more of a picture book, but I didn't realize that when I downloaded it onto my Kindle for my trip.

Book #14 was What You Left Behind, by Jessica Verdi.  This is YA fare, the story of Ryden, whose girlfriend Meg died of cancer because she stopped her chemo treatment when she got pregnant with Ryden's baby.  Now Ryden is raising Hope with no help from Meg's parents (I found this a little hard to believe), and trying to figure out how to move on with his life, which he is managing to complicate in various ways.

Book #15 was A Travelogue of the Interior: Finding Your Voice and God's Heart in the Psalms, by Karen Dabaghian.  This is one woman's story of reading the Psalms and writing her own, in the process learning more about God and about herself.

Book #16 was Magonia, by Maria Dahvana Headley.  Aza Ray is a teenager who struggles with living on the earth, and she finds out why when she starts to hallucinate a ship in the sky that turns out not to be a hallucination.  Aza is from somewhere else, and she has to adjust to that idea and decide how she's going to negotiate her two worlds.  This has been compared to Laini Taylor's books, and I think that comparison is very apt.  The sequel to this comes out this year, and I'll definitely read it.

Book #17 was The Summer I Turned Pretty, by Jenny Han.  The title says it all.  Belly (Isabelle) turns pretty.  She does it in a beautiful setting, a beach house with boys she's grown up with.  This would have been completely irresistible to me when I was a teenager.  It's fairly forgettable, but there are some nice portrayals of relationships.

Book #18 was Secrets in the Dark, by Frederick Buechner, a collection of many of his sermons.  I love Buechner and the way he turns a phrase.

Book #19 was Learning to Walk in the Dark, by Barbara Brown Taylor.  I thought this was a beautiful book, and I downloaded another of hers right away.  It's about navigating darkness, not being afraid of it, and trusting that God's presence is there just as much as it is in the light.

Book #20 was If on a Winter's Night a Traveler, by Italo Calvino.  I read this because one of my daughter's classes was going to be discussing it on the night I visited.  I found it a combination of brilliant and "too clever by half."

Book #21 was P.S. I Still Love You, by Jenny Han.  This was the sequel to To All the Boys I've Loved Before, which was my seventh book this year.  More YA stuff about boys and love, with Korean protagonists.  My students will love it.

Book #22 was The Thing About Jellyfish, by Ali Benjamin.  This book is about loss, and it just aches all the way through.  The main character is so miserable that I could hardly stand it, but I also couldn't put the book down until the end.  A beautiful book.

Book #23 was Someday, Someday, Maybe, by Lauren Graham, the star of "Gilmore Girls."  It's about trying to be an actress in 1995, something Graham may just know something about.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Poetry Friday: The Sun in Bemidji, Minnesota

I had a brief visit to the US last week to visit my daughter, and with it a brief reminder of what winter feels like.  I found this poem saved in my "Poems" folder in my email.  I got it in the Poem-a-Day email from back in July, but it's much more appropriate for February.

People in Bemidji, Minnesota, or Chicago, Illinois, hold on!  The sun will be back!

The Sun in Bemidji, Minnesota
Sean Hill

The sun isn’t even a pearl today—
its light diffused, strained gray
by winter haze—this the grayest
day so far, so when I enter the Wells
Fargo parking lot the last thing I expect
is to see the sun in the car next to mine.
I watch a woman make out with the sun,
and I’m jealous of the sun. Beautiful
beyond her desire—wanting the sun
so—she almost glows as she tugs
sweetness from his whiskers with
her teeth, and his drool runs down
her chin. I think the sun is a man,
but it’s hard to tell in this light. No,
it’s a mango, and I’m jealous of her.

(If you go to this link at and click on "More" in the top left hand corner of the white space, you can read what Sean Hill wrote about this poem and how he came to write it.)

Here's today's roundup.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Friday, February 12, 2016

Poetry Friday: Snow on the Desert

I've spent the week with my daughter, going to her classes, hanging out in her dorm room while she did homework, going to an Ash Wednesday service, and, always, freezing.  Although I've loved being with her, I'm dreaming of warmth and longing to return to my tropical island.

I was looking for a poem about snow, and found this one.  It is so very specific, one of my criteria for good writing.  It takes place in New York City and and Tucson and New Delhi.  It involves Serge and Sameetah and Papagos and cacti and Begum Akhtar.  But even though it refers to these intensely personal memories, I could see the snow in the desert, the "dried seas," the silent audience in the darkened nightclub during an air raid in the Bangladesh War, though I have experienced none of them.  I could relate to the themes of loss and elegy and saying goodbye at the airport and the fear of being forgotten. Twice the poet uses the expression "hurting into memory," and yet there's also the sacred wine made from the sap of the saguaros, something beautiful (and presumably delicious) distilled from the sun and the past.

Agha Shahid Ali was from Kashmir, and I had run across him before, while looking for examples of ghazals.  He was a well-known writer of them.  There are some more of his poems at the Poetry Foundation's site, and I put a couple of his books on my wish list, too.  

I was looking for something simple and descriptive that I could post with a snow photo, and this complex, multi-layered meditation on memory and separation was not at all what I had in mind.  And yet, what could be more perfect, as I head to the airport myself this weekend, after a week of making new memories, and say goodbye once more?

Snow on the Desert

By Agha Shahid Ali

“Each ray of sunshine is seven minutes old,”   
Serge told me in New York one December night.

“So when I look at the sky, I see the past?”   
“Yes, Yes," he said. “especially on a clear day.”

On January 19, 1987,
as I very early in the morning
drove my sister to Tucson International,

suddenly on Alvernon and 22nd Street   
the sliding doors of the fog were opened,

and the snow, which had fallen all night, now   
sun-dazzled, blinded us, the earth whitened

out, as if by cocaine, the desert’s plants,   
its mineral-hard colors extinguished,   
wine frozen in the veins of the cactus. 

Friday, February 05, 2016

Poetry Friday: Travel

I'm leaving on a trip today (going to visit my daughter, hurray!), so I have been thinking about travel.  Here's Elizabeth Bishop on the subject.

Questions of Travel
Elizabeth Bishop


Think of the long trip home.
Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?
Where should we be today?
Is it right to be watching strangers in a play
in this strangest of theatres?
What childishness is it that while there's a breath of life
in our bodies, we are determined to rush
to see the sun the other way around?
The tiniest green hummingbird in the world?
To stare at some inexplicable old stonework,
inexplicable and impenetrable,
at any view,
instantly seen and always, always delightful?
Oh, must we dream our dreams
and have them, too?
And have we room
for one more folded sunset, still quite warm?

But surely it would have been a pity
not to have seen the trees along this road,
really exaggerated in their beauty,
not to have seen them gesturing
like noble pantomimists, robed in pink.

Here's the rest of the poem.

I'm not anticipating wishing I had stayed at home, though I am expecting to get quite cold.  It's a little more usual to head south for Carnival than north, but I'm dreaming of a white Mardi Gras.

Miss Rumphius has today's roundup.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Reading Update

Book #8 of the year was a recommendation I received in a blog comment.  I had explained that my OLW for this year is LOVED, and a reader mentioned Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World, by Henri Nouwen.  This is one of those books that is going to be important to me.  I read it quickly but I keep going back to it.  "How different," Nouwen writes, "would our life be were we truly able to trust that it multiplied in being given away!  How different would our life be if we could but believe that every little act of faithfulness, every gesture of love, every word of forgiveness, every little bit of joy and peace will multiply and multiply as long as there are people to receive it...and that - even then - there will be leftovers! . . . You and I would dance for joy were we to know truly that we, little people, are chosen, blessed, and broken to become the bread that will multiply itself in the giving."  What a beautiful book.  I will reread it many times, I am sure.

Book #9 was The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean my Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun, by Gretchen Rubin.  I've been reading Rubin's blog and listening to her podcast for a little while, so I decided it was time to read her book.  I enjoyed it very much.  It's quirky, sensible, and full of little ideas that are easy to implement for a happier life.

Book #10 was Jilting the Duke, written by a friend from graduate school under the pseudonym Rachael Miles.  Look at this fun article about how she decided what words she could use in this historical romance.  I enjoyed the book, and have pre-ordered the next one, coming out in May. 

Book #11 was Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba, a verse novel by Margarita Engle.  Many of my students are enjoying reading verse novels - there are so many coming out these days!  This one is about our part of the world, and I think they'll be interested to learn about the journeys of refugees fleeing the Holocaust.  Haiti took in refugees, too, by the way.

Book #12 was For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards, by Jen Hatmaker.  I'm discussing it with a group of friends.  Parts of it were a little lite, but it was a quick, entertaining read, and I'm sure the discussion will be fun.