Thursday, January 26, 2023

Poetry Friday: Try to Praise...

My OLW, Feather, comes up in so many poems. Feathers are inherently poetic and beautiful: here are some links that illustrate that.  


In this poem, a lost feather from a thrush features. Sometimes lost feathers indicate an injured or dead bird. Recently we found a pile of feathers from a guinea fowl. A man nearby told us that he had found the bird dead; perhaps it had been killed by an animal. But birds do replace their feathers multiple times during their life cycle, and as long as the bird is alive, feathers do grow back. Not that the process of moulting is easy; this link from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds explains more.

All of that to say that the "mutilated world" of the poem, while difficult and full of struggle, is still beautiful. After the poem, I'm including the Over the Rhine song "All of My Favorite People Are Broken," which quotes a line from the poem.

Try to Praise the Mutilated World

by Adam Zagajewski

Try to praise the mutilated world.

Remember June's long days,

and wild strawberries, drops of rosé wine.

The nettles that methodically overgrow 

the abandoned homesteads of exiles.


Here's the rest, including the part about the feather. 

Jan has the roundup this week.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Poetry Friday: Kingfishers and Queenfishers

I really wanted to do a better job with Poetry Friday this year, but last week there were obstacles like exams and grades and such non-poetic things. I wanted to post about Kingfishers for last Poetry Friday, but here it is today instead.

The American Birding Association recently announced their 2023 Bird of the Year. It's the Belted Kingfisher, but, plot twist! It's the female Belted Kingfisher, which is slightly more colorful than the male, unlike in most bird species. So the artist commissioned to paint the bird called her painting Queenfisher! You can listen to a podcast interview with the artist, Liz Clayton Fuller, here. (And you can also see her beautiful painting.)


What's funny is that I had already thought, while looking through my bird list from 2022, that last year was my Year of the Kingfisher because I saw eight kingfisher species!


Below is a poem by Mary Oliver called "The Kingfisher." It perfectly captures the lightness of those birds, in spite of everything. Then I wanted to write about all the kingfishers I saw last year, the way they hover above the water before plunging to catch a fish, how colorful and debonair they are, and how much fun they always seem to be having, but instead I decided to give all their names in a sort of list poem. (That is, I'm not sure it's a poem, but it's definitely a list.) Neither of these poems (or one could say neither the poem nor the list) mentions my OLW, Feather, but in another way they are both full of feathers, many of them bright blue.

The Kingfisher

by Mary Oliver

The kingfisher rises out of the black wave

like a blue flower, in his beak

he carries a silver leaf. I think this is

the prettiest world -- so long as you don't mind

a little dying, how could there be a day in your whole life

that doesn't have its splash of happiness?

Here's the rest of it.



2022 Kingfishers

Belted Kingfisher

Ringed Kingfisher

Amazon Kingfisher

Green Kingfisher

Pied Kingfisher

Woodland Kingfisher

Malachite Kingfisher

African Pygmy Kingfisher

Here's the roundup.

Saturday, January 14, 2023

Reading Update

Here are the first four books I've finished in 2023.

Book #1 of 2023 was something I found at the grocery store. I'm trying not to buy paper books any more, after the traumatic experience I just had of getting rid of a couple of thousand. Books are heavy, hard to move, gather dust. Nobody wants them when you're done with them. Instead I try to download and borrow. But I just can't stop looking at all the books everywhere I go. Here in Uganda there are odd collections on the street, in second hand stores, and even in the grocery store. I wonder why those particular books. There are a lot of business titles, self-help books, a few novels. This one has an obvious connection to the country. It's called Ivory, Apes & Peacocks: Animals, Adventure and Discovery in the Wild Places of Africa, by Alan Root. Root was a wildlife photographer who moved to Kenya as a child when his dad got a job at a meat-packing plant producing "bully beef" for Britain after World War II. He spent his life in this region of the world exploring and making movies. This fascinating book tells the story of all of it. Here's a quote: "The great documentary maker Robert Flaherty once said, 'All art is a kind of exploring. To discover and reveal is the way every artist sets about his business.' This is particularly true of wildlife filming, when every new project means learning to see all over again, to pick up the clues and signs that lead to an understanding of this new and different territory. Today it means googling the subject and getting buried under a mass of information; back then it meant looking, listening and finding out for yourself."

Book #2 was The Inheritance Games, by Jennifer Lynn Barnes. This is clearly destined to become a movie. It's a fun, puzzle-filled romp. I enjoyed it and have the second one on hold at the library.

Book #3 was The Queen's Choice, by Cayla Kluver. It's a story of succession in the fairy world, mystery, and quest. This time the second one isn't as easy to come by, because the library doesn't have it. Grr.

Book #4 was Sea of Tranquility, by Emily St. John Mandel. I've had this one on hold at the library for a really long time, probably almost since the moment it first came out last April. I finally got to read it. It's a very quick read, mind-bending and full of time travel and pandemic. It's the kind of book you want to reread as soon as you're done, to figure out all the connections again. I recommend it if you're into the kind of books this author writes.

Wednesday, January 04, 2023

SJT and Poetry Friday and OLW, all in one!

As my break from school barrels to a close, I am taking some time to write down the thoughts that have been going through my mind about my OLW (One Little Word) for 2023. That's the theme for our SJT (Spiritual Journey Thursday) group for January, and I'm going to include a poem so that this post will do double duty for Poetry Friday, too. So Happy New Year to you and to me!

In 2022, my OLW was BEGINNER. I knew it would be appropriate because I was moving to a new country and a new job. What I didn't know was that I would do that again in August, when we moved to our current home, Kampala, Uganda. Do I recommend making two international moves to two different continents in one year? I do not. But did my focus on being a beginner and giving myself grace to be OK with being a beginner help me deal with the intense stress of the year? Yes it did. 

As I thought through the events of 2022, there was a lot of heaviness in my memories. A lot of grief and loss happened. But the year was also full of incredible adventure and fun. 


2022 was the year I became a cyclist again. Since I joined Strava in April, I rode over 1900 miles (over 3000 kilometers), mostly with my husband on one of three tandem bicycles in three different countries, but also some on a single bike. Cycling burned stress, helped me see an enormous amount of beauty, and made me stronger and happier. 


In 2022 I continued my birding habit, seeing an unbelievable 407 species in five countries. I've written a lot on this blog about what birding means to me, so I won't go into that again, but birding brought me so much pleasure in a year when I needed that! I sometimes observed on my own, and sometimes with others, and both were fabulous. And I learned so very much! 

I also spent time with wonderful people in 2022. I said many goodbyes, but at my age and with my international background, I am well aware that goodbyes go with the territory. They hurt, but somehow I find the strength to move on and make new friendships. 

So, I wondered, what did these good things about 2022 have in common? What OLW could I choose so that I could have more of these good things in 2023? I know I can't make the year have no pain in it, because I will be living this year on Planet Earth, and pain is part of life. But I would like to have a year of joy and fun, as much as possible. I'm so tired of heaviness and struggle. The opposite of heaviness is lightness, and I gave serious consideration to Light, or Lightness, as my OLW. But then I started thinking about things that are light, like bicycles and birds and easy, non-stressful relationships, and I settled on a word with some more metaphorical resonance: FEATHER. 


Lightness doesn't come very easily to me. I have lived for many years in Haiti, which is now in free fall. It's hard to focus on delight and fun with that knowledge in the back of my mind at all times. As alluded to above, I have some heaviness in my recent past. And I know it's shallow of me, but I've also learned more and more this past year that I am not a minimalist, and I miss my possessions lost this year, my cupboard full of mugs for my tea, my array of teapots, my thousands of books that surrounded me, my kids' rooms even though the kids weren't in them any more. Now we live more lightly, in a small apartment with only a few books, most of those borrowed. There are good things about this lighter life, but it's also an adjustment. 

Feathers are light, but they aren't flimsy and they aren't trivial. They are perfectly designed for their purposes, which are several. They are strong. When lost or molted, they grow back. They are gorgeous, in all the colors of the rainbow and more, with iridescence and improbable patterns. Feathers are glorious. 

And Hildegard of Bingen, the twelfth century mystic, called herself "a feather on the breath of God." That's how I want to think of myself this year as I learn to embrace this lighter life. 

In addition to aiming for lightness this year, I want to read and write more about feathers. This poem by Ross Gay includes both feathers and the idea of focusing on delight. 


Sorrow is Not My Name

by Ross Gay

—after Gwendolyn Brooks


No matter the pull toward brink. No
matter the florid, deep sleep awaits.
There is a time for everything. Look,
just this morning a vulture
nodded his red, grizzled head at me,
and I looked at him, admiring
the sickle of his beak.
Then the wind kicked up, and,
after arranging that good suit of feathers
he up and took off.
Just like that. And to boot,
there are, on this planet alone, something like two
million naturally occurring sweet things,
some with names so generous as to kick
the steel from my knees: agave, persimmon,
stick ball, the purple okra I bought for two bucks
at the market. Think of that. The long night,
the skeleton in the mirror, the man behind me
on the bus taking notes, yeah, yeah.
But look; my niece is running through a field
calling my name. My neighbor sings like an angel
and at the end of my block is a basketball court.
I remember. My color's green. I'm spring. 

      —for Walter Aikens


Sunday, January 01, 2023

Reading Update and What I Read in 2022

Here are the last few books I finished in 2022:

Book #75 of the year was Worlds of Ink and Shadow: A Novel of the Brontës, by Lena Coakley. This fantasy is based on the juvenilia of the Brontë sisters and brothers. What if the worlds they invented in their writing really existed?

Book #76 was African Town, by Charles Waters and Irene Latham. This is a verse novel in fourteen voices, telling the story of the last slave ship to arrive on the shores of the United States, after the slave trade had already been abolished. I am late to reading this one, but I'll join my voice with everyone else who said it is a wonderful book. Highly recommended!

Book #77 was The Swimmers, by Julie Otsuka. I read Otsuka's previous novel, The Buddha in the Attic, back in 2017 (the link is to my review). This book has a similar kind of voice, and I had to go back and figure out where I had seen the second person plural voice used before. Sure enough; it was in another book by the same author. This one is about a group of swimmers, and also about dementia, family relationships, and aging. It was very sad and also very worth reading.

Book #78 was Mary B., by Katherine J. Chen, a novel told in the voice of Mary, the Bennet sister made to look most ridiculous in Pride and Prejudice. It was fun to see Mary have a full life of her own, and it didn't work out the way I expected.

Book #79 was a middle grade novel, The Seventh Wish, by Kate Messner. This novel has a touch of magic realism in it, as Charlie catches a fish who offers her a wish. But it's mostly realistic, exploring a serious issue affecting Charlie's sister, a freshman in college. I enjoyed this and will read more of Messner's work. 

Book #80 was Henri Nouwen's You Are the Beloved: Daily Meditations for Spiritual Living. I reviewed it here.

Here are the rest of the books I read this year:

Books 1 to 6

Books 7 to 10 

Books 11 to 18

Books 19 to 26 

Books 27 to 32

Books 33 to 36 

Books 37 to 43

Books 44 to 58 

Books 59 to 68

Books 69 to 74