A Poem for a Thursday #70



Poems on the Underground is a project that was started in 1986 by American writer Judith Chernaik.
It is designed to bring poetry to a wider audience. The poems are displayed in ad space on the trains and are changed a few times a year. The program has been very popular and has been duplicated in cities around the world. Today's poem is one I saw on an Underground train when I was in London last week. Ciaran Carson was an Irish poet and novelist. I had never heard of him before (a constant refrain on Thursdays) but I liked this and will be reading more of his poetry.

I fear the vast dimensions of eternity.
I fear the gap between the platform and the train.
I fear the onset of a murderous campaign.
I fear the palpitations caused by too much tea.

I fear the drawn pistol of a rapparee.
I fear the books will not survive the acid rain.
I fear the ruler and the blackboard and the cane.
I fear the Jabberwock, whatever it might be. 

I fear the bad decisions of a referee.
I fear the only recourse is to plead insane.
I fear the implications of a lawyer's fee.

I fear the gremlins that have colonized my brain.
I fear to read the small print of the guarantee.
And what else do I fear? Let me begin again. 

Fear 
Ciaran Carson

London, I Still Love You


Even in the rain. Even when my husband gets the flu. Even when we don't do half the things we planned. Even when it is cold and grey. Because a rainy day in London is still better than almost any other day.

But yes, my poor husband got the flu 36 hours after we arrived in London. Those evil airplane germs did him in. We still had fun though. He did a few things with me in the morning and then went back to the hotel and rested a bit in the afternoons and then came out to dinner. He felt bad about being out and about while sick but he had to eat and we tried to do outdoor things where he wasn't in too close contact with people. The weather did not always cooperate though. We have been to London a number of times and this is the first time we have not had good weather. Oh well, it had to hit sometime. It still was warmer than at home and things were blooming. That was very exciting. We won't see blooms at home until about April and in London, there were all kinds of flowers. It must make winter feel so short.






I went to even more bookstores than usual, partly because of the rainy weather and partly because it was an easy thing to do when my husband was back at the hotel. I will do a separate post about the books I bought. I mainly bought secondhand books, as usual. I wanted so many in Waterstones but they cost more and I can more easily order them online. After all, I did have to fit all my purchases in my suitcase. It is not like I could buy everything I saw though I wanted to. I started taking photos of all the books I wanted and hopefully, I can slowly buy them. I am in continual amazement at how much better bookstores are in the U.K.  I have decided I am doing my life all wrong. What I really want is to live in a lovely flat somewhere in the U.K. and work as a bookseller. I will be reasonable here. I don't have to live in London and I don't have to work at Persephone Books. Any charming bookshop in a charming city will do. Is that too much to ask?






These are just a few photos I took on my phone. I haven't downloaded the photos from my camera yet. I didn't take as many photos as usual because of the rain and because we didn't go to as many new places. I am sure I will have another post or two though, simply because I love talking about London.

Meanwhile, I will be researching flats and bookselling jobs for my dream (impossible) life.

A Poem for a Thursday #69

Photo by Dmitry Grigoriev on Unsplash

I have been reading A Vicarage in the Blitz:  The Wartime Letters of Molly Rich 1940-1944. I love it and thoroughly recommend it. Here is what she says about the poems of W. B. Yeats.

The other day I took two hours off to read the poems of W B Yeats. His poems are lovely but need taking in small doses. I think this is true of all poems. After all, people only write poems because they must. There is no economic reason because it seldom pays. They write because something inside them makes them do so and one gets a glimpse right down to their thought life. Yeat's mind is like a lovely dark etching with bits of bright colour in oil among the darkness. Have you ever thought how odd it is that a great many people may do the same thing every day, but their inner lives are different because they all think differently about the same thing. When you read a lot of one man's poems, you have in a small measure entered inside him. 

I shared one of his poems a while ago but after reading that I had to share another one. I love the connections between the different things I read.

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the crickets sings;
There midnight's all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.  

The Lake Isle of Innisfree
William Butler Yeats

A Poem for a Thursday #68

Photo by Andrew Ridley on Unsplash


Tony Harrison is an English poet, translator, and playwright. Much of his poetry is inspired by his working-class childhood. He said that he "wanted to write the poetry that people like my parents might respond to." This poem is so sad but so beautiful.

Though my mother was already two years dead
Dad kept her slippers warming by the gas,
put hot water bottles her side of the bed
and still went to renew her transport pass.

You couldn't just drop in. You had to phone.
He'd put you off an hour to give him time
to clear away her things and look alone
as though his still raw love were such a crime.

He couldn't risk my blight of disbelief
though sure that very soon he'd hear her key
scrape in the rusted lock and end his grief.
He knew she'd just popped out to get the tea.

I believe life ends with death, and that is all.
You haven't both gone shopping; just the same,
in my new black leather phone book there's your name
and the disconnected number I still call. 

Long Distance II
Tony Harrison

Reese shared a soliloquy from HenryVII this week.

Reading Recently//Nonfiction




I have been reading a lot of nonfiction lately. All too often, people think of nonfiction as difficult to read or demanding but much of it is engaging and engrossing. One of my favorite books of the year so far (I know it is only the beginning of February. But still. A Favorite.) is Dear Mr. Bigelow by Frances Woodsford. I absolutely loved it and think all of you should read it. It is a collection of some of the weekly letters Frances Woodsford wrote from 1949-1961 to the father of one of her friends. He was a wealthy American whom she never met and yet their friendship became an essential part of her life.

Frances Woodsford wrote about everything; her work at the Public Baths in Bournemouth, her travels around the country, her sometimes annoying brother, her friends, her car, redecorating her bedroom, the clothes she made. Her letters are a perfect picture of her life in post-war England. The letters are funny and touching and guaranteed to make you wish you had a friend like her. Mr. Bigelow's letters to her were not preserved which is a great pity. It would be such fun to read both parts of the correspondence. I love reading volumes of letters and diaries because they give such a wonderful window into a life. Dear Mr. Bigelow was a joy. I have no quotes to highlight because I gulped it down with no consideration for a future review. I enjoyed it that much. You will too.

I bought Robert Macfarlane's Landmarks at Barnes & Noble a while ago. I was surprised to find it since I have read mentions of him on various British book blogs but I have never encountered his books in the U.S. before. Here is a description of the purpose of the book from the first chapter.

Books, like landscapes, leave their marks on us. Sometimes these traces are so faint as to be imperceptible--tiny shifts in the weather of the spirit that do not register on the usual instruments. Mostly, these marks are temporary:  we close a book, and for the nest hour or two the world seems oddly brighter at its edges; or we are moved to a kindness or a meanness that would otherwise have gone unexpressed. Certain books, though, like certain landscapes, stay with us even when we have left them, changing not just our weathers but our climates. The word landmark is from the Old English landmearc, meaning 'an object in the landscape which, by its conspicuousness, serves as a guide in the direction of one's course. John Smith, writing in his 1627 Sea Grammar, gives us this definition: "A Land-marke is any Mountaine, Rocke, Church, Wind-mill or the like that the Pilot can now by comparing one by another see how they beare by the compasse.' Stong books and strong words can be landmarks in Smith's sense--offering us a means both of establishing our location and of knowing how we 'beare by the compasse'. Taken in sum, the chapters of Landmarks explore how reading can change minds, revise behaviour and shape perceptions.

Macfarlane examines various nature writers and their works.  He also includes a glossary of nature words used in the U.K. Some of them are gloriously wonderful words. If you enjoy nature, language, and wonderful writing then this is the book for you.

On my coffee table right now I have The Outermost House:  A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod by Henry Beston. I haven't started it yet but I have high hopes. I love the Cape and it is described as a classic of American nature writing. I'll get back to you after I read it.

What nonfiction books do you recommend?


A Poem for a Thursday #67

Photo by Antonino Visalli on Unsplash


U. A. Fanthorpe was a British poet who published nine volumes of poetry during her lifetime. She taught at Cheltenham Ladies College for sixteen years and then left to work as a clerk and receptionist at a psychiatric hospital. She said:

Poetry is important because it reaches the places that other kinds of writing can't reach. I became aware of this myself when I worked as a receptionist in a hospital, and saw how much the doctors and nurses had to leave out of the queerness and sadnesses of the patients because they were confined to prose... Poetry has all the voices--wit, sincerity, pastiche, tragedy, and delight and most importantly it's with us from the start of our lives to the end:  at the start of our lives, with lullabies and mothers crooning to babies, at the end of our life, with hymns over the grave. 


 There is a kind of love called maintenance,
Which stores the WD40 and knows when to use it;

Which checks the insurance, and doesn't forget
The milkman; which remembers to plant bulbs;

Which answers letters; which knows the way
The money goes, which deals with dentists

And Road Fund Tax and meeting trains, 
And postcards to the lonely; which upholds

The permanently rickety elaborate
Structures of living; which is Atlas.

And maintenance is the sensible side of love,
Which knows what time and weather are doing 
To my brickwork; insulates my faulty wiring;
Laughs at my dryrotten jokes; remembers
My need for gloss and grouting; which keeps
My suspect edifice upright in air,
As Atlas did the sky.

Atlas
U. A. Fanthorpe

Reese shared a Vikram Seth poem this week.

A Poem for a Thursday #66

Photo by Kalen Emsley on Unsplash


Robert Service was born in England, grew up in Scotland, and sailed for the Yukon Wilderness in 1894. He was a prolific poet and became known as the "bard of the Yukon. He was a correspondent during the Balkan Wars for the Toronto Star and an ambulance driver during World War I. His rhythmic, story-telling poetry was very popular.

When you're lost in the Wild, and you're scared as a child
And Death looks you bang in the eye,
And you're sore as a boil, it's according to Hoyle
To cock your revolver and...die.
But the Code of a Man says:  "Fight if you can,"
And self-dissolution is barred.
In hunger and woe, oh, it's easy to blow...
It's the hell-served-for-breakfast that's hard.

"You're sick of the game!" Well, now, that's a shame.
You're young and you're brave and you're bright.
"You've had a raw deal! I know--but don't squeal,
Buck up, do your damnedest, and fight.
It's the plugging away that will win you the day,
So don't be a piker, old pard!
Just draw on your grit; it's so easy to quit:
It's the keeping-your-chin-up that's hard.

It's easy to cry that you're beaten--and die;
It's easy to crawfish and crawl;
But to fight and to fight when hope's out of sight--
Why, that's the best game of all!
And though you come out of each grueling bout,
All broken and beaten and scarred,
Just have one more try--it's dead easy to die,
It's the keeping-on-living that's hard.

The Quitter
Robert Service

Reese has an Emily Dickinson poem this week.

Things That Make Me Happy


Books, stacks of books all around me so I always have plenty to choose from.

Second-hand bookshops with plenty of treasures to be unearthed.

Thrift stores for the same reason.

Tea.

Waking up on the first morning of a vacation with plenty of time in front of me.

A new, pretty notebook.

Fountain pens.

Baking cookies.

Walking on the beach.

A hug from one of my kids.

A hug from my husband.

Occasionally, a few hours home alone.

Writing something I am kind of, a little bit, maybe, happy with.

Listening to music in the car with my daughter.

Walking around a city where no one knows me.

Chocolate.

Talking to an old friend who always understands.

Taking photographs.

London.

A week at our favorite farmhouse in New York.

Being driven to helpless laughter by my son who can talk circles around me.

Books. Did I mention the books?








A Poem for a Thursday #65

Photo by Federico Respini on Unsplash
Willa Cather was an American author who wrote novels about frontier life on the Great Plains. She grew up from the age of ten in Nebraska where she lived among European immigrants. Her books portray the lives and cultures of the people she lived among. For many years she was dismissed as a regional author but she is now appreciated for her nuanced writing and the descriptions she provides of immigrant life.

A crimson fire that vanquishes the stars;
A pungent odor from the dusty sage;
A sudden stirring of the huddled herds;
A breaking of the distant table-lands
Through purple mists ascending, and the flare
Of water ditches silver in the light;
A swift, bright lance hurled low across the world;
A sudden sickness for the hills of home. 

Prairie Dawn
Willa Cather

Reese at Typings has also shared a poem.


Reading Recently


This past weekend I realized I was reading four books at once. That is a lot, even for me, and I usually have a couple of books going at once. I kept enthusiastically starting a book and then, just as enthusiastically, I would start another book. And another. And another. I have managed to finish two of the four and am restraining myself from picking up any more books until the other two are finished.

I reread Little Women and it made me happy.  It was one of the first books I fell obsessively in love with. I think I was six or seven. I read and reread it many, many times over the years. I have strong opinions about it (no, Jo should not have married Laurie) and I strongly feel that if you don't love it too you are wrong. Yes, it is a bit old-fashioned but it is a heart-warming story about people who feel real. Real things happen to them; they argue, they laugh, they marry, they are disappointed, they are imperfect and therefore, loveable. I firmly believe every one of us has a bit of Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy in us. I am planning on going to see the new movie because I hear such good things about it but I am a little nervous. It might be excellent but it might not be my Little Women. We shall see.

My next great book love after Louisa May Alcott was Jane Austen. I went on to read her novels just as obsessively and I still do. I am slowly working my way through the volume of essays in the photo. So far, they are all very good. I especially enjoyed this quote in the introduction.

Other novels can be read through once and soon forgotten, but our favorite Austen novels haunt us our entire lives, inform our understanding of what it is to be human, and in the end fuse so wholly with our thoughts and feelings that it would be difficult to imagine the sorts of people we might have become had we never encountered them. We read her novels to identify and to improve, to laugh and to sympathize, to enjoy the present and to revisit the past, and at times to escape our own muddled lives for a bit and find the clarity that only the best fiction can provide. 

I have been reading a few books about language lately. I reviewed Kory Stamper's Word By Word here. My husband bought me Dryer's English last week. I started reading it in the bookstore and couldn't put it down. I wasn't going to buy it because hardcover books are expensive and I am trying to be extra practical these days but he saw how much I wanted it and took it out of my hands and bought it. I loved it. I also am now a bit paranoid about all the grammatical mistakes I am sure there are in my blog. On page four he suggests you go an entire week without writing very, rather, really, quite, and in fact. Has he been reading my blog and I didn't know it? I use those words, or similar words, all too often. He said this about the English language.

The English language, though, is not so easily ruled and regulated. It developed without codification, sucking up new constructions and vocabulary every time some foreigner set foot on the British Isles—to say nothing of the mischief we Americans have wreaked on it these last few centuries—and continues to evolve anarchically. It has, to my great dismay, no enforceable laws, much less someone to enforce the laws it doesn't have. 

Dreyer goes on to discuss punctuation, differences between British English and American English, frequently misspelled words, and all kinds of other fascinating subjects. I mean that sincerely. Not only is the book informative but it is witty and fun to read. I read it through like a novel because it was so interesting and I am sure I will refer to it many times.

The last book I am currently reading is The Priory by Dorothy Whipple. Whipple reminds me a lot of D. E. Stevenson. They are relatively light yet well-written books about the everyday life of middle-class, mid-century families. They frequently have a bit of a bite to them underneath the frothy exterior. The Priory is about the Marwood family. Their lives are disturbed when the Major decides to remarry. I am not too far into it but I am enjoying it.

What have you been reading lately? Do you read more than one book at a time?

A Poem for a Thursday #64

Photo by Dustin Scarpitti on Unsplash
Philip Booth was an American poet who lived from 1925 to 2007. His poetry "written in spare language and dealing with New England settings, has garnered critical acclaim for its quiet power."  I read this poem and couldn't get it out of my head. It is beautiful and somehow comforting.

Lie back daughter, let your head
be tipped back in the cup of my hand.
Gently, and I will hold you. Spread
your arms wide, lie out on the stream
and look high at the gulls. A dead-
man's float is face down. You will dive
and swim soon enough where this tidewater
ebbs to the sea. Daughter, believe
me, when you tire on the long thrash
to your island, lie up and survive.
As you float now, where I held you
and let go, remember when fear
cramps your heart what I told you:
lie gently and wide to the light-year
stars, lie back, and the sea will hold you. 

First Lesson
Philip Booth

Brona has shared a poem today.

Here is one from Reese.

Golden Moments #12



I haven't written one of these posts since last May. I suppose that says something about the past year. However, I am making an effort to concentrate on the positive so let's give this a try.

I am reading Little Women for the five millionth time. It is possible that number is accurate. I read it over and over and over when I was a kid and I still read it regularly. It is like sinking into a warm bath or climbing into a freshly made bed. So comforting. I know exactly what is going to happen and exactly what everyone is going to say and I wouldn't have it any other way. I am hoping to go see the movie this weekend. I am making my daughter come with me. I still haven't managed to convince her to read the book (one of my parenting failures) and I am hoping she will like the movie so much she will cave in and do my bidding!

My husband and I ran away overnight. We were gone a grand total of 24 hours but it was lovely. We ate yummy food, wandered through a couple of bookstores, and simply enjoyed each other's company.

My husband bought me a copy of Dreyer's English. I am on a roll with books about words and language and I have wanted it for a while. I started reading it in the bookstore and then put it back because I rarely buy new, hardcover books. He grabbed it and bought it anyway. What a nice man.

We called an old friend we haven't talked to in ages. He lives halfway across the country and we have known him so long he is more like family than anything else. It was very nice to catch up and it made my husband happy to talk to one of his oldest friends.

I took my daughter and her best friend ice skating. Celia has wanted to go for a long time and we have never gotten around to it. Her friend already knew how to skate but Celia was an absolute beginner. It was harder than she expected and she fell down a lot. It didn't come easily to her but she didn't give up, she kept smiling, and she had a blast. I sat on the sidelines and chatted with her friend's mom but next time I am going to skate too. It has been many, many years since I have skated so it should be interesting.

That isn't a particularly long list of golden moments but it is a list and that is a success in and of itself. What nice things have happened in your life lately?









A Poem for a Thursday #63

Photo by Jennifer Arrington on Unsplash


William Henry Davies was a Welsh poet who lived from 1871-1940. When he was 22 he received an inheritance and used it to purchase a boat ticket to New York. He then spent the next six years traveling across the United States and Canada until he was injured while train hopping. He had to have one leg amputated below the knee. He then settled in London and spent his time writing poetry. That simple description of his life contains a novel in itself. I have so many questions about him now.  I am featuring this poem because I think we all should take a little time to stand and stare.

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?-

No time to stand beneath  the boughs,
And stare as long as sheep and cows:

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night:

No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance:

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began?

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare. 

Leisure
William Henry Davies

Brona shared a poem here.