A Poem for Thursday #92

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Elizabeth Alexander is an American poet, essayist, and playwright. Alexander's poems concentrate on the subjects of race, politics, motherhood, and history. Alexander was asked to read one of her poems at Barack Obama's inauguration. She is only the fourth poet ever asked to read at an inauguration. One of her books was shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize and she has won many awards and honors.

Poetry, I tell my students,
is idiosyncratic. Poetry

is where we are ourselves
(though Sterling Brown said

"Every 'I' is a dramatic 'I'"),
digging in the clam flats

for the shell that snaps,
emptying the proverbial pocketbook.

Poetry is what you find
in the dirt in the counter,

overhearing on the bus, God
in the details, the only way

to get from here to there.
Poetry (and now my voice is rising)

is not all love, love, love,
and I'm sorry the dog died.

Poetry (here I hear myself loudest)
is the human voice,

and are we not of interest to each other?

Ars Poetica #100:  I Believe
Elizabeth Alexander

A Poem for a Thursday #91

Photo by Arnaldo Aldana on Unsplash
I have featured a Wendy Cope poem before here. It was only the ninth in this series and here we are at the ninety-first. I enjoy her poems because they feel as if she is simply speaking to the reader. It is like having a conversation with a friend. They give the deceptive feeling that we could have written them ourselves. And then, of course, we realize that no, no we couldn't have.

If you asked me 'What's new', I have nothing to say
Except that the garden is growing.
I had a slight cold but it's better today.
I'm content with the way things are going.
Yes, he is the same as he usually is,
Still eating and sleeping and snoring.
I get on with my work. He gets on with his.
I know this is all very boring.

There was drama enough in my turbulent past:
Tears and passion--I've used up a tankful.
No news is good news, and long may it last,
If nothing much happens, I'm thankful.
A happier cabbage you never did see,
My vegetable spirits are soaring.
If you're after excitement, steer well clear of me.
I want to go on being boring.

I don't go to parties. Well, what are they for,
If you don't need to find a new lover? 
You drink and you listen and drink a bit more
And you take the next day to recover.
Someone to stay home with was all my desire
And, now that I've found a safe mooring,
I've just one ambition in life:  I aspire
To go on and on being boring.

Being Boring
Wendy Cope

A Day Out//Wickham Park

My husband and I went to Wickham Park last week and, let me tell you, it was the most thrilling thing we have done in months. We are tired of the parks near our house. We are tired of the bike trail behind our house. We are tired of everything. So, we decided to drive to a park an hour away from us. We are fond of this park. I have gone there ever since I was a little kid, my husband proposed to me there, and we used to take our kids there when they were little. It was absolutely lovely. The weather cooperated and was only in the 80s and not as humid which was a welcome break. The park was busy but not crowded. We had a little bit of that thrill you get when you are on vacation. New! Different! Out and about! What a nice change.

Ever since I was a little kid I have "fed the lions" when I go to Wickham Park. I have no idea how it started but it is an ingrained tradition that I have now taught to my daughter. The lions used to be fed with the gravel on the ground all around. There wasn't any gravel so I fed him pine needles instead. Heaven forbid we break with tradition and not feed him!

We bypassed the areas we used to spend so much time in with our kids--the playground and the aviary--and wandered through all the little gardens and pretty areas that have been cultivated in recent years. There are benches dotted all around and we frequently stopped to admire the view, people watch, and simply enjoy being outside in a pretty place.

It was a lovely day in a lovely place and it was just what we needed. I'll have to see what other little excursions I can find to brighten our lives.

A Poem for a Thursday #90

Robert Cording has published eight collections of poetry and taught for thirty-eight years at Holy Cross College. He has received honors including fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Connecticut Commission on the Arts, and the Bread Loaf Writer's Conference.  He lives not too far from me in Woodstock, CT.

Year after year after year
I have come to love slowly

how old houses hold themselves-

before November's drizzled rain
or the refreshing light of June-

as if they have all come to agree
that, in time, the days are no longer
a matter of suffering or rejoicing.

I have come to love
how they take on the color of the rain or sun
as they go on keeping their vigil

without need of a sign, awaiting nothing

more than the birds that sing from the eaves,
the seizing cold that sounds the rafters. 

Old Houses
Robert Cording

Little Plans

I am writing this on Monday, July 13, and thus it is the 5,246th day of the year. It took me multiple tries to write that sentence because I couldn't remember what day of the week or what month it is. But I know absolutely it is the 5,246th day of the year because there is no way it is only the 195th day of the year. Google tells me that is true and I don't believe it.  I think there are probably at least 5, 246 days to go before the end of the year too. I know, I am just a ball of optimism today.

In an effort to combat the gloom and doom currently hanging over my house-and the world at large-I am compiling a list of things I would like to do before the end of the year. These are all doable things. I obviously will not be traveling through Europe or traveling anywhere, to be honest. But what can I do?

I got this far in the post and must admit to hitting a roadblock. What do you do for fun when you can't do anything? However, onwards and upwards. There must be some fun left in the world.

I want to go to the shore one evening after everyone has left for the day and the beaches are quiet. I want to bring a picnic, search for sea glass, and listen to the waves.

My daughter and I came up with the entire plot to a children's book the other night. I want to work on it with her and see if we can actually turn out something that resembles a book.

Blueberries are ripe and crying out to be picked. I want enough to freeze and to make a luscious pie.

I haven't been to a bookstore in months and I feel a little less myself because of that. One of my favorites has reopened with all kinds of social distancing requirements in place. Maybe it will safe for me to visit. That would be lovely.

I want to go to Old Sturbridge Village. It is one of my happy places and they just reopened. (Posts here, here, here, and here. I told you I liked it.) I want to wander through the village, play Pooh sticks by the stream, and escape from the current world for a little while.

My husband and I will be celebrating our 30th anniversary this fall. We always said we would do something big and amazingly fun for our 30th. Somehow, I don't think that is going to happen but I would like to do something small and fun. If it is possible, maybe rent a little cottage somewhere for a few days?

I want, and I am dreaming big now, for my entire family to leave the house at the same time and leave me home alone. I haven't been in the house by myself in longer than I can remember. Doesn't it sound amazing? Silence. Time to waste in any way I want. Much as I love my family I do also love being alone sometimes. So, yes, my potential future happiness does involve getting rid of my family. But only for a little while. Then they can come home and demand food and leave their shoes in front of the door and do all the other things that drive me crazy. I shall be fortified by that time to myself.

What little plans do you have to get you through the next 5,246 days?

A Poem for a Thursday #89

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Robert Hayden was an American poet, essayist, and educator. He grew up in Detroit, Michigan and experienced a difficult and traumatic childhood. This pushed him to read as an escape from the violence and depression surrounding him. He was the first African-American to hold the position of Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, now called the US Poet Laureate. He was criticized in the 1960s because he insisted that he be judged "as an American poet rather than a black poet, when for a time there was posited an unreconcilable difference between the two roles." However, many readers feel his best poetry involves the Black experience and their history.

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I'd wake up and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he'd call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love's austere and lonely offices? 

Those Winter Sundays
Robert Hayden

A Poem for a Thursday #88

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Alison Luterman is a poet, esssayist, and playwright. She says of her writing that she is willing "to be naked and vulnerable, and to connect my own small set of concerns to the larger questions and concerns of humanity."

I stalked her
in the grocery store:  her crown
of snowy braids held in place by a great silver clip,
her erect bearing, radiating tenderness,
the way she placed yogurt and avocados in her basket,
beaming peach like the North Star.
I wanted to ask "What aisle did you find
your serenity in, do you know
how to be married for fifty years, or how to live alone,
excuse me for interrupting, but you seem to possess
some knowledge that makes the earth burn and turn on
its axis-"
but we don't request such things from strangers
nowadays. So I said, "I love your hair."

I Confess
Aliston Luterman

Book Review//A Woman in Berlin

World War II is one of the eras I am particularly interested in. I have read many books about life in the U.K. and the U.S. during the war. I especially enjoy diaries and letters. Recently, I thought it would be interesting to read about what life was like on the other side of the war. This led me to A Woman in Berlin:  Eight Weeks in the Conquered City. This diary was published anonymously in 1954 to huge acclaim. It was translated into many other languages and finally published in German in 1959. It is said that the book was either "ignored or reviled" in Germany. The author refused to have another edition published in her lifetime. A Woman in Berlin was finally published in Germany again in 2003. This time it was on the bestseller list for more than 19 weeks. The author was identified as a journalist named Marta Hiller. She died in 2001.

Hiller's diary is deeply upsetting and beautifully written. She kept a diary for the eight weeks in 1945 when the Russian army was taking over Berlin. She wrote about her life and the life of those who shared her apartment building. It is an honest and painful description of the violence, hunger, rape, and misery of war but also of the strength of the individuals.

The hunger is overwhelming and all-encompassing. Notice this passage:

Rummaging through the few books owned by the tenant of this apartment (where I also found the blank notebook I'm using to write this), I turned up a novel. The setting is English aristocratic, with sentences like:  "She cast a fleeting glance at her untouched meal, then rose and left the table." Ten lines later I found myself magnetically drawn back to that sentence. I must have read it a dozen times before I caught myself scratching my nails across the print, as if the untouched meal-which had just been described in detail-were really there and I could physcially scrape it out of the book. A sure sign of insanity. Onset of mild delusions brought on by lack of food.

The people who lived in Hiller's apartment building formed a community. They looked out for each other, for the most part, and comforted and supported each other. This was especially true of the women who had to deal with repeated rape by the Russian soldiers. Some of them chose to accept the protection of one soldier in the hopes of being able to avoid rape by many different men.

I look at the sixteen-year-old girl, up to now the only person I know who lost her viginity to the Russians. She has the same dumb, self-satisfied look she always had. I try to imagine how it would have been if my first experience had come in this way. But I stop myself-it's unimaginable. One thing is for sure;  if this were peacetime and a girl had been raped by some vagrant, there'd be the whole peacetime hoopla of reporting the crime, taking the statement, questioning witnesses, arrest and confrontation, news reports and neighborhood gossip-and the girl would have reacted differently, would have suffered a different kind of shock. But here we're dealing with a collective experience, something foreseen and feared many times in advance that happened to women right and left, all somehow part of the bargain. And this mass rape is something we are overcoming collectively as well. All the women help each other by speaking about it, airing their pain, and allowing others to air theirs and spit out what they've suffered. Which of course doesn't mean that creatures more delicate than this cheeky little Berlin girl won't fall apart or suffer for the rest of their lives. 

The author has an amazing ability to step outside herself and report on not only what is going on but also how she and others feel about it. It makes reading these diaries an intensely emotional experience.

What else can I do? I have to sit out and wait. Our days are accented by flak and artillary fire. Now and then I wish it were all over. These are strange times-history experienced firsthand, the stuff of tales yet untold and songs unsung. But seen up close, history is much more troublesome, nothing but burdens and fears.
Tomorrow I'll go look for nettles and get some coal. Small as it is, our new stock of provisions will keep us from starving. I fret over it the way rich people worry about their money. The food could be bombed or stolen, eaten by mice or looted by the enemy. Finally I have everything crammed into one more box for the basement. I can still carry all my earthly possessions up and down the stairs with hardly any effort. 

 The whole time I read this book the phrase about "man's inhumanity to man" kept running through my head. How do people do these things to each other? How do people survive such horrors? I would not say I enjoyed this book. It isn't a book you enjoy. It is a book you read with, figuratively speaking, your hand over your eyes yet peeking through your fingers because you are unable to look away. Really, we shouldn't look away because this is what people do to each other sometimes and that is truly terrible. The truly terrible needs to be acknowledged.

A Poem for a Thursday #87

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This is what I appreciate about poetry. A few words can say so much more than they do on the surface. Poetry is the use of words to create images and emotion. All writing is, I suppose, but poetry frequently does it so concisely.  I love this.

In the end,
it was nothing more 
than the toy boat of a boy
on the local park's lake,
where I walked with you.

But I knelt down
to watch it arrive,
its white sail shy
with amber light,
the late sun 
bronzing the wave
that lifted it up,

my ship coming in
with its cargo of joy.

Carol Ann Duffy

Heat and (Un)Happiness

Spending time in nature is supposed to be peaceful, relaxing, and invigorating. It is supposed to be calming and good for the soul. A walk in the woods should provide quiet contemplation and refreshment.

This is all true unless you are hiking with me on a summer day when the temperature is climbing. I, sadly, do not provide a lot of peace and quiet as I moan and groan my way up the path complaining about summer and the fact that I will pass out from the heat before I reach the end of the trail. Why yes, I am a lot of fun in summer.

Last week we went for a hike at Old Furnace State Park. It is a frequent hike of ours since it is five minutes from our house. I love it in the fall when all the leaves are changing colors. We have even done it in the dead of winter and I was fine with that. Summer, though, is evil. However, last week the mountain laurel was in bloom and that was enough to make me stop complaining and enjoy the beauty around me.

The mountain laurel is scattered all through the forest and even though we were there just past its peak it was still beautiful. The views at the top of the cliffs were also a wonderful reward for hiking in the heat. I spent a good amount of time collapsed on top of the cliffs insisting I was going to die but eventually I cooled off and was able to appreciate how beautiful it was. We simply sat and soaked in the view for a long time.

Hiking down the trail is obviously much easier than hiking up and I was much cooler and happier. It really is a beautiful spot and we are fortunate to have it so close to home. We saw almost no one on the path and only one other family was at the top on the cliffs.

Every year I seriously consider moving somewhere where the temperatures never get out of the 70s. Doesn't that sound lovely? No more heat, just warm, comfortable summer days, and hopefully, cool nights. I don't even care if the winter is long; just promise me no more summer days in the 90s and I will pack my bags.

I have written about this park before here.

A Poem for a Thursday #86

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Denise Levertov was born in England in 1923. She decided from a young age to be a poet and when she was twelve she sent some of her poems to T. S. Eliot. He responded encouraging her to continue to write. After her marriage, she and her husband moved to the U. S. She went on to publish many volumes of poems and to teach at various universities. Her poems contain themes of religion, war, and politics.

To tell the truth,
I believe I could be happy
doing nothing but reading old diaries
morning to night. Silk and muslin
brush my hands like moths
passing by, the dancers
go up and down the room, no one
has learned the Valse as yet,
fiddle and flute and fortepiano
return to the older rhythms.
Birth and death, the fortunes of war,
fear and relief from fear
compel attention, yet
they're veiled in the mild Septembery
haze of time--blessedly present, blessedly
long gone by. Aware of the shame
I ought to feel--defecting
so willingly from my own century--
I stroll calmly through candlelit rooms
and down to the quay, to board
a waiting vessel that sails with the tide
into the finest clear night
possible, the Comet more beautiful
than anything I ever saw,
and the noise of the herrings,
which passed us
in immense shoals, glittering
in the Sea, like fire...

The Glittering Noise
Denise Levertov

Book Review//The Prodigal Tongue: The Love-Hate Relationship Between British & American English by Lynne Murphy

I have always been fascinated by language. I like words, I like the rhythm of language, I like different meanings and different accents. When I moved to the Midwest United States for a while in the early 90s I kept a list of the regional differences in words. I have always felt the same way about the differences between American English and British English. I like knowing that if I am in the U.K. an elevator is a lift and a truck is a lorry. I don't think of one as being better than the other, just different. However, one thing the internet has taught me is that not all people feel the same way. Specifically, there seems to be a number of vocal British people online who despise American English. Just today I stumbled across another rant about the evils of "candy" "mom" and "soccer." I have been a longtime reader of Lynne Murphy's blog, Separated by a Common Language, so when I realized she had written a book about the language differences I had to read it.

I loved it. If you take nothing else away from this review then know that I absolutely think if you are British, American, or have any interest in words then you need to read this book. My copy is littered with post-it notes highlighting sections I loved. There is no way I can use all of the references. I spent fifteen minutes paging through trying to pick which ones to feature and managed to get sidetracked by lots of other things I never even marked. Murphy talks about how "The American headlines encourage linguistic togetherness; the British ones hold American English at arm's length."
In contrast, British lists of Americanisms often have titles like "41 Things Americans Say Wrong" and include vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation differences. The greater British interest in (or horror of ) pronunciation stems from the fact that most British people hear a fair amount of American English and therefore get the chance to notice the more obscure pronunciation differences. But not only is there greater oppportunity to notice the differences, there's a greater disposition to notice. The British are conditoned to notice when others don't talk like they do because accent is an inescapable marker of social postition in Britain. This fact inspired George Bernard Shaw's observation:  "It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him." Americans, on the other hand, are often a bit accent-deaf.

Murphy discusses in detail the differences in words themselves but she also discusses the way the language is used. I particularly enjoyed this section on the use of please. 

Americans add please to requests about half as much as Britons do - not because they're less polite, but often because they're trying to be polite. Adding please to something that's already a request doubly marks it as a request:  could you move? is already a request with the softening "could you" formulation (rather than an unsoftening Move!). Since it's already softened and clearly a request, the please seems redundant. Americans thus often interpret could you move, please? as a marker of urgency ('this request is really a request!') and that sense of urgency makes the request sound either bossy or desperate, rather than considerate. 

Isn't that interesting? It is not just the words used but the way in which they are used that changes the language.  All too often, we understand the obvious differences and miss the more subtle ones. Murphy also discusses how sometimes American English has more connections to the English of the past than many realize.

For people (and there are so many of them) who argue that change corrupts English, any evidence that Americans preserve the language should surely be a redeeming fact. By pronouncing the r's in farmer in and the a in secretary, by keeping the words closet and faucet in active use, America has saved the English language! It has preserved those bits of English that the British have been careless with. Alas, linguistic complainers are rarely so consistent. Many of them assume that if there are differences in the two countries, then the way things are said in the new country must be the new way. Then when it's shown that the American way is the older way, the British complainers often lack "the magnanimity to acknowledge their mistake", as New Yorker Romeyn Beck complained about this very issue in 1829. Old-fashioned American ways of talking are sometimes admired by traditionalists, but at least as often they are taken as a sign that Americans are a backward people who don't recognize that their ways of speaking are inelegant or illogical and in need of replacement. 

Here is another quote I liked. I am trying to restrain myself from making this post solely a mass of quotes from the book but it is hard to resist the temptation.

Today's Britons invented the language to an even lesser extent than the sports fans won the match last Sunday. The fans were at least alive when the match was won. If we can even talk of English being "invented" (which I'd advise against), who is this we (or you) who invented it? Sure, the history of the language is longest on a particular island, but that doesn't mean that the poeple on that island today have any greater connection to the language than people speaking the language on another landmass. The adjectives aren't sprouting from ancient stone circles. The verbs aren't in the water supply And the language isn't in anybody's genes. Growing up learning English involves exposure to the English of the immediate past - how your parents and grandparents talk - and making it into the language of our present. That makes anyone's English no more than four generations deep. The British of today are not more connected to the language of Chaucer than the people who grow  up speaking English in the US or South Africa or Hong Kong. Our Englishes aren't parent and child - they're grown-up siblings. 

Speaking of Chaucer, did you know he used I gesse the way Americans use I guess? (As a side point, this book was a revelation as to all the language quirks I use that many British people heartily disapprove of.)  Also, did you know that it was only in the mid-19th-century that the British started pronouncing the h in herb? The Prodigal Tongue is full of fascinating bits of information like this; all about how words change, migrate (in both directions), and are used. Any language is not static and the world we live in makes it even less so. As Murphy says:

While some people equate globalization with Americanization, there's a clue in the name:  it's global. It's not just that people around the world are eating American hamburgers and watching American films. We're eating Thai food and reading Scandinavian murder mysteries, collecting Japanes Pokémon, and drinking Italian coffees. People, things, and ideas are moving all over the world, not just to and from the US. And words are going in all directions. Some are more likely to spread out: some are more likely to stay home. It's an exciting time to be a word lover. 

It is an exciting time to be a word lover. This is especially true if you can read a fascinating book like The Prodigal Tongue. While, in some ways, it is a defense of American English it is also simply a celebration of the language itself in all its idiosyncratic glory. As Murphy says in the final sentences;

But our Englishes being different doesn't mean we have to be chauvinistic about them. We don't have to devalue one to value the other. We shouldn't guard them jealously from contamination. English deserves our love. But it doesn't deserve our worry. We should let it go and see where it takes us. It may be a small world, but English is a big language. 

A Poem for a Thursday #85

Photo by Robert V. Ruggiero on Unsplash
David Rowbotham was an Australian journalist, teacher, and poet. He became interested in writing during World War II when he kept a poetry notebook and took a journalism course through correspondence. He published fifteen collections of poetry during his lifetime and also helped found major literary festivals in Australia.

Draw down the blind and let the dark
Around the spinning starlight mark
That there's a stillness in this room
When Love the planet circles home.

And, from its chaliced beauty, lays
And legends of the world's first days
Move to our lips, from which shall flow
Another lay that earth may know

When men and women worshipping
In far centuries at evening
Are glad our stillness and our song
Were here a legend of their own.

Draw down the blind and now between
The Eden and the ending sun
Cleave ages and evade all death
Like the planet that we lie beneath. 

Draw Down The Blind
David Rowbotham

A Poem for a Thursday #84

Photo by Makayla Ostapa on Unsplash

Gwendolyn Brooks was an American poet, author, and teacher. She won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1950. She was the first African-American to win the Pulitzer Prize. She was also the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1985-86. She was the first African-American to receive this honor as well. She won many other honors and published many books during her lifetime. Brooks grew up in Chicago and closely identified with the city. She knew from a young age that she wanted to be a writer. She described herself as "just a writer who loves to write and will always write."

--And when you have forgotten the bright bedclothes on a Wednesday and a Saturday,
And most especially when you have forgotten Sunday--
When you have forgotten Sunday halves in bed,
Or me sitting on the front-room radiator in the limping afternoon
Looking off down the long street
To nowhere,
Hugged by my plain old wrapper of no-expectation
And nothing-I-have-to-do and I'm-happy-why?
And if-Monday-never-had-to-come--
When you have forgotten that, I say,
And how you swore, if somebody beeped the bell,
And how my heart played hopscotch if the telephone rang;
And how we finally went in to Sunday dinner,
That is to say, went across the front room floor to the ink-spotted table in the southwest corner
To Sunday dinner, which was always chicken and noodles
Or chicken and rice
And salad and rye bread and tea
And Chocolate chip cookies--
I say, when you have forgotten that,
When you have forgotten my little presentiment
That the war would be over before they got to you;
And how we finally undressed and whipped out the light and flowed into bed,
And lay loose-limbed for a moment in the week-end
Bright bedclothes,
Then gently folded into each other--
When you have, I say, forgotten all that,
Then you may tell,
Then I may believe
You have forgotten me well.

when you have forgotten Sunday:  the love story
Gwendolyn Brooks

Book Review//Chatterton Square by E. H. Young

Chatterton Square is the story of two families, the Blacketts and the Frasers, in the time leading up to WWII when Britain was waiting to see if Chamberlain would achieve peace. Of course, we know how that ends but the thread of tension runs throughout the whole novel. As is usual with Young's novels, not a lot happens. She does not write about huge events but instead, she writes with incisive clarity of the people themselves; their thoughts, feelings, motivations, and their weaknesses as well as their strengths. One of her greatest abilities is that she can make even the most unlikeable character human.

Mr. Blackett is supremely unlikable while being completely convinced that he is irresistible. We are shown this clearly in the first chapter.

Mr. Blackett smiled. He laid a hand on her shoulder Its firm pressure emphasized what it was unnecessary to explain. She must trust his wider experience. She had had a sheltered girlhood in her father's vicarage; she had been sheltered as a wife and it would have been beneath his dignity and hers to have told her of the little attacks he had had to parry, easily enough, from women secretaries and clerks and typists. No doubt this sort of thing occurred in most offices where the sexes, unfortunately, mingled. Perhaps his share of it had been unusually large, but he could not change his appearance for the easing of these troubled young women! It was not his fault that he looked like an elegant poet with his pointed, little black beard, his slim figure in well-cut clothes and his hat just a fraction of an inch broader in the brim than the hats of other men. And he was neither the hearty business man who was jolly with the girls nor the suave man of affairs who treated them like machines. They knew he was different. He was a man in uncongenial surroundings who had made himself master of them and they found him interesting. 

 Isn't that a masterly description? Mr. Blackett loves his children, loves his wife, is convinced he is always doing what is best for them but is making them miserable. However, they are not outwardly miserable. Mrs. Blackett is the picture of the perfect wife and mother. She has survived her marriage by inwardly mocking Mr. Blackett while outwardly catering to him. Slowly you come to realize that the inner person is very different from what she is showing to the world. It is an unflinching and disturbing picture of a marriage that has gone wrong between a deluded man and a woman who has contributed to his delusion.

...she told herself that she had only to fool this man to the top of his bent and she could do what she liked with him except make him into the kind of man she wanted. For less than that, the price would be too heavy. She would never be able to change the contents of his mind of which self was the chief ingredient and already her own mind was warped enough by her passive deception of him. She would have been a better woman, she thought, if her behaviour had seemed worse and perhaps--this was an altogether new idea and a disturbing one--he would have been a better man, and, all at once, she felt deeply sorry for him in his unconscious isolation. There was no one in the world, except himself, who really cared for him, there were very few who cared for her. They had each lived in a mean little world, his of self-satisfaction, hers of pandering to it for her own amusement and hers, she feared, was the meaner. Twenty years ago they might have helped each other but he did not know he needed help and she was too young, too wretched to give it, too sure  he would not understand her if she asked for it, and here they were, lookng at each other across the kitchen table, complete strangers bound to each other for life.  

Rosamund Fraser is the mother of five children and the wife of a man from whom she is separated. They were deeply in love but that did not make for a happy family life.

She had not married the wrong man. It would be mean and disloyal and untrue to pretend now that he had not been everything she wanted and, without children, their undeniable claims and what, to him, was the burden of them and the pressure of their personalities, she and Fergus would have been together still and in all probability nothing would have happened to reveal the faults of either to the other. 

 Rosamund worries greatly about the world and what will happen to her children, particularly her sons, if war is declared. She is a loving but slightly hands-off mother who lets her children live their own lives and make their own mistakes. It makes for a happy, warm home and the Blackett children are drawn to it. The two families slowly come to know each other better and come to know more about themselves as a result.

Rosamund has a childhood friend who live with her. Miss Spanner has had a difficult life and worries greatly about her future and whether she will be able to continue to live with Rosamund. She has made a life for herself surrounded by her possessions including her books.

I've had my books and while you've concentrated on six people, six ordinary people," she said, and paused for contradiction but Rosamund, as usual, disappointed her and nodded pleasantly, "while you've only had them, I've made hundreds of friends, yes hundreds of them, good and bad and all interesting. They can't possibly die before I do. I'm sure of them for as long as I want them and when. There's somebody for every mood and though they don't go off in tempers," she said, giving Rosamund one of her meaning looks, "and leave you in the lurch, you can send them away when you've had enough of them, as you'd do with me now if you weren't afraid of hurting my feelings. 

 The Blacketts and the Frasers live next door to each other and by the end of the book, the reader feels as if they have lived in the house opposite watching the comings and goings and interactions of the two families. Chatterton Square is wonderfully written with characters that are well-rounded.

 I am very glad that this was included in The British Library Women Writers series. My thanks to them for the review copy.

A Poem for a Thursday #83

Edna St. Vincent Millay is one of my favorite poets. I have loved her poems from long before I started this poetry series. She has been featured at least three times before (here, here, and here) and I am sure I will feature her again in the future.

Ah, could I lay me down in this long grass
And close my eyes, and let the quiet wind
Blow over me--I am so tired, so tired
Of passing pleasant places! All my life,
Following Care along the dusty road,
Have I looked back at loveliness and sighed;
Yet at my hand an unrelenting hand
Tugged ever, and I passed. All my life long
Over my shoulder have I looked at peace;
And now I fain would lie in this long grass
And close my eyes.
                          Yet onward!
                                     Cat birds call
Through the long afternoon, and creeks at dusk
Are guttural. Whip-poor-wills wake and cry,
Drawing the twilight close about their throats.
Only my heart makes answer. Eager vines
Go up the rocks and wait; flushed apple-trees
Pause in their dance and break the ring for me;
Dim, shady wood-roads, redolent of fern
And bayberry, that through sweet bevies thread
Of round-faced roses, pink and petulant,
Look back and beckon ere they disappear.
Only my heart, only my heart responds.
Yet, ah, my path is sweet on either side
All through the dragging day,--sharp underfoot
And hot, and like dead mist the dry dust hangs--
But far, oh, far as passionate eye can reach,
And long, ah, long as rapturous eye can cling,
The world is mine:  blue hill, still silver lake,
Broad field, bright flower, and the long white road
A gateless garden, and an open path:
My feet to follow, and my heart to hold. 

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Ups and Downs

It is a strange life I am living these days. I am with people all the time but I never see anyone. I have all the time in the world and no time at all. I want life to go back to normal and I dread the return to a frantically busy reality. I love my family and love the time with them and I occasionally dream of running far away from them. I read all the news and scare myself with what is going on in the world and I, at the same time, feel like I am living in my own little bubble. I am content and I am bored. I am happy and I am anxious.

It is a life of ups and downs.

I have little to complain about. No one in my family and no one I know has gotten sick. We can pay our bills. Our lives are inconvenienced but not difficult. However, as is the case with many, we want the things we can't have. I want to putter through a bookshop, walk by the ocean, go out to dinner with my husband, and search for treasures in a consignment shop. I want to go on vacation, but then, I always want to go on vacation.

For now we have to be happy with the little things; the ups in our day-to-day lives. We have been for a few hikes and spent the afternoon sitting by the stream in a state park. We went kayaking on a friend's pond and were even able to wave hello to our friends as we arrived. We have gardened and finished a few projects around the house and planned a few more projects.

Things could be worse and they are for many people around the world. For now, I shall be content with my life of little ups and downs. As my husband frequently reminds me, excitement is not always a good thing and a nice, long stretch of boredom can be quite refreshing.

A Poem for a Thursday #82

Photo by Andrea Zignin on Unsplash

Shel Silverstein was an award-winning children's writer and cartoonist. His books The Giving Tree and Where the Sidewalk Ends are viewed as classics of children's literature. His poems are described as "darkly humorous and irreverent." I also found out, while looking up his life, that he was a songwriter and wrote "A Boy Named Sue" for Johnny Cash. Today's poem may have been originally written for children but I think we can all see the appeal.

Needles and pins,
Needles and pins,
Sew me a sail
To catch me the wind.

Sew me a sail
Strong as the gale,
Carpenter, bring out your
Hammers and nails.

Hammers and nails,
Hammers and nails,
Build me a boat
To go chasing the whales.

Chasing the whales,
Sailing the blue,
Find me a captain
And sign me a crew.

Captain and crew,
Captian and crew,
Take me, oh take me
to anywhere new.

Needles and Pins
Shel Silverstein

A Day Out//Mashamoquet Brook State Park

Yesterday was a beautiful day and we all were a little stir-crazy. We needed to get outside and pretend that life is normal. We packed up some snacks, water, and my book (never go anywhere without a book) and headed to Mashamoquet Brook State Park. I used to take my kids here when they were little so they could swim in the pond and play in the stream. It is still one of our favorite local hiking spots. Thankfully, it was not particularly busy. We only ran into a few people on the trails and only a few more wandered past as we sat by the stream. Well, we sat; Celia went wading. If it had been only a few degrees warmer I am sure she would have been completely soaked. What is it about water that makes teenagers forget they are teenagers? Whatever it is, I love it.

We saw crayfish and minnows and my husband saw a big turtle on the trail. We listened to the sound of the running water. We wandered and chatted and did nothing in particular. It was lovely. For a little while, we forgot the stressful world we live in. We forgot until we ran into some friends of ours and had to carefully stand six feet apart while chatting with them. It was still nice to see them. It has been ages since we have interacted with anyone in person and not just on Zoom.

I brought my book but never opened it. Maybe I will read next time we go when we plan to bring folding chairs, flasks of tea and coffee, and more snacks. We found a lovely little section of the park that few people visit where we can set up our chairs right by the stream and pretend we are on vacation. A little imagination goes a long way.

A walk in the woods and running water can mitigate almost all of life's ills. We are fortunate to have uncrowded parks right near our house. They provide a bit of peace in a stressful world.

A Poem for a Thursday #81

Photo by DAVIDCOHEN on Unsplash
May Sarton was an American poet, novelist, and memoirist. Her work is described as "inspirational, touching, honest, and thought-provoking." At the time of her death, Sarton had written 53 books.

Now I become myself. It's taken
Time, many years and places;
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people's faces,
Run madly, as if Time were there,
Terribly old, crying a warning,
"Hurry, you will be dead before--"
(What? Before you reach the morning?
Or the end of the poem is clear?
Or love safe in the walled city?)
Now to stand still, to be here,
Feel my own weight and density!
The black shadow on the paper
Is my hand; the shadow of a word 
As thought shapes the shaper
Falls heavy on the page, is heard.
All fuses now, falls into place
From wish to action, word to silence,
My work, my love, my time, my face
Gathered into one intense
Gesture of growing like a plant.
As slowly as the ripening fruit
Fertile, detached, and always spent,
Falls but does not exhaust the root,
So all the poems, can give,
Grows in me to become the song,
Made so and rooted by love.
Now there is time and Time is young.
O, in this single hour I live
All of myself and do not move.
I, the pursued, who madly ran,
Stand still, stand still, and stop the sun!

Now I Become Myself
May Sarton

A Poem for a Thursday #80

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash
Billy Collins writes such readable, relatable poetry. I spent a happy hour or so trying to choose which one to feature today. I finally picked this because it is about books and reading and what could be more appropriate?

Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.
I f I could just get my hands on you,
Kierkegaard, or Conor Cruise O'Brien,
they seem to say,
I would bolt the door and beat some logic into your head.

Other comments are more offhand, dismissive-
'Nonsense.' 'Please!' 'HA!'-
that kind of thing.
I remember once looking up from my reading,
my thumb as a bookmark,
trying to imagine what the person must look like
who wrote 'Don't be a ninny'
alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.

Students are more modest
needing to leave only their splayed footprints 
along the shore of the page.
One scrawls 'Metaphor' next to a stanza of Eliot's.
Another notes the presence of 'Irony'
fifty times outside the paragraphs of A Modest Proposal.

Or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers,
Hands cupped around their mouths.
'Absolutely,' they shout
to Duns Scotus and James Baldwin.
'Yes.' 'Bull's-eye.' ' My man!' 
Check marks, asterisks, and exclamation points
rain down along the sidelines.

And if you have managed to graduate from college
without ever having written 'Man vs. Nature' 
in a margin, perhaps now
is the time to take one step forward.

We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
and reached for a pen if only to show
we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
we pressed a thought into the wayside,
planted an impression along the verge.

Even Irish monks in their cold scriptoria
jotted along the borders of the Gospels
brief asides about the pains of copying,
a bird singing near their window,
or the sunlight that illuminated their page-
anonymous men catching a ride into the future
on a vessel more lasting than themselves.

And you have not read Joshua Reynolds,
they say, until you have read him
enwreathed with Blake's furious scribbling.

Yet the one I think of most often,
the one that dangles from me like a locket,
was written in the copy of Catcher in the Rye
I borrowed from the local library
one slow, hot summer.
I was just beginning high school then,
reading books on a davenport in my parents' living room
and I cannot tell you
how vastly my loneliness was deepened,
how poignant and amplified the world before me seemed
when I found on one page

A few greasy looking smears
and next to them, written in soft pencil-
by a beautiful girl, I could tell,
whom I would never meet-
'Pardon the egg salad stains, but I'm in love.'

Billy Collins

Book Review//My Husband Simon by Mollie Panter-Downes

Are you ever afraid to read a book because you love everything you have read by that author and what if this is the one to break the streak? What if it is just...all right? I know it is silly. After all, you will still love the other books, but somehow that is how I felt about My Husband Simon by Mollie Panter-Downes. She is a relatively recent discovery for me and the fact that there are not very many of her books in print has made the ones I have read feel even more special. One Fine Day is beautifully written and London War Notes fits exactly into my interest in WWII social history. Her short stories are also a joy. When The British Library sent me a copy of My Husband Simon I set it aside for a bit just in case the anticipation was better than the fact. Last weekend I finally read it.

In My Husband Simon Nevis Falconer (what a name!) tells the story of her short marriage to Simon Quinn. Nevis and Simon are very different but they fall in love almost instantly, mostly based on wild physical attraction. Nevis is a writer and bases her opinion of people on intellectual criteria.

Simon, I discovered almost at once, was the most baffling person to deal with, because he had any amount of intuition and no intelligence, as I understood the word. But Simon argued once that I understood the word all wrong. He said that I damned anyone as unintelligent who (a) had not seen the latest play and read the latest novel; (b) did not know who Virginia Woolf was; (c) could not look at a dress and say, "My dear, is it Molyneux?" Well, Simon certainly failed in (a), (b), and (c). He never read books; he didn't give a damn who Virginia Woolf was; he thought a dress either a bad dress or a good dress; and that was that.

 Nevis and Simon settle into married life and are alternately wildly happy and wildly argumentative. Nevis does not like Simon's family, especially his mother who expects her to produce children and make a happy home. Nevis needs to write and is intensely frustrated because since she married it has become harder and harder for her to do so. She is not happy with her latest book even though it is admired and feels she can do better. But how, with no peace and no time to herself? A publisher from the U.S. arranges a meeting with Nevis. They become friends and he tells her what no one else has; that her writing is not as good as it was.

I felt the queerest mixture of anger and misery and relief. It was the kind of feeling you might have if you said to a doctor: "Tell me the worst," and he answered: "Six months to live." It was as though, after a lot of evasive probing round a mortal wound, one swift thrust had laid it bare. A wrench of supreme pain and then a queer sort of peace. Now I know the worst. Now nothing can hurt me any more.It was what I had been wanting all the time, subconsciously. Someone with guts enough to say "You're a flop, and you know it." Not Simon coming back from the office with his tales of awful nice chaps who had thought Vulcan's Harvest damn good. I didn't want a comforting salve of lies and good-nature. I wanted a hard, surgical slash-slash; an incisive cutting agony that would either cure or kill. Only that morning I had been sobbing angrily under the Flemish flower picture for want of someone like Marcus Chard. 

Marcus Chard and his presence in Nevis' life becomes more and more of a catalyst for change in her relationship with Simon. I started the book thinking it was going to be the story of a marriage gone wrong and the man who broke it up (which is not my favorite kind of book which is possibly another reason I hesitated to read it.) It is the story of a marriage gone wrong but it is also the story of two people who love each other deeply and don't want their marriage to fail.  They are two flawed people but neither is presented as the villain. They are just people who make mistakes and love each other and break each other's hearts. I must admit, I did frequently want to shake both of them and bang their heads together until they came to their senses and worked out their relatively minor problems. The beauty of Panter-Downes' writing is that she makes you believe in all the fraught emotions while you are reading them.

Mollie Panter-Downes writes with the seemingly effortless grace that I have love in her other books. Her writing has a hint of nostalgic melancholy, for lack of a better phrase, that I particularly enjoy.

It poured with rain. The Michaelmas daisies in Frank's garden stood in sodden stacks, their watery mauve plumes bowed down to the earth with moisure; the plummy red of the brick wall against the fruit-trees were nailed with fluttering bits of rag, the dead gold of the dripping woods were blurred and softened by a veil of rain. The earth was sweet and rotten with decay. In the evening a white vapour rose from the ground; in it the familiar shapes of trees disappeared, the lawn became a steaming lake; slow wisps of mist curled menacingly round the house. And as though by magic, fires appeared and lamps glowed in the rooms. We sat secure in a little citadel of summer while autumn prowled outside, shaking the window-panes with gusts of irritable fury. 

I enjoyed this and would reread it at some point which is my totally arbitrary way of judging a book. I don't think it is as good as her later writings but then, of course it isn't. There are over a dozen years between the publication of My Husband Simon and One Fine Day. She had a lot of time to grow and develop her talent.

My thanks to The British Library for the review copy. I reviewed a previous book in this series, The Tree of Heaven, here.