A Poem for a Thursday #12

Photo by Monika Grabkowska on Unsplash

The thing about choosing poems for my Thursday posts is that once I discover a poet I like I end up with many of their poems that I want to feature. I have a list of poems by Mary Oliver because once I discovered her I just kept reading. The same is true this week for Billy Collins. I had read several of his poems before, including the one I am using today, but now I have so many more I would love to share. Don't be too surprised if Mary Oliver and Billy Collins pop up again on a Thursday sometime very soon.

Billy Collins was the U.S. poet laureate from 2001-2003. He has received numerous awards and honors. He is famous for "conversational, witty poems that welcome readers with humor but often slip into quirky, tender or profound observation on the everyday, reading and writing, and poetry itself."

His poem "Litany" is inspired by the first two lines of a poem written by Belgian poet Jacques Crickillon. It is immensely appealing with words that flow.

You are the bread and the knife,
the crystal goblet and the wine.
You are the dew on the morning grass
and the burning wheel of the sun.
You are the white apron of the baker,
and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.

However, you are not the wind in the orchard,
the plums on the counter,
or the house of cards.
And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.
There is just no way you are the pine-scented air.

It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge,
maybe even the pigeon on the general's head,
but you are not even close
to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.

And a quick look in the mirror will show
that you are neither the boots in the corner 
nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.

It might interest you to know,
speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the sound of rain on the roof.

I also happen to be the shooting star,
the evening paper blowing down an alley
and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.

I am also the moon in the trees
and the blind woman's tea cup.
But don't worry, I'm not the bread and the knife.
You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and-somehow-the wine.

Billy Collins

A Poem for a Thursday #11

Photo by Jongsun Lee on Unsplash

Leonora Speyer was a poet and violinist. She won the Pulitzer Prize for one of her poetry collections. She said about her poetry "Having played the violin since my early youth it seemed but another expression, perhaps a more subtle one, of the same art to find myself writing, studying, deep in the metrics of musical words." I love the way swallows swoop and soar through the sky. Her poem captures that perfectly.

They dip their wings in the sunset,
They dash against the air
As if to break themselves upon its stillness: 
In every movement, too swift to count,
Is a revelry of indecision,
A furtive delight in trees they do not desire
And in grasses that shall not know their weight.

They hover and lean toward the meadow
With little edged cries;
And then,
As if frightened at the earth's nearness,
They seek the high austerity of the evening sky
And swirl into its depth. 

Leonora Speyer

Random Thoughts From My Life Lately

I sat down to write a book review but I am tired and that is just not going to happen tonight so instead, you get all the random thoughts that have been running through my head as I sit with my fingers poised over the keyboard. Really, it is just a list of things to tell you, none of which in any way are particularly interesting or merit a blog post but I am telling you anyway.

I started running. Again. But this time it seems to be sticking. I just finished week six of a couch-to-5k program and I can now run for 22 minutes straight. I have always quit at the beginning of week four before so this is major progress. I am slower than a herd of turtles but I am running.

I gave up sugar. Today. Yes, it is miserable. Yes, my family probably hates me right now. Yes, I hate me right now. But what is the point of running if I am still eating terribly? I don't have high hopes of this sticking but I'm giving it a try.

My sister and her family gave us a belated anniversary present and since part of it is book-themed I am showing you. It is the picture at the top of the post. I love it and now think I might need to redecorate my whole bedroom around it.

My husband asked me the other day if I thought I had enough books. He has been married to me for 28 years. Shouldn't he know better than that? I, obviously, promptly bought two more books. Well, Barnes & Noble had a 75 percent off section. What would you have done? These are the two books I bought.

I decided the other day that I needed an insulated teapot. It is cold now and my pot of tea gets cold before I am done drinking it. I looked them up on Amazon and they are about $60 which is more than I want to spend on a teapot. Do tea cozies actually work or are they just a retro thing that looks charming? Hot tea for more than 20 minutes is my dream.

I had to buy ink for my fountain pen. It came with a cartridge but I decided I wanted to fill it from an ink bottle because if I am going old-school then I might as well go the whole way. The bottle is pretty and the whole thing pleases me but I think I should probably paper my kitchen in newspaper before I try to fill it because I am a bit clumsy and this is likely not going to end well.

I have decided that what I currently want out of life is a little cabin in a clearing in the woods with a stream nearby. There must be a fireplace, a cozy couch with lots of blankets, and windows to gaze out of. I want an endless supply of books, tea, and blank notebooks to write in. I want silence. Of course, since this is all a fantasy, I am not at all nervous about being in a cabin in the woods by myself.

Now that I am thinking about it, an apartment in a city where no one knows me and there are lots of coffee shops and bookstores would be nice too. Maybe a week in the city and then I retreat to the cabin.

But, wherever I am, I want it to magically stay clean and food to appear whenever I need it. Healthy, sugarless food, I suppose. I tried to fit running into the cabin fantasy but I found that I immediately fell while leaping across the stream, sprained my ankle, and lay there all night until I finally managed to drag myself back to the cabin where I came down with pneumonia from exposure. Obviously, the running will have to stop.

So, which would you pick? Cabin or city?

A Poem for a Thursday #10

Photo by Cristina Gottardi on Unsplash
I first came across today's poem because it is used on a blog I read. Carolann, at Finding Ithaka, loves the poem so much she included it in her blog name. I hadn't read it before but it is beautiful. The words have such a lovely rhythm and flow to them. C. P. Cavafy was a Greek poet, journalist, and civil servant. His poetry wasn't formally published in his lifetime. He preferred to have it appear in local newspapers and magazines or to self-publish it in pamphlets he gave away to anyone who expressed interest. He became much more well-known after his death and is now considered to be "perhaps the most original and influential Greek poet of the 20th century."

As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon--don't be afraid of them:
you'll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops
wild Poseidon--you won't encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you. 

Hope the voyage is a long one.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time; 
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind--
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won't have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean. 

C. P. Cavafy

Book Review--A Notable Woman: The Romantic Journals of Jean Lucey Pratt

I am fascinated by how people used to live. What did they eat? What were their clothes like? How did they feel and act? What were their working conditions? What were their homes like? Who were the people behind the history?

Recently I have been reading a book that I highly recommend. It provides wonderful insight into a life and a time that is gone. A Notable Woman: The Romantic Journals of Jean Lucey Pratt is a satisfyingly thick book that fully submerged me in Jean Pratt's life. The book is edited by Simon Garfield who also edited volumes of diaries pulled from the Mass Observation archives. Jean Pratt featured in those under another name. Now, her diaries, over a million words in 45 exercise books, are compiled on their own. They are fascinating. Jean Pratt wrote with an eye to publication but was amazingly honest in recording what was happening in her life and her opinions on various matters. She writes such amazingly relatable things.

Never have time to do anything thorougly, to think or feel or dream. Half an hour at this, an hour at that, and interruptions every 20 minutes. Half a dozen pages of Shaw, two scenes from Shakespeare, an act from Dryden, half a tale of Maugham and a chapter of Virginia Woolf. A paragraph in The Times, the headline of the Herald, the photos of the Mail, the glimpse of an article in the Spectator, a rapid survey of the Bookman. No time to digest them or form one's own opinions or remember what one's read, too busy planning the hours to be spent on Boswell, Matthew Arnold and Tennyson, on Plato and Kant and John Macmurray, plans that never materialise because of a pair of stockings that have to be darned, nails that must be manicured. Then a telephone bell rings or a letter arrives. Little bits of scattered knowledge cling uselessly to one's memory. So much to do, so much worth doing, but in trying to do it all, one does nothing. 

I have never planned to read Plato or Kant but I do recognize the feeling of never having time, never getting to everything I want to do. Jean Pratt also writes about what diarists do. I like it because it sums up so nicely why I like to read diaries.

The diarist must do what other writers may not. His emotions are not recollected in tranquility; his ideas are not necessarily formed after long and studious reflection. Nor is his narration of events picked from imagination or memory. His purpose is special and peculiar. He has to capture and crystallise moments on the wing so that 'This,' future generations will say as they turn his glittering pages, 'was the present then. This was true.' 

My copy of the book is full of sticky notes. So many things she wrote resonated with me. Here is another one.

I have got Elizabeth Taylor's Wreath of Roses at Foyles. I remember vaguely the glowing reviews when it first came out, and Liz M. reading it, unable to put it down. And N.'s friend Ara telling me she had met Elizabeth Taylor:  'A little, quiet thing. She said she had written a book and I said, "How nice, what?" in a patronising way.' A year or so later I met Ara again with N., and she said I reminded her a little of Elizabeth Taylor, not in looks but in her quiet manner. It fills me with rage, a rage of which I am ashamed when I analyse it, that people like Ara (whom one thinks of as intelligent, cultured, sophisticated and therefore perceptive) should express astonishment when they find that quiet little things have depth.

 Here is one final quote. I suppose I can't include everything I have marked or this post would be a ridiculous length.

Perhaps the real difficulty is this:  that I want to watch the play and act in it at the same time. I want to watch the evolving of my own drama. 

Jean Pratt wrote with all her flaws and idiosyncrasies. Sometimes she annoyed and frustrated me, especially in her love life, but she never bored me. She was real. She lived a life I haven't but, through her diaries, I have experienced it and gotten to know her. You should do the same.

A Poem for a Thursday #9

Wendy Cope is a contemporary English poet. I stumbled across her on Pinterest and her poems immediately made me smile. Sometimes that is all you need and, for me, that was enough to pick a poem for today. My post should really be headed with a photo of Waterloo Bridge but since I can't provide that you will have to be satisfied with a picture of the Thames. At least it is, appropriately, London.

On Waterloo Bridge, where we said our goodbyes,
The weather conditions bring tears to my eyes.
I wipe them away with a black woolly glove
And try not to notice I've fallen in love.

On Waterloo Bridge I am trying to think:
This is nothing. You're high on the charm and the drink.
But the juke-box inside me is playing a song
That says something different. And when was it wrong?

On Waterloo Bridge with the wind in my hair
I am tempted to skip.  You're a fool. I don't care.
The head does its best but the heart is the boss.
I admit it before I am halfway across.

After the Lunch
Wendy Cope

For the Love of a Typewriter

Typewriters once were utilitarian; something you used to get the words on the paper in the fastest, most efficient way possible. They were useful, everyday, and sometimes annoying; especially when the ribbon wore out or you made a mistake and had to go through the hassle of wite-out or correction tape. You learned to type in school because it was as necessary as cursive and balancing a checkbook. The clack of the keys and the ding of the bell when you reached the end of a line were just a part of life. As a child, I went to sleep to the sound of my father typing downstairs as he worked on articles and talks.

Then typewriters were replaced with word processors and now computers. Typewriters are outdated and unnecessary but I love them. I love the sounds they make, the feel of the keys, and the belief they provide that at any moment you are going to write something worth reading.

I have wanted a typewriter for a long time but have never found just the right one at a thrift shop. I really wanted one from the 1940s because I have always been interested in that time period. Eventually, I started stalking typewriters on eBay but it was hard to judge the condition and frequently the shipping costs were prohibitive. However, I am not someone who gives up easily and finally, I found it--an Underwood Champion from the 1940s for a reasonable price in very good condition. I bought it immediately.

It is just as amazing as I thought it would be.

I spent some time cleaning it and making some adjustments. I bought a new ribbon and some onion skin paper. I had to relearn to type because I had forgotten just how hard you have to hit the keys. But now I am all set. I sit down at my typewriter, poise my fingers over the keys and vanish into another time period.

I am a journalist working on a weekly paper determined to prove I can write just as well as the men. I am a young woman writing to my fiance who is in a prisoner-of-war camp. I am sitting cross-legged on the grass in a meadow with a flask of tea by my side writing my novel. I am a literary lion dashing off a letter to my publisher.

I am just me waiting to see what words materialize.