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 Pok√©mon, 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

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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.