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Making the Ordinary Sacred April 17, 2018

Posted by andrewfieldlibrarian in Uncategorized.
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In my last blog post, I talked about how poetry is able to articulate, through its form and language, aspects of experience that are hard to articulate – aspects like love or grief.  But another great thing about poetry is its ability to make the ordinary sacred, by focusing on ordinary life and making it into something special, or reminding us how special our most ordinary moments are.  This is to say that poetry is good for the big things, the things we think about alot (love, grief), but it is also great on the smaller things, the things we forget, the things we want to remember but don’t (alas!) write down.  Therefore, now that we are nearing the end of National Poetry Month, I wanted to share a poem that I love, where what is ordinary is memorialized and maybe even transformed.

This poem is by one of my favorite poets, the Detroit-born Philip Levine.

Belle Isle, 1949

We stripped in the first warm spring night
and ran down into the Detroit River
to baptize ourselves in the brine
of car parts, dead fish, stolen bicycles,
melted snow. I remember going under
hand in hand with a Polish highschool girl
I’d never seen before, and the cries
our breath made caught at the same time
on the cold, and rising through the layers
of darkness into the final moonless atmosphere
that was this world, the girl breaking
the surface after me and swimming out
on the starless waters towards the lights
of Jefferson Ave. and the stacks
of the old stove factory unwinking.
Turning at last to see no island at all
but a perfect calm dark as far
as there was sight, and then a light
and another riding low out ahead
to bring us home, ore boats maybe, or smokers
walking alone. Back panting
to the gray coarse beach we didn’t dare
fall on, the damp piles of clothes,
and dressing side by side in silence
to go back where we came from.

 

This is an amazing moment, a remarkable experience, but it’s the kind of thing one might forget about if it hadn’t been written down – going hand in hand under the water of the Detroit River with a stranger, a “Polish highschool girl.”  There is something so lovely and deep about this memory, despite the description of the river as full of “car parts, dead fish, stolen bicycles, / melted snow.”  We hear about a “perfect calm dark / as far as there was sight,” and the sense is that Levine and his stranger-friend are buoyed in this darkness and calm by the water, and are swimming towards a light – “ore boats, maybe, or smokers / washing alone.”  There is something desolate about these images, while at the same time something gritty and stark and beautiful.  The moment is seemingly ordinary, but something about the language – the motif of light and dark, the water, “the final moonless atmosphere / that was this world” – gives the poem a spiritual and even philosophical intensity, something almost metaphysical, something having to do with experience and memory.  Levine has chosen to memorialize this event, and it’s not hard to see why – there was about this event something so vivid and alive, something youthful and fun.  It makes me wonder if the memory is bittersweet for the older poet looking back on it, or if the memory still retains its taste of pure amazed joy.

As we end National Poetry Month, I hope you are able to find similarly intense and vivid poems that reminds us why we read and write poetry in the first place, and that perhaps might inspire you to put your pen to paper and memorialize something, no matter how large or how small.

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Philip Levine

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A Poem About (Messy, Visceral) Love for National Poetry Month April 6, 2018

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April is National Poetry Month, which means I have the opportunity to write about one of my favorite topics.  Poetry, for me, is one of the most beautiful, powerful, and expressive of the art forms.  While visual art uses the world that we see, and music uses the sense of our hearing, poetry uses both (seeing = the arrangement of the poem on the page; hearing = the rhythm of the poem on the page, or hearing the poem read out loud).  But what poetry uses more than anything else is language.  And that’s why I love it so much.  Don’t get me wrong – fiction and non-fiction are also constructed out of language, but poetry for me is a different use of language, and it can gesture towards aspects of experience that are hard to talk about or explain, including love and grief.  Here, for example is a poem a friend of mine shared recently on Facebook.  I read it with the shocked awareness of something being said about love and grief that would be hard to articulate in another art form.  Here is the poem:

Marriage

By Ellen Bass
When you finally, after deep illness, lay
the length of your body on mine, isn’t it
like the strata of the earth, the pressure
of time on sand, mud, bits of shell, all
the years, uncountable wakings, sleepings,
sleepless nights, fights, ordinary mornings
talking about nothing, and the brief
fiery plummets, and the unselfconscious
silences of animals grazing, the moving
water, wind, ice that carries the minutes, leaves
behind minerals that bind the sediment into rock.
How to bear the weight, with every
flake of bone pressed in. Then, how to bear when
the weight is gone, the way a woman
whose neck has been coiled with brass
can no longer hold it up alone. Oh love,
it is balm, but also a seal. It binds us tight
as the fur of a rabbit to the rabbit.
When you strip it, grasping the edge
of the sliced skin, pulling the glossy membranes
apart, the body is warm and limp. If you could,
you’d climb inside that wet, slick skin
and carry it on your back. This is not
neat and white and lacy like a wedding,
not the bright effervescence of champagne
spilling over the throat of the bottle. This visceral
bloody union that is love, but
beyond love. Beyond charm and delight
the way you to yourself are past charm and delight.
This is the shucked meat of love, the alleys and broken
glass of love, the petals torn off the branches of love,
the dizzy hoarse cry, the stubborn hunger.

Although the poem is titled “Marriage,” I think it could speak to anyone who has experienced love both as a “balm” and a “seal.”  Here, Ellen Bass is trying to get beyond notions of love that are “neat and white and lacy.”  She is trying through language to gesture towards the messy and visceral aspects of love, the way it reaches us down to the roots and changes our lives in unalterable ways.  Love, for Bass, is like “the way you to yourself are past charm and delight.”  It is real, and therefore not always pretty, but its power moves within us, through happiness and (maybe even more so?) through loss.  Love is such a rich and complicated thing that it contains

                                                                   all
the years, uncountable wakings, sleepings,
sleepless nights, fights, ordinary mornings
talking about nothing, and the brief
fiery plummets, and the unselfconscious
silences of animals grazing, the moving
water, wind, ice that carries the minutes, leaves
behind minerals that bind the sediment into rock.

When people love each other, they are loving a person formed by time, and time is full of so many things, including dreams, quarrels, chatter, silence, and even things like weather and trees and leaves and rock.  When we love someone, we are loving an embodiment of the world.  This is not a pretty poem, but a poem doesn’t have to be pretty.  Instead, it needs to be honest about its subject matter.  Reading it is therefore bracing, but also energizing.  I hope during this month, and beyond, that you are able to find poems that you find energizing, exciting, and moving, full of rich language and imagery.

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Ellen Bass

The Poetry We Can Find in the World March 20, 2018

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For the upcoming National Poetry Month, which starts in April, I’ve been thinking about places we find poetry outside of poetry books.  Of course, if you think about it, the subject of poetry can be very wide, for poetry is often used as a metaphor to describe a moment of beauty or clarity that doesn’t necessarily have to do with the verbal art of poetry proper, but instead is related to our experience.  For example, this morning, driving to work, I saw a group of black birds rise up into the sky, and the scene to me was like poetry – there was something graceful about it, even moving, how they all rose up together as is borne up by a great wind, and how quickly it happened, and as quickly moved out of view.  Of course, I wasn’t reading a poem about birds, I was seeing birds in flight, but something about the experience struck me as poetic.  But what does this even mean?

John Stuart Mill, a British philosopher and political economist from the 19th century, also had some interesting thoughts about poetry.  In an essay he wrote called “Thoughts on Poetry and its Varieties,” Mill argued that poetry should not be defined based on “metrical composition” alone, “metrical composition” referring to the way in which poetry is often concerned with the rhythm of a sentence or a line.  But Mill thought defining poetry exclusively based on its focus on rhythm was not true to the spirit of what we mean when we talk about poetry in the wider sense.  Mill goes on to say in the essay that he does think poetry contains a “difference” that sets it apart from other experiences, though this difference can be found in other art forms as well, including prose, music, sculpture, painting and architecture, and maybe even outside those art forms.  So what is this difference?

Here is how Mill describes this difference:

“The object of poetry is confessedly to act upon the emotions;—and therein is poetry sufficiently distinguished from what Wordsworth affirms to be its logical opposite—namely, not prose, but matter of fact, or science. The one addresses itself to the belief; the other, to the feelings. The one does its work by convincing or persuading; the other, by moving. The one acts by presenting a proposition to the understanding; the other, by offering interesting objects of contemplation to the sensibilities.”

So for Mill, the opposite of poetry is not prose.  The opposite is instead “matter of fact, or science.”  For Mill, there is a wide gulf that separates the things that persuade us (having to do with beliefs, facts, and even reason), and the things that move us (having to do with feelings, emotions).  Indeed, Mill believe there is an intimate connection between the world of poetry and the world of feelings.  Poetry refers to an experience during which we are moved, during which our feelings are stirred and we are pulled out of our habitual thoughts to contemplate something interesting, different, even sublime.  Poetry slows us down, so that we can focus on something that shakes us, that makes us feel wonder.

Although Mill does distinguish poetry from science, I don’t think it is too far a stretch to say that science can also be poetic.  I’m sure readers of the late Stephen Hawking would agree that there is something awe-inducing about contemplating the universe itself, which causes us to feel wonder at the sheer fact of existence at all!

So, dear reader, what are some moments in your life when you have a poetic experience, when you experience the poetry of your own life?  Does it have to do with a relationship, of seeing a friend or loved one smiling or laughing?  Does it have to do with a moment in nature, noticing the color of the sky or marveling at the growth of a certain tree?  Does it happen during peak moments, like a wedding or a funeral, or does it happen in quiet moments, like cooking dinner with a spouse?  Either way, I hope that during this National Poetry Month you are able to feel and experience and see the poetry in your own life – and maybe even write a poem about it!

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Greg’s Top 10 for 2017 December 14, 2017

Posted by gregoryhatch in Book Awards, Book Discussion, Book List, Book Review, Graphic Novel, Horror, New Books, Non-Fiction, Top Ten, Top Ten of 2017, Uncategorized.
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First off is a book I previously reviewed, Books of Blood: Volumes One to Three. As the title describes this is a three books of short stories in one not so compact volume. This had to make my list for the sheer variety it offered fans of horror. Much like Barker’s films there is a balance of psychological and visceral horror. Recommended for the horror fan who needs an introduction to Barker’s writing.
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I know I am cheating a bit with these picks but these two volumes are distinct enough in their tone and their personal achievement to deserve their own spot on this list. A retelling/reworking of the Hercules myth, David Rubin’s graphic novel The Hero breaks new ground in the telling of this millennial old story. An odd combination of ancient and contemporary motifs (there are ancient Greek news casts) Hero keeps the reader on their toes. Book One focuses on the labors and the development of Hercules as hero. Book Two takes a darker tone and starts asking what happens when the campaign is won and yet life, and its tragedies, continue on. A humanizing take on a hero who’s story is told again and again.
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Possibly a very bold claim, but for me, this collection was the work that got me interested in poetry again. I am a working visual artist who has had a desire to investigate poetry but just didn’t seem to be my medium or speak my own creative language. Smith’s work shares many of the research veins that I am interested in and gave me a gateway to the work and the art form of poetry. A Finalist for the National Book Award, these poems are both challenging and enjoyable.
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What can I say, I am sucker for short story collections that explore magical realism. Russell gives us everything from lemon sucking vampires to a silk factory who raw material comes from silkworm/human hybrids. More so than any of the other short story collections on this list Vampires offers the readers stories are truly a mixed bag of setting and tone. I haven’t had a chance to read Russell’s novel Swamplandia! but from how much I enjoyed this work its on my reading list.
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If you are familiar with Sedaris’ work you know that you are in for more of the same awkward, funny, cringe-worthy, and relatable stories. Told in his signature style, Sedaris focuses on the minor (and so minor) faux pas, social foibles, and daily disasters that everyone else will forget about but will mar you for life. Like all his work, I recommend reading before large family gatherings, for perspective.
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If I had to give Gaiman’s work a subtitle it would have to be “Translated for Clarity and Entertainment.” Master storyteller, Gaiman makes traditional Norse and Northern European mythology digestible for a wider audience. If you ever attempted to read traditional translations of Norse sagas you know that they can be a bit dense and at times confusing. This is a great introduction to the Norse religion and for fans of Neil Gaiman’s wider body of work.
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Maybe too dry (pun intended) for some, I found The Drunken Botanist an informative and intriguing romp into the history of alcohol and the cultures that made them. I enjoyed this book as an audio book while on a long drive to a conference and think it may be its best in that scenario. Filled with moments of “huh didn’t know that” and the science to back it up, Stewart’s work is great material for parties or possible future games of trivia.
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A subversive and unconventional take on the idea of a romantic comedy. We follow Oaf Jadwiga (former professional wrestler, owner of a cat sanctuary and maker of stuffed animals) as he tried to catch the eye of black metal front-man Eiffel. Now what would be romantic comedy without a few mishaps? Oaf has to deal rival bands, exes (his and Eiffel’s), and cats with emotional problems. With moments of tenderness, gross out humor, and an in your face attitude this book was always surprising.
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If you enjoyed the Alan Moore’s Watchmen’s take on the world of cape crusaders there is a good chance you will enjoy Black Hammer : Secret Origins. Lemire’s take on a super hero team takes a decidedly dark psychological tone. Abraham Slam, Golden Gail, Colonel Weird, Madame Dragonfly, and Barbalien are the a superhero team who have been trapped in a reality that they cannot escape. Rather than Superman’s Phantom Zone, their prison takes the form of a small rural town. This first volume gives us a look into the hero’s previous lives, the baggage they hold, and how they cope in a world where they have little to do but reflect.

National Poetry Month March 31, 2016

Posted by Emma in poetry, Uncategorized.
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You are invited to join in the celebration by writing and submitting a poem about the Library or the community. Poem submissions must be entered by email to rrpladultreference@gmail.com between April 1st-22nd with a limit of 500 words. The winner will receive a poetry memento and the poem will be published on the RRPL website. Winner will be announced Friday, April 29th. (Ages 18 and older.)

Good Luck!

~Emma

I was there! -at The 2015 Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards September 11, 2015

Posted by stacey in Book Awards, Non-Fiction, poetry.
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It’s true! I was one of the lucky attendees at this year’s Anisfield-Wolf award ceremony -and it was incredible. The opener? A young man in the fifth grade read his winning, original poem “Am I Invisible” with such energy and style; he was rewarded with a standing ovation! And of course, the adult winners brought their A game as well -both Jericho Brown and Marilyn Chin performed their poetry, Marlon James read from his fictional story, and Richard S. Dunn talked about history of two plantations. David Brion Davis wasn’t at the awards in person but accepted his Lifetime Achievement Award in a recorded message. Library Journal’s coverage of the event pretty much says it all… in style!

enjoy!
Stacey

A Poem is a Poem is a… April 19, 2014

Posted by Dori in Thoughtful Ramblings.
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poetryI do admit my ignorance when I say that I’m not very knowledgeable about poetry, though certain poems do sing to me. Perhaps I’m too literal. In How to Read a Poem from the Academy of American Poets, they stress that you should not expect to understand a poem on first reading it, but should re-encounter it more than once, adding your experience.  Ultimately, it takes practice and work.

Since April is National Poetry Month, it is the ideal time to make the effort. There are events around town and on the web to get you started and activities for adults and children. You can check out a poetry book from the library, listen to poets read their own work or create and share a poem in your pocket.

I myself will take the time to find a couple of new ones that strike my fancy, like this one I just heard the poet reading:

My Philosophy of Life by John Ashbery

Just when I thought there wasn’t room enough
for another thought in my head, I had this great idea–
call it a philosophy of life, if you will. Briefly,
it involved living the way philosophers live,
according to a set of principles. OK, but which ones?

That was the hardest part, I admit, but I had a
kind of dark foreknowledge of what it would be like.
Everything, from eating watermelon or going to the bathroom
or just standing on a subway platform, lost in thought
for a few minutes, or worrying about rain forests,
would be affected, or more precisely, inflected
by my new attitude.  I wouldn’t be preachy,
or worry about children and old people, except
in the general way prescribed by our clockwork universe.
Instead I’d sort of let things be what they are
while injecting them with the serum of the new moral climate
I thought I’d stumbled into, as a stranger
accidentally presses against a panel and a bookcase slides back,
revealing a winding staircase with greenish light
somewhere down below, and he automatically steps inside
and the bookcase slides shut, as is customary on such occasions.
At once a fragrance overwhelms him–not saffron, not lavender,
but something in between. He thinks of cushions, like the one
his uncle’s Boston bull terrier used to lie on watching him
quizzically, pointed ear-tips folded over. And then the great rush
is on. Not a single idea emerges from it. It’s enough
to disgust you with thought. But then you remember something
William James
wrote in some book of his you never read–it was fine, it had the
fineness,
the powder of life dusted over it, by chance, of course, yet
still looking
for evidence of fingerprints. Someone had handled it
even before he formulated it, though the thought was his and
his alone.

It’s fine, in summer, to visit the seashore.
There are lots of little trips to be made.
A grove of fledgling aspens welcomes the traveler. Nearby
are the public toilets where weary pilgrims have carved
their names and addresses, and perhaps messages as well,
messages to the world, as they sat
and thought about what they’d do after using the toilet
and washing their hands at the sink, prior to stepping out
into the open again. Had they been coaxed in by principles,
and were their words philosophy, of however crude a sort?
I confess I can move no farther along this train of thought–
something’s blocking it. Something I’m
not big enough to see over. Or maybe I’m frankly scared.
What was the matter with how I acted before?
But maybe I can come up with a compromise–I’ll let
things be what they are, sort of. In the autumn I’ll put up jellies
and preserves, against the winter cold and futility,
and that will be a human thing, and intelligent as well.
I won’t be embarrassed by my friends’ dumb remarks,
or even my own, though admittedly that’s the hardest part,
as when you are in a crowded theater and something you say
riles the spectator in front of you, who doesn’t even like the idea
of two people near him talking together. Well he’s
got to be flushed out so the hunters can have a crack at him–
this thing works both ways, you know. You can’t always
be worrying about others and keeping track of yourself
at the same time. That would be abusive, and about as much fun
as attending the wedding of two people you don’t know.
Still, there’s a lot of fun to be had in the gaps between ideas.
That’s what they’re made for! Now I want you to go out there
and enjoy yourself, and yes, enjoy your philosophy of life, too.
They don’t come along every day. Look out! There’s a big one…

~ Dori

The Poetry is the Thing April 19, 2013

Posted by Julie in Audio, Musically Inclined, Thoughtful Ramblings.
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Wonder Working Stone I was reading a review of a new CD, A Wonder Working Stone, we are adding to the collection and a quote from one of the songs struck me: “Get over your tiny self/Because all days will end in joy.” The artist is Alasdair Roberts and although he started out recording traditional Scottish folk music, this is a album of mainly original compositions.

photo credit: Alex Woodward

I haven’t even listened to the music yet, but already love his poetry.

As I was flipping through the lyrics to find the song the review quote was from, again I was struck by his words in “Song Composed in December,” especially with recent events in Boston and other evils perpetrated by human beings against humanity.

Song Composed in December

This song’s made in anger, this song’s made in love
Where the croak of the hawk meets the coo of the dove
Where minstrelsy’s slander and rhyme turns to rage
To make a song about the renovation of the age

Woe to those who celebrate the taking up of violence
And woe to those who perpetrate delusions of their sirelands
Who’d fight for no reason with sword or with firebrand
Be they reiver in the border or raider in the highland

And joy to those who celebrate the breaking up of weapons
Who take a stand to raise a hand against oncoming slaughter
And joy to those who strive to give a voice to those with none
The fosterer of errant son and sire of wild daughter

And joy to those who’d use their songs as clues to find their clan
But woe to those who’d use them to enslave their fellow man

From open moor where kestrels soar on wings of beauty
To cloisters where vestals bear their palms of beauty
To waterfall tumbling, cascading and purling
To the flowery machair where the echo mocks the yellow yorlin

From forest deep where numens peep from every oaken bole
To city streets where people seek completion of the soul
For everyone with double bond of suffering to thole
I will sow a seed of honesty upon the bluebell knoll

There’s a little more to the song (including some Welsh rap!) than I am including in this post, but I will leave you to discover more of his words – and music- on your own.

— Julie

Is that a poem in your pocket? April 9, 2012

Posted by carol in Thoughtful Ramblings.
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In case you haven’t heard, April is National Poetry Month! National Poetry Month is a national celebration of poetry established by the Academy of American Poets in 1996. The goal is to widen attention to the art of poetry. The hope to increase the visibility and availability of poetry in popular culture while acknowledging and celebrating poetry’s ability to sustain itself in the many places where it is practiced and appreciated.

You can help celebrate National Poetry Month by reading your favorite poems, learning more about the craft, or exploring new poems and poets at www.poets.org.

For more fun, participate in “Poem in Your Pocket Day” on Thursday, April 26, 2012! Pick your favorite verse and carry it with you to share with family and friends. 

While I’ll be sure to choose another for that day, I’ll leave one of my very favorite springtime poems here for you to enjoy!

~Carol

By E. E. Cummings1894–1962

in Just-
spring          when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman
whistles          far          and wee
and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it’s
spring
when the world is puddle-wonderful
the queer
old balloonman whistles
far          and             wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing
from hop-scotch and jump-rope and
it’s
spring
and
         the
                  goat-footed
balloonMan          whistles
far
and
wee

 

Daffodils April 15, 2011

Posted by Dori in Uncategorized.
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I read an article by Connie Schultz in The Plain Dealer the other day reminding me that it’s National Poetry Month and then saw another about where to go see the daffodils in Cleveland. Thus, the inspiration for sharing the lovely poem”Daffodils” by William Wordsworth:

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced, but they
Out-did the sparkling leaves in glee:
A Poet could not but be gay, In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

~ Dori