Friday, August 29, 2008

Poetry Friday - Opposites, Art and Hot Dogs

I love this photo of Richard Wilbur, taken in the 1940's. Almost 70 years later, he is still writing wonderful poetry. Here is one I love:

Museum Piece
The good gray guardians of art
Patrol the halls on spongy shoes,
Impartially protective, though
Perhaps suspicious of Toulouse.

Here dozes one against the wall,
Disposed upon a funeral chair.
A Degas dancer pirouettes
Upon the parting of his hair.

See how she spins! The grace is there,
But strain as well is plain to see.
Degas loved the two together:
Beauty joined to energy.

Edgar Degas purchased once
A fine El Greco, which he kept
Against the wall beside his bed
To hang his pants on while he slept.

He has written for children, too - most notable are his Opposites and More Opposites. Below is a sample:

The opposite of foot is what?
A mountain top's one answer, but
If you are thinking of a bed,
The opposite of foot is head.
To ancient generals, of course,
The opposite of foot was horse.

It's great fun to work with kids, playing around with words this way. Today, in honor of Poetry Friday, I'm offering up my own poem, a tribute to Mr. Wilbur:

The Opposite of Hot Dog

-after Richard Wilbur

A hot dog’s opposite is prone
to play the alto saxophone
in night clubs— he’s a real cool cat.

It’s also, oddly, quite true that
the opposite of hot dog is,
on summer days, a sloe gin fizz,
which goes down smooth and unembellished,
not gobbled up on a bun with relish.

And if the fate of old hotdoggers
is telling tales and quaffing lagers,
could be their opposites are the nerds
who drink alone and play with words.

I think that does it for the frank,
whose furter stands alone. I thank
all vegetarians, at whose behest,
the opposite of wurst is best.

Poetry Friday this week is over at Charlotte's Library - thanks, Charlotte!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Poetry Friday - John Malcolm Brinnin

In honor of Poetry Friday, I offer this beauty by the under-appreciated poet, John Malcolm Brinnin (1916-1999) who taught at Vassar in the 1940's, championed New York City's fledging 92nd St. Y Poetry Center in the early 1950's, and taught at Boston University from 1961-1978.

La Creazione degli Animali

Here that old humpback Tintoretto tells
Of six day’s labor out of Genesis:
Swift from the bowstring of two little trees
Come swans, astonished basilisks and whales,
Amazed flamingos, moles and dragonflies,
to make their lifelong helpless marriages.
Time is a place at last; dumb wonder wells
From the cracked ribs of heaven’s gate and hell’s.

The patriarch in that vicinity
Of bottle seas and eggshell esplanades
Mutters his thunder like a cloud. And yet,
much smaller issues line the palm of God’s
charged hand: a dog laps water, a rabbit sits
grazing at the footprint of divinity.

John Malcolm Brinnin


Poetry Friday this week is over at Read. Imagine. Talk.

James Joyce, Young Artists, and...Cows?

I am listening to an audiobook recording of James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, read brilliantly by Donal Donnelly. How strange and wonderful the beginning of that story is:

Chapter One
Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo....
His father told him that story: his father looked at him through a glass: he had a hairy face.
He was baby tuckoo. The moocow came down the road where Betty Byrne lived: she sold lemon platt.
O, the wild rose blossoms
On the little green place.
He sang that song. That was his song.
O, the green wothe botheth.
When you wet the bed, first it is warm then it gets cold. His mother put on the oilsheet. That had the queer smell.
His mother had a nicer smell than his father....

I love that opening. It reminds me that as a writer you are only limited by that voice you hear in your head - you don't have to listen to other voices. You can break the rules. Break the rules with content, break the rules with punctuation, break any rule that says you always have to make sense or be linear in your thinking. You can play. You can invent. Of course, you have to be James Joyce to pull it off, you have to be a brave genius. But we can all aspire to innovation, can't we?

I especially love that this chapter begins under an epigraph from The Metamorphosis by Ovid which reads, in translation, "And he sets his mind to unknown arts...." [Joyce didn't put the full quotation, which goes on to say, "...and changes the laws of nature."]

It's a treat to hear Donal Donnelly read this. He has the perfect voice for it - that lovely Irish lilt. And I'm simply ready for this book now. It seems half the books I "read" in college were books I wasn't meant to read until I was over 50. You're so young when you're young.

The photo at the top of this posting is James Joyce in 1904 - 22 years old. Something tells me Joyce wasn't as young at 22 as I was when I was 22. He had already written an early version of Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man by then, though it wasn't put into its final form and published until he was 34.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Write a Triolet

Writers -

If you want to give the triolet a try (see previous entry, August 15th), it's a lovely puzzle to write/solve. It originated in France in the 13th century - here are the rules: a triolet is traditionally set in iambic tetrameter (mine is not, though it is essentially iambic) and is "a poem or stanza of eight lines in which the first line is repeated as the fourth and seventh and the second line as the eighth with a rhyme scheme of ABaAabAB" (Webster's Dictionary.)


And for an extra treat: the etymology of "triolet" is from the Middle French - literally, "clover leaf." Lovely.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

A Duo of Triolets

In honor of Poetry Friday, I'd like to offer up an ars poetica of my own, in the form of two triolets:


How does a poet look?

The answer’s with his eyes

or like a robber stealing souls. Just look

at how the poet looks

at life, as if he were a two-bit crook,

casing the joint, cold as ice.

How does a poet look?

The answer’s always in the eyes.

How does a poet smell?

The answer’s either like a rose

or well (which is adverbial,

as in How does a poet smell?

He smells well with his nose.) Smells well

when, on the surface, nothing shows.

As in A poet sometimes smells

a question, when the answer is a rose.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

I"m thrilled to hear that good friend and good author Kathi Appelt's most recent book, THE UNDERNEATH, was chosen as The Cooperative Children's Book Center's Book of the Week. Here's a link to the glowing review:

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Field Trip to London, Anyone?

For the first time, 150 medieval and Renaissance illuminated manuscripts previously owned by monarchs are going on display at the British Museum. Exhibit opens in (don't hold your breath) 2011. Here's a little more information: