Friday, April 24, 2009

Poetry Friday: From Bombs to Books - This Day in History

Construction of the Library of Congress

Destruction of Hiroshima

I'm a bit addicted to the "This Day in History" websites - I check them on a regular basis with my morning cup of coffee in hand, and the ghosts of who/what came before haunt me for the day. It is especially eerie to have two very different events occur on the same day, years apart, as is true today:

1. On April 24th, 1800, the Library of Congress was founded. The first purchase order was for 740 books and 3 maps. As of 2008, the collection totaled more than 135 million items. It is a glorious online research tool for fiction and non-fiction writers alike, especially the AMERICAN MEMORY portion of it. When you visit the site, you will be amazed at the material available to you online. If you haven't been there for awhile, definitely check it out again. What has been added in the last couple of years is breath-taking.

2. On April 24th, 1945, Harry Truman was briefed by FDR's former Secretary of War Harold Stimson about the existence of the Manhattan Project, a secret government plan to develop the atomic bomb. Truman wrote in his journal that America would have a weapon "great enough to destroy the whole world." And he still authorized it.

Thinking about that today, I realize how glad I am to have contributed a poem to this Peace Poem project. You can see that the invitation is not exclusive - it's open to any poet of any age, and I encourage you to send something to them by the deadline for submissions, April 30th. Here are three reasons to do it today:

a) When the atomic bomb was first tested in the desert near Los Alamos, New Mexico, the heat generated by the explosion turned the silica sand to green glass ten feet deep and eleven-hundred feet across. The photo below is taken from 10 miles away, 0.0016 of a second after detonation.

b) The objects in the photos below were found in the debris after the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The lunchbox belonged to a girl named Reiko Watanabe, age 15 at the time - she carried a lunch of peas and rice; when the lunchbox was found, the food had been completely carbonized by the blast. Reiko's body was never found. The second photo is a pocket watch stopped at the exact moment of the explosion.

c) Mitakuye Oyasin. That's the title of a Dakota Sioux prayer for harmony. It means, essentially, "We are all related."

So I encourage you to send an original poem about peace to this worthy cause. Proceeds from the sale of the book produced will go towards the building of a hospital in West Virginia which treats people free of charge "using the most modern medical technology and alternative methods including humor, drama, art, music, playful architecture and old-fashioned family doctoring. There will be no insurance required or accepted."

Good deed, good people.

From bombs to books today. I prefer books, thanks! Happy Birthday, Library of Congress! And Harry Truman et al, if one of the reasons you were willing to participate in that kind of genocide (yes, I think it qualifies) was to impress Stalin and keep him out of Eastern Europe (historians say that was as big a reason as ending the war), it didn't work. Violence usually doesn't.

Poetry Friday is being hosted this week by Lisa Chellman over at Under the Covers. Thanks, Lisa!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

For The Poetry Stretch: Monet's Woman with a Parasol

Tricia over at The Miss Rumphius Effect asked us to stretch (poetry-wise) this week with an ekphrastic poem - one that addresses a work of art (though Tricia cut us all some slack and said it could be related to anything "behind the museum door" in honor of Lee Bennett Hopkins' new book of the same name.) Here's my poem, based on Monet's "Woman with a Parasol." The painting took my breath away when I saw it at the Art Institute of Chicago many years ago - it was on loan from the permanent collection of the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.. The painting is sometimes called "La Promenade" (The Stroll - oh, that's a nice title for someone who likes to drift....) or even "Camille Monet and Her Son, Jean" :


She’s open-eyed, like any wild

animal that's over-constrained or riled

but not showing any teeth

she is, after all, Victorian, complete

down to the parasol she carries outside

into the dangerous light,

the sun being a source of some distress

and the wind in her dress

like hot hounds nipping, and a hill

to overcome before she’s home – still

you stare at her bright center, so

strange and generous, so

unguarded and surrendering.

You stare: sunlight bending

up from the summer grass paints her elbow

a color both the blind and the sighted envy: yellow.

And the air becomes unlike any breathed

variety, her blue-on-white sleeve

canaries and flutters, shining.

It’s a moment of burning –

but you find the unshaded point

that will let you in, the vulnerable point

of convergence. You’re as scared

as the child behind her, both of you unprepared

for this flight you're about to take into the bend

of her left arm, when suddenly the guard sends

a stern warning: Don’t get too close.

You step back and say I won't.


Tricia mentioned something about favorite museums, and I have to save that nothing has ever surpassed the Cluny in Paris for me - a collection focused on the Middle Ages, which I love, all housed in a medieval building. To resist that museum and its time-travel magic, you would have to be made of ice. Click on the link here and spend a few minutes/hours/days/years/lifetimes. Here's a photo of the vaulting, via -

I think I'll keep this post up for Poetry Friday, too, since Friday is only a few hours away. It's going to be hosted this week over at Becky's Book Reviews, so check there tomorrow. Thanks, Becky!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Poetry - Some Thanks Plus a Poem

Tricia mentioned this poem of mine at The Miss Rumphius Effect today so I thought I'd share it here, too.

Like Bees Over Clover

Poems hum, they come
at you like bees over clover,
and Honey, they can even sting.
Poems ring like bells, they can sing
Hallelujah or Hush-a-Bye or The Blues.
Like a silver flute, they want to flutter;
like a strong heart, they want to beat.
Ticktock. Poems rock.

Tricia is doing such a wonderful job at her blog during National Poetry Month. She is not only posting full interviews of 36 (!) different poets, but she's adding in a thoughtful response of her own to each poet's work, sharing individual poems by each poet and adding images of our books. On April 5th, she posted an interview with the wonderful J. Patrick Lewis. Yesterday, it was Jane Yolen. Today she has my interview up. In addition, she posted a second interview today with Linda Ashman.

Thanks also to Jules and Eisha at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast who posted a new poem of mine and a painting by the divine Julie Paschkis. You can check them out here along with poems by Kelly Fineman, Douglas Florian, Sara Lewis Holmes and Elaine Magliaro. And I should say thank you in advance to Gregory K. at GottaBook who is posting 30 Poems/30 Days for the month of April - Gregory gathered up a wonderful group of poets, and I'm proud he's going to be including me in the bunch later this month.

I hope you'll scroll down to my post from Monday 4/6, because I would really like people to go to the article mentioned and read it - and then memorize some poems!!

Poetry Friday is being hosted this week over at Carol's Corner. Thanks, Carol!

Monday, April 6, 2009

"Memory is a muscle, not a quart jar."

Go immediately to this site to read a column from yesterday's New York Times Book Review about memorizing poetry. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200. Just do it (go there)! And then - do it (memorize)! (P.S. The title of this post is taken from the column.)