Friday, February 24, 2012

Poetry Friday: Strawberries, Still Life, Renoir, A Yellow Bowl

Strawberries - 1905
Fruits of the Midi - 1881

Tomorrow, February 25th, marks the day Pierre-Auguste Renoir was born. I turned to Renoir in my thinking about the seasons for the last two weeks  - I find myself in need of a little sunshine, a little color to get me through the final month of Seattle's winter. When he wasn't painting lovely people dappled with light at luncheon parties, Renoir painted beautiful still lifes, and I offer up two of them this week as sustenance for anyone who wants to taste the summer colors of these paintings. They're about as far from a gray sky as you can get. To add to the feast, here is a lovely poem that shines yellow - it's by a poet new to me, Rachel Contreni Flynn (follow that link to read a little bit about her):

Yellow Bowl  
by Rachel Contreni Flynn

If light pours like water
into the kitchen where I sway
with my tired children,

if the rug beneath us
is woven with tough flowers,
and the yellow bowl on the table

rests with the sweet heft 
of fruit, the sun-warmed plums, 
if my body curves over the babies, 

and if I am singing,
then loneliness has lost its shape,
and this quiet is only quiet.

Renoir painting in his garden - paintbrush is tied to his arthritic hand.
The Poetry Friday round-up is being hosted today by Jone over at Check It Out. Head over there to - what else? - check it out!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Poetry Friday: February, Frost, Cold Pink Ladies

As a native Washingtonian, I never thought I'd say this, but I do find myself wondering as I get older why I'm not living in a place where the sun shines more predictably. I don't mean the desert - that takes a sturdier, tougher soul than me. The sky in the desert is wide and lovely, but the land is mean. No, I like things generous: I'd love to look out and see a field of sunflowers, with blue sky overhead, instead of dormant and sad-sack Seattle in February. Maybe it's because so many friends and family have been traveling to Mexico, Hawaii, Italy this winter - I find myself dreaming of guayavas in Patzcuaro and pineapples in Kauai. I want to hold a vine-ripened tomato - the kind you find for sale in the Campo de' Fiori market stalls in Rome in June - up to my nose and just inhale the peppery smell of the vine. Sunshine, sunshine, give me some sunshine! But no....

Oh, dear.

Well, here is a little reminder from Robert Frost that cold is needed, even by the orchards that will give me some of the sun-ripened fruit I crave.'s hard to wait. But when I bite into a Pink Lady apple in August, I'll taste February in it, won't I? And I guess Spring is not that far off.....
Good-bye, and Keep Cold

This saying good-bye on the edge of the dark
And cold to an orchard so young in the bark
Reminds me of all that can happen to harm
An orchard away at the end of the farm
All winter, cut off by a hill from the house.
I don't want it girdled by rabbit and mouse,
I don't want it dreamily nibbled for browse
By deer, and I don't want it budded by grouse.
(If certain it wouldn't be idle to call
I'd summon grouse, rabbit, and deer to the wall
And warn them away with a stick for a gun.)
I don't want it stirred by the heat of the sun.
(We made it secure against being, I hope,
By setting it out on a northerly slope.)
No orchard's the worse for the wintriest storm;
But one thing about it, it mustn't get warm.
"How often already you've had to be told,
Keep cold, young orchard. Good-bye and keep cold.
Dread fifty above more than fifty below."
I have to be gone for a season or so.
My business awhile is with different trees,
Less carefully nourished, less fruitful than these,
And such as is done to their wood with an axe—
Maples and birches and tamaracks.
I wish I could promise to lie in the night
And think of an orchard's arboreal plight
When slowly (and nobody comes with a light)
Its heart sinks lower under the sod.
But something has to be left to God.

                                        -Robert Frost

Yes, glorious, glorious, glorious!
The Poetry Friday round-up this week is being hosted by Myra at Gathering Books. Head over there to see what other people have posted!  

And don't forget to check the other blogs I participate in - Books Around the Table (my writers group) and Write at Your Own Risk (written by faculty of Vermont College of Fine Arts' Writing for Children program.)

Friday, February 10, 2012

Poetry Friday: Books Around the Table

I want to let readers of THE DRIFT RECORD and contributors to POETRY FRIDAY know that I'll be posting occasionally (once a month) over at a new blog put together by my writing critique group and called BOOKS AROUND THE TABLE. My introductory post went up there today, and it joins the initial posts of fellow children's book writers Laura Kvasnosky, Julie Paschkis and Margaret Chodos-Irvine (all three of them are talented artists - and I struggle making stick figures!) 

I spend some time in my post contemplating poetry, metaphorical thinking, postillons, brass horns, people at the gates to the city, magicians, sleight of hand, doves, indirection, introductions, the Postal Museum in Prague, champagne and writer burn-out. Here's a teaser:

As a poet, I like metaphorical thinking and the sneaky way it makes its point via indirection, in the same way a magician performs sleight-of-hand, making people look at one hand while the other does the actual trick. Look, a dove!

Head over there to get a picture of how BOOKS AROUND THE TABLE came about.

In honor of Poetry Friday, I'm going to post the following poem by Laurie Lee. It continues to be one of my all-time favorites: 


Behold the apples' rounded worlds:
juice-green of July rain,
the black polestar of flowers, the rind
mapped with its crimson stain.

The russet, crab and cottage red
burn to the sun's hot brass,
then drop like sweat from every branch
and bubble in the grass.

They lie as wanton as they fall,
and where they fall and break,
the stallion clamps his crunching jaws,
the starling stabs his beak.

In each plump gourd the cidery bite
of boys' teeth tears the skin;
the waltzing wasp consumes his share,
the bent worm enters in.

I, with as easy hunger, take
entire my season's dole;
welcome the ripe, the sweet, the sour,
the hollow and the whole. 

                            Laurie Lee
The Poetry Friday round-up is being hosted this week by lovely Laura Purdie Salas at writing the world for kids.  Head over to her blog to see what other people are posting.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Good People, One and All

Just for the record, I want to say that I have never worked with kinder, brighter, funnier, more creative people than my friends and colleagues at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. And though the stuffed bear probably perpetuates the stereotype of Kiddie-Lit people being a little goofy, I say hell, let's be goofy. Life's short. Beside,s, one of my favorite people in the world is holding the bear, so what's not to love/

Here they are, my friends and colleagues, writers and teachers, each and every wonderful one of them (click to make photo larger.)

VCFA - Writing for Children & Young Adults Faculty, Summer 2012 [Photo: Roger Crowley]


Sitting, left to right: Margaret Bechard, Leda Schubert, Martine Leavitt, Franny Billingsley, Shelley Tanaka, Susan Fletcher, Bonnie Christensen, Mary Quattlebaum, Rita Williams-Garcia, An Na.

Standing: April Lurie, Sharon Darrow, Uma Krishnaswami, me, Tom Birdseye, Alan Cumyn, Matt de la Pena, Betsy Partridge.

On leave:: Sarah Ellis, Tim Wynne-Jones, Jane Kurtz, Louise Hawes, Laura Kvasnosky,

Missing (ran into town for supplies?): Coe Booth, Mark Karlins, Amanda Jenkins.

I'm just now noticing how tall the men are that we hire on to the faculty! And the men not in the picture, Tim and Mark, are tall, too. Coincidence? I THINK NOT.

[Hmmmmm.......What could it mean?]

Friday, February 3, 2012

Poetry Friday: Atwood, Cats, Dogs, Primroses and Optimism

This poem says just about everything I felt when my husband announced, the other day, "Hey - it's February!" Well, maybe there's a little more Cat to it than would be my way - I prefer Dog. And I might not go for the part about the testicles. Or the part about eating our young. Come to think of it, this poem is a little scary. Atwood is nothing if not fierce and direct. But I'm all for those last couple of lines. One other quick thing: Primroses are showing up outside all the markets. Hooray!!


Winter. Time to eat fat
and watch hockey. In the pewter mornings, the cat,   
a black fur sausage with yellow
Houdini eyes, jumps up on the bed and tries   
to get onto my head. It’s his
way of telling whether or not I’m dead.
If I’m not, he wants to be scratched; if I am   
He’ll think of something. He settles
on my chest, breathing his breath
of burped-up meat and musty sofas,
purring like a washboard. Some other tomcat,   
not yet a capon, has been spraying our front door,   
declaring war. It’s all about sex and territory,   
which are what will finish us off
in the long run. Some cat owners around here   
should snip a few testicles. If we wise   
hominids were sensible, we’d do that too,   
or eat our young, like sharks.
But it’s love that does us in. Over and over   
again, He shoots, he scores! and famine
crouches in the bedsheets, ambushing the pulsing   
eiderdown, and the windchill factor hits   
thirty below, and pollution pours
out of our chimneys to keep us warm.
February, month of despair,
with a skewered heart in the centre.
I think dire thoughts, and lust for French fries   
with a splash of vinegar.
Cat, enough of your greedy whining
and your small pink bumhole.
Off my face! You’re the life principle,
more or less, so get going
on a little optimism around here.
Get rid of death. Celebrate increase. Make it be spring.

Quick note for those of you who follow The Drift Record - I am part of another blog that's just started up (it's called Books Around the Table - check it out here) with Julie Paschkis, Laura Kvasnosky and Margaret Chodos-Irvine, all members of my kids book critique group (and all illustrators as well as writers - time for me to go to art school!)  We'll be posting thoughts about writing and illustrating, about critiquing, about kids books in general. Laura, Margaret and Julie P. have all contributed their first posts, and mine will be going up next Friday. Hope you will join us for conversation around the table.
Poetry Friday today is being hosted by Karissa Knox Sorrell at The Iris Chronicles. Head over there to see what other people have posted.