Thursday (Magnolias) Musings

When I walked out the backdoor of my apartment complex today, I was pleasantly surprised to find the large Magnolia almost in bloom. I love spring, but until I moved to Indiana, I never really experienced it. Pennsylvania goes from frigid winters to blistering summers in about one week. In Erie, one you’ll look out your window and see snow drifts and the next day the forsythia and daffodils will be out in full bloom. Texas was even worse. We didn’t have winter, just a consistent state of gray followed by a busting out of color. Indy, however, has a true blue spring. It has been gradually warming and the flowering trees are almost ready to bloom. I plan on taking some time this weekend to snap some photographs.
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Mending Wall

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders of the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.
The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they would have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,
But no one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet and walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.
We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use spell to make them balance:
Stay where you are until are backs are turned!”

Robert Frost
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Each year poet bloggers throughout the country participate in NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month). An adaptation of National Novel Writing Month, NaPoWriMo challenges participants to write and post a poem each day in April.
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Wednesday Musings

This is how I feel and what I’d like to be doing. For those of you who don’t know, that’s my dog, Kweli, and yes, he sleeps like a cat.

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I’m sure when Elizabeth Alexander agreed to be the inaugural poet, she knew she’d be up for some criticism. Well, buck up Liz, because the claws have come out:

From the Seattle Post:

The problem is, by no stretch is her poem a poem at all. While as a stilted monologue it had a suggestion of lean appeal, far better than the greeting card goo Maya Angelou cranks out and insists on calling poetry, Alexander’s effort is the product of a limited imagination, an academic approach to rhythm and an anorexic understanding of imagery.

From The Guardian:

Even when writing for a public occasion and a vast audience, the poet should be able to renew language by being precise, surprising, unhackneyed. Otherwise, what is the point of such a commission? Alexander is a true people’s poet, but she has written better poems for the people than this one.

From the Baltimore Sun:

Elizabeth Alexander’s inauguration day poem, “Praise Song for the Day”, has drawn praise — and sharp criticism — from Read Street readers. But there’s no denying it got everyone’s attention. Funny how a poet can live in relative obscurity and be launched to stardom by a few minutes in front of TV cameras.

From Times Online (UK):

Praise Song for the Day was unmemorable. How do I know that for sure? Why, because I can’t remember it. Two minutes after it was spoken I couldn’t remember it. Our columnist, David Baddiel, wondered whether he couldn’t spot the Secret Service agents hastily removing the bullet-proof screens as she spoke; oh, I suppose that’s going a little far. But only just.

If you missed Alexander’s reading yesterday, here it is.

Do I think it is the greatest poem ever written? No. But I would like to point out that prior to Alexander’s reading, many critics remarked at how impossible the task of of writing an inaugural poem is. I’m not making excuses for for Alexander, but it seems to me that people are criticizing the poem for the very same reason that a lot of Americans are going to embrace it. It was simplistic, it was prosy, but it was also image driven and easy to understand. For those who thought Alexander should have written a more formal verse, well, a majority of the American public isn’t going to know what a spondee or a ceasura is. Is this a separate problem? Perhaps. Am I slamming forms? No. I like forms. I try to do my best by them, but imagine you’re writing a poem that will be heard by 1 million plus people? I’m not sure any contemporary poet can imagine that, so while I feel some of the criticism is warranted, I honestly think some of it is sour grapes.

Has Alexander written better poems? Of course she has. Who said this was supposed to be the crowning jewel in her career? Remember, she was chosen. It isn’t like she raised her hand and said “Oooo! Pick me!” In fact, I think most poets would be flattered and then horrified at the prospect of what Alexander was asked to do. As far as I know poets don’t sit down and say, “Now I’m going to write the poem that I will be known for for the rest of my life.” Yet, for some reason people expect that Alexander was supposed to do this with her inaugural poem. This doesn’t seem fair.

Also, the comment about remembering an inaugural poem? I’d be surprised if many American’s remembered an inaugural poem. I’m a poet and I don’t remember any. The focus of the inauguration is not poetry, nor is it music, or worship. These are all mere vehicles for celebration, and what I think is more important is that poetry is still part of that celebration.

I think Frost said it best when he responded to JFK’s request to read at his inauguration:

“I MAY NOT BE EQUAL TO IT BUT I CAN ACCEPT IT FOR MY CAUSE—THE ARTS, POETRY, NOW FOR THE FIRST TIME TAKEN INTO THE AFFAIRS OF STATESMEN.

Monday Musings

I’m back!

This past week was a bit ridiculous with grading and my propensity to over schedule myself…but I think I have things well under control. I still have a mountain of papers to grade, but I feel a little less scattered.

My sister will be in town this week. She has a job interview at Butler, so we’re both hoping that goes well. It will be good to see her and hang out for a few days.

This weekend RJ and I volunteered at Camp Rover Romp for the Humane Society. It was a lot of fun. We ran the water relay and I think we were a hit. The weather was beautiful.
The baby pools were a big hit 🙂

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Mary Karr pays tribute to David Foster Wallace in the Washington Post.

The National Book Festival takes place this Saturday.

More than 70 authors will be in attendance including Salman Rushdie, Bob Schieffer, Michelle Singletary, R.L. Stine, Paul Theroux, Neil Gaiman, Philippa Gregory, Kimberly Dozier and more.

Robert Olin Butler waxes poetic in the Washington Post:

Every morning when I sit down at my desk to write, I feel I am called upon to try to give voice to something true about the human condition. From the place where I dream, I have learned that I must see this not as an act of judgment but as an exploration of our shared humanity. ·

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Your fall poem for this week:

After Apple Picking

My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there’s a barrel that I didn’t fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.
I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
Magnified apples appear and disappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.

And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
The rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.
For all
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.
One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
Were he not gone,
The woodchuck could say whether it’s like his
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
Or just some human sleep.

Robert Frost

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This hits home for me. Big time. This is very true:

The benefits have proved appealing enough to draw thousands of writers into the university fold, and while a couple of generations ago it might have been a surprise to find a writer who taught at a college, now it’s a surprise to find one who doesn’t.