Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Poem by Kay Ryan

I greatly admire Kay Ryan's poetry -  the compression, the word choice, the zap at the end of many of her poems.
On this very dreary rainy January afternoon ( have I said this before?) the Mockingbirds are still feisty and active.

Mockingbird   by Kay Ryan

Nothing whole
Is so bold,
we sense. Nothing
not cracked is
so exact and
of a piece. He’s
the distempered
emperor of parts,
the king of patch,
the master of
pastiche, who so
hashes other birds’
laments, so minces
their capriccios, that
the dazzle of dispatch
displaces the originals.
As though brio
really does beat feeling,
the way two aces
beat three hearts
when it’s cards
you’re dealing.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Poem by Wallace Stevens

In the lull between writing some new poems of my own, I’m using this blog to post some of my favorite poems.  I love this one by Wallace Stevens.  Even on an icy January afternoon, it carries me off:

The House Was Quiet And The World Was Calm 

    By Wallace Stevens

  The house was quiet and the world was calm.
The reader became the book; and summer night

Was like the conscious being of the book.
The house was quiet and the world was calm.

The words were spoken as if there was no book,
Except that the reader leaned above the page,

Wanted to lean, wanted much to be
The scholar to whom his book is true, to whom

The summer night is like a perfection of thought.
The house was quiet because it had to be.

The quiet was part of the meaning, part of the mind:
The access of perfection to the page.

And the world was calm. The truth in a calm world,
In which there is no other meaning, itself

Is calm, itself is summer and night, itself
Is the reader leaning late and reading there.

The Reader, 1933   by Henry A. Payne

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Inspiration and Rapture

I read this poem by Eamon Grennan several years ago on one of those "Poem a Day" calendars. It has haunted me ever since, though I lost the paper on which it was printed. Finally I located it again:

by Eamon Grennan

I was watching a robin fly after a finch—the smaller
chirping with excitement, the bigger, its breast blazing, silent
in light-winged earnest chase—when, out of nowhere
over the chimneys and the shivering front gardens,
flashes a sparrowhawk headlong, a light brown burn
scorching the air from which it simply plucks
like a ripe fruit the stopped robin, whose two or three
cheeps of terminal surprise twinkle in the silence
closing over the empty street when the birds have gone
about their business, and I began to understand
how a poem can happen: you have your eye on a small
elusive detail, pursuing its music, when a terrible truth
strikes and your heart cries out, being carried off.

Sparrowhawk (also known as Sharp-shinned Hawk) photo by Patrick Meharg

Monday, January 16, 2012

Martin Luther King Day

Our University returns to school today. We always have classes on MLK Day, even though it is a Federal holiday.  I am glad, because I begin the semester with the freshmen by reading King’s “Letter from the Birmingham Jail,” which is a masterpiece of rhetorical writing as well as a clear statement of his beliefs about just and unjust laws, civil disobedience, and  non-violent direct action .   It helps to remember what the demonstrators were fighting against.

Later in the semester , we will be reading this poem:

 Ballad of Birmingham                By Dudley Randall 1914–2000

 (On the bombing of a church in Birmingham, Alabama, 1963)

“Mother dear, may I go downtown
Instead of out to play,
And march the streets of Birmingham
In a Freedom March today?”
“No, baby, no, you may not go,
For the dogs are fierce and wild,
And clubs and hoses, guns and jails
Aren’t good for a little child.”

“But, mother, I won’t be alone.
Other children will go with me,
And march the streets of Birmingham
To make our country free.”

“No, baby, no, you may not go,
For I fear those guns will fire.
But you may go to church instead
And sing in the children’s choir.”

She has combed and brushed her night-dark hair,
And bathed rose petal sweet,
And drawn white gloves on her small brown hands,
And white shoes on her feet.

The mother smiled to know her child
Was in the sacred place,
But that smile was the last smile
To come upon her face.

For when she heard the explosion,
Her eyes grew wet and wild.
She raced through the streets of Birmingham
Calling for her child.

She clawed through bits of glass and brick,
Then lifted out a shoe.
“O, here’s the shoe my baby wore,
But, baby, where are you?”

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Thank Your Teachers!

This blurry photo is of me in my first year of teaching, back in the Fall of 1972.  I can't believe that I have been teaching for almost forty years!

What prompted this reflection? 
This morning I received an online greeting from a student I taught back about 30 years ago, at a high school in Petersburg Virginia. She wrote:

I cannot tell you how many times I have thought of you over the years. I am glad to hear that you are doing well. I credit my love of writing to you. You seemed to take an interest and were kind enough to give a little praise. It made the biggest difference to me throughout my life.

She found me on her high school’s alumni association page.  It made my day!

I have been blessed in recent years to meet several of my former students again in the flesh – now that they are married and parents of grown children.  And, in turn, I have gone back to my own home town and visited one of my old teachers, and thanked him. So that makes three generations of gratitude.

Teaching is frequently a thankless job, simply because students are so involved in their own lives that they are not yet able to appreciate the work of their teachers. We teachers don’t expect to be thanked, and are immensely gratified when someone shows up after thirty or forty years to say that they remember .

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Poetry from Glyn Maxwell

The Only Work    

by Glyn Maxwell 

When a poet leaves to see to all that matters,
nothing has changed. In treasured places still
     he clears his head and writes.

None of his joie-de-vivre or books or friends
or ecstasies go with him to the piece
      he waits for and begins,

nor is he here in this. The only work
that bonds us separates us for all time.
      We feel it in a handshake,

a hug that isn't ours to end. When a verse
has done its work, it tells us there'll be one day
     nothing but the verse,

and it tells us this the way a mother might
inform her son so gently of a matter
      he goes his way delighted.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Poetry from W.H.Auden

This is the beginning of  Part Three of Auden's long poem "For the Time Being":

Well, so that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree,
Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes --
Some have got broken -- and carrying them up to the attic.
The holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt,
And the children got ready for school. There are enough
Left-overs to do, warmed-up, for the rest of the week --
Not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot,
Stayed up so late, attempted -- quite unsuccessfully --
To love all of our relatives, and in general
Grossly overestimated our powers. Once again
As in previous years we have seen the actual Vision and failed
To do more than entertain it as an agreeable
Possibility, once again we have sent Him away,
Begging though to remain His disobedient servant,
The promising child who cannot keep His word for long.

(photo by Carolyn Frank)

Monday, January 9, 2012

A Poem from Rilke

In my MOD CIV class, I'll be reading poems with the class as well as looking at the history of Europe from about 1850-2001.  This is in addition to the books the students will read ( see earlier post).

Anyway, here is the first poem we will meet:

 The Future 

 The future: time's excuse
to frighten us; too vast
a project, too large a morsel
for the heart's mouth.

Future, who won't wait for you?
Everyone is going there.
It suffices you to deepen
the absence that we are.

 Rainer Maria Rilke

Translated by A. Poulin

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Twelfth Day of Christmas

I probably should have started counting days on Dec.26 instead of 25, so that January 6 would be the twelfth day.  So it goes.

Anyway, I am heading out to Pennsylvania this afternoon to visit friends for weekend, so I will be away from the computer on Jan.6. 

So here is the Epiphany card:

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Eleventh Day of Christmas

Elizabeth Ann Bayley Seton died on this day, in this valley, in 1821.

The portrait was done when she was a young married woman, in New York City.

 She married at 19, had 5 children, and was widowed at 29.  A few years later, she converted to Catholicism and moved to Baltimore, where she founded the community of the Sisters of Charity, and the first  free Catholic school for girls staffed by sisters in the country.  Here's a poem I wrote about her a few years back:

Elizabeth’s Bible

Mercy was your favorite word.
How many times
underlined in psalm and margin
by your wondering hand.
Mercy -on your eye
the sea, and thanks.
Mercy – vows
in an underground chapel-
let us not forget
our communion
of tomorrow.
thinking sea voyages,
passages to heaven,
how children breathe
their first

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Tenth Day of Christmas

Cooper's Hawk in the Courtyard this morning!

Probably an immature female -  very large , but still brown back and brown streaks on breast - not that slate grey back and brick speckled breast yet...  I didn't have my camera with me, and it doesn't have the kind of lens needed to capture her trip from one crab apple tree to the next in the frosty air.  Here's what she looked like though - photo from Google and Wildbirds Unlimited:

here's the courtyard, taken later this morning:

I was thrilled to see her -  needless to say, the juncos and finches were not!

Today I worked on course work, and sent out book lists to the students.
Here is the list of books I sent to the MOD CIV class.  In addition to the History text, and the poetry, each student must choose one of these books ( one to a customer), read it and prepare a presentation on it to the class.  Since they come from all majors, hopefully they can find a book relevant to their particular approach to this time period:

Set in:

1859  England        The Origin of the Species   Darwin  (NF)
1886  London         The Secret Agent     Joseph Conrad

1900-present     Man and Microbes: Disease and Plagues in History and Modern Times ~ Arno Karlen  (NF)

 1800-2000  Western Europe      The Knife Man: Blood, Body Snatching, and the Birth of     Modern Surgery (NF)        Wendy Moore

1911   France          Madame Curie    by Eve Curie  (NF)

1914  England         The Thirty-nine Steps     John Buchan

1917 Germany       All Quiet on the Western Front                    Erich Maria Remarque
1918 – present      The Demon Under the Microscope: From Battlefield Hospitals to Nazi Labs, One Doctor's Heroic Search for the World's First Miracle Drug        by Thomas Hager (NF)

1930   Russia               Darkness at Noon    Arthur Koestler
1930’s-70’s       England, France,Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, Turkey     The Historian    Elizabeth Kostova
1937  Spain                      For Whom the Bell Tolls     Ernest Hemingway
1939 Germany              The Book Thief     by  Markus Zusak
1939    Soviet Union                             The Good Republic     William Palmer
1940s  Italy                           A Kiss from Maddalena              Christopher Castellani
1940’s France                Sarah’s Key      Tatiana de Rosnay
1940  Russia               A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch   Solzhenitsyn
1940  South Africa        Cry, the Beloved Country   Alan Paton
1940 Hungary                 Fateless     Imre Kertész   
1940’s  Hungary/France          The Invisible Bridge             Julie Orringer
1945  Japan                    Hiroshima     John Hersey  (NF)
1948  Israel               Exodus    Leon Uris
1950  Nigeria                 Things Fall Apart    Chinua Achebe
1960  Egypt                         Wedding Song         Naguib Mahfouz 
1960’s Africa      King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in    Colonial Africa        Adam Hochschild (NF)
1965-90  Prague                Open Letters: Selected Writings, 1965-1990, by Vaclav Havel 
 1965 South Africa           African Stories     Doris Lessing    
1970  Moscow                          Gorky Park    Martin Cruz Smith
1978  Albania      Broken April,  Ismail Kadare

1970’s Ireland      Harry’s Game   by Gerald Seymour

1980s England/France                              Black Dogs    Ian McEwan
1980s   Turkey                             Snow        Orhan Pamuk
1980s Milan                          The Metal Green Mercedes       Timothy Williams
1980’s   Czechoslovakia         My Merry Mornings (1986) or My First Loves (1986), by Ivan Klima
1989   Berlin                      The Magic Lantern: The Revolution of 89 witnessed in Warsaw, Budapest, Berlin, and Prague                 Timothy Garton Ash  (NF)
1950’s – present   Europe       Aftermath: The Remnants of War  (NF)   Donovan Webster
1989  Cuba                               Havana Bay     Martin Cruz Smith
1989  Germany     “Revolution 1989”, by Victor Sebestyen, (NF)
1990   South Africa          Boyhood Scenes from Provincial Life by J. M. Coetzee ( 1998)   (NF)
1990 Kenya                                           The Constant Gardener    John LeCarre
1990’s  Ireland                 My Dream of You    by Nuala O’Faolin
1990s    Eastern Europe           Café Europa: Life After Communism          Drakulic  (NF)

1999 Ireland     The Bombmaker   by Stephen Leather

1995   Belfast Diaries: War as a Way of Life   by John Conroy NF)

1990s   Romania                      The Appointment                 Herta Muller

1993    Eastern Europe         Balkan Ghosts: A Journey Through History (NF)

~ Robert D. Kaplan

1996   Eastern Europe  *Bury Me Standing: The Gypsies and Their Journey (NF) Isabel Fonseca

1996   Russia                                           Wolves Eat Dogs   Martin Cruz Smith
2000   Turkey                          Istanbul: Memories of a City     by Orhan Pamuk  (NF)
2000 Kosovo                       The Hemingway Book Club of Kosovo     by   Paula Huntley (NF)
2003   England                                   Saturday    Ian McEwan
2003  London     Londongrad: From Russia with Cash       Mark Hollingsworth and Stewart Lansley (NF)
Europe  2008       A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World   (NF) by Gregory Clark

 It's quite an eclectic list, but the presentations have been very interesting to the class and to me, in previous years!

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Ninth Day of Christmas

Since it is still the Christmas season, here's a card I once received from Sister Marita Ganley SC:

I'm turning my mind back to school... still have two weeks before the Spring semester begins, but I have a good deal of revising in process on the syllabi for two of the three courses I teach.  Today I am working on Mod Civ - that's what we all call  CVEN 201 -  The West in the Modern World. It's the History of Europe from roughly 1850 to 2000.  I teach the history with poetry.  What I hope is that it becomes the Chaucer method of history:  teaching the big events , but through the eyes of the people who lived through them.  I use poetry for this. My students and I read and study about forty poems from European and British poets of that era.  The first one we meet is Rilke.  Here is his poem entitled
"The Future":

The Future 

 The future: time's excuse
to frighten us; too vast
a project, too large a morsel
for the heart's mouth.

Future, who won't wait for you?
Everyone is going there.
It suffices you to deepen
the absence that we are.

Rainer Maria Rilke     ( Translated by A. Poulin)

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Eighth Day of Christmas - Happy New Year!

I'm starting out by posting this wonderful "New Year's Carol"  by Benjamin Britten:

Sing reign of Fair maid
With the gold upon her toe
Open you the west door,
And let the old year go

Sing reign of Fair maid
With the gold upon her chin
Open you the east door,
And let the new year in

For we have brought fresh water
All from the well so clear
To wish you and your company
A joyful happy year.

And here's another favorite Christmas card. It's appropriate, for January 1 is also the feast of Mary, the Mother of God: