• About Farm School

    "There are obviously two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live."
    James Adams, from his essay "To 'Be' or to 'Do': A Note on American Education", 1929

    We're a Canadian family of five, farming and home schooling. I'm nowhere near as regular a blogger as I used to be.

    The kids are 17/Grade 12, 15/Grade 10, and 13/Grade 9.

    Contact me at becky.farmschool@gmail.com

  • Notable Quotables

    "If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."
    William Morris, from his lecture "The Beauty of Life"

    "The world of books is the most remarkable creation of man. Nothing else that he builds ever lasts. Monuments fall, nations perish, civilizations grow old and die out; and, after an era of darkness, new races build others. But in the world of books are volumes that have seen this happen again and again, and yet live on, still young, still as fresh as the day they were written, still telling men’s hearts of the hearts of men centuries dead."
    Clarence Day

    "Anyone who has a library and a garden wants for nothing."
    Cicero

    "Histories make men wise; poets, witty; the mathematics, subtile; natural philosophy, deep; moral, grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend."
    Sir Francis Bacon, "Essays"

    "The chief aim of education is to show you, after you make a livelihood, how to enjoy living; and you can live longest and best and most rewardingly by attaining and preserving the happiness of learning."
    Gilbert Highet, "The Immortal Profession: The Joys of Teaching and Learning"

    "Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment."
    Walter Wriston

    "I'd like to give you a piece of my mind."
    "Oh, I couldn't take the last piece."
    Ginger Rogers to Frances Mercer in "Vivacious Lady" (1938)

    "No race can prosper till it learns that there is as much dignity in tilling a field as in writing a poem."
    Booker T. Washington

    "Please accept my resignation. I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member."
    Attributed to Groucho Marx in "The Groucho Letters" by Arthur Sheekman

    "If you can't say something good about someone, sit right here by me."
    Alice Roosevelt Longworth

    "If we bring a little joy into your humdrum lives, we feel all our hard work ain't been in vain for nothin'."
    Jean Hagen as "Lina Lamont" in "Singin' in the Rain" (1952)
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Poetry Saturday: Updike and light verse, with detours through science and suburbia

I was so keen yesterday to slip Phyllis McGinley’s January admonition into the very last Poetry Friday of the month that it didn’t even occur to me to give the late John Updike his due as poet, let alone light versifier; the poet Robert Wallace once called his friend “clearly the preëminent American light-verser of our generation”.  I was reminded of the fact by Karen Edmisten and her timely post and by some offblog emails that had us chatting about his writings in The New Yorker.

Most obituaries this week mentioned that Mr. Updike’s first published work was light verse, in The New Yorker.  In his preface to Collected Poems, 1953-1993 where he admitted, “As a boy I wanted to be a cartoonist”, Mr, Updike called his writing style “cartooning with words”.  In his appreciation the other day, David Lipsky in Salon wrote, “Updike broke into print with light verse, just as the world decided that funny, rhyming poetry was something it could possibly do without.” Mr. Updike himself said in Due Considerations that “Up to 1960, I had made my living selling short stores and light verse, for which there was a significant but fickle and possibly fading market.”

Well, not the whole world.  So here are a few.  First, “Cosmic Gall”, originally published in Telephone Poems and Other Poems in 1960 and included years later as part of the illustrated presentation for the 1995 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Cosmic Gall
by John Updike

Neutrinos they are very small.
They have no charge and have no mass
And do not interact at all.
The earth is just a silly ball
To them, through which they simply pass,
Like dustmaids down a drafty hall
Or photons through a sheet of glass.
They snub the most exquisite gas,
Ignore the most substantial wall,
Cold-shoulder steel and sounding brass,
Insult the stallion in his stall,
And, scorning barriers of class,
Infiltrate you and me! Like tall
And painless guillotines, they fall
Down through our heads into the grass.
At night, they enter at Nepal
And pierce the lover and his lass
From underneath the bed – you call
It wonderful; I call it crass.

One more:

Insomnia the Gem of the Ocean
by John Updike

When I lay me down to sleep
My waterbed says, “Gurgle gleep,”
And when I readjustment crave
It answers me with a tidal wave
That lifts me like a bark canoe
Adrift in breakers off Peru.

Neap to my spring, ebb to my flow,
It turns my pulse to undertow,
It turns my thoughts to bubbles, it
Still undulates when I would quit;
Two bags of water, it and I
In restless sympathy here lie.

(I’m going back to bed)

For more in appreciation of light verse and the late writer, don’t miss this Guardian Books Blog post, “A Lighter Shade of Updike”, from about a year ago, by John Freeman.  A taste:

The Carpentered Hen and Other Tame Creatures, Updike’s debut volume of light verse, was published in March of 1958 and it remains in print today [I don't think this is the case in North America but I haven't had time to check]. Half a century on it is a scold (and an encouragement) for all those readers who peer into first books and try to prognosticate. It wriggles with a love of language, a winking sense of humor. But who would have known this clever wit would turn into a serious chronicler of post-war American life?

In the late ’50s, Updike’s ear and eye were partially tuned to England, where light verse was something of a martial art. (Although Ogden Nash held America’s end up quite well). Updike had spent a year studying at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art, and he sketches his way into publication with “Duet, With Muffled Break Drums,” a tongue-in-cheek tale about the origin of England’s famous carmaker:

Where gray walks slope through shadows shaped like lace
Down to dimpleproof ponds, a precious place
Where birds of porcelain sing as one voice
Two gold and velvet notes – there Rolls met Royce.

How antique rhyming light verse seems today. But as John Hollander reminds in American Wits: An Anthology of Light Verse, there was a time when the “ability to read and write accentual-syllabic verse was part of what it meant to be literate.” Indeed, in Poetry and the Age, his great collection of essays, Randall Jarrell laments that the enlightened businessman of yore had put down his pen for other entertainments.

Updike, who grew up middle-class in rural Pennsylvania and attended university at Harvard, was doing more than just taking part of this tradition.

Read the rest here.  Worth noting with respect to the “martial art” of light verse in England that W.H. Auden was a champion, compiling his own anthology which is recently back in print thanks to NYRB Classics.  And it was Auden who wrote the foreword to Phyllis McGinley’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Times Three: Selected Verse from Three Decades (1960).

Also in my haste yesterday, I neglected to mention writer J.D. Smith‘s letter to the editor in The New York Times last week which I was tickled to read. A prescient bit in defense of Miss McGinley in particular and light verse in general:

Ginia Bellafante’s welcome appreciation of Phyllis McGinley (“Suburban Rapture,” Dec. 28) errs only in referring to “the disappearance of light verse” in contemporary poetry. Established poets like X. J. Kennedy and R. S. Gwynn, not to mention Richard Wilbur, have written and published light verse throughout their careers, and Light, the quarterly edited by John Mella, consistently provides a forum for the best practitioners of light verse in English.

Light verse has, however, become much harder to find. With rare exceptions, The New Yorker and other general interest magazines have abandoned light verse, as have the larger publishing houses. This development is particularly baffling given that light verse is consistently well received at readings and appreciated by audiences who are not themselves poets.

Read the rest of J.D. Smith’s letter here.

I’ll give the last words to John Updike, from a 2004 interview:

What was the first thing you wrote that was published?

John Updike: I actually sold a few poems in my teens to marginal magazines. I remember one poem, “The Boy Who Makes the Blackboard Squeak,” meaning the sort of naughty boy who makes the chalk squeak deliberately. I was paid maybe $5 or $10 for it, but my hope was to get into The New Yorker magazine, which began to come into the house when I was about 11 or 12.

I wouldn’t think you could find The New Yorker very readily in Shillington.

John Updike: No. The New Yorker was not a Berks County thing. There may have been a few subscribers, but the newsstands did not carry it because I used to look for it. But my aunt, who lived in Greenwich, Connecticut, and was kind of a hip lady — she was my father’s sister — she thought that we, as a benighted provincial household, could use The New Yorker and I, in fact, did use it. I loved it. I read the cartoons, but then other things too. The whole tone of the magazine was so superior to any other slick magazine, so I was aimed at The New Yorker. My writing career really begins with the day in June of ’54 when we were staying with my wife’s parents in Vermont, and word came up that there was a letter from The New Yorker, and they had taken a poem, and then a little later that summer they took a story. So rightly or wrongly, I felt kind of launched as a writer, a real writer.

They hired you not long after that, didn’t they?

John Updike: I was in Oxford the year after college with my then wife, who had been a Radcliffe girl. At that point she was a pregnant Radcliffe girl — we had a little girl in April. About that same time, Katharine White and her more famous husband, E.B. White, came to visit us in our basement flat. Katharine White was the fiction editor and a woman of great power, one of the founding members of The New Yorker in ’25, and indeed they offered me a job. Or maybe she just told me I could see Shawn, the editor, when I got back to the States. I did, and he offered me a job, and I worked in New York for about two years.

What had you published by then? One story and one poem?

John Updike: That semester I think I placed four or five more stories with them, as well as quite a number of light verse poems. Light verse was in its twilight, but I didn’t know that so I kept scribbling the stuff and they kept running it for a while. So, I was kind of establishing myself as a dependable contributor and they were a paternalistic organization that tried to gather unto itself talented — whatever — writers. And it was funny to want to do that, because really about the only slot they had to offer was to write for “Talk of the Town,” the front section. We moved in, a little family of three into Riverside Drive, and I began to write these stories, and discovered I could do it, and had kind of a good time doing it. You went around in New York and interviewed people who attended Coliseum shows — kitchen appliances or whatever — and I was very good at making something out of almost nothing. But, I thought after two years that maybe I had gone as far as I could with “The Talk of the Town” as an art form and I felt New York was a kind of unnatural place to live. I had two children at this point, and my wife didn’t have too many friends and wasn’t, I didn’t think, very happy. Well in the ’50s one didn’t think too hard about whether or not your wife was happy, sad to say, but even I could see that, so I said, “Why don’t we quit the job for a while.” I thought they’d take me back if it didn’t work out, and I’ll try to freelance up in New England, so there is where we went. We moved to a small town in New England and I never had to go back because I was able to support myself.

Poetry Friday: Admonished

Admonition in January
(On Passing a Florist’s Filled with Pussy Willows)

by Phyllis McGinley

An urban mind has learned to bear
The calendar’s perpetual treason:
Strawberries ripe for winter fare
And skating out of season;

Shop windows of December, bold
With swim suits daringly contrived here,
And August magazines grown old
Ere June has half arrived here.

But pussy willows wake our dream.
They wear a true, a springtime label,
And what necessities redeem
The flouting of the fable?

Here, incubated and absurd,
They droop in shivering sorority.
Their hopeful voices rise unheard
Above the storm’s authority.

And sharper seems the wind, and chill,
With April farther off than payday,
And endless all the days until
They have their proper heyday.

Florists, beware! Amid the snows
Let orchids blossom for the vendor.
Permit the violet and the rose
To thrive in hothouse splendor,

But leave these innocents to sing
An honest prophecy of spring.

from Miss McGinley’s A Pocketful of Wry, 1940

*  *  *  *

For more Poetry Friday fun, head over to Suzanne at Adventures in Daily Living, who’s hosting today’s Poetry Friday roundup.  Thank you, Suzanne!

*  *  *  *

More poetry, and prose, I’ve enjoyed sharing from one of my favorite poets:

Poetry Friday earlier this month (The Velvet Hand)

A True and Precious Stone, December 2008

Poetry Friday, November 2007 (Engima for Christmas Shoppers)

Poetry Friday, May 2006 (Incident on Madison Avenue)

Although we do wash our hands before meals…

“Children should be allowed to go barefoot in the dirt, play in the dirt, and not have to wash their hands when they come in to eat,” [Dr. Joel V. Weinstock] said. He and Dr. [David] Elliott pointed out that children who grow up on farms and are frequently exposed to worms and other organisms from farm animals are much less likely to develop allergies and autoimmune diseases.

Also helpful, he said, is to “let kids have two dogs and a cat,” which will expose them to intestinal worms that can promote a healthy immune system.

When Laura, my firstborn, arrived, a dear friend of the family then in her eighties invited both of us to tea.  Before we left, she leaned over and told me, “You know they’ve got to eat a peck of dirt before they die!” She’d be happy to know that the medical experts in today’s New York Times agree, though she’d be shaking her head to think that people nowadays need to buy a book explaining Why Dirt Is Good.

The compromise for the insistence on handwashing before meals is that we have one dog, 20 cats, a herd of cattle, four horses, and three dozen or so chickens (joined in summer by collections of grasshoppers, salamanders, frogs, and the odd gopher). None of them in the house, though.  No antibacterial soap in here, either. And in winter the kids wear their Baffin boots.  Bare feet when it’s -39 C, even without the wind chill, is just too much to bear.

Happy birthday, Edgar Allan Poe

Another bicentennial to celebrate this year: Edgar Allan Poe was born on January 19, 1809.

The fine folks at Naxos Audiobooks, whose Junior Audiobooks selection we are especially fond of, are offering a free download of Poe’s The Raven:

The Raven (MP3 file, 8 mins., 2.9 MB)

*  *  *

And, also from Naxos for another bicentennial, a free download of Abraham Lincoln’s The Gettysburg Address,

The Gettysburg Address (MP3 file, 3 mins., 1.1 MB)

Not free, but new this year for the Lincoln bicentennial is Naxos’s The Essential Abraham Lincoln: Speeches and letters by Abraham Lincoln, compiled by Garrick Hagon and Peter Whitfield with a biography by Peter Whitfield, and read by Peter Marinker and Garrick Hagon

Say goodnight, Dick

“Goodnight, Dick.”

agoodnightdick2

agoodnightdick21

Odd, no?

“A dream and an ideal”

In November 1939, several months after the beginning of World War II, American educator and civil rights leader Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955), who was also a friend and adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor, participated in a panel discussion on NBC’s weekly public affairs radio broadcast “America’s Town Meeting of the Air” to discuss, “What does American democracy mean to me?” Here is some of what Mrs. Bethune had to say; you can listen to her here:

Democracy is for me, and for 12 million black Americans, a goal towards which our nation is marching. It is a dream and an ideal in whose ultimate realization we have a deep and abiding faith. For me, it is based on Christianity, in which we confidently entrust our destiny as a people. Under God’s guidance in this great democracy, we are rising out of the darkness of slavery into the light of freedom. Here my race has been afforded opportunity to advance from a people 80 percent illiterate to a people 80 percent literate; from abject poverty to the ownership and operation of a million farms and 750,000 homes; from total disfranchisement to participation in government; from the status of chattels to recognized contributors to the American culture.

As we have been extended a measure of democracy, we have brought to the nation rich gifts. We have helped to build America with our labor, strengthened it with our faith and enriched it with our song. We have given you Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Booker T. Washington, Marian Anderson and George Washington Carver. But even these are only the first fruits of a rich harvest, which will be reaped when new and wider fields are opened to us.

The democratic doors of equal opportunity have not been opened wide to Negroes. In the Deep South, Negro youth is offered only one-fifteenth of the educational opportunity of the average American child. The great masses of Negro workers are depressed and unprotected in the lowest levels of agriculture and domestic service, while the black workers in industry are barred from certain unions and generally assigned to the more laborious and poorly paid work. Their housing and living conditions are sordid and unhealthy. They live too often in terror of the lynch mob; are deprived too often of the Constitutional right of suffrage; and are humiliated too often by the denial of civil liberties. We do not believe that justice and common decency will allow these conditions to continue.

Our faith in visions of fundamental change as mutual respect and understanding between our races come in the path of spiritual awakening. Certainly there have been times when we may have delayed this mutual understanding by being slow to assume a fuller share of our national responsibility because of the denial of full equality. And yet, we have always been loyal when the ideals of American democracy have been attacked. We have given our blood in its defense — from Crispus Attucks on Boston Commons to the battlefields of France. We have fought for the democratic principles of equality under the law, equality of opportunity, equality at the ballot box, for the guarantees of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We have fought to preserve one nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Yes, we have fought for America with all her imperfections, not so much for what she is, but for what we know she can be.

Perhaps the greatest battle is before us, the fight for a new America: fearless, free, united, morally re-armed, in which 12 million Negroes, shoulder to shoulder with their fellow Americans, will strive that this nation under God will have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, for the people and by the people shall not perish from the earth. This dream, this idea, this aspiration, this is what American democracy means to me.

*  *  *  *

(A fascinating and inspiring interview with Mrs. Bethune, conducted c1939 by Dr. Charles Spurgeon Johnson, can be found at the Florida Memory Project; you’ll have to scroll down about half a page to find the start)

Goodnight, Bush

agb

From Goodnight Bush by Erich Origen and Gan Golan:

In the situation room

There was a toy world

And a flight costume

And a picture of –-

A refinery plume.

And there were war profiteers giving three cheers.

A nation great

A Church and a State

A pair of towers

And a balance of powers.

A Grand Old Party to war in a rush

And a quiet Dick Cheney whispering, “Hush.”

Goodnight room.

Goodnight refinery plume.

Goodnight jets flying over the plume

Goodnight toy world

And the flight costume.

Goodnight ballot box.

Goodnight Fox.

Goodnight towers.

And goodnight balance of powers.

Goodnight Constitution.

And goodnight evolution.

Goodnight democracy

And goodnight privacy.

Goodnight old growth trees.

Goodnight detainees.

Goodnight, little bunny. Watch that tail on your way out…

arb

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