• 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 16/Grade 11, 14/Grade 9, and 13/Grade 8.

    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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  • Copyright © 2005-2012 Please do not use any of my words or my personal photographs without my express permission.

Still remembering

In my earlier post today remembering Pete Seeger, I mentioned seeing him perform at South Street Seaport for an autumn festival. Turns out it was October 1972, according to the caption on the back of the photograph my father took.

Here it is, with Brother Kirk (the Rev. Frederick Douglass Kirkpatrick) and Pete Seeger at South Street Seaport. My younger sister and mother are at the bottom, in the clear plastic rain bonnets my grandmother and mother used to keep in their purses.

PeteSeegerBrotherKirk

Remembering Pete Seeger: “I’ve got a song to sing, all over this land”

Here’s an edited repeat of a post from May 2009 celebrating Pete Seeger’s 90th birthday; you can read the original here. I was saddened, though not surprised, to read last night of his death at age 94. His was one of those long lives well lived, and so many of ours were that much richer for his.

(I haven’t checked all of the links, so if any are broken, please let me know.)

*  *  *  *

Pete Seeger has been presence in my life since childhood with his records and music, and I still recall one marvelous autumn day when I was about nine or 10 and we got to meet him and listen to him sing at South Street Seaport (I think I remember a pier covered with pumpkins, and while I don’t remember the sloop Clearwater, I think it must have been there as well), well before it was fixed up and turned into a tourist destination. We were also fortunate to live down the street from Pete Seeger’s old friend, Brother Kirk (the Rev. Frederick Douglass Kirkpatrick, who died in 1987), who would sit on the sidewalk with his guitar and give impromptu sidewalk concerts. Together the friends collaborated on a 1974 children’s album, “Pete Seeger & Brother Kirk Visit Sesame Street”.

As fascinating as Pete Seeger’s life story and career is his family.  He was the son of musicologist and composer of Charles Seeger and violinist Constance Edson; his stepmother was the noted composer Ruth Crawford Seeger;  his uncle Alan Seeger was the celebrated poet killed in World War I; his eldest brother Charles was a pioneering radio astronomer; his brother John, a longtime teacher at New York’s Dalton School, also founded Camp Killoleet in the Adirondacks; his half-sister is the singer Peggy Seeger; his half-brother is singer Mike Seeger.

No childhood is complete without Pete Seeger — for the music he has sung and written, for his sense of history,his family’s place in the history of American music, and his environmental and political activism.  You can listen to his music and listen to songs about America as it was, and America — and the world –  as it should be. Here’s a list, not nearly complete or comprehensive, of some of our favorite Pete Seeger records, books, and more.

Music especially for children:

“Abiyoyo and Other Story Songs for Children”

“American Folk, Game and Activity Songs”

“Birds, Beasts, Bugs and Fishes (Little and Big)”

“Folk Songs for Young People”

“Song and Play Time”

Pete Seeger’s “Children’s Concert at Town Hall”

Music for the entire family:

“American Favorite Ballads”, on five CDs

“Frontier Ballads”

“Headlines and Footnotes: A Collection of Topical Songs”

“If I Had a Hammer: Songs of Hope and Struggle”

“Love Songs for Friends and Foes”

“Pete Seeger Sings Leadbelly”

“Sing Out!: Hootenanny with Pete Seeger and the Hooteneers”

“Traditional Christmas Carols”

Pete Seeger/The Weavers 3 CD box set

“Pete Seeger at 89″

Pete Seeger discography at Smithsonian Folkways.  By the way, SF has a new publication, “Folkways Magazine”, just debuted with the Spring 2009 issue, and the main article is “Pete Seeger: Standing Tall”

Pete Seeger discography and biography at Appleseed Records

Books (many of which are children’s picture books based on his songs):

Abiyoyo with accompanying CD; and Abiyoyo Returns

Turn! Turn! Turn! with accompanying CD

One Grain of Sand: A Lullaby

Where Have All the Flowers Gone?: A Musical Autobiography

Pete Seeger’s Storytelling Book

His memoirsWhere Have All the Flowers Gone: A Singer’s Stories, Songs, Seeds, Robberies

The biography How Can I Keep from Singing?: The Ballad of Pete Seeger by David King Dunaway, the companion volume to the radio series produced by Dunaway (see below)

Audio and Video:

PBS’s American Masters episode: “Pete Seeger: The Power of Song”; now available on DVD

How Can I Keep from Singing?, the three-part radio series produced by David King Dunaway

“To Hear Your Banjo Play” (1947)

“How to Play the 5-String Banjo” DVD, Davy’s favorite; there’s also an accompanying book (not on film, but also instructive and instructional is Pete Seeger’s “The Folksinger’s Guitar Guide”)

At NPR; and the NPR appreciation, “Pete Seeger At 90″ by Lynn Neary and Tom Cole.  At the latter link, you’ll find a little orange box on the left with The Pete Seeger Mix, a “five-hour mix of Pete Seeger classics and covers” put together by NPR Music partner Folk Alley

Pete Seeger at the pre-inaugural concert for Barack Obama

Websites:

Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress, where Pete Seeger worked as an assistant in 1940

Clearwater, the organization Pete Seeger established in 1969 to preserve and protect the Hudson River

Bits and bobs:

Studs Terkel’s 2005 appreciation, in The Nation, of Pete Seeger’s 86th birthday

The New Yorker‘s 2006 profile, “The Protest Singer”, by Alec Wilkinson, and in hardcover

Pete Seeger’s biography at the Kennedy Center, where he was a Kennedy Center honor recipient in 1994

A re-(re)-post to celebrate 30 years of “A Christmas Story”: I triple-dog dare you

acs

(This month marks the 30th anniversary of the modern classic, “A Christmas Story”, one of my all-time favorite holiday movies. In fact, the older I get, the more I like it. So I’m reposting this from 2006 and 2008. I’ve checked and updated the links, and there’s some new content, too. Not to mention blog snow, which my daughter the far more successful blogger told me about. Merry merry from Farm School!)

New content!:

“‘A Christmas Story’ Turns 30″

NPR: Cleveland Celebrates 30 Years Of ‘A Christmas Story’

Video of  ‘A Christmas Story’ Pole Scene Re-Created on NYC Subway

Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen (author of the new Eminent Hipsters) wrote a Slate article last year, “The Man Who Told ‘A Christmas Story’: What I learned from Jean Shepherd”. Twelve-year-old Fagen was introduced to Shep’s radio show by his “weird uncle Dave”, “a bit of a hipster” himself…

The 30th anniversary Blu-Ray edition

“A Christmas Story”: Behind the Scenes of a Holiday Classic by Caseen Gaines

Tyler Schwartz’s A Christmas Story Treasury from Running Press, a short scrapbook with recipe cards for Mom’s Christmas turkey, a replica of the telegram notifying the Old Man about his “major award”, and so on.

“A Christmas Story” 2014 wall calendar

The musical version of “A Christmas Story” returns to New York City, at Madison Square Garden from Dec. 11 to Dec. 29, featuring Dan Lauria (“The Wonder Years”) as the narrator

The tourist organization Positively Cleveland is celebrating the 30th anniversary, including a special Christmas Story run tomorrow (runners are encouraged to carry a Leg Lamp or wear a Bunny Costume), and a contest to Light up the Holidays in CLE. You can win (what else?) a Leg Lamp. Unfortunately, we’ve all missed the 30th Anniversary Celebration & Convention on Nov. 29-30.

From the ridiculous to the sublime: Jean Shepherd’s original November 25, 1963 WOR radio evening broadcast, where he spent almost an hour talking about the impact of JFK‘s presidency, and his death, on American life. An MPR documentary produced by Matt Sepic with the assistance of Shepherd’s biographer, Eugene Bergmann.

Flicklives’ A Salute to Jean Shepherd, featuring A Christmas Story page

And, as always, TBS will be running its annual 24-hour “A Christmas Story” marathon from Christmas Eve to Christmas evening.

* * *

From December 1, 2006:

Just in time for Christmas, the cockles of my heart warm to learn that one of my favorite holiday movies has come to life:

Switch on your leg lamp and warm up the Ovaltine. The Christmas Story House and Museum will be ready for visitors starting Saturday. Imagine being inside Ralphie Parker’s 1940s home on Christmas Day. Stand on the staircase where Ralphie modeled his hated bunny suit. See the table where Ralphie’s dad wanted to display his tacky leg lamp. Gaze out a back window at the shed where Black Bart hid out. …

This past weekend saw the grand opening of The Christmas Story House. The house, used primarily for exterior shots in the 1983 filming, was renovated to look just like Ralphie’s home in the movie by owner Brian Jones, a lifelong Christmas Story fan.

At the museum gift shop, you can buy a chocolate BB rifle or a replica leg lamp from Red Rider Leg Lamps, started by Jones in 2003. And, I hope, a copy of Jean Shepherd’s In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash, on which the movie was based. Ho ho ho!

*  *  *

Interestingly, I had a comment on the post last month [2008] — while we were away — from the people at the tourist organization, Positively Cleveland, about their “What I Want for Christmas” essay contest, which had a December 3 deadline.

There were two contests, one for those ages 16 and under and one for those 17 older. Prizes for the junior set included, among other things, a $100 gift certificate to Pearl of the Orient, the official Chinese restaurant of A Christmas Story House and Museum; a four-pack of general admission tickets to A Christmas Story House and Museum; and a four-pack of general admission tickets to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.  No BB guns, however, because you’d shoot your eye out.

Prizes for the oldsters were pretty much the same, except a full-size leg lamp was substituted for the restaurant gift certificate.

Any fan of A Christmas Story has probably stumbled over the latest curiosities, two new fan flicks: Road Trip for Ralphie and Shooting Your Eye Out: The Untold Christmas Story.   Makes you wonder what Jean Shepherd might make of all this humbug.  Creeping meatballism, perhaps?

On the other hand, for pure unadulterated Shep, you can try the Jean Shepherd Netcast and The Brass Figlagee. Merry Christmas, fatheads!

Campaigns, stickers, and a happy belated birthday

I missed Charles Darwin’s birthday last week, so I thought I’d tell you, in case you hadn’t already heard, about 19-year-old Zack Kopplin, who’s been an anti-creationist campaigner for five years now. Zack just won the Troublemaker of the Year for 2012 award. From the Troublemaker website:

The TroubleMaker Award Committee has named 19 year old activist, Zack Kopplin, the TroubleMaker of 2012 for his leadership and advocacy efforts to prevent the spread of creationism in publicly funded education. Zack has been selected among many exceptional applicants who demonstrated creativity, spirit and dedication in working on a broad range of issues, including women’s rights, poverty, bullying, environment and nuclear energy.

Zack’s bold campaign to repeal the 2008 Louisiana Science Education Act (LSEA) has made waves in state politics and in public education. Kopplin has gathered the support of 78 Nobel Laureate scientists, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the New Orleans City Council, and other major organizations. His petition to repeal the law has 74,000 supporters across the US. Working with Louisiana State Senator Karen Carter Peterson, Zack has fought for two bills to repeal the LSEA. He has spoken out before the Louisiana legislature and State Board of Education, debated creationist politicians, held rallies, and had been covered in hundreds of interviews in national and international media. Kopplin is preparing to fight for a third repeal bill.

Zack plans to use the $10,000 awarded to him to increase the impact and reach of his campaign. The funds will greatly aid Zack’s most recent venture to call for accountability on the issue of millions of dollars in school vouchers being spent to fund schools across the US that teach creationist ideas. He also plans to use this money to help build the Second Giant Leap movement, which calls for a permanent end to science denial legislation and for a trillion dollars of new science funding in the next decade.

Kopplin said, “We need a Second Giant Leap for Mankind and we need a student movement of troublemakers and truth-tellers who are willing to stand up and speak out to make this a reality.”

Zack’s website, Repealing the Louisiana Science Education Act, is here. His open letter to President Obama, calling for a Second Giant Leap for Mankind, is here. He argues that “Denying and misteaching evidence-based science like evolution and climate science will confuse our students about the nature of science and stifle future American scientists and scientific innovation.” More (all links are Zack’s, from his letter):

The politics surrounding science also must change. A member of the U.S. House of Representatives Science Committee recently called evolution, embryology and the Big Bang theory “lies straight from the pit of hell.” The former Chairman of this same committee believes that climate change is a massive conspiracy that scientists created to get more funding. He then tried to cut science funding. Another member of this committee suggested cutting down more trees as a measure to reduce global warming. Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) attempted to sneak a creationism law into President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) and others hosted a Congressional briefing called “Scientific Evidence of Intelligent Design and its Implications for Public Policy and Education.” Campaigns are being led against vaccines. The current cuts to federal funding for basic scientific research could prevent our country from launching the next Hubble Telescope or the next Human Genome Project. We would never have created the Internet or launched the Manhattan Project if we had cut science funding.

Zack was a National Center for Science Education’s 2012 Friend of Darwin award winner, too, and his campaign even inspired a Doonesbury strip in 2011.

You can support Zack’s efforts by going to his website, and, if you do such things, by following him on Twitter and Facebook. I recently found another nifty way to help support Zack’s campaign, on Colin Purrington’s website. (I first discovered Colin back in 2005, with his Charles Darwin Has a Posse stickers. You can find the stickers here.)

While I was trying to fix the Darwin Posse button below left (it went wonky), I learned that Colin now also offers textbook disclaimers you can print out as stickers; there’s a series of 15 distinct stickers:

If you live in the United States, you probably live in a school district that is dominated by people who don’t publicly accept evolution.  Over the years, teachers and School Boards have found ways to undermine the teaching of evolution to appease the parents that have pitchforks and charmingly Neolithic views of reality.  Some districts have even placed evolution disclaimer stickers in biology textbooks… . Please consider downloading the PDF to make actual stickers with inkjet sticker paper, then give to your kids to use at school.

Some of my favorites,

TxtbkStickers3

TxtbkStickers2

TxtbkStickers1

 

Go get yours and start stickering. Oh, and Colin now has a Charles Darwin/Posse store at Cafe Press.

By the way, if you have science students at home, you should know that Colin has a new, very helpful section on his blog with Academic Tips. These include

Maintaining a laboratory notebook

Designing conference posters

Writing science papers

Giving science talks and presentations

Requesting letters of recommendation

Laptops in class? (tips for students AND teachers)

Great stuff. Thanks very much for all of it, Colin!

*  *  *

Since we’re on the subject, here’s Farm School oldie but goodie (I haven’t gone through all of the links, so I’m sure there are some that are now broken. If you find any, please let me know in the comments below):

Darwin 200: Charles Darwin’s Day, from February 12, 2009: “”To celebrate this year, Farm School offers a highly subjective, not at all comprehensive Charles Darwin bibliography and list of resources for the entire family, with serious and lighthearted offerings; remember, I’m not a trained scientist or a biologist, just a very amateur naturalist who likes to read.”

(Previously posted, in 2008, as “Funny, you don’t look a day over 198″)

Happy belated birthday, big guy. Love always from Farm School.

*  *  *

By the way, the Troublemaker Award was founded by Semyon Dukach, a self-styled “angel investor” and a protagonist of Busting Vegas, who immigrated to the US from Russia with his family in 1979 when he was 10. Semyon is also a judge for the Lemelson / MIT student inventiveness prize, as well as for Mass Challenge.

Butter and twinkle lights: Nora Ephron, 1941-2012

From Nora Ephron’s October 1980 essay, “A Few Words about Elizabeth Bennet”*, inspired by that year’s BBC production starring Elizabeth Garvie as Elizabeth Bennet and David Rintoul as Fitzwilliam Darcy. “A Few Words” shows the magic and power of Ephron as Everywoman — personal yet universal.

The other day they sent me a photograph of the actress who plays Miss Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, and I took one look at it and threw it into the garbage can. All things considered, this was a mild response. I have spent twenty years knowing exactly what Elizabeth Bennet looks like, and she does not look a bit like this person they have gotten to play her. She looks like me.

It has been possible for me to persist in this delusion as long as I have partly because I love Elizabeth Bennet and partly because Jane Austen, who created her, managed to leave out of her novel any detailed physical description of her heroine. She does write that Lizzy is not as beautiful as her sister Jane and that she has fine eyes — there’s much made of those fine eyes — and a pleasant figure. But there’s not a word about whether she is short or tall, blond or brunette; not a word about her nose or her lips; and while the fine eyes are said to be dark, there is not a word as to whether they are dark brown, or dark blue, or dark green, or dark lavender, or the color I happen to know them to be, which is dark hazel.

                                                           .      .       .

I fell in love with Elizabeth Bennet the first time I read Pride and Prejudice, and I have read the book at least once year ever since. “It is a truth universally acknowledged,” the book begins, “that a single man n possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” That glorious sentence is a threshold into Austen’s world, a world of manners and domestic arrangements, a world where nothing — not politics nor war, which are simply not mentioned — is as important as the right match. Each time I cross into this word I bring to it the same intensity and sense of suspense I felt the first time through. I cannot put the book down. I am on tenterhooks about Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. I am stunned by what becomes of Wickham. I am captivated by Elizabeth’s father and appalled by her mother. I am furious at Miss Bingley. And when it becomes clear that things will work out, the lovers will triumph — when Elizabeth unexpectedly meets Mr. Darcy while walking through Pemberley and realizes his feelings for her are unchanged — I cry.

All this may say more about me and my rather dippy capacity for romance than it does about the book, but I doubt it: Pride and Prejudice is one of the greatest romantic comedies ever written, a novel about the possibility of love between equals, and in many ways it is the forerunner of a genre it was undoubtedly instrumental in creating. Two strong-willed people — one of them rich, the other not — meet and take an instant dislike to each other. She reacts by being arch and provocative; he is attracted by her audacity, her playfulness, her intellect, and, as Elizabeth reminds Mr. Darcy at the end of the book, her bad manners. “You may as well call it impertinence at once,” she says. “The fact is that you were sick of civility, of deference, of officious attention. You were disgusted with the women who were always speaking and looking and thinking for your approbation alone.” Eventually — after a long push and pull, half a dozen misunderstandings, and one explosive rejection — the lovers soften ever so slightly, acknowledge themselves to be possessed of at least one flaw apiece, and realize they were meant for each other, class distinctions aside.

What a lovely fantasy this plot is! It is the dream of any woman who has ever wanted to believe that what really matters is not beauty but brains, not flirtation but wit; it is the dream of every young woman who has ever been a wallflower. Indeed, when Elizabeth first meets Mr. Darcy, she is exactly that: She is sitting on the sidelines at a dance when she is pointed out to him, and to her amusement she hears his comment on her looks: “She is tolerable; but not handsome enough to tempt me; and I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men.” It is also the dream of every young woman who has ever worried she would never marry; for her the sister who is most serious, most thoughtful, most sensitive, is rewarded in the end by the very thing she has been shown to care least about — a rich husband. And for a moment — in spite of the many examples in Austen’s work to the contrary — we are allowed to believe in the likelihood of a great marriage. “I know your disposition, Lizzy,” Elizabeth’s father tells her. “I know that you could be neither happy nor respectable unless you truly esteemed your husband, unless you looked up to him as a superior. Your lively talents would place you in the greatest danger in an unequal marriage. You could scarcely escape discredit and misery. My child, let me not have the grief of seeing you unable to respect your partner in life.”

(The plot of Pride and Prejudice and the scrappy, feisty dialogue that characterizes Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy’s relationship — the skittering banter, the deft back and forth — have been imitated in thousands of novels that have been written since and dozens of movies: It Happened One Night, with Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable; The Lady Vanishes, with Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave; Woman of the Year, with Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. In these movies the convention is reversed: The part of the not-rich person is played by the man, and he is the first to be arch and impertinent, she is the prideful snob. For the most perfect illustration of what might happen to an Elizabeth and a Mr. Darcy after they marry, see The Thin Man, with William Powell and Myrna Loy.)

I may be deluded about the similarity between Elizabeth Bennet’s looks and mine, but I have never been as foolish on the question of character. Hers is far superior to mine. Her flaw is that she is too quick to form opinions based on first impressions; in short, that she is prejudiced. And that is her only flaw. I have at least a dozen as serious as that and a few far worse. The Austen character I most resemble, I am sorry to say, is not Elizabeth Bennet but Emma Woodhouse, of Emma. Now there’s a woman with flaws: She’s manipulative, bossy, and controlling. There are few Austen lovers who do not believe Emma to be Austen’s finest work, but I have always been grumpy about it; it’s too close to home. I prefer my literary heroines to be perfect, unlike me; and Lizzy is as close to perfect as she can be and still be interesting. In fact, I consider her flaw so minor that the first time I read Pride and Prejudice I assumed that both nouns in the title referred to Mr. Darcy. Who, after all, could blame Elizabeth for thinking ill of a man who insulted her at a dance? Who could think her genuinely prejudiced? Not I, that’s who.

Recently, I was reading a novel by by one of the most shrill of the feminist writers, who complained in it that there were no more Mr. Darcys. There are probably no more Elizabeth Bennets either. What’s more, there were probably none in the first place. Which is wonderful. It means that those of us who would love to be like her can never feel too bad that we aren’t; no one is. That’s what makes Lizzy so lovable: She doesn’t exist.

Not so surprisingly, Pride and Prejudice made it onto Ms. Ephron’s list of “What I Will Miss” in her last book,  I Remember Nothing, published in 2010 several years after the onset of her leukemia:

What I Will Miss

My kids
Nick
Spring
Fall
Waffles
The concept of waffles
Bacon
A walk in the park
The idea of a walk in the park
The park
Shakespeare in the Park
The bed
Reading in bed
Fireworks
Laughs
The view out the window
Twinkle lights
Butter
Dinner at home just the two of us
Dinner with friends
Dinner with friends in cities where none of us lives
Paris
Next year in Istanbul
Pride and Prejudice
The Christmas tree
Thanksgiving dinner
One for the table
The dogwood
Taking a bath
Coming over the bridge to Manhattan
Pie

Thank you to Nora Ephron for all the laughs, in print and at the movies, and for my lifetime fixation with the semi-colon.

* From my copy of Nora Ephron Collected, 1991, moved from Washington, DC to NYC to the prairies

A gift to home schoolers and all learners: Michael Hart (1947-2011)

Michael Hart, the founder of Project Gutenberg and the inventor, in 1971, of electronic books, died of a heart attack this past Tuesday, September 6, at the age of 64. His obituary at Project Gutenberg is here.

Some excerpts from his obituary, which is in the public domain:

Hart was an ardent technologist and futurist. A lifetime tinkerer, he acquired hands-on expertise with the technologies of the day: radio, hi-fi stereo, video equipment, and of course computers. He constantly looked into the future, to anticipate technological advances. One of his favorite speculations was that someday, everyone would be able to have their own copy of the Project Gutenberg collection or whatever subset desired. This vision came true, thanks to the advent of large inexpensive computer disk drives, and to the ubiquity of portable mobile devices, such as cell phones.

and

Michael S. Hart left a major mark on the world. The invention of eBooks was not simply a technological innovation or precursor to the modern information environment. A more correct understanding is that eBooks are an efficient and effective way of unlimited free distribution of literature. Access to eBooks can thus provide opportunity for increased literacy. Literacy, and the ideas contained in literature, creates opportunity.

In July 2011, Michael wrote these words, which summarize his goals and his lasting legacy: “One thing about eBooks that most people haven’t thought much is that eBooks are the very first thing that we’re all able to have as much as we want other than air. Think about that for a moment and you realize we are in the right job.” He had this advice for those seeking to make literature available to all people, especially children: “Learning is its own reward.  Nothing I can say is better than that.”

*  *  *  *

To read more about Mr. Hart’s life and mission:

Richard Poynder’s 2006 blog post on Michael Hart on “preserving the public domain”, with a link to an interview with Hart

The Washington Post’s obituary, from which: “ ‘There are two things in the world that are truly, totally free with an endless supply,’ he told the Chicago Tribune in 1999. ‘The air we breathe and the texts on Project Gutenberg.’ ” And:

…other friends recalled that Mr. Hart’s house in Urbana was stacked, floor to eye-height, with pillars of books.

The man who spent a lifetime digitizing literature lived amidst the hard copies, which he often sent home with visitors. It was one more way for him to share his books.

“The Legacy of Project Gutenberg Founder, Michael S. Hart” by Rebecca J. Rosen, at The Atlantic

All his very best

Jack’s NDP colleague Lorne Nystrom said earlier today,  “If you were writing a tragic novel, you wouldn’t even come up with this scenario.”

(Poster created by art director Stuart Thursby based on Jack Layton’s last letter to Canadians. Thank you, Mr. Thursby.)

* * *

…when he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.

Happy birthday, Masterpiece Theatre

My parents adored Masterpiece Theatre, and some of my fondest memories and favorite shows came from those Sunday evenings together in the seventies and early eighties, until I went off to college, especially “Poldark”, “Last of the Mohicans”, “Upstairs, Downstairs”, and “The Duchess of Duke Street”. We were such big fans of “The Duchess of Duke Street” and Charlie that in 1979 my father took me to see Christopher Cazenove in Alan Ayckbourne’s “Joking Apart” at the Globe Theatre in London; what a treat that was, and how exciting.  In recent years, my father amassed quite the collection of period drama DVDs, so every day could be Sunday.

I am sure it would thoroughly annoy both my mother and my father — especially my mother — to be missing the newest shows, the latest “Upstairs, Downstairs” and the new “Downton Abbey”. I’m looking forward to “Downton Abbey” myself, and since I live in a PBS-free zone, I’ve ordered the DVD from Amazon.com, to be delivered to NYC when we arrive to sort out the apartment later this month (since the Canadian price, almost twice as much, is ridiculous). I plan to watch it, raising a drink to my mother, who, wherever she is, has doubtless tracked down Alistair Cooke to natter on about the rent control apartments in New York they each enjoyed, life behind the scenes at the Bentinck Hotel, and that usurper, Russell Baker. Happy times…

Marooned

The five of us met my mother at JFK in early October, to fly with her to her vacation home in the West Indies.  The plan was, after my father’s unexpected death earlier this year, to sort through my father’s things and also sort out the house, which for some years has needed repairs, touch-ups, and general decluttering. We had been making good headway and also making time for some fun — the local Halloween party at the nearby beach club, a lovely dinner party for my mother’s 79th birthday, a very fun meal at a new restaurant in town — when things came crashing down four weeks ago, when my mother died even more suddenly than my father did.  He died not three months after being diagnosed with brain cancer; she died two days after going into the hospital feeling faint, dizzy, and hot.  It turned out to be advanced heart failure and kidney failure, not altogether unexpected for someone with diabetes and high blood pressure who has made the most of life and ignored doctors’ warnings and daughters’ pleas for years.  But still terribly sudden and shocking for all of us, and just days after a happy birthday. I’ve taken comfort knowing that things moved so swiftly that she had no idea what was happening before she lost consciousness, that she was in no pain, wasn’t scared.  And that she hadn’t been home alone in the apartment in New York.

Some 35 years ago, on her island,

We are bereft, and marooned, emotionally and almost literally, not able to come home last week as planned.  With so many extra loose ends to tie up, we delayed our departure until this coming Sunday (weather willing, and we are hoping it will be more willing than the weather this past weekend), and even then we are leaving many things undone, in an upside down world, though we have fixed and cleaned and painted and tidied.  The kids have been troopers, coping with the work and the sadness.  Poor Davy had expected and hoped to celebrate his 10th birthday with Grandmama, and Thanksgiving the next day was a shadow of its former self.

Instead of an overnight stop at the airport hotel as originally planned, we’ll spend several days in NYC , to see my sister, the lawyer, the office, and leave for Canada on Wednesday, which should get us back home in time for Christmas Eve.  Our holidays will be considerably diminished, but the kids at the moment are craving home and home comforts. I would be happy to crawl into my own bed and pull the covers over my head for the next six months, but thanks to rent control laws in NYC, we have 90 days from the date of death to empty my mother’s apartment.  We need to get back to farming and real life in February, so next month we’ll be driving across North America with a truck and trailer.  No, it’s not my first choice, either.

I came across this poster recently and I find it much more reassuring than the slogan I’d come up with about halfway through 2010, “One damned thing after another”.

Definitely an approach my life loving mother embraced, though she would have asked for vodka. And extra ice.

*  *  *

“To lose one parent, Mr Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.”
The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde (1895)

Spotera!*: Recapturing a writerly fairyland

A few weeks ago The Guardian featured a lovely article by Valerie Grove as part of the marvelous “Life in Writing” series, an overview of her new biography of Kaye Webb, So Much to Tell, to be published in Canada next week in time for Puffin’s 70th anniversary.  Miss Webb established the Puffin Club for young readers in the 1960s, and I was a devoted member across the pond in the early seventies.  I wrote a bit about the Puffin Club just over a year ago, here.  And while I didn’t get Mars Bars from Roald Dahl, I did spend afternoons with Ezra Jack Keats and author Ben Lucien Burman and his wife, illustrator Alice Caddy, who gave us Puffineers autographed copies of the Catfish Bend books.

Miss Webb rather fell into children’s book publishing, having read only few children’s books in her youth,

Her luck was to arrive at the dawn of a second “golden age” in children’s books in the 60s. Enduring classics were being written by authors such as Philippa Pearce and Rosemary Sutcliff. Improved colour printing brightened picture books and inspired illustrators such as Brian Wildsmith and Quentin Blake. American publishers (Grace Hogarth, Marni Hodgkin) infused the scene with transatlantic know-how. New magazines gave guidance for parents on the best new books for their children; soon there was the Bologna children’s book fair, and the broadsheet papers were devoting whole pages to reviews of children’s fiction.

What Webb brought to the changing scene was her enormous personality. She acquired new titles, brokering deals with the enterprise of an innocent. She cajoled hardback publishers – still sceptical and snooty about paperbacks – to yield up rights. She founded a Children’s Book Circle, wooed librarians and booksellers. She commissioned in her distinctive style: “Darling! I’ve got this wonderful idea, you have to do it, come straight round, it’s your big chance!”  …

Only months after taking the position at Puffin, Kaye Webb’s mother died and her husband, the celebrated cartoonist Ronald Searle, abruptly left her and their two teenaged children, for his lover in Paris, informing her by letter.  But, Ms. Grove, writes,

The Puffin job proved the making of her: she set about establishing the brand as the marque of excellence in children’s literature, and increased sales by 300% within a year. To the Narnia books and Noel Streatfeild she added Mary Poppins, Paddington Bear, Clive King’s Stig of the Dump, Dodie Smith’s The Hundred and One Dalmatians [Grove has also written biographies of Dodie SmithLaurie Lee, and my father's beloved John Mortimer]. Soon, authors needed no persuading: “I could have all the authors I wanted,” Webb said. Roald Dahl, who had taken years to get his children’s books published in Britain in 1967, actually asked to be in Puffin (at a 17.5% royalty, which he repaid in astronomical sales.)

And then things get truly exciting:

Webb had always encouraged her son, John, to be fearless. She once drove him to Chesil Bank in Dorset, the setting for J Meade Falkner’s Moonfleet, and suggested he dive in and test out the fierce undercurrent that had wrecked many ships. Children liked to have adventures away from their parents, as children do in books. Heedless of health-and-safety, she took readers to see real puffins, on the precipitous Yorkshire coastline. In fact, the first Puffin Club adventure, a trip to Lundy Island, could have been disastrous. The boat almost capsized in choppy seas. Webb had to tie the children down and pray that none were flung overboard. After that she collaborated with Chris Green, the schoolmaster founder of Colony Holidays, lifeline to many frazzled mothers confronted by long school holidays in the 60s and 70s. There were Puffin holidays, winter and summer, at castles such as Featherstone in Northumberland, or vacant boarding-schools, where the children (benignly supervised) could scamper in fields and woods, write and perform plays, bird-watch, build boats, produce newspapers, sing round campfires. Webb scorned parents who apologised in advance that their “shy” children would be reluctant joiners-in. There was no such thing, Webb said, as the shy child.

Nobody doubted that Webb enjoyed her jamborees as much as the children did. Conflating Hallowe’en and Guy Fawkes, she would dress up as a wizard, a cat or a silver fairy queen at “Guyween” fireworks-and-bonfire parties. The chaotic Puffin office seemed to hold endless celebrations; it was always someone’s birthday, an excuse for balloons, jellies and “Puffins pleasure” cocktails, filling the Penguin HQ with shrieks of laughter. Every Puffineer got a personalised greeting, each birthday. They were effusively grateful. “Thanks awfully for my purple bag,” wrote one prize-winning child. “I think it’s super and a marvellous prize. Did someone make it specially? If they did, could you thank them terribly?” Puffineers became substitute grandchildren for Webb, before she had one of her own.

After which come the late seventies, and the end of that second golden age,

doubts began to be voiced at Penguin about whether Webb was sufficiently aware of deprived children whose homes were not book-lined. Was she doing enough to attract the reluctant boy reader, or appeal to ethnic minorities? Webb bridled in self-defence. She cared little for social engineering, only about upholding the high standards, and imaginative writing of the kind adults could enjoy reading aloud time and again. …

In 1978, aware of the threat to literacy from television, she organised a Time Capsule containing books, messages from authors and from readers, ceremoniously buried (by Patrick Moore) in the garden of Penguin headquarters at Harmondsworth, to be opened by the grandchildren of the “Puffin Guardians” in 100 years’ time. Only 10 years later, noting the rise of the computer and a less biddable, less bookish generation, Webb told me the capsule would probably have to be exhumed much earlier.

Her successor at Puffin, Tony Lacey, launched the popular Fighting Fantasy and Dungeons and Dragons books aimed firmly at boys, to Webb’s dismay: what had become of literary merit? Puffin Club membership dwindled, the magazine was no longer cost-effective, and was closed down in 1987. Her long retirement was afflicted with crippling arthritis – she had often had to conduct Puffin business from her hospital bed – and she died at 82 in 1996. She did not live to witness the Harry Potter phenomenon. She would certainly have been horrified to learn that in 2009 it was reported that many children go through their schooldays without ever reading “a whole book”.

Read the entire article, “Queen of the Puffineers”, here.  Long live the Queen.

*  *  *  *

* The reply to the secret Puffin password “Sniffup!” Together, they spell out, backwards, Puffins are tops.  Indeed.

Glowing embers

Elspeth Thompson first came to my attention several years ago through her writings about the environment, self-sufficiency, and ethical living in The Guardian and about gardening in The Telegraph.  I was captivated by her idea to turn two railway cottages into a cottage — could anything be more charmingly English? — her photographs, love of poetry, and by the way, as someone at The Telegraph noted, she found the ethereal in the everyday.  She had a wonderful blog mostly about the railway cottage adventure, Off the Rails but with poems, pictures, and other bits and bobs, and a very new gardening blog started only last month, Gardening Against the Odds, where she wrote about unlikely gardens in unpromising places.  Elspeth Thompson could make a stone in a desert sprout leaves, and she could write about it enchantingly. I began to seek out her books, Urban Gardener and A Tale of Two Gardens, collections of her Telegraph columns; The Wonderful Weekend Book: Reclaim Life’s Simple Pleasures, which just came out in paperback.  And I’ve been looking forward to the upcoming Homemade: Gorgeous Things to Make with Love co-authored with Ros Badger, which I want to get for Laura’s summer birthday.  Ms. Thompson sparkled so much through her writing that I can only imagine what it must have been like to know her.

It was catching up at her blog yesterday, when I really should have been packing or cleaning, that I learned the terribly sad news of her death on March 25th from a note by her husband Frank Wilson, who wrote,

It is with the deepest sadness that I must tell you that my beautiful and beloved wife Elspeth died on Thursday 25th March aged 48.

She brought her family and friends so much happiness during her short life and she loved to share some of the things that brought her happiness through her writing. She was loving, warm, wonderful and generous and she will be missed by many.

According to the obituary in The Telegraph, “In recent weeks … she had been suffering from an extreme depression; she took her own life last Thursday.”

Several years ago, Elspeth Thompson was one of the last writers to interview Anita Roddick before the latter’s sudden and untimely death. From that interview,

“The most exciting time is now!” [Anita Roddick] declared, as we prepared to leave. And it was easy to believe that, of ourselves as well as her, as we sped down the drive. It is lined with chestnut trees – some ancient, some planted when Roddick moved in.

Typically impatient, she tried to stop the designer planting small trees: “I’ll be dead before they’re fully grown!” He persuaded her that they would grow quickly. What a great sadness that she will never see that happen.

I’m so very saddened to think of Elspeth Thompson’s death, especially in the spring, with her garden waking up and waiting for her.  In her first, and only, blog post at Gardening Against the Odds, she wrote on March 7,

Why do we garden? And why does the passion with which we garden so often seem to be in inverse proportion to the conditions in which we do it? This is a question on which I often ponder while weeding my seaside garden or cycling down London’s sooty, smelly Brixton Road. This last month, three instances of what I call “gardening against the odds” have made me ponder even more. Number one is a balcony in a concrete council block that I pass on my bike ride into the centre of town. Every summer, this tiny, unprepossessing space – it can’t be more than 6 x 4ft – and overlooking a busy road – is a riot of sweetcorn and sunflowers. I’ve never once seen the owner, but like to fantasise that it’s one of the many local residents who came over from the Caribbean in the 1950s and 60s, for whom beans and corn in the back yard mean independence. Anyway, it does cheer me up as as I ride past.

The second is a roadside verge down near the south coast, in the village where we spend most of our weekends. On a turning off the busy sea road into a modern housing estate, someone has taken the trouble to plant a narrow strip of “no-man’s land” with bearded iris, sisyrinchiums, white astrantia and low-growing grasses and campanulas. It’s such a beautiful piece of planting, I’m surprised it doesn’t cause traffic accidents. And it seems to me all the more beautiful for it being completely selfless – it reminds me of that old hippy tenet to “practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty”.

The last instance, and one it makes me sad to write about, concerns the father of a close friend of mine, who recently died from cancer. Some weeks ago, having just been told the worst by the hospital, he became agitated that he had not been able to order and sow seeds of the balsam flowers (Impatiens balsamina) that he and his wife have always loved to grow in their garden. You could call it displacement anxiety, but I could understand this gnawing concern about his favourite seeds, which were no longer offered by the mail order company that he habitually used. Sensing the comfort he would have in knowing the garden would be full of these sweet-smelling flowers all summer, even if he might not be there to see them. I helped to track down the seeds, he sowed them and a few weeks after his death his widow sent me a small tray of seedlings to plant in my own garden.

So what is this human urge to garden – to fill our living space, no matter how small – with living plants; to embark on this passionate collaboration with nature, however seemingly inauspicious the circumstances? After 20 years of travelling to write about gardens, it is by no means just the great and grand gardens that remain in my memory. If anything, I remember all the more vividly the hundreds of tiny patches – on strips of rooftops, sun-baked shingle, even the tops of narrow boats or travellers’ converted buses – all conceived and tended with the deepest love and care. I remember the nonogenarian who was still planning (and did, in fact finish) an ambitious water cascade in his garden in Oxfordshire; the front garden fashioned from blue and white painted breeze blocks and car-tyre containers in rural Barbados; the miniature Versailles behind a modern housing estate in Holland; the woman who raises homegrown vegetables, including 20 types of basil, on a tiny roof terrace in Chelsea.

It is in honour of these and all the many other “gardeners against the odds” that I am planting out John Bloom’s balsam in my garden this afternoon.

And that, years later, I am beginning this blog.

Would that she had been able to continue living, gardening, blogging.  I’ll end here with the poem Elspeth Thompson posted this past New Year’s Eve, “Twenty Blessings” by Scottish poet Thomas A. Clark,

Twenty Blessings
by Thomas A. Clark

May the best hour of the day be yours.
May luck go with you from hill to sea.
May you stand against the prevailing wind.
May no forest intimidate you.
May you look out from your own eyes.
May near and far attend you.
May you bathe your face in the sun’s rays.
May you have milk, cream, substance.
May your actions be effective.
May your thoughts be affective.
May you will both the wild and the mild.
May you sing the lark from the sky.
May you place yourself in circumstance.
May you be surrounded by goldfinches.
May you pause among alders.
May your desire be infinite.
May what you touch be touched.
May the company be less for your leaving.
May you walk alone beneath the stars.
May your embers still glow in the morning.

Blessings on Elspeth Thompson, her husband and young daughter.  May they always be surrounded by goldfinches.

National Poetry Month 2010

April, as always, brings May showers and…

National Poetry Month

brought to you as always by the Academy of American Poets.  You can request your own poster, designed by Canadian artist (and recent TEDTalk 2010 speaker) Marian Bantjes.

Here are some bits and pieces from some of my previous posts on National Poetry Month, with a few updates, and at the end links to various Farm School poetry posts (most of which you can find at the green “Poetry” tab at the very top of the blog on the right):

Poetry is like peace on earth, good will toward men.  It’s something we should read and enjoy year-round, not just in Spring and all, but for many of us, without the extra effort of a special day or month, it gets rather lost of the shuffle of daily living.

National Poetry Month is celebrated both in the US, under the auspices of the Academy of American Poets (whose page has oodles of links — some good ones are How to Read a Poem [often] and Tips for Booksellers), and in Canada, under the auspices of the League of Canadian Poets.

New for 2010:

The CD “Poetic License”, featuring 100 poems read by 100 performers, comes out April 2, in time for National Poetry Month.  It’s the first project from the new label GPR Records (Glen Roven, Peter Fitzgerald, and Richard Cohen), which will record and distribute Broadway, classical, spoken word, and children’s music.  Poems and performers on the new CD include Louis Zorich with Tennyson’s “Crossing the Bar”, Michael York with Kipling’s “Tommy”, and Barbara Feldon with Margaret Atwood’s “I Would Like to Watch You Sleep”.

My old blog friend Gregory K. at GottaBook celebrates the month with his second annual 30 Poets/30 Days celebration.  You can find last year’s celebration here.

This year’s Cybils children’s poetry book winner is Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Pamela Zagarensky; winner too of a 2010 Caldecott Honor award.  The list of all the poetry nominees is here, and Ms. Sidman has a free online reader’s guide to the book for students in grades 1-4 here.

Poet J. Patrick Lewis asked last month, “Can Children’s Poetry Matter?” in the journal Hunger Mountain. It’s aimed toward parents with children in school, but there’s still much that parents who home school can learn:

American children grow up in a country that poetry forgot—or that forgot poetry. The reasons are not far to seek. I have visited four hundred American elementary schools here and abroad as a latter day Pied Piper for verse, and I can confirm that too many teachers still swear allegiance to an old chestnut: the two worst words in the language when stuck side by side are “poetry” and “unit.” …

Children rarely gravitate to poetry on their own. It’s an acquired taste. They must be introduced to it early and often by their teachers and parents, the critical influences in their lives. And not in the way Billy Collins has memorably described — and vilified — by tying poems to chairs and beating them senseless until they finally give up their meaning. We do not look to poetry to find answers or absolutes. Nor do we investigate verse with calipers and a light meter, though at least one benighted school of thought has tried. …

But any genre buried in unread books is useless. Make poetry a habit with students. If children are reading poetry they find insipid or pointless, they naturally reject it for the playground. Let them choose their own verse favorites. Encourage volunteers to read them. Open a Poetry Café, no textbooks allowed. Ask students to ask their parents for their favorite poems. Then invite the parents to the classroom/café to read them.

Go to the source:  Seek out the poetry lovers among teachers and discover the strategies that have worked best for them.

Read the rest of Pat’s essay here, and then go back to the list of the Cybils children poetry book nominees, write them down or print them off and head to your favorite bookseller or library.

Crayola’s activity pages for National Poetry Month 2010 include coloring pages of Langston Hughes and Edgar Allan Poe and a Poem in My Pocket craft.

Poetry Friday is celebrated in the blogosphere all year, every year, and you can read more here and here.  For all of the Farm School Poetry Friday posts, just type “Poetry Friday” in the search box above.

Some of our family’s favorite poetry resources:

Poetry Speaks: Hear Great Poets Read Their Work, from Tennyson to Plath (book and three CDs), edited by Elise Paschen (2007 saw a new expanded edition)
Poetry Speaks to Children (book and CD), edited by Elise Paschen

A Child’s Introduction to Poetry: Listen While You Learn About the Magic Words That Have Moved Mountains, Won Battles, and Made Us Laugh and Cry (book and CD), edited by Michael Driscoll and illustrated by Meredith Hamilton

A Family of Poems: My Favorite Poetry for Children, edited by Caroline Kennedy and illustrated by Jon J. Muth
The Best-Loved Poems of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, edited by Caroline Kennedy

Poetry Out Loud, edited by Robert Alden Rubin

Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices by Paul Fleischman and illustrated by Eric Beddows

Favorite Poems Old and New, edited by Helen Ferris

The Caedmon Poetry Collection: A Century of Poets Reading Their Work (audio CD); ignore the publisher’s sloppy labeling job and just sit back and listen

Seven Ages: An Anthology of Poetry with Music (audio CD) by Naxos AudioBooks

Voice of the Poet: Robert Frost (audio cd), from Random House’s “Voice of the Poet” series
Voice of the Poet: Langston Hughes (audio CD), from Random House’s “Voice of the Poet” series. Search for “Voice of the Poet” at Powell’s, Amazon, B&N for the rest of the series.

Poetry for Young People series; includes volumes of poetry by Carl Sandburg, Walt Whitman, Shakespeare, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allan Poe, Coleridge, Longfellow, and more.  Very nicely done and perfect for strewing about the house.

Emily by Michael Bedard and illustrated by the marvelous Barbara Cooney
The Mouse of Amherst by Elizabeth Spires
“The Belle of Amherst” on DVD; Julie Harris in the one-woman stage production about the life and poetry of Emily Dickinson

“The Barretts of Wimpole Street” (1934) on video, starring Norma Shearer as Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Frederic March as Robert Browning
The Pied Piper of Hamelin by Robert Browning, illustrated by Kate Greenaway

You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You by John Ciardi and illustrated by the fabulous Edward Gorey
How Does a Poem Mean? by John Ciardi

Talking to the Sun: An Illustrated Anthology of Poems for Young People, edited by Kenneth Koch and Kate Farrell
Rose, Where Did You Get That Red?: Teaching Great Poetry to Children by Kenneth Koch
Wishes, Lies, and Dreams: Teaching Children to Write Poetry by Kenneth Koch
Making Your Own Days: The Pleasures of Reading and Writing Poetry by Kenneth Koch

Beyond Words: Writing Poems with Children by Elizabeth McKim and Judith Steinbergh

A Crow Doesn’t Need a Shadow: A Guide to Writing Poetry from Nature by Lorraine Ferra and Diane Boardman

Magnetic Poetry (something for everyone)

Poetry podcasts and other online audio poetry:

New from my old blog friend Sylvia Vardell at Poetry for Children: poetry podcasts

The Library of Congress’s guide to online poetry audio recordings

The Academy of American Poets “Poetcast”

The Poetry Foundation’s podcasts and audio selections

Cloudy Day Art podcasts

Houghton Mifflin’s “The Poetic Voice”

HarperAudio!, where you can hear Ossie Davis read Langston Hughes, Peter Ustinov read James Thurber, and Dylan Thomas read his own works

The UK Poetry Archive

BBC’s “Poetry Out Loud”

PennSound

Learn Out Loud’s “Intro to Poetry” podcast

The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer’s Poetry Series podcasts

Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac

First World War Digital Poetry Archive podcasts

Poetry at NPR

KCRW’s Bookworm podcast

*  *  *

Previous National Poetry Month celebrations and other Poetry Posts at Farm School (you can also click the green “Poetry” page link up above, second from the right over the carrot leaves):

National Poetry Month 2009: Essential Pleasures and Happy National Poetry month!

Something different, a list of poetry books and other poetic resources

How I got my kids to like poetry and broccoli

Poetry sings

More poetry aloud, with PennSound

Poetry Is Life, and some Great Books too

A monthlong celebration of delight and glory and oddity and light (National Poetry Month 2008)

Adding even more poetry to your life, just in time for National Poetry Month (NPM 2006)

“Feed the lambs”: On the difference between poems for children and children’s poetry, Part 1 and Part 2

Thoughts on The Barefoot Book of Classic Poems and classic poetry

An appreciation of John Updike and light verse

Langston Hughes, the “social poet”

Eugene Field, “the children’s poet”, and his plea for the classics, for ambitious boys and girls

Robert Browning, with another plea and an explanation of how children learn best

You can also use the “category” clicker on the sidebar at left to find all of the Farm School Poetry and Poetry Friday posts

There is still nothing like a Dame

From yesterday’s Guardian, “Still our sweetheart: Dame Vera Lynn tops charts”:

It was the year food rationing officially ended in the UK and Elvis began his music career that the Forces’ Sweetheart, Dame Vera Lynn, last topped the charts.

But 55 years later, at the age of 92, she has done it again, hitting No 1 in the album charts last night with her offering We’ll Meet Again: The Very Best of Vera Lynn and usurping Bob Dylan, 68, as the oldest artist to grace the top spot.

Her album fought off stiff competition from the Beatles, who occupied the 5th, 6th, 9th, 10th, 21st, 24th, 29th, 31st, 33rd, 37th and 38th spots after digitally remastered versions of the band’s albums went on sale along with an interactive video game that induced a brief return to “Beatlemania”.

Lynn … even beat Arctic Monkeys, whose lead singer, Alex Turner, was voted NME’s “coolest person on the planet in 2005 and who last month headlined the Reading and Leeds festival. Other contenders were Jamie T and the Kings of Leon, according to the Official Charts Company. Lynn said: “I am extremely surprised and delighted, and a big thank you to all my fans for putting me there.”

It is 70 years to the month since Lynn, then 22, first recorded We’ll Meet Again, which became a symbolic song of the second world war. She then went on to have the first record by a British performer to top the US charts with Auf Wiedersehen, Sweetheart in 1952.

A good friend of the Queen Mother, her last public performance was in Buckingham Palace in 1995 for a ceremony to mark the golden jubilee of VE Day. This year, Lynn was back in the news for suing the British National party for using White Cliffs of Dover on an anti-immigration album without her permission. Last night’s No 1 made her the only artist to feature in the UK single and album charts in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Today

On the radio: CBC Radio’s “Sunday Edition”, finally back from a long summer holiday, featured an interview with Winifred Gallagher, author of the new Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life, who writes, “Few things are as important to your quality of life as your choices about how to spend the precious resource of your free time.”  I was busy concentrating on the discussion and so didn’t write anything down, but afterwards found something similar from her New York Times interview in May,

 

“Multitasking is a myth,” Ms. Gallagher said. “You cannot do two things at once. The mechanism of attention is selection: it’s either this or it’s that.” She points to calculations that the typical person’s brain can process 173 billion bits of information over the course of a lifetime.

“People don’t understand that attention is a finite resource, like money,” she said. “Do you want to invest your cognitive cash on endless Twittering or Net surfing or couch potatoing? You’re constantly making choices, and your choices determine your experience, just as William James said.”

During her cancer treatment several years ago, Ms. Gallagher said, she managed to remain relatively cheerful by keeping in mind James’s mantra as well as a line from Milton: “The mind is its own place, and in itself/ Can make a heav’n of hell, a hell of heav’n.”

“When I woke up in the morning,” Ms. Gallagher said, “I’d ask myself: Do you want to lie here paying attention to the very good chance you’ll die and leave your children motherless, or do you want to get up and wash your face and pay attention to your work and your family and your friends? Hell or heaven — it’s your choice.”

On the streets of Canada:  the Terry Fox annual run.  Laura sang O Canada before the run, and she’s pleased and proud to have been asked.  Terry Fox was 18 in 1977 when he was diagnosed with bone cancer, and his right leg amputated six inches above the knee.  He decided to begin a “Marathon of Hope” across Canada to raise money for cancer research, one of the first such cross-country charity efforts.  He began his marathon in April 1980 in St. Johns, Newfoundland.  But after 143 days and 3,339 miles, of running, Terry Fox had to stop on September 1, at Thunder Bay, Ontario, because the cancer had reappeared in his lungs. Terry was forced to stop running outside of Thunder Bay, Ontario because cancer had appeared in his lungs. He died 10 months later at the age of 22. But the marathon continues.  Terry Fox would have been 50 this year, the same age as Tom.

 On the Plains of Abraham: This weekend marks the 250th anniversary of the Battle of Quebec in the Seven Years’ War (aka the French and Indian War).  The province weaseled out of a planned re-enactment of the Battle when separatists threatened to disrupt the proceedings, which I wrote about here back in March. Then the province weaseled out of the replacement activity, a weekend “Moulin a paroles”, a 24-hour readathon of 140 documents about the province’s history since 1759, because one of the documents was the FLQ’s 1970 manifesto. Much scope for all sides in rewriting history in Quebec and making a mockery of the provincial motto, Je me souviensFrom yesterday’s editorial in The Globe & Mail,

If it wasn’t for the controversy, tomorrow’s 250th anniversary of the Battle on the Plains of Abraham might go entirely unnoticed. There have been no stamps, no coins and almost no recognition from Ottawa that anything important might have happened on Sept. 13, 1759.

This official disregard for the Battle of Quebec, born of a fear of angering a few perpetually aggrieved separatists, is unfortunate. Not only does it represent a crucial moment in the modern history of Canada but, more importantly, it marks the birth of the great Canadian spirit of cultural accommodation.

From a purely historical perspective, it is impossible to ignore the significance of the battle. It settled, once and for all, the question of which crown would control Canada. Further, the cost of winning the war proved so onerous for the British treasury that it necessitated a host of new taxes on American colonies — setting in motion the events of 1776. The trajectories of both Canada and the United States were determined that day.

More than the historical fact of Canada was decided on the battlefield, however. Our character was defined there as well.

In draft articles of capitulation drawn up before the battle, the victor, Major-General James Wolfe, sketched a new model of British occupation. Despite his reputation as a brutal military leader, Maj.-Gen. Wolfe was prepared to preserve Quebec’s unique cultural character and population.

“There shall be no innovations in religious matters or any interruption of Divine Service, as it is now preach’d in the Colony,” he wrote. Such generosity had not been found at the fall of Louisbourg a year earlier, where the British razed the city and expelled the citizenry. Maj-Gen. Wolfe’s more liberal position has proven enduring. It defined the official surrender of Quebec City after his death, as well as the capitulation of Montreal a year later. It found its way into the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and, later, Canada’s Constitution.

This was not an arrangement inspired entirely by generosity. The British army hoped to avoid the hassle of becoming an occupying force. Co-operation was far more appealing than further confrontation. After the battle, French hospitals served the wounded from both sides, with bilingual British soldiers conscripted as orderlies.

Of course not every French habitant willingly accepted British rule, just as today many Quebec nationalists still cling to an emotional connection with the Conquest, in spite of more rational arguments.

Nonetheless, the events of Sept. 13, 1759 and its immediate aftermath marked the origin of minority rights and religious freedom in Canada, as well as the acknowledgment that governing this diverse country requires an appreciation for what may be possible, given the circumstances. It is certainly cause for commemoration.

You can help commemorate the battle by watching the 1957 National Film Board production, Wolfe and Montcalmhere; watching the CBC documentary Battle for a Continent; and by reading the current issue of the Canadian history magazine, The Walrus. In his introduction to this month’s issue, Editor John MacFarlane writes,

The history of Canada is, for many Canadians, terra incognita. In far too many of the country’s high schools, the subject is now, like music and drama, an “option.” This would explain the Angus Reid survey in which 61 percent of Canadians between the ages of 18 and 24 were unable to distinguish between Sir John A. Macdonald and Sir Laurence Olivier. And yet even these poor souls — young people who probably could not recall the date of Confederation (1867), the name of the last province admitted (Newfoundland), or the year we repatriated the Constitution from Great Britain (1982) — even they might know a thing or two about the Battle of the Plains of Abraham.

What took place on September 13, 1759, on a plateau overlooking the St. Lawrence River, upstream from Quebec City, is an iconic moment in the country’s historical narrative: literally the beginning of the story of Canada. Britain and France were vying for North America; Wolfe attacked Montcalm; Wolfe prevailed, although both generals were mortally wounded; the British went on to capture Montreal; New France was dead. But there is so much more. I was never taught, for instance, that Montcalm, badly outnumbered, joined the battle without waiting for reinforcements. Or that Wolfe, who had already led the British to a great victory at Louisbourg, had numerous detractors, including the Duke of Newcastle, who told King George II that Wolfe was mad. The king is said to have responded, “Mad, is he? Then I hope he will bite some of my other generals.”

The battle’s rich narrative detail was not lost on Helen Humphreys as she set out to reimagine it on this its 250th anniversary (“On the Plains of Abraham,1759,” page 22). … She is a brilliant writer — The New Yorker has called her work lyrical — and an obvious choice for this assignment. While she was born in England, where schoolchildren are more familiar with the Battle of Agincourt than the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, she came to Canada when she was three and has emerged as one of the country’s foremost creators of historical fiction. …

We asked Humphreys to write the story after learning that the National Battlefields Commission, a federal agency, had cancelled plans to mark the anniversary with a re-enactment. Quebec sovereignists had threatened to disrupt the event, calling it “federalist propaganda.” The commission’s capitulation illustrates what is wrong with the teaching of history in Canada — namely, that we would rather not teach it if there is a chance that doing so might cause offence. This, as the historian Jack Granatstein laments, diminishes us as a nation. You are entitled to your own opinions but not your own facts. The outcome of the battle on the Plains of Abraham 250 years ago is a matter of historical record. What is up for debate is its meaning.

Read the rest of Mr. MacFarlane’s introduction here, and read Helen Humphreys‘ story of the battle here.  You can also read the aforementioned Jack Granatstein on “How We Teach History Matters Most”. For more on the subject, get his book, Who Killed Canadian History?

Over the past several decades, as we and then our children have been steeped in self-esteem — “good for you!” — and cocooned in bubble wrap, we have exchanged common sense and personal responsibility for entitlement and litigiousness. We are quick to condemn and take offense, confuse privileges with rights, and have abandoned civilized debate. 

So I’m not particularly surprised to learn that there are rafts of Americans who do not want their children, anyone’s children, to hear the following message:

 But at the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world -–and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities. Unless you show up to those schools; pay attention to those teachers; listen to your parents, grandparents and other adults; and put in the hard work it takes to succeed.  …

I know that sometimes, you get the sense from TV that you can be rich and successful without any hard work — that your ticket to success is through rapping or basketball or being a reality TV star, when chances are, you’re not going to be any of those things. 

But the truth is, being successful is hard. You won’t love every subject you study. You won’t click with every teacher. Not every homework assignment will seem completely relevant to your life right this minute. And you won’t necessarily succeed at everything the first time you try. …
No one’s born being good at things, you become good at things through hard work. You’re not a varsity athlete the first time you play a new sport. You don’t hit every note the first time you sing a song. You’ve got to practice. It’s the same with your schoolwork. You might have to do a math problem a few times before you get it right, or read something a few times before you understand it, or do a few drafts of a paper before it’s good enough to hand in. 
It’s heresy, I tell you. Which isn’t nearly as exciting nowadays as crying “Socialism!” in a crowded theater.
Speaking of which, a very happy one year anniversary to President Bush’s decision to take over Fannie Fae and Freddie Mac. 

 

 

 

“Sheer bloody-mindedness”

From today’s Telegraph:

Seventy years ago they rode in silence, travelling on trains from Prague not knowing if they would ever see their parents and siblings again.

None of them did.

But by virtue of the foresight, humanity and sheer bloody-mindedness of a young British stockbroking clerk called Nicholas Winton, 669 Jewish children were saved from the clutches of the Nazis.

On Friday, 22 of them were reunited with their 100-year-old saviour – now Sir Nicholas –who has come to be known as the ‘British Schindler’.

A steam engine specially requisitioned to re-enact the last stage of their journey pulled into the very same platform at Liverpool Station in London, where as virtual orphans they had disembarked in 1939.

The emotional ceremony marked what is likely to be the final chapter in the odyssey begun by Sir Nicholas as a 29-year-old.

He was packing to go skiing just before Christmas in 1938 when he received a call from a friend working in a refugee camp in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia.

“Cancel your holiday,” said the friend, Martin Blake. “I need you in Prague. Don’t bring your skis.” …

Sir Nicholas, who was knighted in 2002, stepped off the Peppercorn A1 Pacific class steam engine on Friday morning to loud applause from those he had saved, now grey-haired, and their families.

The train had travelled from Harwich in Essex, containing 22 evacuees about 150 other passengers, on the last leg of the 800 mile journey from Prague.

Each survivor was given a moment to talk to Sir Nicholas.

Speaking to the crowd, Sir Nicholas, from Maidenhead, Berks, joked: “This is much harder work that it was 70 years ago.

Read the rest, and don’t miss the ending, here.

*  *  *

“The Power of Good” documentary, and its website

Sir Nicholas interviewed on Radio Praha

Sir Nicholas interviewed by Sir David

Thomas Berry, 1914-2009: Losing, and finding, the universe

Thomas Berry, the writer and environmentalist who considered himself a “geologian” –  “a historian of the Earth and its evolutionary processes” — died earlier this week at the age of 94.

There are biographies of Dr. Berry at his foundation’s website, here and here.  There are obituaries in The New York Times and in the National Catholic Reporter, which noted,

Fr. Thomas Berry, described in Newsweek magazine in 1989 as “the most provocative figure among the new breed of eco-theologians,” was among the first to say the earth crisis is fundamentally a spiritual crisis. His diagnosis of the negative effects of our religious views on our treatment of the planet rang true for many who were willing and able to work for a cure. Many created their own earth ministries, inspired by the work and life of Fr. Thomas Berry.

An excerpt from Dr. Berry’s book The Great Work: Our Way into the Future (emphases mine):

I was a young person then, some twelve years old. My family was moving from a more settled part of a Southern town out to the edge of town where the new house was still being built. The house, not yet finished, was situated on a slight incline. Down below was a small creek and there across the creek was a meadow. It was an early afternoon in May when I first looked down over the scene and saw the meadow. The field was covered with lilies rising above the thick grass. A magic moment, this experience gave to my life something, I know not what, that seems to explain my life at a more profound level than almost any other experience I can remember.

It was not only the lilies. It was the singing of the crickets and the woodlands in the distance and the clouds in an otherwise clear sky. It was not something conscious that happened just then. I went on about my life as any young person might do. Perhaps it was not simply this moment that made such a deep impression upon me. Perhaps it was a sensitivity that was developed throughout my childhood. Yet, as the years pass, this moment returns to me, and whenever I think about my basic life attitude and the whole trend of my mind and the causes that I have given my efforts to, I seem to come back to this moment and the impact it has had on my feeling for what is real and worthwhile in life. …

It seems to me we all had such experiences before we entered into an industrial way of life. The universe as manifestation of some primordial grandeur was recognized as the ultimate referent in any human understanding of the wonderful yet fearsome world about us. Every being achieved its full identity by its alignment with the universe itself. With indigenous peoples of the North American continent every formal activity was first situated in relation to the six directions of the universe: the four cardinal directions combined with the heavens above and Earth below. Only thus could any human activity be fully validated.

The universe was the world of meaning in these earlier times, the basic referent in social order, in economic survival, in the healing of illness. In that wide ambiance the muses dwelled whence came the inspiration of poetry and art and music. The drum, heartbeat of the universe itself, established the rhythm of dance whereby humans entered into the very movement of the natural world. The numinous dimension of the universe impressed itself upon the mind through the vastness of the heavens and the power revealed in thunder and lightning, as well as through springtime renewal of life after the desolation of winter. Then, too, the general helplessness of the human before all the threats to survival revealed the intimate dependence of the human on the integral functioning of things. That the human had such intimate rapport with the surrounding universe was possible only because the universe itself had a prior intimate rapport with the human.

This experience we observe even now in the indigenous peoples of the world. They live in a universe, in a cosmological order, whereas we, the peoples of the industrial world, no longer live in a universe. We live in a political world, a nation, a business world, an economic order, a cultural tradition, in Disneyworld. We live in cities, in a world of concrete and steel, of wheels and wires, a world of business, of work. We no longer see the stars at night or the planets or the moon. Even in the day we do not experience the sun in any immediate or meaningful manner. Summer and winter are the same inside the mall. Ours is a world of highways, parking lots, shopping centers. We read books written with a strangely contrived alphabet. We no longer read the book of the universe.

Nor do we coordinate our world of human meaning with the meaning of our surroundings. We have disengaged from that profound interaction with our environment inherent in our very nature. Our children do not learn how to read the Great Book of Nature or how to interact creatively with the seasonal transformations of the planet. They seldom learn where their water comes from or where it goes. We no longer coordinate our human celebration with the great liturgy of the heavens.

We have indeed become strange beings so completely are we at odds with the planet that brought us into being. We dedicate enormous talent and knowledge and research to developing a human order disengaged from and even predatory on the very sources whence we came and upon which we depend at every moment of our existence. We initiate our children into an economic order based on exploitation of the natural life systems of the planet. To achieve this perspective we must first make them autistic in their relation with the natural world about them. This disconnection occurs quite simply since we ourselves have become insensitive toward the natural world and do not realize just what we are doing. Yet, if we observe our children closely in their early years and see how they are instinctively attracted to the experiences of the natural world about them, we will see how disorientated they become in the mechanistic and even toxic environment that we provide for them.

To recover an integral relation with the universe, planet Earth, and North America needs to be a primary concern for the peoples of this continent. While a new alignment of our government and all our institutions and professions with the continent itself in its deep structure and functioning cannot be achieved immediately, a beginning can be made throughout our educational programs. Especially in the earlier grades of elementary school new developments are possible. Such was the thought of Maria Montessori in the third decade of this century.

In speaking about the education of the six-year-old child, Maria notes in her book To Educate the Human Potential that only when the child is able to identify its own center with the center of the universe does education really begin. For the universe, she says, “is an imposing reality.” It is “an answer to all questions.” “We shall walk together on this path of life, for all things are part of the universe, and are connected with each other to form one whole unity.” This it is that enables “the mind of the child to become centered, to stop wandering in an aimless quest for knowledge.” Then the writer mentions how this experience of the universe creates in the child admiration and wonder and enables the child to unify its thinking. In this manner the child learns how all things are related and how the relationship of things to each other is so close that “No matter what we touch, an atom or a cell, we cannot explain it without knowledge of the wide universe.”

The difficulty is that with the rise of the modern sciences we began to think of the universe as a collection of objects rather than a communion of subjects. We frequently identify the loss of the interior spirit-world of the human mind and emotions with the rise of modern mechanistic sciences. The more significant thing, however, is that we have lost the universe itself. We achieved extensive control over the mechanistic and even the biological functioning of the natural world, but this control itself has produced deadly consequences. We have not only controlled the planet in much of its basic functioning; we have, to an extensive degree, extinguished the life systems themselves. We have silenced so many of those wonderful voices of the universe that once spoke to us of the grand mysteries of existence.

We no longer hear the voices of the rivers or the mountains, or the voices of the sea. The trees and meadows are no longer intimate modes of spirit presence. Everything about us has become an “it” rather than a “thou.” We continue to make music, write poetry, and do our painting and sculpture and architecture, but these activities easily become an aesthetic expression simply of the human and in time lose the intimacy and radiance and awesome qualities of the universe itself. We have, in the accepted universe of these times, little capacity for participating in mysteries celebrated in the earlier literary and artistic and religious modes of expression. For we could no longer live in the universe in which these were written. We could only look on, as it were.

Read the rest here.

A partial Berry bibliography:

The Great Work: Our Way into the Future

The Dream of the Earth

Evening Thoughts: Reflecting on Earth as Sacred Community

The Universe Story: From the Primordial Flaring Forth to the Ecozoic Era, A Celebration of the Unfolding of the Cosmos, with physicist and mathematical cosmologist Brian Swimme

The Sacred Universe: Earth, Spirituality, and Religion in the Twenty-first Century by Thomas Berry, edited and with a foreword by Mary Evelyn Tucker (Columbia University Press, August 2009)

Some Berry links:

An 2006 interview with Father Berry: “I did walk in the woods a great deal when I was a child. Already, the woods and nature were the most important things in my life. By the time I was ten or eleven years old, I had a feeling that something was wrong. I didn’t, of course, have the least idea of what this was all about, but I grew up with the feeling that I couldn’t trust the developing industrial world in which I was living.”

A 2002 interview originally published in The Sun Magazine: “Much of the Bible is concerned with how humans should relate to God, and to one another. What’s gotten lost is our intimate relationship with the natural world. Our theology is highly developed, and our anthropology — our study of each other — is highly developed, but our so-called life sciences are still trying to figure out how nature works in order to control it.”

“I’ve got a song to sing, all over this land”

Happy Birthday, Pete Seeger.

If you’re in New York City today, you can swing by Madison Square Garden and help celebrate his 90th birthday.

Pete Seeger has been presence in my life since childhood with his records, and I still recall one marvelous autumn day when we got to meet him and listen to him sing at South Street Seaport (I think I remember a pier covered with pumpkins, and while I don’t remember the sloop Clearwater think it must have been there as well), well before it was fixed up and turned into a “destination”. We were also fortunate to live down the street from Pete Seeger’s old friend, Brother Kirk (the Rev. Frederick Douglass Kirkpatrick, who died in 1987), who would sit on the sidewalk with his guitar and give impromptu sidewalk concerts. Together the friends collaborated on a 1974 children’s album, “Pete Seeger & Brother Kirk Visit Sesame Street”.

As fascinating as Pete Seeger’s life story and career is his family.  He is the son the musicologist and composer of Charles Seeger and violinist Constance Edson; his stepmother was the noted composer Ruth Crawford Seeger;  his uncle Alan Seeger was the celebrated poet killed in World War I; his eldest brother Charles was a pioneering radio astronomer; his brother John, a longtime teacher at New York’s Dalton School also founded Camp Killoleet in the Adirondacks; his half-sister is the singer Peggy Seeger; his half-brother is singer Mike Seeger.

No childhood should be complete without Pete Seeger — for the music he has sung and written, his family’s place in the history of American music, for his sense of history, and his environmental and political activism.  You can listen to his music and listen to songs about America as it was, and America — and the world –  as it should be. Here’s a list, not nearly complete or comprehensive, of some of our favorite Pete Seeger records, books, and more.

Music especially for children:

“Abiyoyo and Other Story Songs for Children”

“American Folk, Game and Activity Songs”

“Birds, Beasts, Bugs and Fishes (Little and Big)”

“Folk Songs for Young People”

“Song and Play Time”

Pete Seeger’s “Children’s Concert at Town Hall”

Music for the entire family:

“American Favorite Ballads”, on five CDs

“Frontier Ballads”

“Headlines and Footnotes: A Collection of Topical Songs”

“If I Had a Hammer: Songs of Hope and Struggle”

“Love Songs for Friends and Foes”

“Pete Seeger Sings Leadbelly”

“Sing Out!: Hootenanny with Pete Seeger and the Hooteneers”

“Traditional Christmas Carols”

Pete Seeger/The Weavers 3 CD box set

“Pete Seeger at 89″

A Pete Seeger discography at Smithsonian Folkways.  By the way, SF has a new publication, “Folkways Magazine”, just debuted with the Spring 2009 issue, and the main article is “Pete Seeger: Standing Tall”

A Pete Seeger discography and biography at Appleseed Records

Books (many of which are children’s picture books based on his songs):

Abiyoyo with accompanying CD; and Abiyoyo Returns

Turn! Turn! Turn! with accompanying CD

One Grain of Sand: A Lullaby

Where Have All the Flowers Gone?: A Musical Autobiography

Pete Seeger’s Storytelling Book

His memoirs, Where Have All the Flowers Gone: A Singer’s Stories, Songs, Seeds, Robberies

The biography How Can I Keep from Singing?: The Ballad of Pete Seeger by David King Dunaway, the companion volume to the radio series produced by Dunaway (see below)

Audio and Video:

PBS’s American Masters episode: “Pete Seeger: The Power of Song”; now available on DVD

How Can I Keep from Singing?, the three-part radio series produced by David King Dunaway

“To Hear Your Banjo Play” (1947)

“How to Play the 5-String Banjo” DVD, Davy’s favorite; there’s also an accompanying book (not on film, but also instructive and instructional is Pete Seeger’s “The Folksinger’s Guitar Guide”)

At NPR; and today’s NPR appreciation, “Pete Seeger At 90″ by Lynn Neary and Tom Cole.  At the latter link, you’ll find a little orange box on the left with The Pete Seeger Mix, a “five-hour mix of Pete Seeger classics and covers” put together by NPR Music partner Folk Alley

Pete Seeger at the pre-inaugural concert for Barack Obama

Websites:

Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress, where Pete Seeger worked as an assistant in 1940

Clearwater, the organization Pete Seeger established in 1969 to preserve and protect the Hudson River

Bits and bobs:

Studs Terkel’s 2005 appreciation, in The Nation, of Pete Seeger’s 86th birthday

The New Yorker‘s 2006 profile, “The Protest Singer”, by Alec Wilkinson, recently released in hardcover

Pete Seeger’s biography at the Kennedy Center, where he was a Kennedy Center honor recipient in 1994

A telescope in every pot

New to me today, via CBC Radio’s “Quirks and Quarks” science show, hosted by Bob McDonald:

ascope

The Galileoscope, an International Year of Astronomy 2009 Cornerstone Project, US $15 each plus shipping to just about anywhere in the world.

You can also win a free Galileoscope in the Quirks and Quarks astronomical limerick contest, but I figured what the heck and just ordered one for each child.

Happy National Poetry month!

a30days

Begin your month of poetry over at GottaBook with Gregory K. and his 30 Poets / 30 Days celebration.  Today’s poet is America’s first children’s laureate Jack Prelutsky with “A Little Poem For Poetry Month“.

Today is also the official kick-off of poet Robert Pinsky’s Poems Out Loud blog.  Unofficially, Mr. Pinsky’s been blogging since Monday.

Updated to add: Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect reminded me in the comments below that this month she’ll have at least one interview with a poet everyday.  The celebration begins today with Kenn Nesbitt; you can find the entire schedule here.

……….

Like Mr. Pinsky, our family couldn’t wait until today to start celebrating.  Our festivities began on Monday with the start of the local speech arts/music festival, with Davy, Daniel, and Laura each reciting two poems (Laura also gave her 4H speech and did a sacred reading of a traditional Mohawk poem).  The kids each won their classes, and Davy and Laura took the home awards for their categories.  They all also did very well in the vocal sections (traditional folk songs and musical theater), winning three awards.  Very, very well done all round and Tom and I are proud; Laura has her last performance this afternoon, in piano.  I was especially happy not with the awards but to see how much the kids had learned.  Laura had had a fairly dismal time with her speech in February at 4H public speaking day, because she was sick with the flu; she had just about given up on her speech as any good or her ability to deliver it, when her performance on Monday and the adjudicator’s comments restored Laura’s confidence.  Davy’s voice teacher got the last two pages of his music out of order while accompanying him on the piano, and Davy stayed calm and just waited while the teacher tinkled away, starting to sing again when the music finally sounded familiar. Daniel didn’t let the fact that he was in two tough categories (against his older sister in one) stop him from doing his best. We’re proud and pleased.

In other late March, early April news, the snow is still here but it is melting and the days are above freezing.  The geese and the crows are coming back, and the gophers are coming out. The organic farming recertification paperwork pile has been filled out and returned. We have seven sweet calves, with 20 more to come. Our first cow to calve should have been the last, with a premature, stillborn calf (she may have slipped on the ice and fallen, or another cow did so and fell against her); so at the kids’ request, we’ve started milking her.  Yesterday Laura and I made butter and put a pot of milk in the old O’Keefe & Merritt gas oven to make cottage cheese; the pilot light keeps the oven at just the right temperature, just warm enough to start the clabbering.

Unlike Gregory K. and Robert Pinsky, I can’t promise a blog post or a poem, even an old one, for every day of the month, but I’ll post as many poems this month as I can.  Here’s my April Fool’s Day offering, by Ian Serraillier.  As I wrote two years ago with another of his poems, Ian Serraillier (1912-1994) was an English author and poet who wrote often for children. His works are much beloved by many North American home schooling families, more for his retellings of classic tales and legends than for his adventure stories and poetry; some of our favorites are Escape from WarsawBeowulf the Warrior, and The Road to Canterbury.  And so, a fractured fairy tale for a foolish day,

After Ever Happily
(or, The Princess and the Woodcutter)

by Ian Serraillier

And they both lived happily ever after…
The wedding was held in the palace. Laughter
rang to the roof as a loosened rafter
Crashed down and squashed the chamberlain flat–
And how the wedding guests laughed at that!
“You with your horny indelicate hands,
Who drop your haitches and call them ‘ands,
Who cannot afford to buy her a dress,
How dare you presume to pinch our princess–
Miserable woodcutter, uncombed, unwashed!”
Were the chamberlains last words (before he was squashed).
“Take her”, said the Queen, who had a soft spot
For wood cutters. “He’s strong and he’s handsome. Why not?”
“What rot”, said the King, but he dare not object;
The Queen wore the trousers — that’s as you’d expect.
Said the chamberlain, usually meek and inscrutable,
“A princess and a woodcutter? The match is unsuitable.”
Her dog barked its welcome again and again,
As they splashed to the palace through puddles of rain.
And the princess sighed, “Till the end of my life!”
“Darling”, said the woodcutter, “Will you be my wife?”
He knew all his days he could love no other
So he nursed her to health with some help from his mother,
And lifted her horribly hurt, from her tumble.
A woodcutter, watching saw the horse stumble.
As she rode through the woods, a princess in her prime
On a dapple-grey horse…Now, to finish my rhyme,
I’ll start it properly: Once upon a time –

………….

Farm School’s recent round-up of poetry resources, National Poetry Month 2009: Essential Pleasures

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