• 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, home schooling, and building our own house. I'm nowhere near as regular a blogger as I used to be.

    The kids are 18/Grade 12, 16/Grade 11, and 14/Grade 10.

    Contact me at becky(dot)farmschool(at)gmail(dot)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"

    "‘Never look at an ugly thing twice. It is fatally easy to get accustomed to corrupting influences."
    English architect CFA Voysey (1857-1941)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "If we bring a little joy into your humdrum lives, we feel all our hard work ain't been in vain for nothin'."
    Jean Hagen as "Lina Lamont" in "Singin' in the Rain" (1952)
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Poetry Friday III, or Poetry Saturday I

I had an email from my new friend, poet J. Patrick Lewis asking, with even more kind ruffles and flourishes, if I’d post the following poem he wrote in time for tomorrow, Saturday, April 4, School Librarian Day.  I said certainly, after stopping to wonder which comedian gave the poor school librarians a Saturday instead of a school day, where they could be properly fêted and appreciated.  I have a keen appreciation for school librarians, especially dear old Mrs. Adams and Mrs. Van Zandt in high school, because I spent so much of my free time between classes in the library.  And I have to admit to feeling lucky that my days were the pre-electronic ones.

Whether your child’s school librarian is Mrs. Adams, Mrs. Van Zandt, one of the wonderful blogging school librarians in the kidlitosphere, or you as the home educating parent, you couldn’t ask for finer thanks come Monday morning than a copy of Pat’s poem and this nifty certificate, colored by an appreciative student.

So, without further ado, here is

The School Librarian
by J. Patrick Lewis

A sign hangs on her door,
BOOKLYN, NEW YORK                   [sic]
WE OPEN UP A MIND
YOU’LL NEVER CLOSE!
When you walk in, the whole library knows—
A welcome bell hums like a tuning fork.
She’ll tell you what to read and what to skip.
You name a book, she heads right to the shelf.
The rumor is she’s read them all herself.
No one has ever run a tighter ship.
These days a job like hers is electronic
Because computers answer every need.
Librarians belong to a new breed.
But here at Booklyn, isn’t it ironic?
She still treats books like they are dreams come true.
And you had better treat them that way, too.

Poetry Friday II: More on the case for memorizing

It never fails.  Just as I press “publish” and even add a few quick edits to my Poetry Friday post this morning, I stumble across something new on the same subject.  I was delighted to see in today’s sneak peak of The New York Times Sunday Book Review Jim Holt’s essay on the case for memorizing poetry.  Here’s a bit,

A few years ago, I started learning poetry by heart on a daily basis. I’ve now memorized about a hundred poems, some of them quite long — more than 2,000 lines in all, not including limericks and Bob Dylan lyrics. I recite them to myself while jogging along the Hudson River, quite loudly if no other joggers are within earshot. I do the same, but more quietly, while walking around Manhattan on errands — just another guy on an invisible cellphone.

This may seem eccentric, not to say masochistic. If you are a baby boomer like me (or older), your high school English teacher probably forced you to learn some poetry by heart for class recitation. How we howled in protest! What was the point of memorizing Shakespeare’s “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” sonnet or — in Middle English, no less! — the first 18 lines of “The Canterbury Tales”? Our teacher could never answer this question to our satisfaction; the best she could do was some drivel about our feeling “culturally confident.” But memorize them we did, in big painful chunks, by rote repetition. (There is torture lurking in the very word “rote,” which is conjectured to come from the Latin rota, meaning “wheel.”) …

The process of memorizing a poem is fairly mechanical at first. You cling to the meter and rhyme scheme (if there is one), declaiming the lines in a sort of sing-songy way without worrying too much about what they mean. But then something organic starts to happen. Mere memorization gives way to performance. You begin to feel the tension between the abstract meter of the poem — the “duh DA duh DA duh DA duh DA duh DA” of iambic pentameter, say — and the rhythms arising from the actual sense of the words. (Part of the genius of Yeats or Pope is the way they intensify meaning by bucking against the meter.) It’s a physical feeling, and it’s a deeply pleasurable one. You can get something like it by reading the poem out loud off the page, but the sensation is far more powerful when the words come from within. (The act of reading tends to spoil physical pleasure.) It’s the difference between sight-reading a Beethoven piano sonata and playing it from memory — doing the latter, you somehow feel you come closer to channeling the composer’s emotions. And with poetry you don’t need a piano.

That’s my case for learning poetry by heart. It’s all about pleasure. And it’s a cheap pleasure. Between the covers of any decent anthology you have an entire sea to swim in. If you don’t have one left over from your college days, any good bookstore, new or used, will offer an embarrassment of choices for a few bucks — Oxford, Penguin, Norton, etc. Or you might try Essential Pleasures: A New Anthology of Poems to Read Aloud, edited by the former United States poet laureate Robert Pinsky.

Read the rest here.

Poetry Friday: Festival entries

Happy first Poetry Friday of National Poetry Month 2009!

To celebrate the occasion, and also how well the kids did this week at the Music/Speech Arts festival, I have a selection of the poems they recited.  Davy (age eight) recited “Mother Doesn’t Want a Dog” and “The Brook in February” by Canadian poet Charles G.D. Roberts (one of his sister’s selections when she was eight); Daniel (almost 10) recited “Every Time I Climb a Tree” by one of his favorite poets, David McCord, and also “A Mosquito in the Cabin” by Canadian poet Myra Stilborn; and Laura (age 11-1/2) recited “Jim, Who Ran Away from His Nurse and Was Eaten by a Lion”, one of Hilaire Belloc’s cautionary tales as well as Lewis Carroll’s “Father William”.

If you have a local music, speech arts, or performing arts festival in your town or city, or somewhere nearby, I strongly suggest having your children enter. Not only is learning poetry by heart worthwhile — it’s good exercise for the memory muscle and gives you a good way of entertaining friends and family (Tom’s great uncle, now 92, can still wow a crowd with his dramatic renditions of “Casey at the Bat” and other classics) — but reciting poetry, and listening to it, is one of the best ways to appreciate what really is a spoken art.  Much like Shakespeare’s words, poetry is best off the printed page.  If you need more convincing, read this or go to the post directly above this one.  And most festivals are teaching festivals with adjudicators who are professionals — speech teachers, singers, and such — offering useful critiques to improve understanding and recitations.  Plus it’s a bang-up way to spend a morning or an afternoon.  I still remember the thrill of listening to a friend’s 17-year-old daughter’s stirring presentation of “The Highwayman” .

Mother Doesn’t Want a Dog
by Judith Viorst (b. 1931)

Mother doesn’t want a dog.
Mother says they smell,
And never sit when you say sit,
Or even when you yell.
And when you come home late at night
And there is ice and snow,
You have to go back out because
The dumb dog has to go.

Mother doesn’t want a dog.
Mother says they shed,
And always let the strangers in
And bark at friends instead,
And do disgraceful things on rugs,
And track mud on the floor,
And flop upon your bed at night
And snore their doggy snore.

Mother doesn’t want a dog.
She’s making a mistake.
Because, more than a dog, I think
She will not want this snake.

A Mosquito in the Cabin
by Myra Stilborn (b. 1916)

Although you bash her,
swat her, smash her,
and go to bed victorious,
happy and glorious
she will come winging,
zooming and zinging,
wickedly singing
over your bed.
You slap the air
but she’s in your hair
cackling with laughter.
You smack your head,
but she isn’t dead —
she’s on the rafter.
She’s out for blood —
yours, my friend,
and she will get it, in the end.
She brings it first to boiling point,
then lets it steam.
With a fee, fi, fo and contented fum
she sips it
while you dream.

Jim, Who Ran Away from His Nurse and Was Eaten by a Lion
by Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953)

There was a Boy whose name was Jim;
His Friends were very good to him.
They gave him Tea, and Cakes, and Jam,
And slices of delicious Ham,
And Chocolate with pink inside
And little Tricycles to ride,
And read him Stories through and through,
And even took him to the Zoo —
But there it was the dreadful Fate
Befell him, which I now relate.

You know — or at least you ought to know,
For I have often told you so —
That Children never are allowed
To leave their Nurses in a Crowd;
Now this was Jim’s especial Foible,
He ran away when he was able,
And on this inauspicious day
He slipped his hand and ran away!

He hadn’t gone a yard when — Bang!
With open Jaws, a lion sprang,
And hungrily began to eat
The Boy: beginning at his feet.

Now, just imagine how it feels
When first your toes and then your heels,
And then by gradual degrees,
Your shins and ankles, calves and knees,
Are slowly eaten, bit by bit.

No wonder Jim detested it!
No wonder that he shouted “Hi!”
The Honest Keeper heard his cry,
Though very fat he almost ran
To help the little gentleman.
“Ponto!” he ordered as he came
(For Ponto was the Lion’s name),
“Ponto!” he cried, with angry Frown,
“Let go, Sir! Down, Sir! Put it down!”
The Lion made a sudden stop,
He let the Dainty Morsel drop,
And slunk reluctant to his Cage,
Snarling with Disappointed Rage.
But when he bent him over Jim,
The Honest Keeper’s Eyes were dim.
The Lion having reached his Head,
The Miserable Boy was dead!

When Nurse informed his Parents, they
Were more Concerned than I can say: —
His Mother, as She dried her eyes,
Said, “Well — it gives me no surprise,
He would not do as he was told!”
His Father, who was self-controlled,
Bade all the children round attend
To James’s miserable end,
And always keep a-hold of Nurse
For fear of finding something worse.

*  *  *  *

Today’s Poetry Friday round-up is hosted by children’s librarian Amy Planchak Graves at ayuddah.net. Thank you, Amy!

By the way, don’t miss Sherry’s National Poetry Month round-up at her blog Semicolon.

National Poetry Month 2009: Essential Pleasures

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, where this year’s theme is “Poetry Planet”.

Of course, we wouldn’t need a special month if we lived on a Poetry Planet…

And if we did live on a Poetry Planet, I have no doubt I’d find there my old Poetry Friday and Fib Friend, Gregory K. who blogs at GottaBook and who is planning to announce, on Monday March 23, his monthlong Poetry Party, with new poetry every day of the month and much much more.  For all sorts of wonderful original poetry by Greg, from his poems to his fibs to his very funny Oddaptations, check his sidebar.  UPDATED March 23 to add: Greg’s monthlong poetry party is “30 Poets / 30 Days”, where he’ll be posting a “previously unpublished poem by a different poem” for each day of April.  Check his blog, GottaBook, for details and the list of celebrated contemporary children’s poets.

Greg also has an update on what else is going on in the Kidlitosphere (which now has its own planet, er, website) to celebrate National Poetry Month:

* Sylvia Vardell at her Poetry For Children blog, which has a wealth of information year-round,will be reviewing a new children’s poetry each day for the entire month of April

* Elaine Magliaro at Wild Rose Reader has some plans up her sleeve for the month too (she’ll be offering some lovely books as prizes), as well as a new blog of political poetry and a long, rich post from early March featuring her updated Resources for National Poetry Month (including some tidbits for teachers and home schoolers).

* Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect is featuring interviews with three dozen poets for her series, Poetry Makers.

* Anastasia Suen at the Pencil Talk blog will celebrate by the month with school poems written by children, posting one every day.

Former US Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky will spend the month of April blogging about Poems Out Loud.  You can sign up to join him.  As Poet Laureate, Mr. Pinsky created the Favorite Poem Project to encourage Americans to read their favorite verses aloud. April will see the publication of Essential Pleasures: A New Anthology of Poems to Read Aloud, a book and CD set edited by Mr. Pinsky. Also good to read: the 2007 Mother Jones article on Robert Pinsky the poetry popularizer; and Mr. Pinsky himself, “In Praise of Difficult Poetry”, and on “Poetry and American Memory”.

Poetry podcasts and other online audio poetry:

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

Some wonderful new, newish and newer poetry books to share with your children:

The Cuckoo’s Haiku: and Other Birding Poems by Michael J. Rosen, illustrated by Stan Fellows (Candlewick, March 2009)

A Foot in the Mouth: Poems to Speak, Sing and Shout, compiled by Paul B. Janeczko and illustrated by Chris Raschka (Candlewick, March 2009), from the same pair who brought us A Kick in the Head: An Everyday Guide to Poetic Forms in 2005.  And really, what better way to celebrate poetry every day of the year, not just in April, than to speak, sing, and shout poetry aloud?

A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams by Jen Bryant, illustrated by Melissa Sweet.   A Caldecott Honor picture book biography of the American poet and physician (1883-1963) who wrote “A Red Wheelbarrow” and “This Is Just to Say”

The Visions in Poetry series from Canadian publisher Kids Can Press, where classic poems are combined with new Canadian artists, sometimes in startling ways, especially on the cover of The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes, illustrated by Murray Kimber.  Other volumes include Casey at the Bat by Ernest L. Thayer, illustrated by Joe Morse; Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll, illustrated by Stéphane Jorisch; The Lady of Shalott by Tennyson, illustrated by Geneviève Côté; My Letter to the World and Other Poems by Emily Dickinson, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault; Edward Lear’s The Owl and the Pussycat, illustrated by Stéphane Jorisch; and The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe, illustrated by Ryan Price.  And not new but fabulous from Kids Can Press: their picture book editions of Robert Service’s poems, illustrated by Ted Harrison. Canadian classics.

Douglas Florian‘s brand new Dinothesaurus: Prehistoric Poems and Paintings (and his not new but entirely seasonally appropriate, his energetic exploration of the vernal equinox, Handsprings)

The lovely new picture book version, illustrated by E.B. Lewis, of The Negro Speaks of Rivers, written by a very young Langston Hughes (Hyperion, January 2009)

I haven’t yet seen Rabbie’s Rhymes: Burns for Wee Folk newly out for the Robbie Burns 250th anniversary, but think it looks adorable.

UPDATED to add: Indefatigable children’s poet J. Patrick Lewis, one of the participants in Greg at Gottabook’s April 30 Poets / 30 Days poetrypalooza, was kind enough to send me a very sweet note complete with ruffles and flourishes — rather than the plank walk at swordpoint I deserved for the omissions — to remind me of his many varied works coming out in 2009:

The Underwear Salesman, And Other Jobs for Better or  Verse by J. Patrick Lewis, illusrated by Serge Bloch (Atheneum, March 2009)

Countdown to Summer: A Poem for Every Day of the School Year by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Ethan Long (Little, Brown, July 2009)

Spot the Plot! A Riddle Book of Book Riddles by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Lynn Munsinger (Chronicle Books, September 2009)

The House by J. Patrick Lewis, illustrated by Lynn Munsinger (Creative Editions, October 2009); I’m excited to hear about this one because I loved their previous collaboration, the beautiful, marvelous The Last Resort.

If you or your children aren’t familiar with the poetry of J. Patrick Lewis, I urge you to run to the library or your favorite bookstore.  Pat has written so many illustrated books of verse on such a wide variety of subjects — art, biography, history, science, holidays, bible stories, animals, general silliness, general spookiness, arithmetic, geography, music, reading and libraries, folk tales, castles and pirate kings, and more — that I dare you not to find something appealing. Also his timely tome on Galileo for this year — it’s a pop-up too, great fun.  Best of all, Pat has free printable bookmark poems (or poem bookmarks).  If you’re going to carry a poem in your pocket (an idea sparked in New York City), I can’t think of a handier way to do it!

Coming out soon:

A Mirror to Nature: Poems About Reflection by Jane Yolen, with photographs by Jason Stemple (Wordsong, April 2009)

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):

Poetry Friday: Is it truth you want?

More Phyllis McGinley, from her collection, A Pocketful of Wry (1940). This is a poem she wrote in response to a news item, which nowadays is nowhere to be found online. I can’t find any mention of the American Library Survey Report she mentions, which I suspect may have been an American Library Association report, in the thirties.

Address to the Younger Generation
by Phyllis McGinley

“Children want facts, not fiction, in their reading.” — Excerpt from
American Library Survey Report.

And is it truth you want, and doings factual?
Then from the shelves take down these volumes first.
Here are your heroes. These are real and actual.
These will assuage your thirst.

Turn from the spurious air your elders thrive in
To this more shrewd and honest atmosphere:
The literal world that Mowgli was alive in,
Where Robin slew the deer.

Your minds are tough, my loves, and with compliance
Can bear the truth. So see you get it learned,
How there are ghosts and dragons, yes, and giants,
And frogs to princes turned.

Learn about mermaids, winds among the willows,
Knights, gnomes and monsters; read of the shepherd boy
Who fled with Helen over the wine-dark billows
And brought the ships to Troy.

These are the verities, and you are able
To comprehend them. Leave your elders with
Their ever-changing scientific fable,
Their blind, Utopian myth.

Leave them their legends built on creeds and isms,
Allow them their political fairy tales,
Spun out of conquests, wars and cataclysms,
And not-too-holy Grails.

While you, enlightened tots, shall sip the chalice
Of perfect knowledge as your peers demand,
And keep thereby the sanity of Alice
Roaming in Wonderland.

For more poetry fun, Elaine Magliaro is hosting today’s Poetry Friday roundup at her blog, Wild Rose Reader.  Thanks, Elaine!

* * *
The calendar says Spring, but Mother Nature says not so fast. There is still a big white drift, curved like a frozen wave, just beneath the kitchen windowsill. And yesterday after lunch the boys set off on skis across the pasture and through the Hundred Acre Wood to their hideaway, the old trailer given to them by their uncle, to bring back 40 pounds of camping equipment (mostly pots and pans from the sounds coming from the basement), to “get it ready” for Spring camping. The boys in particular never seem satisfied with the season we’re in. They’re always looking ahead, to the next season and the next holiday. From their mother they seem to have inherited the idea that planning is at least half the fun.

The kids are busy putting the finishing touches on their poems, and rehearsing away with their songs and musical theater pieces. The music festival begins a week from Monday, and that is our  big day, with both speech arts and vocal, from 9 am to 9 pm.  Then we can rest until Wednesday, when Laura has one piano piece to play in the afternoon.  I still need to borrow one more umbrella, for the “Singin’ in the Rain” number, since one of ours does not have a curved handle and my young Gene Kelly is finding it hard to hang on to.  Next Friday, some of the crew from the kids’ play are coming over to film some segments that will be played in the background, so I’m supervising some extra spring cleaning and sorting out what to feed the hordes who will descend on us.

Wednesday evening at our monthly naturalist club meeting we enjoyed a lively but dire presentation from a retired professor of wildlife biology on Alberta moose and winter ticks as well as on new, emerging diseases threatening various species of animals around the world, from white-nose syndrome in bats in the northeastern US, Tasmanian devil facial tumor disease, the chytrid fungus in amphibians around the world, the squirrel pox in the UK carried by interloping gray squirrels that is devastating the indigenous red squirrels (which I mentioned briefly and flippantly here), and one of the newest problems, lice in pelicans. On a happier note, we planned our nocturnal owl call survey, the visit to the local gravel pits in search of fossil-containing concretions, the trip to the sharp-tailed grouse dancing grounds (and sadly for me they dance at dawn, more than an hour away from here), and the thrilling snake hibernaculum tour.

Poetry Friday: Down the human road

I don’t know what made this poem jump into my head this week. It’s one of Phyllis McGinley’s most powerful, I think, and I have no idea whether she was inspired by Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s famous quotation, “I have seen gross intolerance shewn in support of toleration” from his 1817 essay, “Blessed are ye that sow beside all Waters!” on political justice.

The Angry Man
by Phyllis McGinley

The other day I chanced to meet
An angry man upon the street —
A man of wrath, a man of war,
A man who truculently bore
Over his shoulders, like a lance,
A banner labeled “Tolerance.”

And when I asked him why he strode
Thus scowling down the human road,
Scowling, he answered, “I am he
Who champions total liberty —
Intolerance being, ma’am, a state
No tolerant man can tolerate.

“When I meet rogues,” he cried, “who choose
To cherish oppositional views,
Lady, like this, and in this manner,
I lay about me with my banner
Till they cry mercy, ma’am.” His blows
Rained proudly on prospective foes.

Fearful, I turned and left him there
Still muttering, as he thrashed the air,
“Let the Intolerant beware!”

For more poems, Anastasia Suen at Picture Book of the Day is hosting today’s Poetry Friday round-up.  And her picture book of the day, Poetry Speaks to Children, which comes with a CD, is one of our favorites.  Thank you for hosting, Anastasia.

We got walloped with two snowstorms this week, a fairly gentle one with heavy snow on Tuesday — which didn’t keep us from the kids’ end-of-season curling party in town, though at one point on the country road I did have to stop the truck to see where the ditches were — and a windy blizzardy one yesterday that left us with much more snow, including enormous and very hard-packed drifts.  That one did keep us home, mainly because of the drift in front of the truck.  Tom and the boys had a bit of a struggle getting into our corrals yesterday morning, but brought the tractor the mile and a half back to the house, clearing snow all the way.  Very comforting to have a tractor in the driveway on a day like today.  And the temperature has dropped like the proverbial stone, from around 3 degrees Celsius earlier this week (about 37 F) to -32 C (about -22 F).

The kids decided to make the most of the weather; unlike their mother, they’re rather worried about the possibility of any melting.  The snow Tom cleared out of the driveway now makes a pretty dandy sledding hill, and the plenty of remaining drifts around the house are so hard that they’re good for igloo blocks.  The kids have had one of my kitchen knives for most of the day and are busy sawing and stacking away.  With any luck I’ll get my knife back after dark.

Just to keep things educational, you can watch this.  I can’t remember if I posted, as I meant to, that the National Film Board of Canada is celebrating its 7oth anniversary by offering some of its best works for free online.  We’ve been gorging ourselves since January.  Happy birthday, NFB!

Poetry Friday: The February hush

The February Hush
by Thomas Wentworth Higginson (1823-1911)

Snow o’er the darkening moorlands,
Flakes fill the quiet air;
Drifts in the forest hollows,
And a soft mask everywhere.

The nearest twig on the pine-tree
Looks blue through the whitening sky,
And the clinging beech-leaves rustle
Though never a wind goes by.

But there’s red on the wildrose berries,
And red in the lovely glow
On the cheeks of the child beside me,
That once were pale, like snow.

From my copy of Into Winter: Discovering a Season by William P. Nestor, illustrated by Susan Banta (Houghton Mifflin, 1982, out of print); the poem was originally published in Afternoon Landscape: Poems and Translations by William Wentworth Higginson, 1889.

For more Poetry Friday fun, head over to Mommy’s Favorite Children’s Books, where Karen is hosting today’s roundup.  Thank you, Karen!

*  *  *  *

Thomas Wentworth Higginson was an American Unitarian minister, Transcendentalist, writer, Civil War soldier, abolitionist, and supporter of temperance, labor rights, and the rights of women. A particularly good online biography is here, as part of “Notable American Unitarians”.  Col. Higginson born on December 22, 1823 at Cambridge, Massachusetts, the descendant of a Puritan minister who emigrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and the grandson of Stephen Higginson, a member of the Continental Congress.  Higginson attended Harvard and was a schoolmaster for two years after graduating in 1841.  He returned to Harvard to study at its Divinity School.  Higginson proved to be too liberal for his first church, the First Religious Society (Unitarian) in Newburyport, Massachusetts, and was asked to leave after two years.  An admirer of the writings of William Lloyd Garrison and Lydia Maria Childs, Higginson was one of the “Secret Six” who supported John Brown in his raid on Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, in 1859. During the Civil War, Higginson served the 51st Massachusetts Volunteers as captain, leaving this post to serve as colonel for the first black Union regiment, the First Carolina Volunteers (33rd Infantry Regiment, U.S. Colored Troops), comprised of escaped slaves.

Higginson was an early champion of Emily Dickinson, and the two enjoyed a 23-year-long correspondence; their relationship is the subject of a new book, White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson by Brenda Wineapple (Knopf, 2008). After the poet’s death in 1886, her family asked Higginson and Mabel Loomis Todd to edit and prepare for publication Emily Dickinson’s first collection of poetry.

From the time of the Civil War, Higginson published a number of works — poetry, biography, memoirs, essays, and history, including his Young Folks’ History of the United States; in 1875, The New York Times called the book one “which no American boy or girl can fail to read with pleasure while he or she learns from it all of the essential facts in the progress of the country”. Higginson was poetry editor at The Nation for 26 years, and wrote a regular column for Harper’s Bazaar, “Women and Men”, on equality of the sexes.  A selection of his letters can be found here, though none to Miss Dickinson survive.  One of his first books was a volume of collected natural history essays, Outdoor Papers, each originally published in The Atlantic.  Higginson sent one copy of the book to Charles Darwin and another was found in the Dickinson family library.

Higginson died on May 9, 1911, at the age of 87 at Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The Magnificent Activist: The Writings of Thomas Wentworth Higginson, edited by Howard N. Meyer

White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson by Brenda Wineapple (Knopf, 2008)

Army Life in a Black Regiment: and Other Writings by Thomas Wentworth Higginson

The Complete Civil War Journal and Selected Letters of Thomas Wentworth Higginson, edited by Christopher Looby


Poetry Friday II: Be Mine

excerpt from
Love-songs, at Once Tender and Informative —
An Unusual Combination in Verses of This Character

by Samuel Hoffenstein (1890-1947)

Maid of Gotham, ere we part,
Have a hospitable heart —

Since our own delights must end,
Introduce me to your friend.

—–

If you love me, as I love you,
We’ll both be friendly and untrue.

—–

Your little hands,
Your little feet,
Your little mouth —
Oh, God, how sweet!

Your little nose,
Your little ears,
Your eyes, that shed
Such little tears!

Your little voice,
So soft and kind;
Your little soul,
Your little mind!

—–

Had we but parted at the start,
I’d cut some figure in your heart;
And though the lands between were wide,
You’d often see me at your side.

But having loved and stayed, my dear,
I’m always everywhere but here,
And, still more paradoxical,
You always see me not at all.

from American Wits: An Anthology of Light Verse, compiled by John Hollander

* * *

Samuel (Sam) Hoffenstein was born in Lithuania in 1890, emigrating to the United States at the age of four with his family.  After graduating from Easton College in Pennsylvania in 1911, he found work as a staff writer for the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader. By 1912, he was in New York City, working for The New York Sun, where he started as a reporter and worked his way up to drama critic.  It was around this time that Sam Hoffenstein wrote and published his rather gloomy first volume of poetry, Life Sings a Song (1916) and left The Sun to work as a press agent in the city. Life was followed by his first book of light verse, Poems in Praise of Practically Nothing in 1928, and Year In, You’re Out in 1930.  The following year, Sam Hoffenstein moved to Los Angeles to work in the talkies.

In 1933, Hoffenstein helped Cole Porter and Kenneth S. Webb compose the musical score for The Gay Divorce, the stage musical (Fred Astaire’s last Broadway show) that became the film The Gay Divorcee, the first film to make the classic romantic pairing of Astaire and Ginger Rogers.  Hoffenstein and Webb would win an Academy Award for the score.

Hoffenstein wrote scripts for a variety of movies, including Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde starring Fredric March (1931), for which Hoffenstein was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing, Adaptation, with Percy Heath; Love Me Tonight (1932); The Great Waltz (1938); The Wizard of Oz (1939), uncredited; Tales of Manhattan (1942); Phantom of the Opera with Claude Rains (1943); Laura with Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews (1944), for which Hoffenstien was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing, Screenplay, with Jay Dratler and Elizabeth Reinhardt; and Cluny Brown (1946).

Sam Hoffenstein died of a heart attack in Los Angeles in 1947 at the age of 57, three days after his final volume of verse, Pencil in the Air, was published.  His Time Magazine obituary noted,

Died. Samuel Hoffenstein, 57, master writer of satiric light verse (Poems in Praise of Practically Nothing); of a heart attack; in Los Angeles. A wry-writing favorite of Manhattan’s wry-minded literary set in the late ’20s, Hoffenstein (who had written, I’d rather listen to a flute in Gotham, than a band in Butte) disappeared into Hollywood as a scenario writer, later explained: “In the movies we writers work our brains to the bone, and what do we get for it? A lousy fortune.”

I’ll end with some lines from some of his best known lines, from the 1928 Poems in Praise of Practically Nothing,

Poems of Passion Carefully Restrained So as to Offend Nobody: II

When you’re away, I’m restless, lonely,
Wretched, bored, dejected; only
Here’s the rub, my darling dear,
I feel the same when you are here.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Darwin 200: Day 5: Poetry Friday

A twofer, featuring excerpts from an 1802 poem by Charles Darwin’s grandfather, Erasmus Darwin; his last work, the volume was published posthumously. You can find the entire work here.

The Temple of Nature:
Or, The Origin of Society:

A Poem, with Philosophical Notes

by Erasmus Darwin

Canto I
Production of Life

I. BY firm immutable immortal laws
Impress’d on Nature by the GREAT FIRST CAUSE,
Say, MUSE! how rose from elemental strife
Organic forms, and kindled into life;
How Love and Sympathy with potent charm
Warm the cold heart, the lifted hand disarm;
Allure with pleasures, and alarm with pains,
And bind Society in golden chains. …

V. “ORGANIC LIFE beneath the shoreless waves21
Was born and nurs’d in Ocean’s pearly caves;
{27} First forms minute22, unseen by spheric glass,
Move on the mud, or pierce the watery mass;
These, as successive generations bloom
New powers acquire, and larger limbs assume; 300
Whence countless groups of vegetation spring,
And breathing realms of fin, and feet, and wing.

“Thus the tall Oak, the giant of the wood,
Which bears Britannia’s thunders on the flood;
The Whale, unmeasured monster of the main,
The lordly Lion, monarch of the plain,
The Eagle soaring in the realms of air,
Whose eye undazzled drinks the solar glare,
Imperious man, who rules the bestial crowd,
Of language, reason, and reflection proud,
With brow erect who scorns this earthly sod,
And styles himself the image of his God;
Arose from rudiments of form and sense,
An embryon point, or microscopic ens!

“Now in vast shoals beneath the brineless tide,
On earth’s firm crust testaceous tribes reside;
Age after age expands the peopled plain,
The tenants perish, but their cells remain;
Whence coral walls and sparry hills ascend
From pole to pole, and round the line extend.

Read the rest here, if you have the time.

*  *  *

And something charming I came across for the younger set, thanks to The Ethical Palaentologist, from a 1980 book called Hocus Pocus Diplodocus: The Entire History of the Universe in 21 Poems by Tom Stanier:

Mister Darwin wrote a book
(The Origin of Species).
Let us look at life, he said,
In all its bits and pieces.

Find the rest of the poem here.

*  *  *

Darwin’s Ark: Poems by Philip Appleman, illustrations by Rudy Pozzatti (Indiana University Press, 2008); this is a new paperback edition (originally published in 1984) with prints by Rudy Pozzatti.  Stephen Jay Gould says of the book, “Philip Appleman has captured the elusive themes of Darwin’s worldview and translated them into items of beauty that also provoke thought.”  Prof. Appleman has also written novels, including Apes and Angels, and is the editor of the Norton critical edition of Darwin, first published in 1970 and considered by Dr. Gould to be “The best Darwin anthology on the market”.
*  *  *

Finally, the poet Ruth Padel has just published a biography about her great-great grandfather, Darwin: A Life in Poems (in the UK, Chatto & Windus, February 5, 2009; in the US and Canada, Knopf, late March or early April 2009, and the Chatto & Windus edition with the nicer cover should be available in Canada as well).

You can recent reviews at the Financial Times (“an imaginative and dynamic response to a man who changed the way we understand ourselves”) and  The Economist:

As the bicentenary of Charles Darwin’s birth on February 12th approaches, it is good to welcome a biography which is relatively small, but in no way superficial or scanty. Ruth Padel has achieved this feat by writing her great-great-grandfather’s life in a sequence of often quite short poems. Through her verses she seeks to capture the “voice” of Darwin, thus performing a difficult act of literary ventriloquism. Ms Padel, who often writes about animals, embeds many of Darwin’s own words—from his books or his letters—in her poems, and the results tend to give the sense of being jointly authored. Sometimes she shapes entire gobbets of quotation into her own poetic passages. If this seems to be a bit of sly plagiarism, it doesn’t feel like it. It feels more like a deft act of collaboration between the living and the dead, one melding easily with the other. …

And why are poems a good way of illuminating a life such as Darwin’s? The best lyric poems—think of Keats or Shelley, for example—are moments of epiphany, a sudden opening out onto magic casements. And Darwin, throughout, was in the grip of something very similar: a terrible, destabilising sense of wonder. He sensed intimations of the marvellous everywhere he looked. All the sadder then—and this is something that Ms Padel does not explain—that, later in life, the man who carried with him on the Beagle a copy of Milton’s “Paradise Lost”* found that he could no longer enjoy poetry.

By the way, as part of American Public Media’s “Speaking of Faith” program, “Evolution and Wonder: Understanding Charles Darwin”, you can listen to a discussion of Darwin’s fondness for Milton’s poem and his description of the Atlantic Ocean.

*  *  *

Kelly Herold, who established Poetry Friday, is hosting today, so head over to her blog, Big A little a, for the complete round-up.  Thanks for hosting, Kelly, and thanks especially for Poetry Fridays.

Poetry Friday: Old Abe in the marble and the moonlight

In celebration of the upcoming bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln, a poem for a President who loved poetry,

Lincoln Monument:  Washington
by Langston Hughes

Let’s go see Old Abe
Sitting in the marble and the moonlight,
Sitting lonely in the marble and the moonlight,
Quiet for ten thousand centuries, old Abe.
Quiet for a million, million years.

And yet a voice forever
Against the
Timeless walls
Of time–
Old Abe.

*  *  *

The official Lincoln Bicentennial Commission website has an entire page of poems inspired by the 16th President

The Library of Congress has a web page on Lincoln as Poet and also on Abraham Lincoln and Poetry

And, a recent Atlantic article, “Obama’s Poetic Predecessor” (December 5, 2008) features Lincoln’s poem, “The Bear”, and notes,

When it came to turning a nimble stanza, the old railsplitter was no slouch. Shot through with salty frontier humor and earthy vernacular gusto, Lincoln’s rollicking ballad makes for lively reading from start to finish, and while the relish it takes in blood-sport carnage might be a bit pungent for modern tastes, it’s hard to fault the poem’s chops: the very least to be said about his backwoods verse-yarn is that it briskly goes about its business with nary a dull moment or false step.

*  *  *

The Poetry Friday roundup, a splendid all-day all-you-can eat affair, is hosted today by Elaine Magliaro at Wild Rose Reader.  Thanks, Elaine!

We’re busy this weekend with a curling bonspiel (rocks on ice, alllll day) Saturday and 4H Public Speaking Day on Sunday.  It will be Daniel’s first, and I know he’s looking forward to saying his piece and putting the day behind him…

Poetry Saturday: Updike and light verse, with detours through science and suburbia

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

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

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

Cosmic Gall
by John Updike

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

and this one,

Insomnia the Gem of the Ocean
by John Updike

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

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

(I’m going back to bed)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What was the first thing you wrote that was published?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poetry Friday

I was going to skip Poetry Friday today (yet again…) because we’ve been busy, and I’ve been away from the computer, with the Farm Curl (the kids are curling with Tom and two others), a birthday party that suddenly  materialized for tomorrow, and writing 4H speeches, but then I saw that Karen Edmisten is hosting today, and I thought, pshaw, what’s one little poem?

The New York Times health column by Dr. Perri Klass earlier this week on the importance of manners learned and taught — and bad manners can be very bad for your health, especially once people figure you’re old enough to know better —  put me in mind of the following poem, from Phyllis McGinley’s Stones from a Glass House (1946).  Of course, anyone in a glass house, unless he or she writes as well as Miss McGinley, should probably be on their very best behavior…

The Velvet Hand
by Phyllis McGinley

I call that parent rash and wild
Who’d reason with a six-year child,
Believing little twigs are bent
By calm, considered argument.

In bandying words with progeny
There’s no percentage I can see,
And people who, imprudent, do so,
Will wonder how their troubles grew so.

Now underneath this tranquil roof
Where sounder theories have their proof,
Our life is sweet, our infants happy.
In quietude dwell Mom and Pappy.

We’ve sworn a stern, parental vow
That argument we won’t allow.
Brooking no juvenile excess here,
We say a simple No or Yes, here,

And then, when childish wails begin
We don’t debate.
We just give in.

* * *

I’ll second Dr. Lewin’s recommendation of Miss Manners’ Guide to Rearing Perfect Children by Judith Martin. Please. And thank you.

Today’s Poetry Friday roundup is hosted by Karen Edmisten — head over there for a weekend’s worth of poems.  Thank you, Karen!

Poetry Friday: Lights and trees and snow

Hard to believe we’ve been back for little over a week. The kids had a full 4H weekend, the older two at a public speaking workshop on Saturday (to help prepare for the big public speaking event in February) and all three at a volleyball tournament all day Sunday. Davy, who’s one year too young for 4H, was nevertheless needed and appointed a rover to fill spots on various teams.

Last Saturday night we went to a surprise birthday party for a dear family friend; I was especially pleased with the kids, especially the boys, who knew the expectations without reminding (Daniel wore his dress shoes) and were also able to carry on reasonable conversations with complete strangers, about school work, the recent trip, and looking forward to Christmas.

Monday we had our first Christmas party, Tuesday junior curling, and Wednesday, in addition to music lessons all afternoon the kids sang, read, and recited as the entertainment for a local women’s group Christmas breakfast. Laura recited Eleanor Farjeon’s In the Week When Christmas Comes from one of our favorite Christmas books, the delightful Random House Pictureback anthology, Diane Goode’s Christmas Magic: Poems and Carols, published in 1992 and out of print but worth tracking down, especially because Diane Goode is the Diane Goode who did such a marvelous job illustrating When I Was Young in the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant. And, at the last minute, Davy decided to read A Christmas ABC by Florence Johnson, from the also out-of-print Christmas Stories and Poems, illustrated by Lisa McCue (Troll Associates).

Yesterday we got to stay home, at least until after dinner (theater rehearsal), and since it was a fairly balmy -1C/30 F, the kids and I hung the Christmas lights. The temperature is supposed to start heading downward today, with a projected high of -30C tomorrow. So it was yesterday or never for the lights. Today I’m going to lay another layer of straw mulch over the strawberry bed. The recent snow, besides looking very Christmassy, is a welcome layer of insulation, but I think some more straw wouldn’t hurt.

*  *  *

If we had stayed in NYC for another few days, we would have been able to catch the crush that is the tree lighting at Rockefeller Center. We no longer have a tree lighting in town; the powers that be decided that trees aren’t very exciting, but lighted figures of athletes (a figure skater, downhill and cross country skiiers, hockey player, etc.) were. But there’s nothing like a good tree lighting to get you in the holiday spirit.

We were there to see, just as the Macy’s Parade ended, the multitudes of tree stands sprouting like mushrooms on sidewalks. On Amsterdam and 77th Street, the enterprising young Quebecers (almost all of the tree sellers are hardy types from La Belle Province) were selling not just trees but ornaments, Santa suits, and anything else you could use for the holiday. On Broadway and 87th Street, they had the Duane Reade awning decorated with lights. And on the east side of Broadway and 98th, you can buy anything from a 12′ tree for your prewar apartment to a little Charlie Brown tree, a 5″ branchlet stuck in a sliced-off piece of trunk. They also had very cute reindeer also made from scraps. The kids, who have never thought of attaching a price to a tree, were astounded to see $85 price tags on trees we’d walk past in the woods.

A brief selection of favorites from Diane Goode’s Christmas Magic: Poems and Carols:

December
by John Updike (from A Child’s Calendar, originally illustrated by Nancy Burkert)

First snow! The flakes,
So few, so light,
Remake the world
In solid white.

All bundled up,
We feel as if
We were fat penguins,
Warm and stiff.

Downtown, the stores
Half split their sides,
And Mother brings home
Things she hides.

Old carols peal.
The dusk is dense.
There is a mood
Of sweet suspense.

The shepherds wait,
The kings, the tree —
All wait for something
Yet to be,

Some miracle.
And then it’s here,
Wrapped up in hope —
Another year!

Before Christmas
by Anne Blackwell Payne (1887-1969)

Young trees of the forest,
By scores and by dozens,
Have come to the city
Like small country cousins.

On squares and on corners
They lend to each street
A strange kind of fragrance
That’s spicy and sweet.

So give them a welcome,
Be glad we are blessed
For even a season
With such sturdy guests.

* * * *

Elaine Magliaro has today’s Poetry Friday round-up at Wild Rose Reader. Thanks, Elaine, and Merry Christmas!

Poetry Friday: A thousand whirling dreams of sun

Langston Hughes (1902-1967) wrote movingly, painfully, and honestly about blacks in America, in poetry, plays, essays, and stories. He was inspired by poets Walt Whitman, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Claude McKay, and Carl Sandburg (“my guiding star”, Hughes called him).

In a 1947 article, “My Adventures as a Social Poet”, Langston Hughes wrote,

Poets who write mostly about love, roses and moonlight, sunsets and snow, must lead a very quiet life. Seldom, I imagine, does their poetry get them into difficulties. Beauty and lyricism are really related to another world, to ivory towers, to our head in the clouds, feet floating off the earth.

Unfortunately, having been born poor — and colored — in Missouri, I was stuck in the mud from the beginning. Try as I might to float off into the clouds, poverty and Jim Crow would grab me by the heels, and right back on earth I would land. A third floor furnished room is the nearest thing I have ever had to an ivory tower.

Some of my earliest poems were social poems in that they were about people’s problem’s — whole groups of people’s problems — rather than my own personal difficulties. Sometimes, though, certain aspects of my personal problems happened to be also common to many other people. And certainly, racially speaking, my own problems of adjustment to American life were the same as those of millions of other segregated Negroes. The moon belongs to everybody, but not this American earth of ours. That is perhaps why poems about the moon perturb no one, but poems about color and poverty do perturb many citizens. Social forces pull backwards or forwards, right or left, and social poems get caught in the pulling and hauling. …

After detailing some of his experiences and including some poetry, Hughes concluded,

So goes the life of a social poet. I am sure none of these things would ever have happened to me had I limited the subject mater of my poems to roses and moonlight. But, unfortunately, I was born poor — and colored — and almost all the prettiest roses I have see have been in rich white people’s yards — not in mine. That is why I cannot write exclusively about roses and moonlight — for sometimes in the moonlight my brothers see a fiery cross and a circle of Klansmen’s hoods. Sometimes in the moonlight a dark body swings from a lynchng tree — but for his funeral there are no roses.

From Arnold Rampersad‘s “Unwearied Blues” essay for PEN on the centennial of Hughes’ birth,

Langston Hughes loved books. During his lonely childhood, while he was living with his aged grandmother, books comforted him. “Then it was,” he confessed, “that books began to happen to me, and I began to believe in nothing but books and the wonderful world in books, where, if people suffered, they suffered in beautiful language—not in monosyllables as we did in Kansas.”

For Poetry Friday today, I offer a selection of the poems of Langston Hughes.

 

My People (1923)

The night is beautiful,
So the faces of my people.
The stars are beautiful,
So the eyes of my people.
Beautiful, also, is the sun.
Beautiful, also, are the souls of my people.

*  *  *

Merry-Go-Round (1942)

Colored child at carnival

Where is the Jim Crow section
On this merry-go-round,
Mister, cause I want to ride?
Down South where I come from
White and colored
Can’t sit side by side.
Down South on the train
There’s a Jim Crow car.
On the bus we’re put in the back —
But there ain’t no back
To a merry-go-round!
Where’s the horse
For a kid that’s black?

* * *

Mother to Son (1922)

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
Bare.
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
‘Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

* * *

One-Way Ticket (1949)

I pick up my life
And take it with me
And I put it down in
Chicago, Detroit,
Buffalo, Scranton,
Any place that is
North and East —
And not Dixie.

I pick up my life
And take it on the train
To Los Angeles, Bakersfield,
Seattle, Oakland, Salt Lake,
Any place that is
North and West —
But not South.

I am fed up
With Jim Crow laws,
People who are cruel
And afraid,
Who lynch and run,
Who are scared of me
And me of them.

I pick up my life
And take it away
On a one-way ticket —
Gone up North,
Gone out West,
Gone!

* * *

Dream Boogie (1951)

Good morning, daddy!
Ain’t you heard
The boogie-woogie rumble
Of a dream deferred?

Listen closely:
You’ll hear their feet
Beating out and beating out a —

You think
It’s a happy beat?

Listen to it closely:
Ain’t you heard
something underneath
like a —

What did I say?

Sure,
I’m happy!
Take it away!

Hey, pop!
Re-bop!
Mop!

Y-e-a-h!

* * *

As I Grew Older (1926)

It was a long time ago.
I have almost forgotten my dream.
But it was there then,
In front of me,
Bright like a sun —
My dream.

And then the wall rose,
Rose slowly,
Slowly,
Between me and my dream.
Rose slowly, slowly,
Dimming,
Hiding,
The light of my dream.
Rose until it touched the sky —
The wall.
Shadow.
I am black.

I lie down in the shadow.
No longer the light of my dream before me,
Above me.
Only the thick wall.
Only the shadow.

My hands!
My dark hands!
Break through the wall!
Find my dream!
Help me to shatter this darkness,
To smash this night,
To break this shadow
Into a thousand lights of sun,
Into a thousand whirling dreams
Of sun!

*  *  *

For more on Langston Hughes:

The Voice of Langston Hughes; CD from Smithsonian Folkways, recorded by Moses Asch, featuring works from

Langston Hughes: Voice of the Poet; Hughes reads his poetry (audiobook, with accompanying book)

The Essential Langston Hughes; more of Hughes reading his poetry, from Caedmon

The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, edited by Arnold Rampersad

Poetry for Young People: Langston Hughes, edited by David Roessel and Arnold Rampersad

The Collected Works of Langston Hughes: Works for Children and Young Adults: Poetry, Fiction, and Other Writing (Volume 11); and at Amazon.com

The Collected Works of Langston Hughes: Works for Children and Young Adults: Biographies (Volume 12); and at Amazon.com

The Langston Hughes Reader

Langston Hughes by Milton Meltzer, a children’s biography by Hughes’ friend and writing partner, published the year after his death

Langston Hughes: American Poet by Alice Walker, illustrated by Catherine Deeter; children’s picture book biography

The Dream Keeper and Other Poems by Langston Hughes; his poetry collection for young people, illustrated by Brian Pinckney

A Pictorial History of African Americans (1995) by Langston Hughes and Milton Meltzer; the most recently revised edition of what was originally published as A Pictorial History of the Negro in America (1956), and then A Pictorial History of Black Americans (1973)

The Glory of Negro History (1955), Langston Hughes’ spoken word history on Folkway Records

The Story of Jazz (1954), Langston Hughes’ spoken word musical history on Folkway Records

*  *  *

There are more poems and poets at the week’s Poetry Friday round-up, which MsMac is hosting as an early Thanksgiving potluck over at Check It Out.

Poetry Friday: The scary season

Pumpkin
by Valerie Worth (1933-1994)

After its lid
Is cut, the slick
Seeds and stuck
Wet strings.
Scooped out,
Walls scraped
Dry and white,
Face carved, candle
Fixed and lit,

Light creeps
Into the thick
Rind: giving
That dead orange
Vegetable skull
Warm skin, making
A live head
To hold its
Sharp gold grin.

From Halloween: Stories and Poems, edited by Caroline Feller Bauer and illustrated by Peter Sis (1989), one of my recent treasures from the library’s autumn book sale.

For more poetry fun, and tricks and treats galore, head over to Sylvia Vardell’s Poetry for Children for the Halloween 2008 edition of the Poetry Friday Roundup.

*  *  *

The kids and I are heading for town late this afternoon for trick or treating, and I’m delighted that we’ll still have the last bit of Daylight Savings Time left to wander about the streets in some daylight.  It’s also supposed not supposed to be freezing or snowing, which is unusual for these parts.  So we’re all prepared for a very enjoyable evening, even before the chocolate.

Our home school facilitator meeting went well, again, and the kids were over the moon with the first meeting of junior curling.  They were the last ones off the ice. Not having been raised in Canada, I find watching curling not quite as exciting as watching paint dry, but Tom loves the sport especially for the strategy.  It’s something the kids can do with Tom, whether they are playing together or watching it on TV, and it’s a lifelong sport the kids will be able to participate in when they’re old and gray and creaky.  It’s also inexpensive compared to hockey, and a part of their heritage.  And I’ll be able to catch up on my reading at the rink…

Next week should be fairly quiet around here, which is good because I’m alternately excited and exhausted by the entire election process.  At this point next Wednesday can’t get here soon enough, probably regardless of the outcome.  I just want the circus to leave town. And then we start getting ready for our NYC trip, so my blog writing and reading will continue to be light to nonexistent…

Poetry Friday: Poems for plumbers

and sixpacks and other on-the-(Main)-Street types:

Men Say They Know Many Things
by Henry David Thoreau

Men say they know many things;
But lo! they have taken wings —
The arts and sciences,
And a thousand appliances;
The wind that blows
Is all that any body knows.

Note On Intellectuals
by W.H. Auden

To the man-in-the-street, who, I’m sorry to say
Is a keen observer of life,
The word Intellectual suggests straight away
A man who’s untrue to his wife.

And a bit of non-verse poetry courtesy of Frank Capra:

“I don’t read no papers, and I don’t listen to radios either. I know the world’s been shaved by a drunken barber, and I don’t have to read it. ”

Guess the movie without the help of Google and win my undying admiration.

Becky at Becky’s Book Reviews is hosting today’s Poetry Friday roundup, where you can find more poetry fun and edification.

Poetry Friday: An autumn repeat

It’s been a long and busy week so not only am I late with my Poetry Friday post but I have a repeat of a favorite poem. In other words, I’m choosing “Choosing Laughter” again.

The morning started with the first snowflakes of the season, ugh. It’s warmed up a bit, to all of 2.4 degrees Celsius, in other words, barely above freezing, so now we have cold rain. Bah. In other news, the little chicks we brought home from the fair in late July grew so well that yesterday when we took them to the nearby Hutterite colony for butchering, they dressed out around 10 to 12 pounds each. I’m thinking that chicken pot pie would be a wonderful Saturday night dinner. When talk turned to where on earth we would put 63 broilers, Daniel earned his keep by remembering that he had seen in last week’s paper an ad for a deep freeze, free to a good home. It turned out that the older owners were looking for a way to get the old deep freeze, still in good working order, out of their basement. Tom, a brother-in-law, Davy, and Daniel were happy to oblige, and now I have a collection of five deep freezes.

The kids picked all of their little pie pumpkins, which also grew well and most of which turned orange on the vine, a first for us.

I potted up the rest of my garden plants that I couldn’t bear to let the frost take. They’re on the windowsill of the bedroom now, adjusting to their new indoor surroundings. I’ve started making some applesauce out of the remaining apples. Monday is Canadian Thanksgiving, and Tuesday is election day.

In history reading, we’re up to the Civil War, and I can finally take out the little Playmobil soldiers I bought years ago on sale at a Winners store and tucked away.

I’ve realized that my lovely little Kodak EasyShare C875 is probably broken, with autumnal pictures inside.  Recharged, and then new, batteries don’t seem to help.  I’d been having trouble moving pictures from the camera to the computer, and tried even harder over the weekend so I could share the moose we saw on the way to the pumpkin festival.  No luck.  I have no idea where around here to get it fixed, of they’re fixable, so it may well have to wait for NYC next month.

Here’s part of my Poetry Friday post from last autumn; I left out the biographical sketch, which you can find in the original post.

* * *

I’ve always liked the idea of Barbara Howes’s “carnival hour” so much better than the “arsenic hour” I started hearing about when my three were tots. As the Poetry Foundation’s wonderful online biography notes, Miss Howes’s “verses paint a world of family, natural surroundings, and the wisdom inherent in natural inclinations” (emphasis mine).

Early Supper
by Barbara Howes (1914-1996)

Laughter of the children brings
The kitchen down with laughter.
While the old kettle sings
Laughter of children brings
To a boil all savory things.
Higher than beam or rafter,
Laughter of the children brings
The kitchen down with laughter.

So ends an autumn day,
Light ripples on the ceiling,
Dishes are stacked away;
So ends an autumn day,
The children jog and sway
In comic dances wheeling.
So ends an autumn day,
Light ripples on the ceiling.

They trail upstairs to bed,
And night is a dark tower.
The kettle calls; instead
They trail upstairs to bed,
Leaving warmth, the coppery-red
Mood of their carnival hour.
They trail upstairs to bed,
And night is a dark tower.

from Poetry for Pleasure: The Hallmark Book of Poetry (1960), selected and arranged by the editors of Hallmark Cards, who did a surprisingly good job, all things considered

* * *

Children’s author Anastasia Suen is hosting today’s Poetry Friday roundup at her blog Picture Book of the Day.  Thanks, Anastasia!

Poetry Friday/Banned Books Week: Day 7: All the scolding

A twofer for today, to cover both Poetry Friday and my little celebration of Banned Books Week. I laughed when I read that a librarian in Boulder, Colorado, in 1988 had removed Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl from the shelf to keep in a locked reference collection (from which books presumably didn’t circulate) because the librarian thought the book embraced “a poor philosophy of life” — what Ursula K. Le Guin referred to as ethical crassness”. Perhaps eating too much candy, or supporting the idea of a lottery? Or possibly the wretched ideas of consequences, however fantastic, for being a great big greedy nincompoop, always chewing chewing gum, being spoiled and spoiling (after all, Veruca Salt and her parents both go down the chute), and of course watching too much television.

Also touching on the issue of censorship — with changes Dahl made to the first edition — and the role of fantasy vs. realism (such as the idea of being imprisoned for life in a candy factory) is this this long and fascinating exchange, mainly between children’s fantasy author and critic Eleanor Cameron and Dahl, in the pages of The Horn Book in 1972-73.

“Veruca Salt!” sang the Ooompa-Loompas.
“Veruca Salt, the little brute,
Has just gone down the garbage chute,
(And as we very rightly thought
That in a case like this we ought
To see the thing completely through,
We’ve polished off her parents, too.)
Down goes Veruca! Down the drain!
And here, perhaps, we should explain
That she will meet, as she descends,
A rather different set of friends
To those that she has left behind –-
These won’t be nearly so refined.
A fish head, for example, cut
This morning from a halibut.
‘Hello! Good morning! How d’you do?
How nice to meet you! How are you?’
And then a little further down
A mass of others gather round:
A bacon rind, some rancid lard,
A loaf of bread gone stale and hard,
A steak that nobody could chew,
An oyster from an oyster stew,
Some liverwurst so old and gray
One smelled it from a mile away,
A rotten nut, a reeky pear,
A thing the cat left on the stair,
And lots of other things as well,
Each with a rather horrid smell.
These are Veruca’s new found friends
That she will meet as she descends,
And
this is the price she has to pay
For going so very far astray.
But now, my dears, we think you might
Be wondering –- is it really right
That every single bit of blame
And all the scolding and the shame
Should fall upon Veruca Salt?
Is
she the only one at fault?
For though she’s spoiled, and dreadfully so,
A girl can’t spoil herself, you know.
Who spoiled her, then? Ah, who indeed?
Who pandered to her every need?
Who turned her into such a brat?
Who are the culprits? Who did that?
Alas! You needn’t look so far
To find out who these sinners are.
They are (and this is very sad)
Her loving parents, MUM and DAD.
And that is why we’re glad they fell
Into the garbage chute as well.”

* * * *

More Poetry Friday fun and today’s roundup to be found over at Stacey’s and Ruth’s Two Writing Teachers. Thanks for hosting, Stacey and Ruth!

And my previous Banned Book Week series posts:

Banned Books Week: Day 6: I’ll be finked

Banned Books Week: Day 5: Running with scissors

Banned Books Week: Day 4: Boo

Banned Books Week: Day 3: Just lousy

Banned Books Week: Day 2: What big teeth you have

Banned Books Week: Day 1: Banned in Boston

Poetry Friday: Apple time

This weekend we’re going to wean our calves, which means shriveled udders shortly, and make cider this weekend from all of the apples we’ve picked, which means things will certainly be flecked with pomace. So I thought a bit of Frost was in order today.

The Cow in Apple Time
by Robert Frost (1874–1963)

Something inspires the only cow of late
To make no more of a wall than an open gate,
And think no more of wall-builders than fools.
Her face is flecked with pomace and she drools
A cider syrup. Having tasted fruit,
She scores a pasture withering to the root.
She runs from tree to tree where lie and sweeten
The windfalls spiked with stubble and worm-eaten.
She leaves them bitten when she has to fly.
She bellows on a knoll against the sky.
Her udder shrivels and the milk goes dry.

For more Poetry Friday fun, Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect has today’s roundup, and some Emily Dickinson.  Thank you, Tricia!

Poetry Friday: Harvest edition

We’re in the midst of harvest. We’ve cut and baled the greenfeed (oats and barley baled instead of combined), cut and baled the second-cut alfalfa, and have just started swathing the wheat, and the mixed crop of barley and peas, in preparation for combining. Most of the harvest work is being done this year by Tom and the kids; the three of them are helping out moving trucks around, and also gathering up bales with the loader. With Tom busy with carpentry work during the day, the harvesting gets done in the evenings, which makes for late nights for the kids. They come in the house dusty, tired, but with eyes shining telling tales of the coyote pups they’ve seen in the fields, the bald eagle, and their various accomplishments and helpful activities. It goes without saying that we have a modified school schedule in the mornings, which is good news for our readalouds.

I’ve been helping out along the edges (around midnight, while the kids are sleeping, I head out to pick up Tom from the swather in our field 10 miles north), and continuing with the canning and preserving. So far I’ve made mustard pickle, chokecherry jelly, chokecherry syrup, red plum jam, yellow plum jam, peach preserves, and canned peaches. Still to come: tomato sauce (beginning today, because the 50 pounds of tomatoes from the garden have started ripening faster than we can eat them), canned pears, pickled beets, and Evans cherry jam. And the other day the kids and I picked boxes and boxes of apple to squash into cider.

It’s been a beautiful autumn so far. By the calendar it doesn’t start until next week, but in real life it’s been here for about a month. We haven’t had much rain since the cooler weather arrived, and this past week there have been some lovely, hot Indian Summer days, though the nights are quite cool. The kids’ pumpkins are still on the vine — covered with old sheets some nights — and turning orange. The leaves on the trees are particularly vivid this year, especially the yellows.

The birds are gathering and departing. Our hummingbirds have been gone for almost a month, and the goldfinches too. But we have a small flock of meadowlarks in the yard, and I’m enjoying the last burst of song before they go. And geese, oh the geese, Canada and snow — there are hundreds, if not thousands, overhead, in the pasture and the pond across the road, down the hill in the neighbors’ fields, eaten the fallen grain. There’s not much a scarecrow could accomplish around here, but I like the idea.

The Lonely Scarecrow
by James Kirkup (b. 1923)

My poor old bones — I’ve only two —
A broomshank and a broken stave.
My ragged gloves are a disgrace.
My one peg-foot is in the grave.

I wear the labourer’s old clothes;
Coat, shirt, and trousers all undone.
I bear my cross upon a hill
In rain and shine, in snow and sun.

I cannot help the way I look.
My funny hat is full of hay.
— O, wild birds, come and nest in me!
Why do you always fly away?

For more Poetry Friday fun, head over to author amok, where Laura is hosting the weekly roundup! Thank you, Laura.