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Narrowing It Down

Recently a friend challenged me to post 7 favorite books on Facebook.  Being an inveterate list maker,  I liked this task.  But it is surprisingly hard to narrow a lifetime of books down to seven favorites.  Here is a list of nine – I posted the first seven.

John Irving, A Prayer for Owen Meany

Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad

Anne Tyler, The Accidental Tourist

John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces

Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited

Jane Kenyon, Collected Poems

Lee Smith, Oral History

Kingsley Amis, Lucky Jim

Margaret Atwood, Life Before Man

It occurred to me that my list is lily-white, though it does include books by 2 Brits and 2 southerners.  For poetry I would add books by Richard Hugo, Audre Lord, Derek Walcott, Nikki Giovanni, Tony Hoagland, William Stafford………..I could go on, but I won’t.  (I’m not including any of the fine poetry books published by Moon Pie Press, but there are a lot to choose from.)  I’m always interested in lists like “The 50 best novels ever written”, or “The 25 best movies you’ve never seen” or “100 books to read before you die”, etc.  Sometimes the lists seem too arbitrary and even lame, but often I get good ideas.  My personal reading challenge for 2018 is 125 books, and I’m at 90 right now on August 20.  I wish you all happy reading.books crucial

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Full On Bug Season

It’s July, and that means a proliferation of bugs – including the deer ticks we dread in Maine for their ability to carry Lyme disease.  The mosquitoes in Maine are pretty legendary, too.  I dislike bugs, except perhaps fireflies and butterflies.  They are the price we pay for our short, glorious summer.  Here is a poem by William Oldys (1687-1761) – not very sanitary, but an interesting meditation on the fleeting nature of existence.  Oldys lived to be 74, which in the 1700s was a long life.

 

On A Fly Drinking Out Of His Cup

 

Busy, curious, thirsty fly!

Drink with me and drink as I:

Freely welcome to my cup,

Couldst thou sip and sip it up:

Make the most of life you may,

Life is short and wears away.

 

Both alike are mine and thine

Hastening quick to their decline:

Thine’s a summer, mine’s no more,

Though repeated to threescore.

Threescore summers, when they’re gone,

Will appear as short as one!

fireflies and jar

Summer

 

Here is a timely poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar, a black American poet who lived from 1872 to 1906.  He died far too young, but left some lovely poetry.

 

A Summer’s Night

The night is dewy as a maiden’s mouth,

The skies are bright as are a maiden’s eyes,

Soft as a maiden’s breath the wind that flies

Up from the perfumed bosom of the South.

Like sentinels, the pines stand in the park;

And hither hastening, like rakes that roam,

With lamps to light their wayward footsteps home,

The fireflies come stagg’ring down the dark.

Two Short Poems

lupine

I tend to like brevity and economy in poetry.  I think this is a common feeling since so many people like to read, and write, haiku and other short, pithy forms where every word counts.  (Of course there are also wonderful long poems.)   My own poems usually fit on one page.  Here are two examples of excellent very short poems. This one is by Emily Dickinson.

That it will never come again
Is what makes life so sweet.
Believing what we don’t believe
Does not exhilarate.
That if it be, it be at best
An ablative estate —
This instigates an appetite
Precisely opposite.

And here is a clever one by A.R. Ammons:

Their Sex Life

One failure on

Top of another.

A Tribute to Robert Burns

Posted on

Robert BurnsRobert Burns (1759-1796), of course, is considered the national poet of Scotland.  Perhaps because my family has Scottish roots, I’ve always liked his poetry.  He is beloved and well known for many poems, including “my love is like a red, red rose”, “To A Mouse” and the song “Auld Lang Syne”, which is sung on New Year’s Eve.  All over the world people celebrate Burns Night on his birthday January 25, eat haggis, and someone recites “Address To A Haggis” and other Burns poems.   He wrote in English and sometimes with a Scots dialect.  Burns had 12 children, though he died at only 37.  Here is a succinct poem:

Epitaph On My Own Friend

An honest man here lies at rest,

As e’er God with his image blest:

The friend of man, the friend of truth;

The friend of age, and guide of youth.

Few hearts like his, with virtue warm’d;

Few heads with knowledge so inform’d.

If there’s another world, he lives in bliss;

If there is none, he made the best of this.

Not Quite Spring in Maine

It’s still in the 30s here and we had snow showers last night.  I do see tiny buds on my forsythia, and a few brave crocuses have appeared.  April is National Poetry Month;  readings and celebrations are in bloom. Here is a  spring poem by Philip Larkin.

THE TREES

The trees are coming into leaf

Like something almost being said;

The recent buds relax and spread,

Their greenness is a kind of grief.

 

Is it that they are born again

And we grow old? No, they die too,

Their yearly trick of looking new

Is written down in rings of grain.

 

Yet still the unresting castles thresh

In fullgrown thickness every May.

Last year is dead, they seem to say,

Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

forsythia 5-1-11

A mixed blessing: social media in 2018

(That’s my cat Fiona online.) I’ve been thinking about the pros and cons of social media, some of which generate more attention than others.
Obvious pros: keeping in touch with, or reconnecting to, faraway friends and relatives; advertising your business and inviting people to social or business-related events; up to date photos of people you care about; stress relievers like jokes, cartoons, and of course, animal videos. The immediacy of a topical joke, meme or news story with video is undeniable. Obvious cons: an opportunity for bad/immature people to bully, insult, and stalk others, and to misrepresent themselves anonymously. Hate speech and indefensible doctrines can be spread. The anonymity brings out incivility or worse in many, especially about politics. People use social media to brag, distort the reality of their lives, and as a substitute for real life friendship, meetups, dates, or simply getting out of the house. There is an insidious feeling of being “connected” which is very different from actually talking to and listening to other humans. Social media can be an addiction and a time waster for sure.
I have my own Facebook page, and have one to advertise and give information about my business, Moon Pie Press. I’ve chosen not to also do Instagram, Twitter or other options, because email, a website, two Facebook pages and a blog seem like plenty of online engagement to me. That brings me to this rather dark poem by the always-provocative and honest Sherman Alexie. If you’re not familiar with his poetry, novels and recent memoir, I highly recommend all his writing.

THE FACEBOOK SONNET

Welcome to the endless high-school
Reunion. Welcome to past friends
And lovers, however kind or cruel.
Let’s undervalue and unmend.

The present. Why can’t we pretend
Every stage of life is the same?
Let’s exhume, resume, and extend
Childhood. Let’s play all the games

That occupy the young. Let fame
And shame intertwine. Let one’s search
For God become public domain.
Let church.com become our church.

Let’s sign up, sign in, and confess
Here at the altar of loneliness.

copyright 2011 by Sherman Alexie (from The New Yorker)