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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

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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)

Broadening my reading horizons

graphic novels

I’m pretty much a dinosaur when it comes to reading; I prefer actual books, I don’t use an e-reader often and I don’t listen to audiobooks. I use my town library a lot. But lately I have been discovering that graphic novels, which I wasn’t very interested in for a long time, just keep getting more diverse and better. The first one I read years ago was Art Spiegelman’s Maus, a work of genius and a hard act to follow. One of the librarians at the Westbrook library, Matt, recommends graphic novels to me. At his suggestion, I read a very affecting one called Billie Holiday by Jose Munoz and Carlos Sampayo. Recently I read Thi Bui’s The Best We Could Do about a family of Vietnamese immigrants. The writing is simple and powerful, and the art (done by the writer) is excellent. On today’s trip to the library, I discovered that one of my favorite mystery writers, the master of “tartan noir” Ian Rankin, has a graphic novel, which I checked out and took home. I won’t be giving up reading “traditional” books, but I find graphic novels add an intriguing option. When they’re good, the artwork and text work together beautifully. You can find a graphic novel for any level of reader, child to adult, on any imaginable subject. If you haven’t tried them, you might be pleasantly surprised by how sophisticated they are.

Solstice is here

December 21st is the winter solstice in Maine. I find it heartening that the shortest, darkest day of the year has arrived and we turn the corner toward more light.

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I’m still disappointed about what happened to Garrison Keillor. I think NPR was too hasty in firing him, killing The Writer’s Almanac and erasing the online archives of the program going back years. This means that people who worked on the program lost their jobs. All the poets whose work was in the archives lose out, too. Of course I take this somewhat personally since I am proud to say that 25 poems by Moon Pie Press poets were featured on the program, including eight of my own. The Writer’s Almanac was a great boon to my little poetry press. But it also popularized poetry for many people who heard it on the radio, in podcasts or read it in their email or the anthologies that grew out of the show. I am sorry to see the show die.

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I can recommend other ways to have poetry delivered to your email box on a regular basis. Ted Kooser has a column called American Life in Poetry that you can have emailed to you. He tends to favor accessible narrative poems. There is also Poetry Daily. Poem-A-Day is from the Academy of American Poets. Poem of the Day is from the Poetry Foundation. And Rattle magazine will send you a poem each day. I recommend that you sign up for at least one of these so you can get a daily dose of poetry. In these troubling, chaotic times full of fake and disturbing news, poetry is a solace and a reminder to slow down.

The Hatred of Poetry

I just read a thought-provoking little book by Ben Lerner called The Hatred of Poetry (2016), an extended essay in which he ponders why poetry arouses such negative emotions in many people. If so many people disdain it and it has no relevance, why do so many people go on writing it and performing it? No art has been denounced as often as poetry. Lerner correctly notes that if you are foolish enough to admit to most people that you write poetry (or in my case, publish other people’s poetry, too) you are often met with hostility or at least rolled eyes. Lerner’s book does not answer all the questions raised, but he offers some theories and examines the history of poetry attacks, beginning with Plato’s famous hatred of poetry. One central idea he espouses is that at the heart of every good or terrible poem there is a noble failure, the attempt to launch the experience of an individual into the wider world across time. One of the strengths of the book is that it mentions and leads you to other articles and books featuring attacks and defenses of poetry. I recommend this book if you DO read and like some kinds of poetry, or if you think you hate it or have no connection to it and would like to examine those beliefs. He starts his essay with the famous short Marianne Moore poem, “Poetry.”  I will end this brief commentary with the poem.

I, too, dislike it.
Reading it, however, with a perfect
contempt for it, one discovers in
it, after all, a place for the genuine.

John Steinbeck – American chronicles

Last week I visited the wonderful National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California, the only museum in the U.S. dedicated to a single writer. Steinbeck (1902-1968) had a fascinating life. His best-known works include Of Mice and Men, East of Eden, Cannery Row, and of course, The Grapes of Wrath, awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1939. His literary reputation has suffered ups and downs but despite some critics, his books remain popular. The museum is very lively. One room has the movie “East of Eden” playing. The actual camper-truck called Rocinante that Steinbeck traveled across the country in (Travels With Charley) is there. These are my friends getting fresh with Mr. Steinbeck in the museum lobby. If you ever find yourself in the Salinas area, the museum is well worth a visit.

Turning to a new season

red salamander
Fall affects people in differing ways. Some feel dread as the days get shorter and the temperatures drop. They worry about darkness, snow and cold when they are months away. Others, like me, love fall the best. Yep, I like all the cliched autumn things: apple picking, country fairs, turning leaves, mums and pumpkins, crisp nights, Halloween, fewer tourists in Maine….almost all of it, except pumpkin spice flavored beer and coffee. I think it’s the loveliest time to live in New England.

Here is a short, powerful poem by Denise Levertov that I have liked for a long time.

Living

The fire in leaf and grass
so green it seems
each summer the last summer.

The wind blowing, the leaves
shivering in the sun,
each day the last day.

A red salamander
so cold and so
easy to catch, dreamily

moves his delicate feet
and long tail. I hold
my hand open for him to go.

Each minute the last minute.