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Author Archives: freshmoonpie

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.

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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.

An August poem

I’ve been enjoying a wonderful, irreverent book of contemporary quotations about poets and poetry called QUOTE POET UNQUOTE, edited by Dennis O’Driscoll. Some samples (more to come in later posts):
“The making of a poem ought to be a sprinkling of words and experiences with gunpowder and throwing a match in.” — Michael Milburn
“Any good poem is an act of taming the savage or savaging the tame.” — Tony Hoagland
“Writing comes to be associated with the outlaw parts of the self, but one really needs an orderly, bourgeous life to get work done.” — Robert Hass
“Poems are never made out of 100% good will and good tidings. There is always a little cold wind in a good poem.” — George Szirtes

Midsummer, Tobago               by Derek Walcott

Broad sun-stoned beaches.

White heat.
A green river.

A bridge,
scorched yellow palms

from the summer-sleeping house
drowsing through August.

Days I have held,
days I have lost,

days that outgrow, like daughters,
my harbouring arms.

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Here is a romantic poem by Sara Teasdale.

SPRING RAIN

I thought I had forgotten,
But it all came back again
Tonight with the first spring thunder
In a rush of rain.

I remembered a darkened doorway
Where we stood while the storm swept by,
Thunder gripping the earth
And lightning scrawled on the sky.

The passing motor busses swayed,
For the street was a river of rain,
Lashed into little golden waves
In the lamp light’s stain.

With that wild spring rain and thunder
My heart was wild and gay;
Your eyes said more to me that night
Than your lips would ever say.

I thought I had forgotten,
But it all came back again
Tonight with the first spring thunder
In a rush of rain.