Auld Lang Syne

Friday, May 27, 2011

obsessed with reading

I scratch my head, after I stop beating it against my desk, over the state rolling back child labor laws to allow 16 year olds to work later on school nights at less than minimum wage. I can hardly believe the rationale here: saving money for college, helping keep Mom and Dad off the welfare rolls, keeping them from "vegging" in front of the TV or playing video games, etc. What a bunch of claptrap. I wonder, in what universe we now live, why there is not an emphasis on MORE studying, more hours at books, more parental involvement in regulating the time and activities of kids? Really folks, you cannot manage to keep the kids off the texting, the TV, the gaming? Shame on you.

I digress slightly but am getting to the meat of it here:

I just finished reading Dawn Potter's blog entry about book obsession and take heart that I have friends who value reading above commerce. OK, so the barn needed cleaning and good for you Dawn to do that. BUT, first and foremost you are a woman of words and books. I ought to do some manual labor today myself and will later (those stacks of books need dusting, my desk needs organizing).

I too am obsessed with reading and have favorites to which I return and return. Big for me, top of my list is The Outermost House. But let me give you a few others to consider:

House of the Seven Gables, by my ancestor Hawthorn
Country of the Pointed Firs, by Sarah Orne Jewett
Plato's Republic (not a novel, but a favorite read)
Fahrenheit 451 (take heed, ye education-killing-legislators)
The Scarlet Letter (another Hawthorn)

These few are but a few... of course I read poetry more than anything else, but when I want to center myself or get gone from the "usual," I go to these.

The point is we ought to want to have this kind of an obsession. We want our kids/grandkids/students to have this.

So we keep on reading and hope our example is not falling simply on our own choir. Thanks Dawn for admitting your addiction. Don't go to any 12-step programs for reading any time soon.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Well, we had a day

Yesterday was terrific... that yellow thing was out all day and I was happy to have windows down in the car again. But my attention this morning turns to gardening. I THINK I might actually get some veggies planted this weekend. I'm getting all excited thinking about it. Of course as I think about gardening, I think about my greenhouse and how it needs to have everything taken OUT and cleaned up from winter/spring. I enjoy this task. Feels so fresh when it's done. I will do that on Saturday and celebrate by writing out there. I did not do that this spring (OK, technically is is still spring) and look forward to the special feeling I get looking out through the wavery glass, a feeling of spooky color and shapes. I let all the geraniums (gerania?) die off this winter. They were so spindly and weak after 4 seasons of in and out that I decided to start over this spring. I will go to the local nursery and find special ones, with interesting shapes of petals, bright and varied colors. I have these wonderful opaque pots (all sizes) in ice-creamy colors and in red and blue. I love how it looks from the outside to see these pots lined up on the shelf, their plants a-bloom. And there is something special about the smell of a geranium. A really earthy smell. Mmm.

Eventually I need to get electricity out there. Not sure how that will work, but I would like to work out there after dark. OK, you're thinking candles. A good plan too. I'm thinking some kind of solar light that doesn't need wires and connection to the grid. I would like to be able to plug in a fan or a heater (for winter). Dilemma. Any suggestions from out-there-land?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

OK ... the sonnet and other frustrations...part 1

I am ticked off. I am really frustrated. I am annoyed. I am disconcerted. Did I mention ticked off?

Don't get me wrong here, I love sonnets. I really love sonnets. But what I do NOT like is the pole-up-butt attitude on the parts of some folks regarding what constitutes a sonnet.

Yesterday's Maine Poets Society meeting featured a speaker/contest judge who took on the sonnet as his part of the afternoon's judging/activity. He totally rejected from award any sonnet that did not conform to the five beat line. OMG. The four beat line is a perfectly acceptable way to go here. AND, many many many sonnets of great repute, including some of Shakespeare's, have substitutions in meter, such as beginning a line with a trochee. He admitted that he did not consider any which did not conform to the five beat line.... really? OMG  OK, he is right to adhere to the five beat line IN HIS OWN WRITING. No problem there for me. But into what damned century is he sucking us here? We live in the 21st, thank you very much.

I can now see why so many of my professors (undergrad) and advisors (MFA) mocked the formalists and said they are "making it old." We cannot dial it back, people. We CAN use the sonnet frame to paint a newer, more contemporary portrait. Robert Bly and others have tweaked the form to make it more American. In fact many believe that the framework of 14 lines is up for revision as well. I am ok with that. My mindset is more aligned to the notion of variations on a basic. What I do emphasize in teaching others to write a sonnet is that you have to know the form before you tweak it. I was encouraged in this thinking by a few very smart teachers at Iowa and other places.

Let's face it, for most students of poetry, and not just a few practiced poets, the form is a daunting proposition. Most just avoid it altogether. They do themselves and poetry a huge disservice in this avoidance. It is not a form to fear. It is a wonderful platform from which to build skill in poetry, particularly in the realm of meter and rhyme. Many situations about which you might like to write are well-suited to this form. The obvious unrequited love theme is not all there is to writing a sonnet. Themes that are lighthearted and jovial are ok here too, especially the parody.
But there are some that are simply done in by imposition of the form on topic. Not everything can be a poem anyway. I had a professor in college who, in an intermediate poetry class, took out a credit card and read the information on the back, asking us if this can be considered a poem. One dunderhead in the class said, "oh of's a manner of personal interpretation." Uh-oh. I won't get detailed about the professor's response, but suffice it to say there was a loud silence after he stormed out of the room. Yikes. My point is that not everything ought to be applied to the sonnet form if the poem is to be taken as a serious sonnet attempt.

One thing I did a few years ago was to devise a teaching plan for decreasing the anxiety of my students in terms of their willingness to try a sonnet. It was originally designed (this thing I invented) to just be a springboard to the "real" sonnet. What has happened tangentially is a new form, one that I sometimes use outside of teaching. People who have learned it like it. It is fun to do and does not mock the sonnet or parody it. It is most definitely NOT an actual sonnet. But it is a foot in the door to "Sonnetland." I call it the "perfect reversing sonnet" or the "sonnetelle."

Now that I have your attention, a break to take a little snooze. Back later with the rest of the story.