Category Archives: Poems

You Can’t know the wind

Last Monday was a wild weather day here, with sustained West winds all day of up to 47 mph, and prolonged gusts of up to 67 mph.  There were periods of whiteout from snow squalls intermingled with sunny periods and dust.  There were some things we needed at the store, so I hazarded a trip to Walmart at about 5:00, just when the wind was at its peak. I saw traffic lights that had come loose from their supports, dangling over intersections. I waited at a red light on the interstate bridge and the van took the full broadside brunt of the wind. I felt the van rock, and I was worried I might get tipped over. 

The wind was cold and horrible, full of dust as I ran into the store.  Of course, I left the grocery list in the van.  I wasn’t about to run back out to the van to get it, so I tried as best I could to remember what Husband had written .  I forgot only one thing, a jar of olives seasoned with smoked paprika. I had to stop at another grocery store anyway, so I thought I could probably get the olives there. Well, there were no such olives there, so I journeyed back to Walmart and struggled yet again in the wind, and I found the olives.  Husband was really hoping I could get these olives (more on the olives in another post). He was grateful, and I was really glad to be home. 

There is dirt from our front yard vegetable garden blown all over our front stoep and front door.  I have lived on the Great Plains most of my life and I don’t think I have been in wind like we had on Monday.  There is a lovely children’s book If You’re Not From the Prairie,  written by a Saskatchewan author, David Bouchard. (What we call the Plains Canadians call the Prairie.)  Here he is reading  it. It really captures life out here. 

What are your memories of wild weather?  Know any good poems, songs, or stories about the wind or weather?

Snollygoster

Dictionary.com still sends me an email every day.  Some days I already know the word and most days I think “I’ve never seen this word before and I doubt I’ll ever see it again.”  But it’s still fun.  Last week, the word snollygoster hit my Inbox.  It means a clever, unscrupulous person.  This definitely falls into the category of “I’ll probably never run into this again” but it seems like such a fun word that maybe I should play with it for a bit.

If you are clever

But a bit unscrupulous –

A snollygoster!

Can you use it in a sentence?  Extra points if you can do a better haiku than I did!

Poetry and Music

This has been a week of loss for us, with the deaths of Peter Ostroushko and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.  A musician and a poet gone.

I think this is a good weekend to think about and celebrate our favorite folk musicians and poets.  I had never in my life experienced folk music until 1981 when I first attended the Winnipeg Folk Festival. It was an absolutely magical experience,  and I was immediate  hooked. I attended every Winnipeg festival  every year I lived there, and many  after we left. When we moved back to the States in 1986, I finally had radio access to PHC, and not long after that I found the Morning Show. The rest is history.

Poetry appreciation has always been a stretch for me, but I have come to understand and love it with the gentle assistance of the Baboons. Thank you, all.

What are your favorite poems? What are your favorite folk groups,  festivals, and songs? What do you think is important for us to hear and read right now?

 

 

Inauguration Poetry

I’m not an inauguration kind of person.  I know they happen, but political speeches just don’t do it for me.  Even on a day when I was particularly glad that a certain inauguration was happening, I just didn’t want to watch.  Except for the poetry.  I can’t put the whole poem here (copyright issues) but I like this part quite a bit:

Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true:

That even as we grieved, we grew

That even as we hurt, we hoped

That even as we tired, we tried

I was surprised to discover that only four presidents have included poetry at their inaugurations: JFK, Clinton, Obama and now Biden (Carter had a poem but it was read at the gala not the swearing-in ceremony).   It will be interesting to see if the other party eventually decides to add poetry to their inauguration traditions.

While I’m happy about events this week, I admit I am still shaken by what the last four years has unearthed and disgorged in our nation.  So here is my haiku for the inauguration:

Breathing easier –

But still worried about us,

Too many crazies.

Any poetry speaking to you this week?  Yours or anybody else’s?

The Bookmark

I have never spent much time thinking about who has read a book before I have.  Every now and then I get a book from the library that is old enough that it still has the check-out card in the little pocket in the back and I love to see the dates on the card, but even that only suggests when it might have been read prior to computerization. 

Last week I found a bookmark (photo above) in a book from the library, left by the prior reader.  It’s not a store-bought bookmark, but a little piece of artwork that some parent (probably) grabbed when they need to mark their place.  This resonates with me because I often use a folded post-it note, an old receipt or even a piece of used envelope when the need arises, although I do have massive numbers of official bookmarks.  When I was working in the bookstore, publishers often sent bookmarks and I always grabbed one.  If I found a bookmark when I was traveling, I always picked it up.  And, of course, I make bookmarks, often as gifts, but I always make one for myself any time I do that.  But you know how it goes; if you are downstairs when you get to a good stopping point, you’re not going to go upstairs just to find a bookmark!

This particular bookmark looks to belong to someone who works in a financial advice company and is the parent to a four- or five-year old.  The book that I found it in was How to Fly in Ten Thousand Lessons by Barbara Kingsolver, so clearly a poetry lover and someone who prefers library books to purchased books this year.  But in my fantasy world I’d love to think that the last person who picked up this book was Shirley Jackson.  I just finished her book Life Among the Savages and she mentions reading several times.  She had four kids and I can imagine her grabbing a scrap of kids’ scribbling when she needed to put down a book.

What was the last book you finished?  Who would YOU like to have read it right before you? 

Problematic Hymns

Our church choir, usually at about eighteen voices, is now down to five, (two altos, one mezzo soprano, and two tenor/baritones). The director is an operatic type of soprano who can sing and direct at the same time, and the accompanist is a very fine bass/baritone who can’t sing and play at the same time.  He just accompanies, and does it very well.  We sing masked and socially distanced, which is interesting in terms of listening to one another and blending.  We sing once a month.

I love to sing in the church  choir.  I have mixed feelings about sitting in the congregation and singing hymns.  I grew up in a Norwegian Lutheran congregation in South West Minnesota, and we had to sing every blessed verse in every hymn on Sunday.  To this day I just cringe when I have have to sing  four or more verses in the hymns.  I like the sentiment in the early verses, but I am more drawn to the melody and harmonies.

The folks we sing with in choir are an opinionated bunch when it comes to hymns. The accompanist, a retired high school choir director,  blanches when Amazing Grace is in the bulletin.  He can’t stand it for some reason.  The mezzo soprano, an elementary music teacher, refuses to sing Blessed Assurance  because she finds it so smarmy, and my fellow alto, a college librarian, cringes at Holy, Holy, Holy  because she had to sing it so often as a child.  I am drawn to mournful Scandinavian, German, and English tunes, but please don’t make me sing more than two verses of anything.

When I attended Concordia College in the 1970’s, the Concert Choir sang what I thought was a very odd song written by Paul J. Christiansen,  the choir director at the time,  based on Carl Sandburg’s  Prayers of Steel:

Lay me on an anvil; O God.
Beat me and hammer me into a crowbar.
Let me pry loose old walls.
Let me lift and loosen old foundations.
Lay me on an anvil, God.

Beat me and hammer me into a steel spike.
Drive me into the girders that hold a
skyscraper together.
Take red-hot rivets and fasten me into the
central girders.
Let me be the great nail holding a skyscraper
through blue nights
into white stars.

I don’t know If I would have chosen this as the text for a sacred song, but hey, it only has two verses.

What are your favorite songs?  What songs can’t you stand?  What do you like to sing?

Nobody Loses All The Time

I thought last month when the water pipe burst in the wall of my best friend’s apartment, soaking much of the  the flooring, that she was one of the most unlucky persons I knew. The burst pipe was one in a long string of unfortunate events in her life.  Her issues pale in comparison with another friend of mine who, since Easter,  was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, had surgery that permanently damaged her vocal cords,  and then got the terrible news that her only son, who she had placed for adoption forty years ago and reconnected with last year, had died of the Covid-19 virus.  She writes that her life has turned out like a country western song full of bad luck and disaster.  She has supportive family and friends, but how on earth do you get beyond these sorts of tragedies?

I don’t know why but  I couldn’t help thinking about e e cummings poem, nobody loses all the time after hearing about my friends’ terrible luck.

It isn’t exactly a comforting poem, and I suppose it cold be construed as pretty irreverent, but I think it sums up a need to find hope in the darkest of times.

What gives you hope?  Share some hopeful poetry. 

 

Narration

This was one of the poems last week on Writer’s Almanac.

The Cross of Snow

In the long, sleepless watches of the night,
A gentle face—the face of one long dead—
Looks at me from the wall, where round its head
The night-lamp casts a halo of pale light.
Here in this room she died; and soul more white
Never through martyrdom of fire was led
To its repose; nor can in books be read
The legend of a life more benedight.
There is a mountain in the distant West
That, sun-defying, in its deep ravines
Displays a cross of snow upon its side.
Such is the cross I wear upon my breast
These eighteen years, through all the changing scenes
And seasons, changeless since the day she died.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Although I’ve never been a huge Longellow fan, I had been thinking of Rhiannon right before I clicked on the site, so this poem really spoke to me.

Of course, I had to look up “benedight” (it means blessed) and that led me down a rabbit hole where I eventually found this spoken version on YouTube.

The poem is read by Jean Aked, but I found it a little off, partly because it’s a woman’s voice narrating a poem from the point of view of an older man, but also because of her English accent; Longfellow was such a quintessential American poet.

Several years ago I might not have really noticed this, but listening to lots of audiobook has made me a bit of a voice “connoisseur”.  There are quite a few book narrators whose voices I recognize when I hear them and I have favorites: Simon Vance, Robert Bathurst, Jayne Entwhistle.  I usually like it when authors narrate their own books (like Bill Bryson) because they bring a special nuance to their own material.  Occasionally I don’t like a narrator at all, which can actually sour an audio book for me.  One of the most prolific audio book narrators is George Guidall.  Unfortunately, the very first audio book that I heard him narrate was something I just couldn’t stand.  So even after several years, every time I hear his voice it takes me right back to that dreadful book and I have to really concentrate to get past my negative feelings.  But he is a very good narrator so I continue to try to get past this.

All this leads me back to the Longfellow poem.  I’ve heard two narrators read it now and I think I’ll stick with the Garrison Keillor version!

It’s the story of your life.  Who would you like to narrate it?

Reading Mystery

A few years ago, back when a librarian needed to check out your books for you, the older red-haired librarian at the desk (Anna would know her name) said “My, you have a wide set of topics here.” I don’t remember what I was checking out, but I do read across a fairly wide swath.  Science fiction, fiction, mystery, a variety of science, biography, history, philosophy, fantasy, kid lit, thrillers.  About the only thing I don’t read is romance if I can help it.

It was about that time that I started keeping track of how I got the idea to read a particular book. I have several categories for this – my book clubs, BookPage from the library, Writer’s Almanac, my various “lists” (English Monarchs, Presidents, Newbury & Caldecott winners, etc.) and the Trail. By far the biggest category is O&A (Out & About), a catch-all for everything else.

I’m pretty good at remembering where I find a title that I want to read, but every now and then I am surprised when I go to my hold shelf in the library. I knew from looking at my online account that there was an InterLibrary Loan titled Meetings with Remarkable Trees waiting for me.  It had the sound of poetry and many of the poetry books I look for end up coming from other libraries: I assumed it was poetry.  So imagine my surprise it’s a lovely photo book with essays about specific trees.  It’s fascinating but I’m not sure where the idea came from?  It’s not exactly the kind of thing that you find in the mainstream.

So I’ve decided it must be something that was recommended to me on the Trail. It’s about nature, so it might be Clyde (he is usually my go-to for travel books, but it seems like something he might like).  But it has absolutely lovely nature photos, so it might be the kind of thing recommended by Steve or Cynthia or BiR.  It’s a little off the beaten path, which has Bill written all over it.  The author is originally from Ireland, which means that it might have been recommended by PJ, who has a broader range of non-American authors.  I’ve haven’t gone back to the Trail and done a search: for now it’s a nice little mystery.

Do you do well at taking advice? Or do you prefer to GIVE advice?