Category Archives: Poems

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?

My Favorite Food

It seems that whenever Husband and I go to the grocery store our cart is full of dairy products. We are big milk drinkers, and we use lots of butter, cheese, sour cream, ice cream, yogurt, and skyr. I put half and half in my coffee.  Thank goodness I don’t have lactose intolerance.  I even have read reports recently that whole milk and full fat dairy products may help to prevent heart disease. Our son and daughter-in-law are instructed by the pediatrician to feed their son whole milk. I was told to offer 1% milk when our children were young. Things have changed.

One of my favorite memories of living in Winnipeg was attending the Winnipeg Folk Festival. I loved the music, of course, but also some of the non-musical acts like the poet Peter Paul Van Camp. He is an Ohio native and was a regular on the Canadian folk festival circuit and lived for a while in Winnipeg.  He writes and recites some wonderful and clever poems. I wouldn’t be surprised if most Baboons know of him, but if not, I am happy to introduce you.  It was really something to be at the Winnipeg Festival out under the stars and hear several thousand people shout,  “DAIRY PRODUCTS”, until he began his recitation. The following YouTube clip was filmed at a smaller venue:

What is your favorite food? Write a haiku for hot dogs or a sonnet for soup.

A Decade on the Trail

This is Part 1 of a two part trip down memory lane from Barbara in River Town.

We’ve been blogging here for (are you ready?) 10 years. For anyone new to the Trail, this group started when we were still listening to a beloved (Minnesota Public Radio) Morning Show that aired from 6 – 9 a.m. in the 80s, 90s and aughts (2000s). It was an eclectic music extravaganza peppered with cleaver (see Glossary above) ads, zany characters and radio plays put together by Dale Connelly (a master of parody and verse) and Jim Ed Pool (aka Tom Keith, the super sound effects guy for Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion). When Jim Ed retired at end of 2008, Dale stayed on, and the program morphed into an online streaming station called Radio Heartland https://www.thecurrent.org/heartland/ . Dale also created a blog in early 2009 called the Trial Balloon, in which he’d write an introductory piece about anything under the sun, talk about it on the radio, and ask a question at the end to get an online conversation going.

Dale, our Alpha Baboon, hung in there posting 6 days a week for most of the next 5 years. By the time he decided it was time for a sabbatical, he had written 1,166 of the 1,397 posts (231 of them being guest posts provided by the Baboon Congress when he was away). Here is his June 3, 2015 entry:   https://trailbaboon.com/2015/06/03/five-year-plan/  at the end of that phase.

The Baboons rose to the challenge, and kept the blog going with a wide-ranging collection of guest posts for the next 18 months or so, with Dale chiming in from time to time with a post. In early 2017, Dale “cut the umbilical cord”, and we got our own url: www.trailbaboon.com/ , with Verily Sherrilee and Renee in North Dakota taking the reins of the blog, on alternating months. (This statement doesn’t begin to cover the work and commitment involved – I don’t even know how to describe it – and how grateful we are that they’ve taken this on.) Other baboons provide guest posts that we send to them by email (though not as often as we should).

At some point early on, we started also gathering in the space-and-time realm… I believe the first book club meeting was in June of 2010. (Go to above left under Blogroll: Blevens’ Book Club – there are even minutes to the first meetings!) And we started doing “field trips” – anyone know what year the Russian Art Museum trip was?

Over the years various baboons have come and gone, and occasionally come back – life happens, and some months or years work better for blogging than others. A core group of us are still here, several of whom have been posting and commenting almost from the beginning. Old-timers check in occasionally, and we love it when they do. We’ve found we just enjoy connecting most mornings (and sometimes late in the evening) in this mysterious place in cyberspace, to exchange thoughts, experiences, recipes, songs, book/movie recommendations, health info, travel or garden tips, musings on the English language…

What’s the strangest group you’ve ever hung out with? (…besides this one)