“Turn on the dream you lived through the unwavering gaze. It is as you thought: the living burn. In the floating days may you discover grace.” ~ Galway Kinnell, from “Easter”
Wednesday afternoon, overcast, 52 degrees.
It’s not a wordless Wednesday; actually, it’s a Wednesday full of words. I usually check my birthday sites before beginning a post to see if I want to include something about a particular writer or just mention a birthday worth nothing. But as February is almost over—a fact that I’m having a real problem wrapping my head around—and as the month happens to include birthdays of so many authors/poets/essayists whose work I love and admire (for whatever reason), I thought that I’d share a brief list. Each name is linked to a bio for that person. I’ve also included just a few of my favorite quotes and/or selections from works.
So, yeah. Lots of words for what is usually a wordless day . . . Enjoy.
Galway Kinnell, Rhode Island-born poet and 1983 Pulitzer prize winner (February 1, 1927-October 28, 2014). Aside: favorite poem by him is “The Olive Wood Fire”
Langston Hugues, African-American poet and translator, leading figure of the Harlem Renaissance (February 1, 1902-May 22, 1967):
“Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor —
Bare.” ~ Langston Hughes, from “Mother to Son”
James Joyce, Irish novelist, poet, and stream-of-consciousness pioneer, author of Ulysses (1922), which was banned in the U.S until 1933 (February 2, 1882-January 13, 1941)
“It is like what we imagine knowledge to be:
dark, salt, clear, moving, utterly free,
drawn from the cold hard mouth
of the world, derived from the rocky breasts
forever, flowing and drawn” ~ Elizabeth Bishop, from “At the Fishhouses”
Kate Chopin, St. Louis, Missouri-born writer of The Awakening and numerous short stories (February 8, 1850-August 22, 1904)
Alice Walker, Georgia-born novelist, poet, and political activist who won the 1982 Pulitzer Prize for The Color Purple (February 9, 1944)
Boris Pasternak, Russian-born poet and author of Doctor Zhivago; he won the Nobel Prize in literature (1958) but was forced by the Soviet government to decline (February 10, 1890-May 30, 1960)
Toni Morrison, Ohio-born African American novelist, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Beloved in 1987 and the first African American woman to be selected for the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993 (February 18, 1931-August 5, 2019):
“And I am all the things I have ever loved:
scuppernong wine, cool baptisms in silent water,
dream books and number playing. I am the sound of
my own voice singing . . .
I am not complete here; there is much more,
but there is no more time and no more space . . . and I
have journeys to take, ships to name and crews.” ~ Toni Morrison, from the jacket of The Black Book
Anaïs Nin, novelist and diarist, ground-breaking The Diary of Anaïs Nin published in 1966 (February 21-1903-January 14, 1977)
W. H. Auden, U.S. poet, winner of 1948 Pulitzer (February 21, 1907-September 28, 1973)
Edna St. Vincent Millay, Maine poet and playwright, 1923 Pulitzer prize winner for The Ballad of the Harp Weaver (February 22, 1892-October 19, 1950)
Anthony Burgess, English essayist, novelist, and musician, author of 1962 novel A Clockwork Orange (February 25, 1917-November 22, 1993)
John Steinbeck, American novelist and Pulitzer prize winner in 1940 for The Grapes of Wrath, and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962, an award that few, including the author, believed he deserved (February 27, 1902-December 20, 1968):
“As happens sometimes, a moment settled and hovered and remained for much more than a moment. And sound stopped and movement stopped for much, much more than a moment.” ~ John Steinbeck, from Of Mice and Men
Personally, I always liked Steinbeck more than Faulkner, and Fitzgerald more than both, and Carson McCullers more than all of them.
More later. Peace.
Music by Martin Harley and Daniel Kimbro, “Goodnight Irene”
“She turned her face seaward to gather in an impression of space and solitude, which the vast expanse of water, meeting and melting with the moonlit sky, conveyed to her excited fancy. As she swam she seemed to be reaching out for the unlimited in which to lose herself.” ~ Kate Chopin, from The Awakening
Sunday, early afternoon. Cloudy, low 80’s.
After I posted on Friday I went on a cleaning binge that didn’t stop until yesterday afternoon. I was feeling hyper and antsy, a bit like I was crawling out of my skin, so I did the floors, cleaned all of the air conditioner vents, bizarre stuff like that, and then yesterday I woke up at 10 and stayed up, making this week the first week in a very long time in which I got up early twice (for me) and stayed up.
I know that the previous statement might seem more than a bit strange for people who keep regular hours, and I understand that, especially as a woman who used to get by on five hours of sleep a night, a woman who used to rise at 5 a.m. deliberately, but I am no longer that woman, unfortunately.
Anyway, the house is clean, the laundry is done (except for the bundle of dirty clothes that Eamonn came home and deposited this morning), and I’m still antsy, antsy and aching. So much nervous energy. My big chore for today is to clean off my desk and put away my sweaters, as I’m pretty sure that sweater season is gone.
“All my life I told myself I was light and could soar free of things. I was light and could outrun things. I could fly away and keep flying forever.” ~ Kenneth Oppel, from “Airborn”
Yesterday I read two books, another preposterous statement, but true, nonetheless. First I read one of the books that Brett bought me for M’s day, Jon Winokur’s Advice to Writers, which was a really good read, so glad that it was on my wish list. And then in the evening I read Keepsake by Tess Gerritsen, which I have a vague feeling I may have read before, but I’m not quite sure. It was also a good read, fast-paced and not completely predictable.
Advice to Writers is a compilation of quotes from writers on various aspects of writing—characterization, genre, structure—and writing in general. What I liked the most is that the writers from whom he culled the quotes were varied and not necessarily the ones who are familiar to a general audience, in other words, writers not authors—and there is a difference. Just consider the different between, say, Judith Krantz and Dominick Dunne. Even my mother’s has probably heard of Krantz but would be hard-pressed to identify Dunne.
I underlined and starred passages, and then I passed it along to Brett, who is turning into quite an awesome writer. Perhaps he’ll do what I’ve never done and actually do something with his writing (something other than dedicating himself to a blog, which, granted, is my choice).
“This is what the things can teach us: to fall, patiently to trust our heaviness. Even a bird has to do that before he can fly.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke
The other day I did something incredibly stupid: I received a text saying that my name had been drawn for a $1,000 gift card to Best Buy. I enter a few contests here and there, mostly radio contests or the rare contest associated with something like “The Borgias.” I didn’t remember entering a Best Buy contest, but I thought that perhaps Corey had, so I went to the website listed on the text . . .
. . . bad idea. It was a virus. Brett was incredulous. How could I do something like that?
How? perhaps I had hoped that it was a sign that the tide was turning, that our luck was changing. Perhaps it was a pipe dream. I should have known better. I’ve won two contests in my life, and one was for hockey tickets . . .
So anyway, live and learn. I mean, it wasn’t even a case of caveat emptor as I hadn’t bought anything. Lesson: Don’t respond to a text saying that you’ve won a contest you never entered. Wait. That could be a mantra for life, couldn’t it?
“I missed my stop looking at heartbreak, the sky almost criminal.” ~ Yusef Komunyakaa, from “NJ Transit”
I discovered Yusef Komunyakaa quite by accident: There used to be a bookstore in the shopping center down the road. It was one of those glorious book stores, filled with stacks and stacks of books. The reality is that it existed mostly because of the porn section, which was behind a swinging door, but I never care about that. If I was diligent, I could almost always leave there with a book of poetry or a journal of some kind, but it meant lots of bending down and sitting on the dusty floor, searching for treasures.
I found my first Anne Rule book there, The Stranger Beside Me, the book about Ted Bundy that made her famous. But I also found so many books by poets I didn’t know. I’d pull them down, create a stack on the floor, and then flip through the pages, reading samples from each. If I was intrigued, I’d purchase.
The books never cost more than $10, and most were only six or seven dollars, never the cover price. I realize now that my bargains were not necessarily boons for the writers, but I like to think that because of these discounted books, I bought more books later, balancing the scales of commerce.
Anyway, I discovered Komunyakaa there. I pulled down the book mostly because of his last name: What kind of name was that? It sounded poetic in itself. And I flipped through the pages of Dien Cai Dau (1988) and found his poem about The Wall in DC, the Viet Nam veterans’ memorial. The poem blew me away.
In 1994 Komunyakaa was awarded the Pulitzer for poetry, just one of his many awards. I would love to hear this man read; I’ve heard that he is incredible in person.
“And when a poet dies, deep in the night a lone black bird wakes up in the thicket and sings for all it’s worth.” ~ Miroslav Holub, from “Interferon” (trans. by Dana Habova and David Young)
The next book on my reading list is A Poet’s Notebook, another one that I learned of via tumblr. I continue to be amazed by the new things that I find on my tumblr dashboard: new poets, new poems, new artists. Truthfully, before I began my tumblr, I had never read any Polish poetry, and very little Russian poetry, something that I am embarrassed to admit.
The scope of world literature has broadened so much in the past few decades, and that’s really a good thing. When I was an undergraduate, the world literature to which we were exposed may have encompassed a narrow spectrum of Europe (Chekhov), perhaps some South Africa (Gordimer), a little South America (Marquez), but certainly not the wide scope of what is included in such courses today.
That makes me sad, in a way. I mean, I used to insist to the students in my literature classes that we were going to study more than the old dead white guy canon, and I tried to include writers and poets from every place and every race, but even then I was limited. The Internet has made so many more writers accessible, which is just one of the reasons why I am so against any kind of Internet censorship or limitation.
I know that I am buying more books by people I’ve only learned of via the Internet solely because of my exposure through venues such as other blogs and tumblr. I wouldn’t be interested in these people were it not for this information highway (which is a term that I find silly, actually). Anyway, the point is that while I understand that the Interwebs contain a lot of bad things, I believe that the good things far outweigh those negative aspects.
Like all of life, it is impossible to have access to the enlightening, the beautiful, the mystical without also allowing access to the ugly, the frightening and the despicable. But there’s that things called free will rearing its head again. The choice is ours.
More later. Peace.
Music by Wilco, “Black Moon”
*All images are taken from greeksky.gr., an absolutely incredible photography site.
Her eyelids were painted blue.
When she closed her eyes the sea
rolled in like ten thousand fiery chariots,
leaving behind silence above & below
a thousand years old. He stood beneath
a high arched window, gazing out
at fishing boats beyond the dikes, their nets
unfurled, their offshore gestures
a dance of living in bluish entourage.
He was only the court’s chief jester.
What he said & did made them laugh,
but lately what he sometimes thought he knew
could cost him his polished tongue & royal wig.
He was the masked fool unmasking the emperor.
Forget the revelation. Forget the briny sea.
He had seen the ravishing empress naked
in a forbidden pose. Her blue eye shadow.
Aquamarine shells crusted with wormy mud.
Anyway, if he said half of what was foretold,
the great one would become a weeping boy
slumped beneath the Pillars of Hercules.
“Dont forget, you are always on our minds.” ~ Fortune Cookie
“You are more likely to give than give in.” ~ Fortune Cookie
Headache was much worse today. Alternating between heat and ice. Anyone have any suggestions? The magnesium may be helping in the prevention, but the duration is ratcheting back up. The Topomax was great as a preventive and in shortening the duration, but the side effects were just too severe. The worst one was the effect on my cognitive abilities: I found myself always searching for words and had no memory of any kind.
Anyway, that’s the news on that front.
I reread Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House” today. Brett is studying the play in school, and his English teacher said that “Medea” and “Doll’s House” would be two big subjects on the IB exam. I want to be able to help Brett prepare, and besides, I love that play. I had forgotten, though, how much I absolutely despise the character of the husband, Torvald Helmer.
I know that he is a reflection of the times, but please. Referring to Nora as his little songbird, his this, his that. Even though Ibsen wasn’t that big on women’s rights, his play was revolutionary in presenting a woman who ended up rejecting the traditional role of wife and mother. Brett’s instructor said that they will be doing Kate Chopin’s The Awakening soon.
That’s another piece that I really love. I used to teach that book in my literature classes back in the day. Chopin’s book was also considered revolutionary in its presentation of a strong female protagonist.
“A thrilling time is in your immediate future.” ~ Fortune Cookie
As for the rest of my evening, I’m not really sure if I want to watch a Korean horror flick that’s on cable freezone, or just play Mah Jong on the computer. I just know that I don’t want to do anything that involves too much thought. At the moment, I’m enjoying a reprieve on the migraine. It has lessened to the point of lingering just behind my eyes and forehead. Much better than this morning when it felt as if someone was drilling inside my head directly behind my right eye. That sensation is always so pleasant . . .
I’m hoping that the abatement will continue until the headache goes away, but I never try to predict these things. That’s just asking for trouble, ensuring that the headache will last for three or four more days if I dare to think that it may be ending. Superstitious? Who me?
Actually, I’m not really superstitious, until I am. It’s more that I believe in signs, kind of like Corey having continued dreams involving the number three. I don’t know what the signs are portending, but I think that they are there sometimes just waiting for us to pay attention.
It’s kind of like predestination, as in, do you believe that things have already been determined so that if you make a decision and a certain outcome results, was that outcome always going to result anyway? Fate . . . Joss . . . Karma.
One of these days I’m going to have someone do a Tarot card reading on me, just for kicks. This is hard to explain, but I am very, very cynical/skeptical about most things, including fortune telling and Tarot cards, but I’m also fascinated by these things (in a coincidence, earnest probing kind of way . . . sort of). I mean, all of the little tricks that fortune tellers use. Someone close to you is trying to reach you from the other side. Well, odds are fairly good that if you are alive, someone in your life has died. That one’s not hard. Or how about, you are going to meet someone soon who will have a great effect on your life . . .
Okay. Could be the IRS telling you that you are up for an audit. Could be the checkout person at the grocery store who points out that you just dropped your wallet. Could be the pizza delivery person bringing you heartburn in a box. When don’t you meet someone who will affect your life in some way?
But the Tarot cards themselves can be absolutely beautiful. Decks come in so many variations, with artwork ranging from sparse black and white line drawings to elaborate, full-color images.
I do have one question, though. Exactly how does one get a reading over the telephone? I mean, I thought that there needed to be some kind of physical contact, if for nothing else but to assess a client’s eagerness for revealed truths as indicated by facial expressions and pupil dilation.
Maybe I’ve just been watching too much Lie to Me (love Tim Roth) and getting into the whole body reading thing. Okay. I’ll stop. Just thinking out loud.
“Your everlasting patience will be rewarded sooner or later.” ~ Fortune Cookie
As you can probably tell, I’m just meandering here. Too much concentration would be called for if I were to try to put together a linear post. I mean, I had considered doing the whole post about “A Doll’s House,” but thinking too much hurts, and that play is just ripe for all kinds of discussions: the roles of men and women in society, free will, symbolism, societal proscriptions, the concept of self-ideation solely through the relationship with the male (father then husband). Heady fodder for a post, just not tonight.
Have I mentioned that I miss teaching? Didn’t think so.
“Never trouble trouble till trouble troubles you.” ~ Fortune Cookie
Let me finish up with one of my dreams: Last night I dreamed that I was saying goodbye to Tom Cruise before he was about to take off on a deployment in his fighter jet. This is curious for a couple of reasons. I used to be a TC fan before he lost it and went overboard with the whole scientology scenario, but not so much any more. So for me to be giving him a big old smooch goodbye is weird.
The other weird part of the dream was that immediately after kissing Tom goodbye, I walked over to Corey, who had a boot camp haircut and was wearing fatigues, and kissed him goodbye. After I kissed Corey, I assured him that I was going to break it off with Tom, but I didn’t want to do that right before he deployed.
These two men have absolutely nothing in common. One is tall, the other short. One is sane, the other not. And one is rich and the other is my spouse.
The other really weird part of the dream was the reaction on the part of the other women who were bidding adieu to their significant others. They all ostracized me for kissing two men goodbye. One even tried to block my view in looking out the window at the fleet as they left. Then, and this is the weirdest part of all, some MP came up to me and said that I was wanted by the stage, where whoever was in charge proceeded to give me the best seat in the house, right in the middle of the first row, except my seat was a folding webbed lawn chair, and everyone else had nice cushioned folding chair.
Were we talking about symbolism? Tom Cruise? Why couldn’t it have been Clive Owen? Him, I might not have promised to give up. Oh well. Maybe that’s why my headache was worse when I woke up: At some point, Tom probably tried to convert me to scientology, and true to form, I probably ended up bopping him over the head with a book.
Parting words:“A feather in the hand is better than a bird in the air” (Fortune Cookie)
Franco Battioto’s version of “Ruby Tuesday” from Children of Men. By the way, absolutely incredible underrated, underexposed movie but not for those who don’t care to delve too deeply.