Dear Reader

Random musings on reading and books from a librarian in training.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Trouble With Poetry

To close out poetry month, one more poem by Billy Collins. I can't think of another literary event until Banned Books Week. (If you have one in mind, leave a comment.)

The Trouble With Poetry - Billy Collins

The trouble with poetry, I realized
as I walked along a beach one night -
cold Florida sand under my bare feet,
a show of stars in the sky -

the trouble with poetry is
that it encourages the writing of more poetry,
more guppies crowding the fish tank,
more baby rabbits
hopping out of their mothers into the dewy grass.

And how will it ever end?
unless the day finally arrives
when we have compared everything in the world
to everything else in the world,

and there is nothing left to do
but quietly close our notebooks
and sit with our hands folded on our desks.

Poetry fills me with joy
and I rise like a feather in the wind.
Poetry fills me with sorrow
and I sink like a chain flung from a bridge.

But mostly poetry fills me
with the urge to write poetry,
to sit in the dark and wait for a little flame
to appear at the tip of my pencil.

And along with that, the longing to steal,
to break into the poems of others
with a flashlight and a ski mask.

And what an unmerry band of thieves we are,
cut-purses, common shoplifters,
I thought to myself
as a cold wave swirled around my feet
and the lighthouse moved its megaphone over the sea,
which is an image I stole directly
from Lawrence Ferlinghetti -
to be perfectly honest for a moment -

the bicycling poet of San Francisco
whole little amusement park of a book
I carried in a side pocket of my uniform
up and down the treacherous halls of high school.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Green - DH Lawrence

Green – DH Lawrence

The dawn was apple-green,
The sky was green wine held up in the sun,
The moon was a golden petal between.

She opened her eyes, and green
They shone clear like flowers undone
For the first time, now for the first time seen.

(Image via


This poem is by Jane Shore from A Yes-or-No Answer,
which came out in March and was recently featured on NPR.

A Yes-or-No Answer

Have you read The Story of O?
Will Buffalo sink under all that snow?
Do you double-dip your Oreo?
Please answer the question yes or no.

The surgery -- was it touch-and-go?
Does a corpse's hair continue to grow?
Remember when we were simpatico?
Answer my question: yes or no.

Do you want another cup of joe?
If I touch you, is it apropos?
Are you certain that you're hetero?
Is your answer yes or no?

Did you lie to me, like Pinocchio?
Was forbidden fruit the cause of woe?
Did you ever sleep with that so-and-so?
Just answer the question: yes or no.

Did you nail her under the mistletoe?
Won¡¯t you spare me the details, blow by blow?
Did she sing sweeter than a vireo?
I need an answer. Yes or no?

Are we still a dog-and-pony show?
Shall we change partners and do-si-do?
Are you planning on the old heave-ho?
Check an answer: Yes No.

Did I wear something blue in my trousseau?
Do you take this man, this woman? Oh,
but that was very long ago.

Did we say yes? Did we say no?
For better or for worse? Ergo,
shall we play it over, in slow mo?
Do you love me? Do you know?
Maybe yes. Maybe no.

More poetry

Poetry month is winding down. I had fun poking through my poetry books and posting some personal favorites. Along the way, I’ve discovered some poets who’ve captured my fancy like Billy Elliot.

NPR has two pieces on poetry worth checking out:

Lloyd Schwartz continues to make the rounds regarding the upcoming collection Elizabeth Bishop: Poems, Prose and Letters.

A Spring Bouquet of Poetry looks at five new volumes of poetry,

I'll be posting a poem by one of the authors featured in the second NPR clip.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Poetry for children

My family is in the midst of birthday season. I just picked up a charming book of poetry for one of my nephews (along with a Spiderman popup book.) Shapiro, who grew up in Andover, Mass., writes poetry for children. Her poems are parodies of famous poems like Because I Could Not Stop By Bike (Emily Dickinson's Because I Could Not Stop For Death.)

More information can be found about Shapiro at:

My Letter from the World is a parody/ inspired by Dickinson's This is My Letter to the World. It can be found in I Must Go Down to the Beach Again and Other Poems.

My Letter from the World

This is my letter from the world
That once it wrote to me
"Dear Friend," it spelled, in purple buds
upon a lilac tree.

"Come look around," the letter said
On mountains topped in snow.
"For if you search for a hundred years
There'd still be more to know.

"Please play with me," it wrote in waves
Beneath a bright blue sky,
Then signed itself, "Sincerely, World,"
Upon a butterfly.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Shooting of Dan McGrew

Today is my grandfather’s birthday. Born in 1901, he would have been 107 today. My grandfather – Harry aka Dr. Tobin – died only days after his 101st birthday. It always awes me to think of the things he saw in his lifetime – both World Wars, the Great Depression, the invention of cars, radio and television. He was an avid reader, enjoyed playing cards and knew a wealth of trivia. Perhaps it was because he grew up without tv or radio, but he could recite several poems by heart. One favorite was The Shooting of Dan McGrew by Robert Service.


The Shooting of Dan McGrew

A bunch of the boys were whooping it up in the Malamute saloon;
The kid that handles the music-box was hitting a rag-time tune;
Back of the bar, in a solo game, sat Dangerous Dan McGrew,
And watching his luck was his light-o'-love, the lady that’s known as Lou.

When out of the night, which was fifty below, and into the din and glare,
There stumbled a miner fresh from the creeks, dog-dirty, and loaded for bear.
He looked like a man with a foot in the grave and scarcely the strength of a louse,
Yet he tilted a poke of dust on the bar, and he called for drinks for the house.
There was none could place the stranger’s face, though we searched ourselves for a clue;
But we drank his health, and the last to drink was Dangerous Dan McGrew.

There’s men that somehow just grip your eyes, and hold them hard like a spell;
And such was he, and he looked to me like a man who had lived in hell;
With a face most hair, and the dreary stare of a dog whose day is done,
As he watered the green stuff in his glass, and the drops fell one by one.
Then I got to figgering who he was, and wondering what he'd do,
And I turned my head — and there watching him was the lady that’s known as Lou.

His eyes went rubbering round the room, and he seemed in a kind of daze,
Till at last that old piano fell in the way of his wandering gaze.
The rag-time kid was having a drink; there was no one else on the stool,
So the stranger stumbles across the room, and flops down there like a fool.
In a buckskin shirt that was glazed with dirt he sat, and I saw him sway,
Then he clutched the keys with his talon hands — my God! but that man could play.

Were you ever out in the Great Alone, when the moon was awful clear,
And the icy mountains hemmed you in with a silence you most could hear;
With only the howl of a timber wolf, and you camped there in the cold,
A helf-dead thing in a stark, dead world, clean mad for the muck called gold;
While high overhead, green, yellow, and red, the North Lights swept in bars? —
Then you've a hunch what the music meant . . . hunger and might and the stars.

And hunger not of the belly kind, that’s banished with bacon and beans,
But the gnawing hunger of lonely men for a home and all that it means;
For a fireside far from the cares that are, four walls and a roof above;
But oh! so cramful of cosy joy, and crowded with a woman’s love —
A woman dearer than all the world, and true as Heaven is true —
(God! how ghastly she looks through her rouge, — the lady that’s known as Lou.)

Then on a sudden the music changed, so soft that you scarce could hear;
But you felt that your life had been looted clean of all that it once held dear;
That someone had stolen the woman you loved; that her love was a devil’s lie;
That your guts were gone, and the best for you was to crawl away and die.
'Twas the crowning cry of a heart’s despair, and it thrilled you through and through —
"I guess I'll make it a spread misere," said Dangerous Dan McGrew.

The music almost dies away . . . then it burst like a pent-up flood;
And it seemed to say, "Repay, repay," and my eyes were blind with blood.
The thought came back of an ancient wrong, and it stung like a frozen lash,
And the lust awoke to kill, to kill . . . then the music stopped with a crash,
And the stranger turned, and his eyes they burned in a most peculiar way;
In a buckskin shirt that was glazed with dirt he sat, and I saw him sway;
Then his lips went in in a kind of grin, and he spoke, and his voice was calm,
And "Boys," says he, "you don't know me, and none of you care a damn;
But I want to state, and my words are straight, and I'll bet my poke they're true,
That one of you is a hound of hell . . . and that one is Dan McGrew."

Then I ducked my head and the lights went out, and two guns blazed in the dark;
And a woman screamed, and the lights went up, and two men lay stiff and stark.
Pitched on his head, and pumped full of lead, was Dangerous Dan McGrew,
While the man from the creeks lay clutched to the breast of the lady that’s known as Lou.

These are the simple facts of the case, and I guess I ought to know.
They say that the stranger was crazed with "hooch," and I'm not denying it’s so.
I'm not so wise as the lawyer guys, but strictly between us two —
The woman that kissed him — and pinched his poke — was the lady known as Lou.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The Comic Books War

I haven’t done much reading this week so I’m a little behind on my reading “schedule.” In the “to read” pile is The Ten Cent Plague.

It’s hard to imagine people burning comics, but apparently in the 1950s, a battle was raging over comics. NPR’s Talk of the Nation interviewed David Hajdu about his newest book. According to Hajdu, more than 100 laws were passed across the country restricting or outlawing the sales of comics. One listener emailed NPR recounting how her father burned her comic books in a bonfire.

The comic book industry was almost wiped out due to the controversy. On the surface it would appear comics are viewed very differently now what with Family Guy, The Simpsons, the popularity of the Cartoon Network and comics/graphic novel inspired movies like X-Men and the Fantastic Four.

Here’s an excerpt from Hajdu’s book:

Churches and community groups raged and organized campaigns against comic books. Young people acted out mock trials of comics characters. Schools held public burnings of comics, and students threw thousands of the books into the bonfires; at more than one conflagration, children marched around the flames reciting incantations denouncing comics. Headlines in newspapers and magazines around the country warned readers: "Depravity for Children — Ten Cents a Copy!" "Horror in the Nursery," "The Curse of the Comic Books." The offices of one of the most adventurous and scandalous publishers, EC Comics, were raided by the New York City police. More than a hundred acts of legislation were introduced on the state and municipal levels to ban or limit the sale of comics: Scores of titles were outlawed in New York, Connecticut, Maryland, and other states, and ordinances to regulate comics were passed in dozens of cities.

(There’s also a photo gallery with images from the book that’s worth checking out at NPR.)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Come Quickly

Come Quickly - Izumi Shikibu

Come quickly - as soon as
these blossoms open,

they fall.

This world exists

as a sheen of dew on flowers.

Tori & Comics ... swoon

All the world just stopped now
So you say you don't wanna stay together anymore
Let me take a deep breath babe
If you need me
Me and Neil'll be hangin' out with the dream king
Neil says hi
By the way I don't believe you're leaving
Cause me and Charles Manson like the same ice cream
I think it's that girl
And I think there're pieces of me you've never seen
Maybe she's just pieces of me you've never seen well

I’m going to raise the geek flag high on this one and say when I heard that there was a Tori Amos graphic novel coming out I was thrilled.

Comic Book Tattoo, which comes out in July, will be a collection of graphic stories inspired by Tori Amos songs.

She has a connection with graphic novels - Tori Amos and Neil Gaiman – Sandman creator – become friendly after Tori mentioned him in “Tear in Your Hand” (lyrics above). Gaiman’s character Delirium is also supposedly based on Amos.

On Image Comics Web site, Amos is quoted saying: “I have been surprised, excited and pleasantly shocked by these comics that are extensions of the songs that I have loved and therefore welcome these amazing stories of pictures and words because they are uncompromisingly inspiring …It shows you thought is a powerful formidable essence and can have a breathtaking domino effect."

I’ve seen Tori several times in concert. There’s something so mysterious and magical about her songs. Some are like little puzzles and some are like some warped fairy tales.

SHE'S YOUR COMICS: Tori Amos' "Comic Book Tattoo" -

(The above image comes from Image Comics Web site)

I am a thousand winds that blow

Do not stand at my grave and weep;
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

My Dream -- Ogden Nash

My Dream - Ogden Nash

This is my dream,
It is my own dream,
I dreamt it.
I dreamt that my hair was kempt.
Then I dreamt that my true love unkempt it.

Baseball poetry

A classic chestnut for the baseball fans.

Casey at the Bat - Ernest Lawrence Thayer

The Outlook wasn't brilliant for the Mudville nine that day:
The score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play.
And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,
A sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game.

A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
Clung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
They thought, if only Casey could get but a whack at that -
We'd put up even money, now, with Casey at the bat.

But Flynn preceded Casey, as did also Jimmy Blake,
And the former was a lulu and the latter was a cake;
So upon that stricken multitude grim melancholy sat,
For there seemed but little chance of Casey's getting to the bat.

But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,
And Blake, the much despised, tore the cover off the ball;
And when the dust had lifted, and the men saw what had occurred,
There was Jimmy safe at second and Flynn a-hugging third.

Then from 5,000 throats and more there rose a lusty yell;
It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;
It knocked upon the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,
For Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat.

There was ease in Casey's manner as he stepped into his place;
There was pride in Casey's bearing and a smile on Casey's face.
And when, responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat,
No stranger in the crowd could doubt 'twas Casey at the bat.

Ten thousand eyes were on him as he rubbed his hands with dirt;
Five thousand tongues applauded when he wiped them on his shirt.
Then while the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip,

gleamed in Casey's eye, a sneer curled Casey's lip.

And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the air,
And Casey stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there.
Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped-
"That ain't my style," said Casey. "Strike one," the umpire said.

From the benches, black with people, there went up a muffled roar,
Like the beating of the storm-waves on a stern and distant shore.
"Kill him! Kill the umpire!" shouted someone on the stand;
And its likely they'd a-killed him had not Casey raised his hand.

With a smile of Christian charity great Casey's visage shone;
He stilled the rising tumult; he bade the game go on;
He signaled to the pitcher, and once more the spheroid flew;
But Casey still ignored it, and the umpire said, "Strike two."

"Fraud!" cried the maddened thousands, and echo answered fraud;
But one scornful look from Casey and the audience was awed.
They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles strain,
And they knew that Casey wouldn't let that ball go by again.

The sneer is gone from Casey's lip, his teeth are clenched in hate;
He pounds with cruel violence his bat upon the plate.
And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go,
And now the air is shattered by the force of Casey's blow.

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
But there is no joy in Mudville - mighty Casey has struck out.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

More Mr. Pip

Here's Lloyd Jones discussing Mr. Pip.

More poetry -- Billy Collins

Mr. Pip - Lloyd Jones

I just finished my first book for the ORBIS TERRARUM Challenge – Mr. Pip by Lloyd Jones (New Zealand).

Mr. Pip takes place on a small island – Bougainville - that’s in the midst of a civil war. As the battle rages between rebels and the government's forces, the village is increasingly cut off from the outside world. Only one white man remains – Mr. Watts, known as Pop Eye to the villagers. He lives with a villager – Grace, but the two don't interact with the rest of the village. That changes when Mr. Watts offers to teach the children, who no longer have a school teacher.

Every day, Mr. Watts reads a chapter of Great Expectations. The narrator, Matilda, finds herself drawn to Pip’s world. Her increasing fascination with Great Expectations causes tension at home, with her mother worrying that Mr. Watts is leading the children astray. She distrusts Mr. Watts because he does not share her faith in God and is worried Matilda is becoming disconnected from her family's values and traditions.

“As we progressed through the book something happened to me. At some point I felt myself enter the story. I hadn’t been assigned a part – nothing like that; I wasn’t identifiable on the page, but I was there, I was definitely there. I knew that orphaned white kid and that small, fragile place he squeezed into between his awful sister and lovable Joe Gargery, because the same space came to exist between Mr. Watts and my mum. And I knew I would have to choose between the two.”

On the surface Matilda and Pip have nothing in common – she’s a black girl growing up on an isolated island in the grips of civil war in the 1990s, he’s an English orphan in the 1800s. But Dicken’s story transcends boundaries and helps provide Matilda with a refuge where her imagination can take flight.

“People sometimes ask me “Why Dickens?,” which I always take to be a gentle rebuke. I point to the one book that supplied me with another world at a time when it was desperately needed. It gave me a friend in Pip. It taught me you can slip under the skin of another just as easily as your own, even when that skin is white and belongs to a boy alive in Dickens’ England. Now, if that isn’t an act of magic I don’t know what is.”

Mr. Pip shows us the magic of books - that they can cross time, race and geography. That when the imagination is sparked, we learn we can truly transcend even hardships. The stories Mr. Watts and the children's mothers tell draws the reader in.


I wasn’t aware when reading Mr. Pip that the island Bougainville exists and it did undergo a civil war.

A Bougainvillian Gives Mr Pip The Thumbs-Up -

Bougainville Backgrounder -

Mr. Pip also won the Kiriyama Prize,

Monday, April 21, 2008

Still Here

Still Here - Langston Hughes

I been scared and battered.
My hopes the wind done scattered.
Snow has friz me,
Sun has baked me,

Looks like between 'em they done
Tried to make me

Stop laughin', stop lovin', stop livin' --
But I don't care
I'm still here!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Splurging in Harvard Square

Last night I saw Cheryl Wheeler at Club Passim. It's first show I've ever seen inside Club Passim (I saw Richard Thompson at a Club Passim event, but it was the show was in a larger venue.) What a great place to see a show. It's a very intimate setting. Cheryl is also a great storyteller. She told so many funny and sweet stories.

Before the show, I went on for me what was a mini-shopping spree. I went to the Coop and bought The Ten-Cent Plague and Michael Chabon's Maps and Legends. The picture does not do Chabon's cover justice. There's three separate flaps making up the dust jacket. I read about both books on Pop Candy. After she wrote this about Maps and Legends, how could I not add it to my wish list.

"Each time I hang out with his work, I feel like I'm a better person for it."

There might have been some frivolous purchases too! I stopped in at Tokyo Kid and bought two Fruits Basket plushes. Here's Nisa with Shigure.

Signs of spring

Friday, April 18, 2008

corporal cuddling

I'm really not that crazy cat person, but after spotting this video several places I had to share. Wait until corporal cuddling and cat yodeling. Hysterical!

Thursday, April 17, 2008


Tomorrow I’m seeing Cheryl Wheeler at Club Passim. Her songs range from the ridiculous to the sublime.

From Potatoes (yes it’s a song about potatoes)

They have eyes but they do not have faces
I don't know if their feelings get hurt
By just hanging around in dark places
Where they only can stare at the dirt

to Gandhi/ Buddha

I must've been Gandhi or Buddah or someone like that,
I must've saved lives by the hundreds everywhere I went.
I must've brought rest to the restless, fed the hungry too,
I must've done something great to get to have you.

National Library Week

There’s only a few days left to make a special trip to your library. This week (4/13-4/19) is National Library Week.

Pre-Internet, Xboxes, iPods, publishers and libraries were concerned about American’s reading habits. National Library Week dates back to the 1950s. According to research at the time, Americans were reading less. In response, the American Library Associate and American Book Publishers formed The National Book Committee.

This committee came up with the idea of National Library Week. The reasoning was if more people read, more people would patronize their library.

Morsels - Poetry

This week’s Short Stack looks at Five Poets with Staying Power,

The list includes Robert Frost and ee cummings and some poets I’ve never heard of like Billy Collins.

This poem by Collins caught my attention – as soon as I saw the title, it felt like kismet.

Dear Reader -Billy Collins

Baudelaire considers you his brother,
and Fielding calls out to you every few paragraphs
as if to make sure you have not closed the book,
and now I am summoning you up again,
attentive ghost, dark silent figure standing
in the doorway of these words.

Pope welcomes you into the glow of his study,
takes down a leather-bound Ovid to show you.
Tennyson lifts the latch to a moated garden,
and with Yeats you lean against a broken pear tree,
the day hooded by low clouds.

But now you are here with me,
composed in the open field of this page,
no room or manicured garden to enclose us,
no Zeitgeist marching in the background,
no heavy ethos thrown over us like a cloak.

Instead, our meeting is so brief and accidental,
unnoticed by the monocled eye of History,
you could be the man I held the door for
this morning at the bank or post office
or the one who wrapped my speckled fish.

You could be someone I passed on the street
or the face behind the wheel of an oncoming car.
The sunlight flashes off your windshield,
and when I look up into the small, posted mirror,
I watch you diminish—my echo, my twin—
and vanish around a curve in this whip
of a road we can't help traveling together.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Elizabeth Bishop

A few days ago, I posted a poem by Elizabeth Bishop. I hadn’t realized at the time that the Library of America is publishing Bishop’s poems and letters. This is the first time they’ve published a volume for a female poet.

The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer had segment on the book and Bishop. Check out the video, which includes a reading of One Art. Bishop, who was born in Worcester, was not a prolific poet. In fact, she only published about 80 poems.

Harry Potter and the accursed encyclopedia

There’s some controversy in the land of Harry Potter. Author J.K. Rowling and Warner Brothers are suing to block the publishing of a Harry Potter encyclopedia. They claim that the encyclopedia – The Harry Potter Lexicon, which was proposed by a Harry Potter fan, plagiarizes her novels and infringes on copyrights.

Steven Vander Ark, a school librarian, cried on the stand the other day.

From Publishers Weekly: When asked if he considered himself part of the Harry Potter fan community, he broke down in tears, initially answering, “I did,” but then saying, “I do.” After regaining his composure, he said, “It’s been difficult because there’s been a lot of criticism and obviously that was never the intention.”

I’m torn. I have to say I feel badly for Vander Ark. He sounds like a very enthusiastic fan, so facing such backlash from fellow fans and Rowling herself must be difficult. Since its reference materials, it doesn’t seem unusual that the book would depend heavily upon the books and I would think there’d be a big demand for an encyclopedia like this.

However, if the book is a just a glorified cut and paste job, then I would tend to side to Rowling. Apparently, Vander Ark had a Harry Potter lexicon Web site that the author had praised at one point in time.

Rowling and her lawyers have claimed that Vander Ark’s book contains “spoilers” that could ruin the books for children who haven’t read them and that it contains information from Quidditch Through the Ages and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

According to Publisher’s Weekly, it sounds like the Judge is pushing both sides to work towards a settlement.

“Before adjourning at 4 p.m., Judge Patterson took both sides to task for what he saw as a lack of progress on addressing the case’s core issue—that of fair use—and expressed concern that “despite Ms. Rowling’s strong feelings,” the case seemed more “lawyer-driven” than “client-driven,” with “fair use on one side and a big company with a lot of money on the other.”

What do you think?

Day Two Brings Fresh Drama at Rowling Trial,

Rowling Implores Judge To Block Publication of Guide,

At the Harry Potter Trial, the New York Papers Pile On Steven Vander Ark,

Does JK Rowling own Harry Potter?

The Hand That Signed The Paper

Officemate extraordinaire and fellow blogger, Park Street Rambler ( recommended this Dylan Thomas selection.

The Hand That Signed The Paper - Dylan Thomas

The hand that signed the paper felled a city;
Five sovereign fingers taxed the breath,
Doubled the globe of dead and halved a country;
These five kings did a king to death.

The mighty hand leads to a sloping shoulder,
The finger joints are cramped with chalk;
A goose's quill has put an end to murder
That put an end to talk.

The hand that signed the treaty bred a fever,
And famine grew, and locusts came;
Great is the hand the holds dominion over
Man by a scribbled name.

The five kings count the dead but do not soften
The crusted wound nor pat the brow;
A hand rules pity as a hand rules heaven;
Hands have no tears to flow.

Listen to the Musn'ts

I have a poem taped to my work computer that has been with me for years - different jobs, different computers. Whenever I'm feeling stressed out or overwhelmed, I just peer over my keyboard to look at these words.

Listen to the Musn'ts - Shel Silverstein

Listen to the MUSN'TS, child,
Listen to the DON'Ts
Listen to the SHOULDN'TS,

Listen to the NEVER HAVES
Then listen close to me -
Anything can happen, child,
ANYTHING can be.

For more Shel:

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Emily Dickinson

As I mentioned April is poetry month. I'll try to post some poems this month. Leave a comment if you have a suggestion.

Today's poem comes from Emily Dickinson.

"Hope" is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all-

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird -
That kept so many warm -

I've heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of Me.

The Eisners

The Eisner award nominees were recently announced. The Eisners are one of the most prestigious awards for graphic novels.

Pop Candy has a write up on several of the nominees:

And Amazon looks at the judging process

The list includes Y: The Last Man for best continuing series. Vaughn is also involved in the television show Lost and has acted as executive story editor.

Another nominee is in my frightening large to-read pile of books at home - The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam, Ann Marie Fleming. The book traces the life of Fleming’s great-grandfather, Long Tack Sam. A magician, he spent time in almost every continent in the world.

More from Amazon's blog:

(Judge Paul) Di Filippo was astonished by the wealth of material: "I thought I had a good handle through my own reading, but this judging process opened up my eyes. It's starting to seem to me as if comics is entering its true maturity as a medium, with as wide a variety of material as one would find in prose novels."

More Junot Diaz

I’m almost done raving about The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (I promise!). I had to mention this great interview Amazon has with author Junot Diaz.

Junot Diaz, You've Just Won the Pulitzer ... What Are You Going to Do Now?

Monday, April 14, 2008

New book looks at the WPA

In the midst of the Great Depression, President Roosevelt created the Works Progress Administration (WPA) with the aim of putting Americans back to work. Across the country, hundreds of Americans did a myriad of jobs from paving roads, fixing bridges, painting murals and writing essays and plays.

Workers employed by the WPA built several landmarks including Camp David. The program had its critics and still does. Some argued that participants were engaged in frivolous projects. Others claim that the program did not help end the Depression. Looking back, however, one could argue that a program of such magnitude has never been replicated.

A new book, American Made: The Enduring Legacy of the WPA, When FDR Put the Nation to Work by Nick Taylor looks at this historical program. Amazon has a great video of Taylor talking about his book,

The WPA encompassed many different missions – rebuilding/ expanding the country’s infrastructure and supporting the arts. For instance, the murals at San Francisco landmark Coit Tower were done by the Public Works of Art Project. The Cradle Will Rock was a play that was originally supposed to be staged as a production of the Federal Theater Program. It was shut down under protests that political pressuresthat it was too leftist leaning were behind the closure, not monetary ones. The actors went on to put the play on themselves. (Tim Robbins’ Cradle Will Rock dramatizes the events surrounding the play and its attempted closure -

A few years ago, I had one of those “great find” moments, when I came across New York Panorama. Originally published in 1938, it’s a collection of essays on New York City such as “The Press: Newspaperman’s Mecca.” The FWP employed 6,600 people. I find it hard to even conceive of a program like this happening today. You might recognize some of the people who participated in the FWP, such as Saul Bellow, John Cheever, Ralph Ellison, John Steinbeck, Richard Wright and Zora Neale Hurston.

Additional reading:

Book traces history of WPA, which employed millions in U.S. during Depression,

The Shock Doctrine,

Sunday, April 13, 2008

One Art - Elizabeth Bishop

To help celebrate poetry month, I'll try to post several poems. To start, One Art by Elizabeth Bishop. This poem caught my attention watching In Her Shoes on television.

One Art
By Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

April is for poetry

This month is poetry month. It was established in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets. According to its Web site, poetry month was started to:

  • Highlight the extraordinary legacy and ongoing achievement of American poets
  • Introduce more Americans to the pleasures of reading poetry
  • Bring poets and poetry to the public in immediate and innovative ways
  • Make poetry a more important part of the school curriculum
  • Increase the attention paid to poetry by national and local media
  • Encourage increased publication, distribution, and sales of poetry books
  • Increase public and private philanthropic support for poets and poetry

I have my eye on these poetry books for my nieces and nephews – Because I Could Not Stop My Bike, I Must Go Down to the Beach Again by Karen Jo Shapiro. The poems are parodies of famous poems but with in a children-friendly style. Cute stuff and the author was originally from Andover, Mass.

Keep your eyes peeled. I’ll try to post several poems this month. If you have a favorite poem, mention it in the comments and I’ll post it.

A poem for every occasion - cat hair

As I engaged in some serious cleaning this weekend, I pondered the eternal questions all cat owners face.

How is it possible that cat hair can attach itself to anything - walls, the stove, blankets, etc.?
How can an eight pound cat shed enough hair to build another cat from scratch?
Do I have any clothes without cat hair on them?

Here's my girl most likely shedding on two sweaters. Why use a rug when there's clothing nearby!

Amazingly, a quick Internet search (Google is there nothing you can't do!), yielded a cat hair poem. I especially enjoyed the health part, seeing as my cat's vet bills are much, much more than my medical bills.

Cat Hair (parody of Scarborough Fair)
Cat Barson, December 2, 2004

Why is my house is full of Cat Hair?
Meow mix, litter, catnip, and fur
Cat hair is now my favorite thing to wear
Since my cat wants me to only love her.

If I tell her I'm going away
Meow mix, litter, catnip, and fur
She'll tear up the house within a day
Since my cat wants me to only love her.

And when I let her outside for to stray
Meow mix, litter, catnip, and fur
She brings back squirrels, mice, and blue jays.
Since my cat wants me to only love her.

Then when I take her to the vet
Meow mix, litter, catnip, and fur
My health insurance rates can pay the national debt
Yet through this all, I only love her.

So now that my house is full of cat hair
Meow mix, litter, catnip, and fur
I can kiss farewell to my leather chair
Since my cat wants me to only love her.

More No Matter How Loud I Shout

Humes worked with kids at juvenile hall in a writing class. This poem contains a line that's the book's title.

Who Am I?

Take a trip in my mind
see all that I've seen
and you'd be called a
beast, not human being.

F*@k it, cause there's
not much I can do,
there's no way out, my
screams have no voice no
matter how loud I shout....

I could be called a
low life, but life ain't
as low as me. I'm
in juvenile hall headed
for the penitentiary.
George Trevino (16)

No Matter How Loud I Shout

Edward Humes spent a year in a world usually closed off to outsiders - Los Angeles Juvenile Court. In addition to spending hours in court, he spoke with judges, probation officers, lawyers, parents, and the kids. He also ran a writing program for children at juvenile hall.

The result is a grim picture: a system that despite it's best intentions is flawed.
The goal of the system is to rehabilitate children. However, it's underfunded, overwhelmed and embattled. Children are given minimum time or no supervision for early offenses. Probation officers have hundreds of children to track. Oftentimes children commit multiple offenses, only to receive attention when they've committed a major felony. And the system's lofty goals are obscured by legal maneuvering and the system's adversarial nature. Those within the system are stressed, conflicted about whether they're even having any effect.

One boy talks about how when he was bounced around in the foster care system, his luggage was a black plastic garbage bag. It wasn't long before he began to think that's how others perceived him ... garbage.

While the boy who killed his two bosses while they were driving him home from their ice cream parlor, will be out by the time he's 25 or earlier, the boy who was with a friend when he attempted a botched robbery faces significant time in adult jail. There are no easy answers, no easy solutions. Just a lot of troubling stories and even sadder statistics.

"Projections for the year 2000 put LA area gang membership at 250,000. Based on current trends, 90 percent of these kids can be expected to have been arrested at least once as juveniles, 75 percent arrested twice. Sixty percent will be dead or in prisons by age 20."

My take after reading this book was that the system's ideals are good. Children should be treated different from adults because there's still time to hopefully reach some of them and a children's understanding of crime and consequences are different than an adult's. But, as Humes points out, it's through preventive programs, probation, and counseling/therapeutic programs. Not through more prison cells.

"That is the heartbreak of Juvenile Court, the wonder of it, and the scandal. Heartbreak, because not every kid can be saved. Wonder, that this broken, battered, outgunned system saves even one child. Scandal, because it so seldom tries to do anything at all."

For those interested in the law, I would also recommend Courtroom 302 by Steve Bogira, who spends a year in Cook County Criminal Courthouse, "the biggest and busiest felony courthouse in the nation."

Friday, April 11, 2008

Taking the Times to Task

Bitch Magazine has a piece about the New York Times book review section - Hard Times: At the New York Times Book Review, all the misogyny fit to print. In it, Sarah Seltzer argues that a majority of the reviews are written by men and a majority of the books reviewed are also written by men. She also claims that feminist books are usually poorly received.

Recently, Times editors—in both the daily paper and the Sunday section—have trotted out a particularly insidious formula for bashing feminist authors. First, hire a female reviewer to unleash misogynist tropes in her piece and then, lest she appear prejudiced against her own gender, throw in an illogical, contradictory statement about the importance of a less threatening version of feminism that isn’t so “polarizing,” “provocative,” or “strident.”


From gossip blogger Ana Marie Cox’s review of Katha Pollitt’s Virginity or Death!: “Young, educated, and otherwise liberal women who might, in another era, have found themselves burning bras and raising their consciousness would rather be fitted for the right bra…and raising their credit limit. Katha Pollitt is the skunk at this Desperate Housewives–watching party.”

Side note: feminists taking to the street to burn their bras is a widely debunked myth.

According to Seltzer, none of the Time’s “Top five novels of 2007” was written by a woman and only 13 of 50 on the short list were written by women.

Whether you agree or not, this is interesting reading.

Geek Gear

Fans of the Gilmore Girls (I miss you Lorelai!), may remember Rory rocking a "Reading is Sexy" tshirt.

Those looking for a shirt or plethora of merchandise with that design on it, should look no further than Buy Olympia,

I seriously want this messenger bag. Wave that bibliophile banner high I say!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

New site: Book Lamp

Pop Candy compared this site to Pandora. With BookLamp, you select a book and it pulls up similar books that you may like. It scores matches based on several categories such as pacing, density, action and dialogue.

The site is still in beta and so far there aren’t that many books to search. It seems the majority of selections are science fiction. I did get a kick out the fact they had Police Your Planet. (I went through a phase were I bought off beat books from garage sales/ thrift shops. I bought The Plants – about killer plants – and Police Your Planet).

Ahem, moving on… a little from the site:

Since BookLamp is still only a technology demonstration, being a member is more a show of interest and support than anything else. That in turn pushes us to take this system and do something more with it.

The self learning aspects described in the video are functional, as are user channels and the ability to favorite multiple books in order to create a customized formula. They are not, however, implemented in the graphic interface where you can get to them - they wouldn't be much use without more books in the database.

Without more books, BookLamp isn't very useful yet - even if you've read a number of the books and can use one as the basis of a search, we've turned the sensitivity down. This means that even high matching books will only be partial matches. And as importantly, there are not enough books in the database to allow you to find a story that both matches your preferred writing style and that you find interesting.

I wish them luck. This sounds like it could be cool. I know Amazon can make book recommendations, but I find their suggestions a little hit or miss.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Big Read - To Kill a Mockingbird

Thanks to one of my favorite radio stations (WUMB), I learned that eastern Mass and Boston are participating in the Big Read. The book that's been chosen is Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.

On Saturday, May 10, there will be a Mockingbird Festival with music, a mock trial, readings and more. There are a number of events leading up to the festival.

WUMB also held a song writing contest and a CD of the winning songs is planned. Some big names will also be taking part, performing songs that were inspired by the book including Vance Gilbert, Erin McKeown and Tift Merrit.

To Kill a Mockingbird was the only book notoriously reclusive author Harper Lee wrote. She won a Pulitzer prize and a movie was made based on the book with Gregory Peck playing Atticus Finch.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Dylan wins a Pulitzer!

Bob Dylan won a Pulitzer Prize this week for his "profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power."

Dylan has been nominated multiple times for a Nobel Prize, but has never won.

To celebrate, a song from one of my favorite Dylan albums.

Sara, Sara,
Sweet virgin angel, sweet love of my life,
Sara, Sara,
Radiant jewel, mystical wife.


Sara, Sara,
It's all so clear, I could never forget,
Sara, Sara,
Lovin' you is the one thing I'll never regret.

A shaky house of cards

I held off posting about Love and Consequences because I felt like it might not have been timely enough. Sadly enough, another non-fiction work is drawing criticism for possibly blending the line between truth and well, fiction.

Sunday’s Boston Globe leverages some damning charges against Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions by Ben Mezrich, which chronicles a group of MIT students adventures in Vegas. According to sources the Globe interviewed, certain events described in the book never happened, events were exaggerated and characters created.

The author and publisher are defending the book, saying they had a disclaimer that some characters were composites and that the timeline was altered.

From the Globe:

"The idea that the story is true," he (Mezrich) adds, "is more important than being able to prove that it's true."


Yet "Bringing Down the House" is not a work of "nonfiction" in any meaningful sense of the word. Instead of describing events as they happened, Mezrich appears to have worked more as a collage artist, drawing some facts from interviews, inventing certain others, and then recombining these into novel scenes that didn't happen and characters who never lived. The result is a crowd-pleasing story, eagerly marketed by his publishers as true - but which several of the students who participated say is embellished beyond recognition.


"When the public learns that a small piece of a supposedly nonfiction story has been fictionalized, they begin to doubt everything in that story, and when they begin to doubt a particular story then the doubts occur in their mind about whether they can trust any work, or any work of nonfiction," says Roy Peter Clark, a senior scholar at the Poynter Institute.

Just weeks ago Love & Consequences, which was supposedly written by a former gang member who grew up in South-Central Los Angeles, bouncing between foster homes, selling drugs, was exposed as a fraud. After a glowing profile came out in the New York Times, her sister blew the whistle. Turns out Margaret did not have a hard scrabble childhood, was never in a foster home and went to private school.

I realize some might argue that you really can’t compare Seltzer and Mezrich, but I think both raise troubling issues. For whatever reason, it appears writers think it’s easier to pitch non-fiction than novels. I remember reading James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces was originally pitched as a novel.

These kinds of shenanigans really make my blood boil. Have a compelling story, but don’t have the facts to back it up? Then write a novel.

What these writers are doing hurts readers, publishers and fellow writers.

It’s lying. Let’s not pretend otherwise. You can dress it up any way you like, but it’s a falsehood. Seltzer claimed she was trying to bring other’s plight to light. Then work with inner-city children, help them learn how to express their stories.

When the James Frey debacle started, I sold my copy of A Little Million Pieces to the local bookstore without even reading it. I just bought Bringing Down the House at a library sale and it’s going right on That may seem a little harsh, a little reactionary. But my interest in reading it has taken a blow.

There are so many wonderful books out there waiting to be discovered that I don’t want to waste a second on something that might be built, pardon the pun, on a shaky house of cards.

What do you think?

House of Cards,

Is Bringing Down the House a fraud?

‘Margaret,’ another memoir too good to be true,,0,7904690.story

An antidote to the Margaret Joness,,1,7387611.story

This Column Is Real, But Not All Authors Stick to the Truth, Fooled Again,

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