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Saturday, March 31, 2018

From Poetry: True Wisdom

“An unsophisticated forecaster uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts - for support rather than for illumination.” – Andrew Lang

Born in Scotland on this date in 1844, Lang was a poet, novelist, literary critic, and contributor to the field of anthropology.  He is best known as a collector of folk and fairy tales. His Blue Fairy Book (in 1889 and the first of many collections of fairy tales) was a beautifully produced and illustrated edition that has become a classic.           The author of many hundreds of books, short stories and essays, his writings are studied and frequent quoted around the globe.  The annual Andrew Lang Lecture Series at the University of St. Andrews honors his legacy.   For Saturday’s Poem from among Lang’s dozens of “Ballades,” here is,

Ballade of True Wisdom

While others are asking for beauty or fame,
Or praying to know that for which they should pray,
Or courting Queen Venus, that affable dame,
Or chasing the Muses the weary and grey,
The sage has found out a more excellent way -
To Pan and to Pallas his incense he showers,
And his humble petition puts up day by day,
For a house full of books, and a garden of flowers.

Inventors may bow to the God that is lame,
And crave from the fire on his stithy a ray;
Philosophers kneel to the God without name,
Like the people of Athens, agnostics are they;
The hunter a fawn to Diana will slay,
The maiden wild roses will wreathe for the Hours;
But the wise man will ask, ere libation he pay,
For a house full of books, and a garden of flowers.

Oh! grant me a life without pleasure or blame
(As mortals count pleasure who rush through their day
With a speed to which that of the tempest is tame)!
O grant me a house by the beach of a bay,
Where the waves can be surly in winter, and play
With the seaweed in summer, ye bountiful powers!
And I'd leave all the hurry, the noise, and the fray,
For a house full of books, and a garden of flowers.

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Friday, March 30, 2018

Skipping the 'Classifications'

“At school, I was never given a sense that poetry was something flowery or light. It's a complex and controlled way of using language. Rhythms and the music of it are very important. But the difficulty is that poetry makes some kind of claim of honesty.” – Tobias Hill
Award-winning British poet, essayist, writer of short stories and novelist, Hill was born on this date in 1970.  He’s the type of writer who hates to be “classified” or put into any kind of box, although the accolades for his poetry sometimes puts that at the forefront.  His 2006 work, Nocturne in Chrome & Sunset Yellow, was described by London’s The Guardian as "A vital, luminous collection.”

That’s not to take anything away from his fiction.  His novels also have been widely acclaimed, particularly his 2009 mystery thriller The Hidden, listed by one reviewer as “a sustained meditation on the special ethics of terrorism in ancient and modern times.” 

Also a much sought-after lecturer and workshop teacher, he holds an appointment at Oxford Brookes University as the Senior Lecturer for the MA Creative Writing Course.

“People have expectations of what you are as a writer,” Hill said.  “And writers, on the whole, don't like to be classified.”

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Thursday, March 29, 2018

Reading, Writing, Waiting

“There is no secret to success except hard work and getting something indefinable which we call 'the breaks.' In order for a writer to succeed, I suggest three things - read and write - and wait.” – Countee Cullen

A renowned member of the Harlem Renaissance writing movement, Cullen was born in Kentucky and adopted by a Methodist minister when his parents died while he was still a small child.  Cullen’s writing career began in high school, where he edited the school newspaper and literary magazine and won a citywide poetry competition. He went on to attend New York University, graduating Phi Beta Kappa in 1925 and winning the Witter Bynner Poetry Prize. That same year, Cullen released his lauded debut volume of poetry, Color.      
                                  With the publication of additional poetry volumes, Copper Sun and The Ballad of the Brown Girl (both 1927), Cullen was seen as a leading light among African-American writers.   Also a novelist, children’s author and playwright, he was just starting to make a splash with his theatrical writings when he died from complications from high blood pressure. 

Also a teacher, both in high school and college, he gave students this advice:  “Remember, we must be one thing or the other, an asset or a liability, the sinew in your wing to help you soar, or the chain to bind you to earth.”

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Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Teaching To Learn

In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life:  it goes on.” – Robert Frost

I’ve always loved the poetry of Robert Frost and thought about his imagery and attention to the land whenever I’ve driven through or walked in the rugged countryside of western Nebraska and eastern Wyoming or my beloved Black Hills.  I don’t think Frost ever visited them, but I’m sure if he had we would have had another book full of poems to love thanks to his great writing.

Frost was born during the last week of March 1874, growing up in New England.  His realistic depictions of rural life, the beauty of the land, and command of American colloquial speech – all while examining complex social and philosophical themes – may never be equaled.   Poetry is a simple process, he liked to say.  It's just an emotion finding a thought and the thought finding its words.
Like every writer he hit dry periods, but unlike many he had something to say about that.  “Poets,” he noted, “are like baseball pitchers.  Both have their moments.  It’s the intervals that are the tough things.”                 
                                                 The only poet to win four Pulitzer Prizes, he also was honored with the Congressional Gold Medal, named Poet Laureate of Vermont, and by being depicted on a U.S. postage stamp.   A great teacher, he once said,  “I talk in order to understand.   But I teach in order to learn.”

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Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Powerful Language, Powerful Feelings

“The kinds of things that poetry can offer are timeless - mainly the kind of compression it offers of powerful language, powerful feelings and images, and, you know, the inner experience becoming outer.” – Brenda Hillman

Born in Tucson, Ariz., on this date in 1951, Hillman is the author of 9 collections of poetry, including Bright Existence; Practical Water, for which she won the LA Times Book Award for Poetry, and Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire, which received the 2014 Griffin Poetry Prize and the Northern California Book Award for Poetry.

A “writer” of poetry since age 9 (“the first time I wrote a poem that I was proud of,”) Hillman is known for poems that draw on elements of found texts and document, personal meditation, and observation including about topics like geology, the environment, politics, family, and spirituality. 

 A multiple award winner for her works, she also has been the recipient of Fellowships from the Academy of American Poets, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation.   A professor of Creative Writing (she holds the Olivia Filippi Chair in Poetry at Saint Mary’s College of California), Hillman was recently elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.  
                                               “The techniques of contemporary poetry are probably the techniques of your daily life,” she says as a word of advice and how to deal with your thought processes.   “I don't know a single person who goes into the grocery store and thinks in complete sentences.  We often think in fragments, we think in little lists, we think in non-sequiturs, we think in feelings that may not match up with each other.”

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Monday, March 26, 2018

Zig-zagging To History

“People always think that history proceeds in a straight line. It doesn't. Social attitudes don't change in a straight line. There's always a backlash against progressive ideas.” – Erica Jong

Born on this date in 1942, Jong is a novelist, satirist, and poet, known particularly for her 1973 novel Fear of Flying, famously controversial for its attitudes towards female sexuality.  To date it has sold more than 20 million copies worldwide.

Jong earned degrees from Barnard and Columbia, where she majored in English Literature, and started writing for magazines and journals before trying her hand at fiction.  Fear of Flying was her first effort and catapulted her into a successful lifelong career.  She has now authored 11 novels, 8 nonfiction books, and 7 books of poetry.

While fiction has led to most of her fame, she says she really enjoys poetry and has just completed a new book of poetry – The World Begins With Yes – slated for publication in 2019.  
                      “In poetry you can express almost inexpressible feelings,” she said.   “You can express the pain of loss, you can express love. People always turn to poetry when someone they love dies; when they fall in love.”

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Saturday, March 24, 2018

Powerful Poetic Writing

“Language is what makes us human. It is a recourse against the meaningless noise and silence of nature and history.” – Octavio Paz
Paz, born in Mexico in March 1914, was both a diplomat and a writer – primarily focusing on poetry.  For his body of work he won three major awards, beginning with his own country’s Miguel de Cervantes Prize in 1981, then the Neustadt International Prize for Literature in 1982, and capping it with the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1990.
Paz started writing at age 23, working on the first of his long, ambitious poems, "Between the Stone and the Flower." Influenced by the work of T.S. Eliot, it explores the situation of the Mexican peasant under the domineering landlords of the day.  He co-founded and wrote for the literary magazine Taller until entering the diplomatic corps in 1941.  For the rest of his life, he served his country diplomatically while eloquently and boldly writing about life, the land, and the people around him.
For Saturday’s Poem, here is Paz’s,

The Bridge

Between now and now,
between I am and you are,
the word bridge.

Entering it
you enter yourself:
the world connects
and closes like a ring.

From one bank to another,
there is always
a body stretched:
a rainbow.
I'll sleep beneath its arches.

I also wanted to share this link to his eloquent, “As One Listens To the Rain.”  Powerful poetic writing at its best.  Enjoy.

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Friday, March 23, 2018

It All Starts With The Writing

“Whether you are 12 or 70, you should sit down today and start being a writer if that is what you want to do. You might have to write on a notebook while your kids are playing on the swings or write in your car on your coffee break. That's okay. I think we've all 'been there, done that.' Just remember, it all starts with the writing.” – Robin Hobb

Margaret Astrid Lindholm Ogden – who writes as Hobb and Megan Lindholm – took her own advice and started writing for children’s magazines at the age of 18.  While she was successful in that field, she thought she’d be better at science fiction and fantasy and decided to give that a try.  Good choice.  Over the past 40 years she’s arguably been the most prolific writer in those fields.   Among her works are The Liveship Traders Trilogy, The Soldier Son Trilogy and the four volume tale, The Rain Wilds Chronicles.   Her works have been translated into over 20 languages, winning multiple awards globally.    
                              Hobb, who celebrated her 66th birthday this month, has been praised by most critics as “the standard setter for modern serious fantasy.”  George R.R. Martin (author of the Game of Thrones series) told me last year that he thought Hobb was the best fantasy writer he has ever read.  “In today’s crowded fantasy market,” Martin said, “Robin Hobb’s books are like diamonds in a sea of zircons.”

Margaret’s secret to success?    “Keep writing, keep faith in the idea that you have unique stories to tell, and tell them.” 

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Thursday, March 22, 2018

Books & Reading: A National Priority

“I believe we should spend less time worrying about the quantity of books children read and more time introducing them to quality books that will turn them on to the joy of reading and turn them into lifelong readers.” – James Patterson

Born on this date in 1947, Patterson is arguably the best selling author of all time.  His books have sold more than 300 million copies and he was the first person to sell 1 million e-books.   In 2016, Patterson topped Forbes’ list of highest-paid authors for the third consecutive year, with an income of $95 million.  Not bad for a writer whose first book The Thomas Berryman Number was rejected 30-plus times before someone was willing to take a chance.  Ultimately the book won an Edgar Award, one of mystery writing’s top achievements.   
                                                          A passionate campaigner to make books and reading a national priority, he has donated millions of dollars to colleges, bookstores, libraries and individual students, all with the purpose of encouraging Americans of all ages to read more books.   In recent years he’s added Young Adult books to his repertoire and like all his others, those, too, have been wildly successful.

“I'm a very good storyteller; I have a lot of compassion for people. That's very useful for a novelist,” he said.   “A lot of novelists are snots. They're just mean people.  I'm not a terribly skilled stylist, nor do I want to be. I want a lot of people to read one of my stories and go, 'That was pretty cool.' “

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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Thought For The Day

Nigerian born writer Ben Okri (Pictured in London)

 “Reading is an act of civilization; it's one of the greatest acts of civilization because it takes the free raw material of the mind and builds castles of possibilities.” – Ben Okri

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Making The Right Choices

“I believe without a single shadow of a doubt that it is necessary for young people to learn to make choices. Learning to make right choices is the only way they will survive in an increasingly frightening world.” – Lois Lowry

Born in Hawaii on this date in 1937, Lowry is known for expressing realistic life experiences in her books for young readers, which include her award-winning Quartet The Giver, Gathering Blue, Messenger and Son, and the Anastasia Krupnik series. 

The daughter of an Army officer, Lowry grew up “around the globe,” graduating from high school in New York and then attending Brown University in Rhode Island before getting married and raising a family.  Always interested in writing, she resumed that love as her children got older, combining writing with finishing her college education in Maine, where she also studied photography. 
                                                       Her first book, A Summer to Die, came out when she was 40, establishing her as a writer that young people wanted to read.  Two years later, Lowry cemented that position with the launch of her popular humorous series of novels featuring Anastasia Krupnik.  Lowry is the winner of two Newbery Awards – one for The Giver and another for her World War II historical novel Number The Stars. 

“What comes to me always is a character, a scene, a moment. That's going to be the beginning. Then, as I write, I begin to perceive an ending. I begin to see a destination, although sometimes that changes. And then, of course, there's the whole middle section looming.”

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Monday, March 19, 2018

Writing The Rhythm Of The World

“What makes me write is the rhythm of the world around me - the rhythms of the language, of course, but also of the land, the wind, the sky, other lives. Before the words comes the rhythm - that seems to me to be of the essence.” – John Burnside

Born on this date in 1955, Scottish writer Burnside is one of only two writers to win both the T. S. Eliot Prize and the Forward Poetry Prize for the same book.  Burnside’s Black Cat Bone took home the prestigious awards in 2011.  He also won the Whitbread Award for The Asylum Dance.

A onetime computer software engineer, he has been a freelance writer since 1996 and is now Professor in Creative Writing at St Andrews University.       Burnside also has authored short stories, novels, essays, and two multi-award winning memoirs, A Lie About My Father and Waking Up In Toytown.  His short stories and feature essays have appeared in numerous magazines and journals, including The New Yorker and The Guardian.

His newest book is this year’s nonfiction work On Henry Miller, published in the U.S.  “I love long sentences,” he said of his writing style.  “My big heroes of fiction writing are Henry James and (Marcel) Proust – people who recognize that life doesn't consist of declarative statements, but rather modifications, qualifications and feelings.”

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Sunday, March 18, 2018

Everyone's A Character; Life's The Scene

“I don't enjoy doing a lot of research, preferring as a rule, to ‘make up my facts.’ That's why I write fiction. I firmly believe that if you want facts, you read non-fiction; you read fiction to discover the truth.” – Joy Fielding

Born in Canada on this date in 1945, Fielding makes her home in Toronto.  She said she always knew she wanted to be a writer, and even when drawn in different directions – particularly acting – she always felt the writing pull.  Today, as author of 26 books, many of them best sellers  -  including the extraordinarily successful See Jane Run, and her 2016 blockbuster She’s Not There  -  she said she’s glad she settled into the writer’s life.

“I love writing because it's the only time in my life when I feel I have complete control,” Fielding said.   “Nobody does or says anything I don't tell them to – although even this amount of control is illusory because there comes a point where the characters take over and tell you what they think they should say and do.”     For her, everyone and everything is a potential character or scene.  Daily life and the day's headlines provide most of her inspiration. 

“I use whatever I can and nothing is sacred. Of course, nothing is exactly the way it is in real life. A writer borrows a bit from here, there and everywhere, and adapts it to her own purpose.  (But) I find that the more of me I include, the more successful the book; the more readers can identify with.”

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Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Poetry of Nature's Songs

“The moon looks upon many night flowers; the night flowers see but one moon.” – Jean Ingelow

Born on this date in 1820, Ingelow was an English poet and novelist.   She started writing (and being published) as a teenager, but didn’t achieve fame for her work until publication of Poems in 1863.  The book ran through numerous editions and many of the poems were set to popular music.            Her best-selling children’s book Mopsa The Fairy is included in A Critical History of Children’s Literature.  Her poems "When Sparrows build in Supper at the Mill" and “The Warbling of Blackbirds” were among the most popular songs of the day.    Here for Saturday’s Poem, is Ingelow’s,

                     Songs of the Voices of Birds: 
                     The Warbling of Blackbirds

                        When I hear the waters fretting,
                        When I see the chestnut letting
                        All her lovely blossom falter down, I think, “Alas the day!”
                        Once with magical sweet singing,
                        Blackbirds set the woodland ringing,
                        That awakes no more while April hours wear themselves away.

                        In our hearts fair hope lay smiling,
                        Sweet as air, and all beguiling;
                       And there hung a mist of bluebells on the slope and down the dell;
                       And we talked of joy and splendor
                       That the years unborn would render,
                       And the blackbirds helped us with the story, for they knew it well.

                       Piping, fluting, “Bees are humming,
                      April’s here, and summer’s coming;
                      Don’t forget us when you walk, a man with men, in pride and joy;
                      Think on us in alleys shady,
                      When you step a graceful lady;
                      For no fairer day have we to hope for, little girl and boy.

                     “Laugh and play, O lisping waters,
                      Lull our downy sons and daughters;
                      Come, O wind, and rock their leafy cradle in thy wanderings coy;
                      When they wake we’ll end the measure
                      With a wild sweet cry of pleasure,
                      And a ‘Hey down derry, let’s be merry! little girl and boy!’”

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Friday, March 16, 2018

Including a bit of yourself

“All the characters in my books are imagined, but all have a bit of who I am in them - much like the characters in your dreams are all formed by who you are.” – Alice Hoffman

Born in New York City on this date in 1952, novelist and young-adult and children's writer Hoffman is perhaps best known for her 1995 novel and film Practical Magic, one of many of her books with magic or magical realism as their basis.

Hoffman’s first short story, At The Drive-In, was published in Volume 3 of the literary magazine Fiction when she was just starting her studies at Stanford.    American Review editor Ted Solotaroff was so impressed by the story that he contacted her and asked if she had a novel.  She didn’t but was inspired her to start writing Property Of, her first bestseller and first of 27 adult novels and 12 more written for children, Tweens and Young Adults.  In a “coming full circle” aspect to that first novel, Solotaroff published a section of it in his magazine and last year Hoffman wrote a prequel The Rules of Magic, also a best seller. 

Among her many writing awards are a New Jersey Notable Book Award and the prestigious Hammett Prize (for Turtle Moon).  Her advice to writers is not to be intimidated by the process.   “No one knows how to write a novel until it's been written,” she said.     “I never plot out my novels in terms of the tone of the book. Hopefully, once a story is begun it reveals itself.”

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