How to Talk About Poetry

Let’s be honest. Reading poetry, in the greater scheme of things, is just this side of engaging in an obscenity. Poetry is meant to be spoken or sung or chanted; it’s meant to be heard and shared, it’s not meant to be a sullen and solitary vice. Poems live when they are shared; they should be spoken and heard and passed on and celebrated. Fortunately, anyone can read and enjoy and comment appreciatively and intelligently about poetry. You don’t have to be some sort of creative writer, or a poet, or an artist, or sensitive, or anything, beyond a thoughtful reader.

I thought I hated poetry for much of my life; it wasn’t until I read this poem that I realized I liked some poems. I thought I hated poetry because of the way poetry was presented to me in school, where teachers spent hours trying to explain meter and scansion (it’s not that big a deal, and you can read and like poetry just fine without knowing anything about meter or rhyme schemes). If you like music with lyrics, if you like songs, then you like poetry.

Moreover, no matter what your English lit teacher told you—poetry has a multiplicity of possible readings. There are lots and lots of ways for people to read the same poem; they’re all valid, as long as readers can tie their response to the poem. Even “I don’t really like this poem because it brings up a really unpleasant memory” is a valid response for that person at that time to that poem. Moreover, lived experience can change the way we read a poem, or the ways it makes us feel. We aren’t static and unchanging; neither is poetry.

What then do you talk about with respect to a poem? To start, you can talk about what you notice about it. Is there a particular line or section that draws your attention? Is there something that reminds you of something in your life, or perhaps something else you’ve seen or read? Are there any patterns, or sounds, or words, or imagery, that you find interesting or that attract your notice? Is there something that you just simply like about the poem (or dislike)?

Poetry by its nature is compact. A poem is language is compressed, without excess words. That means it’s particularly fun to look for patterns that shine through the compact shape of a poem. Patterns of image, and metaphor, of sound, and rhythm—and perhaps even more interesting, to look for places where the poet sets up a pattern, and then changes, or departs, or alters that pattern.

If you want something a little more formal, here’s a getting started guide to writing about poetry in academic terms. Me, I’d rather just talk about why I love a particular poem, and how it works, including, how it works on me.

Posted in Poetry, Writing and Language

Elsewhere for February 26, 2017

You should read this for 2/26/2017:

From Time: This Is the Real Reason Apple Is Fighting the FBI

Via The New Yorker: The Radical Argument of the New Oxford Shakespeare

Via Sciencenordic.com (hat tip to mirabilis.ca) New study reignites debate over Viking settlements in England

“Though some people may think the job involves more shushing than rallying, many librarians consider “making America read again” to be a radical political proposition.” “Librarians decide what gets preserved and how information is classified, which inherently affects how people find that information and who is likely to find.” In other words, Librarians are the best kind of Finding Aids.

Via SFWA: 2016 Nebula Award Nominees

Rumana Ahmed via The Atlantic: “I thought I should try to stay on the NSC staff during the [current] Administration, in order to give the new president and his aides a more nuanced view of Islam, and of America’s Muslim citizens.
I lasted eight days.”

Via Simply Recipes: How to Make Overnight Oatmeal

💩🔥💰Trumpery💩🔥💰

NPR: Trump Ethics Monitor: Has The President Kept His Promises?

Posted in Elsewhere

Western Wind

Western wind, when will thou blow?
The small rain down can rain.
Christ, if my love were in my arms,
And I in my bed again!

Anonymous; British Library Royal Appendix 58 c. Early Sixteenth Century

“Western Wind” (or “Westron Wyde” as the ms. has it) is an anonymous lyric from the early 16th century (c. 1530). It’s extant in a single manuscript that appears to have been a commonplace book used by several English court musicians associated with the royal court and were collecting musical pieces for lute. As Julia Craig-McFeely notes  British Library Royal Appendix 58 (RA58) is actually

two music manuscripts that became bound together as the single source, Royal Appendix 58, one inserted inside the other some considerable time after their respective compilations—possibly at the time they became part of the Royal collection in the British Museum. The outer portions of RA58, the part of the MS containing the lute music, was written throughout by the same scribe, though it is difficult to see this as the tablature section has little text with which to compare the other music, and the manuscript is suffering badly from the effects of fading. This section of the MS isa collection of tenor voice parts, and the original parchment cover was marked ‘Tenor’ by its owner. The inserted book was a collection of medius and contratenor parts, indicated by its scribe writing ‘medius’ at the top of the first page.

The general consensus regarding the RA 58 is that it’s from about 1530; the language of the poem could easily be earlier, and I suspect (but can not prove) that it’s perhaps c. 1400. There is music presented in RA58 with the text, but interpreting what the notation means is a bit difficult. Musicians and composers have come up with different melodies.

“Western Wind” is one of the first poems that grabbed my attention in that This Is Important way when I was teenager reading my father’s old copy of the Quiller-Couch edition of The Oxford Book of English Poetry. The poem seemed so very simple, a tiny four-line love-lyric (a particularly English love-lyric, given its reference to rain). It captures the feeling of love-in-absence, the emotional state of the lover longing for the presence of the beloved, the comforts of home and a familiar and shared bed.

I like the way the poem uses repetition in the second line, drawing our attention to the phrase “The small rain down can rain” — notice the way the line catches our ear and eye with the repetition of “rain,” as both verb and noun, and the way the meter emphasizes the words as if they were themselves falling rain. “The small rain” is a particularly English phrase as well, referring both to the constant steady fall of micro drops that are almost more like mist than rain, and to “a little rain,” where “small” refers to quantity rather than the size of the drops.

The phrase “the small rain” is one with an ancient history. Here’s the entry from the OED for the phrase. You’ll notice that there’s an archaic letter, the eth (ð = th sound) no longer used in English.

Small rain III. 10. a. Composed of fine or minute particles, drops, etc. In later use chiefly of rain.

c897 K. AELFRED Gregory’s Past. C. lvii. 437 Swiðe lytle beoð ða dropan ðaes smalan renes, ac hi wyrceað ðeah swiðe micel flod. c1000 Sax. Leechd.

1649 WINTHROP New Eng. (1853) I. 209 The Rebecka,..two days before, was frozen twenty miles up the river; but a small rain falling set her free.

1676 WOOD Jrnl. in Acc. Sev. Late Voy. I. (1694) 177 Thick Fogs with small Rain. 1727 A. HAMILTON New Acc. E. Indies I. xxii. 262 A small Rain happened to fall that damped my Powder. 1823 SCOTT Quentin D. i, Heaven, who works by the tempest as well as by the soft small rain (OED small, a. and n.2 III.10.a).

The same phrase is used in the King James 1611 Bible, in Deuteronomy 32:2:

My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass

The date of the King James translation is too late to have directly influenced “Western Wind,” but it does show the use of the phrase—and it’s not impossible that it was influenced by the lyric.

In English custom and poetry the western wind is the wind of spring; see for instance Robert Herrick’s short lyric, “To the Western Wind,” which also treats the west wind as a gentle wind that brings rain. John Masefield does something similar in his “The West Wind.” The spring opening of Chaucer’s Prologue to The Canterbury Tales summons the west wind by name, in his invocation of Zephyru, the Greek god associated with the west wind and spring. Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem “Ode to the West Wind” has a similar association between the western wind and rain—but in Shelley’s poem the wind is associated with autumn, and Italy.

In this very English poem, notice that the narrater—who could be a woman or a man, we don’t know—says, somewhat urgently, or perhaps plaintively, “when” will the small rain come? It reminds me very much of the moment when the barometric pressure changes, just before the rain comes, and it’s suggestive of the speaker’s own state of mind.

A melody with the same “Western Wind” title was used by a number of sixteenth century English composers (most notably Thomas Tallis, Richard Taverner and Christopher Tye) as the cantus firmus in the Mass, under the less than surprising title of the Western Wind Mass, but it isn’t clear that the tune used by the masses is the same one recorded in British Library Royal Appendix 58 c; in fact it seems rather unlikely. It’s also not clear that the tune used by the composers wasn’t simply another tune for our lyric.  Either way, the various masses are all quite lovely, whether or not directly related to the lyric.

Peter Phillips and the Tallis Scholars. Western Wind Masses (Taverner—Tye—Shepard)
iTunes | Amazon

The Tallis Scholars & Peter Phillips. The Tallis Scholars Sing Tudor Church Music – Volume One
iTunes | Amazon

Posted in Commentary, Poetry, Writing and Language

Elsewhere for February 18, 2017

You should read this for 2/19/2017 :An encouraging thought, life in crystal, of the making of ebooks there is no end; we just need a better way to read, stories with Picts, and twice-baked cookies.

Green Shoots (even in the Whitehouse

Via The Christian Science Monitor: Microbes that once slumbered inside giant crystals in a Mexican cave are alive and well, according to NASA scientists.

Michael Cohen via TidBITS on The State of iBooks in Early 2017For those of us who love ebooks, the iBooks app is a little bit of heartbreak.

Via Past Horizons: Facial reconstruction of Pictish man brutally murdered 1,400 years ago. Writers: There’s a story in this story.

Via Williams Sonoma Hazelnut and Dried Cherry Biscotti

💩🔥💰Trumpery💩🔥💰

Federal Elections Commmissioner Ellen Weintraub asks for proof regarding 💩🔥💰’s allegations of wide-spread voter fraud. You can see Weintraub’s letter here. More from NPR: 💩🔥💰 Adviser Repeats Baseless Claims Of Voter Fraud In New Hampshire. It’s pretty hard to commit voter fraud in a state where most of the polling places have been staffed by the same people for years, and everyone know’s everyone because they all went to school together. Just sayin’, as a native Granite Stater, I call foul.

The Spy Revolt Against Trump Begins

Justice Department warned White House that Flynn could be vulnerable to Russian blackmail

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Elsewhere for February 11, 2017

You should read this for 2/12/2017: Compassionate Canadians, Looting Qumranians, Linguistically undermining evil, Bots fight back, She Persists, and Pho

Quebec City Imam’s Profoundly Magnanimous Eulogy Includes White Gunman in List of Victims

Excavations in a cave on the cliffs west of Qumran Prove that Dead Sea scrolls from the Second Temple period, were hidden in the cave, and were looted in the middle of the last century.

I Am a Priest, and This is Why I’m Pro-Choice

Great Advice from George Lakoff about CopingVia George Lakoff, UC Berkeley cognitive linguist; see also George Lakoff: Progressives Need to Use Language That Reflects Moral Values

Angry programmer sends army of bots after Windows Support scammers

Senator Elizabeth Warren silenced for reading 1986 letter from Coretta Scott King, sent in opposition to Session’s judicial appointment. Responses from her male colleagues: Sen. Lindsey Graham: “Silencing Warren was ‘long overdue” and Sen. Orrin Hatch: “Warren shouldn’t criticize Sessions, should think of his wife”, but Senators Tom Udall, Jeff Merkley, Sherrod Brown and Bernie Sanders all read the letter without interruption. King’s letter is here; the letter notes regarding Jeff Sessions that

Anyone who has used the power of his office as United States Attorney to intimidate and chill the free exercise of the ballot by citizens should not be elevated to our courts,” King wrote. “Mr. Sessions has used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters.

Via Etymons: Dormouse

Quick Chicken Pho from Andrea Nguyen via Emma Christensen from Simply Recipes.

💩🔥💰 Trumpery 💩🔥💰

Despite Criticism Of Claims, 💩🔥💰 Seeks Investigation Into Voter Fraud “[💩🔥💰] and the White House have cited Becker’s report repeatedly to back claims that fraud is rampant. But Becker said that’s not at all what his study found, and neither have numerous other investigations, including one by the Justice Department under former President George W. Bush.”

Who is the judge who stopped 💩🔥💰’s] travel ban?

From Sarah Cooper via Medium: The Laugh Track is Tricking America“The clapping and laughing you hear in both instances are [his] own people, who initiate and get the crowd to follow. They are sycophants who he brings to cheer him on and make it seem like what he’s saying is being well-received. And it’s working.”

They Rethink Tactics After Stumbles “But for the moment, Mr. Bannon remains the president’s dominant adviser, despite 💩🔥💰’ anger that he was not fully briefed on details of the executive order he signed giving his chief strategist a seat on the National Security Council, a greater source of frustration to the president than the fallout from the travel ban.”

Transition email shows initial effort to oust all inspectors general“Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md), the ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, said that “this email demonstrates that these calls were not isolated incidents.” He added, “Whoever approved these calls had absolutely horrendous judgment and should not be allowed anywhere near the reins of power.”

Ordinary Americans carried out inhumane acts for Him“At Kennedy Airport, still other federal employees detained and handcuffed a 65-year-old woman traveling from Qatar to visit her son, who is a U.S. citizen and serviceman stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C. The woman was held for more than 33 hours, according to the New York Times, and denied use of a wheelchair.” This is how it begins; it ends with more camps and prisons for citizens and innocents.

California Farmers Backed [💩🔥💰], but Now Fear Losing Field Workers“California farmers could lose workers, many of whom are unauthorized, if [his] immigration promises come to pass.”

Posted in There

Activism and Making Your Vote Count

Contacting your legislators, your Representatives and Senators is both a privilege and a right. It’s also particularly important.

I’ve created a page with some US Activism and Engagement Resources to help you contact your elected officials to let them know what’s important to you.

Your opinion is important, no matter what it is.

Posted in There

Elsewhere for February 5, 2017

You should read this for 2/5/2017:  Protection for priests, clams, and refugees, and sauce for chimney Sweepers who eat steak

People and Companies Matching ACLU Donations.

Secret Room in UK Mansion Tied to King James I Assassination Attempt

On the Pacific Northwest coast, indigenous groups are reinvigorating the ancient practice of clam gardening. And see also: Can ancient “clam gardens” teach us how to farm better today? “The clam gardens were constructed as a series of stone terraces on specific parts of the shore to protect them from the sea, basically making calmer pools where clams can grow more safely and easily.”

Via the BBC: Starbucks CEO pledges to hire 10,000 refugees globally “Starbucks has pledged to hire 10,000 refugees globally over the next five years, in response to US President Donald Trump’s recent immigration ban.”

And yes, I’ll be deliberately patronizing Starbucks. along with other caring businesses like Penzey’s.

Chimichurri Sauce Argentinean Marinade that you really need to try on a steak.

💩🔥💰 Trumpery 💩🔥💰

5 Questions About The Law And 💩🔥💰’s Immigration Order

Rulings on 💩🔥💰’s Immigration Order Are First Step on Long Legal Path

Civil Rights Challenges to 💩🔥💰 Immigration/Refugee Orders

Park Rangers to the Rescue “But what is different with this administration, from that very first attempt to snuff a truth about the size of the crowd on the lovingly restored National Mall grass, is they’re trying to institutionalize lying. The fish is going to stink from the head down.”

Professor David Perry on Milo and the Violent, Well-Funded Right-Wing Attacks on Academic Freedom

Via NPR: After 2 Weeks In Office, 💩🔥💰 Faces More Than 50 Lawsuits Far more than his predecessors faced in their first days on the job”—40 or more just in response to Trumps EO regarding refugees and travel.

Posted in Elsewhere

Elsewhere for January 29, 2017

You should read this for 1/29/2017: The Wisdom of Jobs, thank your foremothers, it’s not always the Others, and cauliflower can be tasty. 

Note: We’ve Placed Trumpery in an Isolation Section at the End

You know what…
Take my $1.37… I want my PBS.
Take my $.46… I am all for federal funding of art programs.
Take my $.46… I love my museums, colleges, and libraries.
Take my $.11… I support developing minority businesses.
Take my $.66… I am for entrepreneurship and innovation.
Take my $1.60… I want us to export more goods overseas.
Take my $0.43… I would like to see more American manufacturing.
Take my $0.88… I think community policing needs vast improvement.
Take my $1.48… I support programs for women.
Take my $1.55… I believe in due process for all.
Take my $0.48… We need a civil rights division in the justice department.
Take my $0.38… I think we need to defend our Mother Earth.
Take my $0.03… I know more work needs to be done for climate change.
Take my $8.95… because we need more sustainable energy.
Take my $2.71… we should reduce our carbon footprint.
If saving these programs means I’m out $22.36 a year, I’m good with contributing my $.07 a day to save American jobs and these federal programs (Derivation unknown, but sentiments heartfelt).

Steve Jobs

You Are Not Equal. I’m Sorry. (So say “thank you” to all the ones who went beofe.)

We Finally Know What’s Causing Namibia’s Mysterious Fairy Circles (It’s not the Good People.)

Via The New York Times Cooking section Pan-Roasted Cauliflower With Garlic, Parsley and Rosemary

💩🔥💰 Trumpery 💩🔥💰

Crowd Scientists Say Women’s March 
in Washington Had 3 Times as Many People as 💩🔥💰’s Inauguration “The women’s march in Washington was roughly three times the size of the audience at President Trump’s inauguration, crowd counting experts said Saturday.”

How these Los Angeles-born pink hats became a worldwide symbol of the anti-💩🔥💰 women’s march “Knitters — mostly women — started crafting handmade pink caps with cat ears, a reference to 💩🔥💰’s vulgar statements about grabbing women’s genitals, which were revealed in a leaked video shortly before the election.” (You can find the pattern here; it’s not difficult!)

Donald 💩🔥💰 delivers speech to CIA to deny feud and criticize media coverage“Pool reports later clarified that the attendants who were cheering and clapping when Mr Trump spoke were not CIA staffers but people who accompanied Mr Trump to the briefing.”

Via NPR: President 💩🔥💰’s Inaugural Address, Annotated

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary Has Been Trolling 💩🔥💰 On Twitter For Months

Charles M. Blow in The New York Times: A Lie by Any Other Name
“Donald [💩🔥💰] is a proven liar. He lies often and effortlessly. He lies about the profound and the trivial. He lies to avoid guilt and invite glory. He lies when his pride is injured and when his pomposity is challenged.”

It’s Not Just The Park Service: ‘Rogue’ Federal Twitter Accounts MultiplySome of these accounts — this list has compiled more than 80 of them — initially claimed to be run by members of these organizations, but many have since altered their descriptions, or in the case of the alternative National Park Service have said the account was handed off to environmentalists and activists.

Posted in There

Elsewhere for January 22, 2017

You should read this for 1/22/2017: You are what you read, the other Washington remains a beacon of hope, progress and opportunity for all, the cake is a lie, grace all the way, you voted for him, you fix him, and thighs are the way to go.

Via The New York Times President Obama on What Books Mean to Him and, a bonus link from the same interview Obama’s Secret to Surviving the White House Years: Books

Saying goodbye: U.S. Digital Service

Governor Jay Inslee: Washington will always be ‛a beacon of hope, progress and opportunity for all’ “Our state has a proud history of inclusivity and compassion for all — regardless of class, race, gender, ethnicity, immigration status or sexual orientation. This legacy is integral to the character of our state and a foundation for what makes the Evergreen State so exceptional. . . . No president or administration can change that. We’ll continue our fight and ensure that whatever happens in the other Washington, this Washington will remain a beacon of hope, progress and opportunity for all.”

💩🔥💰’s inaugural cake was commissioned to look exactly like Obama’s says the baker, made by Duff Goldman. Here’s more about Duff Goldman’s original cake for President Obama. (The baker in question donated her payment to the Human Rights Campaign).

Hillary Clinton was not required to come to the 💩🔥💰 Inauguration as either a former First Lady or as a defeated candidate by anything other than custom and grace.

We have just entered a poorer reality “And now we have a president who represents the worst of us: narcissistic, ill-informed, petulant, prejudiced, simplistic, lying and combative. Those of us who see this will resist him. Those who voted for him, it is upon you to press this man to be better. Otherwise, he drags us all down — with you at the leading edge.”

Ree Drummond’s pan-roasted chicken thighs

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Elsewhere for January 15, 2017

You should read this for 1/15/2017: Just five books, please, ones that the Suck Fairy hasn’t visited, whales in their crone phase, horses know how to train humans, humans feeding other humans, humans removing health care from other humans, and everything you need to know about cooking beans.

Five Books: The Best Books On Everything An interesting premise, and a great way to find books to read: “We ask experts to recommend the five best books in their subject and explain their selection in an interview.”

Jo Walton on The Suck Fairy “The Suck Fairy comes in when you come back to a book that you liked when you read it before, and on re-reading—well, it sucks.” Jo Walton is one of my favorite writers, of fiction or essays. Walton is smart, she’s funny, and writes true things.

A New Type Of Food Pantry Is Sprouting In Yards Across America I think this is a super idea; “Tiny pantries” are a spin-off from the Little Free Library concept, also a great idea. I’d like to do both, if I can figure out where and how.

Why do Orcas go Through menopause? “Almost all animals reproduce until they die, even very long-lived ones like elephants and blue whales. As far as we know, just three species buck the trend: killer whales, short-finned pilot whales, and humans.”

Via NPR: How Smart Are Horses? Pretty smart; they train humans to feed ’em.

The Anti-Obamacare FAQ Everything you need to know about why conservatives want to repeal the president’s health care law.

From The New York Times and Melissa Clark: How to Cook Beans What beans, what prep, what seasonings, and what to do with all those dried beans.

Posted in There