Saturday, March 30, 2013

Poetry Month

Yes, April is National Poetry Month.  If you like, go to this link to have Knopf email you a poem each day for the month.  

In celebration, I'm including one that I have long enjoyed--Dippold the Optician, part of The Spoon River Anthology, by Edgar Lee Masters.  Published in 1915, now in the public domain.

Dippold the Optician

What do you see now?
Globes of red, yellow, purple.
Just a moment!  And now?
My father and mother and sisters.
Yes!  And now?
Knights at arms, beautiful women, kind faces.
Try this.
A field of grain--a city.
Very good!  And now?
A young woman with angels bending over her.
A heavier lens!  And now?
Many women with bright eyes and open lips.
Try this.
Just a goblet on a table.
Oh I see!  Try this lens!
Just an open space--I see nothing in particular.
Well, now!
Pine trees, a lake, a summer sky.
That's better.  And now?
A book.
Read a page for me.
I can't.  My eyes are carried beyond the page.
Try this lens.
Depths of air.
Excellent!  And now?
Light, just light, making everything below it a toy world.
Very well, we'll make the glasses accordingly.

Saturday, March 23, 2013


Call me whimsical, but I've been thinking about dups lately.  Like clean dup.  Open dup.  Vacuum, wash, turn, polish, and fix dup.

Example:  here's a new bathroom counter after it was fix dup

We also hear about "nothers."  As in "a whole nother world."

Then there's "rather."  There's no "to rather."  I rathered, you rathered.  It needs "would" in front of it.

And "of."  As in "I should of."  (I've even seen it written that way.)  Or "your" as in "your the one." And recently I've come across these:  "Do to a power outage" ... and "It fell threw."

Then there are times when, eliminating a nice helpful verb, a noun takes that spot.  As in "to plate something," "to gift someone," "to partner with someone."

Or there are verbs which have recently become nouns.  The "reveal" when your contractor shows you your new kitchen update.  And "disconnect."  I heard someone on the radio once ask what happened to that good word, "disconnection," but the question just sort of faded away.

Then, too, I've recently come across some wonderful words.  "In durance vile."  Doesn't that just sound absolutely right!  And there's "widdershins and deasil" (chiefly Scottish for counterclockwise and clockwise).  I also love the word "tatty"--for something frayed or shabby.

Curtains and blinds are now window treatments ... fountains and ponds are water features.

Also, is it better to refer to actresses as actors, as I so frequently hear these days?  Does that mean the word "heroes" has now replaced "heroines"?  Will we one day speak of female kings?  Female King Elizabeth II.  Can we not delineate without feeling that we are denigrating?  Can we not appreciate who people are for their differences?

Okay, I'll keep going.  I was re-reading Kipling's Kim lately and ran across "just as lief."  Ah, and here I'd always thought it was "just as leave."  When I looked it up, there was "lief" meaning "readily," "willingly."  Makes sense.

Finally, here's something I saw in Chicago through--or should I write "threw"?--the train window.  It was one of those small signs you see around and about and it read,
             No Trespassing
             Violators Will Be Prosecuted
But it occurred to me that it could conceivably mean the opposite.  Read it now:
            No trespassing violators will be prosecuted.



Saturday, March 16, 2013

My All-Time Favorite Books

Beginning in 1960, I've probably read this five times.

And here they are in the liberally approximate order of favoritude (if that's a word)!  (Non-fiction are in blue.)

  1. Out of Africa, Isak Dinesen
  2. Thus Far and No Further, Rumer Godden
  3. To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf
  4. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
  5. Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen
  6. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
  7. The Zen Environment, Marian Mountain
  8. A Smile in the Mind's Eye, Lawrence Durrell
  9. The works of the Brontës, Jane Austen, Henry James, Ernest Hemingway, Rumer Godden, Willa Cather, E. M. Forster, Elizabeth Bowen, William Maxwell, Wallace Stegner
  10. The short stories of W. Somerset Maugham, Katherine Mansfield, Elizabeth Bowen
  11. The memoirs of Leonard Woolf, Emily Carr, Simone de Beauvoir, M.F.K. Fisher
  12. Brideshead Revisted, Evelyn Waugh
  13. The Lover, Marguerite Duras
  14. The Oregon Trail, Francis Parkman
  15. The Alexandria Quartet, Lawrence Durrell
  16. Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
  17. Middlemarch, George Eliot
  18. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
  19. Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
  20. Cross Creek, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
  21. Seven Years in Tibet, Heinrich Harrer
  22. The Colossus of Maroussi, Henry Miller
  23. Garden of the Brave in War, Terence O'Donnell
  24. West With the Night, Beryl Markham
  25. The French Lieutenant's Woman, John Fowles
  26. The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera
  27. Gift From the Sea, Anne Morrow Lindberg
  28. The Razor's Edge, W. Somerset Maugham
  29. The Points of My Compass, E. B. White
  30. Books on writing (and life) by Brenda Ueland, Natalie Goldberg, Anne Lamott
  31. The journals of Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield
  32. The works of the more recent writers Shirley Hazzard, Anita Brookner, Penelope Lively, Barbara Pym, Ivan Doig
  33. Books about growing up in Africa by Elspeth Huxley and Alexandra Fuller
  34. The bicycle adventure tales of Dervla Murphy
  35. And, in his own special category, the generally soothing and ruminative fiction of Alexander McCall Smith about Botswana, Edinburgh, and London
Two works by Rumer Godden
I've read and re-read these.  One is Taoism, the other is Zen.

Oddly, reading so much, I have become more fussy about the physical book ... and, yes, I do require a physical book.  I have no interest in cyber books.  I want the tactile pages.  But I now prefer paperbacks that aren't too heavy, that aren't hard to hold when reading in bed, with non-glossy paper, non-sharp corners, and no teensy print or crammed-together lines, though I can still read without glasses.  Something holdable and cozy-feeling even if the words on the page are not always cozy.  Of course, I'll still read other formats.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

What It Is and Isn't

It's all sorted, controlled.  It's all imagined, considered.  It's all straight lines.  Or circles or parabolas or something inside a box.  It's a level playing field, a work in progress, a labor of love, the bottom line, transparency.  It's hitting the ground running, biting the bullet, stepping up to the plate, ringing off the hook.  It's the one I want sent into outer space never to return:  location, location, location.  It's crisp and crunchy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside.  It's colors that pop, the wow factor.  It's plasma TVs.  It flows when it's supposed to and it flows when it isn't supposed to.  It's harping on disaster, on feeling victimized.  It's something we've educated ourselves for and hash out in long phone conversations.  It's the conflict/resolution story-line built into our national DNA.  It's I win, you lose.  Or the other way around.  It's the vocabulary of battles, confrontations.  Battleground states.  Battling cancer.  And such programs as Yard Crashers, Baggage Battles, Design Wars, and When Vacations Attack.

What it isn't is putting my finger on a map and going there.  It isn't suddenly taking a taxi out to JFK and getting on the next plane, no matter where it goes.  It isn't taking the first five ingredients in the refrigerator and concocting a quiche.  It isn't getting up at 2 A.M. and walking beside the West River.  It isn't getting out my paints and slopping through a whole tablet of expensive French paper.  It isn't remembering everything I've ever learned or all the places I've ever been or all the people I've ever known.

Whatever it is, it can chip down imagination as if it were a piece of sculpture that begins with a quarried slab and ends up dust.  It's thinking that if I do such and such, I will achieve such and such.  Yet tipping it, I can see light angling off an edge.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Winter in Vermont

(Just want to say that I'm celebrating ... this is my 100th posting.)

Winter around here can feel like it's six months long--mid-October to mid-April.  At least that's when I keep the snow shovel out by the front door.  (Early May has even produced snow a time or two.)  So what's with that!  Well, it does draw those visitors who enjoy winter sports and that's obviously an economic plus, though for those of us who live here (and, I might add, aren't winter sports enthusiasts), the season can get a bit long.  Especially since I abandon my regular walking until there's no hint of ice.

But, of course, a snowfall is beguilingly beautiful.  The neighborhood is enveloped in a lovely silence ... until a deep rumble and flashing light announce the approach of the town plow that shoves aside the accumulation, clearing the road but (thus) also clogging our drives and walkways.  But soon enough our individually hired plows arrive and clear that away too. 

The neighbors' hired plow man clearing their drive.

An April storm.
A hand-shoveled walk.

Then there's the changing light as the days lengthen ... the persistent ploop-ploop of melting snow dripping off the roof ... the beginning of sugaring and mud season.

Besides winter sports, visitors also come for our anachronistic feel.  Our lack of billboards, quaint markets, church-steepled villages, and two-lane roads, some not paved.

One of those unpaved roads
I recently read a nice piece by Alistair Cooke about his 1951 visit to the village of Newfane where the inn lies just across the street from the court house which then housed the jail.  "Newfane has kept up its habit of feeding its prisoners from the inn, and since the inn serves the best food around here, it's sometimes hard to get the inmates out of jail.  Theodore Roosevelt said he would like to retire here, commit some 'mild crime' and eat his way through a cheerful old age."*

Vermont has the problem of staying anachronistic enough to charm its visitors but also needing to keep up with the times.  So maple sugaring now uses plastic tubing to tap the trees--alas, for those of us who loved to see the old bucket method.  But either way, it's a sign of spring.

Looks like a holding tank for the maple sap.  You can see the blue tubing leading into it.
*From Outsiders Inside Vermont, Three Centuries of Visitors' Viewpoints on the Green Mountain State, edited by T. D. Seymour Bassett, p.121.