Friday, December 31, 2010


It was fairly easy, at the dinner table on our Yuletide Day of Intellect, to answer Daisy's question,"Who is Garrison Keillor?" What was harder was to explain "Why is Garrison Keillor?", a much bigger question about cultural phenomena that I'll look forward to coming back to someday.

In the meantime, it's enough to say that I"m enjoying the gift of Keillor's Good Poems immensely for its range and for the familiar voices interspersed with the poets whose work is new-to-me. One of those is Howard Moss, who was poetry editor at New Yorker magazine for 40 years and is probably well known to everyone but me. There are three of his poems in Good Poems, including one that made me think, as I read it for the first time, "Wait, wait--don't tell me--something extra's going on here!"

It will be a long time before there is enough said about the genius of Marilyn Singer's reverso poetry form, so cleverly deployed to shift point of view in Mirror, Mirror. (If you don't know the reverso, go here and here for some descriptions and "the rules.") Today I want to suggest that Howard Moss at least, at least one time, used the reverso form in a slightly different way to equally brilliant effect. Here is the "precurso" in question, from Moss's New Selected Poems published in 1985.

The Persistence of Song

Although it is not yet evening
The secretaries have changed their frocks
As if it were time for dancing,
And locked up in the scholars' books
There is a kind of rejoicing,
There is a kind of singing
That even the dark stone canyon makes
As though all fountains were going
At once, and the color flowed from bricks
In one wild, lit upsurging.

What is the weather doing?
And who arrived on a scallop shell
With the smell of the sea this morning?
--Creating a small upheaval
High above the scaffolding
By saying, "All will be well.
There is a kind of rejoicing."

Is there a kind of rejoicing
In saying, "All will be well?"
High above the scaffolding,
Creating a small upheaval,
The smell of the sea this morning
Arrived on a scallop shell.
What was the weather doing
In one wild, lit upsurging?
At once, the color flowed from bricks
As though all fountains were going,
And even the dark stone canyon makes
Here a kind of singing,
And there a kind of rejoicing,
And locked up in the scholars' books
There is a time for dancing
When the secretaries have changed their frocks,
And though it is not yet evening,

There is the persistence of song.

~ Howard Moss
collected in Good Poems
selected and introduced by Garrison Keillor, 2002

Today's Poetry Friday round-up is at Carol's Corner today. May your year begin in song; may the singing persist the whole year long!

Friday, December 17, 2010

"the gift of time"

Oh, glory! Thanks to a steady sifting of snow yesterday, the DC metro area is now just incapacitated enough to open schools on a 2-hour delay. This is in addition to last evening's gift of a glass of wine and a natter with neighbors, possible because of cancelled kidtivities. My contempt for a local culture that keeps children IN for recess because it's snowing is temporarily outweighed--selfishly--by gratitude for the gift of unexpected free time.

For the gingerbread fans, here are the promised photos: my mother's 1940 cookie cutter, the D's at work with the dough, and the finished adorables on the tree. (I could wish the photos were more skilled--but that's not my area, according to the division of labor in this family).

Poetry is my area, however. This week I've been at work on two projects: judging the work of some high school poets for the PTA's "Reflections" arts program, and working with the wonderfully versatile Laura Shovan on a grown-up poetry anthology that will be published by the Maryland Writers' Association. I'll have three poems in the collection and am also writing an introduction to one section, which has been a refreshing challenge.

At our house we're preparing for Yuletide and our "high holiday" Solstice Dinner. It's a tradition for me to give the guests (close family and neighbors) gifts of light on the shortest day of the year. There have been candles and candleholders and matches and flashlights of all descriptions over the years, but this year I'm going intangible, in this direction:

“If I stand”
from Light by Inger Christensen

If I stand
alone in the snow
it is clear
that I am a clock

how else would eternity
find its way around

Step into the pool of winter light that is Poetry Friday, hosted today by Amy at The Poem Farm!

Friday, December 10, 2010

tomcat apprentice

Just before Halloween we got our second cat, partly to keep Cat #1 "entertained" and partly to acknowledge the achievement of our sixth-grader, who soldiered through two nights away from home at Outdoor Ed with her new middle-school peers.

He was named Oak by the shelter and the kids decided to keep that name, although at the time I thought Acorn would be more appropriate. No more. At almost 5 months, he resembles our son, long-limbed and lean; when Oak stands on his hind legs to scratch at a fresh section of the parlor sofa his reach comes easily to my hip now. (But I'm short.)

How fortunate that right here in my new copy of Paul B. Janeczko's A Foot in the Mouth I have "A Tomcat Is" by J. Patrick Lewis, newly named winner of the NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children. Our Oak now has a model to strive towards, as do we poets--between midnight mouthfuls of marshmallow paws!

A Tomcat Is (excerpts)
J. Patrick Lewis

Night watchman of corners
Caretaker of naps
Leg-wrestler of pillows
Depresser of laps.


The bird-watching bandit
On needle-point claws
The chief of detectives
On marshmallow paws

A crafty yarn-spinner
A stringer high-strung
A buttermilk mustache
A sandpaper tongue


See the complete poem here and then buy the book! Scholastic resources here and here, if you like that sort of thing.

Today's tasty Poetry Friday round-up is at Jama Rattigan's Alphabet Soup, where I find that she's highlighting J. Pat too. Coincidence, or fate?!?

Follow-up from last week's gingerbread man post (and thanks to all for the comments on Mrs. Oven's poem):

Here's the recipe I'll be using to make dough today;
baking and photos tomorrow!

Gingerbread Cookies
(6 dozen gingerbread men or 10 dozen stars )

Cream 1 ½ cups shortening with 1 ½ cups sugar.
Beat in 3 eggs, 1 ½ cups dark molasses, 3 T. apple cider or white vinegar.
Add 7 ½ cups flour, 2 ½ t. baking soda, ¾ t. salt, 1 ½ T. ginger,
1 ½ t. each cinnamon and cloves.

Mix thoroughly and form into dough disc. Chill at least 3 hours.
Roll out thin on floured surface with floured rolling pin.
Cut in shapes and bake on parchment-lined cookie sheet 5-6 minutes at 375*.

Friday, December 3, 2010

"you can't catch me"

"Run, run, as fast as you can! You can't catch me; I'm the Gingerbread Man!" It's still fun to chant, isn't it? I'm pondering why this little rhyme is so endlessly appealing to kids, beyond its obvious bounce. An informal trawl of internet sites for teachers suggests that at this time of year, 5- and 6-year-olds all over the country are immersed in The Gingerbread Man. He's handy because he has a festive holiday feel but is resolutely areligious. Certainly he holds a special place in my heart because it's a family tradition to thread red floss through holes in the heads of our simple, two-currant-eyes-and-a-knife-point-smile gingerbread men and hang them all over the tree. The children and I use a cutter that my mother used as a child, a transparent blue plastic piece her mother bought in the 1930's. I'll post some photos once our baking gets underway. (And gingerbread dough is a wonderfully versatile medium: as young adults my partner and I based a whole holiday party around gingerbread Patsys and Edinas from Absolutely Fabulous.) For me, gingerbread men are a symbol of cozy family comfort during a dark and dangerous time of year. I think of the The Gingerbread Man as an equivalent story to The Little Red Hen: patterned repetitive plots, rhythmic refrains, an important lesson to be learned. But wait--what is the lesson of The Gingerbread Man? It took me three seconds to realize what everyone else has perhaps always known, but if you hang out with 4 to 7-year-olds your whole life, you could miss it. What little children love is the naughtiness of the Gingerbread Man who gets up half-baked and runs away from home, and their favorite versions are the ones in which the Gingerbread Man actually LAUGHS AT those who are chasing him. I'm not sure, once they get over the shock of the SNIP-SNAP! at the end, that children go away thinking, "Oh! I'd better stick close to home, and if I do go out on my own, I'd better beware the sly fox who pretends to be my friend but really wants to eat me alive." And while I always make a big deal about the Value of Cooperation when reading The Little Red Hen, I have never, as a teacher, emphasized the Stranger Danger message of The Gingerbread Man. But I have considered the point of view of the oven.