Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Poetry Wednesday: Cookie Monster, Poet



Cookie Monster, via Sesame Street, tweeted the following poem:

This is just to say
Me have eaten
the cookies
that were in the cookie jar

and which
you were probably
saving
for snack time

Forgive me
they were so delicious
and om nom nom

Me love poetry... and cookies!


You may recognize its inspiration: "This is Just to Say" by William Carlos Williams.

I have eaten
 the plums
 that were in
the icebox

 and which
you were probably
saving 
for breakfast 

 Forgive me 
they were delicious
 so sweet 
and so cold


Thanks, Cookie Monster!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Night Reading and E-Reading: Ne'er the Twain Shall Meet

I am a fan of the electronic reader. I keep my Kindle with me at all times — one never knows when the need to read shall arise. A quiet lunch? A visit to the doctor's office? Unexpected downtime? All those and more translate into extra reading time, and I am glad I have my choice of books.

I also keep my magazines on it so I'm never without a New Yorker. (Hey, I've got to be prepared for every contingency.)

However, there's a limit to how I will use an e-book.

Now, I didn't understand my limitations until recently, more than a year after I started loading my Kindle — and, now, my iPad (thank you, Kindle Reader app!).

My limitation is simple, but clear: I will not take my Kindle to bed.

Oh, I may work like a demon on my computer until 2 am and I may Pinterest or BuzzFeed on my iPad until way later than I should; I am, after all, only human (despite evidence to the contrary).  Electronics are valuable. However, I always shut off the electronics when I climb between the covers.

Well, now. I must admit, I haven't always made that decision. Until recently, I had no issue with perusing my Kindle or iPad before picking up my book.

Then I realized I couldn't fall asleep.

There is evidence that the light from tablets suppresses melatonin, which can throw off a person's circadian rhythm.

That's science. Here's my own evidence: I don't fall asleep easily or quickly after using electronics with a screen. It takes me an hour or more after computer time before I  am ready to fall asleep.

Don't get me wrong: I am tired. I am weary. I am ready for the day to end. I want to fall asleep. I cannot, however, do that in front of a screen. To be fair, I cannot do it in front of a television, either: I can count on one hand the number of times I have fallen asleep while watching television. The screen hypnotizes me and keeps me awake long after my body is ready for bed.

The same, apparently, applies to tablet reading.

I will always carry and use paper books — not for the smell or heft, not for the comfort, not for the vast collection (sometimes exclusively) available in print. I don't do it because I don't want to battle for a plug in a hospital waiting room or bagel shop. I do it because I don't want to be tethered to a power source or to let the zombies know where I am at night, behind the glowing screen.

I will do it because until they build a "mousetrap" that lets this difficult sleeper fall asleep easily, I won't make my life any harder. E-books have their place — just not in my bed.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Poetry Wednesday: Buddhist New Year Song




Buddhist New Year Song

I saw you in green velvet, wide full sleeves
seated in front of a fireplace, our house
made somehow more gracious, and you said
“There are stars in your hair”— it was truth I
brought down with me

to this sullen and dingy place that we must make golden
make precious and mythical somehow, it is our nature,
and it is truth, that we came here, I told you,
from other planets
where we were lords, we were sent here,
for some purpose

the golden mask I had seen before, that fitted
so beautifully over your face, did not return
nor did that face of a bull you had acquired
amid northern peoples, nomads, the Gobi desert

I did not see those tents again, nor the wagons
infinitely slow on the infinitely windy plains,
so cold, every star in the sky was a different color
the sky itself a tangled tapestry, glowing
but almost, I could see the planet from which we had come

I could not remember (then) what our purpose was
but remembered the name Mahakala, in the dawn

in the dawn confronted Shiva, the cold light
revealed the “mindborn” worlds, as simply that,
I watched them propagated, flowing out,
or, more simply, one mirror reflecting another.
then broke the mirrors, you were no longer in sight
nor any purpose, stared at this new blackness
the mindborn worlds fled, and the mind turned off:

a madness, or a beginning?

By Diane di Prima
From Pieces of a Song
Courtesy Poetry Foundation

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Poetry Wednesday: The Swan at Edgewater Park


The Swan at Edgewater Park

Isn't one of your prissy rich peoples' swans
Wouldn't be at home on some pristine pond
Chooses the whole stinking shoreline, candy wrappers, condoms
      in its tidal fringe
Prefers to curve its muscular, slightly grubby neck
      into the body of a Great Lake,
Swilling whatever it is swans swill,
Chardonnay of algae with bouquet of crud,
While Clevelanders walk by saying Look
      at that big duck!
Beauty isn't the point here; of course
      the swan is beautiful,
But not like Lorie at 16, when
Everything was possible—no
More like Lorie at 27
Smoking away her days off in her dirty kitchen,
Her kid with asthma watching TV,
The boyfriend who doesn't know yet she's gonna
Leave him, washing his car out back—and
He's a runty little guy, and drinks too much, and
It's not his kid anyway, but he loves her, he
Really does, he loves them both—
That's the kind of swan this is.


by Ruth L. Schwartz
 from Edgewater. © Harper Collins, 2002
Courtesy of The Writer's Almanac

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Review: Next

Michael Crichton was always about a decade before the rest of the world. Sucking dinosaur DNA out of bits of amber? Check. Computers taking over the world? Check. Time travel causing schisms in our universe and its travelers? Check.

His last book seemed to look inward as much as ahead: to our cells and what's in them. Who owns a cell? Who owns a gene? Who owns the blood the doctors take from you to do tests? Rebecca Skloot was asking the same questions while writing The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks during this time — and unfortunately, the ending has yet to be written for her non-fiction bestseller.

Crichton takes multiple storylines and weaves them into a tapestry of confusion, deception, arrogance and chance. Frank Burnet's cells were taken by a doctor and used for research to develop a treatment worth millions of dollars, only Frank didn't know until much later, when he sued for a portion of the proceeds.

Henry Kendall works at a lab in Maryland for a while and uses part of his own cell DNA in an experiment that, under normal circumstances would have been monitored differently. Alas, he discovers much later in life that it didn't conclude as he thought it would, and he's faced with the surprising results.

Tourists in Sumatra hear an orangutan swearing in French and Dutch. When the media and research community get a hold of the news, they perceive a development in the primate's vocal cords that signals a possible evolutionary change. How can they find out the truth?

Gerard is an African grey parrot who was injected with human cells as a chick. As a result, he has a level of intelligence and self-awareness that is picked up only when his owner's son has perfect homework but can't perform the same results in the classroom. Could his secret be Gerard?

Venture capitalist Jack Watson wants to make his company, BioGen, immensely successful with Burnet's cells. His messy divorce makes for an interesting plot complication that tangles with his shady security director with genetic predisposition to impulsive behavior and his research assistant's drug-addicted brother who huffed something that never should have been in the car to begin with.

In the end, there are more questions than answers (which is what one expects from a Crichton novel). However, there are some amazing characters who are not that far from reality, others readers wish were — and enough surprise to keep even the most savvy reader guessing to the end.

This book is a great summer read that will frighten, interest and, at times, delight readers. Thriller-lovers and tech-lovers will find enough to keep them satisfied, while the rest of the reading public can understand the story enough to enjoy it. I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Poetry Wednesday: América


América


I.
Although Tía Miriam boasted she discovered
at least half-a-dozen uses for peanut butter —
topping for guava shells in syrup,
butter substitute for Cuban toast,
hair conditioner and relaxer —
Mamà never knew what to make
of the monthly five-pound jars
handed out by the immigration department
until my friend, Jeff, mentioned jelly.
II.
There was always pork though,
for every birthday and wedding,
whole ones on Christmas and New Year's Eves,
even on Thanksgiving Day — pork,
fried, broiled or crispy skin roasted —
as well as cauldrons of black beans,
fried plantain chips and yuca con mojito.
These items required a special visit
to Antonio's Mercado on the corner of 8th street
where men in guayaberas stood in senate
blaming Kennedy for everything — "Ese hijo de puta!"
the bile of Cuban coffee and cigar residue
filling the creases of their wrinkled lips;
clinging to one another's lies of lost wealth,
ashamed and empty as hollow trees.
III.
By seven I had grown suspicious — we were still here.
Overheard conversations about returning
had grown wistful and less frequent.
I spoke English; my parents didn't.
We didn't live in a two story house
with a maid or a wood panel station wagon
nor vacation camping in Colorado.
None of the girls had hair of gold;
none of my brothers or cousins
were named Greg, Peter, or Marsha;
we were not the Brady Bunch.
None of the black and white characters
on Donna Reed or on Dick Van Dyke Show
were named Guadalupe, Lázaro, or Mercedes.
Patty Duke's family wasn't like us either —
they didn't have pork on Thanksgiving,
they ate turkey with cranberry sauce;
they didn't have yuca, they had yams
like the dittos of Pilgrims I colored in class.
IV.
A week before Thanksgiving
I explained to my abuelita
about the Indians and the Mayflower,
how Lincoln set the slaves free;
I explained to my parents about
the purple mountain's majesty,
"one if by land, two if by sea"
the cherry tree, the tea party,
the amber waves of grain,
the "masses yearning to be free"
liberty and justice for all, until
finally they agreed:
this Thanksgiving we would have turkey,
as well as pork.
V.
Abuelita prepared the poor fowl
as if committing an act of treason,
faking her enthusiasm for my sake.
Mamà set a frozen pumpkin pie in the oven
and prepared candied yams following instructions
I translated from the marshmallow bag.
The table was arrayed with gladiolus,
the plattered turkey loomed at the center
on plastic silver from Woolworths.
Everyone sat in green velvet chairs
we had upholstered with clear vinyl,
except Tío Carlos and Toti, seated
in the folding chairs from the Salvation Army.
I uttered a bilingual blessing
and the turkey was passed around
like a game of Russian Roulette.
"DRY", Tío Berto complained, and proceeded
to drown the lean slices with pork fat drippings
and cranberry jelly — "esa mierda roja," he called it.
Faces fell when Mamá presented her ochre pie —
pumpkin was a home remedy for ulcers, not a dessert.
Tía María made three rounds of Cuban coffee
then abuelo and Pepe cleared the living room furniture,
put on a Celia Cruz LP and the entire family
began to merengue over the linoleum of our apartment,
sweating rum and coffee until they remembered —
it was 1970 and 46 degrees —
in América.
After repositioning the furniture,
an appropriate darkness filled the room.
Tío Berto was the last to leave.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Whenever I begin reading a book by Neil Gaiman, I always think I know where I'm going. Then I read the second paragraph and I realize how fundamentally, overwhelmingly wrong I am.

You may think Ocean at the End of the Lane is a book about what a seven-year-old boy experienced one summer. You may be right — a little. It's so, so much more.

It was a riveting tale. Gorgeous prose, incredible storytelling, a flawless narrator and a tale that takes you places you never expected. Plus, kittens are involved: not always in a good way, but always as they must be.

The young boy who is narrating the story is all of seven years old, and it hasn't been all that smooth – especially his seventh summerl. His own little room was being occupied by lodgers, and he had to share a room with his sister. His seventh birthday party was abysmal, but a quiet boy can endure much. Until the opal miner shows up and ruins everything. And that's when he meets the Hempstock women.

The narrator is both a child and adult, a man returning to his childhood and a child looking into his future. He captures the true magic and terrors of childhood, the helplessness and strength, the trust and betrayal, the confusion and clarity. His voice is unwavering and true, and completely believable.

Read this modest yet ample novel now, then buy a second copy to give to the friend you know will love it. (You won't want to loan your copy. You will be too busy re-reading it.)

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Poetry for Independence Day: I, Too

I, Too
 
 
I, too, sing America.
 
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

Tomorrow,
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
Then.

Besides,
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

by Langston Hughes
from Collected Poems
Courtesy Poetry Foundation

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Poetry Wednesday: I Hear America Singing



I Hear America Singing

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
    Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe
              and strong,
    The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
    The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off
              work,
    The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deck-
              hand singing on the steamboat deck,
    The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing
              as he stands,
    The woodcutter's song, the ploughboy's on his way in the morn-
              ing, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
    The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work,
              or of the girl sewing or washing,
    Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
    The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young
              fellows, robust, friendly,
    Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs. 


by Walt Whitman
Courtesy Poem of the Week
I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear, Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong, The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam, The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work, The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck, The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands, The wood-cutter's song, the ploughboy's on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown, The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing, Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else, The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly, Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs. - See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15752#sthash.NaiToFfb.dpuf
I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear, Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong, The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam, The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work, The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck, The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands, The wood-cutter's song, the ploughboy's on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown, The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing, Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else, The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly, Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs. - See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15752#sthash.NaiToFfb.dpuf

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Independence Day — What Does It Mean To You?

What does "Independence Day" mean to you?

Parades, barbecues, fireworks?

How about sedition, treason and risking everything for what you believe?

Watch this video produced by Declare Yourself — and pause to think about it.

Be brave, be true. Happy Independence Day.






If you can't get to the National Archives, take a gander below: here's what the Declaration of Independence looks like:
Read the text here.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Library Loot: Creativity, Flowers

The library is a great place to shop for a single book, then cruise around the shelves for whole bunch of books on a single subject.

Let's say, for example, a reader sees a reference to a book on creativity and writing by one of her favorite authors. She trips over to the library website and discovers, quite to her dismay, that the library doesn't have said book.

What's a girl to do but shop around the shelves to see what other tender morsels are available for the plucking?


It started with Ray Bradbury, whose Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity wasn't available in print or electronically at my library. It was, however, available on Amazon. (I will have it by Tuesday.)

However, for fun, I clicked on the library database button "what's nearby on the shelf." I found Natalie Goldberg and her two titles: Thunder and Lightning: Cracking Open the Writer's Craft and Old Friend from Far Away. Then there was Will Write for Food and Writing Life Stories by Dianne Jacob and Bill Roorbach, respectively.

However, when I was searching the stacks, I somehow thought 808.066 came after 808.81 — and stumbled into a couple of doozies: The Best Alternate History Stories of the 20th Century (which is similar to my book on the best time-travel books of the 20th century) and a new-to-me poetry book: Good Poems, American Places, edited by Garrison Keillor.

As we were leaving for the library, my husband David asked me what a particular flower was in our garden, and I shrugged. Since I was in the library, I figured I'd find the Audubon book on flowers; I loved my Audubon books on birds and the night sky, so I knew I couldn't go wrong. While I was in the  582 neighborhood, I figured a crash course on trees was in order.

I am not sure where to start, aside from taking my flower book into my garden to see if it's a yellow Jessamin or trout lily. Poetry? Alternate history? Creative writing? And here I am reading the latest Dan Brown! Too many delicious books for a single set of eyes!

What have you checked out of your library lately? Do tell!