Sonnet IV by Edna St. Vincent Millay

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As my time at college was coming to a close, I read the work by various poets and found myself (a little bit every day) either scribbling something for a poem or thinking of the words I’d use for one. I haven’t written a whole lot of poetry since spring last year, probably because I’ve been so caught up with my novel, and I’ve had a blast getting back into it. I got a new one I’m going to send to my ol’ poetry professor and see what he thinks. Recently I also signed up for the open mic night at Kaya Coffee House, where I read ten of my poems. First poetry reading ever. It was a little nerve-wrecking before I walked up there, but it wasn’t too bad at all. Some of the audience knew about the snapping rule, which was neat. I hope they have this kind of open-mic poetry-reading stuff going in the metro-Detroit area, because I want to do it again.

Me at Kaya on Wednesday, April 29, 2015.

Me at Kaya on Wednesday, April 29, 2015.

One of the poets I was “getting to know” during my last month at Central was Edna St. Vincent Millay. First of all, what a bad-ass name, and second, her poetry is awesome. I checked out The Harp-Weaver & other poems from the library and today I want to share one poem that stood out to me (I found it inspiring).

I know I am but summer to your heart,

And not the full four seasons of the year;

And you must welcome from another part

Such noble moods as are not mine, my dear.

No gracious weight of golden fruits to sell

Have I, nor any wise and wintry thing;

And I have loved you all too long and well

To carry still the high sweet breast of Spring.

Wherefore I say: O love, as summer goes,

I must be gone, steal forth with silent drums,

That you may hail anew the bird and rose

When I come back to you, as summer comes.

Else will you seek, at some not distant time,

Even your summer in another time.

**

 

Perhaps I shouldn’t start Poetry Tuesday back up with such a sad poem… oh well. It seems suitable considering summer is upon us and that only a few days ago, I witnessed so many goodbyes between couples. Long hugs, kisses, and well-meant but empty promises. Most of them clearly don’t realize that summer breaks are huge chunks of time; a long-distance relationship is even harder if one or both of you are graduating. The bag of stress that brings may be one of the reasons behind summer romances; all you have is a burst of fireworks for a couple of months. Then you carry on with some good memories, returning to Singleton Ville.

Now “summer” here is rather a metaphor, of course. It stands for a short-lived love affair between two people. The speaker knows this: “And you must welcome from another part/ such noble moods as are not mine,” which means that she knows she won’t be the last woman in their life.

The most tear-jerking part (for me at least) is when she says that she’s going to dump her lover before they do that to her, because a broken heart would be too much.

Here’s how I made that conclusion:

* “I have loved you all too long and well/ to carry still the high sweet breast of spring

… meaning, ‘this affair has gone on for too long and if I let this continue, I will be too broken-hearted to allow myself fall in love again once we go separate ways.’

* ‘Wherefore I say: O love, as summer goes/ I must be gone, steal forth with silent drums.’

… meaning, ‘I’m saying goodbye and walking away with my head held high.’

The poem then goes on to say that she figures that her lover will move on with someone new after this. However, even though she appears to have come to terms with that, there’s a quiet despair in the tone. In truth, she wants this fling to be something more. Should they meet again, she asks her lover to consider to “seek […] even your summer in another time” so that it can last forever instead.

Now there’s one part I’m not sure about:

No gracious weight of golden fruits to sell

Have I, nor any wise and wintry thing;

It could mean that she has nothing left to offer her lover in a sensual sense. The passion is running out so instead of ‘golden fruits,’ she now craves a stable relationship, which may seem stale and old to her lover in comparison.

Let me know what you guys think.

Blog Update: Initiated for a New Journey

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Until May 11 May 12, I won’t have the time (and most likely not the energy either) to post anything on the blog.

Yes, that’s quite a gap considering my last entry came out on April 7, but unfortunately, I have to prioritize. I’m graduating from Central Michigan University in less than three weeks so I got a lot on my plate: In addition to filling out job applications, I have two major projects to complete, tons of studying and reading, and several social engagements. One is this week: The good people from the literary magazine Central Review are holding their (semester) annual release party on Friday and as one of the fortunate writers/poets who had their submission accepted, I’m going to be there to read my piece. Mine is actually a one-act play – which is the first play the Review has ever printed – so I’m going to have two other people up there with me. I’d lose my voice if I had to do it on my own.

Then next week on Wednesday, I’m reading my poems at Kaya Coffee House for their open mic night. Oh boy… yesterday I posted on my personal Facebook, “Feel free to come and watch me blush, I mean, perform.” Currently, I’m in the process of putting this “show” together.

I’ve also dedicated the time I usually reserve for blogging to work on my novel. I might have said this for a while, but in three to four chapters, it will be done. Granted, I am going to launch into revision as soon as I’ve gotten to the end, because all those things that need fixing have stared at me for months. It will be a lot work – Hell, I have to write an entirely new Chapter 5 – I don’t mind, though, because I’m having so much fun with it. A few weeks ago I came to terms with the fact that my book isn’t your “traditional” detective story. I should have accepted its weirdness the moment I decided to draw inspiration from fairy tales. (…) And a number of other things, but I won’t reveal too much.

It’s a huge MAYBE, but I may say something here on May 8, the day before graduation. Right now, I have trouble putting this change in my life in a good perspective, because I’m ten times more nervous than excited about the matter. On one hand, I want to stay in school and pursue an MA in creative writing or maybe start studying criminology or something. At the same time, school has become my comfort zone. I admit that fully. So I feel like it’s time for me to just get out on my own hero’s journey and see what the future holds.

“Far beyond the Sun” by Kirk Quilaquil
(In the near future, I’ll explain why I put this beautiful picture here.)

Till next time, folks.

Pluviophiles and “Rain Travel” by W.S. Merwin

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rain-wallpaper

“rain travel” by W.S. mervin

I wake in the dark and remember
it is the morning when I must start
by myself on the journey
I lie listening to the black hour
before dawn and you are
still asleep beside me while
around us the trees full of night lean
hushed in their dream that bears
us asleep and awake then I hear
drops falling one by one into
the sightless leaves and I 
do not know when they began but
all at once there is no sound but rain
and the stream below us roaring
away into the rushing darkness

I like that the poem begins quietly: The speaker is waking up, thinking about the long day ahead of them – like many of do when we just want to stay in bed – and nothing besides the person’s breathing next to them makes a sound. It’s the kind of silence that sits on your chest, especially when you consider you might be one of the few living (day) creature who’s awake. The trees lean in like a security blanket, inviting the speaker to fall back asleep, which they do, then the music of the rain brings them back.

If you ask me, one of the best feelings in the world is to be woken up by rain. However, what makes that image powerful in this poem is the fact that the rain makes the speaker feel alive. Read this part again:

all at once there is no sound but rain
and the stream below us roaring
away into the rushing darkness

All that water falling down makes it sound and feel as though the rain has surrounded them. Now they feel smaller. They feel the strength of the rain. A strange sense of infinity grabs hold onto the speaker as they live fully in that moment, lying in bed, listening to the sound.

**

Those who was in the same poetry class as me last year are perhaps laughing at this, because it was obvious in some of my poems that I love rain. I love it! I love the smell of the air before, during and after the downpour. I love the myriad of sounds rain can create when the drops land: it trickles, drums, pounds, washes, drips, etc. I love watching the different shapes the water makes on windows, or when the wind pushes on, building waves of drops that dance through the air. Sometimes – when the humidity is right, I think – teeny tiny rain drops will hover, morphing into a mist, as though the clouds have come down to earth to stay for a moment. There have been some late evenings out with friends when that happened, and I couldn’t help but stare; that mist enhanced the light from the street lamps around us, the moisture clung to our clothes and the air felt fresher as I breathed in.

So you can guess how I feel when I find a poem about rain.

I got story for ya: In the summer of 2013, my family and I traveled down to North Carolina to see the Smoky Mountains and the nature parks in the area. One day we drove to this awesome mountain called Chimney Rock and it was pouring the entire day with only brief intervals. Part of the way up, you had to take the elevator, but there was a great deal of walking if you wanted to get higher. Which I did. Oh boy, I was in Heaven. What you see in the picture below is some crazy fog that has conjured from all the rain throughout the day.

Of course, my brothers and I wanted to get as high as possible so we left our parents behind at the viewpoint (elevation: 2280 feet) and kept climbing. By the time we reached the top – or least as far as tourists were allowed – we were 2480 feet in the air and surrounded by a mixture of fog and clouds.  It was so cool!

Chimney Rock (summer 2013). Elevation: 2280 feet.

Chimney Rock (summer 2013). Elevation: 2280 feet.

 

Writing Advice: Serial Killers

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murder and crime done right

In several blog entries for the near future, I’m going to share facts and stories from criminology class that might be helpful if you write mystery, thrillers and horror stories. For instance, thanks to many concepts, theories and cases I’ve learned in the last ten weeks, I’ve been able to flesh out the antagonists in my story. I’m confident that it’s all going to assist me in other stories as well.

FYI, on the very first day of class, our professor said, “This class is not for the squeamish.”

And yes, these blog entries are not for the squeamish either.

Borrowed from elegyforadream tumblr.

Borrowed from elegyforadream tumblr.

For those who happen to know that I’m majoring in creative writing and minoring in journalism, you may wonder why I’m taking criminology. One, it fulfills the social science requirements for my degree, and two, I’m utterly fascinated with this kind of stuff. According to the syllabus, as a subject in sociology, “criminology is concerned with both why people break the law and how society responds to such lawbreaking.” Obviously the better we understand human behavior, the more likely we will have an easier time developing characters different than ourselves.

Before I get into today’s fun facts (serial killers), I’ll briefly talk about the class itself (which is pretty much my favorite class this semester). Our teacher is Dr. Mensah Adinkrah, who’s from Ghana, and he has done a lot research based on events in Ghana, Fiji, the United States and I think a few other places. While the course description says it’s about crime in the U.S., we cover phenomenons in other countries, like dowry murders in Pakistan and India, how marital rape is handled globally, and a month ago or so, we turned in this huge paper on uxoricide (husband murders wife) in Ghana.

**

serial killers (plus, a few other facts about homicide)

* Serial killing is defined as “the murder of one person or more in one event; after a ‘cooling off period’ which can be anything from weeks to years, the killer strikes again; this pattern is repeated again and again.”

* As much as the media wants to scare the crap out of us, take small comfort in the fact that serial killings make up only 1 or 2% of homicides in the United States each year. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not a common event.

* Serial murderers often prey on strangers and drifters, teenage runaways and others whose sudden disappearance is unlikely to provoke immediate suspicion.

* They tend to kill people who fit a particular profile (females, people with a particular hair color/smell/etc., children, …).

* They rarely use guns and seek to kill by stealth and deceit.

* Not one-hundred percent whether this applies to serial killers, but it does to other murderers:

Recidivism (person’s relapse into criminal behavior) rates for murderers are often lower than those for most offenders, however, not likely due to rehabilitation. It’s because of (1) “maturation reform” (they’re incarcerated for long periods of time and grow out of their criminal inclinations) OR (2) their original act involved a grievance with a certain individual; killing that individual eliminated that grievance.

* The most dangerous occupations for homicide victimization at work are (1) taxi cab drivers and chauffeurs, (2) police and other law enforcement officials, (3) hotel clerks, (4) garage and service-station employees, and (5) stock handlers and baggers.

There are many terms for different kinds of homicides, but I want to clarify three other big types that are just as bad as serial killings:

* Mass murder: Four or more victims are killed in one single assault (example: the Boston Marathon bombing).

* Multicide: Multiple victims are killed in one event, but through multiple strikes (example: the Colorado theater shooter).

* Spree murder: Four or more victims are killed and this happens in two or events within 24-hours to one week (example: Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting).

Happy writing!

Borrowed from yeahwrite.co tumblr

Borrowed from yeahwrite.co tumblr

Akira Takei: “Nostalgia & Humour” Exhibit

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Last week, I attended a lovely artist reception for the Japanese artist Akira Takei at CMU’s Multicultural/Diversity Center. That evening, he was there to perform a demonstration with an ink & watercolor painting and then a paper cutting piece. Unfortunately, I only had time to watch him make the first one before rushing off to another event, but I enjoyed seeing how he worked and I gotta say, I admire his guts for doing it in front of an audience. That’s a lot of pressure, even if you prepare yourself very well – like he did; he had drawn an outline of the picture, then he just got to started after everyone had had a look-around, eaten their snacks and such. (Great food, BTW.)

I went back there yesterday to get more photographs of the exhibit and if you’re interested, you can still catch it. They display his art till April 10 at the Bovee University Center in Room 108. To get a look at some of Takei’s art, click here. Oh, and another thing, everything in the exhibit is for sale (I’d buy “Cherry Blossoms in Konga-Jima” if I had the money). I think you have to get in contact with the people working at the diversity center.

Master Akira Takei in his element.

Master Akira Takei in his element.

While he was painting, we were allowed to ask questions: The guy in the blue collar-shirt next to Takei would translate. Some of the people involved in hosting the event further mentioned how he went about making certain pieces, like the wood etching, creating several layers of color and how he applied water color, ect. The translator said that Takei uses a red stamp to mark his paintings and drawings, like a signature, which is common for Japanese artists.

There were many people at the reception, mostly older people who brought their children with them and then some elderly folk, but not many my age. I like that we had a conversation going during the demonstration so it wasn’t just us ogling the artist while he worked in silence. For one, we were talking about how to read Japanese texts, probably because Takei puts a lot poetry or snippets from folk tales/children’s stories in his pictures. Someone was wondering if you’re supposed to read it up-and-down or left-to-right. The translator explained that older texts are read up-and-down, but contemporary writings are read from left-to-right, especially if they’re translated from another language like English. One thing that’s consistent, however, is that when you pick up a Japanese book, you begin reading on the back and move your way forward (right cover to left cover).

Another thing we talked about were the different kinds of animals that live in Japan. If you scroll down and look at the picture Takei painted in his demonstration, the horns were inspired by the deer they have over there. Apparently the deer are so friendly towards humans, they’ll sneak up on you and walk right next to you. There are even deer parks where they have “deer feeders”; you put in some money, get a small bag of food and then you can feed them. That’s so cool.

Takei didn’t say much unless someone asked him a question, which I totally get; when you got a job to do, you have to focus as well as you can. He seemed thrown off when I asked him where he looks to for inspiration. He stopped painting and stood there thinking for a moment. Difficult question, but it’s one I tend to raise whenever I meet another artist. So I’m writing this solely from memory, however, this is the gist of his response:

Finished product from demonstration.

Finished product from demonstration.

There are a lot of mountains where he lives in Japan so he gets ideas from the beautiful scenery. Quite often he draws from stories he loved as a child and he also comes up with something when he reads. Yet – truly – he has no full answer to that. It’s difficult to put in words.

That looks like a pretty good answer to me. I always stutter when people toss me that question.

Now about the art work itself, I think it’s delightful. And when I say delightful, I mean that I like the figures, because they’re supposed to represent Ogres – these terrifying monsters that live up in the mountains – but in these pictures, they’re so colorful and mystical, I feel rather fascinated than intimidated. Then there’s something about the style Takei uses when he paints the mountains and the water: I just feel happy looking at them… delighted.

 

"Cherry Blossom in Kogan-Jima (Bright Rock Island)" (ink & watercolor). POEM: 'Sad Mind -2' by Zhy Shuzhen (1135-1180 AD) (Poem in Chinese on the left; Japanese translation on the right.) Spring time is here and everything turns fresh. Red flowers and green willow trees all try to talk about the feeling of spring. All the sadness in my mind will be replaced by the beauty in yellow birds' singing.

“Cherry Blossom in Kogan-Jima (Bright Rock Island)” (ink & watercolor).
POEM: ‘Sad Mind -2′ by Zhy Shuzhen (1135-1180 AD) (Poem in Chinese on the left; Japanese translation on the right.)
Spring time is here and everything turns fresh.
Red flowers and green willow trees
all try to talk about the
feeling of spring.
All the sadness in my mind will be replaced by the beauty
in yellow birds’ singing.

"Beautiful KOUZAN Mountain" (ink wash). POEM: 'Quatrains' by Du Fu (712-770 AD). In late sun, the river and hills are beautiful. The spring breeze bears the fragrance of flowers and grass. The mud has thawed, and swallows fly around. On the warm sand, mandarin ducks are sleeping.

“Beautiful KOUZAN Mountain” (ink wash).
POEM: ‘Quatrains’ by Du Fu (712-770 AD).
In late sun, the river and hills are beautiful.
The spring breeze bears the fragrance of flowers and grass.
The mud has thawed, and swallows fly around.
On the warm sand, mandarin ducks are sleeping.

**

Artist Statement:

Drawing and painting has been a great pleasure to me and my calling since I was a small child. Perhaps my interest was first instilled in me by my father, a fine arts teacher in Junior High School. At a young age my father’s fine arts preparation room was a dreamlike place full of interesting things for me. It was in this room that I took up art as an avocation. 

For a while just out of university, I was a graphic designer. However, I soon found this to be too limiting creatively so I graviated back to painting and drawing.

For me, this has been a wise choice as I am full of pleasure, almost a child-like utopia state of mind, when I draw and paint.

When I can create and experience, for instance, Japanese Ukiyoe print, Kabuki, or poetry, I am happily at work. And if my work makes other people happy, I am doubly pleased. And let us not forget Japanese humor.

There is no other work that could make me as happy.

 

“Vermeer” by Howard Nemerov

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Why do people love Vermeer so much? It could be just my luck that I have happened to stumble upon his work one way or the other over the last five years, which I don’t mind at all. For instance, if you haven’t read Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracey Chevalier or Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland, head over to your local library and check them out. They’re both amazing! (Especially the one by Vreeland… psst! It’s an art detective story! Cool right?) Anyway, I’m just saying that Johannes Vermeer van Delft seems to be one of those painters people in general know of and like to talk about, like Leonardo DaVinci or Pablo Picasso.

I used to think 'Girl in Hyacinth Blue' was based on this painting. Turns out Vreeland made up the painting (the center piece of the story), but the historical background is still relevant and it's still a great book.

“Woman in Blue Reading a Letter”: I used to think ‘Girl in Hyacinth Blue’ was based on this painting. Turns out Vreeland made up the painting (the center piece of the story), but the historical background is still relevant and it’s still a great book.

I’m far from an expert on art – took some classes in high school, talked about art history in European lit. during (college) sophomore year – but I think I have the right to say I’m a Vermeer fan. Who wouldn’t love his work anyway? The scenes he painted were so ordinary yet extraordinarily beautiful. He managed capture such small moments that fit in with people’s daily lives and added a sense of awe to it. His strokes were precise to the point, the shades, the light… the definition of perfection. I can see why he was a slow worker, having to rely on people to perform a task the same way, exactly the same way, over and over, and not to mention the sunlight. He had to place his subjects at the right place at the right time of the day, and he did this for months. That’s dedication, man.

This poem speaks to the awesomeness that remains with Vermeer’s paintings. I think people find them even more interesting today since they’re portraying a world that pretty much doesn’t exist anymore.

 

vermeer

by Howard Nemerov

Taking what is, and seeing it as it is,
Pretending to no heroic stances or gestures,
Keeping it simple, being in love with light
And the marvelous things that light is able to do,
How beautiful! a modesty which is
Seductive extremely, the care for daily things.

At one for once with sunlight falling through
A leaded window, the holy mathematic
Plays out the cat's cradle of relation
Endlessly; even the inexorable
Domesticates itself and becomes charm.

If I could say to you, and make it stick,
A girl in a red hat, a woman in blue
Reading a letter, a lady weighing gold...
If I could sat this to you so you saw,
And knew, and agreed that this was how it was
In a lost city across the sea of years,
I think we should be for one moment happy
In the great reckoning of those little rooms
Where the weight of life has been lifted and made light,
Or standing invisible on the shore opposed,
Watching the water in the foreground dream
Reflectively, taking a view of Delft
As it was, under a wide and darkening sky.

**

Hope you enjoyed it. Check out Vreeland’s or Chevalier’s book. I pray you!

Girl in Hyacinth Blue (book cover).

Girl in Hyacinth Blue (the “fake” painting).

Writing Advice: Too Many Things At Once

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Organize Ideas (a.k.a. Pen your master plan!)

I’ve learned that whenever you got a lot going on at once in your story, it’s helpful to make a list – or several – for what you want to happen. It may work for those who love organization (like me!). Write bullet points for the big things that will happen in the following chapters and then details will come along while you pen down those scenes.

If you get stuck on one chapter while you’re organizing (because you’re not sure which domino brick will fall next), make one miscellaneous list for the rest of the story. You’ll know where to put those things eventually. In my experience, things fall into place on their own as you write. Sometimes you may also (accidentally) come up with a new and better move for your story!

Some ideas you might end up tossing, who knows, or recycling for another time or an entirely different story. A professor of mine once advised us to save the ideas we truly love. If we can’t find a place for them, put them on the shelf.

P.S. Do not be afraid to let things go: It might be brilliant plan at first, but the characters might surprise you. For example, a certain plot line you had in mind somehow doesn’t feel right because the people in your story developed differently than originally intended. So as a result, their reactions, words, actions as well as motives/desires/fears might change. I’ve had to readjust the climax for my novel more than I can count. Well over five times – probably more – but you get my point.

Borrowed from averagemedgirl on Tumblr.

Borrowed from averagemedgirl on Tumblr.

Don’t Think About Publication

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Borrowed from The Writer's Circle (Facebook page).

Borrowed from The Writer’s Circle (Facebook page).

“I am going to finish that novel. I’m going to go on with the series till my characters have reached the end of their journey. I’m going to write all those little stories swimming inside my head. I’m going to revise my poems till they’re perfect. I’m going to pen that screen-play no matter what. I’m going to compose that song. I will trust my gut and follow my heart.”

These are things that creative people need to tell themselves daily.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to work on your project every day. This means that you write because you are a writer. You play and compose music, because you’re a musician. You write poetry, because you are a poet. You write screenplays, because you’re a playwright. This goes for other areas of creativity. It’s the love for the art! That’s why we do it, not to become famous and rich. If your goal is to make money, you’re in the wrong profession. I can guarantee you, even if you become published – which would be flippin’ fantastic (!) by the way – that doesn’t mean you’re going to roll around in hundred-dollar bills. Poetry, for example, there’s practically no money in that. Published poets may become noticed for their work and make a name for themselves, but none of them will quit their day job.

My advice to you: Don’t worry about publication. Don’t worry what agents and publishers might think. Don’t even think about it.

Tell the story to yourself first. Get friends to read it and give you feedback. Revise the Hell out of your draft; multiple edits will strengthen your characters, your plot and your language. Polish your writing. When you reach out to agents/publishers, make sure that your manuscript is a good as it’s ever going to be, because once someone’s accepted it, most publishers won’t allow you a lot of time for editing. Plus, prepare yourself for a lot of rejection.

It’s going to be tons of work, yes, certainly, but never forget, you’re creating something for yourself. For you. Not the agents, not the publishers. Regardless of your intentions with your work – whether you want to get it out there – create with love and passion. I know it sounds cheesy, but believe in yourself, man. Trust that you got something worthwhile to say and just do it. Create something.

Don’t think about publication. You will spend enough time handling the business aspect of this world once someone has said yes. Besides, if you know you’ve put your best foot forward, count yourself a winner.

Exhibit Visits: International Children’s Books

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Part 1 out of 2 “Colorful Hand Prints.” 

I waited for weeks. Whenever I went to the library – whether I was taking a short-cut to the University Center, going there to work or strolling to the coffee shop for a caffeine boost – I stared at the interior windows displaying children’s book and beautiful pictures from children’s stories and fairy tales. The Clarke Historical Library has always had interesting exhibits, but this one has grabbed my attention more than anyone else. I think it started when one day, I passed one of the windows – in a hurry, per usual – realized what I’d just seen, stopped and turned around. Several printed lines shimmered in the light, repeating the same thing in different languages: “Read a book to me.” One of the lines was in Swedish: “Läs en bok till mig.”

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Since then, I checked if they were officially open as often as my schedule allowed me. When they finally completed the exhibit and opened their doors, I came by twice, checking the titles, admiring the pictures and searching for the Swedish author Astrid Lindgren whose stories had a huge impact on me as a child, as a reader and as a writer. (The second time I came by to take photographs; you can check out the album here.) If you ever ask me what made me want to become a published author, I’ll tell you it was J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone that finalized that decision. However, for as long as I can remember, I’ve always been writing. When I was younger, I wrote short stories and poems, drew maps, made up my own games, put together my own magazines and bound my own books. Some of them were spell books, because I was really into magic and fantasy growing up. Others were instruction books on how to train your Pokemon or how to maneuver your way in the woods without getting caught by trolls, witches and what have you.

I probably should mention this: I grew up on a farm in the middle of nowhere and my family owned land which consisted mostly of woodsy areas. It’s no surprise that I found stories taking place in the woods compelling. Although, to be perfectly honest, there were times I found the forest frightening, but usually only at night, because one of my greatest fear as a child was that whatever hid behind the trees and beneath the rocks would eventually find a way to get inside our house. On at least one occasion, on a night I couldn’t sleep, (I might have been seven years old or so) I thought I saw a person sneaking around in our kitchen. My bedroom was across the hall and I saw her through my open door: an elderly woman dressed in all black, with a hunchback, yellow eyes and tangled, gray hair. Some sort of witch, I thought. At one point, she turned and glared directly at me. Looking back at that memory, I think that maybe my eyes played a trick on me or perhaps I was really asleep and dreamed about the witch. But the point I guess I’m trying to make here is that one of the reasons why Lindgren became such a successful author was because she could take childhood scares like mine and portray them so well in her stories. And no matter how bad things got, the children in those stories found a way to get back to safety; it was ever better when they also beat the monsters.

At the exhibit, I couldn’t find any Swedish books at all, only some copies by this Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. Over a week later, I visited the exhibit a third time and asked the people working there (really nice folks BTW) why they had so few books from Scandinavia. They explained that while they have other world literature in stock, the books on display are solely those that have been donated by Francis and Mary Lois Molson. One guy named Bryan was especially helpful and brought all the Swedish children’s books they had. In total, they have 32 books in the back; that includes the young adult ones, but I didn’t take a look at those.

20150306_101618I had a lot fun skimming through the volumes and two books I recognized: Ronja Röverdotter and Barnen i Bullerbyn (Ronja Robber’s Daughter and The Children in *Buller-Village [?]). Here’s the thing that made my trip: Bryan told me they are going to hold a reading in a couple of weeks, and they’re looking for people to read at least book in the language it was originally written in.

So on Tuesday, April 7, I am going to be one of the people reading a children’s book in a language the audience probably won’t understand. Don’t worry, though; afterward, we briefly summarize what the story was about and translate the message behind it. The time slots for the event are 10 a.m., 12 p.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. If you’re interested, you should stop by the library on that day. I’m not sure what time I’m going to read yet, but I’m excited.

**

Side note:  The story about Ronja Rövardotter contained many strange creatures – some of them dangerous, some of them plain annoying – but to give you an idea how interesting Lindgren’s creations were, here are “Vildvittrorna” (roughly trans: “the wild withers”), and “rumpnissarna” (trans: … [unavailable]).

POEM: “The British Museum Reading Room”

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The British Museum Reading Room

The British Museum Reading Room

Try not to drool. How lucky the people of London are to have a place like this in their neighborhood. I love the Park Library here in Mount Pleasant, Mich., but you can’t compare its high ceiling and open space to a fricking dome. I’d love to visit the reading room one day and browse the shelves or settle down with Sylvia Plath and a cup of coffee. Do they allow drinks in there?

This place poem by Louis MacNeice preaches the choir. It paints a picture beautifully as well as build in a sense of awe. I wonder how I would feel reading this after having visited the reading room myself. Maybe I’d love it even more. Today I had a lovely conversation with a grad school recruiter named Rob who loves reading and who thinks it’s “so cool talking with people who are passionate about writing.” He told me a couple neat stories, one in which he went to Africa on a business trip and he was in the area that appears in Ernest Hemingway’s Green Hills of Africa. When Rob came back to the States and read that book, everything came alive to him more than ever before. He felt such a love for the landscape, because he’d been there and seen it with his own eyes.

“The British Museum Reading Room” by Louis MacNeice

Under the hive-like dome the stooping haunted readers
Go up and down the alleys, tap the cells of knowledge--
    Honey and wax, the accumulation of years--

Some on commission, some for the love of learning,
Some because they have nothing better to do
Or because they hope these walls of books will deaden
    The drumming of the demon in their ears.

Cranks, hacks, poverty-stricken scholars,
In pince-nez, period hats or romantic beards
    And cherishing their hobby or their doom
Some are too much alive and some are asleep
Hanging like bats in a world of inverted values,
Folded up in themselves in a world which is safe and silent:
    This is the British Museum Reading Room.

Out of the steps in the sun the pigeons are courting,
Puffing their ruffs and sweeping their tails or taking
    A sun-bath at their ease
And under the totem poles--the ancient terror--
Between the enormous fluted lonic columns
There seeps from heavily jowled or hawk-like foreign faces
    The guttural sorrow of the refugees.

reading room

I’m not going to analyze this as much as I’ve done with other poems, but I’d like to point out a few things:

* MacNeice uses exaggeration in order to make an ordinary, calm scene epic: for example, “haunted readers,” “cells of knowledge,” “these walls of books will deaden the drumming of the demon in their ears,” and “under the totem poles–the ancient terror.”

* The portrayal moves like a film. We get snapshots of the visitors in the reading room, the people who authored the books, even though they’re not physically present, but you can still see them through their printed words –

Cranks, hacks, poverty-stricken scholars,
In pince-nez, period hats or romantic beards

– and you gotta appreciate that MacNeice brings in the pigeons. They’re part of the urban landscape; they also contrast well with the historical building and the high value she puts on it.

* Then there’s my favorite part:

Some are too much alive and some are asleep
Hanging like bats in a world of inverted values,
Folded up in themselves in a world which is safe and silent

The books aren’t just books; they’re objects of mystery, waiting on a shelf for someone to rattle them awake and bring them back to the living world.

* It’s interesting that she chose to entice the audience by beginning inside the reading room and then leading us outside. It may be a way to suggest that we need to actually walk through those doors to see the magic for ourselves.

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