NPM: Poetry from the Desk Drawer

Back in January, Becky at Farm School posted on Poetry Friday about a special poetry anthology, compiled by Alice Roosevelt Longworth and her brother Theodore (”Ted Jr.”) Roosevelt (1887-1944) and published in 1937. She made it sound so special that I had to see if I could find a copy at the library. My library system actually didn’t have The Desk Drawer Anthology, but they ordered it for me from afar (North Harris County College Learning Resource Center).

These are mostly the kinds of poems that one member of my family in particular despises: some sentimental stories and proverbial sentiments, classic poets such as Dickinson, Holmes, Longfellow, and Whitman. The emphasis is on American poems and poets. A radio host back in 1937 announced the anthology on his program and invited people to send in their favorites; they sent in so many favorites that Mr. Roosevelt and his sister had to cull it from 40,000 entries down to a few hundred published poems. Here are a couple that I particularly liked:

City Rain by Lola Mallatt

Behind this mist of whispering soft lace,
This silver silk, so silently let fall,
I think the city wears a dreaming face,
And wishes not to stir or wake at all.

There is no earth tonight–no heavens–nothing
But thin blown rain, and rows of lamps, gold-furred,
And quiet people going up and down
In shining coats, with faces sweetly blurred.

Men by Dorothy E. Reid

I like men.
They stride about,
They reach in their pockets
And pull things out;

They look important,
They rock on their toes,
They lose all their buttons
Off of their clothes;

They throw away pipes,
They find them again.
Men are queer creatures;
I like men.

Poet of the day: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. (Go here for a Celebration of Longfellow.)
Poetry activity for today: Find a poem that someone in your family clipped from a magazine or a newspaper and kept. D your grandparents have a favorite poem? Do you have a favorite poem in your wallet or purse or taped to your wall or mirror? If not, you should.

Sadie Hawkins Day

Anybody here old enough to remember the origin of this holiday?

Al Capp, cartoonist, wrote the comic strip Lil Abner and created the characters of Daisy Mae, Lil Abner, Pappy and Mammy Yoakum, Joe Btfsplk, Schmoo, and, of course, Sadie Hawkins.

From the official Al Capp website:

Sadie Hawkins Day, an American folk event, made its debut in Al Capp’s Li’l Abner strip November 15, 1937. Sadie Hawkins was “the homeliest gal in the hills” who grew tired of waiting for the fellows to come a courtin’. Her father, Hekzebiah Hawkins, a prominent resident of Dogpatch, was even more worried about Sadie living at home for the rest of his life, so he decreed the first annual Sadie Hawkins Day, a foot race in which the unmarried gals pursued the town’s bachelors, with matrimony the consequence. By the late 1930’s the event had swept the nation and had a life of its own. Life magazine reported over 200 colleges holding Sadie Hawkins Day events in 1939, only two years after its inception. . . . When Al Capp created the event, it was not his intention to have the event occur annually on a specific date because it inhibited his freewheeling plotting. However, due to its enormous popularity and the numerous fan letters Capp received, the event became an annual event in the strip during the month of November, lasting four decades.”

Sadie Hawkins Day is often celebrated on the first Saturday in November, but you can have your own Sadie Hawkins event anytime in November. You single ladies have any plans?

Terms from Mr. Capp’s famous comic strip were an integral part of my childhood, and I never even knew that most of them came from L’il Abner. How many of you are familiar with: Kickapoo Joy Juice, Lower Slobbovia, Fearless Fosdick, Jubilation T. Cornpone, “if I had my druthers”, and “double whammy”? All of those familiar-to-me characters and phrases and places came from the creative mind of Al Capp. I think my parents must have been weaned on L’il Abner and Co.

When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro

A quotation on the back of the book jacket from a reviewer refers to Mr. Ishiguro’s “inimitably out-of-kilter vision.” THose are just the words I was looking for as I read this book —out-of-kilter. I find that frequently as I read more recently published fiction, in the last fifty years say, I feel a sense of culture shock. These people in I’m reading about are off-kilter, not quite insane, but not thinking logically, not quite right. Eldest Daughter says it’s a feature of post modern fiction and post-modern culture. I guess I’m just a modernist, or maybe Victorian.

Anyway, I picked up When We Were Orphans at a used book sale because I enjoyed Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go so much. I didn’t enjoy this book as much. The narrator was . . . odd. (It must be the week for odd. See this review of The Book Thief.) Christopher Banks, the aforementioned narrator, is such a distinctive personality that it is hard to decide, but I almost convinced myself that Ishiguro was trying to make Banks the embodiment of what was wrong with the British attitude toward the world, and particularly China, prior to World War II. Banks is blind, majoring on minor issues that don’t seem at all minor to him, while the world around him is a literal war zone. The British, too, were blindly crying out “Peace, Peace!” when there was no peace. Then again, Banks’ blindness has to do specifically with his parents and his orphaned state. The British government wasn’t searching for its lost parents. So the analogy only goes so far before it breaks down.

Mr. Ishiguro tells a good story and creates intriguing characters, even if his protagonist does have a bit of a bug in his brain. The other characters in the novel are believable, but negligible. Christopher Banks is the center of interest. The setting for the second half of the story is Shanghai, 1937. Wartime Shanghai is vivdly portrayed, even though the person doing the portraying is somewhat myopic. Somehow the author manages to enable us to see through his narrator. And that vision leads to an ambiguous ending in which Christopher Banks believes he has finally found out what happened to his parents, but I’m not so sure I’m buying the story. So we’re left with more post-modern ambiguity. It’s pretty good slightly off-kilter ambiguity, as evidenced by the fact that I’m still trying to figure it out two days later, if you like that sort of thing.

If you’ve never read anything by Ishiguro, I recommend Never Let Me Go. (Semicolon review here.) If you like that one, and if you like off-center, you’ll probably enjoy When We Were Orphans, too.

Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss!

Theodore Geisel aka Dr. Seuss was born on this date in 1904 in Springfield, MA. His first book was To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street, and it was rejected by 27 puplishers before being published by Vanguard Press in 1937. Dr. Seuss wrote 46 children’s books, and my favorites are:

To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street
Horton Hatches the Egg
The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins
Green Eggs and Ham

Go to Seussville for lots of cool games and fun stuff. In honor of Seuss’s birthday, the National Education Association sponsors ReadAcrossAmerica, and you can find a list of 50 events taking place all over the USA today
The Book Adventure Foundation is creating activities and prizes just for Read Across America, including Seuss-related downloads, certificates, and the famous Cat-in-the-Hat hats as prizes for kids completing quizzes on the Book Adventure Web site. On March 2, participants will get double points for all quizzes they take that day, plus an extra 50 points for all Seuss books they read.

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