C is for Cento

I have never started a poem yet whose end I knew. Writing a poem is discovering. ~ Robert Frost ~

cento: “a poetical work wholly composed of verses or passages taken from other authors; only disposed in a new form or order. The term comes from the Latin cento, a cloak made of patches.” ~Wikipedia, Cento (poetry)

Let’s build our own cento, discover our own poem. I’ll post a couple of my favorite lines of poetry, and anyone can add, in the comments, one or two lines from another poem that you think feed into the cento. We’ll see what we have by the end of the day. Be sure and tell us the source of your lines.

Cento for April Third, National Poetry Month

It was many and many a year ago
In a kingdom by the sea

'The Two LIghthouses' photo (c) 2011, Anita Ritenour - license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

A is for Anaphora

Most of the time, poetry enjoys the visibility of other minor cultural subcultures like chess or quilting. ~ Anita Diamant

April 1st is, of course, April Fool’s Day, a good day to turn the world upside down and notice poetry. Have you been fooled yet today?

For the month of April, in addition to my regular book reviews, I’m going to be posting some of my favorite poems: anaphora, ballads, cento, an abecedarian collection of poetic forms and types. April is National Poetry Month, and I intend to give you a gift this month: a poem a day. If I miss a day, forgive me. If my poetical selections displease you, again forgive. If you enjoy deceptively simple poetry, and light verse that’s not always so light, and meaning cloaked in the language of poetry, you might have a good time celebrating Poetry Month with me.

For today, I thought I’d kick off this series with A is for Anaphora.

Anaphora: a type of parallelism created when successive phrases or lines begin with the same words, often resembling a litany. The repetition can be as simple as a single word or as long as an entire phrase. As one of the world’s oldest poetic techniques, anaphora is used in much of the world’s religious and devotional poetry, including numerous Biblical Psalms.

A List of Praises by Anne Porter

'Sunset behind pine trees' photo (c) 2010, Ula  Gillion - license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Give praise with psalms that tell the trees to sing,
Give praise with Gospel choirs in storefront churches,
Mad with the joy of the Sabbath,
Give praise with the babble of infants, who wake with the sun,
Give praise with children chanting their skip-rope rhymes,
A poetry not in books, a vagrant mischievous poetry
living wild on the Streets through generations of children.

Give praise with the sound of the milk-train far away
With its mutter of wheels and long-drawn-out sweet whistle
As it speeds through the fields of sleep at three in the morning,
Give praise with the immense and peaceful sigh
Of the wind in the pinewoods,
At night give praise with starry silences.

'Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) lunge feeding' photo (c) 2012, Mike Baird - license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Give praise with the skirling of seagulls
And the rattle and flap of sails
And gongs of buoys rocked by the sea-swell
Out in the shipping-lanes beyond the harbor.
Give praise with the humpback whales,
Huge in the ocean they sing to one another.

Give praise with the rasp and sizzle of crickets, katydids and cicadas,
Give praise with hum of bees,
Give praise with the little peepers who live near water.
When they fill the marsh with a shimmer of bell-like cries
We know that the winter is over.

Read the rest of this anaphoric poem at Poets.org.

Poetry Friday: Lucy II by WIlliam Wordsworth

Lucy II

'Image taken from page 9 of 'The poetical works of William Wordsworth. Edited by William Knight'' photo (c) 2013, The British Library - license: http://www.flickr.com/commons/usage/SHE dwelt among the untrodden ways
Beside the springs of Dove,
A Maid whom there were none to praise
And very few to love:

A violet by a mossy stone
Half hidden from the eye!
Fair as a star, when only one
Is shining in the sky.

She lived unknown, and few could know
When Lucy ceased to be;
But she is in her grave, and oh,
The difference to me!

The interesting thing about this poem to me is the check in the rhythm at the very end between the last two lines. I don’t remember the technical terms (iambic tetrameter, then iambic trimeter?), but the rhythm is very sing-song –until you try to read the last two lines. Then, you’re almost forced to make a long pause after the word “oh”, and then either pronounce the three syllables of the word “difference” very distinctly, not a normal pronunciation in current American speech anyway, or slow the entire last line of the poem down and emphasize its importance and emotional impact.

Anyway, I like the picture of unheralded, little noticed Lucy, whomever she was, who made such a difference in the poet’s life that she has been immortalized in verse.

Today’s Poetry Friday Round-up is hosted by Julie at The Drift Record.

Poetry Friday: Winston Spencer Churchill

Winston Churchill was a fascinating man, and he cultivated many vocations and avocations: soldier, politician, journalist, essayist, biographer, historian, bricklayer, painter, pilot, architect, lecturer, spymaster, head of the navy, member of Parliament, and Prime Minister—just to name a few. However, I’ll bet you never thought of him as a poet.

All students of World War II remember those inspiring and memorable speeches he gave in the House of Commons, on the radio, and in political gatherings. His speeches were carefully formulated, written out and memorized, with stage directions to himself such as “pause here” or “fumble for the correct word.” The orations he gave were typed up (by secretaries) in broken lines to aid his delivery, ‘speech form’ or ‘psalm form’, as William Manchester calls it in his biography of Churchill, titled The Last Lion.

'Churchill, Winston' photo (c) 2010, SDASM Archives - license: http://www.flickr.com/commons/usage/So, after Chamberlain’s betrayal of Czechoslovakia at Munich, Churchill declaimed:

The whole equilibrium of Europe
has been deranged,
And the terrible words
have, for the time being,
been pronounced
against the Western democracies:

“Thou art weighed in the balance and found wanting.”

And do not suppose that this is the end.
This is only the beginning of the reckoning.

This is only the first sip–
the first foretaste of a bitter cup
which will be proffered to us year by year–

by a supreme recovery of our moral health and martial vigor,
we arise again and take our stand for freedom,
as in the olden time.

Or on October 1, 1939, Churchill spoke the following rather lyrical thoughts on Russia in his first wartime broadcast over the BBC, just after the Russian/German joint invasion of Poland:

'IMG_0510' photo (c) 2014, zaphad1 - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia.
It is a riddle
wrapped in an mystery
inside an enigma.

But perhaps there is a key.
That key is Russian national interest.

It cannot be in accordance
with the interest or safety of Russia
that Germany should plant itself
upon the shores of the Black Sea.

Or that it should overrun the Baltic States
and subjugate the Slavonic peoples
of southeastern Europe.

No, it doesn’t scan or follow a regular meter, but Mr. Churchill’s “poetry” certainly follows the conventions of free verse with its parallelisms and vivid images, and as I read, I can hear in my mind the familiar voice of Winston Churchill with its rolling cadences and barking baritone:

I would say to the House,
as I have said to those who have joined this Government:
“I have nothing to offer but good, toil, tears, and sweat.”

You ask, what is our policy?
I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air,
with all our might and with all the strength God can give us . . .
That is our policy.

You ask, what is our aim?
I can answer in one word: It is victory,
victory at all costs,
victory in spite of all terror,
victory however long and hard the road may be;
for without victory, there is no survival.

'Winston Churchil' photo (c) 2010, Cambodia4kids.org Beth Kanter - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/On June 4, 1940:

We shall not flag or fail.
We shall go on to the end.

We shall fight in France,
we shall fight on the seas and oceans,
we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air,
we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be.

We shall fight on the beaches,
we shall fight on the landing grounds,
we shall fight in the fields and in the streets,
we shall fight in the hills;
We shall never surrender.

Finally, perhaps Churchill’s most famous poem/speech, broadcast on June 18, 1940 after Petain’s surrender of Vichy France to the Nazis:

Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization.
Upon it depends our own British life,
and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire.

Hitler knows that he will have to break us on this island
or lose the war.

If we can stand up to him all Europe may be free
and the life of the world may move forward
into broad, sunlit uplands.

But if we fail, then the whole world,
including the United States,
including all we have known and cared for,

Will sink into the abyss of a New Dark Age
made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted,
by the lights of perverted science.

Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties,
and so bear ourselves
that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth
last for a thousand years,

Men will still say:
“This was their finest hour!”

A poet indeed.

Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets by Evan Roskos

Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets is the kind of book I should like very much, It’s a “problem novel” (think ABC After-School special, for those of you old enough to know what that was) about a teenage boy who has been abused by his parents and who is dealing with clinical depression (or bipolar disorder or something similarly challenging). The main character, James, is engaging and sympathetic. He hugs trees to cheer himself up, and he imagines a pigeon analyst, Dr Bird, who advises him on his mental and family issues. (I could only picture Dr. Bird as Mo Willems’s Pigeon, with glasses.) James is a fan of the poetry of Walt Whitman, and he’s a budding poet himself.

So, why did I only sorta, kinda like this book? I know one thing that bothered me: the implication that mental illness is caused by parental abuse or neglect. No, the book never said that James’s parents made him depressed and suicidal, but his sister is also depressed and angry and seeing a counselor. And a lot of James’s issues seem to be at least exacerbated by his parents, who by the way, are very one-dimensional, angry people. I understand that the book is written in first person from James’s point of view, and that he probably doesn’t see his parents as real people. For him they are “the Banshee” and “the Brute”. Still, the author could have used the plot and dialogue to tell us something about the parents that would make us see them as full, if not very likable, characters.

Or maybe I’m just coming at this book from a parent’s perspective, not that I’m terribly sympathetic with parents who beat and verbally abuse their children. Nevertheless, teens get depressed, and it often has nothing to do with their admittedly imperfect parents. (Do I sound defensive? Well, I do have family members who deal with depression.)

OK, so that said, I’ll tell you what I did like about this book. I liked Dr. Bird, the imaginary therapist, who actually gives sound advice to her “patient”. I liked the Walt Whitman quotations and allusions, even though I don’t generally care for Whitman, and I liked James’s self-awareness and intelligence. The narrative showed that people who are dealing with mental illness are still “normal” people. They’re smart; they write poetry; they hug trees; they have jobs; they go to school; they make sometimes good and sometimes bad choices.

I didn’t totally fall for Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets (oh, yeah, love the title) because of the parent angle, and it does include the obligatory crude language (briefly in comparison to other YA novels I’ve read lately). However, you might find it amazing, or at least enlightening.

Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets is a finalist for the Cybils Awards in the category of Young Adult Fiction.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me by Karen Swallow Prior

My mom, my sister and I read Ms. Prior’s literary memoir for our GED Family Book Club in November. Karen Swallow Prior is a professor of English at Liberty University in Virginia. Her bio at the Liberty website says:

“She was raised in a strong Christian home and received Christ at a very early age. But it wasn’t until she was in her twenties that Dr. Prior was introduced to the concept of the Christian worldview. This was when her faith became real and she embraced the challenge of not only living biblically, but thinking biblically, too. Her life has never been the same.”

41nFjdCDnbL._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_The memoir deals mostly with Ms. Prior’s growing up years, the years before “her faith became real.” She writes in each chapter about a particular author or work of literature and about how that literary work informed her thoughts and gave her food, real food, for spiritual and emotional growth. I liked how the author wove her own story through the stories she read and demonstrated the power of words and stories to change our lives, for better or for worse.

Ms. Prior starts with the premise that she takes from John Milton’s Areopagitica: “God uses the things of this earth to teach us and shape us, and to help us find truth.” (p.10) She paraphrases Milton, saying that “truth is stronger than falsehood; falsehood prevails through the suppression of countering ideas, but truth triumphs in a free and open exchange that allows truth to shine.” As Milton put it, “Since therefore the knowledge and survey of vice is in this world so necessary to the constituting of human virtue, and the scanning of error to the confirmation of truth, how can we more safely, and with less danger, scout into the regions of sin and falsity than by reading all manner of tractates and hearing all manner of reason? And this is the benefit which may be had of books promiscuously read.” I tend to agree and have generally allowed myself and my children (within reason) to read whatever we thought might be of benefit to our minds and our education. I believe in this habit of “reading promiscuously” and believe it has been of more benefit than harm to me and to my children.

That’s not to say that reading with very few boundaries is not sometimes perilous, and scary for the parent in particular. Some ideas are dangerous and even evil. But I believe that Truth will prevail, as long as we are open to the truth. And it has been my experience that denying myself or my children access to certain books only makes us more curious and at the same time less prepared to encounter, apprehend, and interpret that idea that has been hidden and forbidden and made to seem alluring by its very proscription. Whereas discussion and reading and more discussion and reading and placing the ideas we read about in juxtaposition to God’s Word and then reading and talking some more—these are the best ways to learn and grow and become fully equipped for the battle of worldview and philosophy in which we are engaged.

So, that’s just the first chapter. This memoir is really a book full of ideas and things to think about (or write about). In the second chapter (Charlotte’s Web) Ms. Prior discusses the power of words:

“All words are names, for all words signify something.
The power of naming is a subset of the power of all language. God spoke the universe into existence and, in giving us the gift of language He gave us a lesser, but still magnificent, creative power in the ability to name: the power to communicate, to make order out of chaos, to tell stories, and to shape our own lives and the lives of others.
The Book of Proverbs says that death and life are in the power of words. To choose a good word, to assign the right name, to arrange proper words in the best order: these are no easy tasks.”

So true, and so reminiscent of not only Charlotte, the spider with a talent for choosing the right word, but also of Madeleine L’Engle and her emphasis on the power of naming. We are shaped by the names we give and are given. If I call myself (because God first called me) a child of God, I become a new creation indeed.

I could write a paragraph or a page or even, in some cases perhaps, a book of my own about each of the following quotes from Ms. Prior’s book, but I will simply leave them with you to ponder and perhaps one or all of these excerpts will tantalize and impel you to read the book yourself. (WARNING: Some of Ms. Prior’s life experiences, having to do with growing up during the sexual revolution of the seventies, before “her faith became real” are more appropriate for mature readers.)

“To respond emotionally to God directly is more than I can bear. So God in his goodness has bestowed the gift of literature.”

“Indeed, the only thing that stands between me–or anyone–and tragedy is grace.”

“Well, I believe in a God who not only intervenes in human affairs—again and again–but one who also makes banquets out of stale bread.”

“Life is grounded in the mundane. But the mundane has a bad rap. The word simply means ‘world’; its origins are shared with the same root word for ‘mountain.'”

“God is nothing if not a poet. And nothing if not elaborate in both his imagination and composition. Elaborate, as the root of the word suggests, means brought about by labor and care, planned with painstaking attention to details or intricate and rich in detail. Just like a metaphysical conceit. To join the unlike–a man and a woman, reason and passion, physical and spiritual—is the work of the poet and of God.”

The books and literary works that Karen Swallow Prior discusses in the book are:
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White.
The poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins, especial the poem “Pied Beauty”.
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.
Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy.
Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift.
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert.
Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller.
The metaphysical poetry of John Donne.
The poetry of Matthew Arnold and Thomas Hardy.

If you are a fan of any of the above, Ms. Prior’s very personal take on the meaning and application of these literary works to her own spiritual journey would be illuminating and engaging.

The 2nd Gift of Christmas at Lake Truckee, California, 1846

Margret [Reed] did her best to revive a few hours of Christmas joy for her hungry children. She’d saved a meager hoard for the occasion–a few dried apples, a few beans, a little tripe, and a small piece of bacon. The children watched as the treats simmered in the kettle, and when they sat down to this Christmas feast, Margret told them, ‘Children, eat slowly, for this one day you can have all you wish.’ For the rest of her life, not matter how grand a Christmas dinner spread on her table, Virginia never forgot what her mother did for them. ‘So bitter was the memory relieved by that one bright day, that I have never since sat down to a Christmas dinner without my thoughts going back to Donner Lake.'” ~Women of the Frontier by Brandon Marie Miller

The Reed family was a part of the famous, or infamous, Donner Party, a group of families headed for Oregon/California who attempted to cross the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the fall of 1846. Many of the settlers in the party perished of cold or starvation when the winter snows trapped the group at Lake Truckee, now called Donner Lake to commemorate the unfortunate Donner Party. Margret Reed, her husband, James, and their four children—Virginia, Patty, James, Jr. and Thomas—survived the ordeal to settle in California.

Today’s gifts from Semicolon:
A song: One of my favorite songs by one of my favorite singers, Karen Carpenter singing I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.

A movie: I’ve become fond of The Ultimate Gift with a really aged James Garner as the grandfather/gift-giver. It made me feel old to watch and remember The Rockford Files when James Garner was young(ish) and played one of the great TV detectives. The movie has a great message, and if the plot gets a little thin at times, the characters and the heart make up for a creaky plot.
A booklist: Gift books for what they want to be when they grow up.
A birthday: David Macaulay, b.1946.
A verse: Christmas Bells by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The entire poem has seven stanzas or verses.

Poetry Friday: Charlotte Zolotow and the Poets

The recently deceased children’s author Charlotte Zolotow was also an editor and a poet herself. She edited many of the most gifted authors of poetry for children of the twentieth century during her tenure at Harper and Row.

Lee Bennet Hopkins wrote of his editor Charlotte Zolotow: “Charlotte was editor-supreme. Her respect for an author, her insight, foresight, her vision of what could be — become — has been a highlight of my career. Lucky is one to be caught in the true Charlotte’s web.”

Paul Fleischman, winner of the 1989 Newbery Medal for Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices was also edited by Ms. Zolotow. In a tribute to her editorial skills, he says: “In matters of larger scope, her vision was truly exceptional. She was an astounding discoverer of talent. Once she’d found you, she didn’t rewrite you any more than she did your sentences. Ideas for books weren’t thrust upon you. The latest trends in publishing were never bandied about. Charlotte operated on the theory that the best book you had inside you was the one you most wished to write, no matter what happened to be selling at the moment.”

61AjTymBiWL._SX258_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_Poet Karla Kuskin, also a friend and protege of Ms. Zolotow, wrote a poem for a 1990 celebration of Charlotte Zolotow’s work:

There is that smile
that warms us like the sun.
There is the ouevre
(fine work done,
fine work yet to come).
There is all this, and more
with that well honed and stainless
steel trap mind…

Mind and imagination combined made Charlotte Zolotow a formidable and talented author and editor and poet. Here are a couple of poems by Ms. Charotte herself:

51CA533HDML._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_Ladybug by Charlotte Zolotow

Little ladybug
With your
Glazed red wings
and small black polka dots
you look like a porcelain statue
until suddenly

People by Charlotte Zolotow

Some people talk and talk
and never say a thing.
Some people look at you
and birds begin to sing.

Some people laugh and laugh
and yet you want to cry.
Some people touch your hand
and music fills the sky.

Poetry Friday: David McCord

Children’s poet David McCord was born on November 15 (or December 15 or 17), 1897 in New York City. (Most internet sources say December 15th or just 1897.) He grew up in New Jersey and Oregon, and went to school at Harvard, where he later worked as a fundraiser for the Harvard College Fund.

He once said about writing poetry for children:

“Whatever may be said about this small but graceful art, three things should be remembered: good poems for children are never trivial; they are never written without the characteristic chills and fever of a dedicated man at work; they must never bear the stigma of I am adult, you are a child.”

“McCord said he developed a love of words and a fine sense of rhythm from reading aloud the Bible to his elderly grandmother.” (Obituary, Harvard Gazette, April 17, 1997)

This poem is the one by Mr. McCord I remember reading over and over again until I practically had it memorized. I used to read my library books while perched in the mulberry tree next to my house, so I suppose this poem was something close to my own experience.

51VY32VQ2hL._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_Every time I climb a tree
Every time I climb a tree
Every time I climb a tree
I scrape a leg
Or skin a knee
And every time I climb a tree
I find some ants
Or dodge a bee
And get the ants
All over me.

And every time I climb a tree
Where have you been?
They say to me
But don’t they know that I am free
Every time I climb a tree?

I like it best
To spot a nest
That has an egg
Or maybe three.

And then I skin
The other leg
But every time I climb a tree
I see a lot of things to see
Swallows rooftops and TV
And all the fields and farms there be
Every time I climb a tree
Though climbing may be good for ants
It isn’t awfully good for pants
But still it’s pretty good for me
Every time I climb a tree

Lee Bennett Hopkins discusses David McCord and his poetry.

Poetry Friday Roundup this week is at Jama’s Alphabet Soup. I can’t think of a more poetical place to visit on a crisp November day.

Hold Fast by Blue Balliet

Betsy-bee loves Blue Balliet’s books–Chasing Vermeer, The Wright 3, and The Calder Game— which incorporate art education and mystery and adventure to make up a lovely, colorful mixture of a read. She might like this one, too, even though it’s different. It’s set in Chicago, but it’s not a Chicago of art museums and art thieves. Instead Hold Fast is about a family of four, Dashel and Summer, the parents, and Early and her little brother, Jubie (short for Jubilation). Dash works as library page at the Harold Washington Public Library, and he’s “a man who love[s] language almost as much as color or taste or air.”

“Words are everywhere and for everyone. They’re for choosing, admiring, keeping, giving. They are treasures of inestimable value. . . . Words are free and plentiful!”

51tNF5vxWjL._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_The above quote is an example of the way Early’s father, Dash, talks about words and books and learning and, well, life. He’s a whimsical, poetic, word-lover sort of guy, and unfortunately he gets mixed up with a rough crowd by mistake. Early and Jubie and Sum end up separated from Dash and living in a homeless shelter. Everyone, including the police, thinks Dash has run away because he might be involved in criminal activity. But Early knows her father is a man of honor and responsibility. Dash will come back to the family, and they will prove his innocence and fulfill their family dream of having a real house someday.

The book is confusing at first. But if a reader can get past the first couple of chapters, this one is a keeper. Early has a voice that shines, or resonates, or whatever the right word is. And she’s quite as concerned about words and how to use them and treasure them as her father is. I doubt there are many families like Dashsumearlyjubie (yes, that’s what Early calls her family in the book), but I doubt there are many families quite like mine either. Or yours. Happy families are not all the same, no matter what Mr. Tolstoy said, and unhappy families are only happy families that have given up in some way or another. Quirky, unique, eccentric, whatever you want to call us, our families have personalities, too. And I really enjoyed the author’s portrayal of Dashsumearlyjubie and the plot of how they were pulled apart and eventually knit back together through faith and perseverance.