Two girls discover
the secret of life
in a sudden line of
I who don't know the
the line. They
(through a third person)
they had found it
but not what it was
what line it was. No doubt
by now, more than a week
later, they have forgotten
the line, the name of
the poem. I love them
for finding what
I can't find,
and for loving me
for the line I wrote
and for forgetting it
a thousand times, till death
finds them, they may
discover it again, in other
happenings. And for
wanting to know it,
assuming there is
such a secret, yes,
most of all.
Levertov published The Secret in 1964. In it, she has neatly captured both a primary reason for writing poetry and a primary reason for reading poems. She has mystery, hope, loss all wrapped in a simple free verse, both readily understandable and endlessly debatable. The reader is left to read into it a whole lot or nothing, taking the words at face value. The poem can become what the reader wants, a true tribute to the poet.
As spring bursts out around me and the Boston Marathon celebrates and the economy slowly continues to recover, the idea of renewal comes to be repeatedly.
All around the scenes of spring are playing out - the dogwoods and cherry are heavy with flower, the forsythia are yellow, the big deciduous trees and the smaller deciduous bushes have the tiny leaf buds. Brightly colored birds are chittering everywhere but there are still only few insects and the temperatures are still cool.
The Boston Marathon has been in the news every day. How the people who had been there a year ago had managed to move forward, essentially restarting lives paused by the heinous act of a year ago.
Then I got to thinking about the term rebirth, also often used with spring. Seems to me that rebirth is not quite right, because that implies starting with a clean slate, without any of the baggage/burdens from the past. This is certainly not true - we remember the bombing; the plants and birds carry with them the results of last year. But it is a renewal, a restart, an opportunity for positive building on whatever had gone before. A time of optimism.
So here's to spring, may it come every year.
Do you have a favorite book about renewal (springtime or any other kind)? Drop a comment and share it with all of us.
Nine Princes in Amber was the first book in Roger Zelazny's seminal Chronicles of Amber fantasy series, and was first published in 1970. Zelazny melds several elements in this book - immortality of his god-like protagonists, fantastical creatures, a unique brand of magic, as well as detailed swordplay.
Amber is the True World and all other worlds just Shadows of Amber. Amber is ruled by an immortal family which includes nine living brothers, the Princes. Their sisters are also immortal but do not compete for the vacant throne of their father, Oberon, who is apparently not dead but only missing.
The royals can walk from one Shadow world to another by a process of subtraction where the elements that do not belong are removed one at a time until the royal is fully in the new Shadow. They bring armies from one Shadow to Amber in a contest for the throne.
Another interesting plot element is the Trumps, a series of tarot-like cards depicting the royal family. Any prince or princess can communicate directly and teleport through the use of the Trumps. Their use requires the willingness of both royals and they are used both offensively and cooperatively.
As classic fantasy Nine Princes in Amber is strongly recommended. It is interesting to compare the themes and elements of this early classic with current fantasy. For example, two dated plot elements are Corwin's constant smoking of ordinary cigarettes and the relatively minor roles of the princesses.
I am not one for crowds, heavy consumption of intoxicants, or most of the other things normally associated with the term Spring Break.
I do, however, very much enjoy spring. Formal gardens are superb places, in my mind - quiet, beautiful, spacious. A place where one can share time with a special someone, a small group of friends, or enjoy solitude. They are also great for walking, talking, reading, writing, and a thousand other activities that are a pleasant break from the insanity of my day job.
Versailles? Because it is near Paris, has historical significance, is near other areas of historical and cultural interest and is fantastic in its own right.
(Disclaimer - I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review)
I was apprehensive when I got the book but have to say I was pleasantly surprised. I don't read a lot of thrillers but found Birth of an Assassin fast-paced and well-plotted. The best part, to me, was the deft handling of the character development of the protagonist, Jez Kornfeld. As the teaser says below the story follows his development. I would modify that to the story IS his development. Stone does a very good job. Strongly recommended.
Set against the
backdrop of Soviet, post-war Russia, Birth of an Assassin follows the
transformation of Jez Kornfeld from wide-eyed recruit to avenging outlaw.
Amidst a murky underworld of flesh-trafficking, prostitution and
institutionalized corruption, the elite Jewish soldier is thrown into a world
where nothing is what it seems, nobody can be trusted, and everything can be
violently torn from him.
Given the order to
disperse and arrest a crowd of Jewish demonstrators in Red Square, Jez breaks
up the rally but discovers his sisters in their ranks. Rushed for a solution,
he sneaks the girls from under the noses of secret police and hides them in
downtown Moscow. But he knows they will no longer be safe in Russia. He has to
find them a safe route out.
The journey begins,
but he is unaware that his every move is being observed and that he has set in
motion a chain of events that will plunge his life into a headlong battle to
Do children born into poverty become
impoverished adults? It happens; pitfalls and roadblocks to advancement are
everywhere. Rik Stone grew up poor amidst the slum-lands of fifties North East
England, and left school at 15 without any academic qualifications.
He worked in the shipyards on a local river and
later went into the merchant navy. Further down the line, he worked quarries in
Essex in South East England.
But life was without horizons until, contrary to
what his teachers had told him, he found he was capable of studying and
completed a BSc degree in mathematics and computing.
Life got lucky for him when he took company
pension at 50 and began writing. And now, here he is offering up his debut
novel Birth of an Assassin, the first in a series.
Saturday I took a walk around the neighborhood and, despite the bright sun and the warming temperatures (about 45 degrees at 7:30 am), the landscape was still pretty barren - the trees were still leafless, the planters still empty, the lawns still the brown-green of dormant grass. It was like none of the plants believed the winter was done.
Sunday I took a similar walk, at a similar time. But on this walk I started to notice the forsythia, which makes up a hedge by many houses and roadsides in my area, were yellow with blossoms. Then I saw an ornamental cherry, suddenly heavy with pink and white flowers. As I made a turn I was brought face to face with a dogwood whose big blooms were on full display. None had been there the day before.
I could feel an extra bounce in my step, just from the bright demonstration of rejuvenation and renewal. It struck me, on Sunday as I contemplated the tale of two days, how quickly things can change. The birds had been singing more strongly each day since the last snowfall but only now did I believe, like the plants, that spring was here.
This week's FF: Tell us about a book you didn't like and tell why you shouldn't read it!
Walking the Amazon by Ed Stafford has a lot of interesting elements: personal adventure, exploring the unknown, international affairs, the destruction of natural habitat, the destruction of aboriginal cultures, amid smaller themes. It just never delivers.
This is a true story of a man who set out to walk from the head of the Amazon River to its mouth in the Atlantic Ocean. I found myself disliking the author (and several of the people involved in the expedition) because of his recurring complete unpreparedness and their both lack of preparedness with him or their willing support of an expedition whose unpreparedness should have been apparent.
Maybe the author was too harsh on himself or was trying to build up the barriers to make his ultimate success more dramatic, but I found myself thinking there should be no way the expedition even started out. If I was this unprepared for a meeting, my continued presence on the project at hand would be in jeopardy.
This book is really a novella, about 100 pages, that won the Hugo for novella in 1963 and was originally published as one half of an Ace Double (with The Five Gold Bands).
I read the copy pictured above (an Ace reprint from 1980 with just this story).
This is an interesting book with many moving parts. It centers on two valleys on the planet Aerlith, both inhabited by humans who have bred lizard-like aliens to be war machines of various sizes and capabilities. There is a third group of humans who are mystical ascetics. The two valleys are essentially separate kingdoms who are engaged in a periodic war that is heating up during the story with the Carcolo attacking the Banbeck.
However, the aliens, the grephs, return. They are a mirror of the humans with the lizard-like grephs breeding humans to be war machines of various sizes and capabilities. In the battle that follows, the humans are near defeat but a stratagem by the leader of the Banbecks, causes the grephs to find the ascetic sacerdotes secret workshop where they are working on a spaceship.
The sacedotes use the engine of their spaceship to disable the greph ship and Banbeck seals the victory. The sacerdote spaceship is destroyed.
I will leave to the reader deeper symbolisms of the mirrored societies and the role of the advanced engineering mystics. I do recommend this as a science fiction story that is just as readable now as it was in 1963, and just as enjoyable.
Today's poem... following on the science fiction theme:
I was struck by the poem below as I read through the entries in the April poetry contest on GoodReads.com. It reminded me of summers more youthful and innocent.
Emma, the poet, agreed to let me share it. And so, The Meadow, a poem by Emma.
Running my hand along the waist high grass,
I watch a brown sparrow take flight,
Its wings spread so that it might soar.
My skin is warm from the sunlight,
And I let it's warm fingers caress my face.
I breathe in the beauty. For,
Wildflowers also cover the meadow,
Their vibrant colors painting,
vivid pictures as they let the wind blow,
Their soft and delicate heads.
A large oak stands in the center of this glory.
Its great branches stretch to the sky,
Holding it, the bright blue, in its soft leafy palms,
They reach like arms lifted up high,
Trying to capture the sunlight and hold it tight
From Observations by Greg Schroeder available at smashwords
A lot of teen novels explore this theme of beauty (or value) intrinsic to a thing. The Pigman by Paul Zindel, Professor Diggins' Dragons by Felice Holman, Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury, Fireweed by Jill Paton Walsh are classic examples. Some classics also explore this at a level teens can understand well - Mary Mapes Dodge's Hans Brinker or The Silver Skates, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings The Yearling, and Kenneth Graham's The Wind in the Willows for example.
It IS National Poetry Month. All three of these reflect my feelings today as I searched for signs of the spring. Still no buds on the trees but the crocuses are finally bursting forth and there are patches where the grass is starting to grow again, a darker green in the brown-green seas.
This story has a lot going on - the main characters are a cricket, a mouse, a cat, a boy, and the boy's parents, quite a cast for a juvenile book. Further the book deals with themes of music, especially classical music, business, homesickness, and gaining acceptance, also quite a diverse chunk.
However, George Selden melds them all together in a very enjoyable and relatively short, story.
The cricket, Chester, finds himself in Times Square having gotten on a train in Connecticut. He is befriended by Tucker, the mouse, and Harry, the cat, and soon, Mario, the boy. Despite some early missteps, he comes to be accepted and brings prosperity to Mario's parents' newsstand. However, Chester misses "the country" and, in the end, his friends help him hop a train for home.
This is an excellent book, most editions have Garth Williams' superlative illustrations. Well recommended.
Not like the others
Some earlier than others.
Once I hid the difference
I am who I am
Does it matter
What they think?
Once I thought so.
It made me sad.
I let them hurt me
With their words
But I am who I am
And there is nothing
Wrong with me.
So everyone else
Can love me
Or leave me
But I'm ok
Just like I am.
This is part of Conditions by Greg Schroeder. Available at Smashwords.com.
"I wrote this after being in town with a Comicon and watching the young people enjoying themselves and the older people (many of them) being taken aback by the costumes."
Judith McNaught today climbed to the top of Ranker.com's Best Romance Novelists list so we'll use that as the excuse to feature one of her early novels as our first Romance feature.
Whitney, My Love broke new ground when it was published in 1986. Most romance novels set in the "regency" period (the 1820s and 1830s) followed a formula: introduce the heroine first, tell a relatively light, relatively short story with no explicit sex. McNaught turned that formula on its head with Whitney. She introduced the dark "hero", Clayton Westmoreland, first and the novel was much longer and contained and emotional and sexual intensity that was distinctly absent in regencies of the time.
While one reviewer characterized it as "a novel...rich with laughter, tears, and the power of dreams." However, like many of the classic "bodice-rippers" Whitney does have disturbing themes. Westmoreland rapes Whitney and does what is now referred to as blaming the victim for long stretches. Violence against women is romanticized. A different reviewer put a positive spin on this saying that it does show how far romance novels have come in their depiction of gender roles. Heroes now know how to take "no" for an answer and the heroines no longer "find their place" but find heroes who can keep up.
Judith McNaught's books are readily available for a few dollars online at retailers like Biblio.com.
The End of the Chauvinist
In all my years, the man began,
A roll of the eyes, a look at the pan,
I've never heard such foolishness!
Their eyes lock, in her back, a rigidness,
To think I should listen, appreciate
Squares her shoulders, sets down the plate,
Your opinions, the "work" that you do
Picks up the onion, stabs it right through.
Where's the damn dinner, better not be stew!
Walks swiftly past, drops the onion by Drew,
Hey! What? and a gurgle and sputter
But she's already gone, he can only mutter.
from Moments, by Greg Schroeder available in ebook format for 99 cents on Smashwords.com
I'll use the fact that April is National Poetry Month to be inspired to start blogging again. "Life" was a little too busy in March, especially with the never-ending winter, but it IS time to diversify again and get back to at least some writing.
That said, I am going to try to participate in Think Out Loud, Throwback Thursday, and Feature and Follow each week. Then I am going to try and run a feature each week of one Newbery winner (or should have won - young adult book), one romance novel, and one science-fiction/fantasy novel.
Finally, I will try to post a poem a day. This is all very ambitious, please let me know how I'm doing and send me suggestions for any or all of the above!
Today's poem (from my upcoming collection, Moments to be published in multiple eBook formats through Smashwords.com, April 5):