Puget Sound English Department

April 6, 2010

Louise Glück, “Vespers”

Professor Alison Tracy Hale says, “I could pick any one of many of Louise Glück’s (b. 1943; U.S. Poet Laureate 2003) poems; I love how they move almost imperceptibly from the prosaic to the poetic, in ways that suggest simultaneously the distance between–and the proximity of–the two realms. Just for today, I chose ‘Vespers’ because it addresses the unyielding and not always beneficent presence of divinity, and because it ends with a fierce assertion, nonetheless, of human responsibility.”

… All this
belongs to you: on the other hand,
I planted the seeds, I watched the first shoots
like wings tearing the soil, and it was my heart
broken by the blight, the black spot so quickly
multiplying in the rows. I doubt
you have a heart, in our understanding of
that term. You who do not discriminate
between the dead and the living, who are, in consequence,
immune to foreshadowing, you may not know
how much terror we bear, the spotted leaf,
the red leaves of the maple falling
even in August, in early darkness: I am responsible
for these vines.
(You can find the whole poem here at Poets.org)

Charles Bukowski, “For Jane: With All the Love I Had, Which Was Not Enough”

Current student Rachel Fairchild offers up this poem with her comment:

“This is absolutely one of my all-time favorite poems.  It’s written by Charles Bukowski (August 16, 1920 – March 9, 1994) about his first love, Jane Cooney Baker, who died in 1962. It’s one of many poems in which Jane is mentioned, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more painfully honest and accurate representation about losing someone you love.  One of my favorite ideas woven into this poem is the digression of Bukowski’s faith in God now that Jane is dead.  It starts with Bukowski calling God a “liar” (presumably Christian God, as Bukowski was raised Roman Catholic), to Bukowski calling out to “all gods, Jewish gods, Christ-gods, chips of blinking things, idols, pills, bread” etc… Enjoy.”

For Jane: With All the Love I Had, Which Was Not Enough
I pick up the skirt,
I pick up the sparkling beads
in black,
this thing that moved once
around flesh,
and I call God a liar,
I say anything that moved
like that
or knew
my name
could never die
in the common verity of dying,
and I pick
up her lovely
dress,
all her loveliness gone,
and I speak to all the gods,
Jewish gods, Christ-gods,
chips of blinking things,
idols, pills, bread,
fathoms, risks,
knowledgeable surrender,
rats in the gravy of two gone quite mad
without a chance,
hummingbird knowledge, hummingbird chance,
I lean upon this,
I lean on all of this
and I know
her dress upon my arm
but
they will not
give her back to me.

April 4, 2010

National Poetry Month

Snow on Lilacs

Snow on Lilacs

April may or may not be “the cruelest month,” but it is National Poetry Month. Inaugurated in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets, the designation serves to “celebrate poetry and its vital place in American culture.” In honor of National Poetry Month, then, we offer you the following link to a collection of “Poems for April” from the Electronic Poetry Center, as well as a cool hypertext site for T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922), which is, of course, the source of that “cruelest month” crack at the beginning of this post. The site integrates Eliot’s own notes on the poem alongside the text, and includes as well commentary from other scholarly sources. And finally, on a less serious note, a link to the website PoemHunter.Com, where you can search for poems about April, poets named April, quotations including April, etc., etc., etc.

March 17, 2010

Advice from the Experts

The Guardian recently offered up lists of “ten rules for writing fiction” from a dazzling constellation of contemporary authors, including but not limited to Hillary Mantel, Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, P.D. James, and Zadie Smith. You can find the full list at The Guardian’s site. (I was drawn in immediately by two of Elmore Leonard’s nuggets of wisdom, particularly since they address my pet peeves: “Using adverbs is a mortal sin” and “Keep your exclamation points under control”). Many of these bits of advice have already made the rounds, and will likely be familiar to many of you writers, but there’s perhaps something to be gained in the aggregate. There’s also a certain amount of repetition, and some tricky paradoxes: “If you have to read, to cheer yourself up read biographies of writers who went insane,” suggests Colm Tóibin; while Roddy Doyle cautions, “Do not place a photograph of your ­favourite author on your desk, especially if the author is one of the famous ones who committed suicide.” Read widely, most of these writers assert, but Geoff Dyer urges you not to “be one of those writers who sentence themselves to a lifetime of sucking up to Nabokov.” And P.D. James reminds us that “Bad writing is contagious.” When all else fails, take hope from Anne Enright: “The first 12 years are the worst.” Or from Margaret Atwood: “Prayer might work.”

And as Jonathan Franzen warns, no matter what the circumstance, “Never use the word ‘then’ as a ­conjunction – we have ‘and’ for this purpose. Substituting ‘then’ is the lazy or tone-deaf writer’s non-solution to the problem of too many “ands” on the page.”

March 5, 2010

Test Your (Literary) Mettle

Filed under: Literature,Quotations — ATH @ 12:47 pm
Tags: ,

If you have a literary know-it-all on your gift list–or if you enjoy testing your own knowledge–you might consider James Walton’s Who Killed Iago? A Book of FIendishly Challenging Literary Quizzes (Penguin/Perigee, 2009) . These are strictly knowledge questions for the well read; no literary analysis required. Do you know Mr. Darcy’s first name? And, by the way, who did kill Iago? No Googling allowed.

October 21, 2009

New Words and Definitions from the Mensa Contest

Filed under: Quotations,Writing & Rhetoric — O. @ 4:37 pm

A correspondent has alerted us to some of the results of the Washington Post‘s Mensa word-challenge:

“The Washington Post’s Mensa Invitational once again invited readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition.

Here are the winners:

1.   Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period of time.
2.   Ignoranus : A person who’s both stupid and an [ a—–e].
3.   Intaxicaton : Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you  realize it was your money to start with.

4.   Reintarnation : Coming back to life as a  hillbilly.

5.   Bozone ( n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.
6.   Foreploy : Any misrepresentation about  yourself for the purpose of getting laid.
7.   Giraffiti : Vandalism spray-painted very, very high
8.   Sarchasm : The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn’t get it.
9.   Inoculatte : To take coffee intravenously when you are running late.
10. Osteopornosis : A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.)
11. Karmageddon : It’s like, when everybody is sending off all these  really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the Earth explodes and it’s like, a serious bummer.
12. Decafalon (n.): The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.
13. Glibido : All talk and no action.
14. Dopeler Effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.
15. Arachnoleptic Fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you’ve accidentally walked through a spider web.
16. Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito, that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out.
17. Caterpallor ( n.): The color you turn after finding half a worm in the fruit you’re eating.”

September 21, 2009

Quotations About Books

Filed under: Quotations — O. @ 2:15 am

“I suggest that the only books that influence us are those for which we are ready, and which have gone a little further down our particular path than we have got yet ourselves.”

–E.M. Forster, in Two Cheers for Democracy, 1951

“The good of a book lies in its being read.”

–Umberto Eco, in The Name of the Rose, 1981

“The book is the greatest interactive medium of all time. You can underline it, write in the margins, fold down a page, skip ahead. And you can take it anywhere.”

–Michael Lynton, in the Daily Telegraph, August 19, 1996

The quotations are from The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase, Saying, & Quotation, second edition, edited by Susan Ratcliffe (New York:  Oxford University Press, 2002), pp. 45-46.