Thursday 26 August 2010

What poetry is teaching me

I haven't always read poetry in my life.  There have been long periods where I haven't read any, followed by the discovery of a new poem which leads me to the poet.  Anna Akhmatova.  ee cummings.  Sylvia Plath.  John Donne.  Ted Hughes.  Mary Oliver.  Wendy Cope.  Yevgeny Yevtushenko.  John Keats.  These are the main poets that I have discovered and loved since I was about 18, when I loved my first poet, Sylvia Plath. Nikki Giovanni.  Wordsworth. 

Why read poetry?  In this day and age, when people are afraid of poems, why do I read it?  Because it teaches me that I am not alone in my feelings.  That others have felt as I do, both the wild rage of pain, and the tumultousness and gentleness of love.  When I read poetry, I discover myself.  I learn about new ways to express how I feel, and how I am in the world.

What I didn't know, was that poetry actually teaches me.  I could look at Neil Gaiman's poem "Instructions" and say it teaches me about how to come to fairy tales, which it does.  I could look at John Keat's "On a Nightingale" and say that I have never heard a nightingale sing yet, though I know it through Keat's eyes and ears.  I have been by that hedge where he hears the nightingale sings every time I read that poem, and the glorious song he hears is echoed by the birds I do hear, over here in Canada - though not the same, I know, not at all.  I really want to hear a nightingale so I can go back and read the poem and see what Keats took from the singing.  I could say that Dr Seuss gave me my first love of rhythm and words that rhyme in the English language, and that I actually had a line from the Grinch Who Stole Christmas occur to me last week, the line 'we are we'. 

But truly, poetry came alive for me today, when I opened Mary Oliver's book of poems Red Bird, and re-read her poem "Invitation".  Because the day before I had seen this little bird (pictures above, he's yellow and in the middle of the thistle bush, just above) while out for my walk along the Ottawa River.  I was lucky, he was there yesterday and allowed me to take these pictures.

Later, I went to look up what it was and when I read that it was an American Goldfinch and that it loved thistles, I thought to myself, I know that.  But how do I know that?  So imagine my delight and joy when I read "Invitation":

                                Invitation                      by Mary Oliver

Oh do you have a little time
  to linger
     for just a little while
        out of your busy

and very important day
   for the goldfinches
      that have gathered
        in a field of thistles

for a musical battle,
   to see who can sing
     the highest note,
        or the lowest,

or the most expressive of mirth,
   or the most tender?
       Their strong, blunt beaks
          drink the air

as they strive
      not for your sake
         and not for mine

and not for the sake of winning
  but for sheer delight and gratitude -
     believe us, they say,
        it is a serious thing

just to be alive
  on this fresh morning
     in this broken world.
       I beg of you,

do not walk by
    without pausing
       to attend to this
         rather ridiculous performance.

It could mean something.
  It could mean everything.
     It could be what Rilke meant, when he wrote:
        You must change your life. 

This poem, from the first time I encountered it, has captured and retold what I try to do in my own life, the values that I live by, and how open I try to be to the natural world around me.  I didn't know I was also learning about goldfinches, and that Mary Oliver was writing what was real:  but there the little goldfinch was, on Tuesday and yesterday, beside the path, digging into the thistles and burying himself in the seed fluff.  Isnt' it a marvel how nature has made it, that in searching for food, the finch releases the seeds from the pods at the same time?

How cool is it that in this photo and the next, Mrs Goldfinch joined her mate on the thistle bush (he is in the lower left corner, she is the dark brown bird shape on the top right of the bush)?  They were singing back and forth to each other while they watched me take his picture above first, then when deemed safe, she flew down to join him.  

As for the poem itself, it is among the handful of poems that I want to print up and put on my walls to remind myself how to I want to live.

As a writer, this poem and Rilke's idea that I must change my life - it is from Letters to a Young Poet, and what one must do in order to write, is also moving through me.  I also think that slowing my life down, taking the time to see around me, to see nature, is something I consciously try to do every day.  I can't write, if I don't see in my own life what is there.  And only by seeing, can I bring back to my writing my own voice and view.

This is why I read poetry. 

If you read poetry, who do you like? What are some of your favourite poets, and poems?

Saturday 21 August 2010

The first week of my summer holidays.........

I started last weekend and the beginning of my summer holidays with an abscessed tooth that suddenly blew up late Thursday afternoon. On early Sunday morning I woke up to the sounds of loud fighting on the street outside, followed by gunshots. Our area was in lockdown for the next several hours as the police looked for the weapon (recovered) and the suspects (caught and charged). I was much more unsettled and disturbed by the violence (which is unusual for our neighborhood) than I was letting myself know. I have never heard gunshots before. I think this has affected me more deeply than I have realized, as it was only looking at my books read tally that I realized I have 0 books read for this week. Violence 1, books read 0.

On Monday the youngest decided he didn't want to go to the museum to see the frog exhibit and after acting out on the way to the bus, spent the morning in his room while I sorted out Ikea and the bookshelves we were still waiting for. I did try to read - I am working on In the Shadow of the Glacier by Vicki Delaney, a Canadian mystery series, but I couldn't settle into the book. Later I realized the shooting on the weekend was still affecting me. I was also dreading the next day, Tuesday, which featured a trip to the dentist and the doctor. So the hubby and daughter got to go to the museum, and I cleaned the house and spent an hour on the phone with Ikea. Trials and tribulations of life: 1, books read: 0.

Tuesday: The dentist: 2 hours of root canal, and a new crown put in, and a couple thousand dollars poorer.
The doctor: they don't know why the diabetes medication affected my kidneys, and while my kidneys are returning to normal and it's good news nothing turned up on the ultrasound, it's another mystery my body is revealing. The good news is I'm off the medication that had made me sick from day one, the bad news is I have to follow the diabetes diet very closely (instead of occasionally cheating with 2 cookies at once) as I am on nothing to moderate my blood sugar presently. This would be good if we were sure the diabetic diet would control my blood sugar, and only time will tell. Fingers crossed, and weather and health permitting (the abscessed tooth prevented any walking for almost a week), I'll be out walking every day again. Started Shakespeare Wrote For Money by Nick Hornby because it was smallish (because I couldn't carry the library book with me as it was hardcover), on my TBR stack, and I knew I would be gone several hours to both appointments. Still not done. Health 1, books read 0. *bonus, 1 book started.

So, after that, I said to my husband, surely our holidays will get better? Indeed, Wednesday our bookshelves were delivered in the morning, and we spent the day putting them up and rearranging the living room. Pictures will follow, in the next couple of days. I am very happy, I finally have enough shelves for all my books! and the living room is starting to take shape as I envision it. Still, no books read that day either. Bookshelves 1, books read 0.

Thursday we went to the Ottawa Super Exhibition, which is an agricultural exhibition and midway fair combined, an annual fair that comes every August to Ottawa for 122 years now. We had a wonderful afternoon, despite the thunderstorm in the middle of it that sent everyone scurrying for cover for almost an hour. The highlights were certainly that at the last minute, our 21 year old joined us, so we were all together for a change, and the raptor exhibit that we managed to see, which featured 5 raptors: a Harris Hawk (all the way from Texas), a kestrel, a red-tailed hawk (my favourite bird of prey), a barn owl (gorgeous) and, most wonderful, a golden eagle. Pictures will come too! No books read, as we were too exhausted to do anything but lay in front of the tv that night. Fun 1, books read 0.

Friday: we had our water unexpectedly cut off due to summer-long construction on one of the main streets close by our neighborhood. As it was near lunch time, we dashed out of the house to MacDonald's for the kids (I refuse to eat there, it's close by the house and on the way to the bus stop), and over to the local theatre (which did still have running water so was open) to watch the new movie Nanny McPhee Returns, which started early afternoon. The timing happily worked out well for us. And it was a very delightful movie. We then took our time coming home, walking along the Ottawa River shoreline, as the river is the lowest level in at least 20 years, and over 50 feet of shore are exposed now. We saw some frogs and collected a few mussel shells, as my daughter is very interested in science and nature, and like me, collects stones and natural objects for the house. When we got home, thankfully the water was back on. Our new family time in the evening is watching The Big Bang Theory, which thanks to a friend at work, I discovered in July. We are totally hooked on this tv show and watch some every night before bed. Then it was online at midnight to catch up with my friend from Texas and all things Fringe - we had a date to watch an episode last night, which helped make my week feel more properly back in rhythm again.
Popcorn 3, books read 0.

Now it's Saturday again. Ahead of me lies a whole new week with everyone back at work and daycare except for me, and I am planning lots of reading every day, for week 2 of my summer holidays.
1st week of holidays: 7 days of extreme variety, 0 books read.

Until this week, I had been doing very well, keeping up with my 8 books a month goal, so next week lies ahead of me now, and I hope some lovely blissful uninterrupted reading time. Then I will really feel like I have rested and rejuvenated my spirits, which are still recovering from last weekend. I have enjoyed (after Tuesday) my holidays very much so far, though I am definitely craving the peace and contentment that reading brings me.

Today I have managed to read a little, but it's raining out so the kids are restless, and so we can't really settle into anything for long. I am baking banana bread with chocolate chips. Baking always helps me settle down, and it's good that it's cool enough out finally that I can bake again and not heat the house to an unbearable level. It's so cool we have been wearing sweaters for much of the day. It's not reading, though it's another fun activity the family can share, since the kids put the chocolate chips in and the youngest has been by several times already to ask if it is ready to eat yet (it's cooling down). I console myself with thinking the banana bread does have yoghurt and bananas in it, good for the diabetic diet, and if I eat a slice while I read a book, that might be as good as it can get this crazy week we've had.

How are your summer holidays going? Were you able to read as much as you wanted to this summer? Have you had your holidays yet?

Sunday 8 August 2010

The books I own do reflect me.

Thanks to Eva over at A Striped Armchair, I know what I want to write about tonight. She posted today about her home library, an idea she found on a new-to-me blog: The Boston Bibliophile, who has a series she is writing on what having a home library means to her, and what she wants to see in hers. I coincidentally had read a post at Book Chase that ended with his thoughts on what having a home library means to him. So, as we are waiting on our 2 new bookshelves to be delivered, and as I stare at the piles of books on the floor and shelves, patiently waiting for their turn to have a permanent shelf to call their own, I think it's a good time to talk about what I want my home library to be.

I Need Books
I have always wanted a home library. By the time I was 10, I had a long, long row of books that stretched along the floor, that were all mine. I think I have always collected books, though I have lost and let go of so many over the years. Whenever I moved, my suitcase would be half-filled with clothing, and the other half was books. When I moved to England, the books I couldn't part with were divided into the necessary few I flew with, and the rest were sent by slow mail. I still managed to give away over half of the books I owned then, something I am still learning from and about. Because as soon as I landed in England, and indeed after we came back to Canada, I started replacing the books I'd given away, or realizing that in many cases, I did want to reread them after all. It was a big lesson for me, both because I learned I can let go of most books - but not all. There are some books that have a permanent place with me. One day I'll do a post about those books! I also learned that books can be replaced, and that my idea of success is to fill my home with books. In all the phases of my life, books have been present, and I could not, cannot, feel at home in a house that does not have any books.

What kind of library - now, that is the interesting question, I think. Both Eva and Marie talk about what kind of books they have, and ask what you think a home library should be. Please let them know, and let me know also, as I'm curious: how many of us have home libraries? what kind of books do we collect? Do you collect with a purpose, or is it haphazard? How do you arrange your shelves?

I have to say that I am haphazard - I don't collect first editions, hard covers hurt my back to carry, and I buy a lot of books second-hand. Saying that, my fiction shelf is alphabetical, and my non-fiction books are all arranged by category: fairy tales and myths, history, travel, health, biography, gardening, cooking, dreams and psychology, astrology, writing, nature and science.......kind of like the dewey decimal system of arrangement, without the hassle of having numbers! Because I worked for so many years in bookstores, I was used to sorting them into categories, and it's how I find books the easiest.

That's all the mechanics of having a home library. What I'm really interested in is the soul of the home library. How many books of yours have you read? Why did you buy them? what does this book or that book mean to you? I find it's the stories we tell about why we bought books, if it was easy , or a discovery, or we had to special order it, or if it was a gift, that tells us what kind of library we have.

The Book Tour of my house
So if you take all my categories I listed above and pretend you have come into my home for a visit, what are you likely to see? First you're going to see the 4 shelves behind the sofa, in the reading area I am building. That's the fiction area. I've read almost half of those books. This is the area I fuss over the most, and where I have the unhoused piles waiting for their new home. Over by the television area are three more shelves, housing most of the non-fiction, as well as my TBR books that I have separated as books I want to read now/soon. The TBR bookshelf picture is on my sidebar. They sit beside me here at the computer. I often look at them and dream of when I can get to them, and fuss around and rearrange them for challenges I am currently working through. My husband and I share the history and travel books, and they sit closest to the tv, where we can pull out the atlas when the kids ask a geography question.

Next room is the kitchen, and I have two shelves filled with cookbooks. I love reading recipes. My sister asked me once if I read everything, including the authors' notes before recipes, and if I read cookbooks all the way through, and I was surprised. Of course I do! It was the first time I realized that my mother and I are similar in this, and my sister isn't.

My Little Creative Room
My most private books, astrology, quilting, tarot, writing and spirituality, are all upstairs in my craft room. This is a tiny room that could be a huge built-in closet, though by now you know if it's a choice between using the space for clothing or books, I'd choose books. When I first saw the room, I knew it would be my writing room one day. I have my quilting supplies stashed away, so it's not all set up yet. Funnily enough, I need some storage space for all the material I have collected! I find that the colours of quilting inspire me and help me write, though I'm not sure of how this works yet! I go in every day, and I guess thinking about it now, it would be my inspiration room. Poetry used to be here, but as I've been reading and buying more recently, that has moved downstairs. I think I want to show off that I am reading poetry and what - who - I love.

What the books I have say about me......
I think this idea of showing off what I love is important to me in the books I do have. For a long time when I was going to university, there was a pretentiousness I felt in carrying around classics and 'literature', that I've slowly learned to let go of. I do want to appear intelligent, but not because I'm carrying or reading or own the 'right' books, but because I've read them and I can discuss ideas intelligently. So while I'm proud of my books that I own, I'm also really shy about them, because they do reflect me, my personality and my tastes, now. To come into my home and see my books is to see me.

The Plan
My library is semi-organized. By this I mean, I have only recently attempted to make lists of books I am missing to have complete sets, and to really plan a permanent shelving plan. I would love to have built-in shelves in my house, and that is my secret dream for our house. To have a fireplace, and shelves built in on either side, and then up over doorways and wall to wall. I can't think of a prettier, interesting, and happier home to be in.

So that gives you an idea of where I am in my home library stage. Where are you? Do you spend time looking at books for ideas on how to shelve your books? Do you dream of a home library that fills your home with what you love, and what books would those be? Would your home spill over with books, or would they be tidy and a few shelves of the ones you love the very most?

My home library
At the back of my mind, I've always wanted a home library that meant I could find at my fingertips, in my own home, the answers to questions I wanted, or the next book to read. I think I want it all here, a copy of every book I've ever read and loved, as well as ones I think I'm likely to love when I do read them.

The children of course, all have bookshelves now too, in their bedrooms, though my son (the 21 year old) and the daughter are showing a tendency to pile books they are reading near where they happen to sit. I think they take after me. Even with all our shelves, we all have piles of books that we are looking at. And I forgot to mention that I don't have a space for the library books I've borrowed, so they are in a stack on the floor.........I think this would be called the mess of life, and I really wouldn't have it any other way.

So that's where I am in my home library stage. As I get pictures of the various areas, I'll post them, because the next best thing to being in someone's home and examining their shelves, is seeing pictures of their shelves!

I hope you have a happy Sunday reading, and thinking about your home library.

Saturday 7 August 2010

Did you know it was cool to be Canadian?

Because I have an abscess in my tooth and the Tylenol 3 is making me very light-headed, I thought I would point you to some interesting and fun links I've found today. In other words, I don't know if I will make sense if I actually blog about books today!

Did you know it was cool to be Canadian? I didn't, not until I read on "Lost in Books" the "Take me Away to Canada eh?" post.

Do You Agree?
Trish at "Hey Lady Watcha Reading?" has a very interesting post on Amazon books, "Why I hate Amazon and Will Never Ever Buy From Them Again." I have just discovered the amazing service has, but I didn't know it came at a price, and I find I'm really torn here. Sometimes I can only get books on
I escape the dilmma (sort of):
Happily, I've discovered that my local favourite indie bookstore, Collected Works, now has their shop online as well as the physical bookstore on Wellingston St, here in Ottawa. I am beyond delighted, because not only can you order online as easily as you can with, Collected Works also delivers to your door. Direct. You don't have to go down to the store to pick up your books. Here is their link, in case you live in Eastern Ontario or Western Quebec. They might even ship to the US, it would be worth enquiring, especially if you want to go the indie route for your books. I plan on making good use of them!

Celebrating new shelves!!
My booktwin Bybee over at "Naked Without Books" has acquired two new bookshelves and has posted them for us all to drool over (and wonder how long it will take her to fill the empty spaces), on "Shelf Shots". There must be something in the air for Susans, because we bought two bookshelves from Ikea last week which should be delivered tomorrow, and I will finally have all of my books up off the floor. I will be posting pictures of my redesigned library in the living room, two years in the making, then. I don't think I will have any empty spaces, though, which my husband is refusing to admit means we might need another shelf sooner rather than later......

Books and cats just go together:
Nymeth at "things mean alot" has a fabulous review of a Diana Wynne Jones short story that I really have to find now, on "What the Cat Told Me by Diana Wynne Jones". I love cats, and as some of you may remember, our cat passed away in June after fighting cancer for a year and a half. This short story is from the cat's point of view, and the review Nymeth gives has made me miss Bandit once again. I also am a fervent admirer of Diana Wynne Jones, and am sad to see that I missed Diana Wynne Jones week here on the internet.

It's never too soon to get ready for the annual RIP challenge:
Bride over at "Bride of the Book God" has reviewed a gothic book that is perfect for Carl's upcoming RIP challenge, on "The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein." I've added it to my list of books to get, since I'd already noticed this book in the bookstores.

Things you keep at work:
Carl's post at "Stainless Steel Droppings" has made me confess to my own addiction to collecting toys for my cubicle at work, on his post "Moving On." Do you collect anything for your office work space? Do you think toys have inner lives of their own?

Here are the two dunnys I've managed to collect so far: I own the one on the far left on the first set, and the far right on the second set.

The one I really really really want is the middle one of the first set.

Here is the the link to the Dunny site, so you can find your own way to your favourite one. The store that carries them has been sold out for two months now, and I'm sure the clerks are amused at the two 40-somethings who pop in almost every day to see if any have come in yet. I've managed to get my friend at work hooked on them too. Yes, toys are fun, no matter what our age! and really, for my life at work, I do need to have a toy or two to remind myself there is a world outside work. I also have a tiny collection of books for emergencies - a short story collection of fantasy stories set at Christmas, a copy of The Selected Poems of John Donne, a thriller, and a small journal for writing ideas and thoughts. What do you have at your work to keep you sane?

Happy reading, my Gentle Readers!