Poem of the Week, from Eleven Stars Over Andalusia

From Eleven Stars Over Andalusia
by Mahmoud Darwish, translated by Agha Shahid Ali with Ahmad Dallal

“10. I want from love only the beginning”

I want from love only the beginning. Doves patch,
over the squares of my Granada, this day’s shirt.
There is wine in our clay jars for the feast after us.
In the songs there are windows: enough for blossoms to explode.

I leave jasmine in the vase; I leave my young heart
in my mother’s cupboard; I leave my dream, laughing, in water;
I leave the dawn in the honey of the figs; I leave my day and my yesterday
in the passage to the square of the Orange where doves fly.

Did I really descend to your feet so speech could rise,
a white moon in the milk of your nights . . . pound the air
so I could see the Street of the Flute blue . . . pound the evening
so I could see how this marble between us suffers?

The windows are empty of the orchards of your shawl. In another time
I knew so much about you. I picked gardenias
from your ten fingers. In another time there were pearls for me
around your neck, and a name on a ring whose gem was darkness, shining.

I want from love only the beginning. Doves flew
in the last sky, they flew and flew in that sky.
There is still wine, after us, in the barrels and jars.
A little land will suffice for us to meet, a little land will be enough for peace.


Mahmoud Darwish was a Palestinian poet who passed away in 2008. For more information about him and his work, poets.org has a biography and a few poems in translation. If you speak arabic, his own website looks great (though I am unable to read anything on it). Darwish wrote exclusively (as far as I can tell) in arabic, so if you want to read him in English it has to be via translation.

Agha Shahid Ali was an amazing poet in his own right who passed away in 2001. He is probably best known for introducing (or, well, perfecting? maybe?) the ghazal form in English, but his work is more interesting than just that. His poems blend ethnic backgrounds in a beautiful mixture of free verse and form. I just finished reading Rooms Are Never Finished, Ali’s collection that deals with the death of his mother, and I highly recommend it. “Lennox Hill” is especially awesome. More information about Ali is available through the Poetry Foundation or through poets.org .


The Catcher in the Rye

Sometimes the best books are the ones you just grab off the shelves just because you feel like it.

On Friday I was shelving books in the library where I work, and I had this beat up copy of The Catcher in the Rye in my hands and I just thought to myself– why not? This is one of those books that I’ve never read that I should have read by now (I’m looking at all y’all: Moby Dick, The Sun Also Rises, and The Red Badge of Courage). So, I picked it up with apprehension. On the one hand, The Catcher in the Rye has John Green’s seal of approval. On the other hand, I was really sure I was going to have to drag myself through this novel hating every minute of it (ahem, akin to my experience with The Great Gatsby). But this copy was an old, well-loved, 1951 edition, and, in the end, it was the physical heft of the book that made me take it home.

This has been such a pleasant surprise. The Catcher in the Rye  is fantastic. I love it. If I was a good reviewer like Jessica, I’d review it. Even though it’s a classic. Instead, I’m gonna just quote one of my favorite parts, about the Museum of Natural History. This is a long quote, but I promise that it’s worth it.

“The best thing, though, in that museum was that everything stayed right where it was. Nobody’d move. You could go there a hundred thousand times, and that Eskimo would be just finished catching those two fish, the birds would still be on their way south, the deers would still be drinking out of that water hole, with their pretty, skinny legs, and that squaw with the naked bosom would still be weaving the same blanked. Nobody’d be different. The only thing that would be different would be you. Not that you’d be so much older or anything. It wouldn’t be that, exactly. You’d just be different, that’s all. You’d have an overcoat on this time. Or the kid that was your partner in line the last time had got scarlet fever and you’d have a new partner. Or  you’d have a substitute taking the class instead of Miss Aigletinger. Or you’d heard your mother and father having a terrific fight in the bathroom. Or you’d just passed by one of those puddles in the street with gasoline rainbows in them. I mean you’d be different in some way — I can’t explain what I mean. And even if I could, I’m not sure I’d feel like it.”

This is poetry. This makes me understand why professors get all bent out of shape when someone says that poetry and prose are opposites. I love the way that this pivots, how you get all the detail about the Museum of Natural History and then it gives you the list of possible changes in a series of “or”s. Stasis followed by flux. And the images!! I don’t know. I just love it.

The Catcher in the Rye has also made me sad in a way– this is a novel for a younger person. This is a novel I should have read 5 years ago. I feel like the teenager who picks up The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about because they missed it as a kid. I mean, I obviously still love it, but I think that if I’d read this a few years ago it would have been more powerful in my life. Maybe I’d be a prose person instead of a poetry one. Oh my god, maybe I’d be writing a thesis on Virginia Wolfe (like everyone else in my program, it seems like) instead of on Yeats and Stevens. So, as a  newly minted grown-up (hah, it feels like a joke as I type it out), I love this book, but I wish that I’d found it earlier.

It’s the exact opposite of my experience reading Anna Karenina at 15. 15 is too young to read Tolstoy. Let me just put that out there right now. And I fully support 8 year olds reading books marked as college reading level and beyond, it’s not that. Tolstoy is just so… dogmatic and subtle. Maybe it was just the type of teenager I was, but I hated that book. I literally did not finish it, and I never do this. I am a book conqueror, people. I want to go back to it and see what I can get out of it now, but I am afraid that it will defeat me again. Or that I’ll still detest it.My mom had a similar experience with Moby Dick, she read it last year and loved it after reading it in High School and hating it.

Are there any books that you tried to read too young or ended up reading too late? Are there certain books for certain parts of your life? If so, is there a list compiled somewhere that I can follow?!

BTT and the 2011 YA Bloggers Book Battle

Booking Through Thursday asked this week, “In contrast to last week’s question–What do you think of censoring books BECAUSE of their intended age? Say, books too “old” for your kids to read?”

I think parents should be the only ones to censor their kids’ reading. And I think that before you keep your kid from reading a book, you had better read it yourself. AND I think that if it’s a book that your kid really wants to read for whatever reason, you should sit down and talk about why you don’t think it’s appropriate yet and not just say, “No.”

I have this position because I occasionally read books that I really think I was too young for and that my parents let me read. In most cases, reading books that were too old for me didn’t cause any problems. If I didn’t understand something I just moved on, and I’m sure there were many things that went over my head. There was one book, however, that really roughed me up when I read it at the age of twelve and I, to this day, feel some anxiety when I think about it!

In other words, yes, I think there are books that might not be appropriate for certain kids at certain ages. But you have to know your kid to know what is appropriate for them and even then you’re going to get it wrong sometimes.


And in other NEWS, I am happy to announce that I am a Round 2 judge for the 2011 YA Bloggers Book Battle! It’s the second year that Alyssa over at The Shady Glade has hosted it and this year’s theme is a great one: Best Overlooked Book! I’m so excited to be a part of this extravaganza and I’ll be sure to post an update when I find out which pair of books I will be judging. The shortlist looks amazing, and, appropriately, I’ve only heard of a couple of them and read none of them!

Alyssa made a great trailer for the Battle. Check it out!

The dramatic music is just. So. Epic.

Poem of the Week, “Stray Paragraphs in February, Year of the Rat”

Stray Paragraphs in February, Year of the Rat
by Charles Wright

East of town, the countryside unwrinkles and smooths out

Unctuously toward the tidewater and gruff Atlantic.

A love of landscape’s a true affection for regret, I’ve found,

Forever joined, forever apart,

outside us yet ourselves.


Renunciation, it’s hard to learn, is now our ecstasy.

However, if God were still around

he’d swallow our sighs in his nothingness.


The dregs of the absolute are slow sift in my blood,

Dead branches down after high winds, dead yard grass and


The sure accumulation of all that’s not revealed

Rises like snow in my bare places,

cross-whipped and openmouthed.


Our lives can’t be lived in flames.

Our lives can’t be lit like saints’ hearts,

seared between heaven and earth.


February, old head-turner, cut us some slack, grind of bone

On bone, such melancholy music.

Lift up that far corner of landscape,

there, toward the west.

Let some deep light in, the arterial kind.

Sorry for the wonky formatting, but where the lines are actually matters (as in, some lines are intended to not be flush left), so I thought I would try to preserve that in this e-text version of Wright’s poem. However, that means that it HAS to be double spaced for indentation to work on wordpress (counting each line as a separate paragraph), which pretty much distresses me. Imagine it single spaced!! There are periods on the lines between stanzas to force double spaces to preserve stanza breaks. Eesh.

Charles Wright is a poet I’m only beginning to really appreciate. He’s from Tennessee! Before I came to Charlottesville, I’d only read Black Zodiac. I thought it was good, but wasn’t in love enough to go and buy more. Well, people here are a little crazy about Charles Wright. I read Littlefoot for a class I had last semester, and then I picked up Appalachia from the library purely out of curiosity. Man, Appalachia is crazy good. I am wild about it. This poem is the opening one of that collection. Maybe this piece resonates with me right now because I’ve been in a seminar on Hagiography this spring, which makes me excited about lines like “Our lives can’t be lit like saints’ hearts / seared between heaven and earth.”

If you think this poem is the cat’s pajamas, I suggest reading more of Wright’s work. Poets.org and the Poetry Foundation have several poems available to read online. I really love Littlefoot, 19, which is super-short.

Look, A Shiny! 5/18

I have a serious Etsy problem, especially when it comes to handmade or unique jewelry. Fortunately for me, I’ve recently been content just to browse instead of instantly WANTING every pretty thing that catches my eye, but I am having some serious willpower issues right now thanks to Fable & Fury’s awesome silhouette necklaces:

H.P. Lovecraft

Edgar Allen Poe

Hunter S. Thompson

Hunter S. Thompson, for crying out loud! Plus, more brilliant non-lit necklaces: I am seriously grooving on both Tom Waits and Alfred Hitchcock. Good gravy, it would be hard to pick just one. I feel a familial obligation to acquire the Thompson one in particular: my dad named the (female) golden retriever of my childhood Raoul, after Raoul Duke of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. (Then again, he also named my inflatable pool shark Muammar after Muammar Gaddafi, so…just so. He’s an odd duck, my daddio.)

Short Reports 5/13

I know, I know, I haven’t been around here lately. You-all (our threes and fours of readers) have Mary and Jessica to thank for keeping this site fresh and full of wonderful poetry lately! I love poetry, but as a scholar of prose, poetry is still very mysterious to me. Good poetry is like a herd of ethereal and dainty unicorns, and all I understand are Nubian goats. That’s right, I just compared my literature degree to raising goats. AND I’M NOT SORRY.

Um, anyhow. As Jessica mentioned, I was gone last week in order to say goodbye to one of the people I was closest to in the world. I’m glad I could be with her family, and it was a very fitting farewell, but it’s left me with little energy for my usual hobbies. To wit: I’ve been reading, but haven’t been able to form a coherent thought when it comes time to REVIEW the books I’ve read. So I thought I would try to ease back into things by doing some short reports on what I’ve picked up (and put down again) in the past couple of weeks.

Dairy Queen, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock:

I LOVE YOU, D.J. SCHWENK. Okay, folks, if you’re at all a fan of YA, please go pick this up and read it. D.J. is a small-town Wisconsin girl who has been tasked with basically running her parents’ farm while her dad is out of commission. Tough stuff. Family politics and a growing sense of unhappiness with her lot in life don’t make it any easier. But, you guys–D.J. is so charming! Her voice is so honest and fresh and funny. I often feel dissatisfied with a lot of the YA I read because, while the side characters have gobs and gobs of personality, the narrator sometimes tends to be a little bit bland. Maybe so the reader can identify with her more? D.J. doesn’t suffer from Bland Hero Disorder, though; I felt that I got a very clear feeling of who she is, and who she’s trying to become through the course of the novel. And the person that she is, I want her to be my GOOD BUDDY FOR LIFE.

Bonus material (and SPOILERS, so cover your eyes if you haven’t read the novel!): I looked up Dairy Queen on Wikipedia because I cannot remember Catherine Gilbert Murdock’s name to save my life for some reason, and the summary of the novel has this AMAZING line of information:

Then Amber reveals, “You’re with me. You’re not with him. It’s the two of us. Don’t you see that?” It then occurs to D.J. that Amber is in love with her (Which is how you know that Amber is a lesbian.)

I love whichever fifteen-year-old wrote that. “Which is how you know” indeed.

(Okay, you can stop covering your eyes now.)

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie: I’m still boarding the YA train, so I haven’t had the chance to read many of the titles that have been raised on high as being The Young Adult Novels To Read. To that end, I picked this one up at the library, since it seems to turn lead to gold wherever it goes. Sadly, though, I can’t tell you whether I liked it or not, and I don’t think I will be able to for a long time: I read the first twenty pages, came across the part that has detailed descriptions of a dog getting sick and having to be put down, and was absolutely DESTROYED. It more or less turned me into a useless ball of sadness for the rest of the evening. I know it sounds silly, but there are boundaries I recognize in myself for what I can and cannot read at the moment, and that sort of thing is definitely not on the list to get into the club. This isn’t the fault of the book or the author, but I think I’ll be returning this unread and pick it up some other time.

Uglies, by Scott Westerfeld: Another DNF, although not for the same reasons. I just…I was bored, you guys! I don’t know, I just wasn’t compelled by the world or the story that is being told. I’d say it’s because I’m tired of dystopia in my reading material, but I recently read The Giver for the first time and was completely blown away by it, and Riddley Walker (which EVERYONE SHOULD READ STARTING RIGHT NOW. I’M SERIOUS. READY STEADY GO!) is still one of my favorite novels of all time, so, who knows? I put it down when I realized that I just didn’t care. While I can appreciate the message of loving yourself the way you are and not, you know, submitting teenagers to compulsory plastic surgery, I didn’t feel like it brought anything particularly new or interesting to the table.

The Old Kingdom Trilogy, by Garth Nix:

Whoa. Whoa whoa whoa. How did I not read these before? I want to go back in time and give these to twelve-year-old Mia so that she can spend less time idealizing vampires (yeah, that’s right, I was ahead of the trend by ten years, bitches!) and more time idealizing CRAZY AWESOME NECROMANCERS. Sabriel and Lirael are two of the bad-assin’-est main characters I’ve read about in years! And that’s saying something, because I recently read The Hunger Games and Catching Fire in two consecutive days. Forget Katniss, give me the Abhorsen! Although I have to admit that, at the beginning of her titular novel, Lirael was cracking me the heck up with her mopey-teenager-turned-up-to-11 behavior. NOBODY UNDERSTANDS ME, NOBODY LIKES ME, I’M GOING TO THROW MYSELF OFF OF THIS GLACIER. Um, Lirael, if you talked to people and opened yourself up a little bit, maybe it wouldn’t matter so much that you don’t have the Sight like the other Clayr? Then again, maybe she’s a teeny bit justified since she spent her entire life around people who can see the future when she couldn’t. I’m sure if I were a clairvoyant precognative I’d spend most of my waking hours talking about how awesome it was, too. Anyway: it’s got dead spirits, good and evil necromancy, amazing and thorough worldbuilding, a pseudo-England of the WWII era right across the wall from a magic-and-mayhem world, and the Disreputable Dog (oh my god do I love the Disreputable Dog). Good, good stuff. And all the titles have beautifully illustrated covers that capture well the feeling of the Old Kingdom.

What do y’all think? Have you read any of these? What did you think of them? Do you have any quick-fire capital-”O” Opinions on books you’ve read lately? Speak up!

Poem of the Week, “Tropical Death,” Plus Links!

This week I was asked to do the unthinkable. Pick one poem from the 19th, 20th, or 21st century and discuss its rhyme in a class. Just one poem? It was one of the most difficult choices I’ve made all semester. I finally decided on Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art,” but I felt terrible to not be able to share Grace Nichol’s “Tropical Death” or Philip Larkin’s “Wires” (to name but two on my list of ones I love). So, instead of sharing with the class, I will post “Tropical Death” here along with an abridged commentary on why it’s badass, awesome, and beautiful.

Tropical Death
by Grace Nichols

The fat black woman want
a brilliant tropical death
not a cold sojourn
in some North Europe far/forlorn

The fat black woman want
some heat/hibiscus at her feet
blue sea dress
to wrap her neat

The fat black woman want
some bawl
no quiet jerk tear wiping
a polite hearse withdrawal

The fat black woman want
all her dead rights
first night
third night
nine night
all the sleepless droning
red-eyed wake nights

In the heart
of her mother’s sweetbreast
In the shade
of the sun leaf’s cool bless
In the bloom
of her people’s bloodrest

the fat black woman want
a brilliant tropical death yes

What I love about this poem is how carefully wrought it is. Of course, as Jessica recently pointed out, that is true of most of the poetry that I love. This poem takes the idea of a ballad stanza’s rhyme (abab or abcb) and completely subverts it. Most stanzas provide a rhyme with the final line, but the line rhyming with the final one is not consistent throughout the poem. Even the final stanza has a rhyme that closes the stanza, in the uncomfortably close “death yes” phrase. Other awesome things? The way that Nichols controls capitalization of beginning lines. The anaphora in the penultimate stanza. The very Emily Dickinson move of providing two options for the reader to consider (far/forlorn, heat/hibiscus) and choose between (like Dickinson does in her manuscripts!). The incredible assonance and alliteration throughout. The creolization of language without that device driving the poem. ANYWAY. So as to not make this a beast of a post, I shall progress onto the links promised in the post’s title! (More information about Grace Nichols can be found here)

Recently, I’ve found some neat ways to indulge in poetry in a scheduled way!

Poetry Foundation offers a poem of the day, via a podcast! It’s great. If you subscribe to it with google reader, or some similar RSS apparatus, you can look at the old ones… I spent a good two hours this weekend combing through and finding exciting things (Charles Wright and Wallace Stevens reading their own poems to name a few). http://www.poetryfoundation.org/features/audiolanding

Poems of the day, for the eye rather than the ear, are also available through poetry daily (http://poems.com/) and through verse daily (http://www.versedaily.org/).

Last, but not least! Daily Lit offered a few neat things during national poetry month, and you can still enjoy them! Two books I am currently subscribed to are the Farrar, Straus and Giroux Featured Poets (http://www.dailylit.com/authors/farrar-straus-and-giroux) and the Knopf Poem-a-Day Collection (http://www.dailylit.com/books/poem-a-day-collection).

In other news, Jessica’s poem of the week was an imposter!!