Friday, April 30, 2010

Clerihew of a Sonneteer


Thomas Wyatt,
Craving quiet,
Bade love farewell
From a prison cell.

Daily Dose

From The Renaissance, edited by Robert Whitney Bolwell


"Weep not, my wanton, smile upon my knee,
When thou art old there's grief enough for thee."

From Menaphon, by Robert Greene

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Cornish Clerihew


Alfred Corn
Met with scorn
Any intimation
Of imitation.

Daily Dose

From Poems, by Amelia Opie


"Yes, Mary Ann, I freely grant,
The charms of Henry's eyes I see;
But while I gaze, I something want,
I want those eyes -- to gaze on me.

And I allow, in Henry's heart
Not Envy's self a fault can see:
Yet still I must one wish impart,
I wish that heart -- to sigh for me."

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Snap of Tonight's Reading

Thanks for this photo to Matthew, and to everyone in the crowd tonight, specially those good souls who stood at the back, for coming out for 84, Charing Cross Road!

Pictured here are Pam Cady and the other one.

I am, even now, trying to upload a video of tonight's reading to Youtube. Evidently, experience is now only to be had in segments
of no more than ten minutes each, so this will take me some time. Please be patient. I will try.

And again, thanks to everyone who came out tonight, to my dear friend, boss, coworker and fellow reader, Pam, to Anna from Events, who is the only reason we were able to do this, to the friends who called to cheer me on today, and finally, in the words of Helene Hanff, "to anyone else who knows me."

Daily Dose

From The Town Down the River, by Edward Arlington Robinson


Miniver Cheevy, child of scorn,

Grew lean while he assailed the seasons;

He wept that he was ever born,

And he had reasons.

Miniver loved the days of old

When swords were bright and steeds were prancing;

The vision of a warrior bold

Would set him dancing.

Miniver sighed for what was not,

And dreamed, and rested from his labors;

He dreamed of Thebes and Camelot,

And Priam's neighbors.

Minever mourned the ripe renown

That made so many a name so fragrant;

He mourned Romance, now on the town,

And Art, a vagrant.

Minever loved the Medici,

Albeit he had never seen one;

He would have sinned incessantly

Could he have been one.

Miniver cursed the commonplace

And eyed a khaki suit with loathing;

He missed the mediæval grace

Of iron clothing.

Miniver scorned the gold he sought,

But sore annoyed was he without it;

Miniver thought, and thought, and thought,

And thought about it.

Miniver Cheevy, born too late,

Scratched his head and kept on thinking;

Miniver coughed, and called it fate,

And kept on drinking.

E.A. Robinson

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Brief Scene from Our Last Rehearsal

A short, and unintentionally muffed, not to say, on my part at least, still unpolished bit of 84, Charing Cross Road, by Helene Hanff, as read by two Seattle booksellers, in celebration of the 40th Anniversary of the book's initial publication. If you wish to see more, and better, please join us tomorrow night, Wednesday, April 28th, at 7PM, at The University Book Store, Seattle.

Daily Dose

From Imaginary Conversations, by Walter Savage Landor

"There are no fields of amaranth on this side of the grave: there are no voices, O Rhodopè! that are not soon mute, however tuneful: there is no name, with whatever emphasis of passionate love repeated, of which the echo is not faint at last."

From Aesop and Rhodopè

Monday, April 26, 2010

Snapshots from Rehearsal for 84, Charing Cross Road

Here then, some pictures from our last rehearsal of 84, Charing Cross Road. The only remaining difficulty we would seem to be having, between the two of us, is the occasional snag on particular runs where we still find ourselves stumbling now and then, dear P. because she reads so quick and bright, and me because I've gone too plumy and let myself drawl into a kind of twitish mumble. Then we giggle. Can't have that sort of thing. Here's hoping I don't let the dear woman down too badly, come the night of.
Luckily, as neither of us is the young actor we once fancied we might be, we needn't memorize but only read these letters aloud -- thus our reading copies always on the table before us.
Here we are trying to put back something we took out. Ah, the joys of editing changes and collating unnumbered pages.
Dear P. in full flight, reading Helene Hanff's marvelous letters.
This, in rehearsal, is the kind of improvisation too little talked about. Don't have a paperweight? One more reason to wear clogs.
Finally, The Old Boy mutters movingly into the imaginary microphone -- without once looking up from the page -- and worries still about the time.

Hope to see some of you for the actual event, come Wednesday. (I will be wearing both shoes then.)

And thanks to our photographer, Anna!

Daily Dose

From Songs & Sonnets, by John Donne


" ALL kings, and all their favourites,
All glory of honours, beauties, wits,
The sun it self, which makes time, as they pass,
Is elder by a year now than it was
When thou and I first one another saw.
All other things to their destruction draw,
Only our love hath no decay ;
This no to-morrow hath, nor yesterday ;
Running it never runs from us away,
But truly keeps his first, last, everlasting day.

Two graves must hide thine and my corse ;
If one might, death were no divorce.
Alas ! as well as other princes, we
—Who prince enough in one another be—
Must leave at last in death these eyes and ears,
Oft fed with true oaths, and with sweet salt tears ;
But souls where nothing dwells but love
—All other thoughts being inmates—then shall prove
This or a love increasèd there above,
When bodies to their graves, souls from their graves remove.

And then we shall be throughly blest ;
But now no more than all the rest."

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Busy Old Fool

I once overheard an old friend, not without affection, describe my character to a third party as being comprised of "equal parts indignation and enthusiasm." I've always treasured that characterization, and thought it just, so far as it goes, which has often as not proved to be further than it should. When I was younger, like all young men, I was quick to both, and again like young people generally, I tended to overstate. Nothing I resented could I find other than outrageous, nothing I disliked but I hated it, and nothing and no one I liked but I loved. Books, friends, lovers and enemies all had from me something of the same intensity, received something like the same consideration, and suffered the effect of what another friend of that period described as my "dive and rip" method of getting acquainted. I could not at that period get to know someone but that I wanted and felt I needed to know everything about them: what they thought, what they read, who and what they loved and why. Even with a good new book, I could not read it but then had to read everything about the subject, everything I could find by and about the author, everything and anything that might sustain my interest and extend it to the next book and the next. In just this way I exhausted not just my friends, and a few teachers, but the pawky selection to be had in the little libraries to which I had access at the time. On subjects as diverse as OZ, the American Civil War, Edgar Allen Poe, the mafia, fascism, Daumier's caricatures, Emma Goldman and UFOs, I remember reading my way in turn through every book, encyclopedia entry and article there was to be had in my home town. When I came to serious literature, I attacked fiction in just this same way, convinced that if I meant to appreciate anything, I had to read everything and know whatever there was to know about everything I read. I still think that not a bad way for a young man to read. If history fueled my sense of injustice, and biography gave me heroes, if reading The King James Bible taught me less religion and more about verse than I realized at the time, if reading Twain, curiously enough, made me better prepared when I came to read James to appreciate his humor, it all proved to be a better preparation than much of the little formal education I received for everything that's come after. To a surprising extent, I still read, and live by the light that was kindled in me then by the books I happened on more often than I was handed. I can't quite imagine, looking back, why or how I read what I did, other than to marvel that the day must have had more hours in it when I was a boy than it does now, and I can't help but regret that there were not more adults along the way who might have better directed my interests and guided my reading, to say nothing of my affections and my time, into more productive paths, but nothing I now think did I really waste, and for such help as I had I am grateful.

A commonplace, first in my family and later among my friends, is that I was always old. At least until my beard turned white, it was among the most frequent, and weirdly flattering things said of me that I had always been "at least middle-aged." Now that I am, I know of course that that wasn't true at all. Middle-age, as I'm only now learning, is that stage in life when one comes to recognize one's limitations as irreversible, yet, presumably before old age, at least for those healthy enough to see it through gracefully, has taught the full wisdom of accepting what one doesn't know and what might never be. Indignation, of a rather mild kind, still rises in me at such a suggestion, and enthusiasm, if less likely to ignite and harder to keep alight, still warms at least most of my evenings' reading.

What I do not have now, I see, is that impatience to know something, anything new, that made me read so widely if not well, and that allowed me when I was a boy to be bored without stopping. That is what I think I now miss most. Taking up, for example, a huge new novel on a war in which I never had much interest, I could only manage, even with the best intentions, and in part at least as a duty to the awards committee on which I've agreed to spend another year, perhaps one hundred pages before I flung the thing away. What was I doing, I found myself asking no one but myself tonight, reading this catalogue of criminal stupidity, jungle-rot and futility, when I might instead be reading something, anything else from my nightstand? I can't just this minute imagine that there is anything about this particular war, a war within my memory, that I would wish to know that I don't already, certainly not from the perspective of yet another American veteran. Now that's just an idiotic thing to admit, I know, but so, I suspect, must any middle-aged, civilian reader, born before the end of Napoleon's era, have felt, had they had no unfulfilled curiosity about the siege of Moscow, when confronted by yet another foot soldier's memoirs. No amount of precise, not to say fetishistic detail of uniform, weather, rations and the condition of a soldier's feet, no recreation of maneuvers, however exacting, and no discussion of the politics within the army, could save such a book for such a reader. Perhaps only a Leo Tolstoy, writing well after the death of nearly everyone involved, and to a purpose greater than accurate reportage, could make a masterpiece out of such familiar suffering and carnage. And if this novel's not a masterpiece, or even anything much that's new to me, why am I reading it?

This book, this new book is a novel of a war I already know, a war I remember, a war about which I've already read enough if not too much, or at least too much of this. If I was already reluctantly reading this novel, and already willing to concede that even I could see how good and earnest it author's intentions were, nevertheless tonight I was finally convinced, and forced to admit, that it is indeed not a novel likely to someday find a place next to Tolstoy, or even be ranked as being by the James Jones of the Vietnam Conflict, and so... to Hell with it. This may not then be a bad novel -- and there have certainly been enough people whose opinion I respect who have encouraged me to think it a good book and worth reading -- but nevertheless, I simply do not want to read another word of the damned thing tonight.

And that, my friends, is a middle-aged man's confession. I can work up neither the indignation nor the enthusiasm to read another word. Maybe there is something in this new book I don't know and need to, or at least some story I would be the better for having read. Maybe I'll pick it up off the floor tomorrow and decide to give it another hundred pages to convince me, and maybe I won't.

Tonight though, before bed, I'm going to be reading Donne's Songs and Sonnets, again. War be damned.

Daily Dose

From Greene's Groat's-Worth of Wit, bought with a million of Repentance, by Robert Greene


"What meant the Poets in invective verse,
To sing Medea's shame, and Scylla's pride,
Calypso's charms, by which so many died?
Only for this their vices they rehearse,
That curious wits which in this world converse,
May shun the dangers and enticing shoes,
of such false Sirens, those home-breeding foes,
That from their eyes their venom do disperse.
So soon kills not the Basilisk with sight,
The Viper's tooth is not so venomous,
The Adder's tongue not half so dangerous,
As they that bear the shadow of delight,
Who chain blind youths in trammels of their hair,
Till waste bring woe, and sorrow hast despair."

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Nerveless in Seattle: Reading 84, Charing Cross Road to Friends

Dear P., my fellow reader for Wednesday's event in celebration of the 40th Anniversary of 84, Charing Cross Road, asked me yesterday if I was "nervous, yet." Truth be told, I'm not. In the first place, as she will be doing all the heavy lifting by reading the much longer letters from Helene Hanff to her friend FPD, while I will only be reading the more usually business-like replies from that bookseller, I frankly have less about which to worry. Secondly, I have complete confidence in the material, specially as it will be read by dear P., to amuse and entertain our presumably already sympathetic audience. This reading is of the kind to which one might confidently invite anyone, but count on only those who know the book to show up. There's nothing unhappy in that. When we read Dorothy Parker together, with others from the bookstore, there were in that audience no doubt at least a few people who knew of Dorothy Parker only a stray quote, or who knew her only by her reputation as a wit, if at all. To show that there was more to her than that was one of the pleasures of the evening for all involved. Reading Blake, or Dickens, on the occasions of their birthdays, to the small but enthusiastic audiences that attended either evening, was an opportunity for me, however inadequately, to let people hear the words of two very different kinds of genius read aloud again, possibly in either case, for the first time. Reading selections from Helene Hanff's 84, Charing Cross Road will, I think, be more like a reunion. If one knows the book at all, even if only from the movie made of it, one either already loves the author, her eccentric reading-lists, the story of her friendship with the booksellers at Marks & Co., and the world, now largely past, memorialized therein, or one could not be made to care about such things to begin with.

Helene Hanff would have laughed at the suggestion that her little epistolary memoir deserved a place on the shelf with Dickens and Blake, or even Miss Parker. Hanff spent her working life hacking away, writing television scripts, juvenile history textbooks, occasional journalism; anything and everything in short that might allow her to earn a living as a writer, but with few illusions about the immortality of her efforts. Even the book that, late in life, made her famous was originally undertaken as nothing more than what she hoped might prove to be a salable piece for a magazine. By the time she tried to shape these letters into something, she'd already written an amusing memoir of her time as an unproduced playwright, in Underfoot in Show Business, and she'd seen that book, really her first, and despite a few positive notices, disappear without much notice from the bookstore shelves. Helen Hanff was, most charmingly, a person of few pretensions and few illusions about her own talent. She knew, pretty accurately, based on decades of experience as a professional writer, just what she could and could not do in prose, and just what she might hope to earn, both in wages and reputation, by doing it as best she could.

The happy surprise of course came when her trusted editor, having convinced her that the piece she'd made of her correspondence with the London booksellers was too long for a magazine and too short for a book, then convinced Hanff to put back all the letters she'd taken out and sell the manuscript as a book, possibly "for the Christmas season." First published by a very small house, Hanff's little book acquired first a cult, and then a major publisher, neither of which the author had anticipated. Eventually, after first a television adaptation, then two sequels and movie, stage and radio adaptations, what had surprised her by becoming a cult, even more surprisingly, became the means by which Helene Hanff finally got to see England, live in comparative comfort for the first time in her life and see her name on a plaque on a wall in the beloved street from which all her beloved books came.

It is as much this unlikely story as the book itself that has made 84, Charing Cross Road such a part of so many bookish lives. To know the story, one must read Hanff's books. To read even just this one, one must already love old books and old bookstores, and thus already be ripe for conversion. The cult, for such it still is, lives on, now more than a decade after the author's death. In offering a reading to mark the 40th Anniversary of the book's initial publication, we may be confident that most, if not all of those in attendance will already be members. Those who aren't, those who come to us only out of curiosity or as a kindness to the participants, will not necessarily be converted by what they hear. Like all true conversions, belief must come from personal experience, and sympathies already engaged in the search for like-minded souls. There is nothing in the letters we will read that will convince anyone not already so disposed to love this book as we do, but for those that do, we will then provide only another occasion to say so, and be among friends.

So how then could I be nervous about this reading? We already know just what, and who to expect.

Daily Dose

From Essays and Marginalia, and Poems, by Hartley Coleridge


"Full well I know — my friends — ye look on me
A living specter of my Father dead —
Had I not bourne his name, had I not fed
On him, as one leaf trembling on a tree,
A woeful waste had been my minstrelsy —
Yet have I sung of maidens newly wed
And I have wished that hearts too sharply bled
Should throb with less of pain, and heave more free
By my endeavor. Still alone I sit
Counting each thought as miser counts a penny,
Wishing to spend my pennyworth of wit
On antic wheel of fortune like a zany:
You love me for my sire, to you unknown,
Revere me for his sake, and love me for my own."

Friday, April 23, 2010

Clerihew of His Other Half


Coventry Patmore's spouse,
"The Angel of the House,"
Does not seem such a sun-ray
In her portrait by Millais.

A Gentleman's Clerihew


Coventry Patmore
Found when he sat for
His portrait by Sargent,
That out his cigar went.

Daily Dose

From The Angel in the House, by Coventry Patmore


"For joy of her he cannot sleep;
Her beauty haunts him all the night;
It melts his heart, it makes him weep
For wonder, worship, and delight."

From Canto III, Honoria, Preludes 1, The Lover

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Necropoetic Clerihew


D. G. Rossetti
Was so upset he
Buried all his poems, with his late wife,
(But then dug them up, in later life.)

A Stranger Doodle

An unlikely fellow reader of one of the few blogs I visit every day, and yet, he might explain some things I've read in the "comments," on The Slog.

Daily Dose

From Herbert: Poems, by George Herbert


"WHY do I languish thus, drooping and dull,
As if I were all earth ?
O give me quicknesse, that I may with mirth
Praise thee brim-full !

The wanton lover in a curious strain
Can praise his fairest fair ;
And with quaint metaphors her curled hair
Curl o’re again :

Thou are my lovelinesse, my life, my light,
Beautie alone to me :
Thy bloudy death and undeserv’d, makes thee
Pure red and white.

When all perfections as but one appeare,
That those thy form doth show,
The very dust, where thou dost tread and go
Makes beauties here ;

Where are my lines then ? my approaches ? views ?
Where are my window-songs ?
Lovers are still pretending, and ev’n wrongs
Sharpen their Muse.

But I am lost in flesh, whose sugred lyes
Still mock me and grow bold :
Sure thou didst put a minde there, if I could
Finde where it lies.

Lord, cleare thy gift, that with a constant wit
I may but look towards thee :
Look onely ; for to love thee, who can be,
What angel fit ?"

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A (College) Bookstore Doodle

Daily Dose

From Such Nonsense! An Anthology, by Carolyn Wells


"A cow of purple is a joy forever.
It's loveliness increases. I have never
Seen this phenomenon. Yet ever keep
A brave lookout; lest I should be asleep
When she comes by. For, though I would not be one,
I've oft imagined 'twould be a joy to see one."

By Carolyn Wells

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Caricature

The title piece in this superb new collection I first read, I think, either in The New Yorker, or in an anthology of the best crime writing, the year it was published. Wherever I read it, I will never forget it. It is a fascinating story, and a brilliant piece of true crime writing. Seeing that this new book, The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession, did in fact contain the piece I remembered, I took it with me to lunch today and read another, about a Polish detective, using a post-modern novel to convict a murderer. Since I brought my copy home, even as I tried to clean the house tonight and do laundry, I've read three more pieces from the collection. Can't help myself. They are are all amazingly good.

So, I take a few minutes out from folding fitted-sheets -- and who really wants to be doing that? -- to pay a small tribute to David Grann, a crime journalist of the first rank, and a writer of great skill.

Read this book!

(And now to fold pillowcases, and read "Crimetown, USA," before bed. Can't imagine I'll be able to sleep until I do.)

Daily Dose

From Later Essays: 1917 - 1920, by Austin Dobson



This text is not what it should be.
There are some strange mistakes I see
I must have missed. For who, right-witted,
Would dream of putting 'filled' for 'fitted'?
Or 'light' for 'tight'? Or 'sleep' for 'steep'?
Such things would make the angels weep.


That is so. Still they do occur
To the most proved artificer.
You must have failed to cross your 't's':
GENIUS is prone to that disease!


True. (And sometimes, by accident,
The blunder betters what was meant!)
But tell me. What is my position?
Correction? In a new edition?
-- Those 'new editions' have a knack
Unluckily, of holding back...


That is because men take more pains
To feed their bodies than their brains;
Or else because they really care
For little save the lighter fare;
And then -- though this is poor relief --
The life of modern books is brief.
We'll paste in an 'Errata' slip...


Which none will look at but to skip.
No: the misfortune must be gulped,
Until the masterpiece is... pulped.

From A Casual Causerie

Monday, April 19, 2010

Helene Hanff's Book Shelf

Here then are the fruits of our reprinting project, some of the books from 84, Charing Cross Road reprinted using the bookstore's new Espresso Book Machine! The 40th Anniversary of the book's publication inspired us to host a reading at the bookstore on the 28th, at 7PM. In addition to having Hanff's own book, and the in-print books mentioned, for the night of the reading, we decided to reprint as many of the out-of-print titles Helene Hanff ordered from Marks & Co. as possible.

It took a bit of doing, finding even these. Despite the new technology available to us, and the ongoing efforts of Google books to scan and make available every book in the world, there are still titles and editions that either have yet to come online, or that are still only available in very expensive reprints. This was disappointing -- though it does rather support the argument that traditionally published books, new and used, and the booksellers who make them available to collectors and readers, are by no means yet obsolete. Nevertheless, we have succeeded beyond at least my own imaginings, in being able to reconstruct something of Hanff's own library and offer these same books for sale at reasonable prices. That to me seems enough of a triumph for now.

Hanff read the kind of books unlikely to ever have been all in one bookstore at one time, as her correspondence with Frank Doel and the others in the shop over roughly thirty years makes clear. To say that the luck of such a reader has not much improved in the intervening decades would be to understate the case.

But to my mind, that is exactly the justification for the bookstore having invested in Homer, our remarkable new Espresso Book Machine. As a money making proposition, this very expensive bit of machinery will not be paying for itself anytime soon. However, that having been understood before the investment was made, no one reasonably expects Homer to pay his way. Instead, now having the means to print "on demand," the bookstore can publish attractive and affordable paperback editions of individual, out-of-print title-requests for customers, runs of self-published local authors, academic publications for the university community, and just about any other book on a pdf sent to us. All of that sort of thing is already going, and generating a modest profit. All to the good. The EBM will liberate local authors and historians and the like from their dependence on often exploitative "vanity presses," allow the bookstore to carry and sell books with a more modest audience, and help to re-establish the local, independent bookseller as a publisher for the community. But it is as a means to the end of again making available to any who might want one of the thousands, if not yet millions of out-of-print books by good and even great writers of the past, that I've come to admire this new technology most.

Now, in addition to my own somewhat eccentric needs as a reader, for the first time, as a bookseller, I am in a position to see that the bookstore need never again be without an affordable paperback copy of Walton's Lives, to take just one example from Hanff's library.

Helene Hanff waited two years or more to get her copy. Even the library hadn't one for her to read! From this classic book of biography, Hanff was able to not only read contemporary accounts of such 17th Century luminaries as George Herbert, Richard Hooker and John Donne, but to profit in a most unusual way from her reading. At the time she had been writing for television for a few years, but the series she wrote was eventually canceled. Not all that long after though, she sold a television script, to The Hallmark Hall of Fame, based on the story of John Donne's elopement with his boss's daughter, a story she first encountered in Izaak Walton's book! (How I wish someone would locate and post that broadcast on the Internet! I would dearly love to see it.)

Like so many of the wonderful books mentioned in 84, Charing Cross Road, any reader now looking for tWalton's book would have something very like the same difficulty in getting it that Helene Hanff did, or they would have, had the bookstore not been able to reprint a copy in roughly twenty minutes on the EBM!

I'm not usually this prone to exclamation marks -- please note == but just now, looking at this marvelous stack of some of the greatest names in English literature, all of them again available to be sold, to be read, to be owned! by even someone with an income as modest as mine... well, what's to do but exclaim:


Welcome back, Izaak.

Daily Dose

From A Book of Sonnets, edited by Robert Nye


"How many paltry foolish painted things,
That now in coaches trouble every street,
Shall be forgotten, whom no poet sings,
Ere they be well wrapped in their winding-sheet!
Where I to thee eternity shall give,
When nothing else remaineth of these days,
And queens hereafter shall be glad to live
Upon the alms of thy superfluous praise.
Virgins and matrons, reading these my rhymes,
Shall be so much delighted with thy story
That they shall grieve they lived not in these times,
To have seen thee, their sex's only glory:
So shalt thou fly above the vulgar throng,
Still to survive in my immortal song."

By Michael Drayton

Sunday, April 18, 2010

2 Poems from Yvor Winters

It's interesting, isn't it? how few people -- adult, or better say middle-aged, middle-class people anyway -- will say of themselves that they don't read books at all, even now, when there would seem to be little stigma still attached to the abandonment of literacy. Most, if pressed, will talk of never having time to read, of wishing they did, etc., etc. Gives me hope, that embarrassment. It suggests that they know better, doesn't it?

One of the reasons I've heard most often from people who say they don't or can't read poetry is that poetry requires some special knowledge; that to enjoy poetry, one has to understand the forms, to have been educated about things like mythology, to know the names of flowers and plants, to know what and who to read. Poetry, the reading of it if not the writing, in the popular imagination nowadays, is such a specialized hobby that even people who read prose in great variety and even depth, have somehow been made to feel that there is more effort required than satisfaction to be found in poetry.

I know that I was taught badly and that it wasn't until I was well away from school that I found teachers, friends, in books and elsewhere, to tell me that none of that is so. I grew up in a place where books were not read much, were discussed not at all, and where reading, though a part of daily life, in newspapers and letters and in practical ways, was left largely to old women. So If we must concede that there are, always have been and always will be, people for whom books mean less than books mean to those of us who cannot, who refuse to imagine life without them, that there are people in fact for whom books mean nothing, I can accept that. Makes me sad, but I know it's true. What I have trouble with is the acceptance, even among my friends in the book business, or who work in libraries, or publishing, of this embarrassingly widespread mistake that poetry is nothing much to do with them, that it survives independent of their reluctance to read it, and that those somehow better suited to it might be left to see to it themselves. To my mind, selling or lending computer manuals or books of wedding etiquette requires of the bookseller or the librarian nothing more than sufficient shelf-space. To sell or lend poetry, it seems, for most of us, comes to the same thing, but that isn't true.

Just as I had to learn that poetry was not all dull classroom kerfuffle: forced adolescent mumbling, ill-educated chalk charts and "AABBAA," so I think those of us at least who sell the stuff might sample our wares with less reluctance if we understood that when we address a customer, a customer either eager or reluctant to buy a book of poetry, it is not enough to admit our ignorance, and that our embarrassment doesn't quite cover the sin. That we ought to know better is not enough, because we have the books right there, whole shelves of them, and unlike, say, a manual of carpentry, which besides being deadly dull to me would also be incomprehensible, the subject of poetry is the same as the books we do read. The subject of poetry, all poetry, is no less accessible for not being in prose. And the way of poetry is not nearly so thorny and rough as we've foolishly been led to believe. Honestly, it ain't.

Here then, a case in point. I came to read Yvor Winters because his selected poems appeared in the American Poets Project series, from The Library of America. I've enjoyed this series, and I've mentioned it often here. The books are uniformly attractive, well edited, well made, and neither intimidating nor difficult to come by. The volume of Winters' poems was selected and edited by Thom Gunn, a poet I already loved, himself one of Winters' many pupils. Yvor Winters received his doctorate from, and then taught at Stanford University for many years. Among his more famous students, besides Gunn, were Donald Hall, N. Scott Momaday, Robert Pinsky, John Matthias, and Robert Hass. They would all seem to have liked and respected the man, both as a teacher and as a poet. That's impressive. Winters actually wrote comparatively little in his 68 years, but the little he did produce is uniformly recognized by knowledgeable critics as having been among the best of his time. I trust a writer for whom infrequent composition and publication was less a matter of reluctance or insecurity than perfectionism; I may confidently read whatever I find. Finally, Gunn's brief introduction to the little American Poets Project volume was enough to reassure me that despite a fair discussion of such things as Augustan style and the rejection of modernism in favor of traditional forms, that in the poems themselves I might as easily read without knowing any of that as otherwise. It was helpful, learning something of why and how Winters wrote as he did, and that he trained and loved Airdales, but, as Gunn says:

"What should be emphasized about Winters' poetry is that the leash and the training were never more important than the animal itself. Far from conservative politically, he knew that good poetry is more than a matter of simple good manners. The life of poetry is not just contained but is defined by its form."

So how does that last statement support my argument that anyone can and should read Yvor Winters' poems? Because that is the secret of reading good poetry, I've found, that it is in the reading that the form is made clear, that it is in reading a good poem that one's curiosity about not just the poem itself, its subject and its music are first and best explained, but that it is from that satisfaction comes the curiosity to read more, to read other poems, other poets, like and unlike the poem already pleasing, and that from reading poetry comes the curiosity to understand the way in which it was written and why, and not the other way 'round.

The two poems I've read here, in their very different ways, are not only representative of Yvor Winters, but also of what poetry can do that prose either can't or would take much longer in the doing. The first is a perfect example of why even a title dependent on at least a passing acquaintance with classical mythology need be no barrier to the enjoyment of a poem. Don't know the story of "Apollo and Daphne"? Well, look that up later, in Bulfinch, or Graves, or if you must, just Google it. For now though, just listen to the way Winters, even in my less than happy reading of his sinuous long lines, moves the fire and traps it in "Time's slow agony," how, in those last two stately lines, he captures the whole mystery, and tragedy, of the supernatural. In the title of the second poem, "On Rereading a Passage from John Muir," Winters tells at least those of us as bookish as we are appreciative of nature, all we need to know about what's happening in the poem, and we can sense the poet talking to us much more conversationally about something we might have thought ourselves, once or twice, on a walk outside. But listen how simply and beautifully, and with what economy and dignity, Yvor Winters says in this poem what it would have taken me even longer to say than it has to introduce the poet here!

In going on this way rather than just posting these two short poems as I read them aloud last night and tonight, my idea was not just to share the poems themselves, or to encourage others to read them for themselves, or to read them better aloud than I've done, but also to address directly my friends, fellow booksellers, and committee members, my coworkers, and my fellow prose readers, and give us all an excuse, during National Poetry Month, to try something that may be new to most of us: to pick up one of those poetry books that we sell, to go sit in some comfortable chair for a night or two, for an hour or two, and just read a poem out loud. Read something familiar or not. Read aloud, and listen, and worry about metre and myths and history and voice -- yours and the poet's -- later. Go on, get past that reluctance that is really just, for most of us, the remembered embarrassment of stumbling through a reading of Romeo and Juliet in a freshman English class all those years ago.

If you read, you ought to read what is good, at least now and then, and poetry is the best of what can be done with words. And if, like me, you earn your living selling books, and you sell so much as a single slim volume of poems, you really haven't any excuse for not knowing better. You do know better. It's National Poetry Month, for heaven's sake, so don't just print up a little sign and make a short stack of Mary Oliver on the counter! Be brave. Read a poem! Read Yvor Winters!

Daily Dose

From Yvor Winters: Selected Poems, edited by Thom Gunn


"Hard, oily,
your trunk,

black serpent,
with your weight of gold --

great strength
against Time,

in angry pride
you hold out
lacquered life

the classic leaf."

Saturday, April 17, 2010

A Sonnet Cycle by Arthur Hugh Clough

Daily Dose

From The Poetic Works of William Cullen Bryant


"Away! I will not be, to-day,
The only slave of toil and care.
Away from desk and dust! away!
I'll be as idle as the air."

from A Summer Ramble

Friday, April 16, 2010

Doodle Matrons

Daily Dose

From Doggerel: Poems About Dogs, Selected and edited by Carmela Ciuraru


"I am his Highness' dog at Kew;
Pray tell me, Sir, whose dog are you?"

-- Alexander Pope

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Doodle Profile

A Doodle Profile

Daily Dose

From Dogerel: Poems About Dogs, Selected and edited by Carmela Ciuraru


"Pray steal me not; I'm Mrs. Dingley's
Whose heart in this foor-footed thing lies."

-- Jonathan Swift

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Clerihew of a Noble Spinster


Until her mother died,
She never left her side.
Unmarried, therefore
Was Marianne Moore.

Clerihew for Clumsy Lovers


Anyone who's been humbled
By the fucking they've fumbled
Will find just such events in
The love poems of May Swenson.

National Poultry Month #3

Daily Dose

From Collected Poems, by Alexander Pope


"'T is a phrase absurd to call a villain great:
Who wickedly is wise, or madly brave,
Is but the more a fool, the more a knave.
Who noble ends by noble means obtains,
Or, failing, smiles in exile or in chains,
Like good Aurelius let him reign, or bleed
Like Socrates, that man is great indeed."

From the Essay on Man

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A Brief Note on National Poultry Month

A simple slip of the tongue, one year ago, April, and a doodle marathon ensued. National Poultry Month was born. (Now, there may actually be a National Poultry Month. I'm sure there must be. But ours is all about puns & doodles and such, not domesticated fowls and whatever agricultural lobby may have slipped congress a few bucks to put chickens onto the congressional agenda. If anybody out there celebrates so much as National Chicken Salad Day, let me know. I'm all for more national holidays.)

I assumed that these all got tossed at some point last year, and then, just today, I found them at the information desk, all bundled with a paperclip. Glad to say that National Poultry Month lives to cluck another day.

This constitutes perhaps the fastest, silliest doodle series in the bookstore's long and illustrious history of doodles. Hope you enjoy. Groan away.

National Poultry Month #2