Night-Song

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Night-Song

A life swirls away day by day; it swifts away into a drain
of calendared days where only the night’s light
brings bird-songs–remembered trills coming from unknown
places, warbling from down there somewhere.

Somewhere where memories are the pitch pipe
for the choir. And the choir! Oh the remembered faces!
Unseen for a calendar of time, it rehearses for the underworld
premiere without me: but then I’m only to be a walk-on.

Up here in life, I’m still circling the drain, taking an occasional
peek into the cellar through the prism of a beating heart.
A life ticks off another day, until the starry night-song
begins again to keep regular time.

M L S Baisch © 2017

Photo: Art by Jacqueline van Leeuwenstein

Book Spine Poetry

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Well, winter is over for sure. It’s definitely spring! Among other things, that means that I have piles and piles, stacks and stacks of books! They’re all over the place–on most every surface. I’m a reader. I buy them–on line and in book stores; I reread from things I keep on my shelves; I read for pleasure, for relaxation, for information, and probably out of habit: I just love to read.

I don’t know if you’ve heard of Nina Katchadourian. She’s an artist of an unusual stripe. And, I don’t know where or when, but she’s who introduced me to the concept of BOOK SPINE POETRY. So every time I get ready to actually make sense of my bookshelves that have been piled high, sort of in the order I’ve read them (no I don’t always read every single one from beginning to end when I take it from the shelf–some I do, some I eventually do, some I never so, and some just were never meant to be read that way in the first place).

BOOK SPINE POETRY, is simple. Interesting, too, because it reminds me what I’ve been thinking over the past months. These books are all on a chest close to where I read the most: in bed.

THE BAD BEGINNING
THE REPTILE ROOM
THE WIDE WINDOW
THE PEOPLE IN THE TREES
THE LIFE AND OPINION OF THE TOMCAT MURR
STORIES-ANTON CHEKHOV
CHEKHOV-THE EVOLUTION OF HIS ART
CHEKHOV-THE COMPLETE PLAYS
THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS
ANTON CHEKHOV-(A BIOGRAPHY)

Sometimes the spines read like poetry all by themselves–sort of like the refrigerator magnets where one can simply juxtaposition words. This pile, not so much.

I’ll make it a poem:

From a bad beginning
the reptile room could be seen
through the wide window,
where people in the trees frowned
at the antics of Tomcat Murr.
His life and opinions were like stories
out of Anton Chekhov.
The evolution of his art seems
like complete plays on his words
when told by the kindness of strangers.
Taken altogether: a biography complete!

Ooooo. What was I doing with these books. Well the top 3 are all Lemony Snicket books–I was looking at them for form, primarily: how they were put together. And I also re-read the first book, and dipped into the other two. I remembered that the form was interesting and wanted to take another look. One thing I’d forgotten was that the Snicket series includes definitions of words as part of the story.

The People in the Trees I keep picking up and putting down. It’s interesting, but not as interesting as other things.

Tomcat Murr came off my shelf when a friend asked me if I knew about it. It’s another book that is worth a look ever so often to remember its form. As a writer, form is always important. (Another book I re-read for form this winter is Olive Kitteridge. It made it to a stack in another room.)

Tennessee Williams is one of a group of genius writers, often expatriate, coming out of WWII. They’re all worth reading. It’s said by many that TW was the best of them. There’s much of his work I haven’t read: I’m catching up. My favorite of the group is Capote, actually: Capote writing before he wrote In Cold Blood.

Then there are the three Chekhov books–one about him as an evolving writer/artist, his plays (I’ve read more of his stories than plays and wanted to do something about that), and a good biography (most important if you want to understand a writer).

My reading life has come to have its own celebration of sort. It’s a fun ritual as I take down my stacks to make a library sort of sense of them again; shelve them in sensible categories.

Just for fun, I’m including the rest of my stacks from this chest. It was a long winter.

My love of children’s’ literature and fantasy is apparent. Some books that are notably missing, probably the ones I spent the most time reading are McCullough’s Masters of Rome series. Why not on the chest? Well, they’re actually ON THE BED. I’m re-reading them for the umpteenth time. This morning I asked myself why I kept re-reading those books, and I was able to answer myself once I decided to put it down on paper: it’s complicated, but there are reasons.

M L S Baisch

3/18/2017

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How To Be A Poet

Wendell Berry (Photograph: Guy Mendes)

Wendell Berry (Photograph: Guy Mendes)

HOW TO BE A POET

(to remind myself)

Make a place to sit down.

Sit down. Be quiet.

You must depend upon

affection, reading, knowledge,

skill – more of each

than you have – inspiration,

work, growing older, patience,

for patience joins time

to eternity. Any readers

who like your poems,

doubt their judgment.

Breathe with unconditional breath

the unconditioned air.

Shun electric wire.

Communicate slowly. Live

a three-dimensioned life;

stay away from screens.

Stay away from anything

that obscures the place it is in.

There are no unsacred places;

there are only sacred places

and desecrated places.

Accept what comes from silence.

Make the best you can of it.

Of the little words that come

out of the silence, like prayers

prayed back to the one who prays,

make a poem that does not disturb

the silence from which it came.

                                                  – Wendell Berry

There is power in silence. It’s not easy to learn to be still, but once done, the power of silence and stillness brings about a self-refinement that turns the world inside-out. Inside-out is, of course, that place where artists live. But ordinary people are also welcome.

M L S Baisch

What do you think about poetry for kids?

Readers become Writers

Readers become Writers

I for one, think it’s great! Children’s verse tends to be of the rhyming kind, which sort of rolls around on your tongue and has a good time. What a fun way to introduce language–make it sound good and feel good; make it play. It’s also short. Most young kids’ books are picture books–sort of the old-fashioned interactive variety that allows you to have a discussion about what’s going on!

On the other hand, it’s indisputable that many–even most–of the old nursery rhymes are fairly violent, sad, and fearsome.

  • Old Mother Hubbard couldn’t feed her children.
  • Little Miss Muffet was frightened by a spider.
  • Humpty Dumpty fell and completely broke himself.
  • Jack and Jill did about the same thing.
  • There was a witch that wanted to eat Hansel. (Hansel and Gretel)
  • Trolls wanted to eat the three billy goats; and even though they didn’t, the billy goat’s revenge was to poke the trolls eyes out.

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There are some newer forms of poetry for kids, but they’re mostly scary too.

Here’s an excerpt from ‘What If’ by Shell Silverstein—who writes wonderful poetry books for kids.

Last night while I lay thinking here
Some Whatifs crawled inside my ear
And pranced and partied all night long
And sang their same old Whatif song:

Whatif I flunk that test?
Whatif green hair grows on my chest?
Whatif nobody likes me?
Whatif a bolt of lightning strikes me?…

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What’s a mother/father/aunt.uncle/grandmother/grandfather . . . to do?

First, in my opinion every child should know the basics, and that actually includes these wonderful rhymes where horrible things happen. As a child, I somehow enjoyed them without being scarred for life and, in fact, it didn’t even occur to me to be horrified, frightened, or even upset. In fact, having these nightmarish events played out on the page rather made me feel secure. After all, I wasn’t there. I was just someone looking on. And the pictures were nice. And the words rhymed.

No one moralized about the message. That’s probably a good idea. Kids don’t need an explanation about things they don’t yet understand. Someday they’ll get the point. When that time comes, they’ll remember the words and the rhyme will take on a new meaning.

Kids actually like scary things, especially when they’re quite safe themselves. Halloween for instance. Swinging high up in the air and holding on tight.

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Now, if you find yourself thinking that you don’t want your kids exposed to the classics, you have an alternative! Dr. Seuss is almost 100% positive. Not quite, but almost. ‘Green Eggs and Ham’ is all about negatives. Sam doesn’t like much of anything–going, coming, eating, anything. But most of Dr. Seuss has a positive orientation like this excerpt from ‘Oh, the Places You’ll Go.’

And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)

KID, YOU’LL MOVE MOUNTAINS!

So…
be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray
or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O’Shea,
you’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So…get on your way!

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The message of course is READ TO YOUR KIDS before they can read to themselves. Lots of books: picture books, poems that rhyme. Your kids will grow up loving to read, and reading is the foundation for every sort of learning there is.

by Mona L Spaulding Baisch

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photo credit: The drawing is my own