Thoughts on “Variations on a Theme” by Kenneth Koch

Yesterday I talked about what is probably my favorite William Carlos Williams poem, “This is Just to Say.” Today I have another remix of that poem, this time somewhat more famous than the one I wrote.

Variations On A Theme By William Carlos Williams

I chopped down the house that you had been saving to live in next summer.
I am sorry, but it was morning, and I had nothing to do
and its wooden beams were so inviting.
We laughed at the hollyhocks together
and then I sprayed them with lye.
Forgive me. I simply do not know what I am doing.
I gave away the money that you had been saving to live on for the
next ten years.
The man who asked for it was shabby
and the firm March wind on the porch was so juicy and cold.
Last evening we went dancing and I broke your leg.
Forgive me. I was clumsy and
I wanted you here in the wards, where I am the doctor!

(Full text thanks to poemhunter.)

This poem is a riff on “This is Just to Say” which presents not one but four different ways that poem might have gone. I’m hard pressed to pick a favorite stanza since they are all so clever and work so well together.

I read this poem during either my modern poetry class in college or my advanced poetry writing class. I took them the same semester, with the same professor, and largely with the same students so the courses blend together. I didn’t make the connection before but this poem was probably in my mind when I wrote one of my own later that same year. (I thought I had seven different poems but it actually turned out to be seven parts of one poem that would ultimately be eight parts.)

Koch also pokes a bit of fun at Williams in the final part because Williams himself was also a poet and a doctor–this also comes up in Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein so you can see why I scheduled that post for April and why it’s coming up this week. I’m not entirely on board with that last exclamation point but since I didn’t write this particular poem it is, of course, not my decision to make.

I will leave you with one of my favorite web comic of all time which also gives a nod to the inimitable William Carlos Williams:

Thoughts on “This is Just to Say” by William Carlos Williams and a tribute

I’ve been waiting to write this post since February 10.

It all starts with one of my favorite and one of the most deceptively simple poems around:

This is Just to Say by William Carlos Williams

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox
and which
you were probably
for breakfast
Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold
What could have been two sentences becomes, in Williams’ hands an iconic piece of modern poetry. It’s hard to articulate why but this poem has always stayed with me. So much so that in February (when it was freezing) I decided to riff on the poem in a tweet. Here’s the result.
This is Just to Say by Emma Carbone
I have stolen
the blanket
that was in
the closet
and which
you will probably
Forgive me.
It’s so warm.
I am so miserable
and so cold.
Granted I’m only working in Williams’ framework, but I think it’s a pretty good riff on the original–especially considering I wrote it from memory in one tweet. This also leads me to conclude that William Carlos Williams would have been all over Twitter.
Check back tomorrow for a post on some other remixes of This is Just to Say.

Week in Review: April 20


This week on the blog you can check out:

I went to Jenny Han’s launch for To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. It was fabulous. And Jenny is super nice and adorable (and recognized me from my goodreads/twitter photo!). I’m really glad I went and dragged Nicole along (and got to see some former coworkers to boot).


Thoughts on “When they come back — if blossoms do” by Emily Dickinson

“When they come back — if blossoms do” (#1080) by Emily Dickinson
When they come back — if Blossoms do –
I always feel a doubt
If Blossoms can be born again
When once the Art is out –
When they begin, if Robins may,
I always had a fear
I did not tell, it was their last Experiment
Last Year,
When it is May, if May return,
Had nobody a pang
Lest in a Face so beautiful
He might not look again?
If I am there — One does not know
What Party — One may be
Tomorrow, but if I am there
I take back all I say –

Full text courtesy of RepeatAfterUs

Emily Dickinson’s poems are lovely. This one always reminds me of spring because of the obvious imagery. But I also like the undercurrent of doubt and malaise brought on by the narrator’s doubts. What if this is it? is a scary question that many people face. And this poem addresses that in the thoughtful, nuanced way one would expect from Dickinson.

My favorite stanza is the last. And I especially like the last line. We all have doubts, but if they are proven false, the narrator is willing to admit that. I’ve always thought this poem was extremely optimistic and found myself thinking about it a lot recently so I decided today was a good day to share it.

Tiger Eyes: A Rapid Fire Review

Tiger Eyes by Judy BlumeTiger Eyes by Judy Blume (1981)

Davey’s whole life is falling apart. Her father was shot in a holdup. Her family is broken. And worse, her mother is taking Davey and her little brother all the way from home to visit relatives in New Mexico while they recover.

Davey doesn’t want to recover.

But New Mexico works its own kind of magic on Davey and her family. Wandering the desert landscape Davey meets a mysterious boy called “Wolf” with his own secrets and his own reasons for understanding Davey’s sad eyes. With his help, maybe Davey can finally move on.

So Judy Blume is obviously very popular. Most of her books fall into the time before I was reading YA (this one being published a few years before I was born) so Blume is never quite an author I get to. While I can see the appeal of this book, it largely didn’t work for me.

While Davey’s struggles are very contemporary and relevant, the story itself was often dated with Davey working as a candy striper (do those even exist anymore?) to name but one example. A general air of Cold War hysteria permeates the story as well with Davey’s aunt and uncle in a panic about the nearby nuclear plant malfunctioning.

I can see the appeal here and it might appeal to readers looking for this very specific kind of story. On the other hand there are also more recent stories that cover similar themes just as well.

In which I promote PostCrossing

Yesterday I reviewed one of my favorite 2014 titles, The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith.

It’s a really cute story with an emphasis on written correspondence.

Before starting the book I already was pen pals with my lovely friend Kaila. And I already knew about Post Crossing.

The book, however, inspired me to finally give it a try.

So is a site where users join, share their preferences for correspondence and some information (website, twitter) as well as their mailing address.

Then you request to send a card (this will either be international or to your own country–more often international, at least for me). You get a username and address as well as a code to write somewhere on the card. (In fact, here’s my profile so you can see what I mean (and recognize me if you join and we’re matched!

You also have the option to be open to “direct” swaps which are not registered through the site but allow users to message each other individually. I haven’t done this yet because I have other people I know that I can send to without PostCrossing’s help but it’s a nice feature.

Then you send the card and when it arrives the user on the other end registers it and might add a little note thanking you for the card.

Once that happens, you are eligible to receive a card from another random user.

On and on. Plus you can upload the image of the postcards and have a “virtual” record of the cards as well.

I’ve been having a blast with PostCrossing. I bought a bunch of postcards on sale online. I have international stamps which are about 1.15 a pop and can be used to mail anywhere. I keep my cards I get in a special box and have not one but two special stationary boxes.

It’s been great getting and sending cards. (It might be too much to hope for but I think it’s even improving my handwriting.)

Inspired by the site I also sent up an exchanged between myself and some online friends which was also fun.

Basically what I’m saying is go and mail a friend something. You won’t regret it.

The Geography of You and Me: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. SmithLucy and Owen meet in an elevator trapped between the tenth and eleventh floors of a New York City highrise during a citywide blackout. What could have been an ordinary night spent alone in the dark becomes a shared moment of wonder for Lucy and Owen. Together they explore a Manhattan that looks more like a party than a crisis before admiring the shockingly bright stars over Manhattan’s skyline.

But after that one magical night, Lucy and Owen find themselves pulled in opposite directions. Literally. Owen and his father head for points west while Lucy and her parents move to Edinburgh.

Lucy and Owen don’t have a lot in common to start with. They don’t even know much about each other. Still their relationship plays out across the miles in the form of postcards and sporadic emails. Although both Lucy and Owen try to move on they soon realize an unfinished something keeps pulling them back to each other in The Geography of You and Me (2014) by Jennifer E. Smith.

The Geography of You and Me is a delightful story of an unlikely long-distance relationship and an ode to the joys of travel and old-fashioned correspondence. Smith brings the wonder and frustrations of a New York blackout delightfully to life in the opening pages. The evocative prose just gets better from there as readers travel across the country with Owen and across the Atlantic with Lucy.

The story alternates between Lucy and Owen’s perspective to offer insights not just into their correspondence but also into the relationships both have with their parents. As much as The Geography of You and Me is a romance it is also an anthem for family and communication. With Lucy coming from a well-to-do family and Owen being on the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum, there are also some interesting moments about privilege and what that can mean in modern life.

Smith offers nods to social networking and emails while also hearkening back to the simpler and often more sincere communications found in postcards. It is highly likely readers will seek a new pen pal or join Post Crossing after finishing this cheerfully well-traveled novel.

Possible Pairings: Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, All I Need by Susane Colasanti, Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg, Just One Day by Gayle Forman, The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson, The Miles Between by Mary E. Pearson, Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins, The Secret Sisterhood of Heartbreakers by Lynn Weingarten, Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altedbrando