Farewell to National Poetry Month with “The Poems I Have Not Written” and “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant”

We made have reached the end, dear readers, of what I consider a wonderful month here on the blog. I was so happy to share my love of After the Kiss with you as well as an interview with the author herself, Terra Elan McVoy. (Not to mention that I also got to give away signed copies of this wonderful verse novel!)

I really enjoyed sharing some of my favorite poems with you all and I hope you enjoyed reading them too.

On my last day of poems (until next April anyway) I’m leaving you with one of my favorite poems by one of my favorite poets (“Tell all the Truth but tell it slant” by Emily Dickinson). Dickinson was a formative influence for me when I started writing poems myself, not to sound horribly pretentious. She is really something special. There are, of course, other more well known poems but this one always spoke to me.  I just adore it.

I also leave you with “The Poems I Have Not Written” by John Brehm which is another mysterious poem from my computer’s poem folder. It’s a bit poignant and a bit funny. It also felt like the perfect poem with which to end this month-long celebration we call National Poetry Month.

——

“Tell all the Truth but tell it slant” by Emily Dickinson

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant—
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise
As Lightening to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind—

***

“The Poems I Have Not Written” by John Brehm

I’m so wildly unprolific, the poems
I have not written would reach
from here to the California coast
if you laid them end to end.

And if you stacked them up,
the poems I have not written
would sway like a silent
Tower of Babel, saying nothing

and everything in a thousand
different tongues. So moving, so
filled with and emptied of suffering,
so steeped in the music of a voice

speechless before the truth,
the poems I have not written
would break the hearts of every
woman who’s ever left me,

make them eye their husbands
with a sharp contempt and hate
themselves for turning their backs
on the very source of beauty.

The poems I have not written
would compel all other poets
to ask of God: “Why do you
let me live? I am worthless.

please strike me dead at once,
destroy my works and cleanse
the earth of all my ghastly
imperfections.” Trees would

bow their heads before the poems
I have not written. “Take me,”
they would say, “and turn me
into your pages so that I

might live forever as the ground
from which your words arise.”
The wind itself, about which
I might have written so eloquently,

praising its slick and intersecting
rivers of air, its stately calms
and furious interrogations,
its flutelike lingerings and passionate

reproofs, would divert its course
to sweep down and then pass over
the poems I have not written,
and the life I have not lived, the life

I’ve failed even to imagine,
which they so perfectly describe.

“Woman Work” and “When I am an Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple”

Woman Work by Maya Angelou

I’ve got the children to tend
The clothes to mend
The floor to mop
The food to shop
Then the chicken to fry
The baby to dry
I got company to feed
The garden to weed
I’ve got shirts to press
The tots to dress
The can to be cut
I gotta clean up this hut
Then see about the sick
And the cotton to pick.

Shine on me, sunshine
Rain on me, rain
Fall softly, dewdrops
And cool my brow again.

Storm, blow me from here
With your fiercest wind
Let me float across the sky
‘Til I can rest again.

Fall gently, snowflakes
Cover me with white
Cold icy kisses and
Let me rest tonight.

Sun, rain, curving sky
Mountain, oceans, leaf and stone
Star shine, moon glow
You’re all that I can call my own.

***

When I am an Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple by Jenny Joseph

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go and doesn’t suit me,
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals and say we’ve no money for butter
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick the flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit.
You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausage at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.
But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not sweat in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We will have friends to dinner and read the papers.
But maybe I ought to practise a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised,
When suddenly I am old and start to wear purple.

I thought these poems were a nice contrast in terms of theme. I love the rhythm of Angelou’s poem–it has a nice beat to it if you read it out loud. And I like the idea behind Joseph’s of remembering to have fun. It reminds me of the saying that youth is wasted on the young. And, of course, we’ve already established how I do love a nice rhyming poem!

“Song” and why I love it

Song by John Donne

Go and catch a falling star,
Get with child a mandrake root,
Tell me, where all past years are,
Or who cleft the Devil’s foot,
Teach me to hear mermaids singing,
Or to keep off envy’s stinging,
And find
What wind
Serves to advance an honest mind.

If thou be’est born to strange sights,
Things invisible to see,
Ride ten thousand days and nights,
Till age snow white hairs on thee,
Thou, when thou return’st, wilt tell me
All strange wonders that befell thee,
And swear
No where
Lives a woman true, and fair.

If thou find’st one, let me know,
Such a pilgrimage were sweet;
Yet do not, I would not go,
Though at next door we might meet,
Though she were true, when you met her,
And last, till you write your letter,
Yet she
Will be
False, ere I come, to two, or three.

—-

John Donne holds a special place in my heart. When I was a freshman in college my advisor convinced me to take a 17th Century Literature class (Because my college was wacky and I could do things like that without any pre-requisites. Also because I was awesome enough to be able to do it.). I was completely terrified because I knew nothing about 17th Century literature and I was also one of only two freshman in the class. (In case you were all worried, I did fine and wound up getting some of the highest marks in the class.)

During that class I developed a fondness for Ben Johnson and Aemilia Lanyer. I wrote a massive paper analyzing their country house poems and the difficult position poets were in as they sought patronage in conjunction with their creative expression.

But before all of that, we read John Donne. I enjoy his wry humor and I enjoy that his humor remains wry even now, talk about talent. I feel like he’d be amused to know that 378 years later people are still reading, enjoying and discussing this poem he wrote in 1633.

The Last Little Blue Envelope: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen JohnsonWhen Ginny Blackstone received thirteen little blue envelopes last summer she recognized them for what they were: a wild adventure laid out by her Aunt Peg–Ginny’s wildly interesting relative who could never do anything the simple, mundane way.

The envelopes led Ginny to England and on an adventure across Europe. Along the way Ginny learned a lot about her aunt and even more about herself. Until her adventure was cut short when the last little blue envelope was stolen. Even without that final piece, without that bit of closure, Ginny knows following the rules in the envelopes was the most exciting thing she has ever done. Too bad she can’t explain any of that in 1000 words for her college application essay.

Months later, Ginny is struggling with those college applications. She is still wondering about that last blue envelope.

Then an inscrutable English boy offers Ginny the last little blue envelope. For a price. She doesn’t much like Oliver. She definitely doesn’t trust him. And she knows he has his own agenda. But she also knows she has to accept his offer. It’s what Aunt Peg would do and, now, it’s what Ginny needs to do.

This last piece of Ginny’s adventure has no rules. It will lead her back to familiar sites and old friends. It will test Ginny’s mettle, and maybe even her sanity when it comes to dealing with Oliver. This trip will be the stuff of a great college application (and a great story) in The Last Little Blue Envelope (2011) by Maureen Johnson.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Last Little Blue Envelope is the sequel to Johnson’s earlier novel 13 Little Blue Envelopes.

More than a wonderful sequel, this book is a delightful story in its own right. Realistically, The Last Little Envelope probably cannot stand alone. But Johnson does provide a good balance of summary and new content to make the book work well. Readers will find everything they loved about 13 Little Blue Envelopes here along with a lot of new characters and more zany adventures across Europe.

The Last Little Blue Envelope answers all of the questions left unresolved in the first book and provides a satisfying conclusion to the myriad misadventures of Ginny Blackstone during her travels abroad. As always Johnson brings her pitch perfect humor and excellent pacing to this story. The Last Little Envelope is definitely a book that will leave you smiling.

Possible Pairings: Girl Overboard by Justina Chen, A Little Wanting Song by Cath Crowley, Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg, Just One Day by Gayle Forman, Howard’s End by E. M. Forster, Two Summers by Aimee Friedman, Kitty Kitty by Michele Jaffe, Everything All at Once by Katrina Leno, Being Sloane Jacobs by Lauren Morrill, The Miles Between by Mary E. Pearson, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith, Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altedbrando, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

Exclusive Bonus Content: I love love love this cover which ties into the repackaging of the paperback. This is exactly how I pictured Ginny. Props to Jill Wachter who took the cover photo and Jill Bell who did the lettering.

Also, be sure to stop by Books are Wonderful to see her map of Ginny’s European Tour from 13 Little Blue Envelopes.

“Upon Discovering My Entire Solution to the Attainment of Immortality Erased from the Blackboard Except the Word ‘Save'” Commentary

 Upon Discovering My Entire Solution to the Attainment of Immortality Erased from the Blackboard Except the Word ‘Save’ by Dobby Gibson

If you have seen the snow
somewhere slowly fall
on a bicycle,
then you understand
all beauty will be lost
and that even loss
can be beautiful.
And if you have looked
at a winter garden
and seen not a winter garden
but a meditation on shape,
then you understand why
this season is not
known for its words,
the cold too much
about the slowing of matter,
not enough about the making of it.
So you are blessed
to forget this way:
jump rope in the ice melt,
a mitten that has lost its hand,
a sun that shines
as if it doesn’t mean it.
And if in another season
you see a beautiful woman
use her bare hands
to smooth wrinkles
from her expensive dress
for the sake of dignity,
but in so doing reveal
the outlines of her thighs,
then you will remember
surprise assumes a space
that has first been forgotten,
especially here, where we
rarely speak of it,
where we walk out onto the roofs
of frozen lakes
simply because we’re stunned
we really can.
——————

I have no idea how I found this poem. I recently rediscovered a folder on my computer called simply “Poems I Didn’t Write” and this poem was in it. Some of the other poems I remember discovering, this is not one of them. All I can tell you is Dobby Gibson is a poet and at some point this poem appealed to me for some reason, possibly because of the title. For that reason I can share it with you now.

I don’t know why exactly but this poem reminds of a day after school during high school. A boy in my class begged me to lend him a glove because he wanted to make a snowball but it was entirely too cold to do so without a gloved hand. At first I was reluctant but eventually I gave him the glove and it made me laugh because my gloves at that time were brown chenille with faux fur trim in a leopard print (I was still finding my style).

I am also quite taken with the entire idea of the poem–especially in the last lines about jumping not just because you can but because you’re so stunned that it’s really possible or allowed.

Red Glove: A Review

Red Glove by Holly BlackCassel Sharpe thought he knew all the angles. He thought he understood his family of criminals and curse workers even though he wasn’t really a part of that world.

That was before Cassel found out he was a Transformation Worker. That was before he betrayed his brothers before they could do the same to him. That was before the girl he thought he killed came back. It was long before she was cursed to love him.

Now the mob wants Cassel on their side and the feds are asking him inconvenient questions about a red-gloved murderer. Cassel is being pushed down a path he doesn’t want to follow–one he might have to walk alone. But what if he doesn’t have any other options?

The only thing Cassel really knows is that the future is going to be here soon than he thinks in Red Glove (2011) by Holly Black.

Find it on Bookshop.

Red Glove is the second book in Black’s Curse Worker’s trilogy. (It’s preceded by White Cat and will be followed by Black Heart.)

Black’s world building in this series is phenomenonal. Red Glove expands on details and presents new aspects of Cassel’s world including politics and cops–something every good noir story needs. Possibly because the groundwork was already laid, this book feels less graphic and gory than White Cat.*

As the second book in a trilogy, Red Glove does its job perfectly by both expanding on the events in the first book and building up to (what will probably be) a sensational conclusion in book three. The story here once again delivers a satisfying blend of fantasy, noir, and good old fashioned suspense. Cassel remains a delightful narrator even when he is unethical and dangerous; his moral struggles and frank assessment of his own character are part of what makes this series great. Even better this book confirmed that maybe, just maybe, Cassel might be okay at the end of everything. Or not. If nothing else, he might finally know what kind of man he really is.

*Or maybe it was just me. I was amazed at how much less devastating the reality of curse worker blowback felt in this book. And I was thrilled at how much more I enjoyed this book compared to the first. Yay.

Possible Pairings: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell, The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan, Heist Society by Ally Carter, Graceling by Kristin Cashore, Into the Crooked Place by Alexandra Christo, City of Bones by Cassandra Clare, Money Wanders by Eric Dezenhall, Chasing Power by Sarah Beth Durst, Clarity by Kim Harrington, Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough, Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt, Leverage (television series), White Collar (television series)

Regarding “Things Shouldn’t Be So Hard”

Things Shouldn’t Be So Hard by Kay Ryan

A life should leave
deep tracks:
ruts where she
went out and back
to get the mail
or move the hose
around the yard;
where she used to
stand before the sink,
a worn-out place;
beneath her hand,
the china knobs
rubbed down to
white pastilles;
the switch she
used to feel for
in the dark
almost erased.
Her things should
keep her marks.
The passage
of a life should show;
it should abrade.
And when life stops
a certain space
-however small-
should be left scarred
by the grand and
damaging parade.
Things shouldn’t
be so hard.

—————————

Believe it or not, I know almost nothing about this poem and its author. Apparently Kay Ryan was selected as the country’s 16th poet laureate in 2008 and is a kind of big deal. I was given this poem to read in my ninth grade English class where we read pretentious books like Annie John and Slave Girl and other important essays and what not. I think I can speak for everyone in that class when I say we all felt very, very mature and clever.

Anyway, my teacher used to give out random xerox copies of assorted poems for us to read as a class and this was one of them. I don’t have any of the original handouts (or any of my schoolwork for that matter) but this poem made it onto my computer where I’ve saved it ever since.

Probably I appreciate the poem now more than I could have as a fourteen-year-old. The idea that a life should leave a mark somewhere–anywhere–makes perfect sense to me. I also like the image of life, and maybe death too, as a “grand and damaging parade.” It’s such a horrible idea thinking of something as damaging. And yet it’s also so true and sounds so beautiful at the same time.

“Self-Portrait as Miranda” thoughts

Self-Portrait as Miranda by Geri Doran

My story begins at sea, in the bitter liquid.
If not, it would begin in Florida, along I-95
in the circular drive of a circular, lime-green motel.
But I have selected the sea, and you must

trust me on this. Truly terrible stories
begin in navigational error, a slight misreading
of the sight that sets the crew in a maelstrom.
Perhaps in another story it would be a man

standing at the door, surprised that he’s knocked,
that you have, in turn, answered. He wishes
now that he had lingered in that drive, paused
before resuming the course toward your door.

As the crew, in desperate but unspoken straits,
wishes belatedly for a drag on the anchor.
Frequently, we are thus carried along.
Frequently, de profundis, we struggle ashore

to find ourselves, if not stranded, then beached.
We are inclined to be grateful for land.
Survivors of shipwreck cast two shadows:
the outline of interrupted light, and an aura, thirst

to drown again. Perhaps, in the unwritten story,
the man at the door looks thirsty. You sense
he has come to repair himself at the dry dock
of your flesh. There is nothing else to do.

Your home is an island of white sand
and he wades in from the shoals of the walkway
asking for fresh water. So you find him berth.
This much Miranda herself could explain:

how Ferdinand come shimmering from the sea
appeared no less a rescuer than she,
with his handful of kelp and the pretty words
of a man desperate for sanctuary.

Ferdinand missed that she was shipwrecked
too. Miranda had the shadowy thirst.
You know the rest of the story.
They’re happy. Then it ends in the bitter sea.

This is another improbable poem that lived on my desktop without my remembering it. I don’t know how I found it but I can see why I liked it what with the rhythm and story-like quality along with the allusion to Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

“Mad Girl’s Love Song” Commentary

Mad Girl’s Love Song: A Villanelle by Sylvia Plath

I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

The stars go waltzing out in blue and red,
And arbitrary blackness gallops in:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed
And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

God topples from the sky, hell’s fires fade:
Exit seraphim and Satan’s men:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I fancied you’d return the way you said,
But I grow old and I forget your name.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

I should have loved a thunderbird instead;
At least when spring comes they roar back again.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)
————-

Fun fact: This poem was my first encounter with the villanelle–a form I later adopted for one of my own poems. I had been struggling with the format for years when finally a college professor saw it and suggested that my poem was a villanelle struggling to take form. Turns out he was totally right!

In my junior year of high school my class had to read  The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. I assume we also read this poem. At any rate it eventually made it onto my computer where I found it today.

I generally like villanelles because it’s a very elegant form. The lines repeat and you almost can’t trace the pattern but when you do it’s very subtle. This poem, as the title sort of suggests, always struck me as very lyrical. This poem is also modern with its combination of storytelling and pure imagery. And who hasn’t met some sensational, improbable person that seems made up?

Where She Went: A Review

Where She Went by Gayle FormanThree years ago Mia made a choice. Her boyfriend Adam was prepared to let Mia go if it meant she would be okay. He thought that would be enough.

Three years later: Adam knows he was wrong.

Mia is gone. She left. She’s on the opposite coast at Juilliard just like she should be with her bright star on the rise. She walked away from Adam and never looked back.

Adam is living in LA. He’s dating a beautiful actress. He’s partly responsible for his band’s meteoric rise to rock stardom. He has everything he ever wanted. Except without Mia none of it seems to matter.

Three years ago an accident changed Mia and Adam’s lives forever.

Three years later an accidental meeting in New York City will change everything all over again in Where She Went (2011) by Gayle Forman.

Find it on Bookshop.

Where She Went is the sequel to Forman’s poignant novel If I Stay.

Narrated by Adam (If I Stay was written in Mia’s voice), Where She Went follows a similar structure to its predecessor. Chapters written in the present tense explaining Adam’s current state and the central plot alternate with chapters written in the past tense (prefaced by song lyrics from the album that launched Adam into the world of rock stardom) relate key events that led him to this point. These looks at Adam’s past also answer a simple question about Mia, namely: where she went three years ago.

In addition to looking at Adam’s evolving relationship with Mia, Forman does something really hard in this story. She looks at recovery and rehabilitation without glossing over the messy parts. And she does it really well.

When I finished If I Stay I thought it was a perfect book. Forman’s sparse writing is poetic and beautiful and so painfully heartfelt. The ending made perfect sense. Even with a tragedy at the core of its plot If I Stay remains one of the most gorgeously optimistic books I’ve ever read.

Where She Went is all of that but, somehow, also more. It’s an evocative look at New York City. It’s a story about love and loss. It’s charming, it’s funny, it’s moving. In short, Where She Went is everything readers want not only in a sequel but also in any good novel.

Possible Pairings: Now and Forever by Susane Colasanti, Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, Open Road Summer by Emery Lord, Falling Through Darkness by Carolyn MacCullough, The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta*, The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle, Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

*I know this is a total pain because The Piper’s Son is another sequel and you’ll need to read Saving Francesca in addition. BUT I was struck while reading at how similar The Piper’s Son and Where She Went are in terms of voice, structure, and just general vibe. I can guarantee 100% that if you enjoy one you will enjoy the other. Trust me.

Exclusive Bonus Content: I really loved the original cover for If I Stay but the new cover for the paperback edition and the cover of Where She Went have grown on me. At one point in this book Adam says Mia has quiet good looks that have always been devastating for him. I can’t tell you how much I love that line. The model on this cover, in my view, captures the essence of that kind of beauty. Anyway. I like it. Props to designer Abby Kuperstock and Selina De Maeyer who took the cover photo.

You should also check out Gayle Forman’s blog for the official Where She Went playlist. Awesome!