#3 Whitman Wednesday: As I Ponder’d in Silence

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I’m still making my way through the first section of Leaves of Grass, “Inscriptions”. The next poem is “As I Ponder’d in Silence.” But first, I wanted to take a second to tell you that Leaves of Grass is actually available for free at Project Gutenberg, so please bookmark it and check back every week for a poetry discussion!

As I ponder’d in silence,
Returning upon my poems, considering, lingering long,
A Phantom arose before me with distrustful aspect,
Terrible in beauty, age, and power,
The genius of poets of old lands,
As to me directing like flame its eyes,
With finger pointing to many immortal songs,
And menacing voice, What singest thou? it said,
Know’st thou not there is but one theme for ever-enduring bards?
And that is the theme of War, the fortune of battles,
The making of perfect soldiers.

Be it so, then I answer’d,
I too haughty Shade also sing war, and a longer and greater one than any,
Waged in my book with varying fortune, with flight, advance
and retreat, victory deferr’d and wavering,
(Yet methinks certain, or as good as certain, at the last,) the
field the world,
For life and death, for the Body and for the eternal Soul,
Lo, I too am come, chanting the chant of battles,
I above all promote brave soldiers.

Last week, I was thinking about what Whitman’s contemporaries were doing in the 1850s. It seems to me that Whitman is thinking more about his predecessors, “the genius of poets of old lands” who are menacing him, telling him that War is the only thing worth writing about (off the top of my head, see the Iliad and the long list of war poets on Wikipedia.)

I read this poem as Whitman suggesting that life itself is a war, a battle for life and death, damnation or salvation, and in this way, we are all soldiers fighting for our lives. I will admit that this premise appealed to me; it made me feel included in his poetry. I am beginning to see how his poetry is “democratic” and for the masses.

This poem reminded me of Adrienne Rich’s “Diving Into the Wreck” which examines who we are and what remained in the aftermath of World War I in a way that extends to the broader questions of humanity and the legacies we leave behind.

I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.
I stroke the beam of my lamp
slowly along the flank
of something more permanent
than fish or weed

the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
the drowned face always staring
toward the sun
the evidence of damage
worn by salt and sway into this threadbare beauty
the ribs of the disaster
curving their assertion
among the tentative haunters.

What do you think? Is this a fair comparison?

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As always, I invite you to join me. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below or send me a link to your own #WhitmanWednesday posts and I’ll share them as well! Are you just tuning in? You’re in luck – since this is only the third week, it’s really easy to catch up on Whitman Wednesday posts!

 

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Books I Read in October

Is it just me or has this year flown by? October was a relatively quiet month for me – with the exception of my trip to California, I stayed in pajamas at home for the bulk of the month. I read six books this month, which is about average for me this year. I read a memoir, a nonfiction book, two books of fiction, and two books of poetry. In chronological order, here are the books I read in October.

yes pleaseAmy Poehler’s Yes Please – Before this book, I only had a vague idea of who Amy Poehler is. I knew her as a feminist, the best friend of Tina Fey, and one of the creators of Smart Girls. I chose to listen to Amy Poehler reading the book, because I’m a firm believer that anytime a comedian or actor writes a book, listening to them read it is 100x better. Since reading the book, I’ve become obsessed with Parks & Recreation, and I will probably read the book again in a year. I think this book is probably more enjoyable for true Poehler fans, because a lot of the book talks about the specifics of her career and journey. I enjoyed the book, but think I’ll enjoy it more in the future.

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the sound and the fury

William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury – This was probably the most difficult books I’ve read all year, but also one of the most beautiful and rewarding. I would highly recommend it to just about anyone. Faulkner’s stream-of-consciousness style is frustrating at first, but a friend recommended that I sit down and read a big chunk of it at a time, so that I can really get into the rhythm of the book. This was exactly what I needed to do, rather than reading 10 pages at a time on the bus, so that’s my advice to you as well!

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sixth extinctionElizabeth Kolbert’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning The Sixth Extinction has been on my to-read list ever since I watched a work-in-progress cut of Six (now Racing Extinction) two years ago at the Tribeca Film Festival. The book is cleverly organized into 13 chapters, each studying the extinction of a different species. The chapters build upon each other until we see the history of man’s understanding of and contribution to the concept of a mass extinction. I found the book enjoyable and fascinating, but also hopelessly depressing. I think Kolbert is an upbeat pessimist, who is able to write cheerily about things that she thinks will inevitably lead to our doom.

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telephone ringingAdrienne Rich’s Telephone Ringing in the Labyrinth is the second book of Adrienne Rich’s that I’ve read this year. I found the themes hauntingly similar to the first book I read, even though they were written forty years apart. I wrote a short review of the book last week, so for today, I thought I’d share another quote.

If the word gets out if the word
escapes if the word
flies if it dies
it has its way of coming back
The handwritings on the walls
are vast and coded

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magiciansLev Grossman’s The Magicians – Okay, I have a confession. I almost never reread books. I have only read the Harry Potter books once, even though I thought I was a Potterhead. (I’ve come to accept that I am not really one.) This is the first book I’ve reread in years, and you know what? It was even better than I remembered! Dark, smart, and hilarious – this is absolutely everything that I want in a fantasy novel. I’m currently rereading The Magician’s King now in preparation of reading the third book of the trilogy as well as the television adaptation. Have you seen the preview? I’m nervous and excited!

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the gold cellSharon Old’s The Gold Cell – This is one of the more deeply personal and insightful books of poetry that I’ve read this year. Olds dissects her own life for us in search of what it means to be a human, a mother, a daughter, a wife. After reading the book, I really felt a connection with her, like I knew more about her life and how she thinks and processes things than I know about even some of my closest friends. The book is not for the squeamish or faint of heart, because parts of it can be quite explicit or uncomfortable, but I think it will actually make you a more compassionate person for having read it.

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I’m a lucky girl this month, because there wasn’t a single book that I didn’t like on this list. If you only read one of these books, I would have to say read Faulkner. Have you read any of these? What did you read in October? What should I read in November?

Book Review: Telephone Ringing in the Labyrinth, Adrienne Rich

telephone ringing

Telephone Ringing in the Labyrinth is one of Adrienne Rich’s last collections of poetry. Published in 2007, it’s a collection of poems written between 2004 – 2006. In this collection, we see Adrienne wrestle with both new and familiar ghosts.

This was the second to last volume of poetry that Adrienne produced in her prolific career. Common themes that appear in this volume include death and aging, war, & the impermanence of human life.

Inside the thigh a sweet mole   on the balding
skull an irregular island   what comes next
After the burnt forests   silhouettes wade
liquid hibiscus air
Velvet rubs down to scrim    iron utensils
discolor unseasoned
Secret codes of skin and hair
go dim   left from the light too long

From “Voyage to the Denouement”

The themes may be different, but the voice is still the same. She has a magical way of pairing senses and images in a way that evokes a very specific feeling that I only get from reading her poetry. A lot of her previous work has touched on the frailty and strength of human existence, but I don’t think she touched on the fact that she could cease to exist until now:

The opal on my finger
fiercely flashed till the hour it started to crumble.

From “Voyage to the Denouement”

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A Pairing: Adrienne Rich + Francisco de Goya

goya The same (Será lo mismo)

Francisco de Goya, Sera lo Mismo (The Same), around 1810

She tunes her guitar for Landstuhl
where she will sit on beds and sing
ballads from when Romany
roamed Spain

A prosthetic hand calibrates perfectly
the steam of a glass
or how to stroke a face
is this how far we have come
to make love easy
Ghost limbs go into spasm in the night
You come back from war with the body you have

What you can’t bear
carry endure lift
you’ll have to drag
it’ll come with you the ghostlimb
the shadow    blind
echo of your body spectre of your soul

Let’s not talk yet of making love
nor of ingenious devises
replacing touch
And this is not theoretical:
A poem with calipers to hold a heart
so it will want to go on beating.

– Calibrations, Adrienne Rich

Books I Read in August

Here are the books I’ve read in August, in chronological order. I was pretty happy to have read such a diverse mix of genres this month, and I’ll try to keep it up going forward!


station elevenEmily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven:
 This has been on my to-read list for such a long time, and once I picked it up, I couldn’t put it back down. I read for an entire day on the couch until I finished the book. I’ve seen a lot of people describe this as a “slow burner” but I didn’t find the book slow at all. I found this to be a thoughtful exploration into the necessity of art, technology, and human connections. However, I didn’t connect with or even like any of the characters, but I think Mandel did such an excellent job creating this post-apocalyptic world that it doesn’t even matter.

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not that kind of girl
Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl: I will admit that for the longest time I didn’t “get” Lena Dunham’s appeal. This has been my summer of Dunham – I binge watched all the seasons of her show “Girls” and then read her book as soon as I could get my hands on it. I “get” it now. She’s funny, thoughtful, and self-deprecating. She is insightful and self-aware to the brink of an egomaniacal obsession. I related to her book much more than I did to her show, and I feel like I have a new found appreciation and respect for her.

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This Week in Review – 08/07/2015

This Week in Review

Hello, August! The weather has been superb here in New York, and I have been spending all of my free time out and about. We have been trying to become more politically aware, especially with the upcoming elections. Here are some things that we’ve been reading this week.

Politics:

Jefferson believed that Natives should give up their own cultures, religions, and lifestyles to assimilate to western European culture and a European-style agriculture, which was more efficient.

Jeb Bush met up with his brother George to play a friendly game of Ping-Pong. When Jeb hit the ball, he would say “Jeb,” and when George hit the ball, he would also say “Jeb.” After Jeb explained to George that he should, in fact, be saying “George,” they laughed, posed for a photo, and said “Bush.”

Just for fun:

this ring is not nearly big enough to make up for your face

this ring is
not nearly big enough to make up for your face

hedgehog life

This week, we posted:

This weekend, I am celebrating a friend’s birthday, reading a really depressing book, and hopefully watching Fantastic Four. Wherever you are, I hope you have a good book and a great snack! What are your plans?

A Pairing: Gerhard Richter + Adrienne Rich

Vierwaldstätter See, 1969

Gerhard Richter’s Vierwaldstätter See, 1969

Song, Adrienne Rich

You’re wondering if I’m lonely:
OK then, yes, I’m lonely
as a plane rides lonely and level
on its radio beam, aiming
across the Rockies
for the blue-strung aisles
of an airfield on the ocean.

You want to ask, am I lonely?
Well, of course, lonely
as a woman driving across country
day after day, leaving behind
mile after mile
little towns she might have stopped
and lived and died in, lonely

If I’m lonely
it must be the loneliness
of waking first, of breathing
dawns’ first cold breath on the city
of being the one awake
in a house wrapped in sleep

If I’m lonely
it’s with the rowboat ice-fast on the shore
in the last red light of the year
that knows what it is, that knows it’s neither
ice nor mud nor winter light
but wood, with a gift for burning