Happy Earth Day!
Since April is National Poetry Month, I’d like to share another favorite poem of mine. It’s actually the first poem I remember and a very early memory for me. When I was little, my mother used to braid my hair. To help me sit quietly she would recite poetry to me. This memory of my mother’s tender loving care combined with this tenderhearted poem has always been a precious memory for me. The poem is called Little Boy Blue and the author was Eugene Field, who also wrote the beloved poem Wynken, Blynken, and Nod, which I also remember from my hair braiding sessions. No wonder I have loved poetry all my life!
I love the month of April, not just because Spring finally arrives after all the rainy grayness of our area, but also because it’s National Poetry Month. Poetry is a big part of my life. My grandmother was a poet, and there was always poetry in my family as I was growing up. I loved teaching poetry to elementary students for 27 years (there was so much young talent!!), and I love to write poetry, although I don’t do it often. I am in awe of the poets, the wordsmiths. They seem to have a direct line to the collective wisdom of the centuries. They definitely have a direct line to my heart.
Throughout April I always try to keep ‘a poem in my pocket’ and read as much poetry as I can. This month, I’d like to share a few of my favorites with you.
So here’s an all time favorite of mine…one I discovered when my son was a newborn 45 years ago. It touched me very deeply way back then, so I always include this poem with the knitted baby blankets and sweaters I give as gifts to friends and family when a new baby is born.
~ by Sylvia Plath, from Ariel
Love set you going like a fat gold watch.
The midwife slapped our footsoles, and your bald cry
Took its place among the elements.
Our voices echo, magnifying your arrival. New statue.
In a drafty museum, your nakedness
Shadows our safety. We stand round blankly as walls.
I’m no more your mother
Than the cloud that distils a mirror to reflect its own slow
Effacement at the wind’s hand.
All night your moth-breath
Flickers among the flat pink roses. I wake to listen:
A far sea moves in my ear.
One cry, and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and floral
In my Victorian nightgown.
Your mouth opens clean as a cat’s. The window square
Whitens and swallows its dull stars. And now you try
Your handful of notes;
The clear vowels rise like balloons.
Dusting my bookshelves today, I decided to share a photo of some of the oldest books on my shelf. These are books that have survived numerous purges and were dutifully boxed and moved with us from house to house. I’ve always thought I would reread them, but haven’t done so yet, except for My Antonia. Still, something to look forward to.
What are some of the oldest books on your shelf?
To celebrate Henry Wadsworth Longfellow‘s 210th birthday today, I want to share with you a post I wrote and originally published on this blog on February 27, 2008.
born February 27, 1807
Teaching young people how to read is one thing, but sparking a passion for reading is another. As a teacher, I’m highly trained in how to teach children to read, but after 22 years of teaching, I think it’s my own passion for reading that is the most powerful tool I have as I try to ignite that spark in my students. I’ve wondered exactly where my passion came from, and I’ve been able to identify a couple of things that certainly fueled the flames. One was being lovingly read to by my parents. The other was a book experience I had when I was seven or eight years old.
My father, a university professor, asked me to go with him to visit an older, retired professor in town. Dad prepared me on the drive over to this man’s house, letting me know that he was an unusual person, old and always very grumpy with people, sort of a “hermit,” he said. What he didn’t tell me was that the man was a book person extraordinaire.
I don’t think I could ever adequately describe what this man’s house was like. I walked in the front door, my father introduced us, then I looked around. I had never seen so many books in all my life. Bookshelves were everywhere and overflowing with books. Books were piled up everywhere…and I mean everywhere! The living room was completely full of books, so there was no place to sit down. The kitchen was piled high with books — the stovetop and a small space next to the sink were the only places without piles of books. The chairs and table were piled high. There were stacks of books in the bathroom, towers of books in the bedroom. Books were piled high along the hallway. Then, he took us downstairs into his basement, which was also filled with books, except that those books were on rows and rows of bookshelves, just like in a library.
Old Professor Poulson must have recognized me as a fellow book person, even though I was only eight and he was over eighty, because he very proudly showed me his entire collection, was gentle and kind to me, and before I left he gave me a book. That book has always been my most treasured book. It was a very old, lovely volume of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poems, called Voices of the Night. I still read it and treasure it.
I remember spending hours and hours reading those poems and looking at the beautiful art “plates.” I memorized his poem, “The Wreck of the Hersperus,” which fascinated me, and I can still recite it today. And when my father passed away, it was a stanza from Longfellow’s “A Psalm of Life” that I chose to use during my remarks at his memorial service:
“Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time.”
Looking back, I think my Dad knew exactly what he was doing by showing me this striking example of a person’s passion for reading. It had a tremendous impact on me at a very young age! So, in searching through memories to answer the question of where my passion for reading came from, I realize that, first, my dad and mom taught me to read … and then, in so many different ways, they taught me to love reading, passionately.
The very first audiobook I ever listened to was The Scarlet Pimpernel, by Baroness Orczy. That was about 35 years ago but I still remember the experience well. The book was on cassette tapes borrowed from the library and it was really a lot of fun to listen to and it sparked a longtime love of listening to books. I borrowed a lot of books on tape from the library, and then a few years later, I became a member of Recorded Books — an excellent company for producing books on tape — and ordered my audiobooks by mail. I listened to a lot of books that way. Now it is so easy to have an Audible membership and simply download a book to my phone. I do love to listen to all kinds of books!
What was the first audiobook you listened to?
When I was younger I read all of Anais Nin‘s diaries and many of her other works. They were fascinating! I took many notes, copying out different quotes from her insightful and eloquent ruminations. There was so many things she said that put into words for me my own experiences or inner thoughts. She was born on this day in 1903. I celebrate her today and the influence she had on me as a young woman.
“I have them, these attacks of the past…”
~ The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
This week I have been listening to The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood, and the line above really struck home with me. I have them, too, these attacks of the past. And I’ve been having them a lot recently because this is a significant year for me. It has been 50 years since my year as an exchange student to Argentina, a year that had a profound effect on the rest of my life. And since my father kept every letter I wrote home during that year, I have words from my younger self, as well as many memories, to help me revisit that experience. I hope to share some of that with you, if I may.
50 years ago today, my hurried preparations were complete for spending a year abroad. In the 3 week period between receiving my acceptance letter and my departure, I got my passport and required shots, was tutored by the Spanish teacher at my high school (since I’d had five years of French, but no Spanish training), put together a wardrobe that I hoped would work for the year, and was almost finished packing it all into one large suitcase. I said goodbye to my school friends who would graduate before I returned. I had just turned eighteen years old and the longest I had ever been away from home was two weeks at Girl Scout camp. But I was over the moon with excitement and ready to take on the world!
I wrote these words about my departure for Argentina in a post I published here in 2008.
In early 1967, I was chosen to be an exchange student with the American Field Service (now known as AFS Intercultural Programs). Looking back, I realize that the year I spent in Argentina was a “pivot point” in my life — that point where I stood still, poised to move in one direction or another. A photograph of me, at age 18, was snapped at the moment I hesitated at the top of the stairs while boarding the airplane to Argentina, looked back over my shoulder, and then began the forward motion of my life.
Looking through some of my old notebooks the other day, I found an extensive bibliography of a book that I vaguely remember reading: Images of Women in Fiction: Feminist Perspectives, by Susan K. Cornillon. It was a library book, I remember that, and I was particularly interested in the extensive bibliography the author included. At that time I was a young stay-at-home mother with a 2-1/2 year old, so I must have been very Impressed because I took the time to copy it down, filling 5 pages in my notebook. With my cell phone, I took photos of those five pages to share with you because it’s a terrific book list! And it was fun for me to realize that over the years since 1974, I have read many of those books even though I hadn’t looked at that list in years! Do you keep notebooks? They really do turn into treasures after a few years…
Note: You can stop the slideshow and then click on the page to enlarge it if you want to look more closely at the list.
Long ago, before I went back to school to finish my education and become a teacher (now happily retired after 27 years of teaching), I worked in a wonderful little independent bookshop in Salt Lake City called The King’s English. It was a dream job for me because I had always appreciated and supported independent bookshops, small and large, and because I have always been an avid reader. Now living in the Portland, Oregon, area my favorite independent bookshop is Powell’s!
But yesterday, my friend and I went shopping at Washington Square, a mall in nearby Tigard, Oregon, and visited the new Amazon bookstore, one of a new chain of bookstores nationwide. We enjoyed our visit there, as I always do when I find a new bookstore to explore, and were glad we stopped in to check it out!