Sunday, April 28, 2013

national poetry month: washington irving

Washington Irving didn't write much poetry, but I discovered this lighthearted and seasonally appropriate offering from The Poems of Washington Irving, brought together from various sources by William R. Langfeld.

"The Lay of the Sunnyside Ducks" by Washington Irving
By Sunnyside bower runs a little Indian Brook,
As wild as wild can be;
It flow down from hills where Indians lived of old
To the might Tappan Sea.

And this little brook supplies a goodly little pond
Where the Sunnyside ducks do play,
Snowy white little ducks with topknots of their heads
And merry little ducks are they.

And high up the hill stands fair Jaffray Hall
Where a might chief doth dwell
And this little Indian brook flows through his lands
And its own little rugged dell.

And the Laird of Jaffray arose in his might
And he said to his wife one day,
“This little Indian brook, is an idle little brook
And shall no longer have its way.

No longer shall it run down to Sunnyside pond
Nor eke to the Tappan Sea.
I’ll stop it, with a dam, and pump it up hill with a ram
And make it work for a living,” said he.

“It shall run in pipes about of garden and lawn
Making jets and fountains clear.
It shall run upstairs and downstairs of Jaffray Hall,
And into your bathroom, my dear.”

Then the Sunnyside ducks they quaked with fear
And dolefully they did cry,
“Oh Laird of Jaffray pare our little brook,
Or we shall be left high and dry!”

But soon it appeared that his brave little brook
Defied the Laird of Jaffray’s skill;
For though he dammed the little brook, and rammed the little brook
The little brook still ran down hill.

Then the Sunnyside ducks again plucked up heart,
And got over their quanda –ry,
And the little brook still runs on to the Sunnyside pond
And the mighty Tappan Sea!
Per Langfeld, it was first published in From Pinafores to Politics by Mrs. J. Borden Harriman (aka Daisy Hurst Harriman). I haven't read From Pinafores to Politics, which I understand is an autobiography of the social reformer. It seems odd that this particular poem would be included in such a work, but I'll err on the side of trusting the reference since Langfeld is an Irving scholar (and bibliographer) and From Pinafores to Politics was published by New York Public Library, which has one of the most substantive Irving collections in the world.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

national poetry month: charles simic

While searching for a poem to feature this week I came across "In the Library" by Charles Simic (Dušan "Charles" Simić) and it was love at first run-through.  As I began to read more about Simic (a Pulitzer Prize-winner and onetime Poet Laureate), I grew increasingly embarrassed about the fact that I wasn't familiar with him and his work before.  All I can say in my defense is that poetry is not my bailiwick.1

The text of the poem is below, but I recommend popping over to The Poetry Archive and listening to the recording they have made available of Simic reading "In the Library" (direct link to poem page).

"In the Library" by Charles Simic
for Octavio
There's a book called
"A Dictionary of Angels."
No one has opened it in fifty years,
I know, because when I did,
The covers creaked, the pages
Crumbled. There I discovered

The angels were once as plentiful
As species of flies.
The sky at dusk
Used to be thick with them.
You had to wave both arms
Just to keep them away.

Now the sun is shining
Through the tall windows.
The library is a quiet place.
Angels and gods huddled
In dark unopened books.
The great secret lies
On some shelf Miss Jones
Passes every day on her rounds.

She's very tall, so she keeps
Her head tipped as if listening.
The books are whispering.
I hear nothing, but she does.
"In the Library" is included in The Book of Gods and Devils and Sixty Poems (published on the occasion of Simic's appointment as Poet Laureate of the United States) and possibly in other collections of Simic's work.
  1. bailiwick: area of interest, skill, or authority; jurisdiction.
    One of the higher-ups at work has a great affection for the word bailiwick and hearing him use it on a number of different occaions has sealed its meaning into my brain more successfully than the standard rule about using a new word in a sentence x-many times.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Field Library Bookstore (Peekskill, NY)

My mom wanted to pick up some paperbacks for an upcoming trip, cheap ones that she could leave places she stops along her way without compunction.  I recommended my go-to used book store, the Field Library Book Store in Peekskill, NY.

The Field Library Bookstore is an offshoot of Peekskill's public library (Field Library, in case that's not obvious). The books (and videos, etc.) for sale at the Field Library Bookstore are a combination of items that have been withdrawn from the Field Library and those that have been donated by library patrons and bookstore customers. Russell and I donated boxes of the books we weeded from our collection and I got a huge kick out of seeing some of my books on the shelves today.

In addition to serving as a vehicle for getting rid of items that have been weeded from library collections, the Field Library Bookstore also raises funds to support the Field Library.  According to the library website, "Bookstore proceeds have so far helped the library to purchase special computer equipment and new library furnishings as well as to support children's programs and services" (Library Bookstore)

The store's prices are cheap (for this area of the country) and reasonable given that some of the books are quite well-thumbed and/or library discards. While some items are specially priced, the standard pricing is as follows: hard covers are $2, trade paperbacks $1, mass market paperbacks 50c.

While the Field Library Bookstore is heavy on fiction, it does have a few small nonfiction sections (now full of books we donated) as well as sections dedicated to children's literature, classics, coffee table books, and videos (there may be others that I've overlooked). Romance novels are housed in a separate room.  I'm sure that the organizers of the bookstore were just utilizing preexisting architectural details, but I'm not all that keen on segregating romance in this way because I think it perpetuates the idea that reading romance novels is cause for embarrassment.

The store has a few seats where shoppers can sit to more fully investigate books the are considering buying as well as a small play area for children.

While I have shopped at the Field Library Bookstore before most of our trips have involved donating books rather than purchasing them.

As for today's trip, my mom ended up with 11 mass markets as well as one trade paperback and one hard cover.  Even though I need more books like a hole in the head, I picked up some as well.

Since I've sure that the photo isn't completely clear, here's what a got (in the order in which they appear):
The Field Library Bookstore is located just around the corner from Bruised Apple Books & Music (see post), making Peekskill a great one-stop-shopping location for used books.

Field Library Bookstore
934 South Street
Peekskill, NY
Monday-Saturday, 10 am-5pm
n.b. occasionally the store is closed when it is scheduled to be open so if you are making a special trip, be sure to call ahead to check that they are indeed open

Sunday, April 07, 2013

national poetry month: marie howe

Once again it's April and National Poetry Month.  I tend to need prodding toward toward poetry-reading so National Poetry Month is a good reminder that I need to get out of my (primarily fiction) prose reading rut.  While I don't read much poetry on a regular basis, I welcome April and its "required" reading. 

My first offering for 2013 is a poem from New York State's current poet laureate,1 Marie Howe.
What a killer first line.

"What Angels Left" by Marie Howe
At first, the scissors seemed perfectly harmless.
They lay on the kitchen table in the blue light.

Then I began to notice them all over the house,
at night in the pantry, or filling up bowls in the cellar

where there should have been apples. They appeared under rugs,
lumpy places where one would usually settle before the fire,

or suddenly shining in the sink at the bottom of soupy water.
Once, I found a pair in the garden, stuck in turned dirt

among the new bulbs, and one night, under my pillow,
I felt something like a cool long tooth and pulled them out

to lie next to me in the dark. Soon after that I began
to collect them, filling boxes, old shopping bags,

every suitcase I owned. I grew slightly uncomfortable
when company came. What if someone noticed them

when looking for forks or replacing dried dishes? I longed
to throw them out, but how could I get rid of something

that felt oddly like grace? It occurred to me finally
that I was meant to use them, and I resisted a growing compulsion

to cut my hair, although in moments of great distraction,
I thought it was my eyes they wanted, or my soft belly

—exhausted, in winter, I laid them out on the lawn.
The snow fell quite as usual, without any apparent hesitation

or discomfort. In spring, as expected, they were gone.
In their place, a slight metallic smell, and the dear muddy earth.
"What the Angels Left" was published in The Good Thief, a collection that was selected by Margaret Atwood as a winner in the 1987 Open Competition of the National Poetry Series.
  1. Previous holders of this post are Stanley Kunitz (1987-1989), Robert Creeley (1989-1991), Audre Lorde (1991-1993), Richard Howard (1993-1995), Jane Cooper (1995-1997), Sharon Olds (1998-2000), John Ashbery (2001-2003), Billy Collins (2004-2006), Jean Valentine (2008-2010).

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

quotable Washington Irving
(on his birthday)

In honor of Washington Irving's 230th birthday, a quote that I think will appeal to readers and writers alike -
If, however, I can by any lucky chance, in these days of evil, rub out one wrinkle from the brow of care, or beguile the heavy heart of one moment of sorrow; if I can now and then penetrate through the gathering film of misanthropy, prompt a benevolent view of human nature, and make my reader more in good humor with his fellow beings and himself, surely, surely, I shall not then have written entirely in vain.
                  - "Christmas Dinner," The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon1
Irving wrote prolifically and eccentrically2, and though he was one of the most famous writers of his day, he has suffered the fate of many dead-white-male authors and is now relatively unknown.3 Personally, I'm hoping that Fox's Sleepy Hollow pilot (in production right now) results in a series and that the series results in a renewed interest in Irving and his work beyond "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow."
  1. Affiliate link. Also, I didn't double-check the source and am relying exclusively on the editor of The Wit and Whimsy of Washington Irving (link devoid of commission-earning potential), page 51, for source information.
  2. I bet you didn't know he wrote a biography of Mohammed.
  3. Except in Spain.