Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Poetry Wars and Today's Poem

Every work day of this month, I forward to the faculty and staff on my campus the poem of the day from Usually, nothing happens. Occasionally, someone will reply that the poems are too sad or too hard to understand. Twice this year I have received brief messages from co-workers describing how the day's poem connected to their life, past and present. These messages made me feel so good about being a poetry pusher.

Last week, state testing week which is always a stressful time, one of my co-workers started a poetry war. He shared a couple of funny poems last April and had shared one at the beginning of this April. Only one other co-worker had answered his initial call with an original poem, so he challenged everyone, complete with a menacing photo. At first, little happened, but then he made a male chauvinist comment in a new poem, and the poems started flying. Thursday and Friday afternoons were filled with volleys of verses. It was great fun! Some of my co-workers are surprisingly good poets and quick thinkers.

Today, things were back to normal. I sent out the poem and got no response at all. I wasn't surprised because I am not sure what to make of today's poem. I'm going to reprint it here and maybe one of my readers, all of whom are smarter than me, can help me figure out what it means or at least offer some suggestions. Maybe it is just a poem about a couple abandoning their baby, but I think there is something more going on here.

(I can't seem to make the spacing work right, so if you want to see how the lines should be formatted, click today's poem above.)

The Baby
by Kate Northrop

The shadows of the couple
enter the dark field, cross
silent as a seam

having left at the center
a white box, white
as a box

for a birthday cake. Inside,
the baby.
Abandoned there

in the tall grass,
in the night wind,

he wants for everything: food, warmth,
a little
baby hope.

But the world
swirls around the box. The world

like a forest goes on

and paths go on through it
each road leading nowhere, leading away

from the baby. Still
in the center of the field,
his breath

rises quietly. Grasses shiver.
Overhead, through trees

a sound approaches, like wings,
or this time, scissors.

From Things Are Disappearing Here, Copyright © 2007 by Kate Northrop. Reprinted with permission of Persea Books.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Ten Favorite Words

A few weeks ago, I got an email about the longlist for the Orange Prize, and I had only heard of a couple of the books on the list. So I spent some time checking out the unfamiliar ones. When I searched for A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo, I learned that it was only available in on Amazon UK. I was so intrigued by the synopsis and the excerpt on Amazon that I decided to splurge and order the book. I have never done that before. So far, I'm glad that I splurged (of course, the book is now available in the U.S.). The shortlist for the prize was announced today, and this book is on the shortlist.

Each chapter (vignette) begins with a word and definition followed by what amounts to a journal entry related to the word/meaning of the word.

In a chapter that begins with "chinese cabbage + english slug" (both cabbage and slug are defined), the narrator Z, a young Chinese immigrant, asks her lover, a much older bi-sexual Englishman, to name his favorite words:

'What your favourite words? Give me ten,' I say when we are sitting in the garden. I want to learn most beautiful English words because you are beautiful. I even not care whether if useful.
A piece of blank paper, a pen.
You writing it down, one by one.
'Sea, breath, sun, body, seeds, bumble bee, insects.' You stop: 'How many are there now?'
'Seven,' I say.
'Hm...blood...' you continue.
'Why you like blood?'
'I don't know. I feel blood is beautiful.'
'Really? But blood violence, and pain.'
'No. Not always. Blood gives you life. It makes you strong.' You speaking with surely voice.
You see things from such different perspective from me. I wonder if we change perspective one day.
'And why breath, then?'
'Because that's where everything is from and how everything starts.'
You are right.
'So, what else? Last favourite word?' I say.
'Suddenly! Why you like suddenly? Suddenly not even noun.' You strange brain, I think.
'Well, I just like it,' you say. 'So what are your favourite ten words?'
I write down one by one:
'Fear, belief, heart, root, challenge, fight, peace, misery, future, solitude...'
'Why solitude?'
'Because a song from Louis Armstrong calling "Solitude". It is so beautiful.' I hear song in my ear now.
'Where did you hear that song?' you ask.
'On your shelfs. A CD, from Louis Armstrong.'
'Really? I didn't even know I had that CD.' You frown.
'Yes, is covering the dust, and look very old.'
'So, you've been through all my CDs?'
'Of course,' I say. 'I read your letters and diaries as well.'
'And looked your photo.'
'What? You've looked through all my stuff?' You seeming like suddenly hear the alien from Mars attack the Earth.
'Not all. Parts that diary are make me sad. I can't sleep at night,' I say.

I love how she uses his word suddenly at the end there. This book is very much about language and the power of words (god, I hate it when all I can think of is something trite, but it works here and it's late).

Since I read this chapter late last night, I have been trying to select my 10 favorite/most beautiful words.
rain, solitude, darkness, exacerbate, freedom, sublime, haunting, silence, enigma--that's 9. I think I have to go to bed now, but I'll ponder the 10th word and update this post tomorrow.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Catching up

I seem to spend a lot of time catching up lately--catching up on grading, catching up on grad school work, catching up on reading--but I can't seem to get caught up enough to blog regularly. I have so many things that I have wanted to blog about in the last month or so, but I have found little time to do it. Hopefully, I will have more time to blog on a regular basis when I am finished with teaching, and I should be finished on May 26 (May 25 if I'm not required to attend graduation as an honor teacher this year).

Some blog topics that I didn't get caught up enough to post:
  • Spring Break in London - I have been to London three times before, but I actually saw some things this time that I had never seen before: Stonehenge, Bath, and the Natural History Museum. The Natural History Museum building is worth seeing for itself, regardless of the exhibits. As a young person, I wanted to be an architect, and this building made me wish that I knew much about architecture. Stonehenge was cool too, but I wish I could had sat in the middle and meditated for a while. Bath was a surprisingly bustling city, but time prevented me from seeing little more than the baths.
  • Currently reading - A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo. This interesting novel is now available from, but I had to order it from Amazon UK when I first heard of it. I got an email about the Orange Prize longlist and checked out the books on the list. When I read the info on Amazon UK about this book, I decided that I had to have it even if it cost me more than if I waited until it was available in the U.S. I am really enjoying it, so I don't mind that I paid so much for it.
  • Kiran Desai and Anita Desai read in Houston a couple of weeks ago. Interesting reading -- they were introduced by another Indian female author (I'll check my notes and fill in the name later) and interviewed after the reading by another Indian female author (must check notes for this name too). I was surprised that the audience was so overwhelmingly white. I expected more Indians to be there. As for the reading, both authors made me want to read her books.
  • Astros had a bad start to the season. They didn't win until the fifth game of the season and are sitting at 4-6 now. Of course, the baseball season is very long, so I won't give up on them.
  • Job hunting - I have applied for one library job so far, but I really plan to apply for as many as possible. I figure if I flood the market that I will have a better chance of getting into a library. Even if I don't get into a library, I seriously will not teach again after this year.
I guess that's enough for now. Hopefully, I will find more time to blog this week. Later.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Written on the Body

It's late, and I really should be in bed asleep, but I stayed up late grading papers--YUCK!

Before I go to bed, I have to write something about Jeanette Winterson's novel Written on the Body. I started this short novel after reading Book World's rave review of Winterson's Oranges are Not the Only Fruit. I finished it tonight before I started grading those papers. If I hadn't been so busy lately, I would have finished it much faster--a page-turner of the best kind.

Written on the Body was my first Winterson reading experience, and I will definitely try some of her other novels too. In addition, I may have to start reading Winterson's monthly columns. According to Callie at Counterbalance, there is "always something meaty" in her columns.

Because it's so late, I won't go into detail about why I liked Written on the Body, but I will share two incredible paragraphs:
In a vacuum all photons travel at the same speed. They slow down when traveling through air or water or glass. Photons of different energies are slowed down at different rates. If Tolstoy ahd known this, would he have recognised the terrible untruth at the beginning of Anna Karenina? 'All happy families are alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own particular way.' In fact it's the other way around. Happiness is specific. Misery is a generalisation. People usually know exactly why they are happy. They very rarely know why they are miserable.
Misery is a vacuum. A space without air, a suffocated dead place, the abode of the miserable. Misery is a tenement block, rooms like battery cages, sit over your own droppings, lie on your own filth. Misery is a no U-turns, no stopping road. Travel down it pushed by those behind, tripped by those in front. Travel down it at furious speed though the days are mummified in lead. It happens so fast once you get started, there's no anchor from the real world to slow you down, nothing to hold on to. Misery pulls away the brackets of life leaving you to free fall. Whatever your private hell, you'll find millions like it in Misery. This is the town where everyone's nightmares come true.

What a great description! I would love to say more, but it's already after 1:00a.m. and the alarm will go off at 5:00a.m. I better go to bed now.