National Poetry Month

In honor of National Poetry Month, I want to post links to some of my favorite poems, including those of my almost-famous writer friends, and one of my own. Special thanks to poetryfoundation.org for providing free poetry to the masses.

Underneath each poem you will find a small story about how it has come to weave itself into my being.

I’ve talked about many of these poets already in this post  and this one too. But I have gathered them all here, alive and dead, for a poetry slam. So make your coffee or tea, turn down the brightness on your tablet so it feels more like a book, and cozy up close.

Icons

-in the order I encountered them-

The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe

I know this is so cliche and everyone who says they love Poe loves this poem. But it was the first of his that I read. And though I didn’t really think about madness or mental illness at the time I read it (6th grade, maybe?), I’m sure my encounters with Poe have contributed to my preoccupation with insanity and/or mental instability in my own works. Also, I often read this poem aloud like a prayer when I just need to hear a good story told by someone with way more problems than I have.

Desert Places by Robert Frost

My mom always had this jacketless volume of Frost around the house from which I’d memorized a poem for the Language Arts festival in grade school. For the life of me I can’t find it, something about fall leaves (I know! Good luck trying to pick one out of the thousands he wrote about fall leaves!). But then, in one of my favorite college English classes, Professor Barton read this poem aloud. I was instantly transfixed by its spell. If poetry is about translating what is inside of ourselves to connect with other human beings in this cold, unfeeling universe, then Robert Frost has melted down and reforged my soul in this poem.

The Tyger by William Blake

One of the most feared, difficult professors I would ever have assigned this poem in the first week of Romantic English Literature. She told us to listen for the sound hiding within it. Our next class, she revealed what she’d wanted us to hear–because nobody could figure it out: a hammer on an anvil. In rereading it just now, I just discovered the hiss of the metal being submerged in a bath of brine to cool in the penultimate stanza.

Lady Lazarus by Sylvia Plath

I remember being appalled by the gore of this poem. But after reading about Plath’s life–getting to know her, if you will–the words of this very poem haunted me and replayed again and again in my thoughts, until the next poem exorcised them temporarily away.

August Rain, After Haying by Jane Kenyon

I heard of Jane Kenyon in a dark romance indie movie. Random, I know. But the movie stayed with me, and from the first poem I read, I knew I hadn’t made a mistake in ordering the collection mentioned in the movie, Constance. There is no link for this poem because I could not find a source that had permission to link to. It is well worth checking for at your local library though.

Sleep Suite by Sharon Olds (or any poem by her)

As always, I am stunned at being given entrance to these intimate, family moments. These glimpses range in scope from personal to universal. I have had this exact thought watching my loved ones sleep, the same surprise, when brought together at a distant relative’s home, at how much my sisters have grown, how they’d claimed each their own branches of the tree from which we all came.

Poets I know

Rust Never Sleeps by Annie Neugebauer

In my opinion, this poem encapsulates the “realistic/life/quiet” side of the poet that she has categorized this poem under. It was one of the first–if not the first–poem of hers that I stumbled upon and read and fell in love with. It calls to mind William Carlos Williams’s “The Red Wheelbarrow”, but I like hers more. 🙂

Enchanted Rock in September: A Tritina  by Carie Juettner

I remember reading the awe in this poem and feeling akin to my friend. It also helped that this poem brings you inside of it, so that you are standing on that enchanted rock too, looking at the same landscape and sky. This work made me think of Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire.

Nest by Ashley B. Davis

To read more about this poem, see this post.

As a bonus, a couple of more contemporary poems I stumbled across:

Home (Initial Findings) by Franny Choi

I’d never experienced a poem like this before. Being visual, this poem hit me hard. It took some time to navigate, but the payoff is big.

Winter Stars by Larry Levis

I love poems that feel epic in scope, that capture generations’ worth of tragedy and triumph, and I love love love the nature/space/science–i.e. stars–in this poem.

 

Do you share any of my favorites listed here? What are some of your favorite poems? Please feel free to share links in the comments.

How to Throw a Bookworm Baby Shower

PART_1437411309730_DSC_0007I’m not big on ceremonies that require a whole lot of pomp or tradition just for the sake of tradition (i.e. weddings, baby showers). Yes, even if they are my own. This probably makes me the least sentimental writer out there, but so you have it.

I knew I needed to have a baby shower though because I needed a lot of things for two babies, so I wanted to ensure it reflected me in some way. And however it reflected me needed to be something I planned to pass down to my chil’en. Thus, books became the theme.

The entire idea came together in pieces, but it all turned out pretty good. I think it started with the awesome books my roomies gifted me for my girls at the horror con.

Shark Vs. Train was hilarious and The Monster at the End of This Book was a great addition to any child's book collection. Funny and unique
Shark Vs. Train was hilarious and The Monster at the End of This Book was a unique addition to any child’s book collection.

To throw your own bookworm baby shower, here are the necessary components of such a shindig:

One pregnant chick:

Yes, my belly button is off center. Stare at it too long and you'll turn to stone.
Yes, my belly button is off center. Stare too long and you’ll turn to stone.

Two impending bookworms (or one in most cases):

If you look close, you can see their designations at the top. 'Baby A' and 'Baby B'
‘Baby A’ on the left and ‘Baby B’ on the right

Bookworms galore in the décor:

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bookworms
We cut a gajillion of these cute little worms out.

Bookmark party favors:

FOTAA4B
Got the idea for these badboys from Pinterest

Books (duh):

FOT139

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We used books underneath the colorful centerpieces my sister made, and the diaper raffle prize was even a book.

People:

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Well…there were a lot more people inside.

To humor your ridiculous love of books that you will either lovingly pass down to the next generation or shove down their throats.

Some of the excellent books we received for the girls in lieu of cards:

  • Animalia by Graeme Base
Probably my favorite illustrated children’s book. Pictures cannot do the book’s detail and thought justice
  • The Time Cat series by Lloyd Alexander
  • The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
  • Wherever You Are My Love Will Find You and On the Night You Were Born by Nancy Tillman
  • Grimm’s Fairy Tales
This is a gorgeous leather bound edition my sister-in-law got us for the girls.
  • Love You Forever by Robert Munsch and Sheila McGraw
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
  • Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd
  • The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss
  • The Stinky Cheeseman and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith
  • Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter

    baby lit
    This pretty and colorful collection of ‘Baby Lit’ is from a high school best friend
pandp
The illustrations are beautiful and the structure perfect for primer books, specifically counting primers or opposites primers

There you have it, folks. All you need for a bona fide bookworm baby shower.

Stephen King: The Metallica of Literature

*If you know nothing of Stephen King’s Carrie, this may contain a spoiler or two. 

Carrie Metallica

Hypothesis

Not to make generalizations here, but almost everyone likes Metallica. Fine. Let me correct my hyperbole: the vast majority of people who have heard them like at least one Metallica song. Stephen King is like the Metallica of literature; he is accessible, even to those readers who don’t particularly care for horror, just as Metallica is enjoyed by people that prefer all types of music to metal. My best friend is a self-professed pop and top 40 lover. I’ve had coworkers and acquaintances which were hardcore fans of rap and others fans of country, predominately. What do they have in common? Well, none of them would say they really enjoyed metal, but they all also liked Metallica. Maybe they aren’t Metallica fans, but they enjoyed the music. Something about Metallica is accessible. Maybe it is in James Hetfield’s just gritty enough voice, or in Kirk Hammet’s and Hetfield’s just catchy enough riffs that are metal while employing easy-to-nod-your-head-to (otherwise known as head-banging) time signatures, so as to have you belting out Enter Sandman while in the car with grandma.

No offense to the hardcore or longtime Metallica fans. I can appreciate their less accessible, complex work from the early days and their recent return to that sound with Death Magnetic (know nothing of the newest album). But the fact is, some of their music is more popular among the masses, just as authors sometimes tap into exactly what the public unwittingly desires at a given moment (YA dystopian, right now. Who knew?). I am not saying that accessibility here means tame horror in King’s case or less profound music in Metallica’s. Merely, that King and Metallica both have something to offer those who don’t dabble in these sometimes intimidating genres.

This post is not a foray into music history; I’m not enough of an expert–or any kind of expert, really–on music or Metallica to claim that. It’s about Stephen King. The point is King’s horror is accessible. That is why people consider it popular literature. Does that mean it has less literary value? No, just the opposite. There are moments in his work that leave you in awe, leave you thinking, this guy knows how to spin a yarn, or, THIS GUY knows how to tap into the human experience, all stardust and muck that it is. And because he can appeal to a wide audience with deep human themes and superior writing that often characterizes literary fiction, he repeatedly presides at the top of bestseller lists.

Opposition

There is some misconception out there that popularity means less respectable or that one is only truly successful as an artist if they are obscure and only appeal to a select group of refined taste. But that’s just not true.

King has a story for everyone, a tone, a theme, and speaks in the language of the everyman. A well-read, damn talented everyman albeit. That is how Stephen King is like the Metallica of literature. Who could make any kind of argument that Metallica, millionaires they are now, aren’t talented even though they’re popular?

The People’s Exhibit A

Where do I take this pain of mine / I run, but it stays right my side / So tear me open, pour me out / There’s things inside that scream and shout / And the pain still hates me /  So hold me, until it sleeps / Just like the curse, just like the stray / You feed it once, and now it stays / So tear me open, but beware / There’s things inside without a care / And the dirt still stains me / So wash me, until I’m clean

–from “Until It Sleeps” by Metallica

Poetry. And universal. Of course you can’t hear it, but you’ve heard them. So you know.

Okay, back to King.

After listening to Carrie on audiobook in my 2015-read-King’s-first-5-books goal, I erroneously assumed it would be boring, that I wouldn’t enjoy it because I’d already seen the two movies and therefore knew the premise. But the truth is, I didn’t know that King’s first book could be so powerful. As I admit in this article for Unnoffical Stephen King Month over at Dark Moon Digest, upon writing it, I had only ever read the beginning two books—terrifying in their own right—of the Dark Tower Series and On Writing, so I knew he was good. But I didn’t think this storyline, which I had assumed was common knowledge, could be so magnificently written, that it could be rife with lessons on storytelling for writers. The thing is, the movies can’t hold a candle to the subplots and tension that King weaves into the novel’s coarse threads. For one, the cinema always goes with a pretty lead and that’s just not the case in King’s version, which makes a big difference. I could go on with other things the movies don’t quite capture, but primarily, in the novel, we see more of Carrie’s rage as it builds and builds to eventually explode in the natural disaster that it does in the end.

The People’s Exhibit B

“Let the streets be filled with the smell of their sacrifice. Let this place be called racca, icahbod, wormwood.

Flex.

And power transformers atop lightpoles bloomed into nacreous purple light, spitting Catherine-wheel sparks. High tension wires fell into the street in pick-up-sticks tangles…”

–from Carrie, Chapter 17

Need I even defend my choice of this excerpt as proof that King’s masterful storytelling is enough to turn any horror naysayer into a believer in its power, at the very least?

This novel has shown me ‘fear in a handful of dust’. Carrie gives us a sheltered and strange girl, mocked and tortured all of her life, and shows us the monsters we construct out of the very darkest parts of ourselves. Carrie shows us that our stories continue being written long after we’re gone, our monsters shaped and molded to the will and needs of those that survive us, regardless of what we wanted to be remembered by.

Conclusion

Even if you don’t like horror, you should give Stephen King a try. He offers a wide buffet, and a few of the dishes really must be sampled before writing him or the entire genre off. He is, after all, a student of human nature, writing about all of its highs and terrifying lows. Stephen King, like Metallica, is a gateway to his genre, a key master to the realm of horror. You don’t have to like being scared or uncomfortable, or like gore to connect with his characters and their startlingly, terrifyingly real circumstances.

Do you agree that Stephen King is accessible horror? Do you know of other authors or works that fit this characterization of gateway to the horror genre? Please recommend them so that we can show the horror-haters there’s really not all that much to fear. 😉

 

Some other enlightening posts on this grave matter:

Thoughts On IT by Stephen King, What it Takes to Enjoy Horror, and Why I Write It

Again, Annie Neugebauer’s 3 Amazing Horror Authors and Why You Should Read Them

Fellow Unnofficial Stephen King Month contributors:

From Nowhere to Geekdom

Stephen King, My Personal Savior

Organic King

And just for fun:

King Still Digs Metal

An Almost Perfect Reading Session

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Because I work a day job while trying to being a writer, I have to take my moments of productivity when I can get them. Now don’t let me fool you; it is a rare thing to find me writing after work. I usually binge on my days off. But on the off-chance that I can get something accomplished, I tend to carry with me whatever chapter/poem/outline I’m working on to look over on my lunch break to, ideally, make a dabble of progress. Of this one hour time slot for writing-related work, I dedicate about 15 minutes to the preparation of my lunch and the consuming thereof (again, don’t let me fool you: it’s almost all prep. I inhale food like a soldier in the chow hall).

You’re probably wondering why I’m yammering on about writing–and eating–when this post is about reading. Well, I’ve had a lot of coffee today, so you’re just gonna have to deal with my digressions. Now, though this is my designated writing time, I just so happen to have a Write Night tonight, and I have already completed my chapters and sent them off to my best friend/writing partner’s capable hands. In keeping with the lunch theme, I have also already devoured her chapters.

Necessities for Write Night critique sessions: good food, CAFFEINE, and colorful gel pens, duh
Necessities for Write Night critique sessions: good food, CAFFEINE, and colorful gel pens, duh

So, having accomplished all of these grand tasks, I thought I’d let myself indulge in some relaxing reading. I had two things to choose from: a One Story, entitled “Claire, the Whole World” (really good so far) sent to me in a carefully crafted care package by the illuminous* and industrious, Carie Juettner, or Dracula (I have 15 pages left; I’m so close!). But I’m not going to tell you what I chose, because what I read doesn’t matter. The point is, that hour–or 45 minutes realistically speaking–of drowsy-after-lunch-hot-afternoon tranquility was beautiful. And in that sublime state, you will sometimes find that your thoughts lilting on some strange, almost surreal, bend to whatever you’re reading, but for the life of you, you can’t recall the thought when you come to. This is a uniquely satisfying state to read a book in.

This isn’t the perfect state to read a book in, because let’s face it, if you have to pay attention, this is actually the opposite way you should consume the reading material. But it can be deemed an almost perfect reading session, which brings us to our list of requirements for–yep, you guessed it–an almost perfect reading session:

  • 1 comfy chair
  • an even climate (preferably a controlled one if it’s 108 outside like it is here)
  • a spot of tea or coffee-yes, even in the afternoon
  • a full, happy tummy
  • a kitty on my lap would have been nice, but alas we have no office cats. I will have to retry this entire thing on my day off
Doesn't she look so damn cuddly?
Doesn’t she look so damn cuddly?
  • And finally, a really good book. You can use an e-reader, but it really isn’t the same. You can argue with me, but I stand by that statement 😉

So eat your lunch–please, chew your food–gather your chair and book and kitty and settle in for a lovely afternoon of reading/dozing/almost-perfect contentment.

*Pretty sure I made that word up

What Your Goodreads Says About You

booksGoodreads is an amazing and innovative resource. I found out about it in 2010, but my obsession really took flight in  2012. It has proved an invaluable tool in so many ways: tracking books I want to read (still waiting for a movie version of this concept; imdb doesn’t quite cut it), learning about new books, keeping a running log of what I have read, and giving myself yearly challenges to consume more literature. And for writers, here is a really cool use for Goodreads to find comparables for your own works (the entire post is fantastic, but you can scroll down to “A Shortcut” for the Goodreads part).

While scrolling through the ‘my books’ tab, I discovered something about myself. Not only do I read widely—no genre-snobbery here!—but I have a very limited attention span. So I thought, what might other people’s Goodreads pages say about them?

This stack says more about my characters than it does me
This stack says more about my characters than it does me

I will not presume to analyze who you are at your core given the types of books you have marked as ‘read’, ‘currently reading’, or ‘to-read’. But let’s talk about your statuses on those books and the personality traits it might hint at. Before I dive in, a disclaimer: You may recognize yourself in this post. Know that I do not seek to criticize anyone’s reading choices or styles. This is merely a dabbling in personality horoscoping given various Goodreads statuses—stati?

So to begin, I take you to the first reader personality:

The ADD

This is what ADD looks like. It's not a joke. I am not laughing.
This is what ADD looks like. It’s not a joke. I am not laughing.

This is the person (i.e. I am the person) who has no less than 15 books at any given moment, sometimes for months. When this person loses interest for even a second, they tend to move on. These people are probably very hard to carry on a conversation with as they jump from thought to thought. They have the best organizational intentions that don’t always pan out, oftentimes resulting in an organized mess, stacks of books and papers in towers divided by subject or tasks, pens marking places in books, books marking places in books, five different notebooks going with ideas for one novel (see? They made the effort to set aside a notebook for ideas). This person may be widely read, but does not often complete each ambitious venture into new and (what was once) exciting territory.

 

The Secret-Keeper or The Fear-of-Commitment

These are the people that do not post books until they’ve finished reading them. They are the lurkers; they start adding all kinds of books to read from other’s to-read or currently-reading lists, but you never see what they’re currently reading. Like it’s some sort of top secret mission: survey the populace under the guise of a reader, but lo! The Secret-Keeper then rates three books at once that he or she read in the past 24 hours, having never appeared on the currently-reading list before they are just done.  This person is deep as a well, introspective and sometimes shy. Also endowed with the title Fear-of-Commitment because they might hold back from posting their in-progress reads for fear putting themselves out there and failing (i.e. not finishing the book; the ADD has no problem with this). Though they keep the rate of their progress on their reading ventures to themselves, they have no shortage of reading stamina and rated books at the end of the day.

 

The Scheduled and/or Meticulous Follower-Through

night film norton anth of poetry on writing frefall

These are people that always only have a few select books, usually widely ranged or in different areas, like a fiction, a nonfiction, and a poetry perhaps, and there are no other books added until those are read. These people are probably maddeningly organized, positive, dependable, and infectiously upbeat. You might find yourself screaming through the screen at them, “How do you do it?!” And then muttering, “Ooh, that looks good,” before adding one of their recent reads to your own to-read list.

The Online-Dater

This person has hundreds of friends somehow and little to no books. He or she does not want to be left out and often seeks to be the center of attention. Rambunctious, funny, friendly, talkative, and can rarely be found sitting at home reading a book (apparently).

The Slow-and-Steady

You’ll see one book on this person’s Goodreads for a week or so, and you know they’re actually reading it because you see the status updates every few pages. They do this out of pride and self-satisfaction with their progress (I know, because this is part of my M.O. too). This personality is that person that you don’t want to play chess or Risk with, because they take a long time to make decisions. Not because they are inept, but because they are too calculated. As a result, their decisions are often the right ones, but everyone affected by those decisions have aged 27 years by the time it’s made.

The Erudite

norton anth of theory and criticism culture and imperialism fabric of cosmos

This personality’s feed boasts a proliferation of nonfiction books consistently, making you wonder if this person ever partakes in the simple pleasure of a good ‘ole fictive endeavor. They can usually be found reading obscure things that often feel like work to us normal folk like Literary Theory, or philosophy, or social criticism. Don’t get me wrong, I read those things myself back in my college days, and I enjoyed them—some of them—and I even look forward to getting back to Heideger’s Being and Time, and Jung’s Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, but do I want to read that all day every day and never anything else? This constant information inundation pays off for the studious, duteous Erudite reader who often believes him or herself to be right, because they usually probably are. Do not get into an argument with this person. They are like a hound on the scent.

Want to change your goodreads personality horoscope? If you’re ADD like me, finish all the books on your currently reading list and allow yourself one at a time. If you’re slow and steady, you can give yourself quotas per year or month. Afraid of looking like an ADD? Are you Afraid-of-Commitment? Just put yourself out there. You never know what kind of feedback you might garner. The Online-Dater? Read something! How did you find this website anyway?

Have you encountered any other personality types on Goodreads?