Monday, April 28, 2008

Bits and Hints

More words of wisdom I have gathered the past 20 years:

A room without books is like a body without a soul. Cicero
Poets are the ultimate philosophers. They surprise us with new observations, touch us with their empathy, startle us with their metaphors and delight us with their vision. Jan Lieberman
It's hard for the modern generation to understand Thoreau, who lived beside a pond, but didn't own water skis or a snorkel. Bill Vaughan
There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are. W. Somerset Maugham
(In writing my books) I try to leave out the parts that people skip. Elmore Leonard
Those of us who have gone down a rabbit hole, who have climbed the mast of a plunging schooner with a pirate hot on our tails, who have gone back in time on the back of a cat, those of us who have done these things know how narrow and bleak our lives would have been if untouched by these mind-stretching adventures. For beyond the mere skills of learning to read lies a land of vision and enchantment. The child who is never pointed in that direction will grow to adulthood literate in the "letters" sense of the word, but with a sadly undernourished spirit. Knornei Chukovsky Reading Guidance in a Media Age
In reviewing a book he had just read, Ambrose Bierce said, "The covers are too far apart."
There is an old Yiddish custom--when young children completed a page of study, their teacher dropped a dot of honey on the bottom of the page. The children were encouraged to dip their fingers in the honey and taste the sweetness. Learning should always be sweet. ( I gave my students little pieces of Bit O' Honey candy when I could find them)
From Reader's Digest: A friend introduced me to his daughter, a smartly dressed woman with the manner of a professional person. I learned she was a Roman Catholic nun on vacation from her position as an educational administrator. We agreed that her life-style as a nun was vastly different from what it would have been in earlier days.
"Sister," I said, half in jest, "who knows what changes are yet to come. Why, some future pope may decide to allow nuns to marry!"
"Perhaps," came the reply. "Perhaps she will."
There is power in a dream of excellence.
Education is learning what you didn't even know you didn't know. Ralph Waldo Emerson

Getting tired of these? I am only half-way through the first of six books.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Word Treasures

Commonplace wisdom:

Dr. Seuss took 220 words, rhymed them and turned out Cat in the Hat, a little volume of absurdity that worked like a karate chop on the weary little world of Dick, Jane and Spot.
Ellen Goodman
Good writing is supposed to evoke a sensation in the reader--not the fact that it is raining, but the feel of being rained upon. E. L. Doctorow
A writer lives in awe of words
for they can be cruel or kind,
and they can change their meanings
right in front of you.
They pick up flavors and odors
like butter in the refrigerator.
John Steinbeck
Making a decision to write was a lot like a decision to jump into a frozen lake. I knew I was going in....If I survived at all, it would be a triumph. If I swam, it would be a miracle.
Maya Angelou
Joyce Maynard compares nurturing children to launching toy boats--we lower them gently, run along the bank aways...even get them unstuck a time or two...Then they'll be off toward some unknown destination, while we stand on the shore, waving and cheering, watching them go.
A sixth-grade boy came to the desk, returning a book he really liked The Hunchback of Notre Dame. He asked, "Do you have any more books about deformed bell-ringers?"
Ships in harbor are safe. But that's not what ships are for. John Shedd
The best way out is always through. Helen Keller
I still find that each day is too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read and all the friends I want to see. John Burroughs
Some people, no matter how old they get, never lose their beauty. They simply move it from their faces into their hearts. Max Bauxbaum
Good communication is as stimulating as black coffee, and just as hard to sleep after.
Anne Morrow Lindbergh Gift from the Sea
If you don't believe in ghosts, you have never been to a family reunion. Ashleigh Brillant

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Additional wisdom

Here are some more wise tidbits from my commonplace book:

Children sing the song which they hear from their mother and father. Old African proverb
Deliver us from evil by the blessing
which Christ brings
and teach us to be
merry with clear hearts. (I love this line!)
Robert L. Stevenson
Jim to Huck Finn in Big River:
Life is considerable trouble and considerable joy.
Some people have rain; others have monsoons.
It's a good thing to have the props pulled out from under us once in a while. It gives us some sense of what is rock under our feet and what is sand. Madeleine L'Engle
Don't doubt in the darkness what God has shown you in the light.
Cliff Notes are like reading the recipe and not tasting the dish.
Unfortunately you won't find God's gift to women in a singles' bar. George Martin
Jesus died to take away your sins, not your mind. George Martin
There is only one problem with religions that have all the answers--they don't allow questions.
George Martin, Episcopal priest in Minnesota
"He missed happiness by seconds" Graham Greene The Power and the Glory
Neglected kids of church workers: apostolic orphans Harold Hazelip
Education's purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one. Malcolm Forbes
At a dinner honoring American Nobel Prize winners, their first official recognition by the government (President Kennedy) announced, "This is the most extraordinary collection of talent.... that has ever gathered together at the White House with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone." Theodore Sorensen in Kennedy
I love all these!!!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Commonplace ideas

Here's more from my commonplace book:

From Max Lucado, Feb. 24, 1987:

The most valuable thing a Christian has is the edge of amazement he stands on. The church in the New Testament was overwhelmed with Jesus.

Who would have believed that God would enter the world through the womb of a teen-age Jewish girl?

Before he died Jack Benny arranged that his wife Mary would get a single red rose a day for the rest of her life.

A boy saw a plaque on the wall of the church. He asked what it was. He was told it was a list of all who died in the service. He asked, "Which one, the first or the second?"

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein. Red Smith

Get your facts first and then you can distort them as much as you please. Mark Twain

Nothing makes a person more productive than the last minute.

Seeds planted early take deep root. Elizabeth Yates

(Books) Their pleasures linger like the smell of strawberries or the sound of a home run. Susan OHanion

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Commonplace Books

Commonplace books emerged in the 15th century when cheap paper became readily available. They were essentially journals in which were placed quotations, recipes, formulas, prayers, proverbs, etc. In the 18th century, they were used for copying poems or snippets of poetry the gatherer wished to remember. Some say that the commonplace books were guides to the culture of the day. One definition read, "a book in which are entered literary excerpts, striking passages and personal comments." They were kept by such people as John Milton, George Eliot, Mark Twain and Thomas Jefferson.

Some compare the blogs of today with the commonplace books.

I didn't know what it was, but I have been keeping a commonplace book for the last 21 years. Over the next few blogs, I will list some for posterity's sake--and because I like to read over them every now and then.

Feb. 20, 1987:

A man without humor is like a wagon without springs--he is jolted disagreeably by every pebble in the road.
Henry Ward Beecher

A writer must be word-hungry.

Laughter is the hand of God on the shoulder of a very troubled world.

An artist must be idea-hungry, that is, in a state of mind receptive to ideas. Horn Book, Don Wood, Sept.-Oct. 1986

(Children's authors) may deal in wonder; but reality is ever present. Robert Hale

Writing "under the gun" is not writing. Eileen Tway, Time for Writing in The Elementary School.

Maia Wojciechowska once told of being asked what she was doing when she was a child at school and responding,
"Thinking." "Well, stop it!" the teacher directed. The event provoked her father into taking her out of school. (As he knew) time to think is essential to the education of children.

A journal is one's gift to oneself. Patricia Lee Gauch

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


Some of my favorite words today are:

"Watch me, Nonnie!
Whether I'm kicking a soccer ball or
climbing up the back of a chair--

"Watch me, Nonnie!"
Whether I am playing my new two-handed piano piece or
jumping up and down
in the middle of the bed--

"Watch me, Nonnie!"
Whether I am trying a somersault or
viewing a Barney DVD for the 100th time--

"Watch me, Nonnie!"
Whether I am creating a new Polly Pocket scene or
Pretending to be Spiderman shooting webs from my wrists,

"Watch me, Nonnie!"

These are the sweetest words in my world today. Thank you, God.

Children's Poetry

Children's poetry has changed a lot since this one from A Child's Garden of Verses:

A child should always say what's true

And speak when he is spoken to

And behave mannerly at table;

At least as far as he is able.

Through the years, anthologists have struggled with providing poetry appealing to children--some good verse and some bad verse. The question is "Just what kind of poetry is appealing to children?

Shel Silverstein set the pace for those who thought all poetry had to be funny, risque or gross. Then, of course, there were those I Can Read books by Dr.Seuss like One Fish, Two Fish, etc. Jack Prelutsky has become a favorite. One of his is "Willie Ate a Worm Today." My favorite of his I use at Halloween: "The Ghoul". In recent years, poets have felt that children must surely be drawn in by bathroom humor, and so has come the coarsening of children's poetry.

Jane Yolen, Naomi Nye and others have tried to veer the genre away from these off-course rhymes. Yolen has a new book for pre-school and younger children Here's a Little Rhyme. A good Nye book is
The Same Sky: a Collection of Poems from Around the World.

Sunday, April 20, 2008


There is only one word to describe spring in Tennessee: LUSH!!!!! It seems that every day something new has come out to dazzle the eyes and the nose--at first it was daffodils, hyacinth and Bradford trees, then yellow forsythia and red tulips; now the dogwoods are blooming--with showy white and pink blossoms. Wow!!!!

Here's a little poem about the progress of spring:

Showers and shine bring,
Slowly, the deepening verdure o'er the earth;
To put their foliage out, the woods are slack,
And one by one the singing birds come back.

William Cullen Bryant

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Elusive Poem

Several times over the past few months the following poem (or part of a poem) by Elizabeth Barrett Browning has crossed my path. I have written and spoken about seeing joy in the mundane in several classes recently--but I have never been able to trace where this bit comes from. I do appreciate the sentiment of the lines. If anyone knows from whence they come, please answer.

Glory in the Commonplace
Enough of Science and of Art;
Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees
takes off his shoes;
the rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Hymnody and Poetry

My fellowship has a strange custom when singing some old hymns--skipping verses--usually the third. That is strange to me when one considers that the verse is poetry. When reading "Crossing the Bar", would you skip the third verse????? I have never really found out why that happens in our worship; does anyone know?

Another thing we do in our fellowship is change verses we do not like or understand. Many years ago, it was references to the Holy Spirit. Sometimes the verse was "too emotional", sometimes the verse contained "archaic or words that would be unknown to most people." Again, these were written by poets who said what they wanted to say in praise to God!!!

A recent example I have run across is "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing". In the last part of the first verse I grew up singing "Teach me ever to adore thee..." instead of "Teach me some melodious sonnet..." One is definitely more poetic than the other. Does that mean that the revisers did not think worshipers would know what a sonnet was????It is a mystery to me. I do so enjoy this beautiful old hymn in its original form. And by the way, the second verse mentions "my Ebenezer" (go figure).

In the preface to his A Collection of Hymns for the Use of the People Called Methodists, John Wesley wrote: "In these hymns there is no doggerel, no botches, nothing put in to patch up the rhymes, no feeble expletives. Here is nothing turgid or bombast, on the one hand, or low and creeping on the other. Here are no cant expressions: no words without meaning...We (he and his brother Charles) talk common sense, both in prose and verse, and use no word in a fixed and determinative sense. Here are, allow me to say, both the purity, the strength, and the elegance of the English language: and, at the same time, the utmost simplicity and plainness, suited to every capacity."

Of course, as soon as the words become public domain, anyone is free to change these old hymns.
I wish they did not seem so compelled to do that. Thomas Dudley-Smith ( a lyricist) writes, "In its own way, a hymn needs to be a work of art. A good hymn should exist in its own right as a product of craftsmanship and the artist's ear and eye."

Contemporary hymn writers are carrying on the old traditions of the Wesleys and others. I love singing both the old and the new.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


Where would the world be without dreamers? Those who look to the future with imagination and hope....

One of my favorite poets is Langston Hughes. His childhood years were unstable because his father, a lawyer, left the family and moved to Mexico because of racism in the U. S. Raised by his grandmother, he was taught a sense of racial pride as she told him stories about his African ancestors. He was elected class poet in grammar school since he "had a sense of rhythm."
(More racism!) He later lived with his father in Mexico trying to persuade him to support Langston at Columbia in his desire to be a writer. His father said he would pay for an engineering degree, so Hughes went to Columbia studying engineering. He dropped out because of the racial prejudice at the university, but later got a degree at Lincoln University. After dropping out of Columbia, Hughes moved to Harlem where he came of age as a poet in the Harlem Renaissance.

His book The Dream Keeper and Other Poems was published for children in 1994 with wonderful pen and ink drawings by Brian Pinkney. Here are some "dreamer" selections:

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.
The Dream Keeper
Bring me all of your dreams,
You dreamers,
Bring me all of your
Heart melodies
That I may wrap them
In a blue cloud-cloth
Away from the too-rough fingers
of the world.
His poem "Dream Variation" contains the much used phrase, "black like me."

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Between Easter and Pentecost

In our Vesper's celebration each Wednesday at Otter Creek, we follow the church calendar. The calendar now stands between Easter and Pentecost.

I have a new book of the prayers of Walter Brueggemann. His prayers often qualify as poetry in their form and language. Here is one for the season:
Candidates for Newness
We live the long stretch between
Easter and Pentecost, scarcely noticing.
We hear mention of the odd claim of ascension.
We easily recite the creed,
"He ascended into heaven."
We bow before such quaint language and move on,
immune to ascent,
indifferent to enthronement
unresponsive to new governance.
It is reported that behind the ascending son was
the majestic Father riding the clouds
But we do not look up much;
we stay close to the ground to business and
to busyness
to management and control.
Our world of well-being has a very low
ceiling, but we do not mind the closeness
or notice the restrictiveness.
It will take at least a Pentecost wind to
break open our vision enough to imagine new governance.
We will regularly say the creed
and from time to time--in crises that
drive us to hope and to wish--
wait for a new descent of the spirit among us.
Until then, we stay jaded,
but for all that,
no less candidates for newness.
Walter Brueggemann Prayers for Privileged People
(sorry, Blogger is not allowing me today to put the prayer in poetric arrangement as written) Why???

Monday, April 14, 2008

Greet the Morning--Poetry

I am a morning person. My husband was not--I guess opposites do attract.

I like mornings because they always herald a new beginning.The Bible (particularly Psalms) is full of admonitions to praise God in the morning, and I try to do that. At my age, I praise him for one more day....

One of my favorite poems about morning and the day which follows:

Morning is
a new sheet of paper
for you write on.

Whatever you want to say
all day
until night
folds it up
and throws it away.

The bright words, and the dark words
are gone
until dawn
and a new day
to write on.

Eve Merriam It Doesn't Always Have to Rhyme

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Poetry Units

Remember those horrible poetry units in school (designed to make the student hate poetry) in which you had to collect poems maybe on a certain theme and illustrate them? When Brandon did his, we cut up several copies of Ideals Magazines to illustrate.

Generally the teacher also asked the student to write a poem--maybe a haiku. Haiku is probably one of the hardest forms of poetry to write. It is a Japanese verse form consisting of only seventeen syllables in three lines of five, seven and five syllables each. It should convey a single image or feeling. I like this take-off on it:

The only problem
with Haiku is that you just
get started and then

Roger McGough

But here is a good example

In the amber dusk
Each island dreams its own night.
The sea swarms with gold.

Isn't that lovely...

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Patriotic Power of Poetry

Two asides before we get to poetry:

Michael Johns gone!!!No, No, No, No. Should have been at least three others before him, and I think he probably should have won it all. Boo, Boo, Boo!!!!!

As a colon cancer survivor, I am celebrating a perfect colonoscopy this week--so relieved # 1 to have it over for another 5 years, and # 2 for there to be NO polyps. Also celebrating a perfect mammogram (this may be too much information)--I have been know to have cysts, aspirations, needle biopsies, etc. THANK YOU, GOD.

Poetry has long stimulated patriotic feelings--ever since the songs of Moses and Miriam in Exodus 14.

One can just think of the first line of a poem and visualize a moment in history or a certain flag (since the U. S. A. is where I live, those will have to be my references): Do you know them all?

"O, beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain....."

"Give me your tired, your poor...."

"O, say can you see by the dawn's early light...."

"When lilacs last in the dooryard bloomed...."

Here once the embattled farmers stood and fired the shots heard round the world...."

"In Flanders Fields where poppies blow between the crosses row on row...."

"Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord...."

Everybody ready to stand and pledge?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Emotion of Poetry

Robert Frost has famously said, "A poem begins with a lump in the throat."

Those of us in Music City know this is the kind of poetry that drives country music. Poetry is not the vapid, dry lines of a Hallmark card--but language and rhyme which make the heart overflow.

Frost had many reasons for lumps in his throat--his personal life was full of tragedy, and he often suffered deep depression. He dropped out of Dartmouth to marry. His first son died of cholera at age three; a daughter died three days after birth . The next couple of years, his favorite sister died in a mental hospital and another daughter contracted tuberculosis from which she also died.His wife died of heart failure several years later. Another son became increasingly distraught and threatened suicide. Frost went to vsit him and talked him out of it, but as Frost returned home, his son shot himself. Yet another daughter had to be committed to a mental hospital.

Frost was later quoted, "In three words, I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on."


left us,
he left his
bedroom slippers
beneath the sink
on the bathroom floor.
Mama put them
in the giveaway bag
for the poor,
I knew
this time
had gone
out the door
for good.
Lee Bennett Hopkins from Been to Yesterday, Poems of a Life

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The language of poetry

Paul Valery wrote, "Poetry is an art of language: certain combinations of words can produce an emotion that others do not produce....In short, it is a language within a language."

Those who love words and language generally love poetry. Christopher Fry has said, "Poetry is the language in which man explores his own amazement." In addition, Paul Engle wrote in The New York Times that "poetry is ordinary language raised to the nth power. Poetry is boned with ideas, nerved and blooded with emotions, all held together by the delicate, tough skin of words."

And my favorite definition with perfectly joined words: "Poetry is the synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits." Carl Sandburg Makes you want to smell and eat, doesn't it? Brings to mind this little ditty:

Ink runs from the corners of my mouth
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry.

Mark Strand

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The Poetry of Prayer

Here is another prayer poem from a saint (also from Soul Weavings):

The fullness of joy

is to behold God in everything.

God is the ground, the substance,

the teaching, the teacher,

the purpose,

and the reward for which every soul labors.

Julian of Norwich

Monday, April 07, 2008

The Poetry of Prayer

The prayer we call "The Lord's Prayer" in Matthew 6:9 has many poetic qualities and in most versions of the Bible is indented in poetic form.

This one is from a book called Soul Weavings: a Gathering of Women's Prayers:

It seems to me Lord
that we search much too desperately for answers,
when a good question holds as much grace as an answer.
You are the great Questioner.
Keep our questions alive,
that we may always be seekers rather than settlers.
Guard us well from the sin of settling in
with our answers hugged to our breasts.
Make of us a wondering, far-sighted, questioning, restless people
And give us the feet of pilgrims on this journey unfinished.

Macrina Wiederkehr

Friday, April 04, 2008

Emily Dickinson

In celebration of Poetry Month, let's try a little Emily:

Tell all the Truth but tell it slant--
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightening to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind--

Do you suppose that it why God and John "circuited" heaven with metaphors, similies and precious stones?

(Poetry is) "what ideas feel like." Karl Shapiro

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Poetry Month

April is Poetry Month, so I will be doing things with that for a while.

Poetry has never appealed to the majority of the population--not even in the 19th century. Christians do have a special link to poetry, however little they know or suspect it. Those who revere the Psalms are reading poetry every time they open them. Those who sing hymns each Sunday are singing poetry.

It is unfortunate that some readers were turned off poetry forever in school as they memorized, parsed, copied and did "poetry notebooks". Poetry feeds my soul--try it for a while with me this month.

Edgar Allen Poe called poetry "the rhymthic creation of beauty. "I think one of the best stanzas of a modern praise song I have heard is from Mercy Me's
The Love of God:

Could we with ink the ocean fill
And were the skies of parchment made
Were every stalk on earth a quill
And every man a scribe by trade--
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry
Nor could the scroll contain the whole
Though stretched from sky to sky.