Thursday, September 21, 2017

Robert Frost's Poems


New Enlarged Pocket Anthology of Robert Frost’s Poems: With an Introduction and Commentary by Louis Untermeyer.  Pocket Books: 1971 (29th printing):




My first introduction to Robert Frost came in high school, specifically “The Road Not Taken” and “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” These are his two most famous poems and probably most people have some familiarity with them. I like them and both spoke to me.  I wouldn’t say they inspired me or influenced my own poetry, which developed much later. In high school I was still convinced that I didn’t like poetry. I came to understand later that I didn’t like poetry with facile rhymes or that simply pointed out an observation, thought or feeling that I already knew well from my own experience. It wasn’t until I discovered Dylan Thomas in college that I began to see the possibility for poetry to transcend and expand personal experiences.



Because Frost’s poetry spoke of what I would describe as mundane reality, I just never pursued his work further. I don’t mean mundane in a negative sense here. I mean it essentially as “objective” reality. But that’s not what I want to experience in the literary works that I read. I live mundane reality. I want the poetry I read to twist that reality and surprise me. Knowing of Frost’s influence on the field of poetry, however, I did pick up this collection of his poems. I decided I needed to read them. Here are my thoughts.



First, I can certainly agree with the critics that Frost was a superbly talented poet and a keen observer of the world. His poems are typically quite simple in construction, with straightforward rhyming patterns. When they impact me, they tend to evoke quiet and contemplative moods. And now I’ll say, and hope that I won’t be misunderstood, that quiet and contemplative is not what I want from my poetry. I want disturbing. I want rawness. I want the surreal. Frost does not give me these experiences and for that reason he’ll never be as important to me as someone like Dylan Thomas.



I really hope people do not take this as some kind of “dislike” of Frost, or that I’m saying he’s not a poet worthy of study and consideration. I don’t mean it that way. I’m talking about my own very personal and visceral (or lack of that) reaction to his work. Perhaps the best way I can say it is this: I have a bookshelf where I keep copies of works that inspire my own writing, or that have in some way shaped my philosophy on life. Dylan Thomas’s poetry is on that shelf. Some of Ray Bradbury’s is on that shelf. Robert Frost will not be on that shelf, though he may well be on “your” inspirational shelf.  And if that is the case then I salute you.



Moving from my general response to Frost’s work to this specific collection, I’m not sure I’d recommend it. The poems are well presented, of course, and I generally liked the overall organization of the book. However, I just did not care for, or find useful, the commentary by Louis Untermeyer. Untermeyer was a well respected poet and critic, but I found his comments about Frost’s poetry to be long on hyperbole and low on information. Here’s an example, from page 168.

“The poems of Robert Frost have a way of uniting opposites. They are casual in tone but profound in effect, teasing and intense, playful yet deeply penetrating.  Even when they seem to be about a particular place, they suggest ideas unlimited by space.”



This is a good example, to me, of saying nothing while seeming to say much. I would much rather have had information about when and where the poetry was written, and information about any historical connections that the poem may have had. I bought this collection, in part, because I felt I needed some commentary to help me experience Frost. I think now that this was a mistake and I should have come to the poems without any filter. To those of you who are interested in writing poetry and want to study Frost for that reason, I’d suggest a collection with no commentary. For those of you who are making a more literary study of Frost, this collection might be useful but I don’t think it would be a good starting point. Something that places Frost’s work better into the context of his times would likely prove more useful.








Saturday, September 09, 2017

The Summer of Moonlight Secrets


Summer of MoonlightSecrets: By Danette Haworth, 2010, Walker and Company, 273 pages.


Allie Joe and her family manage the Meriwether Hotel in Florida. It was once a grand place frequented by movie stars, but it has seen better days. Some of the upper floors are closed. There are places where the windows are broken out and stray cats and kudzu slip in. But for Allie it is the perfect place, full of secret passages and hidden nooks and crannies. Allie Jo is intelligent and imaginative, but she doesn’t have a lot of friends. This summer will change that.

Chase arrives with his father, a writer, to stay at the hotel for a while during the summer. He breaks his arm in a skateboarding accident the first time he meets Allie Jo, but the two strike up a friendship. Soon, they meet a mysterious young woman named Tara, who says that she is a runaway and has nowhere else to go than the hotel. She reveals that she’s hiding from someone who wants to control her. Allie Jo and Chase are caught up in solving the mystery of Tara, and in helping her defeat the plans of the man she’s hiding from so she can return home.

The Summer of Moonlight Secrets seems perfect for anyone who enjoys young adult stories. Its target audience is kids but it certainly held the attention of this 58-year-old, and took me back to my childhood when summers were magical and lasted forever.

The book is fast paced. It’s told in short, alternating chapters from Allie Jo and Chase’s points of view, with an occasional chapter seen from Tara’s perspective. I thought it was a lot of fun. I’ve already read a previous book by Danette Haworth, Violet Raines almost got struck by Lightning, and I enjoyed it very much as well. I’ll be picking up others by this author so I can take an occasional trip back to my younger self.


Sunday, September 03, 2017

In a world of books



Sometimes folks seem to think I lead an exciting life. Well, I do. But not in the way they think. I live most of my exciting adventures through books. And I always have. I became addicted to reading very early and have never broken the habit. I typically three 2 to 3 books at a time, of varying types. I'm reading a pulp western, a collection of Robert Frost's poetry, and a children's book right now.

I got almost all of my early reading through the library since we didn't have money for a lot of books. But I actually kept semi-decent records of what I read as a youngster and as an adult I have purchased many of those old books. Now I've taken pictures of those and will share some of them here. Among the books I read in my pre-teen and teen years were books about:

Football. I wanted to be a running back for the Arkansas Razorbacks growing up, and then go pro with Green Bay. I did play in high school but weighed only 132 pounds when I graduated so I never played college ball. I lived many football adventures with Joe Archibald, though. Here are some:
                                                
                                           

I also loved animal stories and that probably made up the bulk of my early reading. Jim Kjelgaard and Walter Farley were staples in those days:




I loved novels but I also enjoyed reading of real life adventure and non fiction. A favorite series for me were the "You Were There" adventures. Here's two that I remember fondly.

Soon, I began to branch out to westerns, science fiction, and fantasy. But that's for another post.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Compass

I offered the tender of my heart
to suborn the hag of life’s kisses.
And I have stood in winter
against a morn dreadful and vicious. 

Warped as a cinder,
burned alive,
unshriven and unshorn,
I have stood and given
until the blade is worn.

Do the bones of my smiles
not show the bruises?
Wear I not the blisters
of weary miles?

Is there a scream
I have not loosed?
Is there a blood
I have not shed?
Why do you think 
I dream in red?

But at the gate between hawk
and dove,
on all the roads that scars chalk,
still I seek a compass that points to love.


Monday, August 21, 2017

A Little History

I always sort of assume that the readers of this blog know me and know about my job, but lately there have been a few new people stopping by so I thought I might take this post to introduce a little about myself and my work. If you already know it, feel free to skip. I'll try to be brief.

I was born in 1958 and grew up on a farm in Arkansas. I got a bachelor's degree in psychology from Arkansas Tech University, then an MA and PhD in psych from the University of Arkansas. I started teaching at Xavier University of Louisiana, in New Orleans, in 1986 and have been there ever since. This is my 32 or 33 year. It's a lot anyway. I teach experimental psychology courses such as Physiological Psychology, Psychology of Learning, Evolutionary Psychology, and Writing in Psychology.

For the last ten years or so I've been able to take summers off to write and pretty much all of my book publications have come in that time period. I do write during the school year but I am seldom able to complete long projects during that time. My job keeps me pretty busy. In addition to teaching, I'm also chair of the Xavier University IRB, which processes any research project carried out on campus that involves human participants. It is a "very" busy committee. 

I also tend to blog less when school is in session, so you may note a slow down in my blog posts and visits over the next few weeks. Faculty meetings and registration took place last week, and classes start today. I came in very early to get all my stuff ready for class so that's why I have a few minutes to blog this morning. 

Anyway, enough about that. I'm off to try and visit some blogs before the first students start coming in. 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

What I Learned from a Month off Facebook

So, I spent a month off facebook. Here’s what I learned.

1. I didn’t much miss it on an emotional level. Quite a few times in the first few days I automatically reached for FB to post some comment or update. That went away pretty quickly.

2. I generally felt more relaxed and didn’t miss the drama that is often present on FB. A big plus.

3. I got more writing and reading done, and watched more TV. However, the increase in writing and reading wasn’t anything astronomical. It was substantive, though, and was the best part of being off FB.

4. Sales of my self published items took a nose dive. I sold exactly one thing during the time I was off FB. Generally, I sell more than that. I have no idea about how it might have affected sales of my Wildside and other publisher released books. A big negative.

5. Although I could have called family members and friends, I didn’t make a substantial increase in this. I did some and that was pleasant, and it’s something I hope to continue. However, I still end up wasting plenty of time, just in other ways.

6. I missed talking about books and writing on FB. This was actually most of what I did when I was on it, and I enjoyed it. A negative.

7. I missed some regular interactions with folks that I was used to seeing on FB. A negative.

8. I found that many, many publishers and contests and other writing related projects make FB their main platform and this was a big negative for me. I couldn’t access guidelines and quite a few other sources of writing information that might have been important for me. Most of this is marketing and that in itself can cause problems for production. But still, not having ready access to this material cost me potential markets. One call for submissions that I missed was definitely something I would have submitted to, and a place where I’ve sold stuff before. This was the biggest issue for me.

9. I got back into blogging and did more of that and found that a positive. I did not necessarily have to give up FB to do this, though. I could have simply shifted the time spent on these various activities around.

For these reason, with the negatives outweighing the positives, I’m going to renew my facebook profile. I’ll see if I’ve lost a step there, and let you know. However, I want to spend less time there and try to avoid leaping on and off it a dozen times a day. If I can do that, I can maintain some of the good things of being away from FB while keeping access to other things that I like.

So, see you on facebook within the next few days.