Poetry Break with Jasmin Oya

“A Moment to Reflect”

For the last several weeks, my mood has been “poetry.”  I’ve been reading it, thinking about it, writing it.  Perhaps, this mood has been driving my need to get in touch with what I call “ur-Chandra,” the person I was eons ago, before “life” invaded “living.”

When I was a teenager I spent whole evenings reading classic and contemporary poets, memorizing and writing favorites in a red spiral notebook designated for words that struck me in a particular way. (I still have that notebook).  I’d then pen my own lyrics till the wee morning hours.

Although my profession allows me to enjoy poetry regularly, long, long evenings with poetry and my thoughts are rare.

A few days ago, I treated myself to time with poetry.  Instead of grabbing one of my “go-to” collections, I read from The Ghetto of Eden, a stirring collection of poetry written and self-published by my mentee, Jasmin Oya.  I’ve had the collection for several months now, and though I have read many of the poems, I’ve not been able to give the book the attention it deserves.

The book is divided into two sections–“The Beginning of Man” and “The Fall of Man.”  The 143 pages offer a sensual mix of spirit, flesh, and song, a prayer to the sacred and desecrated in all of us. Despite its title(s) the poems are not “religious” in the traditional sense, but they are spiritual.   Some of the poems are a little “raw,” but the painful honesty of “the story” that unfolds makes the collection difficult to leave on a shelf collecting dust.

“Time Out for Verse”

Jasmin is one of my favorite people. She is a senior, graduating this year and heading to a prestigious university for graduate school.  I love her to pieces–she is unapologetically Jasmin, and she loves humanity and knowledge and a good challenge.  She has been writing poetry since she was a preteen. She performs at various venues and enjoys facilitating poetry workshops for children.  She is a spoken word and a paper and pen poet.  She’s also an activist who often uses her work to speak up and speak out.

I am sharing two poems that demonstrate the flexibility of her artistic expression.  The first is from The Ghetto of Eden:

“The Prayer”

I believe in God like I believe in my mother’s palms.
I believe in Him like I believe in my mother’s mouth
and knees.
Her tongue and every hallelujah that
yawned with it.
I see Him in her posture.
I’ve been trying to mirror it since young
since young,
I’ve been trying to reflect her old.
All the prayers that have seen more days than me.
The ones answered and the ones that haven’t/won’t/will.

For I am no one without them.
For I am one with them.
For I breathe because they did.
I believe in God like I believe in tomorrow.
I believe in Him like I believe in today.
How exhausting they both can be
smelling of morning breath,

prayer and gospel.
These days aren’t easy, most of them are lies about what’s really hurting.

what lies beneath
who we are when
the room is empty.
when they’ve all gone home.

the party is over.     the
decorations are worn.
the night is fast asleep;
you’re left wondering,
who turned off all the music.
where have all the people gone.
who stopped dancing first.

Prayers don’t have room for the pride.
Put that to the side.
Gather yourself away from all the noise.
I’m learning to stop mourning the morning.
Find solace in the silence.
To stop fitting God into the nearest human body.
Believe into what I have yet to see.

The second is a spoken word piece Jasmin performed three years ago for a Black History Month event.  “For the Black Artist”–

If you want to read more of Jasmin’s works, I encourage you to purchase her book on Amazon.  It is well-worth the few bucks.

Be sure to take a poetry break this week!

 

Microblog Mondays: The Wisdom of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring

I recently began a new swap series in the “All Things Book-Related” group on swap-bot. For the series, swappers must send partners a book-related postcard with a quote from a fictional or poetic work that enlightens, inspires, or “shows us the way.”  The quote may be printed on the front of the postcard or written on the back.

This is the most recent card I received–for Literary Wisdom #3:

Literary Wisdom

Literary Wisdom from Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring

The postcard came from Mandi of Lake Elsinore, California.  She writes, “We hear so much bad news these days that we forget there is still love and happiness in the world.”

The Tolkien quote served as a perfect ending to a class discussion on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”  One of the most important take-aways from our discussion was the need for us to remain vigilant in the quest to protect our freedoms and preserve our souls while doing so.  We protect ourselves during perilous times–such as these–by recognizing the struggle is not all there is, by praying/mediating, by moving in love, and by immersing ourselves in the love of family and friends.

microblog_mondays

Cup and Chaucer: Mini Pocket Flipbook

One of the most enjoyable snail mail projects I worked on this year was a mini pocket flipbook for a swap in the Cup and Chaucer group on swap-bot.  Cup and Chaucer, as you might have guessed, is a group of swap-bots who love mulling over a great literature with piping hot cup of tea.

I’d never done a flipbook before, but my interest was piqued by the theme–books!  How could I resist?  Besides sticking to the theme, the only other requirement was that we incorporate a pocket.

My “receive from” partner, AnnaM, created a beautiful flipbook–lots of purple and gold, pretty embellishments, and many thoughtful handmade items.  Overall, it was an elegant flipbook, nicely presented.

This is how the flipbook came out of the envelope:

Flipbook Packaging

Flipbook Packaging

Here’s the front cover:

Flipbook Front Cover

Flipbook Front Cover

And the back cover:

Back Cover

“There is no scent so pleasant to my nostrils as the faint subtle reek which comes from an ancient book.” –Arthur Conan Doyle

And everything in between [click an image for a closer look]:

Here’s a closer look at some of the tuck-ins [click an image for a closer look]:

There was just so much “eye candy.” I remember doing the happy mail dance when I opened the package.

The swap came at a crazy time for me–April.  The cruelest month. Remember?  I didn’t even see an opportunity to work on it until the mail deadline date.  I ended up grabbing a bunch of supplies on my way out the door one morning, working on it, and completing it in record time in my office (between classes, of course).  I posted it on my way home.

I chose a color pallet and crafted without a plan:

fullsizerender-57

It was early spring and I was happy to see and play with color again.

True to my “English professor” word, I finished the front cover last (I tell my students to write their essay introductions last).

Bookish Flipbook Front Cover

“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.”  –Charles Williams Eliot

Here’s the back cover and everything in-between [click an image for a closer look]:

My favorite part is Dickens’ Dream by Victorian artist Robert William Buss.  I scavenged it from a mailer from one of the textbook publishers. The curly haired lady was also salvaged from an envelope or the back of a postcard.

The flipbook was 5 x 7 inches, a manageable size.  It was bound with washi tape. I tucked in Jane Austen postcards, Project Life cards, star-shaped Post-it notes, washi tape, and paperclip bookmarks–something else I learned to do this year.

Making the flipbook was an easy and fun activity; I’m looking forward to crafting another one. If you’d like to make your own flipbook and need to see more of the process, here’s the YouTube video I reviewed before making my own:

Doesn’t this look like fun for a rainy day?

Something Old and Blue and Something New

This was a pretty pathetic mail week.  In fact, one friend–who usually writes long, informative letters–responded to my lengthy letter through a lengthy email! Oh, pooh!  I understand “busy” and since her email was loaded with great news, I forgave her.

Since nothing new arrived and I still have a lot of catch-up blogging to do, I’m sharing “something old and something blue.”  In honor of the first week of classes at my university, here’s a book-themed postcard “Onyx” of swap-bot sent earlier this year:

Some of my all-time favorites

“All-time Favorites,” By Onyx

“Onyx” read my profile and made this postcard especially for me. The painted postcard measures approximately 10 x 6 inches.  She featured three of my favorite texts: The Holy Bible;  Homer’s Ulysses [The Odyssey]; and (we’ll assume) The Complete Works of William Shakespeare.

The Bible is a favorite not simply because it is the sacred text of my faith; I’ve loved it since my undergraduate days when I enrolled in the course “The Bible as Literature” with the inimitable Dr. Bernard Benn.  It was under his tutelage that I fell in love with scripture as poetry, history, narrative, and so much more.  It was also in his class that I realized that studying sacred texts as I would study literature–uncovering multiple layers of meaning–led to deeper, more meaningful Bible study.

Although I learned to seriously love and appreciate Shakespeare’s works as an undergraduate and The Odyssey as a graduate student, my teaching them to my own students solidified their place among my favorites.  Shakespeare became a favorite because of his incredible insight, his masterful wordplay, and his revelations of the political and social climate in which he lived. The Odyssey because of Odysseus’s journeys to self-knowledge and home, quests that are a part of the “universal human experience.”

This is probably the first time in a long time that I won’t be teaching all three of these texts in some form, but it won’t be difficult to find a way to work them into my courses–British Literature Survey and Contemporary British Literature.

The first week with my mostly new students made up for the empty mailbox. I’m always happy for the start of a new semester–fresh faces, fresh ideas, and new opportunities to make a difference.

 

 

The Cat Behind the Hat Was Hiding in Walmart

My apologies to those of you who received an incomplete draft version of this post via email.  I mistakenly hit the publish button as I hopped from my chair to take a phone call.  I have a very sensitive mouse apparently!

I’m not sure where you shop, but you might want to check out the clearance books at your local Walmart.  Now, I’m not a Walmart fan.  In fact, I shop there as little as possible–opting to pay more $$$ at Publix for various reasons.  But if you’re into books and art and into Theodor Geisel aka Dr. Seuss, it’s worth a trip if you find the deluxe collector’s edition–Dr. Seuss: The Cat Behind the Hat by Caroline M. Smith.

Dr. Seuss: The Cat Behind the Hat by Caroline M. Smith

My friend, Anitra, found this absolutely wonderful set at Walmart and gave it to our sons’ teacher for Teacher Appreciation Week.  If you’re a blog follower, you know I love Dr. Seuss!  Since I so obviously fell in love with the set, Anitra volunteered to go back to Walmart and pick up one for me.  Take a closer look:

The Cat Behind the Hat Front of Slipcase

The Cat Behind the Hat Front of Slipcase

Closeup of Art and Title

Closeup of Art and Title

The slipcase measures about 16 x 18 inches and is simply gorgeous.  You’ll have to trust me because my quick snaps do the actual items no justice.  When I saw this huge, gorgeous, foil-stamped, cloth-covered slipcase, I fell in love even before I peeked inside for a look at the contents!

What is inside the velvet-lined slipcase, you ask?

  • a cloth-covered 9.75 x 12.25-inch, 320-page hardcover book filled with colorful illustrations from what Geisel called his “Midnight Paintings” and the children’s book illustrations with which we’re all familiar.  Most of the pages are fully illustrated like those pictured below; some contain text and illustrations and/or photos. (Click an image for a closer look).
  • a 12 x 16-inch scrolled color lithograph featuring this image.

Cat Behind the Hat Images-4

  • three 10.5 x 8.5-inch black-and-white prints tucked into a pocket inside the slipcase (click an image for a larger view).

The book was previously published as Secrets of the Deep in connection with The Art of Dr. Seuss.  This revised edition was published in 2012 by the Chase Group, LLC and produced by Amazon Publishing in collaboration with Andrew McMeel Publishing and Lionheart Books.  The text, as noted earlier, was written by Caroline M. Smith, but the images were compiled and edited by William W. Dreyer, Michael Reagan, and Robert Chase, Jr.

From the product description insert:

This exquisitely produced collector’s edition redefines Theodor Geisel, known to the world as Dr. Seuss, as an iconic American artist. Illustrator by day, surrealist by night, Dr. Seuss created a body of little-known work that he called his “Midnight Paintings.” For sixty years, this work allowed Geisel to expand his artistic boundaries outside the confines of commercial influences and deadlines.  […] Though he fiercely protected his “Midnight Paintings” from criticism during his lifetime, his intention all along was for these works to be seen when he was gone. This comprehensive look at the art that he created over his lifetime is an eye-opening peek behind the public persona into the real story of he man who was Dr. Seuss.

The curators and publisher are quick to note that they had no intention of trying to offer Geisel’s work in its entirety, but instead wished to present a “medley” of his work in a “chronological-ish” way.

Here’s the Table of Contents.

The Cat Behind the Hat Table of Contents

The Cat Behind the Hat Table of Contents

The book contains 80 of Geisel’s “Midnight Paintings” along with the more popular illustrations, advertisements, drafts, etc.  For the artists among us, the medium used for each piece is also provided. I wish I could share every delicious image with you.

I am seriously giddy every time I open this book!  The art is amazing, as expected, and I get to enjoy it whenever I want!  I also sincerely appreciate the intimate look at one of the greatest storytellers of our time and the glimpse of his struggles and triumphs.  I empathize with his desire to keep these “midnight paintings” away from public scrutiny, perhaps avoiding painful criticism of some of his most personal works.

Aside from the fact that I consider this a literary and artistic treasure–one that my family and I are thrilled to have in our collection–the price makes this find even more spectacular. Here’s the original price:

Cat Behind the Hat Images-3_2

Yes, $300.  Thankfully, Anitra found this in the clearance section for…wait for it…wait for it…$16.00!!! Can you believe it? That’s slightly more than 5% of the list price.

I am sooo grateful to have friends who look out for me and cater to my interests. I am not much of a shopper–don’t like shopping much–so I rely on these kind souls to find the super bargains and call me and let me know about them.  I would not have thought to look in the clearance section of Walmart for this!

Thank you, Anitra! You have such a good eye for bargains and a giving heart!

Bookish Matters: Book Covers and More!

Wow! I certainly expected to find a few moments to post a lot sooner. Some things have to get done no matter what.  I’m sure you understand.  I’ve been busy preparing for Fall 2013—thinking about books, books and more books and blazing through the last few titles on my summer reading list.

Speaking of books, I love book covers AND I love book cover postcards, so I had the AWESOME idea, if I do say so myself, to host a photo swap in two of my swap-bot groups for which participants would create book cover postcards from books in our home libraries.  Sure, there’s the Penguin postcard collection, but what about all the books that are not published by Penguin or even other Penguin books that aren’t included in the collection?  I am missing out on some great postcards.  More importantly, I am missing out on great book suggestions, books I might not have considered otherwise.

The challenge was deciding which book cover to choose.  With far to many books crammed onto my many, many shelves this could have been a daunting task, so I decided to be a bit random in my selection.   I also thought ahead to future—a series of themed or genre postcard swaps would be right up my interests alley.  Books, photographs, and postcards all in one! I chose one fiction title and one non-fiction title for my partners and sent both postcards to the partners.

Authors, Tipper Gore and Nan Roman.  Curators, Philip Brookman and Jane Slate Siena.  Part of the National Alliance to End Hunger.

The Way Home.  Authors, Tipper Gore and Nan Roman. Curators, Philip Brookman and Jane Slate Siena. Part of the National Alliance to End Homelessness.  The book is a companion document to a traveling exhibit that opened in 1999 at the Corcoran Gallery of Art  in Washington DC. Cover photograph by Tipper Gore.

From the dust jacket (or book jacket):

This extraordinary book documents the plight of homeless men, women, and children in cities and towns across America–and points the way to lasting solutions. Photographers as varied in outlook and style [listed on the book cover above] travel through America’s cities to record homelessness not as a general social condition or charged political issue, but as a predicament with which real men and women grapple.  From Miami to Seattle, Houston to Minneapolis, New York to Los Angeles, these artists document homelessness and its solutions with keen, compassionate, and incisive eyes.

The book contains 33 color plates and 91 duotone plates.

I added the bibliographic information at the bottom to make a 4×6 print without resorting to cropping the photo.   The dust jacket speaks volumes, but the actual book cover speaks even more profoundly.  Take a look:

Detail of photograph by Benedict J. Fernandez of a homeless encampment in Houston, Texas between two highways.

Detail of photograph by Benedict J. Fernandez of a homeless encampment in Houston, Texas between two highways.

The second postcard I sent was a photograph of Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s first novel, Purple Hibiscus.

Cover design by Honi Werner

Adichie, Purple Hibiscus.  Cover design by Honi Werner

From the cover:

Fifteen-year-old Kambili’s world is circumscribed by the high walls and frangipani trees of her family compound. Her wealthy Catholic father, under whose shadow Kambili lives, while generous and politically active in the community, is repressive and fanatically religious at home.

When Nigeria begins to fall apart under a military coup, Kambili’s father sends her and her brother away to stay with their aunt, a University professor, whose house is noisy and full of laughter. There, Kambili and her brother discover a life and love beyond the confines of their father’s authority. The visit will lift the silence from their world and, in time, give rise to devotion and defiance that reveal themselves in profound and unexpected ways. This is a book about the promise of freedom; about the blurred lines between childhood and adulthood; between love and hatred, between the old gods and the new.

Adichie’s debut novel was well-received with many awards and accolades.   Purple Hibiscus has worn a number of beautiful covers.  You can see them on Adiche’s website along with other book covers.

PVMcHugh, my first partner, from the group “Four Photos and a Note,” sent covers of two of my favorite books–Homer’s The Odyssey and Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon.

Homer, The Odyssey

Homer, The Odyssey.  Photo of book cover by PVMcHugh

Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story

of that man skilled in all ways of contending,

the wanderer, harried for years on end,

after he plundered the stronghold

on the proud height of Troy.

(Opening lines of the Robert Fitzgerald translation)

From the introduction to the Fitzgerald introduction:

The ten-year war waged by the Greeks against Troy, culminating in the overthrow of the city, is now itself ten years in the past. Helen, whose f light to Troy with the Trojan prince Paris had prompted the Greek expedition to seek revenge and reclaim her, is now home in Sparta, living harmoniously once more with her husband Meneláos (Menelaus). His brother Agamémnon, commander in chief of the Greek forces, was murdered on his return from the war by his wife and her paramour. Of the Greek chieftains who have survived both the war and the perilous homeward voyage, all have returned except Odysseus, the crafty and astute ruler of Ithaka (Ithaca), an island in the Ionian Sea off western Greece. Since he is presumed dead, suitors from Ithaka and other regions have overrun his house, paying court to his attractive wife Penélopê, endangering the position of his son, Telémakhos (Telemachus), corrupting many of the servants, and literally eating up Odysseus’ estate. Penélopê has stalled for time but is finding it increasingly difficult to deny the suitors’ demands that she marry one of them; Telémakhos, who is just approaching young manhood, is becoming actively resentful of the indignities suffered by his household.

Many of us were required to read The Odyssey in high school or college and we’re familiar with the plot of the Trojan war hero Odysseus’ 10-year journey back to Ithaca after the 10-year war.  I must admit, even though Homer was required, I didn’t fall in love with The Odyssey until I was in graduate school.  In working my way through James Joyce’s Ulysses, I realized I had to return to Homer’s epic to get a firm grasp of the complex novel.   My love for The Odyssey deepened when I started teaching it a few years later in world literature courses.

Song of Solomon Cover, photographed by PVMcHugh

Morrison, Song of Solomon. Cover photographed by PVMcHugh

At one time in my life, I considered Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon my favorite book of all time.  Though still a favorite, it has had a bit of a status demotion.  There are so many outstanding novels  competing for my literary affection.

Song of Solomon is Nobel Prize-, Pulitzer Prize-winning Morrison’s third novel of ten.  It was published in 1977.  I read it when I was in high school and later in college.  If memory serves me well,  it was a book one of my older sisters had in her collection.  I pilfered it for a few days.  My older sister, Lori, supplied a seemingly endless collection of great reading for me in those days.  She was in college by then and had a wealth material available for me.   Shh…don’t tell her.

From the inside flap of the Vintage 2004 reprint edition:

Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, a novel of large beauty and power, creates a magical world out of four generations of black life in America, a world we enter on the day of the birth of Macon Dead, Jr. (known as Milkman), son of the richest black family in a mid-western town; the day on which the lonely insurance man, Robert Smith, poised in blue silk wings, attempts to fly from a steeple of the hospital, a black Icarus looking homeward…

We see Milkman growing up in his father’s money-haunted, death-haunted house with his silent sisters and strangely passive mother, beginning to move outward–through his profound love and combat with his friend Guitar…through Guitar’s mad and loving commitment to the secret avengers called the Seven Days…through Milkman’s exotic, imprisoning affair with his love-blind cousin, Hagar…and through his unconscious apprenticeship to his mystical Aunt Pilate, who saved his life before he was born.

And we follow him as he strikes out alone; moving first toward adventure and then–as the unspoken truth about his family and his own buried heritage announces itself–toward an adventurous and crucial embrace of life.

This is a novel that expresses, with passion, tenderness, and a magnificence of language, the mysterious primal essence of family bond and conflict, the feelings and experience of all people wanting, and striving, to be alive.

It’s been so long since I read Song that I fear my own summary would be filled with inaccuracies. Time to read it again.

The next postcard came from fellow Sharp Shooter and book addict, “aliceinconverse. ”  She sent the cover of one of her favorite books:

Well-worn book cover photo by aliceinconverse

The Devil in the White City.  Cover photo by “aliceinconverse”

From Booklist (the review journal of the American Library Association):

Larson’s ambitious, engrossing tale of the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 focuses primarily on two men: Daniel H. Burnham, the architect who was the driving force behind the fair, and Henry H. Holmes, a sadistic serial killer working under the cover of the busy fair. After the 1889 French Exposition Universel wowed the world with the Eiffel Tower and high attendance numbers, interest began to grow in the U.S. for a similar fair. Chicago and New York were the top contenders for the location, and in February 1890, Chicagoans were overjoyed to hear they had won the honor. Burnham and his partner, John Root, the leading architects in Chicago, were tapped for the job, and they in turn called on Frederick Law Olmstead, Louis Sullivan, and Richard M. Hunt to help them build the world’s greatest fair. They faced overwhelming obstacles: inhospitable weather, bureaucracy, illness, and even death. Unbeknownst to any of them, Holmes, a charismatic, handsome doctor, had arrived in the city and built a complex with apartments, a drugstore, and a vault, which he used to trap his victims until they suffocated. When the White City opened for business in May 1893, hundreds of thousands of people flocked to it, although a plummeting economy and several accidents did nothing to help business. A shocking murder concludes the ultimately successful fair, and that’s before Holmes claims his final victims in the cruelest act of his career. A magnificent book. (Kristine Huntley)

This title is new to me, but after reading the reviews, it is now on my reading list.

And here’s a wonderful postcard I received at the end of last month:

Woman Reading (from Zazzle)

Woman Reading (from Zazzle).  Sent by swap-bot Jen.

I’ve received many, many literary or bookish postcards over the years.  Here are a few more postcards for your visual pleasure (click an image to get a closer look).

Finally, here’s one of the first books published in Belarus–the Bible.

First Bible...

The Bible printed by F. Skaryna in Prague (1517-1518). Sent by Postcrosser Misha

This is one of my favorite postcards and an appropriate conclusion to the post since the Gutenberg Bible was the first major book printed with movable type in the Western world.

I hope this inspired you to read a book!