Any Road Will Do: “Response to Robert Frost’s ‘The Road Not Taken'”

Photo by Jirí on Pixabay

Today, I am sharing a poem written by James E. Dykes, one of my undergraduate English professors. He taught research so well that I knew the Dewey Decimal and Library of Congress systems by heart. He retired shortly after I took my first-year composition course under his instruction and passed away, unfortunately, weeks after I graduated from college.

To my knowledge he wrote two collections of verse–Cosmos Electric and Variant Verse and Graffiti and Grace.  I have not been able to find Graffiti and Grace, but [many, many moons ago] I found Cosmos Electric on clearance at a bookstore and bought every copy available.

The poem below is one of my favorites from the collection. I often use it as an example in my introductory literature courses of how to respond creatively to a poem and to show students that it is okay to critique and question what some consider great literature.

I hope you enjoy this poem as much as I do.

Response to Robert Frost’s “Road Not Taken”
James E. Dykes

“Any road will do, if one knows not where he is going.” —The Talmud

In that famed yellow wood, where parting ways
diverge, I, too, have stood with eyebrows raised;
weighing the iffiness of this or that–
transfixed as the Stylite who sat and sat.

But one must move, or else be swept along.
Not choosing is to choose the right or wrong;
or share the irksome fate of those who learn–
too late–that they mistook or missed their turn.

By signs, by compass pints; by sun or star,
a pilgrim journeys homeward from afar.
Some seamen reach the East by sailing West.
All circuits parallel lead to one’s quest.

Though course correction or reversal might
improve or solve a wanderer’s plight,
if one should take a road that leads to nowhere,
what difference can it make in getting there?

Woman Inspired! | Stella Gibbons and Carson McCullers

One of my favorite bookish swap series to host is “Literary Wisdom” on swap-bot. Through the swaps, participants select a bookish postcard and write on the back a quote which inspires them. The quote must come from imaginative literature (poetry, prose, plays)–not sacred texts, self-help books, or non-fiction. For Women’s History Month, I decided to dedicate the swaps to women writers, since, unsurprisingly, male writers often dominate the swaps.

I created swaps for the Cup and Chaucer and Book Lovers Congregate groups. Lucky me! My randomly chosen partner for both swaps was Geraldine J (Nannydino). I always enjoy receiving postcards from Geraldine. Not only are the postcards well-selected with my varied interests and tastes in mind but the presentation of the written side of the postcard is always clean and inviting–very neat handwriting and unique placement of stickers, stamps, and postage. Somehow, Geraldine packs a lot of information on the 4×6 postcard backs, always including the date and weather.  Bonus–we have some of the same postcard collections so I get back the very postcards I love.

Now, for the literary inspiration:

Stella Gibbons (1902-1989). Photograph, Mark Gerson/National Portrait Gallery, London

Stella Gibbons was a British writer with poetry, short stories, and 25 novels to her credit. The inspired quote Geraldine chose to share comes from her first novel, Cold Comfort Farm, which is a parody of the “loam and lovechild” rural genre.

Every year, in the fulness o’ summer, when the sukebind hangs heavy from the wains. . .’tes the same. And when the spring comes her hour is upon her again … ‘Tes the hand of Nature and we women cannot escape it.

What seems to be most inspiring here–besides the hilarious novel itself–is “sukebind,” a word Gibbons coined. According to the Oxford English Dictionary “sukebind” is an “imaginary plant associated with superstition, fertility, and intense rustic passion.”

Check out two of The Guardian‘s reviews of Cold Comfort Farm:

If you’re interested in reading the novel, you should have no problems borrowing it from many of the e-libraries.

Carson McCullers (1917-1967). Photograph, Bettman/Corbis

Carson McCullers, born Lula Carson Smith, also wrote in many genres–plays, essays, short stories, poetry, and (of course) novels. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, her debut [though not first] novel (at the age of 23), remains her most popular work.

The inspiration Geraldine shared actually comes from McCullers’ commentary on her characters. “She felt her characters powerfully, once stating:”

I live with the people I create and it has always made my essential loneliness less keen.

And one of the inspired quotes form The Heart is a Lonely Hunter:

My advice to you is this. Do not attempt to stand alone. …The most fatal thing a man can do is try to stand alone.”

For more about Carson and her works, see the links below:

The postcards come from the collection, Postcards from Penguin Modern Classics: One Hundred Writers in One Box. I actually have the collection and mentioned it [or its lack of diversity] in a post on Eileen Chang. Despite the shortcomings of the collection, the photographs are stunning, and I’m happy to have two of the women writers “return” to me

Before I go, I leave you with a little homework. On the back of the McCullers postcard was an equally stunning fierce and inspiring woman postage stamp–featuring Elsie MacGill. If you don’t know who she is, you must do a little “research” and come back and report [in the comments] three things you’ve learned about her.

Until next time…

A Boxful of Pooh!

Pooh and friends on the bridge watching as Eeyore floating beneath. Artwork by Susan Alena.

Way back in February—it seems eons ago, right?—I went to my mailbox a few times to find Winnie-the-Pooh goodies. There were envelopes filled with stickers, letters, postcards, tags, bookmarks, and even earrings. I was über busy when most arrived, so I oohed and ahhed over them for a moment and placed them back in their envelopes to enjoy later.

Later came today.

Pooh makes a great themed mail package–as the not one, two, or even three, but the four Pooh packages I received prove.

First came the envelope from Tess E (Vontak on swap-bot) filled with Baby Pooh stickers, washi tape, and note paper.

Aren’t they cute?! I am using these to send letters to a few baby nieces this week. I was supposed to write these letters weeks ago, but life really gets in the way of the fun stuff.

Then, a gorgeous Red Bubble envelope arrived with four Pooh postcards from Geraldine J (NannyDino on swap-bot). [Click an image to view larger]

I thought that was the swap, but a week or two later I received a fun package of even more Pooh goodies from Geraldine. [Click an image to view larger]

The handmade storybook envelope was packed with a Pooh birthday card, homemade stickers, and miniature classic Pooh book covers for crafting–all enclosed in a red polka dot envelope bedecked with Canadian Pooh postage. That’s a wonderful load of Pooh!

Then, surprise! My swap-bot-“Cup and Chaucer”-artist-blogging friend, Holly M sent a handmade tag and card “just because.”

Holly has the neatest Pooh supplies. Check out the stamps and the hand-lettering. Her stamping skills almost inspire me to pull out my rarely [and/or never] used stamps and put them to use. Almost. I really don’t like the cleanup part.

I recall Holly was kind enough to send some adorable Pooh mail a couple of years ago: Holly Art!

Finally, Susan Alena (postmansdaughter on swap-bot) sent a package that floored me.  All of it:

The hand-drawn art on the envelope.

The shrinky dink bookmark…

and earrings.

The watercolor that leads this post? Also, created by Susan.

If you ever wondered how much Pooh-love can be packed into an envelope, now you know. A whole lot.

Each sender gave her envelope so much time and attention. I know some people see it as “only mail,” but the mail often tells a story about the person’s heart. And–I do not take for granted how incredibly blessed I am to interact with so many beautiful people.

Letter from Lu! | Snail Mail Quick Tip

Squeals!!!

I received a “letter” from my little great-niece Lu [my niece Tiffany’s daughter]. Isn’t it adorable? I know you don’t understand the special language she used to write her letter, but trust me. It is full of ❤ for her favorite [great] aunt–me, of course! She even used my favorite colors!!!

Thank you for sharing your spectacular work, Lu!

Lu is the adorable baby in this post and this post. She’s now a whole two years old, grown enough to make art and send mail!

We’ll be spending a lot of time indoors over the next few weeks, and kids will probably be making art almost daily–drawings, sketches, paintings, crafts, and more. If you’re like me, you already have an entire museum of your kid’s art in albums, on the walls, in piles on your desk, and in a sealed bin beneath the art table. 😀  Do you really want the task of finding ways to display or store weeks more of artwork?

Of course not!

Lu’s special letter prompted me to offer another snail mail quick tip: Art in the mail!

Sending art mail is a cute way to dispose of  share some of the precious art your kids make. Simply place those one-of-a-kind masterpieces in an envelope and send them to grandparents, aunts, uncles, godparents, friends, and/or the kind senior citizen who has a soft spot for your family. This will not only let them know you’re thinking about them but will also provide a bit of  sunshine while we’re all sort of “stuck.”

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you know that I send and receive a lot of art mail. So–even if you don’t have children, you can send your own art.

It is so easy, but yields so much joy!

Out of the Zone…

Last week, during the spring break that didn’t feel much like a break, I stepped out of my comfort zone. Gasp!

I did three things that required a bit of a nudge and a bit of courage:

  1. I participated in a two-hour online “intentional creativity” class. I thoroughly enjoyed the class, especially the tools and techniques offered. I even created a piece of art (which I will not be sharing here).  😀
  2. I completed and submitted a tiny sketchbook for the Brooklyn Arts Library Sketchbook Project!!! If you know anything about how I feel about my artistic skills, then you know that this required a huge PUSH. The first push came when my friend Christine B sent me a sketchbook to complete. Then, she made sure to remind me periodically of the March 5th deadline. I finished almost half of the book during a church service one afternoon. Doodling helps me to focus and listen, but [still] shh…don’t tell. I’ll share more about the project and a link to my sketchbook when it is digitized and uploaded to the site.
  3. I put a couple of my doodles up for sale!!! I designed two coloring cards [see image above] for Women’s History Month “just because,” but I realized they are really cute enough to sell.  Plus, this parent of a teenager who has 8th grade graduation and a class trip coming up could use a few extra dollars! I decided to sell the set of two cards for $3. My “little sister,” social media influencer, Brittany of Ordinarily Extraordinary Mom, shared to her page. I saw lots of positive feedback and interest there, and guess what! I sold ONE WHOLE SET! 😀

It’s a start. Besides, marketing and selling any type of creative work takes a lot of time and effort.

My friend Cy is encouraging me to keep at it. She strongly believes in the power of my doodles. As a matter of fact, she had me design her business card with one of the doodles. Wanna see? [I “erased” her personal details]

I crossed off very few of the items on my extensive “to-get-done-during-spring-break” list, but I can’t even feel [too] bad about that. Life is so much more than the lists, and look at what I did accomplish!

What about you? Have you stepped outside your comfort zone lately? Tell me all about it…

She Dances: Working on My Sway

“Flamenca Blanca”

To dance is to be out of yourself. Larger, more beautiful, more powerful. This is power; it is glory on earth and it is yours for the taking.  –Agnes De Mille

My friend Cy sent this amazing postcard a few weeks ago. She found this beauty in Madrid during her travels there. I fell in love with it. The lone woman dancing reminded me of my favorite part of Louis Delsarte’s mural “Spirit of Harlem.”

“Spirit of Harlem” [I was fortunate enough to be in residency at NYU the same time as the artist. Weeks after its unveiling, the whole group of “Scholars-in-Residence” took a trip to Harlem to see the mural].

I’m intrigued by these women who sway their hips without apology and dance solo in spaces obviously peopled by many. It seems the musicians—equally surrendered to their muses—play only for each woman.

I don’t have their gift. As part of the “rhythmless nation,” I’m not sure I will ever dance in public.

But—

I have been reaching for a metaphorical moment like this—of pure freedom—of yielding completely to the rhythms of life without fretting over consequences–“what ifs” or “therefores.”

I’m tuning in and working on my sway.

Believe You Can…

Love Notes 30.2 offered another timely prompt, and my partner, Nicole delivered well.  In response to the prompt, “Believe you can,” she wrote:

Believe you can…

…Create inner peace as a form of success.
…Hand off the thing that has been weighing you down. It was never your weight to carry.
…Be at peace knowing you made the best decision in that moment.
…Be the heroine of your journey.
…Live your personal life assignment. It is greater than thoughts that waste your time and bring you down or create doubt.

She wrote it all inside the sweet Carlton card above. Although I received the card a week ago (?), I did not really read it till moments ago after I seized a moment to sit in silence in my office. The delay was well-timed; I needed the words today. Maybe, you need them too…

Have joy!