Sunday Sentence

The best sentence(s) I’ve read all week, out of context and without commentary. 

He sees nothing. Only the flat evenness of a thousand clouds.

Paul Yoon

“Still a Fire” in The Mountain 

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Friday Reading Rainbow

Sometimes I sink my teeth into one novel and become engrossed in it. Other times I read clusters of books– usually that have some connection to each other. Friends of mine find this to be a disgusting habit and abhor watching me sit at a cafe table and read 10 pages of one thing and abruptly pull out another book. Here’s a cluster that I’m working through now. What do these books have to do with each other? Intimacy? Romance? I think maybe it is something about self-discovery and its interplay with the relationships we carry or break. 

The Mountain ~ Paul Yoon

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I loved Paul Yoon’s Snow Hunters so dreadfully much that I eagerly grabbed this new short story collection from my library shelf and looked around to make sure no one would try to wrestle it from me. His writing seems to be about something in a real yet elusive way. And his sentence-level writing is sparse, intriguing, and inventive. For example, in the first story in The Mountain, called “The Willow and the Moon” he writes,  “He was smaller than I was, but he moved like a dancer to me,” and I think, towards me? Is the character moving closer? But later, he repeats, “He was strong to me,” and I realize that Yoon has embedded perception and in fact love so seamlessly into description that only the repetition explained it. Fantastic craftsmanship.

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Where Angels Fear to Tread ~ E. M. Forster

Light, light, light fiction. We are not plumbing the depths here, people. We are interested in conventionality and propriety, and we are titillated by the breaking of those things. I am reading this book (as I am keenly aware) to gloss over life and I am investing very little in it. However, some good things are happening– characters seem to be reversing their nature as they are explored by others who get to know them. And there’s a duality between Italy and England and the manners of each that Forster played with here, in his first novel (published 1905). If you’ve read A Room with a View, you’ll know that he eventually arrived at a masterful rendering of these themes.

Tremble ~ C.D. Wright

I’m a bit startled by the eroticism of most of Wright’s works here. She is undoubtedly a master. I grasp some of the poems easily, which usually results in a smile and a re-read. Others take me some time to puzzle out, and many are out of reach and I don’t understand them at all– which helps me to understand what my students sometimes feel when we read poetry that they find unforgivingly cryptic.

Writing Down the Bones ~ Natalie Goldberg
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgI think I’m a little too analytical to wholeheartedly embrace Goldberg’s methods, which involves zen meditation and letting the writing flow through one in an organic, inspired way. I have not been writing much since school started, and I’m kicking myself a little to do the daily, purposeful practice that Goldberg recommends. Rejoice– today I finished a series of poems that have been brewing for two weeks!

Far From the Madding Crowd ~ Thomas Hardy

I paused my Hardy reading for quite a while, as you may remember. I’m back now, and the second part of the novel is beginning as Gabriel and Batsheba are in the flipped social position. The nonsense with the valentine, though… having been NOT one of the popular girls in school, I can’t quite get over the unkindness of sending a valentine that you didn’t really mean. But oh, such romance is awaiting me as I progress through this story. It’s quite thrilling.

Poetry in a Violent World

Today, despite the news that I heard on the radio, I had to go to school and teach children who are vulnerable and brave and hopeful and wise. I want their generation (which is still my generation) to be the one that ends the senseless gun violence that we’re living with.

Here’s a poem for them:

The Opposites Game
by Brendan Constantine

for Patricia Maisch

This day my students and I play the Opposites Game
with a line from Emily Dickinson. “My life had stood
a loaded gun,” it goes and I write it on the board,
pausing so they can call out the antonyms –

My // Your
Life // Death
Had stood ? // Will sit
A // Many
Loaded // Empty
Gun ?

Gun.
For a moment, very much like the one between
lightning and it’s sound, the children just stare at me,
and then it comes, a flurry, a hail storm of answers –

Flower, says one. No, Book, says another. That’s stupid,
cries a third, the opposite of a gun is a pillow. Or maybe
a hug, but not a book, no way is it a book. With this,
the others gather their thoughts

and suddenly it’s a shouting match. No one can agree,
for every student there’s a final answer. It’s a song,
a prayer, I mean a promise, like a wedding ring, and
later a baby. Or what’s that person who delivers babies?

A midwife? Yes, a midwife. No, that’s wrong. You’re so
wrong you’ll never be right again. It’s a whisper, a star,
it’s saying I love you into your hand and then touching
someone’s ear. Are you crazy? Are you the president

of Stupid-land? You should be, When’s the election?
It’s a teddy bear, a sword, a perfect, perfect peach.
Go back to the first one, it’s a flower, a white rose.
When the bell rings, I reach for an eraser but a girl

snatches it from my hand. Nothing’s decided, she says,
We’re not done here. I leave all the answers
on the board. The next day some of them have
stopped talking to each other, they’ve taken sides.

There’s a Flower club. And a Kitten club. And two boys
calling themselves The Snowballs. The rest have stuck
with the original game, which was to try to write
something like poetry.

“It’s a diamond, it’s a dance,
the opposite of a gun is a museum in France.
It’s the moon, it’s a mirror,
it’s the sound of a bell and the hearer.”

The arguing starts again, more shouting, and finally
a new club. For the first time I dare to push them.
Maybe all of you are right, I say.

Well, maybe. Maybe it’s everything we said. Maybe it’s
everything we didn’t say. It’s words and the spaces for words.
They’re looking at each other now. It’s everything in this room
and outside this room and down the street and in the sky.

It’s everyone on campus and at the mall, and all the people
waiting at the hospital. And at the post office. And, yeah,
it’s a flower, too. All the flowers. The whole garden.
The opposite of a gun is wherever you point it.

Don’t write that on the board, they say. Just say poem.
Your death will sit through many empty poems.