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Posts Tagged ‘Robert Frost’

Started my Readathon off right! Coffee and savoring a pore through the Sunday NY Times

I’m SO excited about the Dewey’s Read-a-thon on Saturday, Oct 13, starting at 12:00 pm GMT, which is 8:00  am EST in the US. Hundreds of people around the world will devote a whole day just to reading! If you are interested in joining, sign up here! Or you can sign up to be a Read-a-thon Cheerleader. Yes, it’s a sport and we have cheerleaders.

Make no mistake—these folks are not fooling around. They prepare meals in advance so they won’t have to take time off for cooking, and they stock up on caffeine to fuel them for 24 hours. Full disclosure: there are some people (like moi) who will take breaks and actually stop to sleep. But there are an impressive number of readers who go the distance. And they go through a crazy amount of books!

My Read-a-thon stack. JK!

I know because they post (via blogs and Twitter) pictures of the aforementioned swollen—towering—stacks of books. Check it out via #Dewey or #Readathon hashtags. Most impressive, and er, intimidating. Alas, I will be a teense of a Read-a-Thon slacker—hence my not-quite-a-stack, pictured right. It’s not by choice, but I have to work for several hours tomorrow. Also, I’ve had a trying couple of months in which I’ve only managed to sneak reading in hurried bursts on the subway, over lunch, or staying up late. It’s been so rushed, and, honestly, I’m just not in peak perusatory form.  (E.g., I’m pretty sure that’s not a word.)

But I want to join in spirit. So I am approaching the Read-a-Thon as an exercise in savoring the read, the peruse, the pore. I will take it slow and enjoy. On deck: one of my favorite poets—Edward Thomas, at times called the ‘British Robert Frost‘ (apologies to the Brits who would say Frost was the ‘American Thomas’). I’ll linger over his poems, like Adlestrop, October, and The Sun Used to Shine (about him and Frost).

Beyond that, I’m going to wing it from my embarrassingly-tall and not-shrinking-fast-enough TBR. Also, I am definitely going to allow myself a leisured, every-section read of the Sunday New York Times, which I haven’t had the luxury of enjoying in months. So instead of a marathon, for me, it will be like a fun run. A reading 5K, if you will. You don’t really need to train. You can just cruise along and enjoy the ride—or read.

Here We Go, Dewey’s Read-a-thon April 2013

Dewey’s 24-Hour Read-a-Thon

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Read-a-thon Start Times

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We’ve just learned that in 1961, the jury for the Nobel Prize for Literature snubbed J.R.R. Tolkien. But the big news isn’t that he lost—so did Graham Greene, Robert Frost, and E.M. Forster that year. The really shocking news was the release of the derisive and not-so-intellectual commentary of the Nobel’s jury: that august group of judges who had been entrusted, on behalf of Alfred Nobel, to select “only the most worthy.”

One could just imagine the stimulating and elevated conversation that would arise in a year that had such luminary candidates as the aforementioned Tolkien, Greene, Frost, Forster, as well as Isak Dinesen, aka Karen Blixen, Lawrence Durrell, and John Steinbeck, who went on to win the next year.

But instead the excerpts read a bit like the outtakes from a fierce session of sorority rush, with apologies to the Greek system. The Nobel jury found that Tolkien (who was nominated by C.S. Lewis, a tidbit that warmed my heart) was ruled out because they felt The Lord of the Rings trilogy “has not in any way measured up to storytelling of the highest quality.” Ouch. And also, huh? Did they not read the books? Maybe Tolkien was not Gabriel García Márquez, but his storytelling was epic, mythical, stirring. Tolkien was a medieval history scholar, and he imbued so much of those legends into the many cultures (and languages) he created in the kingdom of Middle Earth.

The same jury ruled out both Frost and Forster, then 86 and 82 respectively, because of their “advanced age.” Despite the fact that the prolific and legendary Frost was still writing and publishing poetry, the jury argued that his age was “a fundamental obstacle, which the committee regretfully found it necessary to state”. They were much less kind to Forster, whom they called “a shadow of his former self, with long lost spiritual health.” Even as a shadow, Forster, who wrote the pioneering and seminal Modernist novels Howard’s End and  A Passage to India, was one of the most significant and influential writers of the 20th-century from a literary and a cultural standpoint. His themes of cultural conflicts, identity, and miscommunication still perplex us today—“only connect!” I’d like to think they’ve gotten over the ageism, as the latest winner, Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer, is 80, and in 2007, an 87-year-old Doris Lessing won.

I do imagine that it would be an immensely difficult job picking between these lettered giants.  It’s just that I would expect the dialogue to be more focused on the pluses, and er the literary qualifications, rather than on the negatives. One would expect the jury to be awe-struck and full of scholarly wonder at such an impressive slate. Instead, they lobbed a series of blackballs.

One thing I don’t want to get lost in all this hype is the merit and brilliance of 1961’s  winner: Ivo Andrić. There have been a few disparaging comments from the Tolkien camp. Whoa, whoa, whoa. If you have not read his masterpiece, The Bridge on the Drina, then it’s a must for your TBR. The novel looks at the history, strife, and conflict in the Bosnian region as it plays out near a great stone bridge that was built in 1516. It reads much like a novel by James Michener or Edward Rutherford, with layered folklore and a changing cast of characters that unfold over centuries.  There are Serbs, Bosnians, Jews, Christians, Turks, and all of their families, communities, and cultures. The bridge stands indomitable until it is blown away at the start of World War I. “The summer of 1914 will remain in the memory of those who lived through it as the most beautiful summer they ever remembered, for in their consciousness it shone and flamed over a gigantic and dark horizon of suffering and misfortune which stretched into infinity.” Andrić’s “Bosnian Trilogy” (The Bridge on the Drina, Bosnian Chronicles, The Woman from Sarajevo) enjoyed a revival during the terrible unrest in that area during the mid-1990s. The novels still resonate today, and Andrić is claimed as part of Croatian, Serbian, and Bosnian literature.

The jury notes from back in 1961, reveal that Greene and Blixen technically came in second and third, though there are no prizes for that. Still, it is confounding that the committee never chose to honor Greene, whose repeated nominations were passed over by several Nobel juries during the course of his lengthy career. He was in good company, though. The Pantheon of non-winners reads like a college syllabus: Mark Twain, Henrik Ibsen, Ranier Maria Rilke, Thomas Hardy, Joseph Conrad, Theodore Dreiser, and more recently, Michael Ondaatje, Carlos Ruiz Zafón, and Haruki Marakami.  In fact, Ernest Hemingway, who lost several times before finally winning in 1954, termed it the “IGnobel” prize.

It does make one wonder. I’m not sure how much crossover is on the committees, but this is the same organization that in 2009 chose President Obama as winner of the Nobel Peace Prize … two days after NASA bombed the moon.

As to all the ire over the Tolkien news, I’m still reeling from the outrageous and rather blasphemous claim that LOTR is not great storytelling. If anything, it is the apex and apotheosis of storytelling! The trilogy is ranked as the third best-selling novel worldwide, having sold over 150 million copies. Andrew Pettie wrote a wonderful article for the UK’s Telegraph “In Defense of J.R.R. Tolkien.” As Pettie noted, so “Tolkien wasn’t Tolstoy.” Then again, back in 1902 the Nobel committee also passed over Tolstoy, in favor of French poet René F. A. Sully-Prudhomme.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s Nobel Chances Dashed by Poor Prose

In Defense of J.R.R. Tolkien

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My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there’s a barrel that I didn’t fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.
I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
Magnified apples appear and disappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.
And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
The rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.
For all
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.
One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
Were he not gone,
The woodchuck could say whether it’s like his
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
Or just some human sleep.

Robert Frost and his apple orchards

Robert Frost bio, poems & more at Poets.org

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It’s National Poetry Day in the UK, with all sorts of readings, events, and fetes honoring the poem. Oh, how I wish today were all about poetry love in the US. Ok, so it’s technically the 57th Annual Poetry Day, founded by Robert Frost in 1955. But despite intense googling, I have only been able to find one event, albeit it’s a doozy.

Outgoing US Poet Laureate and 2009 Pulitzer Prize winner W.S. Merwin will read today at 6 pm in the auditorium of the Harold Washington Library, in Chicago. Admission is free and open to the public on a first-come basis. Anyone in Chicago, or in Illinois for that matter, should beat a path there fast.

Sponsored by The Poetry Foundation, the Poetry Day reading series has featured such luminaries as T.S. Eliot, Elizabeth Bishop, Carl Sandburg, W.H. Auden, Anne Sexton, John Ashbery, Adrienne Rich, Gwendolyn Brooks, Billy Collins, and Seamus Heaney. Still, I can’t help wishing that there were also corollary events in schools, libraries, and communities across the country.

Though perhaps perceived by some as one of the more elusive forms of literature, poetry is still relevant, engaging, and, I would argue, much-needed in today’s society. In August, when Philip Levine was named the new US Poet Laureate, his books of poems completely sold out in bookstores and online. (His inaugural reading is set for Oct. 17). Just last month, Britain’s Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy compared poetry to texting and encouraged school teachers to do the same. Today, the Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to Swedish Poet Tomas Tranströmer, the first time someone has won for poetry since 1996.

We do have a National Poetry Month in April, to which I am greatly looking forward. Still, I wish there were more fanfare and participation in Poetry Day founded by American legend Robert Frost.  Just saying, couldn’t we all use more poetry in our lives?

3 Great Sites to Get Your Poem On
Each features a poem-of-the-day and searchable databases of poets, poems, and all things poetic.

Poetry Foundation/Poetry Magazine

Poets.Org/American Poet Magazine

The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor

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