Monthly Archives: January 2012

The Good Gray Poet

In honor of our trip this past week to New York City, this week’s poem is by Walt Whitman, who lived in Brooklyn where he edited The Brooklyn Eagle as a young man. It wasn’t until he moved to Camden, NJ that he acquired the persona of “The Good Gray Poet” although his sometimes explicit verse made him a controversial figure during his time. When the book was first published, Whitman was fired from his job at the Department of the Interior after Secretary of the Interior James Harlan read it and said he found it very offensive. Poet John Greenleaf Whittier was said to have thrown his 1855 edition into the fire. Thomas Wentworth Higginson (Emily Dickinson’s editor) wrote, “It is no discredit to Walt Whitman that he wrote ‘Leaves of Grass,’ only that he did not burn it afterwards.”

Some scholars believe Whitman’s signature long-line free verse form was influenced by his habitual wandering of the long north-south avenues of Manhattan where he saw the world come to him. He writes about the island and the people he encountered in his forays in this poem.

 

Mannahatta

by Walt Whitman

Walt WhitmanI WAS asking for something specific and perfect for my city,
Whereupon, lo! upsprang the aboriginal name!
Now I see what there is in a name, a word, liquid, sane, unruly, musical, self-sufficient;
I see that the word of my city is that word up there,
Because I see that word nested in nests of water-bays, superb, with tall and wonderful
spires,
Rich, hemm’d thick all around with sailships and steamships—an island sixteen
miles
long, solid-founded,
Numberless crowded streets—high growths of iron, slender, strong, light, splendidly
uprising toward clear skies;
Tide swift and ample, well-loved by me, toward sundown,
The flowing sea-currents, the little islands, larger adjoining islands, the heights, the
villas,
The countless masts, the white shore-steamers, the lighters, the ferry-boats, the black
sea-steamers well-model’d;
The down-town streets, the jobbers’ houses of business—the houses of business of
the
ship-merchants, and money-brokers—the river-streets;
Immigrants arriving, fifteen or twenty thousand in a week;
The carts hauling goods—the manly race of drivers of horses—the brown-faced
sailors;
The summer air, the bright sun shining, and the sailing clouds aloft;
The winter snows, the sleigh-bells—the broken ice in the river, passing along, up or
down,
with the flood tide or ebb-tide;
The mechanics of the city, the masters, well-form’d, beautiful-faced, looking you
straight
in the eyes;
Trottoirs throng’d—vehicles—Broadway—the women—the shops and
shows,
The parades, processions, bugles playing, flags flying, drums beating;
A million people—manners free and superb—open voices—hospitality—the
most
courageous and friendly young men;
The free city! no slaves! no owners of slaves!
The beautiful city, the city of hurried and sparkling waters! the city of spires and
masts!
The city nested in bays! my city!
The city of such women, I am mad to be with them! I will return after death to be with
them!
The city of such young men, I swear I cannot live happy, without I often go talk, walk,
eat,
drink, sleep, with them!

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Write On!

I want to devote Thursdays to advice for writers, so to kick it off, here’s a post by Elizabeth Hagen, the pastor of Washington Plaza Baptist Church, on Lake Anne in Reston, VA, used with her permission. Elizabeth’s blog is called Preacher on the Plaza and is worth reading, with wonderful insights, trenchant commentary and a warm inclusive tone. It’s also well-written. You can check it out at http://preacherontheplaza.wordpress.com/.

In a recent post, Elizabeth wrote, 

Recently I have found myself being asked more about writing. Such as: “How do I find time to do so much of it?”  ”How do I decide what to write about?” “Why write a blog when you don’t know if anyone out there is really reading?”
I giggle a little to think that someone would ask me such questions because only in the past six months have I been able to confidently say that I am a writer as much as I am a pastor among other things.  Yet, the truth of the matter is that I’ve been steady at the discipline of blogging since 2006– back before it was  cool– and have loved every minute of it.  If you want to make me smile, let’s have a conversation about writing.
If you want to know why I blog, check out the “About Elizabeth page.”  For the rest, here’s my in the process of learning list for today:
1. You must write and write a lot to get better at it. Sounds un-profound, but it’s true. There is no magic formula to being a writer.  As much as you might have a natural inclination for words, you have to learn the craft. Blessed be the friends who read you stuff even when it is bad and don’t tell you how bad it really is– these are the people you need in your life cheering you on believing in the fact that it will get better. They’ll be plenty of editors or critical blog commenters who will tell you the truth!
2. If you are going to be a writer, you need to know when is your time of day when ideas come. For me this is annoyingly the moment I put my head on my pillow at night. I lay there and my head floods with topics for new blogs or ideas for how I want to arrange the chapters of my upcoming book project. I try to fight it, telling myself to forget until morning. But, usually such a declaration doesn’t work. So, I say, if creativity calls, run with it. (Just don’t publish a blog after 11 pm. Most I know are usually sorry for this in the am).
3. Write with heart. Again, not profound. But often, I’ve found readers forgiving me for a multitude of grammar sins if they know I believe and am passionate about what I am trying to say.  Especially in persuasive writing (which is what I mostly do– sermons and op ed type pieces), readers need to know you personally care about what you describe. There’s nothing worse to read, I think, than a journalistic type writer trying to give you the facts and then expecting you to care when you have no idea if the writer cares first! Caring of course don’t have to explicit. People know if you do or don’t implicitly.
4. Make friends with other writers.  Non-writers just don’t see prose they way a writer does.  My mom or my husband, for example, will read my stuff and will often comments in helpful ways, but their feedback is never as a good as that of my writing friends. Fellow writers will tell me that I had “a nice turn of phrase” or “this theme connection really made the essay work” or “I didn’t start liking you as a character until half way through the chapter.” Other writers speak your langauge and so you always need to stick close to them.
5. Do not be afraid of the delete button. In the beginning of my weekly writing career, especially with sermons, I was really anxious about cutting large chunks of the piece out.  I had worked so hard! It was so sad to see a paragraph go that I would cut and paste it into another word document hoping to come back to it later. The funny thing is that I NEVER would need it.  Sometimes the delete button can be your writing project’s very best friend. Though a tear may be shed, the best thing is to just go with it. Tear the band-aid quickly though and you’ll feel better for it.
And, most of all read about writing. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott is one of my favorites.

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A Friend and Writer

We’ve known Sheila Lamb since she was a small child, and it has been a pleasure to watch her grow up into a smart, talented and literary woman.

Sheila is currently an MFA candidate at Queens University of Charlotte. Her stories have appeared in Steel Toe Review, Soundzine, Referential Magazine, Santa Fe Writers Project, and elsewhere. Her short story “Swim” has been nominated for the 2011 Pushcart prize.

Once A Goddess, the first in her  trilogy about Brigid of Ireland, is an historical fantasy about Irish mythology that works even for people who aren’t familiar with the genre, as I was not. The  novel features well-drawn characters, compelling conflicts and evocative descriptions. It’s a winner, as is this long-time friend.

The book is available in paperback or ebook on Amazon.com,  Barnes and Noble or for order through your local independent bookstore. 

I hope we will have many more books like this one from Ms. Lamb!

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Resolutions, Part II

I’m finally getting around to writing about my New Year’s resolutions. Some people have probably made theirs and broken them all by this time. Better luck next year, I say. And  I say that probably I need to resolve to do what I say I’m going to do. I would have written this piece sooner, but other things kept coming up. Writing-type things, and for someone who fancies himself a writer (at least that’s what I’m putting as my occupation on my income tax this year—has a better ring to it than “retired”), that’s good.
All right. I have divided my resolutions into categories since a permanent resolution of mine is to become more organized
.
The first group are what I call my proletariat resolutions. These have to do with skills I would like to have but don’t since I majored in literature. I know my way around  a poem, but not around a welding torch. (That sentence has probably never been written before in the history of language.) So, I resolve to:
1. Learn to weld. Any kind will do. I’m not particular.
2. Learn to solder. Amy gave me a “learn to solder” kit for Christmas. As soon as I find it I’ll use it.
3. Learn to do electrical work without shocking myself or setting a fire, no matter how small. You don’t want to know the details.
And now for my artistic resolutions. I resolve to:
1. Work harder on writing and do a better job with it.
2. Make my blog better. Thanks to my friend, novelist Nancy Kyme*, for suggesting some ways to do this.
3. Do more drafts of my writing. That should make it more better.
4. Find good subjects that people want to read about, always a concern.
5. Spread the word about my blog (the one you’re reading now). I love my 16 followers, but I would like to have a million like Pioneer Woman. Then I could have a cooking show. I’m OK as a cook, but I bet if I were famous like she is I could get People to cook for me and I could waltz in at the last second and pretend I had done it all. Yes!
6. I want to encourage other writers, and particularly new writers and local writers.
Personal resolutions. Everyone needs some of these. I found that out in fourth grade.
I resolve to:
1. Calm down. It will be all right.
2. Stop multitasking. I can’t do it so I might as well quit trying.
3. Slow down. Maybe that way I won’t make as many mistakes and break as many things.
4. Be honest without offending people. This is tough. I will probably need some better social skills for this one.
5. Stop trying to be Sunshine Superman. Not sure exactly what that is, but I need to stop it. I think it’s related to the song “Superman” by Five for Fighting (which is actually one guy). Here are some sample lyrics to the song:
I can’t stand to fly
I’m not that naive
I’m just out to find
The better part of me

I’m more than a bird, I’m more than a plane
I’m more than some pretty face beside a train
And it’s not easy to be me…

I can’t stand to fly
I’m not that naive
Men weren’t meant to ride
With clouds between their knees

I’m only a man in a silly red sheet
Digging for kryptonite on this one way street
Only a man in a funny red sheet
Looking for special things inside of me
Inside of me
Inside me
Yeah, inside me
Inside of me…

 6. Stop overachieving. I’m not being graded and haven’t been for a long time Just stop it, Dan.
Techno resolutions. These are:
1. Learn to use an iPhone
2. Learn that I don’t have to answer every call.
3. Figure out how to make Becky’s email client stop asking for a password when it shouldn’t and download the incoming mail already.
So, these are my resolutions. You’re free to adopt them as your own or ignore them entirely. I probably will this year, again.

*Nancy’s book, Memory Lake, is available at Amazon.com, among other places: http://www.amazon.com/Memory-Lake-Forever-Friendships-Summer/dp/1936467054/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1326793759&sr=1-1

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Cold Hands from New York

This past week we took ourselves to New York City for one of our Broadway musical/shopping/museum/urban vibe trips. We had been in the city last September 11 to be part of a chorus that sang Rene Clausen’s Memorial at the Lincoln Center. We had rehearsals and the performance but managed to squeeze in some B/S/M/UV time. This time it was all about that.

We had a good discount on a nice hotel and so off we went last Thursday with Becky driving (as usual–I’m the navigator) to Somerville, New Jersey where we left the car and caught the New Jersey Transit into the city. We’ve found this to be a fast and relatively inexpensive way to get to Manhattan. We arrived at the hotel about 6, checked in using a spiffy electronic kiosk and set off for the TKTS booth at Times Square, which sells half-price same-day tickets to Broadway shows. Ducats (don’t you love the outdated show biz vocabulary?) for Mama Mia were available, so we snapped some up and made our way to Bubba Gump’s Shrimp Factory restaurant at Times Square, the largest of that chain. We like to eat there–the service is fast and friendly and the food is good. By the time we ate it was time to make it to the Winter Garden Theater (where Becky saw her first Broadway musical) and Mama Mia!

To tell the truth, although we had heard good things about this musical, I thought it was going to be extremely lame. I had seen the movie version and it was an embarrassment to watch a fine actress like Meryl Streep in such a horrid production. I wasn’t expecting much, but it was a case of “Wrong again, Lt. Dan!” I think it was a critic who called the play “dance at your seat exuberant” but that was exactly right. I am not a dance-at-your-seat kind of guy normally, but i made an exception for this. I did keep some of my best moves back for the series of disco nights I will be attending in the near future. As if.

 The next morning we had planned to go stand in the crowd outside The Today Show a few blocks from our hotel but sub-freezing temperatures and winds of 40+ mph had us watching the proceedings from the hotel room. Then we were off to the Metropolitan Museum where the incredible number of priceless artifacts blew me away as always. After lunch we went back to room and rested, then saw Wicked that evening, a wonderfully nuanced show that I recommend highly.

Saturday, we got some tickets for a Mary Poppins matinee that afternoon and went to the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the Discovery Museum at Times Square. If you have a chance to see it, please go. The antiquities are on loan from the state of Israel and gave me a case of goose bumps the whole time we were in the display.
After lunch we were off to Mary Poppins, which proved to be an unfortunate experience for me. Our seats in the nose bleed section were so cramped that my legs from the mid-calf down to my toes went numb by intermission. Not wanting to entertain a clot from DVT, I bailed out of the show (which I found annoying…sorry, Julie Andrews fans) and sat in a coffee shop and made notes for this post. Becky soldiered on inside and I met her after the show.

We went out to dinner and then back to the hotel for a quiet evening of TV and catching up on emails and Facebook.

The next morning we got underway and had an exceptionally smooth trip under clear if cold skies.

We’ll be back after an interval to recover. This sort of journey suits us well and it is expensive but we believe it to be well worth the price. The title is from a Gordon Lightfoot (who else?) song from the 60’s in which he sings about what a cold and lonely place the city is. In the 60’s when I visited it in college, I found it to be dirty, dangerous, expensive and filled with nasty people. All that has changed. The city still has its problems, but there’s no other place like it. It is clean, safe and filled with nice people, but still expensive. New York might have cold hands, but it now also has a warm heart.

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The Poem of the Air

In honor of our snowfall this past Monday, this poem by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Snowflakes
Out of the bosom of the Air,
Out of the cloud-folds of her garments shaken,
Over the woodlands brown and bare,
Over the harvest-fields forsaken,
Silent, and soft, and slow
Descends the snow.
even as our cloudy fancies take
Suddenly shape in some divine expression,
Even as the troubled heart doth make
In the white countenance confession,
The troubled sky reveals
The grief it feels.
This is the poem of the air,
Slowly in silent syllables recorded;
this is the secret of despair,
Long in its cloudy bosom hoarded,
now whispered and revealed
to wood and field.

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One for the Road

I noted with sadness the passing of Bill Trumbull on Tuesday at Prince William Hospital, about a mile from where we live. I wasn’t aware he and his wife lived in the area, in Bristow. Bill was part of the ambiance of the Washington area during a 36-year run on WMAL-AM.

During the years when ‘MAL ruled the airwaves, they had a lineup that that ran all day and all night with memorable personalities and, yes, good music on the AM band. FM radio was not established in the area at that time. People set their clocks and checked their schedule against the shennanigans of Harden and Weaver in the morning, followed by Tom Gauger, then Bill with partner Chris Core in what was called at first “Two for the Road” and soon changed to “Trumbull and Core” and Felix Grant with his cool jazz program and Bill Mayhugh overnight. John Lyons was an incredible weekend guy and fill-in.

Like many other people, my car pool buddy Mike Bartlett and I listened to Trumbull and Core on our drive home. They made taking the traffic a lot easier. The show featured an eclectic mix of music and comedy. Trumbull’s self-deprecating humor was laugh-out-loud funny and the fellow always seemed to be suffering some disaster. By all accounts, he was a nice man, a rarity, I understand, in the radio business.

Chris Core did a touching tribute to his friend and partner yesterday on his “Core Values” feature on WTOP-FM. You can follow this link to listen to it: http://www.wtop.com/?nid=200&sid=2702914

I remember the fun and the silliness, but I also remember that terrible day thirty years ago tomorrow when Air Florida Flight 90 slammed into the 14th Street Bridge. We had had an early dismissal from school because of the snowstorm and it took Mike and me three hours to drive from Fairfax. Trumbull and Core kept us company the whole way. As we were coming down Barnett Street to Mike’s house (we did not move to the neighborhood until 1988), Chris Core came on and announced that an airplane had hit the bridge and gone into the Potomac. It was a chilling and memorable moment, part of the dark matter of life in the Washington area.

My condolences to Bill’s family and friends. Somehow, that friends category includes all his listeners. Rest in peace, Bill Trumbull.

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