Sunday, July 29, 2007

Louise Glück: Gretel in Darkness

For the next week or so, I will only have sporadic access to the computer, so my posts may be a bit more random than my usual Monday, Wednesday, Friday schedule.

Here is one of my favorite poems by Louise Glück. It's from her book The House on Marshland, which is stunning. It's out of print on its own, but all the poems can be found in the collection: First Four Books Of Poems.

I love this poem for the way she re-imagines the familiar fairy tale. Or rather, further-imagines it. This is Hansel and Gretel, set well after the incident with the witch, the gingerbread house, and the final escape--the witch's head in the oven. Louise Glück puts herself in Gretel's place. What would it really have been like? The result is startling and lovely and very chilling.

Gretel in Darkness

This is the world we wanted.
All who would have seen us dead
are dead. I hear the witch's cry
break in the moonlight through a sheet
of sugar: God rewards.
Her tongue shrivels into gas. . . .

Now, far from women's arms
and memory of women, in our father's hut
we sleep, are never hungry.
Why do I not forget?
My father bars the door, bars harm
from this house, and it is years.

No one remembers. Even you, my brother,
summer afternoons you look at me as though
you meant to leave,
as though it never happened.
But I killed for you. I see armed firs,
the spires of that gleaming kiln--

Nights I turn to you to hold me
but you are not there.
Am I alone? Spies
hiss in the stillness, Hansel,
we are there still and it is real, real,
that black forest and the fire in earnest.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Grab Bag Friday: More Songs By Kids

Today is the last day of this year's summer Songwriting for Kids workshops. It has been so much fun watching the kids (ages 5-8) work together to create their own songs. They do everything...melody, words, even a little arranging (like when the harp cries "No!" let's all shout for emphasis!) The best part is always how they come together as a group and become true collaborators by the end of the week.

This year, we recorded each class song, and you can hear the kids singing them and read the lyrics online at The first group incorporated all their wildest dreams into a song called "I Wish". The second two groups used pictures from the very cool book The Mysteries of Harris Burdick for their inspiration.

Ok, I'm off to get ready for our final concert and "World Premiere" of "The Magical Harp." Have a great day and always leave 'em singing...

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee: Rock Island Line

Here's another Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee video clip from Pete Seeger's 1966 "Rainbow Quest" TV series. This clip includes Rock Island Line, which is a great traditional song that was first recorded in 1937 by blues legend Ledbelly. I love watching this energetic live version.

Some say that the Rock Island Line refers to the Underground Railroad. Which certainly resonates with some of the verse lyrics ("I may be right and I may be wrong/But sure you're gonna miss me when I'm gone.") Others say it refers to the Chicago, Rock Island, and Pacific railroad (CRI&P).

Either way, I've been teaching this song in my Songwriting for Kids class and the kids love singing it!

Monday, July 23, 2007

Thich Nhat Hanh: Creating True Peace

As usual, I am a bit behind the times. For lent, our church chose to read Creating True Peace: Ending Violence in Yourself, Your Family, Your Community, and the World by Zen Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh. Well that was during March and April, and while I did read *most* of the book back then, I am finally finishing the last chapter now.

Believe me, it was an interesting process reading and discussing a book by a Zen Buddhist with a group of very Maine Congregationalists. When we first picked up this book, I have to admit I groaned a little. Great. This is going to be another of those books that tells you about how you have to fix yourself before you can fix anything else in the world. Which it was. But I found it helpful in a number of ways. Two in particular:

1. Cultivating Seeds
This is an analogy my mother used all the time when we were young. "What kind of seeds are you planting? Hitting seeds or sharing seeds?" Thich Nhat Hanh opens his book with a discussion of how we can choose which "seeds" we water in ourselves. (Once again proving that my mother's homespun wisdom is often right up there with the top philosophers and thinkers of our time.)
...our mind is like a garden that contains all kinds of seeds: seeds of understanding, seeds of forgiveness, seeds of mindfulness, and also seeds of ignorance, fear, and hatred. We realize that, at any given moment, we can behave with either violence or compassion, depending on the strength of these seeds within us.
Thich Nhat Hanh spends the rest of the book discussing how to cultivate the seeds of compassion. The more we practice compassion, the more it will become a habit, a natural state. Likewise, the more we practice anger, our anger will become stronger and more frequent. It's simple, but very useful and worth being reminded of from time to time.

2. Community
One of the last things Thich Nhat Hanh talks about in Creating True Peace is sangha, or community.
If we are a drop of water and we try to get to the ocean as only an individual drop, we will surely evaporate along the way. To arrive at the ocean, you must go as a river...We have to train ourselves to see the happiness of our community as our own happiness and to see the difficulties of our community as our own difficulties.
Again, simple, but very wise and true. And I believe the author when he says we can "train" ourselves to think this way. Again, like anything, the more we do it, the more it will become a habit.


Friday, July 20, 2007

Grab Bag Friday: Hanley Denning on Leadership

Shortly after I wrote about Hanley Denning and her work at Safe Passage, my mother sent me this list she found at the Institute for Civic Leadership's website. It's so insightful and applicable to all our lives, I thought I'd pass it on:
Taken from Hanley Denning's address to the ICL Leadership Exploration Breakfast Forum in May, 2006

Leadership as demonstrated by Hanley Denning:

1) Have a vision - really understand it, and never lose sight of it.

2) Be patient and extremely disciplined as you work, step by step, towards your vision. Don't get ahead of yourself.

3) Embrace those around you - listen to them carefully and often - and incorporate them into your actions.

4) Be a hands on, equal player - this builds trust, but also builds your
own understanding.

5) Be willing to make mistakes - none of this is already scripted. Take the risk, you may be surprised at the outcome.

6) Persistence is a must - keep at it. If you believe in your vision, don't give up. Find ways to move forward, even if it is by baby steps.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Paul McCartney Interview on World Cafe

Searching for the time that has gone so fast
The time that I thought would last

My ever-present past

(Paul McCartney, Ever Present Past)

David Dye interviewed Paul McCartney this week on NPR's World Cafe. Check it out here for some interesting discussion about:
  • The new album Memory Almost Full
  • McCartney's much-discussed new deal with Starbucks' Hear Music record label
  • Writing songs with The Beatles
  • Paul's first music lessons (piano)
  • Growing older and always having to live up to what you used to be (the ever-present past)
I haven't heard the full album yet, but "My Ever Present Past" is great. Here are a couple interesting reviews (and I have to agree with David Dye...Memory Almost Full is a very cool album title):
Scott Homewood at
Jill Kuraitis at New West

Monday, July 16, 2007

Are Independent Bookstores a Dying Breed?

The last few weeks, I've been following the saga of Dutton's Bookstore over on Alert the Bear. This small, independently owned bookstore is one of my favorite places to visit when I am in Los Angeles, and the struggle to keep it open is both mind-boggling, frustrating, and completely predictable.

It's the same old story. Can independently run businesses survive in the world of and Borders Books? I mean, I certainly buy my fair share of books from both of those establishments. The selection, simplicity, and immediate gratification can't be argued.

But there is something about the personal touch of walking into a place like Dutton's (or Gulf of Maine Books here in my town) where an employee might point out something insightful like, oh I noticed you like Lois Lowry, you should really check out Cynthia Lord's new book Rules.

Anyway, the Dutton's story is important, and it's unfolding in an interesting way. Will being declared an official city "landmark" save the day? Check out the posts on Alert the Bear (original post on the series here), and this nice article on Why Saving Dutton's Matters. Then head down to your local bookstore and let them know how glad you are to have them around!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

I Fall in Love Too Easily: Miles Davis

A few weeks ago, I posted about the lovely Sammy Kahn & Jule Stine song I Fall In Love Too Easily. Since then, I came across this cool YouTube video of Miles Davis playing the song in 1969. It's a gorgeous rendition with Chick Corea, Wayne Shorter, Dave Holland, and Jackde Johnette in the band.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Robert Hass: Picking Blackberries with a Friend Who Has Been Reading Jacques Lacan

Ah, summer. Berry season! We've been eating fresh strawberries and watching blueberries fruit in our backyard. There's something about picking fresh berries and popping the ripe fruit straight into your mouth that comes close to pure joy.

Recently, I picked up the Robert Hass book, Praise, and was reminded of how much I love the poem "Picking Blackberries with a Friend Who Has Been Reading Jacques Lacan." Jacques Lacan, the writer mentioned in the title, was a famous French psychoanalyst. I love the way Robert Hass and his friend leave the theory and analysis (object and subject) behind in order to embrace the truly great things in life: blackberry juice and nostalgia and joy, even (and especially) in the midst of drought.

Picking Blackberries with a Friend Who Has Been Reading Jacques Lacan

August is dust here. Drought
stuns the road,
but juice gathers in the berries.

We pick them in the hot
slow-motion of midmorning.
Charlie is exclaiming:

for him it is twenty years ago
and raspberries and Vermont.
We have stopped talking

about L'Histoire de la vérité,
about subject and object
and the mediation of desire.

Our ears are stoppered
in the bee-hum. And Charlie,
laughing wonderfully,

beard stained purple
by the word juice,
goes to get a bigger pot.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Grab Bag Friday: Safe Passage and A Recycled Life

Over a month ago, I went to a memorial event for Hanley Denning that included a viewing of the Oscar-nominated short documentary, A Recycled Life. It's one of those things that was so powerful and moving and humbling that I kept putting off writing about it until I had time to "do it justice." But I have a feeling that will never happen. How could you write enough words to do justice to something like this? So here are some brief words and some links to more information that will have to suffice.

About 10 years ago, Hanley Denning, a teacher, just a regular girl from Maine, went to Guatemala to learn Spanish. What she saw there affected her so deeply that she chose to sell her possessions and stay in Guatemala for what turned out to be the rest of her life.

In Guatemala City, there are thousands of impoverished families who live at the dump. They survive by spending all day in extraordinarily toxic and dangerous conditions, sorting through the trash and collecting recyclables to sell. They live on food that they salvage from the massive piles of waste. At 355 Days, you can read a first-person account of what the living conditions are like. It's truly horrific.

In a very interesting article at World & I, Denning is quoted:
"These people were not ashamed," retorts Denning to what she knows middle-class Americans (and Guatemalans) must think. "They were working to survive, and they were proud of their work."
In fact, when I watched the recent documentary, A Recycled Life, I was amazed by the amount of work they were able to do each day, sorting and removing so much material from the landfill that could then be recycled and reused. But the toll is outrageous. Sickness and death are common, everyday occurrences.

What struck Denning the most, and what ultimately caused her to change her life's path, were the children. The hundreds of children who work and live at the dump with no education, poor nutrition, often no family, and nothing more than life at the dump ahead of them. She created an organization called Camino Seguro, which means "Safe Passage" to try to do something, anything to help these children have a better life. She set up a make-shift school and slowly began to educate and feed the children of the Guatemala City dump.

Tragically, earlier this year, Denning was hit by a bus and was killed. She was 36 years old. But according to a recent Boston Globe article, her school now accommodates over 500 children and provides a safe place for them to learn and grow. She has given them hope, and Safe Passage is committed to continuing her vision. (Please click on the banner to the right of this blog or visit to learn about how you can help too.)

Documentary filmmakers Leslie Iwerks and Mike Glad created the short film, A Recycled Life, about the people who live and work at the Guatemala City Dump. The DVD includes a special feature "Safe Passage--Tribute to Hanley Denning" which describes her work with the children at the dump. Both features are definitely worth watching, though as far as I can tell, the DVD is only available from the film's website right now (and is relatively expensive). Hopefully, it will be available on Netflix soon. I've included a preview of the documentary below, and an interesting interview with Leslie Iwerks can be found at Film Radar.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Ray Charles: America the Beautiful

Happy 4th of July!!!

The Fourth has long been one of my family's favorite holidays. All the aunts and uncles and cousins are gathering at my dad's house as we speak (or as I type), for swimming and bratwurst and best of all...fireworks! Oh the fireworks. We once caught a tree on fire and my mother made us all run inside the house to clean up in case the firemen came!

For a little patriotic treat, here's a 1976 film clip of Ray Charles singing America the Beautiful on a mountaintop (with his grand piano) for the bicentennial. (Sorry, I'm not allowed to embed this one actually have to click on the link.) No one can sing this song like Ray Charles, and this particular clip is fun because it is *very* 1970s. I especially like the intro about the 50 states. :)

Have a great, relaxing day!

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

One Bottle of Pop, Two Bottles of Pop...Thanks Capt'n Eli!

"Stand by for adventure!"

Check it out...the Shipyard Brewing Company homepage now has a link to my recent review of Capt'n Eli's Strawberry Pop! Simply click on the bottle of Strawberry Pop that reads "What they are saying..." (you can refresh the homepage if the Strawberry Pop banner doesn't come up the first time). Thanks Capt'n Eli!

Also, did you see the Capt'n Eli's Soda Van? Now that is something I'd like to have at my birthday party! (I hope my husband is reading this...hint, hint)

Monday, July 2, 2007

Bad Writing at its Best: Bulwer-Lytton and Slush and Punishment!

Usually on Mondays, I post about books, authors, and great writing that I love. Just for fun, here are a couple ways to enjoy particularly bad writing:

1. The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. A couple weeks ago, a friend of mine sent me to the website for the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. This is not just any old fiction contest. This is a fiction contest with the tag line: Where WWW means "Wretched Writers Welcome."

In 1982, San Jose State University's English Department began the Bulwer-Lytton contest where contestants submit the worst first sentence of a novel they can come up with. Thousands of writers enter each year. You can read all of the deliciously bad winners at the Lyttony of Grand Prize Winners. Here is last year's winning entry:
Detective Bart Lasiter was in his office studying the light from his one small window falling on his super burrito when the door swung open to reveal a woman whose body said you've had your last burrito for a while, whose face said angels did exist, and whose eyes said she could make you dig your own grave and lick the shovel clean.
2. Slush and Punishment. On a similar note, Editorial Anonymous has been running a very enjoyable series on bad writing. This blog is written by an anonymous children's book editor, and it's great fun to read if you have any interest at all in the publishing world and how it works. Typically, readers of the blog submit publishing-related questions (mainly along the lines of "What does this vague rejection letter really mean?") and Editorial Anonymous answers in a sarcastic, dry, but entertaining and generally informative manner.

This week, someone asked "What percentage of the slush pile [definition: the submissions sent in randomly from regular people without literary agents or connections] is outrageous?"

Editorial Anonymous answered by posting a series of snippets from the actual slush pile. Here's a particularly good (read: bad) one about a goose. Oh boy. Enjoy!