A very good poet whom I follow on Twitter who goes by the handle @alanlovespoetry posted the below recently:
Once I am dead
will it matter
if it was a stabbing or a stroke
does it matter
that only mom saw me graduate
that at 18
I made so many nice people cry
no math in it
it adds up exactly to nothing
not even enough for one good poem.
Before I plunge any further let me say first off that I love this poem. Second I have no idea if my Twitter "followee" is writing any grain of truth either in the events or in his philosophy (Alan, if you want to weigh in, please be my guest, if not we'll leave the mystery!). However, as a point of comparison it is excellent!
My grandmother worried about this as long as I knew her - the adding up after her death. She tried to do everything she could so that the math added to something greater than zero. I think it does, but not in the way she presented her hopes.
The sum is what is left and that is the memories the "survivors" carry with them. It may end up being transient, a generation, two, maybe three, but it does, in my mind, add up to something greater than nothing. And it does matter, each of those pieces, because each affected others to a greater or lesser extent which caused a ripple through time that would not have been there, Alan, Grandma, unless you were there.
PBS has compiled a list of the 100 "best" books written in English. The term "best" is loose. Over the course of the summer, in an effort to promote reading, they are allowing people to vote for their favorites to come up with "America's Greatest Read". They are also promoting the books and the great themes of literature with an eight-part television series discussing the books, the authors, themes, and other areas.
The list was complied by a survey and a blue-ribbon panel and, as with any of these "best" lists one can take exception to what is included and excluded. In the end it is probably irrelevant. I, personally, have read 36 of the 100.
The main points are, to me, that we should vote here and that we should contribute and advertise this and other promotional "tours" that encourage reading. I am not one of those who is going to try to read the 64 I have "missed" on the list - many of them hold no interest to me and, though I am sure they are well done, I have other books to read that are more my style.
If you want, drop a comment as to how many of the 100 you've read. We can even talk about which books we wished were on the list but please, vote and encourage others to read more books!
It is now 48 years since the first collection of stories featuring the heroic pair Fafhrd and The Gray Mouser appeared in book form. Fritz Lieber and his friend Harry Otto Fischer created the characters in 1934 and they first appeared in print in 1939 in the magazine Unknown.
Lieber and Fischer created the characters to try to give a more "real" heroes than Conan the Barbarian and Tarzan. Lieber wrote almost all of the stories and, starting in the mid-1960s, organized the many disparate stories published by that time and filled in the gaps in the storyline.
The first collection includes the most highly acclaimed story of the entire series, "Ill Met in Lankhmar", which won both the Hugo (1971) and Nebula (1970) awards. The stories, individually and in their collected form had a significant influence on the creators of the game Dungeons & Dragons. Some of the characters are actually included in some of the guide books for the game.
Lieber is one of the great writers of the fantasy genre and his characters Fafhrd and The Gray Mouser and many aspects of Lankhmar and the world Nehwon are seen in books and stories and characters scores of years removed. There are seven collections in book form but my favorite, for the aforementioned story which tells of the first meeting of the two heroes, is Swords and Deviltry.
I have been digging into some family history recently and find it fascinating to look back at what was and compare it to what is. One hundred years ago the world was still engulfed in the War to End All Wars and, even with that "resolved" would plunge into the great influenza pandemic that winter. One could argue in some sense we are no further along.
Anyway, in 1918 there was no Nobel Prize for literature and a novel called His Family by Ernest Poole won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature. I don't know anyone who can remember Mr. Poole or his novel. But, in 1918, a book titled My Antonia was published and is still in print today. Willa Cather's classic is still read in schools and is at the top of the Goodreads list of "Most Popular Books Published in 1918" with over 155,000 people having it in their lists on that site.
The next most popular book is the ubiquitous Elements of Style by Strunk and White. Although less well used in the age of the online than it was in my school days, this venerable book has over 114,000 listings. Not bad for being 100 years old!
After that things fall off precipitously. No other book garners even 17,000 listings. I do recognize many of the authors of the next tier of books from a century past - Kahlil Gibran, L. Frank Baum, and Edgar Rice Burroughs - though the one I think most poignant is the 10th ranked book, The Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen.
Owen was killed in action one week before the end of the First World War. His poetry reflects the grim reality of war and he is considered the foremost poet of the period. In honesty only a few of his poems were published before his death and the full collection of all his works had to wait until 1963. But Goodreads places over 7,000 listings for the original few.
One final interesting inclusion in Goodreads list of the top 200 is Robert Baden-Powell's Girl Guiding. Baden-Powell and his sister Agnes had founded the scouting movement in 1908 (boys) and 1910 (girls) in England and the Scouting Movement quickly spread to the United States and many other countries. Girl Guiding was the second handbook for girls.
Kismet was a line of serial romance novels published by Meteor Publishing from 1990 to 1993. They had the misfortune of getting into the romance game at the wrong time and, despite many authors who went on to well-acclaimed careers, Kismet and Meteor went bankrupt after less than 4 years.
One Snowy Night is a typical novel of the series and Ellen Moore crafts a good romance story. It has no less than three 5-start ratings on Goodreads. Unfortunately the only bio information I could find on her was what was on the inside of the front matter of the book. This is apparently her first and only novel. Back in 1992 she was married and living in Georgia. Ms. Moore we all hope you are doing well!
One Snowy Night is available on Biblio from $4.75 including postage.
From the back cover:
It was one of the worst snowstorms Randy Taylor had ever seen in his years as a trucker. The entire North Carolina coast was covered with snow and sleet that made driving conditions treacherous. When his headlights pointed to a lone pedestrian on the deserted stretch of highway, Randy couldn't help but stop. He assumed that he was picking up a runaway boy, but when the passenger's strawberry-blonde hair spilled out from under her cap, he realized she was a young, vulnerable, very pregnant woman.
Scarlett Kincaid had been reluctant to accept a ride from the blue-eyed stranger, but her instincts had told her to get out of the cold if she wanted to protect her unborn child. And in the nightmare of the past few months, Scarlett had grown desperate to save her child. She had vowed to run far and fast, for the child's sake. She just had no idea that the baby would choose to arrive so soon.
Randy wanted nothing to do with Scarlett's labor. He was a confirmed bachelor, the trucker they called "Lone Star"—not a doctor. But the forces of nature left him with no choice. He was trapped in a snowstorm with a beautiful woman about to give birth in his brand-new rig!
Hondo was the second full-length western published by prolific author Louis L'Amour. It had been developed from the short story "The Gift of Cochise" which John Wayne had read the year before and purchased the screen rights from L'Amour.
While James Edward Grant wrote the screenplay, L'Amour expanded it into novel form. While there are significant differences between the short story, the screen play, and the novel the latter two were instant successes, with the novel and the movie released on the same day, the novel featuring the words, "Hondo was the finest Western Wayne had ever read".
L'Amour wrote 89 novels, 2 full-length non-fiction works, and published 14 short story collections in his lifetime. He also wrote poetry and other stories and articles not included in the above. Although primarily remembered as a writer of westerns, he also wrote crime/mystery stories, science fiction, historical fiction, and adventure stories.
While criticized for becoming formulaic and somewhat pedantic, especially in his later westerns, L'Amour produced some of the best-loved work in the past century.
Hondo can be found in many different printings, on Biblio, from only $3.97 including postage.
From the original jacket back:
He was etched by the desert’s howling winds, a big, broad-shouldered man who knew the ways of the Apache and the ways of staying alive. She was a woman alone raising a young son on a remote Arizona ranch. And between Hondo Lane and Angie Lowe was the warrior Vittoro, whose people were preparing to rise against the white men. Now the pioneer woman, the gunman, and the Apache warrior are caught in a drama of love, war, and honor
It is the ninth inning of the seventh game of the World Series. The score is tied. There are two outs and the bases are loaded. The loudspeaker blares, "Batting for the pitcher - Greg Schroeder!" I stand in the box and size up the pitcher. He's a wily old veteran reliever. I dig in.
The first pitch burns in low and away. I take it for ball one. The next pitch breaks over the center of the plate for a strike. The third pitch nicks the outside corner for strike two.
I ask for time to readjust myself in the box. When I'm settled the umpire calls, "Play ball!" The pitcher winds up, kicks, and throws. A slider high and tight1 Bat meets ball with a loud "crack" sending the ball over the leftfielder to the wall. The winning run scores and we are World Champions!
Alas, it is just a fantasy, a daydream of mine. Yet I try to make my fantasies, my daydreams, come true. Today, four months after my tenth birthday, I will take the first step in making that fantasy a reality. Today I will start my first Little League game.
As I don my catcher's equipment I look over the other team, the Cardinals. They have fifteen good athletes on their team, no slouches. No wonder they won every game they played last year. By comparison our team does not have overwhelming talent, we are not all superstars and we know it. Still we have an undying drive to win if possible and therefore are not intimidated by their unblemished record or superb appearance.
I crouch behind the plate, catch a few warm-ups from Gerry, our pitcher, and indicate to the umpire that we are ready. He yells, "batter up!" and the game begins.
The first inning is a disaster - four errors, one passed ball, one wild pitch, four walks, and two hits result in eight runs before we can get the side out. In our half the first two batters strike out before Gerry pops out to the shortstop and we are right back on the field.
Now Gerry bears down. He faces only four batters and strikes out three of them. However the batter he does not strike out sends one of his pitches over the rightfield fence for a homerun, giving the Cardinals a 9-0 lead.
Determined not, to stand idly by while they clobber us, we start attacking. Our first batter grounds out, but the next two stroke singles into left center. Steve, our third baseman, walks to load up the bases.
Now it is my turn to bat, my first at bat as an organized baseball player. The pitcher whips in a fastball that glances off my right shoulder to the backstop. I go to first base and our initial run scores. Three batters later we are back on the field down by just six, 9-3.
The third, fourth, and fifth innings pass by with us vainly trying to match the ever growing number of Cardinal runs. Now it is the last of the sixth, our last chance. Though we are down by eight, 37-29, not one of us does not believe we can and will win.
Bobby, our second baseman, helps to confirm our beliefs by drilling the very first pitch of the inning down the rightfield line for a triple.
Andy punches a pinch-single through the infield to score Bobby and trim the Cardinal lead to seven. Randy, our shortstop, hammers a double to center and Andy races home. Six runs to go.
Gerry steps in. Their pitcher is upset and sends his first pitch over the catcher to the backstop allowing Randy to take third. Gerry walks to bring up Eddie. Eddie, too, walks to load the bases. Unfortunately Chuck, our best hitter, strikes out for the first out. Bill walks to the plate. He allows the first pitch go by then drops the second in front of the centerfielder and behind the second baseman for a single. Gerry and Randy score to cut the Cardinal lead to four. Steve peps out for the second out and I step in.
I let the first two pitches sail outside before missing a fastball high and tight. The next pitch hits the dirt in front of the plate and bounds to the backstop allowing Eddie and Bill to advance. I foul off the next pitch to fill the count. The next pitch hurtles toward me. I time it perfectly and hit a hard chopper to short. It leaps off the shortstop's glove into leftfield. I end up on second, Eddie and Bill score and we are down by two, 37-35.
Bobby is up again and draws a walk. Their coach has finally had enough and changes pitchers.
Andy fouls off four straight pitches before straightening out the fifth. He hits it so hard I don't think anyone will ever find it. Bobby scores. I follow and Andy crosses the plate with the winning run!
Poetry Duel 20 featured Rebecca Bardelli and a poem, "Angels and Demons", from her recently published collection Soul Echoes against a classic written by Emily Dickinson, "Beauty be not caused - It Is".
Ms. Bardelli won with a 4.67 rating! The Dickinson poem was only 3.67, much lower than previous Dickinson poems.
Soul Echoes is a fabulous collection, now out on both ebook and paperback.
Angels and Demons
I took the time to delve deep into your eyes.
I saw winged seraphim in crystal skies.
I also saw devils with fire starting rage
Contained within a strong steel cage
I chose to love your demons and your angels -
To dip your flames deep into my loving well.
To focus on the white wings within your soul -
While loving you not in part, but in whole.
Beauty Be Not Caused - It Is
Beauty - be not caused - It Is -
Chase it, and it ceases
Chase it not, and it abides -
Overtake the creases
In the meadow - when the wind
Runs his fingers through it -
Deity will see to it
That you never do it.
This week I remember a classic in American poetry. Walt Whitman is a name that is almost always in the list of greatest American poets. In fact, in 2006, The Atlantic listed him as "the most influential American poet, without question."
Leaves of Grass was first published in 1855. It was found by many to be obscene, with its direct references to the body, emotions and explicit sexual imagery. It was greatly influenced by Ralph Waldo Emerson and the Transcendentalist movement and is truly quintessentially American, as the Atlantic says.
Whitman spent the entire rest of his life adding to and revising the one book. It grew from only 95 pages and 12 poems to over 400 poems through, nominally 9 editions (there is some dispute over whether three of the printings were sufficiently changed from their predecessors to be counted as a new edition). As such scholars can trace Whitman's phases of development and thought by tracing the changes in the editions.
Whitman was a nurse during the Civil War and was strongly affected by what he found in the hospitals and battlefields of that great struggle. He was also a staunch Lincoln man and he wrote a stirring elegy to the fallen President, "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd".
The title itself was a pun, leaves being the pages of a book and grass was a term used by publishers of the time for works of little value.
Fortunately for all of us, there are many leaves and they are definitely of great value.
Me as a critic (be careful! the harshness will be well concealed!)