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July 2016

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Jul. 25th, 2016

book: meg powers

Louise Fitzhugh

"I have thought a lot about being things since trying to be an onion," Harriet writes in her notebook. "I have tried to be a bench in the park, an old sweater, a cat, and my mug in the bathroom. I think I did the mug best because when I was looking at it I felt it looking back at me and I felt like we were two mugs looking at each other. I wonder if grass talks."
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Malcolm Gladwell

Creative property, Lessig reminds us, has many lives—the newspaper arrives at our door, it becomes part of the archive of human knowledge, then it wraps fish. And, by the time ideas pass into their third and fourth lives, we lose track of where they came from, and we lose control of where they are going.

Jun. 14th, 2016

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Marie Howe

This week I have no faith in language. I must tell you I don’t, but that’s my own failing, not language’s. I feel like it’s the last outpost for us humans. I take it very seriously. I feel language has been utterly cut off by this culture and used in the service of consumerism and that poetry insists on the integrity of words, of a word... The language itself I feel is endangered more than it has ever been. To try to say what we mean, to try to make something beautiful and meaningful from language, feels to me like a profound political act still and a spiritual act.

It’s terrifying, really terrifying what Madison Avenue and people who sell things are doing. I feel like poets and writers are the monks writing illuminated manuscripts, in the sense of trying to preserve the integrity of language, just to expand the possibilities for expression, because the culture is trying to push us into the same twenty words over and over again.

People now want the information fast and they want a certain kind of information that they can eat, essentially, instead of dwelling with mystery. Negative capability, Keats called it—to dwell with uncertainty without grasping after an easy solution. A poem often asks us to dwell there, and it’s unbearable, especially if you have no practice, if you don’t read or if you don’t go off by yourself and sit alone for a while. Even those of us who write, we’re often rushing around. So this dwelling, not fully comprehending something instantly, is very difficult. Anything that pushes us into the depths of our being is very hard to bear. I find it hard to bear. Sometimes I open a book that’s so beautiful I have to shut it because it hurts me. I can’t stand it. It’s like, Oh no! Oh no! Oh no! This is going to drive me into my own heart. A day or two days later I’m saying, All right, and I just surrender to it: Do it to me. Go ahead. I want it. I don’t want it. I want it. I don’t want it.

Apr. 2nd, 2016

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Vladimir Nabokov

One cannot read a book: one can only reread it. A good reader, a major reader, an active and creative reader is a rereader. And I shall tell you why. When we read a book for the first time the very process of laboriously moving our eyes from left to right, line after line, page after page, this complicated physical work upon the book, the very process of learning in terms of space and time what the book is about, this stands between us and artistic appreciation. When we look at a painting we do no have to move our eyes in a special way even if, as in a book, the picture contains elements of depth and development. The element of time does not really enter in a first contact with a painting. In reading a book, we must have time to acquaint ourselves with it. We have no physical organ (as we have the eye in regard to a painting) that takes in the whole picture and can enjoy its details.

Mar. 6th, 2016

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Virginia Woolf

Each had his past shut in him like the leaves of a book known to him by heart; and his friends could only read the title.

Dec. 5th, 2015

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Kay Ryan

On the Nature of Understanding

Say you hoped to
tame something
wild and stayed
calm and inched up
day by day. Or even
not tame it but
meet it halfway.
Things went along.
You made progress,
understanding
it would be a
lengthy process,
sensing changes
in your hair and
nails. So it’s
strange when it
attacks: you thought
you had a deal.

Nov. 22nd, 2015

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Tony Hoagland

There isn’t a word for walking out of the grocery store
with a gallon jug of milk in a plastic sack
that should have been bagged in double layers

—so that before you are even out the door
you feel the weight of the jug dragging
the bag down, stretching the thin

plastic handles longer and longer
and you know it’s only a matter of time until
bottom suddenly splits.

There is no single, unimpeachable word
for that vague sensation of something
moving away from you

as it exceeds its elastic capacity
—which is too bad, because that is the word
I would like to use to describe standing on the street

chatting with an old friend
as the awareness grows in me that he is
no longer a friend, but only an acquaintance,

a person with whom I never made the effort—
until this moment, when as we say goodbye
I think we share a feeling of relief,

a recognition that we have reached
the end of a pretense,
though to tell the truth

what I already am thinking about
is my gratitude for language—
how it will stretch just so much and no farther;

how there are some holes it will not cover up;
how it will move, if not inside, then
around the circumference of almost anything—

how, over the years, it has given me
back all the hours and days, all the
plodding love and faith, all the

misunderstandings and secrets
I have willingly poured into it.

There Is No Word

Mar. 30th, 2015

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William Stafford

At the Un-National Monument Along the Canadian Border

This is the field where the battle did not happen,
where the unknown soldier did not die.
This is the field where grass joined hands,
where no monument stands,
and the only heroic thing is the sky.

Birds fly here without any sound,
unfolding their wings across the open.
No people killed — or were killed — on this ground
hallowed by neglect and an air so tame
that people celebrate it by forgetting its name.

Mar. 24th, 2015

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J. M. Barrie

Nothing is really work unless you would rather be doing something else.

Feb. 15th, 2015

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Philip Levine

He Would Never Use One Word Where None Would Do

If you said "Nice day," he would look up
at the three clouds riding overhead,
nod at each, and go back to doing what-
ever he was doing or not doing.
If you asked for a smoke or a light,
he'd hand you whatever he found
in his pockets: a jackknife, a hankie –
usually unsoiled – a dollar bill,
a subway token. Once he gave me
half the sandwich he was eating
at the little outdoor restaurant
on La Guardia Place. I remember
a single sparrow was perched on the back
of his chair, and when he held out
a piece of bread on his open palm,
the bird snatched it up and went back to
its place without even a thank you,
one hard eye staring at my bad eye
as though I were next. That was in May
of '97, spring had come late,
but the sun warmed both of us for hours
while silence prevailed, if you can call
the blaring of taxi horns and the trucks
fighting for parking and the kids on skates
streaming past silence. My friend Frankie
was such a comfort to me that year,
the year of the crisis. He would turn
up his great dark head just going gray
until his eyes met mine, and that was all
I needed to go on talking nonsense
as he sat patiently waiting me out,
the bird staring over his shoulder.
"Silence is silver," my Zaydee had said,
getting it wrong and right, just as he said
"Water is thicker than blood," thinking
this made him a real American.
Frankie was already American,
being half German, half Indian.
Fact is, silence is the perfect water:
unlike rain it falls from no clouds
to wash our minds, to ease our tired eyes,
to give heart to the thin blades of grass
fighting through the concrete for even air
dirtied by our endless stream of words.

Jan. 2nd, 2015

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T. S. Eliot

For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice.

Oct. 14th, 2014

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Denise Levertov

Two girls discover
the secret of life
in a sudden line of
poetry.

I who don’t know the
secret wrote
the line. They
told me

(through a third person)
they had found it
but not what it was
not even

what line it was. No doubt
by now, more than a week
later, they have forgotten
the secret,

the line, the name of
the poem. I love them
for finding what
I can’t find,

and for loving me
for the line I wrote,
and for forgetting it
so that

a thousand times, till death
finds them, they may
discover it again, in other
lines

in other
happenings. And for
wanting to know it,
for

assuming there is
such a secret, yes,
for that
most of all.

The Secret
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Part of Linda Sue Park's Newbery Acceptance Speech

...I write my books on what I call "The Pizza Model." Fifty years ago, pizza was a strange exotic food, the subject of ethnic slurs. Now, not only does it have coast-to-coast acceptance, but American chefs and eaters have made it their own: in Italy you would be hard put to find a Cajun-blackened-chicken pizza topped with mango salsa on a whole-wheat sourdough crust! In the same way, I think of [A Single] Shard as an "American" novel. Its setting and characters may be twelfth-century Korean, but its author was concerned with the search for belonging and the drive to innovate, both very much part of the American experience. This strikes me as a fine parallel to both the Newbery Award itself — named for an Englishman, yet now wholly American-and to American culture as a whole. It is one of our great strengths that we have such a richness of cultures from which to draw in the continuing evolution of our own.

Is it important that I am the first Asian American in seventy-five years to have been awarded the Newbery Medal? In some ways, yes. Seventy-five years is a long time — three or four generations. We all know now how important it is for young people to see themselves reflected in positive images from the culture around them. And I think it is even more important for those in the majority to see images of people of color in a variety of contexts, to move away from seeing them as "other."

However, I was pleased by Kathleen Odean's comment that the book's multiculturalism was not a factor in its selection. Certainly I did not write the book with an overt political agenda in mind. It has also been difficult for me to deal with the idea of becoming a sort of poster child for Korean Americans and for Asian writers in general.

I feel strongly that the author's bio should be kept separate from consideration of the text itself, so much so that for my first three books I declined to have my photo printed on the back flap. I wanted the books to stand or fall on their own, without help or hindrance from information about my ethnicity. And I still believe that this is the goal — the ideal we must strive for, But the response from Koreans and Korean Americans demonstrates that we are still a long way from inhabiting that ideal world. I was stunned and humbled to learn what the award for A Single Shard means to so many people, young and old, complete strangers, who have written to tell me how proud they are that a book set in Korea by a Korean American had won this award — how they now feel "included" in a way that they did not before...

Sep. 21st, 2014

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William Faulkner

Between grief and nothing I will take grief.
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Mary Oliver

How I Go to the Woods

Ordinarily I go to the woods alone, with not a single
friend, for they are all smilers and talkers and therefore
unsuitable.

I don't really want to be witnessed talking to the catbirds
or hugging the old black oak tree. I have my way of
praying, as you no doubt have yours.

Besides, when I am alone I can become invisible, I can sit
on the top of a dune as motionless as an uprise of weeds,
until the foxes run by unconcerned. I can hear the almost
unhearable sound of the roses singing.

If you have ever gone to the woods with me, I must love
you very much.

Aug. 3rd, 2014

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Rudyard Kipling

The Way Through the Woods

They shut the road through the woods
Seventy years ago.
Weather and rain have undone it again,
And now you would never know
There was once a road through the woods
Before they planted the trees.
It is underneath the coppice and heath,
And the thin anemones.
Only the keeper sees
That, where the ring-dove broods,
And the badgers roll at ease,
There was once a road through the woods.

Yet, if you enter the woods
Of a summer evening late,
When the night-air cools on the trout-ringed pools
Where the otter whistles his mate.
(They fear not men in the woods,
Because they see so few)
You will hear the beat of a horse's feet,
And the swish of a skirt in the dew,
Steadily cantering through
The misty solitudes,
As though they perfectly knew
The old lost road through the woods...
But there is no road through the woods.

Jun. 10th, 2014

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Neil Gaiman

...It occurs to me that the peculiarity of most things we think of as fragile is how tough they truly are. There were tricks we did with eggs, as children, to show who they were, in reality, tiny load-bearing marble halls; while the beat of the wings of a butterfly in the right place, we are told, can create a hurricane across an ocean. Hearts may break, but hearts are the toughest of muscles, able to pump for a lifetime, seventy times a minute, and scarcely falter along the way. Even dreams, the most delicate and intangible of things, can prove remarkable to kill...

Stories, like people and butterflies and songbirds’ eggs and human hearts and dreams, are also fragile things, made up of nothing stronger or more lasting than twenty-six letters and a handful of punctuation marks. Or they are words on air, composed of sounds and ideas—abstract, invisible, gone once they’ve been spoken—and what could be more frail than that? But some stories, small, simple ones about setting out on adventures or people doing wonders, tales of miracles and monsters, have outlasted all the people who told them, and some of them have outlasted the lands in which they were created.

Jun. 6th, 2014

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W. S. Merwin

Late Spring

Coming into the high room again after years
after oceans and shadows of hills and the sounds
after losses and feet on stairs

after looking and mistakes and forgetting
turning there thinking to find
no one except those I knew
finally I saw you
sitting in white
already waiting

you of whom I had heard
with my own ears since the beginning
for whom more than once
I have opened the door
believing you were not far

May. 17th, 2014

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Pablo Picasso

There is no abstract art. You must always start with something. Afterward you can remove all traces of reality.

May. 8th, 2014

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Madeleine L'Engle

One time I was in the kitchen drinking tea with my husband and our young son, and they got into an argument about ice hockey. I do not feel passionate about ice hockey. They do. Finally our son said. “But Daddy, you don’t understand.” And my husband said, reasonably, “It’s not that I don’t understand, Bion. It’s just that I don’t agree with you.”

To which the little boy replied hotly, “If you don’t agree with me, you don’t understand.”

I think we all feel that way, but it takes a child to admit it.

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