Saturday, August 31, 2013

R.I.P. Seamus Heaney

I was very sad to hear the news yesterday that Nobel Prize-winning Irish poet Seamus Heaney passed away at the age of 74. He was truly one of the greatest poets of our time, and his work was infused with the Irish lyrical tradition, rich in language and form. There was often a socio-political message, but he never let it get in the way of the beauty of his work. He was literary without being obscure, socially conscious without being polemical, and his poems sang like no one I have read since Yeats. I had the pleasure of seeing him read his work at the Princeton Poetry Festival a couple of years ago, and he was marvelous. If you haven't become familiar with his work by now, you should - check that: you must. One of my favorite poems by him is "Postscript", and I once based a writing prompt on that poem, which is to take a short poem by another poet and "answer" each line - that is, to write a "next line" as a sort of extension, as your impression and interpretation of the line, then when you're done, to delete the original poet's lines, leaving only your own. I think it speaks for the beauty of the source poem (which you can find here) that I was able to produce this one:

Slowing Down (I)
(after Seamus Heaney)

Keep the sun ahead of you, always the pursuer,
to where rocks and green collide recklessly,
and wind is substantial, an almost living thing,
the light and the ocean, in the dance of shortening days,

tearing, biting away at the season,
where stones are marble-polished from years at sea,
and further in, the lake moves with translucence,
where swans glide, uncovering the water in flashes.

They rear up and flap to protest the animal wind,
necks curling, uncurling, calligraphy S’s,
and thrusting underwater, where mud-bound frogs are not safe.
Even with your camera, that most imperfect eye, you will not capture this.

You are some place in-between, where time is on holiday,
and everything comes uninterrupted, not caring whether you understand,
and the wind rocks you, as though to tease the child in you,
and creaks your rusty hinges into service.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Vacation, Being "Pop-pop", Trivia and More

Summer is winding down in interesting ways - It's been a pretty busy one, with two vacations, new grandparenthood, a teenager gearing up for college applications, driving, Eagle Scout, and a summer job.

I already talked about our awesome 40th anniversary vacation to Vegas, but last week we took the "family vacation" - to Massanutten, a huge resort area near the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.  We and our teenager had a great time - we visited Luray Caverns (an otherworldly experience), as well as three presidents' homes (Jefferson's Monticello, James Monroe's more modest Ash-Lawn Highland, and Woodrow Wilson's birthplace and presidential library in Stanton, VA), and saw a very funny musical comedy at the American Shakespeare Theatre in Stanton ("Return to the Forbidden Planet", based loosely on the 1950's sci-fi classic film Forbidden Planet, which in turn is loosely based on Shakespeare's The Tempest - the play used classic rock-n-roll hits like "Good Vibrations", "Gloria" and "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" -very entertaining).  We also engaged in some resort activities, especially my outdoorsy and active teen, who mountain biked, zip-lined and hiked (we joined him on a short but steep hike on the Appalachian Trail in Shenandoah National Park).  We also did mini-golf and disc golf, crafts and yoga, etc.  It was a full and fun week.

We're seeing a lot more of our granddaughter now that her mom has a full-time job and we (especially my wife) are the daytime caretakers.  She's a little gem, and being a "pop-pop" is a great experience. At two months, she's already smiling and "talking"  (mostly "goo").

Tonight I just returned from another victorious "Quizzo" competition at a local watering hole.  I'm a trivia buff, and have had fair success as a mostly solo "team", but I hit a dry spell until I joined forces with my sister-in-law and her best friend (who are both teachers), as well as her friend's son and tonight, her friend's husband.  Tonight's quiz was tough, but for the second straight time, we emerged as first-place winners.  Our team name?  "Sharknado!"

Poetry:  I'm still in a major dry spell so I don't have much new to offer. I do have a review of Billy Collins' upcoming collection, Aimless Love, on  I did have one recent acceptance: US 1 Worksheets will be publishing my poem, "Interview with a Metaphor" in their next issue. I'm also looking forward to attending the Poets' Forum in New York in October.
Billy Collins wrote a rather amusing poem in his new collection about the phrase "after Li Po" (the ancient Chinese poet), which appears in so many poems.  That reminded me of this "golden oldie" from 2002, which won second prize in a contest sponsored by Writers' Journal:

Li Po

That night in the drunken boat,
so the story goes,
you leaned up and out

to embrace your lover the moon,
and with that reach
that exceeded your grasp

fell into dark waters,
shattering your lover’s sister
to a hundred flashing pieces.

And as she re-assembled
on the black-glass surface
to smile at her twin above

you were already gone,
your legacy bubbling
back up to the world.