The calendar is finally going to flip on New Year’s Day to 1923 for works entering the public domain. It was supposed to happen in 1999, but copyright holders got a twenty year extension. One of the outcomes here is that I just paid for permissions on a certain 1923 poem for a whopping ten months (the term is usually five or seven years, depending on what one can negotiate). At least I won’t have to pay for the renewal. On January 1, 2020, 1924 goes into public domain, and so on in perpetuity, barring further funny business.
I’ve never said this before, but that’s what I get for writing so fast.
[This is an entry in a group of observations from nature that, arrogantly following Pascal, I have called Pensées, the word suggesting thoughts but also the flowers, pansies. What could be finer?]
The Bleak Midwinter
The sky is a gray veil behind which
the midday sun is trying,
against nature, to set in the south.
Safe in my warm Ford, I still feel
the trepidation that must
have visited the ancients who,
unable to consult Wikipedia and
assure themselves that the golden
chariot would continue driving across the sky
day after day without end,
offered sacrifices to mollify the god.
My father, spirit crushed by the shortened days
and dying light,
perversely relished the solstice.
“It can’t,” he’d say, “get any worse than this,”
adding that every day from here
forward is a little longer.
A cause for celebration, never celebrated.
Merely endured. He died when the days
were nearing the nadir
and was buried on the solstice
in cold rain and a chill wind.
That fate would not have shocked him.
These darkest days are a stern reminder
that we should buck up, carry on,
trust an eternal pattern that has always
returned the light to us.
And while we’re about it, be kind,
share others’ burdens, and,
not ourselves born to save,
at least be of some small assistance.
This Saturday, November 17, I will be appearing with Carol Jago and Kelly Gallagher in a session on High School Matters at the National Council of English Teachers annual conference. The session (KL, for the record) is at 2:45 in Grand Ballroom C at the Houston Hilton, for those attending. I’m in awe at appearing with and in front of so many teachers who work incredibly hard to make our society more literate and fluent. I feel like such a slacker next to them!
I had occasion in How to Read Poetry Like a Professor to use Edgar Allen Poe’s poem, “The Bells,” as an instance of pure sound, which is to say, sound used for its own sake beyond the meaning of the poem. I never thought of is as something waiting for musical adaptation, and it turns out I was right, technically. It wasn’t waiting: the talented and tragic folk singer Phil Ochs had already been there. He adapted the poem on his first album, 1964’s All the News That’s Fit to Sing. It’s pretty great:
My interview about How to Read Poetry Like a Professor with Jake Nevins of The Guardian U.S. came out today. What a great birthday present! He does a great job of asking a solid setup question and then letting his subject blather, which is one of my specialties:
I’ll be reading from and talking about How to Read Poetry Like a Professor at two events in April:
Thursday, April 12 at 7:00 p.m. at Schuler Books in the Meridian Mall in Okemos, Michigan
Tuesday, April 24 at 7:00 p.m. at Nicola’s Books in the Westgate Shopping Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan
March 31 is the birthday of the late John Fowles (1926). Don’t blame him, but The French Lieutenant’s Woman changed my life. I’d never seen a book make use of the past, of tropes and types from the Victorian novel (in this case) in the service of something highly non-Victorian. The novel was still pretty new (six or seven years old), and even Nabokov hadn’t quite prepared me for this, and I knew I had to find out more about this heady business.