Archive for January, 2017

Building a personal anthology of favorite poems

Tuesday, January 24th, 2017

In all of his classes, poet Robert Pinsky insists that students assemble a personal anthology of poems. These are not to be simply photocopies of favorites; instead, each student is instructed to write out every poem in longhand, or type it out line by line, word by word. Pinsky argues this is the best way of learning one’s favorites, absorbing them, and perhaps living them forever.

I think he is right, and in the spirit of a Pinsky student (though I’ve never studied with him) I began my anthology with a few poems I’ve admired but haven’t memorized, titles that spun immediately to the top of my head.

Without writing them out here, let me mention them for any reader to track down.

First is T. S. Eliot’s, Journey of the Magi.
–Eliot wrote this dramatic monologue in 1927, a year after he became an Anglo-Catholic. Many critics suggest Eliot’s poetry diminished after his conversion, but I suggest quite the opposite. One must reflect on the Incarnation to grasp the depth of Eliot’s reflection, and most of his critics disdain such consideration.

–Second in my collection is Christina Rossetti’s In the Bleak Midwinter, which, set to music, has become one of the most beloved of Christmas carols. As did Eliot, Rossetti, a Victorian Christian, reflected on the meaning of the Incarnation of Christ and concluded, Our God, heaven cannot hold Him,/nor earth sustain.

–My third choice comes from an anthology designed for children and a poem I’ve written of previously, Rebecca Kai Dolitch’s poem My Brother’s Shirt. I think it is one of the gentlest, and saddest, anti-war poems I’ve read.

–One more for the time being: Dana Gioia’s 1991 poem, Planting A Sequoia. I was introduced to Gioia’s poem by the late Larry Kooi, the head of a private Christian school at which I taught for a brief time. I’ve written about its significance in an earlier post.

I’ll attempt periodically to update the building of my favorites anthology.

“Toodle-oo” and our storage bags of memories.

Sunday, January 1st, 2017

“Toodle-oo” was a frequent expression of my youth. I heard it whenever we departed my aunt’s house, or when she left ours. I heard it from the dozens of Newfoundland immigrants I came to know growing up as a child of Newfoundland immigrants.

They had almost to a person abandoned their homeland that at the time of their youth was a dominion of Great Britain. As the Great Depression lessened, they left the fishing outports in which they were born and raised and discovered new lives as ironworkers, carpenters, painters, stevedores, homemakers, cooks, and skilled craftspersons in New York and other U.S. cities.

But they brought with them the flare of the British English they had learned and studied in Newfoundland, and “toodle-oo” was one of their most frequently used expressions of friendly departure.

Lexicologists are unsure of the origin of this expression. Some think it was a distorted pronunciation of the French phrase “à tout à l’heure,” meaning see you later.

Others think it may have been an expression imitating the tooting of an automobile horn, which seems to lose the element of saying goodbye in my thinking, and if accurate would more likely have become, “Be careful; get out of the way.”

In my experience, “toodle-oo” was never used as a warning of danger.

One dictionary gives a literary reference dated 1938 to the British writer P. G. Wodehouse, who has a character saying, “Toodle-oo. See ya later.”

It doesn’t matter how it began; it lives on–still mostly in British usage–as the well-wishing of departure among friends, and carries an assurance that one will be welcomed again in the future.

As we enter a New Year, I’m tempted to say “toodle-oo” to 2016, but with time we can never say, “See you later.”

Perhaps the role of writers is to record time so we can truly say “See you later” in our texts, notes, journals, workbooks, poems, essays, and letters.

We will see 2016 again but only in our memories, and as writers, we are destined to be recorders of memories.

I had a dream this weekend about inventing and marketing “Toodle-oo” bags. I went to the refrigerator and came across a storage bag in which I had saved the spaghetti and meat sauce prepared two nights earlier. In a sense, I was saying to the spaghetti when I stored it: “Toodle-oo. I’ll see ya later.” And sure enough, I met it again two days hence in our refrigerator.

It occurred to me then that writers in a sense are putting memories into “Toodle-oo” bags with everything we write, from sticky notes to blog posts to novels and poems.

We all have our form of Toodle-oo bags. Wherever we try to store our memories in writings, we use some imaginary Toodle-oo bag, in which we always say, “I’ll see ya later.”

So, I’ve decided I can say Toodle-oo to 2016 and add that I’ll see it later in one of my personal Toodle-oo bags.