Archive for March, 2017

Spring additions to my Personal Anthology of Favorite Poems

Thursday, March 23rd, 2017

Earlier this year, I borrowed from the poet Robert Pinsky the notion that students of poetry should create anthologies of favorite poems, not by merely collecting them but by hand-writing each of them before placing them in a collection.

(My first posting about this method can be read at

I’ve developed my method of following Pinsky’s valuable instruction by printing out the text of a favorite poem with each line containing triple-spacing before the next line. Then, in the wide spacing, I rewrite—with a favorite pen–the entire poem.

Each time I do this little exercise, I’m reminded of the words of the late American calligrapher, Lloyd Reynolds (1902-1978), of Oregon’s Reed College, who taught me that “The hand thinks!” An idea, I’ve come to understand, clarified by the Deconstructionist philosopher Jacques Derrida.

As Spring of 2017 begins, I here offer the latest additions to my personal anthology of favorites:

  • More a poem of winter than spring but nevertheless memorable is Mary Oliver’s poem “First Snow,” a description marked by the famous phrase “its white rhetoric everywhere calling us back to why, how, whence such beauty and what the meaning.”
    –From American Primitive. Little, Brown, 1983.
  • “Christ Climbed Down,” by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. A poem of my early adult life that captivated me and encouraged my own experience in faith and poetry. I recommend the entire collection of Ferlinghetti’s Coney Island of the Mind.
    –From A Coney Island of the Mind. New Directions, 1958.
  • As a retired journalist, I am particularly drawn to poetry triggered by the daily news. A recent example, the poem “Children of Aleppo,” which reflects on the “men inside the sky” who launch bombardments on a helpless Syrian city, is written by a Vermont poet, Chard deNiord, and was initially posted on the Poem-a-Day website of the Academy of American Poets on January 25, 2017:
  • “Susanna” by Anne Porter, provides the wisdom of an elderly immigrant woman “out of a little country/Trampled by armies” who awakens briefly in a hospital to share a truth spoken to her by her mother: “There’s not a single inch/Of our whole body/That the Lord does not love.”
    –From Living Things. Zoland Books, 2006.


Mistakenly waltzing in slow time

Wednesday, March 8th, 2017

When I was about nine or ten years old, my sister had me stand on her feet as she waltzed us around the living room to whatever record she had chosen to play on her wind-up portable Victrola.

I remember that Victrola by RCA, with the symbol of a dog gazing into the cone of a megaphone speaker atop an RCA turntable and the emblazoned slogan written beside it: “His Master’s Voice.” My sister Sylvia–our family called her Sis–probably got the turntable as a birthday gift.

I remember the Victrola had to be cranked by inserting a specially shaped handle into a slot in the front of the machine just below the turntable. It took 12 or 15 cranks to get it up to enough torque to handle a three- or four-minute 33-1/3 rpm disk.

Years later, when Sis was no longer a bobbysoxer, and I was a pre-teen becoming enamored of pop music, I recall cranking the turntable myself and listening to some of the records from Sis’s collection.

The machine had two speeds: 78 rpm and 33-1/3 rpm. The slower speed was for playing larger vinyl discs that were called “long-playing,” and one could listen to an entire collection of pieces on a single disc with a good cranking. In fact, I became so adept with the machine that I could crank it even while a record was spinning and the needle was doing its job in the groove.

But here’s the rub: I didn’t quite understand that large did not necessarily mean slow and that many records were larger but still designed to be played at 78 rpm, records such as those contained in my sister’s boxed collection of Tchaikovsky’s famous Nutcracker Suite.

The discs were larger, so when I played them, I set the rotation control, not at 78 rpm but 33-1/3. Thus, I spent several afternoons listening to the Waltz of the Flowers and other wonderful pieces of Tchaikovsky’s suite running at less than half-speed!

I seem to recall it took me two or three days of determined listening before I figured out why the “classical” music dragged. When I listened to it at the proper speed, I became enchanted and began to understand what my seventh- and eighth-grade teachers were trying to get across to us during “music appreciation” classes.

Incidentally, I seemed to know at that point that whether I waltzed slowly or fast on the turntable of life, I still could attend to the Master’s voice.