December 4, 2010

Literary Blog Hop: "What is your favorite poem and why?"

The folks over at The Blue Bookcase sponsor "The Literary Blog Hop," a weekly meme, that gives all of us who read and write about books an opportunity to find and make new friends, and exchange ideas.  This week's question was submitted by Gary at The Parrish Lantern.

What is your favorite poem and why?

I normally do not qualify answers to questions, but I'm making an exception here.  I consider myself quite the connoisseur and a serious student of poetry.  As many of you know, I post lots and lots of poetry here at ProSe.  I also have an extensive collection of poetry that I am continually delving into.

Okay, so why do I feel compelled to qualify my answer to Gary's question?  For me, it just isn't as simple as saying that this poem, or that poem, is my most favorite poem.  Depending upon my mood, time, or place, I can think of many, many poems that would, or could, be my favorite poem.  From the perspective of the most perfectly written poem that really packs a punch, I might be inclined to suggest that John Keats' La Belle Dame sans Merci. A Ballad rises to the top.  At another moment it might very well be Emily Dickinson's poem No. 712, Because I could not stop for Death--.

Be that as it may, at this moment in time my favorite poem is by Christina Georgina Rossetti, an English poet of the Victorian era.  She was the youngest sister of the Pre-Raphaelite painter and poet, Dante Gabriel Rossetti (at right is his pencil sketch of Christina).  Christina Rossetti was born in 1830, and died in 1895.  She was truly a prolific poet, writing something over 1,000 poems over the course of her life, and is perhaps best known for her epic poem, Goblin Market.

An Echo From Willowwood

"O ye, all ye that walk in Willowwood." D.G. Rosetti

Two gazed into a pool, he gazed and she,
Not hand in hand, yet heart in heart, I think,
Pale and reluctant on the water's brink
As on the brink of parting which must be.
Each eyed the other's aspect, she and he,
Each felt one hungering heart leap up and sink,
Each tasted bitterness which both must drink,
There on the brink of life's dividing sea.
Lilies upon the surface, deep below
Two wistful faces craving each for each,
Resolute and reluctant without speech: —
A sudden ripple made the faces flow
One moment joined, to vanish out of reach:
So those hearts joined, and ah! were parted so.


One of the things that I love so much about this poem is its relationship to the back-story.  This poem is an example of the poet utilizing his/her unique life experiences.  In An Echo from Willowwood, Christina is telling the story of the love between her brother, Dante, one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and his wife, Lizzie Siddal.  At the same time, Christina has crafted her sonnet to play off of Dante's earlier 'Willowwood' sonnets that were written about his wife, who died in 1862 due to laudanum addiction. So the story goes, Lizzie had left sketches of herself and Dante looking into pools of water together; these sketches then inspired the poetry of both of the Rossetti siblings. Finally, you might also be interested to learn that Lizzie Siddal served as the model for Sir John Everett Millais's famous Pre-Raphaelite painting "Ophelia."  Somehow, I think that Christina has perfectly captured the tenderness and deep love that Dante and Lizzie shared, but I also think she very effectively touches upon the sadness to come.  To me, this is a meaningful, very beautiful and poignant poem.


Book Blogging & "Busting the Newbie Blues"

I ran across an interesting posting over at Small Review's blog entitled, Busting the Newbie Blues.  She has developed a set of questionnaires associated with what we are all doing--i.e., book blogging.  I chose her questionnaire for "Established Bloggers" (I guess that's what I am).  Her questions kind of made me stop and think for a few minutes about why I am maintaining my blog and what purpose it serves.  Personally, I think a periodic assessment and reassessment of my blog is a pretty healthy thing to do.  I am thinking it may actually help me improve on what I am doing here.  So, without further ado, here are the questions and my responses.

1.  When did you start your blog?  I started seriously book blogging in August 2009.

2.  Why did you start your blog?  Honestly, I started this blog solely to create an on-line journal for my own creative writing as well as recording my thoughts about the books I was reading and some of my thoughts about my landscape photography hobby.  At the time, I truly never imagined that one other person could be the least bit interested in my scribblings or thoughts.

3.  What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?  Did you make any mistakes new bloggers can learn from?  I suppose the biggest challenge for me has been in maintaining my discipline, and coming up with new and creative postings associated with the literature that I am reading.  Also, another challenge is to ensure that I do take the time to periodically check in with some of the wonderful new friends and their blogs that I have found over the past year and a half.  It has truly been inspirational to encounter so many great book and literature blogs here.  Regarding any mistakes that I made early on--I think it comes back to the discipline thing.  You just have to take the time to sit down and do some writing.  It really does keep the creative juices flowing.  If I don't talk about the particular book that I am reading, I am famous for digging into my extensive poetry collection and finding a poem to share on ProSe.

4.  What did you find most discouraging about being a new blogger? How did you deal with this?  Trying to figure out how to do things (e.g., formatting, etc.), posting images, and just generally spiffing up my blog to make it look like something bordering on sophisticated (trust me, it ain't ever gonna be elegant ;-).  And practice makes perfect.  I just keep trying new things as I go along too.  Seeing what others have done has been extraordinarily helpful as well.

5.  What do you find most encouraging?  Without a doubt it has been the positive response I have received from all of those who've read and commented on my various postings.  I simply could not have imagined the response I've received to this blog of mine.  Simply amazing!

6.  What do you like best about the blogs you read? Have you tried to replicate this in your blog?  I love reading about all of the books that other folks are reading, and the reactions they've had via the excellent reviews that everyone is writing.  Reading these reviews has definitely made me a more discerning reader and a much better writer.  I most certainly do try to replicate the high quality of the writing and the book reviews that I've encountered in and among my own efforts here on ProSe.

7.  What do you dislike about blogs you’ve read? Do you try to avoid this?  I'm not particularly big on religiously participating in a bazillion memes.  I do like to participate in some memes periodically, because it really does make you get outside of your box or routine.  But I kind of do it as the spirit moves me.  I also am not a fan of adding buttons, badges, or other gizmos to my blog.  I figure that this blog is about the books I'm reading, the poetry I like, and some of my landscape photography.

8.  Do you have any advice for new bloggers?  Just make it a practice to visit your own blog a couple of times a week and write down your thoughts.  Even if no other person sees it, you'll have the overwhelming personal satisfaction of having accomplished something meaningful.  Your thoughts are very important--they are important to you!  Find and develop your own creative niche, and don't worry about whether anyone else will see it, read it, or comment on it.  My advice:  Write your blog just for you.  Nothing more, and nothing less.  If you've done your best and you're satisfied; well, there's not much more that you can do.  Now, have at it!

9.  How did you bring your blog to the attention of so many people?  I didn't do anything other than visit other peoples' blogs.  I didn't feel compelled to visit other folks' blogs in order to solicit reciprocity; I visited these blogs because I was genuinely interested in reading what they had to say.  I have thoroughly enjoyed finding a blog and a writer who has read a book that I've read (or want to read), and then reading their review and discovering what made that particular book or poem meaningful to them.  It is simple as that.

10.  Is there anything else you’d like to share about your experience?  Most of all I'd like to make the point that blogging about books (or anything) should be part fun and part intellectually challenging.  I have found that blogging about the books and poetry that I am reading has made me a much better reader.  I am looking at things a little differently now.  In other words, I have become a more serious reader versus just a casual reader.  I now tend to make notes in the margins of the books I read, or on the fly-leafs that later help me frame my thoughts in developing a review or recommendation.  I also keep a reading journal where I record important quotes or observations associated with the literature that I am reading.  Book blogging has added ever so much to my overall reading and comprehension experience, and I am sure that it can for you as well.


December 3, 2010

Reviews: "The Wheel Weaves as the Wheel Wills" -- Robert Jordan's 'Wheel of Time' Series of Novels

For twenty years I have been avidly following a terrific series of fantasy novels written by the American author, James Oliver Rigney, Jr., under the pen name of "Robert Jordan.  This truly amazing set of 'fat' books is generally known as The Wheel of Time series.  I read the first novel in 1990, when the first novel, The Eye of the World, was released and I have been solidly hooked ever since.  In November of this year, the thirteenth novel, and second to last, the Towers of Midnight was published (Tor Fantasy, NY).  While I have been so damned busy with work of late, I darn sure made time to read the latest installment in this fabulous story!

This series is set in a different world and in a time that is somewhat reminiscent of the 18th century.  At just over 11,000 pages (so far), this is not a series for the less-than-serious.  You gotta make a commitment with this massive set of of books, but in my opinion it is well worth the effort.  The characters are complex, complicated, interesting, and in some cases deeply flawed, i.e., just like each one of us.  This is your classic Manichaean struggle between 'Good' versus 'Evil', the 'Light' versus the 'Dark'.  While it is easy to say, "Well, this has been done before by Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings; and while that is, on the surface, a truism; Jordan has done something astounding here.  These books completely immerse the reader in a world and with characters that they can completely relate to.  If anything Jordan is the uber-Tolstoy in constructing the scope and sweep of this immensely epic story--this really is the ultimate War and Peace.  There are story arcs upon story arcs in this tale, all woven together in an exciting and hair-raising framework.  Much, much more than just magic-wielding characters, or armies struggling on battlefields, these novels are more a sophisticated blend of political intrigue, diplomacy, lessons in command and leadership, as well as an in-depth study of human psychology and interpersonal relationships.  I have read the series, from start to finish, several times now; and it still continues to be very, very difficult to put the book you are reading down for the night.  That is the magic of Jordan's writing, he just pulls you in deeper and deeper into his world and his characters.

While the primary thread  of the tale revolves around a young 'hero' by the name of 'Rand al'Thor', and his continuing struggle with the 'Great Lord of the Dark', one of the things I love the most about this series is the supporting cast and Jordan's creation of some of the most amazingly powerful female protagonists and antagonists.  Women are so important to this series in so many different ways.  As I said above, this is not your typical swords-and-sorcery or swashbuckling type of fantasy fiction.  No, not at all.  This is the thinking person's fantasy.  As a general rule of thumb, and with very few exceptions, it is the women that hold and exert the real power to influence the course of events in the plot.  This is especially true for the women that can wield what is know as the female half of the "One Power", or saidar.  Most of these women are Aes Sedai, their use of saidar, and their close-knit Ajah societies are to me some of the most fascinating characters in the novels.  And let me just finish up the description of the novel's characters by saying that the evil characters, men and women, are really, really bad and really, really scary; and the good ones, while good and decent, definitely have issues.  For me it it is so captivating and somehow just feels real.  I know people like the characters in these novels!

Sadly, 'Robert Jordan', James Oliver Rigney, Jr., died in 2007 of a very rare heart condition.  Fortunately, he did have the time to prepare a set of very detailed plotting outlines to finish the series.  He worked feverishly over his last few years to write portions of the conclusion of the series.  After his death, his wife and publisher selected the up-and-coming fantasy author, Brandon Sanderson, to finish the series.  Using Jordan's outlines and notes, Sanderson has done a sterling job of beginning to bring the story arcs together, and wrapping up the million-and-one loose ends and developing an incredible conclusion to the series.  Sanderson, working with Jordan's outlines and notes, has authored The Gathering Storm and the Towers of Midnight, and is working on the final novel in the series, A Memory of Light, due to be released in Spring 2012.  I have to say too that Sanderson's writing is very, very good.  He has done a superb job at preserving Jordan's voice and perspective as he completes this amazing story.  I am very pleased with the two novels that he has added to the series.

So, if you're looking for an epic fantasy that grabs you from the get-go and just doesn't let up, I highly recommend Robert Jordan's (and now being finished by Brandon Sanderson) series of novels--The Wheel of Time.  If you love the Arthurian legend, Tolkien's Middle Earth, Ursula K. LeGuin's Earth Sea, or George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, et al., you will dig Jordan.  Start with The Eye of the World and begin to become completely swept up and lost in "Randland".  If you doubt the veracity of my words here, I dare you to 'Google' "The Wheel of Time".  You'll be gobsmacked!  There is a universe of fans and on-line forums and communities, personal blogs, etc. associated with Jordan's massive creation.  These novels, the plot, and the characters are studied and analyzed as much or more than just about any other works of literature.  Have fun, and let me know if you start reading this series.  You'll be hooked, I guarantee it!


Happy, Happy Holidays!

I want to take a minute and apologize for my lengthy absence from my blog! [Nearly two weeks!] Unfortunately, I have been crazy busy at work of late.  My boss recently retired, and I have been named acting director of my agency until a nationwide search has been conducted, and the position filled.  Ughhh!  It all has only reinforced my desire to retire in five or six years, i.e., as soon as I am able.  Anyway, with a new incoming governor in January, things are in an incredible state of flux.

So, I'd like to wish you all the very best in the holiday season, and I hope that you are able to create some wonderful and meaningful memories with family and friends.  Please stay safe, have fun, and take a moment to extend the hand of peace and love to those around you, whether you know them or not.