Well, dear readers, here we are in cold, chilly east coast North America on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the U.S.’s national holiday to honor one of the very greatest of its citizens. The day has put Janakay in a reflective, if not weepy mood. What would Dr. King make of today’s America? Would he see progress from the days of Jim Crow and legalized apartheid, or a steady diminishment of the civil and voting rights laws he and others fought so hard to enact? Does a national decision to honor his greatness by a day of service outweigh its dismemberment of the fragile protections for its poorest citizens and its increasing celebration of material excess? Can Dr. King’s teachings of tolerance and justice survive in the face of increasingly ugly and divisive racial rhetoric?
I continually struggle in what I regard as very dark days indeed to answer my own questions; my answers vary depending on my level of hope. Janakay’s mood was darkened by the fact that, on a day honoring a national hero who celebrated non-violence (and who died by an assassin’s bullet), a few miles away a huge “gun rights” rally is being conducted under the aegis of a group associated with a resurgent white supremacist movement. I click away on the internet, searching for comfort, and happen upon clips from a speech given by Barack Obama honoring the 50th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday march at Selma, Alabama. If only for this MLK Day, because in my own little way I want to honor a man who continued the struggle while knowing he’d never reach the Promised Land, I decided to reject despair and agree with Obama that the American experiment is not yet finished and that we still hold the power to remake our nation to align more closely with our highest ideals.
If you’re a visitor to my blog, you may have noticed that my postings have been a little, ahem, erratic in the last month or so. What I have posted has perhaps been more visual and nature oriented than literary or bookish, which isn’t to say that my interests have shifted. As much as I love my nature viewing and museum visiting (I’ve at least two very nice regional museums to share with you, so watch out!) my life remains centered on books and the printed word, as it has been since I learned to read around the usual age of six or so. While I’ve been nature viewing, I’ve also been reading as much as ever (perhaps even more so) but — I hide nothing from you, dear reader — Janakay is just a teensy-weensy bit lazy! And it’s so much easier to read the wonderful books than to organize my thoughts and string them together in coherent sentences! Although I’m actually on track as far as the reading goes to meet my two challenges (Roofbeam Reader’s TBR, and Books and Chocolate’s Back to the Classics), I’m woefully behind in writing and posting the reviews of all that I’ve read. Monday is “Miscellany Day,” however, so I’m doing a hodgepodge of related topics; because the relationship is a rather loose one, feel free to skip around!
My first Miscellany is — Anna Maria, a barrier island off Florida’s Gulf Coast, and its nearby areas (I’m just back from a visit and sorting through photos).
While I was visiting Anna Maria, I did lots and lots of reading, which brings me to my second Miscellany: books that I started, stopped or finished during my time there:
And since I’m doing books, make sure your visit to Anna Maria includes a side excursion to nearby St. Petersburg (the drive is lovely) and the wonderful:
Are you surprised to learn that I’ve added to my TBR pile?
My third and final miscellany: Jane Austen’s Sanditon, the novel left unfinished at her death. Has anyone read this? Or, unlike myself, realized the importance in Austen’s fiction of seaside resorts and beach villages? Today’s Guardian has a wonderful article discussing Austen’s use of seaside resorts — a key scene in Persuasion occurs in Lime Regis; Lydia Bennet elopes from Brighton and Austen herself may have enjoyed a seaside romance. The article suggests that in Sanditon, Austen may have written the first seaside novel; at any rate, she certainly anticipated “what the seaside has come to represent in later modern fiction,” such as Chopin’s TheAwakening, Woolf’s To the Lighthouse or Banville’s The Sea.
The exciting news? Sanditon is being adapted for an eight part series on ITV, which will air this autumn! Thoughts anyone, about Anna Maria Island, Sanditon or any of my other reads?
I know, I know — theoretically, we all love, love, love poetry! We love it so much, in fact, that we never read it! Or am I judging everyone by myself (I think psychologists call this phenomenon “projection”!). I pretty much skip reviews of modern poetry collections and become positively indignant when the NY Times Book Review devotes an entire issue (once a year, I believe) to poetry; I immediately click away to something else if my internet journey takes me, by mistake, to a poetry site, and yet ….. it wasn’t always so. When I was a kid, I loved poetry, read tons of it and can still recite bits and pieces of my favorites by heart. I even composed quite a bit of bad poetry myself, teenagey angst-filled stuff handwritten in a grubby little notebook, which was thankfully lost in one of my many moves (there were some advantages to living in a pre-computer age — no backup files!). Admittedly, my taste (not to mention my work product) was pretty pedestrian but it was heartfelt; poetry meant something to me and I thought it should matter to everyone else. But then, in my mid-twenties, I just stopped reading and (thankfully) writing the stuff.
I think several factors led me away from poetry. Foremost, as it usually is, was “life itself” — things got busy, there were jobs and husbands to get and lose, journeys to take and places to visit, degrees to earn — well, I’m sure you get the picture. As I got older, I took to reading different kinds of literature, switching from non-fiction and poetry to a heavy diet of contemporary and classical fiction. Then, most poetry is hard; it needs to be read with care and attention (no skimming!), with the meaning slowly teased out over time and from repeated readings; quite simply, I think I just didn’t have the intellectual energy to deal with it. Last, but far from least, when I tried venturing back into poetry at various points over the years, it seemed as though poetry had moved on and that contemporary poets were writing in a language I literally didn’t understand and didn’t much like.
So — where do I stand now vis à vis this oldest of all the arts? In the last few years, I have begun to realize how much poorer my reading life is without at least a little poetry in it. Very, very tentatively I’ve returned to reading a few old favorites and I’ve actually dipped a toe into modern waters and tried the work of a few new poets (Jane Hirshfield is a favorite. If things aren’t going quite your way, try her “Three-Legged Blues.” If that doesn’t give you a little perspective on the doldrums, you probably need some serious professional help). I pay at least token homage to poetry: every April, I buy a book of poetry; I still give shelf space to the remnants of my poetry collection and I keep a skinny little file of poems that catch my eye now and again. And, this year, I’m writing this blog post! For ideas far more creative than mine on how to make your life a little more poetic, check out these suggestions from the Academy of American Poets.
Are there any other former poetry addicts out there who’ve gone cold turkey, in a way similar to me? Or better yet, or there any avid poetry readers who’d share their thoughts on what poetry means to you or how you’ve incorporated poetry into your life?