On Books of Poetry

On Books of Poetry–

I came late to poetry, so in a rush was I. A rush to accomplish, to do, always to have more to do. And although we can’t change our basic personalitites, I am now at a time in my life where I am more interested in being, and thinking – mainly thinking.

A few years ago, I found myself in a poetry class, and soon everything I saw, everything I thought about, became a poem. I started writing, sometimes only in my head, sometimes getting out of bed in the middle of the night to make sure that a line, a phrase, was written in a scrawl just legible enough to be deciphered the next morning. And, thus, my love affair with poetry began.

Last month I lost a good friend, an accomplished poet. She too left the world of paid work, of wins and losses, to concentrate on looking at, and writing about, the world – hers and that of others. In her last weeks we spent some time together, not talking, just being quiet, together. Since her death I thought about contacting her family, to ask if I could have one of her books. I just wanted one that she had held, perhaps read, perhaps loved. Then I learned that she had left her entire collection to her poetry group, and they were kind enough to make the books available to anyone who might be interested. I went with the intention of taking one, just one, to remember her by.

In fact, I came home with a treasure trove of poetry, works by poets whom I had meant to read, when I had time. So now I live with Fred Chappell, Randall Jarrell, William Carolos Williams, Adrienne Rich, Theodore Roethke. And more. And more. They wait, on a special bookshelf, where I can see her sardonic raised eyebrow, smiling, and hoping that I will get to them one day.

And I will. A Saturday morning with black coffee and Charles Bukowski, a Sunday afternoon with bourbon over ice and Alan Shapiro.

I’ll get to them. Really. I promise.

Another Sunday, http://www.cynthiastrauff.com

On My To-Be-Read Shelf


On My To-Be-Read Shelf —

I am strictly a Dewey Decimal System kind of gal. Okay, maybe not so strict, but I do give it a try, what I remember of it at least. I can almost find any of my books that I set out to identify, including those that I know I will read one day, just not now, or tomorrow, or, most likely, this year.

Then I happily learned of the idea of a “To Be Read” shelf. How great is that! And one morning, instead of working on my novel-in-progress or addressing the marketing of Another Sunday, I went through my bookcases and pulled out ten (I stopped myself at ten) to be placed in that special area where I can go whenever I’m putting off some onerous task to lose myself in one of those books I’ve been meaning to get to.

Here’s my list.

When Will There Be Good News – Kate Atkinson

Fell in love with Life After Life, so now I am a big Atkinson fan.

The Peaceable Kingdom – Jan deHartog

This book belonged to my mother and is one of the few books that I have that I know she read.

The Virgin Blue and Burning Bright – Tracey Chevalier

Two books here – because I loved The Girl with the Pearl Earring.

The Question – Cynthia Harrold Eagles

I’m starting way past midway in the Morland Family series, but you have to start somewhere.

Cranford – Mrs. Gaskell

Who wouldn’t want to read about mid-19th Century England?

The Historian – Elizabeth Kostova

Because I loved The Swan Thieves.

Birds of America – Lorrie Morris

Can you ever get enough of anguish and aimlessness?

August 1914 – Alexander Solzhenitsyn

I am fascinated by the time of World War I – and how interesting to read about it from the point of view of a Russian.

The Power of Myth – Joseph Campbell

One of those books that, when discussed, I always nod my head silently, trying to imply that, of course, I’ve read it while hoping that the topic soon moves to another subject. Will nod no more!

So, that’s my list. Wondering what you have on yours. And next week, a list of Books To Re-read.


Another Sunday, www. cynthiastrauff.com


The Victorian Demagogue: 19th Century Words on a Modern Day Danger

Mimi Matthews

“No organist can manipulate the stops and keys of his instrument with more dexterity than the demagogue exhibits in playing upon the different weaknesses, errors, and absurdities of the untutored mind.”  Kent & Sussex Courier, 1874.

The House of Commons by Sir George Hayter, 1833.

The word demagogue is thrown around quite a bit in politics today, but the term itself is nothing new.  The Oxford English Dictionary defines a demagogue as a “political agitator whoappeals to the passions and prejudices of the mob in order to obtain power.”  In the Victorian era, such a man was considered dangerous.  Philosophers, poets, and newspapermen alike sought to warn the public, reasoning that the better one understood the repertoire of a demagogue, the less chance the demagogue would have of success.  Their commentary is incredibly modern and (as in the case of a poem on demagoguery) occasionally quite humorous.  In…

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On Learning from a Lemon Tree


On Learning from a Lemon Tree

Way too early this Spring I decided that I had to have a lemon tree. Not that it would be nice to have a lemon tree, not that sometime when the weather was warmer I’d think about purchasing a tree, not that it would be wise to do a bit of research about owning and caring for a lemon tree. No. It was one of those get-out-of-bed-in-the-middle-of-the-night yearnings. A lemon tree. I had to have one. And I had to have one NOW (or then, since the longing was last April).

The next morning, I started my search. Phone calls to three local nurseries all told me that it was too soon to purchase one. “Wait a few weeks. The weather will be warmer. They need warmth to thrive.” But, redoubtable and focused, I found a fourth nursery, who said that they might have one in the hot house. They also told me that it was too soon, but as soon as I heard that they might have one, I was unstoppable in my quest. I drove the twenty miles, found what appeared to be a temporary employee who was obviously hired only to water the plants in the hot house, and we began our search for the lemon tree that “might” be there. Only by the tag, which showed a Meyer lemon tree replete with bright yellow lemons. Eureka! As I dragged it to the cashier to pay for it, she said to me, “You know it’s really too early to move this out of the hot house.” I nodded sagely, implying that, of course I knew that, and had made adequate provisions for its transfer.

I had not. And yes, it was too cold for this fledgling to be outside; and yes, it was too cold for it to be on our unheated sunporch. So, on to the kitchen table, where it would receive bounteous sunlight. Our cats chewed plants, flowers, so that we could not have greenery inside the house, unless it was high and undiscernible to feline eyes. But this, I reasoned, was a tree. They would be able to discern that. They didn’t.

And after finding regurgitated lemon tree leaves throughout the house, I moved said tree to the sunporch, wrapping it fondly at night, and hoping that the sun would somehow beam down from the west, and not only did it survive, it even presented me with six blossoms. I was ecstatic. For the first time, perhaps, just perhaps, I could actually have success with something green.

In time it moved to the deck, and seemed to be quite content there. More blossoms. And then, one morning, four miniscule lemons – the size of a good-sized seed, but still, visible to the naked eye. Each morning I’d rise early to check. Still there. Not growing, but still there. Until….one morning all buds gone, devoured I’m sure, by a nocturnal visitor.

But I still visited early each a.m., sure that this tree would not fail me. And one morning, two tiny hard green things, which had to be lemons. Tree vs. animal – tree would not give up. And they grew, slowly, while I gave silent thanks to the god of lemons.

Last week, only one lemon remained. Unripe, so I hope that the creature who stole the second didn’t get dyspepsia – or maybe I hope he did.

So here I am, nurturing my one remaining lemon. It is still dark green; it is still rock hard, but this morning I think I glimpsed a glimpse of yellow. I am hopeful.

So, what have I learned?

That you can watch, you can nurture, you can hope, but nature always trumps humans, whether it’s the Outer Banks, Calvert Cliffs, or a sweet lemon tree on my deck.

Another Sunday, http://www.cynthiastrauff.com



On First Drafts and Finishing Same

first drafts

On First Drafts and Finishing Same

Well, this week it happened. I finished the first draft of my novel-in-progress. Thank you Brenda Ueland (If You Want to Write, 1938) and Anne Lamott (Bird by Bird, 1994) for the same freeing advice. Just write, they say, and Anne coined the wonderful “shitty first draft,” which gave my fingers and pen liberty to fly over the keys and page, not stopping to agonize that I had used the same word in the same paragraph, or that I typed lay instead of lie. Time enough later to go back, to fix, to struggle to find just the right word, phrase that is original, unforced, that will say what needs to be said as it has never been said before. Just get the words down, they say. And that is what I did.

While I was writing, I thought my work was amazing, better than I had ever done, better than anyone had ever done. In the cold, cold light of day (you see, I can use clichés here, though not in my book) it looks pretty dreary. Ah well, isn’t it always easier to work from something, to make it better, bird-by-bird, than to have those incredibly poetic words rumbling around in one’s head, but never quite making it to the page.

So, today my words are on the page. Now comes the hard part – transforming them into a work that I can stand behind, that I can be proud of, and, with every hope, one that will speak to my readers’ hearts.

(Incidentally, the draft above is  from Nabokov’s Invitation to a Beheading. This is the very first page of the novel, and if you are having trouble reading it, it’s not just because the page is a mess. It’s also written in Russian.)

Another Sunday, http://www.cynthiastrauff.com