Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘poetry’

paperwhites flowers window

“My paperwhites are making me unreasonably happy,” I texted a friend last week.

Years ago, I learned from Tara’s blog that you can “force” paperwhite bulbs in the winter. As in: stick them in a (tall) vase with pebbles and plenty of water, put them in a sunny spot, and watch them grow. I tried it for the first time the following year, and was utterly delighted at the results: tall green shoots with delicate white flowers, which perfumed my dining room with their odd, sweet scent.

I haven’t grown paperwhites in a couple of years, but I picked up a handful of bulbs at our local garden center in November, and started two in my tallest vases right before Christmas. Since we were away for the holiday, I was afraid I’d miss the blooms, but – as you can see – they’re in full glorious flower.

paperwhite narcissus flowers

Every morning I walk into the kitchen and marvel at two things: the sunrise out the east-facing windows (new every morning, seriously) and the paperwhites on the low table next to the fridge, blooming away.

Winter in the Northeast is a long haul: it’s only mid-January and I know we won’t even see crocuses for a while yet. I’ve learned to appreciate the sharp white beauty of winter and also to grit my teeth through the tough parts. But meanwhile, I’m completely delighted by the fresh green growth in my kitchen – both the paperwhites and the leggy geraniums I’m tending.

paperwhites flowers window night

This is my eighth (!) winter in Boston, and I’ve come to appreciate the need for rest and fallow time, in the natural world and in my own life. But the paperwhites are a reminder that not all growth has to wait for spring. With a little sunlight and water, there’s room to dwell – as Emily D. has it – in possibility.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

mostly books interior abingdon uk bookshop

Every year it’s a challenge: to look back over the books I’ve read in a year (nearly 150, this time!) and choose a handful of favorites. I talked about a few gems in my first-half-of-2017 roundup, back in June. But here are the books that shine the brightest in my whole reading year:

Most Enchanting Family Saga: The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman. I’ve gushed about this one a lot, and I even got to interview Hoffman for Shelf Awareness. (She was lovely and wise, and patient with my fangirling.) I fell totally in love with these characters, and a few words about their courage have remained written on my heart.

Deep and Captivating Dive into the Word-Hoard: Landmarks by Robert Macfarlane. I loved every page of this beautiful, keenly observed book about landscapes, the words we use to describe them, and how those things shape each other (and us). A must-read if you’re a walker, a writer or a good noticer.

Loveliest and Most Honest Memoir of Transformation: The Book of Separation by Tova Mirvis. An unflinching, beautiful, often heartrending look at what it means to leave behind a faith and a marriage, and navigate new territory without a map.

Funniest Lighthearted Fiction: The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman. I couldn’t stop laughing at this wisecracking, warmhearted novel of grief, love and gardening.

Most Luminous Memoir of Faith and Struggle: In the Shelter by Pádraig Ó Tuama. Wise and lovely: always calling us to pay attention to what is here, what is real, what is full of possibility.

Timely and Vivid Nonfiction: The Newcomers by Helen Thorpe – a vivid account of refugee teenagers and their families struggling to adjust to life in Denver. Powerful, clear and compelling.

Poetry: Blue Iris by Mary Oliver, which contains so many beautiful flower poems – a perfect match to my flower walks and #FlowerReporting this spring and summer.

Favorite Reread: Either The Precious One by Marisa de los Santos or Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. I love de los Santos’ warm, thought-provoking family stories, and Gilead is wise and slow (in the best way) and utterly lovely.

Gorgeous, Layered Family Saga: Salt Houses by Hala Alyan. Each section in this novel focuses on a different member of the same extended family, across countries and generations. Bittersweet and absorbing.

Best Title (with Wry, Hilarious Career Advice): Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? by Alyssa Mastromonaco. I really enjoyed this snarky, smart memoir about life in the Obama White House. But the title is almost my favorite part – it’s frighteningly applicable to so many situations these days.

What were your favorite books this year?

Read Full Post »

autumn sunrise window view trees

I say this every year: I can’t believe it’s nearly Thanksgiving. But the weather has turned seasonably chilly, and the signs – including turkey stickers at a wine tasting I went to last week – are everywhere.

Every year mid-November, I perform a few annual rituals: I buy sweet potatoes and chop pecans for the casserole-cum-dessert that is my favorite Thanksgiving dish. (No marshmallows for me, thank you.) I double-check the sign-up list for Turkeypalooza, our annual potluck celebration in the church basement. I shiver as I hurry down the Cambridge streets in my green coat, watching the golden leaves dance and fly off the trees. I queue up the Friends Thanksgiving episodes. I reread W.S. Merwin’s poem “Thanks” and hum Nichole Nordeman’s song “Gratitude.”

This November, I’ve been doing a few new things, like listening to Richard Blanco discuss Merwin’s poem in a recent WGBH segment. I’ve been thinking about how some of my best friends, who moved to Idaho this spring, won’t be with us to celebrate Thanksgiving, for the first time since we all moved to Boston. I’ve been trying to come to grips with the realities of the last year: many things have changed, or been thrown into sharper relief, since the 2016 election. And I’ve been thinking about Wendell Berry.

The title of this post is a line from Berry’s poem “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front.” It captures my own struggle over the past weeks and months: how to choose joy, find the silver lining, set my face toward gratitude, while looking steadily at the sobering and often horrifying realities of this world.

It is easy – so easy – to become sad and overwhelmed and terrified by the headlines: natural disasters, infighting and cruelty in Congress, so many stories of horrific sexual violence in this country and elsewhere. Closer to home, I have friends and loved ones who are navigating bad news every day: surgeries, budget cuts at their workplaces, losing beloved pets, struggling through breakups, depression, job hunts. Sometimes it’s a battle to get up and face the day, to consider these facts without becoming paralyzed by them.

ankle boots leaves

I forget, sometimes, that the bright parts of life are just as factual as the tough parts: that the blessings, like my florist’s smile and the taste of Earl Grey (served with good cheer by my folks at Darwin’s) and the arc of a bold blue autumn sky overhead, are as real as the worries that tug at my heart. They are all part of this life, the beautiful and the terrible, the joyous and the disheartening. Sometimes the weight of the darkness threatens to pull me down. But the goodness, the light, is also always there.

“Ask the questions that have no answers,” Berry urges his readers. “Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.” Like all the poets I love, he urges me to pay attention, to keep up the hard and honest work of taking care, to look for and celebrate the sharp, sudden beauty of these days. “Laugh,” he says. “Laughter is immeasurable.” And again: “Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.”

This is the challenge, as Lindsey wrote so eloquently last week: to acknowledge the sorrow, sit with the grief, call out the wrongness and work to change what we can, while actively seeking the “glimmers of joy” in our days. To be joyful, though we have considered all the facts – even the ones that make us cringe or roll our eyes or weep. To give thanks for what we have, what we enjoy, what (and whom) we love. For the blessings we have worked for and for those that come unasked, unbidden.

I am finding gratitude, like so many other things, complicated these days. But I also find it important, even vital. This week, before (and after) the turkey and the pies and the hours in the kitchens (mine and others’), I will be choosing to give thanks.

If you’re celebrating, I wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Read Full Post »

shakespeare co nyc autumn window bookstore

I am, it seems, constantly in the middle of five books at once, these days. But I have managed to finish a few lately. (And admire a perfectly autumnal window display at Shakespeare & Co. in NYC.)

Here’s what I have been reading:

Three Daughters of Eve, Elif Shafak
Peri, a wealthy Turkish housewife, is mugged on her way to a dinner party in Istanbul. The thief unearths an old photo, which takes Peri back 15 years to her time as a student at Oxford, and the professor who fascinated her. A well-written novel of a woman caught between several worlds. Peri’s character frustrated me at times, but I enjoyed the glimpses of Oxford, my favorite city. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Dec. 5).

Woman Enters Left, Jessica Brockmole
I loved Brockmole’s previous two historical novels, Letters from Skye and At the Edge of Summer. This one moves into the U.S. and the 20th century, following actress Louise Wilde as she drives cross-country in 1952, trying to unravel a mystery involving her mother. (We also get glimpses into her mother’s earlier road trip along a similar route.) An engaging story with three likable protagonists, though I found the ending abrupt.

Hunted, Meagan Spooner
This YA reimagining of Beauty and the Beast (recommended by Leigh) is gorgeous and compelling. When Yeva’s father loses his fortune, begins acting strangely and then disappears, Yeva takes off into the woods, determined to find him and the creature he’s been tracking. What – and who – she finds is surprising. A fascinating take on this familiar story, weaving in Russian folklore and the tale of the Firebird. I loved Yeva and her sisters.

All We Saw, Anne Michaels
I heard about this new collection of poems on love and grief via the Knopf poetry newsletter, and picked it up at the Book House in Summertown, Oxford. It is spare and haunting and jarring and lovely. One of my favorite lines: “forgiveness is not about the past but the future / and needs another word.”

Here is Real Magic: A Magician’s Search for Wonder in the Modern World, Nate Staniforth
After working for years as a touring magician, Staniforth found himself totally burned out. So he headed to India with a friend and almost no plan, hoping to rediscover a sense of wonder. A highly enjoyable, honest memoir about the hard work of doing what you love, dealing with disillusionment and finding wonder in it again. I liked Nate’s voice and he has some wonderful insights about magic (the non-staged kind). To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 16).

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

Read Full Post »

oxford book stack red daisies flowers table

The second half of October, like the first, was a whirlwind of golden leaves and email and travel. I’d barely recovered from my Oxford trip (and the subsequent head cold) before we headed to NYC for a long weekend with my parents. Here’s what I have been reading, in between all that activity:

The Reporter’s Kitchen, Jane Kramer
For food writer Kramer, writing and cooking are inextricably linked—though she sometimes uses one to avoid the other. This collection of her pieces from The New Yorker includes chef profiles, food history and a few personal essays (my favorites). She’s warm, witty and practical. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 21).

First Class Murder, Robin Stevens
The third book in Stevens’ Wells & Wong middle-grade mystery series finds Daisy and Hazel aboard the famous Orient Express. Naturally, a murder occurs and they have to investigate. An homage to Christie’s classic, but also a fun, well-plotted story. Found at the Book House in Summertown, Oxford.

The Music Shop, Rachel Joyce
In a down-at-heel street in a nondescript British city, Frank’s record shop doesn’t just sell vinyl (and only vinyl), but it gives people the music they don’t know they need. When Ilse Brauchmann, a mysterious woman in a green coat, visits the shop, Frank finds himself both drawn to Ilse and utterly baffled by her. A wonderful novel about music, loss, healing and love, with vivid characters and so many brilliant sentences. (I also adored Joyce’s debut, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.) To review for Shelf Awareness (out Jan. 2).

Rain: Four Walks in English Weather, Melissa Harrison
Like many English people, Harrison is an avid walker, even—nay, especially—in the rain. She chronicles four rainy walks in different seasons and locations, musing on how rain has shaped the climate and psyche of the British Isles, and recording details of habitat and weather with a keen, lyrical eye. So lovely. Found at the amazing Blackwells Bookshop in Oxford.

The Disappearances, Emily Bain Murphy
When Aila Quinn’s mother, Juliet, dies unexpectedly, Aila and her brother are sent to Juliet’s hometown to stay with friends. But they are greeted with suspicion: the town lies under a curse, and some people blame Juliet. Aila digs into her mother’s history (and a mysteriously annotated volume of Shakespeare) to clear Juliet’s name. An enchanting, thought-provoking YA novel; I especially loved Aila and her friend Beas. The dialogue felt almost too modern (it’s set in the 1940s), but the central conceit is wonderful. Recommended by Liberty on All the Books!.

The Luster of Lost Things, Sophie Chen Keller
Walter Lavender Jr. doesn’t talk much, but he’s got a keen observer’s eye and a knack for finding lost things. When the mysterious Book that is the lifeblood of his mother’s West Village bakery disappears, Walter and his golden retriever, Milton, embark on a search that takes them up and down Manhattan. An utterly magical novel full of heartbreak and love; the writing sings and the city itself is a character. Found (fittingly) at Shakespeare & Co. in NYC. Recommended by my colleague Kat at Shelf Awareness.

Poems to Live By in Troubling Times, ed. Joan Murray
I’ve needed poetry lately, and have lingered in this slim, often heartrending anthology of poems on war, terror, grief, healing and peace. Uneven, like many anthologies, but I did find a few gems. Bought at the Brattle on a walkabout day this summer.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

Read Full Post »

sunflowers tory row cambridge blue sky

Come with me
into the field of sunflowers.
Their faces are burnished disks,
their dry spines

creak like ship masts,
their green leaves,
so heavy and many,
fill all day with the sticky

sunflowers rockport tall

sugars of the sun.
Come with me
to visit the sunflowers,
they are shy

but want to be friends;
they have wonderful stories
of when they were young –
the important weather,

the wandering crows.
Don’t be afraid
to ask them questions!
Their bright faces,

sunflowers d2 cambridge

which follow the sun,
will listen, and all
those rows of seeds –
each one a new life!

hope for a deeper acquaintance;
each of them, though it stands
in a crowd of many,
like a separate universe,

is lonely, the long work
of turning their lives
into a celebration
is not easy. Come

sunflowers blue vase table

and let us talk with those modest faces,
the simple garments of leaves,
the coarse roots in the earth
so uprightly burning.

—Mary Oliver

I came across this poem in Oliver’s gorgeous collection Blue Iris, which I read, savored and lingered over for weeks this spring. It has stayed with me through a long, hot, crowded summer, especially as the sunflowers began to bloom here in Boston and Cambridge. Some of its lines resonated right away; others have come back to me during difficult or lonely days.

sunflowers darwins cambridge

I love sunflowers: their bright faces and sturdy stalks, their cheery yellow petals, the way they peek over fences and surprise me. There are vases of them – on both my desk at work and my kitchen table – as I type this.

In some ways, I also am a sunflower: I am shy, but want to be friends. I always do my best to seek out the light, though I recognize, increasingly, that “the long work of turning [our] lives into a celebration is not easy.”

perennial sunflowers rockport

I am grateful, this week and in this whole season, for these bright faces peeking out around so many corners. Like all the flowers I love, they offer beauty and hope in a world where we badly need both.

Read Full Post »

back porch geraniums

Last week, I sat in my usual spot in the chapel of Memorial Church, squinting in the bright morning light, watching it play across the high cream-colored ceilings and the carved wooden pews. Morning Prayers is back in session for the fall term, and I am grateful to rest in it again as part of my daily rhythm.

David Hempton, the dean of Harvard Divinity School, spoke that morning on an achingly timely topic: “belonging at Harvard.” (This was two days after the president’s DACA announcement, about which Harvard’s president, Drew Faust, and others have spoken more eloquently than I can.)

Hempton noted that belonging means something more than networking or connecting or being able to say you visited a place. Many people come to Harvard for exactly those (legitimate) reasons. But for those of us who work and study here – who have made it, in some sense, our home – belonging means more than that. We want to know that this is our community; that we are accepted here, valued, safe. With that comes a deep responsibility to make this community a safe, thoughtful, welcoming place for others.

Belonging, Hempton added, “involves the acceptance of our own frailties and those of others in a spirit of generosity and mutual forbearance. There is no belonging without self-acceptance.”

Those words, in his gentle Irish accent, made tears well in my eyes, and they reminded me of another David, the poet David Whyte, in “The House of Belonging“:

This is the bright home
in which I live,
this is where
I ask
my friends
to come,
this is where I want
to love all the things
it has taken me so long
to learn to love. […]

There is no house
like the house of belonging.

It takes a long time for most of us to find our own houses of belonging: to accept ourselves and others without judgment and with generosity, to be brave enough to become who we really are. It’s not a linear process, and it is a slow one: it takes a long time to grow into ourselves. But even as we fail and falter, we are still responsible for the other side of community: we must be a place of welcome for others. We must ask how we can help them belong, and help them thrive.

I don’t have the answers for any of this, at Harvard or elsewhere: I don’t always know what it looks like, for me or for my communities. But as Hempton said (and as Rakesh Khurana, the dean of Harvard College, said at Morning Prayers the very next day), I know one thing: we must do this work, of building and welcome, together.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »