by Dylan Thomas and read by Anthony Hopkins
‘Til next time,
I recently posted that Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Kubla Khan is my favorite poem. Then I found this clip of Benedict Cumberbatch reading it. Although the cadence and pace are not the same as the way I typically read it, which is really similar to the way my college professors did, the change in pace shifted my focus to words and phrases in another way, emphasizing different imagery and motion, especially in the middle. Its interesting, I like it. Have you ever been to a poetry reading? I think it might be fun.
‘Til next time,
Keats read by Benedict Cumberbatch…poetry month. (Yep, that’s the only reason I found this…poetry month.)
‘Til next time,
This is not my normal book review…for a couple of reasons. Discovering Joye is a book about discovering Joye Kanelakos’s poetry and melding it seamlessly with Jim Stovall’s own story. Both of these are powerful and moving on their own, but together it is just…wow. Truthfully, I’m pretty familiar with both the poetry and the story. My grandmother is Joye Kanelakos, and my mother has worked for Jim Stovall for more than 20 years. (I wonder how these two talented people came together? Any ideas?) My mom would bring Grandma Joye books and notes from Jim, and she would send him homemade baklava in return. I think both of them feel like they got the better end of the deal. Grandma loved Jim’s books, and she loved feeding people. (I have no idea how many crumbs were washed out of pockets that woman crammed cookies into as people walked out the door.) Jim’s books are special. They are different than anything else I read. They are thought provoking and uplifting, and that’s no small feat. Grandma’s baklava was kind of the same. You’ll never taste anything quite like it. There was something special in her touch that transformed those ingredients in a way I’ve never been quite able to duplicate. Both of these remarkable people feed your heart and soul.
Having known Jim Stovall for more than 20 years, through my mother, I’ve gotten to hear his story a few times. It is always one that inspires me, and I go back to it when I’m feeling particularly unmotivated or as if I don’t have an impact. His story always gives me the jump start I need to get moving again and make things happen. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve told myself that the next time I say to myself “someone should do something about that” that person is me, and just go and do it….even if that thing is just the dishes. “You can change your life if you change your mind,” has seen me through some frustrating days too. Before I read Discovering Joye I would have said that I knew this part of his story well enough to tell you a good part of it myself. However, when paired with the poetry, the “discoveries” and the story take on a new depth. I walked away from a what I thought was a familiar tale with new insight and perception…inspired all over again, by both of them.
Some of Grandma Joye’s poetry followed me through childhood. In Discovering Joye you’ll find some of my childhood favorites like “Plink Plank” and “Fairies and Other Good Stuff.” They arrived in letters, usually handwritten on notebook paper, accompanied by drawings she’d made, and they will always hold special places in my memories. Those poems sit side by side with evenings on the front porch of her home watching the fire flies wink and blink, listening to her talk about fairies who lived in the mimosa trees, Penny the Peacock, and later about life, books and writing, and family. Reading those we found later though is a gift of a different sort. Since Grandma Joye passed away, I return to her poems time and again. It is like being able to have those front porch talks about those things we never got the chance to discuss in person. Reading her poetry in conjunction with Jim’s story brought new life to the poetry too. It changed the “conversation” with my grandmother because I read her words in a different light. Apparently, she isn’t finished talking to me quite yet. That is a gift of immeasurable value.
So I recommend this book on so many different levels. If you’re a poetry nut, this is a book for you. If you need a little pick-me-up…guess what, Discovering Joye has you covered. If you just want to read a good story, you’ve got that too.
When I remember to keep the book I’m reviewing with me as I write my post, I try to leave you with the first line or so to give you a sneak peek. This time, I want to give you my favorite poem. This is one that I have all over the place…just in case I need a reminder.
I open my eyes to you
Bright shiny morning,
While some lonely half-dream
Still clouds my mind;
And I worry your presence
By pulling in yesterday,
Plucking out moments
I should leave behind.
Sweet friend and companion,
Refresher of souls,
I rise to your joyful
Awakening at last.
And I gather your warmth
As a maiden her lover.
Embrace me, sweet morning
Black shadows are past.
‘Til next time,
P.S. Keep a close eye out in the next few days…there’s a contest coming!
I bought Fragile Things several months ago and it sat in my to-read pile for a while. Then I pulled it out and started to slide slowly down into the short stories and poems in this collection. This is the book that I decided, with your help (Thank you SO much!), to have Mr. Gaiman sign for me. When I chose this I hadn’t finished reading it. I’d maybe gotten halfway through when I left it on a plane….yep, I left the sucker on the plane on my way back from Houston. What’s a girl to do? Well, this girl will take ANY excuse to go to the bookstore, so I bought another copy. Fortunately, I had time to read it before the signing, and was exceptionally sure that Fragile Things was the representation of his writing that I needed him to sign.
I know it is already a bit battered (multiple plane rides, states, and bags will do that to you…I mean to a book, right, a book.) There was a moment of embarrassment over the state of the book that I was asking him to sign for me, but I thought about how I would feel if I were an author. (This not an atypical occurrence for me.) Worn means read. Thumbed through, sections underlined, notes in the margin…loved. Some books are like The Velveteen Rabbit, the love you show them is reflected on the outside. Now, I can’t say that I know Neil Gaiman, but he seems like the type of guy to understand that.
I can usually skip the introductions, but I really enjoyed the insight the introduction gives the pieces in Fragile Things . Mr. Gaiman, in his short stories especially, does not only a supremely decent job of creeping me out but also of surprising me. They are dark, humorous and…twisty. The poetry though…I do so love a good poem, and this was my first exposure to any written by Neil Gaiman. The poems in this collection are filled with grace and beauty and a darkness that slowly encompasses you, rather like someone dimming the lights slowly instead of plunging you into the dark all at once. The flow and the imagery are just gorgeous.
My mother is a true connoisseur of poetry. If you give her the choice between a novel and a collection of poetry, she’ll pick the poems every time. She even co-opted my Norton’s Anthology of Poetry from college. (She said she should get to read it too. She did pay for it after all. She has a point. Now, ahem years later, she still has it.) My Grandma Joye, her mother, wrote poetry, maybe that’s where this love comes from. Compared to her, I dabble a bit, but I do know what I like. I like what is in Fragile Things. I read my Mom a couple of them. (Isn’t poetry so much better when you read it aloud?) She thought they were beautiful. My nephew thought they were weird and creepy, he’s 12….he’s not wrong either.
When I was at the book signing for The Ocean at the End of the Lane someone asked me which story was my favorite. I really hate that question. It is like choosing a favorite child or something. Me, I’m the person that every third song on the radio is a favorite song, and there are too many books that I love…all for different reasons. Who can choose a favorite? Actually, I read a quote from Neil Gaiman that I find to be absolutely true,
“Picking five favorite books is like picking the five body parts you’d most like not to lose.”
Some of the pieces in this collection, like A Study in Emerald, I’d read before online on Neil Gaiman’s website. It is a Sherlock Holmes meets H.P. Lovecraft kind of piece. What? Yes, you totally read that right. Even though I’d already read this online, it was definitely worth a re-read, and it was even more intriguing the second time around because I’d recently read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet and watched the BBC Sherlock episode A Study in Pink…well, I watched it a few times. (There are only six episodes! This deserves a post all its own, and I promise it will get one…you just have to wait a bit.) A Study in Emerald definitely had its surprising, creepy, and surprisingly creepy moments, let me assure you.
So, Other People is about a guy that goes to hell and the demon he meets there. I found it to be absolutely fascinating and thought provoking. October in the Chair is a story inside of another story….just read it. Instructions is fantastic, and I love the reassurance (or warning?) that is included:
“From the back garden you will be able to see the wild wood.
The deep well you walk past leads down to Winters’ realm;
there is another land at the bottom of it.
If you turn around here,
you can walk back, safely;
you will lose no face. I will think no less of you.”
How to Talk to Girls at Parties is told from the perspective of a sixteen year old boy who gets dragged to a party that isn’t what either of them think it is. Every time I read it, I really want to know what happens to upset Vic that way, don’t you?
Then there’s the piece that closes the collection, The Monarch of the Glen, that stars Shadow from American Gods. It was good to see Shadow again. I didn’t realize until the opening paragraphs that I’d missed him. Really good characters are like that, you need to visit them every now and again.
I could go on and on about the pieces in this collection. There are so many things to say! Strange Little Girls, Keepsakes and Treasures, Sunbird (oh, you have to read this one!) and so many others that I didn’t want to leave out and couldn’t find space to describe. Just read it, and you’ll understand.
Some short stories or short story collections I read and I feel cheated out of a novel. I’m left wanting more, as if this is only enough to whet my appetite…an appetizer instead of a meal. Fragile Things is a meal in itself…at least three courses, maybe four, and I certainly didn’t close the cover feeling unsatisfied…maybe a bit disturbed and unsettled. However, if we wanted puppy dogs and sunshine…of the normal sort, we wouldn’t be reading Mr. Gaiman, now would we? I’m sure that Neil Gaiman could happily write about puppy dogs and sunshine but the sunshine would be a winter sun, cold and wan, and the puppy….well that wouldn’t be a normal puppy at all. The last time, it was a Hell-hound trapped in the body/attitude of a little dog … who knows what he’d think of next, and that’s why we love him.
This week’s “first lines” is a little bit different. I picked two Feeders and Eaters and Going Wodwo for a bit of a sneak peek.
Feeders and Eaters
“This is a true story, pretty much. As far as that goes, and whatever good it does anybody.”
“Shedding my shirt, my book, my coat, my life
Leaving them, empty husks and fallen leaves
Going in search of food and for a spring
Of sweet water.”
‘Til Next Time,