Tuesday, September 30, 2008

One missing word

I don't like saying bad things about books. Especially not about books that are mostly wonderful and beautifully illustrated - seriously, take a look at A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams just for the amazing word pictures Melissa Sweet creates from his poems.

As for the text, I have only one complaint: there is not a single mention of Williams' Puerto Rican identity.

Williams isn't traditionally thought of as a Puerto Rican poet, although his mother was from the island. In her 1995 essay for the Washington Post's Writing Life series, Julia Alvarez points out that one reason for this is how his sense of identity evolved:
Growing up, William Carlos never had a close relationship with Puerto Rico: In fact, he did not see the islands until he was almost 60 and had a deep longing to try to understand what his own roots really were. His was an American boyhood indeed, but with the powerful and sometimes baffling presence of his mother, who spoke Spanish in the home and embarrassed her sons by going into trances and speaking to her Caribbean dead...
It's been a long time since I dealt with literary theory in detail, so I'm going to fall back on another writer's words here. From Ed Morales' Living in Spanglish:
Despite a clear Caribbean heritage, both men [Williams and Arturo Schomburg] had their Spanish characters elided by North American historical narrative: Williams became the link between Walt Whitman and Allen Ginsburg...

...As Sánchez González observes [in Boricua Literature], Williams wrote "in a panegyric tone that clearly inscribes the authenticity of mestizo consciousness as the American consciousness" in his collection of essays, The American Grain. The bilingual doctor/poet from Paterson, New Jersey, inspired by Rodo's essay wrote in Ariel's voice, critiquing America's Caliban-esque tendency.
Yeah, that didn't help very much, did it? Try this book, or this one, for more detail.

Why do I think it's important? Because I doubt that Alvarez was the only one who needed a bilingual, bicultural poet to look up to:
One summer at Bread Loaf, a poet stated categorically that one could write poetry only in the language in which one had first said Mother. Thank God, I had the example of William Carlos Williams to ward off some of the radical self-doubt this comment engendered.
I want to see this book in kids' hands. It's a great introduction to Williams and his poetry - and as I said before, it's beautiful. But I also want to make sure that if kids need what Williams, in all his confusion and complication and Americanness, offers to them, they can find what they're looking for.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

What I learned from Elizabeth Peters

The scene: My office, coworker's cubicle. Coworker's desktop image is a pretty cool manuscript.

Me: What is that? It looks kind of like hieratic. [Note: I have never actually seen hieratic. I've just read about it in the Amelia Peabody books.]

Coworker: Aramaic, maybe. I downloaded it from Wikipedia a while ago.

Coworker copies the file name and searches Wikipedia.

Coworker: [Reading from the Wikipedia entry] The Edwin Smith Papyrus is the only surviving copy of part of an Ancient Egyptian textbook on trauma surgery. It is among the world's earliest surviving examples of medical literature, the Kahun Gynecological Papyrus being older, and is the world's oldest surgical document. Written in the hieratic script of the ancient Egyptian language...

Why can't I figure out a way to make money from this?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Why we put lots of money into professional telescopes

Image of M33 taken by two astronomy minors using Wellesley's 24-inch telescope:
Image of M83 taken by real astronomers using a 2.2-meter telescope:
It was a lot of fun, though, and gave me a real reason to appreciate the good ones.

Additional procrastination, because I didn't want Kelly and her bad baby names to get all the credit tonight. She's right about allowing enough time - once you start it's very hard to look away.

Monday, September 8, 2008

I doubt Caroline Ingalls would approve

Neither would Aislinn: "Spent two hours embroidering a cloth for the church and three hours picking out my stitches after my mother saw it."

In my case, half an hour reattaching a zipper to a pair of pants, but chores always go faster when I can put them in context.

I still haven't figured out the right kidlit reference for washing dishes or cleaning the bathroom, though - any suggestions?

Saturday, September 6, 2008

No, muse, I haven't written this afternoon like I planned

But I have a reason, see?

What's that? You think the video is weak? Come on. I could have spent all afternoon playing around with Movie Maker, but then I'd have no time at all to write.

Well, fine then. I'm leaving you to enjoy the spider by yourself, muse. Some of us have real work to do today.

Monday, September 1, 2008


In honor of the fact that I can now sit at a desk and type (really, what took me so long?)

From BoingBoing
Female friendships - Anne and Diana, and real ones, too

You know what's missing from modern warfare? Lawsuits.


More for writers, from Cheryl Klein.

More map lust: London (via)

Political journalism then and now.

The Dead Sea Scrolls, coming (sort of) soon to pixels near you.

I might have missed this one if not for Lisa Chellman's excellent post title.

Not only true of editors, but also of critique partners: "When we write, we might know what we mean to say, and we become blind to the looseness in our language and the gaps in our facts."

I knew it!

Annie Barrows, in an interview at Powells.com:

That children's book, Daddy-Long-Legs, and its sequel, Dear Enemy; we love those books.

What I wrote back in March:

I was struck by how often the voice in Guernsey reminded me of Sallie MacBride in Dear Enemy.

I love being right.