Friday, May 30, 2008

Earthquake Relief

Guest Blogger: Lu Meng Zheng (my sister-in-law)

I suppose that most of us know about the earthquake happened in Sichuan Province, China on 5/12/08. The earthquake is devastating to the people in Sichuan Province, my dear home province. One can obtain enormous amounts of information on the web and from NPR.

I would like to share my personal story about this earthquake. There are many pictures posted on MSNBC. Actually, I was in Sichuan province for three weeks and came back to the US on May 10 and just missed the earthquake. My only sister and her family and my mother are still there. Thanks to God, they are safe. However, their lives have been greatly affected. My sister and her family are living in DuJiangYan, which is about 20 kilometers from the earthquake epicenter on May 12, 2008. The city of Chengdu, where my mother lives, is about 100 kilometers away.

My sister, who is a teacher for the DuJiangYan City Municipal Administrative School, and my brother-in-law, who is a surgeon, have been living and working outdoors since the first shock on May 12, 2008. They first lived in their vehicle, then in a public tent. My brother-in-law worked from a tent at first since the hospital building is not safe to use, now he works from a Portable Hospital Facility donated by Germany. Since my sister works for the City (the Administrative School is considered a part of the City), she has been working as a earthquake relief staff and distributing relief material arranging from clothes to food to other necessity. Her family used to have a tent. It was donated to others. She works for the government and is called to put others’ well-being before her own.

I have been watching Chinese TV stations daily. The scenes and stories just break my heart. I was naïve and did not fully comprehend the magnitude of the impact. There have been thousands of aftershocks since May 12, 2008. The most recent bigger ones took place on May 25, 2008 and May 27, 2008 measured at 6.4 and 5.7 respectively. Since the affected area is in a mountain area, the earthquake causes so many landslides. The landslides cut off many valleys and rivers and form dams. The risks of flooding become very real.

On May 25, 2008, I called my sister, and I can feel her spirit was down. Even though it was midnight in DuJiangYan, I still can hear people were talking in the background. I asked her how she can fall into sleep. She quietly stated that “I am used to it now.” She told me that it was raining and her blanket was very damp. She also told me that one of her close friend died. One of her other friends, who is a teacher and teaches at the one of the schools, collapsed in the earthquake. The teacher had more than 50 students in her class, now she only knows that less than 20 students survived. The teacher had helped to identify 23 bodies of her students before they were cremated. The rest of them are still missing. The teacher told my sister the impossible job of identifying her student bodies, both emotional and physically, since the bodies were almost unidentifiable.

I no longer can sit still and just support my sister alone. I need to do some thing in a bigger scale. Could you please kindly join me in this effort? If you have not made a donation, could you please kindly make whatever dollar amount of donation you can? It would be greatly appreciated. Let’s do it together. One tells ten, ten tell one hundred. Let’s get the ball rolling. We will help the earthquake survivors rebuild their lives. Thank you very much!

Make donations payable to:

South Park United Presbyterian Church
505 McKinley Parkway
Buffalo, NY 14220

It should be indicated as for “Earthquake Relief in China.” A form will be sent to you for tax deduction purpose. The donation will be sent to DuJiangYan City directly.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Youth and Age

I went downtown to the Northfield Arts Guild this afternoon to walk around the Northfield High School senior honors art show. As I was admiring Paloma Garcia's delicate and sensitive watercolor and ink renderings of photographs from the Sunday Times Travel Magazine, the artist herself walked in and gave a little squeal of delight to see the red sticker—meaning Sold—next to one of her pieces. I was so impressed by the exhibit, and I lingered in front of imaginative "doodle" portraits by Claire Johnston, remarkable watercolor and ink landscapes by Ashley Tollefson, and remarkable stylized paintings by Gus DeMann. Once again, as so often, I was blown away by the amount of youthful talent in Northfield. But not all the talent is so youthful. Before I left the arts guild, I stopped in the shop and bought this lovely ceramic mug (sitting on my cluttered desk) created by fellow Northfield blogger Jim Haas, a self-described "somewhat cranky old man." I love the brown lines against deep blue-green and brown. It makes me think of prairie. Meanwhile, walking through the gallery reminded me that these talented young artists were fourth graders the year I started substitute teaching in Northfield, something I did fairly regularly in 2000 and 2001. It was one of those fourth graders who inspired this poem, one of my favorites from my chapbook, The Collecting Jar:

Substitute Teaching

Nothing I could write is as beautiful as you.
For you I put out the flower of myself,
and you likewise cannot help but blossom.
There is nothing more natural than the flourish
with which you open into the world,
petalling outward in the profusion of yourself
as if radiance were the simplest gift.
Even the girl on the playground
who sits alone with her knees to her chin
is a bud of great hopefulness, the center
of her own creation. She knows
the best thing is to be wanted, and the miracle
is that she will blossom so many times,
resiliently reaching sunward for her place
in the world. It is the same for me,
coming each morning to a different
set of lesson plans, graphing myself to the arc
of your upward growth: for you I am flowering again.
For you I have had to relearn everything but love.

Those fourth graders are graduating this year. And, oh, how brilliantly they have flowered!

"Substitute Teaching" © Copyright 2002 by The English Journal.

Reading Journal: "Mary Lavelle"

El Greco, The Burial of Count Orgaz

Ten years ago, Hollywood produced a film adaptation of Kate O'Brien's Mary Lavelle with the new title Talk of Angels. The film starred British actress Polly Walker in the title role, and in smaller roles featured Frances McDormand and an unknown actress named Penelope Cruz. As is the way with media marketing, the book was simultaneously reissued under the title Talk of Angels. The new title comes from a scene early in the novel. Mary Lavelle, a beautiful and innocent Irish Catholic girl, has come to Spain to work as a governess for the three daughters of a wealthy Spaniard. At the Café Alemán, Mary meets the other members of a large group of Irish expatriate governesses. Missing from the group is Conlon (they all call each other by their last names), the Frances McDormand character. She is described to Mary, who says, "She sounds queer." To which one of the other governesses replies, "Talk of angels." That is to say, "Out of the mouths of babes." Because Conlon is "queer." She develops an awkward crush on Mary—and this, as well as a theme of adultery and a graphic (for 1936) scene of extramarital sex, caused the novel to be censored by the Irish authorities.

The lesbian subplot is such a small part of the book, but Hollywood elevated it to the titillating titular theme in the film. What provoked censorship in the Ireland of 1936 became the main attraction for the Hollywood of 1998. A better new title, if one were needed, might have been "Moment of Truth," from la hora de verdad, the moment of the kill in a bullfight. The bullfight is a controlling metaphor in the novel: it fascinates Mary Lavelle (and Kate O'Brien) because of its combination of brutality and raw artistic beauty. The novel is about the dangerous dance of beauty and pain, played out against the alluring backdrop of "the good Basque country" in a Spain drifting toward Fascism and civil war. It's about sex and death. It's no coincidence that "the moment of truth" for both the bull and the virgin involves a bloody thrust. Also no coincidence that El Greco's painting The Burial of Count Orgaz, aptly named, hovers emblematically over the novel.

Standing symbolically in the wings, too, is O'Brien's favorite saint, the Spanish Teresa of Ávila, for whom there was a thin line between spiritual and physical ecstasy, who sometimes saw angels in the flesh—who, like a bull in the ring, felt the pain of a lance piercing her heart. In the novel, Mary resists making a pilgrimage to Ávila. She can't make the leap from physical to spiritual ecstasy.

Kate O'Brien is a marvelous writer, but in my opinion she's better at deep explorations of character than she is at writing the dialogue of passionate lovemaking. There's a kind of cinematic melodrama in some of the lovers' talk: "What am I to do?" "Ah, love!" "This isn't good-bye..." O'Brien is at her best, I think, in her delineation of the character of Don Pablo, the father of the girls for whom Mary serves as governess. He is idealistic, faithful, disappointed, at once stirred and defeated by the beauty of life. A marvelous character, and very true.

There is a crucial scene early in the novel—more crucial than the "talk of angels" scene—in which Mary first meets Juanito, her employer's son. They are in the entry hall of the house; as Mary climbs the stairs to her room, she looks back and sees Juanito looking up at her. "The evening sun," O'Brien writes, "lighted each very sweetly for the other, as with a fatal halo." The scene of a woman on the stairs echoes the famous scene in James Joyce's "The Dead," in which Gabriel glances up and sees his wife Gretta on the stairs, listening to distant music: "There was grace and mystery in her attitude as if she were a symbol of something." Gretta is looking back, in memory, to a tragic lost love. Mary is seen in a moment of innocence, unaware of the love and pain that lie ahead of her. The staircase is itself a potent symbol. It can be a symbol of a spiritual ascent or descent: for Teresa of Ávila, an ascent to mystical union with God; for her colleague John of the Cross, a descent into the dark night of the soul. For Kate O'Brien, echoing Joyce, it is both: that fatally haloed moment on the stairs is a moment of truth, a moment of turning toward the pain and pleasure of life, the beginning of a loss of innocence and the gaining of knowledge.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Oberlin Weekend, Part III: Past & Future

The Underground Railroad monument in Oberlin.

Oberlin was founded by evangelical Christians who were committed to the cause of abolitionism. The college's second president, the fire-and-brimstone lawyer-turned-preacher Charles Grandison Finney, wrote in his memoirs: "I had made up my mind on the question of slavery, and was exceedingly anxious to arouse public attention to the subject. In my prayers and preaching, I so often alluded to slavery, and denounced it, that a considerable excitement came to exist among the people." In Oberlin, that excitement came to a head in 1858, when a group of citizens rescued a fugitive slave from slave catchers in the nearby village of Wellington. The Oberlin-Wellington Rescue helped to galvanize anti-slavery opinion in the North, and moved the United States closer to civil war.

Oberlin was an important station on the Underground Railroad, and had a significant population of free blacks. Three Oberlin residents (one a runaway slave) participated in John Brown's raid at Harper's Ferry in 1859—one died there, and two were later hanged. And while some Oberlinians were pursuing violent means to end slavery, Oberlin also produced one of Ohio's most prominent anti-slavery legislators, James Monroe.

Oberlin's Adam Joseph Lewis Environmental Studies Center.

175 years after its founding, Oberlin is at the forefront of a new push for urgent change. Oberlin is an increasingly green campus since the opening of its innovative environmental studies center in 2002. The building strives to be a closed system that draws no energy except from the sun and produces no wastes that aren't recycled or composted. The design of the building incorporates passive solar heating (from south-facing windows), a geothermal heat exchange system, solar-generated electricity, and a Living Machine that processes and recycles waste water. Other campus initiatives, such as SEED House (Student Experiment in Environmental Design), have recently been featured in the national media. Below is the massive photovoltaic array above the parking lot outside the environmental studies center.

Lanterns on Tappan Square in Oberlin on Illumination Night, the night before commencement.

Oberlin's reunion weekend is also the weekend of commencement. Alumni return to campus and welcome the newest class to swell their ranks. On Monday morning, we listened to a commencement address by Fareed Zakaria that was full of optimism even in the midst of these uncertain and troubling times. And it seems to me that if anyone can justify that optimism, it's the graduates of places like Oberlin.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Oberlin Weekend, Part II: Family Connections

A needlepoint sampler, showing the women in Clara's family who have graduated from Oberlin (1847-1983). Click to enlarge.

Clara was in the fifth generation of her family to graduate from Oberlin College. Her great-great grandfather, Nathaniel Gerrish (1810-1890) moved to Oberlin shortly after the town was settled in the early 1830s. After his first wife's death, he married Harriet Blanchard (1820-1898), who graduated from Oberlin in the Class of 1847. Among her classmates at Oberlin was the prominent women's rights crusader, Lucy Stone. Harriet Blanchard was Clara's great-great grandmother, and the first member of her family to graduate from Oberlin.

The old municipal waterworks in Oberlin, Ohio.

Nathaniel and Harriet Blanchard Gerrish had a son, William Blanchard Gerrish (1863-1939), who graduated from Oberlin in 1886. He became a civil engineer and worked for the Oberlin municipal engineering department, where he engineered Oberlin's first municipal waterworks. Along with Oberlin chemistry professor Frank Jewett, he also developed the country's first municipal water softening system. In 1889, he married Julia Gage (Oberlin Class of 1884). William and Julia Gerrish were Clara's great-grandparents, and the second generation of Oberlin graduates in the family.

The grave of William Blanchard Gerrish in Oberlin's Westwood Cemetery.

William and Julia had five daughters: Martha, Dorothy, Mary, Evangeline, and Margaret. Mary (Oberlin Class of 1918) married Willard P. Seiberling, the son of F.A. Seiberling, the founder of the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company. Mary and Willard were Clara's grandparents, and Mary was the third generation of Oberlin graduates in the family.

Willard and Mary (Gerrish) Seiberling had two daughters and a son. Their eldest daughter, Clara's mother, graduated from Oberlin in 1947—one hundred years after her great-grandmother, Harriet Blanchard. Clara's mother, the fourth generation of Oberlin graduates, married a fellow Oberlin graduate whose mother had graduated from Oberlin in 1908.

Fairchild Chapel, on the Oberlin campus, where Clara and I were married. The building was designed by Cass Gilbert.

Clara, who graduated in 1983, was the fifth generation. Clara and I were married in Fairchild Chapel on the Oberlin College campus. I was a mere first generation Oberlin graduate, although at the time my sister and my future brother-in-law had just finished their freshman year at Oberlin. Among the Oberlin students—past and future—at the wedding were our nephew John (Class of 2007) and our niece Clara (Class of 2010). Our nephew Thomas (Class of 2012) was born less than two months later.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Oberlin Weekend, Part I

Talcott Hall (college domitory), built in 1887.

This year is the 175th anniversary of the founding of Oberlin College, the 150th anniversary of the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue, and Clara's 25th college reunion. We arrived in Oberlin on Friday, and Clara reported to 25th reunion headquarters at Talcott Hall, which was her freshman dorm. Talcott belongs to what Oberlin architectural historian Geoffrey Blodgett calls Oberlin's Stone Age—a period from about 1885 until about 1910 when the college's erected massive gray stone buildings in the Richardsonian style. Like most of the campus, Talcott is full of memories, some of which are second-hand and predate my own time at Oberlin. After serving in World War II, my father-in-law returned as a student to Oberlin (where his father was the dean of the Conservatory of Music) and met my mother-in-law, who was living in Talcott. After an evening date, he drove her back to Talcott in his jeep. Having promised to deliver her to the door, he drove the jeep up the front steps of the building—the center railing may have been installed there to prevent such stunts in the future. That happened in about 1946, forty years before I graduated.

As a student at Oberlin in the early 1980s, I felt as if my mind were expanding by orders of magnitude. I learned Latin and Greek there, I studied history with one of the leading medievalists in the country, I attended hundreds of concerts and spent hours in the superb little Allen Memorial Art Museum. For the first time in my life, I felt like I was living in a world where I belonged. I began to be myself.

Pictured at left is the Allen Memorial Art Museum (1917), designed by Cass Gilbert, who also designed the Minnesota State Capitol. The museum is one of the finest college art museums in the country, with a collection that includes works by Monet, Rubens, Reynolds, Hobbema, Cezanne, Mondrian, Modigliani, and many others. The canvas by Sir Joshua Reynolds is the artist's own copy of his famous "The Strawberry Girl," the original of which I saw at The Wallace Collection in London a year ago. The Allen also owns Michael Coxcie's portrait of Christina of Denmark, which I mentioned in a blog post about the Holbein exhibit at the Tate in London in late 2006.

Another treasure I discovered on this visit was this watercolor that John La Farge painted in Tahiti. La Farge also designed stained glass windows for the Minnesota State Capitol. After his wife's suicide, historian Henry Adams left his home in Washington, D.C. and traveled with La Farge to Tahiti, where he consoled his grief among the tropical landscape and lovely brown-skinned naked women. Adams was so enamored of Tahiti that he wrote the "memoirs" of one of the island's queens. Meanwhile, both he and La Farge sat and painted Tahitian scenes such as this one in the AMAM (with a slight reflection off the glass). I wish I were imaginative and persistent enough to write a historical novel about Adams and La Farge in Tahiti.

Finney Chapel (1902), designed by Cass Gilbert.

For me, one of the high points of reunion weekend was a Sunday night concert in Finney Chapel by the Oberlin Orchestra, conducted by David Zinman (Class of 1958). The concert featured Dvorak's Eighth Symphony, which is one of my favorite pieces. The orchestra was amazing. The symphony includes wonderful opportunities to showcase various instruments, and we were particularly impressed by the young flute player, Brandon George, whom we met after the concert. Sitting in Finney Chapel, listening to Oberlin's brilliant young musicians, I felt very happy and very humble and very much at home. I was back in a place that, perhaps more than any other place, defined who I am.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Memorial Day Weekend Hiatus

I'll be away from the blog for a few days over the long Memorial Day weekend while Clara and I travel to Oberlin, Ohio, for reunion and commencement at the best college east of the Mississippi.

Oberlin recently hired a marketing consultant to come up with a slogan to sell the college to prospective students. Above, you see the results: we are oberlin. fearless Despite the ridicule it has provoked, the new slogan has at least garnered some media attention, such as this May 1 story on NPR's "All Things Considered."

I'm skeptical of the need to hire marketing consultants and create expensive and ridicule-provoking media campaigns. Another northern Ohio-based institution, the United Church of Christ, did it a few years ago, creating the God is Still Speaking Campaign, complete with television ads and merchandise. None of it drew as much media attention to the UCC as did the recent controversy surrounding Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

The best publicity for any institution comes from actions, not overpriced words. And for 175 years, Oberlin has been a place of fearless action. The college, founded in 1833, was coeducational from its beginning, and admitted African-American students beginning 1835. Not surprisingly, the first African-American woman to earn a college degree, Mary Jane Patterson, graduated from Oberlin in 1862. Oberlin was founded by Congregationalist clergymen—predecessors of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who, like Rev. Wright, brought their evangelical fire-and-brimstone religious style to the pressing social justice issues of the day. In 1833, the most pressing issue was the abolition of slavery, and Oberlin's early leaders, men like Asa Mahan and Charles Grandison Finney, saw to it that Oberlin was in the forefront of the abolitionist movement. The town of Oberlin was also an important stop on the Underground Railroad. Oberlin always was fearless.

While Clara (Class of 1983) and I (Class of 1986) are attending Clara's reunion, her fearless brother (Class of 1976) and our fearless nephews (Classes of 2007 and 2011) are on the first leg of their epic bike journey from Izmir, Turkey, to Berlin, Germany. If John can find internet access along the way, you can follow the journey on his blog. I'll be back on Monday or Tuesday with a report on our Commencement and Reunion weekend in Oberlin. Meanwhile, enjoy Memorial Day if you're in the U.S.A., or your spring Bank Holiday if you're in the U.K.

Musical Outro. Click here for The Decemberists performing "Song for Myla Goldberg" in Minneapolis in November 2006. Myla Goldberg is the author of the wonderful novel Bee Season, and a graduate Oberlin College. How cool is Oberlin? Its graduates inspire songs by The Decemberists.

Iron Bridge Update

In November, I blogged about the Iron Bridge (also known as the Waterford Bridge): the "most deficient" bridge in the state, and high on the list of bridges to be replaced in the wake of the 35W bridge collapse. The good news is that the bridge will be replaced, but the old bridge will be preserved as a pedestrian bridge. The plans, developed through several years of talks between Carleton College and Dakota County, also call for the construction of a boat launch on the Cannon River near the old bridge. Here are some informative links:

The Waterford Bridge Update on Carleton's Cowling Arboretum website.
A May 19 story on plans for the bridge from Carleton's news service.
A May 21 story from the Northfield News.
A May 21 story from the Minneapolis StarTribune.
A May 21 post from Locally Grown.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Wordless Wednesday: Flowering

Editor's Note: My Blog Friend Forever, Chris, has fallen down on the job, leaving me this week without one of her beautiful "Wordless Wednesday" photographs. To pick up some of the slack, here's a beautiful flowering tree near the corner of First and College Streets.

Rough Draft: "Memo Mori"

Last week's poetic rough draft included the line "as if we needed another poem about mortality." Perhaps we don't, but that's what we have this week. It was inspired, oddly enough, by going through another batch of photographs from our year in England. Each month this year, I'm ordering prints of pictures I took in the corresponding month a year ago. Hence, yesterday's mail brought photographs from May 2007, including this photograph of rapeseed, or rape, blooming in the gentle hills south of the Hatton Locks on the Grand Union Canal. The yellow field in the middle of the photograph is rapeseed. One of the footpaths that Clara and I walked regularly (because it led to one of our favorite pubs) crossed such a field. When the flowers were in bloom, the yellow pollen was so thick and sticky that it clung to us and turned us yellow.

Comments on the poem—in the form of either criticism or praise—are greatly appreciated.

Memo Mori

A year ago we walked through English fields
of rape that turned us golden as we passed.
You said that in a year we’d be back home
to walk among the unhedged fields, uncastled towns.
Now here we are, looking back at everything
we were looking forward to a year ago.
A year of our lives has stretched and shrunk
between anticipation and remembrance.
Meanwhile, we live from heartbeat to heartbeat,
breath to breath, one foot in front of the other.
As if life were what lay on either side of now.
An urgent cardinal circles us in red, calling
hurry hurry hurry. There are things to do.
The trees are covered in sticky notes.
But one by one, October will take them down,
another summer crossed off the list, another year.
Sooner or later, everything becomes undone.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


Yesterday was the annual Carleton College Classics Department picnic, lamb roast, and marathon reading on Mai Fête Island. While the lamb roasted, students read aloud Robert Fagles' translation of Vergil's Aeneid. The reading started at about 1:30 and went until after 11:00 p.m. I contributed by reading the second half of Book 2, in which Aeneas rescues his son and father from the ruins of Troy, but accidentally leaves his wife behind. The Aeneid may be the only work of non-English literature (other than Le Petit Prince) that I've read in its entirety in the original language, and I found that as the English translation was read, some of the familiar Latin words echoed in my head. Forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit...

Rob reading Vergil while students attend to the lamb.

As I was starting to read, Jane Hamilton (author of The Book of Ruth, A Map of the World, etc.) showed up, but decided the party wasn't worth crashing yet. Meanwhile, red-winged blackbirds danced in the air around us, a Baltimore oriole arrived and sang brilliantly over its nest, and geese lined up on the shore to listen to the Orphic performance on the island. Later in the evening, a green-backed heron made a low pass over the island. By around 4:30, the lamb was beautifully roasted, and the island was teeming with classicists. It was an extraordinarily windy afternoon, and in the evening around 7:30 a little rain passed through, producing a spectacular rainbow that framed the nearly full moon.

Evening clouds moving in over the Lyman Lakes

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Nesting, Part II

A Baltimore oriole's nest on Mai Fête Island on the campus of Carleton College. I've spotted one oriole, and heard another, in the vicinity of the island.

Friday, May 16, 2008


A "Dunlap Broadside" copy of the Declaration of Independence.

Minnesota became the 32nd state of the Union on May 11, 1858—150 years ago this past Sunday. It wasn't until today, though, that I had a chance to celebrate my state's birthday with a trip to St. Paul to visit the Minnesota History Center and the State Capitol. The special draw at the history center was a rare original copy of the Declaration of Independence—one of only 25 in existence, and the only one to tour the country. The copy is one of the "Dunlap Broadsides"—printed copies produced in Philadelphia on the evening of July 4, 1776 to be distributed throughout the colonies. It was especially exciting for me to see it after having seen an original copy of the Magna Carta in Salibury, England, last summer. It's a reminder of how potent and world-changing the written word can be. Although the copy we saw in St. Paul had none of the signatures that are on the "engrossed" copy in Washington, it was inspiring to think of this copy being read aloud in July 1776, and to think of the ordinary people hearing those famous words for the first time in history.* The Declaration of Independence is on display at the Minnesota History Center through this Sunday, May 18.

The Rotunda of the Minnesota State Capitol.

We (my friend Peytie and I) got in to see the Declaration just before a deluge of blue-shirted students from Thief River Falls, in St. Paul for a field trip. After pausing to admire the document, we walked over to the State Capitol to admire the rotunda, to peek into the Senate and Supreme Court chambers, and to see the remains of the flag carried by the brave men of the First Minnesota at Gettysburg. The Capitol was completed in 1905 and designed by Ohio-born St. Paul architect Cass Gilbert. Next weekend, Clara and I will be in Oberlin, Ohio, for Clara's 25th reunion at Oberlin College—where Cass Gilbert designed several of the most beautiful buildings on campus, including the incomparable Allen Memorial Art Museum.

After a brief tour of the Capitol, Peytie and I headed over to Como Park for a walk around the beautiful conservatory, followed by a wonderful picnic in the park. Here's a little gallery of our day in St. Paul.

The Minnesota History Center

The Minnesota State Capitol

Bonsai in the Conservatory (an 85-year old Chinese elm)

The Interior of the Conservatory

*According to one story, the "patriot printer" Isaiah Thomas was the first person to read the Declaration in Massachusetts. A copy—a Dunlap Broadside—was being carried by post rider from Philadelphia to Boston, and stopped in Worcester, Mass., where Thomas lived and worked. Thomas took the copy and read it from the steps of the town hall to a cheering crowd.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Small Change

James P. Lenfestey, A Cartload of Scrolls: 100 Poems n the Manner of T'ang Dynasty Poet Han-Shan (Holy Cow! Press 2007). $15.95. Available at the Carleton Bookstore.

This morning I stuffed a handful of coins and a couple of dollar bills into my pocket and went out looking for a window seat in a coffee shop. A few months ago, I was paying for my $1.65 cup of coffee with a twenty fresh from the ATM when the woman in line behind me commented to the woman behind the counter, "Have you noticed that women are more likely to carry exact change?" Not wanting to become just another gender stereotype, I now make sure to stuff my pocket with coins from the jar on my desk before I go out for coffee. This morning, I had to forgo my usual perch in the south window of the Hideaway (small Hideaway blend, blueberry scone) and the always-crowded window of Goodbye Blue Monday, and seek the ample window space of Bittersweet (small regular coffee, popover with almond-honey butter).

In addition to exact change, I had also brought with me the latest book of poetry by Minnesota poet Jim Lenfestey, A Cartload of Scrolls: 100 Poems in the Manner of T'ang Dynasty Poet Han-Shan. I heard Jim read last night at ArtOrg. He stands close to the audience when he reads, and gestures as if he's conducting a small symphony or finishing off a run on the piano with a flourish of his hand. The poems are small études, each about eight lines long, capturing the music of everyday enlightenment: moments of grace while unloading the dishwasher, the thrill of birdsong, small offerings left at the altar of familial love. In one poem, he writes about a time when he was away from his wife: "We send postcards to each other/overflowing with daily joys and sorrows." That's what the poems are like: brief, but overflowing with life.

Han-Shan lived, and wrote his own small poems, between 1,000 and 1,500 years ago. About 35 years ago, Lenfestey was introduced to Han-Shan's poetry, and found the voice so familiar and companionable that he started "writing back" to the Chinese poet. These poems "in the manner of" Han-Shan are not translations of the Chinese poet's words, but are written in a similar spirit. That spirit is playful, observant, devoted to simplicity. Han-Shan retired from the world to live in a cave and write his poems. But Lenfestey, a retired editorial writer, still lives in the world. He still goes around gesturing, pointing, getting you to look.

Soon I have business in the world. I'll go in just a minute.
One more sip of coffee. One more bird song.

His poems are perfect for reading in a sunny window seat, on a May morning, in a place called Bittersweet.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


The other day I found the discarded shell of a robin's egg on the sidewalk, exactly the color of the sky at 7:30 this morning. Now the birds are doing more than migrating and singing and resisting my efforts to identify them. They're nesting.

While I was sitting in T&R's Beauty Bar yesterday, waiting for Teresa to finish cutting my older son's hair, I picked up a recent issue of Minnesota Monthly and glanced at an article claiming Louise Erdrich as Minnesota's greatest writer. The only one of Louise Erdrich's books that I've read is her first nonfiction book, The Blue Jay's Dance, a journal of a year of pregnancy, birth, young motherhood, and an eventual return to writing. It's a lovely, quiet, lyrical, earnest book, made additionally poignant and painful by the fact that, two years after the book was published, Erdrich's estranged husband, novelist Michael Dorris, committed suicide. It's a book full of birds, and women, and recipes, and contemplation. What I remember clearest about it is the story Erdrich tells of saving the hair from her daughters' hairbrushes and putting it out in the spring for birds to use as nesting material. At the end of the year, she collected a nest woven of her daughters' hair:

It's almost too painful to hold the nest, too rich, as life often is with children. I see the bird, quick breathing, small, thrilling like a heart. I hear its song, high and clear, beating in its throat. I see that bird alone in the nest woven from the hair of my daughters, and I cannot hold the nest because longing seizes me. Not only do I feel how quickly they are growing from the curved shape of my arms when holding them, but I want to sit in the presence of my own mother so badly I feel my heart will crack.

Life seems to flood by, taking our loves quickly in its flow. In the growth of children, in the aging of beloved parents, time's chart is magnified, shown in particularity, focused, so that with each celebration of maturity there is also a pang of loss...

I thought about this yesterday as I watched a small chickadee gathering hair from the carcass of some dead animal—a rabbit, perhaps—to carry back for its nest. The bird bobbed its head up and down efficiently, like a little reverse sewing machine unstitching the hair from the carcass and gathering up the stitches in its beak. From time to time it threw me a glance over its shoulder and returned unconcernedly to its work. It was a comical thing as it flew away with its beak full of hair. It looked like it was wearing a huge false mustache, as if it were flying home to show off its Groucho Marx impression.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Two Poems

Two Poems About My Failure to Write More Poems About England

I. Kenilworth

Though I pass it daily on my walk,
it still feels strange
to put Kenilworth Castle into a poem,
like an affectation,
an empty gesture, a boast.
And now that it’s here, in this poem,
I don’t know what to do with it,
its ruined walls and towers
standing out above the poem’s
otherwise modest claims,
too bulky to be shaped into simile—
though the clichés circle
like rooks above the ruined keep,
cawing sic transit gloria mundi,
as if we needed another poem about mortality.

Written in Kenilworth, Warwickshire (Spring 2007)

II. Thinking of England in the Spring

England should have given me castles and cathedrals,
hedgerows and weather to write about,
and ruined abbeys, and sheep, and pots of Yorkshire tea.
I should have come home with new similes
like stamps in my passport to show where I had been.
But all I can think of now is how these tiny buds
must be like the Tardis to contain so much leaf.

Written in Northfield, Minnesota (Spring 2008)

The Eighth Grade Clock

Yesterday, Peter brought home the clock that Northfield eighth graders have been making in IT (i.e., shop) class since the beginning of time itself. I doubt there is a home in Northfield where an eighth grader has lived that doesn't have its clock. We have two of them. The clock is a rite—or a token—of passage, another reminder (at least to parents) that childhood is slipping away.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Reading Journal: "The Land of Spices"

PRAYER the Churches banquet, Angels age,
Gods breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth ;

Engine against th’ Almightie, sinner's towre,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
The six daies world-transposing in an houre,
A kinde of tune, which all things heare and fear ;

Softnesse, and peace, and joy, and love, and blisse,
Exalted Manna, gladnesse of the best,
Heaven in ordinarie, man well drest,
The milkie way, the bird of Paradise,

Church-bels beyond the stars heard, the souls bloud,
The land of spices, something understood.

—George Herbert

Kate O'Brien, The Land of Spices (Virago Modern Classics)

The Land of Spices is set in an Irish convent school in the years before World War I. Reverend Mother, the head of the school, is an English woman raised in Brussels, where her Order has its mother house. Her Irish pupils and many of her fellow nuns perceive her as cold, formal, and foreign. She was, we learn, a brilliant student who revered her gentle, scholarly father until she learned something about him that shocked her into taking the veil. Over the years, she has become efficient at her work, and a favorite of the Mother General of her order, but she is detached and, her father fears, "merciless" in her demand for perfection. Then, in her third year at the Irish convert, she takes an interest in a little girl named Anna, the school's youngest pupil, who is similarly smart and detached, and who is also spiritually wounded at an impressionable age.

The novel is about having the humility and the patience and the understanding to love rather than to stand in judgment. Kate O'Brien (1897-1974) is a marvelous writer. The novel is full of humor, lyricism, conflict, wisdom, and grace. Some passages, I have to admit, were difficult to read through the tears stinging and blurring my eyes. Others—Reverend Mother's correspondence with the mother house in Brussels—slowed me down a bit because they were in French. The novel—with its pages of French, and its references to George Herbert and Henry Vaughn and Shakespeare and Schiller—was a bracing workout for my liberal arts education, but the story was always completely absorbing and my effort was amply rewarded. At one point in the novel, Reverend Mother drafts a letter to her Mère Générale asking to be recalled from her Irish post, where she is considered too foreign and where she has trouble understanding the Irish character. She says her work in Ireland has been un gaspillage d'efforts, a waste of effort. But she is rewarded for her patience and effort, and so is the reader. In a sense, the novel is a about the humanizing effect of education, about how art and literature broaden our sympathy and our understanding—as long as we learn not narrowly and pedantically, but with an open heart. Discipline and hard work are sometimes rewarded with epiphany—with "something understood" both intellectually and spiritually.

The most gracious relationships in the novel are between mentor and student—between Reverend Mother and Mère Générale, between Reverend Mother and Anna. There is a distance built into the relationship—a distance that gives perspective and grace. Reverend Mother loves Anna generously, entirely without possessiveness, for the beautiful and independent flowering of her soul. This seems to be a model of divine love: "heaven in ordinarie," the love of God enacted in the sometimes surprisingly gracious relationships between human beings.

Reverend Mother is often at odds with the Irish culture and character, but she believes in a grace that goes deeper than these external differences. The love of God is all. She is Catholic and conservative—two things I am not—but I found her a marvelously compelling and sympathetic character. The novel ends in June 1914, as trouble and war are about to tear apart both Ireland and the world. Kate O'Brien wants us to look deeper than the external differences that set us apart, to find the human potential for grace that is in all of us.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

One Hundred Years from Now

This year is the 40th anniversary of the classic album by The Byrds, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, which was recorded between March 9 and May 27, 1968. The album, which featured Gram Parsons on guitar and a pair of excellent vocals, is the great-granddaddy of alt-country. The official release date was August 30, 1968—the day the tumultuous Democratic convention ended in Chicago. Click here for the album's classic track, Gram Parsons' "Hickory Wind."

A Visit to the Source

The land west of Northfield has a much different character from the land east of the Cannon. Instead of former prairie dissected into fields for corn and soybeans, the land is former forest: it was once Big Woods that stretched from the Cannon River in the east to the Minnesota River in the west. The rivers formed two large firebrakes which prevented prairie fires from spreading into the woods in between. The land west of the Cannon River was also more recently glaciated, and hence more poorly drained. All but one of Rice County's lakes are in the western half of the county.

The largest of these lakes is General Shields Lake. The most direct route to the lake is probably on Minnesota Hwy 21, west from Faribault about twelve miles. The village of Shieldsville stands at one corner of the lake, and a little further down the highway is the public boat access and McCollough Park, where I stopped to take this photograph of a large flock of coots on the lake (click to enlarge for a little more detail). Further out in the lake, almost at the limit of my binoculars' range, I saw what I had come looking for: American white pelicans. There were at least two dozen of them.

The Cannon River.

Further along Irwin Trail, Heron Island comes into view. This island, which is a nature preserve, has long been a prime nesting site for great blue herons. Further along still, a bridge crosses the small marshy beginnings of the Cannon River, which flows from Shields Lake to its outlet into the Mississippi at Red Wing. Shields Lake is in Erin Township, which, as the name suggests, was settled primarily by Irish immigrants during the nineteenth century. The lake itself was named for General James Shields (1810-79), an immigrant from County Tyrone who became one of Minnesota's first U.S. senators (1858-60). He had previously been a senator from Illinois, and later became a senator from Missouri, thus becoming the only person to represent three different states in the U.S. Senate. He was also a Union general in the Civil War.

Christdala Swedish Lutheran Church (est. 1877).

The Irish were not the only ethnic group to gravitate to the lakes and woods of western Rice County. On a previous visit to Shields Lake about ten years ago, I got (as usual) hopelessly lost and found myself in front of a small church with a sign in front that was entirely in Czech. The graves, too, were all in Czech. It was like slipping into another country. A little further to the north, in the area around Millersburg and Circle Lake, a large number of Swedish immigrants settled in the 1870s. Among these was Nicolaus Gustafson, who hitched a ride into Northfield with another local Swede on the morning of September 7, 1876. That was the day that the James-Younger Gang decided to raid the First National Bank in Northfield. Gustafson was caught in the crossfire during the failed raid, and was killed. He was buried in Northfield because there was no Swedish church in the Millersburg area. That was remedied the following year, when the Christdala (Christ's Valley) Lutheran Church opened just west of Millersburg. Click to enlarge the photograph below and read the historical marker in front of the church.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Something to Carp About

The Lower Arboretum was filled with the usual cast of characters this morning: house wrens, song sparrows, tree swallows, Canada geese, a coot (in the retention pond), a hawk, various warblers, a cowbird, a spotted sandpiper. I also spotted a green-backed heron and the loveliest of ducks, an adult male wood duck. He looked like he had flown out of a medieval illuminated manuscript. I also saw, for the first time this spring, spiny softshell turtles (Apalone spinifera) sunning themselves on the far bank of the river, looking a little like discarded hubcaps. Oh, for a real telephoto lens!

As I approached Turtle Pond, across the river from the city sewage treatment plant, I smelled a disgusting smell. It wasn't an ordinary sewage smell; it was the smell of my brother-in-law's dog when she rolls in something dead. It was the smell of dead carp. Yesterday's rain raised the water level enough to fill a small side channel of the river near Turtle Pond. There was enough water for dozens of carp (Cyprinus carpio) to swim up the channel and become trapped as the water level subsided again. According to student naturalist Lindsey Nietmann at Carleton: "C. carpio, introduced from Europe and Asia in the 1880s as a game fish, has the ability to dramatically alter the dynamics of the floodplain forest by disrupting the shallowly rooted plants on which it feeds. Additionally, in non-seasonal aquatic environments, carp alter the feeding ecology of waterfowl and other fish by muddying the water and releasing phosphorous which causes changes in algal population dynamics." Had I been so inclined, I could have reached in and caught carp with my bare hands.

Unfortunately, the carp were not the only disgusting creatures I encountered on my hour-and-a-half walk through the Lower Arboretum. When I finished my walk, I checked myself for ticks. I was wearing a loose shirt and, sure enough, a tick had had hitched a ride on my chest. I crushed it before any damage was done. I'm sensitive to the danger of ticks because my mother recently had to cancel a trip to Minnesota because of a recurrence of a bad case of Lyme disease.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


I don't indulge in much frivolous shopping. Except for books and an occasional CD, I spend little on myself. According to a recent study, people are more likely to spend money on themselves when they're in a bad mood. Shopping is a kind of self-medication for people who are sad and self-focused. Oh, well. Blame it on the barometric pressure and the ionization of the atmosphere, but when I passed Grezzo Gallery this morning, I couldn't resist this antique (circa 1920s) portrait of a little girl (click to enlarge for detail). The portrait came with no provenance, so I have no idea who she is, but for now I'm calling her "Anna," which is the name of the six-year old girl in the novel I'm currently reading, Kate O'Brien's The Land of Spices. Now I will enter a long binge of self-denial to compensate for impulsively spending so much on something so frivolous. But at the moment, I'm experiencing a little glow of self-indulgent happiness.

A Girly Thing

There's a thunderstorm brewing somewhere, but I don't need to check the weather forecast to know that something's up. My mood is a fairly accurate barometer. When a low pressure system is forming, when positive ions are clustering in the atmosphere, my mood dips. Back in the late 1990s, when Clara was keeping a line-a-day diary, she tracked this phenomenon, and with uncanny certainty I would become depressed sometime in the 24 hours before a change in the weather. The skies are still fair, but something's coming. Fortuitously, my Canadian blog friend Chris sent me some love today to cheer me up.

It's interesting to follow the trail of these blog awards backwards and find that you're a link in a long chain of bloggers that stretches around the world. Chris received the award from Trish, who received it from Melody, who received it from Alice (in Kuala Lumpur, Indonesia), who received it from Rachel (in the Philippines)... The award originated here in February. Chris worried that I might consider a blogging award "too girly." No need to worry. As a former stay-at-home father and the token male in the Virago Modern Classics LibraryThing group, I'm always pleased to be made an honorary girl.

I'm going to be extremely selective in passing along this award. I received it from a stay-at-home mother, so I will bestow it exclusively upon the most heroic blogging mama I know. She's raising two beautiful, labor-intensive girls. She's staying up to date with her professional certification. She's cooking and shopping. She's keeping herself fit and beautiful. She's writing sensitively and with humor—and occasional fits of genuine panic to keep things real—about the important work of motherhood. She's blogging daily. She was the first blogger to tag me for a meme, so I'm going to return the honor with an award. Yes, it's Shan! My blogging friend forever.

Monday, May 5, 2008

1995, Take 3: Steve Earle

To recap:

1995 was the year that two of my favorite albums of the 1990s were released: Son Volt's Trace and Dar Williams' The Honesty Room. It was the year of Jonatha Brooke's best album, Plumb, and Del Amitri's deceptively good pop tune, "Roll to Me." What I forgot—shame on me—was the brilliant comeback album by Steve Earle, Train a Comin'. In 1995, Earle was fresh out of prison. He'd kicked the drug habit that stalled his career, and come out of prison with his creativity recharged and his political conscience activated. He became an anti-death penalty crusader and, over the last eight bleak years, an outspoken critic of the Bush administration and the war in Iraq. His songs are often politically-charged, often angry, and sometimes controversial—as in the case of "John Walker's Blues," in which he sings in the persona of John Walker Lindh, "the American Taliban."

His 1995 album is all-acoustic, and features a stellar line-up of musicians: Peter Rowan, Norman Blake, Roy Huskey. and Emmylou Harris. It's a great combination of grit, empathy, world-weariness, and surprising lyrical beauty. I don't know how I could have left it out of my retrospective of the great year in music, 1995.

Steve Earle performing "Hometown Blues," from Train a Comin', at the Blue Note in New York City, 2007.

Sunday on the Prairie

McKnight Prairie is greener now than it was when I visited two or three weeks ago. The pasqueflowers are now past their prime, but the prairie smoke is more plentiful, and I found a small patch of a tiny white flower that I think must be flowering spurge. Along the path, I ran into Carol, a librarian at Carleton who seven or eight years ago helped me mount a display in the library about ornithology in Rice County. The display included taxidermy from the Carleton biology department's collection, books and artwork, and archival material about Northfield's most famous ornithologist, Olin Pettingill (1907-2001), who taught at Carleton from 1936 to 1953. Out on the prairie, I asked Carol if she could identify the bird that was singing so exuberantly from somewhere nearby. She guessed, from its song, that it was a dickcissel. After a little more research, I'm pretty sure it was a sedge wren (the link includes an audio file of the song). Carol came impressively close on the identification.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Reading Journal: "The Infernal World of Branwell Brontë"

Daphne du Maurier, The Infernal World of Branwell Brontë (Virago Modern Classics).

Patrick Branwell Brontë was the only son of Rev. Patrick Brontë. When he was a small boy, his mother died, followed by his older sisters Elizabeth and Maria, leaving him with his father and his three sisters—his older sister Charlotte and his two younger sisters, Emily and Anne. Together, the four surviving Brontë children, with Branwell as their leader, created a private fictional world that Branwell called Angria. The two eldest, Charlotte and Branwell, filled hundreds of pages with minute handwriting, telling stories of the often lawless and larger-than-life inhabitants of Angria. Branwell's father and sisters adored him, thought he was the most brilliant and creative member of the family, and expected great things of him. Alas, poor Branwell. He failed as an artist, failed as a poet, failed as a tutor, failed as a railway clerk, failed as a lover. And, as Daphne uu Maurier tells the story, each failure drove him further into the "infernal world" of his imagination and loosened his grip on reality. Failure also drove him to drink, and to laudanum, and undermined his health; late in life, he was subject to "fits" that may have been anything from delirium tremens to epilepsy. In the absence of much documentation, so much of Branwell's life is subject to conjecture, and du Maurier reconstructs that life with both a historian's care and a novelist's imagination. I found the book both gripping and sad. While his sisters were able to escape the childhood fantasies that made them lords and ladies of Angria, Branwell never did. He never harnessed his imagination to a more grown-up story like Jane Eyre or Agnes Grey. He did write poetry, most of which, as quoted by du Maurier, was pretty morose and morbid stuff, obsessed with death and loss.

I could sympathize, and even identify with Branwell Brontë, but in the end he seems to dissolve in his own self-pity and self-delusion. In her excellent introduction to the 2006 Virago Modern Classics reprint of Du Maurier's book (originally published in 1960), Justine Picardie writes: "To be truthful, although I would recommend her biography of him as essential reading to any du Maurier fan, it is not the easiest of her work—weighed down, occasionally, by her anxious diligence, and also by her own increasing exasperation with Branwell's failure to live up to his original promise." In the end, the story of how the amiable and gifted child declined into drunken disappointment seems less like high tragedy and more like a simple waste of a life. His talent and his strength of character didn't match his ambitions, and he wasn't willing to settle for an ordinary life that was never touched by greatness. But all the while, he was living in the same house with greatness. Were it not for his sisters, we would never have known a thing about this poor drunken failure and his dreams of greatness.

At the end of Branwell's life, all three of his sisters had published immortal novels, and tried to hide their success from a brother who did nothing but mope around the parsonage and run up debts at the local public houses. Branwell Brontë died in September 1848, at the age of 31. Emily died in December of the same year, and Anne in May of the next. Of Rev. Brontë's six children, that left only one, Charlotte. "Waking I think, sleeping I dream of them," she wrote.

Friday, May 2, 2008


Yesterday evening, Clara and I were walking in the Upper Arboretum, near the area marked on the arboretum map as the Old Faculty Picnic Grounds. I was enumerating the birds I had seen in the arboretum over the previous two days.

"I've seen a great blue heron, blue-winged teal, a brown thrasher, yellow-rumped warblers, house wrens, song sparrows, and a veery—but what I haven't seen yet is..."

Magically, as if I had wished it into being before I could say the words, a bluebird appeared in the branches of one of the small bur oaks nearby.

On the way home, we saw an even stranger sight: a pair of blue-winged teal, male and female, flew over Central Park and came to a landing in the branches of a large maple in the southwest corner of the park. I couldn't remember ever having seen a duck roosting high in a tree before. There are perching ducks, but blue-winged teal are not among them. What could account for such eccentric duck behavior?

Speaking of eccentric behavior, what's the deal with the weather? April was a cold, wet month. In the north central part of the state, around Lake Itasca, between 40 and 50 inches of snow fell during the month. As recently as Monday, we had snow in the air, little meandering flakes that seemed confused about where they were. Last night, a front moved through the area, bringing thunderstorms and more cool, damp weather. For tomorrow, there's a chance of snow again.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Two Mornings in the Arb

The Arboretum Trail Head and Bur Oak

Hillside Prairie after Tuesday's burn.

Wednesday, April 30
. Each morning has a character of its own. The woods this morning are full of yellow-rumped warblers. On the far side of the river, a large fish keeps leaping out of the water, exposing a pale yellow underside. Further along, a coot rests in the grass at the water's edge. A great blue heron unfolds its wings and flies upriver with surprising grace, so large that its shadow swims in the river beneath it. Near Turtle Pond, half a dozen blue jays complain of my approach. The birds are so blue—80 proof distillation of sky. A garter snake is sunning itself on the path. On Turtle Pond itself, eight blue-winged teal. Hillside Prairie, burned on Tuesday afternoon, is black.

Trout Lilies blooming in the woods.

Thursday, May 1
. A cooler, cloudier morning than yesterday. Along the river, I catch a few fleeting glimpses of the elusive brown thrasher, a flash of distinctive cinnamon brown. House wrens twitter in the woods. Another flash of lighter brown: a thrush (possibly a veery). At the edge of the blackened prairie, a meadow vole darts from one hole to the next. Each morning, the trout lilies are further advanced in their blooming. And what are those small greenish birds that seem, at a distance, to be no bigger than my thumb? Ruby-crowned kinglets? A mere inference of bird, the least green vibration of the highest branch.

May Preview

Television. For lovers of middlebrow costume drama, May brings the event of the season in the form of Elizabeth Gaskell's Cranford on Masterpiece Theater, beginning this Sunday, May 4, at 8:00 pm on channel 2. Cranford chronicles the daily lives of women in a small English village in the nineteenth century—not much happens except marvelous writing, small incidents, and great acting by the likes of Judi Dench and Imelda Staunton. By all accounts, this is how television period drama should be done. Between 8:00 and 10:00 pm on May 4, 11, and 18, I'll be glued to the tube.

Books. Two very different book catalogues arrived in the mail this week. The first was the ISI Books catalogue. ISI is a conservative publishing company. One of their missions seems to be to publish books critical of American public education and the "liberal bias" in higher education. Hence titles like Bonfire of the Humanities: Rescuing the Classics in an Impoverished Age (co-authored by Victor Davis Hanson) and John Dewey and the Decline of American Education: How the Patron Saint of Schools Has Corrupted Teaching and Learning. There are also resources for homeschoolers like The Latin-Centered Curriculum: A Homeschooler's Guide to a Classical Education, and one-stop shopping for books by Russell Kirk and Rick Santorum (It Takes a Family). Why do I even receive this catalogue? The scariest item in the catalogue is a series of children's books: The National Review Treasury of Classic Bedtime Stories and The National Review Treasury of Classic Children's Literature (edited by William F. Buckley). What bedtime stories do conservatives read to their children? Imagine William F. Buckley at your child's bedside. Brendon, can you do anything with this? Interesting footnote: Among the stories collected by Buckley are Brownie stories by Palmer Cox, a not-too-distant ancestor of Northfield's former Republican state representative, Ray Cox.

The other catalogue isn't really a catalogue at all; it's the wonderful Persephone Biannually from Persephone Books in London. Persephone publishes about six books a year, and announces them in this biannual glossy 28-page magazinelet, along with essay about the authors, short fiction, and other features. Persephone reprints books by neglected (or outright forgotten) women authors of the mid-20th century. The books for spring and summer 2008 are Winifred Holtby's The Crowded Street, Penelope Mortimer's Daddy's Gone A-Hunting, and Nicola Beauman's A Very Great Profession: The Woman's Novel 1914-39. Beauman is Persephone's publisher, and her book provides much of the rationale behind her program of rescuing these marvelous books. The paperback books, beautifully produced, are expensive in the U.S.A.; one book, with surface postage from the shop in London, costs a total of £13.50, or about $27.00. Fortunately, "Persephone Classics" are becoming available here; the first, Winifred Watson's Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, is now available. It was the basis for the current film starring Frances MacDormand.

Film. Two words: Indiana Jones. May 22.

New Poem: "Phrasebook"

My poem " Phrasebook " has been published online in Ergon: Greek/American Arts and Letters .