Showing posts from June, 2008


From the Northfield News.

I met briefly with a reporter for the Northfield News yesterday to have my picture taken and to answer a couple of quick questions about my run for school board. Mostly, we talked about writing poetry. Last night, Clara and I went with a friend down to the Cow for the first annual Junebug Music Festival. While we listened to Meredith Fierke and Peter's friends threw popcorn at each other, I had a brief chat with current school board member Wendy Smith (who isn't running for a third term), who told me that it was good that I wasn't running on a specific personal agenda—such as resentment that my son was locked out of Advanced British Literature because the enrollment limit was reached. Actually, that doesn't bother me too much. Will went off to England with Ernest Hemingway and Chinua Achebe in his backpack. If he enjoys reading and can be a self-directed learner, it doesn't concern me too much if he misses out on a couple of advanced…

Our House: Before & After

August 15, 2007

June 27, 2008

Cedar Lodge

On Sunday (our nineteenth anniversary), Clara and I will be driving with Peter, his friend Connor, and the idiot puppy to the eastern Upper Peninsula. The journey is about 550 miles and takes between ten and twelve hours—across Wisconsin (through Chippewa Falls, Wausau, Antigo, and Marinette) and the western U.P. (through Menominee, Escanaba, and other points along Route 2) to the little villages of Hessel and Cedarville, about an hour south of Sault Ste. Marie. In Hessel, we'll take a boat to an island three miles off-shore in Lake Huron, where we'll spend the next three weeks. (Click photographs to enlarge.)

The western half of the island was purchased by Clara's great- grandfather in the first years of the twentieth century. He was the founder of the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, and the business was booming. In Akron, he built himself and his large family a stunning Tudor Revival manor house; on the island, he built a set of beautiful Adirondack style buildings …


Yesterday evening, we drove Will up to the airport for his flight to London. We helped him navigate the e-ticket machines, where he swiped his passport and received his boarding pass and checked his luggage. Then we watched him go through security and disappear into the secure area in search of the G concourse. Neither of us cried, but I was left with a hollow feeling inside. This is his first solo trip. He's just over two months shy of seventeen, but of course I can remember when I could hold his little head in the palm of my hand and his tiny legs dangled around my elbow. It seems like just last week that I had to spend hours everyday bouncing him on my shoulder, walking circles around the dining room table to get him to fall asleep. Now he's thousands of miles away.

He called a few minutes ago from my sister-in-law's house in Warwickshire. He had a smooth trip, with nothing worse than a lot of waiting around to deplane and clear passport control at Heathrow.

Rare Books

I'm currently reading Rhododendron Pie, the first novel by British novelist Margery Sharp (1905-1991). Sharp is best known in the United States for her series of children's books about The Rescuers, which were the basis for a pair of Disney animated films. In all, she wrote twenty-seven novels between 1930 and 1977, and fourteen books for children—most of them featuring the heroic mice Bernard and Miss Bianca. Rhododendron Pie is a charming and beautifully-written first novel, featuring a very sympathetic heroine, Ann Laventie, who is both proud of and slightly out of place in her eccentric family. She feels slightly ashamed of her ordinary concerns, like whether she's putting on weight, and disguises her weight loss book in the dust jacket of a Librairie Hachette edition. She reads only two languages to her father's five. She is quiet and polite in company, not all urbanity and sarcastic wit like the rest of her family, and is the only one of the family who tru…

Declaratio, Part II

Soundtrack: open this link in another tab and enjoy The Fratellis' "Lupe Brown" while reading today's Rough Draft posts.

My surgery is scheduled for the morning of Thursday, July 24—one month from today. Between now and then, I'll be spending three weeks on an island in Lake Huron, near the little village of Hessel in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The only power on the island is provided by a pair of solar panels that run the water pump and a gas generator that occasionally runs the washing machine. As a result, this blog will be dormant from June 29 until July 22. Meanwhile, those of you who live in Northfield can start spreading the word that I'll be a candidate for school board in the November election. I'll undoubtedly come up with some kind of statement when I return from vacation/general anaesthesia, but for now you can read about how I failed as a middle school Latin teacher.* This piece originally appeared in Classical Journal and is availa…

Reading Journal: "Diary of a Provincial Lady"

E.M. Delafield, Diary of a Provincial Lady. Originally published in 1931.
N.B. Must try to remember that Social Success is seldom the portion of those who habitually live in the provinces. No doubt they serve some other purpose in the vast field of Creation—but have not yet discovered what.
Recently finished reading E.M. Delafield's Diary of a Provincial Lady. Do not feel quite up to the task of writing a full-scale review, so will refer the reader to Jilly Cooper's excellent appreciation in the Guardian. How to describe thebook, which first appeared as a serial in the English magazine Time and Tide? Imagine the diary of Jane Austen, married, with two children, and living in P.G. Wodehouse country. The diarist's gruff husband, seen mostly sitting behind a copy of the Times, is land agent for Lady Boxe. The household includes cook, housemaid, gardener, and French governess for six-year old Vicky; son Robin is away at boarding school. The Provincial Lady's daily tria…

Second Opinion

I went back to the surgeon for a follow-up today, and this time he felt a definite hernia. He wants me to schedule surgery. I am not happy.

Limited Engagement

Until this Saturday, June 28, you can read my poem "To the Daughter I Never Had" online on the Rattle website. The poem originally appeared in the Winter 2007 issue of Rattle, a poetry magazine published in Studio City, California. Each week, the website features a new set of poems from a previous issue.


I'll be undergoing one of my intermittent spasms of gainful employment in the coming academic year, as a Visiting Assistant Professor of Classics at Carleton College. Who knows what effect this will have on blogging. In the fall, you may have to endure my random thoughts on Sophocles' Antigone, which I'll be reading with the students in Greek 204. In the winter term I'll be teaching my favorite course, Beginning Latin. At left is the Carleton College seal, which features both Greek and Latin, an explanation of which can be found here. The great American tradition of seals with Latin mottoes has recently been continued by Barack Obama, who this week debuted an official-looking seal sporting the Latin motto vero possumus: "Yes, We Can!"

Seven Songs Meme/Musical Crush of the Week

“List seven songs you are into right now. No matter what the genre, whether they have words, or even if they're not any good, but they must be songs you're really enjoying now, shaping your spring. Post these instructions in your blog along with your 7 songs. Then tag 7 other people to see what they're listening to.”
1. Tift Merritt, "Broken" Everything about Tift Merritt is beautiful.

2. Michelle Branch, "Everywhere" Michelle Branch was eighteen when her debut album, The Spirit Room, was released in 2001. I first heard her when she appeared on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, singing "Goodbye to You" at the end of the episode "Tabula Rasa" (November 13, 2001). On the strength of that appearance, I bought her album and fell in love with its catchy, guitar-heavy pop songs. I recently rediscovered the album, and can sometimes be found dancing around and singing along with Michelle in a strained voice ("I don't care what they'…

Reading Journal: "The Bluest Eye"

Toni Morrison's first novel (1970) is brutally beautiful. She creates a kind of genealogy of brutality, showing how it's passed down from from white to black, from parent to child, finally settling on the head of the weakest and most innocent: a little girl. Pecola Breedlove is eleven, and in the eyes of the world and in her own eyes her blackness makes her ugly. She wishes for a miracle that will give her blue eyes. Pecola is the ultimate victim, but those who victimize her are victims, too—victims of past brutality, victims of hopelessness, victims of self-hatred. Even love—the thing that Pecola wants the most, that she believes blues eyes will give her—is deformed by brutality and self-hatred. It's a hard novel, but an important one that should not be missed. Morrison refuses to slip into easy judgment of her characters, even those who are violent and mean and commit unforgivable acts, because she knows where that violence and meanness comes from. She sees insid…

Husband's Day

Around here, Mother's Day usually ends up being Wife's Day and Father's Day usually ends up being Husband's Day. Not much action from the boys today, but Clara pulled out all the stops and cooked up a fabulous dinner, including my favorite green lasagna with fresh tomato and basil, and an appetizer of scallops (from Just Food Co-op) sautéed in olive oil, garlic, and fresh rosemary. She even made homemade spinach pasta for the lasagna. Clara is the best! In the photograph above, you can see the beautiful lasagna pan that was a wedding gift from Clara's best college friend Martha. Two weeks from today, on June 29, we will have had that pan for nineteen years. It's one of several wedding gifts that still get regular use around here.

Prairie Summer

Thanks to a blog tip from Christopher, Clara and I walked in the Lower Arboretum yesterday afternoon and saw the brilliant display of penstemon blooming in the prairie. (Click the link to see Christopher's photo, which is much better than mine.) The trail along the river was entirely flooded—a foot deep in some parts—so we headed straight for the high ground of the upland prairie. In the photograph above, you can see the pale purple flowers and the Carleton wind turbine in the background. According to my field guide, Tallgrass Prairie Wildflowers, what we appear to have here is large-flowered beard tongue (penstemon grandifloris), which is a member of the snapdragon family. Unfortunately, we also encountered what appeared to be a serious infestation of tent caterpillars after the path entered the woods. Strangely, I didn't see any of the telltale "tents" in the trees along the path, but the ground—the path itself—was writhing with thousands of them. It was imposs…

A Driveway Moment

A quick storm blew in yesterday evening—the sky darkened, the wind whipped up, heavy rain fell—and then departed as quickly as it came, leaving in its wake a bright and fast-fading rainbow in the eastern sky. At ten o'clock, Will called and asked me to drive over and pick him up at his friend Ted's house. The car radio was tuned to Minnesota Public Radio and Radu Lupu playing Schubert's Piano Sonata in A Major. As we pulled into the driveway at home, Will commented, "This is really good." I stopped the car but left the radio on, and Will sat with me listening to the rest of the first movement. "Schubert," Will concluded, resorting to his own special frame of reference, "was the Ben Folds of classical music." When the movement was over, we got out of the car and stood for a moment under a clear sky full of brilliant stars and the glow of a waxing moon.

If you have about five and a half minutes to spare, click here for a video of pianist Sa…

Where Have I Heard This Before?

In the 1828 Presidential election, the "National" Republican incumbent, John Quincy Adams, was pitted against the "Democratic" Republican candidate Andrew Jackson in a rematch of the contested 1824 election. In 1824, Jackson had won the popular vote, but didn't receive enough electoral votes to take home the prize, and the election was eventually decided by the House of Representatives. House Speaker Henry Clay helped engineer a decision in favor of Adams. As President, John Quincy Adams had an ambitious agenda of modern improvements, including the construction of interstate roads, the establishment of institutions of higher learning, enhanced international diplomacy, free trade agreements, and the adoption of the metric system. Few of his visionary projects got off the ground. Meanwhile, the Jacksonian opposition remained in permanent campaign mode.

In 1828, Adams was portrayed by his opponents as an elitist intellectual who lacked the common touch. The …

Reading Journal: "Rumour of Heaven"

Beatrix Lehmann, Rumour of Heaven. Virago Modern Classics. First published in 1934. Reprinted in 1987.

Beatrix Lehmann, as she appeared on an episode of Doctor Who near the end of her life.

Rumour of Heaven is a peculiar book. It begins with Miranda Mirova, the most celebrated ballerina of her age, and her husband, man of letters William Peacock, enjoying their status as the toast of London society. Then Miranda and William have a child, a daughter named Clare, and things change. Miranda and William retreat from society to mouldering Prince's Acre, a run-down rural estate near the sea in the south of England. Miranda craves obscurity. "We are not well hidden," she tells her children—beautiful Clare and her emotionally, mentally and physically stunted siblings Hector and Viola. Miranda descends deeper into madness, and then dies, leaving William shattered and Clare with the task of holding the lives of her siblings together. Hector lives like an animal, climbing t…

Covers, Part II: Headless

Apparently, the headless woman has become a standard feature of book covers. According to a publishing insider, "designers often crop out the head so the reader can imagine her own face on top of a model-skinny body." Is this trend a book designer's innocuous pandering to female fantasies, or does it represent the objectification of women? Does the "model-skinny" headless woman of chick-lit book covers perpetuate unrealistic and unhealthy body image among young women? The trend is not, however, confined to chick-lit. It's spilled over onto the covers of literary fiction, as in the reprint of Alice Monro's collection of stories The View from Castle Rock (pictured above). But I'm pleased to say that I've located this woman's head. The cover of another collection of Munro's stories, Runaway, features a woman's bodyless head. Clearly we aren't meant to judge Alice Munro on the merits of a single collection of stories. We have to…

Musical Crush of the Week: Jolie Holland

Jolie Holland (recorded live in London)
"Crush in the Ghetto"
From Springtime Can Kill You (Anti 2006)


Left: Dorothy Baker, Cassandra at the Wedding. New York Review Books edition.
Right: Dorothy Baker, Cassandra at the Wedding. Virago Modern Classics edition.

Dorothy Baker's 1962 novel was dedicated to the painter David Park, one of whose paintings appropriately graces the cover of the NYRB edition. Virago Modern Classics, on the other hand, has decided to give Baker's novel a chick-lit make-over. Which cover do you find more appealing? Are women more likely to pick up a book—even a neglected classic like Cassandra at the Wedding—if it has a chick-lit cover?

A Retraction

Just when I was starting to have nightmares like the illustration at right (a medieval hernia operation), I had my appointment with a local surgeon, who poked and prodded and finally concluded that I didn't have anything remotely worth operating upon. Probably just a strain, a slight tear, and some inflammation. Big sigh of relief. Dr. R. looked like a soap opera doctor, and when, in the course of our conversation, he learned that I had trained as a classicist (before hitting the big time as a blogger), he promptly quoted the entire first line of the Aeneid. When was the last time a handsome man quoted Vergil to you, told you to drop your pants, and jabbed you repeatedly in the scrotum? Well, that was my day.

Sunday Do-Too-Much Dinner

Chicken and Artichoke Heart Manicotti
An original recipe by Rob Hardy

Shan took the past week off from her regular weekly blog feature, Tuesday Do-Little Dinners. To take up the slack, I present this one-time-only feature: Sunday Do-Too-Much Dinner.

Step 1. The chicken.

1. Marinate a pound of skinless, boneless chicken meat (breasts or thighs) in olive oil, the juice of half a lemon, oregano, two pressed garlic cloves, salt and pepper.
2. Make yourself a mojito and/or gin and tonic.
3. Grill the chicken pieces between thunderstorms while drinking above beverage.
4. Allow grilled chicken to cool. Shred or dice chicken and mix in a bowl with one jar of marinated artichoke hearts (drained and chopped), 1/4 cup grated parmesan, juice of half a lemon, 1/2 cup toasted bread crumbs, and one lightly beaten egg.

Step 2. The manicotti.

1. Add more rum, club soda, and ice to your mojito.
2. Cook manicotti according to package directions.

Step 3. The bechamel.

1. In a small saucepan, melt 2 Tb…

The Ruptured Poor

In the nineteenth century, benevolent societies were established on both sides of the Atlantic to relieve the pain and suffering of workers who, as the result of their strenuous jobs, developed hernias. In 1807, the National Truss Society was established in London "to relieve poor ruptured furnishing (under surgical direction) trusses for every kind of rupture, and bandages and necessary instruments for all cases of prolapsus; and by performing every necessary operation." The full name of the society was the National Truss Society for the Relief of the Ruptured Poor. An 1817 report from the London society estimated that "this malady exists in one person in eight through the whole male population of the kingdom," especially among the laboring classes. Weavers and boatmen, the report said, were particularly susceptible. In the previous year, the London society had relieved 2,610 members of the ruptured poor with charitable trusses. Pictured above is …

In Bruges

Warning: mild spoiler. After spending a weekend in Winchester with two bored teenage boys, watching the first half of Martin McDonagh's brilliant film In Bruges was like experiencing déjà vu. In the film, two Irish hit men, Ken and Ray (Brendon Gleeson and Colin Farrell), have been sent to the storybook medieval city of Bruges to cool their heels after a job gone tragically wrong. The more thoughtful and mature Ken wants to spend his time in Bruges quietly sightseeing, but young Ray is bored with the medieval churches and gingerbread houses along the picturesque canals of Bruges. Bored and haunted by what he's done. The film is an odd and effective mix of dark comedy, travelogue, and blood-drenched violence, touching on serious themes of damnation and redemption. In one crucial scene, Ken and Ray are in the Groeninge Museum in Bruges, mesmerized by Heironymus Bosch's surreal painting of the Last Judgment. In the end, the film becomes a kind of reenactment of Bosch&…

In Memoriam

Today would have been my father's 78th birthday. He was only 75 when he died—too young, but then longevity was never a family trait. He started to become ill about ten years ago, although we didn't recognize the symptoms at the time. It started with falling down. Gradually, he developed symptoms—difficulties with muscular control, with speech–that suggested either Parkinson's or Alzheimer's. In fact, what he actually had is often confused with those two diseases. He was eventually diagnosed with a degenerative disease called progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP).

He was born on June 6, 1930, in the small central New York village of Meridian. His father was an English teacher and the principal of the Cato-Meridian high school; his mother was also an English teacher and a school guidance counselor. She eventually became the first female high school principal in Cayuga County, New York. In Meridian, my father was a big fish in a small pond—the son of two community …


In the May 25 New York Times Magazine, former Gawker editor Emily Gould wrote about her compulsive blogging—her habit of "oversharing" and spilling intimate details about her life and her relationships with men who didn't want to be blogged about. It's an interesting account of a private life coming apart on the internet. Ms. Gould had a particularly high blogging profile in Manhattan, attracting hundreds of hits and and dozens of comments each day. This blog averages about sixty visits a day, and few comments. If I overshare, few people will know. Not that I'm tempted to overshare. Who really wants to read about my incredibly dull and ordinary private life? Occasionally details will slip into the blog, but there really isn't all that much to share. Book reviews, poems, excursions, a little music—that's what this blog is about. According to Google Analytics, the most popular post on this blog is my poem about global warming, which is the #3 hit o…

This Week's Musical Crush: Laura Marling

Laura Marling, "My Manic and I"
From the album Alas I Cannot Swim (2008)
Thanks to Maggie for the recommendation.

Reading Journal: "The Town That Started the Civil War"

Nat Brandt, The Town That Started the Civil War (Dell 1990).

This September marks the 150th anniversary of the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue. In September 1858, slave hunters from Kentucky arrived in Oberlin, Ohio, to capture fugitive slave John Price. After apprehending Price in Oberlin, the kidnappers took him to nearby Wellington to catch a southbound train. News of the kidnapping spread quickly in Oberlin, and a large group of men, including black citizens of the town and Oberlin students, headed to Wellington to rescue Price. Oberlin had a reputation for abolitionism and resistance to the Fugitive Slave Law, and its citizens boasted that no black man had ever been returned to slavery from Oberlin. After a tense stand-off in Wellington, Oberlin made good on its boast and took Price from his captors and spirited him away into hiding—and eventually to freedom in Canada.

The trial of the Rescuers that followed pitted Oberlin—and its antislavery Republican allies in Ohio—against the De…

The Dundas Loop

One of my favorite short bike rides (about six miles total) in the Northfield area is the ride out to Dundas and back, returning on the section of the Mill Towns State Trail from Dundas to Sechler Park in Northfield. In Dundas, the trail passes through a small woodland which reminds me of England. I like to think of it as the Dundas Spinney, to give it an English-sounding name. Beyond the woods, the trail runs parallel to the railroad tracks and Armstrong Road, past the Northfield compost site, and across the tracks into Sechler Park, where when the boys were younger we spent so many hours watching Northfield Youth Baseball Association games at Malt-o-Meal Field.

Below are some photographs from the ride: the Dundas Spinney; phlox near the entrance to Sechler Park; Malt-o-Meal Field.

Brown Waterscorpion

Ranatra fusca

We thought we'd seen everything,
but more has excaped our notice:
like the water scorpion,
one of evolution's vanishing acts,

drifting like a bit of broken reed
among the wrack,
four thin legs graphed to its sides,
plotting the course of its impossible stride.

A needle with two needle eyes,
its snoutful of anaesthetic spit
can piece the flesh of fish or frog,
drawing out life like a syringe.

But how unsinister it looks,
propelled by the inept oarsmen of its legs,
eyes and feelers sitting up front
like fishermen with bent poles, trolling.

Cedar Lodge
July 23, 2005

Reading Journal: "The Summer Book"

Tove Jansson, The Summer Book. Originally published in Swedish in 1971. Reprinted, in English translation, in 2008. New York Review Books Classics.

A review, sort of.

The summer of 2004 was our first summer on the island without my father-in-law. It was strange and heartbreaking to find so much evidence of his presence there: notes he had left, instructions, projects he had left unfinished the summer before. At first, I felt I didn’t want to disturb the hammer or the ax from the places where he had left them. But life went on: there was firewood to split, new dock planks to hammer down.

The boys fought with each other and built forts in the woods. Two girls, Ella and Katie, visited the island and I taught them how to make bread. I watched birds—loons, goldeneyes, sandpipers, redstarts—and kept track of the wildflowers as they bloomed. I started to keep a journal, and to read books about islands. First, Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Then David Quammen’s The Song of the Dodo: Isl…