Sunday, April 25, 2010

Poetry Friday on a Sunday: "Letter to a Young Activist"

...because it seems that someone, somehow, keeps stealing all the hours out of my Fridays (and Saturdays, too, for that matter)!

Last week, while in Milwaukee to meet with the oh-so-warm-and-welcoming writers of SCBWI-Wisconsin, I got to spend a few hours roaming the campus of my alma mater, Marquette University. I'm a bit sappy and reflective by nature, so it should probably have been no surprise to me how much a visit like that would get under my skin, and sure enough, it did, leaving me profoundly grateful for my four years there. In a sense, Marquette marks for me the place and time where I first truly woke up to the world, just as I'm sure so many other MU alumni would say. It's where I first encountered all the rich possibility that comes from being human, and also the responsibility that comes from an awareness of one's humanity. It's where I learned that to be fully alive, one must be both firmly rooted in what one holds true and yet also open and engaged with the world, allowing and expecting growth to happen in unexpected ways and and shapes and places.

A decade after my graduation, I'm proud of my University--proud of its Jesuit mission, and that it continues to develop students who see the importance of living as "men and women for others." I'm proud of its focus on social justice and its activist spirit, and of the faith at its core, and that walking around campus last week made it clear to me that it's full of the same passionate vibrance and energy and awareness of and commitment to the world around it that I remember being constantly inspired by. I'm proud of the fact that it continues to attract smart, determined young people from all over the world who are determined to "Be the Difference." I'm proud of the ways it's committed to maintaining on-going links to, and conversation with, its family of alumni. And I'm proud that I can see almost an infinite number of connections between the person I am today and the education--intellectual, personal, spiritual--that I received at Marquette.

But! Poetry Friday, right? (I promise I'm getting there!) One of the first things I received as a freshman at Marquette--it was in my dorm room when I arrived, as in every other freshman's--was a gift, on behalf of our University Ministry office: a small book filled with reflections, prayers, quotes, and writings. One of them struck me deeply the very first time I read it, and in fact, it's been a guiding philosophy of my life ever since. It's not quite a poem, but to me, at least, it stirs the soul and provokes a certain sense of truth in the same way that a good poem does. And it's meant something entirely different yet equally important in each stage of my life thus far: as student, as youth minister, as children's book marketer, and now, as children's book editor. And if you read it with a writer's eyes, I expect it has something to say to writers, too.

Letter to a Young Activist
by Thomas Merton

Do not depend on the hope of results. When you are doing the sort of work you have taken on may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. And there, too, a great deal has to be gone through, as gradually you struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. The range tends to narrow down, but it gets much more real. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything....

(If so inclined, you can read the full letter here.)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

"Every waking hour I'm / reading my submissions"

From the Department of Randomly Weird Things That Sometimes Pop Into My Head For No Good Reason: a remix.

Agents, writers, this earworm's dedicated to you (with love, I promise)!

"That's me in the corner;

That's me on the subway, I'm

Here with my e-reader--

Trying to Keep. Up. With you.

And I don't know if I can do it.

Oh no, I've read too much;

I haven't read enough...."

(If you miss me, I promise I'm not dead. Just busy reading-reading-reading. And editing. And y'know, reading some more.)

*Alternate, amusingly-publishing-appropriate (& entirely unadulturated) lyrics from the original that were runners-up possibilities for the title of this post: "That was just a dream / Just a dream, just a dream," "What if all these fantasies / Come flailing around," and "Consider this."

P.S. Just for kicks, how about a live version?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

And away we go!

I'm off to one of my many adopted hometowns tomorrow, this time to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which is home to my wonderful alma mater Marquette University! And the glory that is Kopp's Frozen Custard! And wonderfully friendly people who call their water fountains "bubblers" and their ATMs "Tyme Machines." Best of all, I'm off to meet the good folks of SCBWI-Wisconsin, who have graciously invited me to speak at their Spring Luncheon. I'll be talking about why editors fall in love--and keeping my fingers crossed, too, that one of the writers in attendance just might have a story in the works that will make THIS particular editor fall in love. Cross your fingers for me!

P.S. Please don't break the internet or Twitter or let Facebook change their design again while I'm gone this time, okay, kids?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Yes. This.

"But what I really crave in a good a touch of irregularity, a chaos that is partly disorder and partly the inner order of the proprietor's mind....The reason we still go to good bookshops is also the reason we have a few friends over for dinner instead of inviting everyone. We like the selectness of the company, the likelihood of sharing common interests, the chance to make discoveries guided by minds and sensibilities we already trust."--Verlyn Klinkenborg, "Book Lover's London," Travel + Leisure Magazine.

Do you know a great bookstore that fits the description above? Tell us about it in the comments!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Poetry Friday: "April is the cruellest month..."

True confession time: In high school, I had a temporary obsession with T.S. Eliot, due mostly to the fact that my friend Daniel, who was the most Serious Writer Guy I knew, said that Eliot was the best poet, period. I had unfailing faith in Daniel's literary wisdom (after all, he was a senior, and I was a lowly underclassman), but what I didn't confess to him was that Eliot's poems didn't actually make sense to me at all. Instead, I spent a few months prominently toting a volume of Eliot's The Waste Land and Other Collected Poems around in public and jotting things in its margins in hopes that people would recognize that I was, clearly, a Serious Writer Girl, too.

Ah, high school.

The discovery, a few years later, that entire university courses were devoted to studying "The Waste Land" made me feel retroactively better about all the parts of it that I just "didn't get" at age fifteen. Those early repeated attempts to read and understand "The Waste Land" left the first handful of lines etched in my brain, though, with an odd sort of fondness attached to them. Perhaps that's why I get such a delight out of this video, which accompanies a recording of Eliot himself reading the opening section. Take a moment and listen, even if you have no erstwhile literary crush on Eliot in your own past--there's something eternally magnificent about hearing an author read his/her own words aloud.

The Waste Land

by T. S. Eliot

I. The Burial of the Dead

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee
With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,
And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,
And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.
Bin gar keine Russin, stamm’ aus Litauen, echt deutsch.
And when we were children, staying at the arch-duke’s,
My cousin’s, he took me out on a sled,
And I was frightened. He said, Marie,
Marie, hold on tight. And down we went.
In the mountains, there you feel free.
I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
Frisch weht der Wind
Der Heimat zu
Mein Irisch Kind,
Wo weilest du?
“You gave me hyacinths first a year ago;
“They called me the hyacinth girl.”
—Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth garden,
Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not
Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither
Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,
Looking into the heart of light, the silence.
Oed’ und leer das Meer.

Read more of "The Wasteland" here. And happy April--don't forget that it's Poetry Month!