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AWADmail Issue 22

December 24, 2000

A Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Other Interesting Tidbits about Words and Languages

From: Anu Garg (garg AT wordsmith.org)
Subject: poetry

The theme of words from poetry and the invitation to share your favorite poets and poems brought an overwhelming response. Much like the snow that's falling outside as I look out the window while typing these words. From hundreds of messages and poems selecting only a few is akin to deciding which ones of the snowflakes are more fascinating. Each has its own beauty and charm -- as no two snowflakes are alike. Yet, I've attempted to select a few here and in the interest of presenting more, increased the length of this issue. Thank you, for sharing these lovely, heart-rending, touching poems!

Also, we have invited Joseph Bruchac, a poet of deep sensitivity, for an online chat on Jan 10, 2001. See wordsmith.org/chat for more details. See below for one of his poems.

From: Sonja Hakala (sonjaATtogether.net)
Subject: a poem

I love the idea that you're taking words from poetry this week. I have a favorite that may not be familiar to many people but it's been close to my heart ever since I read it the first time.

The poet's name is Joseph Bruchac. He's of Native American descent, lives in upstate New York and has a few novels on the market as well as poetry. This poem comes from one of his earliest books, Near the Mountains (White Pine Press).

    Birdfoot's Grampa
    by Joseph Bruchac

    The old man
    must have stopped our car
    two dozen times to climb out
    and gather into his hands
    the small toads blinded
    by our lights and leaping,
    live drops of rain.

    The rain was falling,
    a mist about his white hair
    and I kept saying
    you can't save them all
    accept it, get back in

    we've got places to go.

    But, leathery hands full
    of wet brown life
    knee deep in the summer
    roadside grasses,
    he just smiled and said
    they have places to go too.

From: Christian Bittman (wowrealtorATaol.com)
Subject: poem

    Sir, I admit your general rule
    That every poet is a fool;
    But you yourself may serve to show it,
    That every fool is not a poet.
    -Alexander Pope,
I always loved this one... it was the beginning of my passion for poetry.

From: Bob and Bev Fahey (parkviewATinterl.net)
Subject: poetry

We just celebrated our 52nd. Married in 1948 to my high school friend. I just wished I could say it as well as "How do I love thee, let me count the ways."

From: Stephan Fihn (sfihnATu.washington.edu)
Subject: Poetry

I like this current series on words from poetry. Though American, I am currently living in Leiden, the Netherlands. Leiden is a wonderful, small city with many delightful features including a long artistic tradition. It is the birth and/or workplace of Rembrandt, Steen, van Leyden and van Doesburg. One of my favorite aspects of Leiden is a project titled "Dicht op de Muur" (Poetry on the Wall). A group of talented artists has painted poems from all languages on walls of building throughout the city center. So far nearly 50 have been painted on various corners. It is a marvel to be out shopping or simply roaming and to glance up to see a lovely rendering of a verse by Shakespeare, Rilke, Neruda, cummings, Hughes or Yeats overhead. It has also been a chance for me to start to learn a little about Dutch and Belgian poets such as T'Hooft, Lodezein, and Marsman. A block or so from our house here is a short piece by one of my favorite poets, William Carlos Williams. I cannot help but think that Williams would have been absolutely delighted to see this particular poem in big letters on a city wall. The title is also a wonderful English word.


    Love is like water or the air,
    my townspeople.
    It cleanses and dissipates evil gases.
    It is like poetry too
    and for the same reasons.

    Love is so precious,
    my townspeople
    that if I were you I would
    have it under lock and key -
    like the air or the Atlantic or
    like poetry.

From: Jeni Mahoney (jenidogATaol.com)
Subject: favorite poem

Here is the poem that has stuck with me since childhood. I first heard it around a campfire - from someone who had memorized it. I was fascinated that someone had a poem in their head like that ready to perform, and it was one of the best ghost stories I'd heard at the time. So I started to memorize - and I still have most of it in my head to this day. The poet is Robert Service.

Cremation of Sam McGee: www.wordfocus.com/wordactcremation.html

From: Mary-Agnes P Wine (mawineATjuno.com)
Subject: Poetry

I too, love poetry. When I was a little girl I found on my grandma's table in the proper Victorian parlor, James Weldon Johnson's God's Trombones, Seven Negro Sermons in Verse. I sat there transfixed and memorized several phrases right then. I think The Creation may be my favorite, ending with the lines

    This Great God,
    Like a mammy bending over her baby,
    Kneeled down in the dust
    Toiling over a lump of clay
    Till he shaped it in his own image;

    Then into it he blew the breath of life,
    And man became a living soul.
    Amen. Amen.

All seven of these "sermons" are powerful. I have the book in my hand now and again am carried away with their universality, insight and beauty.

Thank you for your daily word that I was shown to me by a daughter. Enjoy it very much as well as the Smithsonian article.

From: Anabel Royer (anabeleeAThotmail.com)
Subject: re: favorite poets

Please investigate Issa, a Japanese haiku poet who surpasses all others. His heart and observation in the midst of suffering in one of fundamental compassion.

From: Ewa Nartowska (ewanartoATkrk.pl)
Subject: Favourite poems

My favorite Polish poem (as I am a Pole) is "Psalm" written by Wislawa Szymborska and translated into English by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh:

    Oh, the leaky boundaries of man-made states!
    How many clouds float past them with impunity;
    how much desert sand shifts from one land to another;
    how many mountain pebbles tumble onto foreign soil
    in provocative hops!

    Need I mention every single bird that flies in the face of frontiers
    or alights on the roadblock at the border?
    A humble robin - still, its tail resides abroad
    while its beak stays home. If that weren't enough, it won't stop bobbing!

    Among innumerable insects, I'll single out only the ant
    between the border guard's left and right boots
    blithely ignoring the questions "Where from?" and "Where to?"

    Oh, to register in detail, at a glance, the chaos
    prevailing on every continent!
    Isn't that a privet on the far bank
    smuggling its hundred-thousandth leaf across the river?
    And who but the octopus, with impudent long arms,
    would disrupt the sacred bounds of territorial waters?

    And how can we talk of order over-all?
    when the very placement of the stars
    leaves us doubting just what shines whom?

    Not to speak of the fog's reprehensible drifting!
    And dust blowing all over the steppes
    as if they hadn't been partitioned!
    And the voices coasting on obliging airwaves,
    that conspiratorial squeaking, those indecipherable mutters!

    Only what is human can truly be foreign.
    The rest is mixed vegetation, subversive moles, and wind.

From: Margaret Howard (rosebubblesAThotmail.com)
Subject: Poems from childhood

Such a haunting topic! In grade two a favourite teacher asked me to help her clean a closet. It contained books which were to be thrown out. In my child's mind this was a crime. I asked her for one of the books - a poetry book. She said I could not have one as the principal would regard this as favouritism. One poem stood out, it contained the line "It paints the depth of love that lies within a dog's adoring eyes." As a seven-year-old it made me think of my beagle. Over the years I have prowled old book stalls and flea markets looking for this blue poetry book. I am now 56, and still searching for this poem!

From: Joan Cameron (joan.cameronATxwave.com)
Subject: Favourite Poems

This Robert Frost poem, first encountered in elementary school, has been a favourite over the years & always evokes an image of this winter solstice season in the rural southern Ontario, Canada of my childhood. www.yoga.com

From: Michele Partain (michele_partainATp2seng.com)
Subject: RE: Poets

I love poetry, but have never been a person who could recite long passages to fit every occasion (although I certainly admire those who can do so). My all-time favorite has been Robert Frost. Did you ever hear any Frostiana, some of his poetry set to music? I only hear the word poetry, and snatches of songs flit through my brain. To this day, "The Road Not Taken" is probably the only poem I could recite from beginning to end and be certain I didn't miss a word - simply because I'm still singing it inside my head.

I wish someone with talent would set more of the masters' works to music. Can you imagine humming bits of Ovid, or Milton, or the bard himself?

From: Randy (randyATterra.net.lb)
Subject: Favorite Poem

I think one of the best poems I have ever read is the Psalm of Life by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Although I may seem trite quoting one of the most frequently cited verses...

    The lives of great men all remind us
    We can make our lives sublime
    And departing leave behind us
    Footprints on the sands of time.

From: Dorothy Rypka (ddrypkaATworldnet.att.net)
Subject: Favorite poem

Haiku, particularly Basho's. I seen lots of translations since the first time I read it, but I've never forgotten

    Frog jump in
    Water sound
In the original Japanese, it maintained the prescribed 17 syllables, but the English translation is what I remember, of course. Perfect.

From: Elizabeth Gray (grayelATohsu.edu)
Subject: Favorite poem

You have already printed one of my favorite poems, Jabberwocky by Lewis Carrol. I have many favorites, but one that always moves me is a little poem by David McCord, ostensibly written for children, but surely enjoyed by folks of any age. It is called "Melvin Martin Riley Smith."

    Melvin Martin Riley Smith
    Made do without what we do with
    For instance, did he have a kite?
    He didn't, but he had the right
    Amount of string to make one fly
    And lots and lots and lots of sky
What a message of hope that is! I am unable to recite it aloud because every time it brings tears to my eyes.

From: LTJG Kevin Volpe (volpekjATtruman.navy.mil)
Subject: one of my favorite poems

I'm a naval officer deployed on the USS Truman. I've been enjoying AWAD for a couple months now. I really dig this week's theme. One of my favorites is Seamus Heaney's "Casting and Gathering".

From: Louis Berney (lbagsATaol.com)
Subject: Wordsworth, Southey, etc.

I liked your selection for this week on poetry. I, too, enjoy poetry and feel very touched by certain passages. I also share your love of Wordsworth. I even took a special trip once while in England to visit Tintern Abbey, just because of the poetry he wrote about this magnificent edifice.

Since you asked your readers to submit their own favorites, one of the poems I like best is "The Battle of Blenheim," an anti-war clarion by another English romantic poet, Robert Southey, who was a close friend of Wordsworth and Coleridge, though he is not as widely known today. "The Battle of Blenheim" tells of a grandfather whose two grandchildren have discovered an object that turns out to be a skull - a remnant from the battle of Blenheim. The grandfather (Kaspar) tells them (Peterkin and Wilhelmine) the battle was "a great victory" for the British, and the children ask him to relate tales about the battle. He goes through the various horrors of the war while continually insisting how great the victory was.

    "'Why 'twas a very wicked thing!'
    Said little Wilhelmine.
    'Nay, nay, my little girl,' quoth he,
    'It was a famous victory.
    'And everybody praised the Duke
    Who this great fight did win.'
    'But what good came of it at last?'
    Quoth little Peterkin.
    'Why that I cannot tell,' said he,
    'But 'twas a famous victory.'
Anyhow, I always loved this poem from when I first read it as a teenager. I've quoted just the last few lines, but I'm sure you get the sense of it.

From: Richard C. Kelleher (q3078ATPrinceton.edu)
Subject: Poetry

As a teenager, the words of Joachim Miller jumped off the page at me, and I've never been able to forget them:

    In men whom men condemn as ill
    I find so much of goodness still,
    In men whom men pronounce divine
    I find so much of sin and blot,
    I do not dare to draw the line
    Between the two, where God has not.
Forty years later, I still find these words to be so true to me.

From: Joe Connolly (jjzhouATnetpci.com)
Subject: favorite poets

I learned this poem from a Pete Seeger record in the 60's. It is by Nazim Hikmet, a Turkish poet.

    I come and stand at every door
    But none can hear my silent tread
    I knock and yet remain unseen
    For I am dead for I am dead

    I'm only seven though I died
    In Hiroshima long ago
    I'm seven now as I was then
    When children die they do not grow

    My hair was scorched by swirling flame
    My eyes grew dim my eyes grew blind
    Death came and turned my bones to dust
    And that was scattered by the wind

    I need no fruit I need no rice
    I need no sweets nor even bread
    I ask for nothing for myself
    For I am dead for I am dead

Pretty powerful stuff that brings a tear to my eye every time I sing it. Interestingly, I wound up teaching on the island of Tinian (where the Enola Gay that dropped the bomb on Hiroshima took off from) for seven years. I now live on the next island north, Saipan.

From: Rekha Rao (rekha.raoATus.cgeyc.com)
Subject: A.Word.A.Day--cataract

Having recently returned from a trip to Egypt, I learned that the term 'cataract' has another meaning when cruising down the Nile River. Here, cataracts are points at which the stones are so large that they occlude the river's path, making it impossible to navigate. I believe there are seven such cataracts along the Nile. The first is near the Aswan Dam.

From: Maria Victoria Go (maria_victoria.goATroche.com)
Subject: chad

Inspired by one of the AWAD themes - German words that have become English mainstays, I propose we call the Florida election debacle - chadenfreude!

From: Mike Riley (mistermrATaol.com)
Subject: Fwd: A.Word.A.Day--anserine

Does that mean that when i see a flock of geese flying south for the winter they're just anserine the call of nature? Sorry, I'm feeling a little anserous.

From: Daniel Bloch (dblochATcolumbus.rr.com)
Subject: anserine

You might find it interesting that we doctor-folk refer to the anserine bursa, also called the pes anserinus bursa. Some anatomist fancifully decided that this place where several muscles attach looks a bit like a goose?s foot. It's on the medial side of the knee, that is the inside, just below the joint itself. It is a common source of annoying knee pain. And I've never yet had a patient find the name as interesting as I do. Sigh.

From: Robert Friedhoffer (rfriedhofferATgc.cuny.edu)
Subject: quote

When my sibling asked me a sweeping question about planetary orbits, I replied, "Am I my brother's Kepler?"

From: Verne Marshall (vaurienATepix.net)
Subject: Seeing words mentally

Is there a word for the above ability? The ability to "see" any word instantly in the mind, and prove it by stating within one-tenth of a second the number of letters in the word? I have been able to do that all my life, to the astonishment of nearly everyone who encounters the phenomenon. I am unable to explain it myself; and find that I count random words every day, several times a day, with no thought as to how weird it is. Any thoughts?

I was reading the dictionary. I thought it was a poem about everything. -Steven Wright, comedian (1955- )

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