A litany is a form of poetry that repeats and repeats, repeats and circles. I’ve been trying to make friends with it lately, both through reading and writing. Here’s a little annotation essay of mine on some of Joy Harjo’s litanies:
I’ve put this photo I took of a covered bridge here because I’m posting (after the jump) an annotation I wrote about Eleni Sikelianos’s book, The California Poem, and since I’ve never been to California, I did some thinking about what her book would be like translated into Vermont language. Vermont is my home state. And Vermont is very proud of its covered bridges.
Sometimes the character descriptions are my favorite parts of novels. They often seem more vibrant to me than other parts of the same book. Is this because the author puts in extra effort when describing a character? To me they just seem great fun to write.
Here are a couple recent ones that I enjoyed. They amused me. Both are from The Dancing Druids by Gladys Mitchell. It’s my current bathroom-reading mystery novel, obtained from the free discards rack at the library.
“Laura was as bold as a lion, but was as superstitious as a warlock. She was full of dark fancies drowned in primordial deeps. She also believed, with healthy, female instinct, that dangerous and delicate missions were less unpleasant in the daylight than in the dark. With respect to the house itself, she was torn between a frantic desire to visit it and an equally strong determination not to go anywhere near its boundaries. She was, in fact, like a child who both dreads and longs for a ghost-story just at bedtime. The thrill would be worth it, the aftermath definitely not. In other words, although Laura was both practical and hard-headed, and although she was brisk, jimp, and daring in all that she undertook, she was also the prey of an inherited belief in the legends, spectres and bogies of a Highland ancestry. It was one of the many reasons for her adherence to Mrs. Bradley, who was legend, spectre, and bogie all in one, for she felt, without realizing it, that the greater demon kept the lesser demons at bay.”
I had to look up “jimp.” It’s apparently a Scottish term that means slender or scant or neat or elegant. Perhaps also archaic usage, since the novel was published in 1948.
And then there’s this description a little later in the book of Mrs. Bradley herself:
“Mrs. Bradley cordially agreed. She herself looked very far from appetizing in a sage-green costume and a bright red blouse, an heirloom brooch of vast proportions whose only virtue was that it did at least conceal some of the blouse, stout shoes with crepe rubber soles, knitted stockings, and a rakish diamond clip on the side of her shining black hair.”
Doesn’t that seem a bit of fun to have written? If I ever write a novel myself….
Where do ideas for poems come from? For me, it’s almost always something very small. An image, a phrase, a brief moment in a conversation–I call them seeds. It’s when I feel an opening inside my head, a fascination, a connection, the potential for growth. Then I try to save that feeling, to sort of incubate it in my head until I’m ready to plant it, I guess. Sometimes nothing ever comes from these seeds, of course. But sometimes it does. Yes.
So, the other day I was visiting my parents at the house where I grew up, and I happened to notice the name of a road near their house: “Crow Hill.” This name has been common knowledge to me since I was a kid, but I never really thought about it as an image. A hill. With crows. Yes, there really is a hill there. The road goes up quite steeply. I don’t know about the history of the crows, though. Crows are fairly common birds, aren’t they? Maybe they used to congregate there. Maybe someone with the last name Crow used to live there. Who knows. My grandfather used to feed dog food to the crows near his house.
Whatever this history, though, I have this image jiggling in my head now. A jumping-bean seed? There’s a swirling of the words, my childhood, my grandfather, black birds, a road, harsh cries, landscape.
So perhaps a poem will come. Perhaps it’s even now putting forth roots, underground where I can’t see it.
I got this from S’s blog on myspace. I don’t really use myspace anymore, so I’ve exported it here because I was interested enough to want to fill it out.
“This short survey is to encourage readers, writers, and poets to share a few simple things about ourselves. There are only twelve questions, and none of them have to do with eye color, sexual preferences, or high school crushes. Please read, answer, and repost. We might learn something from each other.”
1. Three authors that have inspired or influenced my writing are:
It’s so hard to pick just three! Um…Lorine Niedecker, Elizabeth Bishop, A.S. Byatt
2. The hardest part of the writing process for me is:
Making the transition from an amazing idea in my head to the limits of my words on paper.
3. One book I have always intended to read, but I haven’t yet is:
J was talking about some classics recently and I jotted them down to add to my reading list. They’re books I’ve heard of repeatedly, so I guess that could be defined as “always intended to read.” I trust J’s judgement, anyway. The books he listed were: Madame Bovary, Silas Marner, and Moll Flanders.
4. (True or False) I sometimes read non-fiction for pleasure.
True. I read a great book about dirt recently. And I need to get that book about female pirates back from A sometime. I don’t read nonfiction as often as I read fiction and poetry, but I will pick it up if the subject seems interesting and the book seems well-written.
5. (True or False) I came from a family that read a lot.
Very true. My mom read aloud to us at bedtime, and I’ve loved reading aloud ever since. And reading in general.
6. My favorite movie adaptation of a book is:
It would be totally cliche of me to say the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice, but that one is rather good. I also really loved Brokeback Mountain. And the movie version of Orlando.
7. The most boring book I ever read all the way through is:
A Lover’s Discourse by Roland Barthes. I’ve had two teachers urge me to read that book, and then when I finally did it just bored and irritated me. I mean, the alphabetical arrangement is sort of interesting, but not interesting enough to sustain the entire book. And the content just sounded like a bunch of whining to me.
8. Poetry is:
9. My favorite place to read is:
curled up somewhere nest-like with lots of blankets on top of me. Or on the toilet.
10. The funniest thing I have read recently is:
I’m reading a silly mystery book about monks right now, and it’s pretty entertaining, funny. I especially liked the scene with the drunken Santa Claus.
11. The most mind challenging thing I have read recently is:
Lyn Hejinian’s My Life.
12. When I stop by my local library the librarians must think:
Nothing drastic, probably. I don’t think I stand out from the other library patrons. I had a happy moment with one librarian when she expressed pleasure that my overdue fines were from books and not from movies. That was fun.
And that’s the end of the quiz!
Here’s another annotation. This one’s on Lyn Hejinian’s book My Life. As you will gather if you read on, I was kinda baffled by this book, and it took me a long time to get through it even though it’s rather small as a physical object. In the end I decided that I didn’t feel confident enough to write something essay-ish and academic about it, but I thought I could manage to approach it creatively, so I tried to imitate the style without exactly understanding what I was doing. It seemed to be an appropriate way to express the jumble of my thoughts, though, and maybe I’ve developed a slightly higher level of understanding in the process.
Click to read the annotation:
An annotation on Italo Calvino, a nifty Italian writer, and how he made me think about why I write:
One small scene in all its glory Continue reading