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Ever wonder how Hebrew, a language long used only for Jewish religious services, became the national language of Israel? And how it developed words for things like ice cream?

The Language of Angels: A Story About the Reinvention of Hebrew by Richard Michelson, with illustrations and calligraphy by Karla Gudeon, explains it all: How a scholarly man named Eliezer Ben-Yehuda decided that he and his wife and child, a boy named Ben-Zion, would only speak Hebrew, which he claimed was "the language of the angels." They were viewed as unusual by some, trouble-makers by others for a while, but eventually, Eliezer convinced many to allow their children to learn Hebrew, in part by rewarding them with ice cream.

With Hebrew being several millennia old, but used only for religious purposes, it hadn't kept up with the times. Over those years, many new developments had occurred: new foods (such as ice cream), new technology (like electricity and trains), and more had come about. Eliezer used his knowledge of other languages, including Arabic, Greek, and Latin, as well as Hebrew, in order to develop a dictionary of words.

The artwork is fabulous, the inclusion of Hebrew words and their translations is excellent, and Michelson's text is really wonderful. The story is firmly rooted in Ben-Zion's childhood, even as it's largely his father's story. It is totally relatable for children as a result of Ben-Zion being the filter through which the story is told.

In the afterword of the book, we learn more about Ben-Zion's life and studies. He later travelled to France to study at a university, where he changed his name to Itamar Ben-Avi. He would go on to champion the language called Esperanto, which was an invented language that was supposed to become a universal tongue.

This book is highly recommended for all libraries, including both public libraries and Hebrew school libraries.

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This month, my poetry sisters and I wrote original villanelles. The most famous villanelle is, of course, "Do Not Go Gentle, Into That Good Night" by Dylan Thomas, though I quite like Elizabeth Bishop's "One Art" ("The art of losing is not hard to master;/so many things seem filled with the intent/to be lost that their loss is no disaster.") and "Some Rules" by Wendy Cope ("Stop, if the car is going 'clunk'/Don't answer e-mails when you're drunk.")

Here's an old post of mine that explains the history and requirements of the form.

The additional requirement for our assignment was that it was to have something to do with brevity, so without further ado, here's my villanelle:

by Kelly Ramsdell Fineman

I'm tired, so I'm going to keep this brief:
No one can plug all holes, put out all fires.
These days demand self-care to beat back grief.

Trombones play a disturbing leitmotif,
the falcon whirls in ever-widening gyres.
I'm tired, so I am going to keep this brief.

We protest, as if that will bring relief.
We spend our time on phone calls, posters, flyers. . .
These days demand self-care to beat back grief.

We pray "dear God, forgive our disbelief."
We pray that Trump's impeached, or he retires.
I'm tired, so I am going to keep this brief.

We crash like sailboats blown onto a reef.
Safe harbors are what everyone desires
these days. Demand self-care to beat back grief.

We gather wood and stack it, sheaf by sheaf,
while hoping we're not building our own pyres.
I'm tired, so I have got to keep this brief.
These days demand self-care to beat back grief.

Here are the rest of the posts:

Laura Purdie Salas
Liz Garton Scanlon
Tanita Davis
Sara Lewis Holmes
Tricia Stohr-Hunt

Find the rest of the Poetry Friday posts by clicking the box below:

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Starting over

And yeah, I was totally singing this when I typed the "title" of this post just now. You can do worse than sing John Lennon.

Gonna be back tomorrow with a book review. And later this weekend with a post about self-care, which is something I'm finding terribly important these days.

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I was watching The Chew on TV the other day, as I am occasionally wont to do, and Michael Symon was making some sort of vegetarian chili (that sounds good, tbh, and I have the ingredients in my kitchen just now to make it), part of which involves lentils.

And he reminded everyone to check their lentils for stones before using them, referencing a poem "A lentil, a lentil, a lentil, a stone." Nobody knew what he was talking about, but when they came back from commercial Clinton Kelly said he'd googled it and found it was an Armenian poem.

And so I googled it, too, and found several versions. A couple truncated versions called "Cleaning Lentils", and this longer one, which is so much better in being more poignant (to my way of thinking). It's by an Armenian poet named Zareh Yaldizciyan, who used the pen name Zahrad. Turns out that Chef Michael Symon has hidden depths. (I love that.)

A Woman Cleaning Lentils
by Zahrad

A lentil, a lentil, a lentil, a stone.
A lentil, a lentil, a lentil, a stone.
A green one, a black one, a green one, a black. A stone.
A lentil, a lentil, a stone, a lentil, a lentil, a word.
Suddenly a word. A lentil.
A lentil, a word, a word next to another word. A sentence.
A word, a word, a word, a nonsense speech.
Then an old song.
Then an old dream.
A life, another life, a hard life. A lentil. A life.
An easy life. A hard life, Why easy? Why hard?
Lives next to each other. A life. A word. A lentil.
A green one, a black one, a green one, a black one, pain.
A green song, a green lentil, a black one, a stone.
A lentil, a stone, a stone, a lentil.

I found this particular version at Nick Fraser's "Poems I Like", who found it in the cookbook, Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian.

You can reach today's Poetry Friday roundup by clicking the box below.

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The somonka - a Poetry Friday post

Today's Poetry Friday post is a somonka - a form of poetry that is often a correspondence form. It's basically a love poem written in two voices, using two tankas. (Here is a post on tanka construction, one on how the parts of a tanka relate to one another, one on tanka feminism, and final tanka thoughts.

Often, a somonka will be written by two poets in correspondence. My poetry sisters and I opted to write both parts of our poems ourselves. Here is mine for this week. I have to say, having done it, that I really want to write more of these. Like, a LOT more of them. So I guess I need to write Liz Garton Scanlon a big thank-you note, since this form was her choice.

You unfolded
as slow as a flower bud,
sharing your secrets
reluctantly at the start,
now confident of my love.

I learned not to trust
too easily—in the past
I was badly burnt.
You coaxed me with open hands,
with open heart, and with love.

And here are links to the works of my lovely poetry sisters:


You can reach today's Poetry Friday roundup at TeacherDance by clicking the box below.

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The word for January

Of course, "January" is one word for January. It's name, based on Janus, I suppose, the two-faced god of doorways and thresholds and beginnings. (Except that some folks think the month is named after Juno, goddess of marriage and childbirth - and how did I not know that when the movie about a pregnant teen named Juno came out, but I digress.)

I know lots of folks who choose theme words or phrases for the year. I have been one of them in the past, at least on occasion. But this year, I am not. I have general notions of what I'd like to happen this year (including "resistance", in an affirmative sense), BUT I have been coasting along for so long without assessment or reflection or even much purpose or direction that I have decided to pick a them for the month of January. And that theme word is VISION.

Oh sure, it could be "planning" or "assessment" or possibly even "dreaming", but I'm going with VISION. I'm going to keep working on things that are underway, and will likely start new projects, but the primary thing I want to do this month is a lot of journaling and dreamwork. Where am I now, and where do I want to go? What do I want to do with my days and weeks? What writing and art do I want to undertake? What do I want to do with the writing and art that I've completed? What should my public identity look like? Heck - what NAME do I want to use? I built this platform ages ago using "Fineman" as my surname, but I haven't been Fineman for more than five years - should I keep it? Change it?

All of which is to say that as I undertake this particular journey this month, complete with things like vision boards and vision journaling and more, I will likely share a bit of what I'm up to, in case it's (a) of interest or (b) of use to anyone else.

Thanks for letting me share, and for reading along. (Comments welcome, as always.)

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Happy 2017

I mean, I hope it will be happy.

2016 was a mixed bag. On the one hand, I had a poem in the anthology One Minute Till Bedtime, edited by Kenn Nesbitt, and had a couple of poems published online by Chantarelle's Notebook. On the other, I really didn't sell anything new in 2016.

Personally, it was also a mixed bag. My older daughter graduated from college; the younger is in her senior year and has been accepted into the Peace Corps (where she will start after graduation). My sweetheart and I celebrated five years together in the summer, then got married last month. We enjoyed trips to France, Cape May, and the Hudson River Valley together, along with a trip to Charleston for S's graduation.

Health-wise, it's been a quasi-nightmare. My RA meds stopped working, and I spent a few months on prednisone. Started and stopped meds in an effort to find one that works - now I'm doing monthly IV infusions, but have had a nasty cold following the last two (which could be a coincidence, or could be a trend - and if it's a trend, I'll need another new med).

All that is the personal view, of course. I remain heartsick about the outcome of the presidential election last year, and concerned about what is to come. I keep trying to find time for art and writing and more, and will keep on keeping on. I am juggling it with time spent calling and writing to my state and federal representatives, which looks to become a nearly daily task.

I wish you light and love and happiness in the coming year, and hope you don't have to look (or fight) too hard to find it.

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Stone chicken - a Poetry Friday post

This month, my poetry sisters and I are doing ekphrastic poems again (poems based on a piece of art). Andi sent us a bunch of truly lovely photos she took at the Glencairn cloister, and we each picked an image to work with.

I've been doing lots of work on my picture biography of Adelaide Crapsey, who invented the cinquain, so I decided to write one about my favorite image - a column with a carving of a chicken at the top of it.

copyright 2016 by Andi Sibley

Here's my poem:

somehow, perhaps
because rendered in stone,
puff-chested, far-seeing

And here are links to the works of my lovely poetry princesses:


You can reach today's Poetry Friday roundup by clicking the box below.

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Fell off the blog for a month.

You can likely guess why, if you know me, my world view, and have any notion at all about my politics.

I am working to get back here, and back on my feet in general.

See you soon. Probably.

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This month my poetry sisters and I undertook the writing of terza rimas, a poem written using three-line nested stanzas. It can go on for an age, as in the case of The Divine Comedy by Dante Alligheri, or it can be as short as a sonnet, as in "Acquainted With the Night" by Robert Frost. It can even be combined into sonnet-like stanzas, as with Keats's "Ode to the West Wind". Basically, they go ABA BCB CDC DED etc. And usually end off with either a single line that goes with the middle of the prior stanza (in this example, E) or with a rhymed couplet of the same (i.e., EE). Tricia Stohr-Hunt wrote one that ends with a single line; Sara Lewis Holmes wrote one that goes as far as G, if you map out her rhyme scheme. I went with the shorter sonnet version.

They can be kept in separate three- and one- or two-line stanzas, or jammed all together, as Laura Salas opted to do. They are typically written in English using iambic pentameter, but Tanita Davis did a magical job using fourteeners. We chose to write on a theme involving gratitude (or similar) as a tonic for this troubled electoral season.

Here is mine:

Each night before I settle into sleep,
I make a list of what I’m thankful for,
of memories that I would like to keep.

Curled tight against the man whom I adore,
reviewing what occurred during my day,
I listen as my sweetheart starts to snore

and count my blessings. First, there is the way
my lover loves me, metaphoric warts
and all. Then there’s my kids, who live away

from home, but who’ve developed as the sort
of people anyone would like to know.
Then there’s the cat—my sweet familiar. Short

as this list is, it fills me with its glow.
And always, there is room for it to grow.

Here are the links to my lovely poetry sisters' work:

Laura: "When Hope is Not Easy (Wait, is this an election poem?)"
Liz: "Gratitude in Rhyme" and "Half Empty or Half Full?"
Sara: "A Terza Rima for the Poetry Seven"
Tanita: "paean"
Tricia: "Untitled Terza Rima"

You can reach today's Poetry Friday roundup by clicking the box below (which takes you to Laura's post - she's pulling double duty today).

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