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Ten Years Already?

Why, I remember when First Second started publishing graphic novels. And now here they are, 10 years old. And really super great at what they do, and really kind about sending along review copies for me to use here and at Guys Lit Wire. You can check out all the many titles they've released in the cool graphic below. The one I mentioned here most recently is THE NAMELESS CITY, which isn't even out yet, though I'm really psyched for it. (You might have to embiggen it to read/see all the titles clearly.)


0110Years_AllTitles_SM-2.jpg




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If it's the first Friday of the month, it must be time to post a poem from my ongoing project with my poetry sisters. Have I mentioned how very glad I am to have them all in my life, and how much I enjoy these monthly challenges? Because I do, even when the challenges are difficult. Maybe especially then.

This month, we are working with ekphrastic poems. I once wrote a poem describing exactly what ekphrasis is and how ekphrastic poems tend to fall into two categories. You can read that post here. I went in and updated to get rid of what had become dead links and find new ones to the poems I referenced.

In the case of this month's poem, we chose from among photos that Liz Garton Scanlon took of sculptures by Pablo Picasso. I confess that I find Picasso challenging on a good day, and his sculptures maybe moreso than some of his paintings. Reluctantly, I looked at the photos and tried to pick one. At first, I selected one that was a group of six sculptures, thinking I could probably find something in there to write about. But when it came time to write the poem, I was drawn to a different image completely. This one, to be exact, which is called "Woman Carrying a Child". The sculpture dates from 1953; the photograph was taken by Liz Garton Scanlon, who holds the copyright on the photo.



And suddenly, I found I had a lot to say about it. The poem is structured with six stanzas, each of which is related in some way to a Picasso epigram (in italics). The title comes from a quote often attributed to Newton, although its history is far older, and apparently dates back to Bernard of Chartres. (I confess that the idea of standing on the shoulders of giants is, for me, inextricably linked to the Cathedral at Chartres, where the windows include images of New Testament authors standing on the shoulders of Old Testament prophets, so I was delighted to find that the actual notion came from there!)

Here you go:

On the Shoulders of Giants
by Kelly Ramsdell Fineman

I

I do not seek. I find.

I found some old boards behind
the shed, and remembering

popsicle sticks from years gone by,
decided to see what could be made—

a childish, childlike goal, so I
considered childhood dreams.

An acrobat tiptoeing on a wire,
another held aloft,

a balancing act giving more
pleasure to the bearer.


II

Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.

He was 72 when he made it, not knowing
he would live another twenty years,

spanning centuries, continents,
continuously evolving, evoking

reactions from delight to dismay,
so many works destroyed

outside the Jeu de Paume by
Nazi bonfire. He’d stayed in Paris,

Nazis be damned, shrugged off
the Gestapo who hounded him.


III

Everything you can imagine is real.

She carried Paloma on her back,
at play in their garden as he worked.

Later, she would reveal his abuse,
his absences, his affairs, but this day

it was a happy day. Paloma wore
a plain blue dress, squealed

with laughter as her mother said
she would pull down the stars for her.


IV

I begin with an idea and then it becomes something else.

A short poem about a statue;
a small statue of woman and child.

Maybe just boards. She stands.
Not standing, but walking. Tiptoeing.

No, dancing. She wears ballet shoes.
Not small after all. Add some paint.

The dark secret colors of motherhood,
the sunshiny brightness of a child.


V

The hidden harmony is better than the obvious.

They both hold their arms out
for balance, perhaps.

A small symmetry, but it
staves off collapse. There

are two wearing polka-dot
dresses. Both smile

as the decades pass by,
and they dance all the while.


VI

Bad artists copy. Good artists steal.

Picasso’s papa taught traditional art.
Copy the masters, use models, use plaster.

Picasso preferred elongated El Greco,
later Toulouse-Lautrec, Munch, Matisse

were mimicked, their ideas incorporated,
expanded, distorted in style and media.

Others’ ideas, assimilated and transformed.
We all stand on the shoulders of giants.

Here are the links to the pages of my poetry sisters:

Liz Garton Scanlon, writing about "Picasso's Woman".
Tanita Davis, with a pantoum entitled "a memento mori for Picasso's Woman"
Laura Purdie Salas, with a poem she initially called "UGH", which was also about Picasso's "Woman"
Sara Lewis Holmes, with "Response to Picasso's Sculpture of a Cat".
Tricia Stohr-Hunt, with a poem that was entitled "Whence Le Chat" (last I knew)

You can find other Poetry Friday posts by clicking the box below, which will take you to today's host, and the last poet linked above, Tricia Stohr-Hunt at The Miss Rumphius Effect:





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A coming attraction

GUYS! I just received and devoured (not literally - I had Special K with blueberries, and a cup of coffee) my review copy of The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks, color by Jordie Bellaire, and it is beyond amazing on so many counts.

I am seriously jonesing for the sequels already (it's the first book in a trilogy), and this one isn't even out until April!

I will post my actual review when the date gets closer. In the meantime, if you are curating a graphic novel collection for teens and tweens, do yourself a favor and ORDER THIS ONE NOW so you get it as soon as can be!





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Black History Month

Today is the start of February, during which Black History Month is celebrated. Not by everyone, as I am reminded from things I see at the perimeter of my Twitter or FB feed, though I am happy to say that nobody among my actual friends holds negative views of such an event. (Nor of March and Women's History Month, which gets less press.)

Many people in the kidlit business are aware of the We Need Diverse Books movement, which has touched on some of these things. If you've watched the news, you ought to be aware of the Black Lives Matter movement, which has done much to make people like myself (white and comfy in the burbs) aware of how very different life is for people of color in this country, particularly in urban areas. There was just a project started by Marley Dias, a bright young woman in my state of New Jersey, called #1000BlackGirlBooks. She was trying to find lots and lots of books with black female protagonists, and wasn't finding any at her school. (As sad as that is, and as amazing as it is that people came through with donations to make her dream a reality, I am startled and saddened to learn that purchasing one copy of every title people in the know could think of that met the criteria cost a mere $2500. That price bought ALL THE BLACK GIRL BOOKS. HOW ON EARTH IS THAT POSSIBLE?! YES, I'M YELLING ABOUT IT!)

I can recall being pleased that the school district where my kids went to school did much to include the history of minorities and women in their regular history classes, and proud of my older daughter for taking AP African American History, where she learned a lot more than just Civil Rights history, though that was largely the focus.

And this month, in the midst of a current political climate where bigotry is not only tolerated but celebrated in some circles, I am really thrilled to be reading the series in the Philadelphia Inquirer which was introduced yesterday by Sofiya Ballin in an article entitled Black history: Finding our deeper truths. Every day this month, the paper will include pieces featuring local African Americans talking about "What I Wish I Knew" about black history. Yesterday's introduction brought me to tears twice. First, with this part:

. . . And our genesis was always in bondage.

In high school, I saw the detrimental consequences of black students believing what their textbooks told them about themselves. That they, like the treatment of black history, were an elective.

And though my parents gave me an inkling and black history itself revealed it, what I didn't at first understand was that the knowledge I did have would be deemed a threat. I wasn't taught that I would be asked to hold the other half of the story between my teeth, so others could swaddle themselves in guiltless comfort and ignorance.

Because I'm pretty sure I've been the "beneficiary" of that comfort and ignorance for far too long. The second time I got misty-eyed was when reading this paragraph, which touches on one of the things that has always struck me as an inequity:

The Philadelphia author Lorene Cary said: "I was not taught how much energy and intelligence one expends throughout a blessedly long and fortunate lifetime to resist the lie of black inferiority. . . . I was not taught how men who had just fought for liberty could classify black people as less than human in the U.S. Constitution."

You can check this amazing series daily in the Philadelphia Inquirer, and online at philly.com/blackhistoryuntold.





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The author of today's poem would have celebrated his birthday earlier this week (on the 27th, to be exact). He wrote poetry as well as prose, and also contributed to the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary, along with being a photographer. And he also taught mathematics. Basically, he was a polymath.

Anyhow, today I'm sharing a short poem by Lewis Carroll from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland:

How Doth the Little Crocodile
by Lewis Carroll

How doth the little crocodile
Improve his shining tail,
And pour the waters of the Nile
On every golden scale!

How cheerfully he seems to grin,
How neatly spreads his claws,
And welcomes little fishes in
With gently smiling jaws!


This poem is a parody poem of a well-known "instructional" poem at that time, "Against Idleness and Mischief" from a book called Divine Songs for Children by Isaac Watts, a noted Nonconformist hymnwriter. It begins "How doth the little busy bee/Improve each shining hour,/And gather honey all the day/From every opening flower!", and ends with exhortations to be diligent and avoid Satan. You can read the full text here. Carroll's poem is still widely anthologized for children these days, whereas the Watts poem has fallen out of favor.

You can find other Poetry Friday posts by clicking the box below, which will take you to today's host, Reading to the Core:





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So, it's nearly February, which is winter here in the Northern Hemisphere, a time when one often wears a sweater. And it's nearly Groundhog's Day in the U.S., an observance that falls on February 2nd of each year, when men in tophats ask rodents to predict the weather, but also the name of a film starring Bill Murray in which he repeats a single day in his life (many times, as it turns out).

So what could be more perfect for today than a review of Sweaterweather & other short stories by graphic novelist Sara Varon? It involves sweater weather, obviously, and is also very much like a retrospective, complete with author commentary about what she was thinking or doing, or why she came up with an idea, or which of the characters in a particular comic might be her. I fell in love with her work (as did many people, I'm sure) back in 2007, when she published Robot Dreams, which I reviewed here.

Per the flap copy, "Sweaterweather is an endearing collection of seventeen short comics, illustrated essays, and journal entries where awkwardly sweet anthropomorphic animals walk the streets of Brooklyn and the mountains of Jurassic times, and were friendship (or ice cream) just might save the day." Of course, if you google "Sweaterweather Varon", as I did, you will quickly learn that there are two books by her with that name. The original, which was her first book, was published in 2003. This version of Sweaterweather is new and expanded, and includes the cover art for the prior book along with the eight stories that made up that book.

I should note that it also includes paper dolls of several characters, complete with clothing options and (on the reverse side of the paper on which they are printed, a look "inside" the characters, including a skeleton for one character, cogs for another, and the contents of pockets and stomachs and such. And that the story "The Pool" comes with a wee flyer inserted in the pages, so you can see up close and personal what the flyer in the panels looks like. And that you can learn A LOT about beekeeping and a little about hairless dogs along the way. Though my personal favorite might be "Lion Comic" from February of 2009, in which a lion reads a self-help book to figure out how to fit in among the inhabitants of the African grasslands . . . and then writes a book review after he does it. Here's the first page from the Swiss comics magazine, Strapazin, where it first appeared (in black and white - it's in blue and purple and pink and white inside the book).



A true and terrific peek inside the mind of the author, as well as an overview of her work. A must-read for Varon's fans, and for people interested in the process of drawing comics and graphic novels. My thanks to the lovely folks at 01: First Second for the review copy!





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The Blizzard of 2016

What a wonderful blizzard it was - it left us with just over 20" of snow and drifts that were significantly deeper. I spent Saturday in doors, where I made breakfast for my sweetheart and I, baked Portuguese Sweet Bread, made Beef Barley Stew from scratch, and did some handicrafts - I finished crocheting a hat for Morris (it looks so nice and is really dense and warm), then made a women's hat as a present for for his daughter - purple and black, to match her hair.

Our yard, which is always pretty, is especially pretty in the snow. See?







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In 1879, Caroline Alice Roberts (who went by her middle name), published a lengthy (64 page) poem entitled Isabel Trevithoe under her initials, "C.A.R." Her epic poem, which I confess I have not read in full, is about a man named Gilbert who was charmed as a child by Isabel, who (also a child) sang a beautiful song about snow that captivated him. (Spoiler alert: the final line of the poem/book is "But Gilbert lived and married Isabel" Apparently after having traveled around the world and gotten himself engaged to Lady Norah, who valiantly gives him up to his earlier love.) Isabel's song is below:

O snow, which sinks so light,
Brown earth is hid from sight
O soul, be thou as white as snow,
O snow, which falls so slow,
Dear earth quite warm below;
O heart, so keep thy glow
Beneath the snow.

O snow, in thy soft grave
Sad flow'rs the winter brave;
O heart, so sooth and save, as does the snow.
The snow must melt, must go,
Fast, fast as water flow.
Not thus, my soul, O sow
Thy gifts to fade like snow.

O snow, thou'rt white no more,
Thy sparkling too, is o'er;
O soul, be as before,
Was bright the snow.
Then as the snow all pure,
O heart be, but endure;
Through all the years full sure,
Not as the snow.

Alice came from a well-connected family and was exceedingly accomplished, having studied geology, speaking fluent German, Italian, Spanish, and French, and writing both poems and a novel, Marchcroft Manor. In 1886, she began studying piano accompaniment with Edward Elgar, a local music teacher. In 1889, she married him, despite his being from the tradesman class, younger than her by nine years, and Roman Catholic.

She gave up a lot of her own ambitions in order to support her husband, opining at one point in her diary that "The care of a genius is enough of a life work for any woman." She dedicated herself to helping her husband, assisting her husband in setting up his composition paper, providing feedback, and serving as his social secretary and business manager, as well as being his wife and the mother of their only child, Carice.

Though she didn't pursue her writing as vigorously as before her marriage, she did, however, maneuver things so that her husband's music got attention from the "right" people, and became Lady Elgar in 1904 once her husband was knighted by King Edward VII of England.

Along the way, in 1895, Edgar Elgar wrote a musical setting of the lovely song written as part of an epic poem by his wife some 16 years earlier, before they met. (Many listings of the song, which has its own fame and is a gorgeous, glorious choral piece for soprano and alto voices accompanied by piano and two violins, refer to Alice as a librettist.)

The words of the poem are evocative and lush, all long vowels (mostly O), with the wonderful ending with hope that the hearer's heart will endure throughout the years, and not melt away like the snow. I should note that this song appears really early in the poem, and pretty much intimates the overall plot (where one falls from grace, but love manages to endure).

Below is a great recording by a youth choir (with piano and violin accompaniment) of the setting, which I had the great good fortune to sing in choirs when I was in high school. With the snow storm coming tonight that may bring us some serious accumulation for the first time this winter, I thought I'd celebrate it and its beauty.



You can find lots of other Poetry Friday posts by clicking the box below to visit A Teaching Life:





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Today, a short post with a longish poem, Shelley's marvelous "Ode to the West Wind", one of the best-loved of his poems, and a true representation of the Romantic movement in poetry from the 19th century.

The poem is composed in five sections, each consisting of five stanzas. The rhyme scheme of each of the stanzas is ABA BCB CDC DED EE, although there are places where Shelley uses slant rhyme (e.g., "thou" with "low" and "blow"; things that rhyme with "air" with "hear"). Each of the first three section addresses the West Wind directly, and ends with "O hear!" In the fourth section, he compares himself to the West Wind, wishing he were as free as the wind. In the final section, Shelley asks the West Wind to sound him like an instrument, referring to his own aging (dropping leaves). He basically asks for the power to go out strong, concluding with a hopeful couplet, part of which is in the icon above: "If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?"

Ode to the West Wind
by Percy Bysshe Shelley

I
O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being,
Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,

Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,
Pestilence-stricken multitudes: O thou,
Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed

The wingèd seeds, where they lie cold and low,
Each like a corpse within its grave, until
Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow

Her clarion o’er the dreaming earth, and fill
(Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air)
With living hues and odours plain and hill:

Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;
Destroyer and Preserver; hear, O hear!

II
Thou on whose stream, ‘mid the steep sky’s commotion,
Loose clouds like Earth’s decaying leaves are shed,
Shook from the tangled boughs of Heaven and Ocean,

Angels of rain and lightning: there are spread
On the blue surface of thine airy surge,
Like the bright hair uplifted from the head

Of some fierce Maenad*, even from the dim verge
Of the horizon to the zenith’s height,
The locks of the approaching storm. Thou dirge

Of the dying year, to which this closing night
Will be the dome of a vast sepulchre
Vaulted with all thy congregated might

Of vapours, from whose solid atmosphere
Black rain, and fire, and hail will burst: O hear!

III
Thou who didst waken from his summer dreams
The blue Mediterranean, where he lay,
Lulled by the coil of his crystalline streams,

Beside a pumice isle in Baiae’s bay**,
And saw in sleep old palaces and towers
Quivering within the wave’s intenser day,

All overgrown with azure moss and flowers
So sweet, the sense faints picturing them! Thou
For whose path the Atlantic’s level powers

Cleave themselves into chasms, while far below
The sea-blooms and the oozy woods which wear
The sapless foliage of the ocean, know

Thy voice, and suddenly grow grey with fear,
And tremble and despoil themselves: O hear!

IV
If I were a dead leaf thou mightest bear;
If I were a swift cloud to fly with thee;
A wave to pant beneath thy power, and share

The impulse of thy strength, only less free
Than thou, O Uncontrollable! If even
I were as in my boyhood, and could be

The comrade of thy wanderings over Heaven,
As then, when to outstrip thy skiey speed
Scarce seemed a vision; I would ne’er have striven

As thus with thee in prayer in my sore need.
Oh! lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!
I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!

A heavy weight of hours has chained and bowed
One too like thee: tameless, and swift, and proud.

V
Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is:
What if my leaves are falling like its own!
The tumult of thy mighty harmonies

Will take from both a deep, autumnal tone,
Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit fierce,
My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!

Drive my dead thoughts over the universe
Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth!
And, by the incantation of this verse,

Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
Be through my lips to unawakened Earth

The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?


*Maenad: a female follower of Dionysus
**Baiea: an ancient mineral spring and resort near Naples, Italy

With the first snow scheduled to fall here in New Jersey this weekend, I am not yet tired of winter; still, "if Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?"

Hoping for a more productive 2016 here at my blog, and here in my house.





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On Guys Lit Wire

My monthly post is up, and it's a review of the latest Olympians graphic novel, APOLLO: The Brilliant One by George O'Connor.

The earlier title I reviewed from this series, ARIES, just made the Quick Pick list at YALSA, and I wouldn't be surprised to see this excellent book end up on next year's list. Lots of info about Apollo, plus the muses, plus excellent back matter.




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