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Today's quoteskimming is completed related to my research for the Jane project, my effort to write a biography of Jane Austen in verse using period forms that has now occupied me for nearly 14 months (and may, in fact, stretch out again as long into the future). Just because it's related to my research should not, I think, prevent it from being useful to someone else for other purposes, so here 'tis, in letter form:

Letter the First Being to the publisher of a book of poems I am reading. The book was doubtless read by Jane Austen in her day (in one edition or another), and the last poem in particular is referenced indirectly in Mansfield Park. As I am writing in period forms, reading poems published during the period in question has been a priority for me.

Dear Penguin Classics,

Thank you for reissuing Lyrical Ballads, the 1798 publication by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge that put both of them on the map (Wordsworth eclipsing Coleridge a bit in the process). I am exceptionally pleased that the collection, which I purchased only yesterday, is a reproduction of the original printing, which was issued anonymously by the authors. Because it is a reproduction of the original, it begins with Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere", which I know was moved to the middle of the book in later editions, and concludes with Wordsworth's "Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey", one of the poems that Jane Austen appears to have admired.

Thank you also for including the "Advertisement" for
Lyrical Ballads at the front of the book, my favorite part of which is as follows:

Readers of superior judgment may disapprove of the style in which many of these pieces are executed; it must be expected that many lines and phrases will not exactly suit their taste. It will perhaps appear to them, that wishing to avoid the prevalent fault of the day, the author has sometimes descended too low, and that many of his expressions are too familiar, and not of sufficient dignity. It is apprehended, that the more conversant the reader is with our elder writers, and with those in modern times who have been the most successful in painting manners and passions, the fewer complaints of this kind will he have to make.

Sincerely, etc.

Letter the Second Being to an author of a book on writing poetry. I read several of these for tips and pointers.

Dear Mary Oliver,

I've not received your book, A Poetry Handbook, yet, but already you've given me much to think about with the bits that I was able to read at Amazon using their "Look Inside!" option. Special thanks for the chapter entitled "Getting Ready", which I was able to read as a whole online, and which helped prompt this post yesterday. Thank you in particular for this paragraph:

The part of the psyche that works in concert with consciousness and supplies a necessary part of the poem—the heat of a star as opposed to the shape of a star, let us say—exists in a mysterious, unmapped zone: not unconscious, not subconscious, but cautious. It learns quickly what sort of a courtship it is going to be. Say you promise to be at your desk in the eveings, from seven to nine. It waits, it watches. If you are reliably there, it begins to show itself—soon it begins to arrive when you do. But if you are only there sometimes and are frequently late or inattentive, it will appear fleetingly, or it will not appear at all.

Sincerely, etc.

Letter the Third Being to a good friend who offers specific encouragement and general support.

Dear Linda Urban,

Thank you. You know what you did.

Smooches, etc.

Letter the Fourth Being to noted biographers Patricia and Frederick McKissack, who have an online tutorial on writing biography over at Scholastic, and who provided the following concrete tips among their "brainstorming" list.

Dear Patricia and Frederick McKissack,

Thank you so much for caring about getting biographies right, and for making them interesting to young readers. Thanks also for caring about your craft enough to give a list of pointers to would-be biographers. In a very compact way, you've provided as much guidance on writing a thoughtful and accurate biography as is contained in a book 100 times as long. The points in your simple list that spoke most loudly to me were as follows:

3. Research your subject thoroughly. Check the bibliographies of the most recently published books about your subject. Read newspaper, magazine, and Internet articles, or an autobiography; listen to tapes and videos. Set up interviews and write letters to museums, historical societies, colleges and universities. Keep all the notes you take.

4. Research the historical time period in which your subject lived and did her/his work.

5. Cross-reference materials. Find a fact in three different sources (if possible) to make sure it is accurate. When there is a disagreement between sources, state that there is a conflict and give sources.

7. Be objective about your subject. Tell the truth based on your findings. Don't bury the person's failures because you like her/him, and don't put a negative slant on a fact because you don't like the person. Good biographies are well-balanced, objective representations of a person's life and work. Be honest.

8. Be as accurate as possible. After writing the first draft, fact-check all the data again. Then check it one more time.

Sincerely, etc.

Letter the Fifth Being to my friend Susan Sandmore, who has only recently started a blog, which has included phenomenal posts on author photos (in a three part series, with examples, no less), motivation/plotting and more.

Dear Susan Sandmore,

Thank you so much for starting your blog earlier this year. I've been enjoying your posts, but the one I keep coming back to is your post entitled Blame Jim Henson, in which you discussed Sesame Street and the Muppet Movie and how Henson never talked down to kids. I of course love all the muppet references and the link to the Swedish Chef, Animal and Beaker singing "Danny Boy". Oh, and the offer of cookies. But what I really love is the text you quote from the reprise of "The Rainbow Connection" at the end of the original Muppet Movie:

Life's like a movie.
Write your own ending.
Keep believing.
Keep pretending.

What wonderful advice. Smooches, etc.

Letter the Sixth Being to William Wordsworth, who, being long dead, may or may not see this:

Dear William Wordsworth,

Thank you so much for your poems, "Expostulation and Reply" and "The Tables Turned: An Evening Scene on the Same Subject", found in
Lyrical Ballads. I am assured that you are the author of both poems, and I must commend you for your opinions and the manner in which they are conveyed.

As luck would have it, I recently read some other quotes about being open to receiving inspiration, and the lines of "The Tables Turned" in particular spoke to me:

Up! up! my Friend, and clear your looks,
Why all this toil and trouble?
Up! up! my Friend, and quit your books,
Or surely you'll grow double.

The sun, above the mountain's head,
A freshening lustre mellow
Through all the long green fields has spread,
His first sweet evening yellow.

Books! 'tis a dull and endless strife,
Come, hear the woodland linnet,
How sweet his music; on my life
There's more of wisdom in it.

And hark! how blithe the throstle sings!
And he is no mean preacher:
Come forth into the light of things,
Let Nature be your teacher.

She has a world of ready wealth,
Our minds and hearts to bless—
Spontaneous wisdom breathed by health,
Truth breathed by chearfulness.

One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man;
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.

Sweet is the lore which nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Mis-shapes the beauteous forms of things;
—We murder to dissect.

Enough of science and of art;
Close up those barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.

Thank you again for your poem, and for your reminder to get up and move around so as to avoid "growing double", and to take some time away from my books to get out into nature. And mostly, for reminding me to bring "a heart that watches and receives." Sincerely, etc.

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( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 2nd, 2008 04:48 pm (UTC)
What a rich and thoroughly enjoyable post! I feel smart again.
Mar. 2nd, 2008 05:40 pm (UTC)
You were plenty smart before you read it, but thanks for the kind words anyway!
Mar. 2nd, 2008 07:26 pm (UTC)
". . . the author has sometimes descended too low, and that many of his expressions are too familiar, and not of sufficient dignity." Hee hee. How could they know the same accusations would still be leveled today, in slightly different words?

"Find a fact in three different sources (if possible) to make sure it is accurate." Interestingly, one often finds that Sources A, B, and C are all really quoting from the same Source D, who is quoting Source E, who is quoting Source F. Not only, then, do six apparently different sources end up being from one source; one often finds that what the original Source F actually says is different from what the other sources have described it as saying. Ah, the joys of research!

Now I'm going up to clear my looks and hear the woodland linnet. Or at least the American robin.

Mar. 3rd, 2008 02:50 pm (UTC)
I loved that the "advertisement" was still so pertinent. There was a reference in it to "the modern reader" as well, which I didn't share, but it totally cracked me up. Had they not spelled awkward as "aukward", the "modern reader" sentence would've read the same as something you'd find today.
Mar. 2nd, 2008 09:25 pm (UTC)
Lovely stuff, all round! Those photo posts were really good. I never thought much about it before-- you know good ones when you see them, I guess. But she's totally right!
Mar. 3rd, 2008 02:50 pm (UTC)
Susan is one smart chick. I'm sure she appreciated you checking out her blog, too!
Mar. 3rd, 2008 12:08 am (UTC)
I feel so totally . . . famous! Thanks, Kelly!
Mar. 3rd, 2008 02:41 pm (UTC)
I will remember you said that when, one day in the not-so-far future, you actually are famous, and I will take full credit for it. (Okay, probably not. But still, I'll be able to say I knew you when.)
Mar. 3rd, 2008 12:13 am (UTC)
I heart Coleridge. I may have to track down that new edition of the Lyrical Ballads.

Sidenote: Have you seen the film Pandemonium? It's about Wordsworth and Coleridge, and while it devolves into some silly conspiracy theorizing towards the end, the early scenes where the two meet and start coming up with their new ideas about poetry are really, really good. Plus, it stars John Hannah. Mmm, John Hannah...
Mar. 3rd, 2008 02:38 pm (UTC)
I've not only never seen Pandemonium, but never heard of it before either. I will seek it out, however, because of your recommendation. And because I love the title. And because, evidently, I must see John Hannah.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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