Robert Frost Does it Right at JFK’s Inauguration

John F. Kennedy and Robert Frost blowing in the wind at JFK's Inauguration. Photo by Life

Fifty years ago today, Robert Frost made literary history by being the first poet to read at a Presidential Inauguration.

John F. Kennedy asked Mr. Frost to read a piece of his work.  As the Inauguration Ceremony approached, the poet understood the importance of the moment and decided to recite “Dedication,” a poem he wrote specifically for the occasion.

A full-fledged blizzard the night before, left the city frozen in a blanket of white.  Although the sun was shining on Inauguration Day, sub-zero temperatures and whipping winds stayed on, causing delay after delay.

When it was finally time to recite his poems, Mr. Frost took the podium.  Bundled in a long wool coat and thick scarf,  the wind blew his hair in every direction.  He began reciting “Dedication” but stumbled and stopped.  The sun’s glare reflecting off the snow made it impossible to read his new poem.

Rather than falter through a botched recitation, Mr. Frost changed direction.  He put his plan and his poetry aside, and recited “The Gift Outright” from memory.

Reading the words of “The Gift Outright,” I’m excited and astonished, again, at the inherent genius of art.  How appropos those words are for the occasion.  I’m also inspired by Mr. Frost’s action.  He knew what was most important. He put his ego and his poetry aside and did what should have been done for the occasion.

I’m sure I would have done the same on the spot.  It’s afterward that I wonder about.  Would I have pouted, whined? “Waaaa, I put a lot of work into that poem.  Stupid snow ruined everything.  My life suuuuuckkkkks!”

Past experience tells me I would be whining.  It’s a character flaw I need to work on.  A lot of artists and writers I know would whine; we’re a needy neurotic bunch. (Kanye West keeps coming to mind.)  Robert Frost didn’t whine though.  He took the road not taken and that made all the difference.

Resources: John F. Kennedy Inaugural Ceremony, Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken,” The Daily Post
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Happy Birthday, Edgar Allan Poe

“Words have no power to impress the mind
without the exquisite horror of their reality.”
— Edgar Allan Poe

The Masque of the Red Death
Image by ProfessorMortis via Flickr

Mention his name and goth girls swoon, black cats hiss, and the timid turn away.  Edgar Allan Poe was born January 19, 1809.  More than 200 years after his birth, cities still fight for ownership of the dead writer’s corpse, whose tortured life and mysterious death were as strange as the tales he told.  Tales like “The Cask of Amontillado,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and “The Masque of the Red Death” still have the power to shock and enthrall readers all these years later.

In pop culture, Mr. Poe is most often revered as the master of the macabre, but his pen and his influence reach far beyond that.  He and Nathaniel Hawthorne are credited as the fathers of the American short story.  “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” was the first detective story and created the genre.  “The Balloon Hoax” was an early form of science fiction and was an inspiration for Jules Verne’s “Around the World in Eighty Days.”  His poem, “The Raven” is still one of the most famous poems ever written.

He was born in Boston, was orphaned at age three, and taken in by the Allen family of Richmond, Virginia.  His older brother Henry died young and his sister Rosalie went insane.  He lived in Philadelphia with his wife and mother-in-law, before moving with them to the Bronx, New York.  He was married only once, to his 13-year old cousin Virginia Clemm, who died at age 24 of tuberculosis.  He was an alcoholic and a drug addict and was labeled paranoid and perverse.  The day before he died, he was found on a Baltimore street, delirious, incoherent and wearing clothes that weren’t his.

All five cities have landmarks or museums dedicated to him and the Poe Wars over who gets his corpse (Baltimore has it now) aren’t cold yet.

edgar-allan-poeIn honor of his birthday, I’m happy to share this fantastic party favor, a make-your-own Edgar Allan Poe doll, courtesy of the Toy-A-Day blog. (Caveat: Lots of pop-ups, but definitely worth it.) Mr. Poe might roll his eyes at the frivolity of the gesture, but I like to think it would make him crack a smile.

Resources: Post A Day, Edgar Allan Poe Museum/Richmond, Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Sity/Philadelphia, Edgar Allen Poe Cottage/The Bronx, Edgar Allan Poe Society/Baltimore.

Time Machine Visits #FridayFlash Intro

Time machine to late September 2009 …

Spinning Optical IllusionIt’s a quiet Friday afternoon, and I’m trying to learn my way around Twitter.  A steady stream of tweets with the odd looking designation of “#FridayFlash” keeps catching my eye.  Easily distracted and always looking for an excuse to put off my writing, I’m drawn in.

“What could zees be?” I ask out loud.  (My alter ego always has a French accent.)

Curiosity gets the best of me.  I click one of the tweets and enter into a world I never knew existed.  It’s a world of horror and humor, intrigue and romance. Action, adventure, heartbreak and suspense.  I’ve entered the surrealistic wonder world of #FridayFlash.

What is this wonder world, you ask?  According to creator Jon Strother, #FridayFlash is an Internet meme designed to increase your visibility as a fiction writer.   According to me and most of the writers who participate each week, it is so much more than that.

Since entering that world over a year ago, I’ve met some wonderfully supportive and encouraging people, I’ve read some remarkable stories, and my writing has come a long way.  Finding #FridayFlash was like falling through a trapdoor into a hidden fantasy land, and it’s a land open to all; writers and readers, alike.

Icy Sedgwick offers more insight in this Fuel Your Writing interview posted this week:  #FridayFlash — Interview with Jon Strother.

There’s so much more to say about #FridayFlash, but the important information is covered in the interview and in the links I’ve included.  Now I need to hurry and publish this post, because that time-machine-depicting optical illusion up there is freaking me out.  It really is not moving.  Is it?

Resources: Post A Day, Flash Fiction by Olivia Tejeda

Happy Sunshine in a Little Orange Package

This morning after breakfast I was still hungry.  It’s mid-January, I live in Arizona, and there are orange trees in the back yard so loaded with fruit the branches droop low enough for the rabbits to reach them.  The oranges have been tempting me for a while, but the last time I tried one, it was too early.  The flesh was dry and tough, and it was so bitter it took at least 15 minutes before my eye stopped twitching and I could pull my cheeks out of a hard core pucker.

Different story today.  When I got close to the tree, I could smell that they were ready.   I chose an orange near the bottom of the tree; those ripen first, and when I picked it, it nearly fell off the limb into my hand.

It’s orange season, all right.  I was a little hesitant with my first bite, but as soon as my teeth broke through the skin, “Hello, Larry!”  It was exquisitely, perfectly, sweetly ready.  The flavor was fresh and vibrant, and I wanted to stuff the whole orange in my mouth to fill it with the flavor of happy sunshine.  That’s what the orange tasted like … Happy Bright Perfect Sunshine.

There’s is a lot of ugliness going on around Arizona these days.  That orange, grown in Arizona soil, not only satisfied my hunger, it made me feel hopeful.

In honor of my morning orange, I’m happy to share one of my favorite poems:

Peeling an Orange
by Virginia Hamilton Adair

Between you and a bowl of oranges I lie nude
Reading The World’s Illusion through my tears.
You reach across me hungry for global fruit,
Your bare arm hard, furry and warm on my belly.
Your fingers pry the skin of a navel orange
Releasing tiny explosions of spicy oil.
You place peeled disks of gold in a bizarre pattern
On my white body. Rearranging, you bend and bite
The disks to release further their eager scent.
I say “Stop, you’re tickling,” my eyes still on the page.
Aromas of groves arise. Through green leaves
Glow the lofty snows. Through red lips
Your white teeth close on a translucent segment.
Your face over my face eclipses The World’s Illusion.
Pulp and juice pass into my mouth from your mouth.
We laugh against each other’s lips. I hold my book
Behind your head, still reading, still weeping a little.
You say “Read on, I’m just an illusion,” rolling
Over upon me soothingly, gently moving,
Smiling greenly through long lashes. And soon
I say “Don’t stop. Don’t disillusion me.”
Snows melt. The mountain silvers into many a stream.
The oranges are golden worlds in a dark dream.

Resource: The Daily Post, Virginia Hamilton Adair

Daniel Handler on Loving Poetry in the Living Room

Daniel Handler singing and accompanying The Go...
Image via Wikipedia

The January issue of Poetry Magazine includes an essay by Daniel Handler, aka Lemony Snicket for those of you with YA readers in the house.  The essay, Happy, Snappy, Sappy: There’s Space in the Living Room for Poetry talks about the joys of reading poetry simply for the joy of reading poetry.

I’m sharing it here because there was a time when poetry scared me, as I explained in my post, Learning to Love Poetry Can Strengthen Your Prose.   If poetry scares you … even just a little, have a read.  I think you’ll appreciate it and I think you’ll laugh, too.

For more information, check out “How to Read a Poem (and Fall in Love with Poetry),” from the Poetry Foundation.  The post and the site is loaded with great insight.

Resources: The Poetry Foundation, Daniel Handler, Post A Day.

Poets & Writers Say, “The Time Is Now”

Way back on December 31, 2010, (six days ago) I accepted the WordPress.com Post A Day challenge to post on my blog every day for a year.  WordPress helps out by posting a daily prompt on their Post A Day blog to keep participants inspired.  I’m on Day 5.  So far so good.

Now Poets and Writers, has kicked off The Time Is Now, a series of weekly prompts and exercises to inspire writers of poetry and prose to stay committed to their writing all year long.

“The most important and underrated factor in a writer’s success is discipline. Talent and luck always help, but having a consistent writing practice is often the difference
between aspiring writers and published writers.”
— PW.Org

Every Monday PW will post for poetry, and every Thursday for fiction.  The first installment for poetry is posted now.  The fiction prompt goes up tomorrow.  To have the prompts sent directly to your email, you can sign up at The Time is Now Signup.

If you’re a writer and you’re not familiar with PW, I urge you to GET familiar with them.   As the nation’s largest nonprofit literary organization, they are an incredible and reliable resource for information on competitions, workshops, techniques, agents, and publishers.  What I’ve found most through their site and their magazine is a sense of community and encouragement.  In the announcement introducing The Time is Now, PW.org says, “the most important and underrated factor in a writer’s success is discipline.”  That’s certainly true, but the camaraderie I’ve found at PW, goes a long way.

Resources: Poets & Writers, The Daily Post

(Where are the) Great Fathers in Literature

Gregory Peck and Mary Badham as Atticus and Scout Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

For Father’s Day, I want to write about great fathers in literature.

The first one who comes to mind is Atticus Finch, from “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Great dad. He is honest, ethical, compassionate, and he teaches his children these qualities by example, by his actions and decisions, rather than by rote.

After Atticus Finch, there’s … ummm.  There’s, uh…  Hmm.

Okay, let’s talk about bad dads. There are plenty of those.

  • Bull Meecham from “The Great Santini” by Pat Conroy, is a tyrannical and dangerous father, whose abuse severely damages his family and nearly destroys them all.
  • In Shakespeare’s “King Lear,” the King’s pompous ego and his favoritism of Cordelia over her sisters, leads to her murder and his.
  • Willy Loman from “Death of a Salesman” by Arthur Miller, misleads his sons on lessons of life and love.  He is so deluded about his own success and his life, that his death is not a tragedy so much as it is an epic failure.
  • Disney Dads, like those of Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Belle, Ariel, and Jasmine, are either absent or too hapless to do anything for their daughters.

All right, this isn’t the optimistic sunshiny Father’s Day tribute I had envisioned, and I’m finding it a little depressing that fathers are not very well represented in books.  So, I’m going to wrap this up and go make myself a Father’s Day margarita in honor and in memory of a true classic, Manny Tejeda, my Dad, who was not absent, hapless, deluded, egotistical, or tyrannical.

He taught me by example; he was honest, ethical, kind, generous, and funny-funny-funny.  He was tough, too.  Some of his expectations were more than I could achieve, or so I thought back then, but everything … all of it, was wrapped in knowing, absolutely, that he loved me.  Like all good classics, his influence lives on.

Happy Father’s Day!

Can you help a daughter out?  I’d love to list more good literary fathers, but I can’t think of any and would love some input.  He doesn’t have to be from the classics or popular fiction.  I’ll take anything at this point.  Dads deserve it!