Thursday, January 31, 2008

Poetry Circle @ the Library

At the Variety Fair Five and Ten Cent Store, Houston

Here are Wobble Wedges (fix anything that wobbles)
Here are lampshades (yellowed)
and Fitz All percolator tops
Here are witches’ hats any time of the year

The floor is checkered linoleum
The aisles are skinny and
the counters are full to overflowing
stocked from floor to ceiling

Here are plastic rattlesnakes and Ronald Reagan rubber masks
Here are Mr. Potato Heads in boxes neatly tied with string
and Paint-By-Number sets
Here are Darling brand baby sandals so small and white

Here is a Brown Sock monkey, you know the kind,
made from brown and white socks with red heels
where one red heel becomes the monkey’s mouth
Monkey wears a sign that says I am not for sale (just show)

Here are Aunt Martha’s Hot Iron transfers
and Gem Blue Star super single-edge wrapped razors
Here are men’s leisure slippers, 100% knitted stretch nylon
Here are Dennison stickers of flowers and birds, lick to stick

Here I am buying a double circle key ring
and a tin duck that clicks when you press his tail
This is not an ad but let me tell you, please go there
to spend and see your share of the splendiferous variety

I wrote the poem above during the time we offered a Poetry Circle @ the Library. (The Five and Ten Cent store is still up and running in nearby Rice Village.) The library's Poetry Circle was attended by a loyal group of seniors who wrote poetry, both rhymed and unrhymed. They enjoyed being given assignments so we picked the dime store as a topic one time. We also did haiku, list poems, onomatopeia, etc. At some point, we held a poetry luncheon/reading at the Senior Services Building next door to the library. One of the poets had developed severe vision problems so she memorized her poems. She brought a young relative along to sit nearby and prompt her should she forget any words. She didn't. She was wonderful to behold, reciting her beautiful poems.

Just another extraordinary day in the life of a public librarian!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Terrific LOC Historic Photos on Flickr

Recently the Library of Congress uploaded more than 3000 historic photos to Flickr. Some are from the United States Farm Security Administration, others from the the Office of War Information.
The photo of the Coney Island Cakewalk above was taken sometime between 1910 and 1915, a bit before the time my mother, who grew up in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn, would have gone to Coney for fun and recreation. Her mother was very young and still enjoyed riding the roller coaster, so she often took her very young daughter along. Mom did not really appreciate the roller coaster rides, but she did love playing in the ocean. Coney Island of days past really captures my imagination.

Looking at these wonderful photos on Flickr makes me nostalgic for an America I never knew. Every photo seems to have a story to tell. Indeed, the photos could be used as starting points for creative writing exercises. A multitude of poems and stories just waiting to be written... Meanwhile, the public is invited to tag the photos and make comments. There are already many comments and connections being made. People who remember picking potatoes in Maine or going to the Vermont State Fair, etc. What a terrific reminiscence project!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Viewing Andy Goldsworthy

..................Image: Pebble Circle by Andy Goldsworthy....................

Andy Goldsworthy is one of my favorite living artists. His medium is leaves, rocks, icicles, stones and all the bits of nature most people would leave alone or remove for non-artistic reasons. Where we would rake and bag our leaves, Goldsworthy would sort them by color and arrange them in a serpentine line. Looking at his art both lowers my blood pressure and fills me with awe.

The best way to dip into Goldsworthy's world is to watch the film Rivers and Tides: Working with Time, available at HCPL. There is also a short clip from the film available on YouTube. In Goldsworthy's playful, sometimes feverish search for materials and sites, we see a manchild possessed. The film presents many of his installations all over the world, including those at sites in France, Scotland, Nova Scotia and New York. Besides the stunning visual beauty he creates, I am intrigued by the ephemeralness of his creations. Icicle sculptures melt, leaves wash away, and rock cairns collapse. Time continues, the sea rushes in, and we are reminded just how transitory we really are. Through the medium of film, we are privileged to view Goldsworthy's creations before they go back to ground.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Too Many Good Books

There's no such thing as too many good books. One day years ago, I observed a little girl carefully selecting picture books from our shelves. Her mother was somewhere else in the library. By the time Mom came to check on her daughter, the pile of books had assumed major proportions.

"Honey, you've got too many books," the mother said.

"But Mommy, I want too many books!" the little girl replied.

That's my philosophy, too. If I don't have at least a few books on reserve as well as a stack of books waiting to be read, I get nervous. Keeping up with what's good and what's new is important to me. So I like receiving newsletters from all kinds of book-related sources. Here are some of them:

BookLetters from Harris County Public Library - Bestsellers, Lifestyles, Mysteries, Books on the Air: these are just a few of the categories available. See also the Our Space: Books & People @ HCPL newsletter, which I enjoy contributing to six times a year.

Writer's Almanac - Provided daily by Garrison Keillor and NPR. This one tunes up your awareness of important literary and historical figures.

Barnes and Noble - I like their "Best of the Book Clubs" suggestions. Also provided: fiction, nonfiction, bestsellers, etc.

Shelf Awareness - An insider's report on the bookseller's trade, including all sorts of interviews, reviews and other features about new books and old favorites.

Tattered Cover Book Store - Book recommendations from the legendary independent book store in Denver.

Blue Willow Bookshop - This independent book store here in Houston sends out lively newsletters featuring their monthly favorites and programs.

I cannot live without books. – Thomas Jefferson

Friday, January 4, 2008

Joy of Lemons

Our backyard Meyer lemon tree is in its second year of growth. Or maybe its third year since some growers somewhere nurtured it before we bought it at Buchanan's in the Houston Heights. Last year, we managed to grow two lemons. This year only one. There were lots of flowers in spring, but most fell to the ground. We shall have to think of some grand purpose for this particular lemon that hung on by itself throughout the long hot summer well into fall and now winter.

I first heard of Meyer lemons from a library customer. I had no idea you could grow your own here in Houston until she brought a bag of them to the library years ago. They were the biggest lemons I'd ever seen, looking more like grapefruits in size. Meyer lemons have such a mild flavor you could almost eat them as hand fruit. The nicest thing is, she brought those lemons to us because she was pleased with our services. We found an obscure short story in full text for her on the internet when she did not have time to request it from inter-library loan. She was a teacher who needed it ASAP. This was well before the days of Google, when the internet was still not widely used. And she continued to bring us lemons once a year for many years. And now we sometimes talk about growing lemons when we see each other. Her tree dropped a lot of its flowers this year too.

Small public libraries are like that; we really get to know our customers. To thank "the lemon lady", I wrote a haiku inspired by the sight of a bowl full of her Meyer lemons, Here it is:

Homegrown lemons, big
as suns, tumble from their bowl
but find no escape.

And before I end this post, one good read with at least a little lemon flavor: The Lemon Jelly Cake (first published in 1952, reprinted as a Prairie State Book by the University of Illinois in 1998) by Madeline Babcock Smith. It is a delightful story of small town life at the turn of the century in Illinois, published when its author was age 65. I think of it as Betsy-Tacy and Tib for grownups, because part of the story features friendship between young girls. Also important to the story is a mother/wife/wonderful baker named Kate Bradford who feels stifled my small town life. She philosophizes that "Life is in layers. Everybody is in his own layer and can't get out." Her limitations are further expressed when she says "Sometimes I wonder if the record of my years will only be written on the labels of glasses of jelly and jams and cans of fruit."

Back to lemons. Legend has it that Christopher Columbus planted the first lemon trees in the United States. The United States is now the third largest producer of lemons, after Argentina and Spain. Meyer lemons are a hybrid originally from China. A good book for lemon aficionados is Lemons: Growing, Cooking, Crafting by Kate Chynoweth and Elizabeth Woodson.