Dublin

The itinerary, driven by A’s interest in Ireland: the Book of Kells, Irish trad music, cliff walks, castle tours, bookstores.

IMG-1862The grand Trinity College library.

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The Book of Kells is just astonishing in its vibrancy of colors and intricacy of detail. I think A’s introduction to the manuscript must have been the movie The Secret of Kells, which is one of our kids’ all-time favorites.

 Circa 800, the folio page that opens the Gospel of John

 A page from the Gospel of John. Hand-writing (in this case, Insular majuscule) as integral to art really appeals to me. The Book of Kells is such a masterpiece not only because of its age (c 800 CE) but because Viking raids at this point disrupted the monasterial labors, and thereafter no comparably ornate manuscripts were produced.

IMG-1875Hearty pub fare at O’Neill’s and grocery-store lunches in the hostel.

One of the reasons I like staying in hostels is rubbing shoulders, so to speak, with people from all over, and usually people who are pretty friendly or interesting. It’s not what I would call a relaxing way to travel, but it is one of the ways to intensify one’s experiences in a different city. In this case, our hostel was a converted school, with soaring ceilings and massive windows. The night of England’s success in the World Cup quarter-final, the hostel and the streets outside took until the wee hours of morning to quiet down. Earlier in the day B had asked an Irish woman who she was rooting for, Sweden or England, and she brought one corner of her mouth up toward her squinted eye, saying, “Well, they both invaded us, didn’t they?”

2018-07-05 17.28.48“Let us go forth, the teller of tales, and seize whatever prey the heart long for, and have no fear. Everything exists, everything is true, and the earth is only a little dust under our feet.” (Yeats, The Celtic Twilight)

A traditional Irish musical evening was delightful! Starting out in the Ha’ Penny Bridge Inn:

We had dinner at long tables; we happened to be seated next to a family from the Netherlands and I love the way the paterfamilias is keeping time with his hand. Here’s Eamonn, Paddy, and Erin:

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IMG-1871Dublin Castle, which houses mainly government offices.

IMG-1816The River Liffey and the Ha’Penny Bridge.

The picturesque fishing village of Howth is a half-hour train ride north of Dublin. Its cliff walk is just stunning!

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2018-07-06 16.32.47A. set out on every side spur of the trail, exploring higher vantage points and coming back with his legs covered with stinging nettle lashes. They didn’t really slow him down.

The seaside city of Dalkey is a half-hour train ride from Dublin’s city center, this time to the south. In the process of the castle tour, we learned about some of the literary luminaries who have called Dalkey home: James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Maeve Binchy, George Bernard Shaw.

IMG-1927Dalkey Castle (more properly, a fortified town house from the 14th century) is fun in large part because of the dressed-up re-enactors who expound on the castle and St. Begnet’s Church (10th century).

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One of my very favorite poets, Eavan Boland, was born in Dublin and educated at Trinity. This is the end of her poem “The Oral Tradition”.

I had distances
ahead of me: iron miles
in trains, iron rails
repeating instances
and reasons; the wheels

singing innuendoes, hints,
outlines underneath
the surface, a sense
suddenly of truth,
its resonance.

 

 

Stockholm

Last week I took a trip I’ve been looking forward to for a long time — best of all was visiting an old friend.

2018-06-30 17.00.24B took some time off and we brought A with us. R and her family are a treasure!

Sweden is 9 hours ahead of Seattle and the first night there, I couldn’t sleep. At 59 degrees north, it doesn’t quite get dark at night. Here’s what 2:30 in the morning sounds like and looks like from one of R’s windows on Lidingö:

IMG-1684This great climbing stump is behind the U.S. ambassador’s residence in Nobel Park.

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Happy kiddo with a soft-serve cone. Stockholm is simply gorgeous; we all came away quite smitten.

IMG-1645We visited Skansen, a fascinating and extensive open-air museum showcasing authentic dwellings and structures from across Sweden and times past.

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A. was so happy to finally find the stilts the kids had been telling him about. B. liked the Viking-era rune stones, and I liked the cafe R found with a fika spread:

The sandwiches were a miss with the kids but a hit with the sharp-eyed birds near our outdoor table.

The work underway in the summer pasture barn was fascinating — traditionally, the work was taken up solely by young women, who would have spent the summer months in the separate pasture and barn, keeping an open fire going to make loads of butter, cheese, and whey butter (messmör). Skansen’s milkmaids shared this last with us; the flavor is a strange combination of caramel and gravy.

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On Lidingö: The path from R’s house down to the sea goes through a charming door. Down the other way lies the forest and lake. Low wild blueberry bushes blanket the forest floor, with small ripening berries. The lakeshore rocks are really slippery, I hear — A. fell in even though he was using the chain to brace himself.

2018-07-01 18.59.44R’s peaceful, verdant backyard.

There is a snippet of a Swedish poem I’m reminded of:

The airy sky has taken its place leaning against the wall.
It is like a prayer to what is empty.
And what is empty turns its face to us
and whispers:
“I am not empty, I am open.”

–from “Vermeer” by Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robert Bly

Mother’s Day, Books, and My Students on Poetry

What a glorious day today!
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This little bunch of bluebells was sitting on our doorstep a few days ago 🙂

I’ve had a little more time to read lately; I finished Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent. It’s the kind of exquisite book I feel curmudgeonly about pointing out any flaws in–and yet, I found it a bit repetitive in parts or at least predictable. Still, certain sections of Perry’s prose are breathtaking–the first paragraph, for instance:

One o’clock on a dreary day and the time ball dropped at the Greenwich Observatory. There was ice on the prime meridian, and ice on the rigging of the broad-beamed barges down on the busy Thames. Skippers marked the time and tide, and set their oxblood sails against the northeast wind; a freight of iron was bound for Whitechapel foundry, where bells tolled fifty against the anvil as if time were running out. Time was being served behind the walls of Newgate jail, and wasted by philosophers in cafes on the Strand; it was lost by those who wished the past were present, and loathed by those who wished the present past. Oranges and lemons rang the chimes of St. Clement’s, and Westminster’s division bell was dumb.

I’ve also been reading Michael Robbins’ Equipment for Living: On Poetry and Pop Music, in which he says, “You don’t decide to go deep into words. Something takes you there.”

That reminds me of some of the things my AP students wrote last week in response to my question: What makes a good poem?

“A good poem makes your hair stand up. It is entirely up to the individual.”

“A poem that leads to serious assessment or thought about something.”

“One that emotionally involves any and all readers and leaves you thinking.”

“A good poem is able to illustrate a relatable and complex feeling in a unique and powerful way.”

“A good poem can be almost immediately recognized as true.”

“A good poem is one that is simple, easy to read but has sophistication and deeper meaning; I don’t want to dissect it like a puzzle but rather more contemplate it.”

“A good poem is any poem that changes your outlook on its subject in any significant way.”

“A good poem conveys emotion, any emotion.”

“A good poem makes you imagine the poem in real life.”

“A good poem always needs to make me feel something new or something I haven’t felt in a while.”

“It should make one consider and re-evaluate one’s own life as it makes one feel.”

“A good poem has music and rhythms coursing beneath its surface, regardless of whether or not it rhymes. It conveys its images in surprising, interesting ways, and the poet shows a mastery and command of language.”

“A good poem makes you compare it to what you know about the world.”

“A good poem casts a striking image in one’s mind and intelligently conveys its message.”

“A good poem has a thoughtful structure that compliments the topic itself.”

“A good poem is able to describe and create feelings that people have always known, but never been able to explain.”

What an insightful, emotionally intelligent group of students I have! Typing out their handwritten answers is part homage, part hallelujah, and the beginning of this year’s bittersweet goodbye.

Earth Day, Books, and a Poem

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We walked the Bloedel Reserve this afternoon with its gracious vistas and green in a thousand different shades.

I’ve been a bit preoccupied for the past month with a couple of things (National Boards, my health) and it’s taken me over a month to finish a single book.

However, this book is well worth reading: How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe’s Poorest Nation Created Our World and Everything in It, by Arthur Herman. With a rambunctious, overstepping title like that I opened it a bit skeptically but soon found it to be must-read material for anyone with more than a passing interest in Scotland. I bought it for S, who won’t have time to read it until summer (when she’ll be working two jobs, so maybe not much free time even then).

Before that, I read Graeme Macrae Burnet’s brilliant book His Bloody Project, which is a reader’s holy grail for me: a noir of high literary merit (the novel was a finalist for the 2016 Booker prize), set in Scotland. 

I also listened to the audiobook of Robert Wright’s Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment. I am fascinated by the references to David Hume, who may have been familiar with Buddhism.

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/08/07/what-meditation-can-do-for-us-and-what-it-cant Adam Gopnik’s take on the book is fantastic.

 
And finally, the BBC Sound Effects  Library has just released thousands of sound files, and perusing their titles is a delight. Here’s my found poem:

                          I

1 man constant walking up sharp incline of loose stone

1 man climbing and slipping

1 man 1 woman approach and stop

2 people clambering over loose debris

1 man 1 woman depart

10 bells ringing, Lichfield Cathedral.

                          II

12 month baby boy, scream & blowing three raspberries

12 month old baby boy, saying “Dada” (three times)

12-bore Shotgun, load, shot & cartridge ejected

12 bells ringing, Worcester Cathedral.

                        III

1 lorry passing slowly

200-year old village pump filling bucket

6 bells poorly rung in English village church.

 

 

Early December

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A at his 14th birthday party. I was in anthropologist mode, listening to a complicated trivia game he made up for his partygoers to play.

The mornings lately start like this:

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And get to this:

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The Danish String Quartet is my current favorite group–they’re coming to Seattle in February!

The latest book I’ve read: Radio Free Vermont by Bill McKibben is a short, fun, what-if scenario about seceding from the Union. It references Trump and Tillerson but shies away from any really hard-hitting commentary.

Last, incidental student poetry from the back board:

  1. Seattle-area students getting their grumbles in:

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2. Seniors already chomping at the bit:

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3. But very much still kiddos:

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After a poem by Museo Soseki

I leave to others the violent wordsmithing
and elegy-making
for this dissolving world.

Morning after morning of
waking early and doing what needs done
has taught me to love what is right in front of me.

Today there is no sunshine
but the children in my classes
shine so bright

even the dull desks gleam back at us.