In honor of Memorial Day, a heartbreaking World War One poem. It’s by Archibald MacLeish. He wrote it for his brother.
April 30th: “The Talker”
“The Talker,” by Chelsea Rathburn
I meant to post a lovely optimistic love poem for the last day of April, and then I read this on yesterday’s April Is and I couldn’t resist. Inside jokes are one of my favorite things, and one of the most tragic things to me when a relationship of any kind ends for whatever reason: “No one will ever get this joke again.” The hardest times for me after my mother died were (and are) when I saw something in the newspaper or heard a story and thought, “Mom would have thought that was hilarious,” and I couldn’t call and tell her about it.
As a writer, it can be hard to create a real sense of intimacy between two characters who are supposed to have known each other a long time. And I think giving them a few inside jokes that are hilarious to them, and maybe not to anyone else (sometimes including to the reader) is a great place to start.
I thought it was done really well between Holmes and Watson in the recent movie, who had practically an entire language of case-solving and Inspector-Lestrade-mocking that very, very clearly had a long, shared, affectionate history behind it. And while I’ve only seen part of the first season, I thought Marshall and Lily on How I Met Your Mother was a great example of a believable longterm relationship with its own in-jokes and rituals that still didn’t confuse or exclude the viewer.
Can you think of a time you’ve seen inside jokes done really well in a story or on TV?
April 29th: “Love in the Campagna”
“Two in the Campagna” by Robert Browning.
I adore love poems that explore how far we’re connected to people we love, and how much distance remains between–the limits and boundaries of love and loneliness and whether they matter and whether they’re a source of grief, or part of what makes love exciting. Have you got a favorite poem like that?
April 28th: “After the Movie”
“After the Movie,” by Marie Howe.
Isn’t this great? I just discovered it today.
The question the narrator and Michael are debating is something I wrestle with as a romance writer. In the end, is love a feeling or an action? I’ve definitely said, “Well, he thought he loved her, but if he could do that to her, then it wasn’t really love.”
Then sometimes I think that okay, maybe it was really love, who am I to say that love is only love when it meets my personal standards; but that if you can’t treat someone you love right, then it doesn’t matter whether you love them or not. It took me a long time to understand that if someone says “I love you,” and you love them back, that still doesn’t mean you’re a bad person for not letting them make you miserable.
I believe in the power of love to change lives. And yet in my own experience love, all by itself, isn’t enough to change someone. There have been times in my life when I loved someone desperately and I still wasn’t able–wasn’t brave enough or mature enough or knowledgeable enough or whatever enough–to be what they needed, and times when someone couldn’t change just because they loved me and I wanted or needed them to. We all fail people we love, and we’ve all been failed by people who loved us.
But my favorite kind of romance novel is still the kind where the love of another person and their faith in you, and loving another person and wanting to be what they need, can jolt you out of the bad place you’re in and help you become the person you want to be.
These questions show up a lot in In for a Penny. I think the answer the book comes to is that true love is both. It’s that feeling classical poets write about, and it’s also the day-to-day struggles of being a good partner.
Another book I love for the way it handles these ideas is Megan Chance’s Gilded-Age-set historical novel An Inconvenient Wife. Both the heroine’s husband and her new hypnotherapist love her, but the constraints of the era affect how they express it in ways that can be extremely damaging to her. (WARNING: The book is fabulous and I highly recommend it, but it’s NOT a traditional romance novel.)
What do you think? Can true love conquer all, even someone’s inner demons? Do you have a favorite book, romance or otherwise, that deals with this question?
April 27th: “Love After Love”
“Love After Love,” by Derek Walcott.
I stole this poem from today’s April Is, because it really spoke to me. Because I’m single, and I’m mostly happy with that but sometimes I can’t help feeling as if I shouldn’t be, as if I’m not supposed to be whole if I’m not in a relationship. (Or as if I shouldn’t be writing romance novels! I’ve actually had a couple of people ask me about that, and I never know what to say, other than that I think love is great and I love writing about it, even if I don’t happen to be in love with anyone at this particular moment in time.) And because I try to like myself, and I’ve been having a little trouble with that recently. Not because I’ve been doing Evil Things Wot I’m Ashamed Of, or anything. Just because I’ve been feeling kind of stressed and insecure.
Are any of you Adam Lambert fans? I have a really great idea for tie-in merchandise. It would be an Adam Lambert plushie, and it would have one of those pull-ties with a ring on the end. And when you pulled it it would say things like “Just remember, you are not alone,” and “Thanks for loving me, ’cause you’re doing it perfectly,” and “It’s okay to be confused about your life,” and other heartwarming lyrics and quotes. How comforting would that be? Adam Lambert thinks you are great just the way you are!
If any of you know his publicist, feel free to pass along my idea…
April 26th: “Fiveness”
“Fiveness,” by Sibelan Forrester.
I speak of beauty sharpened to a point:
Da Vincian figures, angels in the sphere.
It’s Aphrodite’s number, lingering
code of the body – stretch from palm to heel.
I am so taken with the way you move,
no frozen image can approximate –
only wind in branches, only slow
and gracious rays through interrupting clouds…
A long elastic curve, but interspersed
with a moment’s hesitation – so.
Each line tends to the next one. Spread
your fingers wide so I can hand you this
sweet ripened fruit, and if you missed
its petals several weeks ago, we may
find the same mystery sliced from the side –
stars and roses, love. Apples and pears.
This one is by my college Russian professor! Isn’t it great? She was (and still is, of course) incredibly cool—she played the guitar and led Russian folksinging, and also taught a seminar about translation that I really enjoyed. Here are a few quotes from that class that I just found in an old notebook:
SIBELAN, ON MAKING CHOICES IN POETRY: “People read it, and they’re either moved or they’re kind of irritated.” This expresses my experience of poetry SO WELL.
DRYDEN, IN THE PREFACE TO HIS TRANSLATION OF CHAUCER: “Chaucer, I confess, is a rough diamond, and must first be polished before he shines. I deny not likewise, that, living in our early days of poetry, he writes not always of a piece, but sometimes mingles trivial things with those of greater moment.” This is exactly the sort of 18th and 19th century obsession with “good taste” and “elegance” and “speaking seriously on serious subjects” that kind of traumatized Penelope in In for a Penny.
WILHELM VON HUMBOLDT, INTRODUCTION TO HIS TRANSLATION OF AGAMEMNON, 1816: “And think how our nation has progressed, not just the well-educated among us but the masses as well—even women and children—since the Greeks have been available to our nation’s readers in an authentic and undistorted form.”
SOME SOVIET DIRECTOR, IN HIS MEMOIRS, AS REPEATED BY SIBELAN: “All I ever wanted in life was to have a horse. And do I have a horse? No.”
…Sibelan, if you read this, I also took useful notes, I promise! Anyway, gentle readers, you can find more of her poetry here.
April 25th: “The Precision”
“The Precision” by Linda Gregg.
Sorry I missed yesterday! Anyway, I like this one, in particular the way it talks about the clarity and quiet of attraction, the way when you’re desperately into someone you see their every movement in perfect focus, almost slow motion.
I’ve got houseguests till Tuesday, but after that be prepared for photos from my signings. And thanks to everyone who showed up–we had great turnout at both our events which was very reassuring for a debut author!
April 23rd: “The Clod and the Pebble”
My signing with Gayle Ann Williams, Amy Rench, and Marie-Claude Bourque is in two hours! I think it’s going to be lots of fun.
The Clod and the Pebble
by William Blake
“Love seeketh not Itself to please,
“Nor for itself hath any care,
“But for another gives its ease,
“And builds a Heaven in Hell’s despair.”
So sang little Clod of Clay
Trodden with the cattle’s feet
But a Pebble of the brook
Warbled out these metres meet:
“Love seeketh only Self to please,
“To bind another to Its delight,
“Joys in another’s loss of ease,
“And builds a Hell in Heaven’s despite.”
What I like about this poem is that both can be true. I find it interesting that it’s the trodden clod that has the more optimistic version–what is Blake trying to say? Possibly something icky about suffering making us better people, I’m not sure. What do you think?
Fresh Fiction and April 22nd: “Fighting Words”
Today I have a piece up at Fresh Fiction about the difficulty of taking feedback on your writing. I’m giving away a book in the comments! And in honor of that, here’s a poem by Dorothy Parker. We writers have our priorities, don’t we?
“Fighting Words” by Dorothy Parker.
April 21st: “Sorry”
“Sorry” from “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf” by ntozake shange
I loved this is high school when I first read it (my favorite part of the play, though, was the story about the girl who read the biography of Toussaint Louverture), and I still love it. I probably love it more now, on account of the guys who have told me “sorry” in between then and now.