Archive for February, 2011

Irish Inspiration

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I recently spent a couple of days in Ireland.  In addition to seeing such literary sites as the Dublin Writers Museum, the various bookshops flanking Trinity College, and a larger-than-life statue of Oscar Wilde, I discovered what are now my two new poetic obsessions:  a poem titled “Dublin Made Me” and the song “Those Were the Days.” 

“Dublin Made Me” – Donagh MacDonagh

I saw this poem displayed from its open manuscript in the Dublin Writers Museum.  It makes me want to scrutinize the nuances of my surroundings and write a poem about them (a sort of reverse take on what MacDonagh accomplishes here).

Dublin made me and no little town
With the country closing in on its streets
The cattle walking proudly on its pavements
The jobbers, the gombeen men and the cheats

 Devouring the fair-day between them
A public house to half a hundred men
And the teacher, the solicitor and the bank-clerk
In the hotel bar drinking for ten.

Dublin made me, not the secret poteen still
The raw and hungry hills of the West
The lean road flung over profitless bog
Where only a snipe could nest

Where the sea takes its tithe of every boat.
Bawneen and currach have no allegiance of mine,
Nor the cute self-deceiving talkers of the South
Who look to the East for a sign.

 The soft and dreary midlands with their tame canals
Wallow between sea and sea, remote from adventure
And Northward a far and fortified province
Crouches under the lash of arid censure.

I disclaim all fertile meadows, all tilled land
The evil that grows from it and the good,
But the Dublin of old statutes, this arrogant city
Stirs proudly and secretly in my blood.

 ”Those Were the Days” – English lyrics by Gene Raskin, music by Boris Fomin -  Performed here by Mary Hopkin

I heard a two-person band cover this song at a Dublin restaurant, and it’s still haunting me.  It’s beautiful and cautionary without trying too hard–a nostalgic view of life, with all of its twists and turns.  It’s not an Irish song, but the crowd was singing along as though it were.

Once upon a time there was a tavern
Where we used to raise a glass or two
Remember how we laughed away the hours
And dreamed of all the great things we would do

Those were the days my friend
We thought they’d never end
We’d sing and dance forever and a day
We’d live the life we choose
We’d fight and never lose
For we were young and sure to have our way.
La la la la…
Those were the days, oh yes those were the days

Then the busy years went rushing by us
We lost our starry notions on the way
If by chance I’d see you in the tavern
We’d smile at one another and we’d say

Those were the days my friend
We thought they’d never end
We’d sing and dance forever and a day
We’d live the life we choose
We’d fight and never lose
For we were young and sure to have our way.
La la la la…
Those were the days, oh yes those were the days

Just tonight I stood before the tavern
Nothing seemed the way it used to be
In the glass I saw a strange reflection
Was that lonely woman really me?

Those were the days my friend
We thought they’d never end
We’d sing and dance forever and a day
We’d live the life we choose
We’d fight and never lose
For we were young and sure to have our way.
La la la la…
Those were the days, oh yes those were the days

Through the door there came familiar laughter
I saw your face and heard you call my name
Oh my friend we’re older but no wiser
For in our hearts the dreams are still the same

Those were the days my friend
We thought they’d never end
We’d sing and dance forever and a day
We’d live the life we choose
We’d fight and never lose
For we were young and sure to have our way.
La la la la…
Those were the days, oh yes those were the days


The Professor’s House

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I’m reading a great little book by Willa Cather, one of the most notable twentieth-century American writers, called The Professor’s House.  It’s about a professor who has achieved the highest success in his field, and yet he resists settling into that accomplished, satisfied phase of his professional life.  He initially does this by continuing to rent the dilapadated house in which he raised his family even after he’s purchased a sparkling, modern, fantastically upscale residence with the money made from his success in academics.  He says he wants to keep renting so he’ll have a place for a private office, but it’s symbolic of his resistance to sitting smugly at the top instead of working earnestly toward a goal.  I’m only about halfway through, but it’s great stuff so far.

The professor has many concerns regarding the future of education and academia.  What’s funny is that the book was written in 1925, but some of his thoughts could easily be editorials in today’s paper.  One of my favorites runs thus:

“St. Peter followed her downstairs and put up her umbrella for her, and then went back to his study to think it over.  His friendship with Crane had been a strange one.  Out in the world they woud almost certainly have kept clear of each other; but in the university they had fought together in a common cause.  Both, with all their might, had resisted the new commercialism, the aim to ’show results’ that was undermining and vulgarizing education.  The State Legislature and the board of regents seemed determined to make a trade school of the university.  Candidates for the degree of Bachelor of Arts were allowed credits for commercial studies; courses in book-keeping, experimental farming, domestic science, dress-making, and what not.  Every year the regents tried to diminish the number of credits required in science and the humanities.  The liberal appropriations, the promotions and increases in salary, all went to the professors who worked with the regents to abolish the purely cultural studies.  Out of a faculty of sixty, there were perhaps twenty men who made any serious stand for scholarship, and Robert Crane was one of the staunchest.  He had lost the Deanship of the College of Science because of his uncompromising opposition to the degrading influence of politicians in university affairs.  The honour went, instead, to a much younger man, head of the department of chemistry, who was willing ‘to give the taxpayers what they wanted.’”

Sing it, Willa.


Agent 0500

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Suzie Townsend rocks.  An English teacher-turned-literary agent, she specializes in YA, has been featured in Writer’s Digest, and has an awesome blog called “Confessions from Suite 500.”  Fun fact:  I interned in that very Suite 500 seven years ago when it was home to a different literary agency.  It’s where I learned how to write a query and the best way to seal a hundred SASEs in an hour.

One of Suzie’s latest posts provides an insider’s glimpse into the world of literary agents–it’s not as impersonal as you might think!–and a very funny reminder that it’s important to be courteous always.  Read it and try not to cringe!