Archive for the ‘On Reading’ Category

Walken Reads Poe’s The Raven

October 31, 2010 Leave a comment

Happy Halloween to my poet-lovin’ friends. 

Here’s how to listen: Close your eyes and just listen as Christopher Walken reads Edgar Allan Poe’s eerily haunting poem.  Then dunk a graham cracker in a glass of milk and give a nod to your youth.  If this doesn’t evoke a rainy day memory from your early school days, nothing will. 

Words to poem follow below (if you’d rather read along.)

Edgar Allan Poe

The Raven
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
`’Tis some visitor,’ I muttered, `tapping at my chamber door –
Only this, and nothing more.’
Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow; – vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow – sorrow for the lost Lenore –
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels named Lenore –
Nameless here for evermore.
And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me – filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
`’Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door –
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door; –
This it is, and nothing more,’
Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
`Sir,’ said I, `or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you’ – here I opened wide the door; –
Darkness there, and nothing more.
Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before
But the silence was unbroken, and the darkness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, `Lenore!’
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, `Lenore!’
Merely this and nothing more.
Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
`Surely,’ said I, `surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore –
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore; –
‘Tis the wind and nothing more!’
Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately raven of the saintly days of yore.
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door –
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door –
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.
Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
`Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,’ I said, `art sure no craven.
Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the nightly shore –
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!’
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.’
Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning – little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door –
Bird or beast above the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as `Nevermore.’
But the raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only,
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered – not a feather then he fluttered –
Till I scarcely more than muttered `Other friends have flown before –
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.’
Then the bird said, `Nevermore.’
Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
`Doubtless,’ said I, `what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore –
Till the dirges of his hope that melancholy burden bore
Of “Never-nevermore.”‘
But the raven still beguiling all my sad soul into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore –
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking `Nevermore.’
This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!
Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
`Wretch,’ I cried, `thy God hath lent thee – by these angels he has sent thee
Respite – respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore!
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget this lost Lenore!’
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.’
`Prophet!’ said I, `thing of evil! – prophet still, if bird or devil! –
Whether tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted –
On this home by horror haunted – tell me truly, I implore –
Is there – is there balm in Gilead? – tell me – tell me, I implore!’
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.’
`Prophet!’ said I, `thing of evil! – prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us – by that God we both adore –
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels named Lenore –
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden, whom the angels named Lenore?’
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.’
`Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!’ I shrieked upstarting –
`Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken! – quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!’
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.’
And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted – nevermore!

Rekindled Retires — Maybe

September 30, 2010 1 comment

NOTE TO READERS: This month I launched a new blog for my business. Rekindledreader is on hiatus–or retired if I can’t manage two blogs–for a spell.

Here’s where you can find me now:

I still write about running, only now it’s in the context of helping others find health and happiness.  It’s what I do–or strive to do–as a fitness professional. 

At WholeSum Fitness I hope to ignite a passion for health and well-being in those who are like I once was: inert and unfulfilled. It’s about the link between setting fitness goals and achieving results in life and at work.

Please drop by my new online home anytime–I love guests!

Cheers to your good health.


P.S. For the record, I’ve also grown a bit weary of the rekindled moniker. Here’s its genesis: Re: Kindle dreader. Clever, yes. But my dread is gone now and all my fears are abated about e-readers: If people can co-exist then so can e-books and hardbacks.  And, oh–I’m also no longer rekindled. I’m just plain old kindled now–like all the time.

An Ayn Rand Revival

October 28, 2009 1 comment


A decade ago readers chose four Ayn Rand novels and, more inexplicably, an armful of L. Ron Hubbard books to top the century’s best fiction list.  Compared to the Modern Library’s list of the best English-language novels of the 20th century, culled by the board’s erudite scholars a year earlier, their online poll results seem suspect. 

Not that I’m suggesting any tampering took place by publishing houses but it’s hard to imagine choosing Rand over Faulkner or Fitzgerald. Yet the popular picks remain fixed in history: readers declared Ayn Rand the reigning fiction queen of the 20th century.

Living in the shadow of the Ayn Rand Institute , I’ll still see a faded “Who is John Galt?” bumper sticker on the back of an old Volvo on occasion—a symbol of the legacy left by the author.  Today,  Rand is more renown for creating archetypal embodiments of fervent capitalists than for any claim to literary prowess.

It’s no big surprise that in this age of tea parties and totalitarian talk an Ayn Rand revival is in full swing. Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead are showcased selections at the local Borders books. A newly-released edition of We The Living is garnering reviews.  And right on cue Knopf Doubleday just today released The Goddess That Failed, an Ayn Rand biography by Anne C. Heller.

Despite her growing resurgence, I have no plans to re-read Rand.  My close encounter with Howard Roark and his fellow protagonists left me with little desire to slog through more pages of heavy-handed drubbings disguised as fiction. I’m thinking the better read might be Heller’s biography, especially as many of this century’s readers will no doubt ask, “Who was Ayn Rand?” 

Hey, that gives me an idea:  I think I’ll make some bumper stickers and start a movement.

© Shelly Roberts and, 2009

Push, by Sapphire

October 24, 2009 Leave a comment

Push by SapphireI read Sapphire’s novel in 1996 during a break from graduate school.  The writing so effectively wrenched my mind from the tomes of the dead white English men I’d been mired in for a semester that I recoiled from its pages.  I pushed myself to finish the book, a mere 142-page novel, but in contrast to, say, John Locke, the text seemed much too potent and raw.  So it was with astonishment that I sat in a theater last week watching a trailer for the upcoming Hollywood production of Push (marketed as Precious.)    

In a mere two weeks the Oprah Winfrey/Tyler Perry promoted film will descend on movie screens across America. Oprah will no doubt hype the movie to a billion fans through her eponymous tv show and magazine. And if they’ve done Sapphire’s novel justice the film will ignite discussions of not just the tragedy of rape and incest, but also of the lingering atrocities perpetrated on a race and the redemptive power of healing.

Push is the story of Precious Jones, a barely literate, grossly obese, incest ravaged, HIV-infected teen with a meteor-sized chip on her shoulder. Through Precious, Sapphire delivers an honest portrayal of a discarded life.  Giving birth to two babies from her own father and stunted by third-grade level literacy, sixteen year-old Precious is finally rescued by an improbably empathetic and patient woman named Blue Rain.  Ms Rain teaches her to write as a means of healing: “If you just sit there the river gonna rise up drown you!  Writing could be the boat carry you to the other side.”      

Clearly, writing is Sapphire’s salvation, too. Her voice pokes through the text sometimes awkwardly, as in this glaringly lucid and out of character piece of prose from Precious: 

She say forget about the numbers and just keep working.  The author has a message and the reader’s job is to decode that message as thoroughly as possible.  A good reader is like a detective, she say, looking for clues in the text.

The message in Push is easily decoded: Myriad descriptions of the relentless molestation and abuse endured by Precious are both redemptive and radical; the slamfest poet-author uses graphic rape scenes as a metaphor for the abuses of a race–same as in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, much invoked in Push.  Unlike Walker’s novel, Sapphire pushes too far to reach mainstream masses.  It’s not surprising that, while Oprah backs the film, the novel is nowhere found on the talk show host’s much touted book club list.  And public school libraries are about as likely to catalog Push as they are to carry William Burroughs. 

While Sapphire’s text alienates some readers with its rawness, Push did manage gaining attention from  Hollywood heavy-hitters.  With luck the movie version will soon have millions of Americans rooting for Precious Jones and opening the dialogue on incest and rape–that’s what Elaina Kroll, founder of The Innocence Mission deems so critical to ending the cycle of child sexual abuse.  If Precious the movie manages that where the book may have failed,  then it’s worth the price of admission. 

 © Shelly Roberts and, 2009

On Censorship in Public Schools

October 23, 2009 1 comment


freedomIn an age of one-click accessibility to all things literary it’s somewhat surprising that book-banning in public school libraries is still topical, yet, alas, an open letter in this morning’s Opinion page is proof that censorship still rages on–and in Orange County, California no less! The hot potato subject addressed in  a letter by Elaina Kroll, founder of a non-profit group missioned with eliminating child sexual abuse, centers around Maya Angelou’s autobiographical story, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

At issue still are the book’s brief  rape and incest scenes, deemed by would-be censors as too graphic for impressionable teen minds. Kroll rightly admonishes the danger of such a myopic reading. Her argument against banning the book from public schools is that the very act of censorship may actually perpetuate child sexual abuse. “The only way we can preserve the innocence of our children is by allowing an open and honest dialogue about sexual abuse and never allowing a victim’s story to be hidden in shame and secrecy,” says Knoll.

Kroll believes a key to breaking the cycle of abuse is to make confessional stories like Angelou’s more accessible to teens.  Fair enough, public school library funding officials may say, so long as writers keep the messy details out of the text.  And that’s where one writer pushes back.  In her unrelentingly in your face story of abuse called “nearly pornographic” by the Kirkus Review, Sapphire, the author of Push, deliberately assaults readers sensibilities.   I’ll post thoughts on the novel tomorrow.


Categories: On Reading

More Poetry, Less War

October 19, 2009 Leave a comment

If people read more poetry there’d be less war. You want audacious hope, Obama? Try suggesting NATO troops take on the Taliban with a spirited reading of Whitman’s “Song of Myself.” That’ll hit ’em square in the solar plexus in a way no arms could ever assail.

There’s a certain peace in words. They are the connective tissue that link us to one another: “for every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you,” wrote Whitman. In poetry, words alone aren’t the hook; the emotional grit of a poem is also in its structure. When Picasso said art gives form to our terrors and desires, he could have been speaking of poetry, says Edward Hirsch in How to Read a Poem. You can’t ignore a poem’s form any more than you can react to a painting without considering the colors or brush strokes on the canvas. 

But you don’t have to deconstruct a poem to feel its impact. Hirsch writes that Emily Dickinson knew a poem this way: “If I read a book (and) it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.” 

I seek that kind of visceral response from more than poetry.  I look for it in fiction, too.   Beyond the storyline, apart from the action, I am most transported by writing that in its very simplicity knocks me off my feet.  Like this from the book on my nightstand, Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies:

More rains came.  Below the dripping awning, a newspaper pressed over her head.  Boori Ma squatted and watched the monsoon ants as they marched along the clothesline, carrying eggs in their mouths.  Damper winds soothed her back.  Her newspapers were running low.

Like the pureness in good poetry, there is a truth in Lahiri’s words that is at once unnerving and consoling.  And for me, connecting with that truth, whether it’s in the cadence of a lyrical poem, or lines from a work of fiction, has a way of silencing my strife.

So while it may be a stretch to suggest that poetry can conquer a dictator or take out the Taliban, whenever my war is internal or I’m deafened by a cacophony of clashing emotions, good writing has a way of calming me.  And knowing that, I offer this suggestion: if ever you find yourself “out of sorts” find a poem and a tree. Sit and read as if meditating on the words. I can’t promise anything but I have a hunch you’ll find a certain peace from it. I do.

© Shelly Roberts and, 2009.

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