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My Poetry App

Shall we write a poem about this yellow peony? Or is the photo I snapped in the park on a spring day poem enough?
A writer/artist cousin wrote to ask: Who are your favorite poets? Oh, I had so much fun answering that question. Poetry is everywhere, as present as the clouds and the sky, or a sentence that someone throws out standing on the sidewalk chatting as the clouds roll by, or a tear for a sick friend, or the whiff of spring blossom, or the soft fur of a new puppy, or a lover’s touch, or a parent who has just died, or mortality and love in general, and so much more every day and night and through the night into the morning and the next day and the day after that.

I have created my own anthology of poetry and I try to memorize a poem now and again which I find difficult, but I do it anyway even if it takes me a long time, a line or two a day. Beyond that, I have a few poetry collections on my shelf, and I listen to Garrison Keillor recite and declaim poetry on “Writer’s Almanac,” and suddenly the poems in The New Yorker—which I read digitally—have little speaker clicks next to them and I can hear the poet (if s/he is alive) read his or her own poems. Not that poets necessarily read their own poems well. Sometimes, in fact, they are so portentous in their reading that I cannot understand what they are saying at all, I am just watching them or hearing them be portentous. If that happens, it’s on to the next one quickly as there are so many poems to enjoy. We don’t have to linger if a poem is obscure or we don’t like it. No one is grading us. We are not parsing anything as we were forced to parse in high school. And if we are at a poetry reading and the reading is boring as well as portentous (portentous is boring), we can space out or write our own poetry in a notebook which, if we are writers, we always carry with us.

I have a poetry app on my smart phone, smart enough to know that poetry is essential to daily life. I can look up any poet and find some examples of his or her work, or I can browse by subject—youth, aging, love, nature, work and play—depending on my mood. Or the poems “spin” and I can read whatever comes up like a wheel of fortune at an amusement park. The Poetry Foundation has created this app—it’s free—and I thank them.  Read More 
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Edith Wharton

I'm been re-reading the Marilyn French introduction to my frayed edition of Edith Wharton’s "The Custom of the Country," and that has set me straight on Jonathan Franzen’s odd review in The New Yorker of her work on the occasion of her 150th birthday:

Franzen begins by complaining that because she was born into privilege it is difficult to feel any sympathy for Edith Wharton or her writing. That’s odd as I have found Franzen’s writing cold and unsympathetic. And this brings me back to Marilyn French's observation that it is very interesting what men writers make of the women in their lives. I suppose one could also say the opposite: It’s very interesting what women writers make of the men in their lives. But Franzen's decision to attack Wharton for her "privilege" on her 150th birthday seems chauvinistic and cruel—chauvinism is cruel—small-minded, perhaps even envious of her great gifts.

For years, Edith Wharton’s work was relegated to the dusty shelves of libraries and she was mentioned only in passing as a contemporary of Henry James. We now know better. She was better, richer and truer in many ways than James as a writer. And Franzen is far from her class as a writer; I use class differently here, of course, though the word has some relevance.

Shame on The New Yorker for not honoring Edith Wharton and publishing one of her stories in celebration. Instead, they published Franzen's odd review. What an introduction for a new generation of readers who have never read Wharton. How are they to know that Franzen is utterly wrong about her? She wrote with empathy about many other people less fortunate than herself. She was an aid worker during World War I. Her generosity, both material and emotional, were legend. Three of her novels are masterpieces: “The Custom of the Country,” “The House of Mirth,” and “The Age of Innocence.” She wrote in bed, and that was a luxury, but she also had a serious nervous breakdown and much sadness and struggle in her life. She never had children yet she adored children and wrote tenderly about them. One could go on and on. Franzen has no such empathy or vision. He is a cold writer caught in the web of his own narcissistic middle-American origins, and blinkered by them.  Read More 
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