OnTheRoad

“Pull up a chair. Take a taste. Come join us. Life is so endlessly delicious.” 
 Ruth Reichl

They call it social media, but I rather think of blogging as a conversation, an exchange of ideas that draws on the varied experiences and talents of a wider, global community.  A few weeks ago, Letizia from Reading Interrupted invited me to write a guest blog on George Washington which was in response to Letizia’s excellent post on Revisiting the Jefferson Bible. I encourage you to visit Letizia’s blog and enjoy reading (and participating in)  the animated discussion.

Thank you, Letizia, for introducing me to your dynamic and vibrant community. I look forward to every one of your posts. With a book in our hands, we are always on an adventure.

Audio Books, Blogging, Walking with George Washington

Thank you, Letizia!

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Edna St. Vincent Millay, Geoffrey Chaucer, National Poetry Month, Poetry

The Month for Poetry

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote

The droghte of Marche hath perced to the roote

And bathed every veyne in swich licour….

Than longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,

 Geoffrey Chaucer, Prologue to the Canterbury Tales

Ferries

It all started in 1995 when the Academy of American Poets brought together a group of publishers, booksellers, librarians, literary organizations, poets and teachers.  This was no ordinary conference!  The participants had one objective, to organize a month-long commemoration of poetry.   They designated April 1996 as the inaugural celebration of National Poetry Month.     Geoffrey Chaucer would be proud!  After all, April is the time for pilgrimages.  In my experience, this embodies the essence of poetry.  Poems thrust us into a remarkable journey that demands are complete involvement.

Last year, OTR Poetry Reading Program 2013 selected, “The Voice of the Poet – Five American Women” which brings together the brilliant voices of Gertrude Stein, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Louise Bogan and Muriel Rukeyser.   To celebrate this month of poetry, I want to highlight these five American Women who used poetry to define their lives and challenged us to do the same.

Edna St. Vincent Millay was a free spirit known for her bohemian lifestyle.  Her background in theatre added a dramatic flare to her poetry readings.  Recuerdo, which in Spanish means memory, is a testament to living generously, without reservation, without regret.

Reading poetry speaks to the heart.  Listening to poetry sings to the soul.

Recuerdo

Edna St. Vincent Millay

We were very tired, we were very merry—

We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.

It was bare and bright, and smelled like a stable—

But we looked into a fire, we leaned across a table,

We lay on a hill-top underneath the moon;

And the whistles kept blowing, and the dawn came soon. Continue reading

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International Women's Day, Women in History

Serendipity & Coincidence

“For most of history, Anonymous was a woman.” 
Virginia Woolf

Journeys

Today is International Women’s Day – March 8, 2014.   I had marked the date on my calendar at the beginning of February thinking to celebrate the occasion with something special.  And then becoming involved with the busyness of life, I left the planning until too late.  These are the moments when serendipity comes to the rescue.

A few weeks ago, LaVagabonde, an amazing writer and blogger, recommended the book “Maiden Voyages: Writings of Women Travelers (Vintage Departures)” edited by Mary Morris.  I ordered the book through the public library and waited for the e-mail notification.  Today, on International Women’s Day, I signed out the book using the efficient library check-out kiosk and eagerly opened it to the introduction by Mary Morris, editor.   I don’t believe in coincidence. As soon as I read the opening paragraph, I knew I was meant to read this book:

“The late John Gardner once said that there are only two plots in all of literature.  You go on a journey or a stranger comes to town.  Since women, for so many years, were denied the journey, they were left with only one plot in their lives – to await the stranger.  Indeed, there is essentially no picaresque tradition among women novelists.  While the latter part of the twentieth century has seen a change of tendency, women’s literature from Austen to Woolf is by and large a literature about waiting, usually for love.”  Mary Morris

In the next few weeks, I will meet women who did not wait: Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Willa Cather, Box-Car Bertha, Rebecca West.  These women defied the status quo, choosing the journey, forging their personal destinies. This will be an extraordinary read.  What better time to begin than on International Women’s Day.

A very special thanks to LaVagabonde.  Her blog, Wish I Were Here, shares the same adventurous spirit of the women who grace the pages of “Maiden Voyages.”

 

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Biography, Julia Flynn Siler, Lost Kingdom: Hawaii's Last Queen

Lili’uokalani, Hawaii’s Last Queen

Iolani

This week, I read the last chapters of Lost Kingdom: Hawaii’s Last Queen, the Sugar Kings and America’s First Imperial Adventure” by Julia Flynn Siler.   It has been well over a century since Queen Lili’uokalani was disposed, imprisoned and discredited, but her memory lives on in the hearts of her people.   Her life was marked by sorrows that accompany those who experience upheaval during periods of rapid economic expansion. These are the times when traditions are challenged and opposing sides cannot resolve their differences.  Clarity comes later.

Queen Lili’uokalani will always be Hawaii’s last queen.  Abolishing the monarchy does not change that fact.  An accomplished author and songwriter who composed over 165 songs and chants, she used her talents to honour her people and customs.   She wrote, “…He will keep His promise, and will listen to the voices of His Hawaiian children lamenting for their homes.  It is for them that I would give the last drop of my blood; it is for them that I would spend, nay, am spending, everything belonging to me.”  Queen Lili’uokalani kept her word. To commemorate her 73rd birthday, she granted property, known today as Lili’uokalani Gardens, to her beloved people. Upon her death at 79 on November 11, 1917, she left her worldly estate to provide for orphan children of Hawaiian blood and other destitute children.

As I close the book on this narrative, I think of Robert Louis Stevenson, a visitor to the Hawaiian Islands, who wrote a poem for Ka’iulani, Queen Lili’uokalani’s niece and rightful heiress to the throne.  Ka’iulani’s life was brief, but her legacy is assured. She followed her aunt’s example of a courageous and valiant support for her people.

To Princess Ka’iulani

by Robert Louis Stevenson

Forth from her land to mine she goes,
The island maid, the island rose,
Light of heart and bright of face:
The daughter of a double race.

Her islands here, in Southern sun,
Shall mourn their Kaʻiulani gone,
And I, in her dear banyan shade,
Look vainly for my little maid.

But our Scots islands far away
Shall glitter with unwonted day,
And cast for once their tempests by
To smile in Kaʻiulani’s eye.

Banyan Tree

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“In a society where the rights and potential of women are constrained, no man can be truly free. He may have power, but he will not have freedom.”
Mary Robinson

Chatsworth

The first time I heard the name, Mary Robinson, was when I was looking into the life of Emma Hamilton, the great love of Lord Nelson. Mary, born in Bristol, England around the year 1757, had a head start on Emma, who was born in 1765. Mary appears to have come from a higher social level, given that her father was a naval captain and Emma’s was a blacksmith who died when she was two months old. One thing they had in common – they were destined to lead remarkable lives.

They met at the Drury Lane Theatre in Covent Garden when Emma became Mary’s maid. Mary had already become famous for her role of Perdita in Shakespeare’s play “A Winter’s Tale.” But that was only the beginning of her achievements. Indeed, during her short lifetime, Mary took on the role of actress, poet, dramatist, and novelist. Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire sponsored the publication of the first volume of her poems, Captivity.  Her celebrity status attracted the attention of the Prince of Wales, the future King George IV. In later years, she became known as the “English Sappho,”

Mary Robinson was a strident voice for women’s rights in a time of transition and exponential growth. Her poem, “January, 1795,” reflects her keen awareness and understanding of the polarized class structure in which she lived. As you read the poem, the disparity between rich and poor, the social injustice, the lack of honour given to the noble pursuits of artistic expression, honest labour and patriotism, becomes obvious. Mary Robinson lived a vibrant, sometimes contradictory, lifestyle. Yet, her words continue to hold relevance in our age.

January, 1795

by Mary Robinson

Pavement slipp’ry, people sneezing,
Lords in ermine, beggars freezing;
Titled gluttons dainties carving,
Genius in a garret starving. Continue reading
Emma Hamilton, Mary Robinson, Poetry, Women in History

January, 1795

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