Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Two new books read:

I've been so busy I haven't had time to report on my reading.
A little while ago, I finished Winter Holiday, by Arthur Ransome. It's a children's novel, and it's wonderful. I loved it. It revisits characters from Swallows and Amazons, Nancy Blackett and her sister, Peggy, and John, Susan, Titty and Roger of the Swallow, and introduces two new characters, Dick and Dorothea. Unlike Swallows and Amazons, it is not about sailing, because the lake is frozen, though they do manage to ice sail and sailing does enter their vocabulary. But the kids manage to have all kinds of adventures, so much so that the reader wishes she could join them!! While the story starts out feeling a bit random, it steadily builds to an exciting climax. It's also educational, as many of Arthur Ransome's books are. The reader learns (or has an opportunity to learn) the semaphor alphabet and how to build and ice-sailboat. If you enjoy children's literature the way I do, or have any children ages 6-11 or so, this is a tremendously worthwhile and fun book.
Yesterday, I also finished The Simple Secret to Better Painting by Greg Albert. It is subtitled, "How to immediately improve your art with this one rule of composition." The book is interesting and a worthwhile and informative read. Its premise is that in art, "no two intervals should be the same." The author applies the principle to not just obvious things like intervals between trees or fruit, but also to the size of items, their general placement on the page, the use of color, tone and value, visual weight and energy, rule of thirds etc. He has little helpful sayings like "Mostly, some and a bit." However, he had the annoying habit of contradicting himself which I found confusing, upsetting, and off-putting. But there was enough good information in this book that I will 1)probably read it again, 2)study it to some extent and 3)keep it around as a reference. * * * My poetry teacher at the Scarab Club, Dawn McDuffie, asked us last night what we were reading. (I am reading a number of other books, including Herman Melville's Moby Dick and Sonja Lyubomirsky's The Hows of Happiness and Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and others.) She wanted to know how our reading was affecting our poetry. She had just written a "War and Peace poem" that was quite nice. I didn't mention how my books were affecting my poetry; I wasn't sure they were. Poetry books usually have an effect on my poetry, even if only to make me want to write, to jump-start my process. But I will comment very briefly on how these two books might affect my poetry. 1)Winter Holiday is full of fun and adventure. It also constantly references and alludes to other famous books. Those are three qualities that could contribute to a good poem. (Or a good story). While not all poems are fun in the classic sense, poems should be fun to read in some way. And well written poems are an adventure to read. They can also contain adventure in the subject matter. Making the poem an adventure to read requires careful attention to details of language, syntax and poetic devices. And alluding to other work is also a good poetic device (or can be). 2)The Simple Secret to Better Painting is, according to author Greg Albert, that "No two intervals should be the same." Poetry thrives on repetition of sound (rhyme, alliteration), stanza length, rhythm patterns and so on. But a poem that repeats without variation is numbing and boring. It might be interesting, as a poet, to revisit this book and look at the various suggestions for painting to see how they might apply to poetry--just as an exercise in curiosity.

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