A humble spirit

Poet William Stafford was born on this day, January 17, 1914 in Hutchinson, Kansas. He graduated from the University of Kansas and received his Ph.D. from the University of Iowa. Stafford was a conscientious objector during World War II and worked in a civillian service camp as his alternative service. This experience led to his first prose work, Down My Heart. He taught at Lewis and Clark College in Oregon. Stafford wrote every morning and produced several collections of his work, all reflecting his joy in the magic of the moment and his great love for the natural world. He offered questions, not answers. Here's an example:

Level Light

Sometimes the light when evening fails
stains all haystacked country and hills,
runs the cornrows and clasps the barn
with that kind of color escaped from corn
that brings to autumn the winter word—
a level shaft that tells the world:

It is too late now for earlier ways;
now there are only some other ways,
and only one way to find them—fail.

In one stride night then takes the hill.

Cohousing opportunities in Ann Arbor

This Sunday, January 11, at 2 p.m., Nick Meima, founder of the Sunward cohousing community will be talking on "Community, Health, and Well-Being" and leading a tour of the three local cohousing communities. Cohousing is an innovative approach to living in which residents have separate dwellings but share activities and where the physical environment encourages a strong sense of community. Inspired by Danish experiments in intentional living, cohousing has taken off in this country, spawning a diversity of communities that each have their individual character based on needs and goals of residents. The meeting and tour will be held at Sunward Cohousing, 424 Little Lake Dr. Free. Preregistration required. Call 763-2177.

Chesstastic this Sunday, January 11

Black and White King

Drop in to play chess this Sunday at the Traverwood branch. Players of all ages are welcome to try their luck on the chess battlefield. Chess sets are provided but you are welcome to bring your own set.

Chesstastic | Sunday, January 11 | 1:00-4:00 PM | Traverwood Branch | All Ages

Inaugural poet

Poet Elizabeth Alexander has been chosen to write and read a poem in honor of Barak Obama's Presidential inauguration. Her selection has been lauded by fellow poets because of her writing about civil rights from the standpoint of the ordinary person but with surprising twists. Alexander is curently a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard. She has been the first chairperson of the poetry center at Smith College and has held posts at other universities including Haverford College and the University of Chicago. Rita Dove, a former U.S. poet laureate, says of Alexander's poetry: "Her poems bristle with the irresistible quality of a world seen fresh." Following are the first two stanzas of her poem, "Ladders" which tells of an experience of racism in an unexpected place:

Ladders
by Elizabeth Alexander

Filene's department store
near nineteen-fifty-three:
An Aunt Jemima floor
display. Red bandanna,

Apron holding white rolls
of black fat fast against
the bubbling pancakes, bowls
and bowls of pale batter.

An outsider's look at college towns including guess who?

Blake Gumprecht is a geographer who has written the first and definitive book on college towns called, not surprisingly, The American College Town. Gumbrecht studies several town and gown locations including Ann Arbor. In thematic chapters, he explains what makes each of these towns unique whether it be the political and cultural enviroment, their emergence as high tech centers and their enrichment as well as detraction from their local communities. (Take the current plan by the U of M to occupy Pfizer's campus). The book has been praised by collegues as an insightful, very readable look at this geographic phenomenon.

Yet another "Best Books" list

Maureen Corrigan, book reviewer for Terry Gross's NPR program, Fresh Air, has come up with her favorite picks for 2008. Most are on other lists like the New York Times 100 Notable Books but one I hadn't heard of is 'Say You're One Of Them,' a collection of short stories by Nigerian writer Uwen Akpan. Read rave reviews besides Corrigan's. And get on the waiting list for other titles she recommends.

Laughter Blast!

One of my favorite creative teams is coming to town to give you a chuckle and a lift this holiday season on Saturday, December 27 at 2:00 pm Downtown. Talented storyteller and Hopwood Winner, Badria Jazairi, is joining her theatrical expert husband and Pioneer teacher, Phil Walker, for laughter yoga and creative play for the 9 year old and up crowd. Adults and teens are very welcome!

"Play it again, Sam"

casablancacasablanca

On November 26, 1942, the movie, Casablanca, had its first showing at the Hollywood Theater in New York City. The movie starred Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. It's the story of Rick Blaine, former resistance fighter during World War II who gives up politics to open a nightclub in Casablanca. Victor Laszlo, a leader of the European resistance movement, shows up with his wife Ilsa who is Rick's former lover. Rick is faced with an ethical dilemma that tests his love for Ilsa. The film initially got only decent reviews including one from the New Yorker that called it "pretty tolerable." But it went on to receive the Academy Award and became one of the favorite pictures of the twentieth century. It is also one of the most quoted including the lines: "Here's looking at you, kid." And "Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, she walks into mine."

Check out Casablanca from the Library as well as many other classic films from that era.

Tragedy and hope on the South Dakota plains

Although this book was published several years ago, I was so moved by the story, I had to write about it. The Work of Wolves by Kent Meyers is the story of four young men whose personal journeys and quest for justice bring them together. Set against the harsh beauty of the Badlands, Carson Fielding, a horse trainer, is hired to work for the controlling, mercenary ranch owner Magnus Yarborough, who still holds a grudge from a horse sale to Carson years ago. Yarborough wants Carson to train three horses and teach his new young wife, Rebecca, to ride. Carson and "Reb" as he calls her fall in love but do not act on their emotions. Yarborough still suspects them and in an act of vengeance, removes the horses Carson has trained to a remote area where they are slowing starving to death. What ensues is the development of a strong, almost mystical bond among Carson, Earl, a bright Lakota teenager, Willi, a German exchange student who is fleeing a dark family history, and Ted, another Lakota who is falling prey to alcoholism. Their journey to save the horses--and, in a sense, themselves--is told in language that evokes the broad sweep of this Western landscape.

Readers who like Meyers will also enjoy Leif Enger's Peace Like a River and Kent Haruf's Plainsong.

Poems for tough times

As a response to the intensity of election season and current econonic woes, the Academy of American Poets has compiled poems called "Poems for Times of Turmoil." Included in the list are poems by Gerard Manly Hopkins, Walt Whitman and Hart Crane. The Academy is a wonderful resource for finding poems from their vast archive, essays and reviews on poetry, occasional poems for that special day and poetry events. Following is one of my favorites from their current list, "Thing," by Rae Armantrout whose words are a voice of sanity amid the media frenzy:

We love our cat
for her self
regard is assiduous
and bland,

for she sits in the small
patch of sun on our rug
and licks her claws
from all angles

and it is far
superior
to "balanced reporting"

though, of course,
it is also
the very same thing.

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