Personal Poetry: “The Trees” by Philip Larkin

Spring is blooming belatedly in New England this year. After a series of false starts, the warmth of the sun in the longer daylight hours is a cause of celebration. Yet counting the daffodils sprouting in my yard fills me with despondence. With the reawakening of nature, my mind wanders to thoughts of loss. These feelings have only heightened with age. However, I am not alone. Many poets have used the imagery of spring to express their discontent. One standout is Philip Larkin’s “The Trees”, in which the English poet delves into the inherent pessimism of the season.

Larkin begins “The Trees” with an unassuming observation: “The trees are coming into leaf/Like something almost being said.” The trees are almost trying to speak to Larkin. In the next line, he reveals his interpretation, “The recent buds relax and spread,/Their greenness is a kind of grief.” These trees are not joyously celebrating new life. They welcome the fresh buds with grief. These new buds are not the symbol of rebirth. Instead, the leaves are another year of growth.

In the second stanza, the mourning for the passage of time becomes more apparent. “Is it that they are born again/And we grow old? No, they die too,/Their yearly trick of looking new/Is written down in rings of grain.” The trunks and branches of the trees survived the winter but these are new buds blossoming. The leaves Larkin observed in springs of the past, withered from the trees in autumn. It is a mere illusion of rejuvenation. The rings inside tell the truth. These trees are aging just as humans do.

However, in the final stanza, Larkin writes, “Yet still the unresting castles thresh/In fullgrown thickness every May./Last year is dead, they seem to say,/Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.” There is cautious optimism in his words. Even as the trees age, they are planted in the present. They no longer live in the past. Even if they will die one day, they must live today.

Commonly framed as the season of burgeoning new life, spring is, conversely, a season of endings. Even as we delight in the blossoming of flowers or the chirps of hatchlings, there is the ever-present knowledge that those are merely the most recent blooms and birds. The sprouts we nurtured and admired last spring have aged or faded. Nothing is truly “afresh, afresh, afresh,” instead it is only our yearning to believe that such renewal exists. The fountain of youth, even illusionary, is a mere myth for humanity.

Further Reading

The Complete Poems by Philip Larkin

Similar Poets to Discover

Elizabeth Bishop, The Complete Poems 1927-1979
W. H. Auden, Collected Shorter Poems 1927–1957
Robert Frost, The Poetry of Robert Frost

Katelyn Varley writes poetry and prose. When not engaging in wordplay, she teaches swimming to all ages. She graduated from Hampshire College in Amherst, MA with a degree in History. She lives in Ayer, MA with her partner, two dogs, and a cat. Find her on Twitter @HistKB.

Advertisements

Essay: The Haunted South

As a child, I would sometimes sit in front of my mother’s bookcase and look at her collection of hardcover Anne Rice novels. I was too young to read them (or much of anything at all), but I loved how they looked. The cover art was rich and detailed, and covered with mysterious figures and enticing titles. They stoked a sense of mystery in me, even if I was only old enough to look.

If I wanted scary, I had plenty of other places to look. My elementary school library was filled with regionally-published anthologies of ghost stories. They were everywhere, and all with a similar aesthetic. These simple ghost stories were just a little bit more age appropriate. Less teeth, I suppose. But still spooky, and so very popular. Southerners love ghost stories, no matter the age.

There’s something about the south and it’s ghosts. I wish I could put my finger on something objective or tangible, but I really can’t. I suppose it’s a matter of my raising. Anyone can feel haunted by their childhood home. But when I visit Alabama and drive down the winding country roads I knew as a child, I hear all those ghosts calling out to me.

Let me make something clear real quick – I don’t believe in ghosts. I don’t even believe in God. I’d like to lay eyes on either, and it’s not been a lack of trying.

Belief or none, something about Alabama still feels haunted. I can almost feel all those ghosts brushing against me everywhere I go. It’s a natural part of the landscape. Everything’s old, rotten, and miserable. The perfect place for a haunting.

It could be the south’s quiet nature combined with its unsavory past. Everywhere you go is thick with the stench of the Civil War, and those lonely rural stretches really start to get under your skin if you think about it too much while your drive through. It’s almost like the ghosts of the old south notice the emptiness, and so they do the polite southern thing and fill the silence with some friendly chatter.

 

Thanks for checking out this preview of The Haunted South! You can read the rest over here on my blog, 905. 

Librarian Reading – April 2018

This monthly column, by our own Sara Marks, will feature new books that librarians and book bloggers are talking about.

I’m having a weird reading month.  I check out a lot of books from my library’s Overdrive account.  This means, when the loan is over, the book just disappears from my account.  If I remember in time, I can renew it, but if there is a waiting list, it puts me at the end.  That means, in many cases, that I have to wait months to get a book and I might have had to wait months to get it in the first place.  These two books are some I expect will take me months to get and months to finish while I wait for the second round of the waiting list to get to me.

35959740Circe

I know a lot of the Mill Page authors like fantasy and mythology.  So many of our conversations turn to various mythologies and magical creatures.  For me, I love the Hindu deities more than other pantheons.  For those who love the Greeks, you should give Circe a try.  It’s getting a lot of great buzz.  Here’s the blurb:

In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child–not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power–the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus.

But there is danger, too, for a woman who stands alone, and Circe unwittingly draws the wrath of both men and gods, ultimately finding herself pitted against one of the most terrifying and vengeful of the Olympians. To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

With unforgettably vivid characters, mesmerizing language and page-turning suspense, Circe is a triumph of storytelling, an intoxicating epic of family rivalry, palace intrigue, love and loss, as well as a celebration of indomitable female strength in a man’s world.

Circe comes out on April 10th.  It is a mythological drama with a strong female lead.

PrintMy Lady’s Choosing: An Interactive Romance Novel

I’m sure many of us read at least one Choose Your Own Adventure book in our lifetime.  If you haven’t I suggest you find one at a used bookstore, Amazon (used), or in a library.  They are fun and you always end up dying.  I never discovered a path that led to any success.  Anyway, My Lady’s Choosing: An Interactive Romance Novel is that method with a romance novel.  Here’s the blurb:

You are the plucky but penniless heroine in the center of eighteenth-century society, courtship season has begun, and your future is at hand. Will you flip forward fetchingly to find love with the bantering baronet Sir Benedict Granville? Or turn the page to true love with the hardworking, horse-loving highlander Captain Angus McTaggart? Or perhaps race through the chapters chasing a good (and arousing) man gone mad, bad, and scandalous to know, Lord Garraway Craven? Or read on recklessly and take to the Continent as the “traveling companion” of the spirited and adventuresome Lady Evangeline? Or yet some other intriguing fate? Make choices, turn pages, and discover all the daring delights of the multiple (and intertwining!) storylines. And in every path you pick, beguiling illustrations bring all the lust and love to life.

The publisher, Quirk, is known for… quirk.  They brought us Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, William Shakespeare/Star Wars, and other greats.  This book comes out on April 3rd.

Want more?  Check out Sara’s blog, Book Club of 1, where she talks about her own experiences as writer and sometimes suggests books to her readers.  Her column will be featured on the first Wednesday of each month.  Want to see more books suggested by librarians, check out Library Reads.

Personal Poetry

Emily Dickinson, “I Am Nobody”

Approaching poetry can be intimidating. It is a form layered in symbolism and metaphor. Reading a poem can feel like putting together a puzzle, with readers asking themselves questions about the poet’s meaning throughout. But poetry is a profound literary experience that can shine a light and reveal truth and beauty about a subject. This is why each month here at Mill Pages I will exploring poetry. I’ll explore ways to read it, recommend poets, and discuss what draws me into a specific poem. There are many ways to interpret a poem and I look forward to hearing what each poem means to you as well.

For this first installment, I am choosing the first and only poem I’ve memorized, “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” by Massachusetts poet, Emily Dickinson. I am drawn to Dickinson’s lyric poetry because her style is simple and direct. Even when she is concerned with dark topics such as death and mortality, her style remains accessible. She entices readers with confessions and often reveals her vulnerability within her writing.

I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?

When I read those opening lines I feel as if Dickinson is whispering directly to me. She introduces herself and immediately attempts to identify kinship and develop a confidence with the reader. She wants to trust the reader.

There there is a pair of us – don’t tell!
They’d banish us, you know.

This is my favorite line of the poem, Dickinson has established her relationship with the reader and cautions for safety. She doesn’t want to have her confidence betrayed nor does she want to lose her newfound companion. This is also the first indication that there is a separate group of people from who Dickinson and, presumably the reader, feel alienated from.

How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!

The second quatrain concerns the second group, the Somebodies. Along with her fear of this group, Dickinson also pities and chaffs at them. For Dickinson, famously recluse, this is often interpreted to be referring to shying away from publication or fame. On a larger level, however,  Somebodies can be interpreted to be celebrities, authorities, bullies, attention-seekers, or even just the local gossips, croaking their name or accomplishments to the murky, potentially empty bog of an audience. It conveys a universal feeling of being left out of a group.

For Dickinson and the other Nobodies, the preferance is to be left alone to work quietly and form kinships with other like-minded individuals. I hope every Nobody reading this finds another Nobody to whipser to.

Further Reading

The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson

Similar Poets to Discover

Katelyn Varley writes poetry and prose. When not engaging in wordplay, she teaches swimming to all ages. She graduated from Hampshire College in Amherst, MA with a degree in History. She lives in Ayer, MA with her partner, two dogs, and a cat. Find her on Twitter @HistKB.

Book Review: Spooky South

This monthly column, by our own H.L. Rudd, will feature book reviews for books she loves including genres like Southern Gothic, horror, fantasy, and more.

9781493019175 

Southerners like horror stories. In the deep south, it often seems like a restless spirit is behind every tap on the window or sharp summer breeze. Maybe it’s because of our rough history or our love of tales, but either way, I grew up surrounded by a devoted, sometimes evangelical love of the supernatural.

 

I grew out of my belief in the supernatural, but I never stopped loving the stories. Even now, I’m quick to snap up any book about spooky southern folklore. A couple months ago, while visiting my family in Alabama, an opportunity presented itself to me. While visiting a local book chain, I came across Spooky South: Tales of Hauntings, Strange Happenings, and Other Local Lore, by S.E. Schlosser. The title, though genetic, was enough to grab my attention, and the surreal artwork was enough to sell it. I took it home with me right away.

 

This book contains retellings of 38 different folktales from around the southeast. It contains a map displaying the locations of each story (by number), and the numbered table of contents tells the reader exactly where each story took place. I really like this feature, and I think it adds a lot of flavor to the book, but it’s also a bit wasted on the actual executions of the retellings.

 

I was already familiar with a handful of these stories. Some, like the tale of the Bell Witch, are familiar to many fans of the supernatural. Others, like the Wampus Cat, are a bit more regional in their distribution. The references section in the back shows good research on the part of the author, and I don’t doubt that she put genuine work into compiling these stories, but the writing itself didn’t draw me in.

 

Each story is short, often only 2-3 pages, though a few are a little longer. They’re perfect for a little bit of reading before bed, and they each come with a gorgeous illustration by Paul G Hoffman. The stories are narrated in one of a couple ways (with some told in a distant third-person style like a campfire story, and certain ones having first person setups to frame them), and are pretty straight forward. They describe something scary happening to someone, the end.

 

That’s what holds me back from loving this collection. The stories are neat, and it’s awesome to see such a wide collection of southern folk tales, but I just wanted a little more.


That’s not to say that the book doesn’t work. I just find these retellings to be inconsistent and a little bit flat. While Thirteen Alabama Ghosts deals with similar campfire fare, it adds local history and strong, close narration to really make the story feel like it matters. The stories in Spooky South sound more like something you’d overhear in a crowded bar. And that’s okay, but for me, it wasn’t quite enough. I’d give the book a three, but the effort in research and stellar art lift it to a four. If you want to read something quick to read before bed, this could be the folktale collection for you, but don’t expect to be frightened.

You can enjoy another book review by H.L. Rudd on the second Wednesday of the month.  Read an expanded version of this book review, at her blog, 905.  

Librarian Reading

This monthly column, by our own Sara Marks, will feature new books that librarians and book bloggers are talking about.

I’m a little biased this month.  I have a connection to both books I’m going to share with you, but it’s my column and I do what I want. One of my favorite things about being a writer and librarian is that it allows me to connect with other writers and librarians and writer librarians.

P.S. I Miss You My first pick for March is P.S. I Miss You by Jen Petro-Roy (coming out on March 6).  Jen and I have been friends for years.  This book is for middle grade readers- that means older elementary school, middle school, and lower high school students.  It deals with teenage pregnancy, sexual identities, and communication.  It’s written in letters (epistolary). I love the book and might have used a whole package of tissues as I read the book.  I’m even tearing up now as I write this.

Here’s the blurb:

Eleven-year-old Evie is heartbroken when her strict Catholic parents send her pregnant sister away to stay with a distant great-aunt. All Evie wants is for her older sister to come back. But when her parents forbid her to even speak to Cilla, she starts sending letters. Evie writes letters about her family, torn apart and hurting. She writes about her life, empty without Cilla. And she writes about the new girl in school, June, who becomes her friend, and then maybe more than a friend.

As she becomes better friends with June, Evie begins to question her sexual orientation. She can only imagine what might happen if her parents found out who she really is. She could really use some advice from Cilla. But Cilla isn’t writing back.

The Lost DoorMy second pick, The Lost Door (already released on Kindle), is another book I have a connection to.  Long story short, before my first publisher closed a month before publishing my book, I paid a lot of attention to the other authors I thought I was being published with. One was Steen Jones who has just released her second book, a sequel to the one published last year.  The series, which begins with The Door Keeper and continues with The Lost Door, imagines different worlds connected through doors.  Each world has their own Door Keepers who protect it.  It was an exciting read.  I have only just started The Lost Door, so no spoilers!  This is an adult fantasy series, but young adults will enjoy it.

Here’s the blurb:

It’s been over seven years since Eden learned the truth about where she came from and that her mother was a Door Keeper from another world. Eden’s own daughter, Gabby, is about to turn 18 and learn the story herself, and about the predestined future that lay ahead of her. As fate would have it, the worlds intervene before Eden can tell her daughter the truth, throwing the family into complete and utter chaos. Gabby must find the strength to save her Mom while grappling with unbelievable realizations about herself, her family, and what it all means for her future.

This anticipated sequel to the portal fantasy, The Door Keeper, introduces interesting new characters, opens two new doors into unique and magical worlds, where our heroines must face the harsh elements and mythical creatures long thought extinct. The Lost Door explores the circle of mother/daughter legacy, the unbreakable bond of family, and the sometimes inescapable repetition of the past.

Want more?  Check out Sara’s blog, Book Club of 1, where she talks about her own experiences as writer and sometimes suggests books to her readers.  Her column will be featured on the first Wednesday of each month.  Want to see more books suggested by librarians, check out Library Reads.

Meet Our Authors: Wil Redd

Wil ReddWil Redd is imaginary. It is a disguise used to distract the reader from the fact that the man behind the mask is a charlatan. Mr. Redd is a professional bad cat behavior enabler, assistant pop-culture t-shirt tester, and former heavy-weight champion of the crushed dreams league. His physical body lives somewhere in Lowell, MA with his beloved Fiancée, a pair of monochromatic cats, and a barky little mutt.
Wil is another long time member and the editors of the Mill Pages magazine.  In volume one you can read his story “What If All There Is To Life Is That Pat Benatar Song On Repeat?” and in volume two you can read “Magdalena Saw a Dragon.”
How did you get started writing?

I can’t remember the first time I started writing, but I can tell you I’ve always been a storyteller. As a little kid, my explanations for things included very convoluted stories that delighted my grandfather, and I’m not sure anyone else. Bottom line, I started early.

What types of stories do you like to write?

I like to write absurd stories. My go-to genres are science fiction, horror, surrealism, fantasy, and short stories.

Who influenced you most as a writer?

I think R.L. Stine influenced me more than I’d like to admit, particularly in the beginning. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Edgar Allan Poe, Aldous Huxley, Ernest Hemingway, and Alice Murno.

What’s the first book you remember reading?

The first book I remember reading was in Spanish “El Gato Con Botas.” [Puss in Boots] by Charles Perrault. The first novel I read was “The Haunted Mask,” from the Goosebumps from R. L. Stine.

What movie, tv-show, YouTube channel, or blog do you think more people should watch (just pick one) and why?

Legion. It’s a masterclass in cinematography, adaptation, and storytelling.

5 Things you want us to know about you:

  1. I would love to write for video games.
  2. I was a full redhead when I was a kid.
  3. In another life, I was a dodo.
  4. I talk to animals like if they were people.
  5. I was born in Puerto Rico.

Don’t for get Mill Pages volume 1, to read “What If All There Is To Life Is That Pat Benatar Song On Repeat? and volume 2 to read Magdalena Saw a Dragon.”