April Poems

April flowers bring...

April flowers bring…

Emily Dickinson said, “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.”

Organized and sponsored by the League of Canadian Poets, Canada has acknowledged April as National Poetry Month since 1999. The United States introduced the idea in 1996. Great Britain celebrates October as their National Poetry Month.

Sometimes I struggle through a poem, lost in the words or its meaning. I love the freedom that comes with reading them. There are no right or wrong answers – there shouldn’t be. You can read a poem, and it is yours to interpret; yours to personalize. I love how some poems make me feel. Like music, they can provoke me to tears, to laughter. Or they can leave me thinking, reflecting. Sometimes, they even leave me confused and dazed.

A few of my favourites:

The Cross of Snow by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
A haunting poem. Longfellow’s wife burned so badly when her dress caught on fire, she died shortly afterwards.

i carry your heart with me by e.e. cummings
One of the best love poems ever.

I Am in Need of Music by Elizabeth Bishop
A classic.

And in honour of both National Poetry Month and the month of April:
Always Marry An April Girl by Ogden Nash

My favourite Canadian poets include: Leonard Cohen, Michael Ondaatje, Margaret Atwood and Catherine Graham.

More on National Poetry Month:

Celebrate National Poetry Month with CBC Books

National Poetry Month FAQ

Happy, dark, or ironic – Short stories with a twist

bookcasesWhether they are happy, dark, or ironic, I love twist endings. I stumbled onto “A Letter to God”, a short story by Gregorio Lopez Fuentes (translated by Donald A. Yates). It is about a poor farmer named Lencho who sadly loses his crops during a terrible hailstorm. Poor, but a man with strong faith, he writes to God and asks for money to help him get through the winter. The ending made me laugh out loud – it was so nutty. You can click on the story title to read it online. 

Some of my other favourite short stories with a twist include “The Necklace” by Guy de Maupassant and “The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin.

It takes talent and good storytelling to create a twist ending that works. It can’t feel forced or heavy-handed to be effective.

Here are some links you might want to check out:

Memorable characters 2

charactersI love books where I feel connected with the main character, or when the character is someone whom I admire and want to root for. I recently saw Les Miserables again. Jean Valjean is an example of a character I both admire and feel tremendous sympathy for – a character almost impossible for me to forget.

There are several books and online resources that offer great advice, tips, and suggestions on how to create complex and compelling characters. One book title I’d like to pass along is Victoria Lynn Schmidt’s 45 Master Characters: Mythic Models for Creating Original Characters. It’s definitely worth checking out.  Schmidt looks at several archetypes, both heroic and villainous, to explore character traits and behaviours. Her examples of memorable characters from books, movies, and T.V. are especially helpful in shaping our understanding of classic archetypes.

Also worth checking out:

Memorable characters

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell (1877)

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell (1877)

“It’s told from the point of view of a horse,” my daughter, Claire, told me when she started reading Black Beauty. “I don’t know if I want to read it.” She finished the book today, and concluded that it was a great read, and Black Beauty was a character she wouldn’t ever forget.

When Claire asked me to name some memorable characters from books I had read, the first few names that came to mind were:

Nomi Nickel, A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews (Canadian)
Sixteen-year old Nomi, who lives in a Mennonite community, is abandoned by both her mother and sister. She asks a question that continues to haunt me: “Is it wrong to trust in a beautiful lie if it helps you get through life?”

Atticus Finch, To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
As a kid, I had a crush on Atticus, and wondered how many fathers were like him in real life. He was so wise and had the right things to say about everything that mattered: “You never really know a man till you walk a mile in his shoes.”

Dunstan Ramsay, Fifth Business by Robertson Davies (Canadian)
I read this book in grade 12 English class. Dunstan’s involvement with Mary Dempster, a woman he spends his life trying to make a “saint,” is a result of his deep rooted childhood guilt: “I feared to go to sleep and prayed till I sweated that God would forgive me for my mountainous crime… I was alone with my guilt, and it tortured me.”

Anne Shirley, Anne of Green Gables by L.L. Montgomery (Canadian)
I remember wondering if I should add an “e” to the end of my name after reading Anne say, “A-n-n looks dreadful, but A-n-n-e looks so much more distinguished.”

Iago, Othello by William Shakespeare
I’m wowed by his evil brilliance as much as I fear it. I still get chills reading, “I am not who I am.”

That time of year

One of the things I wanted to do during this holiday break was catch up on my reading. I have far more books than I could possibly get through in one calendar year. I keep buying them, intending to read them later. I also get a lot of books as gifts.

bookofOf the books I did get to this year, Lawrence Hill’s The Book of Negros, was my favourite. It was published in 2007, and I wish I had gotten to it sooner! Hill’s protagonist, Aminata Diallo, who was abducted as a child from her village in West Africa and sold into slavery, continues to haunt me. The story had such an effect on me that I couldn’t pick up another book for two weeks.

I also thought Ins Choi’s play, Kim’s Convenience, was brilliant. The story hit close to home. Both Ins and I, although we have never met, immigrated to Canada in1975, and had families that worked in variety stores in downtown Toronto. I wrote about this play in an earlier blog.

Now that it is 2013, there are several lists of ‘the best books of 2012’ published everywhere. Here are a few to check out.

Writers who passed away in 2012

“Don’t talk about it; write.” – Bradbury, 1976

brown

I recently read a list of writers who passed away in 2012. Donald J. Sobol, writer of the Encyclopedia Brown series, passed away in July. Leroy, aka Encyclopedia Brown, is a boy detective who used his intelligence to solve neighbourhood mysteries. Some of my fondest childhood memories in Canada include going to the public library where I could escape into books – lots of them. Encyclopedia Brown was a favourite because solving whatever mystery that was thrown at both Encyclopedia and the reader, left me feeling both satisfied and smart.

wildAnother children’s favourite, Maurice Sendak, who wrote Where the Wild Things Are, passed away in May.

I was first introduced to Ray Bradbury’s work in high school. Fahrenheit 451 continues to be on many English class reading lists. His short stories also remain popular. Surprisingly, I only found out recently that there’s a prequel or rather a companion to Fa451hrenheit entitled, A Pleasure to Burn. Bradbury passed away in June.

For a list of writers who passed away this past year, click here.

For more Ray Bradbury quotes, click here.

“Cool to be Korean”

There are 14 consonants and 10 vowels in thje Korean language.

There are 14 consonants and 10 vowels in the Korean language.

My 13-year-old daughter had never expressed an interest in learning the Korean language until “Gangnam Style” by Psy, the Korean rapper, gained worldwide popularity. In her eyes, it was suddenly “cool to be Korean”.

Her question to me: how come you never learned Korean?

When we first came to Canada, my parents’ biggest obsession was for their children to learn English. We were even encouraged to speak it at home. I never stopped to think that we were sacrificing the Korean language in the process, especially because back then, all I wanted was to lose whatever was Korean about me.  I was in grade three when it hit me that I could lose my Asian last name by marrying someone white one day.

I keep thinking that it’s too late for me to learn to become completely fluent in Korean. Maybe. Maybe not. It would be wonderful to have access to Korean literature as it was written instead of in translation. The Korean language is beautiful and there are some phrases and expressions that don’t exist in English.

Worth checking out: