friday roundup: “or none, or few” edition


view from my window, through blinds: “where yellow leaves, or none, or few do hang”

Hello Reader. I’ve thrown the calendar to the wind lately… or perhaps it has thrown me to the wind. Either way, I’m just showing up here when I feel like I can. So, happy Friday and here’s what I have for a roundup this week:

book flood  I’ve heard a lot of people say this year that they’re having a hard time getting into the holiday spirit. I am one of them. Indeed, all I’ve done holiday-wise is 1. book our flights back to the Old Country, and 2. receive, gratefully, the holly boughs my neighbor brought over (still sitting in their paper grocery bag) and the poinsettia my other neighbor brought over (still wrapped in its plastic). But a few things have lifted my spirits:

A friend reminded me this week to sing, so I’ve been singing.

And people are lighting candles in the dark for Hanukkah.

And in Iceland there is this thing called the Christmas Book Flood. Apparently, a book (an actual, physical book) is the best holiday gift to give/get in Iceland. Also, according to NPR, Iceland publishes more books per capita than any other country in the world. I don’t know about you, but I’m packing now. Here’s more on the Christmas Book Flood if you need something to lift your boat.

a personal sheaf of riches  Somewhere this week (I wish I could remember where—some other writerly type probably shared it on Facebook) I came across this article describing William Stafford‘s daily writing practice. According to the article, his daily writing always included four things:

  1. The date
  2. A few lines of prose on a recent experience, encounter, dream, etc.
  3. An aphorism
  4. “something like a poem… or notes toward a poem… or just an exploratory set of lines that never became a poem”

If you’re looking for a framework for your daily (or, if you’re like me, almost-daily) writing practice, you could do worse.

I’ve been using this framework for the last several days and I have to say that it’s gotten me out of my mind and memory and into the actual, physical world more than I might otherwise be. I credit numbers 2 and 3 for this.

I’ve also noticed (and this has nothing to do directly with William Stafford’s framework) that, if you have a daily or nearly-daily writing practice, even when it feels like you haven’t been writing very many poems lately (who, me?), you end up with, as the article says, “a personal sheaf of riches” from which to write poems.

“or none, or few”  I try to be always memorizing a poem, or sometimes a poetic block of prose. Sometimes I fall down on the job, but mostly I stick to it, although I am slow about it. I’ve found that memorization helps me notice things I hadn’t noticed before about a poem (also, reciting a poem is a great way to soothe anxiety for me). Example: Until I memorized it, I never really noticed that in Jack Gilbert’s “Poem for Laura,” all the lines end with one of the following words: life, pain, heart, sorrow, love, night. Once I noticed, I could not believe I hadn’t noticed before. I hereby rest my case for memorization.

At any rate, last week and this, I’ve been memorizing Sonnet 73 (Shakespeare). Because it’s that time of year “When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang.” (At least, it is here in the Peninsula Town; I know it’s more wintry other places).

What I’ve noticed is that Shakespeare so often reverses our expectations. In that phrase—”When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang”—the expected progression would be to go from few to none, not none to few.

He also uses syntax that allows slips of meaning. Look at this bit of the poem, which comes right after the line I quoted above:

Upon the boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.

I love that “bare ruined choirs” might be an appositive to describe the boughs which shake against the (noun) cold, or the choirs might be their own thing altogether against which the boughs shake, with cold, bare, and ruined modifying choirs.

Also, note what he does with rhythm in the second line above. After a line of perfect iambic pentameter (da-DAH, da-DAH, da-DAH, da-DAH, da-DAH), he begins the second line with five stressed syllables in a row, then an unstressed syllable, then three more stressed syllables.

Oh, Bill, you still amaze us.

Anyway, I’ll stop talking now and let the poem speak for itself: here is the whole of Sonnet 73.

I wish for everyone at least a few yellow leaves still hanging against the graying landscape—literally and figuratively. Thanks for reading.


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