Poetry for April?

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[This post is pinned to the top of my blog for April. Scroll down to read other stuff.]

Looking for some poetry to read during April? Consider buying the ebook of one of my collections of poetry:

screen-shot-2017-02-27-at-3-59-28-pmThe Mansions of the Moon

In this collection are a series of poems celebrating the twenty-eight angels and traditional astrological images of the positions that the Moon cycles through every month. In this collection, you receive twenty-eight poems in the traditional ode format.

Based in part on a close reading of Christopher Warnock’s Mansions of the Moon (a remarkable book in and of itself, with brilliant illustrations by Nigel Jackson), this is effectively a collection of hymns or prayers to the angels of the Mansions, asking for their assistance and focus in the life of the reader.  It can be read aloud as part of a magical and spiritual practice, or simply as a way of reflecting on the ways in which the Moon spoke to ancient and medieval peoples, and told them stories based on the sky.

I’ve found that this collection has been quite useful to me, personally, and not just because people have bought it.  It’s spoken to me personally, even though I wrote the poems — and part of it had to do with the process by which they were written. I waited until the Moon was in the part of the sky associated with the particular Mansion, and then wrote the poem while ‘listening’ to what the Moon seemed to say; I also made an effort to write each poem when the Moon was waxing or full, and depressed the particular power of the moon at that time of each month.

510f0dXWciLThe Sun’s Paces: Poems for the Decans

This is another collection of astrological poetry.  At least since ancient Egypt, the sky has been divided into twelve signs of the Zodiac… but also into thirty-six sub-signs called Faces or Decans (because they’re each ten degrees of arc across the sky).  The Sun’s Paces is a collection of thirty-six poems to the thirty-six Decans or faces of the Zodiac. About every ten days, the Sun passes from one of these decans to the next. More refined and subtle than the Zodiac, the Decans can help zero in more clearly and particularly on the elements of a horoscope; and they also demonstrate that some times of year are better for working on particular problems or issues than others.

And, of course, each planet is also in each Decan at some point during its ambulation around the Sun. Each planet also gets reflected through the powers and capacities of each Decan, and these are explored in gentle ways through the poems in this book.

Based in part on Austin Coppock’s elegant book, Thirty-Six Faces, you’ll find that this is a great collection of poetry to round out your poetic, magical or spiritual library.
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The Tai Chi Poem

Although you can download a copy of this for free, here, you can also also buy one for your Kindle reader. You’ll also be supporting my work as a poet.

This collection of poetry is not actually a collection — it’s a single poem, where each verse is a sonnet, running to some sixty-three poems describing the sixty-three movements of the Tai Chi form I learned at Star Farm in the late 1990s. I attempted to create a guide to the postures and positions based on my own practice of the form for four years.  I don’t know that you could learn Tai Chi by reading this poem and then doing it, but my goal was to create and celebrate the way in which martial arts manuals celebrate movement and spirituality through poetic language.  This book was an attempt to capture and realize that mindset in a standard form so celebrated in English-language poetry.

51zuU7LxzcL.jpg Festae: Poetry for the Roman Calendar

This is a collection of hymns or odes for deities associated with the Greco-Roman pagan calendar. Here you’ll find celebrations of Neptune and Salacia (the goddess of brine wells, used in ancient and medieval Italy for curing cheeses and making Parma hams, among other things).  There is a hymn for the Feast of All the Heras, and festivals for the three weeks in June dedicated to Vesta as the keeper of the hearth-flame.

The collection of poems is organized by month — Each of the twelve months of the year is marked with at least three festival dates that more or less match up with our own calendar.  There are several dates for Dionysius/Bacchus, both as the wine-god and as the patron of the theater; here are poems for Artemis as the goddess of the Moon, and as the patroness of trance-states achieved through music.

As with nearly all of the poetry in these collections, these are composed as odes: three-stanza poems of thirty lines in length, that speak to the gods and goddesses of old with an awareness of their traditional imagery, and their modern relevance.

51j6AYSu8zL-1.jpgPoems for the Behenian Stars

The last collection of astrological poetry I intend to create for a while, this was the first to be published in 2017 (this year!).

The Behenian (or ‘root’) Stars are a list of fifteen traditional stars from Arabic and European astrological and astronomical lore dating back at least a thousand years. Mostly, they’re the brightest and most distinctive stars in the northern hemisphere, all through the year: the terrifying Caput Algol, the head of Medusa; Aldebaran, the eye of the Bull; Sirius the Dog Star; Regulus the heart of the Lion; Algorab in the Crow’s wing; and many others.  In astrological lore, the presence of a planet in close conjunction with one of these stars signified a particular eminence in the person born at that hour.

Yet I’ve found that knowing and naming and celebrating these stars is a way of connecting to the sky above us, and a way of becoming both more human, and more humane.  The lore of the stars has extraordinary things to teach us about how ancient and medieval peoples saw the sky above their heads, and the world around them.  This collection of poems speaks to those truths.  As a special for April, I’m reducing the price of this collection from $9.99 to $2.99… You can also buy it in a printable format through my website at Etsy.com.

And thank you, always, for your support!

New eBook: Festae

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I’m pleased to report that Festae, a book of poetry with hymns to deities from the Greco-Roman pagan calendar, is now available on Amazon.com.Festae Cover.jpg

Festae includes four odes called the “Seasonal Greetings”, dedicated to Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. It also contains forty-three additional odes in a traditional three-stanza form, dedicated to:

  • Poseidon, god of the wild sea
  • Neptune and Salacia in their roles as providers of salt for food preservation
  • Hecate as a goddess of magic and artistry
  • Hephaestus and the Nymphs, the teachers of technology and craft
  • Pallas Athena
  • Artemis of the Moon, and of Music
  • Apollo
  • The Nine Muses
  • Vesta three festivals of June
  • All the Heras
  • The year-end celebrations of the Roman sacred year in February
  • and numerous others…

This collection joins four other of my poetry on Amazon, including The Sun’s Paces: hymns for the Decans of the Zodiacand the Poems for the Behenian Starsand Hymns for the Mansions of the Moon.  You can also find The Tai Chi PoemIn all, these five collections now present one very long poem about tai chi, and nearly 130 other poems on subjects related to astronomy, ancient history, the better angels of our nature, and our relationship to the sky and each other.

It’s been my great pleasure to write and share these poems with you, and I hope you enjoy them.  These materials are also listed on my publications page.

Bookbinding 

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There’s something beautiful about a stack of books bound with Coptic stitch. Particularly when you know that the contents of each book are your own. These are copies of my Book of Splendor, a collection of poetry exploring the relationships between nature and the divine in a particular corner of New England.

These are part of a limited edition of 100 copies: numbered, and hand bound, and the hand signed by the author, that is me. I interested in buying one? Let me know.

Bookbinding projects

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The sewing machine is busted. I am waiting for a part to come in. Singer sewing machines in the early 1960s began to transition from metal parts to hybrids that were partly metal and partly plastic. One of these plastic parts has become so worn from rubbing against metal constantly, that it has become un-usable.

Accordingly I have shifted over to bookbinding for the moment while waiting for the part to come in. Two of these books got bound this weekend — an orange copy of The Book of Splendor, intended for a friend. And a gray copy of The Mansions of the Moon. And finally, this morning, a black copy of The Behenian Stars

I’m least happy with the Behenian Stars binding. The other two books are substantial enough for a Coptic stitch binding. But The Behenian Stars is not. It’s only two quires or signatures, and it doesn’t really hang together properly. The Mansions of the Moon, likewise, is a little flimsy but it may improve with weighting and pressing it a bit. We’ll see.

I have eight more copies of the Book of Splendor to bind. This one isn’t ready for purchase yet, though it will be expensive: hand-made covers, hand-bound by the author? The Behenian Stars is available on both Etsy and Amazon as a digital PDF, but to sell a physical copy of it, I think I’ll need to thicken the book up a bit. Maybe if I combine it with the Mansions book, both together will be dense enough to bind easily.

Review: White Trash

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White Trash: The 400-year Untold Story of Class in America
By Nancy Isenberg
Viking: Penguin Random House, 2016
ISBN-13: 978-0670785971
(Amazon | Powell’s)

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White Trash begins by looking at our founding mythologies, of Jamestown and of the Pilgrims.  During the three years that I taught American history (side note: don’t ask a fifteen-year veteran of the ancient history classroom to teach any sort of form of triumphal American history… our opinions of America’s longevity and exceptionalism are tepid, at best), I found these two colonization-point of American history some of the most difficult to teach, without having clarity about why I found them so uncomfortable.

Nancy Isenberg helped make that clear to me.  She reminded me, in clean prose and deliberately, fact-based writing, that both Jamestown and Plymouth were founded as colonial ventures — that is, as profit-making machines intended to bring additional wealth to an English, aristocratic, wealthy, well-connected minority… back in England.   The reports of cannibalism, of 80% casualty rates among the settlers, worried the aristocrats not at all. Rather, they reveled in it.

But why? The truth lay in the concept of transportation — England was full of a class of people called the wandering poor… the Vagrants.  The American colonies were a perfect place to send the vagrants, as far as the aristocrats were concerned: rounding up those who refused to work, and sending them off to the Americas, made those who remained all the more willing to be hard-working and loyal.  If they worked in America, the vagrants could rise to be wealthy landowners themselves; if they didn’t, and died instead, so much the better.

Isenberg’s book explores the foundations of American classism: the export of what the British called ‘waste people’ to the Americas, the establishment of a class of poor, landless white families on waste lands in southern Virginia and North Carolina (the “Dismal Swamp”), and their gradual removal to the rough lands of the piedmont and Appalachia.  American writers and politicians of diverse opinions, from Cotton Mather to James Oglethorpe to Ben Franklin to Thomas Jefferson to Theodore Roosevelt, weighed in on the problems of the white ‘non-working poor’, whose origins were often in the indentured servitude that often resembled slavery; who rarely worked hard without supervision; whose goal was often to obtain strong drink and the bare minimum of comfort; and who resented the harsh treatment that had brought them to the Americas in the first place.

The story of James Oglethorpe of Georgia was particularly instructive.  Setting out to make a colony of free whites about 1720 to serve as a buffer state against the French in Louisiana and the Spanish in Florida, Oglethorpe organized Georgia as a land of free and armed white men; slaves were prohibited, and rather than indenturing servants who came, they were given land by the colony’s proprietors, up to fifty acres. Richer settlers could buy up to five hundred acres, but they had to work and settle the land themselves: no absentee landlords in Georgia, said Oglethorpe.

But the great landholders of South Carolina, looking north to North Carolina and southern Virginia, saw the poverty of the Dismal Swamp and the ruinously bad habits of the inhabitants, wasteful of time and money and sneering at the idea of being ruled by aristocratic planters.  So, they bribed Georgia’s proprietors in England with money, and bribed the white settlers weary of farming in Georgia. Several people tried to kill Oglethorpe over his obstinacy about slaves and indentured servants — paid assassins or angry loners, it’s hard to tell.  Eventually, Oglethorpe gave up and went back to England.  Inside a year, one Georgia planter had assembled 12,000 acres and four hundred slaves… and slavery gradually transformed working white farmers into languid overseers cracking the whip over other men’s slaves.    It beat working…

After all, if you’re working in the field, you’re probably forced to it.  The white and landless underclass had no one to lord their superiority over except the slaves from the Caribbean and Africa — thus, to work meant one was no better than a slave.

All through the book, though, Isenberg explores the central problem: In America, the poor are thought of as undeserving of help.  Hard work is expected to result in success; laziness is equated with ruin, either personal or familial.  Thus, any effort to help the poor, either through education or through retraining or through military service or through welfare, invites the inevitable backlash from the middle class and the wealthy — those people didn’t do anything to deserve the help, and why should I give up what’s mine, so that they can have something?

Isenberg’s point is salient to the present time, of course.  This past election was as much about class as about any other issue.  Her book urges that we address the problem in some real way, and not just with empty symbolism.  Yet the fact that we’ve been continually struggling with class issues, all the while pretending they don’t exist in our nominally-classless society, suggests that her warnings and her urgency will go unheeded. Again.

Review: Aurora

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This is a new web series on this website — every week, on Monday, I hope to post a short review to a book that I’ve read in the previous few weeks.  Some of them are older books, or read on paper; some are newer works that I’ve read digitally.  Some are political or economic tracts; some are fiction, some are related to my work in design and teaching design.  Previous entries are here and here and here.

Aurora
by Kim Stanley Robinson
Orbis Books/Hachette, published 2016
ISBN 978-0-316-37874-1 Orbit. Kindle Edition.

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One of the tropes of science fiction is the generation ship — stuff a few hundred humans into a spacecraft, send them off in the direction of another star at as large a fraction of the speed of light that you can muster, and then let them breed and renew their numbers over several generations until they reach their destination.  The gleaming ships become pitted and lightly damaged over the centuries of travel through interstellar space — but they arrive.  The humans emerge from their trans-abyssal womb onto the surface of a new world, and begin the colonization. The migration accomplished, the Great Deep crossed, and the process that occurred on Earth begins again, on another world, say a planet or a moon in orbit around Tau Ceti.

This is Kim Stanley Robinson’s world, though, and the master of the modern ‘hard science’ does a deep dive into all the challenges and opportunities that this kind of centuries-long voyage might take.  As the book opens, the end of the journey from our solar system to Tau Ceti nears.  But there are things that are going wrong, things that the original mission planners have not taken into consideration.  The ship has no official chief engineer, either — just a woman whose penchant and skill at fixing things, and assembling teams to fix things, is better than most other people.   Nor is there a captain, exactly; nor is the information coming out of the communications stream from Earth coherent or useful — the homeworld still sends information, but no-one is listening back home to the questions from the population aboard the Ship.  They are on their own.

Children are exposed to the idea that they are on board a ship in various ways. Some always grow up knowing they live in giant habitats strapped to the sides of a space ship.  Others are brought up in ignorance, kept away from the edges of their biomes, or from windows in the ship’s spine; then put in a spacesuit with a blackened visor, brought outside onto the hull at an appropriate age, and exposed to the wonders of the cosmos blinking by at 0.2 of c.  Some handle the dislocation well; others… not so much.  The generations have undermined the standard ideas of the hierarchy of command, and different rules apply.  And it’s less and less clear if anyone is in charge.

A variety of things are wrong.   The bacteria on board evolve faster than the plants, who evolve faster than the mammals. Each successive generation is somewhat dumber than the one before.  Learning disabilities are appearing among the population on board, and strange allergies emerge.  People are shorter than in their great-grandparents’ day.

Freya, a girl, belongs to the latest generation aboard Ship. Her mother is Devi — not the ship’s chief engineer, but the person everyone calls when something important breaks.  Her father Badim is a fun-loving guy, but Devi is angry all the time. And why wouldn’t she be? The intellectual and physical resources necessary to solve the problems of Ship are always in short supply: when the 3D printers break, that make all the replacement parts, how does one repair them?

It would be easy to write this as a science-fiction story about physics, and the story would be dull.  Yet the human problem, and the human experience, is never far from Robinson’s thoughts or writing.  How do people react to this kind of situation, where someone must farm, and someone must manage the cattle and sheep, and someone must weave… and someone must keep the spaceship going??  How are children raised, how are political decisions made, how do people find their place abroad Ship, how does Ship tell its own story?  What does history look like, sociology, anthropology?  What are the human stories?

Robinson, as usual, tells the human stories very well.  I was riveted, and stayed up until three in the morning to finish reading one night.  In the morning, well-satisfied with Robinson’s vision that he shared with us, I went outside, and kissed the frozen ground.

Review: The Drawing Lesson

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This is part of an ongoing book review series that publishes on Mondays: earlier book reviews are here and here.  My goal with this series is to provide access to a range of resources that I either found useful in MakerSpace teaching or that I think include philosophies and ideals that teachers should be aware of and can draw upon from time to time; or even fiction that I enjoyed.  You are welcome to recommend books to me in the comments; there’s no guarantee I’ll read any of it.  Reviews are starred on a scale of 1-7 stars, with no half-stars given (because I can’t draw in half-filled stars here).  In generally, everything I review here will be 5, 6, or 7 stars, because reasons.

The Drawing Lesson: The graphic novel that teaches you how to draw
by Mark Crilley
published by Watson-Guptill, 2016 (Amazon.com)
ISBN-13: 978-0385346337

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I’m a great believer in the importance of the traditional 3R’s of school — readin’, ‘ritin’, and ‘rithmetic, as the saying goes. But if I could add one to that, it would be Drawing.  3R+D doesn’t really have the same euphonious folksiness that 3Rs does.  But I’ve spoken here before about the Semigram, and treating drawing as a third way of understanding the world. Visual note-taking is one of those tools which we ought to do a better job of transmitting to students; but it does sometimes seems like the Ars Notaria (the art of taking notes, the art of the scribe) is really the Ars Notoria (the notorious arts, black magic, necromancy).  And yet, through technical drawings, through electronics diagrams, through images, through flow diagrams and pictures, we all use images to tell stories — sometimes well, sometimes poorly.

And that brings me to this book. Mark Crilley has written and drawn a graphic novel about getting drawing lessons.  It’s a brilliant take on a complicated issue — if you want to be an artist, it requires every bit as much practice as it does to be a good writer; or a good mathematician. The skills of drawing require as much attention as the skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic.

The story opens with a young boy, David, encountering a much older woman named Becky in the park near his house.  David wants to draw better than another kid in his class who draws the best Lamborghinis ever; Becky just wants to be left in peace to draw.  The kid’s enthusiasm overwhelms her, though, again and again.  She winds up giving nine lessons on drawing to David: in proportioning his drawings, in learning to see, in understanding negative space, in simplifying, and in creating compositions.  At every step of the way, she reminds him of earlier lessons — and foreshadows the later ones.

The book is elegantly expressed (I read the Kindle edition), in that both David’s drawings and the encounters with Becky start off at the same quality. David is past the stick-figure stage that I learned from @davegray and his teachings on mark-making; but he’s not yet a master artist by any means.  Yet, as the book unwinds toward its conclusions, David’s drawing become better and better; and the encounters with Becky remain the same.  There’s an unmistakable awareness here that Scott McCloud captured in his book, Understanding Comics (William Morrow, 1994), that sometimes the art in a comic book serves the story, and sometimes the art IS the story.  Crilley has captured that balance here, by showing David’s gradual improvement as an artist against a relatively standard backdrop of his relationship with his teacher Becky.  

This isn’t a textbook, but each chapter does end with homework. There’s a clearly defined lesson, and an expectation of follow-through on learning drawing skills.  The ‘homework’ isn’t unusually difficult or terrible, but it has to be done in order to get better at drawing. It’s really nice to see David’s work improve; but it’s also nice to realize that our work could improve in the same way.

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