On Robert Frost and the Rise of Poetry


We are fortunate to be living in a time when poetry is once again becoming popular. Instagram poetry is on the rise; it’s easy to post our work for thousands to see. If we learn the use of hashtags and posting times, we can build an impressive following. It is a breath of relief, since there had been a time when many claimed poetry to be dead.

As time changes, so do the poems that define a generation. What we share on social media has a different feel from the poetry of old. It’s designed to grab attention, to stop someone mindlessly scrolling to read a snatch of art. Much of modern poetry bears a minimalist quality. Literature evolves with the people who write it, changing with society.

Sometimes I am nostalgic for classic poetry. I’ve been reading Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Edgar Allen Poe. Last week I focused on Robert Frost, who was considered the first American poet. His most famous piece, The Road Not Taken, is still taught in school. I wanted to go beyond that and learn about the author himself. I wanted to read the lesser-known pieces.

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Robert Frost was born in San Francisco in 1874. His father, William Prescott Frost, Jr., was a journalist; his mother, Isabelle Moodie, a Scottish immigrant. The family hoped his father become a lawyer, but William Prescott Frost had a rebellious spirit. It led him instead to become a teacher, an editor, a politician. After his death in 1885, the family moved to New England, an area that would inspire much of Robert’s poetry.

He discovered poetry at the age of fourteen, and a year later published his first poem in his school newspaper. Though his mother was proud, his grandfather warned him that “no one can make a living at poetry.” Two years after his marriage at the age of twenty-two, Robert tried to please his family by seeking an education in Harvard. He was drawn to philosophy and the classics, but claimed “It wasn’t what I wanted.”

Disappointed in Robert’s artistic ambitions, his grandfather gave him a farm in New Hampshire on such terms that he was committed to it for ten years. Once that time was up, Frost sold the farm and moved to England with his wife, Eleanor. They found a home in Beaconsfield, a little town near rural Buckinghamshire, and lived a comfortable life. During this time, his first two books were published.

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A Boy’s Will and North of Boston were received by the English with great enthusiasm. Of North of Boston, Wilfrid Wilson Gibson wrote, “Mr. Frost has turned the living speech of men and women into poetry…Tales that might be mere anecdotes in the hands of another poet take on universal significance because of their native veracity and truth to local character.”

What makes his work so special? An essay by Mark Van Doren titled The Permanence of Robert Frost explains: “Whether in dialogue or in lyric, his poems are people talking…The man who talks under the name of Robert Frost knows how to say a great deal in a short space, just as the many men and women whom he has listened to in New England and elsewhere have known how to express in the few words they use more truth than volumes of ordinary rhetoric can express.”

Frost returned to America in 1915 to find himself suddenly famous. His books were on sale everywhere, and he was hailed a leader of “the new era in American poetry.” He bought a farm in New Hampshire and lived there for five years. In 1938 he moved to Boston, and later to Cambridge; wherever he went, he took a bit of the land which had captured his heart.

Frost’s poetry crosses many styles and subjects. His focus on farming and field work makes him very much a poet of the people. He has written sonnets and works of lyrical beauty. He has written epics which were adapted into screenplays. I prefer his shorter pieces because they can be memorized; we can take beautiful verses into our own souls to fill idle moments. One such example is the poem Nothing Gold Can Stay:

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

Robert Frost’s twenty year wait for publication serves to remind us that not even those whose work became classic achieved fame overnight. Some didn’t get published until they were old; others weren’t discovered until after death. An author should never write for the sole purpose of publication. If we do this, we risk writing stories that lack soul. I write more about this in my review of Anne Lamott’s memoir, Bird by Bird.

Literature gives voices to things which normally wouldn’t speak, such as stars or houses. Robert Frost spoke even for ghosts and the forest. In The Sound of the Trees, he gives us a glimpse of their minds—

They are that that talks of going
But never gets away;
And that talks no less for knowing,
As it grows wiser and older,
That now it means to stay.

Skilled poets raise the voice of each gust of wind. They also open our ears so that we, the readers, can understand what the breezes whisper. Poetry is on the rise, and we can expect a new era of poetry worldwide. I am eager to find out which of these new voices will live to be classics.

In the midst of this, let us not forget the poets on whose shoulders we stand. As we breathe life once more into poetry, let us follow them down roads less traveled; only after we learn their ways can we go down paths of our own.

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Bird by Bird: On Writing & Honesty


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What does it mean to be a writer? Ask anyone who practices the craft. You might hear several answers, because people have different reasons.

Anne Lamott’s memoir Bird by Bird offers a response I believe few would disagree with:

The very first thing I tell my new students on the first day of a workshop is that good writing is about telling the truth.

Lamott offers advice on matters such as outlining, but she makes sure we don’t lose sight of the bigger picture while fussing over technicalities. Our obligation is to tell the truth, the truths of our readers and of the human race.

But I write fiction, you might say. Everything is made up. So do I. I’ve yet to try heavy worldbuilding; however, soon I will. Even then, my story won’t be an untruth. It’s set in a realm that’s very real to me.

I have yet to meet a devoted author who hasn’t felt their dream world as if they lived in it. When a writer puts soul into their story, they’re telling the truth about themselves, using words to help it be seen by an audience.

It would be nice to have thousands of readers, but it’s still a story, even if no one has read it. It would be convenient to make a living off of it, but I can’t bet on that. Lamott believes, and I do as well, that any writer who wants to write well should desire nothing more than to tell their truth.

Formerly a creative writing teacher, Lamott offers advice to improve our craft. By means of parables and flashbacks, she instructs without sounding like an instruction manual. I highlighted sentences so I can go over them again, but three tips stood out to me most.

First, she instructed her students to write 300 words daily. I found a notebook and resolved to fill a page every day, no matter how tired I am. One page seems a small goal when you start, but it’s comforting to see progress as the days pass.

Secondly, Lamott’s resolve about honest writing is powerful:

Write down all the stuff you swore you’d never tell another soul.

She tells us to take the truths that frighten us, spinning them into tales that make an impact. Even if we change names, truth remains the core of it. Readers feel it between the lines. A writer’s job is to tell the truth.

Finally, her most unpopular advice is that publishing can be overrated. Lamott made sure to warn her students that contracts don’t take away Writer’s Block. We will never be happy if we write for publication. We should write because we love it.

Writing can be bittersweet. On days when it’s hard to put words on paper, we are tempted to quit and find an easier hobby. I don’t think true writers can quit for long. Even when we aren’t writing, the worlds we write are a part of us.

Tell the truth and write about freedom and fight for it, however you can, and you will be richly rewarded.

Bird by Bird reminds us that writing can drive us mad, but it’s worth embracing this madness. It reminds us that fiction is never a lie, encourages us to soldier through rewrites and bad reviews because we’re storytellers.

I believe any writer should read it at least once. Let us never lose sight of the honesty that characterizes our work; we owe the world our truths.

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway


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This is my first Hemingway novel. It’s a quick read and struck me for being so detached. The writing style seems indifferent by nature, focusing little on the main character’s emotions and more on dialogue.

I don’t know if Hemingway’s writing is like this in other novels. It isn’t bad: the way the main character interacts with others, rarely showing strong emotion even to the woman he loves, gives the settings sheens of gray.

At first I thought Maybe he doesn’t love her as much as he thinks. Later, when his child is born, he feels nothing towards it, not even anger. Maybe it’s the war, and the drinking certainly didn’t help. Whatever the case, it’s a powerful scene, bringing out his inability to feel.

The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places.
― Ernest Hemingway

Some criticize Hemingway’s style for being too bare. We know what’s going on from what the characters say to one another. The writing is very minimal, so I could not pick it apart for layers like I have done with Dickens. You’re pulled along by its straightforwardness.

There are different styles for different authors; it’s a reminder that there isn’t a right or wrong way to tell a story. The book is worth a try, keeping in mind that some will enjoy it and others will not.

There were descriptions that plunged me in. You will find and remember them. Overall, I’m glad I read the book. It’s a powerful statement about writing style and the impact it has on a story.

David Copperfield: The Call to Action


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In my final reflection on David Copperfield (for now), I want to muse on a paragraph which appears to me as a living, direct link to the author and what he stood for. It is a reflection on the homeless of his time–and ours.

In context: still a child, David Copperfield has escaped horrific months of factory work. Alone, he fled London on foot to find an aunt he has never met. She will adopt and protect him, putting an end to his darkest years, but they have marked him forever.

The journey to find her is grueling; he is forced to sell the coat off his back in order to buy food. Once he is taken in by his aunt and given a roof over his head, he reflects before going to sleep:

I remember how I thought of all the solitary places under the night sky where I had slept, and how I prayed that I never might be homeless any more, and never might forget the houseless. I remember how I seemed to float, then, down the melancholy glory of that track upon the sea, away into the world of dreams.

Though the first part of this paragraph seems most relevant, I will share all of it because it sets the scene: Copperfield is a child, and his final thought before drifting off is that he might not forget the poor. He hopes never to forget the sensation of feeling unloved and belonging nowhere.

I believe it was written as a call to action. Dickens is telling his readers never to forget the poor. His words are relevant to us, as well.

The poor are still around us, though they look different. You may not see a David Copperfield walking through the countryside, but you will find other children who don’t eat enough, their families enduring hard times in silence.

It might be tricky nowadays to spot someone in need. What, then, can we do to make a difference? Besides prayer and donation to trusted causes, I think the answer is kindness. Many of us forget to practice the virtue of charity, when a smile might be the light needed to relieve a stranger’s pain.

Dickens was not perfect–reading his biography, we see he had flaws. However, the flawed man can make a difference. I hope we can all smile at the strangers around us despite our imperfections. It might give them strength to make it through another day.

I’m not done taking apart David Copperfield for truths between the lines. However, I am ready to dissect other books. There is so much to be learned–both from the classics that never died and in modern works.

Seek truth between the lines and explore the margins. Books will always be relevant. Pay attention to their calls of action, because many stories are timeless for a reason.


Here are my other musings on David Copperfield, if you are interested in reading them:

David Copperfield: Escapism and Books


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Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield is, in many respects, autobiographical. Readers see the protagonist in bleak situations, many of which take root in things the author himself experienced–child abuse, poverty, instances when it was difficult to count one’s blessings.

As a reader and writer, the following paragraph stood out to me. It describes Copperfield as a child, seeking refuge from his ill fortune by vanishing into books.

It is astonishing to me now, how I found time, in the midst of my porings and blunderings over heavier themes, to read these books as I did. It is curious to me how I could ever have consoled myself under my small troubles (which were great troubles to me), by impersonating my favorite characters in them–as I did–and by putting Mr and Miss Murdstone into all the bad ones–which I did too.

I’ve written books where my characters were similar to me in some ways, sharing habits or speech nuances. This has always happened by accident. I never sat and told myself this character will like the same music or we will enjoy the same foods. No, these things crept onto the page; later, I found them and smiled.

In the above paragraph, David Copperfield describes escaping dark times by reading books. He became the hero and identified the villains in his life. I wondered if Charles Dickens did this knowingly, to increase the book’s autobiographical nature. Was it strategic, or an accident? Did he later reflect on his character and realize he and Copperfield shared this trait?

Once writers master the art of escapism, we know the skill for life. It becomes a part of us, so when we spin stories of our own, we write ourselves in without meaning to. We don’t notice until later that bits of us have slipped in between the lines.

Excerpts like this show why it’s interesting to learn about the author as well as the book. When you know the circumstances in which they lived, it enhances the experience. It’s why I always read introductions when they are available. Often, when I finish reading, I do research on the setting (time period, customs, etc.)

When you read a good book, there’s more going on than your brain registering words. You’re immersing yourself in a journey through time. You become one with the characters. You might even find that you and the author have things in common–habits, opinions, hurts. Any well-written novel has this power. All you need is a bit of patience to get through longer works.

Find a sliver of spare time, and you will travel far.

With people seeking entertainment elsewhere, I fear the beautiful art of reading might one day be forgotten–the kind of reading that immerses us, escapism. Each form of entertainment has its benefits; however, let’s not overlook the joy that can be found in a book.

Reading is a superpower, and we can all learn to use it. If you haven’t been reading much, find a book and start now. There’s a book for everyone, and best of all, there’s always time.

Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls by Lynn Weingarten


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Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girlsthe book title was clever. I’m not sure what I expected to find once I started reading. This is a good thing. Any book title is used to draw readers in: it makes them want to lift the cover and glance at the first page, where there should be a hook.

This book title was strong bait indeed; it cleared the way for me to be pulled into the page-turner.

Since I have not read many thrillers, I can’t comment on plot devices used. I enjoyed the read, and it made me consider reading more thrillers in the future. This post is not so much a review as it is a musing, my impression as a reader.

How far would you go for revenge? How broken must a person be to pull off the perfect murder? Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls features one of the darkest characters I’ve read; she’s dark in her brokenness.

I believe this would not have been possible if the protagonist, June, had not been such a contrast. Comparison is a powerful way to write a memorable story. Black and white – shadow and light – June and Delia are a dark, sad balance.

They are both struggling. The difference is this: June lacks the nerve to pull off the feats Delia gets away with. June is the follower in this friendship. She is the weakling, though Delia often pretends otherwise. She is a toy to help Delia feel powerful.

June seems designed to grip the target audience, channeling their weaknesses. The author plays with your mind from the moment you see the cover. She’s not finished, though–once you’ve started reading, she uses your insecurities to help you connect with June! Like her, most of us struggle with insecurity. Most of us have a desire to fit in.

As you see, my commentary focuses on the characters. June and Delia are a fantastic example of characters used strategically. June and Delia–opposites attracted to each other, and not a good pair at all.

However, this must be said: June was not always weak. My favorite scenes featured her trying to grow despite the sadness on her shoulders. There were times she stood in the name of friendship to find out what happened to Delia. It helped me remember, as an insecure reader, that nothing keeps me from standing in the midst of a storm except my own fear.

The plot, pace, and characters were arranged so you will remember them. I finished this book in a day, pulled into the atmosphere, the mystery, the struggle. Whether or not you enjoy this book, I promise you won’t forget it.

David Copperfield: Contrast of Summer and Winter


Paragraphs can be so telling. Here, I’m going to compare two passages from David Copperfield that made their way into my reading journal because of their devastating depth.

Here is the first:

When my mother is out of breath and rests herself in an elbow-chair, I watch her winding her bright curls round her fingers and straightening her waist, and nobody knows better than I do that she likes to look so well, and is proud of being so pretty.

David Copperfield’s mother, Clara, was widowed before the birth of her son. The above paragraph shows she has not lost her energy and attractiveness, even when raising a son alone. When David grows old enough to observe, he notices this, but never thinks it will lead to great change. They have a good life, himself, his mother, and the faithful housemaid. What else do they need?

The reader knows better, though, drinking in these sentences. Young David has noticed that his mother is pretty, and that she likes being pretty. He does not realize that she’s open to the idea of finding love again. He doesn’t realize that their peaceful life could change at any moment.

Since he loves his mother in that innocent way in which children love, David notices that she is pretty and happy. He does not think his mother will marry again. He can never predict she will choose a cruel man who will actively work to put out this spark. Mr Murdstone will dull the glow that David notices in his mother; where once she twirled her hair and daydreamed, now she will lack life.

Clara’s new husband will subject both of them to emotional abuse. When David does not behave to Mr Murdstone’s satisfaction, the child is sent to boarding school. He returns to find his mother’s spark is gone, and when she later dies, her pride and will have both been destroyed:

He [Mr Murdstone] drew her to him, whispered in her ear, and kissed her. I knew as well, when I saw my mother’s head lean down upon his shoulder, and her arm touch his neck–I knew as well that he could mould her pliant nature into any form he chose, as I know, now, that he did it.

The paragraphs, placed side by side, tell a devastating story: the destruction of a beautiful person in a cruel way.

Dickens’ words go so far as to change the light in readers’ minds. The first paragraph feels like a summer afternoon, complete with flowers and a warm breeze. Then we find the second, which evokes a feeling of confinement, and I found myself fearing such bleak loneliness.

As a deep thinker, I wonder: who or what inspired Clara’s character?

This is the beauty of old books: they’re relevant. Clara’s story reminded me that, even today, men and women are tricked into cages very much like this.

Though they look dusty on the outside, old books contain the bits of humanity that never vanished, both light and dark. Read them–not because you were told to in school, but because they contain realistic people.

There are books set today, yesterday, and tomorrow. This means that, at any point in time, there will be a story in which someone relates to your struggle. Even if there isn’t a happy ending, this ancient sense of community gives me hope: people fought these battles. There have been losses, such as poor Clara, but there have also been victories.

There is a book for everyone and everything. Find the story you need–it’s out there.

David Copperfield: Intro


david copperfield coverThe Personal History, Adventures, Experience, and Observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery. This is the original title of Charles Dickens’ eighth novel, published in serial form in the year 1850. Now sold as a 700-page book, it was originally released in 19 monthly one-shilling installments. This makes for a delightfully long story in which even the villains trigger a certain empathy.

Dickens himself called it his favorite among all his novels, and countless readers over the years have agreed; I myself found it to be moving, not only because there wasn’t a dull moment, but his word choice–as usual–took my breath away.

Based on Dickens’ own past, particularly the chapters which describe a troubled childhood, the story immerses you–as any good book should. Even if I had not enjoyed the story, I would have kept reading because of the style in which he wrote. His style is known to be vivid; he forms creative parallels to make readers feel emotions, even those of characters we don’t like.

Reading this book, I felt their anger, love, heartbreak, infatuation–and it took me a long time to finish, because I had the constant urge to stop and jot the paragraphs in my journal. Some scenes were so bold that I sensed I had lived them–they were part of my past–and I had to record them, borrowing words from one who was a master at using them.

As I wrote Dickens’ words, I couldn’t help contemplating them on a deep level, finding poetry between the lines–in the pauses–the things not said. They found new meaning as I took them apart from the rest of the book. I realized that, as a reader, there is little like the beauty of a paragraph: words, black ink, old or fresh, promising a tale, promising a description that our own minds wouldn’t have come up with.

I would like to share a few of the notes I made. In the next few days, I want to show anyone interested what I found beautiful and why I thought it so–not as complex analysis, but because I want to share. Perhaps you will find enjoyment in the passages. Perhaps they will encourage you to read the book, but it will be enough if they make you stop and ponder, as they did for me.

I do this because I hope to one day write something this powerful. I do this because I have deep love for words and the magic they create. I do it because I love Dickens’ work and wish he was not dead.

Most of all, I do it because words are beautiful. They ought to be appreciated. I believe they can uncover depths in us, timeless depths. Check back if you want to read my thoughts as I share them. I hope they will make you pause for one moment of your day.

A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro


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I was looking for a lighthearted read to end the year of 2017. Perfectly suited for the job, A Study in Charlotte turned out to be a clever and captivating spinoff of Sherlock Holmes. Parallels to the classic mystery books give it a sense of familiarity–“I’ve read this before!”–while the new setting made it refreshing.

Charlotte Holmes and James Watson are the descendants of the famous detectives and become fast friends at the Connecticut boarding school they attend. Though it was fun to pick out similarities with their ancestors, I often wondered how they–and especially Charlotte–could be so similar to their great-great-grandfathers. Though it made me ponder, it wasn’t enough of an issue to distract me from the story.

I thought the other students, as characters, were rather shallow. Though I know the book is directed to a YA audience and should have similar themes, most of the students felt like cutouts from other teen books I’ve read. They might have been rather weak, but it meant that Charlotte and James were all the more interesting.

I loved reading about Holmes and Watson as their friendship progressed from awkward and tense to one of utter trust–sometimes trusting to a fault. In scenes where they were in the lab, I could sense a connection so perfect that it must have been hereditary. When they had an ugly fight, my heart lurched; they absolutely belonged together.

Though I prefer the heavier tones of classic or fantasy novels, I liked the light and vivid writing style used to tell the story. It kept me turning pages in a state of daydream; each chapter was loaded with surprises. The tone left ample room for readers to imagine the setting on their own, no overdescription bogging it down.

I found A Study in Charlotte to be a pleasant read. It will appeal to fans of Sherlock Holmes, but also to anyone seeking an original book in the YA genre. Be sure to consider it the next time you are searching for a light read!

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens


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Merry Christmas! I hope you’ve had a blessed day!

Every year at around this time, I read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. It is my favorite book, because Scrooge’s experiences with the Ghosts of Christmas make me reflect on my own life.

The link between his story and our lives might be difficult to admit. Scrooge was such an unpleasant man that the Ghost of Christmas Future showed him nobody would attend his funeral. Instead they would steal the curtains from his bed and the shirt off his dead body.

Of course, Ebenezer Scrooge is an extreme example. It’s also true that we can never make everybody like us. We can, however, admit our flaws and try to improve ourselves. It is difficult to do, so much so that many never try, putting themselves in danger of ending up like Scrooge.

It was greed that made him disagreeable, but are we blind to our own flaws?

I have many things about myself that need fixing, and so do you. It’s useful to ask on occasion what the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future would say if it were us they’d come to visit instead of poor old Scrooge. It’s easy enough to judge him, but the message is universal.

Books have the ability to help us grow and change through characters and their choices. A Christmas Carol is poignant, relevant, and can be read in one or two days. The short length does not lessen the impact of the story: if read well, it will make you think.

I’m not perfect and neither are you. In that matter, we can relate to Ebenezer Scrooge. We’re human and in constant need of improvement.

A Christmas Carol is timeless for its wit and its message of hope: no matter how old we are or what we’ve done, there’s time to start over–Scrooge did!