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1. How much money does the International Criminal Court need?

In the current geopolitical context, the International Criminal Court has managed to stand its ground as a well-accepted international organization. Since its creation in 1998, the ICC has seen four countries refer situations on their own territory and adopted the Rome Statute which solidified the Court's role in international criminal law. Is the ICC sufficiently funded, how is the money spent, and what does this look like when compared to other international organisations?

The post How much money does the International Criminal Court need? appeared first on OUPblog.

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2. Cruel Portents: Looking at the Past and the Future of The Wicked + The Divine

In Kieron Gillen’s talk on Alan Moore’s and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen, Gillen emphasizes themes of time and cyclicality present in Moore’s graphic novel.  Temporal symbolism recurs in everything from the Doomsday clock interstitials between chapters to Rorschach’s ever-shifting face to Dr. Manhattan’s past as the son of a watchmaker.  Gillen, working alongside artist Jamie McKelvie, colorist Matt Wilson, and letterer Clayton Cowles, emphasizes similar themes of cyclicality in the Eisner-nominated series The Wicked + The Divine.

understand

The work is shaping up to be a structural masterpiece in the vein of Watchmen and the conclusion to the series’ second arc, Fandemonium, releases next week.  In honor of this, I’d like to take a moment to explore some of the recurring elements of the series that reexamine where we’ve been and clue us into the future of the series.

 

First Act

The premiere arc of the series is lovingly titled The Faust Act.  In it, the team establishes Laura, who is our muggle POV character, and the majority of the gods present for the 2014 Recurrence. Ultimately, we see one of those gods abruptly exit stage left.  The source of this arc’s name comes from Christopher Marlowe’s 16th century play The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Dr. Faustus.  In the work, Faustus makes a  deal with the devil Mephistopheles: infinite knowledge in exchange for eternal damnation.  Throughout the play, Faustus reveals himself to be hapless despite receiving near-infinite power.  Mephistopheles dances around the philosophical questions that Faustus poses to him and Faust spends the rest of his time conducting pointless experiments.   He is ultimately damned despite begging for salvation.

This basically summarizes Lucifer’s arc in The Faust Act.  She receives the gift of godhood and then wastes it by wasting two assassins who couldn’t kill her anyways. Ultimately, she is executed despite begging for forgiveness.  While it is clear that Luci killed her assassins, debate has raged within and outside of the text as to whether or not Luci killed the judge that tried her for her crimes.  After issue ten revealed that there was no link between the death of the judge and the attempt on Luci’s life, I decided to go back and look for some textual (or should it be panel) evidence that points to the identity of the judge’s killer.  I keep coming back to these two pages:

001

I don’t believe that the WicDiv team is making this connection for giggles.  I think Luci killed the judge.  In issue 10, David Blake, the organizer of a Pantheon studies convention called Ragnarock, tells Laura that “we’ll never know for sure” who committed the crime, and I’m inclined to believe that that means Team WicDiv won’t ever give us a firm answer to the question.  They want us to speculate, and it would certainly fit the Faustian trope if Luci were the catalyst for her own demise.  The excerpted page from the first issue symbolizes her sealing her damnation, and the page from the fifth issue represents her begging for salvation.

Why would she do this to herself?  Well, throughout the series, we see several gods perform.  Amaterasu, Baphomet, The Morrigan, and most recently, Urdr.  We never see Luci perform, but during her imprisonment, she feeds Laura this line:

002

What if Luci’s tragic story was her performance, and The Faust Act her stage?  Her guiding principle throughout the comic is freedom, but at the end of the first issue, she allows herself to be arrested.  There’s no reason why a few human police should be able to arrest a miracle maker.  Later on, Luci demonstrates as much by melting through her holding cell as though it were made of wax.  Luci is in control of everything throughout The Faust Act.  Everything except for the inevitability of her death.

When Luci becomes a god, the spiritual guide of the gods, Ananke, tells Luci that she will be dead within two years.  All the gods will.  That’s the cruel joke of the Recurrence: you get the freedom to do anything except stave off your rapidly approaching death. It’s the ultimate encroachment upon one’s freedom, and the only way Luci can see to cheat the inevitable and reclaim that freedom is to die on her own terms.  Getting arrested, killing the judge, breaking out of prison, and getting killed were the acts of Lucifer’s performance, and it inspires gods and men alike.

003

Speaking of cruel jokes, this is the cover of issue one transitioning into the issue’s first page…MCKELVIEEEEEEEEEEE!

 

Whose story?

Towards the end of The Faust Act, Luci gives Laura a cigarette.  After Luci’s death, Laura snaps her fingers like a god, and is amazed to watch the cigarette light.  Throughout the second arc, we’ve watched Laura snap her fingers constantly, trying to recreate the magic and take her place as a god.  However, when Cassandra is revealed to be the twelfth god, that door is closed to Laura forever.  It seems, as this interstitial puts it, that The Wicked + The Divine is:

notherstory

I love the ambiguous pronoun game.

 

One of the most common criticisms I’ve heard levied against Wic+Div is that Laura, ostensibly the series’ main character, doesn’t actually get much to do.  She’s standing, dumbfounded, in the spotlight while all the gods are throwing fireballs and resurrecting people in the wings behind her.  To some extent, this is true.  Laura isn’t a protagonist in this series like Dream was in The Sandman.  However, this is also the point.  She’s not there to inspire.  She’s there to be inspired.  The first two arcs of the story take place over six short months, and Laura is already a dramatically different person.  Check out these two layouts:

comewithme

In the first chapter, Laura is starstruck.  Luci is a capital G-O-D god.  Laura looks up at Luci as she takes her hand and is led into a world beyond her and the reader’s imagination.  She’s dressed up as Amaterasu and actively seeks to become someone else.  By the time the fifth issue rolls around, Laura’s no longer hiding.  She isn’t playing at being a god.  She’s a friend of the gods.  Instead of looking up to them, she sees their flaws, and thus is portrayed above Luci.

At one point, Baal makes a telling statement:

changeyou

The gods don’t change the world.  They only appear every 90 years and disappear after two.  The gods empower regular people like Laura, and people like her–people like us change the world.  Laura doesn’t “do” much because she’s still in the process of being born.  As long as the gods are here, her actions will always be visually trumped by the flashy powers of the Pantheon.  However, even without powers, she’s managed to drive a great deal of the action in the series and inspire a lot of people.  Even David Blake, who once said that she’s “learned so little that [her] opinion is pretty much void,” turns around by the end of the second arc and admits that he was wrong.

apology

Gillen’s writer’s notes on the first issue serve as a piece of extratextual evidence that supports this reading of Laura.  In his blog post, he writes that Laura’s name is inspired by the eponymous Bat For Lashes song.

Some choice lines include:

partydied

“Your heart broke when the party died.”

morethanasuperstar

“You’re more than a superstar.”

famousforlongerthanthem

 

“You’ll be famous for longer than them.”

People may hate on Laura, but she is the key to understanding The Wicked + The Divine because she’s going to be the last woman standing at the end of the series.  She didn’t inherit the spirit of the gods.  She’s inheriting something better: the Promethean gift of their knowledge.  What’s left to be seen is what she does with that gift, but I have some ideas…

Once again, we return…

wereturn

Ananke utters the same words at the end of the 1920s recurrence and as Cassandra takes her place as Urdr, the last god needed to complete the 2014 pantheon.  Ananke is focused on the positive elements of cyclicality in these scenes, looking forward to the future and the beginning of the Recurrence cycles.  She neglects to mention the end of the statement.

Once again we return

tothis

to this.

In two years, her children will be dead.  Again.  She doesn’t say it, but the sentiment is revealed on her face as she watches the last of the 1920s pantheon die.  Interestingly, although Ananke is the constant and undying element of necessity that persists between pantheons, she seems to have aged dramatically over the past 90 years.  Now granted, she wasn’t exactly starring in Dove commercials in 1923 (I can’t think of a contemporary joke, sue me), but the last century seems to have worn her down and given her more wrinkles than the time stream of Looper.  She says as much in an interview with Cassandra:

drunken

Now, this is pretty foreboding.  When Laura visits Valhalla for the first time in issue four, one of the major reasons why the other gods won’t help end Luci’s imprisonment is because it could mean the end of all Recurrences.  Forever.  As Ananke says:

allgonewrong

Superficially, one could say that Ananke fears that humans will literally kill the gods.  Now, as has been demonstrated time and time again (bullets curve around gods), this is exceedingly difficult.  However, what if humans simply stopped believing in the gods’ ability to inspire?  Ananke says that the “inspiration will leave the world forever” without the gods, but can she back up that statement?  The years have worn on Ananke and the 2014 Recurrence is not going well.  Perhaps the fault for that doesn’t lie with any of the gods.  Perhaps mankind simply doesn’t need them anymore.  To quote Nietzsche (which is always a good idea, I promise):

“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers…must we ourselves not become gods…?”

Now, this is the point in the article where analysis-based hypothesizing becomes almost pure extrapolation and guesswork, so be warned.  However, I think The Wicked + The Divine is showing us the last Recurrence ever.  In Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, the author plays with the idea that gods are powered by the strength of human belief.  They exist only as long as people need them to.  If Team WicDiv is drawing from this particular school of thought, then we could be witnessing the last recurrence ever because the cycle of rebirth has run out its usefulness.  The gods were originally created to “light the spark” that allows mankind to beat back an oppressive darkness and begin the construction of civilization.  Civilization was constructed.  Civilization has lasted.  The recurrence is a cycle, a circle, a set of training wheels for mankind.  Now it’s time for them to come off.  We are witnessing the end of the era of gods as men and the beginning of the era of mankind as gods.  Who might lead mankind towards that era?  Why, Laura of course.

Let’s look back at Laura grasping Luci’s hand in issue five:

creationofadam

Michaelangelo’s The Creation of Adam is probably one of the most famous paintings in the world.  God, on the right, is about the breathe life into Adam, the first man, on the left.  Laura, on the right, gives strength to Luci on the left.  Laura is the god in this allusive panel.  She is the person, “rare and blessed,” who can hear everything that “all the gods have to say,” which makes her the perfect leader for humanity when they’re gone.

How the Recurrence will end and the identity of the ultimate “darkness” that threatens civilization has yet to be seen, but I’m interested to know what you all think of the postulations above.  Let me know in the comments or tweet @waxenwings.

laura

As a final thought and not to take away from the gravitas of this moment, but I think it’s funny that Laura’s still wearing a coat in issue 9 even though it’s almost July.  Girl is frigid.

1 Comments on Cruel Portents: Looking at the Past and the Future of The Wicked + The Divine, last added: 5/28/2015
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3. Literary Analysis

Literary analysis helps you discover more about the books you're reading. Let's look at some videos that help explain the process.



Video #1 - Literary Analysis - Introduction





Video #2 - Literary Analysis - Elements of Narrative








Video #3 - Literary Analysis - Step 2 How to find a theme - view on YouTube - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p4qME64SkxM&feature=related
 


Video #4 - Finding Themes in a Story






Video #5 - Types of Conflict





Video #6 - Theme and Plot Structure






Video #7 - Gingerbread Man school assignment plot analysis






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4. Interesting stats on my booktalk last week...

Okay, so I went with some information gathering technology during this booktalk to see what I could gather about the readers here on my campus.  This was done in a day (booktalked two days with a colleague) and they were mostly freshmen and sophomores
12 classes
391 students
189 girls
202 boys


Books on the list:
20
Book trailers on the list:
6

The top five picks for girls:
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (book trailer)
Shelter by Harlan Coben (book trailer)
You Have Seven Messages by Stewart Lewis
Compromised by Heidi Ayarbe
The Poisoned House by Michael Ford ( book trailer)






The bottom five picks for girls:
The Watch That Ends the Night by Allan Wolfe
Freak Magnet by Andrew Auseon
Dust and Decay by Jonathan Maberry
Bad Taste in Boys by Carrie Harris
Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

Ahhhh, the girlies.  They will read guy books, girl books, non-fiction.  You can tell from the top five that they run the gamut of genres.  Most of the titles in the bottom five were interesting as well.  Three of them were pitched for guys and girls but had a more grisly vibe to them.  Girls don't seem to want to read about man-eating horses or zombie pit fights.  Interestingly enough, not all of the book trailer books made it into the top ten for the girls.  Most of them did, but Variant by Robison Wells wasn't in their top ten.  As for Bad Taste in Boys?  See the comment I made in the guys section below.  Applies here as well.


The top five picks for guys:
Divergent by Veronica Roth (book trailers)
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (book trailer)
Shelter by Harlan Coban (book trailer)
Trapped by Marc Aronson
How They Croaked by Georgia Bragg







The bottom five picks for guys:
You Have Seven Messages by Stewart Lewis
Bunheads by Sophie Flack
How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr
Freak Magnet by Andrew Auseon
Bad Taste in Boys by Carrie Harris

It seems that boys never lose faith in non-fiction.  The only two non-fiction titles were in the guys top five.  My personal opinion is that when they get older, it becomes more difficult for guys to really find enjoyable non-fiction titles, which is why I always include 2-3 titles in the booktalk.  Of the top ten titles for guys, all six booktrailers made it, which may show they boys tend to connect visuals to the choice of books.  And the bottom picks?  All girls books, with the exception of Freak Magnet, which is told in alternating guy and girl voices, where the main character is considered a "freak."  The only caveat I would have is Bad Taste in Boys by Carrie Harris, which was the very last book talk

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5. Text Metrics

by Deren Hansen

Motivational business rhetoric is full of old saws like, "if you can't measure it, you can't improve it." While true in straightforward situations, like how many widgets per hour come off an assembly line, as we stray from the well-ordered fields of the purely quantitative realm into the qualitative wild lands, metrics become more nebulous--and in some cases do more harm than good.

So, in full knowledge of their debatable benefits, let's look at some of the text metric tools you can use to improve your understanding of your manuscript.

Word count is the most important metric for queries. Microsoft Word 2010 has a running word count in the status bar. With earlier versions, File|Info (Alt-F, I) brings up the Document Properties dialog where you can view the Statistics tab. (The same dialog is available in Word 2010 via File|Info|Properties|Advanced Properties.) OpenOffice/LibreOffice has a Word Count item in the Tools menu.

Metrics are most useful for comparison. You can use the tools at Renaissance Learning to look up the word counts of published books like yours to see if your manuscript is in the right ball park.

There are a number of other web-based tools like the word frequency and phrase frequency counters at writewords.org.

The good folks at UsingEnglish.com have an advanced text analyzer for members in the Tools area. They offer everything from overall readability to word and phrase frequency.* It's a rich resource geared toward educators. There is no charge to register and by doing so you can store and compare up to twenty texts.

Textalyser.net is a simpler site that offers a similar set of metrics and doesn't require registration.

And if that's not enough, you can have the Gender Genie predict the gender of the author implied by your text.

While none of these tools will guarantee publication, it's worth your while to see what insights you can glean. At very least, run some representative chapters through the tools that show word and phrase frequency and see if you have a problem with pet words.

One final caution: while it's highly unlikely that anyone will appropriate your manuscript if you enter it in one of the web-based tools, there's no need to analyze more than a few chapters to get a good sense of what's going on with your text.

* UsingEnglish lists the following features for their advanced text analyzer: "General Statistics, Readability Ststistics, Word Analysis (Distribution, Length, Frequency, Word Cloud, Hard Words), Phrase Analysis, Lexicon Analysis, and Graded Text Analysis."


Deren blogs at The Laws of Making.

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6. Poetic ponderings

Edgar Allen Poe called poetry "the rhythmical creation of Beauty". Is that not lovely?

But sometimes, Beauty can be a real beast, and I mean that in two senses:

First off, a poem need not be about something attractive in order to be a thing of beauty.

Read, for instance, this beautiful poem by Jack Gilbert about grief following the loss of his wife, Michiko. You will notice that he never mentions grief by name, and that this poem begins with a simile that turns into an extended metaphor. And I predict that you will love this poem as it breaks your heart, and as you feel its weight settle into the box you already carry, and that you will see its beauty, even though it is not about something most people would deem beautiful


Michiko Dead
by Jack Gilbert

He manages like somebody carrying a box
that is too heavy, first with his arms
underneath. When their strength gives out,
he moves the hands forward, hooking them
on the corners, pulling the weight against
his chest. He moves his thumbs slightly

Read the rest here.

Poems can be about loss and fear, about war and rape, about horror and shame, just as they can be about love and hope, about flowers and clouds, about joy and pride. When done well, however, they are a form of Beauty, just as Poe said.

Second, it can be a bear to achieve "rhythmical creation of Beauty."

I have spent the past three days in false starts and erasures of a poem intended for the Shakespeare poems. I haven't given up on this poem yet, but I'm stepping away from it for now because it's to the point where I am working so hard to shove the poem together that it will never become a thing of Beauty; the poem and I are too angry with each other, I think it best for us both to cool down for a bit and start again. Perhaps she and I will get along better after we take a break from one another.

Most everyone I know seems to acknowledge that first drafts of novels aren't usually pretty. But neither are first drafts of poems - even metrical poems. Want proof? Go to the Manuscripts section of this page about Visual Aids for Jonathan C. Glance's English class and have a look at William Blake's page. Or Byron's. Or Keats. Or even Elizabeth Barret Browning, and hers is pretty clean. Sometimes getting things in order is a beastly undertaking. But when it is done, what a thing of Beauty it can be. Read, for instance, the final version of Blake's poem, "The Tyger" from Songs of Experience, with its wonderful trochaic metre and end rhymes, and ask yourself "Is this not Beauty, rhythmically created?":

The Tyger
by William Blake

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand dare sieze the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art.
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain?
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp
Dare its deadly terrors clasp?

When the stars threw down their spears,
And watered heaven with their tears,
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?


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7. Blue by Joyce Moyer Hostetter

I am so sorry I didn't read Joyce Moyer Hostetter's Blue in 2006 when it was published by Calkins Creek. It's another book that has been on my TO READ list for a long time. Hostetter did a wonderful job of bringing her characters to life and of wrapping them and their story up neatly in the historical details of the polio epidemic in North Carolina during the 1940s. I've been wondering for the

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8. Pouch!

At my local NC library I found a delightful picture book by a truly talented author/illustrator, David Ezra Stein. Pouch! was published by G.P. Putnam's Sons in 2009. Pouch! is a delightful story about a baby kangaroo (Joey) discovering a big new world outside mother's pouch. In 150 words and a series of cute, CUTE illustrations Stein gives us a bouncy tale of adventure and daring--well, it was

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9. The Very First Thanksgiving Day

I have a small collection of PBs related to Thanksgiving Day. It is probably my favorite holiday of the year partly because I think it gets lost in the celebrations of Halloween, Christmas and Football. The Very First Thanksgiving Day by Rhonda Gowler Greene is one of my very favorites. It was published by Scholastic, Inc. in 2001 as a soft cover [aka affordable] PB. Most PBs related to

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10. Two for the Price of One

Ta-da! Big announcement... Our Write2Ignite! Registration and Scholarship Information is ready and live on our website--PTL! Visit our website at http://www.write2ignite.com/ or click here to go straight to the Registration page. Reviews of Children's Books: Friday is normally my book review/analysis day. I'm enjoying several Thanksgiving-themed picture books these days. However, today I

2 Comments on Two for the Price of One, last added: 11/12/2010
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11. A Wing and a Prayer - Franklin Graham

A Wing and a Prayer by Franklin Graham is a special kind of picture book. It was published by Thomas Nelson for Samaritan's Purse. This beautifully illustrated, soft back picture book was written to spread a couple of important messages through an engaging story. In my opinion it accomplishes both. A Wing and a Prayer introduces us to two very different boys who live in very different worlds.

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12. The First Violet by Karl Egon Ebert, trans. by Kelly Ramsdell Fineman

This morning is tentatively sunny, with evidence of spring appearing in the neighborhood. Buds on trees, birds singing and calling, daffodils and jonquils starting to bloom. For this particular Poetry Friday, I decided to share a poem I learned as a song (a lied) - "Das Erste Veilchen" - in its original German, which I've translated.

Before I get to the poem and the discussion, just a quick reminder that 3 p.m. ET is the deadline for the Kidlit 4 Japan auction for my items: Two winners will receive poetry critiques of up to 75 lines of poetry, plus a second-pass critique of their revision(s). All proceeds go to UNICEF to assist with relief in Japan. Full details and entry information here.


The First Violet
by Karl Egon Ebert, translated by Kelly Ramsdell Fineman

When I saw the first violet,
I was delighted with its color and scent!
I lustfully embraced Spring's messenger
To my swelling, hopeful breast.

The Spring time is over, the violet is dead;
Rings full of blue and red flowers surround me -
Standing within them, I barely see them.
The violet shines in my dream of Spring.


The original German text:

Das erste Veilchen
by Karl Egon Ebert

Als ich das erste Veilchen erblickt,
Wie war ich von Farben und Duft entzückt!
Die Botin des Lenzes drückt' ich voll Lust
An meine schwellende, hoffende Brust.

Der Lenz ist vorüber, das Veilchen ist tot;
Rings steh'n viel Blumen blau und rot,
Ich stehe inmitten, und sehe sie kaum,
Das Veilchen erscheint mir im Frühlingstraum.


A word on the form of the original, what's lost in translation, and a bit about the poet

The original German poem is written in two stanzas using rhymed couplets (AABB CCDD), with each line containing four stressed syllables. My translation was based on a desire to give you a decent translation of the meaning of the poem. Alas, the meter and rhyme did not carry over.

The poet, Karl Egon Ebert, was of Czech-German descent, and was born in Bohemia in 1801 (back when it was still an actual place, and not a sort of state of mind). He spent most of his life in service to the royal house of Fürstenberg, and evidently had a romance with one of the princesses (alas, their love was not allowed to flourish). He died in Prague at the age of 81, having written a number of poems and librettos for operas, as well as political tracts arguing for Czech-German cooperation.

As I mentioned at the start of this post, I'm aware of this poem because it was set to music; it was one of the lieder that I sang when I was a voice major in college. Here's a video of a talented young man named Stephen Richardson singing Ebert's words to music by Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (note: some lines or parts of lines are repeated in the song setting):




I hope you find some violets today, even if only in your mind's eye. Mary Lee is hosting Poetry Friday today over at A Year of Reading - you can see all the entries by clicking the Poetry Friday box below.

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13. Cathy's Animal Garden

Cathy's Animal Garden: Enter at Your Own Risk was written by Stacy Tornio and Beautifully illustrated by my very own dear friend, Samantha Bell. It was published by Alma Little in 2010. I am as proud as a daddy peacock to own an autographed copy. The illustrations are bright and colorful--just as they should be in a book about a garden. Bell's blossoms, trees and blades of grass are life-like

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14. Sometimes a bunny is just a bunny

Recently, there's been a discussion of Margaret Wise Brown's book Goodnight Moon on one of the children's literature listservs I read. Nothing unusual... after all, it's a classic book and is bound to be talked about from time to time.

But, this discussion has started to get into issues involving incest, gender, sexuality and the domination of the older female bunny... and at this point, I've got to wonder: is it okay for Goodnight Moon to just be about a bunny that says good night to the objects in their room? Does it have to be about anything more than that? Is it about anything more than that?

My guess is no, it probably isn't. I appreciate book analysis as much as the next person, but sometimes I think we tend to over-analyze, especially in the field of children's books. And I think when that happens, some of the sweet innocence of a book can get lost.

For example, after I read the Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, I was struck by the fact that he referred to one of the ghouls as the 33rd President of the United States. It was very specific, and I wondered what he meant by it. So, I went online and found many brilliant theories that it was a reference to Truman's (the 33rd President) ghoulish decision to drop the atomic bomb.

Made sense. But then, I asked Neil Gaiman about it and he said that wasn't the case at all. The real reason was that he wanted to use a president from that era and he decided that FDR was just too cool to turn into a ghoul. He thought about Eisenhower, but in the end, thought the number 33 sounded better than the number 34, and number 33 turned out to be Truman. There's nothing more to it than that.

Moral: sometimes things are really that simple. And sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Is it okay to let a bunny just be a bunny?

What book do you think has been over-analyzed?

3 Comments on Sometimes a bunny is just a bunny, last added: 5/31/2011
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15. Horoscopes for the Dead by Billy Collins

Today's post is a duplicate of the one I wrote for Guys Lit Wire. Because hey, why not?

Billy Collins has quite a reputation among U.S. readers of poetry as a somewhat folksy, wry sort of poet. He draws large crowds for his readings. He sells large numbers of his books. And all of it, I submit, is well-merited, since he has the knack, like Robert Frost before him, of speaking his poetic truth - however erudite or deep it happens to be - in such a way that most people can catch at least one meaning of the poem - the surface, at least, whether they choose to look into the depths or not.

Horoscopes for the Dead picks up with some of the same themes Collins's readers are used to seeing. There are some especially funny ones, such as "Hangover", which has nothing to do with the movies of the same name, but which finds a somewhat curmudgeonly (yet still funny) Collins suffering from a severe headache:

Hangover
by Billy Collins

If I were crowned emperor this morning,
every child who is playing Marco Polo
in the swimming pool of this motel,
shouting the name Marco Polo back and forth

Marco   Polo   Marco   Polo

would be required to read a biography
of Marco Polo-a long one with fine print-
as well as a history of China and of Venice,
the birthplace of the venerated explorer

Marco   Polo   Marco   Polo

after which each child would be quizzed
by me then executed by drowning
regardless how much they managed
to retain about the glorious life and times of

Marco   Polo   Marco   Polo

It's kind of crappy audio quality, but you can hear Billy Collins read this poem here if you'd like.

There is another poem criticizing the imprecise use of language so prevalent in today's society - a somewhat popular theme with Billy Collins over the past few collections. (I feel constrained to mention that this poem is attributed to a female speaker, as several such past poems have been as well, and that perhaps a wee bit of sexism is creeping in there since imprecision in language is certainly not a gendered trait. But I digress.) Here, for a laugh, is the start of "What She Said":

What She Said
by Billy Collins

When he told me he expected me to pay for dinner,
I was like give me a break.

I was not the exact equivalent of give me a break.
I was just similar to give me a break.

As I said, I was like give me a break.

I would love to tell you
how I was able to resemble give me a break
without actually being identical to give me a break,

but all I can say is that I sensed
a similarity between me and give me a break.

. . .
You can hear the rest of the poem in this reading, again with apologies for the poor sound quality.

Not all the poems are funny, of course. There is the hauntingly lovely "Genesis", which begins as a poem about the original couple and ends as a poem about a specific modern couple. Or his rumination, "Poem on the Three Hundredth Anniversary of the Trinity School," which begins with him saying he's been asked to write such a poem, but cannot do so - only to find him wandering the land back through time, to that time three hundred years ago when the school was founded.

Highly recommended for fans of poetry, or for those of you wishing you like poetry a bit more. You are almost guaranteed to find something to your liking in this collection. I leave you with "The New Globe" - a poem that is, on its surface, about the obtaining of

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16. Break of Day by John Donne

Yesterday's poem, "Death Be Not Proud", was from the thoughtful, more religious side of John Donne. Today, a more earthly love poem in rhymed couplets from Donne, who lived in the late 16th and early 17th century. About two hundred years after his birth, Dr. Samuel Johnson dubbed him a "Metaphysical Poet", part of (and in truth, founder of) a loosely associated group of poets who used art, history and religion as extended metaphor (known as a conceit, a word which here has absolutely nothing to do with being stuck-up. The Metaphysical Poets delighted in using what was considered unusual imagery and syntax in their poems. Expediency caused him to convert from Catholicism to the Anglican church; Donne was eventually forced by King James I to become an Anglican clergyman (by royal decree preventing him from occupying any other job, no less).

Today's poem was, as it turns out, actually written as a song and set to music by three different contemporary (to Donne) composers: John Dowland, Orlando Gibbons and William Corkine.

Break of Day
by John Donne

Tis true, 'tis day; what though it be?
O wilt thou therefore rise from me?
Why should we rise, because 'tis light?
Did we lie down, because 'twas night?
Love, which in spite of darkness brought us hither,
Should in despite of light keep us together.

Light hath no tongue, but is all eye;
If it could speak as well as spy,
This were the worst that it could say,
That being well, I fain* would stay,
And that I loved my heart and honor so,
That I would not from him, that had them, go.

Must business thee from hence remove?
O, that's the worst disease of love.
The poor, the foul, the false, love can
Admit, but not the busied man.
He which hath business, and makes love, doth do
Such wrong, as when a married man doth woo.


*fain: happily

Form: The poem/song is written in three stanzas of six lines each using iambic tetrameter (meaning there are four iambs per line: taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM) for the first four lines, and iambic pentameter (five iambs per line - taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM) for the last two, and in rhymed couplets; as a result, each stanza rhymes AABBCC. The effect of the two longer lines at the end of each stanza is to slow the pace a bit, and also to impart a bit more weight to those closing lines in each stanza than is given to the first four lines.

Discussion: The poem is sometimes considered an aubade, a poem or song about lovers separating at dawn (like his poem, "The Sun Rising"), although as the poem progresses, it becomes clear that this is not truly a love song, but is instead a complaint about the man's priorities. John Donne writes the poem from a female point of view, something that becomes apparent for the first time in the second stanza. The first stanza asks whether the man must get up and go just because it's now daylight, making the point that their decision to lie down together was not based on it being dark. "If we found each other despite it being dark, should we not remain together despite it being daylight?" is a slightly update variant of the final question of the first stanza.

The second stanza features a personification of "light", which is characterized as being all-seeing, but incapable of speech. If light could speak, however, (says the female speaker) the worst it would be able to say is that the speaker would happily stay with her man, based on her own principles of love and honor, both of which are qualities that she attributes to the man as well.

The final stanza makes clear that the people involved in the poem are not nobility, and at leisure, but are working folk: The man must rise in order to attend to his business concerns, and is not at leisure to

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17. Break, Break, Break by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

After yesterday's poem, "Dulce et decorum est" by Wilfred Owen, my thoughts flew to one of the best-known, best-loved poems perhaps ever, "Do Not Go Gently Into That Good Night" by Dylan Thomas, a villanelle with the recurring lines "Do not go gentle into that good night/Rage, rage against the dying of the light." That poem remains under copyright, however, and one of the few limits I've imposed on myself for this "Building a Poetry Collection" series is that the poems featured must be in the public domain here in the U.S. So, no Dylan Thomas today after all, although those of you inclined to read Thomas's exhortations to his dying father are free to follow the above link.

It then occurred to me to post "Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven" by William Butler Yeats, which I've posted twice before (although not as part of this series). But I've already posted at least two Yeats poems this month, and that seemed a bit too Yeats-heavy for me, even though he is one of my favorite poets. I considered going with "O Captain! My Captain!" by Walt Whitman, but then it occurred to me that I recently posted some Whitman, and that I haven't included any Tennyson this year. And thinking we could all use a bit more Tennyson in our lives, I came to today's actual selection, selected largely for its third stanza, although the repetition in this poem and its excellent recite-ability was a factor in the choosing:

Break, Break, Break
by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Break, break, break,
  On thy cold gray stones, O Sea!
And I would that my tongue could utter
  The thoughts that arise in me.

O, well for the fisherman's boy,
  That he shouts with his sister at play!
O, well for the sailor lad,
  That he sings in his boat on the bay!

And the stately ships go on
  To their haven under the hill;
But O for the touch of a vanish'd hand,
  And the sound of a voice that is still!

Break, break, break
  At the foot of thy crags, O Sea!
But the tender grace of a day that is dead
  Will never come back to me.



Form: The poem is arranged in three rhyming stanzas, with the even lines in perfect rhyme. The metre is not fixed, but tends to include three or four stressed syllables per line (usually three). It trips off the tongue in what can be an almost sing-song manner, but were you to recite it aloud, you would of course try not to make it sing-songy.

Discussion: The speaker appears to be by the sea, watching the ships and boats as they come and go and the way the waves break on the shore. The second and first half of the third stanzas indicate that life is good for the fisherman's boy and the sailor and the stately ships, but the last two lines of the third stanza bring the speaker around to "the thoughts that arise in [him]": he is in mourning. In the final stanza, the speaker exhorts the sea to continue pounding against the rocks along the shore - or at least observes that the sea continues to pound - whereas the speaker will never again spend time with his lost loved one.

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18.

Just when I think I almost have a handle on the basics of writing PBs along comes a book like Hug a Bug by Eileen Spinelli! It was illustrated by Dan Andreasen who also illustrated many of the Little House on the Prairie books, (And tons of other PBs) and published by Harper Collins in 2008. It doesn't have a plot. There's no story problem. No arc. The MC doesn't experience change or growth.

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19.

Nine years ago-May 7, 2001-our son died suddenly from a heart attack. That event changed me decisively and permanently. Many kind and generous people contributed to our comfort and held us up during those days of indescribable pain. Since that event several of my friends have buried their children, too. I believe God has used that experience to equip me to help them through their own unique

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20. Sonnet 130 by William Shakespeare

A lovely sonnet, followed by a video offering two aural interpretations of the poem: one by Daniel Radcliffe, the other by the incomparable Alan Rickman. (I could listen to that man read the phone book. And even his recitation of the phone book would probably require a change of knickers.)

Sonnet 130
by William Shakespeare

My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips' red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask'd, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
  And yet, by heav'n, I think my love as rare
  As any she belied with false compare.


Form: Shakespearean sonnet, of course. You probably know the drill by now, but it's a sonnet written in iambic pentameter (five iambs per line, taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM taDUM), and using the following rhyme scheme: ABABCDCDEFEFGG. The "turn", or volta, in a Shakespearean sonnet typically occurs in line 9, with a slightly further turning in the closing couplet. In this particular poem, the only true turn is in the final couplet: "And yet, by heav'n, I think my love as rare/As any she belied with false compare."

Discussion: Shakespeare is making a mockery of the overly florid "courtly" sonnets popular in the 1590s. It was de rigeur at the time to compare beauty to flowers and goddesses and the like. The comparison of one's breath to perfume was quite common as well, which had to be a bold-faced lie in most instances, what with the (recent at that time) penchant for sugar and the complete lack of dental hygiene - so bad, in fact, that Queen Elizabeth's teeth were blackened by rot. "Fashionable" women then blackened their own teeth, even if they were healthy, in order to pay homage to the "fashion" set by the Queen (who, in the end, had all or nearly all of her teeth extracted, after which she padded the inside of her mouth with cotton when in public to avoid the sunken-in cheeks that followed her toothlessness). But I digress.

Here, Shakespeare notes what the conventions are: to say that eyes are like the sun, lips like coral, breath like perfume, skin as white as snow with cheeks red as roses, a voice like music, a manner of walking that was more like floating. He then slashes straight through them, saying that if those are the ideals, then by comparison, the woman he's writing about (the Dark Lady, called so in part because of her "black" hair) is a complete failure.

The true turn comes in that final couplet, in which he asserts that the woman he writes of is more rare than any woman he might write lies about.

This piece was probably one of the "sweet sonnets" referenced by Meres as being familiar in company. Knowing that the Bard was an actor, I rather expect that rather than any sort of sweet or serious delivery, this was a comedic performance piece. That does not, however, diminish its power over time. I thereby give you two earnest readings of this poem from two Harry Potter stars: Daniel Radcliffe and Alan Rickman.


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21.

Violet Goes to the Country is a picture story book published by Viking (of Penguin Young Readers Group) in 2007. It is “presented by” and copyrighted by Jan Karon who wrote the Mitford Series. However, the story is by Melanie Cecka with illustrations by Emily Arnold McCully. Though this is a picture story book I find it odd that there are no children in the book. None. Zero. So, I suppose it is a

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22. The Tempest, part 4 - Shipwrecked!

In June of 1609, the Sea Venture set off from England, bound for Virginia with between 150 passengers and a lot of supplies. One of those passengers was William Strachey, secretary of the mission. It was the flagship of a seven-ship fleet carrying between 500-600 people total. About seven weeks later, the fleet was beset by what was probably a hurricane. The Sea Venture was separated from the remainder of the fleet and struggled for three days, taking on water. The ship's master intentionally grounded the ship in order to avoid her foundering, and all 150 people - and one dog - went safely ashore on what is now Bermuda.

They spent nine months on the island, during which time they constructed two new ships out of Bermuda timber and pieces taken from the Sea Venture. Some settlers died while on the island, and two men were intentionally left on the island for unspecified crimes.

In 1610, survivor Sylvester Jordain published a book entitled A discovery of the Bermudas, otherwise called the Isle of Devils, which apparently included an account of the storm and the wreck. That same year, William Strachey wrote a letter detailing the wreck and what followed (including his time in Jamestown). The letter was published in 1625 as A true reportory of the wracke, and redemption of Sir THOMAS GATES Knight, but the Jordain book would have provided some of the same information as Strachey's account of the storm and the wreck - to say nothing of everyone surviving it, at least in the first instance, and then living to not only tell the tale, but also to sail off to their original destination (where they found nothing but death and the dying at Jamestown, but that's a different story) - definitely match up with some of The Tempest's plot points. I do not believe it likely that Shakespeare saw Strachey's letter, but the information in its contents tells some of the story of what transpired aboard the Sea Venture.

Here's a (relatively) short excerpt from Strachey's letter to the "Excellent Lady". A longer portion of the letter is available on the Folger Shakespeare Library website.



We had followed this course so long, as now we were within seven or eight days at the most, by Captain Newport’s reckoning, of making Cape Henry upon the coast of Virginia: When on St. James his day, July 24, being Monday (preparing for no less all the black night before) the clouds gathering thick upon us, and the winds singing, and whistling most unusually, which made us to cast off our Pinnace, towing the same until then astern, a dreadful storm and hideous began to blow from out the Northeast, which swelling, and roaring as it were by fits, some hours with more violence then others, at length did beat all light from heaven; which like an hell of darkness turned black upon us, so much the more fuller of horror, as in such cases horror and fear use to overrun the troubled, and overmastered senses of all, which (taken up with amazement) the ears lay so sensible to the terrible cries, and murmurs of the winds, and distraction of our Company, as who was most armed, and best prepared, was not a little shaken. For surely (Noble Lady) as death comes not so sudden nor apparent, so he comes not so elvish and painful (to men especially even then in health and perfect habitudes of body) as at Sea; who comes at no time so welcome, but our frailty (so weak is the hold of hope in miserable demonstrations of danger) it makes guilty of many contrary changes, and conflicts: For indeed death is accompanied at no time, nor place with circumstances every way so uncapable of particularities of goodness and inward comforts, as at Sea. For it is most true, there ariseth commonly no such unmerciful tempest, compound of so many contrary and diverse Nations, but that it worketh upon the whole frame of the body , and most loathsomely affecteth all t

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23. Julius Caesar and Hamlet - some thoughts

I'm pretty much positive I'm not the first or only person to notice the similarities between these plays, but I definitely couldn't pass up a chance to talk about something that jumped out at me as I read Julius Caesar. In fact, if you read my summaries of Act II, scenes 1 and 2, Act IV, scene 1, and Act V, scene 5, I've already flagged some of them. It's not just the similarities in the natures of some of the characters - for instance, Brutus is extremely noble, as is Hamlet. There are some factual similarities, too: Both talk to ghosts. Both suffer the loss of their female love interests. Both are seeking to bring down someone who has wrongfully taken power. Both are recognized as extremely worthy, noble men at the close of the plays in remarkably similar terms.

I assure you that this post is based on my personal observations and thoughts - I didn't manage to quickly find an essay on this topic. So you will forgive the lack of actual scholarliness, I hope.

In addition to factual points of comparison, the plays share similar language in places. One of the most memorable lines in all of literature comes from Hamlet: "To be or not to be, that is the question." That line is so memorable because it kicks off Hamlet's second soliloquy, in which he again considers killing himself (as he did in his first soliloquy). In Julius Caesar, we have Brutus pondering a different sort of quandary. He's wondering whether Julius will be a good leader, and he says "How that might change his nature, there's the question." Now, it's possible that the "To be or not to be" line wasn't as iconic in Shakespeare's time as it now is. And it's possible that Julius Caesar came before the final version of Hamlet, although likely that it came after the first version (sometimes referred to as Ur-Hamlet). Julius Caesar is believed to have been written around 1599. The "final" version of Hamlet was written between 1599 and 1601 (so, possibly at the same time as JC), though it's widely believed that an earlier version of the play existed as much as a decade earlier.

Which line came first? Shakespeare knows, but he's not saying. Still, the similarity is striking. But when it comes to comparing these plays, it's not just this line from JC, Act II, sc. 1 and the one from Hamlet, Act III, sc. 1, that are similar.

There are other similar lines - as when characters in both plays make references to smiling villains (Hamlet in Hamlet, Act I, sc. 5 and Octavius in Julius Caesar, Act II, sc. 2), both have references to defying augury/ignoring portents (Hamlet in Hamlet, Act V, sc. 2, and Caesar in Act II, sc. 2), and the closings of both plays sound remarkably similar (Hamlet, Act V, sc. 2 and Julius Caesar, Act V, sc. 5).

And there are some similarities between the characters of Hamlet and Brutus. Hamlet spends a lot of time thinking about suicide, as we can tell from his first soliloquy ("O that this too, too solid/sullied flesh would melt"), which dealt with suicide, and his second ("To be or not to be"). Similarly, Brutus mentions the idea of killing himself early on in the play, as a noble way of avoiding improper servitude or submission to an unworthy ruler.

Between their discussions of death and the general set-up, it's pretty clear from early in both plays that Hamlet and Brutus are probably going to end up dead, in part because both of them embrace the notion so fully. Hamlet would prefer death because he is so distraught over his father's death (and then all the subsequent turns of event that make continued survival such a living hell - like knowing that his mother and

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24. Sonnet 18 by William Shakespeare

Hey! It was Wednesday today! How's about some Shakespeare? It's a reprise from National Poetry Month 2009.

Sonnet 18*
by William Shakespeare

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed,
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature's changing course untrimmed:
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st,
Nor shall death brag thou wanderest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st:
  So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
  So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.


*The sonnet was actually untitled. It is given a number from a collection of his works, the sonnets he wrote (and which were preserved) numbering over 100. It is often referred to as well by its first line, "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?"

As all Shakespearean sonnets do, this follows the rhyme scheme ABABCDCDEFEFGG.

This is one of the many poems written for the "fair youth" for whom Shakespeare wrote so very many of his sonnets. It seems likely that the youth was a male, and quite possibly Shakespeare's patron. Whether Shakespeare had an actual romance with the fair youth or not remains an unresolved matter.

Sonnet 18 opens with a comparison: the youth is compared to a summer's day, and found superior. In fact, the first eight lines examine the notion that seasons come and go and sometimes their weather is unpleasant, but the youth is found entirely superior. The "turn" in this sonnet comes in the 9th line, with the word "But", which contrasts the fading away of summer with the beauty (physical and otherwise) of the youth. "But thy eternal summer shall not fade/Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st": Your youth and beauty won't fade, and you'll keep possession of the fairness that is yours (ow'st is probably a variant of the verb "to own" here). Shakespeare goes one further: Not only will the youth not fade, he will not be forgotten. The final couplet (inset a wee bit) explains why: I've written a poem about you to remind everyone through the ages.

Shakespeare's words proved prescient, in that his words continue to be read and cherished hundreds of years later. And even though the precise identity of the fair youth cannot be determined, in some ways, our continued recitations and readings of the poem keep his memory alive, I suppose - it must be so, at least, for Shakespeare said so.

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25. A bit of Don Juan

My second Shakespeare poem of the day (16th overall) was an ottava rima. I won't tell you what mine is about, but I will tell you that I used the words "vouchsafed", "filial", and "adieu", and you may make of that what you please.

I was just doing a bit of checking on my formatting for my ottava rima, to see whether the ending couplet is typically indented (the answer is NO), and it occurred to me to share this bit of Don Juan (pronounced "Don Jew-en", as it turns out) by George Gordon, Lord Byron:

"Go, little book, from this my solitude!
I cast thee on the waters – go thy ways!
And if, as I believe, thy vein be good,
The world will find thee after many days."
When Southey 's read, and Wordsworth understood,
I can't help putting in my claim to praise –
The four first rhymes are Southey's every line:
For God's sake, reader! take them not for mine.


Form: Ottava rima is a rhymed form (hence the "rima") written in eight lines (or an "octave", hence the "ottava"). It is an Italian form, hence the Italian name, and it is rhymed ABABABCC. Eight lines, three rhymes, and you may stop with one stanza or write book-length epics (a la Byron) this way.

I love Byron's wit: He wrote half of this particular octave by quoting Southey; as a result he had to come up with one A line, one B line and a couplet in order to finish. And so funny!

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