Saturday, April 30, 2016

Saturday Good Reads

It was a great week for poetry: A teacher at Hillsdale Academy (a high school) has her students memorize the 280-line poem “The Wreck of the Deutschland” by Gerard Manley Hopkins. Adam Kirsch at Foreign Policy wonders if we will be seeing a rebirth of political poetry. And California Poet Laureate Dana Gioia is interviewed on his life and poetry.

New images on British banknotes (art and poetry). New revelations about last fall’s protests at the University of Missouri. Britain is grappling with questions of religion and race (sounding oddly similar to another country we know). Hugh Whelchel at the Center for Faith, Work, & Economics asks if the idea of religious liberty is Biblical.

And a personal indulgence: I love this song by Sting.

British Stuff


Is Religious Liberty Biblical? – Hugh Whelchel at the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics.

Sorry, Jesus didn’t come to help your self-esteem – David Rupert at Red-Letter Believers.

Who Riled Jesus the Most? – Lynn Mosher.

Young Men – Is This You? – Geoffrey Kirkland at Vassal of the King.

Art and Photography

Milan, Sullivan County, Missouri – Chris Naffziger at St. Louis Patina.

Tranquility – Tim Good at Pics, Poems, and Ponderings.

Life and Culture

The Heartfelt Hilarity of Olan Rogers – Chris Yokel at The Rabbit Room.


Bird Lands – Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper (from Neruda’s Memoirs: Poems).

Will America see a rebirth of political verse? – Adam Kirsch at Foreign Policy.

The Artwork on the Walls of Our Minds – Victoria Barry via Hillsdale College.

Firewood – Ian Barth at Plough.

Slipped and Sunk – Anne Moyle at Curator Magazine.


Don’t Write Angry – Mick Silva.

Sting: Fields of Gold

Painting: Man Reading in the Park, oil on canvas by Auguste Macke (1914).

Friday, April 29, 2016

The second time

After Luke 19:41-46

For the second time
he weeps, once
for a friend, newly dead,
once for the city
of unbelief, the city
of rejection, the city
which did not listen,
would not listen and so
its stones would be
thrown down, its children
thrown down with the stones.

For the second time,
acts of alpha and omega,
he clears away, sweeping
the tables of the sellers
of lambs and doves,
scattering the animals,
scattering the coins,
scattering the sellers,
the lambs escaping
their pens,
the doves escaping
their cages.

He weeps, he scatters,
he scatters, he weeps,
another time.

Photograph by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Flash Fiction: A story of tea, and cake

He returned to the booth, carrying a tray with two cups of tea and a piece of dark chocolate cake. Two forks.

“Do you come here often?” she asked, cradling the tea cup in her cold hands.

“Often enough. I put honey in your tea. You still use honey?”

She nodded. “You remembered. And you remembered I like chocolate cake.”

“It’s only been four months.” He looked around. “This place has been a coffee shop as far back as anyone can remember, but Keir over there” – he pointed to the barista – “Keir will fix tea if you ask. And properly, with leaves in the tea ball.” He smiled. “This was the place my parents came when they were at university here.”

“Really?” she said. “Here?”

“This very table. I come here to study and write sometimes. Sometimes I sit and imagine the conversation they had with their friends, like Dad bringing Mom and her brother home for Christmas, and planning the end-of-term fling with The Mikado. I even have copies of a few of the pictures taken right here.” He grinned. “And I’ve worked out more problems that you might imagine with the Viking invasions of the 8th and 9th centuries right here with a pot of tea.”

“Your PhD defense today was brilliant,” she said. “I wouldn’t have had the nerve. That array of establishment dons and an audience of – what, 200 or more, including the press? And you’re there with your thesis to turn the establishment upside down?”

“I was petrified,” he said.

She laughed. “Then you fooled all of us. You looked calm and collected. And well prepared. You took every barb and challenge and turned it back on them so adroitly they almost thanked you for it. Tommy, you were upending three gigantic academia egos, not to mention what they had built their careers upon, and you did it brilliantly. You were absolutely brilliant.”

“The team was brilliant, Rikki.”

She sipped her tea. “The team was brilliant because our leader was brilliant. Spending three months on a remote island like Oran north of Scotland could have ended in acrimony and something out of an Agatha Christie story. And instead, we proved your theory and came away feeling we each had accomplished something incredibly wonderful. And we had. We changed the understanding of the pre-Norman history of Britain.” Her voice softened. “And our team leader inspired each of us. Don’t denigrate that.”

He smiled. “I had inspiration of my own.”

She forked a piece of the cake to cover the sudden silence.

“I hurt you,” she said. “And don’t argue. I know I hurt you. And it killed me.”

“Why did you come today?”

“Well, I received my invitation, like the rest of the team. And I wanted to see the end result of all that work we did.” She looked down. “And I wanted to see you. I wanted to see how you were. And if you looked the same and sounded the same. I wanted to hear your voice.”

He reached across the table and touched her hand, still holding the fork. “So do I look the same?”

Rikki and Tommy on the island of Oran
She nodded. “You still have the beard.”

He laughed.

She smiled back at him. “Although one thing’s different. I’ve never seen you in a suit and tie before. You look like an adult.”

“I’m feeling a lot like a little boy right now.”

She glanced at the big clock on the wall. “I have to catch my train for Cambridge,” she said. “I have a mid-term oral tomorrow on Beowulf.”

“I’ll walk you to the station.”

“You don’t have to do that.”

“Yes, I do.”

He paid for their cake and tea, and they walked into the late Edinburgh afternoon already darkening into night. She took his arm.

“Can I see you?” he asked.


“This weekend? I'll take the train Friday.”

“Don’t you have plans? Didn’t I hear something about you going to London?”

“I don’t have to be there until Sunday night. I’ll come down Friday.”

She leaned closer to him. “I’m glad. I want to see you.”

“This time,” he said, “I’ll let you buy the tea and cake.”

She laughed. “Done.”

Darlene at Simply Darlene has a flash fiction prompt – a 750-word story (or poem) based on that photograph of a cup and cake. Visit her site to see what stories others have written.

Top photograph by Darlene at Simply Darlene. Second photograph by Linnaea Mallette via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

“Murder and Other Acts of Literature”

Our local library has a little shop on the main floor, operated by volunteers from the library association, where it sells gifts, sundries, and quality used books. I usually gravitate to the bookshelf near  the window, where one can find hardback and quality paperback mysteries for $5.00 and sometimes less (like the occasional half marked price sale). The books are donated, and culled out from the mountains that will be sold at the annual book sale.

Not long ago I found Murder and Other Acts of Literature, edited by Michele Slung, and as soon as I looked at the table of contents, I knew the shop was going to get my $5.00. In this rather intriguing collection of stories about (mostly) murder, one finds authors like William Faulkner, Muriel Spark, Isabel Allende, A.A. Milne, Rudyard Kipling, Anthony Trollope. Isak Dineson, Louisa May Alcott, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Virginia Woolf, Alice Walker, and some 12 more of equal or greater literary fame. It was published in 1997.

A.A. Milne, he of Winne-the-Pooh fame, and Louisa May Alcott writing about murder?

Well, yes. Sort of. These stories are all classic murder mysteries. In some, the murder is never solved. In others, the reader knows the murderer from the start.

Instead, these are stories, literary stories, that involved murder to some degree.

In Muriel Spark’s “The Portobello Road,” the story is narrated by the ghost of a woman who died some years before. It turns out that she’s accidentally haunting the person who killed her. Alice Walker’s teenaged heroine goes calmly about the business of killing a man in “How Did I Get Away with Killing One of the Biggest Lawyers in the State? It Was Easy.” Paul Theroux’s “The Johore Murders” has an embassy official figure out what the local police can’t (and this story comes closest to a traditional murder mystery).

Michele Slung
Rudyard Kipling’s “Mary Postgate” is a story of World War I, grief, and how a woman passing middle age “does her bit” for the war effort. In “The Woman and the Parrot,” a parrot repays kindness with kindness. Louisa May Alcott tells a story of star-crossed lovers who happened to be Shakespearean actors in “A Double Tragedy: An actor’s Story.” A.A. Milne’s “In Vino Veritas” present a police detective and a mystery writer who find a twist within a twist.

Slung had edited quite a number of similar collections, including I Shudder at Your Touch (1991); Living with Cannibals and Other Women’s Adventures (2000); Murder for Halloween (2010); Garden of Reading: Contemporary Short Fiction about Gardeners and Gardening (2012); and many more.

Murder and Other Acts of Literature, properly speaking, isn’t really a collection of mystery stories. The stories, or most of them, have a more literary bent, which is what one would expect from the authors. But who knew Faulkner could tell a gripping tale of justice gone wrong, with a prison mystery to solve to boot, in a story like “Monk?”


Author Q&A with Michele Slung – Washington Independent Review of Books.

Top photograph by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.