“You’ll never be alone with a poet in your pocket.”
– John Adams
By Dick Loftin.
I enjoy poetry. Some of my favorite poets are Billy Collins, John Updike, Langston Hughes and especially Robert Lowell, even though it took me decades to understand his work. But I hung in there. And maybe that is what is unique about poetry from any other form of writing. You have to give poetry time. Poetry is an “interior” form – give it enough time and it will get inside you.
I have tried to write poetry and many of the poems I have written read like I was “trying to write poetry.” I think good writing—the best, actually–has a way of dropping out of the sky. It kind of appears. Yes, you should work at it and set a time for it [if you ‘wait’ to be inspired, you may never be] but I do think some of the best writing “comes from the spirit,” as John Lennon once said.
After writing poems for a few years on a semi-regular basis [I would like to do a book someday – there’s always a book, isn’t there?] it is just in the last week where I thought I had written a poem that ‘appeared.’ One that arrived on the paper, legitimately as a poem. It wasn’t forced or ‘created,’ or even expected. It simply made itself known. It made itself alive. The best writing is ‘alive,’ isn’t it?
April is National Poetry Month. The one month out of the year when poetry is, or should be, at the top of everyone’s literary mind. Read some. Write some.
In the Wall Street Journal on April 1, 2013 [and I don’t think it was an April Fool’s joke], The Poetic Justice of April 1 was published. An interesting piece on the state of poetry by Joseph Epstein. Epstein seems to think that poetry is dead. Or dying. “When was the last time you bought a contemporary book of verse,” he asks? I bought some Billy Collins recently—a year or so back. And I picked up some Ogden Nash and some other poets at a book fair in February. But I don’t think he’s talking about me – or you. I think he’s talking about ‘them’ – the public. You know, those people with not-as-good taste in anything as you. Especially poetry. Absolutely poetry.
Epstein says poetry is finished: “This even though reams and reams of the stuff gets published, prizes awarded, poets laureate appointed to the resounding boredom of all but those who either write or teach poetry (usually one and the same people).” Harsh, I guess, but I have some theories.
I think many people do not buy poetry for one reason. The books are a lousy deal. Not the poems or the poets, but the next time you’re in the book store, check out the poetry section. The books are skinny little volumes, only about eighty pages or so—and they’re $18.00. Are you kidding me? Eighteen bucks for a book of under 100 pages. Sorry, I don’t care how good the poems are, that’s not a very good deal. And I’m not trying to be funny, it’s just that I think there needs to be more book there. Really, give me 200 pages. That’s fair for $18.00. Maybe $25.00 for hardcover. John Updike’s final book, a wonderful collection of poems, titled, Endpoint, is $25.00 for 96 pages in hardcover. Still kind of thin, but it was his last book and after all, it was Updike. I tend to shop for Collected volumes of poetry. There is more book there, and I like to get everything. I like to read the lines written from the poets very early years, say the 1940’s, 1950’s, up to the end of the collection, which could be fifty years later. I like to try to find the differences and the growth in the work. I enjoy reading Robert Lowell. His Life Studies [a great title, to begin with] was a book I read off and on from my mid-20’s onward. I am just now, over thirty years later, beginning to understand what Lowell was trying to say. I read Billy Collins because he is fun, interesting and easy to read. Langston Hughes has an unmatchable depth to his writing that goes right through me. His The Negro Speaks of Rivers, is a masterpiece. I bought Wallace Stevens’ Collected Poems because it was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in poetry in 1955, the year I was born. I admit that his poems are over my head. Maybe I should spend more time with them.
A poem I really like, one I just discovered, called, An Adventure, by Louise Gluck, was published just recently in the New Yorker [April 1, 2013]. It is a poem about the passages of life. I must be beginning to understand poetry, because I understood this one. Gluck’s most recent collection of poems is Poems 1962-2012. This is a collection I will probably buy because it meets my criteria for poetry. It’s a big book, just over 650 pages, and covers fifty years of poems—there is a lot to discover in a collection this big. I like that.
I think poetry is unlike any other kind of literature. I think poetry takes time. I think it requires a quiet place to read it and absolutely to write it. Poetry is demanding. Poetry will require a lot of its reader. It requires more of its writer. Poetry will sit you down when you want to run away. It will capture you and hold you still when you need it the most. Poetry is alive and it will speak to you, if you will only listen. Find a quiet spot and spend some time with a great mark of literature. Poetry.
Read An Adventure by Louise Gluck, from bookofjoe.com, Here.
Information about National Poetry Month, from poets.org, Here.
Read The Poetic Justice of April 1, by Joseph Epstein from the Wall Street Journal [April 1, 2013], Here.
Find some poetry on Amazon.com., Here, or better yet, visit your neighborhood bookstore.
by Dick Loftin.
Blake Bailey has quickly become one of my favorite writers. He has written compelling biographies of Richard Yates (a troubled guy, but seems to have been someone you could like) and John Cheever (a guy with so many issues, I wouldn’t want to be in the same room with him) and now he has written about Charles Jackson, a seemingly unlikely candidate for a book, but Bailey tends to go for interesting subjects with interesting lives and Jackson is a very interesting fellow. The new book is Farther and Wilder: The Lost Weekends and Literary Dreams of Charles Jackson. Read a review of the book from the Wall Street Journal, Here. Next for Bailey will be the authorized biography of Philip Roth. Bailey’s books are intensely researched and well-written. By the end of each book, I felt as if I knew his subjects. This is what great biography should be. David McCullough said once that he doesn’t work on a book, he is working in it. Meaning, he is getting into the life of his subject and tries to walk in his subjects shoes. McCullough reads the books, visits the places and even eats the foods of his subjects. Bailey is very similar in that he digs and digs and digs, asking questions and letting the answers lead to more questions. This is where Bailey shines in his writing. He came to Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 2011 for a book signing. He is a very likable fellow, chatty and friendly. He signed my Yates and Cheever books.
I found Blake Bailey quite by accident. A Tragic Honesty, was on a table at Barnes and Noble and around the corner, a copy of Yates Collected Stories. I had never heard of Yates, but I’m attracted to the lives and stories of writers. With the book of Yates’s stories available too, I decided to buy them both. A Tragic Honesty is excellent and I became a fan of Blake Bailey.
A couple of pieces have appeared discussing Blake Bailey’s approach to writing, research and biography. Read the excellent 5 Writing Tips from Blake Bailey, from Publisher’s Weekly, Here. And from Reader’s Almanac, the Library of America blog, an interview with Bailey on the upcoming biography of Philip Roth. Read it Here. On March 29th, PBS will present Philip Roth Unmasked, part of their American Masters series. A link about the program is Here.
Image of Blake Bailey from BlakeBaileyOnline.com. Visit BlakeBaileyOnline, Here.
Read an excerpt of Bailey’s book on Charles Jackson, from Vanity Fair, Here.
Read my review of Blake Bailey’s, “Cheever: A Life,” Here.
by Dick Loftin.
There are few things I enjoy more than the book fair. One of the best is the Holland Hall Book Fair, held every year on the last Saturday of February. I make my annual pilgrimage to jostle among the equally excited book lovers and buyers, buying not just one or two books, but bags of books. It is just too easy. The books are moderately priced, few are more than five dollars, so if I come up on something that looks the least bit interesting–Six Existentialist Thinkers, by H.J. Blackman , for instance and for only a dollar–it goes right in my bag without a second thought. I may have set a record this year with 20 books purchased. Last year, I found Stephen Kings On Writing, in paperback for a couple of dollars. This year I found it in hardcover [always my preference] for three dollars. “Score!” I said to myself.
The beauty of the book fair is the unexpected–the books I have been looking for–to fill out my collection. There were two written by Robert F. Kennedy (To Seek A Newer World,  and The Enemy Within, ) and volumes of poetry by Ogden Nash and John Beecher. I had heard of Nash, of course, but Beecher was new to me. I put both volumes in my bag right away. So many of these books are long out of print and to find them at all–never mind in hardcover!–is a book lovers delight.
There is a personal, emotional aspect to the book fair. These books once belonged to someone. Poetry, essays, fiction, history, biography, every genre. They were in their personal library. They mattered. They were purchased years, decades ago, and they were loved. They were a part of their lives and now, most likely after they have passed on, are resting at a book fair in Tulsa, Oklahoma. But things are always better when they are handed down, and I know in buying these books they pass from one book lover’s hand to mine. And I will love them as much as they did. That, I promise to their former owners. Sometimes, the books will be inscribed, or notes will be left in the margins or somewhere else in the pages. I can’t bear to write on the pages of books myself, after years of reprimanding by my school teachers, but I enjoy discovering this marginalia in the books I buy. In the book of poems by Nash, on the inside was written, “From Amy, Mother’s Day, 1978.” Mother probably cherished the book from the moment it was given to her, and up to, most likely, the day she passed on. The book could have very well been discovered again by Amy while going through her mother’s things. She probably had a tearful moment. Or two.
After I bring them home, my wife amused by the great piles on the coffee table in the living room, I go through each one looking for something about them, a scrap of paper, a receipt, a book marker. I’ll reflect on the past owners of these books and appreciate that they are mine now.
This explains why I love books so much. They are so descriptive of our times, our tastes, the things we believe, the stories we enjoy, the life we have lived or wished to have lived. They are very much who we are.
So maybe the act of discarding the long held books of someone after they have loved them for so many years, in a noble, respected place like the book fair, sending them into the hands and lives of someone else who will love them just as much, and perhaps hand them down again one day, is a good thing. There were a lot of filled up bags at the Holland Hall Book Fair–and that is something to celebrate.
Learn more about Holland Hall School and the Holland Hall Book Fair, Here.
Tulsa World article on the Holland Hall Book Fair, Here.
Photo of the Holland Hall Book Fair on February 23, 2013 by Endpaper Review.
by Dick Loftin.
For those of us who love words, the pleasure in books is immeasurable. What I particularly enjoy is reading about writing. Reading what writers have to say about their craft inspires me and makes me practically run to the typewriter [yes, I'm old school.] This leads us to quotes about writing and reading. There are books galore, and websites with thousands of quotes attributed to the writerly mind. One of history’s greatest writers has to be Thomas Jefferson. He is often quoted from his works, including his greatest, The Declaration of Independence. But a recent Wall Street Journal article shows that while he is often quoted, he is more often misquoted. Lovers of words and writing will find the piece very interesting as I did. I have added a link below. Enjoy. And you can quote me.
Read the piece from the Friday, December 7, 2012, Wall Street Journal, Here.
Image of the recently released biography “Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power,” by Jon Meacham. Photo by Patricia Wall of the New York Times. The book was reviewed by Janet Maslin in the New York Times, November 20, 2012. Read the review Here.
by Dick Loftin.
“Rasputin and the Jews: A Reversal of History”
by Delin Colon.
Publisher: Createspace, 2011
They were not allowed to own or lease land. They were banned from certain occupations, denied education, and segregated to living in a restricted, ghetto-like area. They were blamed for crimes, wars, and espionage. From the time of Peter the Great into our recent history, they were persecuted, slaughtered, separated from their families. Women were forced into prostitution in order to study or teach. Parents would bribe teachers and headmasters to admit their children to schools. All of this because they were judged to be tricksters and cheats, they were said to be shrewd and skilled at gaining advantage over others. All of this because they were Jews.
One man, Grigory Efimovitch Rasputin, a spiritual advisor to the last Tsar and Tsarina of Russia, and believed by them to be a holy man, worked to correct these wrongs. His efforts misunderstood, his reputation and position in history tarnished by those more powerful than himself is the basis for the book, “Rasputin and the Jews: A Reversal of History,” by Delin Colon. Colon is the great-great niece of Aron Simanovitch, Rasputin’s Jewish secretary.
Before I read Ms. Colon’s book, I knew very little about Rasputin. After finishing this book of just over 100 pages, I was left wondering if there may be two Rasputin’s in history. One, a man of deep faith, whose only concern was for his fellow man, who used his position of influence with the Tsar of Russia to try to help the less fortunate, particularly the Jews; or Two, a man who used religion as a tool for manipulation and to gain influence and favor for power, money and advantage. Either way, the conclusion is tragic, for Rasputin was assassinated in late December 1916, and the reign of Tsar Nicholas II ended with his death and that of the Romonov family in July 1918.
Who is this man who some say was a “devil-like figure,” and “The Mad Monk?” Colon’s book hopes to redeem the reputation of Rasputin, which she believes has been tarnished in books and movies throughout history.
Rasputin became known a healer, helping people with migraine headaches and other illnesses through prayer and the laying of hands. His reputation for healing became known to the Romanov family who sought help for young Alexei Romanov. Alexei suffered from hemophilia, a disease in which the blood is unable to clot, which can result in severe, unstoppable bleeding from something as simple as a cut. It would be of little consequence to most, but could be fatal for someone with the illness. The boy would bruise easily, causing internal bleeding and severe pain. When Rasputin entered the family’s lives in 1905, he was able to help the boy relax (some say through hypnosis) and allow his body to heal. Rasputin won the Tsar’s and the family’s confidence, with the Tsar referring to him as a “holy man” and “our friend.”
While Rasputin gained influence with the royal family, he was not entirely welcomed by the Russian elite. He was often accused of sexual misconduct and was said to have spent three months in a Monastery for theft as a teenager. Rasputin dismissed the sexual misconduct charges and the theft charges are noted only as a “possibility” in other source materials.
Whatever influence Rasputin may or may not have had over the royal family, his passion for human rights and the equal treatment of others is clear. He repeatedly councils the Tsar on human rights issues related to the Jews at a time in history when it was not popular to do so. Rasputin would not let human rights issues rest, and continued to work to remedy the problem to the end of his life.
“Although Rasputin was said to have psychic capabilities, and many
of his predictions did come true, it does not take a psychic to forsee
that the extreme oppression of a large population will eventually lead
to agitation and revolution. Rasputin’s politics, simple and naïve as
they were, had the goal of providing plenty for the masses. Had the
Tsar followed Rasputin’s advice of equal rights, peace, and oppor-
tunities for all, revolution may well have been avoided.”
Rasputin also sympathized with the rights of women, giving them attention and consideration, which may have lead to the accusations of sexual impropriety, but the books states that Rasputin had relations with “women of all social classes.” “I speak to them, and they feel better,” Rasputin is quoted as saying.
The Tsar sought, and Rasputin offered, advice regarding social issues, cabinet appointments, saving the monarchy and other issues of the period. The Tsar would consider Rasputin’s advice, but would not always follow it. Once the appointees were in office, they would often back away from positions they promised to keep.
I have read several pieces written about Rasputin on the internet and watched many video clips, including a complete biography of Rasputin’s life. One piece I read of the life of Tsar Nicholas II, barely mentions Rasputin beyond the help he offered to Tsesarevich Alexei Romanov. And it specifically notes Alexandra wholeheartedly believed in Rasputin’s powers and “for the rest of her life she would defend him and turn her wrath against anyone who dared to question him.” For me, this is a powerful statement in support of Rasputin.
In the end, Rasputin is murdered, and months later the Tsar and his family are slain.
Many historians today believe Rasputin to be a scapegoat and so much of the story of Rasputin is puzzling. Was he the “Mad Monk?” Rasputin was certainly a controversial figure in history, and in “Rasputin and the Jews: A Reversal of History,” Delin Colon continues the discussion and brings some clarity to the story of Grigory Efimovitch Rasputin.
Grigori Rasputin: http://www.focusdep.com/biographies/Grigori/Rasputin
Alexei Romanov as Tsesararevich: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tsesarevich
Biography of Grigoriy Yefimovich Rasputin from The Biography Channel: http://www.biography.com/people/grigoriy-yefimovich-rasputin-9452162
Nicholas II of Russia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicholas_II_of_Russia
Author and Book Sources:
by Dick Loftin
Endpaper Review is a blog and website about my passion for books, reading and writing. It is an endless love for the writers who write, the publishers who publish, and the readers who read. We all share a common appreciation for all things books, which bonds us together for a variety of reasons. We love the words, we love the binding, we love the graphics on the slip cover, we love the cover. We love the pages, whether deckled or straight-cut. The bottom line is we love books. And Endpaper Review is a labor of love for the book and everything that makes it what it is.
I started Endpaper Review less than a year ago, and I have been impressed with the growth of the site in this very short time. It has all been word-of-mouth, or, word-of-web. Just over the past few days, people have read Endpaper Review in Italy, Australia, Germany and all over the United States. Endpaper Review has 339 people who want to get post updates in their email. This is particularly amazing to me because we all get a lot of email. A lot. But these wonderful 339 people want just one more–one–from Endpaper Review.
In the past week alone I have heard from individuals and publishers who want to send me books to review. This tells me two things: 1.) They have taken the time to read a couple of posts and 2.) They like what they read. Send the books. I’ll treat your words with the utmost care and appreciation of the work it takes to write them.
While I am working on a new post, I just wanted to say Thank You. Thank you for reading what I write on Endpaper Review. But most of all thank you for writing your book, reading the books that have been written, and sharing your interest and love for them with the world.
by Dick Loftin
Winston Churchill once wrote if you don’t have time to read all of the books you buy, at least be acquainted with them. While cleaning out some bookshelves—to move out some impulsive purchases at book fairs and yard sales—I discovered some lost treasures. It is fun to be surprised by a book you forgot you had. Buried deep in the bookshelf is a forgotten volume, rediscovered like an old friend. “Oh, there, you are!” it shouts to you.
My main interests are history and biography, so finding books that I had purchased months or years ago in the back of a bookshelf was like taking a walk down memory lane. There was, “As I See It,” an autobiography of J. Paul Getty, the great oilman. I learned from Getty that thinking is probably the most important skill to develop in business. Bennett Cerf’s “At Random,” a book about his time at Random House, is a great book about the book business and his relationship with the authors he published. I lost my first copy of it years ago, but was overjoyed to find it online.
There are biographies of the Rockefellers, and a couple of books about the Empire State Building in New York. The Empire State Building was built in the middle of the depression by men glad to have a job and a hand in building an architectural icon. It is quite possibly the greatest building in the world.
I find some political figures interesting. I have several books by and about Richard Nixon, a couple by Eisenhower, there are books on Gerald Ford, Bill Clinton (an avid reader and fascinating figure no matter what your politics.) There are books by and about by JFK, Teddy Roosevelt, and one of my favorites, Harry Truman.
Faith and one’s “inner life” is interesting to me, so I have several books by C.S. Lewis (I found myself saying, ‘Yes!’ out loud numerous times while reading ‘Mere Christianity.’) I have a few by Billy Graham and a collection of Martin Luther’s writings. There is the massive “Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years,” by Diarmaid MacCullough, which I was pleased to discover was on the bookshelf of the late Christopher Hitchens.
I have Thoreau’s “Walden,” (who doesn’t?), a sad biography of Edgar Allen Poe, written by Julian Sumons in 1976, called, “The Tell Tale Heart.” I was delighted to find some old book reviews and other clippings tucked inside the book. There was an Associated Press story about the individual who left a bottle of cognac and roses on Poe’s grave in Baltimore, and had done so for 33 years. It is a tradition that continued for decades, but I read in the Wall Street Journal, that the person who held up the tribute to Poe failed to show up for the third year in a row. The “Poe Toasters,” as they are called, now believe this great literary tradition for a giant of the written word, is over.* But, finding the clippings took me back to the time when I bought the book. Try that with a Kindle!
Michael Wallis’ fine biography, “David Crockett, The Lion of the West,” is a great read. Early in the book, Mr. Wallis makes clear, it is “David,” not “Davy” Crockett. I have several of Mr. Wallis’ books. He is a terrific writer and historian. I have Richard D. White, Jr’s., well-received “Will Rogers: A Political Life,” a new biography of the beloved Oklahomans life as a political humorist and writer.
The classic business book by John Kenneth Galbraith on the Stock Market Crash of 1929, which I found at a book festival, is among biographies of Conrad Hilton and the early books of Donald Trump, when he was more interested in real estate than being a celebrity.
I rediscovered various memoirs, several volumes of poetry (Robert Lowell, Langston Hughes, Wallace Stevens) and essays I absolutely love. They come from everywhere, book fairs, flea markets, antique shops, estate and garage sales, and I will haunt every bookstore in every town I visit. I once bought a book by Christopher Hitchens and Billy Graham on the same night. The young lady behind the counter gave me a puzzled look as I paid for them. I had to smile at the irony.
It is very easy to get attached to your books. They are your history. They provide a background and a place for the memories of your life. You remember when and where you bought them, who your friends were at the time, where you lived, who you loved and who loved you. You remember what you thought and how your thinking has changed over the years, quite possibly by the books you read. Your books are about your life as much as the person who wrote it. Your books are your “relivable past.”
Books are quiet reminders of who you were, and could very well represent what you are today. I bought the eleven volume “Story of Civilization” by Will and Ariel Durant when I was in my late twenties, fully intending to begin reading when I was fifty. I’m several years behind schedule. But that is the beautiful thing about books. Even as the years pass, the books remain. And books, better and more reliable than some friends, will wait for you. Whenever you are ready to get reacquainted. Which proves Winston Churchill was a wise man. Very wise.
“The bottom line is this: If you do nothing, nothing will happen.
If you don’t write, stories and essays and poems won’t get explored or built.
You won’t learn anything about writing by not writing.”
by Dick Loftin
“The Quotable Writer” is a new page on Endpaper Review to offer encouragement to all writers in every form of writing. The quotes are discovered in random places, some not directly involved in the writer’s craft, but can apply to the writer at work.
This month’s Quotable Writer is Dawn Haines from the September/October 2011 issue of Poets & Writers magazine. Her excellent article entitled, “Life After the MFA,” is a must read for all writers, whatever level of education. You may not have a degree in writing, but what you must have as a writer is an idea, a poem, a story, an essay. You must have the words. Haines is saying the key to writing is to write. She says, “I’ve written in my living room with my toddler at my feet. I’ve written in coffee shops, airplanes, in the car during soccer practice, and sitting up in bed. I’ve done some of my best revising in the in-between moments, all those times when I wanted to believe I couldn’t write because the setting or the situation wasn’t right or there wasn’t enough open-ended time.” Well said.
The article is available only in the print edition of Poets & Writers.