Friday, April 29, 2011

E. E. Cummings's "i carry your heart with me"

What's this I hear about a wedding? It seems like the world, in a desperate need for something happy, has latched on to the wedding of Kate Middleton and Prince William. That said, it is refreshing to see a young couple who are (for all appearances) in love and happy for the start of their new life together. This wedding also provides the perfect excuse to feature one of E. E. Cummings's best love poems.

"i carry your heart with me"
by E. E. Cummings

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go, my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
                                         i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in my heart)

As my AP English teacher once mused, Cummings's is a wonderful love poet, and his writing peculiarities, such as unusual spacing, contribute to the meaning and reading of the poem. Here, the lack of spaces before the parenthetical phrases don't seem like mere affectations. Instead, they imply the giddiness of love as well as the melding of two people as one. The absence of most punctuation (there are no periods, and only a few semicolons and commas) also mimic the headiness of a new romance, where everything seems to run together and all thoughts and sentences focus on the object of your affection.

Beauty Review: Birchbox Products from April's Box

When I received my first Birchbox earlier this month, I wasn't 100% thrilled with its contents. Although there were certainly some intriguing items, I had a hard time getting excited over everything. Luckily, I can say that, for the most part, the box had far more hits than misses. Here's a quick roundup and review of the products (in no particular order):

Weleda Wild Rose Smoothing Facial Lotion (full size [1 oz] is $28) : This lightweight and lightly scented moisturizer was surprisingly good. At first, I was a little disconcerted by the packaging (the tiny tube reminded me of the topical medicine samples my mom would get from pharmaceutical reps). Once I got over the packaging, I found that I really liked the product. It absorbed into my skin with very little effort and had the perfect weight and moisturizing power for the warm weather. I've been using this lotion on my face for the past two weeks and my skin has felt soft and smooth. It might be a bit too light for people with drier skin (I have combination/oily), and I suspect it wouldn't be moisturizing enough for drier, cooler seasons or climates. However, I am definitely planning on purchasing this for spring and summer use.

Zoya Intimate Spring 2011 Nail Polish in Dove (full size [.5 fl oz] is $8): I have mixed feelings over this nail polish. It wasn't love at first sight with the color, since I tend towards more traditional nail polish colors (think pinks, reds, and corals), and gray seemed like an odd color for spring. I also found that the polish was very hard to apply; it was very thick and tended to be streaky unless I applied a heavy coat. That said, it had good lasting power; two coats, with a good top coat, lasted me almost a week. I also received some compliments on the colors, which is subdued but noticeable.

Suki Exfoliate Foaming Cleanser (full size [4 oz] is $29.95): This is easily my favorite product from April's Birchbox. The texture of the product looks very thick and rough in the jar, which made me reluctant to put it on my face. However, mixing a small amount with water produced a lightweight, creamy foam that seemed to melt into my skin. It wasn't too abrasive and didn't feel harsh at all, and it left my skin feeling clean and refreshed. I've used this once a day for the past two weeks, and it hasn't caused any problems for my skin, which can definitely be sensitive (the directions note that the scrub can be used once a day or two to three times a week for those with more sensitive skin). The best part is that a little goes a long way; despite my regular usage, I'm only halfway through the sample jar. Consequently, the full size will probably last a long time.

LIV GRN C2C Fragrance Collection Natural Eau De Perfum (full size [3.4 oz] is $60): Because of allergies and a sensitive nose (and laziness), I don't use a ton of perfumes. However, this scent wasn't too heavy or cloying. If it weren't for the rather hefty price tag, I could see myself purchasing it (I would rather spend $60 on skincare and makeup than perfume).

Zhena's Gypsy Tea Italian Chamomile (full size [2 tins with 22 sachets each] $15.95): This was another product I wasn't too excited about when I first opened my Birchbox, and I must say that I'm not planning on purchasing it. The tea was good (and came in very handy when I was fighting a sore throat), but I guess my palate isn't developed enough to taste its nuances, since I couldn't tell any difference between it and the Celestial Seasonings tea I pick up for under $5.00 at the grocery store.

All in all, I was very pleased with my first Birchbox experience, and I'm looking forward to next month's box. I will definitely blog about it when it arrives, so check back around May 10!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

"Unpretty/I Feel Pretty" from Glee

With a few exceptions, I've been underwhelmed by Glee this season. Maybe it's the sophomore slump or perhaps it's because the show has been uneven (even by Glee standards), but I haven't had much to say about the show. However, last night's episode was better than most, and might even be up there with the first half of the first season.

The best number of the night (and one of the best, if not best, of the season), was Rachel and Quinn's rendition of "Unpretty/I Feel Pretty." Although the two actresses' voices don't seem like they would mesh together well, they were able to make the most of Quinn's voice, which is pretty but not particularly strong, while toning down Rachel's powerhouse voice. In addition to the beautifully balanced vocals, the direction and editing was excellent and added to the song's poignancy. Even though I had no love for "Unpretty" or "I Feel Pretty" as separate songs, I've listened to this song on repeat for the past hour.

I particularly appreciate that the understated arrangement really highlights the lyrics of the songs. Back when I worked in speech and drama at the high school level, I remember someone telling me that a student used "Unpretty" as part of her poetry piece. While I was skeptical back then, I totally see how the lyrics can stand on their own without the music.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

In Honor of the Bard's Birthday: "Romeo and Juliet" from "Reefer Madness"

Today is the day that Shakespeare's birthday is traditionally celebrated (they weren't too big on paperwork back in his day, so the actual date is unknown). In celebration, here is an awesomely chipper and inane song performed by two characters who have obviously not read the entire play:

To give you some context, this song appears in the musical Reefer Madness, which satirizes the over-the-top film of the same name from the 1930s. In this clip, Jimmy Harper (Christian Campbell) and Mary Lane (Kristen Bell) are preparing to read Romeo and Juliet while falling in love. Unfortunately, the play foreshadows the outcome of their relationship, which is tragic yet utterly hysterical (just watch the movie).

Friday, April 22, 2011

William Wordsworth's "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud"

Although spring brings with it a host of annoyances (pollen and the allergies that come with it, the start of Red Sox season, the insanity of finals for both teachers and students), one of my all-time favorite spring-related events is the blooming of daffodils. Even when it is slightly chilly and incredibly windy (as it was in New England yesterday), seeing these flowers fools me into thinking that spring is here and it is time to put away the winter boots and coats. Inevitably, seeing the flowers immediately makes me think of Wordsworth's "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud," which is one of my favorite English Romantic poems.

"I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud"
by William Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed---and gazed---but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

To me, this is the perfect example of Romantic poetry. Besides being by Wordsworth (a writer who arguably ushered in the period with his and Coleridge's Lyrical Ballads), this poem seems to embody the idea of feeling over reason, which is a key characteristic in Romantic poetry. Rather than viewing the world from a rational perspective, the speaker here allows his spirit to be lifted by the happy sight of daffodils.

There are many, many other Romantic characteristics in this poem, but for now, I'll leave you to enjoy the poem and ponder the daffodils as Good Friday/Earth Day comes to a close.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Tony Hoagland's "I Have News for You"

As an English major/teacher, I know I have a tendency toward over-thinking and over-analyzing. While this does make for interesting alone time and discussions with other aspiring English teachers, this does not necessarily make me a happy or well-adjusted person. Although I don't mind this part of my personality, I do sometimes wish I could be someone who could just get up in the morning and let the sweet breeze touch me all over my face.

"I Have News for You"
by Tony Hoagland

There are people who do not see a broken playground swing 
as a symbol of ruined childhood 

and there are people who don't interpret the behavior 
of a fly in a motel room as a mocking representation of their thought process. 

There are people who don't walk past an empty swimming pool 
and think about past pleasures unrecoverable 

and then stand there blocking the sidewalk for other pedestrians. 
I have read about a town somewhere in California where human beings 

do not send their sinuous feeder roots 
deep into the potting soil of others' emotional lives 

as if they were greedy six-year-olds 
sucking the last half-inch of milkshake up through a noisy straw; 

and other persons in the Midwest who can kiss without 
debating the imperialist baggage of heterosexuality. 

Do you see that creamy, lemon-yellow moon? 
There are some people, unlike me and you, 

who do not yearn after fame or love or quantities of money as 
                   unattainable as that moon; 
thus, they do not later 
                          have to waste more time 
defaming the object of their former ardor. 

Or consequently run and crucify themselves 
in some solitary midnight Starbucks Golgotha. 

I have news for you— 
there are people who get up in the morning and cross a room 

and open a window to let the sweet breeze in 
and let it touch them all over their faces and bodies

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Happy Poem in Your Pocket Day!

Today is Poem in Your Pocket Day, and it is the perfect way to share a poem with someone. NPR, the home of all things intellectual (and somewhat geeky), even had a post on Poem in Your Pocket day. Sadly, I had an early morning (the day started at 5:15), so I didn't get to geek out with my students by giving them poems from my pocket.

To make up for this grievous oversight, I'm doing an extra post today to share a virtual poem with all of you.

"On the Death of a Colleague"
by Stephen Dunn

She taught theater, so we gathered
in the theater.
We praised her voice, her knowledge,
how good she was
with Godot and just four months later
with Gigi.
She was fifty. The problem in the liver.
Each of us recalled
an incident in which she'd been kind
or witty.
I told about being unable to speak
from my diaphragm
and how she made me lie down, placed her hand
where the failure was
and showed me how to breathe.
But afterwards
I only could do it when I lay down
and that became a joke
between us, and I told it as my offering
to the audience.
I was on stage and I heard myself
wishing to be impressive.
Someone else spoke of her cats
and no one spoke
of her face or the last few parties.
The fact was
I had avoided her for months.

It was a student's turn to speak, a sophomore,
one of her actors.
She was a drunk, he said, often came to class
Sometimes he couldn't look at her, the blotches,
the awful puffiness.
And yet she was a great teacher,
he loved her,
but thought someone should say
what everyone knew
because she didn't die by accident.

Everyone was crying. Everyone was crying and it
was almost over now.
The remaining speaker, an historian, said he'd cut
his speech short.
And the Chairman stood up as if by habit,
said something about loss
and thanked us for coming. None of us moved
except some students
to the student who'd spoken, and then others
moved to him, across dividers,
down aisles, to his side of the stage.

It isn't too late to share a poem with someone. even has printable pdfs of poems that you can easily put into your pocket.

Beauty Review: Birchbox April 2011

After reading some blogs and seeing some YouTube videos on Birchbox, I finally decided to subscribe to it last month. The premise of Birchbox is similar to a magazine subscription: for $10 each month, you receive a box of around 4 deluxe-size samples of beauty products. This sounded like a promising service for me. I love beauty products and trying out new things, but I'm often hesitant to sample the unknown since I don't want to risk dealing with the insanity of Sephora or the department store makeup counter only to purchase something I won't like. Also, since these samples are larger than average (they are around the size of a 100-point gift from the Sephora Beauty Insiders program), they allow you to get a much better sense of what a product is like over the course of time versus regular samples, which are good for one or two uses at most.

From left to right: Zhena's Gypsy Tea, Suki Exfoliate Foaming Cleanser, Zoya nail polish in Dove
I finally received my first box today, and while I am intrigued by what I received, I must say that I'm whelmed. Maybe this is because I had hyped up the service in my mind or perhaps it's because I previewed some other people's Birchboxes online (I never claimed that patience was my strong suit). Or perhaps it's because I received a rather large tin of tea, which is nice but not quite what I was expecting. However, I think I can safely say that I did get my money's worth with this box...

This month's box had an eco-friendly theme in honor of Earth Day. These earth-friendly products include:
  • LIV GRN eau de parfum
  • Suki Exfoliate Foaming Cleanser (no microbeads - yay!)
  • Weleda Wild Rose Smoothing Facial Lotion
  • Zoya nail polish in Dove (a soft gray)
  • A Bllomin wildflower seed card (this was an extra)
  • Zhena's Gypsy Tea in Italian Chamomile (this was also an extra for the box)
In the cute pink packet: LIV GRN parfum, Weleda Wild Rose Smoothing Facial Lotion (wildflower card is under the perfume)
As I said, I did check out other people's Birchbox hauls (there is often some variation in the boxes), so I was a little bummed by some of the products (gray nail polish? for spring? really?). However, I am definitely looking forward to the Suki cleanser, and I will even give the gray polish a try.

Please let me know if you have questions about Birchbox or if you'd like to see more Birchbox hauls (or reviews from my Birchbox hauls). As I said earlier, I'm playing with this blog's content, so constructive feedback is welcome.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Elizabeth Bishop's "One Art"

Although I had a difficult time in my senior English class in high school (I wasn't much of a critical/analytical thinker back in the day), it was one of my favorite and most memorable classes. Besides loving the teacher (who became my boss and friend later on when I started working at the school), I also loved the different literary works we read. We read Madame Bovary (which relates to a very vivid memory of the aforementioned teacher comparing the beat of the horses' hooves on the ground to orgasm), Crime and Punishment (not nearly as sexy as Bovary but absolutely fascinating), and The Inferno.

However, my favorite unit was the poetry unit. I still have my old Sound and Sense book (what can I say - I'm an English geek), and to this day, one of my absolute favorite poems is "if everything happens that can't be done" by e. e. cummings. Another memorable poem we read was Elizabeth Bishop's "One Art." While I hadn't thought of the poem in a while, a student I was working with mentioned it today, and my memories of hearing my English teacher read it came back to me.

One Art
by Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

--Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

For anyone who has lost anything significant, be it a loved one or an object or something else, this poem probably rings very true. On one hand, as my student noted, the speaker is trying to deal with loss through writing. Just as Rosenblatt has argued, writing is compulsion and is how we often deal with stress and heartbreak. Even though writing can make things seem final, it is also a way of acknowledging a loss and moving on from it.

However, I don't fully believe that argument because the speaker is protesting too much. While she or he might be trying to deal with the loss of many things, it is obvious that the words, on some level, ring false. The final line, with the emphatic direction (Write it!) only serves to show that the author is trying to convince herself that this loss isn't a major problem. The poem's form (it's a villanelle), with its emphasis on repetition, only highlight the fact that the speaker doesn't believe what she is saying. The more she says "the art of losing isn't hard to master" and variations on "it isn't a disaster," the less impact these lines have. It is almost like she is trying to convince us (and herself) that this is true.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Foodie Fridays: Lemon-Glazed Butter Cake with Lemony Whipped Cream

Although I really like winter (the clothes! the snow! the holidays!), I'm quite glad that warmer weather is coming to the New England area. Despite the fact that opening day is today (let's not talk about it - I'm just going straight home after work to skip the crowds), I love the longer days and the fact that the end of the semester is creeping closer. Also, the weather inspires me to branch out from the heavier recipes that winter almost demands and break out (or seek out) some lighter fare. Besides the lovely and quick tomato and basil pasta dish I had for dinner last night, one of my new go-to recipes for spring is this lemon-glazed butter cake. While the cake, which came to me via Gourmet and Epicurious, is wonderful on its own, I like to up the ante with a lemony whipped cream either used as a frosting or served on the side. The resulting dessert is a satisfying but not super-heavy end to a meal.

Lemon-Glazed Butter Cake (slightly adapted from Gourmet and Epicurious)
  • 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • Rounded 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs at room temperature 30 minutes
  • 1 cup confectioners sugar
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Butter and flour an 8-by 2-inch round cake pan.
  2. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir together milk and zest.
  3. Beat together butter and granulated sugar with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition.
  4. At low speed, mix in flour mixture in 3 batches, alternating with milk mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture and mixing until each addition is just incorporated.
  5. Pour batter into cake pan and smooth top, then rap gently on counter to release any air bubbles. Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted into center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan 10 minutes.
  6. Whisk together confectioners sugar and lemon juice until smooth.
  7. Turn out cake onto a rack set over a baking sheet, then reinvert. Brush top and side of cake with all of glaze. Cool completely.

Lemony Whipped Cream
  • 1 cup heavy or whipping cream
  • 1/3 cup lemon curd
  • Garnishes: Lemon zest, lemon twists or wedges, confectioners sugar, mint (optional)
  1. Chill cream, beaters, and bowl (this is particularly important if your kitchen is hot)
  2. Whip cream to firm peaks (between soft and stiff)
  3. Using a spatula, gently fold the lemon curd into the cream. Don't go too crazy - you don't want to push your cream into butter territory. Plus, a few streaks are quite pretty
  4. If you decide to pile the cream on top of your cake, any one (or several) of the garnishes listed above are lovely
Note 1: Some recipes call for adding a tablespoon or two or confectioners sugar to the cream. However, I found that the lemon curd provided more than enough sweetness.

Note 2: I know this goes without saying, but this does not keep well. Make it just before serving.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Philip Appleman's "Cramming for Finals"

Although it hardly feels like it, finals are just around the corner (just over a month to go in the case of my students). As an English major and theatre history minor, preparing for finals meant rereading pages and pages of notes, annotating and highlighting text to try to memorize for in-class essays, and repeating ad nauseam notes on books and authors. I also recall long nights in the student union, sitting with my friends as we tried the divide and conquer method with the 20 Shakespearean plays we were going to be tested on for one final.

While these memories probably don't sound very fun, they weren't that bad. Just as "there are no atheists in a foxhole," the people involved in a cramming session become, at least for the moment, incredibly good friends. About three hours in, we would all get loopy, and all of the authors and their works started running together.

"Cramming for Finals" perfectly captures this giddy mix of euphoria, desperation, and confusion that often comes with an end of the semester study session.

"Cramming for Finals"
by Philip Appleman

End of term, will a six-pack do us
while we speed-read Upton Sinclair Lewis?
So far behind, can we possibly ever
catch up on E. A. Robinson Jeffers?
Who said it was going to be multiple choice
on the later work of O. Henry James Joyce?
What's the plot of The Rise of Silas Marner? Who
remembers the Swiss Family Robinson Cru-
soe? Midnight—late. One A.M.—tardy.
Was Laurence Sterne? Was Thomas Hardy?
And hey—was John Gay?
Oh, let's take a break and all get mellow,
take our chances on Henry Wordsworth Longfellow,
and maybe later give a lick and a promise
to the earlier lyrics of Bob Dylan Thomas.

As a self-professed English nerd (or maybe I'm a geek), I love the puns and the mixed-up author names. Yes, this is the sort of thing that makes me happy.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Book Review Roundup: "Sweet Valley Confidential"

Francine Pascal's Sweet Valley Confidential landed in stores on Tuesday, and the world finally got to find out what happened to the most annoyingly perfect twins in the most annoyingly perfect place on earth. Of course, the twins in question are Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield, and the place is Sweet Valley, a part of California that (if the original series was to be believed) seemed like a strange hybrid of heaven, Lake Wobegon, Peyton Place, and a teen horror flick.

Sweet Valley Confidential catches up with the Wakefield twins at age 27 and drags us, a once loyal and captive audience, along for the ride. While I haven't read the book (sorry, I'm waiting until the book comes out in paperback), the reviews signify that time hasn't been a friend to the Wakefields and their compatriots. Pascal seemed to have written the book with an adult audience in mind (the book has numerous references to sex, including an incredibly embarrassing line about Elizabeth's sex life ), and the book is considered fiction (versus young adult). However, the reviews and plot summaries suggest that this book would put even the most insane Harlequin romance to shame and has plot holes that teenagers (never adults) will find annoying.

Still interested? Here are some of the most entertaining reviews I've found online. Just be warned - these reviews are rife with spoilers, so if you are really, truly interested in reading the book for yourself, proceed at your own risk:
Of course, if you want to know what happened to Elizabeth and Jessica without having to shell out $23 for the book, I encourage you to check out the awesomely snarky recap/review on Shannon's Sweet Valley Blog.

Friday, April 1, 2011

National Poetry Month 2011 & "The Iceberg Theory" by Gerald Locklin

Even though we're dealing with a bad April fool's joke from Mother Nature in the Northeast, there is cause to celebrate. Today marks the beginning of National Poetry Month, and I will be blogging about poetry throughout April (and I will try my best to post about a poem at least once a week).

To kick off National Poetry Month (and fit in a Foodie Friday post), today's poem is

"The Iceberg Theory"
by Gerald Locklin

all the food critics hate iceberg lettuce.
you'd think romaine was descended from
orpheus's laurel wreath,
you'd think raw spinach had all the nutritional
benefits attributed to it by popeye,
not to mention aesthetic subtleties worthy of
veriaine and debussy.
they'll even salivate over chopped red cabbage
just to disparage poor old mr. iceberg lettuce.

I guess the problem is
it's just too common for them.
It doesn't matter that it tastes good,
has a satisfying crunchy texture,
holds its freshness
and has crevices for the dressing,
whereas the darker, leafier varieties
are often bitter, gritty, and flat.
It just isn't different enough and
it's too goddamn american.

of course a critic has to criticize;
a critic has to have something to say
perhaps that's why literary critics
purport to find interesting
so much contemporary poetry
that just bores the shit out of me.

at any rate, I really enjoy a salad
with plenty of chunky iceberg lettuce,
the more the merrier,
drenched in an Italian or roquefort dressing.
and the poems I enjoy are those I don't have
to pretend that I'm enjoying.

This poem is the perfect love letter for anyone who has read a piece of contemporary poetry and wondered, "What on earth do the critics see in this?" The central metaphor that compares the type of poetry that the speaker likes to the humble (and often maligned) iceberg lettuce is very fitting.

I also enjoy this poem because of an embarrassing teacher faux pas I made when teaching high school. Having first encountered this poem in an anthology compiled by Garrison Keillor, I read through the poem and typed up what I thought was a clean copy minus the curse words. While they might not be a big deal in some schools, I was teaching at a small, private, religious school in the south. When I had a student volunteer read the poem, she read it, with great gusto, taking care to emphasize certain words in the second and third stanzas. While I still shake my head at my oversight, I also have to laugh every time I read this poem.