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Staff Wishlist: Destinations in Ireland…and a Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

March 16, 2013 in Classic Literature, Classic Writers, Ireland, James Joyce, Literature, Modernism, Poetry, Staff Wishlist, Yeats

By Literary Traveler staff and interns

Jessica Ellen Monk, one of our amazing contributors, came up with the idea to do a staff wishlist about literary places in  Ireland we’d like to visit in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. Let us know where in Ireland you’d like to visit…comment here or post on our FB and Twitter pages!


Growing up in Ireland there were as many ways for a kid to be bored as anywhere else. For one thing, instead of Hemingway and Whitman, at school we were forced to imbibe the fanciful mysticism of Yeats and the Irish Literary Revival. With our parents and with school we often had to go on ‘educational’ trips up the country which, along with the literature, we had no instinct to appreciate at the time. I was travelling with my family up the west coast as a child, when I remember finally ‘getting it’. The sweep of the bay under Ben Bulben in Sligo was one of the most beautiful sights I had ever seen. Yeats’ famous poem “Under Bare Ben Bulben’s Head” contains the inscription that was carved on his tombstone in Drumcliffe churchyard: “Cast a cold eye on life and death /  horsemen pass by”. I can’t remember if we ever made it to Yeats’ graveside, but if I were to take a trip anywhere in Ireland, free of the need to visit anyone, I’d visit Ben Bulben again.


Born of Irish decent, I just want to go anywhere in Ireland.


Reading Ulysses for the first time is like getting to know  your Irish neighbor who recently emigrated–you know, the one who usually keeps to himself–in intimate detail, and also–thank goodness–Dublin, Ireland. The beauty of the seaside, the green of the rolling hills, and the breath of the rollicking people are captured in the inane details of Leopold Bloom’s anti-majesty, his daily observational. Dublin, to me, is a city of confession and merriment; I would like to take a stroll along the water, take in the commute and the conversation.


I have absolutely no Irish blood in my lineage and therefore my celebration of St. Patrick’s Day consists of wearing an offensive amount of kelly green and and drinking a few too many pints.  I am a big fan of modernist fiction — so when choosing an Irish author I would definitely say James Joyce.  Because reading him can be intense, I have usually gravitated towards his shorter fiction.  I think I would very much like to visit Dublin per his aptly-titled Dubliners.  His short story “Araby” was always a favorite. It features a young boy in Dublin travelling to an Irish bazaar where be becomes disenchanted by the things he sees there.  While that sounds a bit depressing, it’s really a beautiful story about growing up.

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A Traveler through the Seasons

October 3, 2012 in New England Travel, Uncategorized

When fall comes to New England, as it does every year, there is a certain melancholy that comes with the change of season. It’s a subtle change, but one day you wake up and your feet are cold on the floor. You take out your down comforter from the closet, fold up your shorts and put away your sandals. The nights become darker quicker and you find yourself inside, craving hot stews and quilts.

Summer, those brief but glorious months of scorching heat and green, green trees, feels like a distant dream. And you mourn the hot evenings you spent sitting outside on the lawn all night, when you could dive into an ice-cold pool and come out still sweating. You miss that free-ness, that spontaneity that summer so boldly facilitates. You grieve.

The cold comes and you shut down, hunker down, walk faster and laugh less.  Part of you knows that this is who you really are: the cold defines us as New Englanders. Our summer identities are induced by an intoxicating elixir that eventually runs out. Ahead there is a long cruel winter of blowing winds and falling snow, followed by the ugly, muddy fever of spring.  We are but travelers through the seasons: spectators, observers. Nature holds the power to change, but we hold the power to note the change. We document it and we revel in it if we can. And we become fretful as the leaves fall faster from the trees, as everything turns  a breathtaking brilliant gold.

When you note these changes, try to enjoy each second, each small but significant movement that propels us from summer, into fall, and then, into winter. At this kind of turning point, I read the poet Mary Oliver–who, according to Maxine Kumin, “is an indefatigable guide to the natural world,” a literary representative of our relationship to it. I find solace in her poem “Wild Geese,” which addresses the specific loneliness that threatens to overwhelm us. She writes:

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes

Oliver reminds us to look to nature, not as an enemy but as a grander entity than ourselves. She suggests that we take the time to recognize the strength of Nature’s consistency, the power in its reliability. Through Nature’s constant motion, we spectators become a part of it.

The world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Here, Oliver gently encourages us–even when we’re lost and lonely, the world continues to turn. We are reflected in nature and Oliver asks us to remember how we fit, “in the family of things.”  So this fall, in place of grief, carry Mary Oliver’s pack of wild geese home with you. As the leaves turn brown and then disappear, remember: we are a travelers through the seasons, each an essential piece in the turning cogs of Nature.


Third-hand captivity narratives

September 22, 2010 in American literature, Dark New England, involuntary travel, New England Travel, Weekend Getaways

When I read Katy’s post about LT’s Dark New England theme, I thought of centuries-old stories set in a wilderness that no longer exists, Hawthorne’s characters tempted by the devil in the woods.

Then, last weekend, on the drive to his late godfather’s place in Maine, my boyfriend me told a story that hit a little closer to home.  His mother had recently stumbled across an old family Bible in the attic.  Inscribed in it was the name of a distant great aunt who was accused of committing withcraft in Marlborough, Massachusetts in the early 1700s.

More interesting, though, was a letter folded in the Bible, recounting the experience of another Marlborough aunt.  She started in an idyllic domestic setting, singing in the kitchen as a pie baked in the oven and her sister’s children made God’s Eyes on the floor.

Then the tomahawks came out, the arrows flew through the air, and, in a few minutes time, everyone but the singing aunt was slain where they stood.  Enraptured by the beauty of her song, the invading tribe decided to take her as a captive instead.  They brought her back to Marlborough four years later.

I haven’t heard many more details — I do know that she married her fiance when she came back to town — but until I get them, I like to hope that the letter is a concise, Quaker variation on Mary Rowlandson’s The Soverignty and Goodness of God, with sheet music of the melodies she dreamt up on the frontier.

I scoured the internet, just in case, but I couldn’t find any such music, or even an operatic captivity narrative.  (His mother’s a writer and his grandmother was an opera singer; I thought they might appreciate the connection.)  No such luck, but I did find a blogger/musician who wrote a song inspired by Rowlandson’s experiences.  Listen at your own risk.

Chelsea Clinton Uses Leo Marks's Poem At Rhinebeck Wedding

August 1, 2010 in chelsea clinton poem, chelsea clinton wedding, Literary Traveler Poetry

This weekend, America had the closest thing we’ve ever had to a royal wedding.  While we don’t normally cover political nuptials on Literary Traveler, one detail of Chelsea Clinton’s wedding stood out to me: Her choice of poem.  Clinton used a tribute from the poet Leo Marks to his girlfriend Ruth, who died in a plane crash in Canada in 1943.  For those unfamiliar with this rather obscure writer, here is The Life That I Have:

The life that I have
Is all that I have
And the life that I have
Is yours

The love that I have
Of the life that I have
Is yours and yours and yours.

A sleep I shall have
A rest I shall have
Yet death will be but a pause
For the peace of my years
In the long green grass
Will be yours and yours and yours.

For more information on this poignant piece, check out the discussion of the use of poems in politics over at Forbes.

Friday Links: Book News From Around The Internet

April 30, 2010 in Uncategorized

Every Friday, the staff at Literary Traveler gathers up relevant book newImage via Amazon s from around the web, bringing it together in a handy post for book lovers to peruse.  Enjoy!

  • An interesting piece from the Jewish Review of Books asks the question: Why are there so few Jewish fantasy authors?  It’s something I’ve never considered, but considering the Christian allegories in Narnia and the like, it’s certainly worth thinking about.  Michael Weingrad argues, “we should begin by acknowledging that the conventional trappings of fantasy, with their feudal atmosphere and rootedness in rural Europe, are not especially welcoming to Jews, who were too often at the wrong end of the medieval sword.”  More thoughts on the relationship between religion and the fantasty world at The Second Pass.
  • Independent publisher Melville House has announced their intention to host an award ceremony for the best and worst book trailers. Book trailers, for those of you who don’t know, are short videos created to promote upcoming books.  Categories include “Best Big Budget Book Trailer,” “Best Cameo in a Book Trailer,” and hilariously, “Least Likely to Actually Sell the Book.”
  • One possible contender for the Melville House awards?  Actor Zach Galifianakis, who appeared in the trailer for John Wray’s Lowboy. Galifianakis and Wray humorously switched places in this short video, with the actor portraying the writer and the writer playing a far more chipper Zach.
  • In 2006, Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Eat, Pray, Love became an instant hit, a bestseller, and a defining entry in the travel writing-cum-memoir canon.  As you’ve probably heard, the story of Gilbert’s self discovery is being made into a feature film, starring (who else?) America’s sweetheart Julia Roberts.  Roberts talks to the New York Times about the film, which left her “exhausted when it was all done.”  But “I loved every second of it,” she added.
  • And finally, start this weekend off right by listening to a bit of poetry. Singer/songwriter Natalie Merchant has done something interesting with her newest album, Leave Your Sleep.  Merchant has taken her favorite poems from childhood and set them to music in such a way that both adults and children can enjoy the resulting lullabies.  She chose works by famous poets (like Robert Graves, E.E. Cummings and even  one from Mother Goose) mixed in with those of lesser-known writers, including Charles Carryl and Lydia Huntley Sigourney.

    Poet Gary Snyder Honored in Acton

    April 1, 2010 in Uncategorized

    Mid-March was the beginning of a false-Spring in Boston, Massachusetts. The sunshine was warm and the breezes didn’t bite, but when the sun went down the trees shook, the yards flooded, and the streets reflected winter-cold light. Following the worst of the storm, poet Gary Snyder came out from California to warm our hearts.

    As the recipient of the 10th Annual Robert Creeley Award, Snyder graciously accepted an emotional introduction by Penelope Creeley. As he did, he slowly laid his hands flat on the podium and took a moment to stare into his audience. I was ashamed of the bright fluorescence of the high school auditorium. I was also disappointing by his small stature. But when he began to speak, my heart soared: he was a mountain.

    Snyder read some of Creeley’s poems and even granted his interpretation of one. Snyder reading his own work was extraordinary to witness, as the genuine hippies around me rocked their heads in an odd caustic yet welcome remembrance. No one needed much prodding to laugh at or relish in Snyder’s stories, but he offered plenty; loose rocks of inflection and emphasis made slip the truly funny, evocative moments. But the tender chuckle that emitted from Snyder’s shoulders was so spirited, the forced-nature of old jokes quickly eased and then came to a stop altogether when Snyder finished the hour reading with his latest poems.

    He interrupted himself to share anecdotes about a temple in Japan and a novice monk. He talked about haiku, and that he doesn’t really write them. Structure like that he supposed, isn’t built into the American poet. An important contribution to New American Poetry, Snyder’s work often sounds like a strand of Native American storytelling strung with Eastern mediation chimes.

    Snyder grew up on the West Coast on farm land, and learned how to appreciate nuances in nature. He expanded upon experience by reading Eastern philosophy. In his twenties, he did one better, and moved to Japan…to fall-in-love and to ‘Listen to the Wind,’ as his dharma name denotes. By the time he moved back to California, he had built a foundation for artists, philosophers and politicians to climb up from.

    It’s clear Buddhism and a sound environmental philosophy prepared Snyder for the “here and now.” And in this place, if only for an hour, busy people sit and listen to stories of trees and rivers, animals and mountains, beards and braids. As Snyder wrote in the poem “Civilization,” though, “Those are the people who do complicated things.”

    Friday Links: Book News From Around The Internet

    March 12, 2010 in Uncategorized

    Every Friday, the staff at Literary Traveler will gather uImage via Amazon.comp the relevant book news from around the web, bringing it together in a handy post for book lovers to peruse.  Enjoy!

    • The American Book Review asked several university professors to contribute some nominees to their list of America’s 40 Worst Books.  Some of their choices are – in our humble opinion – debatable.  They’ve included a personal favorite of mine, The Great Gatsby, on the grounds that it is “smug.”  Also on the list: Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road and Cormac McCarthy’s All The Pretty Horses.
    • On this day, in 1948, Jack Kerouac turned 26.  He wrote in his journal:  “Guess what?! – on my birthday today, wrote 4500-words(!) – scribbling away till six-thirty in the morning next day. A real way to celebrate another coming of age. And am I coming of age?”  Check out Barnes and Nobel Review for more reflections.
    • Dave Eggers, novelist and founder of McSweeney’s, is also blowing out the candles on his birthday cake today.  Help him celebrate (in spirit, if not in person) by checking out  this fascinating interview with Eggers about his new book, Zeitoun.
    • Is it possible to become a famous poet simply through social networking?  That’s the argument Jim Behrle made the other day when speaking to a crowd at the St. Mark’s Poetry Project.  “Self promotion is the only kind of promotion left,” he said.
    • Ebooks are a little scary to many of us bibliophiles, but they may be the greenest way to access academic books and other frequently-updated texts. However, the case for the e-reader is a little more complicated than it might initially seem.
    • And finally, congratulations to author Gail Haveren, translator Dayla Bilu, and everyone at Melville House.  Haveren’s novel The Confessions of Noa Weber was just awarded the 2010 Translated Book Award For Fiction.


    Transcendental Vagabonds: Boston Recovers from a Raven’s Sting

    October 29, 2009 in Classic Writers

    One hundred and sixty years ago this month, Edgar Allan Poe met a penniless end after being found on the streets of Baltimore. The city of Baltimore has been host to many celebrations of the poet’s life and works, and the focus on this city is fitting, as Poe felt much adoration for Baltimore, having lived there for several years. But 2009 also marks the 200th anniversary of the poet’s birth, and this year the city of Boston put aside pride to commemorate a decidedly prodigal son.

    Edgar Allan Poe was born on Carver Street in Boston, Massachusetts, to actors Elizabeth Arnold Hopkins and David Poe. Though he moved to Virginia when he was only three years old, after his parents died, Poe returned to Boston after dropping out of the University of Virginia. Only 18, Poe faked his age and name to enlist in the Army, and was subsequently stationed briefly at Castle Island in the Boston harbor. Poe later moved back to the south, but he returned to Boston a year before he died.

    Unlike Longfellow, Lowell, and the other Boston literati of his time, Poe scorned the city, insulting Boston with barbs that sting as only the gleefully clever can. In fact, a very public debate played out in contemporary newspapers following his appearance at the Boston Lyceum in 1845. After audience members took offense to Poe’s demeanor, a Boston editor published a critical review insulting his work. In response, Poe wrote:
    We like Boston. We were born there–and perhaps it is just as well not to mention that we are heartily ashamed of the fact. The Bostonians are very well in their way. Their hotels are bad. Their pumpkin pies are delicious. Their poetry is not so good. Their common is no common thing–and the duck-pond might answer–if its answer could be heard for the frogs. But with all these good qualities the Bostonians have no soul. …The Bostonians are well-bred–as very dull persons very generally are. (Poe, The Broadway Journal, Nov 1, 1845.)

    Surprisingly, Poe’s first published work, an 1827 collection of poems entitled “Tamerlane,” was signed simply, “By a Bostonian.” Eighteen years later, Poe would vilify Bostonians, who he often referred to as Frogpondians: “The fact is, we despise them and defy them (the transcendental vagabonds!) and they may all go to the devil together.” (Poe, The Broadway Journal, Nov 22, 1845.)

    And now, all these years later, the transcendental vagabonds have finally honored the great poet: although his birthplace is now occupied by a State Transportation Building, the corner of Boylston and Charles streets shall evermore be known as Poe Square.

    Check out the newest article on to learn about the “Poe Toaster,” a mysterious masked man who pays a tribute to Poe annually at the poet’s grave.

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