Poetry Snack for the Domestic Divas

April continues, therefore, so does National Poetry Month. Carmon, that delicious Prairie Muffin, has been sharing poetry at Buried Treasure Books, and she recently turned to more modern works, in particular a poem by Wallace Stevens. Wallace Stevens’ poetry is intellectual stuff, requiring strong thought and hard work of the reader, so some discussion followed. I thoroughly enjoyed that discussion of The Woman That Had More Babies Than That– it worked upon my brain like a brisk walk. My brain and myself are out of shape and flabby, so it doesn’t take much to put either rather out of breath and panting on the sidelines.

From my little spot on the sidelines, I thought I’d share a light poetry snack with you. We shall be nibbling upon the works of another modern poet much less famous than Stevens. Her name is Phyllis McGinley and she has been one of my favorite authors since I first read her children’s story The Plain Princess when I was about 8 years old. She remained one of my favorite authors over the next two or three hundred times I read The Plain Princess.

The plain princess is plain, and this is a tragedy for the kingdom. Her eyes don’t sparkle, her nose turns up instead of down, her mouth turns down instead of up, and she simply has no friends. The King and Queen offer a reward to anybody who can help her overcome her difficulties.

A widowed mother of five daughters takes on the task, taking the Plain Princess home with her to work her own magical cure, which involves working with her own hands, climbing tress, and thinking of others instead of herself.

McGinley is witty, and even though it sounds like dry bread moral tale, it is in fact a sweet and frothy mixture of love, lessons and laughter. I cherish my copy, and searched for years to find a replacement of my old one.

I was a grown up when I learned that McGinley didn’t just write children’s books. I discovered A Sixpence in Her Shoe, and promptly scoured used book stores for all the copies I could find to give them to my friends.

Later still I learned that Phyllis was a Pulitzer prize winning poet. She was the first to win the Pulitzer for a light verse collection.

According to World Book:

McGinley praised the virtues of the ordinary life with affection and humor, and she celebrated but also satirized life’s absurdities. She defended femininity, morality, and domestic and suburban living in Times Three and in two books of witty essays, The Province of the Heart (1959) and Sixpence in Her Shoe (1964). McGinley summed up her point of view by quoting a man who said he had failed as a philosopher because “cheerfulness was always breaking in.”

It is light verse, friendly verse, sometimes slyly witty, but never cruelly harsh. Most of her poems are ultimately domestic- not about housekeeping, but about the kinds of things one might speak of around the domestic hearth or in the Common Room. Sometimes there is a domesticity of the Leave it to Beaver sort, but nearly all of it charms me, amuses me, or gives me something juicy and tart to savor. Tart, oh, yes, she can be delightfully, deliciously, and wickedly tart, but she is never vindictive, hateful, spiteful, or too full of herself and her pretensions to be understood.

W. H. Auden said of her poetry that if a Ph.D thesis were ever written of it, t’would be in an alien tongue and an alien alphabet.

The Head Girl recently picked up a copy of Times Three (the 1961 Pulitzer Prize winner for verse) to sell, and I recently snitched it from her bookshelf to savor a little myself. But poetry isn’t something to keep to yourself, so I’d like to share one or two with our guests in the Common Room:

Reflections at Dawn
by Phyllis McGinley

I wish I owned a Dior dress
Made to my order out of satin.
I wish I weighed a little less
And could read Latin,
Had perfect pitch or matching pearls,
A better head for street directions,
And seven daughters, all with curls
And fair complexions.
I wish I’d tan instead of burn.
But most, on all the stars that glisten,
I wish at parties I could learn
To sit and listen.

I wish I didn’t talk so much at parties.
It isn’t that I want to hear
My voice assaulting every ear,
Uprising loud and firm and clear
Above the cocktail clatter.
It’s simply, once a doorbell’s rung,
(I’ve been like this since I was young)
Some madness overtakes my tongue
And I begin to chatter.

Buffet, ball, banquet, quilting bee,
Wherever conversation’s flowing,
Why must I feel it falls on me
To keep things going?
Though ladies cleverer than I
Can loll in silence, soft and idle,
Whatever topic gallops by,
I seize its bridle,
hold forth on art, dissect the stage,
Or babble like a kindergartn’er
Of politics till I enrage
My dinner Partner.

I wish I didn’t talk so much at parties.
When hotly boil the arguments,
Ah! would I had the common sense
To sit demurely on a fence
And let who will be vocal,
Instead of plunging in the fray
With my opinions on display
Till all the gentlemen edge away
To catch an early local.

Oh! There is many a likely boon
That fate might flip me from her griddle
I wish that I could sleep till noon
And play the fiddle,
Or dance a tour jeteĀ“ so light
It would not shake a single straw down.
But when I ponder how last night
I laid the law down
More than to have the Midas touch
Or critics’ praise, however hearty,
I wish I didn’t talk so much,
I wish I didn’t talk so much,
I wish I didn’t talk so much
When I am at a party.


The Independent

So open was his mind, so wide
To welcome winds from every side
That public weather took dominion,
Sweeping him bare of all opinion.


The Angry Man
[this poem was written in the fifties- DHM]

The other day I chanced to meet
An angry man upon the street–
A man of wrath, a man of war,
A man who truculently bore
Over his shoulder, like a lance,
A banner labeled “Tolerance.”

And when I asked him why he strode
Thus scowling down the human road,
Scowling, he answered, “I am he
Who champions total liberty–
Intolerance being, ma’am, a state
No tolerant man can tolerate.

When I meet rogues,” he cried, “who choose
To cherish oppositional views,
Lady, like this, and in this manner,
I lay about me with my banner
Till they cry mercy, ma’am.” His blows
Rained proudly on prospective foes.

Fearful, I turned and left him there
Still muttering, as he thrashed the air,
“Let the Intolerant beware!”



In garden-colored boots he goes
Ardent around perennial borders
To spray the pink, celestial rose
Or give a weed its marching orders.

Draining at dawn his hasty cup,
He takes a train to urban places;
By lamplight, cheerful, figures up
The cost of camps and dental braces.

And warm upon my shoulders lays
Impetuous at dinner table
The mantle of familiar praise
That’s better than a coat of sable.

From the book Times Three, published in 1960, with a foreword by W.H. Auden

Let me know if you would like another serving.

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Pretty flowers

Pretty picture of what we first thought were apple blossoms from what turns out to be our hawthorn (I think) tree:
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They smell good, too. Or maybe that’s our supper I’m smelling… *follows the aroma into the kitchen*

[notes the dhm: the speckles on the picutre are bits of pollen and other debris that fell from the flowers onto the scanner. Picture was enlarged for detail.]

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Recent Speakings in the Common Room

*The HeadGirl is driving through a parking lot*

Equuschick, in the passenger seat: Don’t hit any mean old ladies.
The HeadGirl: I don’t know any mean old ladies.
Equuschick: You will when I’m old.


*First Year Boy being too noisy with his marbles after being told to quiet down*

DHM: You have just lost your marbles for quite a while.


The HeadGirl: Oh, dear. I left a Connecticut Yankee downstairs.

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The Pathetic Tale of the Equuschick’s Dog, & More

So there the Equuschick was, all ready for bed at 10:20 last night; she just had to brush her teeth and let the dogs out one last time. So out they went, and she shut the door and left them out for TWO MINUTES. When she came back Sadie was waiting sedately on the porch, and Zeus could not be seen. He could be heard, however, splashing about merrily in the creek as if every well-behaved and well-adjusted dog in this modern age took a long dip before bedtime.

She hunted for him for a good forty minutes, but though he could almost always be heard, it’s very hard to see a black dog at night, so eventually she came inside, brushed her teeth, and sat on the computer, knowing he’d show up when he was good and dirty.

He did, at 11:20 pm, and at that point there was no way she was giving him a bath and no way he was coming in without one, so she tied him up in the shed across the yard with his blankie, his toys, and his water bowl. And she went to bed, hoping he’d be happy.

He wasn’t. In fact, judging by the tone of his barks, his feelings were very hurt indeed. There the family was, inside with each other, and there he was, all by himself outside, and he was just crushed, let me tell you.

Cruelly, she steeled herself to his patheticness, and fell asleep.

Until 1:30 am, when DHM came in to tell her that Zeus was on the front porch and he’d dragged his chain and a lawn chair with him. (the DHM notes that it was a metal lawn chair, one of her Grandmother’s special lawn chairs. But we make no mention of it)

Out of bed Equuschick came with a groan, and opened the door to the sight of a devastated doggie who was whining tragically and looking at the Equuschick as if to say, “I don’t know why I’m in trouble, but I’m very very sorry for whatever I did, and please can’t I come in and be with my family now?” *sniffs* It was vewy sad. She knelt down and scratched his chin, and he whimpered and put his paw on her arm, and that was very sad too. He’d dripped dry by then anyway, so she undid his chain and he came inside and laid down on her bed and she kissed the dog child goodnight and they both fell asleep. It was a Happy Ending.

Until 6:40, when the Equuschick got up to get a drink, and then 6:50 am when the garbage truck came by and Zeus thought he would stand on the Equuschick’s bed and intimidate the intruders through the window, and he did the same thing ten minutes later to a farm truck, only this time he thought he’d more effective standing on her stomach.

She looked at the clock and saw the alarm was going to go off in one minute, so she turned it off and promised herself ten minutes. Heh. She woke up half an hour later when her grandmother honked in the driveway. She’d forgotten the grandmother was taking her to work, and that the grandma needed to be in town early. In approximately seven minutes, the Equuschick was dressed, and the horses were fed, and she was in the van apologizing profusely (she’s good).

Her grandma, being a grandma, was most concerned that Equuschick hadn’t eaten breakfast, and offered to drive her by McDonalds. This would have made her late for her appointment, however, so they skipped it and the Equuschick went to work.

An hour later the grandmother walked in the door of the Equuschick’s workplace with an Egg Mcmuffin and a bottle of whole milk for her. Aww. She said she didn’t want the Equuschick wasting away. The Equuschick has the best grandmother in the whooooooooole world.

A coworker has requested the Equuschick buy her a large photo of President Bush while the Equuschick in D.C, so the coworker can throw darts at it.

The Equuschick is of the opinion that her coworker needs a life.

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Movie Review

We finally got around to watching Luther. We’ve been hearing good things about it for quite some time, but didn’t think it was available in our small area. I found it Thursday night in the tiny grocery store of a one grocery store town nearby, purely serendipitiously.

We really liked this movie. We yearn for a soundtrack. There was some language which surprised us- Luther really swears at the devil, and it wasn’t the sort of language we like the First Year students to hear, so we muted a couple of scenes. There’s one crass but amusing but oh, so very crass, sketch shown in one scene- we requested the Common Room Scholars to avert their eyes, because we’re old fashioned That Way.

There are a few grimly realistic scenes of carnage and desolation, from which we also requested certain Common Room scholars of tender years and sensibilities to avert their eyes.

Those small matters aside, this was a really wonderful movie. We particularly adored Sir Peter Ustinov in his role as Prince Frederick the Wise.

You can read another review from The Scatterer.

Highly recommended.

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