friday feast: looking for a home

via Channel One

James Tate

A little bookstore used to call to me.
Eagerly I would go to it
hungry for the news
and the sure friendship.
It never failed to provide me
with whatever I needed.
Bookstore with a donkey in its heart,
bookstore full of clouds and
sometimes lightning, showers.
Books just in from Australia,
books by madmen and giants.
Toucans would alight on my stovepipe hat
and solve mysteries with a few chosen words.
Picasso would appear in a kimono
requesting a discount, and then
laugh at his own joke.
Little bookstore with its belly
full of wisdom and confetti,
with eyebrows of wildflowers-
and customers from Denmark and Japan,
New York and California, psychics
and lawyers, clergymen and hitchhikers,
the wan, the strong, the crazy,
all needing books, needing directions,
needing a friend, or a place to sit down.
But then one day the shelves began to empty
and a hush fell over the store.
No new books arrived.
When the dying was done,
only a fragile, tattered thing remained,
and I haven’t the heart to name it.

~ from MEMOIR OF THE HAWK (Harper Collins, 2001)


I feel sad whenever I drive by the building that used to be Borders Books and Music. I still remember when it first opened about 18 years ago, the first café bookstore in our neighborhood where you could sit with a cup of tea and a cookie, read all the British kitchen design magazines, browse Writer’s Market for the next place to send your short story, scan the latest literary magazines for new poets, write character sketches of the people sitting at the next table.

No matter how many cups of tea you drank, how long you lounged in one of the cushy armchairs or listened to audio samples of Lucy Kaplansky’s latest CD, nobody rushed you or told you to go home. Because you were home.

Borders wasn’t my favorite bookstore of all time nor did it offer the personal service or eclectic selection of books you can only find at a good indie, but it was what we had. What we had after we had to say goodbye to Crown Books, Olsson’s Books and Music, Storybook Palace, The Book Nook, Purple Crayon, A Likely Story, Little Professor, Cheshire Cat, Books and Crannies.

I still buy a lot of books. But I can’t buy the savvy bookseller with the rumpled shirt and smudgy bifocals whose eyes lit up when I asked for a Georgette Heyer Regency romance, or the James Dean look alike with the red kerchief who surprised me by recommending the Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook (still one of my favorites). I cannot buy the thrill of stumbling upon a hot-off-the-press, beautifully designed art book (something you definitely have to see in person to fully appreciate), and then handing over my birthday gift card to make it mine, all mine, right that very second!

I can’t buy those moments with my tribe — browsers, buyers, coffee drinkers, gift seekers, writers, researchers, music lovers, teachers, students — all of us reading alone together, sometimes finding something we didn’t know we needed, oftentimes going there for no particular reason but always leaving feeling happier, nourished, inspired. I can’t buy that feeling of safe familiarity, of knowing there is at least one place in the world where I feel like I belong.

I avoid driving by the old Borders if at all possible. They’ve turned it into a golf store — a huge, gaping 19th hole.


The vibrant, uncommonly talented, wish-she-could-be-my-teacher poet Mary Lee is hosting the Roundup today at A Year of Reading. Join the tribe, read some good poems and reviews, reflect and appreciate. Enjoy your weekend!


Copyright © 2012 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

friday feast: hats on, hats off

 photo: buttercakes by evan.

by Aaron Belz 

I have been thinking about the love-hat relationship.
It is the relationship based on love of one another’s hats.
The problem with the love-hat relationship is that it is superficial.
You don’t necessarily even know the other person.
Also it is too dependent on whether the other person
is even wearing the favored hat. We all enjoy hats,
but they’re not something to build an entire relationship on.
My advice to young people is to like hats but not love them.
Try having like-hat relationships with one another.
See if you can find something interesting about
the personality of the person whose hat you like.


Like-hat? What twaddle. A hat is to love. Take the Houndstooth Hat Cake pictured above. I’m head over heels!

There are people who look good in hats and those who don’t. People who can don a fedora or leopard skin pillbox or silky black fez and kill. The last hat I looked good in was my Brownie beanie. I’m thinking of wearing it to church. Do you have a good hat head?

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friday feast: sign language

from tom palumbo’s photostream

Ah, yes. The life of a writer — full of glamour, adoring fans, relaxing sojourns on the French Riviera.

Recently, I’ve been thinking —

how certain authors have become celebrities,

how much burden is placed upon the writer to promote, publicize, and sell himself to the masses,

how some avid readers have turned into groupies,

and that I need to develop substantial cleavage, so I can have these two gentlemen sign me:

Don’t you love how Coop furrows his brows? (photo by psychKate)

There’s just something about a British accent (especially Neil Gaiman’s).
(photo by spinnerin)

Puzzled? Read this poem by James Tate. It made me laugh, think, and ask myself, yet again, the all important question: Why do I really write?

by James Tate

An ad in the newspaper said that a local author
would be signing his new book at the bookstore today.
I didn’t even know we had any local authors. I was
going to be downtown anyway, so I decided to drop in
and see what he looked like. He was short and fat
and ugly, but all kinds of beautiful women were flirting
with him and laughing at every little joke he made.
Even though I didn’t know anything about his book, I
wished I had written it. A man came up to me and said,
“I hated it when the little girl died. I just couldn’t
stop crying.” “Thank God for the duck,” I said. He
took a step back from me. “I don’t remember the duck,”
he said. “Well, then, I’m afraid you missed the whole
point of the book. The duck is absolutely central,
it’s the veritable linchpin of the whole denouement,”
I said. (I had learned that word in high school, and
now it served me well.) “But what about the little
girl?” the man asked, with a painful look of bewilder-
ment on his face. “She should have been shot a hundred
pages earlier,” I said. “I don’t think I like you,”
the man said, and walked away clutching his book.
I looked over at the author. He was signing a young
woman’s cleavage, and the other women were laughing
and pulling open their blouses to be signed. I had
never even thought of writing a novel. Now, my mind
was thrashing about. The man I had offended earlier
walked up to me and offered me a glass of wine. “If
I may ask you, sir, why were you so rude to me?” he
said. I looked up from the abyss and said, “Because
I am nothing. Because I am a speck of dust floating
in infinite darkness. Because you have feelings and
you care. Do you understand me now?” “Perfectly,”
he said. “Cheers!”

~ from 180 More: Extraordinary Poems for Every Day, edited by Billy Collins (Random House, 2005).

Today’s Poetry Friday Roundup is being hosted by the lovely and talented Sara Lewis Holmes at Read*Write*Believe. I’m sure she will welcome you, with or without cleavage.

**Don’t forget that midnight tonight (EST), is the deadline for entering my drawing to win one of three copies of Anna Alter’s new picture book, Abigail Spells! Click here to read Anna’s interview.

Oh, and Happy National Doughnut Day!

photo by seq

friday feast: a writer’s valentine

“I have always been more afraid of a pen, a bottle of ink, and a sheet of paper than of a sword or pistol.” ~ from The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

photo by Catherine Forbes

So, I’m sitting here polishing off a piece of Mary Todd Lincoln’s famous courting cake — such a delicate flavor with sweet notes of vanilla and almond, delivered in a luscious, moist crumb — and I’m thinking about love poems for Valentine’s Day.

Like Tricia of the Miss Rumphius Effect, I’m not one for overly sentimental, ooey gooey, gushy, cliched pronouncements of love. But, like Karen Edmisten, I always find E.E. Cummings’ love poems sublime — they’re passionate, lyrical, sensual, and convey grand emotion without melodrama or sentimentality.

Then I was thinking, are there any poems that speak to my relationship with Len? As in, could I see him reading any particular poem to me?

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