Honoring World #Poetry Day, March 21st, with a review of Ursula K. Le Guin’s latest collection

World Poetry Day is March 21st, 2016: Celebrate Poetry Globally

To honor this day and #Women’s History Month, both, I’m reviewing and discussing some of the poems from one of my favorite poets and authors, fellow #feminist/#Buddhist Ursula K. Le Guin. Her latest collection, Late in the Day: Poems 2010-2014, is a delight.

late in the day real
Late in the Day: Poems 2010-2014, by Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin is my favorite writer. No contest. In fact, I wrote a review of another poetry collection early this year, which I enjoyed enormously: https://sallyember.com/2016/01/19/homage-to-and-review-of-ursula-k-le-guins-finding-my-elegy-new-and-selected-poems/ Some of the explanations of my connection to Le Guin are repeated from that post, below.

I have enjoyed, admired, appreciated, envied and learned from her novels, novellas, short stories, essays, and poetry for over forty years. She is about my mom’s age (in her early 80s, now) and still going strong. She is my idol, my mentor, and my role model. I also found out, after reading a recent collection, that she and I share not only a love of writing, speculative fiction, feminism, social justice, pacifism and environmentalism, but also, Buddhism and meditation. Frabjous day!

Poetry is meant to be read aloud. I enjoy reading poetry aloud as if I am the poet, wondering as I hear each word, line, idea, image, stanza, what the poet was imagining and how this exact turn of phrase came to capture it. Knowing how long many poets take to conjure the precise manner in which to describe and evoke every part of their intention, I want to savor it.

I do NOT read in that artificial, almost-questioning (upturned inflection on the end of lines), drawling almost-monotone that many poetry readers make the horrible mistake of using.


I read poetry aloud as if each poem is its own story, because this unique version of that story is interesting, new, and not mine. I use the line breaks and punctuation as suggestions to help me go with the poet’s flow. I smile, I laugh, I pause, I taste the words on my tongue.

Try it. You’ll like it!

In her introduction, Le Guin discusses the interdependent relationships among seemingly inanimate objects (whose apparent lack of sentience she and others challenge), places, humans, animals, life events and circumstances with eloquence and grace. As in all of her public writing and speeches, she has a way of turning things around with her verbal kaleidoscope to inspire us to see things from new perspectives with each turn. Her unique points of view become more accessible as one continues to read and ponder her body of work, which I’ve been doing for over forty years (she’s been writing for over 60).

This collection is divided into eight sections: Relations, Contemplations, Messengers, Four Lines, Works, Times, The Old Music and Envoi, but I couldn’t explain them or why some poems are in one but not another section. I was very impressed, though, with her poems about things, especially kitchen objects. Amazing.

Enough of all that explanatory stuff. You can get that elsewhere and any time. Let’s enjoy some of her poems!

I marked pages of this book with pieces of scrap paper so I’d remember which stanzas, poems, titles, lines caught my heart. Here are some, in no particular order. I sometimes annotate or explain. Find your own parts to love and for your own reasons.

Le Guin has many poems rooted (pun intended) in nature, and those in this collection follow that trend. She is also the child of two anthropologists and somewhat of a social and physical scientist herself. I love this opinion she expressed poetically and eloquently, from the introduction to this volume (excerpted from a speech she gave in May, 2014, at a conference that occurred at the University of California/Santa Cruz, “Anthropocene: Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet”), in which she explained her view of the relationship between poetry and science and why we need both:

Science describes accurately from outside, poetry describes accurately from inside. Science explicates, poetry implicates. Both celebrate what they describe. We need the languages of both science and poetry to save us from merely stockpiling endless “information” that fails to inform our ignorance or our irresponsibility.

By replacing unfounded, willful opinion, science can increase moral sensitivity; by demonstrating and performing aesthetic order or beauty, poetry can move minds to the sense of fellowship that prevents careless usage and exploitation of our fellow beings, waste and cruelty. (p. ix)

One of my favorites from this collection, Constellating, situates relationships between people as if between stars:

Mind draws the lines between the stars
that let the Eagle and the Swan
fly vast and bright and far
above the dark before the dawn.

Between two solitary minds
as far as Deneb from Altair,
love flings the unimaginable line
that marries fire to fire.

How beautifully she depicts that intangible bond humans create to connect us which is like nothing else, yet she finds the commonality in constellations.

In The Games, Le Guin manages to indicate our views on aging and reflecting on past accomplishments in a perfect metaphor:

The Games
The crowds that cheered me when I took the Gold,
who were they then? Where are they now?
It’s queer to think about. Do they know how
you look at the hurdles, long before you’re old,
and wonder how you ever ran that race?
I’m not sorry, now all’s said and done,
to lie here by myself with nowhere to run,
in quiet, in this immense dark place.

Definition, or, Seeing the Horse is the type of poem about poetry that I usually eschew. But, one stanza from it is so perfect I have to share it, here, because it perfectly captures the limitations of poetry:

Definition, or, Seeing the Horse
from iii. Judith’s Fear of Naming
To define’s not to confine,
words can’t reach so far.
Even the poet’s line can only hold
a moment of the uncontainable.
The horse runs free.

Le Guin has written many essays, books and articles about the art and craft of writing, but never have I read or heard her convey what she feels about being a writer so well as in this poem, My Job. She lyricizes about writing’s being something she first learned as a child (“I started out as a prentice”) and is still learning. My favorite of her sentiments are these:

from My Job
Sometimes the pay is terrible.
Sometimes it’s only fairy gold.
Then again sometimes the wages
are beyond imagination and desire.
I am glad to have worked for this company.

Two poems, side-by-side in this book (which cannot be an accident), show her wonderful deployment of language and imagery: Sea Hallowe’en and Between. In all of her poems, she demonstrates her mastery of many different poetic forms: rhyming and non-rhyming, exploding into free verse and staying within those more formally ruled for meter, line length, repetition and other constraints. She calls herself a “caperer,” in her essay about her poetic choices and learning to write in various forms in her Afterword, meaning, one who moves among all forms and free verse as she wishes. She also writes here about how a form can “give” her a poem. Fascinating stuff. Love to read about her process.

From Between, I especially admire this final couplet:

A winter wind just whispers where
two winter trees stand tense and bare.

And, from Sea Hallowe’en, who can’t love this whimsical phrasing that ends each of the stanzas?

west to the tide rising,
cold, cold and wild.

a ghost on a north wind blowing
wild, wild and cold.

At best, I am a mediocre poet, despite having been published and won poetry prizes at a younger age, having written songs that were performed, and including my poetry in my science-fiction books as if written by its protagonist, Clara (http://www.sallyember.com/Spanners for more information). I make no claims to being an actual poet if Ursula K. Le Guin is an example. I yield and bow to her and many others for entertaining, informing, inspiring and enlivening us with their use of words and images.

She writes and speaks often about the rewards of writing and art and the politics and capitalism that haunt the industry. This poetry collection is ended with a speech she gave on these topics. The final lines are very moving:

I’ve had a long career as a writer, and a good one, in good company. Here at the end of it, I don’t want to watch American literature get sold down the river. We who live by writing and publishing want and should demand our fair share of the proceeds, but the name of our beautiful reward isn’t profit. its name is freedom.


Ursula K Le Guin photo
image from her website, photo ©by Marian Wood Kolisch

Thank you, Ursula, for sharing your deep and soulful moments with us all. May your contributions to our literary and emotional landscapes always be known as blessings while you still live and after you die, and may all beings benefit.

Find these poems, this and all her other work here: http://www.ursulakleguin.com

For more information about poetic forms and World Poetry Day:

Poetry adds moments of beauty to our everyday lives, connects our emotions in unique ways, and helps people everywhere express themselves in amazing ways. Poetry of all kinds is definitely something to celebrate, so join us in looking around the world for inspiration. In honor of World Poetry Day, we (The New Rivers Press) wanted to share with you some unique global poetry styles.

Ghazal: an ancient form of poetry dating back to 700 CE in the Arab lands, and later Persia. It is fairly intricate, but contains anywhere from 5 to 15 independent couplets that create a beautiful whole, all with lines of the same length, meter, or syllable count. It is an extremely well-known form in Iran, where the 14th-century Persian writer, Hafez, published his famous ghazal collection, the Divan of Hafez. For examples of ghazals and more detailed information, visit http://poets.org or The Ghazal Page.

Haiku: arguably one of the most well-known types of international poetry forms, this form comes from ancient Japan. It consists of three short lines with five, seven, and five syllables each. The subject of a haiku was originally restricted to nature and the seasons, but that later was opened up to many different subject matters. Some of the most famous Japanese haiku writers include Basho (the “saint of haiku” in Japan), Buson, and Issa. For more in-depth history of the haiku, check out Poetry through the Ages or Encyclopedia Brittanica.

Doha: another ancient form of poetry common in India. It is a 24-syllable couplet, typically in Hindi. The lines are split unevenly, with the first line having 13 syllables and the second having 11 syllables. It was made more famous by such poets as Kabir and Nanak at the end of the 15th century and beginning of the 16th century, as well as Goswami Tulsidas, whose work, Ramcharitmanas, is still famous among Hindus across northern India. To find out more about this and many other poetry forms, explore the book A Poet’s Glossary, by Edward Hirsch.
from The New Rivers Press‘ newsletter, Riverine, Volume 3, Issue 7, http://www.newriverspress.com/

Also, the Poetry Foundation has a great website and mobile phone app that can put almost any poem and poet right into your hands any time: http://www.poetryfoundation.org They also put out Poetry Magazine and a poetry podcast.

Young Blood Fixes Old, Reversing the Aging Process: The End of Independence

In one video clip of an annual summary of scientific discoveries for 2014, the narrator calmly stated this astonishing description and conclusion from research conducted this past year (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hjrt0hcv4Qk), using the headline Young Blood Fixes Old:

Scientists stitched [!?!] two [living] mice together, one young, one old, connected their circulatory systems. The connection rejuvenated the brain and the muscle of the older mouse. It appears young blood contains a factor that can turn back the clock on the aging process.

image from http://www.regenexx.com

Exactly how long do you think older, wealthier humans are going to wait before purchasing, enslaving and continuing to exploit younger humans in even more ways, including keeping them STITCHED to their bodies just to utilize their young blood to reverse their own aging???

I am nauseated.

Oh, sure. Scientists could isolate this “factor” and package only that.

But, where will this blood-borne factor be obtained? Exactly how legal, voluntary and frequent (or ongoing!?!) will the processes be for arranging for the young blood donors to fulfill ever-increasing requests for portions (how much?) of their blood?

We already have illegal and questionably-legal markets and practices for:

  • organs that can be transplanted, in whole or in part, preserving the donor’s life or not;
  • fertilizable human eggs;
  • gestational wombs;
  • siblings conceived to be organ donors for a needy sibling;
  • sexual surrogates (underaged or legal-aged sex slaves of both sexes).

Are you shuddering at the implications of this research, yet? Young people on this planet who have less power and wealth to protect them than those elders who wield power and money like weapons already, should RUN!

image from http://scitechdaily.com

Read Susan Young Rojahn’s May 9, 2014, article, Can Compounds in Young Blood Fix Aging?
Animal studies on the revitalizing power of young blood suggest new drug targets for treating conditions like dementia and heart disease
, which summarizes several research studies and their implications, then read the quotes, below.

Based on Wagers’s new and previous results, the Boston-area venture capital firm Atlas Venture has started a still-unnamed company. Wagers’s previous findings caught the eye of the VC firm in 2013, and the new results “increased the excitement for the role of GDF11 in aging,” says partner Peter Barrett. “Now it’s the blocking and tackling of trying to understand what would be the best therapeutic approach to make this a commercial product.”

The wealthier, more powerful of the elders will soon be able to co-opt young blood to keep them from aging. What will stop them?

One of the Stanford researchers, Tony Wyss-Coray, has cofounded a biotech company called Alkahest to test the therapeutic potential of his group’s findings.

bring me blood
image from http://imgur.com

If you’re not terrified, you’re not paying attention.

Moving back “home” after living elsewhere for over 40 years

What does it mean, exactly, “home”? I left St. Louis County when I went to college. I have visited frequently because many relatives, including my mom, still live here, but have lived elsewhere since 1972.

When I told people I was coming to live here, people asked “How do you feel about moving back home?” How is a place I lived for only seventeen years over forty years ago “home”? It’s not even the same house.

Olivette house

I lived in a house very much like this one, 1959-1972.

I have been peripatetic in my adult life. I lived in Wisconsin (Madison, 1972-74) and Connecticut (several places in and near Bridgeport, 1974-76) during college. I then lived in every other state in New England for twenty-eight more years, from northern Vermont (St. Albans) in 1976 to southeastern Massachusetts (Westport Point) and Rhode Island (Tiverton) in 1977-78, to my longest stint anywhere (20 years) in southwestern New Hampshire, while living more than a dozen places there (New Ipswich, Sharon, Stoddard, Sullivan and East Sullivan, Nelson, then several places in Keene), ending with southwestern Maine (Saco) in 1998. After New England, southwestern New Mexico (Silver City) for 2 1/2 years, then several places in northern California (near San Francisco: two in Santa Rosa, then one each in Sebastopol, El Cerrito, Hayward) for twelve years.

City, country, suburb and small town: I’ve lived in them all. Now, back in St. Louis. Even in St. Louis, the longest I lived in one spot was our family’s house on Old Bonhomme Road (twelve years), which is the same number of years I lived in one collective/family house in Keene (Water Street).

Water Street likeness

Here is a similar house to the one we lived in on Water Street in Keene for twelve years.

A few times, towards the end of my twelve years in Keene, NH, upon returning from times away I’d feel a sense of coming home as we crossed the city limits’ sign. But, soon after, I moved away from there.

If longevity prevails as the criterion, which of these, then, is “home”?

My mom’s condo is not the “home” I spent my school years in, although this location is “in the neighborhood,” meaning, same school district [LADUE (derived from a French word for those who work for a Duke)]. BTW, LADUE is considered to be one of the best school districts in the USA and in the top 25 of the Midwest. Bragging on that.

572 Coeur de Royale

Now we live in a condo very much like ones in this building.

She now lives in CREVE COEUR (meaning “broken heart,” in French), along with many others from the “old neighborhood” (OLIVETTE, meaning “little Olive”). Not a big change, since this is about a ten minutes’ drive from Olivette.

Many of the landmarks, businesses and roads have changed, moved, been eliminated, but there are still some fixtures I recognize after over forty years. The old are populated/interspersed with the new, as everywhere.

The shell of a fast-food place about to be finished (“BIG BOY”) in which I had my first make-out sessions (with Eric) in 6th grade is now a grassy, flat field after having been two different fast-food restaurants. The bowling alley (NELSON BURTON LANES) where I learned to play pinball and to bowl (badly), and behind which I had my first kiss (from Bobby) is still there, but changed owners and names. The elementary school my siblings and I attended (CENTRAL SCHOOL, which we lived almost across the street from and used to treat as our personal playground) became an alternative high school soon after my youngest sibling went to junior high school.

What makes a place feel like “home”? Here is my test: How does it feel to return after I have been away? Does it seem that I am visiting or coming back?

For about twenty-five years, I considered Boston/Cambridge my hub. I had friends who went to college and then lived there. I took classes, saw clients, attended meetings, visited friends and went to events there often. Logan was the airport we used most often until Hartford’s and then Manchester’s grew. Beantown was the BIG CITY we would go to for those experiences. Cambridge was the intellectual/artsy center of existence. I also went to New York City from New Hampshire, but not as often or as easily (it was more than twice as far by car).

Whenever we’d drive to Boston, as our car crested the first hill that would give us a view of “The Pru” and the John Hancock buildings, my heart would lift. Exciting things happened here.

Boston skyline

The “Pru” and the John Hancock buildings in Boston.

I walked all around both Boston and Cambridge, had several lovers in and around there, used the T (subways/trains) and frequented cafes. I loved going there for many years. But, Boston was never “home.”

Flying or driving into St. Louis, I would look for the Arch as the landmark. But, seeing it, I never felt “Oh. Now I’m home.”


But, here, unlike many places I’ve lived since I left Keene, NH, I am recognized. After being “invisible” for about fifteen years, it is startling to be called out in public. Last week, while perusing the deli section at Whole Foods, “Sally Fleischmann!” reached my ears. A seemingly strange man called out to me, in surprise at seeing me; a classmate from my high school saw and knew me after not having seen me for many years. I went to a friend’s father’s funeral/shiva and many people there recognized me, called out my name, knew my father. I exercise at the local Jewish Community Center’s building and often know people there or they know me or knew my dad or know my mom or siblings. Does being known or recognized make one feel at home?

Maybe it’s that I just moved back to St. Louis about two weeks ago and I haven’t completely unpacked. I have had visits that lasted over a month here before this, living out of suitcases and drawers as I do now.

I think, as I told one friend, recently, once I pass the five-week mark (and I plan to be completely unpacked by then), I could realize that I now am not visiting and actually live here.

How much longer will it take to feel like “home”? Ask me in 2027.