A Favourite Classic Novel: Winnie The Pooh by A.A. Milne

Winnie the Pooh and his friends have been dearly loved for generations by readers all the world over. The stories of friendship, loyalty and fun are delightful entertainment for children and grownups alike. 

Of course, Disney’s purchase of the production rights to the stories resulted in greater exposure to new generations, but it also gave the characters newly altered appearances and American accents. The movies and TV programs are fun, and I enjoy them immensely, but in my mind they are a different generation of a much loved family. 

I really love the original stories and the illustrations by E.H. Shepard that accompanied them. The books that I had as a child have been passed on to other children in my family, but I do have a lovely set of paperbacks on my own shelf that still have all those original illustrations. 

I also have a copy of the 80th anniversary edition of the book, complete with hard cover, dust jacket and colour illustrations, that is precious to me for a reason beyond the fact that it’s a book I love. This particular book was given to me by a family as a thank-you gift for teaching a number of their children and helping them get through senior high school English. I keep their ‘thank you” card inside the front cover to preserve the memory, although I doubt I will ever forget that beautiful gift and the kindness with which it was given. 

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ANZAC Day, 2019

101 years after the end of World War I, people all over Australia and New Zealand gathered today in remembrance of our soldiers, the nurses and doctors who supported them, and all those who served to preserve our freedom.

At our local ANZAC Day ceremony, I witnessed some lovely moments. 

Members of the CWA had knitted poppies and used them to line the path to the cenotaph. They looked beautiful, but also served as a poignant reminder of those who had given their lives during the war.

Local men who had served stood proudly, wearing their medals. There are fewer of them each year, but their number was supported by the children and grandchildren of those who have passed, wearing their forebears’ medals with pride and reverence.

One of my own former students gave a beautiful heartfelt requiem for the fallen. He spoke so well, and really knew his history. He made me really proud. 

An elderly gentleman standing near me bent down, took his restless young grandsons in his arms and explained to them why they needed to be quiet and pay respect. He then pinned his own poppy on one boy’s shirt. The smile on that child’s face as he stood quietly beside his grandfather for the rest of the ceremony was a wonderful thing to see.

Several young people of my town raised the flags of Australia and New Zealand to half mast and stood with their heads bowed during the Last Post and the minute of silence before raising the flags to full height and saluting them. 

Over thirty local groups, organisations and businesses laid memorial wreaths at the base of the cenotaph. Young members of the local Scout group carried and laid wreaths for those who were too elderly or frail to do so, keeping pace with the older folk as they walked to and from the cenotaph. 

A teenaged member of my theatre company sang the national anthems of both countries with reverence and pride. Everyone in attendance stood and sang along with pride. Not everyone knew the New Zealand anthem, but plenty of folk did. 

After the ceremony, the local Scouts carried around plates of sandwiches and refreshments for the townsfolk who had congregated. Every single one of them said “Excuse me” before offering us something to eat. Every single one of them smiled and spoke respectfully.

I have no doubt that similar things happened in every locality across Australia at 11am today to commemorate all those who served to defend our country and preserve our freedom, because that is what Australians do on April 25th.  

Poem: ‘Good Friday’ by Christina Rosetti

This poem expresses what I suspect many people, even very committed Christians, feel on Good Friday: we should weep more than we do, we should feel more than we feel, in response to Christ’s death on the cross.

While it’s true that faith and feelings are very different and distinct from one another, Rosetti observes here the misery and doubt that comes from knowing and believing in Jesus yet feeling as though she remains unaffected by her knowledge and faith, and expresses most eloquently the desire for God to help her to believe more fervently.

Whether or not one is a Christian does not limit their ability to be affected by the pathos in this poem, nor to consider the power of the imagery with which the poet evokes that sense of lonely difference from other people that pervades it. 

‘Good Friday’

Am I a stone, and not a sheep,
That I can stand, O Christ, beneath Thy cross,
To number drop by drop Thy blood’s slow loss,
And yet not weep?

Not so those women loved
Who with exceeding grief lamented Thee;
Not so fallen Peter, weeping bitterly;
Not so the thief was moved;

Not so the Sun and Moon
Which hid their faces in a starless sky,
A horror of great darkness at broad noon–
I, only I.

Yet give not o’er,
But seek Thy sheep, true Shepherd of the flock;
Greater than Moses, turn and look once more
And smite a rock.

Poem: ‘Easter Day’ by Oscar Wilde

‘Easter Day’ is a sonnet about seeing the Pope on Easter Sunday. It is not, however, as reverent of the pontiff as it first appears. 

After describing the scene, Wilde observes that while the ceremony he observes is impressive, it actually has little to do with the reality of Jesus’ life.  It’s all about thethe Pope, far more than it is about the death and resurrection of the Messiah. 

This is a very powerful observation, and one that certainly resonates with me.  As I have said many times before, “I love Jesus. I just have significant problems with the actions of many who claim to represent Him.”

This poem, then, serves as a reminder to not put faith in man-made institutions, regardless of who or what they claim to be, but instead to focus on Christ himself, what He taught, and on one’s own faith in Him as a personal, intimate relationship. 

Easter Day

The silver trumpets rang across the Dome:
The people knelt upon the ground with awe:
And borne upon the necks of men I saw,
Like some great God, the Holy Lord of Rome.

Priest-like, he wore a robe more white than foam,
And, king-like, swathed himself in royal red,
Three crowns of gold rose high upon his head:
In splendour and in light the Pope passed home.

My heart stole back across wide wastes of years
To One who wandered by a lonely sea,
And sought in vain for any place of rest:
‘Foxes have holes, and every bird its nest,
I, only I, must wander wearily,
And bruise my feet, and drink wine salt with tears.’

Never Too Busy For Poetry!

This weekend is crazy busy. One evening and two full days of rehearsal for the show I’m in, which hits the stage on the first two weekends of May. 

The show is Monty Python’s Spamalot, performed by Camperdown Theatre Company. We’re working hard and having a blast rehearsing it, although one of the hardest parts is not laughing at the genuine comic talent of the actors.

It’s enormous fun, but it’s fair to say it’s exhausting. 

While most of my social media for the weekend could be scheduled and was organised by Friday, and there were only a few “on the spot” things I needed to do, I decided ahead of time to spend as little time online as I could over the weekend. Any spare time I have will be spent resting and relaxing, which means reading.

One of the lovely things about poetry is you can read it, and keep thinking about it at odd moments during the day. It adds a dimension of beauty and calm to a hectic schedule, and opportunities for reflection that might not otherwise offer themselves.  Even just a few lines can change a perspective and transform a moment into something that lifts the entire day. 

Another lovely thing about poetry is the sense of connection the reader has with the poet. Despite the fact that many of my favourite poets have been long dead, I can still experience a moment of empathy and understanding that reminds me that I’m not doing life in a bubble.

That is my hope for my own poetry. I may not become famous, or even widely known, for the poems I write, but I know that my own readers experience that same connection with me because their reviews and communications tell me so. 

So, even in the midst of a busy weekend, I’ll always make time for a little poetry. 

Poem: ‘Ozymandias’ by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Shelley lived at a time when there was enormous interest in the archaeology of the Ancient Near East, following Napoleon’s victories in Egypt. Archaeological finds were being brought back to British and European museums, fuelling the creative imaginations of writers and stimulating a most fashionable interest in ancient history.

‘Ozymandias’ was inspired by a fallen statue of the Egyptian pharaoh Rameses II, who is believed by many to be the arrogant pharaoh of Exodus in the Bible. It should be noted, though, that this is not the same statue that Shelley writes about.

There isn’t  any archaeological evidence for the existence of the statue Shelley describes in this poem, which instead seems to be based on a statue and inscription described by the 1st century Greek historian Diodorus Siculus- but that isn’t the point: the poem is about the fact that the statue created in honour of one so powerful and wealthy ended up broken down and surrounded by nothing but endless desert. 

Shelley’s message is clear: whatever we build for ourselves in this life does not last, and people may not actually remember us for the things we’d like them to remember.

This short poem presents some powerful contrasts: vanity and ruin, honour and despair, sculpture and degradation, commemoration and mockery. 

Ozymandias

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

If you’d like to know more about the relationship between Shelley’s poem and the history of Ozymandias, you can read this article by Stephen Hebron that provides a detailed explanation in plain English. 

P!nk and Poetry

In my post on Songs and Poetry, I explored the idea that lyrics of songs are often poetry. Indeed, one could argue that the more poetic and emotive the lyrics, the greater chance of that song becoming an anthem for some listeners. This is certainly true in my own experience. 

One of the artists in my “Anthems” playlist is P!nk. I love her attitude, her style, and her voice. Even more, I have found some of her lyrics to be enormously powerful and emotive, and very relatable. She may be a rock goddess who knows how to entertain, but she is also a poet who knows how touch someone’s soul. 

That’s why it came as no surprise to me that she used to write poetry. It shows. 

What P!nk says about the therapeutic effects of writing poetry is true, too. It does feel good to get the darkness out, and to shape it into something that is meaningful to others as well as oneself. As I have often commented, writing poetry is the most effective therapy I have ever had. 

Indie Authors: Don’t Let The Scammers Win

There has been quite some consternation among Indie authors over past months in various ways that dishonourable people have found to scam the system and get quite rich selling books that are not what they should be, particularly on Amazon, or who steal others’ books and make them available on pirate websites, or plagiarise and “rebrand” them as their own work.. 

Understandably, those who put a lot of effort into writing and publishing excellent books find such situations discouraging. It’s hard to be upbeat about what we do when others seem to “win” with shortcuts that are plain wrong. 

As I commented in yesterday’s post on integrity and ethics, it seems as though the floodgates have opened to allow all sorts of deceitful behaviour.
It’s hard to know how to respond.

What honest writers must not do, however, is quit. 

It’s up to us to keep on creating fantastic stories and poetry for the readers out there who crave excellent books. 

It’s up to us to hold our heads high, proclaim “I write every word of my books!” and then show the world what we’ve got. 

In short, it’s up to us to show the cheaters and scammers how it should be done. 

Nobody but honest and hard-working authors can restore the faith of readers in Indoe and self publishing. The only way to do that is to maintain a premium of quality in the books on the shelves in stores, libraries and homes all over the world. 

We may have to work harder, smarter and cleaner than ever before. Still, we’ve had to do that in order to give traditional publishing a good shake, and we’ve certainly achieved that. 

We Indies have so much to offer. We have each other for support and an entire future that is yet to be shaped ahead of each of us.

I refuse to quit. I refuse to let the scammers win. Who’s with me? 

Why I Love Audiobooks

I am a relatively recent convert to the audiobook experience. 

Before October last year, I had really only used audiobooks when teaching Shakespeare texts in high school, as it took the stress out of the actual reading for kids who weren’t sure how to approach or pronounce the parts of the language that were unfamiliar to them.  Beyond that, i had suggested them for people, especially kids, who weren’t keen on actually reading, or people who were sight impaired, or… you get my drift. They were always a good idea for someone else.

Of course, thinking of them in that way meant that I never really tried them out for myself. 

It was only when my own circumstances changed that I learned my lesson. Quite unexpectedly, I found myself recovering from emergency spinal surgery, spending a lot of time lying down, and unable to work for an expended period. I was in pain, forced to rest, and couldn’t really focus my eyes too well for some time.

On an impulse, I purchased an audiobook and found myself completely engrossed in the story. When it finished, I bought another. And another. I was hooked. 

The audiobooks I listened to during my recovery kept me company when I couldn’t sleep, and gave me something to think about other than the pain. They took me out of my hospital bed and carried me to different places. They gave my mind something to do when my body couldn’t do much at all. They were great for my mental health. And I really enjoyed them. 

Now, I listen to audiobooks on my commute to work each day, instead of getting steamed up over news and current affairs on the radio. I listen when I am resting, which I still need to do as my back is still healing. I often listen during my lunch break at work, which is actually much healthier than working straight through it as I have tended to do for most of my career. I listen while doing the dishes. 

Audiobooks have not replaced my reading time. I love reading books, and treasure the time I get to spend in them. That will never change. I’m a book nerd, through and through. Even a cursory glance at my Goodreads profile, Twitter feed or Book Squirrel blog will testify to that. 

Listening to audiobooks has also enabled me to add another dimension to my book blog, with audiobook reviews being added to the repertoire, along with Indie book reviews, author spotlights and interviews, and other bookish goodness. As I like to deliver varied and interesting content, that has been a bonus. 

Audiobooks have enhanced different times in my day when I can’t read, and made them more interesting and stimulating. They may not be for everyone, but adding some great listening time to my routine has been a positive and enjoyable development for me.  

Ambrosia.

I remember as a child going to visit friends of my parents’ for dinner, and being served a dessert called Ambrosia. I had never heard of it before, and I remember being amazed by how sweet and delightful it was. The sensation of wanting more when the little dish set before me was empty is still a very clear memory.

When I was a bit older and started reading about history, I discovered that ambrosia was a mythical substance that, having been brought to the Ancient Greek Gods by doves, became their food of choice, along with their favoured drink, nectar. Ambrosia and nectar may have even originally been the same thing, but Homer and  Sappho both distinguish between them. Given that they were present in Ancient Greece and I was not. their authority on the matter is something I am willing to accept.

Ambrosia was understood to be fragrant, powerful and reserved for the gods, who adored it because of its healing and cleansing powers, and because it took years off their physical ages. It filled them with passion and made them desirable. Little wonder, then, that they wanted to keep it for themselves! 

In time, ‘ambrosia’ was a term that became popular among the Romans as any delightful essence or concoction of food or drink, and then may have given rise to the idea of “the elixir of life” that people have been searching for ever since. 

It was the concept of drinking something that resulted in passion that lasted for eternity that caused me to write my poem Ambrosia about the power of a lover’s effect on one’s life and soul. I wanted to capture that heady, addictive feeling between lovers that makes them believe nothing and nobody else matters, and that their love transcends time, place and physical limitations. 

Anyone who has experienced those feelings will relate. Anyone who has landed hard on their posterior after doing something stupid for love will probably relate, but may also mutter uncharitable things about love and romance under their breath. Those who haven’t experienced it may scoff. 

Yet the feelings and experiences described in the poem do exist, and they are what the celebration of Valentine’s Day has come to be all about: it’s the kind of love that everyone wants to find and experience, although it’s fair to say that not everyone does. 

We must remember, after all, that the legend of Valentines Day was never about flowers, candlelight dinners and fairy-tale, kissy-face wedding proposals: it began with a man being executed for something he believed in. 

At any rate, I wrote Ambrosia in honour of the love of my life who, after many years together, still hasn’t driven me to drink. I have, however, been known to do take a risk or two for the love of him from time to time, so it’s an appropriate poem to share on Valentine’s Day. 

If you appreciated this post or my poem, please click “like” so that it becomes visible to more people.

Ambrosia is publshed in my book, Smoke and Shadows.