About Kevin Young’s “Ragtime”

As I was going through things to unpack from the move, an old MTA MetroCard fell out of one of the books I’d pulled out from the prison of a cardboard box. On the back of it was a copy of Kevin Young’s 2003 poem “Ragtime,” available via the Poetry Society of America here. I confess to no small amount of nostalgia when I saw the fare-card, now long-expired but once a fixture of my daily life, the flimsy magnetized cardboard a key to travel among the teeming masses and to marble temples to human knowledge, connections to the wisdom of ages distilled into a few square miles and piled high, and I lingered over the words of a poet my aunt’s age, thinking about what they mean and how they mean it.

MetroCard - Wikipedia
The thing itself…
Image from Wikipedia, used for commentary.

My answer to questions of meaning is not the only one, of course. The ten lines, grouped into irregular unrhymed couplets, say other things to other people than me, I know; I know what I know, but I know it because I know it from where I’m from and who I’m from and when I’m from, and I’m the only one who’s walking the path that’s put me here, now, to do this. But in those lines, I read a strange and possessive idea of love, at least at first. Likening the beloved to food, something to be consumed once and not again, with the implication of what happens after meals, may not be the most flattering of comparisons. Nor yet may be the reference to “days later, after / Thanksgiving / when I want / whatever’s left,” which bespeaks the beloved as warmed-over remains from fellowship and feasting, taken in only because nothing better is around, nothing newer or fresher, and indeed, likely to be soon to spoil. What lover likes to be thought of as nearing decay and sickness-inducing disease, bidding a beloved blow it out both ends?

If you do not know what I mean, be grateful.

But there is another view. It could be that the beloved is likened more to the feelings of comfort and familiarity that associate with such things, the year-long longed-for family dishes made in abundance near November’s end in far more numbers than stomachs can take, kept near to hand as long as they can be and turned to again and again, reminders of histories many find pleasant and hopes for futures that may be made so. Or perhaps it is a final scrambling for connection and affection, the “whatever’s left” of the final line being what remains when the festivities are done and the drudge of darkening days proceeds. Although that makes assumptions about the reader and the reader’s situation that may not be in place–but, again, I know what I know because I am from where I am and who I am and what I am and when I am, and in that last, such bonds as may not be in place anymore had not yet lapsed.

It is too long until that holiday comes around next. It will be longer until I need another MetroCard, though I expect I will again.

Care to support my continuing efforts?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 222: Fool’s Errand, Chapter 2

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series here.

The next chapter, “Starling,” begins with an encyclopedia-like description of the minstrel before moving into Fitz musing over her keeping Hap away and his own laziness in attending to the upkeep and maintenance of his humble home. When they return, he notes the changes to them and to himself, contrasting them and considering that he needs to see to Hap’s apprenticeship and training. Fitz greets the pair warmly, and Starling returns the warmth, but Hap is standoffish and goes aside; Nighteyes accompanies him as Fitz sees to Starling.

The official image of the named character; source in the image, reported here, and used for commentary

As Starling settles in, she and Fitz confer about his return to Buckkeep, and she marks the changes in him before waxing eloquent on the virtues of urban life and privations of rural; Fitz finds himself musing on might-have-beens, and their talk continues over dinner as Nighteyes reports Hap is well out in the field. Fitz and Starling have sex, and, in the night, Fitz makes his way to where Hap is camping for the night. He stokes the fire and wakes the youth, learning what has him out of sorts; Starling is married, and not to Fitz, and Hap thinks the disjunction between what he has been taught and what he has learned makes a mockery of him. Fitz and Hap confer about the revelation and return to accord, Hap moving on to relate his experience in Buckkeep.

One incident stands out, one in which Hap watched a woman be stoned to death for being possessed of the Wit, the magic that allows communion with animals. Fitz is stunned into silence as Hap continues, relating fears of another war coming. Conversation resumes, and Fitz considers next steps he must take, and he and Nighteyes confer about what they will do together. The wolf notes approaching changes, “like a bigger predator coming into our hunting territory.”

The present chapter and the previous do a fair amount of what early portions of a novel are “supposed” to do; they offer exposition, setting up information about the milieu and major characters within that milieu. In the case of the present series, itself a sequel, there is also the burden of glossing events in the previous series, allowing the present one to stand alone–although it is certainly enriched by reading the earlier novels. (Or consulting a handy rereading guide, perhaps?)

Of particular note is the focus on the opprobrium under which the Wit magic operates. I’ve noted, following others, that the Wit serves as a metaphor for homosexuality (here, here, here, and here, if not elsewhere), and, considering the publication of the novel in the early 2000s, persecution of homosexual people was still a concern. (It remains one even as I write this, although less emphatic of one, for which I am grateful.) As I consider it now, it gets…less comfortable; I’ve heard any number of people argue that permitting homosexual relationships will lead to bestiality, and the Wit trends in that direction, so that the metaphorical connection is…squicky. (This leaves aside furries, of course, but that’s a whole ‘nother thing.) Admittedly, the metaphor breaks down–in the present series, no less–but still…

Uncomfortable re/reading isn’t bad reading, though. We should have to reconsider things over time. Even if we remain with earlier conclusions, we’re the better off for it.

I can still use your support!

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 221: Fool’s Errand, Chapter 1

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series here.

The first chapter in the first novel of the Tawny Man series, “Chade Fallstar,” opens with the cryptic Kelstar’s Riddle: “Is time the wheel that turns, or the track it leaves behind?” It moves thence to Fitz, narrating in first-person, noting the return of a familiar figure to his life when he was thirty-five; he muses on middle age and its uncertainties as he details his situation and circumstances leading up to the arrival; Nighteyes, the wolf, sleeps and dreams, and Hap, his fosterling, is away with the minstrel, Starling. Nighteyes wakes and rebukes Fitz for his angsty reminiscences and abjures the lingering draw of the Skill that Fitz details.

Fool's Errand (Tawny Man, #1) by Robin Hobb
The edition I’m reading again…
Image from Goodreads, used for commentary.

Fitz is further shaken from his reverie by the wolf’s announcement of a stranger approaching. It is Chade Fallstar, Fitz’s mentor in assassination, now openly a royal councillor; he is described as he brings gifts and news to his grand-nephew. Fitz notes that he goes by Tom Badgerlock in his current life, citing a shock of white hair, as he tends to his guest and asks after his purpose; Chade reports on his lost daughter, Nettle, and his and Nettle’s shared foster-father, Burrich. Fitz tries to puzzle out his old mentor’s motives as reporting continues, and Chade eventually lets slip that the queen, Kettricken, and he want Fitz to return to Buckkeep to serve as tutor to the sole prince of the realm, Dutiful.

Fitz initially refuses the offer, though not without reservation, and Chade presses him about his reasoning. Fitz continues to articulate his refusal, noting his willingness to leave aside the pension he had quietly been receiving; Chade does leave the topic aside, and his visit continues amicably afterwards. Among the topics treated is Chade’s experimentation with blasting powder, which he demonstrates in Fitz’s hearth, to their mutual regret.

The next morning, Chade makes ready to leave, and Fitz sends him off with a selection of offerings from his home. After, Fitz muses on the visit as he and Nighteyes make to hunt, and he contemplates returning to the Mountain Kingdom and what he found–and left–there.

The Tawny Man series is the first of Hobb’s series that I started buying while it was still coming out, and I lament that I did not pick up a hardcover of Fool’s Errand when it hit shelves; I did not make the mistake again. It was a delight to return to Fitz and the Fool, to the Six Duchies, the first time I read the book; it was one of those I bought, sat to read, and lifted my eyes from the pages only a few hours later, having finished. I feasted upon it hungrily, wolfing it down (yes, pun intended) as it were bread and I a starving young man; I glutted myself upon it. But it is better than bread and beef and beans and beer at the board, for when taken in, it yet remains and can be feasted upon again and again.

At least until the pages tear and the binding falters. But my copy’s not nearly there yet.

Help me track down and snag a hardcover?

An Announcement

Since I’ve gotten official word and have told the people who needed to know first, I can say this now: I’ve accepted a position teaching English at Burnet High School in Burnet, Texas. I’m looking forward to returning to the classroom and to the work I trained to do; I’m looking forward to getting back to my professional roots.

Reliance Architecture - Burnet High School
The scene of what’s to come…
Image from Reliance Architecture, used for commentary.

I’ve enjoyed my time at the Hill Country Council on Alcohol & Drug Abuse, Inc., in Kerrville. It’s been a good job that has allowed me no small amount of autonomy, and I appreciate both of those things. The Burnet job is more in line with my history, though, and it offers things I cannot get in my still-current position; I start teaching again on 7 September 2021, and I hope to be doing it for a long time to come.

Go, Dawgs!

Care to help me make the transition?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 220: Ship of Destiny, Epilogue

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series here.

The brief epilogue, “Metamorphosis,” focuses on the serpent, Shreever, finding rest after the struggles to return to the ancient cocooning grounds. Relatively few of the serpents survived, a small population from which to rebuild a species, but hope persists as the return of dragons is promised.

Sleeping Dragon
Something like this?
Image via the Smithsonian, used for commentary.

I appreciate that the novel ends on a note of hope–not untrammeled hope, as there are losses acknowledged, but hope, nonetheless. Although the new normal that promises to emerge in the Realm of the Elderlings is a different one, entirely, it seems it may be a good and useful thing, one more attentive to many. And I can hope that the readers’ world will follow suit, somehow, sometime.

The series will continue with a return to the Six Duchies in Robin Hobb’s Fool’s Errand.

Support my pressing ahead with this project?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 219: Ship of Destiny, Chapter 40

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series here.

The final full chapter, “The Rain Wild River,” starts with Althea considering the progress of the Paragon as the ship and a small crew continue to work on behalf of the nascent dragons. The crew’s dispersal is noted, as is Amber’s work to further decorate the figurehead in a motif of charging bucks. The two review their progress towards the ancient spawning grounds, including the loss of serpents and the moodiness of the liveship. The serpents’ arrival and cocooning are glossed, and Althea muses on her younger nephew, Selden, whose connection to the dragons is noted, as is Clef’s progress learning to read and write.

This is going to matter later…
Source in image, used for commentary.

The Paragon calls out to be run aground in a clear channel of one of the Rain Wild’s tributaries. The ship notes they are at the site where an older pirate had stashed his largest prize, a treasure ship bound for Jamaillia with annual tribute. The history of the hoard is noted, and it is given to the crew’s claim. Work to retrieve the hoard proceeds, with materials and labors described; Brashen is taken with Althea and begins plotting out with her how they will employ their shares of the take. Brashen considers Althea as he calls a halt to the retrieval efforts against the oncoming evening and storm.

Later, Amber approaches the figurehead with a request for a specific item from the take, a wizardwood crown. The ship remembers the crown, although not in great detail, and Amber appropriates it. The ship guesses that she is soon to leave, which she confirms, noting a need to head north to friends long unseen. The ship also notes how one of the former crews died, as well as that Kennit died twice, saved by the ship–at some cost to Kennit. Amber waxes philosophical, and they part in peace.

Althea dreams badly, and in the dream, the ship visits her, calling her to the foredeck. She arrives there, and the ship demands the hurt that had been caused her–not the memory, which is hers, but the continuing pain of it, which the ship draws from her. She wakes fully on the foredeck, Brashen rushing to her amid the storm and takes her below decks. There, she reports her violation to him and pleads with him for a continued relationship; they reconcile, the effects of which are felt throughout the ship as Amber takes her leave with the ship’s blessing.

It makes sense to some degree, of course, that the lingering narrative thread of Althea’s trauma resolving would receive attention in the final chapter–even if it is something of a deus ex machina at work. From the vantage of re-reading, of course, it makes sense in the broader context; even without that, reading through the Elderlings novels in order of publication offers some clues about the mechanism at work. That, combined with the overt foreshadowing of future work in Amber’s discussions, not only ties up the plot of the Liveship Traders novels, buy integrates them more fully with the other novels in the milieu–it serves a structural function, even if perhaps at the cost of the narrative.

The novel’s not done, of course; there is an eplilogue. And then the reread moves on to the Tawny Man novels, including the last paperback Hobb I’ve bought…

Help me get settled in better?

Driving in My Hometown

Driving again the streets of my hometown
Thinking about the early days when I
Learned how to be behind the wheel and made
Many wrong turns
Going right when I ought to have gone left
Staying straight when a more curving path
Would have been more pleasant to drive
And probably faster
Wondering what might have happened
Had I driven different roads
Ones I saw and sped on by in
Haste to be somewhere that
Wasn’t what I thought it would be
Not that I knew what I thought it would be
Focused on where I was going and not where I was
How I was getting there
What could be seen along the way
But the avenues down which I did not turn are
Closed off now or
Routed to other destinations
You can’t get there from here
And the grass here grows so green

Facilities • Kerrville • CivicEngage
Image from the Kerrville city site, which makes for public domain, I believe…

Help fund my further efforts?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 218: Ship of Destiny, Chapter 39

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series here.

The penultimate chapter, “Bingtown,” begins with Ronica and Keffria making ready to receive Serilla, Keffria fretting about the state of their home and the differences of that state from what it had been. Reactions to recent news are noted, and Keffria notes the promises of rebirth and regrowth inherent in the spring emerging around her. Serilla delivers the news she has been given; her formal position with the Satrap is rescinded, harshly, something acknowledged as scapegoating but inevitable. She also dickers with the Vestrit women for a place in their household, offering to assume the formal oversight duties on behalf of the family; Keffria accepts.

furniture attic
Not the only room like this I’ve seen…
Image from Shutterstock, used for commentary.

I’m struck by the brevity of the chapter; it is one of the shortest in the series, if not the shortest (though I’m not looking back over the series to check, admittedly), and it wraps up the narrative arcs of three major characters. It seems it should be longer–unless there is some comment to be made that the women involved in the chapter–Serilla, Ronica, and Keffria–are being put aside as no longer important. And that may have some justification; Ronica is certainly elderly, and neither Serilla nor Keffria are young, while the promise of future stories does belong to the younger participants in the narrative. So perhaps that is what is at work, here–although I do still tend to feel there’s something of being rushed about this…

Spare a dime? More?

A Robin Hobb Rereading Series: Entry 217: Ship of Destiny, Chapter 38

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series here.

The ensuing chapter, “Jamaillia City,” opens with Malta musing on the splendor of her assigned chambers and the attentions paid her by servants. The surroundings and ministrations are detailed, as are the changes to Malta’s own appearance. Etta is attended similarly, though the loss of Kennit still hurts her, and she works to comport herself as the queen she is recognized as being. Malta also muses on Etta’s perceptions of Kennit and her own of Reyn, and the promotions of both Etta and Wintrow–the latter by unanimous consent of the captains who had followed Kennit–are noted as Malta and Etta join Wintrow and Reyn, all attired for formal reception.

Quite the striking image…which is Sam Hogg’s, used for commentary.

The group calls upon the Satrap in a hall that is described, along with their locations and relative precedence. Malta’s continuing machinations are glossed, as are the changes to the prevailing state of affairs. The Pirates–with recognition of national sovereignty, the capitalization seems in order–and Traders make to take their leave of the Satrap, and Reyn and Malta confer about their upcoming nuptials and progress in Bingtown and on the Rain Wild River. Talk turns to others’ romances, then to liveships, about which Reyn has some ideas. They dance together, reveling in one another, and Etta and Wintrow confer a bit pettily about the way they do so.

In the harbor, the Ophelia confers with the Vivacia, the two liveships gossiping. Jek joins them, and the ships note the tensions between recalled lives and experienced ones, and the Vivacia recommits to her current life.

I find Reyn’s note about the liveships that do not recall dragon-lives of interest. He remarks that it is possible some of the cocooned dragons died before their cocoons were opened–and while ignominous disposal of the bodies of sentient life rankles even so, it does offer the prospect of ethical wizardwood harvesting. If memory serves, it’s something discussed in later books in the Elderlings corpus; I will be continuing my rereading for the foreseeable future, so I’ll have a chance to come upon it again. Whether I will remember to connect back to this entry at such times as I come across other references, I don’t know; I have the suspicion that I do poorly with such things. But that might also give me more to do, here, and I like getting to roll around in this, so…

Help me get supplies for my daughter’s coming school year?

Some Musing about Poetry

It will doubtlessly be noticed by you, loyal reader–and I do thank you for reading!–that I have included a fair bit of verse in this webspace. Those who click links I embed may even note that another blog I have long maintained, and that I occasionally threaten to incorporate into this webspace, is mostly poetry. Some may even note that I have a few poems published in various places–although I have not taken a creative writing class, or even a workshop, really. My training has been to write sober prose regarding the works of others, rather than to produce my own, although I do write things and have done so for a long while. (Whether any of it is any good is another issue, entirely, and one I do not want to address at the moment.) Why, though, is not necessarily clear to me.

beavis and butthead mike jude GIF
Yes, you are.
Image from Giphy, used for commentary. Bunghole.

I suppose that, in some sense, poetry is the most “art” form of writing; it tends to be perceived as being the most remote from people’s daily lives (if the words of my students and others are to be believed), and the most rarefied writings tend to be in verse (with the line as the primary unit of meaning) rather than in prose (with the sentence as the primary unit of meaning). I have tried to fancy myself an artist in one form or another for longer than is likely good for me; I’ve tried to be a musician, tried to draw. Poetry, I can kind of do; prose fiction…much less so. And essays…I don’t have the kind of cachet that makes my essays necessarily popular, although, again, I appreciate those of you who do read what I write.

In some ways, I write poetry (badly) to feel…daring? Artistic? Edgy, maybe, even? I am not an exciting person, as may be guessed; someone whose output is like mine is more apt to be sedate and stolid than particularly daring and compelling. It’s fine in one sense; I’m much less likely to get into trouble, doing what I do. But then, YOLO and FOMO and memento mori and all that, and I…spend a lot of time staring at a screen or at a book, pen in my hand or pixels proceeding from it. I’m…not all that interesting, myself.

Writing, though, I can maybe put something out into the world that is interesting, take a risk that is not so much of one but still feels it. Just as reading can be transportive, taking readers to other places and times than their own, writing can be daringly exploratory, letting the writer venture into unknown places and report back on what they find. The road out is not always straight or level; it sometimes winds strangely, passing by sights yet more removed, and the report of them must similarly be otherwise than straightforward. Maybe the verses I write do it some justice.


I continue to appreciate your kind support.