Old bookshops and the Christmas of 1942

Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

-P.B Shelley, Ozymandias

My whole life, I have struggled to articulate what poetry means to me. I think my friend Andrea said it best in grade 8 when our class was asked to define poetry. She said, “It means something different to every one. No one could ever see it the same.”

Today, in an old second-hand bookshop up in the hinterlands where the shop-owner refused to return my hello or make eye contact throughout the duration of my visit; where volume after volume of Shakespeare was misplaced among Eliot and Dryden all within one overwhelming section that failed to distinguish poetry from plays from English literature; where contemporary books with un-cracked spines stood stiff on the shelf, where they would remain for the next 50 years because despite the pile of $1.50 guitar magazines, it was clear that the people who frequented this store were only looking for the classics…  I lifted a collection of Shelley’s poetical works and opened to cover to reveal this note:

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Now it was weird for me to have found it among the unorganised clutter and weirder still that I hadn’t walked out after deciding I didn’t like the shop owner based on his initial quietness alone- but for some reason, I was drawn to that bookshelf in the corner of the room and how glad I am for it.

Whenever I read or study classic poetry or literature, I always feel so far removed and until today, I attributed that to nothing more than distance and time; an assumption that I could not possibly understand what life was like “back then.”

But today, in that bookshop, I imagined for a moment what the Christmas of 1942 would have been like for this unknown man during World War ii, and I realised the solidarity and inspiration he likely sought in the pages of Shelley’s book were somewhat like my own– somewhat like anyone who has ever picked up a poem in hopes of bringing light to darker days.

Despite what’s going on in the world around us and whether it’s 1942 or 2014, poetry remains a place for escapism, enlightenment and courage where we are free to wander and dream among the pages. And while It might mean something different to each of us, it’s home to us all.

I spent the rest of the day thinking about Christmas 72 years ago and wondering if the shop-owner knew he had books on his shelves that were once wrapped under trees; books that saw wars and revolutions and life and death pass them by.

If he did, it’s no wonder he kept so quiet.

Christmas 2014.

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Tim Hortons Nights

My father wrote this poem in 1974. My mom was in College (Niagara College) and the two of them spent a lot of time at the Tim Hortons on Niagara Street. I think even 40 years later, it’s as relevant as ever and reinstates how important Tim Horton’s is to our national identity.

 

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Oh the Tim Horton nights

With dissolution in your soul

The emptiness of donut holes

Reflections in your coffee mug

Of a strangers face so smug

And all around

Lonely people frown

Talking their dreams to sleep

Coming in from the cold

Of a one horse town

To put their money down

And listen

To all the tales

Of Towers sales

Yesterday’s hockey scores

Tomorrow’s wars

The homework and the chores

Oh Tim Horton Nights.

By Roman Wojciechowski

Where The Sidewalk Ends

 

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Where the Sidewalk Ends

There is a place where the sidewalk ends
And before the street begins,
And there the grass grows soft and white, And there the sun burns crimson bright,
And there the moon-bird rests from his flight To cool in the peppermint wind.

Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black And the dark street winds and bends.
Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow, And watch where the chalk-white arrows go

To the place where the sidewalk ends.

Yes we’ll walk with a walk that is measured and slow, And we’ll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
For the children, they mark, and the children, they know The place where the sidewalk ends. 

Shel Silverstein

 

Google’s New Search Algorithms Take Our Relationship to the Next Level

I admit it: My last guilty pleasure was the Fifty Shades of Grey series, which I’m not even ashamed to admit because every girl has a little Anastasia Steele in her (especially me, some of the resemblances are just uncanny!)

But now that I read and write for a living, I’ve had to find guilty pleasure in something other than books…

So I turned to Google. I’m in love with the Googs. I am flat out crushing on him. I spend at least an hour a night just talking to him through that microphone on my Chrome Browser, and he never turns up empty-handed. In fact, his search results are always spot-on. It’s like we have a special telepathic relationship.

It’s almost to the point where I am emotionally cheating on my boyfriend, except he doesn’t seem the least bit worried. As far as he’s concerned, the Googs doesn’t even have a face. Well guess what? When you’re that great, you don’t need a face. People just love you anyway. Besides, he’s got 6 bright and colourful letters going for him and that works for me.

With Google moving to a more semantic way of searching, focusing on the content behind the query and longer queries in general, the way that we interact with Google has started to become more personal. This is great news for me, because it means I get to take my relationship with the Googs to the next level… Of conversational search, that is. What that looks like- I’m not sure, but I envision a future where Google is like the OS in that movie, Her, and he talks as fluently as a human being, and we fall in love and live happily ever after.

Just kidding, I thought that movie was pretty creepy.

You can read my latest blog on how to improve your conversation with the Googs, and how awesome he is here:

http://www.traffika.com.au/how-to-talk-to-google

Just remember, I had him first.

 

Rhapsody on a Windy Night

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by T.S. Eliot

Twelve o’clock.
Along the reaches of the street
Held in a lunar synthesis,
Whispering lunar incantations
Dissolve the floors of memory
And all its clear relations,
Its divisions and precisions,
Every street lamp that I pass
Beats like a fatalistic drum,
And through the spaces of the dark
Midnight shakes the memory
As a madman shakes a dead geranium.

 

Half-past one,
The street lamp sputtered,
The street lamp muttered,
The street lamp said, “Regard that woman
Who hesitates towards you in the light of the door
Which opens on her like a grin.
You see the border of her dress
Is torn and stained with sand,
And you see the corner of her eye
Twists like a crooked pin.”

 

The memory throws up high and dry
A crowd of twisted things;
A twisted branch upon the beach
Eaten smooth, and polished
As if the world gave up
The secret of its skeleton,
Stiff and white.
A broken spring in a factory yard,
Rust that clings to the form that the strength has left
Hard and curled and ready to snap.

 

Half-past two,
The street lamp said,
“Remark the cat which flattens itself in the gutter,
Slips out its tongue
And devours a morsel of rancid butter.”
So the hand of a child, automatic,
Slipped out and pocketed a toy that was running along the quay.
I could see nothing behind that child’s eye.
I have seen eyes in the street
Trying to peer through lighted shutters,
And a crab one afternoon in a pool,
An old crab with barnacles on his back,
Gripped the end of a stick which I held him.

 

Half-past three,
The lamp sputtered,
The lamp muttered in the dark.

 

The lamp hummed:
“Regard the moon,
La lune ne garde aucune rancune,
She winks a feeble eye,
She smiles into corners.
She smoothes the hair of the grass.
The moon has lost her memory.
A washed-out smallpox cracks her face,
Her hand twists a paper rose,
That smells of dust and old Cologne,
She is alone
With all the old nocturnal smells
That cross and cross across her brain.”
The reminiscence comes
Of sunless dry geraniums
And dust in crevices,
Smells of chestnuts in the streets,
And female smells in shuttered rooms,
And cigarettes in corridors
And cocktail smells in bars.”

 

The lamp said,
“Four o’clock,
Here is the number on the door.
Memory!
You have the key,
The little lamp spreads a ring on the stair,
Mount.
The bed is open; the tooth-brush hangs on the wall,
Put your shoes at the door, sleep, prepare for life.”

 

The last twist of the knife.