Friday, September 18, 2009

Poetry Friday: This fall, it's all about Keats

Jane Campion's Bright Star releases today. It tells the fevered love story of Fanny Brawne and (doomed) Johnny Keats. I was as in love with Keats -- or possibly more -- than Fanny Brawne could ever have been, or at least that's what I believed when I was about thirteen. At one time I had almost all his sonnets by heart, including the one that lends its name to Campion's film. My sister and I used to recite together "When I Have Fears," and I spent many a biology class writing out "Ode to a Nightingale" so I would be able to memorize it. (Now I turn it over in my head when I'm in the dentist's chair. Very calming.)

I thought about posting "Bright Star" here today, but I have to say it was never one of my favorites. So here's a little ditty that I have long loved, and that I'm even now working with a most-admired artist to turn into a picture book. It was written with a different kind of love by Keats for another Fanny, his younger sister, Fanny Keats. Now, in my dotage, this might be my most beloved Keats poem of all.


There was a naughty Boy,
A naughty boy was he,
He would not stop at home,
He could not quiet be --
He took
In his Knapsack
A Book
Full of vowels
And a shirt
With some towels --
A slight cap
For night cap --
A hair brush,
Comb ditto,
New Stockings
For old ones
Would split O!
This Knapsack
Tight at's back
He rivetted close
And followed his Nose
To the North,
To the North,
And follow'd his nose
To the North.


There was a naughty boy
And a naughty boy was he,
For nothing would he do
But scribble poetry --
He took
An ink stand
In his hand
And a pen
Big as ten
In the other,
And away
In a Pother
He ran
To the mountains
And fountains
And ghostes
And Postes
And witches
And ditches
And wrote
In his coat
When the weather
Was cool,
Fear of gout,
And without
When the weather
Was warm --
Och the charm
When we choose
To follow one's nose
To the north,
To the north,
To follow one's nose
To the north!


There was a naughty boy
And a naughty boy was he,
He kept little fishes
In washing tubs three
In spite
Of the might
Of the maid
Nor afraid
Of his Granny-good-
He often would
Hurly burly
Get up early
And go
By hook or crook
To the brook
And bring home
Miller's thumb,
Not over fat,
Minnows small
As the stall
Of a glove,
Not above
The size
Of a nice
Little Baby's
Little fingers --
O he made
'Twas his trade
Of Fish a pretty Kettle
A Kettle --
A Kettle
Of Fish a pretty Kettle
A Kettle!


There was a naughty Boy,
And a naughty Boy was he,
He ran away to Scotland
The people for to see -
There he found
That the ground
Was as hard,
That a yard
Was as long,
That a song
Was as merry,
That a cherry
Was as red --
That lead
Was as weighty,
That fourscore
Was as eighty,
That a door
Was as wooden
As in England --
So he stood in his shoes
And he wonder'd,
He wonder'd,
He stood in his shoes
And he wonder'd.

-- John Keats, 1816

Monday, September 14, 2009

Shaving My Legs for Dan Brown

When I was growing up, shaving your legs was a political act. Shaving was one of the things we were liberating ourselves from. If we shaved our legs, we were on the side of the Establishment. Our consciousness was not raised. We had bought in.

Of course, I was picking up all this sloganeering from my older sisters, and was torn, so terribly torn. I wanted to shave my legs. Desperately. I remember convincing myself that I had super-hairy legs and that I couldn't be grown up until I had permission to savage them with a sharp object. This was back when we had parents who monitored these kinds of things.

A sweet little pink ladies' razor won out over politics: a harbinger of my later life. (My sister's the labor union president; my brother is the policy wonk.) I loved that little razor so much. I got it as a present for my 12th birthday. And I must have shaved my legs at least eight times before I realized what a sap I was for buying into this particular aspect of personal grooming. Shaving your legs wasn't political for me. It was just hard work (those cuts!) and relentless (it grew back!) and time consuming (I could have been reading Little Women!).

This morning, I forgot to shave my legs in the shower. I usually don't -- turns out I don't have such hairy legs and I have pretty much reduced shaving to Memorial Day and 4th of July. But tonight I was headed to the publication party for Dan Brown's new book, The Lost Symbol, which is represented by our agency. I thought that shaving my legs was the least I could do. That's when the little pink razor came back to me.

The party was elegant; the cake was fanciful (a replica of the Capitol); the speeches were polished; and nobody noticed what shape my legs were in, except me. We all got a copy of the book, signed, and I was home in time to start reading. Tonight, my politics will take the form of chasing around D.C. with Robert Langdon. Tomorrow, I'll air-kiss the razor goodbye till next summer.

And at some point, I'll tell you where I stand on lipstick.