Monday, November 17, 2014

New York haikus, vol. 3

So, our friend Mary, a veteran New Yorker, says we're nuts to think about making Thanksgiving dinner in our tiny apartment. In this food-crazy city, there IS an alternative, just one more subject for a November haiku . . .

Walking on Broadway,
this way, then that, with never
a wind at my back.


Bagels rise, tempting
lips, puffing hips, pleasures of
the tongue, like smoke rings.


Kitchen holiday
gobble-gobbles in Gotham:
Thanksgiving takeout!


Next-table talk: Who
takes care of her kids while she’s
taking care of theirs?


Winter’s bite so slight
it might still seem fall till gusts
draw tears and ice ears.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

A restless reader in New York

Since coming to New York City earlier this year, I’ve kept a bunch of New York books on my nightstand. Among them are the journals of Alfred Kazin, which I recently finished, and the diary of George Templeton Strong. Kazin was one of the premier literary critics in the country during the 20th century, Strong a lawyer who began keeping his diary in his youth

Detail of the Louisiana monument at Gettysburg, which is discussed in "What
the rebels won at Gettysburg" from top-25 list. (David Sullivan photo). 
In Strong’s case, I’m hoping his almost legendary account of the Civil War years will provide fodder for this blog, but mainly I’m trying to steep myself in New York history.

I am a restless reader. I read Thomas Berger’s obituary in the New York Times earlier this year and picked up his best known book, Little Big Man. What a treat! Maybe not Mark Twain but in the same neighborhood.

Most years I buy the Booker Prize winner. I read this year’s, Richard Flanagan’s harrowing The Narrow Road to the Deep North, with deep interest. Years ago, I helped Steve Raymond, a Bataan Death March survivor, get his memoir into print. Though a novel, Flanagan’s book tells a similar story; because a novel, its author imagines the inner lives of the Japanese captors as well as the ordeal of their Australian prisoners.

Vera Brittain’s memoir and journal are among my favorite books about World War I. Now, to fulfill a desire to read at least one more book about this war during the centennial year of its beginning, I’ve started Poilu. This is the marvelous diary-cum-memoir of a French barrel-maker who survived four years in the trenches.


Even though I have added few posts to the Our War blog during the last month, readership remains strong, for which I thank you. Page-views have now reached more than 54,000.  Even the haikus I’ve been writing about my wife Monique’s and my early days in New York have attracted eaders.

Here are the top 25 blog posts all-time on the basis of page-view count. Their numbers range from 1,123 to 266. The numbers in parenthesis are last month’s rankings.

9. A Gettysburg journal (part 3) (9)

           A gift from the heart (19)


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

New York City haikus, vol. 2

From the fall harvest . . .

Wild roses still bloom
on sycamore continents
as November knocks.


All thumbs on I-phone
except when I want to type.
Bee. Ex. Zee. Delete.


Windows flash pumpkin
on high. Whiteface Joker grins.
Wee Batman cowers.


Bruegel’s harvesters,
oblivious on their slope
to our dancing eyes.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

'Our country is on the very brink of ruin'

Some elections matter more than others. The 1863 gubernatorial election in New Hampshire mattered, to the state as well as the nation. Below this post is a broadside that sold on eBay the other day. Behind it is the story of that election.

The Republicans had held the governor’s office through 18 months of war, but they were in danger of losing it in 1863 – and they knew it. The Union army had just been defeated at Fredericksburg. The Democrats were howling over the fratricidal war and President Lincoln’s liberal interpretation of his constitutional war powers. “The Constitution as it is” was a Democratic slogans.

Walter Harriman
Because states controlled the raising of soldiers, the Lincoln administration wanted a friend in every northern governor’s office.  New Hampshire Republicans were so rattled by worries about defeat that they considered nominating a pro-war Democrat for governor.

They also invited Edward E. Cross, colonel of the 5th New Hampshire and a feisty Democrat who had been badly wounded twice, to speak at their nominating convention on New Year’s Day in 1863.  Since May, Cross’s regiment had fought at Fair Oaks, in the Seven Days battles, at Antietam and at Fredericksburg.

The War Democrat the Republicans invited to run for governor was Walter Harriman, colonel of the 11th New Hampshire. Like the 5th, the 11th had just suffered losses in the fiasco at Fredericksburg.

Harriman turned them down. He sent his rejection through A.P. Davis, a delegate to the convention from Warner, where Harriman also lived. “Having understood that some of my personal friends propose to compliment me with their votes in the convention of January 1st for the nomination of a candidate for governor, I address you this brief line to say I can by no means be considered a candidate,” Harriman wrote.

In the American political tradition of ignoring such demurrals, a Republican delegate nominated Harriman anyway. On the first ballot Joseph A. Gilmore received 276 votes, but Harriman came in second. Gilmore, a railroad magnate from Concord, won a majority and the nomination on the second ballot, but Harriman’s vote total rose from 96 to 155.

News of this outcome no doubt influenced what Harriman did next. When Republican friends, fearful of defeat in the March 10 election, asked him to enter the race as a third-party candidate – a War Democrat – Harriman said yes. If he could steal votes from Peace Democrats, he was glad to oblige as long as “Democrat” appeared next to his name. On February 17, three weeks before the election, the Union Party met in Manchester and unanimously nominated him.

Writing to a Manchester newspaper editor from Newport News, Va., on Feb. 25, Harriman spelled out his reasoning. In the broadside below, printed and distributed during the waning days of the campaign, the Republicans used Harriman’s words from this letter in an effort to get out their vote. The broadside suggested to voters that it was the Republican Party and the pro-war faction of the Democratic Party that were embracing the Constitution.

“Those who are holding out promises of peace, without presenting any reasonable grounds for the hope of peace, are giving the Union cause a stab, the fatal consequences of which the present age cannot fathom,” the broadside quoted Harriman. “Be not deceived. ‘Peace,’ in the present juncture, means the disunion of the Union and eternal war. It means more; it means anarchy, which comprises all the woes of earth to civilized man.”

Harriman also wrote in the Newport News letter: “My duties and cares are military, and not political.” But because the convention has stated “sentiments substantially my own, and unanimously invited me to bear, in the present campaign, the old flag of the Union, I hardly feel at liberty to withhold the use of my name. . . .

“Our country is on the very brink of ruin; let us suppress every thought except the one patriotic desire to benefit and to save it.”

To show that Southerners were finding comfort “in the diseased condition of Northern sentiment,” Harriman quoted William L. Yancey, a Southern fire-eater. Yancey had written: “We have something to hope, however, from this division of the councils of our enemies – from their fierce party strife and jealousies; upon this hope let us build our own unity; upon their jealousies let us build our own harmony; upon these clashings of party interest let us bind together our patriotic energies.”

The broadside below took up Harriman’s themes. It urged that New Hampshire voters recognize southern treason and cast their votes for upholding the Constitution and bringing about peace by winning the war.

In the end Harriman’s third-party candidacy did just well enough to deny the Democratic gubernatorial candidate a majority. You can read that story here and here.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Worth a look

Here is a list of posts I think you'll like:

‘Oh this pen cannot describe my feelings’: A mother laments that her only son has gone off to war. 

‘The whole face of nature smiled at harvest time’: The 14th New Hampshire in battle at Winchester.

Remembering Lincoln: The thoughts of a New Hampshire U.S. senator who knew him well.

‘It would be a pleasure to linger here’: A New Hampshire reporter writes from Gettysburg.

Captain Gordon’s war: From the letters of a 2nd New Hampshire officer.

From Fredericksburg to war’s end: A pious private’s life at the front. 

A Confederate captain at Gettysburg: An articulate rebel tells the other side of the story

Making the Civil War relevant: A teacher’s thoughts about the Civil War and young people.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

New York City haikus, vol. 1

Observations, fall 2014, mostly while walking down Broadway, across Central Park and along the Hudson:

Missed Jay-Z, sor-ry,
No music to ancient ears.
Frick instead: Ver-meers!

Five dogs on leashes,
flower petals in the sun.
Lead boxer? Pink shades.

Smooth sailing today
but at Hudson River docks
bare masts creak and sway.

Skinless umbrella –
pedestrian collision?
Poppins disaster?

Passing tongues trill:
Da-nyet, I was like, jawohl,
¡hola! Amerika.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

It's all in the dress

Animal Dress

The night before she went back to college,
she went through my sweater drawer, so when she left
          she was in
black wool, with maroon creatures
knitted in, an elk branched across her
chest, a lamb on her stomach, a cat,
an ostrich. Eighteen, she was gleaming with a haze
gleam, a shadow of the glisten of her birth
when she had taken off my body – that thick coat, cast
off after a journey. In the elevator
door window, I could see her half-profile –
strong curves of her face, like the harvest
moon, and when she pressed 1,
she set. Hum and creak of her descent,
the backstage cranking of the solar system,
the lighted car sank like a contained
calm world. Eighteen years
I had been a mother! In a way now I was past it –
resting, watching our girl bloom.
And then she was on the train, in her dress
like a zodiac, her body covered with
the animals that carried us in their
bodies for a thousand centuries
of sex and death, until flesh knew itself, and spoke.

Oh, so many wonders propel this poem. The challenge for its maker is that a poem that is ultimately about the power of language needs to show that power as well as declare it. This one is full of visual language – words that make pictures. The reader sees his or her way through the narrative.

But even when the words are visual, they can also chime to ear and please tongue. Gleam, gleam, glisten – language that sounds beyond the page.  Creak, crank, sank. And then the intensity of mother looking at daughter and the beautiful metaphors: “strong curves of her face, like the harvest moon” and the mother’s body, at birth, as “that thick coat cast off after a long journey.”

Olds has written thousands of poems about her family. Like this one, most of them seek the universal in the particular, “the backstage cranking of the solar system” in “the hum and creak of her descent.” This poem captures a moment, a scene, but also the mother-daughter bond as a child comes of age.

Even more, the poem articulates the thought stirred by all those animals on the sweater dress: evolution’s gift of words to convey feeling, beauty and meaning.