For National Poetry Month: Mary Wroth, Pamphilia to Amphilanthus

Since it’s National Poetry Month, I’m dedicating each Monday post in April to sharing my favorite poetry with you. I hope you’ll share with me too!

Lady Mary Wroth

Lady Mary Wroth

This week features one of my favorite early modern (i.e. Shakespeare’s time period) writers. I long ago committed this sonnet to memory because I find it exactly expresses that feeling of falling in love and not being ready for it.

These 14 lines tell the story of the speaker, Pamphilia, and how one night she dreams that Venus, the goddess of love, comes to her. Though Pamphilia begs Venus’s son Cupid not to shoot his arrow of love into her heart, he does anyway and Pamphilia wakes up to find that she is irrevocably in love.

When night’s black mantle could most darkness prove,
And sleep, death’s image, did my senses hire
From knowledge of myself, then thoughts did move
Swifter than those, most swiftness need require.

In sleep, a chariot drawn by winged desire
I saw, where sat bright Venus, Queen of Love,
And at her feet her son, still adding fire
To burning hearts, which she did hold above;

But one heart flaming more than all the rest
The goddess held, and put it to my breast.
‘Dear son, now shoot,’ said she, ‘Thus must we win.’

He her obeyed, and martyred my poor heart.
I, waking, hoped as dreams it would depart;
Yet since, O me, a lover I have been.

Behind “Holidays With Jane”: Lionfish Festival

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In my latest Jane Austen adaptation, “No Vacancy at Mansfield Motel,” a modern Fanny Price is an aspiring marine biologist tasked with keeping tabs on a local coral reef. On one of her dives, she notices that a group of lionfish have made her precious reef their new residence.

Fanny reached on to the platform at the back of the pontoon boat and grabbed her waterproof clipboard and pencil. She dove again, ready this time with her scientist’s eye. Before she reached the reef, she was already counting the numbers of snook and sheepshead fish swimming around. She noted that a new tube sponge was growing on the far side of the reef. And there, unfortunately, were a few lionfish that had come to stay. She’d have to come back out with the spear and take care of them before they destroyed the reef.

For those of you who haven’t ever seen a lionfish, here’s a good-looking fella:

Lion_fish

They can be a very beautiful fish and collectors frequently like them in their aquariums, but they can also be very dangerous.

Lionfish

See those spines on the top of his head? They contain venom that isn’t usually lethal to humans but will cause a lot of pain and crappy symptoms for a few days. For the fish that live on the coral reefs, the venom is deadly. Most fish have learned to stay away from this predator.

Lionfish are also dangerous to coral reefs because they are what’s called an “invasive species.” That is, they are not native to the east coast of the United States, so they have virtually no predators. Without predators, the lionfish are able to reproduce and take over. This can be devastating to the delicately balanced marine ecosystem.

lionfishlogo-1024x651Enter Lionfish Festivals! In recent years, local communities in South Florida (and other places along the east coast and gulf coasts) have started taking matters into their own hands. In my own hometown, we have an annual festival, a 24-hour period where individuals and teams try to catch as many lionfish as they can. There are prizes for the most fish caught, for the biggest and smallest fish caught, and even for the best lionfish dish! (Once you remove the venomous spines, the fish itself it safe to eat.)

What do you think? Would you like to hunt some lionfish? Or maybe you’d just like to read about Fanny Price? You can get your copy of the newest Holidays With Jane collection right here.

For National Poetry Month: Walt Whitman’s “Song of the Open Road”

Since it’s National Poetry Month, I’m dedicating each Monday post in April to sharing my favorite poetry with you. I hope you’ll share with me too!

Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman

I’m fairly new to “Song of the Open Road,” having just “discovered” it this past year. Before then, I’d pretty much stuck to the well-known Walt Whitman poems celebrating President Lincoln or the ever-popular “Song of Myself.”

But I am so happy I finally spent some time with my copy of Leaves of Grass because this long poem met me where I was in my life and accompanied me a ways down the road.

In the long-ish poem (though relatively short for a Whitman ramble), the speaker speaks about the longing to run away from the world, a longing I think we all feel now and then. He travels, meets people, and realizes many things about himself along the way. And, in that way Whitman has of articulating what it means to ramble and to celebrate life, he invites us to walk with him for awhile.

You can read the entire poem here. But here are some of my favorite verses:

from section 1:

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.

Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,
Strong and content I travel the open road.

The earth, that is sufficient,
I do not want the constellations any nearer,
I know they are very well where they are,
I know they suffice for those who belong to them.

from section 5:

I inhale great draughts of space,
The east and the west are mine, and the north and the south are mine.

I am larger, better than I thought,
I did not know I held so much goodness.

from section 11:

Listen! I will be honest with you,
I do not offer the old smooth prizes, but offer rough new prizes,
These are the days that must happen to you:
You shall not heap up what is call’d riches,
You shall scatter with lavish hand all that you earn or achieve,
You but arrive at the city to which you were destin’d, you hardly settle yourself to satisfaction before you are call’d by an irresistible call to depart,
You shall be treated to the ironical smiles and mockings of those who remain behind you,
What beckonings of love you receive you shall only answer with passionate kisses of parting,
You shall not allow the hold of those who spread their reach’d hands toward you.

from section 15:

Camerado, I give you my hand!
I give you my love more precious than money,
I give you myself before preaching or law;
Will you give me yourself? will you come travel with me?
Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?

Behind “Holidays With Jane”: Artificial Coral Reefs

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One of the main elements in my Mansfield Park adaptation for the latest Holidays With Jane collection is an artificial coral reef that Fanny considers her second home.

As Fanny swam up to the surface for a breath, she wondered what this part of the ocean had looked like sixty years ago when her grandfather had first sunk the concrete blocks that formed the base of the flourishing reef she cared for today. It must have been a barren, sandy patch without much life around it. And now it was a vibrant ecosystem. Fanny was proud that Uncle Thomas had trusted her to watch it while he was away.

Coral reefs are some of the most sensitive ecosystems on the planet. Even small changes in ocean temperature or chemicals in the water or even an increase or decrease of salt in the water can have devastating effects, leaving the entire ecosystem out of balance.

Coral can look like rocks, but they are actually huge colonies of tiny animals. As the animals grow and die, they leave behind small deposits. In this way, the reefs grow very slowly. So any trauma they suffer can set a reef back many, many years. Knowing that building the bulk of the reef is a big obstacle to building reef health, people all over have started sinking artificial reefs to help the coral along.

Boulder coral

Boulder coral

In my story, Fanny’s grandfather has sunk some concrete blocks. But artificial reefs can develop virtually anywhere! In my hometown area, we have reefs built out of concrete blocks, sections of old bridges, old barges, and even old railroad cars!

Have you ever visited a coral reef? Share your story in the comments! And make sure to get your copy of Holidays With Jane: Spring Fever here.