In Which Ella Memorizes Poetry for Sport

“Pippa! Pippa! Pippa! Want to hear me recite ‘Litany’ by Billy Collins?” was the first thing I said when Pippa arrived home from boarding school for her spring break.

And because we were still in that delightful 24-hour period before we start arguing, she agreed. So I recited and she laughed in the appropriate places and my mother noted that I’ve been reciting it for anyone who is in the general vicinity for days now.

I should probably tone down my delight over having memorized another piece, but it’s one of my favorite poems, and I tend to heavily proselytize anything I develop an extreme fondness for, no matter the other person’s level of interest. (This is why at my sixteenth birthday party, I forced all of my friends to watch Miracle, a movie about the 1980s Olympic Hockey Team and paused it every few minutes to explain what was happening. Surprisingly, no one was as quite as enthusiastic about the film as I was.)

Here’s the poem:

Litany by Billy Collins

You are the bread and the knife,
The crystal goblet and the wine…
-Jacques Crickillon

You are the bread and the knife,
the crystal goblet and the wine.
You are the dew on the morning grass
and the burning wheel of the sun.
You are the white apron of the baker,
and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.

However, you are not the wind in the orchard,
the plums on the counter,
or the house of cards.
And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.
There is just no way that you are the pine-scented air.

It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge,
maybe even the pigeon on the general’s head,
but you are not even close
to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.

And a quick look in the mirror will show
that you are neither the boots in the corner
nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.

It might interest you to know,
speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the sound of rain on the roof.

I also happen to be the shooting star,
the evening paper blowing down an alley
and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.

I am also the moon in the trees
and the blind woman’s tea cup.
But don’t worry, I’m not the bread and the knife.
You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and–somehow–the wine.

I love to memorize. I love the entertainment and comfort of being able to repeat things to myself when I’m bored. My repertoire of facts, geography, sections of books, monologues, and poems means that I never run out of something to do even while stuck in long lines or waiting rooms. Mentally labeling states’ capitals is a lot more fun than Women’s Health Magazine or pamphlets on diabetes.

Plus, Pippa and I often turn it into a competition. We love to recite over each other, trying to outdo the other in volume, length of the piece, and difficulty. Usually, she wins with her rendition of the first fifty lines of the Prologue of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, which she does–I kid you not–in Middle English. Long Shakespeare monologues don’t quite measure up.

I only thought of this today because I was rereading The Fault in Our Stars this past weekend, and in it the main character, Hazel, recites quite a bit of poetry. Unfortunately, my collection of poems is rather small, so I decided that it needed some improving. People much prefer listening to a poem during a long car ride than listening to me try to beat my time reciting the U.S. presidents or list the state capitals in alphabetical order.

So I drew up a list, and I’m going to knock one out every day for the next few weeks. Tomorrow, I work on A Pact by Ezra Pound.

I make a pact with you, Walt Whitman—
I have detested you long enough.
I come to you as a grown child
Who has had a pig-headed father;
I am old enough now to make friends.
It was you that broke the new wood,
Now is a time for carving.
We have one sap and one root—
Let there be commerce between us.

Do you have any favorite poems? I’m always looking for new poetry to read.

As always, you can also find me on tumblr at, if, you know, you’re into that kind of thing.

Ella’s Shocking Discovery

Today, I discovered something shocking: Not everyone likes The Great Gatsby.

To be clear: Some part of me always knew that this was true. Not every person likes every book. But the knowledge that someone would vehemently dislike what I deem to be the masterpiece to end all masterpieces is very difficult to comprehend.

This should not have made me cry.

Or sulk in my room for the next hour.

But it did.

Fingers crossed that tomorrow will be a better day.

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at, if you’re into that kind of thing.

In Which Ella Reviews The Name of the Star

It’s 2011, not 1888, but Jack the Ripper is loose in London, and once again he’s impossible to catch. Murdering women and this time also men right in front of the watchful eyes of the CCTV cameras, he’s recreating each of the six murders down to the exact dismembering of the bodies. And just like in 1888, he has the attention of the entire world.

Enter Rory, a seventeen-year-old girl from Louisiana attending Westford, a London boarding school. One night Rory catches a glimpse of a creepy man walking away from the scene of the fourth murder, the man the police believe to be their prime suspect. But there’s a catch—only Rory was able to see him, not even her roommate who was with her at the time or the CCTV camera pointed directly at the crime.

The Name of the Star will send tingles up your spine as you uncover the reasons for why only Rory can see the Ripper and keep you on the edge of your seat as you follow her attempts to catch him. But the book is more than just your average YA thriller. Sure, it’s got suspense and plenty of action, but it’s also a story of friendship in light of troubling times. Despite branching out into a new genre, Johnson retains her humorous and witty style that her fans adore. She will make you laugh out-loud with her descriptions of Rory’s family back home, her negligee-wearing grandmother and uncle who freezes jars of peanut butter and yogurt, and you’ll wish you had friends as loyal and fun as Rory’s new British ones. This book is impossible to put down and a must for the spooky Halloween season.

Warning: Do not read this thriller at night or you’ll find yourself unable to sleep for hours as every creak in the house sounds like the Ripper’s footfalls coming and closer to your bed.

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at, if you’re into that kind of thing.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Being Horribly Selfish

I spent a good portion of today reading Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone. I picked up an ARC (Advanced Reading Copy) a few days ago from my local bookstore because they wanted me to write a review for the store before the book comes out on September, 27th. And let me tell you, it is good. Like really, really good. It’s meal-skipping and sleep-depriving good. I don’t want to put it down.

I have suddenly found myself in desperate need of that teal feathered mask. Also, I need more teeth--my baby teeth and my few sharks' teeth just aren't cutting it--which is a reference you would get if you purchased the book, and you totally should. It's awesome.

A few minutes ago I opened up Laini Taylor’s blog, something I do a few times a day*, and read a few comments on one of her posts I had previously commented on. While I was doing this, my phone buzzed. I picked it up and saw that Stephanie Perkins, one of my favorite YA writers, had tweeted:

And I panicked. Disappointment washed over me like I had the desk under the emergency shower in AP Bio and someone had pulled down the lever, drenching me in cold water. I love this book, and I do desperately hope that Daughter of Smoke and Bone does make Laini Taylor very popular, but I want this to be my special thing and mine only. I don’t want to have to share her with other people.

I’m just going to have to settle for pouting and feeling smug that I got here first. And, you know, running around with the book held high over my head, demanding that anyone who will listen to me should read this book.

*I’ve been following her blog for years now.

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at, if you’re into that kind of thing.

In Which Ella Refrains from Griping

There are good days and there are rotten days. Today was one of the latter.

But as days go, it could have gone worse. No one died and no one was wounded. No one got cancer or was diagnosed with a terminal disease. No one got fired and no one got sick. No one even got a paper cut.

But what really made me happy today, one of the few things that did, was discovering something called Poetry 180, which is a program designed by Billy Collins for high school students to read a poem each day of the school year. Naturally, I spent about two and half hours this evening perusing the site.

I thought that I might share the first poem with you in hopes that it might also brighten your possibly rotten day.

Introduction to Poetry

by Billy Collins

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

If you click here, you can check out all of the poems. Enjoy!

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at, if you’re into that kind of thing.

In Which Ella Is T-I-R-E-D

Tonight feels like a good night for finishing “The Year of Living Biblically*” and going to bed before nine. Having so many people at the house kept me incredibly busy, and I am now very, very exhausted. I love my bed.

*In which a mostly secular man, A.J. Jacobs, tries to follow all the rules in the Bible–both the old and new testaments–for one year. It’s funny and a very interesting exploration of the Bible.

Idle Literary Musings

I finished Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse today, and it was excellent, really, really excellent. Woolf, like Joyce or Beckett, is a stream-of-consciousness writer, and she truly understands human thought.  Woolf chooses to tell the story through the viewpoints of a myriad of characters whose thoughts blend seamlessly into one another, creating an intricate – and sometimes confusing – web of narratives. Reading her work is a lot like reading Shakespeare.  You truly have to give yourself over to the prose, but once you’ve settled into her style, it’s lovely and very easy to understand. You’re not so much reading as you are becoming the characters and having their thoughts as they wander through life.

When I finished the book, I lay in bed for about twenty minutes with my knees making a tent out of the sheet as the cats slept next to me. The book moves with such grace and lyricism that when it all comes to a close you’re caught in a trance. I found myself repeating something that Mr. Ramsey thought, “the very stone that one kicks with one’s boot will outlast Shakespeare,” over and over again and thinking about the way it’s contrasted with Lily Briscoe’s conclusions at the end of the book. While Mr. Ramsey uses that thought to torture himself, Lily accepts that the fleeting nature of her painting and finds joy in having created it.

“There it was—her picture. Yes, with all its greens and blues, its lines running up and across, its attempt at something. It would be hung in the attics, she thought; it would be destroyed. But what did that matter? she asked herself, taking up her brush again. She looked at the steps; they were empty; she looked at her canvas; it was blurred. With a sudden intensity, as if she saw it clear for a second, she drew a line there, in the centre. It was done; it was finished. Yes, she thought, laying down her brush in extreme fatigue, I have had my vision.”

Isn’t that beautiful?

God, I love reading.

Toddlers and Poetry

I’ve discovered my new favorite thing: toddlers reciting poetry.

Litany is one of my all-time favorite poems. If Audrey gets Allen Ginsberg, then I get Billy Collins. Below is a video of him reading and explaining Litany. It’ll make you laugh.

On Audrey’s Adoration of Allen Ginsberg

Last night, after reading my post, Audrey asked me if I had read any Ginsberg.

Ginsberg? I thought, Like Ruth Bader Ginsberg? Sure, I’ve read peices of her decisions!

But I was wrong. Audrey was talking about Allen Ginsberg, the poet. He’s a little different from my favorite female Justice. The most pronounced of these differences is that Audrey’s kind of in love with him.

I’ve always really admired Audrey and the way that she allows herself to become infatuated with things. She lives life very passionately, grabbing onto ideas, music, books, periods of history, and people and immersing herself in them as she discovers all of its intricacies. She’s the sort of person to fall so deeply in love with a musical that she’ll go see it over and over and over again, until she knows every actor that has ever played the roles, when mistakes are made on stage, minute changes to the set, why each song was written, and the way that the actors will react when you try to get their autograph at the stage door. Best of all, she’ll bring you along for the ride, offering to go into the city with you at five a.m. to buy rush tickets and back again in the evening to see the show. She’ll stand outside with you, even though its nearly midnight and a school night, so that you can speak to the lead. And it’ll be so much fun that you’ll wish that you could be just like her and develop such beautiful obsessions.

I don’t know how, but Audrey’s suddenly found the Beat Generation and its literature. It’s all kinds of glorious and lovely, and she’s caught in a happy whirlwind of revelation. Last night, when the walls of anxiety were pressing in on me from all sides, she told me to look up A Supermarket in California, and oh my goodness was it beautiful. I mean, there was Walt Whitman, and food, and cataloging, and questions. I read it three times. And then over once more. Then I read King of May four times as well.

Today in second period, she generously handed over Howl. It’s wondrous and lyrical, and it makes me want to do nothing but read poetry all day long. Best of all, it has Whitman’s “Unscrew the locks from the doors! Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!” right on the title page. I’m entranced.

Once again, I’m being generously pulled along on another adventure with Audrey, and I’m so grateful.