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Author Archive: "Katie Haegele"

As Philly as a Cheesesteak

Someone just forwarded me one of those online quizzes, and even though those are silly I took this one because it's on the always fascinating subject of language. More specifically, it's about regional accents. When you answer the questions about how you pronounce certain words the thing is supposed to tell you where you're from — or what you talk like now, anyway. Some online discussions indicate that the test gives inaccurate results at least some of the time, which isn't surprising. But I answered the 13 questions and got the exactly correct result: "Your accent is as Philadelphian as a cheesesteak," it told me. Yeeeah, you know it.

I'm telling you about this because one language myth that's taken annoying hold in the popular consciousness is the belief that regional accents are disappearing because of some supposedly homogenizing effect of the mass media. This. Is. Not. True. Accents and languages are constantly shifting, but the variations among our American regional accents have not been erased. (Even in the mass media we hear a variety of accents, for goodness' sake. Dr. Phil doesn't sound like the actors in King of Queens, right?) ...


Christmastime, my mom's living room, visiting relatives, small talk, blah. People I don't know that well were talking about things I don't know much about, like the Eagles and High Definition TV. I just smiled and let my mind drift. Ha ha, I thought. H.D. Like the poet. They should make that. All Hilda Doolittle, all the time, like those radio stations you hear about that play nothing but Led Zeppelin, or the stores that open up in September to sell only Halloween stuff. Every channel would have a free-verse story about the Greeks gods or a perfect, striking image of the rain. Yeah, that'd be awesome.

Everyone kept talking and eventually I realized that I have H.D.TV, sort of. I may be a person with a 12-inch TV and no cable hook-up, but I'm also a person who received the Poetry on Record: 98 Poets Read Their Work for Christmas. And let me tell you, the major entertainment around here lately has been listening to poets of the 19th, 20th, and 21st century read their work.

And yes, I said 19th. When I opened the lovely 4-CD set I saw that the first readers were Tennyson, Robert Browning, ...

An Open Letter to Mr. Schaeffer

Dear Mr. Schaeffer,

There's a kid in one of the houses behind my apartment building who's learning to play the trumpet. It sounds terrible. And it keeps reminding me of you.

It's reminding me of how exciting it was to leave class early once a week with the other flute players (the flautists!), especially in fifth grade when we had Sister Mary. It's reminding me of how, unlike us shorter people on permanent lockdown, you weren't there all day, every day, and I always wondered where you went when you left. Did you go home? Did you go to another school to teach kids in different uniforms how to play their brass, woodwinds, reeds, percussion? How in the world did you know how to play so many instruments?

Remember how you always tried to make us tap our toes to keep the rhythm as we played, and none of would do it because it looked dorky? I get that now. I didn't turn out to be much of a musician but I write poetry, which is not that different from music. Or anything else that matters, really. Finding your rhythm is, like, everything.

Mr. Schaeffer, I'll tell you the truth — when ...

The Little Red Hen

Do you guys remember the story of The Little Red Hen? I didn't, but a woman I met at a craft fair last weekend told it to me. I was browsing the lovely ceramic hens she had for sale when she peeked out at me from behind her shelf and said, "When she wanted to make some bread, the little red hen asked, 'Who will help me plant the wheat?'

"'Not I,' said the little black dog.

"'Not I,' said the big orange cat.

"'Not I,' said the little yellow goose.

"'Then I will do it myself,' said the little red hen," said the lady. The same thing happened when the hen wanted someone to help her cut the wheat, grind it into flour, and so on. But when she needed help eating the bread, suddenly everyone was very helpful. To this the hen said, again, "Nope. I'll do it myself."

"Women should be proud of their work!" the lady continued, and I was like, Okay, I get it. I'd just woken up and was still a little crusty. But I brought one of the red-painted hens home and now it's sitting cheerfully on my kitchen counter, reminding me every time ...

The Pillowman (and Other Stories)

Once upon a time last week my friend Meg emailed to ask me if I had plans for that night. I didn't, so she kindly invited me out of my little apartment and we went to see the Wilma Theater's production of the newest Martin McDonagh play, The Pillowman. McDonagh is a London-Irish prodigy-type person. He's the only playwright to have had four plays running simultaneously on London's West End since Shakespeare, and that was when he was 27.

So I was excited. I wore a crazy, flouncy dress and Meg wore a dress and pants and legwarmers (she gets cold easily). As we queued up to enter the cozily small theater an announcement came over the PA: "The running time of this show is two hours and forty-five minutes." Meg and I looked at each other. Oy, we said with our eyes. An old guy, the usher, caught the look as he handed us programs.

"You won't be happy when you leave, either," he said drily. "It's not a happy play."

Well, no. The Pillowman is about this guy, Katurian, a writer, who's been taken into police custody in ...

A Life Less Ornery

Well, happy birthday, Noah Webster. On October 16, 1758, Noah was born in Hartford, Connecticut, the son of a farmer and weaver, and he grew up to edit the first American dictionary, a project that took him 27 years to complete. His book was special because it wasn't just a speller for Americans to use — it was a record of the English used by Americans, which in colonial times was already distinct from British English.

Last year I spent a few months in Ireland, during which time I was delighted to hear all manner of Dublinisms being used. But apparently I too sounded funny. One day I was taking a walk with a friend when out of the blue he asked me, "Do you ever use the word ornery?" Hm. "Yeah, when it applies," I told him, thinking of the disagreeable shop girls in just about every store I'd been to in Dublin that day. Turns out ornery is an American word, which my friend knew but I didn't until I got home and looked it up in my housemate's (British) dictionary. Most etymologies put ornery's date of birth at 1816. It comes from ...

Feverish Fine Small Mechanisms (and Other Useful Things)

A few weeks ago I found an awesomely weird book at a church rummage sale. In a box with other dusty things was this small but serious-looking hardbound book called Man Made Plain: The Poet in Contemporary Society. Huh.

Apparently during the '50s a Harvard sociologist named Robert N. Wilson made a study of "the poet" and what made him tick. This sociologist, who died in 2002, took a sociologist's approach to his topic: he researched and conducted interviews and even administered a psychological test to a number of poets and other writers.

Turns out Robert Wilson was really smart, and he really liked poetry. Much of his book reads more like a good English class than I imagined a sociological study would sound, but the very existence of it is sociologically interesting. I mean, he wouldn't have needed a study to understand the poet's role if he didn't consider it a marginalized one to begin with. And while I'm well aware that the reading of poems isn't as popular a pastime these days as watching youtube, I didn't really know whether poetry was hurtin' 50 years ago, too. Evidently it was. In the book's foreword ...

Science Fiction Food for Feminist Babies

Editor's note: Katie Haegele lives near Philadelphia, where she writes and creates zines. Obsessive PowellsBooks.BLOG readers (we mean that in the best possible way) may recognize her as the author of an article Brockman linked to in the Book News of August 24. Today we offer the first in a series of posts from Katie. Look for another the week after next.

Every other week I review a new YA book for the Philadelphia Inquirer, and I've been amazed to see how much wonderful stuff is being published for younger readers these days. Case in point: a new William Blake biography by a Canadian writer named Michael Bedard. As a biography subject, Blake is always a crowd-pleaser, I guess: he was eccentric, inventive, and pleasingly in touch with his dark side. But as Bedard tells us, the crowds were not always pleased with Blake. In addition to being a painter he was an engraver — that's how he put all those fabulously bizarre illustrated poems of his on paper — but he never got much commercial work as a tradesman. His style was too weird. It was also too labor-intensive, which ...

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