Friday, September 30, 2005
Alan Garner: I grew up, as a child, with the Arthurian legend as part of my cultural background. I grew up in a rural working-class family in Alderley Edge, a hill sticking up out of the Cheshire plain just seven miles from where we're sitting now. My family were rural craftsmen. My grandfather could read, but didn't and so was virtually unlettered. The family did, however, have the last remains of a genuine oral tradition, which was the story of the King Asleep Under the Hill, being guarded by Merlin. The story is so deeply embedded in my psyche that I can't tell you when I first heard it. I've always known it, and it came to represent the whole of that rural, working-class part of my background.
It's a British phenomenon which is still a problem: the problem of the first-generation educated child. What happened to me, and what is still happening to other children, is that I was selected by our educational system as being worthy of education. The effect of this was to remove me from my cultural background, but to enable me to understand the price that was being paid, for this removal produces enormous tensions within the individual. So, as I learned formal, analytical, rational, and academic disciplines, I became aware, rationally and academically, of all that I was losing. My family could not cope with me, and I could not cope with my family. Emotionally, "my" legend came to stand for all that was being lost, and so it took on a poignant tone, Perhaps that poignancy is not there in the Matter of Britain, but I think it is. I was set firmly on an academic career when the writer in me, who I think was there from birth, started to emerge, to wake up and kick and say no, there are other things which you have to do, which are uniquely yours.
Robertson Davies: The Arthurian legend has been a part of my life since childhood. My father, of course, was Welsh, and the story of Arthur is very dear to the Welsh people. Britain, both during and after the Roman occupation, has always been important in my mind because I visited Wales a good many times with my father. I knew it well and visited many places with Arthurian associations. Glastonbury I've known for a very long time also.
As a boy I had a book of Arthurian legends, and about the age of sixteen or seventeen I became very interested in the work of that now rather neglected writer, Arthur Machen. He draws a good deal on Arthurian legend, often without writing about it directly although the feeling is there. Not very long afterwards, I fell under the influence of an author I consider a neglected master of the English novel, and that is John Cowper Powys. I read A Glastonbury Romance which is soaked in Arthurian feeling; then later Porius, which is about a young man who encounters Arthur and Merlin. Both figures are seen with great imaginative splendor. Powys has a marvelous feeling both for the ambience of the legend, and for what we can guess about the historical figure of the "dux bellorum" who took control after the Romans left Britain. His vision seized my imagination very strongly, and I became interested not only in what Arthur had meant one way or another to a wide variety of people, but also what he had not meant to some of them.
Susan Cooper: The struggle between the Light and the Dark in my books has more to do with the fact that when I was four World War II broke out. England was very nearly invaded by Germany, and that threat, reinforced by the experience of having people drop bombs on your head, led to a very strong sense of Us and Them. Of course Us is always the good, and Them is always the bad.
This sense must have stayed with me, and it put me into contact with all the other times that England has been threatened with invasion. We are such mongrels: we have been invaded over and over and over again from Scandinavia, from Ireland, from the Continent. This same fear and resistance--usually unsuccessful-- has been repeated throughout British history. All that goes into the collective subconscious, and, especially if you come from a generation which went through this experience in childhood, it becomes very much a part of your own imagination. So there is this sympathetic link between my growing up and what it must have been like when the real Arthur--what we know about him--was alive. You find this reflected in the books, especially the last.
Wasn't that good company and good frittering? And it reminded me that I dearly love that odd, magical giant of letters, John Cowper Powys... Maybe it's time to reread Wolf Solent and The Glastonbury Romance.
Thursday, September 29, 2005
--Edward Gorey, Ascending Peculiarity
Wednesday, September 28, 2005
As a person who lives in a village infiltrated by events and landscapes and structures from a handful of nineteenth-century novels, I find the recent online literary auction rather disturbing. I already troop around a semi-fictional world on a daily basis, and some of my stories fool with the fictional nature of the place. It's enough to make the head reel.
What would Borges say?
On the other hand, perhaps it was rather tempting to choose from becoming a rogue moon doomed to smash itself to smithereens against a doomed planet, a disgusting exotic disease, or an entire extraterrestrial tribe. All that, for little more than two thousand dollars.
Tuesday, September 27, 2005
I googled it, and discovered that the no-doubt beloved institution no longer exists. Not only that, but it has left almost no trace behind. In a teeny-tiny post fooling around with that jolly topic, his family cremains, Shane Simmons mentions the museum:
If you ever get a chance to go to a burial for ashes, I highly recommend the experience. Seeing the teeny-tiny grave is worth the price of admission alone. It sort of reminded me of my childhood visit to Montreal’s now-defunct midget museum where they kept all the teeny-tiny chairs and teeny-tiny cutlery and teeny-tiny toilets. It was all so cute. And, if a grave can indeed be cute, then gosh-darn-it this one was downright precious.
And Simmons' link takes us to a letter in the Mirror, where we can learn etiquette:
First, just to make sure that next time you write about this subject, you will avoid insulting some concerned persons: "shorties" and "midgets" are nowadays considered terms not to be used anymore, having been replaced by "little people" or, with a certain reserve, "dwarfs."
However, I note that the loss of good old words like midget and gimp is a sad diminution of the language...
I assert this despite the undeniable fact that I have frequently been referred to with some opprobium or reproach as a midget, owing to the fact that I refused to drink milk when I was an infant, a baby, a toddler, a child, or, indeed, at any other time in my life. And that unfortunate deficit led to an utter--an "utter and complete"--failure to fulfill my doctor's prognosis in the matter of future height.
Even in the bosom of my kin, I have occasionally found not the proper milk of human kindness but an unkind ridicule. Yet I am of a respectable height and taller than many shorties of my acquaintance.
As reflected in the Mirror, the Museum turned out to be a bit grander than I had imagined: I simply want to point out that the Midget's [sic] Palace was no more than a family house opened to the public as a museum.
See there? The Midget Palace.
Saturday, September 24, 2005
M., quoting Pullman: "I hate the Narnia books, and I hate them with deep and bitter passion, with their view of childhood as a golden age from which sexuality and adulthood are a falling-away."
R., age 10, astounded at the author's lack of understanding about fallings-away from the desirable condition of a happy childhood: "Well, they are."
Friday, September 23, 2005
--from Richard Jenkins, "Cherchez l'enfant" (an article about Rowling, Pullman, and the state of children's literature) in Prospect.
Conrad is grand on storms, but I feel more like Melville this morning.
Warmer climes but nurse the cruellest fangs; the tiger of Bengal crouches in spiced groves of ceaseless verdue. Skies the most effulgent but basket the deadliest thunders: gorgeous Cuba knows tornadoes that never swept tame northern lands. So, too, it is, that in these resplendent Japanese seas the mariner encounters the direst of storms, the Typhoon. It will sometimes burst from out that cloudless day, like an exploding bomb upon a dazed and sleepy town.
"You see, Mr. Starbuck, a wave has such a great long start before it leaps, all round the world it runs, and then comes the spring! But as for me, all the start I have to meet it, is just across the deck here."
Next morning the not-yet-subsided sea rolled in long slow billows of mighty bulk, and striving in the Pequod's gurgling track, pushed her on like giants' palms outspread. The strong, unstaggering breeze abounded so, that sky and air seemed vast outbellying sails; the whole world boomed before the wind. Muffled in the full morning light, the invisible sun was only known by the spread intensity of his place; where his bayonet rays moved on in stacks. Emblazonings, as of crowned Babylonian kings and queens, reigned over everything. The sea was as a crucible of molten gold, that bubblingly leaps with light and heat.
--from the "rhapsody run mad" (London Spectator, 1851) of Herman Melville's Moby-Dick
But life is full of merry little tricks and stratagems, and so when the vet's assistant came in and saw the cat waiting in the cage, he promptly neutered it!
And so ended, with much cussing, one Yankee vet's dream of being famous and maybe even rich from a dynasty of boy calico cats...
My husband, who is not a vet but has an aggravating ability to remember a little bit about everything (except faces and names), didn't let me get a sentence out of my mouth before announcing, Klinefelter's!
Explain yourself, I said--or something to that effect.
At which point I heard more than I really needed to know, the upshot being that the vet did not actually have a rare beast at all, but a mosaic with Klinefelter's syndrome--a male cat with abnormal XXY genetic makeup.
Like so many cat tales, there's something a bit fishy about it. I checked out the list of urban legends on cats. The calico barn cat was neither the bonsai kitten nor the chicken-cannon cat beloved of catapoultry lore, nor was it the chimaera of cat and rabbit (called cabbit), nor the star of the legend that declares that John Ashcroft ordered The Hague checked for calico cats--those wee rat-catching minions of the devil.
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
While shoveling out (with very large shovels) my writing room--a sort of dried-out bog of paper with occasional bog bodies in the form of mummified insects--I found three pages of talk from my youngest child, recorded just after he turned five. I'd inserted the long stream of chatter into a letter to my parents, far away.
It's mostly monologue, with a stray question here and there. The burblings cover lots of interesting ground: the differences between girls and boys, what a mama and a dada are good for, how to make an ill person feel happy (give him a toy gun, a pretty cake, a pretty little boy) , and so on.
Here's one of my favorite bits. It works well as advice for writers:
N: "A long story. It was a good story. It really was. Here comes Cockpit Man...
"Am I a genius? Am I a genius? Am I? Am I?
"I don't know. Am I a genius?
"What's a genius, what's a genius, what's a genius, what's a genius?"
M: "A really, really smart person. Do you think you are one?"
N: "Yeah, a genius. I am.
"Ow, ow, ow. I just clipped my finger. With Zurg. Ow, ow. It hurt me real bad. Do you know how I hurt myself? With this. With his arm. That thing's real sharp."
N: "That stupid genius!"
Later: I wrote that post before I remembered our annual "genius" hoopla: today Jonathan Lethem won a MacArthur. If I had expected anything, it would have been a name more obscure--Cinder Ash of Ramsine, Arkansas, or some such--a patient toiler magically uprooted from jobs and duties and set down on five sacks of gold. But I suppose that even a prince is not displeased with five sacks of gold and a dandy new crown and confetti and champagne all around!
Philip Lee Williams' first novel, The Heart of A Distant Forest (W. W. Norton, in the long-past literary year of 1984), has a new incarnation as a University of Georgia paperback. Merit rewarded...
Howard Bahr's The Judas Field is finally in production.
The Blue Moon Cafe IV anthology party that I missed in August was reported to be sultry, more than 100 degrees. Free-flowing refreshments were had by all and sweating Mississippi sundry. Meanwhile I was in the mountains.
Note to self: tell Sonny Brewer (editor of TBMCIV) that his first novel has materialized in the teeny-tiny Cooperstown library. That must mean something important. If it's there, it must have achieved A Ridiculous Ubiquity, worthy of champagne and confetti.
One of my penpals has lost his family home in Gulfport, swept away by Katrina. Only the front steps were left. That's a image out of a Southern high-summer nightmare: stand, reaching out for the door on the front steps to no time, at the entry to nothingness, in the archway to the dadgum yawning abyss where the generations vanished.
Friday, September 16, 2005
If you would like a "fair use," "first generation" copy for private use in legal accordance with copyright law (that sounds awful, but it just means your very own copy made from a copy of the magazine), leave me a note in the comments. I don't have a copy yet but should very soon...
Mars Hill Review, 25th issue: http://www.marshillforum.org/issues/toc25.shtm Perhaps you'd like to buy the grand finale!
What is legal fair use? See: http://www.arl.org/info/frn/copy/fairuse.html
* * *
Today I received three lovely copies of Blue Moon Cafe IV, the new MacAdam/Cage anthology, and I'm really pleased to be in the same issue as two of my writer penpals...
Thursday, September 15, 2005
* * *
Tell three stray thoughts you had over breakfast.
One, that our historical records will look just as violent and savage as, say, those of the Medieval world. But will we look, in the end, a lot less interesting?
Two, that Observatory Mansions finally was the right story with the right narrator to fit and make meaningful the fashionable flatness of so many of our books.
Three, that it is most annoying when one of three school-bound children decides abruptly that he no longer eats the thing labored over in the wee hours--in this case, a jolly Yank-style bowl of boiled oatmeal. Oh, the terrible discovery that there is the vile substance called milk in the oatmeal!
(Of course, I still prefer grits. Preferably with shrimp, fresh tomatoes, and eggs.)
Four, just because I refuse to be good: On his morning show, I wish Garrison Keillor would read more Yeats and Keats and so on and fewer poems about professors, dogs, and newspapers. This is a thought I think frequently over breakfast, after the children have departed.
Did you read over breakfast? Why or why not? What did you read, if you did so?
Nothing. Three children. The negotiation of calm, the appeasement of wrath, the cobbling together of homework.
Tell your dreams in one line.
Woke up with a shriek, dreaming of a bed with sleeping children all covered in white--something thick and plumey, with hangings everywhere--and outside a long, long hallway with the same white feathery things dangling from the walls and ceiling, going on and on, and I have to go down that soft, shadowy hall.
Sort of like Snow Babies run amuck. Two lines. Oops, three--now four.
Joy, they say, comes in the morning. What book(s) have you read lately that gave you a keen sense of that elusive quantity, painful or pleasant?
Recent? A stray anthology of poems called Tongues of Fire, plucked off a shelf and read over a dying man. Certain poems by Charles Causley. Yeats. Hopkins. Those are good reasons to read more poems.
Friday, September 09, 2005
Once I became ill while biking the perimeter in Ireland. For three days I slept in a tent outside the Galway door of an Irish playwright, the boyfriend of a classmate. On the third day he fed me a white meal, an Irish supper of boiled parsnips and boiled potatoes and boiled something else—chicken, was it?—and I felt resurrected. That day a sculptor came to visit, bringing with him two young poets. These, who were my age, had just published in their first anthology. They were well-known to the sculptor and playwright, who regarded them as the coming age of literature in Ireland. I don’t remember their names now; perhaps they were the coming age, or perhaps they were merely young and full of the poetry that is a still-dawning youth.
I was a very young poet; I had published many poems by then. But I was utterly unknown in the great big country that is the United States… I marveled at how the playwright and the sculptor praised and encouraged the two boy poets.
While I was away, doing what I could in the long, difficult summer that is now safely in the past and does not bear thinking about, not yet, I read Leena Krohn’s Tainaron. The idea of her little kingdom of metamorphosis and insects appealed to something in me. I was interested to find that she works in many forms, as I do. And so I like to imagine that she is the little girl in my fantasy of a small country, that she grew up with its welcome and found her place in Finland. I like to think that Leena the woman grew and changed and found the freedom to remake the way she wrote when it became too constraining. When she discovered that she could not fly the way she was, she made herself the small room of a cocoon—Woolf told us that we needed a room of our own—and transformed herself. She wrote what she wanted to write. She wrote in many forms. And it was allowed and was all right, the poems and children’s stories and novels and fables and whatever flew to her hand. Because the world she lived in was small enough to see her, even when she transformed and became unrecognizable to many. She was, of course, the same woman with the same soul, however she expressed herself.
That is, of course, my private fancy about a real human being, who is somewhere else on the globe, with a very real small country under her feet. No doubt she is having quite other thoughts about her past and present...
I liked Tainaron. In its loveliness and sense of death and distance and gritty decay, the book was just right for me this summer. The only other book I liked by summer’s end was the Psalms. Both of them came to me like figures long expected, with dust and moth wings in their outstretched hands.
Thursday, September 08, 2005
The curious thing is that the one who is lacking may achieve ascendancy over others of more experience and trustworthiness, especially in our day of slapdash web sites and online booksellers. Who can be seen as trustworthy? Well, I think a books editor who has long experience and is widely respected by writers and editors and readers is a good source. A writer who has published books of merit is another such. Among the welter of web sites, there are bloggers who are interesting and thoughtful. A full-length critique from one of these is usually a reliable review.
Yet I find that, again and again, perceptive and enthusiastic reviews from such figures are overshadowed by quick, unthinking pans from people who don't understand the book in question. I'm not talking about things such as "customer reviews," because these have their own fascination and interest. What I mean is the reprint of cursory book-in-brief magazine reviews, lacking in any support for a hastily scrawled opinion and widely shared through online booksellers and other sites.
Do online booksellers wish to be friends to the midlist writer? Shouldn't they portray the range of a writer's reviews and not take--as often happens--the most unattractive one or two available from a wealth of reviews? Does this add some sort of perverse "interest" and amusement to the bookseller's site, so that distortion is desirable? Does it have some other purpose?
Wednesday, September 07, 2005
These are beautiful, lyrical essays, with an interesting sensibility behind them. The history of their re-publication is astonishing, if you know anything about how very difficult it is to get a reprint on a book that has been out of circulation for almost fifty years. Over a year ago, the book was submitted to three publishers, was highly praised by all three and received offers from two. That's a score any writer would find quite acceptable. John Wilson (Books & Culture) and Lil Copan (Paraclete Press) helped us along the reprint path, and now the book is being launched by Seabury Books, an imprint of Church Publishing. One curious bit of rightness about the choice of publisher is that Fae's husband, Leo Malania, was instrumental in organizing and overseeing the revision of The Book of Common Prayer, published by Church.
"Fae Malania's lovely book is a small offering, like a hazelnut. Like the hazelnut, this book is a reminder of God's love. And like a hazelnut, it can unlock a world."
--Lauren Winner, author of Girl Meets God and Mudhouse Sabbath
"The resurrection of a good book is always cause for celebration. 'The Quantity of a Hazelnut' is a very good book indeed, neither extremely loud nor incredibly close but quietly unforgettable.
--John Wilson, Editor, Books & Culture
"With beautiful language and a winning confessional style, Malania offers a spiritual vision that is steeped in traditional Catholicism while open to truth in diverse places."
--Jana Reiss, author of What Would Buffy Do? The Vampire Slayer as Spiritual Guide
About the title of the book:
I had an awful dream once, it was a terrible dream, terrible things happened in it. There wasn't any future in my dream. It was all gone, lost, irretrievable; and by my fault, by my own fault.
At the deepest point of my despair, in the twinkling of an eye--though nothing was changed--everything was changed. I was holding--something--in the curve of my palm. Its weight was good to the hand, it was very solid, round. It might have been an apple, or a globe. It was all that mattered, and in it was everything. Even in my sleep, I think I cried for joy.
A long time later in the "Revelations" of Dame Julian of Norwich, a fourteenth-century English anchoress, I met my dream again, and I knew it at once.
"In this," she says (this vision or, as she always calls it, shewing)--"In this He shewed me a little thing, the quantity of a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand, and to my understanding it was as round as any ball. I looked thereupon and thought: 'What may this be?' And I was answered in a general way, thus: 'It is all that is made.' I marvelled how it could last, for methought it might fall suddenly to naught for littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: 'It lasts and ever shall last because God loves it, and so hath all-thing its being through the love of God."
--Fae Malania, The Quantity of a Hazelnut
On October 2nd at 11:30, we will have a launch party in the Parish Hall of Christ Church. If you would like to reserve a copy or copies of Fae's book (they are a mere $14.00!) with signature, please leave a comment or send me an email.
Update: Less than a day after a post and a few emails, I'm looking at a list of 26 reserved copies, including requests from poets Jeffrey Beam and Rosanne Coggeshall... And I'm wondering why I never have parties for my own books!
Update again: Reserved 48 in less than a week... a good start.
Saturday, September 03, 2005
Post-Katrina, I've been thinking a lot about my years in Gramercy and Baton Rouge: lizard earrings with Maxine; giant spiders in the holes behind the house; the tomatoes that grew up into the trees; my moonflowers and cucumber vines; the parakeets that always flew away; False River Lake; eating plums under the bamboo; "my" alligator turtle; tree frogs slipping from leaves and pattering onto the ground; shrimp going off like springs; clanking pails of claws. They say that I was fluent with the Cajun children next door, but I don't remember those words, only that I loved Louisiana so much that it took me many years to find another place to be content.