Youmans (pronounced like 'yeoman' with an 's' added)
is the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers.
--John Wilson, editor, Books and Culture

Friday, November 16, 2007

qarrtsiluni's Insecta issue

If you miss getting a new post from me, please flit, flee, and fly by qarrtsiluni and take a look at the blog-style issue Ivy Alvarez and I are guest-editing. We have had to devise some new modes of organization to handle the submissions and now have moved to gmail, where we are hip-deep in spreadsheets and Google documents. We're doing a lot of revision with writers, and that's interesting but time-consuming. Until we're done, I'll be a bit scarce both here and elsewhere. Submissions close on December 15, so I suppose we may be finished by 2008. (See prior post for more information.)
*
A Happy Thanksgiving with no flies on your turkey! It's on my dratted birthday this year, so be sure and give a dollop of thanks on my behalf. I'm going to be giving thanks for the Return of the Husband from Montana. Being a single mother for more than a week makes me appreciate all those forced-to-be-stalwart women who trudge along with too much of a bundle on their backs. I think they need a celebratory month. Why not? Gloomy old November could be Single Mother Month. Meanwhile, my Mike's hiking and fishing and shooting in faraway Montana--and saw a lovely ermine yesterday, with one black drop on her perfect snowy fur.
***
At left: "green bottle fly," courtesy of nezbitten and http://www.sxc.hu/.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Guest-editing "qarrtsiluni" with poet Ivy Alvarez

Call for Submissions:
Insecta at qarrtsiluni.

We live in a kingdom of insects. Glancing from the infinitesimally small fairyfly to the giant stick insect, we find that this is a weird and various world. The catalogue of nocturnal moths, thrips, butterflies, caddisflies, angel insects, snow fleas, bristletails, mayflies, silverfish, and bugs is endless and the names evocative.

For this issue of qarrtsiluni, we are interested in art — poem, painting, story, nonfiction, photograph — inspired by insects. We are equally interested in writing about insects, being just as enamored by Thoreau’s ant battle in Walden as Frost’s butterflies, “Tossed, tangled, whirled and whirled above, / Like a limp rose-wreath in a fairy dance.”

We expect a wild variety of explorations on this subject, with work undergoing that mysterious metamorphosis of revision, to be finally shined up to a high beetle-like polish. In insects, the final step in transformations leads to the fully-formed imago — Latin plural, imagines.

Go to http://ivyalvarez.com/ for more information about my fellow editor. For more information about qarrtsiluni, jump to http://www.qarrtsiluni.com/. Dave Bonta and Beth Adams (editors and founders) have added some new general information about submissions.

For a little reminder of how wild, wacky, and wonderful the insect kingdom is, try hopping here. Here's a paragraph cut from the description above that suggests some of the insect world's variety: "Consider the form and nature of insects and how that might relate to the shape and colour of a poem, story, nonfiction sketch, or image: insectus, or 'cut into sections'; Goliath, a beetle; the framework of exoskeleton; coevolution with flowers; the grasshopper and the cricket; refined organs for perception; the mysteries of flight; the ability to walk on water; emission of light or sound or scents to communicate; compound eyes; a nymph; incomplete metamorphosis and complete metamorphosis and hyper-metamorphosis; egg; larva; pupa; cocoon."

If I know you, know that I will refrain from making the very final decision on anything you might send, though I'll vouch that you're a good egg! As I'm especially busy this month--the usual maniacal pace plus company, two of my children in "Beauty and the Beast," a husband going off to Montana for a jolly wilderness adventure, my birthday on Thanksgiving Day, etc.--I may not be quite as speedy as I would like. But please send, whether I know you in the web or in the world, or whether you are a stranger.

Photo credit: I'm usually scrupulous about attributions and using public domain work, but I couldn't resist posting the glasswings that I received in my email on November 2. Their arrival seemed all luck and serendipity, as I hadn't mentioned qarrtsiluni to the sender. If anybody knows how and to whom I can credit these pictures, please tell me.

Friday, November 02, 2007

The Haunted Painting

I had a lovely All Hallows Eve trooping about with either Robin Hood or the Earl of Huntington, age 10, in his tights and bloomers (what are those things called?) and fine green cloak and velvet-lined green hat with a long pheasant feather (thank you, Mother, for the beautifully-made outfit and thanks to the Mighty Hunter for the feather.) I wore an a circa 1960 prim green coat with giant buttons and a pillbox hat made of fur (also circa 1960 and thank you, Gail, for hat and gold-and-white hatbox) and pearls. Just call me Jackie O. If not Jackie O, then call me the Queen. And if not Jackie O or the Queen, then call me Emily, the mother of the soon-to-be-mentioned boy with pants on his head. She told me ("You look like me!") that she had just bought the very same coat and hat, circa 2007 and now retro. I told her my elegant garb cost only four dollars. She was chagrined.

Later on, after Robin or the Earl frolicked and trick-or-treated for a while with a Death Jester and a boy with pants on his head (what was he supposed to be?), we picked up a gentleman in black velvet cap and cloak and long-nosed Venetian mask... That was the Earl's dad and Jackie O's husband. And the three of us went straight to a nearby house and asked for a treat, obtained by prior supplication: to see the haunted picture. The frame is bolted right through the walls of the house, so we had often paused to contemplate the bolts. The huge full-length portrait hangs on the wall in the stairwell and shows one of James Fenimore Cooper's great-nieces with a background of the sea at Newport. She has on a marvelous dress with transparent, heavily-crimped sleeves and a bonnet with a long blue river. She looks a bit severe and not quite pretty, but I think that is mostly the result of an old-fashioned hairstyle with a part straight down the middle and pulled tight to each side. Not too many of us would look attractive subjected to that particular fashion.

The village story of the painting says that after she died and her husband remarried, a good deal of poltergeist activity started up, until the they were forced to bolt the picture through the wall so that it would never be taken down. The current owner had a more prosaic story, so we'll not think about that!

The painting turned out to be by the German-born painter Carl Brandt, who was the first director of the Telfair in Savannah. The collection still includes a number of his paintings. My Aunt Sara used to take me to the museum when I stayed with her in the summers, so the link to childhood was a pleasant surprise.

As for the other letters in our family alphabet soup, B has been laid very low by a bug, and R seems to be fighting it off. We must not be sick for the musical! Cross your fingers and say your prayers.

* * *

October 30

The bulbs are in their bed
Feeding on their meal of bone.

The jack-o-lanterns bear
Brief, vegetable witness

As ghosts tap at the door
Still hungering after sweetness.

--from A. E. Stallings, "All Hallows," Archaic Smile (University of Evansville, 1999), The Richard Wilbur Award

A safe All Hallows Eve to you! N has gone to school in a black-and-red cap with a long tail of spikes, furry blue and green socks, and gold jester shoes. It is p. c. Crazy-Hat-&-Sock Day at the elementary school. I don't think that's so bad, since it means that children who are forbidden Halloween can frisk and play. Tonight he plans to be an insane Peter Pan. Next year is already covered: he'll be a tourist. Of course, once people start quarrying in the dress-up mountain, they often change their fickle minds and metamorphose five or six times.

* * *

Once more a book has vanished in mid-read. This time it was David Grossman's See Under: Love. I was in the Bruno Schulz section. In fact, I was at the point where Bruno Schulz disappears from his old life. Has this happened to anybody else while reading See Under: Love, I wonder? Perhaps no one has managed to read past the disappearance of Bruno Schulz because the book itself dissolves into air or is pilfered by aerial spirits.

All Hallows Eve is almost upon us. The disappearing might be work of this 1808 house and a pestering poltergeist appropriate to the season. We live on a haunted corner, and quite a number of ghosts make appearances in nearby houses. N is quite resistant to the idea of a "G," as he calls a ghost, but we were invited to come inspect a well-known haunted painting on Halloween night, so I hope he will go with me. I imagine it would give him some local fame among his elementary school cohorts.

Because I have not been finishing See Under: Love when not fetching pumpkins to carve or taking N to Peewee football or dropping B and R at musical practice or escorting some letter or another to piano class, I have been reading other things over the past weekend.

***

Paul Muldoon's Poems 1968-1998

Who's to know what's knowable?
Milk from the Virgin Mother's breast,
A feather off the Holy Ghost?
The fairy thorn? The holy well?

Our simple wish for there being more to life
Than a job, a car, a house, a wife--
The fixity of running water.

For I like to think, as I step these acres,
That a holy well is no more shallow
Nor plummetless than the pools of Shiloh,
The fairy thorn no less true than the Cross.

--from "Our Lady of Ardboe"

How Yeatsian the things of that little fragment are: the drop of milk, the Spirit feather, the fairy thorn, the saint's well, and the ordinary abashed by them all.

Tommaso Landolfi's "Gogol's Wife"

At this point, confronted with the whole complicated affair of Nikolai Vassilevitch's wife, I am overcome with hesitation. Have I any right to disclose something which is unknown to the whole world, which my unforgettable friend himself kept hidden from the world (and he had his reasons), and which I am sure will give rise to all sorts of malicious and stupid misunderstandings? Something, moreover, which will very probably offend the sensibilities of all sorts of base, hypocritical people, and possible of some honest people too, if there are any left?


The hook on the fly that has been tied so many times still finds his fish. The narrator's delay, his hesitancy to divulge, and the secret and its reasons still work. And we readers, we surely are not among those who are stupid and base; we will rise to this mysterious occasion.

Joe Hill recently published a story about an inflatable boy. Nikolai Vassilevitch's wife who is "a balloon" is surely his mother.

Ilse Aichinger's "The Bound Man"

His absurd steps and little jumps, his elementary exercises in movement, made the rope-dancer superfluous. [The bound man's] fame grew from village to village, but the motions he went through were few and always the same; they were really quite ordinary motions, which he had continually to practise in the day-time in the half-dark tent in order to retain his shackled freedom. In that he remained entirely within the limits set by his rope he was free of it, it did not confine him, but gave him wings and endowed his leaps and jumps with purpose....

I cannot help thinking of certain Kafka stories in which a strange art is created through its limitations. The poetry of constraint is mastered. And yet it is the sort of dream-like story that can summon other readings, other analogues that help to define what it is. I remembered the story of Kaspar Hauser that has appealed to so many writers and artists: the mysterious attack, the hampering restraint set on the young man, the sudden exodus. And I thought of Isaac Bashevis Singer's "Pigeons," in which the tale of an old man who feeds pigeons under a sky darkened by chimney stacks becomes a lament for the Holocaust. The inexplicable beating and binding of the protagonist, the learning of a way to live inside the cruel and mysterious rope, the closing that yokes growth and death with destruction of memory: all these reminded one that Ilse Aichinger was a young Austrian during World War II.

Vasily Aksenov, "Little Whale, Varnisher of Reality"

I got up, went into the bathroom, washed, and then stopped by the bedroom for a look at Whale. He slept like an infant hero, arms and legs flung wide. The creases of his baby fat had not quite faded away; they still marked his wrists, his dimpled paws. In his sleep he smiled a sly little smile, evidently busy completing various droll and delightful turnabouts in his kingdom.

I doubt that Aksenov could have gotten away with his paean to the charm of his little Whale if the narrator were not so busy dreading and contemplating an awful phone call, made by the end of the story, and if he were not so ever-conscious of his own past and current misdeeds. His desire not to spoil the Whale's "droll" vision of the world and his need to tell the truth to his child, as much as he can--though certainly not about the pretty, airy "Mam'selle" who Whale encounters--is another source of the tension that propels the story forward and keeps the story from becoming too laden with charm.

***

And that was the reading part of my weekend. The rest was Peewee football and the like, with brisk winds and yellow leaves.

If you have any ideas about where See Under: Love might have gone, tell me. You may have seen it flapping heavily past on its many thin wings. Perhaps its white leaves are turning to mulch in the nearby forest. Perhaps it is hibernating under the eaves of a distant house. As All Hallows approaches, a curious "G" may be curled up on a windowseat, nestled around the book.

***
Credits: Telfair photograph from www.tfaoi.com. Spooky photograph courtesy of www.sxc.hu and Jasper Greek Golangco of the Phillipines.