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

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Postcards from Irene

Home from the Carolinas. No power. Tree on both cars. Wind and rain, home sweet home. Update:  here are a few photographs taken in my back yard... Ain't complainin' now--Nate and I chased a NYSEG truck and begged for power (we were not scheduled, and the NYSEG office said at least a week more, maybe two or three), and now we have jerry-rigged power! Lines looped up everywhere and bound to be turned off and fixed some day, but we care not because it is light. Begging with good humor seems quite effective. The power return was quite a bit quicker than our last hurricane, Fran, when we were in the dark with cold showers in Chapel Hill-Carrboro for fifteen days.

Backyard urn toppled.

Our cars decked in Coffee Tree spars, branches, and leaves.

All those bare trees?  Those are really the fallen, wind-stripped
crown of a 70-80 foot Kentucky Coffee Tree.
The vultures and I are really going to miss that tree.
It made gorgeous shapes against the sky.

Our two cars that are now complete Bash-and-Dingmobiles.

Roof broken and pried off by the Kentucky Coffee Tree.
Our back yard ends at the wall of the little broken building.

Beautiful little nineteenth-century Cooper smokehouse
with arches on the other side where the fuel went in--
the bricks were smashed all along the roof and halfway down the wall.
Who needs power when you have sunshine pouring in?
The new skyline from my back yard.
From upstairs I can see more of the lake and Kingfisher Tower
than before, but I would have been happy to keep the tree.
The lake was just as much there then as now,
and I felt the tree was mine in the way that Thoreau felt
that a neighboring farmer's apple trees were his.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Gap days


Dear friends of The Palace at 2:00 a.m., I am going on a brief hiatus from blogging because of a number of things--deaths in my extended family over the past ten days that make cheerful blogging feel wrong, a lot of book-related deadlines, the need to pack up two of my children for college, and much more. I am quite sensible that a rising number of visitors may go poof! with a little neglect, but I hope you will return on August 29th, when I shall open the ethereal door on a new chamber once more. In the meantime, please ramble around the labyrinth--if you leave me a note from some distant room, I shall reply.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Robin has a giveaway


"The Ill-defined Giveaway":  play a game and win books by Amanda Cockrell, Alexandria LaFaye, Hillary Homzie, and me at Robin Rudd's lovely children's literature blog, Robin Has an Idea. As we have learned in recent days, rioters do not desire books. But maybe you do.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Updateries 3: all things Marlyish and bookish

Photo:  The Throne of Psyche (my new collection of mostly formal poetry
from Mercer University Press) is making friends with the cast of a pattypan
squash that artist Nancy Dahlstrom gave me while we were wandering
in her garden last summer--one of the lesiurely Saturday afternoons I had
 while being a busy writer-in-residence for the Hollins MFA program
in children's literature.

1.  UPDATERY, NOT!

I'm terribly behind on things like friend-adds here and elsewhere, as well as on correspondence and visiting blogs and replying to requests. If I owe you something, please hang on.

2.  UPDATERY ON THE THRONE OF PSYCHE

At the moment I am far too busy. Between hitting two deadlines and picking up a child at the train station in Troy so that he can go off to the mountains to do his Order of the Arrow ordeal (that will be properly frightening, I'm sure) and much else, I have little time to post this weekend.  (More update: hurrah for husbands who go to the train station! Hurrah for sons who pass their Order of the Arrow ordeal! But I am still behind.)

However, I will share with you the seams on the under side of the garment--the business side of books, particularly poetry.  I find that people are rather helpful in getting the word out, or at least certainly more so than my cats, who tend to rub up against books and take bites out of the pages.

I am still collecting names and email addresses for newsletter mailings about this and upcoming books. If you would like to be on my newsletter list (and perhaps even help share it here and yon with people who might be interested), please let me know. If you already signed up on facebook, I've got your name.

I will be working on arranging more events as soon as I have some free time. If anybody has ideas there, feel free to throw outside-the-box advice into the pot. I am currently thinking about where to go and what to do--buy or sell enough books and I might just come and visit you, even if you're setting up residence on the moon!

Poetry is especially difficult to get out in the world, and so I am trying to stand on my head to shake down strange and possibly helpful ideas. And if anybody would like materials for blogging and sharing news about the book, let me know. I need to be doing more in the way of interviews and features as well.

3.  UPDATERY ON UPCOMING BOOKS
AND CURRENT MANUSCRIPTS

News elsewhere:  Clive Hicks-Jenkins and I are bestirring ourselves (or perhaps thinking about bestirring ourselves) to think about a cover for The Foliate Head. It will be something congenial with the three foliate head division pages.

I will soon be scouring Thaliad, once I finish burnishing A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage and also helping with marketing and promotional materials. That means the end of next week, I think.

Despite the fact that I'm horribly lazy about sending out, I've placed more than fifty poems from the new poetry manuscript, The Book of the Red King, and so I think that I will be sending it out next spring. There are 147 poems in all, so I have plenty to choose from--or else it could be a big fat book if I don't drop many.

Currently I don't have time to look at the other two forthcoming books; they will be in line after Thaliad. And I have lots of new poems, some of them forthcoming here and there. I hope to get back to writing by the end of next week, but the rest of August will be punctuated by a mother's kid-ferryings to colleges.  So if you see a woman tearing over the countryside, her hair on end and on fire, her nose inky, and her eyes wild, just give her a wave.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Irresistible: L. Frank Baum and chickens!

Photo of baby bantam citron-spangled hamburg chicks
 by Ryan Zierke under a Creative Commons license at Wikipedia.

Everybody (most everybody?) knows about Flannery O' Connor and chickens. And if you have read this blog for a very long time, you may remember that I have a chicken pact going with novelist Howard Bahr. But do you know about L. Frank Baum and chickens?

According to the spottily-all-knowing Wikipedia, Baum started a monthly journal in 1880 devoted to the subject of hamburg chickens (this is not a contradiction between types of meat but a single type.)  He loved his adorable hamburgs so much that he wrote an entire book on the subject, appropriately named . . . The Book of the Hamburgs! Okay, okay, it also had a fancy sub-title: A Brief Treatise upon the Mating, Rearing, and Management of the Different Varieties of Hamburgs.  These days Baum would over the moon somewhere in Oz to know that there are more Hamburgs that ever--silver-spangled, gold-spangled, golden-penciled, silver-penciled, white or black (so ordinary! I want magic pencils! and spangles!) and even a new citron-spangled bantam. A citron-spangled bantam: doesn't that sound impossible and cunning?

Why was I looking at these diminutive spangled and penciled chickens with their "rose combs" and "slender legs," as Wiki would have it? Well, it does have something to do with Howard Bahr, The Great Chicken Pact, and A Death at The White Camellia Orphanage.  That much I may reveal.  For more, you'll just have to wait till the book comes out in 2012.

THE OZ CHICKEN QUIZ
(No, no, no CHEATING at all!
Making up is, of course, dandy.)

1.  What is the name of Dorothy Gale's chicken?
2.  In what Oz book does she appear?
3.  What is her name?
4.  How does she resemble a Hamburg?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Icon Painter, 2

Photo:  Andrei Rublev's famous painting of the Trinity,
one of the reproduced illustrations brought along by
the icon painter from Holy Trinity monastery.

Continued from The Icon Painter (notes and musings on an August 11th talk by an icon painter from Holy Trinity Monastery in Jordanville, New York, part of a six-lecture Arts & Theology series sponsored by Christ Church and Cooperstown IAM and directed Emily Hylden of Duke University.)

* * * 

The Orthodox iconographer appears to be essentially against imagination in art because the fallen person will create “strange things.” While I knew one was expected not to veer too far from iconographic tradition, I did not quite realize that art independent of the church would be judged quite so harshly, and I wondered what he would make of the art of my friend Clive Hicks-Jenkins. They both use Golden acrylics (made near us in Earlville), I noticed!  The icon painter used both tempera (more transparent) on board and acrylics on board or canvas. What, then, is the place of the arts in wider culture? I really wish that I had gotten to ask him about that one. There are Orthodox poets, certainly--Scott Cairns for one.

Example of “strange things”:  disintegration and devolution in art that shows the fallen aspect of mankind. That means, according to the Orthodox church, that much of Modernism and Post-modernism is a yielding to fallen nature and displays the fallen aspect of mankind. I had no idea that was coming! What a fascinating way of looking at abstraction and distortion… (Did I say I love looking at the world through a different lens? Well, I do. Please don't agree with me! Just widen the doors of my mind.)

The Orthodox sees the whole course of human history as not one of evolving but of devolution from perfection in Eden until Christ and salvation. Then the struggle is no longer impossible for the individual, yet the world keeps disintegrating further. This idea makes a belief in evolution impossible for the Orthodox, at least for the monks at the Jordanville monastery. I should have liked, then, to ask if Genesis could not refer to seven "days" in a large sense of periods that could refer to the work of creation... 

Another purpose of Orthodox icons is to show the earthly unity with the heavenly church. There is one church spread across two worlds; therefore it is natural for the Orthodox to ask saints to pray for those still living and a part of the church militant, struggling against sin. (I'm not at all clear on whether the church has any covenant relations with other churches or approves of any others. It occurs to me that Andrei Rublev's birthdate is on the Episcopal calendar...)

Usually only the face and hands are painted when a gold or silver covering (reza?) is placed over the painting.

Christ is called the God-Man (and I think we've all seen the clothing portrayed as a mixture of heavenly blue, signifying the Godhead, and red, signifying the earthly and personhood.)

Icons of the Transfiguration attempt to portray “uncreated light.”

The Orthodox icon is meant to make the worshipper more attentive, as in the way the Jesus prayer is used to chase away errant thoughts and emotions because the mind is always working (and often in fallen ways.) Attentiveness is a great deal of the purpose of the icon, then, since the mind is ceaseless in its rambles to places it should not go.

The three stars on Mary’s gown in an icon: here I found it rather difficult going. She is venerated as one who made herself Christ-like by the struggle for purification. That’s clear. She is often dressed in purple (Queen of Heaven) and red (mortal). Also clear. The Orthodox icon painter uses three stars to indicate that she is a virgin before she becomes a temple for God; that she is a virgin during birth because she receives a supernatural labor (painless, her virginity unbroken); that she is a virgin after birth and forever. I don’t know what they do with a reference to Jesus having siblings in the New Testament… Perhaps it's not in the Orthodox Bible?  But it is interesting to observe yet another way of compassing Mary and her importance.

Icons were originally dressed in gold or silver covers as marks of gratitude for prayers answered. Eventually this became a tradition, and so we came to the point of “covered” icons with only the exposed portions of the board—face and hands—painted.

Okay, I know I said seventeen! And that's seventeen. Here are some more...

The painter calls the icon a “tool” or “remedy” to enter into heaven. He says that all is intentional and “nothing superfluous in the Orthodox church. Therefore the focus on icons beginning in 787 (I assume he means the second council of Nicaea) was “a wise move.” (He conveyed the idea that the church is by necessity wiser than one person, so that one's own opinions become subordinated to the church. None of the nasty little "why?" questions.)

The spirit, soul, and the flesh were one being before the fall—a kind of trinity. After the fall, the “body is taking over.” The icon draws one toward unity, then, I suppose.

Christ feeds the senses through the church—one hears the word and chanting (representing the angelic choir), tastes the Eucharist, smells the incense, sees beauty, touches the icons. But the icon painter says that all these impressions are interrupted by the powers of this world and how they bring sense impressions of “fleshly pleasures.” (Clearly there are supposed to be trumpets in heaven, so via synecdoche I am not sure that the business of there being no instruments shown in heaven is correct.)

At the iconstasis, the worshipper venerates Christlikeness in the saints through the icons. He or she venerates Christ in all because the Christ image is in all.

The icon painter appears to have a special link to St. Luke, who was the first maker of icons—he recounted a story of how Luke painted an icon of Mary, which she blessed.

He dwelt at length on the need for church:  “Nobody goes to heaven alone.” He trusts to church wisdom, including that wisdom that ordained icons as a major part of Orthodox worship.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Icon Painter

Photo: the interior of the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Jordanville,
showing the iconstasis that separates sanctuary from nave.
For more pictures of the cathedral and monastery, go here.

I find it fascinating when I encounter somebody who thinks in a way that is to some degree fresh and new to me. It is interesting to try and enter in and follow along the path of thought and belief. Probably I am an utter oddball in this, as I notice in this country and elsewhere a great deal of hatred and disgust expressed toward the political, religious, or artistic beliefs of others, often on the part of "educated" people who sometimes appear to have been indoctrinated by their learning rather than having had their heads opened up to new ways of thinking and the refreshing idea that all people do not think alike yet somehow still deserve our respect. I’ve never been able to understand why people can’t enjoy and find interest in variation more than they do (would we want to be lockstep, really?), but it is the way of the world.

Yesterday I heard an icon painter from the Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox monastery in Jordanville give a talk (and he brought loads of icons, large and small, both reproductions of icons from Russia and Bulgaria and Greece and more, as well his own originals) on icons. As I am not quite sure he would like his name mentioned, I shall not mention it!  I’ve heard an iconographer speak previously and encountered icons in college classes long ago and even have a few, but I must say I learned more from this talk than I ever have before.

This talk was part of a six-lecture series on Arts & Theology (Emily Hylden, Marly Youmans, Yolanda Sharpe, Ashley Norwood Cooper, and Roberta Rowland-Raybold were the other speakers) sponsored by Christ Church Cooperstown and Cooperstown IAM. The series has been directed by Emily Hylden.

SEVENTEEN THINGS I LEARNED ABOUT ORTHODOX ICONS, part one

I had forgotten that the Holy Spirit wears green when represented as an angel or personage in icons. (Back to thinking about those foliate heads on medieval churches again…) The icon painter referred to the famous Andrei Rublev icon in which Father, Son, and Holy Spirit appear as three unified figures, referring to the visit of three angels to Abraham and Sarah (Abraham refers to the three in the singular, illuminating the visit as one from God.)

On Orthodox church murals that run from floor to apex, the Pantokrator (God the judge of all) is at the top and the saints are at the bottom level because the church is founded on the blood of the saints.

The icon painter is constantly aware that human beings are icons of Christ; that is, they bear the image of Christ. This is a gift because before Christ, we had no image of God, and to see God in any form was felt to be fearsome.

Coming to have the likeness of God is the struggle. Because we bear the image (no matter how wretched our behavior), even the worst sort of murderer is owed some sort of homage—he may have nothing of the likeness of Christ, yet he bears the image. This idea is interesting, no? It gives a reason to pay a sort of obeisance and respect to the very least and the most degraded among us.The more naturalistic the icon, the less desirable to the Orthodox because the divine aspect is lost or obscured. 

The Orthodox icon is not meant to be prettified.

Traditional tempera paint is composed of egg yolk (and eggs are linked to the resurrection of Christ and new life) and crushed pigments, suggestive of brokenness. (Here I am thinking of a painter friend—Makoto Fujimura and his nihongan paintings that use crushed jewels, and his focus on brokenness and the broken jar of ointment for Christ’s anointing.)

Continued here...

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Retiring to my jeweled dragon-cave

Photo:  The Throne of Psyche (Mercer University Press, 2011.
 My poems are hanging out with a Hanoi water puppet dragon
 and a Deborah Guertze print.)
Having been delayed by various unexpected events, I have a dire need to retreat from the field today and read and burnish the final manuscript of A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage until my eyeballs are pickled! In the meantime, meet me in another post or between the covers of a book.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

A response to Dave Bonta on poetic form


Photo by Robin Rudd: The Throne of Psyche, 2011.

A reply to Notes on poetic form at Via Negativa

Dear Dave,

I'd say that you are continually finding the forms that suit you, as am I.  I like the way you work, and I don't think that you are on a plateau but are moving on and searching, as you should be.

But to say that does not mean that my use of more or less "set" forms is confining or limiting. All we have to do is look at any major poet in the history of culture to know that is not true (look, say, at blank verse in Shakespeare--or in Wallace Stevens!  He was the first poet to make short blank verse an important part of his work, though I don't think anybody talks about it much. Good thesis topic for some poor graduate student, I suppose.) For me, the way forward demands passing through the tradition, but I am just one person and clearly that is just one thread in the wild pattern of poetry these days. In general, it is a less fashionable thread, of course.

Nor do I think that form means you must stay more "on the surface." It has not meant that for poets in the past, and some human beings are still wanting to pour their words into vessels, to fight with the angel of form to receive a blessing. But because poetry is not taught as it was once taught in childhood or read as often as it was once read, many young poets don't have a sense of the natural shape of a form. But is just as possible to "dive" and to feel "free" and to lodge truth and beauty in an ode or long blank verse as in anything else. I feel liberated when I write in form because for me, form brings surprise and vigor and unexpected connections--and then I can also feel what Whitman or the Modernists felt when I occasionally toss away set form to find my own.

When I listen to the voices out of poetry world, I find that the manifold put-downs of people who write in forms or people who write conceptual poetry or people who write language poetry or flarf or whatever are pursuing the wrong thing. For me, it's not whether a particular kind of poetry is "right" or "wrong." I don't even find that those choices are in the realm of "right" and "wrong." What I care about is whether an individual poem lives and whether words have managed to fountain into the world with a certain vital energy that lasts through re-readings.

It's as in any creation. I want my Adams and Eves of paper to live rather than lie on the floor, inert and never waking. For me, if there is no meaning and no word-pleasure in a writer's work, then it is simply dead leaves.  (Of course, there are some groups of poets who would reject that view entirely--and with those poets I agree to disagree. Some of them would rather not agree to disagree, but that does not bother me either.)

I am glad you write the poetry you write as you write it, and I am glad of your manifold and interesting web self, which I value as much as I value the flesh-you that I met in Wales.  And now I go off to polish fiction.

Good cheer,
Marly

Monday, August 08, 2011

Railroad days: A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage

 
Photo by Nate Miller
 Love you will find only where you may show yourself weak without provoking strength.

--Theodor Adorno

Normality is death.
--Theodor Adorno

Clare Dudman reminded me of Adorno in a comment, and how now and then it flits through my head that I really must read him. I'm always seeing quotes from him and thinking that I should. But not today. Today and tomorrow and maybe Wednesday I shall be hoboing with A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage, streaking over that familiar landscape one more time. (I know that I said one last time once recently, but this time really is the last ride--turning the final copy in this week.) I plan to have my eyes wide open and not to be "riding the blinds." Having a little age on it, the manuscript now feels like something written by someone else, and so I don't have much trouble being ruthless...
Photo by Jim Kevlin

So for now I have picked two Adorno quotes that have relevance to the book, the first to the events of the book and the second to the protagonist, who flees from an image of what he believes normality to be.  Once strength has been thoroughly "provoked," is it ever possible to find a place where one can be "weak"? Of course, a little quote like the second one is a kind of rabbit-hole because "normality" is such a slippery item.

After that, I shall be making some more plans for The Throne of Psyche (Mercer University Press, 2011), writing new poems I trust), and working on other forthcoming manuscripts.


Saturday, August 06, 2011

Ecclesiastical embroidery samplers by Karin Svahn

Sometimes you are surprised to find evidence of someone you know in unexpected places. It's an odd sensation, the pleasure a little like meeting a friend unexpectedly. I had a longish ferrywoman's stint yesterday, picking up my son at Beaver Cross Camp, and made a discovery.

The camp used to be on the shores of Lake Otsego and only twelve minutes away from home. The cabins clustered close to Ringwood Manor (1900), once one of the three home belonging to the Arthur Ryerson family. If you watched Titanic, you may remember that Leonard DiCaprio pilfered a coat belonged to one Arthur Ryerson. (I don't remember it because I haven't seen it, but you might.) Mr. Ryerson died when the ship went down. He and the rest of his family were heading home from Europe because they had received news of a death in the family.

When the camp moved east of Saratoga, N was still loyal; he has gone to the camp since he was a pre-schooler on his first overnight adventure. On leaving the dining hall, I stopped to admire a group of ecclesiastical samplers, only to discover they were by Swedish-born needlewoman and longtime Cooperstonian Karin Svahn, still resident in the village during the summers.  I'll list the types of samplers in the captions to the photographs, so that if you are curious you may google the names and fin out more.

I thought particularly of the cloth ornamentation in paintings by Clive Hicks-Jenkins. I wish he could have taken a good look at all the interesting stitches! And when I see this, I feel a little regret that I did not keep up with the sewing my mother taught me as a child. At 82, she is still a grand needlewoman (and gardener and much else) and has recently bought a new 4-harness loom.

Here's the stitched union of two towns, one in Ireland
and one in Italy! Mountmellik and Casalguidi, 2006

Mixed silk and metal
with Christ the King crown and pansy wreath, 2005

Blackwork, 1999
Let's see; there's Celtic-looking triune fish symbol
surmounted on an anchor that somewhat resembles the☧Chi Rho.
Ichthys and anchor go back to the 1st Century A. D.
as Christian symbols.


Whitework/darning, 1996
Be sure and click to see the larger version.
 
Goldwork with dove of the Holy Spirit, 1995

Silkwork, 1992
This time with a butterfly, emblem of the soul.
 
Hardanger (Hardangersøm), 1992
I was given a piece of drawn whitework
by my mother--handed down from her grandmother.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Suzannah Smith Miles, "August Light"


Here’s a lovely guest post by South Carolina writer and historian, Suzannah Smith Miles, from Charleston, South Carolina and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Suzannah is known for both her books and magazine work on North and South Carolina history, and she writes regularly for Charleston Magazine and WNC (Western North Carolina) Magazine out of Asheville. Known for presenting history in a light conversational style, Suzannah has been called “the best armchair historian in the state of S.C.” This piece was originally published as one of her weekly columns (a ten-year run) for The Moultrie News in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina. Her current book project is A Sea Island Gazetteer (projected publication date Spring 2012), comprising an A-to-Z listing of people, places, and events in the history-rich coastal area between Charleston and Hilton Head."



AUGUST LIGHT

     Guest blogger:  Suzannah Smith Miles


The low country photographs are the work
of Robert M. Smith, Jr.,
a photographer based in Columbia, S. C..
Also known as Robin, or Suzannah's brother!
 “Maybe I have already done it,” ponders a character in William Faulkner’s book, Light in August. “Maybe it is no longer waiting to be done.”

August is here, my friends -- that curious, pivotal and delicious time of the year when summer still reigns but we begin to feel the unmistakable touch of autumn. It shows in the sassafras leaves which are beginning to change from green to russet and orange and fall in my backyard. It shows in the pecan trees which are filled with large green, leathery nut pods. It shows in the fields and roadsides, where a month ago wildflowers were in full bloom but now are “thighdeep in dusty weeds.” As we turn our thoughts from vacation trips and days on the beach to book bags and school clothes, we think, “Where has the time gone? Is it August already? But, it was just the Fourth of July!”

Yes, August is beginning to show. The seasons are beginning to turn. There is that unmistakable something in the air. And, more than anything, there is the August light.

There is a distinct, airy and almost delicate quality about the light in August. The sun is beginning to nestle into its wintertime position, casting angular rays which diffuse and brighten the depth of the landscape of late summer green. The marshes, at the height of their maturity, shimmer and gleam, and the spartina moves in the wind like an undulating cape of emerald velvet.

There is a mellowness that comes with August light. Faulkner described the August sun as “a prone and somnolent yellow cat” watching the “slow flowing of time” beneath him. Time does seem to flow more slowly in August, especially during those periods when it is unbearably hot. August appears to drag on interminably and its thirty-one days feel more like thirty-seven.

Augustus Caesar stole a day from February to give his namesake month of August thirty-one days. This decision was not based on any astronomical purpose but from simple petty jealousy. Augustus thought of this month as his “lucky” month, for it was in August that he scored his greatest military achievements and first became a consul of Rome. He didn’t want July, which was named for his uncle, Julius Caesar, to be longer than the month that carried his own name.

August is a month of yellow days, days when the ocean border is commanded by tall, white cumulus clouds which march across the tropical horizon like sentries at their post. When the early morning sky is washed with saffron and the light bleaches out darkness with the color of sand. When the late afternoon setting sun deepens the earth into shades of copper and orange, and the sky is fringed with sweeping cirrus clouds tinted with turquoise, ruby and sapphire.

The old ones called these clouds “mares’ tails” and saw them as a sign of the approaching season of tropical storms. “Watch-em. Mares’ tail fill de’ sky,” warned my friend, an Edisto Island Gullah fisherman who has long since gone to his heavenly home. “Mares’ tail mean big storm a-comin,’ he would sagely predict as he pointed to the cirrus clouds above. And sure enough, if it isn’t a “hurricane bin come,” whenever sweeping curls of mares’ tails dominate the sky, some sort of tropical system usually passes through within the week.

August is the month of four o’clock thunderheads, forming in predictable mountains over the western horizon almost every afternoon. Charged with electricity and heavy with rain, they change the temperature from broiling to steamy and wreak havoc on the motorist during the rush-hour drive home.

August is the month of sweet, fleshy mountain tomatoes; of okra which has grown too large to be good for anything but stew. The month when blue crabs are at their fattest and saltwater fishing is at its best. When shrimp are plump and full, and the shrimp boats come into the harbor trailing a smog of seagulls hungrily diving, bobbing and working the wake as they feast on the leavings tossed aside.

August is a month of excesses. A time with days too hot and storms too fierce. When fogs of mosquitoes clog our twilight yards. When people with sanity decide to remain in their mountain cabins for “just one more week.” When the rest of us wipe the sweat from our brows and yearn for September, hurricane season be damned.

August is the month when we watch the impatiens wilting in their beds and try to decide whether we should water the flowers now or wait for the late afternoon thunderstorm. When we see that the grass is ankle-deep and sigh, “but I just mowed four days ago!”

And, like Faulkner observed, August is the month when we ponder whether we did the things we set out to do, or whether they needed to be done in the first place. We go from “should I” to “did I” with a simple rotation of the earth’s axis.

This is the month of August. It is bathed in exquisite, glimmering light with days awash in the colors of lemon and cream. It is a time when we see the summer crops come to their peak -- and then pass on. It is a month of Sundays, when we can almost feel and touch time as it makes its steady and unwavering advance towards autumn. August. Yes, this is August.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

A Prezified poem--

Gary Dietz, a former student from eons ago when I had a brief incarnation as teacher has put one of my poems into Prezi. Go see the results. I'll turn off comments--give him any, please!

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

The Flute Seller


Today I visited Windy Skies for the first time and encountered the figure of an itinerant peddler, attempting to sell his flutes in the midst of Indian traffic. The image struck me as an apt metaphor for the poet in the 21st century—a wanderer with a sheaf of songs and hand reaching out with a handmade gift while the world whirls by, faster and faster, not like a dervish but like a manic child's top.

Since Beth Adams of Phoenicia Publishing and qarrtsiluni and the cassandra pages just wrote me that she is now reading The Throne of Psyche (my new book from Mercer University Press, May 2011), I feel inspired to post the first section of the title poem.  You will find it below--I'm afraid that even a piece of a longish poem breaks up the short post rule and dances on it! A good many poems from the book have been reprinted on the site, but not the opening of the book.

Well-made poems are creations that reward re-readings. If you have liked the poems from The Throne of Psyche posted on the blog, I hope you’ll consider owning a copy of your very own to read over time. As a physical object, the book is unusually beautiful in design and production. As for the contents, I have strewn the blog with samples so that passers-by may taste and see . . .

Also available for bloggers by request (contact me here or via email or facebook or twitter): uploads of audio readings from The Throne of Psyche; uploads of videos by Paul Digby with me reading poems; images; copies of poems, links to related material, etc.

For more information about the book, please go here and here. For information on how to order my books, go here.

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THE THRONE OF PSYCHE (opening section)

A soul’s mysterious as any tree—
It drives a root as deadly low as hell,
It stretches peaceful branches heaven-high,
It harvests light with leaves of memory.

I. HER GIRLHOOD

You see the limestone wall that catches light—
Those olive trees inside the circuit of stone?
The gardeners said the eldest one had passed
Three thousand years. It looks as gnarled and scarred
As rind from dragons that survived a war,
And underneath’s the spot where I was born,
The Queen my mother snatched by sudden pains
While walking in the garden. I looked up
And saw the sun like showered stars in leaves.
You think I can’t remember? Yes, I can;
And I remember breeze and branches tossed,
The olive shifting, singing down at me,
Saying I was Psyche, blessed and blessing—
I made a cry and Mother laughed in joy
And drew her knife across the bloody cord.
A Queen is busy like an ant whose nest
Is shattered open by a curious
Small child: the tree became a family,
A secret place to go and talk or hide.
I ate her fruit, I drank her bitter teas
When I was ill, and someone carved a doll
Fleshed in olive wood from wind-thrown branches.
The greenish face with streaks of yellow-brown
Made me daydream strangers from another
World where sky was rose and water purple.
In ours, my sisters married parched old kings
To give my father fine alliances;
I scaled the tree and heard an oracle
Foretell I would not bear a fate like theirs.
The courtiers made me abashed with praise
That I was fair, the people offered gifts
As though I were a goddess from the sky.
I grew afraid and gods grew angry, as
They will—yet why, since time is always on
Their side? I clambered up my olive tree
And harkened to the auguring of leaves:
I’d have a fate called strange and wonderful.
But messengers approached my father’s throne
To tell how I must be a sacrifice
To temper Aphrodite’s jealousy.
A monster tarried on the mountaintop,
My promised bridegroom—winged and scaled from sole
To crown, the color of a stormy cloud
But hard as armor from the gods’ own forge.
I thought of sisters, queens in jeweled crowns,
Of truce between security and looks
And guessed perhaps there was more than one way
To be consumed. All gossiped I would be
A morsel for my bridegroom’s evening feed;
My mother shrieked, my father slashed his robes,
Our people raised a mighty swell of grief.

I tipped the polished bronze from side to side
But could not find why such a fate was mine—
A face in metal or in water is
A dim and shining thing. I clambered up
And listened to more prophecy of leaves,
How I would shiver like an olive branch
Before I tasted fate, how I was meant
To be unlike all others of my world,
How I would grow as radiant as a tree
Below the burning chariot of sun.
So when the people’s loud procession came,
I did not cry or flee. I bound my doll
Of greenish olive wood into my sash
And climbed past aloes to the mountaintop,
Walking as if between two founts of tears:
My mother and father, for whom I tried
To be a comforter despite my dread,
Though all the while I gripped the olive wood
That lived three thousand years, as if the luck
Of living long might sink into my palm
And shin a tree of blood up to my heart.
I was sixteen the night I watched the court
And people winding like a starry snake
Down the mountain’s flank to town or palace,
And wept as one by one the torches died.
It seems a thousand years ago to me
And only instants: how my courage flared
Or failed at noises in the wilderness—
I could not speak for dread of the unknown.
On my last morning of familiar things,
I’d flung my arms around the rugged trunk,
And leaves had fluttered message in my ear:
Inside you is a beauty left untouched
By thrones or the admiring throngs of men,
And seeking at your girlhood’s door is love,
A glistering monster and a child of light,
A mountain errand dark with mystery,
A loveliness that springs up from a seed—
Those leaves of fire, that bright enchanted tree.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Tweaking the Romantics

The two photographs are courtesy of Sofie Laier Henrikson
of Copenhagen and sxc.hu. Shelley's body was burned on the shore
(quarantine laws) after he drowned.

Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.
--Percy Bysshe Shelley

What a silly, Romantic thing to say!  Just the sort of Shelleyesque thing that Shelley would go and say, don't you think? I suppose all poets have lived flawed lives--don't we all?--and all have occasionally said a silly thing, but poor Shelley has been more mocked for this line in A Defence of Poetry than all the rest, I imagine.

Imagine the dust of Plato whirling about in distemper: this Shelley fellow was neither moral nor patriotic, and he had a positively smarmy view of nature! Poets certainly had no business setting themselves up for legislators, when they did not even belong in a republic anyway... The dust of Aristotle rather likes nature. Meanwhile, what's left of Horace agrees with Plato; this Shelley fellow has no moderation, no sense of what is fitting or what he owes to his family and his country. They've got a point: poor, poor Harriet.

Poets are the legislators of the the unacknowledged world.
--George Oppen

Witty. It's a betterment of the original, though really depending on it to have any sense or wit.  Plato is still rolling dust, still upset about upstart legislating poets, though maybe he feels better about the "unacknowledged world," which may be the ideal world, after all. But poetry is not the ideal world nor the natural world but some third realm, of course!

What would be better yet?

Far from being its legislators, poets dream the unacknowledged world.
--me

Better?

Still dependent on Shelley. Perhaps it wouldn't be interesting at all without him. It would just be something else and perhaps commonplace.

Nevertheless, I offer the dust of Longinus a cup of tea, and we have a nice chat about the sublime in art.

Now you try tweaking that line!



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Got home from camp-ferrying about 7:30 p.m. last night to find Crazy Mountain wild sheep vindaloo bubbling on the stove.  Now that's rather unusual.