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

Friday, September 30, 2011

A few spoonfuls of Disch

The thought that Thomas M. Disch a.k.a. Tom Disch (he wrote poetry under the latter name) left this world at 68 because it seemed about to oust him from the nest where he had been happy and written dozens of books of poetry and and fiction and highly readable criticism still rankles. He lost the partner to death and then lost their house in Barryville, and he seemed about to lose the Manhattan apartment when he put a bullet in his sadly depressed head on the fourth of July more than three years ago.

But today I am thinking about his poetry criticism. It introduced me to the work of Kathleen Raine--a boon--and made me appreciate Kenneth Koch and a few others more than I did previously.  His essays could also be as hard-hitting and unswerving as the criticism of William Logan, the poet and critic said to be most feared by poets. (I enjoy his writing, even where I have a difference of opinion, but perhaps that is in part because I live in the happy, innocent state of never having been the subject of it.) Disch the critic was good on trends and summing-up, and he was good on individual writers.

You may disagree with him, but he remains challenging and interesting. Try and see:

from THE CASTLE OF INDOLENCE

The myth of risk
"Risk-taking" is my favorite blurb-writing maneuver, since rarely is the risk being taken ever specified. the suggestion is that the poet is somehow a member of that international band of persecuted geniuses on whole behalf PEN sends off protests to the dictatorial regimes of third world countries. Usually, of course, the opposite is true, for the political opinions expressed in the poems of reputedly "risk-taking" poets tend to be such as to make university tenure more likely.

Poets in academia
When bad poetry is valued at the going rate of good poetry, Gresham's law is bound to kick in. Bad poetry will drive out good. For bad poets are likely to be capable careerists, who will have the good sense, when they act in some related bureaucratic capacity, such a judging a contest or hiring a teaching candidate, to favor those as ill favored as themselves. In effect, Cinderella's stepsisters are in charge of the invitation list to the ball.

Andrew Hudgins
Hudgins is southern in that enviable sense that imparts to the work of Eudora Welty or Carson McCullers a cruel humor and linguistic crackle that derives ... from a community of, if you'll forgive the pun, wise crackers.

The myth of progress in the arts
The basic myth of the avant-garde (a myth implicit in the "postmodern" label) is that art progresses by historical stages, and each advance is perceived by the uninitiated rabble as sacrilege or nonsense. Painting provides the best paradigm: impressionism, postimpressionism, cubism, abstraction, pop, and then the Babel of the postmodern.

Updike the poet and the upper middle class
If the class that Updike addresses so cogently were in the habit of reading poetry, he would be America's Philip Larkin.

On confessional poetry
...there are no formal challenges, no musicality, no effort to find the mot juste or the telling epithet. There is simply candor, an effort to enlist the reader's sympathy in the circumstances of the poets' lives. All three poets have been award prizes for their confidences, and all three offer thanks to Yaddo on their acknowledgment pages, so however little regard this reviewer can muster for their work, their esthetic respectability is an established fact.

The myriad-minded poet
Once a poet has mastered his instrument, once he is a poet, he is judged--cherished, respected, or ignored--chiefly for his sense of poetic opportunity, for the ways he welcomes or courts his Muse; for his availability, as a poet, to the plenum of experience. Poets distinguish themselves one from the other less by the formal characteristics of their voices than by the occasions they elect to share with us, and while some poets are admired for their judicious cultivation of the same Parnassian half acre, in general the poets we prize most, and read most faithfully, are those whose lives, as reported, seem largest; who are able, in the most diverse moods and circumstances, to map a wide range of experience while maintaining the special alertness and afflatus poetry requires.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Emptying

Photograph:  Jar with birds-of-paradise at Siem Reap, Cambodia, 2009
One thing I find very funny about online life is that if you post something personal and musing, people are not nearly as interested as if you say something ridiculous. After I posted the somewhat serious bit below, I rambled over to facebook and left the somewhat ridiculous status line, Had a music lesson today. I am as ignorant as a potato.  Immediately one has several dozen wonderfully funny and equally ridiculous comments from all sorts of people, artists and writers and my one businessman (who is also a writer) and others! Puns. Faux proverbs from either side of the Atlantic. Claims for the intellect of the potato. Tales of potato art (my contribution.) The intersection of music and potatoes (thank you, Gary and youtube.) And links. And "likes."

My distant cousin William Wallace Tabbot, who found me when I posted something about one of my ancestors (Sally Jo Hance, perhaps?), "likes" everything. He is giving my first cousins a run for their facebook money. I am almost as fond of him as of my cousin who writes me letters and tells me what's going on down South without me.

Must say that I don't really mind... I mean, I like being silly.  I like silly things. For example, I like chickens. I haven't had a post about chickens in a long time. Maybe I'll talk about chickens tomorrow.  Or maybe I won't.

* * *

While I was drinking tea this morning—meditative drink, tea is—I realized that the arc of my life as I approached my mid-thirties slowly turned away from everything valued by the world I grew up in.  It’s as if I had to undo everything that I had done and was “supposed” to do in order to be what I am.  Even though I began thinking of myself as a writer when I was still a child, I was distracted and absorbed by many things.

When I received tenure, I quit teaching. (I do sometimes do short-term events lasting up to a few weeks, so I still have an occasional toe in the reflecting pool near the ivory tower.)  Since I won my tenure two years early, I did not teach all that long.  My feeling was that teaching, while exciting and rewarding, was not the right place for me as a writer; I know others rely on it, and so I say nothing about whether it is good for writers in general—each must decide. But I gave up my promotion and a regular and increasing income.  I gave up a place in the world and the amount of power that goes with it.  I “wasted” my education. In the end, I emptied myself of a great deal in order to be filled up with something else.

(I suppose having three children is a somewhat analogous choice. One gives up a great deal in order to have that increase in life, an increase that has to be fed and clothed and educated. And one does, indeed, have more life—and many other things besides, some exhausting and some wonderful and renewing.)
It’s akin to a spiritual act, though not the same:  an emptying in order to be filled.

Looking back, I could be full of regret at what I gave up.  I could think that I had wasted life and substance, and certainly I would now be more solvent if I had clung to my job.  Luckily, I don’t feel that way.
 
Sometimes what you do seems to people like the worst possible thing you could do, and yet it turns out to be the best.  And that sounds to me like a religious idea as well. Yet I was simply groping about in darkness, not sure how to live my life differently and choosing in some degree of blindness.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Yolanda Sharpe: Ink and Wax

Yolanda Sharpe: Ink and Wax
Selections from Foliage and Still Life Drawing series
and Urban Fragments Painting series
September 24-November 5, 2011
The Earlville Opera House
Opening September 24th, 6-7:30 p.m.










Note on the photographs:
I took these before the start and after the close of the opening to Yolanda's show in the upstairs gallery. The photograph of two artists speaking with two pieces from The Urban Fragments series shows Lee Yardley with the curator of the Painter Picks Painter show in the East Gallery downstairs at the Opera House. Unfortunately, her name tumbled out of my head... Two other shows are now on display, so a drive to Earlville lets you meet with the work of five artists. The Painter Picks Painter show features Steven Ginsburg, Sarah McCoubrey, and Gary Trento. In the West Gallery is Fleeting Dreams, a solo show of the paintings of Chun Arthur Wang.

Yolanda's note on her encaustics:
The Urban Fragments (2009-2010) painting series examines change and flux when urban environments experience loss. Many of the paintings are remembrances, my meditations of Detroit.  Some images invoke billboard image remnants, architecture, and the way natural forces impose upon change and neglect. Non-representational abstractions show visual fragments and cues. The encaustic medium helps to describe passages of time and layers of visual history. Paint layers, objects, and drawing remnants are derived intuitively. Also, Urban Fragments fuses drawing remnants (from my Foliage and Still Life series) with the paintings as objects with physical depth of colors and surfaces. I want the paintings to convey solid forms and shapes that are diaphanous and luminous. This series promotes colors than are pared down to vibrant essentials. While some colors are mixed and layered, others are blunt and vivid.

Yolanda's note on the drawings:
The 2008 drawing designs focused on re-inventions and improvisations by combining fragments of other drawn images. Many of the drawings are part of the still life tradition (using a collection of various objects from the home environment: glass, patterned structures, cloth, metal surfaces, ropes, and woven structures) and nature (foliage and various plant life forms.) Geometric spatial constructs helped to build the compositions and feed my intuitive approach of working. The dominant medium for this series is pen and ink, with some mixed materials.

The wedding of pen and ink with encaustics:
While I had seen pieces from each series separately, it was interesting to see the two groups of works brought together, since fragments of drawings crop up in the encaustics, half seen through layers. Meanwhile the drawings also work in a collage style with images cropped and fitted together, but they often utilize the idea of collage in a playful way. Yolanda feels that she works intuitively, but she brings to bear a keen intelligence and her decisions--while arrived at by instinct, perhaps--are clearly conscious ones.  Some of the selvages between fitted pieces appear almost invisible, and yet there are teasing faux selvages that are "artificial" or not selvages at all but simply (or not so simply!) the tantalizing work of pen and ink.

More Yolanda Sharpe:
To look at more of The Urban Fragments, go to my prior post on that series (including poems by Yolanda.)  Yolanda is having a big month for shows, as she is also included in the On the Mark group show at the Martin-Mullen Art Gallery (12 artists from The New York Foundation for the Arts Mark Program 2010, including Ashley Norwood Cooper of Cooperstown) at SUNY-Oneonta, September 6-October 15.  In addition, she has a large-scale watercolor in Watercolor Revisited: A New Perspective, curated by Linda Mendelson at the Wayne State Art Gallery.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Post-Irene insurance adjusters and other jolly work on the menu today--schedule jammed, back tomorrow!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Ink and Wax: Yolanda Sharpe


   


Yolanda Sharpe has an opening at the Earlville Opera House Gallery on 6:00 p.m. on Saturday, and I hope there will be a good turnout. She is a remarkable person, a local artist who also writes poetry and has sung locally with the Glimmerglass Opera and performed recitals in this country and in Russia (where she was just on a Fulbright Exchange) and who knows where else... The Opera House brochure describes her as intuitively constructing "abstract images through re-invention and improvisation, by combining fragments with attention to geometry and color."

If you want to see more of her encaustic work, I wrote a post about her "Urban Fragments" here. Her website has much more to see: www.yolandasharpe.com.  The image above is view five from her magically folding and unfolding hexaflexagons... (If you would like to see the feature I wrote about another opening featuring an area artist, go here.)

If you are in Earlville-Cooperstown-Oneonta-etc. region, please go! We need to support our local artists and galleries more than we do at present.

"Paintings from the Urban Fragments painting series examines change and flux when urban environments experience loss. Many of the paintings are remembrances, my meditations of Detroit. Some images invoke billboard image remnants, architecture, and the way natural forces impose upon change and neglect. The drawings represent the Foliage and Still Life series that I did in 2008. The work combines refined lyricism with bold marks, and layers of drawing collages."
                                -Yolanda Sharpe

A Modest Proposal (Uncreation Project)

Photograph courtesy of sxc.hu
and Keith Syvinski aka LeoSynapse
of Franklin, Indiana.
Hop two posts back ("Unskilling, uncreation") if you want to see the post this one continues, dealing with Professor Goldsmith the conceptual artist. I invite you to answer any of the questions below as yourselves or as Goldsmith Himself. To usurp his identity and burble, sing, or lecture as you please seems entirely in keeping with his various undertakings in uncreation.

Goldsmith always insists on primacy of the talk about the so-called book--talk about the object rather than any kind of encounter with the text (and since the text might not be nothing but an out-of-date train schedule, say, that is a profound relief to him and us--whereas I'm always thinking that what writers say about their books is interesting and sometimes very delightful or fascinating but in general doesn't really matter because: a. they might be wrong or misleading or have forgotten what they were doing ten years ago; and b. after art goes into the world it belongs to the world.

Of course when I say that, I am still saying something, and I may be entirely wrong... Afte all, I generally feel that I know what I am talking about when I talk about my work.

However, since it's talk about the book that matters and not the book itself in Goldsmith's case and according to his avant garde lights, I shall deal with his entire oeuvre by talking about it and him without reading it or knowing him (though I should very much like to see him in his paisley suit.)  In this way, I shall perform an uncreative act in keeping with his own beliefs.

Since Goldsmith likes to talk around his work, perhaps he will show up here in one of those marvelous paisley or striped or polka dot outfits and answer in some circuitous (or direct--he can be direct) fashion. But since nobody has any authority, feel free--whoever and wherever you are--to answer on his behalf and become Goldsmith. In that way, the meaning of Goldsmith will be altered (if you want to give your name and be some hybrid of Goldsmith-and-another, feel free to do that or link to your identity or else encode your real name in the text) and the project will become interestingly muddled. Oh, I like the idea of encoding your name in the text!

1.  Do you believe that every story has been told, and so there is no sense in adding to the world?

2.  Is the lyric gush of words from the fount alien to you?  Have you ever felt it, or would you manfully (or even womanfully or childishly) suppress such a thing in the interests of the avant garde moment?

3.  Goldsmith, some say, is the foremost figure in conceptual writing these days, and I for one am perfectly willing to believe them.  A curious thing to me is how your work is considered so new when really it is a deliberate, purposeful recycling of long-familiar ideas, which you appear to claim because written arts are "behind" visual arts--as though art was about progress somehow. Do you think art is about progress? On one hand, the avant garde appears to worship "progress." On the other, the avant garde artists or, as you say, "word processors" seem to believe that there are no new ideas.  Duchamp, Warhol, Borges--these are progenitors of the avant garde of 2011?

4.  Would you follow Borges's Pierre Menard and steal a novel in that "intellectual" way?  Would it have to be in public domain before you had the courage of your convictions? (Are they convictions, or are they just playful? Is conviction utterly irrelevant?) Would your attempt stand up in court if you, say, snitched the latest novel by Danielle Steel or some other empress or emperor of the popular with a lawyer at her or his beck and call?

5. If you knew the world would end (i.e. uncreate) in December, would you still bother with your uncreation? Why or why not?

6. If a student showed up in your "Uncreative Writing" class and insisted on usurping your role as professor and leading the uncreation, would that be all right with you?

7.  How about if that student appropriated your signature and then that rectangular text, your paycheck? Would that still be all right--I mean with you, rather than with the eminent University of Pennsylvania? Why or why not?

8.  How about if he adopted your Goldsmithian name and tried to go home to your family?

9.  I can't find any images of your sculptural work that preceded your verbal uncreations.  Why did you stop sculpting--and what was your medium and what were your concerns?

10.  Is the avant garde secretly horribly puritanical and adverse to pleasure?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Unleaving

What a drear day! It might as well be “a drizzly November in my soul,” though there are too many leaves for that.

The dog Susquehanna is curled up in her hyper-insulated house. That cats are in ouroboros position. Grackles are hopping across the porch, nabbing pebbles of dog food without much fear—hopping back again and toppling down the steps, beaks wide.

A dank Fall has arrived, though I hoped for Indian Summer. Such lovely poems belong to fall: “Autumn is over the long leaves that love us, / And over the mice in the barley sheaves; / Yellow the leaves of the rowan above us, / And yellow the wet wild-strawberry leaves.” “My Sorrow, when she's here with me, / Thinks these dark days of autumn rain / Are beautiful as days can be; / She loves the bare, the withered tree; / She walks the sodden pasture lane.” Going back a little farther brings on this: “Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they? / Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,— / While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day, / And touch the stubble plains with rosy hue; / Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn / Among the river sallows, borne aloft / Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies.” And then there is the marvelous “Margaret, are you grieving / Over Goldengrove unleaving…” and

And here is one of mine from The Throne of Psyche, a poem about the waning of poetic fire and the waning of the year. It was previously published in one of my very favorite online magazins, Mezzo Cammin.

SELF-PORTRAIT AS DRYAD, NO. 2

November, she is
A silvery-gray torment,
Moon snagged in her claws—

A fortune teller’s
Ball, hurled angrily at night.
Snared, held, asked-of glass

Declares: Snarl of twigs,
The deadwood next to your heart,
Cracks foretelling fall—

No worry. Your root
Taps through stone to the fire core,
Your net captures cloud.

The muse, merciless
Boy, will run to you in spring;
He’ll call for poems

And willy-nilly
Whistle for flower and fruit
Till you’re racked with bloom.

Monday, September 19, 2011

One Burns High



I just hung an etching on my wall—a little one by Nancy Dahlstrom, “One Burns High.” It’s a darkish print with trees barely visible in the background, and in the center is a burning stand of pampas grass.  Last summer I was at Nancy’s home studio and had a hard time picking out a piece; I chose this one at the time because it seemed both simple and to possess a kind of mythic power.

So long as Western culture endures, a burning bush alone in a wilderness will always have built-in power.  It will speak to us.

But I also think that I had some kind of sympathy with those burning grasses.  To burn, all alone, even if no one ever notices (i. e. even if only three people buy my book) is beautiful.  Even though I am gregarious and have a great love for people, I do not wish to “fit in.”  What I go on wanting is to do work that matters.  To stand for something worthy:  to become worthy.

I work alone and do my best speaking in silence and when I burn.




Sunday, September 18, 2011

Unskilling, uncreation

Photograph: courtesy of sxc.hu and Jef Bettens of Herk-de-Stad, Limburg, Belgium.
As Jef Bettens and sxc.hu do not ally themselves with long-dead Duchamp
or with Kenneth Goldsmith, I here acknowledge their rights to this work!

According to its author, I have neither to credit nor to do anything but claim as my own the passage about "uncreative writing" below. But as I do not wish to claim it, I will say that it comes from an article by Kenneth Goldsmith, "It's Not Plagiarism. In the Digital Age, It's 'Repurposing,'" published in The Chronicle of Higher Education on the tenth anniversary of 9-11.
Goldsmith was a RISD-educated sculptor for a decade until he shifted over into conceptual poetry. His Duchampian recent books are Sports (Make Now, 2008), Traffic (2007), and The Weather (2005), transcriptions of a baseball game, traffic patterns, and the weather. He retyped the New York Times for a single day to make his book Day (2003.)
These days he is a professor at The University of Pennsylvania (the avant-garde got in bed with the academy long ago), where he often teaches a course called "Uncreative Writing." According to Goldsmith, "the students are penalized for showing any shred of originality and creativity. Instead they are rewarded for plagiarism, identity theft, repurposing papers, patchwriting, sampling, plundering, and stealing. Not surprisingly, they thrive. Suddenly what they've surreptitiously become expert at is brought out into the open and explored in a safe environment, reframed in terms of responsibility instead of recklessness. . . ."  He claims that "even when we do something as seemingly "uncreative" as retyping a few pages, we express ourselves in a variety of ways. The act of choosing and reframing tells us as much about ourselves as our story about our mother's cancer operation. It's just that we've never been taught to value such choices."
Take a look at the excerpt or article.  Any thoughts?

***

Goldsmith:   Over the past five years, we have seen a retyping of Jack Kerouac's On the Road in its entirety, a page a day, every day, on a blog for a year; an appropriation of the complete text of a day's copy of The New York Times published as a 900-page book [that's Goldsmith's book Day]; a list poem that is nothing more than reframing a listing of stores from a shopping-mall directory into a poetic form; an impoverished writer who has taken every credit-card application sent to him and bound them into an 800-page print-on-demand book so costly that he can't afford a copy; a poet who has parsed the text of an entire 19th-century book on grammar according to its own methods, even down to the book's index; a lawyer who re-presents the legal briefs of her day job as poetry in their entirety without changing a word; another writer who spends her days at the British Library copying down the first verse of Dante's Inferno from every English translation that the library possesses, one after another, page after page, until she exhausts the library's supply; a writing team that scoops status updates off social-networking sites and assigns them to the names of deceased writers ("Jonathan Swift has got tix to the Wranglers game tonight"), creating an epic, never-ending work of poetry that rewrites itself as frequently as Facebook pages are updated; and an entire movement of writing, called Flarf, that is based on grabbing the worst of Google search results: the more offensive, the more ridiculous, the more outrageous, the better.
These writers are language hoarders; their projects are epic, mirroring the gargantuan scale of textuality on the Internet. While the works often take an electronic form, paper versions circulate in journals and zines, purchased by libraries, and received by, written about, and studied by readers of literature. While this new writing has an electronic gleam in its eye, its results are distinctly analog, taking inspiration from radical modernist ideas and juicing them with 21st-century technology.
Far from this "uncreative" literature being a nihilistic, begrudging acceptance—or even an outright rejection—of a presumed "technological enslavement," it is a writing imbued with celebration, ablaze with enthusiasm for the future, embracing this moment as one pregnant with possibility. This joy is evident in the writing itself, in which there are moments of unanticipated beauty—some grammatical, others structural, many philosophical: the wonderful rhythms of repetition, the spectacle of the mundane reframed as literature, a reorientation to the poetics of time, and fresh perspectives on readerliness, to name just a few. And then there's emotion: yes, emotion. But far from being coercive or persuasive, this writing delivers emotion obliquely and unpredictably, with sentiments expressed as a result of the writing process rather than by authorial intention.
These writers function more like programmers than traditional writers, taking Sol Lewitt's dictum to heart: "When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes a machine that makes the art," and raising new possibilities of what writing can be. 
For more from the "original" article, go to the link above.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Hunter-gatherer of names--




That's a picture of a tabletop in Cullowhee, North Carolina, with some of my mother's embroidery thread spilled across it and a picture of me in my very early 40's...  The other picture is of her brand new 4-harness loom, threaded to make a chenille scarf for my eldest son.  From this project she learned that she hates working with chenille! But he has an old chenille scarf that he loves, so chenille it is. When I am 82, I hope to be forging ahead with new creations, as she is.

I've collected a list of people who want to hear about my books from facebook and elsewhere, and if you would like to receive a copy but I haven't gathered up your name yet, please leave a note with your e-address or write me an email. I'm having a little spate of new books, starting with The Throne of Psyche, and need all the help passing news on that I can get! I'll be starting a newsletter some time soon--it'll be via email so easily forwarded. I'm also interested in more blog mentions, reviews, features, so forth, so feel free to write me about any of those things as well.


Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage

Photograph courtesy of sxc.hu
and Kym McLeod of Cann River, Victoria, Australia.
A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage, winner of The Ferrol Sams Award for Fiction at Mercer University Press, is now scheduled to leap into the world in March, 2012.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The nautilus and the laurel leaf

Photo of a gate, Arboretum, Asheville, NC
I was feeling rather sad, reading an account by one of those unfortunate persons removed from planes on the tenth anniversary of 9-11—sad for what we have come to, and also sad to skim the comments and see much good will but also a certain amount of lovelessness and squabbling between people of different nations and races. To love one another seems the hardest commandment in the world…

And then I read an article from imprint about how many young writers no longer read or see a reason to do so, along with speculations as to why. I have my own ideas as to that, but I find them all rather depressing.

I was pondering how this is what it means to grow older in the postmodern landscape: to see things change until the world no longer seems your own any longer.

And then, just when I was feeling a bit despairing around the edges, I remembered Eliot saying that someone who dedicates his life to writing “may have wasted his time and messed up his life for nothing.” And that’s quite a downer, no? I rooted about and then read a Paris Review interview where an older Eliot talked about that quote. The interviewer asks a question about it: “Seventeen years ago you said, ‘No honest poet can ever feel quite sure of the permanent value of what he has written. He may have wasted his time and messed up his life for nothing.’ Do you feel the same now, at seventy?” And Eliot replies, ‘There may be honest poets who do feel sure. I don't.”

Well, right off I felt a great relief not to be an old T. S. Eliot or even a young T. S. Eliot and working in a bank and marrying terribly wrong. (Not that I did not make more than my fair share of errors when I was young—I was no doubt less wise that Thomas Stearns.) And then I wondered whether it is because I am not a man or not a much-lauded muckety-muck like Mr. Eliot that I feel so very differently from him.

I feel a lot more like Oliver Wendell Holmes’ chambered nautilus. I suppose Holmes (one of those interesting personages who had many roles in early American life) might even have had a nautilus on a mantlepiece somewhere, and so came to write the poem about it with that once often-recited line, “Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul.” It’s a pretty good metaphor, that nautilus. Years of writing poetry and novels and stories have added little nautilus chambers onto the soul of me, and I would not be what I am without them. Art is a soul-making activity for me and for many other people. My life and my self are larger than they would have been without them, like the life and self of the maker of marvels in Hawthorne’s “The Artist of the Beautiful.”

But the other thing that’s left out of a statement like Eliot’s is the whole business of culture. Eliot was a maker and driver of culture, a giver of gifts to his world. Even if we decided today that he was not so important after all—if poets stopped being influenced by him and everyone stopped reading him—he still would have been a major force in the culture of his time. He helped make his world in a big way. (I say that even though I think Modernism pointed into a blind alley and, in its after-effects, has weakened poetry in particular.)

So in the end I think that, yes, the world is rather messed up and people can be surprisingly loveless even though they are really part of one huge family. But no committed poet “messes up” his life and wastes his time by attempting the beautiful. What messes up and warps lives is the pinning of every hope on being recognized and crowned with laurel leaves. So few receive them, those leaves: like the Artist of the Beautiful, many an artist never finds his audience, and that is a great sadness. And so I say that while I like laurel leaves and am glad to have the encouragement they bring, a life in art should make one’s desires larger, not smaller.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Black Flower


Photograph:  courtesy of Ula Kapala
of Wroclaw, Poland
and
sxc.hu


























THE BLACK FLOWER
             Iris Chang, author of The Rape of Nanking, 
                died on November 11, 2004

           
1.
Sick to Death

At dead of night she woke, unmoved
  By the crickets, moon, and stars;
From old they sang or shone above
    The fire and rape of wars.

Then pity was a crumpled child,
  Kindness a battered womb,
And all the world one genocide,
    The grave her living room.


2.
Iris

The iris by my walk is bold,
  Its purples almost black,
And stems and petals always bleed
    Before the sheathings crack.

She took her life to lift the veil
  Of grief--and still, I’ll bet
That most will never remember
    What Iris could not forget.


"The Black Flower" originally appeared
in
storySouth and was reprinted
in
The Throne of Psyche(Mercer University Press, 2011)

***
Available via your local bookseller
or 
Amazon and other online sellers.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Better World

Photograph courtesy of sxc.hu
and Thomas Rathbone of Chagrin Falls, Ohio.
Ten years gone: was the hour so long ago when all those people were brutally thrust into eternity, throats slashed, passengers burned, and office workers chased into air by fire, the wind unable to do anything but tear at their clothing and let them plunge? No, they were not hounded by fire but by men with fire and lovelessness at their command.

Create. Imagine a better world. Live.

One might have thought like Macbeth that "virtues will plead like angels, trumpet-tongued, against / The deep damnation of [such] taking-off; / And pity, like a naked newborn babe, / Striding the blast, or heaven's cherubim, horsed / Upon the sightless couriers of the air, / Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye, / That tears shall drown the wind." Had I not known already that writers were fallible instruments of wisdom, I would have learned it then, when so many American writers jettisoned the love and compassion demanded by the moment and flew to use those losses as a weapon against their own government. Therefore I make no attempt to climb some mount of wisdom and lay some tenth-year wreath of heartsease flowers but remember other words.

Create. Imagine a better world. Live.

"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing." 1 Corinthians 13: 1-3

Create. Imagine a better world. Live.

If I speak with the tongue of man or angel but without love, if I give up all I have and allow my body to be burned without love: how apt these words seem to that bad time! Not long ago, Makoto Fujimura ended an address on the purposes of art with these words of hope that make good instructions for the living: "By continuing to create and imagine a better world, we live."

Create. Imagine a better world. Live.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Oldish book, brand new review--



I love getting a review for a book that came out years before--it's encouraging to think that a book may be temporarily out of print yet still find its intended readers.  Here are a few clips from a new review.  Thank you, Black Cat Lit!
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Set in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina, The Curse of the Raven Mocker is a complex story inspired by the legends of the Cherokee and the culture of the region’s European settlers. Richly detailed and imagined, it’s a uniquely American fantasy...
I enjoyed this book because of its uniqueness in creating a fantasy world inspired by American myths. It was refreshing to read a fantasy that isn’t based on European myth... This may be the classic “child on a quest” storyline, but the beautiful descriptions of the landscape, imagery, and the language make this one different...
The Curse of the Raven Mocker is a must read due to its roots in Appalachian and Cherokee myth and the great characters Youmans has created. It’s clear that love went into the writing of this novel. It deserves to be a classic.

Friday, September 09, 2011

At the mouth of the Susquehanna






Since tropical storm Lee and the Susquehanna have wreaked havoc in New York and Pennsylvania and forced  more than a hundred thousand out of their homes, I am taking a walk-in-pictures (a small walk--I live hard by the mouth of the Susquehanna where it flows out of Lake Otsego) to the bridge over the river and Lakefront Park.  The mighty Susquehanna, so broad where I crisscross it on my way south, is usually a tiny river in Cooperstown--not much more like a wide, shallow creek.  In these photographs you will see the view from the bridge and the park--Susquehanna River, Lake Otsego, Lion Mountain, and bits of the park with ironweed and obedience plant and others planted last year to help control flooding.