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Monday, September 28, 2020

My summer escapes, etc.

Bryan Nelson Elder CC BY-SA 3.0

Accompanied by the Youngest and the Husband

My husband was supposed to be volunteering in Mongolia this summer and was attempting to lure me along. Needless to confess, the woes of the virus kept us in the Village of Cooperstown. And we had some luck, as it was the prettiest summer in 22 years, sunny and warm and blooming. And now the maples are coloring up, and I suppose the last vestige of summer will end on Tuesday....


Frolics to amuse our youngest:
    a. ghost golf;
    b. mirror maze;
    c. go karts;
    d. Dinosaur BBQ.
All very mask-y and socially distanced, yes.


The leaves are turning, so the seasons must still be in order. No I did not see the Lake Champlain monster. Had good meals at Hen of the Wood, Bangkok Bistro, and Skinny Pancake. College protests all started with "Oink, oink" and continued in the usual fashion. Lovely swings by the lake, not far from the Requisite Edge-of-Campus Encampment with garbage and fancy tents. Ah, sunsets!


Lovely ferry ride from Charlotte, Vermont to Essex. And Essex (1765) is wonderfully charming and ancient in the American way (that is, not that old for most parts of the world but ancient for us, meaning lots of pre-Civil War architecture and still intact.) Octagonal private schoolhouse! (And oddly, another one out in the countryside,  but made of stone. And that one in 1826 seems about a quarter-century too early for octagons.) Lots of Greek Revival, federal, and Georgia architecture. Cunning library. Gardens still in full blow, with lots of Japanese anemones and butterfly bushes and salvia, etc. The earliest surviving house appeared to be 1780's... 

Had a good lunch relaxing in squishy chairs overlooking the lake at the Pink Pig. And we had our more-than-fair share of gorgeous sunshine, colored leaves, deep blue water, and good company.


Curious village-anthropology incident... After lunch, we had an exciting Karen Encounter while rambling along the street drinking our respective beverages, masks in hands. Although a good ten feet away from any other human being, we were chided at some length to socially distance and put on our masks. I'm afraid we responded by veering a few more inches away to make sure we did not accidentally tumble into the careful shop lady's place of business. 

Of evolving anthropological interest: she did have the requisite long bob of Karen fame.


Receding in memory, but it was good to see ocean, admire architecture, wolf excessive amounts of seafood out-of-doors on piers and decks, sniff hard at the salt air through our masks, and march indefatigably all over town. 

Also, I just barely missed stepping on a dirty needle near the Portland Encampment in my sandals--and barely missing is excellent, infinitely better than not missing at all. Tents were definitely not of the fancy Burlington Encampment variety. 

Notable: the famous potato doughnuts with interesting Maine flavors (wild blueberry, maple, lemon-ginger lobster, hermit armpit, moose, etcetera.)



Unrelated news: If you are like most of the population in northern and southern hemispheres, you may not have read my new novel yet. Please do. Charis in the World of Wonders is a better escape from Covid19 than ghost golf, potato doughnuts, and a ferry ride rolled into one enticing ball. (In fact, there are ferries in Charis in the World of Wonders, but no ghost golf and no potato doughnuts or, indeed, doughnuts of any kind. There is a tray of bride cakes, however.) 

If you have already escaped massacre and horrid frontier-village dangers (Goody-Karens, witchcraft, magistrates, and so on), then I suggest you time travel back a year and read The Book of the Red King.



I've rather lost track of comments by writers, but here's a lovely one from poet Mischa Willett of Washington State. If you earnestly and sincerely and greatly desire more (i.e. more reasons to readreadread), check out the book page.

(Willett, Willett... Long ago, I lived on Willett St. in Albany--my first two children were born there. It was near the Psychiatric Center, and I had many odd adventures with people in the park across the street from our apartment. Like Central Park, it's an Olmstead-designed park. In case you are wondering, I expect that probably has nothing to do with Mischa Willett. Oh, there's a new Willettian work: The Elegy Beta. And I am reading and liking it this week, so I am glad Mischa found my novel because that meant I found The Elegy Beta.)

Post-detour: finally, here's the tweet! With Mischa's curtain, lamp, clock, and copy of Charis.

Mischa Willett
I don’t recall when I’ve enjoyed a work of fiction as much as this one, new from ⁦⁩. For me it gets this timeless Cormac McCarthy vibe crossed with an audacious Faulknerian mythos and dislocating force of language plus some of Buechner’s blunt holiness.
Folded hands

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

New interview

Rear cover detail, front cover detail
by Clive Hicks-Jenkins

An interview diving into Charis in the World of Wonders.
With the stellar questions of Amit Majmudar.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Horse. Angel. Riddle.

Once again, I have been terribly lazy about sending out. But thanks to Callum James (I met him some years ago in Wales, during splendid celebrations for the retrospective of painter Clive Hicks-Jenkins) for requesting some poems for the Spiritus Mundi series at Cunning Folk in the U.K. He was, for a short time, their poetry editor. 

The lovely illustration above is by Helen Nicholson, who is an illustrator and musician in the U.K. You can find her here: She also has an Etsy shop for her prints.

Here are some three-line openers/teasers that will surely make you fly through the aether and land ever-so-daintily on the Cunning Folk cloud:

from "The Riddle"

   The mystery of making things
From words is how the needed element
   Seems like a metal jot that springs

and from "The Horse Angel"

Heaven and earth are like two hands that touch,
Clapping together when a thunderbolt
Rives the air and melts the sand to glass.

I also have a short story titled "The Horse Angel." It's in the 2009 Postscripts (U.K.) anthology. Suppose I need a horse-angel essay next.

In related news, I'm saving the tweet below because a.) Dan Sheehan always deletes his page and b.) it is my favorite tweet of the month, and I shall look at it when I feel blue about having yet another novel come out during a disaster. (However, surely the universe will find that three disaster launches is enough... Then again, maybe not. There may be some reason behind my terrible timing, some thing I simply don't get. Offended a minor demon. Insulted a child. Tripped over my own words.) The Sheehanian comment is evidently referring to the Cunning Folk poems in particular, but I feel cheered by the idea of having eerie powers, haha! At least in the realm of world-wielding... And transporting. And timelessness. Okay, I sort of love Dan Sheehan right now, though I suppose that is childish and silly. Compliments at the right moment are sweet.

As I'm getting over a nasty g.i. bug (not The Bug), I shall now wave good-by! and go hug a pillow. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Dear Wikipedia, I object--

Among the many bothersome or dreadful things presenting themselves to my mind in 2020--global, national, and personal things--is the fact that Wikipedia still determines that I am a New Formalist. I noticed this claim some years ago. Perhaps many years ago. In fact, dear Wikipedia, I wrote you about this wee but annoying issue back in February of 2016.

But having accidentally fallen once more into my Wikipedia page by clicking heedlessly on a link, New Formalist glared out me from the little box in the upper right, even though I backtracked as quickly as possible. At the time (whenever it was) that someone made that minor yet preposterous claim, I hadn't the vaguest idea what a New Formalist might be. I certainly was part of no supportive group of poets. How can a writer be a part of a group or movement she knows nothing about? 

These days, I know a good many more poets, yet I still don't know who might be regarded as part of this group that could have been supportive of my writing yet obviously was not. For I would have noticed--years ago--that I was well supported or even minimally supported by other writers. Might I have been a part of some jolly bunch of poets, sailing the seven seas in joy, and not have noticed? My dear Wikipedia, I very much doubt it.

You see, I've never been the least bit good at making "contacts" that might "help me." And I certainly was never embraced by a literary movement. A person notices when she is embraced, whether by a friend or a pushy stranger or even by a whole great big Literary Movement with capital L and M.

The only favor I can recall being done for my poetry was when the late Louis D. Rubin, Jr. asked to see my first poetry manuscript and then sneakily mailed it off to Louisiana State University Press. And they took it, the mad things! Once. I didn't sell enough copies of my first book to be loved by them eternally. If only I had been part of a Literary Movement, you are probably saying to yourself, my dear Wikipedia!  See, you almost admitted the truth there for a moment. But I don't think the book broke 400 copies, way back when. Unfortunately, Claire (I wish I had named it Snow House Stories and Other Poems, as I first intended) hopped around the press like the proverbial hot potato after its first editor took leave to take care of his ailing mother, abandoning my baby. Books need one consistent editor the way a baby needs one consistent mother. (I had two for my first six months of life, but that's another story.) I'm still grateful to Louis for surprising me with that submission. I'd give a great deal to have a chat with him, right now.

What is this New Formalist business? People who write in form who come later than others who write in form? Keats is later than Milton. Pope is later than Shakespeare. People who write in form are simply poets.

That's not what you mean, though... 

Don't tell me. I could just look it up on Wikipedia, but I won't.

No doubt it's the pesky people who tired of the light constraints of free verse and leaped back into terza rima and sonnets and metrical lines and even rhyme. Like me, yes. But evidently they mustered together and created a movement. An actual Movement. Please do not tell me about it. I do not even wish to know. I just wish you, Wikipedia, to delete that bit of illusion, that claim with its air of importance. (Oh, yes, I,  I, I, belong to a Literary Movement. Nope. Never happened.) Perhaps the assertion rises to the level of the currently popular genre, fake news... Except poets are rarely news. I expect Ezra Pound was the last to provide anything we could classify as news, and that wasn't good news.

I may know people who think of themselves with that label. I suppose it is possible. But I don't know who they are, and I don't intend to find out. For me, there are good and memorable poems, and then there are the other poems. The latter no doubt are just as important to their makers as the good and memorable ones are to theirs. Some poems are mayflies, some are mighty Methuselahs. Hoping to catch the next poem as it streams through my mind (mind? spirit?) is what matters to me. I hope it's what matters to most poets (whether they write in form or in some Ivar-the-Boneless manner), though I have encountered poets who had something else entirely in mind.

So dear, sometimes-helpful Wikipedia, note this: People who write in form are merely poets. That's how it has been for thousands of years. And this person--me--who became bored by free verse* long ago is merely a maker of poems and stories, and not part of any movement. And that is all.

I expect you won't do anything about this. After all, it has been more than four years since I wrote you, and I still have this peculiar mark on my forehead. I'll try again in 2024, if the world and I last so long.

See you then!

*I should say that I do have a manuscript that you might call free verse... It combines influences from several distant traditions. Cultural appropriation, you might say, if you were unwilling to accept that the history of literature is a Silk Road, rejoicing in foreign spice and barter and ingenious theft.