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Friday, December 19, 2008

Merry Christmas-yet-to-be: a Christmas Card

Illustration: pencil sketch by R
for Christ Church Cooperstown
Christmas Eve program
There are many lovely Christmas poems and hymn lyrics--a form with many notable American practitioners--but the most beautiful carol by a living writer is by Richard Wilbur, who knows how to be simple and knows how to be ravishing. May he keep writing lovely poems in good health past the century-mark!
Dana Gioia says of Wilbur, "It has been Wilbur’s ironic achievement to excel at precisely those literary forms that many contemporary critics undervalue–metrical poetry, verse translation, comic verse, song lyrics, and perhaps foremost among these unfashionable but extraordinary accomplishments, religious poetry." It is a great good luck that we as readers do not have to be governed by the times, the trends, the politically correct, and the critics but can rejoice in loveliness wherever and however it is found.

A stable-lamp is lighted
Whose glow shall wake the sky;
The stars shall bend their voices,
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry,
And straw like gold shall shine;
A barn shall harbor heaven,
A stall become a shrine.

This child through David’s city
Shall ride in triumph by;
The palm shall strew its branches,
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry,
Though heavy, dull, and dumb,
And lie within the roadway
To pave His kingdom come.

Yet He shall be forsaken,
And yielded up to die;
The sky shall groan and darken,
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry
For stony hearts of men:
God’s blood upon the spearhead,
God’s love refused again.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

THALIAD online!


An excerpt (print and audio) from my 2008 long post-apocalyptic poem, Thaliad, has gone on line at qarrtsiluni. Please click on the link below. And please leave comments at the site--I won't turn comments on here because I know that Dave Bonta and Beth Adams would like to have comments at qarrtsiluni.

I'm eager to see how people like this piece. Please leave a comment if you have an opinion... This section is part IV of XXIV parts.

Merry almost-Christmas,

Here's an excerpt from the editorial note that explains how it is posted:

"Thaliad (excerpt)'" went live this morning:
Please circulate the link to your friends and contacts.

As you'll see, I decided to take the rare step of restricting the archival and front-page view to a longish excerpt -
- so that the stuff we've just published won't be pushed too far down the page. I decided to do this only after verifying that the theme we're using employs a very obvious "more" link-text ("Read the rest of this entry >" in blazing red), and finding an arresting image to break it at (the butterfly tree). So I don't think any of our regular readers will be discouraged from reading the whole thing. I also chose to post it on a Wednesday because mid-week postings tend to get the most traffic. We're really excited to be publishing our first book-length poem excerpt, and we're hoping it gets as many viewers as possible.

PHOTOGRAPHIC CREDIT: The image from Ponte Sant'Angelo is in honor of the angel in Thaliad and in honor of the season and those angels who "great glad tidings tell." The photographer is Valentina Jori, Rome, courtesy of

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Oh, the Dreadful Little Humiliations of Writers!

Oh, the comedy of it all! I hope Miss Brittany M will forgive me for finding amusement in the question below and its answer, particularly since Catherwood is a rather modest book in size. I speculate that during the time she took to search "ALL OVER," she might have actually read the book. The internet has a cunning way of devouring time. It is the modern fairyland, where people go for seven years and find that generations have gone by when they return.

In lieu of reading, she might add some froth and air and whip something like the NYTBR review into a 4-paragraph essay, I suppose. I wouldn't know, being one of those bizarre souls who loves to read books. But I don't demand that everybody else do or be likewise, and I certainly don't want Brittany M to read my book when all she wants it for is a puff of words in the shape of an essay. After all, I don't want to go drag racing or have my nails done or do a thousand other things that I might do instead of reading.
Here goes the question, copied from
Yahoo Answers:

Where can i get a good book summary of Catherwood By: Marly Youmans?

ive searched ALL OVER & i cant find anything. i have to write this 4 paragraph essay on it, & i havent read the book.

About me: so my name is brittany, and i love to give advice.
but since im not perfect, i have problems of my own as well.

Answerer 1
can't find much for you - just the professional and customer reviews here
  • 20 hours ago

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Books and Birthday

The Complete Birthday News

I have gone around the sun another time. My eldest is in North Carolina (where I ought to be, instead of being a frozen magnolia in the No’th), and my husband the mighty adventurer is stalking around after elk and mule deer in the wilds of Montana (his share of Akwesasne Mohawk blood must be acting up), so the day will be comparatively quiet around here with me, R, and N. Cake, presents, and modest frolics in the offing.

Book-length fiction: Val/Orson

Val/Orson (U.K.: P. S. Publishing) now has a pub date of March 2009. If anyone would like a pre-pub .pdf copy to review for print or web publications, including blogs, please leave me a note. And if anyone would like to pre-order, the book will be available in jacketed hardcover (limited edition of 200) and hardcover (limited edition of 500). (Does that seem confusing? What it means is that the hardcover without a jacket will have the jacket image on the body of the book.) Catherynne M. Valente will write the introduction.

Long narrative poems and lyrics

Currently I have poems forthcoming in Books & Culture and Mezzo Cammin. As I like Mezzo Cammin, I have sent the editor a number of poems and will have some in the December 2008 and June 2009 issues. I’ll put up a link when “The Throne of Psyche” goes up there, as I’d love to have any feedback on that one. It’s blank verse narrative in seven parts. In addition, chapter IV of my 24-part post-apocalyptic poem, Thaliad, will be up soon at qarrtsiluni. Any feedback on the long poems will be appreciated…


I also have several stories coming out in Postscripts, the hardcover/softcover magazine of P. S. Publishing—just signed limited edition sheets for the December issue. They will be shifting to anthology format soon. “Rain Flower Pebbles” is the one due out next month; it is another in a small series of stories that pilfer reality—my children, my federal house, the Fenimore-and-baseball-famous Village of Cooperstown—for purposes of strangeness.

Currently out is “Static” in Extraordinary Engines (a steampunk anthology from Solaris, edited by Nick Gevers), a rather Dickensian revel involving static, spontaneous combustion, and lightning. Next up (January 6, 2009) is “The Chinese Room” (DAW, ed. Pete Crowther) in We Think, Therefore We Are. This is a zany story based on an artifical intelligence “thought experiment” of John Searle. If that is not enough for you, there are midgets and former jockeys and love and sausages.

And there will be more anthology stories in 2009 as I whirl around the sun.

Photo credit: I have borrowed (as Huck Finn would say) this from Eric H., on, so be sure and visit his site--you can see what I see on a regular basis! I eyeball the interior of the library a lot more often than the precincts of The Baseball Hall of Fame, I promise.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Please check out poems by Corey Mesler directly below--I'm banging shut the door until the Another Dratted Birthday banner flies on the 22nd. I need to meet deadlines, literary and otherwise, and when I come back, I'll have news. I'll do my annual purge of ephemeral posts as well. For now, feel free to leave Corey a note or questions... Addendum, Nov. 5: We have a President-elect who has shown people that a man of any color can become President of a country that promised to be a nation under God, with liberty and justice for all, and that is good. Here's advice for each of us, including presidents, from Honest Abe Lincoln: Whatever you are, be a good one.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Long Grass Books no. 5, Corey Mesler

Some Identity Problems

Corey Mesler is a penpal of mine—met in the e-aether some time after he reviewed a book of mine for the Memphis Commercial Appeal—and so I want to pay some notice to the fact that he has published that most-ignored thing, a book of poems. FootHills Publishing has stitched up Some Identity Problems as an attractive book, generous in its profusion of poems.

You will never meet this amusing, charming poet and novelist on tour because he is agoraphobic and stays home in Memphis, but you can meet the joy, whimsy, love, anxiety, and contradiction in his poems. Many of these poems are modest in scale but have reach. As a whole they are kaleidoscopic—swerving from low to high in diction, playful, belated in feeling or elated, revealing a persona that struggles to find a center, meaning, worldview. He frolics in the realm of the absurd, then evinces a heart of ripped-open sincerity. He bumps from sacred to profane, leaping from monkey to man to deity. His favorite tropes involve repetition and variations on it, startling metaphor, and the yoking of opposites—a Barcalounger linked to mythic depths.

If you wish to buy a copy, the ideal place to buy is from the bookstore that Corey and his wife Cheryl run in Memphis—Burke’s Book Store, the oldest bookstore in Memphis, founded in 1875. That’s what I’m doing because I can support the book of poetry and bookstore at once. Mine is beautifully signed, so be sure and ask for an inscription!

If you'd like to ask Corey a question here, feel free!
I'll roust him for an answer.


The red book we keep high on a shelf
where children can’t reach.
The blue book is for those who won’t
read anything else. The black
book is where I write everything down,
the names of the children,
the reasons we keep the books, and the
way out, if that becomes necessary.


I will paint the paper sky
with pinpoints of light,
put a smile on the
waif-like moon.
I will walk with you onto
the sunbeams
that color our porch like
a prism exploding.
And, in the end, if the
wayward universe
will not bend to our every
wish, I will filibuster
god to give you all the
comforts of home,
on this rickety planet, even
as she speeds through
space on a collision course
with eternal profusion.


“A lonely moon is mirrored in the cold pool.
Down in the pool there is not really a moon…”

By remote water I have sat
thinking of this and that
and speaking names into
the water, as if there I would
receive back echo. Those
who no longer are near,
those who no longer care,
all those who took me into
themselves and then moved on,
I talk to the river about them.
The river itself is never still,
but it answers something in me
which is deep and almost beyond
recollection. It answers that those
names are now made of silence.

Yet another addition, October 30th: I took a peek at Corey's publisher, and feel that I have been remiss in neglecting to mention how interesting and industrious they appear. Poet and publisher Michael Czarnecki writes of the small company that "FootHills Publishing was formed in 1986 for the purpose of getting into print the words of poets who found it hard to get their work out to the public other than at readings or in the occasional magazine. The first few books were published in conjunction with Great Elm Press, operated by Walt Franklin. Since then, FootHills Publishing has released more than 250 chapbooks or books." The company has all the virtues and determination of a cottage industry: "I do the editorial work - Carolyn handles the book production and shipping and our two boys, Grayson (16) and Chapin (12), help with production. Grayson also assists with some design work. All of our books are now hand-stitched and we have received many compliments on the quality of the work, both in content and production." The picture of Corey's book below doesn't show the stitching, but it's quite evident and attractive when one sees a copy, as is the good quality of the materials. I looked them up and see that they are just barely west of the finger lakes, and probably got as much snow as we did yesterday...

Monday, October 27, 2008

Fiction & Politics, with a dash of poetry

What I have learned from and since writing a post about the current election:

1. People may hate politics but they can't seem to stop talking about it; this is not like the case with poetry, for example. What would the world be like if people talked about poetry as much as they talk about politics? What would the world be like if we had a poetry these days that was deserving that kind of talk and interest? When will we again have a poetry that is again deserving of our fervor? When will we have a poet who is able to tie the shoes of W. B. Yeats or Blake or Shakespeare? Now there's a Messiah complex! Yes, I am fleeing the topic.

2. The reason I fly the topic is that I continue to have a great distaste for politics, which I regard as an inevitably-corrupting enterprise with little “place for the genuine,” beginning as it so often does with lawyers (caveat: I do know several honorable ones) and going on from there. I would never write a novel about politicians because the pen would fall from my fingers in boredom, despite the importance of their shenanigans. Just talking about the whole subject bothers me . . .

Now I am re-considering that boredom and contemplating how the current runners might appear in fiction and find that I have underrated them all--there is no one who, dwelt on with sufficient curiosity, will not begin to show possibilities as a fictional person. Palin, who has enormous vim (a highly desirable trait in a paper person) and is peppered with contradictions, might bag a major role, while Biden would make an excellent malaprop-style minor figure in a comic tale--his acts leavened with and undercut by humor. Obama: I’d go straight to the instant when his wife finally found something to be proud of in America, and I’d explore that two-edged Messiah impulse. McCain: I’d bee-line to those dogged, determined, sweaty years of survival in Vietnam.

3. Alas, I still have huge reservations about the current election plots and various unreliable narrators among the media. That means I am still unsure about the story circling around my own party's candidate. He is certainly attractive in his manner and appearance, and I hope his inner self proves worthy of the outer one.

4. "Have something that matters to you more" (credit: Annie) is wise, and I suppose is the way I have generally behaved—often averting my eyes from debacle. No doubt I will go on doing so.

5. I still don't imagine that what I think matters a whit, but I write it down to thank those of you who left a note to suggest that it might, even though it doesn't! On the other hand, those who left a few words probably couldn't help it because of the pressing logic of “People may hate politics but can’t help talking about it.”

Credit: Thanks to photographer Lauren Burbank and for the patriotic barn.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Unsplendid - "Near the End of the World"

I have a poem in the near-new Unsplendid, "a journal of received and nonce forms." You can take a look at the magazine my heading over to, where there's much to be read. Or you can hop straight over to "Near the End of the World,"

The poem is true to itself, but it's not how I actually feel about the fate of poetry in general! Instead, it sprang from a passing mood and is true to that mood. Other recent poems are at and elsewhere, and there are a good number of older ones at
CREDIT: The above triptych is one of a series that alternate as cover of the current issue. They are by Fabian Birgfeld, and there are more of these "interior landscapes" inside--do we call it inside? or just elsewhere, very elsewhere--as well as a statement and information about Birgfield, who has a website at

Friday, October 10, 2008

Claire, again


My first book of poetry is still in print—thank God for university presses and small presses and for all those who care more for art than for Bookscan numbers—and I’ve been reminded by an energetic young sales manager that it might be good to add a link here. Should you want a copy of Claire, you might think about buying directly from Louisiana State University Press so that the press and the book will receive that vote of confidence. It’s no secret that almost every volume of poetry is now hard-won. Should you desire any book of poetry by any writer, the same logic for purchase applies.


“Dollars damn me.”—Melville

“People who say they love poetry but don’t buy any are cheap sons-of-bitches.”—Kenneth Patchen

I’ve mentioned that rather rude quote before. It always sticks in my brain--used to be taped on a bookcase in the Bull’s Head Bookshop at UNC, perhaps by Erica Eisdorfer, the manager. She was a finalist for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award and now has a book forthcoming, The Wet Nurse’s Tale. More about that another time.


Here are a couple of poems from the book. I think they were first published in The Carolina Quarterly. They were written a long time ago...

“Snow House Stories” came from an anecdote recounted by my husband, although he was not my husband yet: a young woman and young man crossed Mirror Lake in Lake Placid, announcing their engagment to the family of each. The woman plunged through the ice mid-way; after a long search in the icy water, the man caught hold of a slip of hair and pulled.

The “orphic” voice refers to Orpheus, who could make even the rocks respond to his music and who journeyed down to hell to retrieve his beloved, Eurydice. In the end, he was not quite so lucky as this young man.

I tried to write this poem many times, once typing my long hair around the patten of my typewriter—writers are quite nuts in funny ways. One day the poem appeared, fully formed, like good old Minerva out of the brain of Zeus. That's called a heroic simile.

To Michael

Our district's bedtime tales of snow are cruel.
The steps of toddlers, moving back and forth
Between two doors, the sled runs to a pond.

At Mirror Lake a woman slipped through ice
And drank the cold. In blue twilight she saw
Lucent souls of lost unlucky children

Suspended in the ice, or floating past
In sodden hoods and gowns, unharmed by smiles
Of pike. Claire spoke; then she forgot all words.

The man detected nothing. Logged, his sleeve
Now strained in silence that the blackbirds fled.
He felt the world attending as he fished.

Next he could feel the stars kneel at his back.
And he could feel the planets stare to think.
Then particles were getting in his eyes.

And afterward he proved the orphic voice
To be a kind of choking, stop and start.
The leastmost tendril crept across his wrist.

She didn't want to come. She didn't want
That birth. Claire wanted nothing. Still, she was
Upraised by hair from water's placid womb.

It seemed there was no link with nature's dark.
And after all, she lived. The neighbors sprang
From shining homes to help him lift her forth.

The snow kept on, tireless, wide spaced as stars.

“The Arabic Lesson” was written during an unhappy time in my life—the sort of thing we have all experienced and would prefer to skip next time around. One of my pleasures in that time was knowing Amal, a girl growing up, the daughter of my friend Anne. And now she is grown and married and living still, I believe, in North Carolina.

For Leila Amal

Clear green flies mating in the bamboo leaves,
Everything as in a Japanese
Poem, the lees
In a glass, curtain trailing
Its far perfume…
The children from next door
Were leaning in the leafiest places,
Straight bodies growing curved—their longings streamed
Past sliding doors.
The children taught:

Say riha, say amar, hilal, the words
As useless as the spinning sands, but Claire
Said them to hold
The feckless flies that bred
In air, d’ow
That languished on the leaves,
The great, greeny dustjacket of a world
Where somewhere rockets pistoled and ash clouds
Filtered up.
Staring at sift

Of light on leaf, Claire thought of turning thirty
—an end!—some promises in writing made
By a fortune
Cookie, grief of being
No more, no
Better than she should be.
And dreamed a tale of ancient single self,
Toy queen of glass who broke to babel all
These casts of mind,
This sex, this race.

And then Claire looked—the children were leaning,
Who owned more names than she did for the world,
Who taught her love
And really going crazy
On the same day—
And saw that they would know
No better how to grow than she, who knew
Not the pure, incantatory names
Of light and leaf
So many ways.


Samuel Menashe, New and Selected Poems. Here’s a Dana Gioia essay about Menashe. I became interested in him because he was championed by that marvelous poet, Kathleen Raine. William Logan, Reputations of the Tongue. It’s important to know the critics that make people angry. James Fenton, Children in Exile and Partingtime Hall. And I’m rereading James Matthew Wilson’s ongoing series, “Our Steps Amid a Ruined Colonnade” at Contemporary Poetry Review.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Frolics, various

Updatery department: Lucy of Box Elder has pointed out to me that artist-Annie-who-moved-to-California is working on a picture for "Static." Go see ( There are several versions, so you can see changes, too. Last month I wrote some poems for a little book in honor of Clive Hicks-Jenkins and his 2011 retrospective (I'm early! Such a lovely and unexpected sensation), so I've had ekphrasis on the brain lately. I always enjoy seeing what people dream and make in response to my writing. Those lightning bolts look like creatures, though ones I don't want to meet up close. Thank you, Annie...

Next up on the anthology front: "Static" in Extraordinary Engines, ed. Nick Gevers (Solaris). Pub date for this all-original steampunk collection is September 30th.

I finally joined Dickens in wreaking a certain kind of mysterious and lively death on a character, and I can reveal that this was an extremely satisfying experience. In fact, riotous fun and maximal steam was had in the writing of this story. Moreover, I have evidently raised my family status because a mother who writes a steampunk story is more appealing to preteen and teen children. Why this should be, I do not know, but one of my old editors at FSG, Robbie Mayes, guarantees it.

Speaking of children, I am glad to say that my mother spoke to somebody in B's dorm who said that he sees B yacking in the lobby constantly or else riding his bike. Evidently the mountain bike is noticeable because everybody else thinks it's too mountainous to ride a bike on campus. So at least he is practicing his social skills and getting lots of exercise! Meanwhile, he keeps adding courses and has passed the audition to enter the theatre arts program. Go, B! So it looks like a double major in history and musical theatre if we don't yack and ride bikes to absolute excess.


Overheard just now: Mike and N have already woven a diamond-pattern seat for the Shaker's elder chair that Mike made for my father when he became debilitated. Now N is helping to weave a flame-stitch seat onto a Shaker bench.

Mike, evidently feeling mightily sentimental: Some day when you're an old man and your mother and father are dead, you can tell your grandchildren how you made this bench for your mother when you were a little boy.

N, 11, blasting through the treacle skies like a red-hot rocket: I'm going to tell somebody before that.


Recalled from yesterday: R, 16, is talking to her friend M during a rehearsal for Grease. The two are doing a little bit of chatter-patter as part of the background, so it doesn't much matter what they say.

M, with enthusiasm: I think boys are nice!

R: I'm a cat person myself.


Yes, I've been perfectly perfect in my horribleness about blogging. Or about not blogging. And I'm way overdue to talk about lots of new books by people I like, so I'll try to come back soon... What have I been doing? I've been committing more poetry, polishing the summer's very long poem, answering or postponing various requests, and generally pinwheeling about like a cat on ice who wishes that she was as clever and fast as a chimpanzee on skates.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Transgress, transform, transcend--trala!

Recently I almost stopped writing fiction…

I was still fulfilling story-anthology requests, but I was overtaken a spring spate of poetry—a veritable flood in which I wrote one, two, or sometimes three poems a day. Formal poems, that is: the once-beloved kind with meter and rhyme and aspirations toward song. And I found this immensely satisfying. In the light of poetic practice of the last century, it feels positively kick-up-my-heels transgressive (transgressive--a favorite caddisfly-nymph decorative ornamentation of the academic world, which I hereby steal and pervert for my own purposes), particularly as some of these were not lyrics at all but longer narrative poems.

In addition, I entirely ceased thinking about where whatever thing I had made would be published because there was so darn many poems that I couldn’t even bother to think about such petty little distractions. This is a good, a downright delicious feeling, especially since I have realized that a writer who has seven books (counting the forthcoming U. K. book) but has never received the a “push” from her various mainstream publishers is not going to find novels easy to publish in the brave new world of publishing where Bookscan numbers, past marketing history, youth, and other silly things determine one’s lot. If my soulmate Hawthorne (so conscious of guilt that he must have been a Southerner in disguise) had had to put up with this stuff, he’d never have gotten so far as The Marble Faun. Why, who would publish so odd a thing as The Blithedale Romance? And what about that darling old crustacean, Melville? They never would have let him thrust his whaling boat past Moby Dick. Moby would have been the enormous white rock that his gifts foundered on. As it was, the powers tried manfully (demonfully, perhaps) to stop him. Luckily he managed to slip pursuit by constant transformation and by surviving neglect and general human stupidity. There’s nothing like eternal persistence, a trait (or perhaps itself a stupidity) for which the mid-list writer then and now must be grateful.

Having written an astonishing-to-me number of short-to-moderate-length poems this spring, I have ventured into long ones. Currently I’m on page 50 of a narrative poem entitled The Thaliad. As a person who has been prone to having each new book be entirely different from the last (the absolute bane of publishers) and who has frequently shifted from poetry to novel to story, I’m finding combining an expansive narrative with poetic form to be a fresh-feeling and an entirely enjoyable act. It’s a sort of culmination of many trajectories and tendencies having to do with approaches to joy, truth, and beauty.

And that is what I have been doing—along with the usual summer ferrying, the mama-work, the carrying-of-houses-and-laundry-and-so-on—while neglecting this airy little nothing called a blog.

* * *

Illustration: scratchboard drawing by my daughter, 16.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Seven Questions of Clare Dudman

I love these questions because they are all so nakedly Clare, Clare, Clare, and reveal her in the asking more than anyone could reveal in answering. But I will answer them all the same.

1. What can I fit in the space between the stars?

Swaths and of nothingness, cloth from invisible bolts.

2. What is the first thing you know that you saw?

White light trembling on water.

3. Can I really smell the rain?

As it seeds the ground and marries with earth.

4. When does white noise become dark?

When a demon breaks the blur into separate pieces.

5. Where did you leave your favourite dream?

In the air, flying.

6. How can I stop feeling the lashing of a tongue?

Walk in green leaves until the noise of a whip is only the wind in branches.

and 7. Why do some words stain with an indelible ink; while others leave no mark at all?

On writing
Some come from the ink jar of mastery, some are blood that will not be scrubbed away, and some were never really more than warm dissolving air.

On the soul considered as a piece of paper
News of the terrible error of one’s ways, news that is a streaming joyfulness, news of birth and death, and sometimes stray trivial news that comes to have meaning years later: indelible. The missed direction, the love unnoticed, the daily rout, and what seems (but is not) the common ruck of men and women passing on the street, talking into machines or to one another: no mark, unless a phrase should aspire to be stray trivial news that comes to have meaning years later.

About Clare
Clare Dudman’s questions and dreams and news about her own books and those of others can be found at See more at And Clare in The Palace at 2:00 a.m.: here.

And read her books, too, won’t you? They, too, lead to questions and answers in the mind.

Photo credit: I saved this leafy labyrinth long ago and have no idea of the source. Tell me if you do.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Q-looniness, Grad-looniness

I'm starting to like online publication more and more--the readership is so much better than print magazines. Mezzo Cammin has just picked up an 11-page blank verse poem called "The Throne of Psyche," out in their next issue. And today I have some q-looniness in place: Dave Bonta says that this is one of only two formal poems in this issue--the other also being by a former editor, Brent Goodman. I'm pleased to follow one of Laura Frankstone's sea images. And if you want to see more than one poem, try

B received his genuine Regents diploma last Sunday, and so can be released into the stream of the world. I don't use names or pictures of children online, but now that he is a certified semi-adult with paperwork to prove it, I'll memorialize The Graduation of B with a few pictures. SEE BELOW.

WATER CREDIT: The image of Onomea Bay above is from the water-loving brush of Laura Frankstone of It's not, however, the one that precedes that poem in qarrtsiluni. Laura must have some mer in her ancestry...

Happy graduation, B--

Seniors above the Fenimore Museum's double staircase leading to the lawn above Otsego Lake.

October 2007, senior year

At the start of prom night, June 14, 2008

Monday, June 09, 2008

8 Days of Poems

While I also have some new poems out in print mags, I have a few in the new issue of Mezzo Cammin: In All Her Gleaming Youth, She Said; Puck in Spring; Snow White in Wildwood; Stones in the Wilderness; Mirror Tree, Tree Mirror; Blurbs of the Poets, no. 1.
The first, second, and fifth are from my spring spate of new poems. All can be read at:
It has been a month for Diana Wynne Jones book reports. My fifth-grader, N, did a seven-layer cake book report (who dreams up these things?) about Eight Days of Luke. The cake made a cute little book by the end, although there were points when I felt that it might just kill me.
And now R has done a Howl's Moving Castle report mounted on poster board with much embellishment of amusing and pretty drawings in gold... I remember my childhood in school as being much more straightforward and involving pencils.
While she was fooling around on my computer and printing out a few photographs, I noticed this rendition of Miyazaki's version of Howl's castle. The video shows the making of the paper castle over 72 hours by Ben Millett, an attractively-obsessed (at least to other obsessed people like me) geek with cat. And most things do go better with a cat.
And that is a thing well known to Diana Wynne Jones.
I ordered my mother's non-refundable airline ticket for baccalaureate Sunday instead of graduation Sunday. I borrowed two houses, also for the wrong weekend. All relatives have been invited for the wrong weekend.
The word FOOL is glowing on my forehead. Must go wash. Send news of your own foolishness...

Sunday, June 01, 2008

News from the Nest


Lately I have been: very busy; excessively busy; even ridiculously busy. Today was an elevenses day, an important birthday, and in less than a month I shall be buried by much in the way of graduation frolics. Overnight company to the tune of twelve... So I have been chopping and hoeing my yard and drudging and scrubbing my nest in order not to be shamed at various set-at-home events. I long for a gardener and a maid, but I long in vain. If you would like to be my gardener and maid, please inform me by the nearest fast-flying kestrel or any other winged thing—even a grackle would be acceptable.

Thank you for not abandoning me in the midst of my toils, all you note-leavers and email-senders and wafters-by… I have stayed in my burrow and worked, and I have not gone visiting or been much in evidence. Perhaps that is the way things should be. I’m not sure. I’m still thinking about it.

One of the reasons I have been busy is that I paused in the writing of stories and immediately was swept away by a spring spate of poems that has lasted for a pleasing-and-unusual length of time. They are very green, full of leaves and blossomings and mystery and muse. Much form, much narrative, much of a muchness…

Meanwhile I have read several rather stupid books, alas. I seem to have been reading the wrong novels. But I have also been reading Yeats and Charles Causley again, as well as some medieval and Anglo-Saxon poems. Most are re-reads, but I have also read the Robin Hood poems for the first time. It’s hard to say how old they are, as most of the existing copies seem to be rather late. X
June-bug resolution: memorize or revive the memory of one poem per week. We’ll see how long that lasts! This week: re-learned “Margaret, are you grieving.”


Yeats and Blake

For Yeats, who agreed with his mentor Blake that “the thankful receiver bears a plentiful harvest,” “works of art are always begotten by previous works of art” and “supreme art is a traditional statement of heroic and religious truths passed on from age to age, modified by individual genius, but never abandoned.”


In the “arts just as in ethics . . . all there is or has been on earth of freedom” and “masterly sureness” has developed only because of sustained “obedience” to what the undisciplined resent as “the tyranny . . . of capricious laws.”

The “most natural” state of the artist, “giving form in the moment of inspiration,” is “far from any letting himself go”; strictly and subtly” the artist “obeys thousandfold laws precisely then.”

Nietzsche and Yeats

This paradoxical fusion of autonomy and obedience, of gaiety under self-imposed constraint, is shared by Yeats, who eschews “free verse” in favor of those “traditional meters . . . I compel myself to accept” and without which “I would lose myself, become joyless” (E&I 522).

PHOTOGRAPH courtesy of and Crystal Leigh Shearin of Rocky Mount, North Carolina--a place where I once accidentally left all my nice new clothes in a hotel closet. I remember being a little girl and waking up on the train and seeing a neon sign for Rocky Mount and being happy because I was back home in the South and on my way to see my Aunt Sara in Savannah.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Breakages + meme for Ms. Box Elder

I am taking a wee break from blogging because I am having a lovely almost-spring spate of new poems. Also, I ought to be in a dragon-biting gunpowder mood because two of my books are going out of print at once (the Penguin/Firebird paperback editions of The Curse of the Raven Mocker and Ingledove--better get one now or never), and I might just be in that bad mood later on so may as well vanish till I'm over it. However, at the moment I am being of great good cheer because I'm placing a lot of stories and poems and what is even better, having that grand lyric gush of poems. Every now and then I get a flood of the things, and it's the most wondrous pleasure.

See you later! And may you have much happy April fooling! But be sure that this, though possibly written by an April fool, is no fooling . . .

Despite much cheerful tagging, I rarely get around to doing a meme... This one from Box Elder sticks in memory because I actually dredged up the name of the book when Lucy posted her quote.

The rules for Lucy's meme go like this:

1. Pick up the book you are reading, or else the nearest book (of at least 123 pages).

2. Open the book to page 123.

3. Find the fifth sentence.

4. Post the next three sentences

5. Tag five people.
If you're reading this and have a blog and the funny feeling that I mean you, consider yourself tagged.
No, it was the chirping of birds, which landed like gray shot on open umbrellas, for here I was offered real German canaries from the Harz Mountains, cageloads of goldfinches and starlings, basketfuls of winged talkers and singers. Spindle-shaped and light, as if stuffed with cotton wool; jumping jerkily, agile as if running on smooth ball bearings; chattering like cuckoos in clocks--they were destined to sweeten the life of the lonely, to give bachelors a substitute for family life, to squeeze from the hardest of hearts the semblance of maternal warmth brought forth by their touching helplessness. Even when the page was almost turned, their collective, alluring chirping seemed to persist.
Photograph: The literary mosaic picture is courtesy of and Christa Richert of Berlin, Germany. Now see if you can put any of these little shards of word into a larger mosaic.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Appreciation Corner: "Spring Pools," for the season in-between + Stories

I always think that Robert Frost must have been somehow remembering—in some vague, inchoate way—Philip Freneau’s “The Wild Honey-Suckle” when he wrote “Spring Pools.” The form is very close: Freneau ends a six-line tetrameter stanza with a couplet; Frost begins a six-line pentameter stanza with a couplet. Freneau and Frost turn to weak rhymes, expressive of the shivery frailties of flowers, and both poets rhyme flower with power or powers. Freneau closes “The Wild Honey-Suckle" with this: From morning suns and evening dews / At first thy little being came: / If nothing once, you nothing lose, / For when you die you are the same; / The space between, is but an hour, / The frail duration of a flower."

In both poems, the flower is tied to the brevity of life. Powers are opposed to the flower: in one, autumn and the seeing death of nature; in the other, a more surprising move—the onrushing sweep of life. There will be more life, but the flowers and pools will be lost in its great pour:


These pools that, though in forests, still reflect
The total sky almost without defect,
And like the flowers beside them, chill and shiver,
Will like the flowers beside them soon be gone,
And yet not out by any brook or river,
But up by roots to bring dark foliage on.

The trees that have it in their pent-up buds
To darken nature and be summer woods--
Let them think twice before they use their powers
To blot out and drink up and sweep away
These flowery waters and these watery flowers
From snow that melted only yesterday.

The pools and flowers belong to that tenuous time when the Snow Queen’s grip on the land has loosened and the first brave flowers bloom. The simplicity—the tendency toward monosyllables, the parallelism (“And like the flowers beside them”/“Will like the flowers beside them”, “To darken”/“To blot”) the almost “total” lack of flowery ornament—save for the very appropriate use of antimetabole to describe a mirrored scene: “These flowery waters and these watery flowers.” The use of the antimetabole, the repetition of words in transposed order, means that all ends “in balance,” though it is a balance that will soon be gone. The last line reinforces that balance by returning to a regular metrical line.

This is no allegory, and yet we sense our parallels to these small shining pools and tiny flowers and are capable are feeling grief for their passage in a reading of the poem. The unthinking trees whose branches lend “defect” to the reflected sky loom above in dark patterns, their pent-up life about to break from the bough. Their powers will make a fantastic Black Forest of the land; they will annihilate and suck away the delicate life of pool and blossom. The force is over-bearing; they do not merely “blot out” but “blot out and drink up and sweep away.” Any one of these would do, but the heaping up stresses the utter blank and dark to come.

Instead of joining with the greater life of streams, the pools will be strained through roots and not transformed into darkness but lost there. The snows that melted yesterday have assisted the rule of winter, and the forest likewise is a great power. Flower and pool are but ephemeral: “frail duration.” Already ruffled by chill breezes, they will yield to the dark forces of death and destruction, their own lives taken that there might be more life.

"Spring Pools" came to mind last week. During a sunny day, the snow melted from the two flower beds next to the warm southern wall of the house. Underneath proved to be many yellow flowers, tightly closed, of aconite. Then it rained and mist rose up from the heaped banks of snow, and melting snow and rain puddled in the flower beds. And then I thought of Robert Frost’s “flowery waters” and “watery flowers.”

Addendum, March 26, 2:00 a.m.: Without thinking, I posted something about Frost yesterday--and here today it is his birthday.



Last night I sent off some stories, and this morning I woke up to find them accepted. I always find that sort of thing pleasing. Enthusiam is always dear. New forthcoming stories: "The Red King's Sleep" (continuing the Carroll motif of the last post) and "The Horse Angel" in Postcripts (U.K.) The "Sleep" takes that old chestnut "then I woke up and it was all a dream" and turns it inside-out and sideways. "The Horse Angel" began with an elderly neighbor here in Cooperstown, and I make use of her character, her house and handed-down possessions, and her marriage of 63 contented years. There are a lot of stories in the pipeline labeled forthcoming, and that is good because I have been devoting myself to poetry lately. Another forthcoming story (from the same editor as the two last, so I just found out about this one as well) is "Static," scheduled to come out this year in Extraordinary Engines: The Definitive Steampunk Anthology, ed. Nick Gevers (U.K./U.S.: Solaris Books). Never had my innocent little mind turned to the thought of writing a steampunk story, but I had a splendid romp in the writing. Lots of steam as well as peculiar characters, an imprisoned young woman, perilous lightning, and some enlivening combustion.


I know. Haven't done them. Will do, honest. At least one or two. Soon.

Photograph credit: The "spring shot of Llantisilio churchyard with snowdrops" is courtesy of and "Plutarch" or Sandi Baker of "Chester, Cheshire, U. K." It's not in the woods, and it has no spring pools. But it has spring flowers and bare branches and more than a hint of time's passage.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Falling toward Easter


As it is a busy week in the snowdrifts of upstate New York, I shall just wish friends and passers-by a happy and blessed Easter-to-be.

And if you are in need of some writing advice while I am out-of-the-palace, please take this: "'Begin at the beginning,' the King said, very gravely, 'and go on till you come to the end: then stop.'"

That is, of course, from the immortal nib of a pen held by Lewis Carroll or Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, the kaleidoscopic, the myriad-talented, and the Reverend. Ah, to be born under the tilted grin of a Cheshire moon, caught in the branches of the Daresbury parsonage tree!

I am glad of his tenderness for little girls because he gave me a gift at an early age that has served me all my life and given me much joy.



Here's an on-line poem of mine that just popped up today: "Homomonojot" at The Round Table Review (U. K.) If you're wondering where the name came from, it is a portmanteau word (thank you again, Lewis Carroll) that puts together bits of "homonym" + "monometer" + "jot." Does that sound a little smart-alecky? Blame it on the one-stress lines. Thanks to Jon Stone for suggesting that I submit to The Great Monometer Challenge.



The contemporary Alice falling into a marvelous rabbit hole can be found on DeviantArt; it is by "Tahra" or Kyoung Hwan Kim of South Korea. Some rights reserved. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Youmans - Spitzer connection

Poet William Harmon gets the grandest kind of a prize for being the very first person to drop me a note about my young music-minded cousin who has just hit the big time under her professional name of "Kristen": "In 2006, Ms. Dupré changed her legal name, according to records in Monmouth County Superior Court, from Ashley R. Youmans to Ashley Rae Maika DiPietro, taking her stepfather’s surname since she regarded him as 'the only father I have known.' But in . . . interview, she referred to herself as Ashley Alexandra Dupré, which is how she is known on MySpace" (The New York Times March 13, 2008). The just and jolly reward for dropping me a line on this important political matter of forbidden fruit will be an immediate name change from "William Harmon" to "Billy Rae Taylor D'Anunnzio," with alternate monikers of "Jonesie" and "Brandyn."

Billy Rae has expressed the thought that life is a lot more lively in New York than back home in the Carolinas. The North Carolina governor is downright boring "except for 30 mins. a year when he drives around a NASCAR track." Perhaps we can fax him Eliot Spitzer, who is terribly available this morning. Client-9. Kristin. Let's hope they can stand the excitement of their lives. Maybe even hope for a smidge of redemption and a scrap of good sense. As a dyed-in-the-cotton Southerner raised to be riddled with guilt, I have a hard time smacking anybody. Besides, Randall Jarrell told us all, "You know what I was, / You see what I am: change me, change me!" (“The Woman at the Washington Zoo.”) Of course, the context was a bit different.

Is "Kristin" of "Kristin and Client-9" related to me? I suppose so, since it's said that people in the U. S. who bear the name of Yeoman(s) or Youman(s) are all descended from four brothers who sailed to New York before the Revolution. Three (including my direct ancestor) skedaddled to Georgia, but one dug in where he landed. Evidently his branch was doing very well in the nineteenth century, but perhaps some of them have come on hard times since. By the Depression, most of mine had had their skinny Georgia butts vigorously kicked by history.

My husband, having read the Times and The Drudge Report over breakfast, suggested that I tart up a good nom de plume. I'm working on it, now that I've finished laboring over Billy Rae's reward. And Mike reminded me about all the mightly hordes of people who will be googling the young was-Youmans and discovering their passion for poetry and novels . . .

Now ain't that a thought?
Photograph credit: I've wrested this piece of forbidden fruit from the pictorial tree by permission of and J. G. or "LittleMan" of Belgium. Seems as though we all have at least two names today . . .

Monday, March 10, 2008

Darconville's Cat, Ugga-Bugga, etc.

What bookish bloggers say when they have nothing to say
I am going to tell you what I am reading, as I do from time to time when I refuse to write a proper blog post (whatever that might be) because I do not feel like writing a proper blog post. So now I will undertake to write an improper blog post, born like a slatternly, slovenly Venus from a sea of laziness.

What I'm rereading or reading on this very day

Alexander Theroux, Darconville's Cat

W. B. Yeats, The Poems of W. B. Yeats (Feeling queasy? Want a bit of basalt in a world that's boggy and squelchy underfoot? Remember that I will be reading Yeats.)

Romans 8

Wislawa Symborska, Poems New and Collected

Paul Celan, Speech-Grille and Selected Poems, trans. Joachim Neugroschel

Archibald MacLeish, Collected Poems 1917-1952

What I wrote today

I wrote a poem having to do with Celan (yes, that sounds evasive--my rule is "don't talk about new things!") in the wee hours of the morning and fiddled with it again in the afternoon. I didn't mean to; the thing just seeped in, all those Celanese stones and the man himself, his terrible losses and death.


While I may have been a rather different person when I last read Darconville's Cat, I am pleased to announce that Darconville's Cat is the same book that it was before. This is a valuable piece of news and not always what comes of rereading a book. I have read many a book that turned out to be another book entirely on rereading. Darconville's Cat appears to be a book that can be relied upon--in contra-indication to those mutable books that refuse to be the same thing twice.
Later the same day: What I meant by the above is that they are still "good books" twice. As happens with a lazy post, I now have to add an explanation. Here it is:
More on rereading; or, what comes of a lazy post; or, a note to Lucy
All books are different when reread. That's obvious. But some books shouldn't be tried again--one could only read them at a certain age, it seems. As Heraclitus keeps on saying, even after all these years, "You cannot step into the same river twice, for fresh waters are ever flowing in upon you."

It's sad when you try to greet an old-friend book and find it is a stranger with little to interest or hold the attention. What I like is meeting a beloved book once more and finding that it still has something to say--often something very different from what it said before.

Overheard in Cooperstown, also this very day

On the general decline in vocabulary: "In another generation, people will just be saying 'Ugga-Bugga, Ugga-Bugga.'"

Suggestion for reversing tendencies toward Ugga-Buggadom

You know those horrid let-everybody-read-the-same-dratted-book programs? (Of course, if everybody was assigned one of my books, I'd have to change my mind about the "horrid" part.) Let's make everybody read Darconville's Cat. In that way, Alexander Theroux can take a long sabbatical from the Augean Stables of teaching because he will be so Lydian-Croesus rich from everybody on the planet reading Darconville's Cat. I suspect that the mass reading of Darconville's Cat will cause an important shift in human history and increase the sale of dictionaries. Have I mentioned the title often enough? That's Darconville's Cat. You might read it. Theroux has a new novel as well: Laura Warholic. I'll have to get around to that later.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

The Return of the Pot Boy

the Pot Boy,
Palace Advice Columnist
& general answerer of questions

Lori Witzel said...

Dear Pot Boy:

Who wrote the Book of Love?


Sorry, that was the best question I could come up with on Short Notice.

Ms. Witzel,

The Book of Love was written before the worlds were made. If you don’t believe it, just read more Yeats. We are made to read much Yeats here.
Yours truly,
the Pot Boy

blog queen said...

Ah, I have one. What is it like to be a boy/man in love? I've wondered lately. We girls get all giddy, look starry eyed, feel weak in the knees when kissed, etc. I've wondered if boys and men feel the same or is it different for them? I read also that usually one of the couple is "more in love" with the other, and saw this played out today at McDonalds. I saw a chap with his arm around a girl looking totally besotted. Giving rise to the above questions in my mind. She on the other hand looked like she was just tolerating his being there and was more in love with the ice cream cone she was holding. I was thinking, poor chap, she's probably going to dump him sometime... but anyhow, do boys/men go all gagga like girls/women do when they are first "in love".?

Ms. Blog Queen,

I cannot speak for all men, but I can certainly speak for myself. In love, I have floated past the moon head over blue-lit heels and found butterflies in my bed in the morning. Nevertheless, I have managed to keep a straight face, gaga being alien to my nature.
Sincerely yours,
the Pot Boy

Susangalique said...

I have been working with my profile and looks like I will just have to be faceless and hatless, I so wanted to wear my turbin hat for the potboySusangaliques question, is how a soul might beat the lethargy of bla

Miss Galique,

I will be happy to see you in your turban, whenever it appears!

A soul might beat the famous Lethargy of Blah by waking up. As Thoreau said, most people are sleepers in a long railroad track. Spices and hot oil, a pan full of suds, a book or picture I almost understand and want to grasp, unearthly encounters, music, the opposing sex: all these wake me up.
Snappily yours,
the Pot Boy

Dear Pot Boy,

What we would all do without pot boys?

please, i'm being rhetorical.

After all, armies and families must be nourished on a frightening regular basis. And this requires pots. Clean pots. Lots and lots of clean pots.

So, dear pot boy, please let me off the hook if you can. What i need to know is this:is it absolutely necessary for me to keep my copper pots shined at all times? i only have two in my humble kitchen, but they are used frequently and while i do often enjoy shining them 'til them gleam, i am almost always compelled to fly away with dishes dripping dry on the rack while the last of the soap bubbles slips down the drain. This means, of course, that the copper pots develop a well-worn patina i've often spied on tv chef's copper pots...but...please tell me the truth: am i slothful for not polishing them every night?

Humbly yours,

Fitful Zephyr

Fitful Zephyr,

Shine not at all times! You are a zephyr, not a sun.

Women ripen, copper tarnishes. I am also fond of copper as it heats quickly and is responsive to temperature changes. Some people clean tarnish with vinegar or salted lemon halves or other easy home remedies, but I do not dislike the evidence of time.
Mythologically yours,
the Pot Boy

blog queen said...

I have another question for the pot boy. Are there ghosts in your palace? I was with a friend tonight at our local coffee house and we had contact with a ghost. Details are on my blog, but I want to know about your palace, does it have ghosts, and what are they like?

Dear B. Q.,

How satisfying! A second question.

There is some disagreement about the matter of ghosts. This place is a regular rabbit warren, and it’s possible to get lost… Generally it is people who are lost who see ghosts. Some shriek and depart as quickly as possible. Others attempt to bless the ghost and lay it to rest. “In the name of Christ, be at peace!” is a common utterance. So the numbers of the ghosts may be in continual decline. Of course, some ghosts plug their ears.

I believe that the kitchen and butler’s pantry are haunted by the ghosts of vegetables. Ghosts of avocados rock back and forth in the tiered basket. Melons skitter about on tiny legs like unexpectedly graceful pigs. I once saw the ghost of a large rutabaga tapdancing on the kitchen table, surrounded by a ring of bobbing scallions.
Peace-be-with-you yours,
the Pot Boy

Amanda J. Sisk said…

Dear Pot Boy:

Pls do not feel unloved and come out and play! There are few worse fates than being unloved, it is true...but you could have a name that means "worthy of love" and feel the weight this title adds to the burden that is absence.

I've a query for you, but perhaps you require some gentle coaxing. Since you spend your hours in the kitchen, I assume you like to eat and also approach the edible with a certain creative flair. I've just perfected my recipe for simple home-made pasta sauce here in Italia and shall give it to you. It is not a bribe, just a gentle offering.

1 lb sun-ripened tomatoes
1 lb spaghetti
1/2 cup grated ricotta salata or pecorino
salt and pepper to tastea pinch of red pepper flakes
olive oil
6-8 basil leaves
3 cloves of garlic, chopped

Cut a small "x" in the tops and bottoms of your fresh tomatoes (pls avoid grocery tomatoes... grow them yourself or go to a market). Boil them in hot water until their skins loosen. Peel the skins whilst making sure you don't singe your own skin. Chop up the tomatoes and and put them in a saucepan with the garlic (finely chopped or pressed). Let this mixture simmer eight-ten minutes - stir occasionally. You can add a TBS or two of olive oil at this point. This is a personal choice. I find too much olive oil makes the sauce less hearty. Also add salt, pepper, and the red pepper flakes (be very sparing on the flakes). Boil your pasta in salted water. Add shredded basil and cheese to your sauce just a few minutes before serving.

Variations: Eggplant - Peel and slice into 1/2" slices and salt them. Place in a colander for 1-2 hours. Then rinse, pat dry, and fry in hot oil, turning so both sides brown. Drain on absorbent paper and add to your sauce before serving.

Black olives - 1 1/2 cups black olives, pitted and coarsely chopped. I don't use canned olives... I remove the pits myself. Try adding these with a tsp or two of oregano and a little chilli pepper for a second variation on the sauce.

Serves 6.

Some people like to add a pinch of sugar to cut the acidity of our tomato friends. I did not detect a difference when I tried it.

There will be pots to scrub, of course.

Now: Do you think it is a person's duty to build a life around a gift/skill (one recognized by the individual but also one others have defined for him or her)? Suppose it is a skill that few possess, but that the person only enjoys him or herself 95% of the time? Is it the greater duty for the person to follow his or her bliss, even if it is unrelated to the gift?

Joyful Amanda,

The recipe is in the file, waiting for the appearance of lovely red orbs of tomato. I look out the window and see much snow. A ripe tomato would make a fine contrast.

Your question is challenging. It seems, perhaps, that you may have more than one gift (sculpture, printmaking, drawing, painting?) but that you have been repeatedly urged to follow a certain way. The gift or gifts you relish are ones that you enjoy more than 95% of the time. The gift that seems “right” but lesser you enjoy a mere 95% of the time.

First, I would suggest that 95% is quite high.

Yet you love something else more.

Since I am somewhat in the dark—not completely, from what I gather of you—I would give these examples.

Here’s one that’s bliss followed in despite of gifts. A man I know—shall we call him X—was talented in the theatre and writing. Nevertheless, he had a pronounced to become a doctor and did so, despite the fact that math was not one of his favorite enterprises and was a thing that had to be endured along the way. Many people protested his decisions.

As a doctor, he has a notable talent at diagnosis because he has a strong memory and can make imaginative leaps to new possibilities. It seems that the old gifts have not vanished but give strength to the new vocation. He still does a little theatre. He still writes. But these will never be his life. They add much—very much—but the art of medicine is his.

And let us consider a stubborn woman, Y, who is an example of braided gifts. She writes poetry, she writes stories, she writes novels. Yes, you know who I mean. When she calls a stop to one thing, something else bubbles up. One mode influences another. Has she been writing a novel and turns to poems? Well, then, narrative and characters creep into the poems. Has she been writing poems and turns to fiction? Then maybe this time she wants the prose to go bow-string tight. The three fertilize one another. Borges said of his fiction and his poetry that he didn’t know which was the dog and which the tail, and whether the tail wagged the dog or the dog wagged the tail.

Let us consider Z, a Pot Boy and Advice Columnist. The mystical circles that I inscribe on the shining bottom of a pot as I scrub are what bring forth the gush of truth.

Those are examples I well know: gifts united or gifts abandoned and yet somehow bound to new vocation. But you are a mystery, somewhat to yourself as well as me. Are you better at one pursuit now than the other or others? Years can change that: persistence can change that imbalance, swing it around to the other side.
Yrs in chasing bliss,
the Pot Boy

Lucy said...

Dear Pot Boy

Verily my pot runneth over and there is little I need to ask. But while we're on pots and pasta sauces, are green bell peppers, capsicums, what you will, the same species as the red ones, only at a different stage of ripeness, or are they something of a different kidney? (Always loved Eliot for rhyming that with 'Sir Philip Sidney...)

Dear Lucy, resident of Box Elder--

The delightful green of Capsicum annuum or the bell pepper is, I believe, its immature state, while ripeness leads to red, yellow, or orange. (There are more than 20 species of Capsicum, and within these are many more varieties—as here, with the bell pepper.)
Yrs in affection for peppers,
the Pot Boy

Illustration: Credit goes to and Nathan May of Durant, Oklahoma for the photograph of the inside of a copper pot.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Gardenias for Kate Deriso

The Pot Boy has not yet moved from the fire. If you have a question, leave it in the question box, one post below… When he moves, all will be answered!


Today is the birthday of my paternal grandmother, Kate Deriso Youmans of Lexsy, Georgia. In the past decade I’ve heard that her grandparents owned much of Treutlen County and were big slave-owners. Evidently they lost everything after the Civil War and were pitiful and often starved in their old age. I found the idea that they had been owners of land and slaves very startling because I had long connected my grandma's past history with the sort of plow-mule poverty that features in James Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men and the accompanying photographs by Walker Evans. The shack at Lexsy was crowded with flowers and trees and a great shining hedge that shaded the porch; it is a primary place in my imagination, a place out of time—the sort of place where people do the same things in the same way for hundreds of years.

Kate Deriso Youmans was a Primitive Baptist who lived hard and close to the bone; she was a sharecropper in the Depression and for most of her life, and she could make fried chicken and cakes and pies like nobody's business. At the farm, we would go out on adventures to gather food, crossing a stream to collect the wild sweet plums, yellow and clear red, or toting buckets for berries. My grandmother carried a cudgel against cottonmouths and rattlesnakes from the swamps. It seemed to be that she was always busy shelling lady peas or canning peaches or capping blackberries, her arthritic fingers never at rest. Her table was always a bumper crop.

She gave birth to six children. In her youth, she was called "Little Bear" because she was willing to defend them with her fists if she had to do so. Willie, a little boy nicknamed “Peter Rabbit,” died of meningitis in the wagon on the way to the doctor. The others grew up and became what they became. My daddy became tailgunner and a chemist and then a Professor of analytical chemistry. He is dead, and she is dead, and the world is still spinning and flowering and burning and needing all the things that it needs so desperately.

In speaking of her, I have limited what she is. She rode wagons under the stars, she pushed children from her body, she buried a child, she plowed a mule and labored in the hot Georgia sun, she did infinite things I do not know. Widen all that I have said by a thousand miles on foot and add a million over-heated suns, and you and I might get an inkling of what that life was like.

Credit for photographs: The gardenias are courtesy of "xymoneau" or Dez Pain of Australia and I believe I've used some of xymoneau's images before...


Here is how my day is going:


I start out the outer-world part of my day by running two blocks to the bus-stop to hand R the forgotten dowel for her dratted art project: all this dressed in my bathrobe, tucked under a long coat. The thermometer says 10 below zero--dunno if I believe it, but it's cold. Fine. Done. Can sit down and work on the FAFSA form at last.

Phone rings at 8:15.

"Hi Mom."

"Hi B. What did you forget?"

"My backpack."

Oh, only a two thousand pound backpack... Only a thing as big as a small icehouse that straps to one's backside. Only every single book and notebook and pencil needed to attend high school.


The wackiness never ends.