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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Favorite Eve words--

Clive Hicks-Jenkins, art from Thaliad

Thank you to novelist Scott G. F. Bailey--I'm going to have to drink another glass of champagne after reading his 2013 reading list on Six Words for a Hat.
The living author who I'm most pleased to have discovered this year is Marly Youmans, who wrote Thaliad and A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage. I'm looking forward to reading more from young Ms Youmans. She has an impressive catalogue.
Of course, he was a terrible liar on the "young" part, but we'll assume he's as honest as can be elsewhere, right? Isn't that lovely? And now, back to champagne and tapas...

Merry 7th day of Christmas and Happy New Year's Eve!

* * * 

Small Bites Menu 
 Tapanade with french bread
 Goat cheese gratin with thai pepper paste and marmalade glaze 
 Mini crab cakes with lemon aoli 
Pizza with water buffalo cheese, wild boar sausage and olives 
Carapaccio with horseradish cream 
 Butternut squash/potato and onion latkes with caviar 
 Grilled duck breast with truffle paste on baguette 
 Lava cakes and raspberries 
And proper amounts of champagne!

We didn't accept any invitations, as my husband is on call. Instead the four in residence have been drinking champagne and eating tapas, all except child no. 3, who had filet mignon to celebrate the day. He was eating some of the pizza until he heard rumors of water buffalo.

And so I am replete, you hear, crammed like Santa on Thanksgiving, glutted like a teenager's closet, gorged like a laundry bag in a dorm room--how dare you bring me thin strips of duck breast? And what do you mean by these intimations of dessert?

Resolution: lie by the fire and recover from blimpdom of New Year's Eve.

Added for Robbi: a few of Michael's prior New Year's Eve meals for guests.... Wish I had always thought to post them! The link is to a compendium of posts, so you'll see this post at the top--scroll down!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Roberts, y. a., and other matters

I like this post by writer Adam Roberts because it attempts to get out from under criteria established during Modernism as a way of evaluating and judging books—that’s very interesting, whether he is right in his conclusions or not. (That said, it's hard to get away from the desires and values of Modernism. Style matters to me, though I see it as a natural emanation of story. Complexity, well, I don’t seem to be able to escape being frequently perceived as complex, though I don’t think of my work that way. Experiment and novelty are of less concern to me simply because I don’t believe in the idea of progress in art. Flux and change, yes. Progress . . . I'll leave that to technology.) Roberts’s focus on y. a. books as capturing the spirit of the age is worth considering, and I recommend a read. He talks about the Booker and globalization as well.

And if you want to read one of his novels, editor John Wilson--a man who reads everything and so Rohas no doubt read all his books--advises starting with Yellow Blue Tibia. Roberts blogs at Sibilant Fricative, and I've just discovered a blog with his poetry at Morphosis. Go to his website for information about his books and other links and writings, including those of the piratical A. R. R. R. Roberts (The Va Dinci Cod, The Soddit, Doctor Whom, etc.)

Reasons other that having a big push from publishers must lie behind the wild popularity of Rowling and Meyers, and I’d like to hear exactly what Roberts thought they were—I tend to think of the Potter books as varying from other popular y.a. fantasies in being a counterbalance to the materialism of our era. Rowling tangles with all sorts of otherworldly threads (transformation, resurrection, alchemy, going down into various sorts of underworlds to find and bring back an essential article of power, etc.) and adds to them to a fecundity of invention. That's an appealing warp and woof for many. I haven’t read Meyers (did peek in the first volume out of curiosity) but did read John Granger’s argument in "Mormon Vampires in the Garden of Eden" that the books rise from a well of Mormon belief. Of course, he's gotten lots of corrective remarks on that one from Mormon critics, but the basic thrust of the argument is worth a look.

By the way, I never understand how so many people can talk so much about J. K. Rowling without ever mentioning the books of the late Diana Wynne Jones, to whom Rowling is clearly indebted in many, many ways…

Happy 6th day of Christmas!

P. S. Be sure and visit the poetry blog. I pasted a Roberts poem into this post and both sidebars vanished. I couldn't get them to return until I deleted the poem... Strange powers.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

A free artist

"I am afraid of those who look for a tendency between the lines and who insist on seeing me as necessarily either a liberal or conservative. I am not a liberal, not a conservative, not an evolutionist, nor a monk, nor indifferent to the world. I should like to be a free artist and nothing more, and I regret that God has not given me the power to be one…                       --Anton Chekhov to poet Alexei Pleshcheev (4 October 1888)

Friday, December 27, 2013

Thank you

to Maryam Chahine for picking "The Buried Girl" as her poem of the week this week (scroll down, bottom right.) Earlier it appeared in Mezzo Cammin. It's always pleasant to have work singled out by a young writer... Good luck to her!

Spam is funny

It's so sincere in its attempt to butter the blogger, right up to the unexpected end:
Have you ever considered publishing ann [sic] ebook or guest authoring on other blogs? I have a blog based on the same subjects you discuss and would really like to have you share some stories/information. I know my audience would enjoy your work. If you are even remotely interested, feel free to send me an email. My webpage ... Can You Get Rid of Herpes on Word-doodling
I rejoice in Spamalot!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

"favorite book of the year"

Clive Hicks-Jenkins, interior art from Thaliad
Phoenicia Publishing, 2012
Review clips and how to order
and Phoenicia site information

It's always grand when a fellow writer sheds light on one's creations. Thanks to Jeff Sypeck for reading Thaliad and saying how much he liked it again today as part of his year's roundup post at Quid Plura:
 P-p-p-poetry! This blog paid tribute to the late John Hollander and defended the much-maligned poetry expert “Dr. J. Evans Pritchard, Ph.D.” My favorite book of the year was Thaliad by Marly Youmans, a remarkable post-apocalyptic epic poem, and I kicked off what I hope will be a new tradition: writing an annual Christmas poem.
His review of Thaliad is here.

Jeff Sypeck is a writer living in Washington, D. C. He is the author of a book of poems inspired by the gargoyles of the National Cathedral, Looking Up, and Becoming Charlemagne: Europe, Baghdad, and the Empires of A.D. 800, as well as a translation of The Tale of Charlemagne and Ralph the Collier. 

I have enjoyed visiting his blog, which I might have discovered if he had not stumbled on to my writing. Bletted medlars! Gargoyles in America! Radishes and reading! Latin translations! It's all worth the visit. And I think that I'll go read his Christmas poem now...

On the second day of Christmas--

Clive Hicks-Jenkins,
The Comfort of Angels Attending the Dying
This blog is a literary one and not a political one; I tend to leave any comments about politics to facebook or twitter pages, and even there I usually focus on other things. Some people have a vocational call to work toward social justice and to spread understanding. My vocation is in the realm of sub-creation, making stories and poems that I hope reflect the joy and sorrow of wandering the world in the short space between birth and death. In subterranean ways, these too may help one soul understand the worth of another.

But I could not help but mourn that Christmas Day 2013 meant a celebration of death to many--that it meant ongoing slaughter in a Christian community two thousand years old, abandoned by our media. More attacks on Christians in Baghdad killed 37 on Christmas Day, 24 of them emerging from church after worship.

That great Power, our mainstream media, has chosen to turn the proverbial blind eye; it has been deaf to Christian cries for help from Syria and Iraq and elsewhere. Perhaps that is why we ordinary people of the West have not spoken up. If you know nothing about the ongoing genocide of Christians in the Middle East, please dig around on the internet and educate yourself about the scouring of this ancient, vulnerable community. We little people, banded together, can sway our world; we can demand for the media to be better and nobler than it is, if we only will.

Many are the strange chances of the world … and help oft shall come from the hands of the weak when the Wise falter.  Tolkien, The Silmarillion

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Making a list, checking it twice

Snitched from twitter: reviewer Tomcat's list of his favorite books of 2013, in no particular order--and yet I like the order very well. He reviewed the book here:

And now I must go off to sing and read and serve, and so I wish you a wonderful Christmas Eve and Day, however you spend the time.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Sorrowful day, Advent--

Laura Frankstones, study of Velazquez,
"The Immaculate Conception"
We human beings, given the lovely, strange gift of consciousness, can attempt to understand one another, can rejoice in the great variety and various hopes in the world. We can attempt to understand another's point of view, and the reasons why his or her opinions and feelings are not ours and make a kind of sense--and then we can choose to have not scorn but respect. We can choose to be more noticing, more helpful, less judging. Mostly, it often seems, we don't choose these ways.

I've given my life away to making stories and poems that often try to "enter in" to another's world. In a worldly sense, such a path is often considered a useless calling, but I feel strongly that it is useful in the realms of imagination and spirit that undergird our actions. So it's not surprising that I believe that the imaginative work of understanding others is essential and could help to transform our world--the fallen world--for the better. Perhaps my choices say that I am not, in the end, a particularly worldly person.

Down the street, a shooter is holed up in the old Smalley's Theatre, and the state police have encamped around him . . . The village of Cooperstown is on lockdown. Lots of tiny details about the tall man and two possible accomplices are filtering out to us, hunkered close by. Here and there, like pinpricks of light, people are praying that all concerned survive the darkness of the day.

Love one another. Peace on earth, good will to men.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Books and boys--

Here I am, up reading On Beauty and washing child no. 3's wrestling gear. He arrived home after midnight from the Center State meet and has to be up at 4:45 in order to make the "bus" (the three boys called back for another day are riding with the coaches in a car.) Anyway, the singlet and so on must be washed, and so here I am waiting for it to dry so I can then put in the heavy things and leave them to go round and round while I sleep, so that I in turn can go to the tournament later on.

Anyway, sons are on my mind because immediately they got in my way of reading On Beauty. Because even though I am a writer and two of my three children like to write very much, I read the opening letter with some astonishment because I cannot picture a son in our age who would write a long, news-filled, descriptive letter to his parent, no matter what the motivation.  Why? First, young men tend to be uninformative compared to young women. Second, my sons would never write a letter of that kind, even though they are the children of over-educated parents. They call, they text, and they will sometimes answer a facebook note. Let us say rarely. Third, they just don't see a longish, descriptive letter as a viable mode of communication. My daughter, in contrast, will write back and forth on facebook with me for a long time. But even she wouldn't choose to write that sort of long, organized letter.  Fourth, that business of the descriptive language? Detailed description? Boys and young men don't do a lot of that sort of thing. I would have to use surgical tweezers to get those words out of my sons' mouths. Fifth, when I make it to the second letter I can't believe any young man would say that bit about the kissing the little bit of skin visible on the be-hooded brother Levi's face. That's a woman talking!

Now what does all this mean? Does it say something about On Beauty as a whole? Does it say something about Zadie Smith? I don't really know because I'm not far enough, and I need to do laundry and collapse into bed.

But what it really does mean for sure is that, yes, there is no such thing as realism. This patently odd young man can go on writing long, lovely letters because he is a made-up creature, and whatever he chooses to do, no matter how fantastic, is right. I may well decide that he convinces me, despite his utter unlikeness to the usual run of boys, once again because of there being no such thing as realism. In this little bubble world, he may make sense, and his way of seeing the world convince me. Time, as is its wont, will tell me. And now, dear reader, I am falling over with sleepiness and have just put the second load in the dryer. Good night!

Friday, December 20, 2013

peek at Glimmerglass

Clive Hicks-Jenkins, jacket-in-progress detail,  Glimmerglass (Mercer, 2014)

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Pigs and Pearls, part 2

by a commenter
People are very opinionated about God, the Bible, and Flannery O'Connor. 

Here are some responses to my prior post opposing the publication of O'Connor's prayer journal that I found interesting or compelling. These comments are all ones that you would not have seen if you follow my blog but are not on facebook.

Some address the question directly, and others have a slantwise relationship to the topic. I find some of the arguments in favor of publication to be quite strong, though I didn't change my mind. I still prefer to think of her prayers gleaming and burning in the old spiral-bound book, and they are fine for me that way.

The post includes thoughts from some visual artists, a composer, a novelist, a longtime books editor, a publisher, and a Lutheran pastor.

For more responses, look at the comments on Pigs and pearls.

    * * *
Oh I love her prayer book! And I have been reading the selected spiritual writings from her letters in Habit of Being. She has been very much on my mind these days...
I am grateful it was published -- as a convert I am always interested in the experience of cradle Catholics and it is always instructive to learn that they struggle too with many of the same things I do. And between the two readings -- the prayer book and spiritual writings -- the younger and the more mature O'Connor, it provides a fascinating perspective of faith as a journey.
I am making sure that if my diaries are published posthumously they will be interesting to read. In fact, they are so interesting to read that I should simply write that instead of living a life! I do not enjoy the idea of reading someone's private work, if truth be told.
Interesting. First, I am one who may be mistaken for a swine who is actually a pearl, and I don't mind. No, I am not fat, I am bohemian We are mistaken for all kinds of things we are not. An artist. I like many pigs, many among them have pearl-like characteristics in the mix of who they are. All of an artist's output will hopefully be fair game for the world of swine and pigs to benefit from or not. Or, that is my hope.
I imagine someday they will be digging all of the text messages and Internet correspondences of famous people out of the virtual mud.
Thanks for this interesting topic, Marly, although I"m inclined to agree more with A.--the issues around who is casting the seeds or the pearl seem less important to me than the potential of grace to enter some completely new person's mind because of that seed or that pearl. And I don't think the pearl loses its true luster even if pigs trample it--it may be perceived as being "dirtier" but it surely isn't truly sullied.
If Emily Dickinson had a blog today, she would have very few followers. But then she wouldn't care. She'd be right about that.
Biblically speaking, "pearls before swine" also stands in tension with the lavish generosity of the sower who throws his seeds on fertile ground and rocky soil alike. (Or the wasteful love of the Prodigal Father in the story of the Prodigal Son).
Not that this removes the other murky ethical issues around publishing something which was intended to be private, but it does raise interesting theological questions about which holy treasures are to be cast about willy-nilly for all, and which are to be protected and guarded with care (and to what degree).
The New Testament witness seems to me to err on the side of offering grace freely, even to those who might throw it back in our faces or abuse it. That is Jesus' example, at least.
I must wonder if in the context of Matthew 7 (about hypocrisy in judging others), we are not to identify more with the swine more than with the one casting the pearls. I'll be the first to admit, however, that it isn't entirely clear what's going on there.
But we could also very well say that a prayer journal is not so much the treasure itself (or even the seed itself), but a mediator of the treasure. Grace has always been mediated to particular people in particular ways (the Scandal of the Incarnation-- that Jesus didn't just come as a Big Idea).
There is perhaps greater reason to discern about the distribution of private evidence of the treasure because in its particularity, has a great deal of bearing on how the infinite treasure is received. Those who are dismissive of O'Connor's journal may well be receptive and fertile ground if the witness came from another source.

In any case, there is much to ponder.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Pigs and pearls

I'm still thinking about Flannery O'Connor's prayer journal, published in time for Christmas gift-giving, and why that publication might have been a fairly bad idea. R. T. aka Tim brought it up on his new blog, A Commonplace from Eastrod, and there I simply said that the book was part of that unclean effort to trawl through a writer's remains and find something, anything publishable.

Long ago I was asked for my manuscripts and papers by a librarian at Wilson Library at UNC, and I replied that I was not sure that I liked that idea, and that I would think about it. I'm still not sure, though in a sense one would be lucky if anybody actually wanted to trawl through one's remains in hopes of finding a bit of ambergris in the beached corpse! Certainly a great deal has been published that would have been better to remain as rare library research material for academics or else destroyed. I'm still wondering whether it is not better for writers to burn the dross and leave the gold.

So one reason to dislike the publication of the prayer journal is that it was a private thing, not meant for people but intended by O'Connor solely for the maker of the prayers and the Maker of the maker of the prayers. Flannery O'Connor was guided by that purpose and her audience was one, or three-in-one. Some words are meant for a wide audience; some are not.

But there is another, stronger reason not to publish the journal, and it is one that surely compelled O'Connor in her writing: the well-known biblical injunction not to cast your pearls before swine. In the Bible, the kingdom of heaven is compared to a great, wondrous pearl. So when a Christian like Flannery O'Connor is enjoined not to strew pearls before pigs, she is being cautioned not to offer what is holy where it will be debased and muddied: "Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you" (Matthew 7: 6, NRSV.) And no, it doesn't mean people are pigs...

O'Connor the writer, reading that familiar line, knew that it was asking her to know her audience, and saying that it is wrong to be the cause (don't strew your pearls willy-nilly!) of other people trampling on what belongs to God. What is holy can be muddied and torn by people with no sympathy or understanding, and that can lead to rejection and scorn for the one who offers the pearl. Well, that's familiar as part of the story of Christ, isn't it? Interestingly, the gospel record shows that Christ was willing to say the most astonishing things to people just-met but was rather close-mouthed and oblique with unsympathetic questioners. Moreover, the gospel shows us the peculiar power of story. Parables often carry the freight of meaning; they tell the truth but tell it slant--that is, stories protect the pearl yet reveal it to those with eyes to see, ears to hear.

Flannery O'Connor seems to feel in a similar way about art and writing in her essays: “Art never responds to the wish to make it democratic; it is not for everybody; it is only for those who are willing to undergo the effort needed to understand it.” Without eyes to see and ears to hear, one never grasps the pearl of art. And in O'Connor's view, that understanding is limited to those who will take the trouble to grapple with stories. What is regarded as the difficulty of her stories can be seen as a way of obeying the injunction not to cast pearls before swine. Only those who will take trouble to understand will, in fact, receive them.

 * * *

For further comments and some sharp arguments against me, go to Pigs and pearls, part 2. Some of them have a better grasp than I do on those pigs and pearls!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Rocking in the ship of trees--

All dressed in snow and holly and berries for the season...
Here's a poem for the nigh-endless falling feathers and stars and cold of the past three days. I wrote it for my youngest child one night when the winter winds were toying with the corners of our federal-era house. It was originally published in Angle. Last year it was reprinted in The Foliate Head (UK: Stanza Press, 2012), where it has the company of many other poems and the marvelous interior and exterior artwork of the Welsh artist Clive Hicks-Jenkins.

Stanza goes foliate!

Ship of Trees

Nails tingle in boards, freezing in the grain,
And the whole house struggles to conjure some
Swaying rootedness, rampire and bulwark
Against invader cold and winter’s gusts.
Outside, the still-living limbs comb and catch;
Migrant months ago all leaf-freight tumbled
South to mulch—and so this naked writhing
With no green hands to stem the streams of air.
In the heaped bed, your hazel eyes yawn black,
Staring into the night, at pale tossings
Past the windowpanes, as the winds shiver
The glass, playing it like an instrument.
I lie down by your side to whisper how
Inside each weathered length of sawn clapboard,
—More than two centuries old, that harvest—
Sleep rings of years, the memory of trees.
Wood will remember how to stand in brunt
Of freeze and gash of winds, to dance, to tack
Like a grove of chestnuts sailing the breeze,
Bringing the cargo of us to shores of dawn.
And when you drift away from me, I lie
With eyes open to the rule of darkness,
Hearing the cold withdrawing of the nails,
Watching branches sweep the prickles of stars.
Your breath is pulsing on my cheek, and I
Shift closer, pushing away all winter thoughts,
Letting each die, alone, in the chilly room
Like a stranger who lacks my harbored joy.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Out-of-fashion characters, creation, one writer's mind--

Image by Clive Hicks-Jenkins from Thaliad
(Phoenicia Publishing, 2012)
Certain subtleties of character creation are seldom seen in the novel these days. And they are hard to catch. They are difficult to portray in our time, being rejected by the various gatekeepers of the novel, those who know best or feel that they do.

I'm thinking about someone I know, someone I hardly noticed for a long time because she was very quiet and modest and also there was nothing to call attention to her appearance. She did not put herself forward in any way, and clearly did not think particularly highly of her own gifts, though she often admired others and their abilities. Yet she grew on me over time for the simple reason that she seemed to have a lovely quality of goodness--a steady, shining light.

Such a character is entirely out of favor as a subject for the literary mainstream in our time, and no doubt would be considered unbelievable or sentimental by many critics. Mere inclusion of such a figure would be difficult; could a writer even get away with it? And yet it is as true as many another character, and a wonderful example of noiselessly bearing up under life's slings and arrows and witnessing to the nobility of human beings.

This person shed light elsewhere on other characters as well, and is a good example of how many fictional and real people bump up against each other and illuminate one another. (If fictional characters do not collide and illuminate in a story, well, the tale is less true to how we live and learn.) That is, when I finally began to notice and admire her light-bearing character, it struck me how quickly a newer acquaintance of mine had been drawn to her, and how he had seen in her a lovely, tender light it took me years to perceive.

And that understanding told me several things about character. It told me that my newer acquaintance was a person with a delicate, discerning sort of mind, and that he had no care for what the world thought in establishing his friendships. I admired both those qualities. It also suggested to me that I was often a little too busy to pay attention and that I was not as discerning a person as I might like to be, no matter how many paper characters I had created in books.

It also suggested to me that I might like to pay a little more attention to the more subtle ways that light (or dark) is shed from one character to another in my books. It suggested that I might want to be a little more alert to these linkages in real life. Suddenly I knew myself better, and almost felt myself to be a character in a story, one whose world had suddenly turned a little faster on its axis and who had come to a greater self-knowledge.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Ferrywoman says

Up at 5:30 to meet the varsity bus... Take care out there, world! Me too. Going to a wrestling tournament in snowsnowsnow. 

Later: Made it home, and must say that underestimated the snow, which is starting to look quite high on the iron table out back... We stopped in the sticks and loaded up on apple cider and homemade cinnamon raisin bread and cheddar and other Yankee rural delights. Stay warm, all!

Even later: snow, now, no, O!

Sunday afternoon requests: Dear pilots, please keep my husband safe today. Dear planes, please go to the right destinations. Dear little scraper, please be enough to quarry one truck out of one mountain of snow at the airport.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Lady Word of Mouth, culture-weaver--

Yesterday I thought quite a bit about the work of Lady Word of Mouth. I was forced to ponder how it does little good to be told that one's book was a "close runner-up" for a prize, as it proved yesterday, and to consider what else I can do for three recent books that flew into the world in close succession. Later I spent some hours talking with the newly-made Episcopal deacon, singer-songwriter, and founder of Mons Nubifer Sanctus (aka a dream, the Holy Cloud-Bearing Mountain, a center for contemplative prayer in the Catskills) about how to point arrows toward a new enterprise and raise funds. It's a similar puzzle to what one faces with books--how do you get the word out, how do you support a made thing, how do you make sure the gift you were called to give finds its recipient? An award is a little arrow pointing at the gift made, just as many other things are--an ad, say, or a review or a launch party or re-tweets and shares on a twitter or facebook account where one chats to readers and critics and other writers.

The world is filled with interesting gifts from the people who, curiously enough, are not always all that comfortable with making their own arrows to point to those gifts. Exploring the world of alternatives to the books, music, art, and culture heavily advertised and pushed by major companies and publishers is part of what we do to create the world we would like to see and live in.

All this to say we are back in business with Lady Word of Mouth today. Fly here to see Marjorie Hudson's new edition of Searching for Virginia Dare (Press 53, 2013.) You want to support small publishers and help Marjorie and other writers publishing outside the monoliths of the Big 5 this Advent season? Buy books as presents. Buy yourself a present. Every copy sold tells a publisher that they made the right decision to publish the work. Read, pass judgment, be a passing-the-word minion of Lady Word of Mouth!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Advice to would-be writers (for R. T.)

Another 2013 book tour picture--
in Cullowhee, NC with Paul and Lynn Digby--
Lynn behind the camera on this one...
 I've been trying to visit and support A Commonplace from Eastrod, the infant blog of R. T., but what a lot of events there are in Advent and before the school Christmas break! Tonight was the high school concert, where I immediately noticed that my youngest wasn't wearing his jeans under the school choir robes and that he had on some spectacular tie-dyed socks. Whee! It's hot under the lights and those big old choir robes...

R. T. aka Tim asks about advice for writers in his latest post, and that is a thing that changes each time one answers, so I thought that maybe it is time I answer that question once again; it's a question one often receives. So I'm going to muse on the e-page and find out what I think at the moment. I hope not to sound like a book-mad Mrs. Polonius. (Feel free to argue, add your own advice in the comments, etc.)

And here I am with painter Lynn Digby,
Paul behind the camera
    Come back next year and I'll probably think something different. 
  • Be a crazy, obsessed, wild reader at some time in your life, whether childhood or adulthood.
  • If you have a tragedy in childhood or a difficult family, you don't have to be happy about it, but you have grit that may become a pearl. The world may not be your oyster, but you might be your own oyster, sooner or later.
  • Don't worry about it if you are a woman and have children and can't meet the omnipresent "write every day" demand. 
  • Your challenge is to make a thing that holds life in a net of words. This is almost impossible. There is no dishonor in failing, and even a failure may be transformative.
  • Just be quiet and do the work. 
  • Better yet, don't be a writer! (If you must, you'll do it anyway. And if you don't have to be one, this advice might save the world a lot of pedestrian books and some pernicious bestsellers.)
  • And remember that worldly success is not the same thing as making something full of grace and truth. 
  • If you believe in your innocence that worldly success must come, you may be destroyed by this belief. I have seen it happen to people, and such bitter change is tragic.
  • Do not abuse the dead (particularly historical figures) in the creation of characters.
  • The world owes you nothing. Do not expect something. But if it comes, say thank you.
  • Listen to your teachers but later on show them that you can do the thing with flair that they said not (no, never!) to do.
  • If what you want is worldly success and money, do something else entirely. It's a lot quicker and more sure.
  • Read your novel/poem/story/thing-you-made aloud when you think you're done, particularly if you have what is known as a tin ear. Of course, nobody will tell you if you have a tin ear, so do it anyway.
  • Grow bigger on the inside as you go along.
  • And make your poems/narratives bigger on the inside as you go along.
  • Don't apologize for your work.
  • Forget about "finding yourself" or finding any other hard-to-pin-down quality. Just make the thing. You'll be making yourself, too.
  • If you are a woman and a writer, do not think that you simply must be a superwoman. With hard work, it will be possible for you to do two large things well. (For me, that was first teaching and writing and later on raising three children and writing with a few events now and then on the side.) Be sure you choose the right things. This choice may be costly in a worldly way. Be clear on what you are about when you choose because regret in such situations can be strong.
  • If you are a woman and choose to do more than two large things well, know that at least one of your pursuits will suffer. Make sure it is not your children, or you may be raising another generation of poets and writers. (That may happen anyway, but why tempt fate?)
  • Do things you suspect you might not be able to do. 
  • Push off the edge of the known world.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Poems in the scales, 2013: two contests

While my 2013 bouts of judging were not so arduous as the prior year's National Book Award stint (316 books plus rereads), they were illuminating. This time it was poetry in the scales.  For the Alrich Award I read a winnowed group and chose a winner and two finalists. I found all five to be interesting reads, and that's an encouraging thing for poetry!

Winner 2013 Aldrich Press Poetry Award 
Overtipping the Ferryman, R. G. Evans 

Judge’s statement 

While reading for the Aldrich Poetry Award, I tripped and fell into the world of a skeptic obsessed with what he doubts—who takes the symbols and stories of creation and wrests them to his own uses, though God and the skeletons under our skin are never far away, and lend power and support to his poems. The collection by R. G. Evans has the virtues of energy, largeness of subject, strong narrative, and humor that begins with the double meaning of the title, Overtipping the Ferryman. He surprises us in story and in metaphor, giving us the child who leaps from her crib like a toad, the man plunging beneath the sea like a bone anchor, the forked lightning of a woman’s body, the fusing of plucked music and apple. Wandering in his harsh, lively world, we may desire more hours, more life. But in that realm, spiky thistles and flowers of gall blossom along his path, that “seam between belief and what I know is true.”

 Marion Considers the Cello, Annabelle Moseley
 The View From Here, Sally Cook

Honorable Mention
A Lack of Sound, Cynthia Neely
The Ways I Lost You,  Rosalie Sanara Petrouske
Small Chimes, Julie Brooks Barbour
Before There Were Barbies, Lianne Spidel
Poetry With a Vengeance, Russell Bittner

All finalists and honorable mentions were offered a standard contract for publication by Aldrich Press. The winner receives a monetary award and 50 copies.

I did know one of the finalists, having been on a panel with her and owning one of her books, but I recognized none of the writers that I read, and the names had been removed from the manuscripts.

Dads of Disability

Alexander Dietz
The other contest I judged his year was for a forthcoming anthology (mostly essays) that will also include some fictions and poetry. Gary Dietz's 2014 anthology, Dads of Disability:  Stories For, By, and About Fathers of Children That Experience Disability (and the Women Who Love Them), offered $75. and publication to four poets, parents of disabled children. With this one, parents who were long-practicing poets had an advantage, and it is surprising how many of us know what it is to raise a child who is very different from other children. 

I found this one hard to judge in one way; many of the poems were heartrending, and I wanted to give all the parents who submitted poems about their disabled children a prize. All the poems were spilling over with news of ordinary grace and painful truth. There is no proper response to such heartfelt work except gratitude for the parent who sees his disabled child through the eyes of mercy and witnesses his or her love to the world. Thank you to all the parents who submitted poems.

In ABC order:
Patricia Wallace Jones, "Adapted Views and Inveterate" 
John C. Mannone, "The iPod" 
Robbi Nester, "Letter To My Son"
Sam Smith, "The Prosthetic Fitting Suite"

Through this book, long-time single dad Gary combines his love of Alexander (a child with an interstitial deletion of the lower arm of chromosome 13) with his experience in marketing and interest in writing. I hope you will support the book and give or suggest it to people you know who care about the subject--or who might do so, given such a book! 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


Here's a bit of youtube snow and Frost from Eric Whitacre
for friends with unexpected snow and ice...

Thanks to critic and reviewer Micah Mattix for including a link to my sonnet "Waterborne" in his Prufrock newsletter (sign up!) yesterday. Here's the poem in Alexander Pepple's Able Muse. The poem is also forthcoming in an anthology edited by poet Mary Meriam.

Please note that today there are two posts--slip on down to the next post to see links to facebook friends with Etsy shops and new books. (And one more to Melanie at Antiphon, and then on and on!)

Friends with Etsy shops and new books, 2

Thanks to pre-Christmas events (last night meant four very interesting hours given over to practicing and then singing for an ordination, and the calendar of events is packed, it seems), I'm falling a bit behind on promises to share some of my facebook friends who have new books and Etsy shops, so I'm just going to pop a few selections from facebook lists in here... I'll take out the more private comments and leave information and links. Several of these Etsy shops are for relatives (a mother, a daughter) of a writer friend.

If you're looking for something more like my usual posts, slide down to the prior one. But if you're looking to shop, here are some links where you can directly support individual craftspeople, artists, and writers--enjoy!