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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Dream schooling

Here's Auden by way of Alan Jacobs. It has been a very long time since I read The Dyer's Hand, and this excerpt is wonderful and rather impossible, given how our schools are structured. I like the focus on memorization, language, and finding a job that has little to do with writing. And I might just consider what my dream schooling would be, given the constraints of current education and times.

One of the unused images by Clive Hicks-Jenkins
made for The Foliate Head poetry collection
from Stanza Press in the UK, 2012.
The green man is an evocative image
of exuberance and natural abundance and,
I think, a good image for a poet.

In my daydream College for Bards, the curriculum would be as follows:
(1) In addition to English, at least one ancient language, probably Greek or hebrew, and two modern languages would be required.
(2) Thousands of lines of poetry in these languages would be learned by heart.
(3) The library would contain no books of literary criticism, and the only critical exercise required of students would be the writing of parodies.
(4) Courses in prosody, rhetoric and comparative philology would be required of all students, and every student would have to select three courses out of courses in mathematics, natural history, geology, meteorology, archaeology, mythology, liturgics, cooking.
(5) every student would be required to look after a domestic animal and cultivate a garden plot.
A poet has not only to educate himself as a poet, he has also to consider how he is going to earn his living. Ideally, he should have a job which does not in any way involve the manipulation of words. At one time, children training to become rabbis were also taught some skilled manual trade, and if only they knew their child was going to become a poet, the best thing parents could do would be to get him at an early age into some Craft Trades Union. Unfortunately, they cannot know this in advance, and, except in very rare cases, by the time he is twenty-one, the only nonliterary job for which a poet-to-be is qualified is unskilled manual labor. In earning his living, the average poet has to choose between being a translator, a teacher, a literary journalist or a writer of advertising copy and, of these, all but the first can be directly detrimental to his poetry, and even translation does not free him from leading a too exclusively literary life.
W. H. Auden, from The Dyer’s Hand

Monday, April 29, 2013

poet Dick Jones on Thaliad

Pilfered from Dick Jones' facebook page...
Thanks to him! Dick is author of Ancient Lights, also from Phoenicia.
Phoenicia Publishing's sale is still on through poetry month.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Tiny memory

In Siem Reap, tried to eat a small Cambodian elephant, thinking it chocolate. A hard, dark wood, unkind to teeth.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Lady Ise

"Lady Ise" is a new poem just out in Books and Culture Magazine (print and online)... The two lines in quotes are a translation from one of her poems. If you're interested in my poetry, please take a look. (There's also a place to leave comments, should you be so inspired.)

I was not thinking of this image--"Hatsuhana doing penance under the Tonosawa waterfall"--by Japanese ukiyo-e master Utagawa Kuniyoshi (歌川 国芳, January 1, 1797-April 14, 1862), but was pleased to find it just now. I intended to use one of the wonderful Hokusai waterfall images from the series Shokoku taki meguri ("Journey to the Waterfalls in All the Provinces"), circa 1832, but think this one a grand fit.

And here is a tiny biography of Lady Ise, along with translations of nine of her poems. They include the "hidden immortal"lines quoted in my poem.

Kisoji no oku Amida ga taki by Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849)
("Amida Waterfall on the Kiso Road")

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Curling up with words and cats

As child no. 2 has committed the destruction of her first snow tire and put my Corolla temporarily out of commission, I may well be driving my husband's giganteous black truck when you read this post. Soon I shall be out on another kid-ferrying trip, off to the Albany airport, where I hope in my borrowed mightiness and awe-evoking shininess that I do not bump into the mere cars and various lesser creatures on wheels. Here are a few reads while I am away, plus Maya Deren with cats!

D. G. Myers, "What Became of Literary History?"

“I don't need a library to do what I do,” Stanley Fish told Jerome McGann, showing him around the Johns Hopkins campus. All of my students are Stanley Fish. There are no libraries behind their study of literature. Seven decades after John Crowe Ransom named the movement, the New Critics have achieved what they were after. “[T]hough one may consider a poem as an instance of historical and ethical documentation,” Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren had said in Understanding Poetry, “the poem in itself, if literature is to be studied as literature, remains finally the object of study.” The syllabus of nearly every English course is little more than a series of discrete texts which can’t be read historically because no one has any literary history.

Alan Jacobs, "Writing What I Don't Know"

For me, the best prompt for a book, or even a long essay, comes when I realize two things: first, that a particular subject is fascinatingly important, and second, that I don’t know nearly enough to write about it.

Maya Deren and Alexander Hammid made the ultimate "cat video".

You've already watched the Knitted Boyfriend videos and every Maru the cat video ever made? Go back to The Private Life of a Cat.

* * *
Marly, elsewhere:

  • Thaliad's wild epic adventure in verse (Montreal: Phoenicia Publishing, 2012) here and here 
  • The Foliate Head's collection of poems from Stanza Press (UK) here
  • A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage from Mercer University Press (ForeWord 2013 finalist, The Ferrol Sams Award, 2012) here
  • The Throne of Psyche, collection of poetry from Mercer, 2011, here
  • Excerpts from my three 2012 books at Scribd.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

In the realm of Updatery


Today is launch day for poet Rachel Barenblat's new book, and I am very pleased that Elizabeth Adams (Phoenicia Publishing) used a detail from a painted collage by my college friend Mary Bullington. Mary and I met when we were mere silly sprats in a workshop taught by the wonderfully amusing and insightful R. H. W. Dillard. May she have many more covers / jackets! When I consider Mary, I always think of Blake's proverb, "Exuberance is beauty." I am going to get a copy of Rachel's book, and I hope you do as well. You might just want to read a piece by publisher Beth Adams celebrating the launch day for Waiting to Unfold. Find out more about the book at Phoenicia Publishing.


I've added an excerpt from another book to my Scribd page. You may now find samples of four very recent books published in the US, UK, and Canada: a novel, A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage (The Ferrol Sams Award, and currently a ForeWord finalist); my newest book, an epic adventure in verse, Thaliad; a collection of poems, The Foliate Head; and another collection, The Throne of Psyche.


If you missed the latest installments (surprise--a debut!) from Lady Word of Mouth, please take a peek here

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Contraries: creativity and the news

1. Two contrarians 

For many good reasons, I thought of Dobelli and Thoreau this week. Dobelli's essay is worth a read, and if you don't want to read the whole thing, you can look at this summary, which discusses news as toxic, misleading, irrelevant, a source of errors (via confirmation bias), and more.

Dobelli and Thoreau go so far as to reject paying any attention to the news. They're both well worth reading in an age that runs after the news night and day.

2. Rolf Dobelli, "The Art of Thinking Clearly"

Finally, things we already know limit our creativity. This is one reason that mathematicians, novelists, composers and entrepreneurs often produce their most creative works at a young age. Their brains enjoy a wide, uninhabited space that emboldens them to come up with and pursue novel ideas. I don't know a single truly creative mind who is a news junkie – not a writer, not a composer, mathematician, physician, scientist, musician, designer, architect or painter. On the other hand, I know a bunch of viciously uncreative minds who consume news like drugs. If you want to come up with old solutions, read news. If you are looking for new solutions, don't.

Society needs journalism – but in a different way. Investigative journalism is always relevant. We need reporting that polices our institutions and uncovers truth. But important findings don't have to arrive in the form of news. Long journal articles and in-depth books are good, too.

3. Thoreau, Walden and Life Without Principle

And I am sure that I never read any memorable news in a newspaper. If we read of one man robbed, or murdered, or killed by accident, or one house burned, or one vessel wrecked, or one steamboat blown up, or one cow run over on the Western Railroad, or one mad dog killed, or one lot of grasshoppers in the winter, we need never read of another. One is enough. If you are acquainted with the principle, what do you care for a myriad instances and applications?

Hardly a man takes a half-hour's nap after dinner, but when he wakes he holds up his head and asks, "What's the news?" as if the rest of mankind had stood his sentinels... After a night's sleep the news is as indispensable as the breakfast.

I think that there is nothing, not even crime, more opposed to poetry, to philosophy, ay, to life itself, than this incessant business.

* * *
Marly, elsewhere:
  • Thaliad's wild epic adventure in verse here and here 
  • (Montreal: Phoenicia Publishing, 2012)
  • The Foliate Head's collection of poems from Stanza Press (UK) here
  • A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage from Mercer University Press (ForeWord 2013 finalist, The Ferrol Sams Award, 2012) here
  • The Throne of Psyche, collection of poetry from Mercer, 2011, here
  • Excerpts from my three 2012 books at Scribd.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Useful motto

For poet Sarah Busse, a phrase nabbed from my rather silly facebook post about playing Cleaning Girl and having Them mess up the job (and so why ever do we bother?) Here goes:

The Lady consults an Astrologer

There's a new post up at Lady Word of Mouth announcement blog... Surprise, it's a debut novel!

Curious and sparkling Traherne--

From a solo show by painter and storyteller Eleanor Allitt,
inspired by the visions of Thomas Traherne
1. Traherne

I must have been around 23 when I first read the meditations of seventeenth-century poet and writer Thomas Traherne. No doubt I am lucky to have read him; much of his work was lost for centuries, and neither his poems nor meditations were published until the twentieth century. Much of what we value in him was found as a handwritten manuscript tucked in a London bookstall or rescued from a fire at an English tip. Five manuscripts have been found in the past eighteen years. Who knows what treasures we have lost, or may yet to be found?

I can't help but feel sorry that a number of past poets missed his beauties, kindred to their own, during their writing years. Blake would have reveled in portions of Traherne's poetry and in the great Centuries (exuberance, joy, curious sight!) The Romantics would have found kindred elements in his treatment of childhood and the beauty of nature. He holds up the lamp of his sight and throws gleams into the natural world: "Since therefore we are born to be a burning and shining light, and whatever men learn of others, they see in the light of others' souls: I will in the light of my soul show you the Universe." In innocence, he is the owner and steward of all the world, and all things and people and pieces of nature live in the bright light of his seeing.

If you have a taste for the better-known Metaphysical poets like Donne and Herbert but have not read Traherne, well, you ought to try him. When discovered in the early twentieth century, Traherne's metaphysical poetry and meditations were first mistaken for the work of that marvelous poet, Henry Vaughan ("I saw eternity the other night / Like a great ring of pure and endless light.")

From JOYS, passages from the works of Thomas Traherne, 
The Old Stile Press, 2004.Wood-engraving, hand coloured. 
See at: Angela LemairePrintmaker and Painter
2. Child sight

As a young writer, I was bowled over by his often curious phrasing and the freshness of his way of seeing the world. Certain phrases from the passage below and elsewhere lingered in my mind, and linger there still: the "orient and immortal wheat," "seraphic pieces of life," "moving jewels." The exuberant rhythms and ecstatic immersion into child sight--"the Estate of Innocence"--moved my imagination.

Traherne could "enter in" so easily to a time in childhood when all the world seemed fresh and magical, new-minted in the heavenly realms. In fact, he seems to have maintained infant sight well into the years when most of our eyes have lost the ability to see the freshness and beauty of the world. Although this idea clearly connects to his vocation as priest and the love of God, even here he seems strikingly unusual in his ability to "become like a little child" and "enter the Kingdom of Heaven" that is right next to him. In fact, he sees glory everywhere.

The Traherne windows at Hereford Cathedral. Source here.

3. Passage from "The Third Century" of Centuries of Mediation

The corn was orient and immortal wheat, which never should be reaped, nor was ever sown. I thought it had stood from everlasting to everlasting. The dust and stones of the street were as precious as gold: the gates were at first the end of the world. The green trees when I saw them first through one of the gates transported and ravished me, their sweetness and unusual beauty made my heart to leap, and almost mad with ecstasy, they were such strange and wonderful things: The Men! O what venerable and reverend creatures did the aged seem! Immortal Cherubims! And young men glittering and sparkling Angels, and maids strange seraphic pieces of life and beauty! Boys and girls tumbling in the street, and playing, were moving jewels. I knew not that they were born or should die; But all things abided eternally as they were in their proper places. Eternity was manifest in the Light of the Day, and something infinite behind everything appeared which talked with my expectation and moved my desire. The city seemed to stand in Eden, or to be built in Heaven. The streets were mine, the temple was mine, the people were mine, their clothes and gold and silver were mine, as much as their sparkling eyes, fair skins and ruddy faces. The skies were mine, and so were the sun and moon and stars, and all the World was mine; and I the only spectator and enjoyer of it. I knew no churlish proprieties, nor bounds, nor divisions: but all proprieties* and divisions were mine: all treasures and the possessors of them. So that with much ado I was corrupted, and made to learn the dirty devices of this world. Which now I unlearn, and become, as it were, a little child again that I may enter into the Kingdom of God.

Saturday, April 20, 2013


It had a velvet cap,
And wold syt upon my lap,
And seke after small wormes,
And somtyme white bred crommes;
And many tymes and ofte
Betwene my brestes softe
It wolde lye and rest;
It was propre and prest.
       --from John Skelton (1463-1529),
            The Boke of Phyllyp Sparowe
Clive Hicks-Jenkins
It's dank and cloudy with sun coming through a patch of blue, but the sparrows are tweeting indefatigably in the rose canes. So lovely to let the mind drift and flit with a flock. They never worry about their duty to publishers or work or whether their downy children are displaying any drive to leave the nest--they are a cheerful cloud of cheeping, of busy and furiously social enthusiasms.

Traditionally they are called a host of sparrows, a quarrel of sparrows, a knot of sparrows--my group is not quite large enough to be a host, nor are they a bickering quarrel this morning. And if they are a knot, these sparrows are a large, wondrous Celtic interlace that hardly knows head from tail as it moves in complicated ways through the rugosas.

The cardinals arrive in a dash of color, flicking their tails, bunching against the chill. But the sparrows cheep on, all pausing from motion for an instant, looking like little brown fruits left over from fall on the whips of the canes.
                      * * *
Finding me elsewhere in recent books:

  • Thaliad's epic adventure in verse here and here (Montreal: Phoenicia Publishing, 2012)
  • The Foliate Head's collection of poems from Stanza Press (UK) here
  • A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage from Mercer University Press (ForeWord 2013 finalist, The Ferrol Sams Award, 2012) here
  • The Throne of Psyche, collection of poetry from Mercer, 2011, here
  • Excerpts at Scribd


New events scheduled for North Carolina and Ohio in the coming 16 months. I'll be adding more in North Carolina soon.

Friday, April 19, 2013

"the centre cannot hold"

 Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
 Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
 The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
 The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
 The best lack all conviction, while the worst
 Are full of passionate intensity.

Have been watching the news on the computer, listening to the early morning havoc in Boston. Amazing how much wreck and mayhem two young, wild minds can cause. (For that matter, it's amazing how much damage anhydrous ammonia can do in Texas. Or bombs on the other side of the world.) Outside, the birds have not heard and are chirping of better news, and the flowers have not heard of images and go on standing, cold and inviolate. What a beautiful, terribly fallen world.

Addendum: After some chat about the link and implications of what Yeats says on facebook, I should certainly add that in this instance certainly "the best" have been wonderfully forthcoming with help in Boston. I am glad Yeats is a poet, not a certified prophet!

So sad this week for many of the family of man, including that grieving family on the other side of the world whose sons will not come home again... Little brother on the loose, did you admire your elder brother too much?

Faced with assaults on precious pieces of our world and the post-marathon risk of increasing post-terror militarism in this country, we go on, doing what we must do as part of families and businesses and temples and schools and so on. And so do I, along with a thing I feel meant to do: making stories and poems and attempting to support what is fine and worthy in our culture.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Puck in Spring etc.

Half-title page, image
by Clive Hicks-Jenkins

It's busy here with my husband's birthday, and the need to get one son off to Rhode Island and another off to North Carolina early in the morning tomorrow. So I just wave and move on, gathering my groceries and supplies and washing clothes.

Read a poem (the nearest is below), read a book, enjoy your day...


Here's a poem for chilly spring, finally coming to upstate New York. If you take a look at A Midsummer Night's Dream, you'll find that I not only borrowed Puck for my speaker but borrowed from a Puck-song's metrics and rhyme scheme. This poem was originally published in Mezzo Cammin and is now part of my collection The Foliate Head (UK: Stanza Press, 2012.)

Puck in Spring

Now the catamount will scream,
Now the bears awake from dream
That the winter’s night prolongs
Till the ice dissolves in songs.
Now the daybreak fires the mist
By the mountain ridges kissed.
While the crocus blossoms yield,
Opening along the field.
Now it is the hour in spring
When the jetting sap will bring
Fresh desire to boy and girl
Waking to a brighter world.
And the fairies hunting shade,
Finding meadow grass arrayed
With the bloom of early bells,
Creep inside the fragrant cells.
Now in clearing, vale, and slope,
All the land is drunk with hope—
In the ancient greening weald,
Now is loosed what once was sealed.
Why, the very mountains reel
At the turning of the wheel.

Art for The Foliate Head
by Clive Hicks-Jenkins

Finding me elsewhere in recent books:

  • Thaliad's epic adventure in verse here and here (Montreal: Phoenicia Publishing, 2012)
  • The Foliate Head's collection of poems from Stanza Press (UK) here
  • A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage from Mercer University Press (ForeWord 2013 finalist, The Ferrol Sams Award, 2012) here
  • The Throne of Psyche, collection of poetry from Mercer, 2011, here
  • Excerpts at Scribd

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

"To stand"

“When I say it's you I like, I'm talking about that part of you that knows that life is far more than anything you can ever see or hear or touch. That deep part of you that allows you to stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive. Love that conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over war, and justice that proves more powerful than greed.”

--Mr. Rogers,
 a.k.a. Sir Peredur/Percival/Parsifal of Camelot in a cardigan

Vignette from Clive Hicks-Jenkins for Thaliad

Monday, April 15, 2013

Clock of the Moon and Stars

Clive Hicks-Jenkins
for The Foliate Head

Now and then a poem flies out into the world that feels strange but wholly understood... And then as time passes, it becomes stranger to the writer, until it seems almost not hers.

Here's a little poem from The Foliate Head (UK: Stanza Press, 2012) that feels so to me. It was originally published in that magical 'zine, The Flea, created by the late Paul Stevens. I miss meeting Paul online, and I also grieve the thought that never again will he make us such a wondrous, unexpected, and altogether odd place for poetry as The Flea, inspired by a love of the metaphysicals: "Mark but this flea, and mark in this . . ."

Now I wonder if this poem is not a distant child of Frost's "Acquainted with the Night": "O luminary clock against the sky / Proclaimed the time was neither wrong or right."

Clock of the Moon and Stars

O clock of the silver moon and stars, stop
This incessant trickling and spilling in chimes;
Hasn’t there been enough of singing—choir
At its struggles, Magnum Mysterium 
Going backward and forward and inside out,
The women trilling over mops as the doors
Fly open and the suds freeze on the snow,
The poor child with its shrill demanding song
That called the spirits to take possession?
Hasn’t there been enough of dropping
The quarter hours and the whole in chimes?

You harry me, you remind me of much,
O clock of the moon and stars: the silvery
Mysteries and the past and the damned child
Hurtled to hell in a carriage of flame.

* * *
More on recent books:
  • Thaliad's epic adventure in verse here and here (Montreal: Phoenicia Publishing, 2012)
  • The Foliate Head's collection of poems from Stanza Press (UK) here
  • A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage from Mercer University Press (ForeWord 2013 finalist, The Ferrol Sams Award, 2012) here
  • The Throne of Psyche, collection of poetry from Mercer, 2011, here
  • Excerpts at Scribd

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Steidl, mostly--



Earlier I was fooling with my post for Sunday. It had certain pronounced leanings toward transcendence and also gardens, and then somehow suffered metamorphosis and turned into a rhymed, metrical poem. Thus it departed from the blogger-plane of existence. And that is The End, or perhaps a beginning, as it travels on and I start another post entirely.

How to Make a Book with Steidl

Last night I watch a documentary about German publisher Gerhard Steidl, and though it is a bit repetitive and hypnotic in the way of many documentaries, I found that the repetitive and hypnotic elements perfectly fit the account of Steidl's obsession with perfection in the making of books. It's also rather exhausting to contemplate his dedication as he travels from Göttingen to Vancouver and New York and Los Angeles and Nova Scotia on quick work trips, visiting photographers, artist, designer, and novelist. (The film features Steidl with Günter Grass, Karl Lagerfeld, Edward Ruscha, Robert Frank and June Leaf, Khalid Al-Thani, Martin Parr, Jonas Wettre, Joel Sternfeld, Jeff Wall, John Cohen, and Robert Adams.)

Directors Gereon Wetzel and Jorg Adolph capture Steidl's confidence in his own skills and book-creation lore. They convey his love of the book, his determination to catch every aspect of book pleasure--the fragrance of different papers (if treated properly in printing), the sound of one heavy page falling onto the others, the touch under the hand, the instinctive grasp of how to make book design fit its subject. The publishing house that is Steidl reaches a rare level in the quality of paper and printing, and the freedom to pursue any design. It is very impressive to see.

The film also made me appreciate how lucky I am to have done book covers with interesting artists. In particular, I felt how lucky I have been to do books with Clive Hicks-Jenkins of Wales (Thaliad and The Foliate Head) and some first-rate book designers, including Elizabeth Adams and Andrew Wakelin and Burt and Burt.

Addendum: After reading artist Marja-Leena Rathje's comments, I have thought to mention that Clive has a number of fine-art books with the UK's marvelous Old Stile Press. You can scroll through posts on both those books and the ones with more commercial printing by going here. All are beautiful.


"All our books are designed and produced under the same roof. These days, very few publishers run their own printing presses. I, however, firmly believe in this noble tradition, as it enables me to follow and oversee every aspect of a book, from the artist’s initial idea to the final product. Thus, I can ensure a quality standard that would otherwise remain elusive." -Gerhard Steidl

Steidl found his vocation as a printmaker at the age of 17. I love that--love that he found his passion at such a young age and has held to it so long. I feel perfectly congruent with that sort of obsession! It won't be long until he will have been in the business for fifty years . . .

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Saturday morning with cats--

Insane puffcat picture
taken by my youngest on his phone
Cats on each side of me, staring. Evidently I must wake, despite the morning concert of musical snores coming from all parts of the house. People are celebrating Saturday morning in familiar style.

The blue Persian gift-horse puffcat is contemplating the well of nothing. She is a very Zen creature, always peacefully floating in the abyss and often forgetting where the bathroom might be. The tippy-most bit of her tongue is often barely out of her mouth, giving her an addled look that is not belied by her behavior.

The beauteous and intelligent but grumpy Theodora is contemplating that I'm over the hill and yet have seen no woman as president. Why should a cat bother with such things? Like a lot of grumpy beings, she is political and sometimes bites. She tells me that H. Clinton will have Benghazi blow up in her face if she runs. She guesses a woman as president won't happen in her lifetime.

I tell her that a cat's lifetime is not all that impressive, especially if one subtracts the hours spent napping. She flicks my words away with her tail and says it won't happen in my lifetime either. I tell her that it's Saturday morning, and I don't care to think about politicians, many of whom appear to have specialized in nothing but running for office. But try telling anything to a beautiful long-haired calico with exceptional whiskers!

The brainy one. Phone picture by RBM.
She ignores me and adds that it's boy cats who spray. Tom cats, she says. She confides that they have barbs (surprise!) in unexpected places. Despite her complete, sweet virginity, she rolls over on her side, pulls in her paws and purrs, looking like a furry odalisque.

With a long, demanding stare, she reminds me that she has a pronounced penchant for Hartz Hairball Remedy Plus. Whether these wished-for pellets actually work is at yet unclear (alas), but my ongoing desire for the absence of giant hairballs faithfully leads me toward the nearest kitty snake-oil remedies.

I obey. Bottled-up eagerness and then joy comes to cat-world. And now, back to home archaeology.

Friday, April 12, 2013

A Hilarious, Mad Saint--

The Throne of Psyche

The rain is tapping on the roof and making music in gutterpipes, recalling old paths into the house and testing the Amish roof--for days, men in straw hats and suspenders strode over its peaks in the long-vanished sunshine. I do hope it returns soon.

The Foliate Head
It's poetry month. I am afraid that I mostly ignore poetry month because I write poetry whenever I please (often, at the moment, as my life is exceedingly rambunctious this winter, and I don't have much novel-dreaming time) and not because poetry month tells me it's time for NaPoWriMo or because April is the cruelest month. However, I now remind you, O passer-by and reader, that I have three poetry books in print as of this April, and that they have had ethereal, glorious, vigorous, ridiculously fine reviews and posts and suchlike trumpeting of book-virtue.

It strikes me that writing poetry is the thing I do that most flies in the face of the times and American culture--the thing I am driven to do, despite knowing that readers of poetry are few and that the job of helping one's publisher peddle a few books is daunting. Somehow that just makes me more pigheaded and determined to do what I  do. I am not sure whether that looks mad, hilarious, or saintly from the viewpoint of the general passer-by.

Looking at the three in-print poetry books as a group, I can't help thinking that Clive Hicks-Jenkins has dressed them beautifully--three books from three countries, but all in the most lovely attire. Thanks, dear Clive! And also the designers, Elizabeth Adams for Thaliad, Burt and Burt for The Throne of Psyche, and Andrew Wakelin for The Foliate Head. These lucky books all have beautiful art and immaculate design work.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Beyond lyric. Audience. Energy.

Vignette by Clive Hicks-Jenkins
for Thaliad
Some how I never got around to reading John Barr's essay on contemporary poetry until tonight.  I'm rather glad, as it matches a good many of my thoughts well, and I might have failed to think for myself, letting him do so for me . . . Reading it, I am once again pleased that I left academia early on and have lived a very different sort of life from that one, and I am glad that I have worked in all sorts of forms, paying little attention to fashion, and chased after meter and rhyme and my own particular "golden apples of the sun" and "silver apples of the moon."
My suggestion here is that the ubiquity of the lyric poem today, to the exclusion of other modes of poetry, is another sign of poverty in the art form. The limits of the poetry of any age come not from things the poets perceived but were unable to attain (that would be failures of craft), but rather from the things they never thought to include or never thought of value to their art. It's not just the poets; this is how one age differs from the next. In the eyes of those who succeed it, an age of poetry comes to be defined at least in part by what it was not. You cannot know an era—say, Kafka's Europe—until half a century later, when it no longer exists, when you can see what it was not, and what came out of it and displaced it. -John Barr, "American Poetry in the New Century"
In fact, I have worked a great deal outside of the confines of the lyric. Because I also came to write novels, I gained an interest in using narrative voice, character, story, and plot in poems, particularly in recent work: the title sequence of The Throne of Psyche; the epic adventure Thaliad; and the long sequence of lyrics, narratives, and monologues focused on characters and transformation, The Book of the Red King (not yet published.)

But the question of how to return audience to poetry is still puzzling to me. One can write an adventurous narrative with distinct characters and events that are charged with life and meaning, and still not find more than a relatively small though engaged audience. John Barr writes,
No one knows if poetry has a golden age ahead of it any time soon, but it's hard to imagine one without an audience. If you look at drama in Shakespeare's day, or the novel in the last century, or the movie today, it suggests that an art enters its golden age when it is addressed to and energized by the general audiences of its time. In a golden age of poetry the audience will not be just the workshop, where poets write for other poets, or the classroom—both of which have provided crucial sanctuary to poetry during the past half century. Its audience will lie also in that world of non-poetry readers who come to discover its deep sustenance. "To have great poets, there must be great audiences too," Whitman said, and then he wrote for them. 
Caring for culture, then, demands an audience's growth and involvement with the arts. I entirely agree that being "energized" by audience is key to a golden age. If we had no Shakespeare, his time would still have been an aureate era. And I also agree that an epoch in which poets only write for other poets is a sadly reduced one.

I am grateful to the internet for providing writers who live in obscure places a community, with other writers and a place to talk to readers--things I have found on twitter and facebook and elsewhere. People I met online have done lovely things for my books, making videos, collaborating in multi-media projects involving images and music, and more.

Still, there is much that I don't grasp in this matter of the diminished audience for poetry after Modernism. When an audience dies away, can it return like resurrected spring?
Meeting me elsewhere: Excerpts from 2012 novel, adventure in blank verse, and collection of poems--A Death at the White Camellia OrphanageThe Foliate Head, and Thaliad--are at Scribd. Or take a peep at Thaliad at Phoenicia Publishing. (The Thaliad paperback is on sale at Phoenicia during Poetry Month. The hardcover is only available through Phoenicia, and the paperback anywhere.) See page tabs above for clips, links to reviews, and information on those three brand new books plus The Throne of Psyche from 2011, and more. 
Elizabeth Adams has updated the Phoenicia Publishing Thaliad page. Amazing, mesmerizing, filled with pithy wisdom, THALIAD is a work of genius which also seems particularly relevant to our own time." --Lee Smith.  "Extraordinary, deeply moving and fiercely intelligent." -- Tomcat.  "It's brutal and gorgeous, and like nothing else out there." -- Nathan Ballingrud. Etcetera. Please have a peep!
Back-of-The Foliate Head image,
also by Clive Hicks-Jenkins

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Twittage, during which my brain was replaced by cloud--

Vignette of lake for Thaliad by Clive Hicks-Jenkins
I appear to have exhausted the contents of my head while on twitter this morning. And have nothing more to say to the world. Meanwhile, I must go finish packing up bookplates for Thaliad...

Cloud and ignorance appear to be the order of the day. I believe the dawn cloud must have crept inside my head. I believe that my brain may have been replaced by vapor.

However, I still manage to like this quote and to be astonished (California friends, watch out!) by the article it came from: "It has been said that an actuary is someone who really wanted to be an accountant but didn't have the personality for it" (Kessler, WSJ.)

Morning twittage, since I have naught else to say:

  • The universe so big, so much to fathom... But children say wonderful things out of insufficient knowledge. 
  • Contemplating the well of my own ignorance. It is very great and very blue. 
  • Believe that refers to the scattering of sleep across the globe. Dark conspiracy of the Sopora Sleep company. @DeathZen @MrsDarkly 
  • Recollecting my daughter at 5: "Have you ever heard of a five-year-old teenager?" @saladinahmed 
  • Could we quit using "beyond words," Twit-buddies? Very few things are so, and usually not the ones we say are. 
  • Recommending Richard Krawiec and Jacar: @jacarpress.
  • Cloud that has filled the village nudges my cheek, creeps inside my mouth when I speak, breathes me. Odd, lovely morning. White smudge sun. 
  • The birds drag long streaming paths through the cloud that has filled up the village. 
  • The dog is trying mightily to bark to bits the cloud that used to be a yard. 
  • The yard is cloud. The lake is cloud. Cloud is snared in the rose canes. Infinite confine.
Meeting me elsewhere: Excerpts from 2012 books (A Death at the White Camellia OrphanageThaliadThe Foliate Head) at ScribdThaliad at Phoenicia Publishing. (Thaliad is on sale during Poetry Month. Hardcover is only available through Phoenicia, and the paperback anywhere.) See page tabs above for clips, links to reviews, and information on those brand new books plus The Throne of Psyche from 2011, and more. 

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Caring for culture

I've been thinking a lot about how we need to support our culture and help it grow into what we want it to be. We have let big business and government shape our culture for too long. Here are a few simple ways we can vote with our dollars and time.

Caring for Image Culture

A while back, I wrote an article about a solo show that a painter friend, Ashley Cooper, was having at the Earlville Opera House. I wrote about the need to support our local artists and galleries:
Ashley Norwood Cooper is an artist with a vocation, one that we locals ought to support with our attention and time and, yes, money. From now through May 14, pay a visit to her work at the Earlville Opera House, a model for arts programs in our area.
I happen to know that at least one person responded and supported both gallery and artist by purchasing a painting through the Opera House: that is, my husband read that article and acted on it! I don't know if anybody else did.

We don't have to be wealthy to support the arts in our area; a print or a painting by a young artist is often quite affordable. A modest original print or sketch already framed by the artist can be cheaper than the sort of framed posters people routinely buy at the mall.

Caring for Book Culture

Given the current "Big 6" demand for strict controls on e-book royalties, the push to "re-sell" e-books (strange, isn't it?), and the recent Supreme Court decision that foreign printers (okay, publishers--but they do none of the work of publishing) can sell (i.e. under-sell) their editions of books by American writers in the U. S. (books for which writers receive no royalties), I suggest that those of you who love books and want book culture to continue do a simple thing. Decide how much you could budget each year to support books.

Caring for Youth Culture

I quite like this article by Peter Brown Hoffmeister, a former "troubled youth" and now a high school teacher--an occupation in which he has a special awareness for kids who don't fit in. Many of the comments below the article disagree with some of his conclusions, but much that he says is impossible to argue against. I especially like his recipe for a life lived more out-of-doors for boys, and I salute his Mom for holding the line against videogame violence (if not against backpack guns.) He doesn't suggest that people volunteer with children and teens, but I think the thought is a natural outgrowth of the article.

A good many Cooperstown parents (including my scoutmaster husband) just came back from a trip to the Grand Canyon with Scouts, a trip the boys won't forget. Closer to home, they go on day hikes and local campouts; they camp year-round in the region and attend summer camp. As a result, they have a life that more closely resembles the sort of out-of-doors life and play all children used to enjoy (even though they're probably also addicted to videogames!) The well of the spirit fills up and is satisfied by images of the natural world, and bonds are created that persist through the school year, even creating some group loyalty for those who most don't fit in--the minority of Scouts with Asperger's/autism, dyslexia, ADD, and so on.

Caring for a Culture of courtesy

What has happened to us? The past week has seen the death of numerous public figures mocked and jeered online in public comments, often from anonymous voices. Sure, the thoughtful summation of a life is an important thing; we call it reasoned assessment, criticism, or history. But to dance and spit on the grave of the barely-cool dead is, I think, to act against that rare-in-the-universe substance: life.

We have moved from a culture where a mix of ideas about what to do about national political issues or what to think about religious issues has come to be seen as flat-out bad. Frankly, this will be creating a very poor world for the novelist, unless he or she happens to be, say, George Orwell. How do we accept that other people's ideas may have some value and points that we ourselves don't grasp? How do we show respect for the beliefs or solutions of others? We have forgotten how, it seems.

Love one another: it sounds so simple.

Another review for Pip--

Thanks to Curled Up With a Good Book for once again reviewing a book of mine. Here's the opener:
With “A savage laugh, a riddle and reply,” it is immediately apparent why Marly Youmans’ novel A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage won Mercer University’s Ferrol Sams Award for Fiction. Youman’s prose perfectly captures Southern culture, speech patterns, and the difficulties faced during the Depression Era, just as the acclaimed author Sams achieved in his classic coming-of-age tale, Run with the Horsemen.
Read the whole review by Leslie Raith here.

Monday, April 08, 2013

War of art round-up

Phoenicia in April: a reminder

Phoenicia Publishing full-length poetry books are on sale to celebrate poetry month. And that includes my wild, mythic adventure in verse, Thaliad, decorated profusely by Clive Hicks-Jenkins, with lovely design work by Beth Adams. I notice that the press has added a quote from Nathan Ballingrud to the Thaliad page: "It is brutal and gorgeous, and like nothing else out there." (Nathan is author of the forthcoming North American Lake Monsters.) Here's my page for the book, with quotes and excerpts.

Quote for the day 
We fear discovering that we are more than we think we are. More than our parents/children/teachers think we are. We fear that we actually possess the talent that our still, small voice tells us. That we actually have the guts, the perseverance, the capacity. We fear that we truly can steer our ship, plant our flag, reach our Promised Land. We fear this because, if it’s true, then we become estranged from all we know. We pass through a membrane. We become monsters and monstrous." Steven Pressfield, The War of Art
Lady Word of Mouth

Just a reminder that a new Lady Word of Mouth book announcement post appeared over the weekend. It features Melanie McCabe's History of the Body.

2nd Quote for the day
Reading this morning about the attacks on a Christian funeral at the Coptic cathedral in Egypt and a cleric's threat of genocide against the Copts (and pondering how such things barely ruffle our surface, here in the West) and about my New York as the worst "nanny state" in the country for imposing laws for absolutely everything (earbuds? the Big Gulp?), this much-shared quote was brought to mind: "In advanced civilizations the period loosely called Alexandrian is usually associated with flexible morals, perfunctory religion, populist standards and cosmopolitan tastes, feminism, exotic cults, and the rapid turnover of high and low fads—in short, a falling away (which is all that decadence means) from the strictness of traditional rules, embodied in character and enforced from within." — Jacques Barzun
Embodied in character, enforced from within.

Quote of the day
The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.  Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Lady Word of Mouth

Up on Lady Word of Mouth:
Melanie McCabe and her new
poetry book, History of the Body.

Please take a look!

Friday, April 05, 2013

Dumbfoundery, and art--

It's time to tear myself away from a lively game of facebook table tennis over "Dan Brown's 20 worst sentences" (do read them--if, like me, you have not peeped into a Brown-book, they are illuminating and amusing in the worst possible way!) It's time for me to visit my blog--hello!--where people are busily passing by without so much as a new wave from me. In the course of batting about comments on Dan Brown, I noticed or re-noticed several things that ought to make us all dumbfounded.

  • One, people do seem to think (even other writers) that one is agonized as a writer. 
  • Two, people rush out in great numbers and buy Dan Brown when they could be rushing out to buy books by much better writers), and this suggests something curious about the state of American arts and culture in the 21st century.
  • Three, even people in the arts (actors, composers, and so on from my facebook friend-list) run out and buy drek out of sheer sizzling curiosity and lemming-fever. 
  • People evidently have zero trouble in suspending their disbelief--even the belief in their own intelligence--upon opening certain books.
  • Tripe is edible. People will pay for it and then eat it and make fun of the stuff (after it has already polluted their minds).
Now, what can I say about these cold, hard bits of news from the Dumbfoundery?
  • First off, I would never write if writing was agonizing. Never! As I just said somewhere in that facebook thread, writing is a great, piercing joy. The good kind of piercing.
  • I don't write for filthy lucre, even though I think it would be quite nice and even right were wordsmiths of merit to be paid for their work. I write because wordsmithing is my gift. Because writing is my vocation. Because a flood of words drowns me in the most delicious way. Because dancing with a reader is the best dance. Because I reach out my hand to you through the beautiful artifice of words in best order. 
  • From a worldly point of view, it is quite mad that people like me go on, year after year, striving after what is strong and beautiful--and even giving up good jobs so that they can devote more of themselves to the art. 
  • Like salmon, people can swim against the tide in order to be creative and add beauty to their own culture. We are all culture-makers, and we choose what our culture will be when we buy a painting or a book or purchase tickets for a concert.
  • Readers and followers of the arts can support strong, beautiful books and art and so build the culture they wish to see, one worth handing on to their children. 
I knew all that already, but sometimes it helps to sum up the reality of the times, and how one doesn't quite fit. You probably knew it too. We're in an era when the idea that "we are what we eat" is continually stressed. But we are also what our minds and spirits embrace. And we build our culture out of either shifty sand or stone.

Meeting me elsewhere: Excerpts from 2012 books (A Death at the White Camellia OrphanageThaliadThe Foliate Head) at ScribdThaliad at Phoenicia Publishing. (Thaliad is on sale during Poetry Month. Hardcover is only available through Phoenicia, and the paperback anywhere.) See page tabs above for clips, links to reviews, and information on those brand new books plus The Throne of Psyche from 2011, and more.