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Sunday, June 30, 2013

Thank you

for more than a hundred letters, notes, and social media comments that I received yesterday about A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage. Writing is by nature a solitary act, and it is especially sweet to have recognition by fellow writers and artists and by readers. I hope that the additional award (Silver ForeWord BOTYA in general fiction) will help the novel find many new homes.

Friday, June 28, 2013

ForeWord BOTYA winners in fiction

ForeWord Reviews

great books independent voices

BOTYA 2012 Winners in General (Adult Fiction)

Caught, between the woods and frozen lake--

I would share this online video, but as it is a copyright violation, I am hesitant to share it here. At any rate, I think the composer's tribute is a worthy restoration of a poem made trite through too much exposure. It brings back all the original uncanniness and mental flickering of "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening." Although Frost hated the result the first time his work was set to music, I can't help but think this piece would give him pleasure: the original version of Sleep by Eric Whitacre with the Concordia Choir.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Letter to a Young Journalist

I don't know that I have any good advice for you except to put the right words in the right order, and to seek the truth. Neither is easy, it seems. But you asked, and so I will try.

We live in grievous times. Late events tell us that our country is not free from what used to be called sin. And on the other side of the ocean, right now, a teenage girl is hanging from a hook in the ceiling; tonight she may be raped by officers. Tomorrow she may die. In a different corner of the world, people are being murdered or driven out of their homes because they are Christians or because they are the wrong color. And in yet another place, children escaped from a war-torn home country are trying to reach free land, and some of them are trapped in holding facilities and some are drowning as the boat to freedom, as it so often does, grows weighty and sinks slowly into the sea. This little list could go on endlessly, embracing people of many colors and cultures. They are all our brothers and sisters, these invisible people, part of the worldwide family.

I don't see these things on the front page of my newspaper or my home page on the web. I have to look for them at places like Human Rights Watch: Defending Human Rights Worldwide. Looking is good.

Remember that no president in your or any lifetime should be shielded from the people's knowledge of his acts. Remember that there is such a thing as evil, and that it is roaming the world. Remember that the central, most important questions are not fanboy-fangirl issues like who is going to be the lucky Mrs. Cumberbatch or why that clever Emma Watson keeps a mere eight pairs of shoes--they aren't even about the outcome of a senate race (senators we have always with us) or the latest scandal in the NFL.

Be generous to others. Yet do not be hobbled by other people's ideas, no matter how much they compel followers. In fact, question group opinion, whether in the press or academia. (Go ahead and question my opinion, right now.)

It may not be easy, and it may demand your life, but the call is simple. Love the world. Seek goodness. Avoid adverbs. Shine light into the darkness.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Facebook, twitter, words, us--

Wondering what Facebook and twitter and such places tell us about words, about ourselves... While terrible things can result from being part of such a community, my experience has been primarily positive. I've had the fun of getting letters and comments from readers, and I've met a jolly bunch of people. It's interesting to see characters emerge through brief snips of words. From time to time, friends from the past surface.

To my surprise, such sites have even been useful to me as a writer. Blog comments tend to appear more frequently on Facebook than at the site, so it widens the reach of the blog--good for a busy woman. I've been introduced to writers and critics I value, some of whom have gone on to be a help to my in-print books, and I've been able to help others in turn with advice or an introduction. Some readers have discovered my books through twitter and Facebook. That's community, and I like it, especially since I live in a remote place with few writers, no full-service bookstore, and little in the way of support for books.

The things I don't like are pretty clear. I very much dislike all forms of proselytizing in print, even when I care about the issue. And when compassion and humor are both missing, I feel deeply wary. Humorless proselytizing without a heart for other people is especially difficult.

I've noticed that people are quick to anger if the reality of someone on Facebook comes into question. Some of this is because of fears of various sorts of abuse. The curious thing is that a mob mentality comes into play quickly and leads to a sort of e-witchhunt, a version of Salem that may or may not be grounded in truth--didn't the Salem residents vary in their opinions as well? One ill leads to another, just as in off-screen life. Meanwhile, on twitter the fictional person tends to be in-your-face false, the moniker of a dead author or well-known figure, or some fantastic creation.

Friends with mental problems and personality disorders are on facebook, just like the rest of us. One good thing about that is the way they can form a community where they are not judged by appearances but are free from bodily constraints. I've been touched by the way some I know "in real life" (it's all real life, isn't it?) have built a little world for themselves.

Announcements of family deaths are tricky: on a blithe stage, a dark note can sound peculiar if handled awkwardly--and what death is not a break in the flow of life? There's a clash between the nature of most posts and death. And yet one has more of a daily sense of the wheeling nature of life as births and deaths scroll across the screen, and surely that is a good effect in a culture that tends to hide death from the living.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

In the Shadow of the Jasmine

Below please find a reprint from Mezzo Cammin; if you would like more, there are more poems by me in the same issue, as well in almost every issue in the archives. And, thanks to poet and editor Kim Bridgford, there are plenty of poems in the journal that rejoice in depth, feeling, rhythm, the sound of words, and shapeliness.
Note on the poem and recent publications: This poem appears in The Foliate Head (UK: Stanza Press, 2012.) My other recent poetry books are the long-poem adventure in blank verse, Thaliad (Montreal: Phoenicia Publishing), and a collection, The Throne of Psyche from Mercer University Press, 2011. (My most recent novel is A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage from Mercer, 2012, winner of The Ferrol Sams Award / current ForeWord BOTYA finalist.) All four are available fromt he usual sources, though the hardcover version of Thaliad is available only through Phoenicia.
In the wake of Mark Edmundson's assault on contemporary poetry, I suggest that readers might look beyond the usually-pushed poets. (If you have a favorite, please tell!) I've only read the Ron Charles review but should be getting a copy of the original Edmundson piece today. 
Their poems “are good in their ways,” he concedes. “They simply aren’t good enough. They don’t slake a reader’s thirst for meanings that pass beyond the experience of the individual poet and light up the world we hold in common.” --Ron Charles quotes Mark Edmundson
More to come on that topic, I imagine...

Update. Thanks to Death Zen for an email copy of the Edmundson piece. And, a bit later, thanks to John O' Grady for a link to a .pdf copy: I am reading it now and would love to hear what other people think.

In the Shadow of Jasmine 

       in the shade--the eternal jasmine's--
       with immaculate joy.
             --Wasyl Barka, "The Mad Woman"

As white as jasmine though more crystalline,
The snow goes on for miles around the house
Under a freighted, leaning sky of ice.
So it has been for months--first the water
Flowing choppily between us, and next
Torrential time, widening the spaces.
Then came the soft relentlessness of snow.
At first I thought one second was enough
To alter us forever and bereave
My soul of you--and so it was--but then
Your face went slipping through my memory
Like water that no human hands can hold
Until I ran along the banks of death,
Stumbling, cutting my feet, calling your name,
And there I glimpsed the shade of you, not torn
In pieces by mad terror's strike . . . To think,
They've named me mad who had divinest sense
Of love for you that would not ebb and die
As others wished, as others would commend!
I knew your voice, your body wavering
As if in ancient glass--you steadied, were
A vision of full-bodied soul, my love,
Who elsewhere lay in fragments in the grave,
And there along the shrapnel-edge of death,
We made the only vows we'll ever have,
To walk past time into the jasmine shade
Where fragrance may be music, where our love
May fuse with light, where we're not as we were.

At night my sheets are white as miles of snow;
My body, restless, aches for what is not,
And when I sleep my dreams are jasmine-lit.
I wander in the moonlight, break the stems
Of closed-up jasmine flowers just at dawn
And make them into tea. Sun's corolla 
Transforms into a single jessamine.

Above your bones I draw in snow a bloom
That glints as if it were a diamond brooch--
A scentless thing with dust at every heart
Of every flake of snow. No matter how
Broken, each crystal star is beautiful,
Fallen from perfection into a world
Infinitely precious, infinitely
Small against the dark and galaxies.
My love, my love, there is no terror here
But only grief that passes and a joy
I cannot share, these stars upon my skin.
I bend to taste the snow, and it is sweet. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Is. Poetry. Dead. Redux.

Addendum: I'm a bit sick of reading is-poetry-dead and the-novel-is-dead articles. Journalists never tire of the topic. Tomorrow I think I'll write about something entirely different. Wombats. Ladybugs. Cat videos. Nobody ever seems to get tired of cat videos.

This morning I was reading a 2009 Sally Thomas column, Is Billy Collins Killing Poetry?  and wanted to leave a comment, but the comments were closed. I was not thinking about Billy Collins so much as about the survival of poetry and the need to pay attention beyond the poets thrust into our faces by--by whom? the so-called poetry establishment? by the fact that it's easier to keep repeating the same old names?

For the record, I do not think in the least that Billy Collins is killing poetry, even though I admit to having written a riposte to "Taking Off Emily Dickinson's Clothes" that was published in The Raintown Review and later made into a video by that multi-media artist, Paul Digby. Eventually "A Fire in Ice" appeared in my collection The Throne of Psyche (Mercer, 2011.)

Poetry survived the Dark Ages and the great vowel shift and one historical period clashing with another. It has even survived the tedium of the "authorless poem" and the enshrining of poetry in the ivory tower. It has survived mountains of terrible poems. It even survives all the people who claim they hate the stuff but haven't bothered to read enough to discover what's good out there.

What itched at me about the column had to do with the comments. Sally Thomas waxes enthusiastic over one of my favorite contemporary poets, the not-long-late Charles Causley, both his poems published for children and those not. I dearly love Causley and was glad to see her piping the news. A number of people left comments, and took the chance to bash Collins about the head a bit. But not one said, "Charles Causley. He sounds wonderful. I'll look him up." In fact, not one who wrote in even mentioned Causley.

Is it the same-old, same-old? Are people quite willing to talk over and over about how dreadful contemporary (academic! dull! pretentious! etcetera) poetry is--and some of the time, they are quite right--but not willing to explore somebody of beauty and joy and music and humor and depth like Causley? Ted Hughes and Philip Larkin rated Charles Causley very highly indeed, and they were both pretty demanding readers.

Plenty of interesting poets work quietly among us. Is it possible that some readers--even those who are writers--would rather disparage Collins (or Olds or Graham, or whoever their most-disliked "popular" poet is) than do some digging for poets they might like better?

On the web, Charles Causley is little seen because of copyright issues, but he is well worth seeking out. You might like him.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Library Porch

The Village Library of Cooperstown
I succumbed on the third day of the annual library sale and wandered over to see what was happening and what book I could not live without. While I made grand resolutions of not coming home with a stack of books, I failed in that determination.

I'm always curious to see what book is present in very large numbers; this year the obvious honors go to a North Carolinian, as it was Cold Mountain, mostly in hardcover. Although a friend was leaving when I arrived and said, "There are no Marly Youmans books," I did spot one--a satisfyingly worn copy of Ingledove.

Want to know what I toted home?

One was a book that I really wanted, a big fat prose and poetry of Rudyard Kipling. Over a thousand pages of rather small print, so it should keep me busy. I ignored novels in favor of story collections and poetry, though I did bring home a Murakami novel. I nabbed three children's books: the 1928 Newberry Medal winner, The Trumpeter of Krakow, a beautiful small book by Eric P. Kelly with profuse decorations by Janina Domanska; a pretty little retelling of Don Quixote with the Walter Crane illustrations; and a collection of George MacDonald's children's novels with the Arthur Hughes illustrations. I also picked up an Oxford anthology of English poetry (probably completely redundant of what I already have), Murderers I Have Known, a collection of stories by Marina Warner (I have some of her nonfiction books but have never tried her fiction), and Strange Pilgrims, a collection of stories on Latin Americans in Europe by García Márquez.

It was hot out there! Amazing. Summer finally comes to Cooperstown.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Wild to Make

One of my poems from The Book of the Red King appeared in American Arts Quarterly and is now up on the parent site, Newington Cropsey Cultural Studies Center. Go here.

Friday, June 21, 2013

A story and a call for poems--

Anyone can give up, it's the easiest thing in the world to do. But to hold it together when everyone else would understand if you fell apart, that's true strength. --Christopher Reeves

An image from the in-progress Kickstarter film

Long, long ago I was a teacher. One of my students was Gary Dietz, young and lively--I remember he backpacked around Japan in that long ago and came back to us with wonderful stories of the people, encounters on the street and in noodle shops. He's still lively, and has been on a great, demanding adventure since then, for in 1999 his son Alexander was born with an extremely rare "interstitial deletion of the lower arm of chromosome 13." A single dad for most of his life with Alexander, Gary found few helpful accounts of how to father children with disabilities, and now he is working on a blog and a book of essays by or about fathers with disabled children.

As part of his work for the book, Gary Dietz is calling for submissions of poems--a poetry contest. A minimum of four winning poems will appear in his Dads of Disability book, now in progress. Read guidelines and about compensation here.
What must the poem be about? The poem must be about, evoke, or directly evidence a theme about disability from the perspective of or a topic surrounding a father of a child (a young child or adult child or deceased child) who experienced some type — any type — of disability. The disability could have been physical, developmental, genetic, acquired, or learning. The topic could even be about some issues that some communities don’t consider a disability, such as being a Deaf person or having Autism (or being Autistic as some prefer). The poem can be by a male or female or straight or gay author as long as its main theme or themes concern a father of a child with a disability.
Alexander as a baby
Many of us in the arts have raised or are raising a child who presents special challenges because of some genetic inheritance or later accident; some have written about these demands in poems. Many parents with a disabled child wouldn't call themselves poets, yet commit the occasional poem. I am pleased to support Gary's project by reading and choosing poems for his upcoming book, and I hope that you will send a poem if you have something that fits the guidelines. If not, maybe the content will inspire you to write a new one. You don't have to be the father of a disabled child to do so--take a look at those guidelines!

And please consider making a donation when his Kickstarter fundraiser goes live. Many projects are called worthy. This one is--not only worthy but one that fills a need.

Take a look at Gary Dietz's Dads of Disability website here. (And yes, there will be a chance to submit essays as well.)
  • Gary Dietz twitter feed @garymdietz 
  • Gary Dietz facebook page (most posts public)

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Lovelessness and words

This morning I was thinking about writers and anger. In particular, I was thinking about a writer whose involvement in political causes has gone far to ruin her reputation as a thinker. Yet her books do well and suggest that what is called a push early in the publishing career is more important in finding readers than one's ideas.

I remember seeing her speak when I was around 20, and being astonished by a story she read, one that felt so loveless and racist (in the guise of being empowering to women and anti-racist) that she lost my sympathy for any virtues in the story. She was already quite famous, a sort of second-tier celebrity, and most of the people I knew at the reading rushed up to congratulate her, a fact that seemed to me a strong instance of irony.

The effect of the reading lingered with me a long time, and I can say that if I did not know such a thing already, it must have been a warning on denying understanding and love to a created character. Of course, I was a poet then, with no thought of wading into the waters where novelists sink or swim.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Cooperstown frolics

With illustrator-artist-writer Ruth Sanderson and Rebecca Beatrice Miller--at the Farmer's Museum--

Monday, June 17, 2013

Charlotte Mew, remembered--

I've been reading some Charlotte Mew. And you should too. Hardy and Woolf, Sassoon and Pound and others praised her highly. She had a sad life, but it had its sparky and luminous moments--that is, she wrote some lovely poems.
  • An introduction to Charlotte Mew here.
  • 20 poems by her here.

In The Fields

Lord when I look at lovely things which pass,
Under old trees the shadow of young leaves
Dancing to please the wind along the grass,
Or the gold stillness of the August sun on the August sheaves;
Can I believe there is a heavenlier world than this?
And if there is
Will the heart of any everlasting thing
Bring me these dreams that take my breath away?
They come at evening with the home-flying rooks and the scent of hay,
Over the fields. They come in spring.

Sea Love

Tide be runnin’ the great world over;
’Twas only last June month I mind that we
Was thinkin’ the toss and the call in the breast of the lover
So everlastin’ as the sea.

Here’s the same little fishes that splutter and swim,
Wi’ the moon’s old glim on the grey, wet sand;
An’ him no more to me nor me to him
Than the wind goin’ over my hand.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Wyeth women on art

Fenimore Art Museum
"I think all great stuff comes out of being alone. At the time you may feel lonely, but it's doing something wonderful to you."
    --Carolyn Wyeth

"A kind of tribute to my delight in life, in all kinds of important aspects of my life, and also the very superficial, the delightful, the charming, the nonessential, except that I never know what is nonessential. Nothing is unimportant... It is all paintable It's all part of an artist's life."
    --Henriette Wyeth Hurd

Friday, June 14, 2013

Golden frolics

I'm taking a blog break because Ruth Sanderson is coming for a visit, and I need to do a bit of spit and polish on the rickety old abode before this afternoon. If you don't know this wonderful illustrator and painter, take a look at her Golden Studio site. I'll be back on Monday. If you want to find me elsewhere, root around in old posts or check out the book tabs at the top of the page--the first four books are still in print, 2011-12 poetry and a novel.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Dawg poems

Addendum: I hereby clarify (nod to Gary) that I am not particularly serious in this post--in fact, that I am silly with a dash of seriousness. I would be a great fool (and perhaps I am, but for other reasons!) if I did not realize how much of the world (literary and otherwise) runs and what it values. And I would be an unhappy person if I could not deal with such things! Good cheer to you, whether you read Yeats or McKuen or nothing at all in the way of poetry.

Quiz: There is a follow-up to the your-adjective-here New York Times Bestseller, I Could Pee on This. It is unusual to have poetry sell so well, so very well. Which is the correct response to this curious situation?
  • a. Little Old Proverb Woman's This too shall pass
  • b. Gandalf in angelic defender mode: You shall not pass! 
  • c. Keats, writing on water, saying, "A thing of beauty is a joy for ever: /  Its loveliness increases; it will never / Pass into nothingness; but still will keep / A bower quiet for us, and a sleep / Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing."
  • d. Doggone. 
  • e. "Life is thickly sown with thorns, and I know no other remedy than to pass quickly through them" (Voltaire.) 
  • f. "What is a poet? An unhappy person who conceals profound anguish in his heart but whose lips are so formed that as sighs and cries pass over them they sound like beautiful music." --Soren Kierkegaard 
  • g.  Emerson's "A man is a god in ruins." 
  • h.  Henry Ward Beecher's "The dog is the god of frolic." 
  • i.  Compare and contrast Yeats and the dog as poets if you want to pass freshman English!
  • j.  Some mysterious combination of letters, as, f., i., and g. This spells fig, a fact that is not very interesting in light of the book. However, I like figs.
  • k.  Some not-mysterious combination of letters.
  • l.  "I could pee on this." Twice.
  • m. none of the above, not ever, no time!
  • n.  Face it, poetry has gone to the dogs.. :) Whee--
  • o.  all of the above
  • p.  "A dog eats no beets." --from Diogenes, who learned a lot on his famous quest to find an honest man, lighting his lantern in the day and sleeping like a happy Greek pickle in a big Athenian pottery jar at night. (Later on he was captured by pirates.)

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Body, not books--

I've always said the blog would be reserved for talk about words, poetry, and stories--the realm of books and literature. This post is not about books, except perhaps on the ability to carry a stack of them or pick up your O. E. D. as you grow older. Instead, it's what I wish somebody had said to me years ago. If someone you love is a woman or smallish man--particularly one who is slight, of European extraction, and pursues a sedentary occupation (like writing books)--find out if she/he knows anything about getting her vitamins and minerals (sufficient calcium and vitamin D and others) through foods, about hewing close to an alkaline diet, and about getting enough weight-bearing exercise. If you are that person, do a little research. Sixteen percent of women over fifty in the U.S. have osteoporosis, and four percent of men. I call that common. It's not easy to increase bone mass after fifty, and the current osteoporosis drugs are, to me, rather fearsome.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Happy birthday, Clive Hicks-Jenkins--

Cover image by Clive
P. S. Publishing, 2009 (out-of-print)
Cover, interior art by Clive.
Stanza Press, 2012

Jacket/interior art by Clive.
Phoenicia Publishing, 2012
Jacket image by Clive
Mercer University Press, 2011

Monday, June 10, 2013


I rose at 5:30 with Maurice Sendak on my mind. Now I realize it is his birthday. I am very glad Sendak was born and wielded his gift with such gaiety and care, and that he spoke so forcefully (and often grumpily) about his life and times.

So I rooted around, trying to find a quote I remembered about there being only good and bad books--none of this genre and "kinds" nonsense! (Probably it's somewhere in the depths of the blog, too.) And I didn't find it, but did reread some lines that I love.

Here are a few celebratory quotes about his friends in the realm of dead artists and living arts, the place where he belongs:
When Mozart is playing in my room, I am in conjunction with something I can't explain... I don't need to. I know that if there's a purpose for life, it was for me to hear Mozart.

I have a little tiny Emily Dickinson so big that I carry in my pocket everywhere. And you just read three poems of Emily. She is so brave. She is so strong. She is such a sexy, passionate, little woman. I feel better.

[On Melville.] There's a mystery there, a clue, a nut, a bolt, and if I put it together, I find me.
Something I can't explain. 
Strength and passion.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

The Bell Ringers

Imagine a group of young bell ringers, dressed in black pants and pleated tuxedo shirts with red bow ties and cummerbunds. The one young woman is dressed like the young men, except that she has on a black skirt. They have the requisite white gloves and gleaming instruments, a bell to each hand. One of them, Andrew, is very eager, and when he is listening, his face is intent and mobile. 

They are distinctly short. A mad, impertinent wish that the members of the bell choir be dressed as hobbits passes through your mind, tugs off their shoes, and drapes them in vests and coats. Merry and Pippin with bells! You shake your head, the idea flying off. 

Then they play the Gaelic tune "Bunessan" ("Morning is Broken") and the Shaker tune "Simple Gifts," and you clap like mad, tears in your eyes. Bells are heavenly, aren't they? Several of the young men seem over-flowing with pep, and when you finally get to talk with them, you find them merry and sweet and endearing, wonderfully polite. 

They are the bell ringers from Pathfinder Village, a home where children and adults "with Down syndrome and other disabilities discover their own value and talents, and share these gifts with others." Yes, you have received a gift. You say, "Thank you." You say, "I loved it very much."

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Slog & sundry (+ requests)

Ruth Sanderson, from The Twelve Dancing Princesses
I'm afraid today is a Great Slog Day. Ruth Sanderson is coming soon, and I must quarry out the guest room, which is full of rummage sale items--too much stuff in this house!--and Scouts gear from the trip to the Grand Canyon. Do you know Ruth? Here she is at her Golden Studio, where you can learn about her painting and books. I met her when I was writer-in-residence at Hollins in 2010, and we had fine walks and talks (as I also did with then-MFA-student-and-now-teacher-and-writer-and-blogger Robin Rudd) and have a good deal in common. I am so glad that Amanda Cockrell (writer and director of the MFA in Children's Literature) and Hollins invited me to visit the MFA program; I enjoyed myself and made some grand new friends and acquaintances. (I'm not doing anything of the kind this summer, as I am going to tour a bit and focus on children and writing the rest of the time, but next year I will be doing a week-long poetry workshop at Antioch and maybe more....)

I've just done something that I never think to do, and have gone back and looked at the last six weeks to see what people are most interested in. And was pleased by the fact that lots of people keep reading even after the day is past. People appear to have been most drawn to the Tesla post from yesterday, one on Isaac Bashevis Singer, the Commonweal review of A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage, the "word-doodling" post, the seven deadlies, my mother (!) and her weaving, pictures of the house in Thaliad, "the value of art" post, the little post with links to Jeff Sypeck's review of Thaliad, a Lady Ise post, and one on Traherne.

I confess to being one of those bloggers (maybe it's all bloggers) who now and then think to jettison the whole enterprise. But I'm pleased that so many passers-by have paused to read. I wish that I had time to return the favor, as so many of you are bloggers, but in truth my life has become busy enough that I rarely do so.

Please leave a request or a question (questions are easier because more specific, usually) if you have something you'd like to see here. Or ask for someone--Susanna tends to ask for the Pot Boy--or some former guest. Requests and questions are always inspiring to the daily blogger.

I close with a list of links to my recent, in-print books. Careful. These paper children are looking for a home in your brain!

Marly, recent and elsewhere:
  • Thaliad's adventure in blank verse, with art by artist Clive Hicks-Jenkins of Wales (Montreal: Phoenicia, 2012) here and here 
  • The Foliate Head's collection of poems with art by Clive Hicks-Jenkins, Stanza Press (UK) here
  • A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage (novel) from Mercer University Press (currently ForeWord 2013 finalist in the general fiction category; The Ferrol Sams Award, 2012) here
  • The Throne of Psyche, collection of formal poetry from Mercer, 2011, here
  • Samples from my 2011-12 books at Scribd.
  • See tabs above for information on individual books, including review clips.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Poetry. Channeling Tesla.

If you want to know the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency, and vibration.  -Nikola Tesla

Via Prufrock, I looked at these wonderful Chladni-plate sand pictures. Description from Colossal: Youtube user Brusspup . . . who often explores the intersection between art and science just released this new video featuring the Chladni plate experiment. First a black metal plate is attached to a tone generator and then sand is poured on the plate. As the speaker is cycled through various frequencies the sand naturally gravitates to the area where the least amount of vibration occurs causing fascinating geometric patterns to emerge. There’s actually a mathematical law that determines how each shape will form, the higher the frequency the more complex the pattern.
I often think about the ways that art--poetry and narrative in particular--intersects with other fields.  And the quote from the brilliant madman Tesla is running through my brain, and like water seeking new paths for entrance. I often think of the rush of poetry and certain passages of prose in terms of energy. (Here my husband reminds me that there is a statue of Tesla at Niagara Falls, that fount of energy.) But what about frequency and vibration?

To be strict about "frequency" in poetry, the most obvious links are to refrain, to repetition of words as in a sestina, to rhyme frequency, and to repetitive metrical structures... These devices create elaborate patterns and, if read, lead to new structures of vibration in the air. We could even find analogues to cycles and oscillation or waves in established formal designs and nonce poems that use recurring patterns and variable but set line length structures.

Could we talk about the idea of vibration within a poem? (Here I am trying to channel Tesla-esque madness.) Yes, we can talk about a poem as a kind of system. Could we talk about oscillation around some sort of equilibrium point? If we look at Old English poetry, there's definitely an equilibrium point, a rest, a still place in the midst of activity. And that occurs between every Anglo-Saxon half-line. But there's a similar tendency in the iambic pentameter line as well.

I've barely started pondering the idea, and whether it is sense or nonsense, or maybe some helpful-to-a-writer combination. And there's a limit to how far we can take such analogies. But now I must go put my day in order. Enjoy the video, and be sure your sound is on!

Thursday, June 06, 2013

You've come a long way, baby--

From an article (by a man) on longevity as a writer in the SFWA Bulletin, 2013
The reason for Barbie's unbelievable staying power, when every contemporary and wanna-be has fallen by the way-side is, she's a nice girl. Let the Bratz girls dress like tramps and whores. Barbie never had any of that. Sure, there was a quick buck to be made going that route but it wasn't for her. Barbie got her college degree, but she never acted as if it was something owed to her, or that Ken ever tried to deny her.

She has always been a role model for young girls, and has remained popular with millions of them throughout their entire lives, because she maintained her quiet dignity the way a woman should.
Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre, 1847
Who blames me? Many, no doubt; and I shall be called discontented. I could not help it: the restlessness was in my nature; it agitated me to pain sometimes. Then my sole relief was to walk along the corridor of the third storey, backwards and forwards, safe in the silence and solitude of the spot, and allow my mind's eye to dwell on whatever bright visions rose before it--and, certainly, they were many and glowing; to let my heart be heaved by the exultant movement, which, while it swelled it in trouble, expanded it with life; and, best of all, to open my inward ear to a tale that was never ended--a tale my imagination created, and narrated continuously; quickened with all of incident, life, fire, feeling, that I desired and had not in my actual existence.

It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquillity: they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it. Millions are condemned to a stiller doom than mine, and millions are in silent revolt against their lot. Nobody knows how many rebellions besides political rebellions ferment in the masses of life which people earth. Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts, as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

American tumbleweed

“We live in a time and place in which we are conditioned to leave our hometowns,” Dreher reflects. “Our schools tell our young people to follow their professional bliss, wherever it takes them. Our economy rewards companies and people who have no loyalty to place.” Probably most importantly of all, “The stories that shape the moral imagination of our young, chiefly by film and television, are told by outsiders who were dissatisfied and lit out for elsewhere to find happiness and good fortune” (on Ron Dreher's The Little Way of Ruthie Leming.)
Call me intrigued. I've seen a number of reviews of Dreher's book, and I have an interest in the topic--Lousiana, the death of a sibling, the idea of a local habitation where one knows and is known. (The review I quote from I saw via Prufrock.)

I was born to two people who were strongly tied to place but left home. During my childhood, my father worked a multitude of jobs--when I was born in Aiken, South Carolina, he worked at the Savannah River Power plant. Later we moved to Gramercy, Louisiana, where he was a chemist for a sugar refinery. Then he went to graduate school at LSU in Baton Rouge. Then we had six years out of the South, a three-year stint teaching in Kansas followed by three years as a research chemist in Wilmington, Delaware. It wasn't until I began high school that we settled in Cullowhee, North Carolina. After the NASA cutbacks, it was difficult to be mobile. My father, an itchy-footed Georgia sharecropper's child who joined the Army Air Corps at 17 and flew on a B-17 as tail gunner in World War II, finally stayed in one place. My mother finally was able to keep a job she loved. Cullowhee is one of the few places in my life that feels like a constant.

My years in Gramercy and Baton Rouge are far more vivid to me than they should be, given that I left the state at seven, after second grade. Intensely colorful, the images in my mind seem to hold a kind of joy. The scattering of pictures suggests paradise. Everything that lodged in my mind was excessive, beautiful, bright, glittering, or just plain curious. Anything that came afterward could only be a fall, and what came after was endless miles of wheat bending to the wind, and a horizon that seemed like forever.

When we moved to Louisiana, we were a small family suffering from grief. In Gramercy I raced with my neighbors, shouting in the Cajun French I no longer remember, racing past the tomatoes that grew up into the trees, over the winking spiders, wearing my green and pink lizards as earrings. The past and time fell away.

For the last 14 years I have lived in a small Yankee town of about 2500. As a place where many people are extremely conscious of whose ancestors lived here, it can take a long time to feel reasonably "at home." The overlong and snowy winter always reminds me that this is not my place, as do other things. But I have friends here, and my three children did most of their growing-up here. I am glad that it is on the Appalachian spine, and that the hills run down to the Blue Ridge. I have a place here.

And yet, I do not know exactly where I belong.

Some years ago my mother tried to buy her family home in south Georgia, a beautiful Queen Anne house built by my grandfather. I have no doubt that I would have felt deeply tied to that little spot, the house and grape arbors and fruit trees. But I would not have become part of the community by virtue of birth, no matter how beloved my grandmother was in her little town.

What is the cure for our American wanderers, who have no place fully their own? Does it matter that "the stories that shape the moral imagination of our young, chiefly by film and television, are told by outsiders?" And how does that impact writers, who have long written out of place?

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Poems, essay at Mezzo Cammin--

Poems up at Mezzo Cammin, three of them from The Book of the Red King manuscript:
  • Tree Girl
  • The Garden at 4 a.m.
  • The Alchemist to the Fool
  • The Red King to the Stricken Man
I also have a little essay on Kathleen Raine in Mezzo Cammin's Fifteen by Fifteen, a celebration of fifteen women poets by fifteen women poets. And thanks to editor, poet, and West Chester Poetry Conference director Kim Bridgford!

Monday, June 03, 2013

Fireworks, and clarity--

The speculative writing world has gone off like fireworks again, this time over remarks about "lady writers" and "lady editors" and then later about woman's "quiet dignity" (referring to Barbie, of all things!) As someone who, thanks to two Southern fantasies written for my children and a post-apocalyptic blank verse poem, is occasionally invited to the speculative party and asked for anthology stories, I am near enough to that world to understand what is going on and to sympathize with writers and readers who feel a deep anger over the latest Resnick-Mahlberg debate in the SWFA Bulletin. (If you want to see some samples, google SWFA and E. Catherine Tobler, Foz Meadows, or Jim C. Hines for a start.)

But as somebody usually tossed in the "literary" camp, and who has written poetry and novels of many sorts and has never been to a con or read a Bulletin, I also have distance. What strikes me is that the unifying thread between the absurdities in the original article (the "ladyness" and focus on beauty in an editor, Old White Guys, Sean Hannity, etc.), subsequent woman-as-Barbie response, and the also-absurd "woman warrior" in armor-bikini on the Bulletin cover is one fatal to the writer: a refusal to see accurately all human beings as whole people and then portray them as such.

If you see clearly and in fullness, and depict believable people on the page, then characters have a chance to be so alive that time cannot easily devour their vigor and life. As Shakespeare wrote of Cleopatra, "Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale / Her infinite variety." This call for the writer to see and show with accuracy reaches past gender politics to the very heart of creation.

Likewise, if anyone sees other people clearly in ordinary life, he or she will tend to speak of them with the same clarity. To do so is to do them a kind of justice.

It is not because Resnick and Malzberg are Old White Guys, as they said of themselves, that their article so offended readers. Despite what some commenters have said, young people have no automatic claim on seeing more clearly and portraying more accurately than others. Nor do non-white people have such a claim. Nor do women. Nobody gets a pass on these things.

We all have blinders to remove. An Old White Guy has the same chance as any other to see clearly and in fullness--that fullness that leads to respect of one toward another and understanding--those who inhabit the changing world around him. An example? Melville was once an extremely Old White Guy, still striving for beauty and wholeness in words. So let's not let anybody off on an Old White Guy technicality. An OWGT is just not good enough. The goal for the Old White Guy in life or in written words should be the same goal as for the rest of us: to try harder to see, to know, and to catch the truth of human life in our daily words. And that includes the truth of women, who do not fight wars in brass bras, who do not care to be diminished and patted on the head, and who should be portrayed in their rich and "infinite variety." For a writer to fail to do so is to fail justice, and to fail creation's call.