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Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Witch and Clive on Christmas Eve

The most fun payment for a poem, ever!
Art by Clive Hicks-Jenkins. Printed by Daniel Bug at the Penfold Press.
The Toy Town Theatre in Christmas lights.

If you would like to see the poem I wrote for Clive Hicks-Jenkins while taking a break from adorning the Christmas tree, fly here to his Artlog. "The Witch of the Black Forest" appears in honor of his marvelous, just-out Hansel and Gretel (Random Spectacular), which I expect that you will wish to buy during the 12 Days of Christmas. The poem was written for a contest to accompany the appearance of the book (with the prize of a Toy Town Theatre), and it's not the first time Clive has impelled me to write a poem.

And it's wonderfully scary, that book, and perfect for a launch date in Advent, when good Christians are to consider The Four Last Things: death, hell, judgment, and heaven! But good viewing and good reading all year long.... Here you can see some images and the great little book trailer.

Merry Christmas!
And thank you to Clive....

The Toy Town Theatre in toy snow.

Gretel and a ginger threat!

The witch's forest.

The witch's nose!

Merry Christmas

Detail of the Nativity from Giotto's
frescoes at the Scrovegni chapel in Padua.

Mary stood in the kitchen
Baking a loaf of bread.
An angel flew in the window
‘We’ve a job for you,’ he said.

‘God in his big gold heaven
Sitting in his big blue chair,
Wanted a mother for his little son.
Suddenly saw you there.’

from Charles Causley, "Ballad of the Breadman"

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

from Richard Wilbur, "A Christmas Hymn"

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Q & A with a younger writer

Here's a portion of a  slightly altered (to disguise the innocent) Q and A from private messaging on Facebook, dealing with issues of revision and Beta readers and workshops.

The accompanying images are covers / jackets of my books now in print, in lieu of doing a boring post about what's in print. (And The Foliate Head is somewhat in print--that is, copies still remain at online outlets.)

* * *

Q:  By the way, I have a question: do you use beta readers or critique partners? I am confused. I have revised a story a bunch of times, trying different directions. Got it back from my fiction teacher this week and he liked it, believed everything, and had one small fix that I agree with. Then two days later my writing group met and all three women had many more criticisms than he did. They believe a lot less of the story. I am curious to know if you just trust yourself and your editor at this point or if you have trusted readers.

This gets my head spinning sometimes. I cut something out to get at a different truth, then I find out that someone liked the part I cut out. I put it back in, someone finds it distracting. And round and round it goes.

A: Once, long ago, I did an event with a certain famous writer, and he referred to his six Beta readers, and how he expected them to drop what they were doing, read, and get back to him immediately. And I had to admit that I was the sort of person who didn't like to bother anybody, and that I almost never asked anyone to read a manuscript. Once in a blue moon somebody (in the faraway Carolina past, that blue moon reader would be Erica Eisdorfer) reads something unpublished, but in general I just don't do that. And, really, in the history of the world, most writers have not had that luxury. Even when they read a new poem or story to a group of friends, what happened would not be what we now call "workshopping." Also, I think there's a danger in Beta readers. Writing by committee is not a good idea.

You know, it's not a requirement for a book to be without flaw in order to be a great book. Moby Dick has loads (whale-barrows) of flaws, but it's unquestionably a masterpiece. A book has to try to capture life as best it can, and if it does, well, flaws don't signify so much.

However, I just read The Fellowship, the Zaleski book about the Inklings and was rather jealous of them, though. Their method was not very workshop-like, I note. No brooding over the words and giving careful feedback. They sat around, drinking and smoking, and would read new sections / stories / poems aloud. The reader would get a reaction and comments, but it was more of a casual, oral-response-only sort of thing. Gut reactions. And sometimes the comments were harsh and not helpful (Dyson on Tolkien!) but the impression is usually of support and encouragement (which writers tend to need but don't always find.) Being with other people intent on the same thing is genuinely helpful. You don't feel so alone. (I mostly hang out with painters, which is not exactly the same but helpful.)

Wednesday, December 14, 2016


I have just finished the Zaleski book, The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings, and find that I have a feeling of intense nostalgia for something I never had and never could have: the camaraderie of young men together, with no women about, talking about art and philosophy and aspirations; the ability to go off on great, indulgent walking trips without the least notice to family as to what I am about; the ignoring of laundry and such in favor of pub and talk and good beer whenever I like; and the hearty support and encouragement and combativeness and rousing animal spirits of a set of companions wild to make stories and poems and write books of all sorts.

How marvelous to live in a small country and meet and spend a lifetime with like-minded people so that you know them intimately and care about them and their accomplishments. Living in a snowy, remote village, I don't have companions who are writers, though I have lunch frequently with two serious painters in order to get my fix of the idea that there are still people in the world who are dead serious (although with a sense of humor) about making things of beauty and rejoice in that work. And, of course, I have my e-acquaintances, many of whom write or are enthusiastic readers.

Still, I feel that strange nostalgia.... But now I go off to fold some laundry and maybe do a little revision before I go to sleep.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Emily Barton on Catherwood

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1996
When a wonderful writer writes a essay about a book of mine that is more than twenty years old, well, I am more touched and grateful that I can easily express. It could not have come at a better time--a time when I, like Catherwood, have been wandering in a wilderness, though mine is not the same as hers but more the sort of Hansel and Gretel forest that a writer sometimes wanders when feeling particularly alone in the art.

It's a beautiful essay. Catherwood has (so I have been told) made many people cry, but only once has a piece about the book given me tears.

Thank you, Emily Barton.

Read the essay here, in Post Road Magazine.

Another poem at Autumn Sky

I've been seldom-seen in these airy rooms--lots of celebrations and time-consuming activities and also deadlines. But here's a little nibble:

Icarus, Icarus, Paratrooper
Homage to Charles Causley

Slung down from heaven, torn silks whipped
By precipitous wind, he tripped

From air and rammed the blasting sea

Read the whole poem here. And yes, I love the poems of the Cornish poet Charles Causley; this is a nod to his beautiful work, particularly the poems inspired by his naval service. A surprising and often ravishing writer, he is neglected on this side of the puddle. But not by me.

So please take a plunge if you're not violently opposed to myth, sea, falls, and rhyme. You can also comment or use a whole wild array of like-share buttons, and there are links to three other poems by me at the foot, "I Met My True Love Walking," "Epistle to F. Douglass," and "Landscape with Icefall."


Elsewhere, thanks to novelist Emily Barton for recommending Catherwood (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1996) in the new issue of Post Road Magazine (issue 31.) Must check on that reprint! Forthcoming...

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Tea and poem
Quite a week. I'm glad it is over. The hysteria still rages on social media and elsewhere, but maybe it's already time for a cup of tea and a poem.

Also in the week's worry, my family's ridge-top solar envelope home in Cullowhee was saved from the wildfires by bold and brave firefighters. I thank them for that and think of them every day as they go on boxing with state-of-emergency wildfire in western North Carolina.

Go get your cup of tea. As my tiny first-grade daughter once said, sitting down with a British friend and his daughter, "I like a nice cup of Darjeeling." You might also.

And here's the accompanying suitable-for-tea poem, "Jane Austen Strolls the Upper Rooms," just up yesterday at E-Verse Radio, the baby (he also has a charming flesh-and-blood baby who distributes smiles on social media) of poet Ernest Hilbert. Auto-correct believes he is an earnest filbert, but he is not (though perhaps, like many of us, willing to be a bit of a nut now and then.) Thank you to poet Luke Stromberg for asking. I'm glad to have met him in the tangible world, but you may also meet both poets on E-verse and elsewhere in the E-world.

I like being asked, as I'm a bit lazy about the labor of sending poems out in the world. It's like laundry--I wash, I dry, I fold. Then the things sit around in a basket for a while before I force myself to put them away. Only poems sit around longer.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Another Veterans Day

My father is at far right, standing.
Blaine Corbin, the waist gunner, had just been killed by flak,
so the crew of nine is now eight.

A Veterans Day post in memory of a 17-year-old Georgia sharecropper's boy who joined up with the Army Air Corps 91st Bomb Group and fought as tail gunner on the Incendiary Blonde during World War II...

Requiescat in pace, Hubert L. Youmans. You traveled a long way, up from the Minnie farm. Major Youmans. Professor Youmans. My father.

A Front
by Randall Jarrell

Fog over the base: the beams ranging
From the five towers pull home from the night
The crews cold in fur, the bombers banging
Like lost trucks down the levels of the ice.
A glow drifts in like mist (how many tons of it?),
Bounces to a roll, turns suddenly to steel
And tyres and turrets, huge in the trembling light.
The next is high, and pulls up with a wail,
Comes round again - no use. And no use for the rest
In drifting circles out along the range;
Holding no longer, changed to a kinder course,
The flights drone southward through the steady rain.
The base is closed...But one voice keeps on calling,
The lowering pattern of the engines grows;
The roar gropes downward in its shaky orbit
For the lives the season quenches. Here below
They beg, order, are not heard; and hear the darker
Voice rising: Can't you hear me? Over. Over -
All the air quivers, and the east sky glows.

One of the many things that I want to do (too many!) is to transcribe my father's mission notes. Maybe I'll get to that in the coming year.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

More on medieval prayer-nuts

Prayer Bead, 1500-1530, Mouth of Hell Mouth of Hell

Photo, The Globe and Mail: Ian LeFebvre
Not so long ago I wrote a group of poems for the Phoenicia Publishing anthology on the Annunciation, and then let publisher Elizabeth Adams pick what she liked best. One of the poems was about a medieval prayer-nut, and it appeared in John Wilson's Books and Culture.

Now there is some new research about prayer-nuts or prayer beads, and I think it wonderfully interesting. A fascinating article in the Globe and Mail tells us some things we've never known about these tiny, strange, packed-with-image orbs.

It turns out that a good deal of what's inside is invisible to the viewer, which is rather like the biblical idea of believing in what is unseen: "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (KJV Hebrews 11:1). Catherine of Aragon and Henry VIII at prayer are hidden behind a pillar. A rack of flayed humans is half-hidden behind the mouth of hell. The CT spies out detail that the owner of the bead never could have known.

How are these little miracles of the seen and unseen made? We now know much more than we did when I wrote my poem. The Art Gallery of Ontario has been peering around inside the beads. "The AGO’s micro-CT scans reveal for the first time that they were carved from a single piece of boxwood, but in parts, like stage sets, then held together, grain aligned, with tiny boxwood pins smaller than a single grass seed."

An experienced master craftsman, with the help of many CT scans, has now taken one of these apart, and so new secrets are known. "Craftsmen used tiny five-centimetre-long tools to drill and gouge and vein the exquisitely detailed religious scenes within the beads – some of which depict dozens of characters in full regalia and action, in a space about 2.5 centimetres wide and 1.5 cm deep." Take a look at the article; if you love the medieval world, you will find that the description of research on these small marvels is packed with interesting details.

The original post about my prayer-nut poem here.
  Includes links to beads at the Met.
The poem about the prayer-nut here.
  Books and Culture.
The new findings about prayer-nuts here.
  The Globe and Mail. With lots of images! (And, oddly, Trump and Comey.)

"The final result is an international exhibition, Small Wonders: Gothic Boxwood Miniatures, that premieres Saturday in Toronto at the AGO, and then travels to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Rijksmuseum. Toronto’s boxwood has hit the big time, baby." --Ian Brown

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

All Saints Day

"They have all gone into the world of light" --Vaughan
Candles for the dead at York Minster.

A dash of the long-dead Henry Vaughan in honor of the day--

They are all gone into the world of light! 
And I alone sit ling’ring here; 
Their very memory is fair and bright, 
And my sad thoughts doth clear. 

It glows and glitters in my cloudy breast, 
Like stars upon some gloomy grove, 
Or those faint beams in which this hill is drest, 
After the sun’s remove. 

I see them walking in an air of glory, 
Whose light doth trample on my days: 
My days, which are at best but dull and hoary, 
Mere glimmering and decays. 

Read the whole marvelous poem here. The star in the tomb is perfection!

Thinking about my dead in Vaughan's "world of light," and about the past, so full of nightmares and riotous, seems to adjust the scenery of the world for me, and that is good. Is there an election? Will one of the candidates, both quite problematic but in different ways, win? Like the prophet's Daniel's nightmare visions of four great beasts (i.e. rulers), these ill dreams too will pass away.

For some reason (don't know why, truly), I have stopped mid-novel and am having a burst of sonnets. It started on the 22nd, and by All Hallows, I had eight, a mix of Shakespearean and Petrarchan. So far. Or maybe I am done. Who can say? Some things are pleasing mysteries. Like light in the darkness on All Saints Day.

Monday, October 31, 2016

All Hallows Eve

My daughter's pumpkin...
If you want to see the rest of the family pumpkins, you'll have to go here. There's the traditional and the poop-emoji pumpkin and one spewing seeds. Have a good All Hallows Eve and a wonderful All Saints Day.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Autumn skies

Phone snap taken during a ramble down from the Canadian border
through Saranac Lake and Lake Placid and the Cascades.

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, 
   Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun; 
Conspiring with him how to load and bless 
   With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run; 
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees, 
   And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core; 
      To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells 
   With a sweet kernel; to set budding more, 
And still more, later flowers for the bees, 
Until they think warm days will never cease, 
      For summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.  --from Keats, "To Autumn"

Indian Summer has left us, scattering yellow and red calling cards in its wake. We've had four snows already, though only one stuck around for a while. I've worn boots and winter coat already and need to lay in a new supply of wood for the fireplaces. Last night, after coming home from a Fellini-worthy ceremonial evening at St. George's in Schenectady, I found a pot of chocolate waiting on the stove. I'm not ready for the great brunt, though it is on its way, the relentless wheel gathering icicles and turning.

Here's a little poem for the season, one that recently appeared in Autumn Sky Poetry Daily, an online 'zine edited by Christine Klocek-Lim. I wrote it after reading some Robert Walser poems. I didn't like them as much as I wanted to like them, but perhaps it is that pesky trouble of translation. (Also at Autumn Sky Poetry Daily: "I Met My True Love Walking" and "Epistle to F. D." The "True Love Walking" poem bears a slantwise relationship to Yeats's "Down by the Salley Gardens." "F. D. is that grand teller of his own marvelous story, Frederick Douglass.)

Sinking into the turf, demise presided over by leaves
and gambrel shapes and one distant purple mountain.

Landscape With Icefall

Imagine that a chandelier has fallen from the sky,
     And dangerous cut glass lies shattered on the ground.
Imagine red, red blood that runs through heaps of emeralds.
     Oh, no, not that: cold winter grass will never bleed.

Imagine crumpled winter leaves, still latched onto the tree,
     That shake and rattle out the news to winter winds.
Imagine the blue hills around the frozen lake hold still,
     That every swerving line of landscape’s packed with soul.

Imagine angels peering down in curiosity
     To see the glitter of that dropped chrysanthemum,
And how I have by some strange mortal magic thrust my grief
     Into the hills and lake, the grass and scattered ice.

Imagine that a chandelier has fallen from the sky,
     Its mighty shine shared out among the grass and stones.
The little demons of the hills slink into shade and cry
     Because my sorrow’s cold against their naked feet.

Lake Placid skating rink


Thursday, October 27, 2016

Rerun: 4 Digby video poems from The Throne of Psyche

Mercer University Press, 2011,
in hardcover or paperback
Cover art by Clive Hicks-Jenkins
Design by Mary-Frances Glover Burt

Carving pumpkins, herding cats and progeny, writing some tight small poems in a pause mid-novel: I've been empty of blog posts somehow, so please take this little homage to and appreciation of Paul as an apology. More anon.

Videos by UK-born Paul Digby, composer, videographer, singer, fine cabinet-maker, painter, knitwear designer, computer genius, and more. There is nothing this man cannot do! Or so I suspect. He writes lovely music, but evidently that's not enough for him--he has to put the rest of us to shame in innumerable categories of creation with his apparent belief that he is a human being and so can do things! He lives in an obscure corner of Ohio. I can't imagine what they can do to deserve him.

This one is a riposte to Billy Collins, for writing a poem about taking off Emily Dickinson's clothes, a thing that is forbidden!

And this one is about the sad adventures of a nesting doll. It's a harsh, cruel world out there, full of unexpected powers.

Here is where I let it all hang out about being a Southerner in the bitter, snowy, lakeside winters of upstate New York. Do I always feel like this? Of course not! Snow is magical.

And this poem I wrote when my eldest child had meningitis--about the strong, sudden knowing that he would live, when things were at their worst.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Touchstones and the Nobel kerfuffle

Muse reading a scroll by an open chest.
Attic red-figure lekythos, ca. 435-425 BC. From Boeotia.
Musée du Louvre. Public domain, Wikipedia.

Bob Dylan . . . can be read and should be read [italics mine], and is a great poet in the grand English poetic tradition. --Sara Danius, Nobel Permanent Secretary 
There’s little that’s inherently controversial about praising words originally meant for vocal delivery. Playwrights have won the Nobel Prize for Literature before. But in an era when songwriting and song performance and song recording are tied together, when many musicians’ literary voices are first received via their literal voices, lyrics alone should inevitably have a hard time competing with “pure” poetry or prose. --Spencer Kornhaber (what a name!) at The Atlantic
A great many of my friends and acquaintances have been busy proving that Dylan either deserves or does not deserve the Nobel, given for the written portion of his work considered as literature. A great many famous people have done likewise.

Being a peaceable sort, I leave them to the joy of it.

But I'm pleased that people are talking about poetry.... What has interested me about this whole episode is the common lack of any sort of clarity about what poetry is, or what high achievement in poetry might look like. Instead, most people are carried away by a tsunami of love for Dylan, or by their anger at the debasement of literature--the latter group assumes that we all know what literature is, though I haven't seen any defining examples or analysis.

The problem with the award is that is given only for the written part of a singer-songwriter's work. But it's hard for us to look at just the words. The songs keep getting in the way, don't they?

I suggest a simple comparison based on some touchstone work by Dylan and a poet, a this versus that to let us consider and meditate on what it means to: a.) hold up lyrics to a song as written literature and b.) to hold up a poem meant to stand alone as written literature to be read silently or aloud.

Here are written lyrics to a Dylan song--do your best to not hear the music in your head. (Well, I can't do it, and I doubt very much that the Nobel committee could either!) Again, remember that the award is for the written words only. If you're my age--well, if you grew up in the Western world--you probably grew up with Dylan songs running through your head, so it's quite a challenge to look just at the words.

I will let Rolling Stone pick the song. Here's the no. 1 on their countdown list, 10 Greatest Bob Dylan Songs.

Once upon a time you dressed so fine
Threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn't you?
People call say 'beware doll, you're bound to fall'
You thought they were all kidding you
You used to laugh about
Everybody that was hanging out
Now you don't talk so loud
Now you don't seem so proud
About having to be scrounging your next meal

How does it feel, how does it feel?
To be without a home
Like a complete unknown, like a rolling stone

Ahh you've gone to the finest schools, alright Miss Lonely
But you know you only used to get juiced in it

The first fourteen lines of "Like a Rolling Stone" give you a taste, but maybe you'd better read the whole thing here. Copyright, copyright! I don't want to get in trouble with something quite so powerful as the Dylan enterprises.

And next to that, we should put a poem not set to music, one that aspires to literature. To lean over backwards and be generous yet parallel, I'll pick one by a living American poet who aspires to literature (but who was, of course, just passed over for the Nobel.) After all, Dylan hadn't won the Nobel until yesterday.

Like Dylan's lyrics, this poem is also under copyright protection, so I'll just give a 14-line excerpt and a link to the remainder. Here goes:

The eyes open to a cry of pulleys,
And spirited from sleep, the astounded soul
Hangs for a moment bodiless and simple
As false dawn.
                     Outside the open window
The morning air is all awash with angels.

    Some are in bed-sheets, some are in blouses,
Some are in smocks: but truly there they are.
Now they are rising together in calm swells
Of halcyon feeling, filling whatever they wear
With the deep joy of their impersonal breathing;

    Now they are flying in place, conveying
The terrible speed of their omnipresence, moving
And staying like white water; and now of a sudden

Read the rest of Richard Wilbur's "Love Calls Us to the Things of This World" at The Poetry Foundation, here.

But perhaps it is more appropriate to look at a poem by someone who has won a Nobel prize for literature. Try these fourteen lines:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre   
The falcon cannot hear the falconer; 
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. 

Surely some revelation is at hand; 
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.   
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out   
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi 
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert   
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,   

Read the rest of "The Second Coming" by Yeats here. (Even if you've departed on a bandwagon already, Yeats is always worth a look. And, indeed, a second look.)

And now, after some meditation on words alone, perhaps it would be appropriate to have an opinion....

* * *

Postscript: A. M. Juster says, "Dylan’s Nobel honors his words for their musicality, accessibility, and ideas. His recognition may help to drag scholars, MFA programs, and literary journals away from their postmodernist tedium and toward a welcome revival of poetry that provokes and delights the public. For that reason alone, as others flame about Dylan’s Nobel don’t think twice – it’s alright." Read the rest here.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Inaugural, redux

Remembering the 2013 challenge to write an inaugural poem from poets Richard Krawiec and Kay Stripling Byer, I rooted around for this poem. I find it curious to contemplate those older thoughts during this campaign, the most--shall we politely say lively?--lively and divisive American election since the campaign of 1828.

If you want to see the comments people made about the poem back in January, 2013, go here.  But below is the text of the original post:



Around five or six o'clock today, writer Richard Krawiec challenged a number of people on facebook to write an inaugural poem--Kathryn Stripling Byer is probably to blame for my inclusion on the list... (Thanks, Kay!) I curled up by the window while snow fell down and drafted this blank verse poem. It opens with images from the Bible--the lowly pot and the potter.


Even a famous man is just a pot
Thrown on the wheel—centered and true, one hopes,
But a pot all the same. So says the book
You use today, on which you swear a vow,
Your fingertips touching the word of God
And your skin prickling with the fingerprints
Of the potter—or nervousness, perhaps.
As pot, you circle round the air, you shine,
Preserving and protecting, defending
This Constitution you swear to uphold,
Words that are wild, sweet apples from the branch
Of freedom, watered with blood of ancestors.
Like an oblation jar, now keep for us
The fruit of that dream nation pilgrims sought
And suffered, all our union marred by sin
Because we were only men and women,
Fearing the white ships at the harbor’s edge,
Fearing the dark shapes moving in the woods,
Fearing and scorning what we did not grasp.
A jar holds summer’s peaches, summer’s sun
As if no time has passed: so hold the dream,
As if both light and shade could be our joy,
As if the past could yet be a blessing,
As if our knowledge came from wrong and right
Twisted together, a tree of knowledge.
So hold the dream, and let us taste of light
In scorning no one for his freeborn thoughts,
Knowing how little we discern, knowing
That we must stand together in this place,
One country given much, among many,
One planet set against the stars and cold:
So hold the dream, and let us taste of light.
 21 January 2013

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Good things

Ashley Norwood Cooper, "The Virgin Mary Paints St. Luke on her iPad"
is at left (look for Mary in a red gown.)
no. 1

Hurrah for another Pushcart Prize poetry nomination! Thanks to Trinacria for nominating "Portrait of the Magi as Three Horses."

no. 2

Franklin Einspruch says: "Perhaps for the first time in history, we are looking at the possibility of a conservative avant-garde." He was talking about visual arts, but it works for writing as well.  (I often think that the way forward is through the tradition.)

no. 3

I'll be speaking at The Frederick Buechner Workshops at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena next year! (And I'm going to Kyoto in 2017....) Feeling sorry for family members who will be doomed to stay home and feed the cats!

no. 4

Tonight my friend and neighbor Ashley Norwood Cooper is talking about "The Virgin Mary Paints St. Luke on her iPad" during the Artists' Walk at at the Church of St. Paul the Apostle near Columbus Circle, NYC!

no. 5

The up side of the Elena Ferrante revelation is that her story strikes a blow against cultural appropriation--a belief that could destroy the arts in our time, if allowed full sway.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

A beginning, with green sheep...

The Ferrol Sams Award.
Silver Award, Foreword Book of the Year Awards.

"Its themes and the power of its language,
the forceful flow of its storyline
and its characters have earned the right
to a broad national audience." review
I have been busy with children and deadlines and applying for a short fellowship, so here is a little snip from A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage in place of a post I've had no time to write. A snip, a clip from the beginning to a first chapter, instead...

Death comes to White Camellia Orphanage;
A savage laugh, a riddle and reply.

The boy called Pip by his father—who had named him after a boy in a famous book, a child for whom everything had turned out well enough—woke in the dense warmth of an Emanuel County summer at 4:17 a.m., a fact that he learned years later when he became acquainted with clocks because for the rest of his life he would wake at the very same hour, the very same moment of the morning as if his body could never let go of the need to be awake for that minute of the day.  He did not open his eyes.  He did not need to open his eyes.  He knew where he was, the same place he had been for almost a year.  He was on the farm sharecropped by the Hooks family although the land was always called by another man’s name as if to remind the husband and wife that they owned not much more than debt and the clothes on their backs plus a spare change for Sunday and a clutter of ironware and dishes and a few clanking enamel chamber pots.  For the last several years it also had been known as The White Camellia Orphanage or The Cottage because of the doings of Mr. Sam Truetlen, owner of a nearby cotton gin and the far-off Gen’l Notions Store, who had traveled all the way to New Orleans and on to Dallas once upon a time, and there, on the outer edge of the known world, had toured a cottage-style orphanage intended for destitute white children and run by the Klan.  Some years later, Mr. Sam, being a man prone to fits of “projecting,” backed his own orphanage though most of its children still claimed at least one parent on some played-out, ramshackle farm.  Wherever his kind had sunk so desperate and low as to scoop up the red clay to eat, Mr. Sam would arrive on muleback and plod away with one or more children riding pillion, some to stay at The Cottage for a month, some longer. It got so that people for miles around could recognize Daisy Belle, the white mule, and Goshen, the soot-gray one.  As for the name of the orphanage, that was the influence of the Klan, with its Knights and Dragon, its Cyclops and Nighthawk and Kamellia—and Mr. Sam’s tip-of-the-hat to the city of Dallas.  So that was where Pip had been lodged for almost a year, in The White Camellia. 
It was high, hot summer in Emanuel County, Georgia, and not one soul was saved from the day’s blaze or from the night’s smother of warmth; up and down the county, the only sleep was a restless sleep, and near Lexsy, one or two old people woke in a fright because the air was just about too dense to breathe—their trembling hands reaching for funeral-parlor fans printed with a portrait of Christ and some luminous, faintly green sheep—and on some gully-shattered sharecropped place, an infant who had been fighting for air yielded up the ghost on his mother’s naked breast.  Mr. Sam, next door to the cotton gin, returned to bed and dreamed his nightly dream of being weighed in the scales and found wanting.  At The White Camellia Orphanage, the bone-tired children slept without dreaming, all but one, who dreamed about a lost penny.    
When he woke, Pip knew something was akilter.  He did not know more, neither whether the hour felt wrong or right.  There was a faint slippage of coolness on his back where his brother—his half-brother—Otto normally slept.  The kinship bond between them was tangible, such that the children seemed inseparable, a blood brotherhood of commingled beings.  Loss and grief had only made their physical need and ache for each other more clearly manifest.  The musky smell that belonged to the little boy was ebbing away, and Pip could detect only the presence of the two others in the bed and the four across the room.  The brothers always slept together, with a careful space between themselves and their bedmates, an act that demanded they cling to their perches even in sleep to avoid tumbling down into the deep valley of the bed.  Now Pip lay breathing in the scent of near-naked boys and the stink of the chamber pots. These were smells he did not find disagreeable, just as he did not dislike the fumes of kerosene from the lamp or the odor of Miss Versie, unwashed and marked with a faint whiff of blood.  

Where was Otto?  

Friday, September 30, 2016

Golem and swan

Thanks to Prufrock News for once again featuring one of my poems, this time linking to "The Poet and the Golem" from Books and Culture. Artists of all sorts need chatty champions, people who are willing to get the word out and say in public what they admire and like.

For every writer who is the lucky recipient of a black swan, there are many more who go swanless. After Typee and Omoo, Melville went so swanless that he was eventually forgotten. Dickinson was swanless, though I expect swanlessness was good for her art--nobody chiseled off the oddly important dashes or beat her over the head with the idea of how very strange and curious her work appeared, and that much of swanlessness was good for her singular art. (Most people aren't so strong and vitally themselves as she was.) Poe was so terribly swanless. And Kafka was swanless. In fact, most artists in most artistic fields go swanless.

And so I very much appreciate that Micah Mattix, busy professor that he is, takes the time to share news about poets and writers he finds worthy on daily basis. It is a good thing that he does, and he does it faithfully. If you want to subscribe, go here.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Dear old Blogspot,

Have I mentioned that Facebook has a thing for me? Facebook is constantly asking me what's on my mind, though it (he?) never offers to give me a penny--not one red cent--for what's on my mind. What's on my mind, Facebook? Twitter. Where I just discovered the following important information: 1.) Definitely not keeping up. Entirely missed until now that WaPo declared Hillary Clinton to be "style icon"; 2.) Had no idea there was also a Khloe K. until poet A.M. Juster kardashianized my mind. What is this obsession with the "K"? " 3.) And the thing seen first on Twitter this morning: rules for "your novel." Makes me want to (cheerfully) burn "your" book. Bonfire of the Inanities. Also, I am going to reread my friend Ashley's Facebook post about art and appropriation and see what people thought because that post lacked anything about a presidential candidate's upholstery or an important K, for that matter, and it also had that odd thing, substance, and did the good work of setting firecrackers under a few rules. Which is satisfying in a world where the number of rules for the arts appears to be on the increase. Yes, general corseting of the mind and the arts is as common as web pages, and those in turn are as common as particles of styrofoam in the seas.

And what, Facebook, is this magic thing where you turn small-f Facebook into large-F Facebook? Even on my blog. Here. Yes, exactly like that. You like it like that.

You (you-reader, not you-Facebook or you-blogspot) may possibly be able to tell from the above that I read Andrew Sullivan's "I Used to be a Human Being" yesterday. (Subtitle: An endless bombardment of news and gossip and images has rendered us manic information addicts. It broke me. It might break you, too. Clip: "There is no dark night of the soul anymore that isn’t lit with the flicker of the screen.") And so, human nature being a weathercock, I contemplate whether I should drop out of Facebook and twitter (and possibly blogging), or whether it is possible--wishing to be moderate in all things save those few in which I am genuinely and joyfully and purposefully immoderate--to be moderate with the 'Net.

The whimsical, whirligig wind blows; I turn about and decide that the world is billionated with human beings, and that it doesn't much matter if I talk to myself here and there or not. Except: time. So precious and falling through the hourglass. Must go meet some human beings face to face, and then put some words in the right order.

Update, or threat-tweet from A. M. Juster: You'll like my k-heavy Kardashian double dactyl in next year's Waywiser anthology. Evidently a double dactyl anthology is forthcoming! Better put it on your To Buy list. There may never be another one.

Monday, September 19, 2016

The nature of research

What am I doing? Among other things, reading about the types and sources of cloth and ribbon excavated from a seventeenth-century privy in Massachusetts. Fascinating.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Richness and beauty

Isak Dinesen aka Karen Blixen, especially for anyone crisping and broiling and smoking in oil over public (Trump, Clinton, etc.) and private issues:
Difficult times have helped me to understand better than before, how infinitely rich and beautiful life is in every way, and that so many things that one goes worrying about are of no importance whatsoever. The wider one can manage to get one’s overall view of life to become, —and that is about the most vital thing to aim for in life, —the more one comes to see the magnificence and multitudinous facets of existence. But this also involves a real and true freedom from prejudice, so that one does not at the same time try to go on maintaining that this or that is of immense importance, for it is not. --from Ngong, 10 April, 1931

(And that reminds me of Anne Frank, who more than once talked about how she didn't think of misery but of the beauty remaining. Lovely, bracing courage!)

Hemingway said that he would have been happy if Dinesen had gotten the Nobel instead of himself. Me too.

Postscript: Lionel Shriver's speech blowing up identity politics has an interesting relationship to that Dinesen quote. Whether you agree or  not, it's a challenge. (Clip: "Inviting a renowned iconoclast to speak about 'community and belonging' is like expecting a great white shark to balance a beach ball on its nose.") Desiring to support other 5'2" Carolinian novelists, I recommend it be read. Maybe by you.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

More snails

Snail Jar. So I call it!
Terracotta jar with three handles
Late Minoan ca. 1600–1500 B.C.
The Met. Schliemann collection.
Dear diary: What madness it is to start a novel in the midst of upheaval--weekly Wednesday and often Sunday theater performances by my husband and eldest all summer, planning to move a child living at home to Atlanta, need to visit my mother far away, general mayhem of life with three children in town, and so on and on--but I have done this mad thing. I've always been the sort of writer who writes poetry but occasionally trips and falls into a novel and then writes a ridiculous number of pages per day, but now my life is making me write this novel in a different mode, all little zigs and zags. I am distracted by many things. My time is broken into little pieces. I've always thought that the discipline of writing every day was more workable as a man's habit--or maybe that of some single woman with no children--but when I didn't have time to manage to write a novel but did so anyway, I would stay up very late during a draft. During The Wolf Pit, I had very little sleep, which was electrifying and not healthy. But this book is not being written in that way. Days go by with nothing new on the page. Soon I'll be traveling. I'm not sure whether this is the way I can write a novel, but it seems to be the way that this novel will be written, if it is written. I need to be Ariadne who offered the bright thread of the clew for the labyrinth and Theseus and maybe even the Minotaur, but in slow increments. Maybe I am more a snail, leaving a silvery track but making it very slowly and hoping not to end up as an ingredient in "The admirable and most famous Snail Water."

Right now I must go read and write some book reviews. But first I will write a little on my novel. I like this quote from Steinbeck's diary: "Problems pile up so that this book moves like a Tide Pool snail with a shell and barnacles on its back." And yet that book did move. Perhaps this one will also.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

The admirable and most famous Snail Water.

Photo by Skippy3E of 

I have been doing a bit of research and feel like sharing this delightful seventeenth-century recipe with you...

The admirable and most famous Snail Water.

Take a peck of garden shell snails, wash them well in small beer, and put them in a hot Oven till they have done making a noise, then take them out, and wipe them well from the green froth that is upon them, and bruise them shells and all in a stone Mortar, then take a quart of earth worms, scower them with salt, slit them & wash them well with water from their filth, and in a stone Mortar beat them to pieces, then lay in the bottom of your distilled pot Angelica two handfuls, and two handfuls of Celandine upon them, to which put two quarts of Rosemary flowers, Bears foot, Agrimony, red Dock Roots, Bark of Barberries, Betony, Wood sorrel, of each two handfuls, Rue one handful; then lay the Snails and worms on the top of the Herbs and Flowers, then pour on three Gallons of the strongest Ale, and let it stand all night, in the morning put in three ounces of Cloves beaten, six penniworth of beaten Saffron and on the top of them six ounces of shaved Harts-horn, then set on the Limbeck, and close it with paste, and so receive the water by pints, which will be nine in all, the first is the strongest, whereof take in the morning two spoonfuls in four spoonfuls of small Beer, and the like in the afternoon; you must keep a good Diet and use moderate exercise to warm the blood.

This Water is good against all Obstructions whatsoever. It cureth a Consumption and Dropsie, the stopping of the Stomach and Liver. It may be distilled with milk for weak people and children, with Harts-tongue and Elecampance.

* * *
Till they have done making a noise...
A tiny but awful racket, no doubt.
Holy the whorl and the breath that wells there / The shell's shape fixed in unfurling, and the slow / Worm within. from "The Snail," W. S. Merwin

Saturday, September 03, 2016

Summer theatricals

For this family, it is the last of the summer theater season tomorrow. My husband and eldest son were in Arthur Miller's The Crucible--nine wonderful performances over the summer, set in the new amphitheater beside the lake, under the changing moon and the stars--GlimmerGlobe Theatre, sponsored by the Fenimore Museum. On the last night, my daughter's silkscreened t-shirts for cast members, adapted from the poster, went to the theater. The two of us sat in the grass by the stone seats, and ducks flew out of the lake and visited us there. One night an eagle sailed over. Flitterings meant bats. Most miraculous, not one Wednesday night show was rained out, though it did sprinkle a bit one evening.

The two family actors were also Box and Cox in the nineteenth-century farce, performed on Sundays at 12:30 on the outdoor stage in front of Bump Tavern in the Farmers Museum. They have their last performance tomorrow. All these theatricals have made the summer even more busy than usual, but I have enjoyed being an audience to my own family.

Edward Saker and Lionel Brough as Box and Cox, 1883.

Wikipedia: Box and Cox is a one act farce by John Maddison Morton. It is based on a French one-act vaudevilleFrisette, which had been produced in Paris in 1846.

Box and Cox was first produced at the Lyceum Theatre, London, on 1 November 1847, billed as a "romance of real life." The play became popular and was revived frequently through the end of the nineteenth century, with occasional productions in the twentieth century. It spawned two sequels by other authors, and was adapted as a one-act comic opera in 1866 by the dramatist F. C. Burnand and the composer Arthur SullivanCox and Box, which also became popular and continues to be performed regularly. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016


"Hell, Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant was the subject of this kind of [sf/f/h] community outrage last summer, but it’s the best Fantasy novel I’ve read in years. American poet Marly Youmans’ Thaliad might be the best post-apocalyptic book I’ve ever read. Neither of these writers come from traditional genre backgrounds, but they’ve shown up and produced dazzling works nonetheless." --Tom Atherton (UK)

Love when a book of mine finds an unexpected compliment in a review that belongs to someone else.... Thank you, Tom Atherton.

And here's his first review of Thaliad. And he kindly wrote about the book again in a review of Glimmerglass at Strange Horizons.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

How a table named a book--

Almost twenty years ago, I was living in a splendid but somewhat ramshackle Arts and Crafts / Tudor house on South Park Avenue in Greenville, South Carolina. A large house, it had a big, wonderful dining room with high fumed oak wainscoting. We had no table to fit such a large room, and no money with which to buy one worthy of the space. One day I found a table in the alley. Unable to find out why it had landed in the alley behind our house like a welcome UFO or who it belonged to, and half believing it had been sent especially to us because we lacked a table, I eventually helped carry it inside.

The table turned out to belong to the back yard carriage house of a neighbor, Wade Hampton Barber (yes, a descendant of Civil War General Wade Hampton and also an architect and a very kind man.) Not wanting to be table-pilferers, we were quite prepared to lug our two-legged friend back out again, but he told us to keep it. So it became ours. A two-pedestal number with one weak, repaired leg--not right as to house style and marked by many long-ago dinners--the table looked wonderful in the room.

Later on, it moved to a federal house in Cooperstown with us and went through many adventures, the leg breaking and being repaired multiple times, once collapsing under the pressure of our daughter's birthday party (eleventh, I think.) Many girls leaning at one end of the table, plus a major Schneider's Bakery cake, did in that table. Happily, both cake and girls survived. The table was propped and cake happily demolished soon afterward. For some years we relied on clamps and supports (jars, cans, anything stackable) hidden under generous tablecloths, the table sometimes standing on its own, sometimes with help. After multiple rounds of repair by a carpenter, we finally consigned the table to the garage and nabbed a sturdy Hickory Chair table on Craigslist. The new table is quite fine and has strong legs, but I miss the old one.

The table's original owner was Wade Hampton Barber's Aunt Thalia. Her name was pronounced this way: THAY-leeah. We always referred to the wayward table as Aunt Thalia's table. Aunt Thalia's name went back to ancient Greece, where Thalia (Θάλεια) was the name of various mythic figures: one of the Charites or Graces; the Muse of comedy and idyllic or short pastoral poetry; a nymph and goddess of plants who was the daughter of the creative god Hephaestus; and one of the Nereids. I like the link in meaning to abundance, flowering, and flourishing.

One summer day in the village of Cooperstown, I woke up with a long poem streaming in my head, and the name of the heroine was Thalia. And that is how a table named a book called Thaliad.

 * * *

Postscript: Sad to say, I just found a mention of Wade Barber's funeral online. His mother is listed as Thalia Chastain Barber. So perhaps the table owner was not Aunt Thalia but Mother. Which is even more appropriate to the book. But maybe this was Great-aunt Thalia, after whom his own mother was named. Given the condition of the table, that seems likely.

* * *

The second printing of The Foliate Head is officially out of print, with no more copies via the publisher, though there are some copies left at online bookstores. In print are: Maze of Blood; Glimmerglass; Thaliad; A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage; The Throne of Psyche. See more links above.