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Friday, January 29, 2016

Fair warning

Marly Youmans, free of smirks
and tiny emotions
for what seems a zillion years.
At once I am irresistibly impelled to write a novel in which you will find giants and bears, tea and rats, long Faulknerian sentences, and complicated actions and emotions i.e. feels in current parlance. I predict absolutely no smirks and egregious facial expressions, no technology whatsoever, no crime, and no mystery to solve.

Can readers embrace such a book? I shall not worry but shall clutch the giants and bears to my non-bestsellerdom heart or bosom or some such, and rejoice. I suppose that's rather perverse--not the clutching to bosom, heart, etc. but the rejoicing in foiling the work of digital text analysis--but it's me all over. Onward!
Over the past several Saturdays, the French-language Montreal daily has conducted a competitive experiment in using digital text analysis as a way to change the way writers write. The paper asked five established Quebec novelists to compose a story of about 1,200 words using guidelines produced by .txtLAB from a study of 200 titles from the New York Times bestselling fiction list.

Common features of American bestsellers, according to .txtLAB director Andrew Piper, are short sentences (11 words on average), simple actions relayed with active verbs, frequent descriptions of facial expressions and characters who are into technology and have a mystery or violent crime to solve. These books avoid complex emotions, uncertainty and nature description, he says, as well as tea, rats, giants and bears. --Robert Everett Green, Can Computers Teach You to Write a Bestseller? at The Globe and Mail (Montreal)
More Bullington-Youmans frolics coming up soon. No quantitative analysis allowed.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

What stays news

John Singer Sargent,
portrait of Yeats, 1908
Yeats died on this date. Auden says, "What instruments we have agree / The day of his death was a dark cold day." All these years of loving Yeats's poems, and I still lean on him for the news that matters.

   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.

"He disappeared in the dead of winter." Requiescat in pace.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

You Asked, no. 7: Inviting the soul

Bullington-Youmans interview party, continued. In response to a request to interview some of my painter friends, I have been interviewing Mary Boxley Bullington. As she, in turn, insisted on interviewing me, a part of the You Asked series will be composed of our questions to each other.
Mary Boxley Bullington,
"Kells." (a.k.a., "Carpet Page.")
Acrylic and gesso on paper with collage,
31" x 22." 2015.

Available at The Art Store,
a gallery in Charleston, West Virginia

In the comments, you said to Paul Digby, "I was bemoaning the slack time in my process to an older artist friend, who said, simply, 'You are not a robot.' This helped. But in the midst of summer or winter doldrums, I sometime wish I had a bot I could send into the studio--to clean it up, if nothing else!" Don't you think that time that often appears wasteful to others is essential to the making of art? If you agree, can you say why?

I absolutely agree. Walt Whitman says, "I loaf and invite my soul, / I lean and loaf at my ease observing a spear of summer grass" (Song of Myself). Creating anything good requires down time as well as studio time or time at the typewriter. Down time is not, for me anyway, time in the grocery store or sorting and washing clothes; it is not lunching with friends. I also need real segments of time when I'm not creating and not doing anything that looks constructive. Not because I'm thinking up great ideas. I'm not. I'm just letting the well refill.

How? For me, that's mostly time I'm going to spend reading, or looking at pictures in books, and napping. I know I ought to walk more, especially in the woods around here, but I've gotten out of the habit, and in cold or hot weather, I just don't want to. It's important to spend some time every day or almost every day, even if it's only an hour, in the studio shuffling collage pieces around or using a paint brush at random. This is free play, and it's the only way I know to discover something new.

"Where is My Big Toe?"  Ink on card stock, 5" x 7"
"Doodling has its pleasures, and so does looking at doodling!"
-MBB, from private messaging
Click to look closer.
I also need, especially before I buckle down to work after a hiatus, to just plain loaf. I like to go to what Mama used to call "early attic" antique malls and browse. Don't have to buy anything, don't even have to be looking for anything. But the proximity to old things—china, furniture, dolls, tools, even bric-a-brac—inevitably brings memories of my family and my grandmother's house—her "cool room" where she kept pickles and jams--and her kitchen, but also her formal rooms, her elegant wall paper and curtains, the straw carpets she put down in summer, the waxing of the floors in the fall before putting the wool rugs back down. This doesn't trigger ideas for art per se. It just lets me remember things and times that went into making—ME. Sometimes these excursions make me sad, and I'll have to leave. But mostly these reveries fill me with gratitude for the people I've known so well and lost, and for the rich textures of my early life.

"Human Kind Among Others"  Ink on card stock, 5" x 7"
Art books also get their due. Over the years I've built up a decent art library—and I'm still always on the looking-out for more books. I can spend an hour just looking at pictures, sometimes analytically, often not so much. Photographs also help—or anything that I find I'm interested in. Last year, it was archaeology and the early history of man. More recently I've begun an immersion study of Hitler's rise. I'm reading William Shirer again. I went into an "antiquey" place thinking to find a new art book—and I found Rembrandt, and some other good stuff, but what do I buy? Seig Heil! An Illustrated History of Germany From Bismark to Hitler (1974) by Stefan Lorant, the man who basically invented photojournalism. I read a little Shirer, then I pore over the black and white photos, mostly unremarkable in quality, in Lorant's great big book.

Am I wasting time? Yep! But I think the key to the constructive wasting of time is to let myself "loaf at my ease," inviting my soul to wander and contemplate whatever the hell it wants. My favorite Dr. Seuss when I was a child was McElligot's Pool: "'Young Man,' laughed the farmer, 'You're sort of a Fool./ You'll never catch a fish/ In McElligot's Pool.'" And the boy who is fishing goes off on a riff that includes journeys down subterranean rivers from the Bahamas to the North Pole. I may or may not get a single picture out of the grim reading reading I'm doing right now, nor out of studying Lorant's Seig Heil, but I also know I ignore my natural inclinations and interests, however arbitrary, at my own artistic peril.
"Birds of a Feather" Ink on card stock, 5" x 7"
Click to catch the smallest birds....

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

You asked, no. 6: myth and beginning

Mary Boxley Bullington, "The King and the Fool"
Yes, this was made in response to some poems
from The Book of the Red King.
Private collection, New York.
Bullington-Youmans interview party, continued. In response to a request to interview some of my painter friends, I have been interviewing Mary Boxley Bullington. As she, in turn, insisted on interviewing me, a part of the You asked series will be composed of our questions to each other. This is Mary's second question for me, which I put first to be contrary in honor of "Mary, Mary, quite contrary." 


Bullington: One of the things I see that unifies your novels, including your "youth" novels and your poetry collections, is their creation of worlds informed by very personal myths and those acquired through a lifetime of reading. Greek myths, medieval alchemy, heroic poetry and family history all figure into the mix. Choose two or three of your works in different genres that you think exemplify this quality, and tell us a little about how you began writing them. What similarities do you see in this process?

Youmans: You know, Mary, that's a big fat festering thesis. You've got a lot (a vat, a cistern, a rocket-hold) of nerve! I wouldn't even try if anybody else asked me such a thing.

How you began writing them. I'll be flip and start with Thaliad because I started writing that one in my sleep and woke up with it in my head. I have no idea why the story slithered into my brain, complete with a frame-story justification of why an epic needed to be written in a post-epics world. (And yes, I have written other things in my sleep, and worked out directions to go in books in dreams. It's a delicious sensation. But perhaps I have dreamed much better books and forgotten them, as I seldom recall my dreams. Who can say? Perhaps on some shelf in an alternate universe, those books are waiting to be read.)

My favorite sensation in writing is when first drafts come as a kind of torrent, so that I feel washed away and lost in something larger than me. And I have had times like that, particularly in writing poetry. The Book of the Red King arrived in a great waterfall in the fall of 2010, though I'm still tinkering with it and arranging the poems in different orders. Again, I'm not quite sure where the poems came from. I just started writing them at such a great pace that it was clear almost immediately that it was going to be a long work. I'm not the only person to write of kings and fools; they're a part of our traditional furniture, brought over from the old world. But why these two are planted somewhere in the multiverse that is not quite our own world (though similar in many ways), and why they know about us (as is clear in several poems), I do not begin to know. Why do I feel so kindred to the Fool? Why should I embody so much of myself in a man? Why is the King so unpinned in his meaning, so that at one moment he is clearly a man, grieved by a loss, and at another something much larger?

Well, in those two cases, I would say that I paradoxically knew exactly what I was doing yet had no idea where the poems came from or why they started up when they did.

Perhaps I'll be more practical if I talk about fiction. A story like Catherwood came about because I was spending a single year in Cooperstown (little knowing that I would return for many more) and fell in love with snow at twilight and the landscape and the whole James Fenimore Cooper worship in the place. It was a little homage to the region and snow and local history. Glimmerglass has a kind of parallel--that is, after living there longer, I wanted to write something that would capture something of the fantastic that colors the place. Cooperstown is a tiny village in a setting of lake and hills and forests, but it has such strange features--mansion ruins, a castle in the lake (technically, on Point Judith, but it appears to be in the lake from the window in my writing room), a Norman tower in the woods, a mix-up between fiction and the common world with all the Cooper names and places, a sunken island, a stack of social layers that seems positively un-American, the infestation of ghosts throughout the village, the Cardiff giant, the faux village (historic buildings, artificial placement) of The Farmer's Museum, and more. Perhaps I began dreaming that one after a visit to the magical little gatehouse not far from The Fenimore Museum.

And in a way, something like A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage isn't all that different--two Georgia places are in my head so strongly that I can't get away from them. The sharecropped farm where my paternal grandparents lived is one, and clearly holds a kind of mythic resonance for me. In my thoughts, it's shared out in emblematic places and images--the dug well with its cool and ferns in the midst of hot, dry earth, the dark piney woods with its bubbling cauldron for making turpentine, the poison applied to fields of blooming tobacco, the dangerous crossing where the sows lay flopped with their young, or the stream with plum that I reached by following close behind my grandmother, a cudgel against snakes in her hands. The farm near Lexsy maintains a kind of formal quality in my mind, rather like a medieval hortus conclusus. To contemplate family history--my grandfather's two mixed-race half-brothers, say, or my great-grandfather the bridge builder, with his 22 legitimate children and at least the two more--within that landscape is to feel story rise up to fill some of the gaps. (Much about that landscape of heat and dust and endlessness and something of rural Southern character transferred itself to the Texas landscape in my new book, Maze of Blood.) Again, the Orphanage was one of those works that begins as an outpouring, as the first two chapters were written in a pell-mell rush. Did I know what would had happened to Otto? I had a growing sense of his fate as I began, but more importantly, the place and the flimsy house and porch were like a shadow on my mind. After the first two chapters, I had the problem of writing the rest of the book. Because nights aren't long enough to write a novel in one big rush!

It probably doesn't matter how a writer works--more that she does work, and that she makes art that is true to her own mode and her own mind. But I can't claim to be one of those writers who is analytical and planned-out in beginning a work. (Nor do I design my reading based on what I wish to write.) Instead, I seem to be--without a lot of conscious effort, but out of whatever comes to me in the shape of scene and event and memory--waiting on a kind of richness, that when it attains fullness, spills over into a poem or story.

I'm not sure that I haven't avoided answering your question on how I begin, and how my ways of beginning are similar. Perhaps it is meant to be mystery.

Monday, January 25, 2016

You Asked, no. 5: Mary by the seasons

Detail (!) from Mary Bullington, "The Devil's in the Details, Mr. Hicks"
"And the Little Child with tiger, adder and gigantic beetle." -Mary

And this is also the Bullington-Youmans interview party, no. 1:  
In response to a request to interview some of my painter friends, I have been interviewing Mary Boxley Bullington. As she, in turn, insisted on interviewing me, a part of the You Asked series will be composed of our questions to each other. Asker credit goes to Beth Adams! I'll be talking to other painters as well, some of them on my doorstep. 


If someone asked me what quality is most fundamental to Mary Bullington's paintings and collages, I would say energy--that life riots through your work. When, as occasionally happens, you fall into abeyance, what slows you down?

Winter. And Summer. Literally--perhaps because of my schedule. I finish a body of work and have an open house in December, do the Christmas-present thing and wrap and ship, then either get sick and/or hibernate through most of January. (This January it was an "and.") And while I usually work well through the early summer, the heat and humidity in Virginia get to me by July. This summer I did a picture at the end of July that I called "Thank God July is finally over." (Will go see if I can hunt a photo of it up--. It got destroyed later. Or rather cut into two pieces--bottom half odd but may be viable. Don't like the top any more. Got painted spring green and became too sweet without the bottom 2/3ds.)

After a 3-week lull, I'm rusty and half-asleep, but I know the only way to get over that is to go back into the studio and start putting in some hours every day, like it or not. In this way I begin to work my way back until all of a sudden work is pouring out of me again 3 months later. At that point, I usually have a show, and have to decide which pieces are worthy and finish up odds and ends. This slows me back down. So there's a rhythm to my energy and the rhythm is usually seasonal.

"The Devil's in the Details, Mr. Hicks," 2014. 
Mixed media collage of painted and monoprinted papers 
on paper mounted on masonite, 22" x 28." 
Collection of D. Powell, Roanoke, VA.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

You Asked, no. 4. With bells on.

A flowering head--what every writer desires.
Art by Clive Hicks-Jenkins,
division page for Maze of Blood.
Scroll down if you want nothing but the You Asked. Otherwise, stroll along until you arrive.

And what did you do?

Yesterday I was reading the late (the newly late) Michel Tournier (for a commissioned article), interspersed with poems by Robert Walser and Rubén Darío. I ended up writing a poem about Walser and another about a fountain in Chile dedicated to Rubén Darío. The rest of the day I spent trying not to scratch my eyelids and seeing that child no. 3 was packed for college.

So skip it, it's just marketing--
really good marketing--

Marly Youmans continues to put out superb novels. Early in 2015 I read her excellent Glimmerglass, a book about life and inspiration. Very late in 2015 I read her latest, Maze of Blood, which is naturally getting good reviews and you should buy two copies, give away one and read the other. -novelist Scott G. F. Bailey at the wonderful Six Words for a Hat

You asked series.

I'll continue the topic requests later, I expect. Right now I am feeling rebellious and itchy. Also sad about the arts death-sluice that is this January. Another unexpected loss today. April is no longer the cruelest month. In the meantime, here's a little poem by Luisa--oh, never mind. As usual I have put a book down somewhere and can't find it! How about a little Robert Walser instead?

Never mind about continuing later. 

Because I feel a You Asked coming on. Midori Snyder asked for writing about poetry, and here is some. I feel pretty sure it's going to be highly wayward, though.

TADA!  You asked, no. 4.

They should have used
Malevich's White on White.
Here's a poem I read and then wrote a response to... And I was cheerful about it! That's rather amazing. Cheerful, even though I followed Robert Walser into a field, where he died.

Well, maybe we're not quite here yet. We'll get to the poem eventually. It's our goal. We're going on a walk. With goal.

Walser in a white field. There's Modernism for you, Robert Walser having terrible or mildly terrible (we can't sustain the terrible forever, and really he prefers the mildly terrible) thoughts and denying himself, being a detached flâneur and going on white sanatorium walks (less a walk than a stroll, without the incidental pleasures of a stroll) into snow and then dying with his eyes wide in a white field.

He might as well be a barely visible white on white (or white on what, as auto-correct would have it) square in a Malevich painting! All hail the Suprematist Manifesto and Suprematist Malevichian Utterings: "Art no longer cares to serve the state and religion, it no longer wishes to illustrate the history of manners, it wants to have nothing further to do with the object, as such, and believes that it can exist, in and for itself, without 'things' (that is, the 'time-tested well-spring of life')" It's all mal, and life's a bitch, Malevich!

Hey. Give me the well-springs of life! All of them. Give me marvelous things.

It's all so very meta, the self-abolishing, self-obliterating artist Robert Walser with the incredibly tiny, almost-disappearing handwriting vanishing into a white field like a sheet of blank paper. (Himself a slight mark on that paper, to be carried away, erased.) And that's an image from his first book! (And also rather like, kindred to this poem, our goal.)

I must be terribly obstinate because twice in the past three days I've written poems in response to Walser's poems, and in both cases I am busy refusing, refusing, refusing him and being of pretty good cheer. Of course, I like him. I do tend to like people. And so I was quite nice to him in both poems... even tried to get him to come inside out of the cold, into the warm, buttery light.

Perhaps it's because I tromped along in my own self-obliterating field of youth, long ago, but I always have the impulse to tickle Robert Walser unmercifully, to insist on going along on his random walks, to force him into peculiar or lovely destinations. I would have annoyed him by bundling up (deliberately picking out bright colors) and chasing after him, snowball in hand. Whump! I would have brought children along, and they would have pelted him with more snow and insisted that he make snow mermaids and castles and forts for battles. We would have dragged him outoutout of his white square backdrop. We would have made him scribble letters in the snow, ten feet high. We would have dressed him in a thousand zany scarves, knit by long-haired women and containing strands of their hair.
Do You See?

You do see me crossing the meadow
stiff and dead from the  mist?
I long for that home,
that home I've never had,
and without any hope
that I'll ever be able to reach it.
For such a home, never touched,
I carry that longing that will
never die, like that meadow dies
stiff and dead from the mist.
You do see me crossing it, full of dread?
Yes, I see. "Stiff and dead." It snowed, and Robert Walser lay flopped in the field with his eyes flung open, staring at a white, socked-in sky. Something should have saved him from his bleak, threatening age, and from the final sanatorium where he went to be mad but didn't seem it. But nothing did save him.

I like you, Robert Walser, but I am very glad that I crept out from under the giant monochrome monoliths of Modernism and Post-modernism and Post-post and infinitely on through refracting fun-house mirrors. It's pleasant out here in all this freedom, and there are shouts and outrageous, manic rhymes and walks with funny and gorgeous and moving goals! All the same, I'm going to read your The Walk very soon.

I don't know German, so I should ask Scott Bailey if the translations by Daniele Pantano are much like the original. They look, soundwise, somewhat simplified. But perhaps that's in part an illusion, made out of my ignorance. Certainly he's not interested in duplicating his rhyme schemes, when Walser works in rhyme.

And that's the end of You Asked, no 4. More anon, no doubt.


Today I shall notnotnot scratch my eyelids, and I shall clean a bit of house, walk on the treadmill in avoidance of hideous weather, and work on The Book of the Red King. I'm getting there. It's just so huge! Five years since I wrote most of the poems in a great rush, and I'm still not done tinkering and arranging and downright fussing.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Chandelier! Angels! Demons!

A brand new poem is up: "Landscape with Icefall" at Autumn Sky Poetry.
* * *
If the link doesn't work (something is amiss for some people 
(but not for many others, as I'm getting comments on the poem elsewhere), 
try putting in the address in the address bar manually:
Or else use your search engine.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

2016, so far

“Life isn't all fricasseed frogs and eel pie.” --Puddleglum, in The Silver Chair

Friday, January 08, 2016

At Mezzo Cammin

Update: Now we know that I'm either insane or very much too busy because that's not the new issue! Not only that, but I read it and wrote about it earlier. I'm going to go put my head in a bucket. Good night!

Again I'm in one of my very favorite online 'zines, Mezzo Cammin, edited by poet Kim Bridgford. Mezzo Cammin is home to formal poems by women. Here is a taste--titles and opening lines. To see more, click and leap here.

Notes on the poems: 

The poem about Carolyn Wyeth (one of Andrew Wyeth's daughters) was written after seeing a Wyeth family show at the Fenimore Museum in Cooperstown. Until then, I didn't know much about the two daughters as painters, as one hears mostly about N. C., Andrew, and Jamie Wyeth. And here's a link to a piece about and photograph of the bride, groom, and magnolia bouquet (my maternal grandparents.)  "My Lover Sang to Me" is for Michael, my husband. "The Dream of the King's Clothes" was written after looking at photographs of cloth made from the silk of the golden orb spider. The beauty of the material and the slowness of the Peers and Godley project interested me. The setting for "Eldest" is the Cathedral of All Saints (Episcopal) in Albany, New York. That one's for Benjamin.

Portrait of Carolyn Wyeth with Leaves

Leaves moving in the evening light and air—
Some are lit from within, irregular

Bride, with Magnolia Blossom

The piano-and-fiddle tune is faint,
As light as eyes in the daguerreotype…

My Lover Sang to Me

He sang a ballad in my ear;
     Song echoed like a shell.

The Dream of the King's Clothes

Seven years we toiled, collecting the orb
Spiders at dawn, coaxing the spinnerets


Firstborn, strange in the womb, too-late turner, brow-positioned—
     In the cathedral I wandered to the Lady Chapel

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Requiescat in pace

The book I dedicated to her.
Catherwood (Farrar, Straus and
Giroux, 1996)
I'm not much on mentioning deaths that matter to me in a public way, but I want to pay a last tribute to Nancy Potts Coward, the most important teacher in my life. My English teacher for three classes in high school, and Composition teacher for three, she always encouraged me, had an enormous faith in my abilities as a writer, and even when I was a mere girl of thirteen or fourteen, declared that she would get to say, "I knew you when."

I dedicated my first book to my husband, but I dedicated my second, Catherwood, to Nancy Potts Coward. (My parents had to wait!) She meant so much to me, and to others as a teacher and friend and example of a life fully lived. A stellar teacher, she had a deep love for literature which led her to pursue a PhD after her high school teaching was done.

Mrs. Coward never liked to have her picture made, so I could never have a picture taken with her. But someone caught our heads in the same frame at Malaprop's in Asheville, where I was reading with Nathan Ballingrud in 2014. And while I will not post the image, I am so glad to have it.

I was thinking about her only yesterday, feeling glad that I saw her the last time I was in the Carolina mountains, and little thinking that I would be shedding tears for the loss of her the next day. Mere death--"the undiscover'd country"--cannot stop me from loving and admiring her, nor from being grateful to her for taking a child's passion for playing with words so seriously.

 * * *

Addendum: Schoolmate Marcia Bryson (now Davies) sent me a picture from her yearbook. I suppose, as it has already had a public viewing (and is a little blurry to boot), I may show it. From left to right: me (check out those fashionable collar points!), my dear friend Gail McIntosh, Nancy Coward, dear friend Beth Hamilton (now Gorman), and Dorothy Lachmund, our English and World History teacher. Both women would have been regarded as exceptional teachers anywhere, and we were lucky to have them in Cullowhee. This must have been taken in our senior year of high school, and then used the following year when the yearbook was dedicated to Mrs. Coward. No, that can't be right, as Gail graduated a year early. I only remember my hair being that short in my sophomore year. Maybe then.

Friday, January 01, 2016

Notes on day one, 2016

Heard fireworks and went to bed. Woke up. Wrote one new poem. Read some Robert Walser. Had one acceptance of a longish poem. Devoured (with help) one mighty batch of homemade donuts. One major feast (the second in 24 hours) was cooked by somebody else* and eaten by all. Washed dishes, cleaned mess: done. In a lull or two, frittered on Facebook, which I must say is far more talky than my blog. Did a bit of twitter-fritter as well. One young guest returned for a second night due to icy, snowy roads. Successfully managed to chase red wine out of two tablecloths. All children were home, at least for part of the day. Lots of people laughed. Only one person had a cold. Felt discouraged about book marketing but got over it. Talked to my mother on the phone, and we remembered when we dressed up my first baby as the New Year. Wrote a blog post about Luisa's book (go back one post.)

All in all, not a bad start to the year.

Now what do I do with the last 30 minutes? Resolutions? Final jollity? And a very happy new year to you!

*     #BestHusbandEver

You Asked, no. 3: Luisa's Ode


I promised myself that some time between last night's feast and this morning's homemade doughnuts or this afternoon's New Year's Day feast, I would begin to write about Luisa Igloria's poems in Ode to the Heart Smaller than a Pencil Eraser. So now, while the red wine is soaking out of the giant tablecloth and the guests are occupied, I will take a few minutes to share a poem from Luisa Igloria. Thanks to those of you who said this would be a good idea. Novelist Midori Snyder said she liked posts about poetry, and painter Mary Bullington and writer Jeff Sypeck said they would like to hear about a poet I mentioned (and that was Luisa.), Some others on Facebook liked this idea as well. So I may just share a small group of Luisa's poems this month, starting with one today.


Isn't it curious to consider that a book of poetry can win a national prize (in a competition judged by poet Mark Doty), and yet remain without a single review for an entire year afterward? And yet that is exactly what happened with Luisa's latest book. In our time, books that do not cater to a mass market audience can be easily overlooked. Worthy books can be invisible.

One day I wrote a Facebook post about Luisa Igloria's Ode to the Heart Smaller than a Pencil Eraser (May Swenson Poetry Award Series, Utah State University Press, 2014), and how it had not gotten a review in its first year in the world. Several friends left notes to say that they had ordered copies. One small mention managed to find the book at least a few readers, and many seemed surprised at the lack of attention. But if a book has little notice, it is unlikely to sell because people don't know it exists. 

What can you do to help this book, and any book you like? After all, unless a book is a lead choice at one of the Big 5, it is not guaranteed to receive a great deal of push. Small and university presses in particular simply cannot put a great deal of marketing muscle behind a book. 

But you as a reader can do something, just as I am doing a little something right now. Post or tweet about the book. Buy a book (particularly during release week.) When you buy, read, and live with a book, you are not only more likely to get to know it well, but you cast a vote. You say to publishers (and in particular to the publisher of the book) that this book is by a writer worth your time and your support. Your support, joined with the support of others, makes the writer's next book easier to place with a publisher. Doesn't it make sense that an engaged readership is essential to books and to publishing? You can also support a book by suggesting the book to your local bookstore, or asking your library to order it. 


Luisa talks about her daily practice here
Luisa at Dave Bonta's Via Negativa site:
Luisa at
Luisa's latest prize:


Landscape, with an End and a Beginning

In those days, we too looked to the sky
for omens--away from the burning effigies,
the barricades, the soldiers whose phalanxes
we broke with prayers and sandwiches made
by mothers, teachers and nuns passing rosaries
and flasks of water from hand to hand.
The city was a giant ear, listening for news
of the dictator. (Sound travels swift through
a mass of suffering bodies.) Snipers perched
like birds on the peripheries of buildings.
Thickening contrails striped the sky.
Two ravens flew side-by-side over the abandoned
palace, trading hoarse commentary. When night came,
the people scaled the gates. What did they see?
Papers of state whirling in the fireplace. Masses
of ball gowns choking the closet, shoes lined with satin
and pearls; gilt-edged murals above the staircase.
Days and nights of upheaval, their new history
alive; the old one writhing on the floor
with a blur around its mouth like hoarfrost.

I've shared a poem that, if you are old enough or else fond of reading about post-colonial history, may remind you of a time when Aquino followers seized the state broadcasting station in Manila. The autocratic Ferdinand Marcos and his retinue fled the Philippines and People Power, and Malacañang Palace was overrun--and the world learned exactly how many "ball gowns choking the closet, shoes lined with satin" Imelda Marcos possessed. Those shoes out-Kardashianed our celebrities. If you are neither of those things, the poem will stand as a kind of mythic tale of transformation.

The world and the image-rich language in the poem is an interesting mix of war and devotion--"soldiers whose phalanxes / we broke with prayers and sandwiches made / by mothers, teachers and nuns passing rosaries / and flasks of water." Like the metaphysical Body of Christ, made up of believers, the city is all one, "a mass of suffering bodies," "a giant ear, listening for news." They also look skyward for omens, finding snipers like birds, the stripes of contrails, and ravens over the palace. In the end, the "mass of bodies" looks not upward but down to the floor to see a cold death and a resurrection: "Days and nights of upheaval, their new history / alive; the old one writhing on the floor / with a blur around its mouth like hoarfrost."