SAFARI seems to no longer work
for comments...use another browser?

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Dreaming the revolt of the Muses--

Gustave Moreau, Hesiod and the Muse, 1891.
Musée d'Orsay, Paris
Wikipedia gallery / public domain
The world is a Silk Road--we have been adopting and adapting bits of other people's culture from the start. Culture is no more a static thing than is language. It's a living, growing thing, and we should hope that it is in good health for all our sakes. What many froth over--cultural influence--is the condition of the planet for many thousands of years. Cultural contact meant and still means change and growth and a way of re-imagining one's own arts. At the moment, I don't think the culture is in especially fit health, in large part because we've cheerfully let in the Trojan horse of entertainment (enjoyable and fun and occasionally rising to heights, yes, but not usually the height of human achievement) to defeat the high works of culture and leave only tiny audiences for many of our most important arts. Precious traditions dwindle and die away.

Take poetry as an example. We find ourselves--at least in this country--with a vision of poetry that is extremely small these days. As readers and as writers, we have forgotten our Western classical roots, seldom study the great works of the past in our own language (we oust Chaucer and Shakespeare and Milton from the English major in many schools), and have abandoned our knowledge of a range of forms, prosody, syntax, modes, tropes, figures, and auricular pleasures. And that means we have kicked a good deal of variety and surprise and liveliness out of the poetry tent.

A great many writers have come through the Romantic period and into Modernism and Post-Modernism with a conviction that poetry can only begin with our own (sometimes itty-bitty) feelings and end in an epiphany of some sort, and that stance cripples us. We have been devoted to the small lyric for too many years, and we have ignored the other possibilities. When such things happen, we fall into the world of diminishing returns.

I like this (already somewhat old) trumpet call from Mary Kinzie:
...the poet aims to restore to poetry the universality and aboriginally that over time has mistakenly been reassigned to prose. Poetry is the preconditional state of language, not its late and shiftless offspring... Poetry was once the queen of literature, not its poor cousin. At various junctures drama was written in it; so were letters. Once the medium of songs as of satire, of philosophical meditations and allegory, of civic as well as private praise and lament, poetic verse periodically could do anything a thoughtful or unruly bard wished it to do. It was the very expanse of possibility in which literary structure was secured. I subscribe to the notion that, if language can be thought of as a pyramid, its base is poetry, not prose. Poetry is the ground--the ground of resemblance, controlled in time--from which literature of all kinds takes shape.
Isn't it time for a revolt of the Muses? My hope is that we are entering a period of unruly bards who will take new territory and unruly readers, who will look far beyond the limits of entertainment.  We ourselves are, after all, the ones who can change our world. The past and tradition don't just make us look backward but are the nourishment that helps us look forward.

Here are some thoughts about the state of poetry and the arts from writer and poet Jeff Sypeck, drawn from a series of comments on the previous post, "The Fool in his fish skin cloak," that I thought deserved to be in greater light and not tucked away in the comments section.
And it's not just at universities. I spent two years attending major conferences in the museum world, and everyone was fretting about how to meet the demands of young people, with almost nobody willing to claim that their field should be promoting slow-paced contemplation and beauty as an alternative to the culture. I've seen museums use their exhibition spaces as dance clubs, and some symphonies now make a big deal out of programs devoted to movie soundtracks or video-game music.

I don't necessarily object to any of those things, but you can smell the nervous sweat of arts professionals desperate to be liked by the culture at large, even though the culture has overwhelmingly opted to embrace corporate entertainment instead. Museums, art centers, indy publishers, orchestras--they should all be starting with the premise that for at least some people out there, alternatives exist to a $410 million piece of crap like "Batman vs. Superman," and I don't mean "Batman vs. Superman II."
What can we do? I, for one, am trying to promote and spend more money on art and entertainment that's weird, independent, unaffiliated--but I think it would help if we had stronger rebuttals to cries of "elitism!" and "snobbery!," the most common smears against fine-art and high-arts advocates. People who like crap aren't open to hearing someone scold them to like better things--but how to persuade them is something I've been thinking a great deal about lately.
What we need are good arguments—not lofty statements that we ourselves already believe, but claims that persuade. To my mind, one of the best is an honest expansion of the argument used when music and theater programs in schools are threatened: that these things are lifesavers for kids who desperately need outlets. There's no reason that thinking should apply only to kids or only to school programs; I've seen middle-aged people find new purpose in their lives by learning oil painting or becoming mosaicists, and I once saw a 60-year-old student, a construction foreman, discover that he loved opera (to the bemusement of his patient wife). We should greatly expand the thinking behind the cry that sensitive kids need the drama club; all kinds of people need this stuff in all phases of their lives. 
Lately I've been thinking that another viable argument involves a bit of gentle shame aimed at the more liberal-minded: if you so distrust and dislike corporations, why do you give them 100 percent of your art and entertainment budget? Diversify! 
I should note that I write this as someone who used to be a popular-culture junkie. I still like a good superhero movie, danceable music, ambitious comics...but I'm grateful to have had bigger things to grow into. I foolishly assumed that this more high-minded culture would always be there; I never imagined that popular culture would so overwhelm it. 
I'm still thinking about how to promulgate the arguments and use not only the shame but also the hope and the curiosity and even the fear of people who opt for corporate entertainment by default. I don't expect to start a cultural revolution, but every person who takes a little more non-corporate art and entertainment into their lives is a victory as far as I'm concerned. I want to come up with arguments that are as scrupulously honest as they are persuasive, but to be persuasive, those arguments can't be disdainful or insulting. It's an interesting rhetorical challenge. (One of the strongest tactics may be to appeal to an ongoing countercultural impulse. Is there anything more establishment, more pro-corporation, more consumerist than marching off to the latest superhero movie?) 
I also think it has to be a face-to-face process: getting people into artists' studios, art centers, theaters, literary events, and so forth. I'll go so far as to say that even video-game night or sci-fi theme-song night at the orchestra could be good starts, as "pops concerts" once were, if these events were presented not apologetically, but as the first promising glimpse of a much larger creative world.
So what do you think of all that? I expect there are plenty of people who have interesting ideas about how to deal with the conquest of entertainment and the need for unruly bards! If you are one, leave a note. How to care for culture is a issue that sings out to us all.

Update: Lots of views, no comments! Maybe I'd better promise not to put any comments on the front page! I also ought to say that a great deal of what we once regarded as entertainment has lasted, and lasted well--Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Fielding, etc. Evidently the meaning of this word entertainment has changed over time, though, and perhaps I need to figure out what it meant and what it means now.

Monday, March 28, 2016

The Fool in his fish-skin cloak

Today is a rainy ferrywoman day, so I leave you with a snip from The Book of the Red King, as I will be working on it when I return, and also a bit of the pleasantly obsessed fairy painter, John Anster Fitzgerald (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons), in honor of the brave snowdrops and crocuses in the yard. Perhaps it would be sweet to be so obsessed with fairies as John Anster Fitzgerald was, to flit to another realm where things like the Brussels attacks and the Lahore Easter bombings do not happen. But then, even in Faerie, the Queen must pay a tithe to hell, and she prefers her tithe to be human...

So here's a poem with a bit of fairy glamour, the subject being the Fool's beloved, Precious Wentletrap. This one was originally in Yew Journal, and was picked up by Shirl Sazynski for her future anthology, Persephone's Kiss.


Who is the Princess Wentletrap? 

Is she a gleaming heaven-fish,
All splotched and straked with milky stars,
A trout that shatters pools with light?

Or is she only a spiral shell? 

Listen. Closer. Glass bells shiver.
The sea is captured in a whorl.
The thimbled music of the spheres.

Is she a castle’s winding stair? 

But can you follow, gyring up
To an observatory height?
Dance high-wire on the horns of moon?

Or is she threshed from lunar fields? 

Is she the bounty of the dark?
See, stepping from the ruffled waves
Onto a strand of quartz and gold!

How the Fool dreams Precious Wentletrap . . . 

Thinned-out aspen leaves and mica:
Nothing can be so lovely-frail
As her white hands, held up to light.

Why manifest to the King’s Fool? 

He has the gift of fetching her.
He sings, wearing the fish-skin cloak
Under a crown of sparkling dust.

* * *

If you are interested in literature and criticism, read and enjoy or tussle with Joseph Epstein's new review, Where Have All the Critics Gone? Clip: Today the standard of highbrow culture has been worn away, almost to the point of threadbareness. For political reasons, universities no longer feel obligated to spread its gospel. Western culture—dead white males and all that—with its imperialist history has long been increasingly non grata in humanities departments. Everywhere pride of place has been given to the merely interesting—the study of gay and lesbian culture, of graphic novels and comic books, and more—over the deeply significant. Culture, as it is now understood in the university and elsewhere, is largely popular culture. That battle has, at least for now, been lost.


"Heaven have mercy on us all--Presbyterians and Pagans alike--for we are all somehow dreadful cracked about the head, and sadly need mending." --Melville, Moby Dick

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Fra Angelico at Easter

Update, 16 hours later: One thing I love about comments is that people say curious things, and then that helps me to know my own mind. Here's a bit of my reply to the ever-interesting poet (and more) with the alliterative name, Roderick Robinson, drawn from the just-prior post on Fra Angelico's Christ:
I look at Fra Angelico with a kind of relief, knowing that he would never, ever believe in "a senseless act of beauty," that beauty for him is always meaningful. So different from our own day. He's always so direct and clear and devoted to the art. Like George Herbert, he could have been much in a worldly sense but turned away from those chances. I admire that sort of understanding, one that sees so clearly what is important in life and what is not. And there we are veering closer to what you call "unfashionability as a virtue."
* * *

I'm too tired to think in words, so here's a little more Fra Angelico to admire--a detail from a fresco, "Resurrection of Christ and the Women at the Tomb" at the Convento di San Marco, Florence, 1440-1441. Public domain image. Here are some more beautiful San Marco images from Fra Angelico.

Here is how Giorgio Vasari describes Fra Angelico in his Lives of the Most Excellent Artists, Sculptors, and Architects:
He would not follow the ways of the world, but lived purely and holily, and was a great friend of the poor. He painted constantly, and would never represent anything but the saints. He might have been rich, but did not care about it, saying that true riches are nothing else than being content with little... To sum up, this father, who can never be enough praised, was in all his works and words most humble and modest, and in his paintings facile and devout; and the saints whom he painted have more the air and likeness of saints than those of any one else. It was his habit never to retouch or alter any of his paintings, but to leave them as they came the first time, believing, as he said, that such was the will of God. 
And now good night! Or good morning, elsewhere.

* * *
Nancy Olson, founder and 29-year owner of Quail Ridge Books of Raleigh.
 Requiescat in Pace

Friday, March 25, 2016

500-year art for Good Friday

A few years back, I was startled by a face looking out of the marvelous Fra Angelico show at the Met. It is a common enough compliment to say that images are arresting, even when they are not. I can say from experience that this one is.  ‪It's right for the day, right for a week that reminds us of murdered innocence and grief for the world.

The image also reminds me of painter Makoto Fujimura's essay, "Fra Angelico and the Five Hundred Year Question."
I entered the halls and the golden aura of a diminutive Virgin Mary painting greeted me, with her azurite robe, and the Christ child’s supple body, reflecting her humanity -- a simple work full of weighty colors. Then I had to close my eyes, after a few seconds of pondering the saturated surface. I realized this was too much to behold, all at once. As I staggered about looking for a blank wall to stare at, almost feeling ashamed to be in the presence of such greatness, I had a “500 year” question pop up in my mind.

What is the five hundred year question? Well, it’s a historical look at the reality of our cultures, and asking what ideas, what art, what vision affects humanity for over five hundred years. It’s the opposite of the Warholian “15 seconds of fame.”
It was, you see, inspired by his visit to the Fra Angelico show.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Playing with the Red King and the Fool

The Ranworth Antiphonal, circa 1460-1480.
An interesting initial letter decoration
illustrating Psalm 51. 

I promised to read and scour The Book of the Red King three times by the end of Lent, and I just might make that finish line. But I have also decided to read it another time afterward, as I've made more changes than foreseen. Well, that's not so surprising, nothing ever being perfect.

A mighty long book of poems, the manuscript stakes some claim to being a narrative because tells the progress of the Fool, although in fragments. The sequence includes poems about the friendship between the Red King and the Fool, necessarily an unequal pairing. The Fool is consistent, though he transforms, but the Red King's self is unpinned, and it may be one thing in one poem, another thing in another. The manuscript also contains a kind of love story about the Fool and his beloved, the Precious Wentletrap.

The whole is to some degree governed by alchemical transformation. The story felt transformative in the writing--just swooped out, some years ago, in a great rush. I have off and on tinkered with the poems and am now determined to turn in the book by the end of spring. As in the making of any object that aspires to gold, it benefits from the polishing.

Here's a little poem about the two friends. It was originally published in Mezzo Cammin (for more poems, go here.)


The King sets a table for the Fool,
Arranging the cloth and the whittled spool

That’s wound with gilt and silver thread,
A wheel of cheese with twisted bread,

The cup that holds a glowing star,
precious wentletrap (Wikipedia)
The feather tumbled from a far

Fetched place above the walls of world,
A flower of ice, the petals furled,

A wine that came some thousand miles
From the floating Fortunate Isles. 

The Fool sets table for the King
With pins and ragged skittles-string,

With glossy feathers of a crow,
Tumblers spilling dust-hearted snow,

A cup of tears, a glass of rain,
A mug that chambers childish pain,

A stick with bells, a fool’s peaked cap,
A seed, a precious wentletrap

That jails so beautifully the sea
Of pulse and whispered mystery.

And here is a poem about the Red King, one where he is grander in his identity. This one was original published in At Length (go here for more.)


In a green seed
Hidden in a shell
From the first walnut tree,
Wrapped in threads of Tensan silk,
Tucked in a giant wentletrap,
Placed inside a golden treasure box,
Swallowed by the roan-red bull on the hill
In the precincts of the Red King’s castle lands,
Inside a kingdom held against barbarians,
In a world that cares so little whether we outrage
Or whether we are bred to honor and civility—
In the out-rushing universe, the nursery house of stars,
Inside the multiverse with other worlds, each with its own Red King,
Inside the envelope that cauls all time and space in one conundrum,

The Red King keeps
His ceaseless,

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Saturday, March 19, 2016

I ask, I ask, I ask--

Found on Pinterest.
Could it be Lucas Cranach the Elder?
Or is that insane? Thought of "Princess of Saxony" hands.
Enough of the You Asked series for the nonce. It's time for I Ask.

What was the last thing you read (and the last thing you read and liked), and what are you reading now (or what is in the line-up for next)? 

New acquisitions this week: the late Christopher Logue's full version of his long poem, War Music: An Account of Homer's Iliad; Annie Dillard's selected essays, The Abundance. (The only other book of essays I've read lately is Mary Kinzie's The Cure of Poetry in an Age of Prose.) I'm already reading War Music. Prior to this, I've only read the also-titled War Music, a portion of the now-whole, or as close to whole as we will ever have.

Last book I listened to was Karen Savage's reading of Jane Austen's Persuasion. It's a LibriVox recording also on youtube as a single listen. I always thought that I liked Persuasion less than the others, but I was wrong. Maybe I'm finally old enough for it.

I'm also reading Robert Walser's The Walk (the translation of the revised version) and assiduously looking for the copy of Scott G. F. Bailey's The Astrologer that the naughty person who was going to read it aloud to us has deposited . . . somewhere. It's as if there's a terrible jinx on that book. But it'll be next, whenever found. My misbehaving eyes are better, and I shall read it for myself!

I'm also reading some Louise Bogan and Edwin Muir poems. And memorized another Yeats poem. I do want to memorize more.

Your turn. Tell.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Maze-mapping, etc.

The Maze of Blood page has been revised and updated with clips from new reviews. Forthcoming is a new interview about the book from Suzanne Brazil--up soon!

"The Child and the Night Gaunts"
Did I say that I have a small story in the very attractive Dreams from the Witch House? It is an anthology of Lovecraftian tales by women, edited by Lynne Jamneck, and with by Daniele Serra art for every single story.  Stories by Joyce Carol Oates, Caitlin R. Kiernan, and more.

Bad and good
1. Bad: reading another writer's post on appealing to readers to post Amazon reviews and realizing once again that I am completely unable to ask (thanks to a large bolus of inherited Southern genteel politeness fed to me in childhood) anybody to do anything at all for me and so am not at all fit for the current material, commercial day with all its marketing liveliness. 2. Good: two talks in Florida in the next year; The Book of the Red King swimming along nicely, though I got stuck on revising "What the Fool Whispered to the Wentletrap" for three whole days and will probably dither over it a bit more; lots of poems coming out here and there, in print and online; lovely requests, even if I'm too busy to fill them; movie bite (though I don't really regard these, as I have been getting them since 1996 without much progress); possible trip to L. A. in June if I wish, and perhaps I do; snowdrops and aconite in bloom.

Writing child
And if you haven't seen this (I've posted it everywhere, it seems), go look: lovely BBC video of the late 18th-century writing boy automaton by Swiss watchmaker Pierre Jaquet-Droz (Musée d'Art et d'Histoire of Neuchâtel.)

St. Patrick's Day
St. Patrick's Day dinner, made by my Irish-Dutch-Akwesasne husband: corned beef, cabbage, salt potatoes, honeyed carrots, Guiness chocolate cake with Bailey's cream cheese icing. Today is my mother's 87th St. Patty's Day birthday.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

You Asked, no. 16: Poetry in our day

R. T. (Tim)10:54 AM, March 15, 2016 I'm going to be bold (and I hope not rude) by making a comment (observation) and asking a question. (1) I've known a few poets in the past half century, and I've been impressed by their commitment even though their reading audience seems to be painfully small; (2) How can poetry now in the 21st century ever grow beyond its self-contained audience (usually academics, other poets, and a smattering of others) and become more commonly read by more people? Perhaps neither my observation nor my question are worthy of your attention. I'm just thinking out loud.
Not only is the audience for poetry small, the academic-realm support for the kind of poetry I want to write is even smaller--that is, I want to write something that is not a free verse lyric poem with a bit of narrative. I want to write in forms, sometimes old and forgotten forms. I want to use all the tools of Puttenham's "arte of English poesy" that were lost in time or laid down in Modernism. Occasionally I do something that looks like free verse, as when I fooled around with poems inspired by Yoruban chant. But it's still a running after shapeliness. For the most part, the academy isn't interested in such things, so that leaves me with the "smattering of others." (A large number of poets are ensconced in the academy, so I can't count so much on those other poets you mention.)

But I happen to think that a lot of the most exciting possibilities in poetry mean chasing the past and making it work for today. That's part of why I pursued a long epic adventure in Thaliad. (Interestingly,  that 2012 book still trickles along in sales, a narrow runnel but not yet stopped.)

I want the past--which contemporary scholars are busy ousting from our best schools--to go along with me. Get an English major without a jot of Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Milton? It happens. Spin poetry out of your navel instead of out of the rich gold of the past? Lack a proper humility in standing before the masters? It happens.

Little springlike shoots, desires for tradition and its magic and powers are cropping up in all the arts, I expect. In painting, somebody like Makoto Fujimura, painting in the Nihongan traditions, calls for culture care and the creation of beauty out of the ashes of destruction, a gift to the wounded and dehumanized soul. A devoted follower of the Old Masters like Jacob Collins says, “Those people who never lose sight of beauty and power are attractive. I’m trying to make things beautiful in a deep way. Poetic. Transformative. Mysterious.” A good number of my friends who paint, even when they are clearly children of Modernism, have embraced narrative and sometimes figurative work. Many of them seem like bridges between one thing and another, and some have moved (I'm thinking of Victoria Adams in particular) from something near abstraction to an enchanted realism.

The great transcendentals, beauty, truth, and goodness, are returning to us in various ways, though there are many who fight against their elemental powers. At times, they feel fresh and alive with energy once more.

You suggest that numbers in poetry are a problem. I am not so sure, though it certainly would be lovely to have more readers. Many a press has foundered over poetry's small sales. The "sugar'd sonnets of Shakespeare, among his private friends" were passed by hand (Francis Meres, 1598.) Later on, we know that Donne's poems were circulated this way, as were the works of many others. A small, beautiful work like Chidiock Tichbourne's "Elegy," written before his execution, may well have been dependent upon a single hand-written copy, though the poem soon made it into a book. Poems have survived their times despite small readership.

Was there ever a mythical age when all the world knew poetry? Perhaps not since the days of oral recitation by the fire, if then. What can we do? Well, schools could focus more on memorization and recitation and appreciation instead of dissection. (Need a written school assignment? Translate a sixteenth-century sonnet into your own words. Or write a sonnet, and then look at it two weeks later. Time tells all.) But how much needs to be done? I don't even know. I expect we might be surprised by meeting people in seemingly un-poetic occupations who read poetry--perhaps not contemporary poetry, but poetry all the same. Certainly it was not uncommon in the nineteenth century. And today there are elements of poetry in popular slams, rap, song. Do those lead young people on to better work? I have no idea. Maybe not.  But I'm not fond of the idea of shoving poetry down people's throats as if poetry were an intellectual castor oil.

Makoto Fujimura would say that culture belongs to all of us, and it is our responsibility to share what's beautiful and good. Surely that is true, and one thing we all can do is talk about the poems and books and art we love. I buy art, mostly by friends, and I buy books that I want to support. Often they sit a long time before I read them because I am busy with deadlines, but I buy them anyway because I know a purchase is an encouragement to the writer and an assurance to the publisher. The most destructive thing to a book is, after all, to be ignored. And some degree of that is the fate of most books, poetry or not. How could it be otherwise when only some minute percent of all writers are self-supporting, and when publishers choose and push the lead books of fiction and nonfiction?

Perhaps there's some lovely good in the idea that the best poetry, even in its loneliness and neglect, resists the current world where art is an expensive widget often fettered to ideology, where commercialism is god, and where utilitarian pragmatism rules. Perhaps that small, burning lamp--a gift to the world that mostly looks away--will continue to call to itself those who love the high play of language. Perhaps that readership will grow. As Mako says, art offers "our dying culture unfading bouquets, gifts of enduring beauty that we do not want to refuse." Poesy as posy: I, too, wonder who will accept that gift, those flowers.

Monday, March 14, 2016

The start of "Rave"

I've mentioned that print journal North Carolina Literary Review is publishing four poems from a manuscript called Rave, originally inspired by the structure, technical features, and subjects of Yoruban praise chant. They are "Spring Tree Egg," "Alice," "Night Blooming Cereus," and "She-Who-Changed."

NCLR also has an online supplement, in which another of the Rave poems now appears. This one is the first one I wrote--and it was the only for a long time--written during a class of mine at the Antioch Writing Workshops in Yellow Springs a few summers back. "Anniversary Song" is closer than many in the manuscript to the original forms that inspired me. So it was the initial start, the seed that later grew.

All five poems were finalists for the James Applewhite Poetry Prize. Click on the Rave tag below for links to more poems from the manuscript.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Traveling the Red King's lands

Graham Ward, "Child in Tarifa"
This "starved-brush" painting is one that inspired
one of my poems in the Red King manuscript,
"The Stellar Child."
Generation works both ways!
I've also written some poems
for Graham to use in a future gallery show.
I have a few more interesting questions in the Bullington-Youmans interview party but need to take a small break from them in order to push forward on The Book of the Red King, which has been hanging fire for years now. It has been in the condition of "almost" for so long that I was tempted to let it go on being "almost." Luckily, a shadowy sense of guilt at last crept over me, and I am now crawling through the very long manuscript again for the third time in the past month. And I think that I shall be done creeping along when I get to the end this time. I shall, that is, stop. Nothing is ever done, particularly on such a  very long manuscript of poems.

One of the curious things about this manuscript is that thirteen prints and paintings have been made in response to its poems, even though it is not yet out as a book--not even submitted. One of them is by Mary Bullington, and I've posted it several times before. Some came from a poem that has never ben submitted anywhere, written for a friend, who sent it into the aether. Eventually it landed in an artist's inbox and became a seed. What a surprise!  I've always thought that a work should, in the ideal, be generative. So this makes me feel pleased.

Quite a number of poems about the Red King and the Fool (and Amara the alchemist and many others) are online, but if you would like to see a group of them at once, you may find some at Mezzo Cammin and at At Length. Of course, I have fiddled with them since....

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Finalist, Foreword Book of the Year Awards

Foreword Reviews' 
2015 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award Finalist 
Literary (Adult Fiction)

Maze of Blood

Maze of Blood is my third university press novel, 
and my third finalist ranking with the Foreword 
Book of the Year Awards for independent publishing. 
Glimmerglass and A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage
were also finalists, and the latter won the Silver 
Award in fiction.

Foreword Reviews' 2015 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award Finalist
Marly Youmans
  Mercer University Press     

Publication Date
 Sep 1, 2015
Retail price
Foreword rating: 
Reviewed by
Clarissa Goldsmith   Review Date  November 27, 2015
Simultaneously poetic and economic, this is a layered and complex exploration of human existence and the experiences that mold a person. Maze of Blood reads almost like a poem. Marly Youmans’s language is sweeping and grandiose and renders the character of Conall Weaver in broad, even harsh...
For clips from other reviews, go here.

Congratulations to the other finalists in literary fiction--Barbara Stark-Nemon, Peter Grandbois, Caitlin Hicks, Lindsey Drager, Vanessa Blakeslee, Paula Closson Buck, Ben Nadler, Kathy Giuffre, Suzanne Heagy,  Lorraine M. Lopez, Shann Ray, Coleen Kearon, Stacy Barton, Barbara Roether, Elizabeth Harris, and Brian Kindall. Best of luck to their books!

Monday, March 07, 2016

You Asked, no. 15: collage strategies of Mary Bullington

Flaunting my petticoats: The Red Tyger 
glued on a monoprint of the same collage (2012).
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 is composed of our questions to each other. Soon I'll post an index to our conversations, as well as some information about how to see more of Mary's work, and how to get in touch with her.

Please click to see larger images. Note that some pictures are not embedded but at the foot of the post--all pictures mentioned are in the post. To see more of the Bullington-Youmans interview party, click on the appropriate tag at post's foot. To see more of You Asked, do likewise.

Youmans: As a collagist, you're a follower of a wandering muse, and you often completely revise a collage multiple times before you are satisfied. A visit to your two studio rooms shows that you have a bewildering variety of painted scraps and pieces in baskets and even littering the floor--small catalysts for the imagination. Clearly you often cut up and paint many times before you are finished with a piece. Ignoring for a time the realm of instinct and muse-ravishment, can you describe your methods in a systematic way?

Collage-plate (with drawing atop) 
from which collographs of Red Tyger were printed.
Bullington:  6 Design Strategies in My Collages: A photo essay

For me, collage is a very versatile means of invention and of expression. Below are just some of the many approaches to the technique I've used—with images to go with them.

1. Overlap and Layering: Layers add dimension and texture to a 2-dimensional piece. In layering my collages, I consider what needs to be covered from the bottom layer, and what should still be visible. I like to let my petticoats show a bit.

The Red Tyger (2012) is a collage of figures cut from a drawing in India ink, acrylic and black gesso monoprint using an earlier version of this collage as a plate (technically, this is called a collograph). The blue-gray background of the collage is another collograph taken from the same plate. Thus the blue-grey shapes behind the collaged figures act as shadows. A new intensity and vibrancy in my layering of collages emerged in 2015: In my own Voice (Listen) adds one layer of collage over another, with layers of freshly painted pattern in between.

In My Own Voice (Listen)
2. Repetition and Variation of shapes, colors, and textures create rhythm and harmony. The patchwork structure of the first draft of Antiquity (2014) allowed me to change elements until I arrived at a coherent collection of faces, each individualized and strong enough to hold its own, and yet congruent with the whole. Medallions, a collage made the same year, repeats two patchwork quilt patterns, circle and star, at least 15 times each without using them in quite the same way twice. Rectangles and triangles of different sizes help keep the solar systems in orbit. [See images slightly below in text, and the 7th image at the foot of the post.]

3. Sharp Contrasts in shape, color, value, texture, and pattern generate energy. Lady with Two Cats plays red against green, polka dots against batik-like patterns and near solids, and not least, the human creature against the cat. [See 8th picture at foot of post.]

detail, In My Own Voice (Listen)
4. Jigsaw Puzzling: Collage can be a sort of free-form jigsaw puzzle. I look for unexpected matches, places where I can create connection between diverse materials. To transform Leaves of Grass (2014) from a painting to a collage, I cropped it and then painted a sheet of paper with grasses in different colors and values so I'd have plenty of to cull from. The circular shape at the top invited me to add similar shapes from another painting. Fortuitously, one circular scrap had red, white and blue stripes—contrasting with the dominant orange; this added an American tenor to the grass theme—leading me to steal Walt Whitman's famous title for my collage. [Images 9-10 at foot.]

early draft, Antiquity
5. Surprise and lucky accidents create delight. As I work, I keep my eyeballs peeled for the apparent mismatch that is just right. If all I have when I'm finished is what I was aiming for, I haven’t gone far enough. I have to surprise myself. The Little Engine that Could (2015) first surprised me with the little blue train engine on the pink road. This gave rise in turn to the staccato of railroad tracks and the choo-choo rhythms that become a leitmotif throughout, and most emphatically at the bottom of the piece. The tree shapes inherent in the original patchwork structure and echoed in the skinny man at the bottom suggest a rudimentary landscape. The final surprise was finding the big red bird shape in the upper left quadrant to chime and rhyme with the smaller black bird shapes and avian lines scattered among the patches. In The Family Genome (2014), layering creates surprise. When I put on the orange overlay on the lower half of the mother's face the whole collage snapped to attention. The black, slightly pursed lips added point to the supercilious arch of her eyebrow. [See images 11-12 at foot.]

Antiquity, 2014
6. Incongruities and foreign elements: Surprise and incongruity go hand in hand, but while surprise is often a matter of sheer chance, incongruities are often a deliberate part of my strategy. I pierced my painting Flower Filigree so I could add an underlay—and then tried it atop a few pieces of painted paper. With Background 1, I was a bit bored—it was too much the same palette as the top layer. Background 2, full of larger, more energetic shapes and vibrant colors, brought new energy to the whole. [See images 1-5 at foot.]

7. Vision and Revision: Finally, collage is a very forgiving technique. It allows me to rethink and revise paintings and even collages that don't quite succeed. Though the number of choices it gives me can be confusing, collaging allows me to save the good, remove the bad, and rearrange the whole. Collage often reinspires a piece that is going nowhere. [See image 6 at foot.] In Tijuana 1953 (2011), I cut up and rearranged an abstract painting I'd spoiled, overlapping and reinventing the elements until they danced.

Flower Filigree as a painting on paper, uncut as yet, January 2015

Background for Flower Filigree, March 2015

Flower Filigree with background 1
"Background 1 had a palette too similar 
to the pierced painting Flower Filigree."

Background 2 for Flower Filigree, March 21, 2015

"Pairing Flower Filigree with the 2nd background created visual excitement."

Tijuana 1953, 24" x 24"
"Overlapping the elements until they danced for me."
Medallions "repeats yet varies circle & star at least 15 times each."

Lady with Two Cats plays red against green and
polka dots against patterns and solids.

Leaves of Grass before cropping, with a couple of scraps of collage.

Leaves of Grass, 2014

The Little Engine That Could, 2015
"In The Little Engine that Could, the last surprise, 
perhaps, was the big red bird shape."

Friday, March 04, 2016

Down by the bayou

I have a brand new poem up on Autumn Sky Poetry Daily. If you love Yeats, you probably can't miss that it has a formal relationship to "Down by the Salley Gardens." But it's a tricksy poem with something up its sleeve. Here it is: "I Met My True Love Walking."

And if you like that one (or don't and are still bold!), here's another recent one at Autumn Sky: "Landscape with Icefall."

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

All my life

I have often thought that the proper answer to questions regarding how long it took me to write a certain book should simply be, "my whole life." So I was interested to find this remark in a Dalrymple essay ("Beauty and Ugliness: on the deformation of art"), in part about that remarkable portrait painter, Sir Joshua Reynolds:
Reynolds was no mere flatterer; when an aristocrat condescendingly asked him how long it took him to paint a portrait, he replied, “All my life, my Lord.”