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Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorial Day, again--

My slim, tall father would somersault backward out of the tail...

Memorial Day with marching bands on Main Street, and I am thinking of my father, Hubert L. Youmans. A Georgia sharecropper's child, he joined the Army Air Corps (aka our Air Force) at seventeen and flew as tail gunner out of RAF Bassingbourn in the B17 Incendiary Blonde (91st Bombardment Group, 322nd BS) during World War II. The crew lost just one man--on the very last day that the position of mid waist gunner was used in the war, a piece of shrapnel killed mid waist gunner Blaine Corbin. In the picture below, Corbin is missing. Some day I'll make a site for my father and include his notes on the day his friend died.

Later, my father served stateside in Korea, and he retired as a major in the reserves. He attended Emory and LSU and worked as a research chemist and as Professor of Analytical Chemistry. He is an example of how sheer drive and tenacity and the desire to learn and to make something of a life can take a human being far.

Back Row - Left to Right 2nd Lt. Ivar Hendrickson, Bombardier; S/Sgt Bufford Brown, Engineer; 
S/Sgt Paige Paris, Radio Operator; S/Sgt Edward Fitzpatrick, Ball Turret Gunner; 
S/Sgt. Hubert L. Youmans, Tailgunner  Front Row - Left to Right
2nd Lt. Otto Bremer, Navigator; 2nd Lt. Bill Snipes, Pilot; 1st Lt. Glen Crumbliss, Co-Pilot

I also had six uncles who served in World War II, five of them my mother's brothers. (I don't know that much about where each was stationed, though several were in the Pacific theatre. My father's younger brother was in Germany and France, at least part of the time, and married a Frenchwoman.) Many times I was told that my maternal grandmother--Lila Eugenia Arnold Morris, a small-town matriarch, a woman who had faith that she already lived in the Kingdom of God, a woman of strong will--spent hours on her knees every night, praying for their safe return. All five of her boys came marching home.

It would be interesting to know more about the military past of my family. I know the names and something of the history of a few Georgia Confederate soldiers in my mother's family (my eldest, when small, always asked why we were on the wrong side of the war.) Col. James Washington Hance died at Gettysburg, leaving behind a family of little girls. I wonder how they fared in the wretched aftermath in the South--would be curious to know how they grew up in that time. I don't really know much about my father's family during the Civil War.

Probably I know more about my earlier military ancestors. My direct ancestor, Col. John Thomas, came to this country from Wales and founded the Spartan Regiment in upstate South Carolina. He and his wife, Jane Black Thomas, are regarded as notables in the history of the American Revolution, and they produced a mighty clan of children, also notable in Revolutionary history--as were their sons-in-law. (For a colorful account of Jane, see "Three South Carolina Sites Associated With Revolutionary "Feminist" Jane Black Thomas (1720-1811." She also has a Wikipedia page here.)

I wonder how feisty my ancestors were, the ones who lived elsewhere. While I think of myself as a mild and peaceable person, clearly I am a sprig on a militant tree. And that tree is watered by blood.

The body of Colonel Hance is mentioned
in this graphic account.

I made this little post in memory of my father and in honor of my cousin Frank Morris, now retired from a life of service to the Navy. He'll probably tell me if I've made a mistake, at least on the maternal side of things! But of course Memorial Day really belongs to those who died in war. We still have plenty of them to remember, known and unknown.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Fowles in the frith

At seven, birds and squirrels flit and climb in the lilacs, and a lovely morning light lies in weightless panels on the green grass. To think that the air was juggling flurries so few days ago! And this little bit of 13th-century medieval marginalia runs in my head:

Fowles in the frith,
The fisses in the flood,
And I mon waxe wood
Much sorwe I walke with
For beste of bon and blood.

Wodewose being tamed by a lady,
15th-century tapestry, Basel
Wikipedia, public domain

Is it a courtly lyric in the voice of the lover in spring, thinking of his lady, to him the best of bone and blood, the best of all mortals? Is his unrequited love what sends him mad, to "waxe wood"?

Or has he suffered a great loss (death of the beloved lady, loss of a loved child, death of loved friends in battle?) Does he flee to the wild wood to be a wodewose, waxing mad in grief?

Or is he thinking of the Fall of Man and how all walk in sorrow because mortals are but beasts of bone and blood, mortal and sinful? (I'm remembering Chaucer's "Balade de Bon Conseyl," where a man is a kind of beast in a stall: "Forth, pylgryme, forth! forth, beste, out of thi stal!")

Or is the writer thinking of the Fall, sorrowing and thinking of Christ as the union of God and earthly man, the best of bone and blood? The fowls and the fish have no such need for reflection and are so without his sorrow.

Or, could it even be in the voice of Christ, so often portrayed as retreating in the wilderness? Could it be Christ, reflecting on Creation's fifth-day birds and fish and grieving for the human beast of bone and blood?

Is the poem somehow, mysteriously, all of these things at once, braided together, all those riches compacted? It's such a simple little abbab stanza, tied beautifully together by alliteration, jotted down in the midst of facts and numbers, with a bit of musical notation.

And somehow, also mysteriously, drifting in my mind.


A few notes

Geoffrey of Monmouth, Vita Merlini:
Merlin as war lord, mad in the Caledonian Forest.
Translation information and notes here

And [Merlin] mourns the [three brothers lost in battle], nor ceasing to pour out tears, he sprinkled his hair with dust and ripped off his clothes and lying flat on the ground he rolls now this way now that. Peredur comforts him, as do the nobles and dukes, but he desires neither solace nor to endure their supplicatory words. By now he had lamented for three days entire and had refused food, such great grief had consumed him. From that time on, after he had filled the air with so many and such great laments, he suffered a new madness and stealthily withdrew and fled to the woods, nor does he wish to be seen while fleeing, and he enters the forest and rejoices to skulk beneath the ash trees and marvels at the beasts grazing on the grass of the glade; now he follows them, now he passes by them at a run. He consumes the roots of plants, he consumes the plants, he consumes the fruit of the trees and the blackberries from the bramble bush; he becomes a man of the woods as though devoted to the woods. From then on during the whole summer he was discovered by no one and forgetful of himself and of his own kindred he hid himself in the woods, clothed in the manner of a wild beast. But when winter came and it had carried off the plants and all the fruits of the trees and he could not enjoy what he had, he poured forth such complaints as these in a pitiable voice: “O Christ God of heaven, what shall I do? In which part of the earth will I be able to remain since there is nothing here that I can eat?”

21  homo cum in honore esset non intellexit conparavit se iumentis et silebitur:
(Man when he was in honour did not understand: he hath been compared to senseless beasts, and made like to them.)


Only yesterday I thought that I might stop blogging--thought that perhaps it would be best. And now here I am again, all because of the little fowls in the frith, the happy fishes in the flood.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Desire for a riotous black comedy that will offend everybody--

Dome with flag photograph
by Robert Linder of Springfield, Missouri
Where is our Evelyn Waugh? Can the current scene drift any closer to black comedy? My fellow Americans (and any non-Americans watching with dropped jaws), this is fabulous comedic, dark-satiric material. We will not be saved by an unexpected knight from the powerful, crazy, possibly terrifying trajectory of the campaign, but we could at least use some vim and vinegar and absurdity-trampling lines from a novelist. And as I have long been a rather jaded and apolitical sort (due to an unfortunate allergy to politicians and an even worse allergy to political language), I prefer that it not be me.

Every blessed week brings fresh absurdities to light, absurdities that ought to ignite some comic genius out there. We need that flamboyant bonfire of words! Take the current instant. Sanders refuses to talk about what socialism has brought to our nearby neighbors in Venezuela, etc.  And when asked why not, what does he say? Because he is running for office, of course! You colossal dummies of the first water, why did you even wonder? Yet, think on this: who would have guessed a politician could be so candid? Meanwhile, the co-anchor of CBS This Morning, Gayle King, tells us that she was at a party on Wednesday, and guess what? Nobody at that party cared one teeny whit about Hilary Clinton's emails! Nobody! Not even those of the Other Party (the Other Party being the opposite of your own adherence, if you have an adherence.) Give Gayle King another lively evening out on the town, and she'll probably cross Benghazi and other troubling little Clintonian peccadillos off the list of voter doubts. Lesson? Go to more parties; frolic; be a Disney girl! Don't worry your little head about the details. In trumpery news, what could be more startling than television "personality" Glen Beck and guest Brad Thor chatting about "a patriot" bumping off the Donald in a hypothetical scenario? And it gets even better when Brad Thor calls Matt Drudge a "despicable lying scumbag" for drawing attention to the "hypothetical I [asked] as a thriller writer." Evidently Drudge was silly enough to take "a hypothetical" as a statement of possibility; imagine that! Personally, I prefer more Shakespearean epithets like churlish, lily-livered hedge-pig or prating pantaloon or mewling moldwarp over "despicable lying scumbag." Nevertheless, I notice with interest and some degree of satisfaction that nothing, nothing, nothing can cross the subject of Trump's strawberry-blond pouf off the national radar. That hair could be a star in the right novel!

Looking back, there's a mighty harvest, waiting, ripe (maybe even just a tad over-ripe?) with wondrous material. And though it's hard to single out any one thing, I just want to give a tiny, eensy-weensy tip of the hat to Carson on the pyramids as really big, big, big granary silos. Adore it! No doubt, dearest reader, you have your own favorite moments. No weak-witted hedge-pig, you! Have we ever had such a bumper crop of good material to draw on? Where, where, where is our novelist who can run riot with this stuff? Who will pluck these reeking canker-blossoms and arrange them into an astonishing, artful bouquet?

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

2 at 8: Angle

Angle 8, edited by UK poets Ann Drysdale and Philip Quinlan (with web mastery by poet Peter Bloxsom), is now up. The issue is full of interesting poets drawn to form, including Claudia Gary, Kate Bernadette Benedict, Norman Ball, R. Nemo Hill, Mary Meriam, Anna M. Evans, Charlotte Innes, Janet Alexa Kenny, Alan Wickes, Maryann Corbett, Deborah Warren, David M.Katz, Catherine Chandler, Kevin Durkin, John Whitworth, Jeff Holt, David Wayne Landrum, Jennifer Reeser, Marybeth Rua-Larsen, Siham Karami, Rick Mullin, Ed Shacklee, Terese Coe, John Foy, and more. (Hat tip to Claudia, as I lifted the list from her Facebook post, rather than industriously cobbling it together on my own.) The archive is here.

Two of my poems may be found in the issue. One is "Dread," lodged in the second half of the issue. I wrote that one after reading some translations from Robert Walser, but it's also under the sway of late winter in Cooperstown, a time in which a Southerner (and perhaps even a born-and-bred Yankee) begins to believe that the White Witch of Narnia might really hold sway and that winter will not end: "...No little wood stove witch / Is opening a door on burning souls,  / No evil but the dread you wear like skin / Is muttering your name in conjure tones."

The other finds a place in the middle section of the issue, Arsy-Versy: Ekphrastic Supplement. That one, "Parque Forestal," was jotted in a pocket notebook while traveling in South America last fall; the park, a wonderful and various city greenspace, follows the Mapocho river in Santiago, Chile. I stumbled on a monument to Rubén Darío, his "name / Mingled with drops and stone and evergreens / And dawn as yellow as a daffodil."

The easiest way to find them in the .pdf file? Go to the table of contents and click on the page number by my name for "Dread" and by the name of the supplement for "Parque Forestal"--and then scroll down four pages--but I recommend a wander through the issue.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Advice to the casual book reviewer--

Artist Clive Hicks-Jenkins.
Hand with heart from the interior
decorations for Thaliad.
If you google "how to write a book review," you'll find wheelbarrow loads of advice on writing a book review that looks just like almost everybody else's review. Since that's the case, I'm not going to repeat the usual advice. So here, my two cents worth of not-the-usual advice:
  • Go on trust. Always assume that the writer might actually know what he/she is doing. Try and figure out what he/she is doing if it doesn't fit your ideas of what a book should be. Maybe the book's not working, and that's why it doesn't fit. But maybe the book is good but differs from your expectations. 
  • Don't pay any attention to the label or genre that the publisher chooses. Remember that labels are for marketing. A label can be misleading, as it may well be incorrect or reductive. Many books are complex things, not happy with a label. Instead of relying on genre conventions for an idea of what a book should be, figure out what the book is on your own. Describe what it is--not the plot, but what it is, what it cares about, what terrain is important to the book and its characters, what purposes and vision drive its events and structure. 
  • Think about shape. All made things have a shape.
  • Each novel is its own world, with its own laws. It may resemble our world closely. Or not. You should be able to detect whether it fulfills its own promises, obeys its own laws.
  • Think about what propels the story forward. Is it causality, or something else?
  • Ignore the age label on the book, if there is one. It, too, may be incorrect, or the book may be what is often labeled as a crossover, and appeal to various ages.
  • Does the book have energy? Is it alive? Are the characters alive?
  • Does the book feel like a clone, or is it a unique individual? How so?
  • Does the writer appear to take pleasure in words and sound? 
  • Read some of the book aloud--mandatory! Get a feel for how the author writes; hear it in your own voice. You'll know more about sound and style and the writer's ear (tin or golden) by reading one page aloud than by reading a whole book to yourself. (This one is, of course, essential for collections of poetry.) 
  • Rereading is the most telling reading. Even a little rereading is helpful.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Thank you

to those who voted for Maze of Blood in the Foreword comments section on the maze-page (or who do so by May 20th.)  You have helped to make the book a little more visible, and that is always the difficulty for good books in our age: to be visible. I thank you for helping!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Tales of men and women

Cold morning with something unusual for here: a couple of orioles in the lilac bush. Lilac bushes are about as common as dandelions in the northeast (hence the lilacs of Whitman's "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd," but a morning with orioles in the lilac bush and goldfinches at the feeder? That's like a flash of sunset at noon. Despite the cold and yesterday's snow flurries, this has been a good week for songbird color with goldfinches and purple finches. I'm drinking tea and reading the distressing article in "The Atlantic" article on "the collapse of a large, wealthy, seemingly modern, seemingly democratic nation just a few hours’ flight from the United States"--socialist Venezuela. If you are drawn to Kafka on the toils of a man caught by the system, or else want to know about exactly how helpless a mother and father can be in the face of government corruption and abrupt loss of essential goods like drugs and food, have a read. The stories are heartbreaking.

Interesting to me for a number of reasons, most of them obvious--one of them local, as there is a Cooperstown connection--is this article, "The Diminution of Women Writers: An American Tradition." I'm not surprised that the author mentions Hawthorne's influence on Sophia Peabody Hawthorne, and his dislike for much of the "scribbling" mob of women. I adore Hawthorne and always feel congenial with him, but wouldn't it be good to have some stories by Sophia, and not just her paintings? The writer gives Constance Fenimore Woolson, named in part after her great-uncle, James Fenimore Cooper, as a prime example: "Woolson’s work and career are a reminder that women’s literary ambitions are not a recent phenomenon. She was a writer who aimed for and reached the heights of literary recognition, despite even greater obstacles than those facing women writers today." She and Henry James were very close friends--close enough to have destroyed their letters to each other--and she influenced his work. Various people have suggested that The Beast in the Jungle is based on his feeling for Constance Fenimore Woolson. I have read that it was William Dean Howells who buried her reputation as a writer after her suicide, and unfortunately James did not defend her in print. Now her books are at last on the rise again.

Painter Yolanda Sharpe reminded me of the case of married painters Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock, and how Pollock received far more attention. So I dug up this marvelous little quote from ARTnews (1949): "There is a tendency among some of these wives to 'tidy up' their husband's styles. Lee Krasner (Mrs. Jackson Pollock) takes her husband's paint and enamels and changes his unrestrained, sweeping lines into neat little squares and triangles." Aren't those phrases interesting? The name of the show, the tidying wife, the "Mrs. Jackson Pollock," the neatness, the "littleness." "Some of these wives." So the reviewer "sees" that masculine lack of restrain and "sweeping" lines beat female, so little and neat. (I find it hard to apply either adjective to Lee Krasner.)

And painter Ashley Cooper reminded me of the much-shared article about Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, "Wife of the Master Mural Painter Gleefully Dabbles in Works of Art."  I went back and looked at it again, Frida Kahlo photographed in what the journalist calls her "foolish little ruffled apron," tied over a black silk dress. She is "a miniature-like little person." Her "miniature-like technique" is opposed to the "heroic" figures of Rivera. The author clearly admires the work, though, describing "a skillful and beautiful style." Perhaps the most interesting element in the article is how well Kahlo knows that it is useless to defend her work or expose her secret ambition, and how she employs truth and laughter. He is the art star, come to Detroit to paint his Detroit industry murals in the Detroit Institute of Arts, and her own work is just beginning to flower. Listen to how she tells the truth of what she knows is inside her, beginning to break forth: "Of course, he does pretty well for a little boy, but it is I who am the big artist." She laughs and mocks her questioner, but in the end she is right. At that moment, he is the better artist. Later on, she will surpass him.


And for a postscript, a little Emily Dickinson and Billy Collins...

Friday, May 13, 2016

Book soup

A springing mind--
by Clive Hicks-Jenkins
for Maze of Blood
(Mercer, fall 2015)
Advice to writers

Advice to writers, even my own, makes me cringe a little. Perhaps I prefer some silly bit of advice like David Sedaris saying that you must write with a candy cane pen.

Because it doesn't matter a whit what writers say about writing or painters about painting or dancers about dancing, etc. Just get on with the playing with words, the pushing of paint, the moving of a body in the air, or whatever it is that draws you.

And if, after a while, you don't want to do that thing, know it and stop (preferable to having the desire seep away in dribs and drabs, I imagine, though I am not sure. Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps that is easier. And then there are those who compare making something out of words to slashing open a vein--what of them? Terrible to have no sense of joy and play...)

It is impossible to say anything against advice without committing advice. Silence is, I expect, better.

What's up on this rainy day (other than dandelions)

I'm writing a little play for teens and children today. It's about the boy who becomes King David... There will be lots and lots of sheep. (Last year I was commissioned to write one that I called "The Great Flood of All the World." Fun.) And I'm daydreaming about a novel that I want to write. And maybe I'll do a little tinkering with poems. Also: massive heaps of laundry are mumbling my name.

Thank you to those of you

who voted for Maze of Blood in the comments at the Foreword site. (Voting closes in a week, but such things generally result in a small flurry upon announcement.) If you were here, I would give you a peach-colored tulip with raindrops.

The truth is, I'm not very good at asking for anything that might help my books, even now that I've moved to a small press and university press setting, where I ought to do so. Thanking people for helpful acts is easy. When I was struck by how easily and forthrightly McKinty asks for Amazon reviews and support for his novels, I came to the realization that I just can't do it. My polite Southern ancestors all seem to sit up in their graves and stare balefully.

But I am very thankful when people show that they care about the books. I thank you. The green lawn and the wet tulips and uvularia with its yellow bell flowers all thank you, or so I declare! Words are magic.

Emily Barton

has a new book. The Book of Esther. I'm not going to read it until later because I have a golem idea for a story, but I am going to get it to save. Here's a wonderful review that starts with the line, "In her third novel, brainy and ebulliently eloquent Barton (Brookland, 2006) tells the story of a Jewish Joan of Arc on the forbidding steppes between the Black and Caspian Seas."

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Brazil interview for Maze of Blood

Art by Clive Hicks-Jenkins.
Design by Mary-Frances Glover Burt.
Mercer, fall 2015

Suzanne Brazil interviewed me about Maze of Blood for Women Writers, Women's Books. And as she did when interviewing me when Glimmerglass appeared, she asked interesting questions. You can find the brand new interview here. (See the note about Suzanne at the foot of the interview--she's a busy lady.) Thank you to Suzanne!

Interview for Maze of Blood at Women Writers, Women's Books

Interview for Glimmerglass at Blogcritics part one and part two 
or The Seattle Post-Intelligencer part one and part two

Art, Clive Hicks-Jenkins
Design, Mary-Frances Glover Burt

Monday, May 09, 2016

Childishness and complexities and culture

Johanna Basford page from her Colouring Gallery,
colored by Philip
The invention of Mother's Day

Sunday was pleasant, with flowers and chocolates and a necklace so pretty it could have been a flower--most of all, a dinner with my husband and sons (our daughter was off in Montreal.) The familiar rumor is that Hallmark invented Mother's Day, but in fact it was a daughter, Anna Jarvis, who eventually attacked the commercialization of the holiday and thought that tributes should be heartfelt and homemade. No doubt she would have disapproved of my gifts, though perhaps not of Sunday dinner; I enjoyed my day, mainly because my sons came out to celebrate.

(Side note: Are there any great poems about mothers? Poems by Heaney and Plath and Poe and more, surely, come to mind. I think of Yeats's worn mothers, their daughters with ribbons in their hair--the mothers can't warn or fix a thing! If you like some poem about a mother, please leave the title and author.)

But Anna Jarvis brings up the idea that so often what starts out as a lovely thing becomes co-opted and degraded, doesn't it? And that goes for every little wisp and strand of culture.


Currently I am listening to two books I've read before, The Woman in White or Kidnapped, when I fold laundry (one of my least-favorite things to do.) In Kidnapped, I'm just up to the point where David Balfour must defend his life for the first time. And I'm thinking about how different the book is from popular young adult books of our own day, though it has adventure and a teen protagonist. David Balfour begins as a very adult sort of child who has already suffered losses and is seen off in the world by the kindly Mr. Campbell, minister of Essendean. He goes off on foot to find the House of Shaws. He is no fool and does not trust his Uncle Ebenezer, but his downfall comes when he persuades himself that his uncle may mean some degree of good to him--even though his uncle tried to kill him earlier by sending him up rotten tower stairs in the dark--and he also feels a desire to step on board a ship. David suffers both physically and mentally for indulging his desire and distrusting his own instincts. Quite soon he faces another situation where he must assess right and wrong and make a moral, high-cost decision about whom to support and whether to be brave, and he sides with the outnumbered Alan Breck Stewart, even though he fears that it may cost his life and even though Stewart is a Jacobite, while David is a Whig. But it is a giant leap into adulthood, where David opposes the child-killing Shuan and the ongoing evil of Captain Hoseason.

The horror of what he has been forced to do in the battle of the roundhouse wrings David's heart, but Alan Breck Stewart is full of frolic and poetry. It is Alan who is the child, and David who is full of civilized unrest and regret and grief. And I'm looking forward to "the flight in the heather," which no less a stylist than Henry James admired. Up ahead in the tale, things become quite murky, and it's difficult to sort the moral threads, and to know exactly what Alan Breck Stewart is, and whether he is on the side of right and the angels or not. The moral crux cut through by love in Kidnapped is as fundamental to the book as the one in that other great boys' book, Huckleberry Finn.

Stevenson in a modest mode, to James, 1884
I am rejoiced indeed to hear you speak so kindly of my work; rejoiced and surprised. I seem to myself a very rude, left-handed countryman; not fit to be read, far less complimented, by a man so accomplished, so adroit, so craftsmanlike as you. You will happily never have cause to understand the despair with which a writer like myself considers (say) the park scene in Lady Barberina. Every touch surprises me by its intangible precision; and the effect when done, as light as syllabub, as distinct as a picture, fills me with envy. Each man among us prefers his own aim, and I prefer mine; but when we come to speak of performance, I recognise myself, compared with you, to be a lout and slouch of the first water.
We could use such "a lout and a slouch." It's like thinking of Auden on vacation, learning Icelandic.

Complexities and the adult

I'm thinking about Stevenson in the light of Susan Nieman's article about the infantilization of Western culture.
Each of us has to take some responsibility for this collective madness. As individuals, we are scared to read “difficult” books or attempt other challenging activities. As the Enlightenment’s two greatest philosophers, Rousseau and Kant, argued, growing up is a challenge.

Real adult activity takes effort and often courage. Colouring in someone else’s designs is always easier than making your own, just as forming your own opinions – after gathering and weighing information – is always harder than parroting other people’s views. This is why Kant wrote that thinking for oneself is the key to growing up. 
The moral complexity of the relationship between Balfour and Stewart: is it equaled in our "young adult" novels? According to Nieman, more than half of the young adult books sold are sold to adults, and most of those report buying them to read themselves. In a world awash in Marvel hero movies, infinite games, artists who can't paint or sculpt, writers who want to shock an unshockable world with heightened sex and violence, and coloring books for adults, do we even desire morally complex relationships in any kind of novel? Does anyone care if entertainment wrestles art to the ground and skips away triumphant?

All of this leads me to conclude that I am really a minor character in Gawain and the Green Knight, unseen, occasionally bringing out a serving dish but mostly scribbling in a back room by the fire, leaves in my hair. I send you greetings from the leafing castle.

More from Basford's gallery of fans.
Colored by Lynn Lamont
with Staedtler Noris Club pencils.

Friday, May 06, 2016

Dolls are strange

Poem by, well, me.
From The Throne of Psyche. Mercer, 2011.
Video by Paul Digby.
What a quirky thing!

Monday, May 02, 2016

Another thing I liked--

a Pegasus for poetry
If you write poetry or love to read poetry, you might like to read this Paris Review interview with the late Peter Levi (1931-2000), poet and writer and classics scholar, a Jesuit priest for 29 years, and one of those lucky souls elected Oxford Professor of Poetry. I read it last night (hat tip to A. M. Juster) and then again this morning. It is long and crammed with interesting talk about his life and poetry, and it's opinionated enough that a reader finds points of disagreement--that's part of what makes it so interesting. Now I think that I would like to read something of his. (Via twitter, editor John Wilson tells me that the Brigid Allen biography of Peter Levi is quite good.) Here are a few samples that by no means exhaust what is curious or compelling in the interview (The Art of Poetry, no. 24):


George Seferis in a diary speaks of life, without writing poems, as a disorder. I remember thinking when I read that first, it’s the opposite. Poems are a disorder. However necessary and desirable, however protecting the survival of the brute life of childhood, a disorder. But now after a long time of not writing poems, I see he’s right. Without writing one just piles up like heaps of leaves. One doesn’t know what is happening or who one is. And soon one will not dare ask, perhaps, any honest question. Or worse, one may stumble unguarded on some honest answer. Because there is no way of knowing the implications of feeling, except of precise feeling, of something quite exact, as happens in a poem. It is as if poetry were a continual whale spouting or breathing. And yet this is not why one writes poetry. One writes it because of the things themselves, and the words themselves, and the people themselves.


He makes a kind of compelling noise, doesn’t he? He’s the ancient mariner all right. Yeats worked from notes too. One of the most impressive things that I know about him comes from his notebooks. He writes out in prose several times, beginnings for a poem. He starts out by saying: “I have often taken off my clothes, both fast and slowly, for this or that woman.” He goes on in that boring, silly old man’s way. Very embarrassing. And then, do you know what the first lines of that poem are?

That is no country for old men. The young 
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees

It makes me cry it’s so beautiful. If you’re a poet, when you start to write, then you are serious. Or you’d better be. None of us can be serious all the time. To be serious in that sense requires a lot of things, such as being relaxed beforehand, things like love and generosity, and discipline, and a sufficient degree of venom. Self-hatred, love of others, hatred of others . . . all these things you need . . . whatever is the right mixture for you.


You can drive out bad writing by good writing only because the public reads your works and not the other works. Therefore it’s the readers who do it, not the writer. Language lives in the mouth.