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Saturday, December 29, 2018

At the threshold of years: a few resolutions

Caspar David Friedrich, A Dreamer
Wikipedia Commons

Merry 5th day of Christmas and Happy New Year,
with some thoughts, hopes, and plans for the coming year...
  • Turn in two final book manuscripts.
  • Continue running the Christ Church Cooperstown women's group another year--next up, a book discussion about the curious medieval document, The Cloude of Unknowyng. (Last year, there was one book event--Buechner's Godric.) Figure out some more wild outings and events and workshops, often arts-related.
  • Send out at least one poetry manuscript. 
  • Do some work for Fr. James Krueger's meditation retreat Mons Nubifer Sanctus in Lake Delaware with my friend Laurie, now that we're both on the board.
  • Read more. 2018 was a bad year for reading because I was stretched a bit too thin. I want to read more classical writers and also some of the early Christian mystical writers. More poetry and stories. And the stack of unread novels.
  • Make like a tree and put forth green leaves. Drink from deep sources.
  • Work on that odd idea for a new novel. Secret, of course.
  • Improve my health to avoid losing months to illness...
  • Skip blurbing other people's books for at least a year (because I couldn't manage those commitments in 2018.)
  • Keep up with volunteering because that is, well, right. (If you're not entirely happy with your life, try volunteering in various sorts of places--you find out that you receive a great deal more than you give.)
  • Mess around with collecting the stories.
  • Remember love one another, and that I can't transform the world but can be transformed--and that such a thing does budge the world a tiny bit. We are each rather tiny...
  • Be a responsive mother, wife, daughter, friend. That's a goal for every year.
  • Be grateful that I live in a warm house in a cold climate, that the lights and plumbing work, that peace mostly reigns in my country, and that I manage to keep getting requests for book manuscripts even though I haven't bent the knee to the gods of publishing and marketing in the various helpful but unclean ways possible.
  • Prune my book collection so that the second story of my 1808 house doesn't fall into the first, organize my manuscripts, and clean my hodgepodge writing room.
  • Don't run after what the culture declares as valuable. Sink into what matters and what lasts.
  • Laugh and be joyful. Frolic with that curious secret society known under various names, including The Bread and Cheese Club.
  • Don't ever tell your deepest, most glowing resolutions in such a silly thing as a blog post!
Make liminal wishes...

Monday, December 24, 2018

Besançon Christmas

Happy Christmas Eve... 
Joseph tends the baby (i.e. the teeny-weeny Word or Logos) 
while Mary reads the Word; 
the pure and impure animals are joined in the pen, 
and the ass is munching on Joseph's halo! 
From the 15th century Besançon Book of Hours. 
French, vellum.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Revelator, etc.

Have to admit that I was surprised by the huge numbers of people who wanted to weigh in on what my author picture should be... so many bossy, nosy, imaginative, funny people, particularly via facebook but also in other places. So here is another chance if you feel like being a smart-aleck or keen-eyed or wise judge: Marly at 65 board. I need one for a novel, one for a book of poems.


News of the moment: you can read a piece of my fiction, "Prospero's Island," at the new Big Apple issue of Revelator Magazine, brainchild of Eric Schaller and Matt Cheney. And you can read one of my poems as well--"The White Orchard." So you could have Miranda and Caliban and Prospero and Isaac Newton on this lovely winter's day... Plus a lot of other interesting work by Richard Bowes, Craig Gidney, Chad Wood, and more. (Even Old Ezra!)


Laptop still in agonies... Let's just hope the Time Machine releases all my files on a repaired or new laptop by the middle of next week... Otherwise I will spend the next few years typing manuscripts!

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Laptop gave up the electronic ghost last night. Hoping for mechanical resurrection in a week or thereabouts. Until then, read a book! xo

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Book-and-birthday headshots...

Here are some possible book jacket headshots taken by my daughter on my Thanksgiving (every seven years!) birthday last Thursday. She likes the unsmiling one best... What would you pick (given the basic materials of over-the-hill moi, of course)? It's the naked-face (bit of lipstick) and undyed-hair of me. You can see my flying eyebrow in all three. Editor John Wilson once told me that half my face was like that of the nice lady in line behind him at the post office, and the other half belonged to a poet or a murderer. Writers are murderers of a sort. But the look--that's the work of The Wayward Eyebrow.

That was a big-number birthday! To celebrate, we had the full complement of five, plus the every-surprising and wonderfully dangerous-to-breakables Campbell Higle (who crocheted me a giant chicken! Chickens loom large!) A grand Michael-made feast with many festive bottles of champagne was had, followed by much stellar pie. I leaped with great abandon from my I.F.-and-keto w.o.e. (gotta love those acronyms) onto Thanksgiving carbs and sugars.

Then we went off to New York the next morning--my husband, me, and our youngest, who managed to pick up a g.i. bug and retch for much of the first night. Nooo! We felt ill but not quite as ill as he did. So we didn't accomplish quite as much as planned. Still, we tromped all over Manhattan to stare at extravagant Christmas windows; wandered St. Patrick's for the length of a service (the contrast between the cathedral and the theatrical show lights and brightly-colored shopping-ecstasy windows at Saks Fifth Avenue next door is quite something); shopped the Christmas Market at Bryant Park (we were staying near 8th and 37th, so that was convenient for persons not feeling so well); and ducked out of the rain to eat at Arva (Arva Madison Estiatorio on 60th--quite good.) And nobody tossed his cookies while out, which was a kind of victory, though I expect it happens fairly frequently in the city. (Confession: I once threw up in some tiny, extraordinarily well-groomed bushes next to a bunch of talkative missionaries on a street corner in Tokyo, but nobody even noticed.)

On Sunday, my fellas were set to see the Patriots (the youngest being a fan) beat the Jets (the unfortunate Jets!) Meanwhile I walked down to Central Park and then the Met to stare at the marvelous Armenia show--I tend to be drawn magnetically to the Medieval galleries there, so it was wonderful to see a very different Medieval world. Then I paid a bit of obeisance to the Dutch Masters show (Vermeer! Rembrandt!) and visited the angel tree in the Medieval rooms, along with some of my favorite pieces there, before walking around the park and heading back (lugging some very big books because I find it hard to leave the Met without art books.) Walked to the hotel, stopped to pick up a few Christmas presents along the way, and then gathered some more gifts and wonderful hot chili-chocolate at the Christmas Market.

Later, it was decided that a glittering night promenade across the Brooklyn Bridge enticed--that and pizza at Mr. Patsy Grimaldi's restaurant afterward. It was called Patsy's when I was there last, back in 2000 (or thereabouts) but now it is Julianna's. But Mr. Grimaldi himself showed us to our seats, and the pizzas were just as splendid as before. Our youngest was riding in an umbrella stroller the last time we crossed the bridge and hunted for Patsy's; now he is 21.

What a lovely birthday it was...

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Rollipoke News no. 8: Secrets and Glimmerglass Film Days

A mystery photo from The Rollipoke News, no. 8

All you Rollipokers, the newsletter goes out today... with some news about a ms. of formal poems, a forthcoming poetry book, a forthcoming novel, and a film option. And an account of the frolicsome past weekend with filmmakers, film subjects, and a photographer. If you're not on the list of subscribers and would like to be, look in the right-hand column for sign-up. Or jump here.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Shop. Vote. Don't forget to be human.

After the Election. Ink on archival panel card, 5" x 7."
© 2017 Mary Boxley Bullington, all rights reserved.
See more of Mary's work here.
And if you are going to be in or near Roanoke this fall,
be sure and attend her open studio!

* * * * *

Read the preface (nobody does, when it's a book!)

I'm not paying the least attention to whose ideas are best in my singular, possibly eccentric mind and in this post, partly because I don't think writers have any business dictating to others, partly because I choose to trust you to have some well-formed ideas, and partly because what I am interested in here is the decline in our ability to see others as human beings worthy of respect and interesting in their own right. This is, naturally, of a matter of intimate concern to me as a novelist and poet.

* * * * *

Shop. Vote. Don't forget to be human.
Also: thinking like a writer.

I’ve been thinking about the loud controversies of late and the various ways we Americans have changed the meaning of our identity as human beings. An American man or woman shopping at the mall is human—that’s a given, right? A consumer is important; is human. A voter is human, but these days it is only if he or she believes the same things we do and trusts in the same proper steps to transform the country (rather than some other, surely evil steps) and so votes for “our” party. The ideal of respect (sadly, not always fulfilled over the centuries) for one another is in pronounced abeyance. That’s natural, of course, because the ideas that the image of God shines through all mortal flesh is dead in what is essentially a post-Christian society.

In the states, we are all well aware (though we often don’t give a hoot because we are grossly, madly addicted to mall-going and such) that we are interchangeable moving parts in the complicated, well-oiled machine of the economic shopping machine. In great part, we mean in this country because we shop. I shop, therefore I am. Likewise, we are tiny parts in the voting apparatus, continually pestered to think according to correct party lines. If we are too young to shop or vote or too ill or decrepit, we just don’t matter much to the system—we’re not quite human, and others decide what to do about us.

But this is wholly wrong, isn’t it? We have forgotten what it is to be human if we believe that either consuming or voting correctly grounds us and makes us human, much less fully human (another large question!) But that akilter definition of the human is the strong impression one gets from vocal campus outbursts and the standard media and the blizzard of advertising tumbling around us….

As a writer with a dislike of malls and distrust of politicians, I have a distaste for these trends and tendencies. No wonder ideals of goodness, truth, and beauty have been shunted off to a corner. No wonder many post-post-modernist practitioners of what's called (or used to be called) fine arts resist all three. And what of story in the current milieu? To believe that only one sort of thinking and action is acceptable (a thing that a thousand thousand memes tell us, though they do not agree on what sort it is) is the death of the novel. An insistence on conformity kills story. Examples of writers apologizing for their words are on the increase. Novels have been cancelled by publishers for violating correctness. Groupthink? Maybe we'll get some good satire.

To attempt to enforce a set of proper ideas—even if and when they happen to look like pretty good ideas—onto all people is simply the death of narrative. Novels and narrative poems need varied, surprising sorts of human beings to propel them, and the writer needs to respect and fully know the peculiar depths of each one of them, no matter what characters believe, how they vote, or whether they "shop till they drop" or tilt against the system with all their tiny might. A novelist needs to love a whole world of people. She needs to be large, to contain multitudes, to be myriad-minded.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Washington's "Letter to the Hebrew Congregations of Newport, Rhode Island"

Nearly thirty years have passed since I visited Touro Synagogue; I was packed full of life at the time, younger, nearly nine months pregnant with my first child. This morning I heard (hat tip to Fr. Dane Boston) part of George Washington's letter to the Jewish congregation at Touro and found it beautiful and moving. Touro still holds its precious letter from George Washington, in which he embraces all in liberty and hopes that we citizens will walk in light and be useful, "with none to make him afraid." It is a fine thing for us to read today. We all know why; today Pittsburgh is near us all, and the Tree of Life Synagogue still stands in its midst. The taste of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is on our tongues. We have once again (again!) lost a portion of our brothers and sisters to evil acts.

Yet the ideal, perfect Tree of Life still flourishes--the tree that is rooted to so many true and good and beautiful concepts, that has sprung up as multi-layered symbol and a source of flowing life in many cultures. Tree of Life is a not uncommon name for synagogues because, root and branch, it is tied to Eden, to God, to the beginning and to the end, to the Torah, to rabbinic writings, and to that lovely, hard-won substance, wisdom.

Here is the letter, worthy of being a leaf on the marvelous Tree.

* * *
 Source, photographs on this page:                    


While I received with much satisfaction your address replete with expressions of esteem, I rejoice in the opportunity of assuring you that I shall always retain grateful remembrance of the cordial welcome I experienced on my visit to Newport from all classes of citizens.

The reflection on the days of difficulty and danger which are past is rendered the more sweet from a consciousness that they are succeeded by days of uncommon prosperity and security.

If we have wisdom to make the best use of the advantages with which we are now favored, we cannot fail, under the just administration of a good government, to become a great and happy people.

The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy—a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.

It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

It would be inconsistent with the frankness of my character not to avow that I am pleased with your favorable opinion of my administration and fervent wishes for my felicity.

May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants—while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.

May the father of all mercies scatter light, and not darkness, upon our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in His own due time and way everlastingly happy.

G. Washington

* * *

In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. -- Revelation 22:2 (KJV)

Friday, October 26, 2018

The dead man in the huckleberries

Source: CNN, courtesy Scott Mitchell Leen, Chihuly Studio

Travel and illness are both estranging, and I've managed quite enough of both of late. Yesterday I felt like myself again and promptly wrote a poem about a visit to the Chihuly show at the Vanderbilt estate, Biltmore. I found this surprising because I no longer write many poems where the "I" is so clearly related to me. Lately I've written two long series of poems that ostensibly have nothing at all to do with my days, though of course that's a feint, a bull's red flag, a dropped handkerchief. Maybe the little poem was just grounding me--hey, I'm back in my life!

After that, I worked on a forthcoming novel. I had a dead man to tote to another part of the manuscript, and then I--poof!--turned a long passage of description into a scene starring the main character interacting with various things, including the hair of that aforesaid dead man.

The dead are heavy but portable. Sometimes they make more sense in one place than another. This is true in life also, but we don't get to choose. Although I do know a few people who carry around the dead in urns. On a mantlepiece, the dead are strangely magnetic. They provide a kind of focus to a room. Not the fashionable kind that house decorators desire... This seems wrong, of course. The dead are already magnetic without being physically present in a room. They follow us whether we will or no. They crowd around as we grow older. We ignore them most of the time, but now and then one becomes vivid.

Here they are, getting in the way of my blog post.

Possibly signaling for attention?

This morning I shall go take a look at my dead man, lying where I planted him in a patch of huckleberries, somewhere in the northern precincts of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. If he is not content to lie there, perhaps I shall move him again.

* * * * *

Despite getting so little work done (North Carolina, hurricane Florence, northern New York, a retreat at Mons Nubifer Sanctus, etcetera), I have a number of pieces of good book or book-related news but shall save them until some time after the next Rollipoke goes out, as Rollipokers get the news first--that's the deal. So if you're the sort of person who likes to be on tenterhooks, go right ahead.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The Marly has been indisposed with an unpleasant malady. Back, she hopes, in a week.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Image at Trip Advisor:
a corner of Oaks Gallery at the Riverwood Shops in Dillsboro,
owned by Bob Leveille and Susan Morgan Leveille. 
Mea culpa

I have barely returned from three weeks in North Carolina with my mother (yes, the timing seems, given hurricane Florence, just a little odd, though the mountains did not suffer the disastrous havoc of the coast and piedmont) So my blog and my blog readers, I have neglected you. And I am soon to go on another trip. But after that I will be home for a while and send out a Rollipoke and give some attention to my blog and pay a few social calls to other bloggers.

What I did in North Carolina, for the curious:

Ate prodigious quantities of hoppin' John and okra; stayed on the mountaintop and had good views of ranges, clouds, storms, pelting rain (thank you, cruel Lady Florence, for the mercy that we did not need an ark at our end of the state); enjoyed walks in the mountains; was rained on mightily at times but stared at three splendiferous rainbows; went to the Chihuly glass show in the Biltmore Estate gardens and pools and afterward toured the Vanderbilt house once again; hung out with the Cullowhee Baptists on Sunday with my mother; toured the Nature Center and then hiked at the Highlands Biological Station (saw the fabulous mountain bog in lovely fall bloom, all lilies and jewelweed and grass of Parnassus and more); scurried to the Farmers Market for more okra (repeat, repeat); searched for monarchs over about sixty scrumptious miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway with my mother and my eldest son who unexpectedly popped down for a visit (too early for monarchs, as we thought); visited with friends including the wonderful weaver Susan Morgan Leveilledrove the Cherohala Skyway; toured the arts fair at the Jackson County Green Energy Park; watched glass blowers making their glory-hole magic; went to inspect the elk and hike at Oconaluftee in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park; rambled around the North Carolina Arboretum with my son while my mother did her volunteering (and there we did see one, two, three monarchs and loads of swallowtails and fritillaries and sulphurs at the Patchwork Garden.)

Enough? That's all I conjure at this instant but there was more...

Be sure and hit the link to Susan Morgan Leveille; her family has been crucial to the resurgence of crafts in the western region, and she is a North Carolina Heritage Award winner. That's a very big deal in the state, and if you have a yen for anything woven, I recommend her. She has been weaving since she was six. Or maybe it was five... Her work is very fine, and she does take commissions as well. Susan also teaches (my mother has taken a number of classes from her) at the Penland School of Crafts in Spruce Pine, the John C. Campbell Folk School at Brasstown, various other places, and in her own Dillsboro. If you are in the area, stop by her Oaks Gallery, also in Dillsboro. (The link in the article is no longer correct, but the one I included here will give you a picture of what is on offer.)

Read over a bowl of matcha this morning

"If we knew a little more of Shakespeare's self and circumstance how much more complete the Sonnets would be to us, how their strange, torn edges would be softened and merged into a whole body!" --D. H. Lawrence, preface to the Collected Poems of 1928

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Story's freedom

The quote below was trawled from a youtube podcast advertised as discussing, among other things, "the effect that a new ideological thinking is having on art and literature." As that is an interesting subject for a writer, I listened. If you want to listen, go here.
Tim Lott: As a novelist, I've got to be allowed to be wrong without being accused of being twenty-seven different things [i.e. racist, sexist, transphobic, etc.]... I've got to have my characters express the way real people are... 
I can't just say this is the way they should be because that's the death of literature, and that's why literature and the arts in Russia died the moment the Communists took over from a wonderful, rich history of literature and art: suddenly [claps hands] dead.  
* * *

Art: I can't find much about this oil-on-canvas painting, but it's by René de Groux (Belgian, 1888-1953.) And I can't find much about the painter, either!

Thursday, August 09, 2018

I'll be reading my friend Jeffery Beam's poem "An Invocation" (from Skysill Press's Gospel Earth) at 7:30 p.m., "Ensembles Large and Small from the Glimmerglass Festival Orchestra Cherry Valley Star Theatre: Artworks Concert Series August 12" and at "The Pierstown Grange Presents: The Annual Florence High Memorial Chamber Music Concert August 13, 7:30 pm Chamber Music presented by members of the Glimmerglass Festival Orchestra." 

Locals, get a little bit of North Carolina in your week--see y'all there!

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

Happy 4th of July!

Jean Leon Gerome Ferris, "Betsy Ross 1777."
Wikipedia, public domain image.
Shown: General Washington with child at left, Robert Morris,
George and Betsy Ross. His name? Ferris's father was a portrait painter
who was an admirer of Jean-Léon Gérôme's artistry.
 The son, Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1863-1930), is best known
for a series of 78 paintings drawn from American history,
The Pageant of a Nation.
About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful. It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers.  --Calvin Coolidge, from a speech on the 150th anniversary of The Declaration of Independence at

Monday, July 02, 2018

Empire of Jargon

Anton Chekhov
The title of doctor, nurse, technician all disappeared, and we all became providers. All those patients in our waiting room suddenly became consumers or clients. My grandfather ran a grocery store and had a lot of customers, and my father was a lawyer and had a lot of clients. None of those customers or clients would come to see me as their doctor with their illnesses today if I were a provider. The use of the terminology of “providers” and “customers” lowers all health care staff to the lowest common denominator and demeans the concerns of my patients.
When I sit in my examining room across the desk from my patient I face a human being who has come to see me as a doctor because they’re in search of the treatment of a real illness or concern. --Sidney Goldstein, M. D.
These issues are not unique to doctors, alas; administration burgeons in many places (universities and hospitals leading the way), and administrators are prone to an only-too-understandable postmodern confusion about what is meaningful and who is doing the essential work. This interesting tendency allows them to put administrators first, to eliminate meeting spaces that once belonged to doctors, to increase demands for paperwork so that there is less time for face-to-face communication between doctor and patient, etc. As a poet and novelist married to a physician, I see many changes in how medicine is practiced but also detect parallel changes in my own realm. In mine, the canon of great literature is abolished, all writing is "product" on a "platform," the strength of the writing is no longer uppermost in the minds of publishers, and the idea of a publisher supporting a writer's ongoing work is increasingly absent. In both fields, tradition and the opportunity for plain old human warmth continue to be on the wane.

Monday, June 25, 2018

The Wilder Flap

My husband's maternal grandmother and her parents were half Akwesasne Mohawk and half French Canadian. Nevertheless, Michael's North Country Gram found it in her to complain about tourists who were "so damn French they can't speak English!" It didn't slow her much. Gram was the most talkative woman I have ever known, and the most opinionated, and the quickest to complain to town officials about what she did not approve. She was the most lively person in a clan divided between the reservation and the nearby town, and I still think of her often.

Although Michael has never in any way attempted to use a thread of native ancestry for gain, he has rather enjoyed the idea that he might be related to Kateri Tekakwitha. Come winter, the Roman Catholic saint used to chop a hole in the Raquette River and plunge into the icy waters. Now that's mortifying the flesh in the morning. Now that'll startle the Jesuits!

Human beings of all stripes were tougher back then, it seems. When Mohawks chewed off the fingertips of Isaac Jogues, he sailed back to the Old World to have what was left of his fingers blessed by the pope, so that he could administer the Eucharist. Then he sailed back to the New World because he wasn't done carrying the gospel to the Iroquois. They eventually killed him, of course. Those who chewed and those who were chewed in those times seem considerably more robust and earthy than we expect. The Association of Library Service to Children would probably say that their "legacy is complex" and "not universally embraced." They might like to clean up history and de-access any book touching on those topics because history is so dratted bloody and messy and unjust, and people in various eras have opinions shaped by their own times, culture, and experience.

The latest literary flap is the removal of the name of Laura Ingalls Wilder from the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award by The Association of Library Service to Children board. You might suspect that the new name would be simply Award. But no. The new name is nice and bland: Children’s Literature Legacy Award. This is somewhat surprising because the ALSC appears to be uneasy about the legacy of the past, which is invariably complex and includes thoughts different from and often less acceptable than our own, but all right.

Putting aside any immediate hot-blooded reactions flying around the internets, what are the compelling issues rising from this action? Which are interesting tendencies or problems, whether you agree or whether you disagree with the decision? 1. We are judging the past by our present. Let's try flipping that upside down for a change and see what we learn. 2. The current times will look just as strange and wrong (perhaps even stranger and more ridiculous and wrong--who knows?) to the future as Wilder (i.e. the past) looked to a bunch of librarians determined to do the right thing by children. This is obvious and unavoidable, alas. 3. Jettisoning history and knowledge of how people used to see the world has been tried in the Soviet Union, China, Cambodia, and various other places. It has not proved to be a healthful idea. 4. The bestseller list has often made it extraordinarily clear to us that the "universally embraced" book is not very good. 5. I have noticed that recent college graduates seem to know a minuscule amount of history, including literary history. It seems that English majors can now graduate without knowledge of Shakespeare, Milton, Chaucer, and various other essential writers. Young writers wielding the English language, young writers of all colors and creeds, have a need to stand and dance and frolic on the shoulders of giants, even when they are a.) dead, b.) white, and c.) males. To say nay on this point is to undermine and harm young writers. Words beget words. Great words beget great words. Young writers will take and reject as needed--even rejection is a spur to new words. 6. The fashionable hyper-insistence on saying nothing that could possibly construed as offensive is leading to the destruction of fiction, particularly historical fiction. 7. One of the pleasures of reading older fiction is the dance between past and present. Times change. People change. The difference between times challenges us and is good for us to navigate. 8. Academia is in love with the power of jargon and the altering of names in order to change essentials. 9. A dire need to listen and learn from one another is growing increasingly more obvious. Let's do that. With civility and love for one another.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Clinched: A Talk with Poet Susan Hankla

Pictures show Susan Hankla, Clinch River, the logo for Groundhog Poetry Press,
and R. H. W. Dillard--poet, writer, stellar teacher, leader of the whistle pigs,
and founder of Groundhog Poetry Press.

I am feeling downright happy about the interview with poet Susan Hankla that went up online this week. Susan and I worked hard on it, and we have received a generous response from social media to the interview, including 40+ shares or re-links of my facebook post, along with promises to buy the book and even a promise from a well-known writer to review!

If you haven't heard my bell-ringing and clamoring on this so far, please hear it now and take a look at our discussion. At the bottom of what I think of as an unusually interesting and revelatory interview, you will find some poems from the book.

Thanks to those of you who take a peek. I've wished for Susan to have a full-length book for a very long time and am pleased to support and recommend her poetry collection, Clinch River, available from Groundhog Poetry Press via SPD, or Small Press Distribution.

* * *

Introduction to the interview with some facts about Susan Hankla:

My review of Susan Hankla’s Clinch River in the October 2017 issue of The Hollins Critic begins like this: “I doubt that any other reviewer of Susan Hankla’s first full-length book, Clinch River, has had the great good luck of seeing her, a young woman, dance playfully with an enormous rattlesnake skin. Such is my sparkling luck.” I have known Susan Hankla for decades; she is one of those attractive, special people who spill over with an abundance of life, and it is a great pleasure to question her about her first full-length poetry collection, its poems bound tightly to her growing-up years and to a coal-mining region in the Appalachian South. As I wrote in the close of my review, the poems “tangle coming-of-age stories with hard times in coal country. They juxtapose the girl who cannot leave, clinched by poverty’s snares, with the girl who goes away and can return for the treasure, the gold that lies buried in her childhood: these poems, these golden apples. Take them!”

Clinch River comes to the world from poet R. H. W. Dillard’s Groundhog Poetry Press, a new small press in Roanoke, Virginia. Richard Dillard serves as publisher, editor, designer, compositor warehouse manager, and shipping director for the new poetry press, which is already shipping out its second “suite” of handsomely-designed paperback books. Distribution is through SPD, which already lists Hankla’s book as “recommended” and a poetry bestseller. Having made “not a snobbish decision but a purely practical one,” Richard Dillard is accepting Groundhog poets by invitation only. A well-known and much-admired writer and professor in the undergraduate and M.F.A.program at Hollins, he has no trouble filling his roster of poets.

A Hollins graduate with an M.F.A. from Brown, Susan Hankla previously published a chapbook with Burning Deck Press of Providence. She has appeared in Gargoyle, Beloit Fiction Journal, Michigan Quarterly Review, Blue Mesa, Artemis, Hollins Critic, Open Places, Southern Poetry Review, Poetry Northwest and New Virginia Review. A resident of Richmond, Virginia, she has received a Virginia Commission grant in fiction and fellowships to the Virginia Center for Creative Arts and the Frost Place.

Now read the interview and poems!
Thank you to editor Jean Holzinger....

Sunday, June 03, 2018

Home again--

Pieter Brueghel the Elder,
The Tower of Babel, circa 1563
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.
Public domain usage.

One of many marvelous things seen along the journey...

Just home from Europe early this morning after two full days of being bumped from flights, flight cancellations, delays, and missed connections. I had a wonderful time in Prague, Vienna, Salzburg, and Munich before that, and I will catch up on all things bloggian some time in the next week, after I stop being exhausted and get over the bug I acquired at the close. Friends and passers-by, hope the last few weeks have been sweet to you! Happy to have been away, happy to be home.

detail of The Tower of Babel.
Public domain / Wikipedia.

In several places you can see that the tower is a kind of wrapping around a mountain,
a choice by Brueghel that I think especially interesting, since traditionally a mountain
is the feature where Moses, Christ, and others went to be closer to God. Brueghel takes the
mountain--the natural ladder toward the higher--and transforms it into something
mechanized and belonging to men. Symbolically, then, man transforms the domain of God
into a thing meant to usurp God's prerogatives and tower into the heavens.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Morning thoughts on creation

A good image for a flourishing mind...
by Clive Hicks-Jenkins
for Maze of Blood

One of the stranger things about Genesis is that God is shown making the universe, and at its end the universe is good. In fact, very good. But it's not faultless. Genesis never claims such a thing. The universe is order drawn out of chaos. But it's not order drawn all the way out of chaos.

Without some chaos and change, new things would not rise up as time passes. Evolution would never happen. Some elements of perfection sound very attractive. Volcanoes would not erupt, tsunamis not spill over the earth. We wouldn't have to write books about why bad things happen to good people. Perhaps little would happen to anybody, but the world would be tidy and orderly and safe.

Or perhaps the world would be fully anti-narrative and nothing at all would ever occur. Perfection is static. The order of made things grows out of the soil and ferment of chaos.

A book or a poem (not Creation with a big C but a little-c sub-creation) aspires to perfection, aspires to bring order out of chaos. No one can create perfection, and I imagine a writer might just stop if he or she reached perfection in a work. A book or poem also aspires to do something new in the world, though most stories and poems do not.

And who are the best poems and books for? (Here I am skipping the au courant, the trendy, the passing fancies, the bestseller rages--they have their reward!) Are they written for readers? Not exactly, though words are a siren call sent out to readers who bob by in their little ships. At its best, a poem is made from a springing desire that is beyond words but becomes incarnate in words. A novel or other long work is a mixture of conscious decision and labor and that same springing desire which comes and goes like a will o' the wisp.

The new small-c creation may find readers if the work is good or very good but also if the work has luck and a push toward visibility. Then reader and the writer may at last unite, the reader creating in mind a singular, personal version of the work...

Monday, May 07, 2018

A capital choice

The three poetry books
shown on this post all have
jacket art by painter
Clive Hicks-Jenkins of Wales.
My poetry books are Claire, Thaliad, The Foliate 
Head, The Throne of Psyche, and...
a still-secret one, coming out late this year.
Don't skip the preface...

I should preface this little explanation by noting the simple fact that I have many poet friends who write in very different ways from me--who have entirely different ideas about lines and form and poems. And that's fine.

I like many different sorts of books and poems. But I hold that each writer must decide on the building blocks of writing for his or her own work.

* * *

A capital choice

This morning I received a fat paper letter from a writer and friend--it's so marvelous to get a letter on paper! The internet has swept away such things, except for those who rebel against its winding tentacles, its sneaking power. Luckily, I know such persons.

And one of the things he asked me was why I capitalize the start of lines in poetry. It's an excellent question because I started out as a good pupil and inheritor of Modernism, only using a capital letter when beginning a poem or after a period mark. Back then, I accepted the idea that the practice of using capitals at the start of a line was out-dated, artificial, and peculiar in a modern/postmodern context. It still looks peculiar because almost everybody else in the realm of poetry today does as I once did, even those who are obsessed with that weirdly freeing practice, formal poetry.

Why did I stop?

Part of the answer lies in my semi-abandonment of free verse. I say semi- because I recently wrote a whole manuscript of poems that most people would call free verse, though they are heavily influenced by certain Yoruban and ancient Hebrew structures.

The more I moved into forms, the more compelling I found them--the more I liked the way form dislodges this poet from her own limited thoughts. Rhyme can nudge a poet right out of the grooves of where-she-intended-to-go and into surprise. Meter makes the writer consider more closely how to handle the line, how to fit words and thoughts into units of rhythm.

Modernism is packed with theories and statements about poetic line, many having to do with breath, though in reality a great many poets just go by the slippery judgment of what feels like a rightness. (I should say that the work of the first Modernists reveals their own sharp understanding of meter, sound, and shape even when dismantling the old order in free verse.) Unfortunately, not everybody is equal in the matter of poetic rightnesses, as Wallace Stevens called that act of the mind that seeks perfection in freedom. Many poets seem to break unthinkingly at syntactical units or occasionally to make a kind of pun by stopping the line with what seems a complete thought that is then transformed by the next word on the next line. (I've done both of those things in the course of many years of writing poems.) A lot of free verse contains words that appear lonely and slack, abandoned on a line. Not all, of course, but some of recent poetry simply isn't interesting in a line by line consideration. (I'll get to disjunction and fragmentation later.)

Now you may say that a poem is not simply lines but is a whole--just as a novel had better be more than well-crafted sentences and yet sometimes is not much more than pretty sentences--and that is true. Nevertheless, I want the cake and the eating at once; I want good lines and good poems, or at least the best that I can make.

For me, a capital letter at the start of a line frames the line, separates the line, and forces the writer to think about the whole with its relationship to the part in a more focused way. To pluck an image from Modernism, it is like a tiny Joseph Cornell box; it needs a certain richness of sound and meaning, even when spare. Like meter and like rhyme, this framing of the line is yet another form of discipline that I set as a bulwark against the an era in which the short, self-focused lyric has dominated to the point of banishing poetic drama, long narrative, and a whole wide range of once-useful poetic modes. (Although I simply woke one day with it already in my head, Thaliad must also be part of my own rebellion against such a narrowing of poetry.)

In my own writing, I'm not attracted by the syntactical shiftings and disconnections that provide an uneasy order to so many lyrics, often suggested as the natural result of the disjunctions and chaos of "today's world"; I'm concerned with a wholeness and clarity constructed from well-made parts. Whether or not I succeed, the framing of the line makes me more conscious of those parts, sets up a demand that each one work and be worthy. That desire and ideal may or may not be fulfilled. In saying that each line must be worthy, I'm talking about revision because I tend to be an instinctual writer who composes in a sort of tempestuous flood that afterward I inspect and tame as needed, building little weirs and channels.

The capital-letter frame device emphasizes and makes conscious the fact that the riverine path of a poem is spilling through shapes, through lines, that it must flow forward in meaning while falling through each level or line. Why do I desire flowing sense? Why don't I want for my own poems any marked disconnection or scrambled syntax? To me, postmodern modes of discontinuity seem exhausted, vampire-long in the tooth, gone gray-haired or bald. For others, what I see as an ancient trendiness is alive rather than musty, but for me it feels of little use in making a poem.

Moreover, all poets (no matter what sort of poem they choose to write) are aware that such a way of making poems has alienated and still alienates readers who are not poets. It deliberately destroys many of the purposes that are at the heart of poems, which at their start appear to have been oral gifts made by some sort of bard who sang or recited his own or handed-down poems to other people. And I do like, indeed love, to have a range of readers, even though Modernism and its aftershocks have done their best to make poets the primary readers of poets.

My altered preference also stems from writing novels, and perhaps I never would have embraced capitals at the start of lines and many other elements if I had not started to write fiction. My first long fiction--the novella Little Jordan--lacked causality. Back then, I had been persuaded that plot was artificial. But I soon became fond of propulsion, which has an awful lot to do with causality and, hence, plot. I reached a point where I wanted my novels to be as much like novels as they could be, whatever that meant. And what it meant was a thing I wanted to find out for myself.

The counterpoint to that desire was to wish for my poems to be as much like poems as they could be. And that meant going forward by diving back into the tradition because many of the contemporary poets I read appeared to be descended not from the tradition of poetry but from a narrow part of the prose tradition. But I wanted to be a child of poetry. I wanted to come close to singing in my words, and I wanted to be dramatic. Old forms, old techniques, old tropes, old sources of drama: I wanted to make them new for myself. I wanted their strength. I wanted to stand tiptoe on bigger shoulders than my own.

Adding a capital at the start of the line was one of my later choices and a part of the idea of making my poems as much like poems as they could be. And one of the great differences between poetry and prose is that prose is made of sentence units, and poetry is made of line units. To have an initial capital at the start of the line is to insist on and claim with fierceness the line as the unit of poetry, whereas much contemporary poetry says that the sentence or the isolate, broken phrase is the unit of poetry.

Like every obsessed writer, I have made my many choices. Long ago, when such jobs were hard to obtain, I gave up a tenured job to write, to escape from a realm where poets were part of and supported by the many-tentacled system of academia. Since then, writers have made most of their income and their useful connections in academia, so it was a bad decision in a worldly sense--a bad decision in terms of worldly success and support from the system. But I persist in thinking it was the right sacrifice for a poet and writer. Outside those bounds, I have worked and groped and thought my way, making books as I felt it best. Whether I have made my choices rightly or wrongly is not for me to say. But it is essential for me as that odd creature called a writer to have made them. For a writer, for a poet, it is essential to know and follow and sometimes change those choices. That little, seemingly-wrong choice of the initial capital is, for me, one of many decisions that have made me the sort of writer I am.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Oh, for the language of birds!

I also would like to learn the language of birds.
People in fairy tales sometimes have the luck of it.
(Illumination by Clive Hicks-Jenkins
for Glimmerglass.)
I've never spoke a second language well, though I'm perfectly willing to give the thing a go when I only have a couple of pages of phrases mastered. So in Cambodian, I spoke a little Khmer / Cambodian, and in Thailand, some Thai. One thing that surprised me in Cambodia is that absolutely everybody seemed to be learning English in order to to better themselves, and so I could have conversations where I inflicted Khmer on people while they tried out English on me. Great fun, much laughter. In Japan, I expected everyone would know English, but only a very few did, especially on Sado Island, but I managed enough Japanese (thank you to my daughter, whose love for all things Japanese meant she could critique my pronunciation) to have odd little conversations and laugh with strangers. In Paris, my schoolgirl French, mostly forgotten, had a tiny revival. And for a trip to Chile, Peru, and Mexico, I had no time at all to study, so listened to recordings the day before and took a list of phrases with me. It's surprising how much communication is possible with fifty phrases and a little boldness and rhythm-mimicry. I did take a little Russian in school (from a colorful White Russian woman who adored the class members so much she didn't push us) but have forgotten it, just as much as I forgot the French or more--and I've never been to Russia. When the the eventual next trip comes along, I'll need a smattering of German, and maybe another language.

My lightly-considered opinion of my brain on the language-learning front is that I don't have a fabulous memory but I'm pretty good with sounds (well, excluding the impossible, twisty language of Wales!) and with picking up vocabulary. I don't retain if I don't continue laboring at it, though. That pesky memory at work...

But I would like to know a second language well, and think I will start studying daily once I decide what language it should be. And there's the question. What's a good second language for an American novelist and poet? Should it be something where there's a great need of translation, so when I'm an ancient, doddery old crone (if I am lucky enough to endure so long) with the risk of having no inspiration, I can always translate? So far I can't really imagine not having the impetus to play with words and make stories and poems, but evidently it happens to many people and therefore may happen to me. Should the language be Spanish because there are so many Spanish speakers? Should it just be a language I love? But they're all so different and interesting, crammed full of wondrous words.

If you have an opinion, tell me! I'll definitely ponder it.

Monday, April 16, 2018

The rage against tips!

An interior illumination
by Clive Hicks-Jenkins
for my long-poem and epic adventure,
Thaliad (Phoenicia Publishing)
Amazon reviews: paperback
Hardcover only here
Why on earth do I sometimes fiddle around an answer a question on Quora when I could and probably should do a blog post? Who knows? Here's a Quora question I answered a moment ago, perhaps partly because I'm in a good mood and just wrote a poem when I should have been doing something else entirely, and perhaps partly because I still didn't want to do what I should have been doing.

(And here you can find more Quora-fritterings by me.)

"What are some tips on staying motivated enough to finish writing a book?"

Marly Youmans, novelist and poet
Answered 2m ago

I’m feeling a bit allergic to the word tips: no tip can make you finish writing a book. Only whatever it takes for you can make you finish. And only you can answer the question of what it is that might be whatever it takes for you. That is, you will (or will not, as it turns out) make use of your own inner drive, passion for playing with words, impetus, dogged refusal to stop, anger, joy, or whatever it is that lives and burns in you and will take you to the close.

But I will say that I have known some wonderfully gifted people who began many books and stories and never could finish anything. This was a sadness to me, but they lived other lives, and perhaps it was not a sadness to them. They gave writing books a try and then moved on.

The grand thing about finishing is not having a completed manuscript; it is that you are somehow larger on the inside than you were at the start, and also that only bringing a thing to completion teaches you what you need to know in order to write that book. That sounds circular, and it is. In the realm of making books, much is mysterious.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Family memories

Not the right movie, but the image will do--
1959, Castle's The Tingler 
with Vincent Price.
I've been sorting through boxes of papers, tossing much and often stopping to laugh at some child's drawing or my own notes on a past conversation or an old letter. Here's a note with Nate, my third child, age 5, dated 24 September, 2002. He's almost 21, so I guess that I can quit referring to him as Child no. 3 in blog posts!

                 *     *     *

When I took Nate to kindergarten this morning, I asked him if he wanted to put on his jacket.

Nate:  When my teeth are going up and down, it means I am cold. When my teeth are not going up and down, I'm not cold.

The beginning of wisdom, or something. Scarce as hens' teeth.

Also, some hours earlier, in bed:

Me: Hrrump?

Nate climbs in.

Me: Whassamatter?

Nate: I thought there were ghostes [GHOST-ez, Nate-plural of ghost]  sitting on the bed.

I burble comforting nonsense and go back to sleep.

Nate, still thinking hard, wakes me up: What are you afraid of?


(No doubt I am semi-comatose, as befits a mother of three after a long day.)

Nate: Buffaloes?

I wake up enough to laugh.

Nate: Or moving skeletons?

Which is odd because that's exactly what I was afraid of at the age of 5, my babysitters in Baton Rouge (a childless couple, friends of my parents) having let me see a movie about that very thing... Or was it Gramercy, and I a bit younger?

We didn't have a t.v. at our house, so I suppose it was pretty potent stuff for me, all those glarey-white bones clattering around on the screen. I remember clearly the hospital setting, a skeleton in the back seat of a car coming into life behind the doctor and a pretty nurse, and skeletons pushing baby carriages over a cliff. I expect that was especially horrifying, as I wasn't so many years out of being a baby myself.

Monday, April 09, 2018

The Prince of Egypt and the Sphinx

"The Prince of Egypt and the Sphinx" is up today at Autumn Sky Poetry Daily, where you can read poems, share, like--and where you can also find some other poems by me: "I Met My True Love Walking," "Epistle to F. D.," "Icarus, Icarus, Paratrooper," and "Landscape with Icefall." Thank you to editor Christine Klocek-Lim.

Today at Autumn Sky Poetry DAILY: The Prince of Egypt and the Sphinx by Marly Youmans#poem #formalverse
The Prince of Egypt and the Sphinx On the northern and the southern roads, He reveled, shooting at a bronze target, Pursuing lions and vast herds of beasts Until his chariot was a gold blur And horses changed to coursers of the wind. At noon, the young prince napped between the paws Of Horus-in-the-horizon, the Sphinx Who guards the sun and gates to the beyond. [ 138 more words ]

The Prince of Egypt and the Sphinx On the northern and the southern roads, He reveled, shooting at a bronze target, Pursuing lions and vast herds of beasts Until his chariot was a…