October 1, 2014

Cut No Lilies, a gospel song by an imaginary writer

(This is a gospel song by Esmee,
a character in the novel-in-progress,
Finding Color. She’s borrowed a lyrical
theme from a spiritual that originates
in the Carolinas of 1820s. It’s written
for piano, choir, and congregation.)

Cut No Lilies

I run down the valley while I pray:
Jesus is dead and God’s gone away.
This I heard a man in a gray hat say.
He lies ’cause I need my God today.
He lies ’cause I need my God today.

We sing for the mothers and the children, too.
We sing for the mountains and the ocean blue.
There’s spirit in the lakes and the rocks and trees,
there’s the spirit every time I fall on my knees.

I fall on my knees because I need you so—
Please, son of Jesus, don’t let me go.
Don’t let me go. Don’t let me go.
Please, son of Jesus, don’t let me go.

Cut no lilies for me today:
this is not my cryin’ day.
Cut no lilies for me today:
this is not my cryin’ day.

(Art by Anne Abrams)

September 28, 2014

Position Needed, a poem for peace

Position Needed

United States Secretary of Peace:
an Executive Cabinet position to
be appointed by enlightenment
itself. This Secretary may not be
removed by any president ever.
Secretary of Defense answers to
Secretary of Peace who has veto
power over anything it says or does.
The United States Secretary of Peace
answers to no one but to peace itself. 

  (Photo by Anne Abrams)

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January 10, 2013

From Treasure Island, by Robert Lewis Stephenson

Painting by N. C. Wyeth

Painting by N. C. Wyeth

The fire lit in me when I first read the novel as a boy, was
extinguished when I finished my own novel, Tesora.
Reading it now, however, allows me to sail again,
back to my own boyhood days—to find the treasures
of adventure and good writing.

From Treasure Island, by Robert Lewis Stephenson:

“Livesey,” said the squire, “you will give up this wretched practice at once. Tomorrow I start for Bristol. In three weeks’ time—three weeks!—two weeks—ten days—we’ll have the best ship, sir, and the choicest crew in England. Hawkins shall come as cabin-boy. You’ll make a famous cabin-boy, Hawkins. You, Livesey, are ship’s doctor; I am admiral. We’ll take Redruth, Joyce, and Hunter. We’ll have favourable winds, a quick passage, and not the least difficulty in finding the spot, and money to eat, to roll in, to play duck and drake with ever after.”

November 25, 2012

Anaïs Nin on the Unfamiliar in Books

Anaïs Nin on Embracing the Unfamiliar

It’s the personal insecurities of leadership which lead to paranoia, the need to control the freedom of individual and social personalities, and finally to mass violence. It’s been true throughout history from Atilla The Hun to Obama. It’s the responsibility of each artist to sieze his or her own piece of space, whether it’s geographic or psychic, and to produce art within his or her own chaos of freedom. “A room of one’s own,” yes?

Nin says:

The men who built America were the genuine physical adventurers in a physical world. This world once built, we need adventurers in the realm of art and science. If we suppress the adventure of the spirit, we will have the anarchist and the rebel, who will burst out from too narrow confines in the form of violence and crime.

http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2012/11/08/anais-nin-unfamiliar/

September 11, 2012

A Short Review of Canada, a novel by Richard Ford

The first novel I ever read on an e-reader (the Nook with a Glo-light) is Canada by Richard Ford. Here’s my review of the novel, not the e-reader.

A Short Review of Canada, a novel by Richard Ford
New York : Ecco Press, 2012

Ford forces a personality onto his main character that is as contemplative as a sixty year old. I’m not saying he’s trying to fool us with that fact, because he intentionally has the older man telling the story of his own young life as a fifteen-year-old. Ford’s prose is indeed excellent, but all through the book I craved the experience and voice of the fifteen year. So much of the story seems untold. I wanted the younger main character to have emotions and actions not explained away by his mature self of forty years later.

If an author has so pushed his own psyche so far from inner reality, how can we believe his story is true? It’s as if Ford has delivered a good idea about a story, but not the story itself. It’s a steak dinner without the meat or the sizzle, leaving us only a plate, a fork, and a knife laid out in perfect order. It is certainly an order that does not offend, but it also does not tell us the whole truth.

Are we expected to believe that his parents robbed a bank, split him from his twin sister, and sent him to Canada, and he had no anger about that? He could have become a short-fused boy like The Unibomber—or he could have become an enraged genius like Kurt Cobain—or channeled his anger like Van Gogh, perhaps. He only seems to passively accept his exile and one extremely violent act as if he was stunned silent by it. This is not the kind of character I hoped to read—it’s as if the character was there at the scene, but somehow missed the story. Readers are left with the face of the opacity of the surface of it, so we are left to admire the dinnerware and suck on an empty fork.

September 5, 2012

Kimberly Elkins’ story, “The Awful Wondering” is published.

 

I’m pleased to announce that my friend, Kimberly Elkins’ story: “The Awful Wondering” is now published in the Iowa Review. It’s not available online—you have to subscribe. But you can read some things in the issue here:
Iowa Review

Here’s her bio:
KIMBERLY ELKINS’s work has appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, Best New American Voices, and the Chicago Tribune, among others. A finalist for the National Magazine Award, she received a fellowship from the Houghton Library at Harvard for research on her novel, What Is Visible, forthcoming from Grand Central. A visiting lecturer for the MFA program in creative writing at the University of Hong Kong, she has an MFA from BU and lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

September 1, 2012

Query Letter for Tardy Son, a novel

In TARDY SON, Pid, a fourteen-year-old boy, torn from his Mexican roots and adopted into a white California family, stows away in a boxcar hoping to get to San Francisco. He’s desperate to escape his adoptive father, Danno, and to find his real mother. The abuse from Danno alienates Pid’s mind into two personalities. Pid’s copy of Treasure Island, his journal writing, and his sense of adventure help him escape. Pid doesn’t find his real mother in San Francisco but he does find Japanese and African boys who accept his baseball playing despite his limp and a Mexican woman who loves him like a mother. This gives him a sense of himself enough to reunite his personality, though he is still angry at Danno. This anger brings Pid to steal a motor scooter and return to his hometown to face Danno again. Pid vows to kill him, though he risks arrest and injury. A bloody fight occurs and in the battle he discovers why the lies of Danno hide the truth in the mystery of his heritage. Finally, he must choose whether to stay or return to San Francisco.

TARDY SON, is a semi-finalist for the Faulkner Novel-in-Progress Award. It’s a 76,000-word literary YA novel.

August 8, 2012

Emily Dickinson, Virgin Recluse—Not

Wild Nights by Emily Dickinson, The Text

Wild nights! Wild nights!
Were I with thee,
Wild nights should be
Our luxury!

Futile the winds
To a heart in port,
Done with the compass,
Done with the chart.

Rowing in Eden!
Ah! the sea!
Might I but moor
To-night in thee!

—”Wild nights! Wild nights!” is a poem of sexual passion. Colonel Higginson, her editor, wrote:

One poem only I dread a little to print–that wonderful ‘Wild Nights,’—lest the malignant read into it more than that virgin recluse ever dreamed of putting there. Has Miss Lavinia [Emily Dickinson's sister] any shrinking about it? You will understand & pardon my solicitude. Yet what a loss to omit it! Indeed it is not to be omitted.

The myth of Emily Dickinson as some kind of  virgin recluse?

We poet gots passion!

August 6, 2012

Tiny whoop. Faulkner Award semi-finalist.

My novel, Tardy Son, is a semi-finalist for the Faulkner Novel-in-Progress Award. Tiny whoop.

July 31, 2012

Four poems from Charles Simic: “The Future” & Other Poems

I’ve been reading a collection of the poems of Charles Simic. I like his poems. He is a Serbian American and was named the 15th poet laureate of the United States. I love the way he juxtaposes ordinary images with evocative ones. When questioned about his style, he once said: “I wanted something seemingly artless and pedestrian to surprise the reader by conveying so much more. In other words, I wanted a poem a dog can understand. Still, I love odd words, strange images, startling metaphors, and rich diction, so I’m like a monk in a whorehouse, gnawing on a chunk of dry bread while watching the ladies drink champagne and parade in their lacy undergarments.” At another time he said: “In America, if you want to know where the heart is you listen to the blues and country music.” This juxtaposition is also something Margot Suydam does well in her work (found below). Here are two excerpts of his:

“I like to cloister myself
Watching my thoughts roam
Like a homeless family
Holding on to their children
And their few possessions
Seeking shelter for the night.”
and:
“Friends of the small hours of the night:
Stub of a pencil, small notebook,
Reading lamp on the table,
Making me welcome in your circle of light.”

Here are four of his best poems from “The Future & Other Poems.”
http://www.pen.org/blog/?p=10928

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