Sunday Sentence

I’m participating in David Abrams’ project, Sunday Sentence, from his blog, The Quivering Pen, in which, “Simply put, the best sentence(s) I’ve read this past week, presented out of context and without commentary.”

“Poets, like detectives, know the truth is laborious: it doesn’t occur by accident, rather it is chiseled and worked into being, the product of time and distance and graft.” 

Source: Thirteen Ways of Looking by Colum McCann; Random House NY 2015.

BTW, Colum McCann will be reading from, discussing, and signing this book in Huntington, NY, at the Book Revue, on Saturday, December 12, 7 pm, at 313 New York Avenue (Colum’s tour originally lists December 11, but it has been changed to December 12th, as per Book Revue).

Thirteen Ways of Looking

Anyone else wish to join in with their favorite sentence of the week?

Follow me on Twitter @katcop13

Enjoy the Sweaty Dog Days with Celestial Erudition!

canis_majorWe’ve had a pretty mild season, but it is mid-August, so these are precisely the dog days of summer! This name given to the hottest days of the year in the northern hemisphere is reputed to have come about due to Sirius, (also Canis Major, Sothis in Greek, or Sopdet, Isis’s star to the Egyptians).

Often visible in the evenings of spring and winter, during this time of summer, the sky’s brightest star (after the sun of course), appears to us to be “far” enough from the showoff that it’s actually visible in the morning skies, just before dawn. It appears to us to twinkle, even to be multi-colored. This time also marks the season when the Nile would flood, its yearly inundation bringing fertility in its wake, and also being associated with Isis’s tears for her dead husband Osiris, who was, in Egypt at least, the constallation we call the hunter Orion. In fact, if you follow the line of Orion’s 3-star belt behind him, you can’t miss bright Sirius just above the horizon in this picture. Whether as a goddess or best friend, the star is known for its fidelity and radiance.

Orion-and-Sirius

Sirius is the bright star near the center of the picture. You can draw a diagonal line from the mountain peak through it and then the belt of Orion.

The gorgeous picture above is from the youth blog of the Delaware Nature Society, which has more info on naked-eye stargazing. And here’s another story about the star from India, as reported by Deborah Byrd at EarthSky:

In India, Sirius is sometimes known as Svana, the dog of Prince Yudhistira. The prince and his four brothers, along with Svana, set out on a long and arduous journey to find the kingdom of heaven. However, one by one the brothers all abandoned the search until only Yudhistira and Svana were left. At long last they came to the gates of heaven. The gatekeeper, Lord Indra, welcomed the prince but denied Svana entrance. Yudhistira was aghast and told Lord Indra that he could not forsake his good and faithful servant and friend. His brothers, Yudhistira told the Lord, had abandoned the journey to heaven to follow their hearts’ desires. But Svana, who had given his heart freely, chose to follow none but Yudhistira. The prince told the Lord that without his dog, he would forsake even heaven. This is what Lord Indra had wanted to hear, and then he welcomed both the prince and the dog through the gates of heaven.

Finally, on the subject, Wikipedia offers this Homeric quote from the epic poem, the Iliad:

Sirius rises late in the dark, liquid sky
On summer nights, star of stars,
Orion’s Dog they call it, brightest
Of all, but an evil portent, bringing heat
And fevers to suffering humanity.

Now doesn’t that make the sweat in your toga feel altogether more expansively erudite?

Sally Nacker’s Poetry

Unknown-2Poet Sally Nacker, a former actress, is as soft-spoken and gentle as her poetry as revealed in her debut book, Vireo published by White Violet Press. Vireo is dedicated to her mother who died a couple of years ago. In her forty-six poems, her mother plays a prominent role as do life’s events sad and joyful.

My husband and I were fortunate enough to hear Sally read some of her poems at The Norwalk Public Library recently. We related to the embracing poems that talked to us about life.

Below is an excerpt from the poem that holds the title of the book:

Poet Sally Nacker, author of Vireo

Vireo

(For my mother, 1933-2012)

Those two playful birds we watched that spring, tiny, olive-green gliding through air,

open bills quivering, throats loosing a lively, repetitive song, unrelenting,

melodious-“with great volubility”-perhaps were not vireos. The vireo

weaves its cupped, hanging nest snugly onto a fork in a slender branch and does not

nest in a birdhouse, does not feed on seed, but seeks fruit and insects. At the time we looked no further than a photograph in a field guide. The bird we found was green…

Award winning poet, Kim Bridgford commented on Sally’s poems. “Vireo by Sally Nacker is a quiet, beautiful book. With nature as its subject, this collection gives voice to the backdrop of our lives. ‘Where late the sweet birds sang,’ Shakespeare writes, and this might be Nacker’s credo. A semi formalist, Nacker uses rhyme with a master’s grace, and with the music of both joy and sorrow. Dickinson is her clear foremother—in both subject matter and form—but these poems are at the same time Nacker’s own. A lovely and resonant debut collection.”

A great thanks to Sally for embracing us with her tender poetry.

The Telling Visual Art of Famous Writers

I’ve done posts with artworks portraying readers and writers, but I don’t remember specifically artworks by writers. I found Print magazine has a wonderful article with just loads of such images, “The Visual Art and Design of Famous Writers” by Steven Brower. After pointing out how often the creative people he knows, and he himself, participate in more than one of the arts, Brower writes (bolding mine):

…in addition to writing works that have shaped our culture, many poets and authors have practiced visual art as a vital component of their creative output. From William S. Burroughs and Charles Bukowski to Henry Miller and Sylvia Plath, renowned writers of the twentieth century made paintings, drawings, and collages. These creative outpourings enhance our understanding of their authors’ written works, and stand on their own merits as well.

I’ve borrowed a few images and captions to whet your appetite for the rest of the article, which I hope you’ll go peruse! Some of the authors had an extensive background and took their art quite seriously. Rudyard Kipling grew up among professional and very well-known artists–here’s the illustration he did for one of his tales.

Kipling's drawing for “How the Wale Got His Throat,” from Just So Stories

Kipling’s drawing for “How the Wale Got His Throat,” from Just So Stories

Some of the writers were casual, consistent enthusiasts, like H.G. Wells, whose journals are full of friendly, informal cartoons (“picshuas”) from everyday life, or like Dylan Thomas, who’d frequently doodle pictures of other patrons at the bar. Mark Twain sent cute rebus puzzles to his family.

H-G-Wells-doodle-speech

H.G. Wells’s sketch of himself giving a talk at the Royal Institute, 1902. “I regard this picshua as a masterpiece only to be compared to the Paleolithic drawings in the Caves of Altima.”

Just for a touch of color, here’s a piece I really like by Kurt Vonnegut, who’s done commercial illustrations and had a one-man show of his artwork.

Vonnegut, “Tout in Cohoes”

Vonnegut, “Tout in Cohoes”

Besides the poets’ and authors’ names I’ve already bolded, Steven Brower’s Print article collects lots of intersting images and/or biographical tidbits documenting the visually artistic lives of Lewis Carroll, e.e. cummings, Jack Kerouac, Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud, Joseph Conrad, Federico Garcia Lorca, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and George Bernard Shaw.

Go feast your eyes, and then confess…

Do you participate in creative forms beyond writing? Why and which ones?

Precious Messages from the Ones You Love

Some dislike greeting cards for their canned messages. But mothers such as myself are thrilled to receive them. They distill sentiments and offer a bit of homespun poetry.

Mom, you showed me more than how to be a good parent, you showed me how to be a good person.”

Then your loved ones add their own poetry:

“You are a beautiful, inspirational mother, a mother of the year! Always doing what’s best and pleasing to us.”

Now what mom wouldn’t want these messages canned or freestyle?

They were for my last birthday, April 10th, from two of my three lovely daughters. The messages, you can tell, say much about my daughters for like most of us I was far from perfect.

One card was a Hallmark with a hummingbird and a rose. UnknownLegends say that hummingbirds float free of time, carrying our hopes for love, joy and celebration. 

Audubon

Audubon

Papyrus cards with its hummingbird icon are often poetry without the use of words. Most cards have a quality of arts and crafts to them using materials that are soft to create the petals of daffodils, for instance, and also vivid plastic gem-like pieces of beautiful colors. I received such a card from my son and daughter-in-law. 

Also, three eCards came from my other daughter, who also sent one on behalf of my two grand-dogs. Short videos with moving parts and spectacular scenes; greeting cards are keeping up with our technology .

200px-Rhodesian_ridgeback_głowa_rzut_z_przoduaustralian-shepherd

The easily saved eCards solve the problem of what to do with these precious mementoes of a special day.

Difficult to part with, I keep the paper cards for a number of years in my closet than painfully recycle them, with a large and caring family, I’d be accused of hoarding if I kept each one.

Any suggestions as to what to do with the messages of love?

Crime Poetry at The Five-Two

April is National Poetry Month, and to help celebrate, the Women of Mystery (along with several blog pals) are participating in the “30 Days of the 5-2″ Blog Tour.

5-2 Tour Badge

Since 2011, “The 5-2: Crime Poetry Weekly,” has been expertly edited by Gerald So (and an occasional guest editor), in which an original poem (in text and audio/video) is published each Monday. Submissions of poems (crime-related, or the poet’s reaction to what he or she sees as crime), 60 lines or fewer per poem (any form or style) are open year-round. The 5-2 seeks original, unpublished work only. Read the complete submission guidelines for further information.

One of my favorite poems on The Five-Two is hot off the presses. Just published on April 13, this poem by A.J. Huffman is right up my alley; in that, I mean, it is inspired by a true story. I tend to write stories that are based on reality (which, as we all know, is certainly stranger than fiction).

MAN STALKED WOMAN HE BELIEVED WAS EX

A PA moron, I mean man, was jailed
for stalking
a woman he thought was his ex wife.
He was mistaken
about the kids too. The woman’s real
husband gave a statement: he used to be
friends with the man who was
never married to his wife. The gifts
left on their porch for the woman
and imaginary children were taken
into evidence.

***

Follow Crime Poetry Weekly on Twitter @poemsoncrime.

If you are active on Twitter and would like to help promote The 5-2 Blog Tour this month, use the hashtag #30OfThe52.

Follow me on Twitter @katcop13.

Maya Angelou Forever Stamp

Today, during National Poetry Month (celebrating poetry’s vital place in our culture), the United States Postal Service issues the Maya Angelou Forever stamp.

On April 7, 2015, Postmaster General Megan Brennan will be joined by Oprah Winfrey, Ambassador Andrew Young and other notables at a first-day-of-issue stamp dedication ceremony in Washington, DC.

Also attending the ceremony will be Angelou’s grandson Colin Johnson; Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL); poet Sonia Sanchez; author and journalist Sophia Nelson; Howard University English professor Eleanor Traylor; poet and civil rights activist Nikki Giovanni; civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton; and Atlanta-based artist Ross Rossin, whose portrait of Angelou was used for the stamp. Melissa Harris-Perry will serve as master of ceremonies.

The USPS.com announcement:

Author, poet, actress, and champion of civil rights Dr. Maya Angelou (1928-2014) was one of the most dynamic voices in all of 20th-century American literature. The book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, an autobiographical account of her childhood, gained wide acclaim for its vivid depiction of African-American life in the South.

The stamp showcases artist Ross Rossin’s 2013 portrait of Dr. Angelou. The oil-on-canvas painting is part of the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery’s collection. In the bottom left corner is the following phrase quoted by Dr. Angelou: “A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song.” Above the quotation is her name in black type. The words “Forever” and “USA” are along the right side.

jpg_mailbox-letter

The stamp pane includes a short excerpt from Angelou’s book, “Letter to My Daughter.” It reads: “Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.” Art director Ethel Kessler of Bethesda, MD, designed the stamp.

Share the news via social media using #MayaForever.

Follow me on Twitter @katcop13.

Jazzy Poetry and Poetic Jazz

April is National Jazz Appreciation Month and National Poetry Month. Poetry and Jazz Night at the Norwalk Inn and Conference Center will take place on Saturday, April 11 with The Norwalk Public Library in celebration.

Local officials, writers and readers will read from their favorite poem, either an original or just one that is beloved. Interspersed with the poetry Neddy Smith and his trio will be playing some classic jazz pieces.

I’m delighted to recite an excerpt from one of my favorite poems by Oscar Wilde, The Ballad of Reading Gaol–it’s about murder, need I say more?

Needy Smith

Needy Smith

Jam! Join the Fun!
6 to 9 PM, Saturday April 11th
The Norwalk Inn 
99 East Ave Norwalk, CT 06851.
 
The night is open to all. Just a $10 donation to The Norwalk Public Library is all the ticket you need to share a Norwalk night of Jazzy Poetry and Poetic Jazz.
 

You may be right, but Poe’s handwriting makes me suspicious

There’s a new book, The Poet Edgar Allan Poe: Alien Angel by Jerome McGann, which is, very aptly, all about his poetry. (I’m ignorant enough not to have known what a fanboi Baudelaire was.) However, from reviewer Dominc Green’s perspective in The Weekly Standard (emphasis mine):

Poe is an acquired taste, like whiskey or opium. He was a poet in the way that William Blake was an artist: idiosyncratic and obscure, a commercial adventurer who lacked business sense, a marginal antagonist who became a national treasure, an etcher of sharp and violent lines with a dazzled eye for overdone color. His hero was Byron: a first-rate celebrity but a second-rate poet; really, a debauched Augustan. No less conventionally, Poe called Tennyson the greatest living poet. If Poe’s biography is Byron’s catastrophe on a budget, his poetry is Tennyson unhinged by Thomas de Quincey. As heroic Romanticism slides into boggling horror, meter becomes an avalanche.

Poe was a peerless self-destructor: He was a liar and a plagiarist, a drunk in the office and a beggar in the street, who pandered to a public he despised and married his 13-year-old cousin. McGann skirts the biographical disaster and concentrates on Poe’s writing. But without the tragic setting, Poe’s verse wilts into melodrama, and as McGann forgoes context, he takes Poe at his own assessment, which Poe, a chronic self-publicist, supplied in his marginalia and essays.

Well, okay, all this may be so–it’s certainly the commonly-held view of the wild rebelliousness and dangerous edge that Poe himself seems to have cultivated among readers to provoke and sell papers. Disclaimer: I’m cognizant of the incompleteness of my knowledge. I’m not saying that artifice is the only cause for Poe’s reputation and that it was nothing more than his flair for showmanship. But smart Poe people who I’ve asked seem to read in his words–some of which I got to peruse myself– that his self-cultivated sensationalism was at least part of the hype surrounding him. Now, when I’m reading florid summaries of Poe’s epically rock-n-roll ‘tude, I always think back to visiting the Poe exhibit at the Morgan library. Something popped out at me then that my own lying eyes cannot forget. I further blame my former stints as a bartender and all the mysteries and crime fiction I’ve read.

On diplay were many long scrolls of hand-written manuscripts in a beautiful hand, some impossibly small and perfectly-placed. For publicity and commemorative purposes, Poe made lavishly calligraphed works on scrolls. If you saw this kind of execution in Poe’s own hand–and perhaps you did, too, so share in the comments!– and the sheer volume of other documents, revised copies, bound books, and even ledgers in tiny, almost-impeccable script, you might have your doubts, too, about his being a career drunk. First of all, where would he have found the time to spend what must’ve been endless hours in painstaking transcription? For a guy on the hustle, and always in need of scratch, hours away from the writing board were hungry hours, and he did have his little family who he’s reputed to have cared for.

When people blithely cite Poe’s years of alcohol abuse, I think what they likely mean, and it’s a big difference, is long stints of near-teetotaling sobriety–which are documented in at least a couple spots by him as being his intention–punctuated with blackout binges. From the people I spoke to at the exhibit, it wasn’t even attested that Poe could really “put it away,” like a hard-core drunk. He was a small man and likely a lightweight. When he did fall off the wagon, he would’ve been a cheap date, to mix my metaphors. Perhaps his outsized reputation is why, at his death, people may have been dragging him around town, pouring ever more down him, not aware that a sporadic binger couldn’t tolerate it like a hollow-legged merchant marine. Then again, maybe they didn’t care.

Yes, writing was Poe’s business and he’d have had more automatic, muscle-memorized skills than many, but seriously. In a career drunk, as we say, the eyes go blinky and the hands go wobbly long before the liver fails. No man with regularly-pounding hangovers, throbbing vision, delirium tremens (or whatever else the popular perception of his condition) could have, in my view, penned the regularly exacting duplicating work I saw any more than one could be so impaired while illuminating in one’s monkish cubicle at the scriptorium or even painting on a grain of rice at the mall. The advent of word processors, with their endless, invisible corrections was a gift to sozzled writers everywhere.

1849-Poe-EssayThe document above is not able to be enlarged to readability (sorry!), but it is a page from an essay Poe handwrote in 1849, the year he died. The image and dimensions are from the PoeMuseum.org. This page, one of three, is 10″ x 8″. It’s far from the tightest, cleanest copy I saw. Nonetheless, as I roughly calculate it by number of lines and word spacing, to fit all this onto the page, around 500 words, Poe’s work here is approximately 11pt font, single-spaced. I’m not sure I can do that now, and I know I can’t do it evenly and legibly.

Edgar-Allan-Poe-Analyzes-HandwritingMaybe that’s why I noticed his penmanship after all, because mine is so foul. But Poe was so attentive to the art, he actually wrote his own treatise on graphology, including literary criticism and analysis of major literary figures of his time.

To me, this is exactly the kind of situation where a visit to a museum or archive to look at the original source material can offer so much more food for thought than just a transcription of words that were on the page. Whether I’m right (or write), after seeing the flourishes of all his beautiful words, I’ll never look at Poe the same way, and I’ll never be able to take those “everybody knows” biographical claims of his grinding, utter dissolution at purely face value.

That’s only my opinion–feel free to share yours!

Poetry and Short Stories: Descent From Art to Craft?

Classical-Art-Vegetable-CarvingIn an article for The Smart Set, Michael Lind compares writing poetry to making carrot carnations, the work of well-intentioned hobbyists. Yes, the courts of feudal lords and kings had professional bards, but not tons of them for each territory, and most of these positions evolved through rigorous apprenticeship in their form. The phenomenon of there being thousands and thousands of literary non-hobbyists, millions if we count teachers and librarians and publishers and booksellers and reveiwers as there surely are today, is very recent in human history, and the product of societies and civilizations with broad amounts of time and wealth to spare. To me, this article sounds like it could be the disappointment of a person in a moment of cultural change, when one’s most beloved style goes out-of-fashion. I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but as a person whose interests put me permanently “out,” maybe I don’t comprehend enough what’s been lost. Lind writes:

With the exception of rap, which has a mass audience, poetry has moved from the category of a minor art to a craft. In the course of numerous readings of my own published verse, I gradually came to the conclusion that almost everyone in the audience at a poetry reading is a poet or aspiring poet. My guess is that a majority of people who read poetry also write poetry.

Poetry in the twenty-first century is like pottery, woodworking, or the making of carrot carnations. Sophisticated verse was never a major art, and having lost even a small non-practitioner audience, it has lost its status as a minor art. At hobbyist conventions, celebrated practitioners of a craft address an audience made up of other practitioners of the craft, who will then go home and work at the art themselves. Poetry has more residual cultural prestige than carrot carnation making and other hobbies, but that is only because most of the poet-hobbyists are professors with MFAs, while there are no professors of table-setting.

The short story, like poetry, already may have gone from being a minor art to being a craft. When I worked as an editor at Harper’s magazine in the 1990s, many acquaintances would comment on our essays and features, but I never heard anyone mention one of the short stories we published. The short story writers whom we published were almost exclusively MFAs who made a living by teaching short story and novel writing at liberal arts colleges. I may be mistaken, but I suspect that the same group that writes short stories today makes up the majority of those who read the short stories that are still published out of a sense of cultural responsibility in magazines like The New Yorker and Harper’s.

The literary novel, too, may be on its way to losing its minor art status and becoming a pure hobby of the creative writing professors who produce most of it in their spare time, while teaching writing courses. Some time ago, I was surprised when the editor of a highbrow magazine and of a major book review, respectively, both told me that their favorite contemporary author was Patrick O’Brien, author of “Master and Commander.” You hypocrites, I thought. You don’t even read the literary fiction that you publish or review. You read well-written genre fiction on your own time. Goodbye, Jonathan Franzen, and ahoy, matie!

Just a dog gone minute--who are you calling a fuddy duddy?

Who are you calling a fuddy duddy?

I wasn’t sure if he so speedily dismissed rap, an enormous category of work that appeals to younger wordsmiths, because he doesn’t like the form or because it doesn’t support his assertions of obsolescence. Yes, well. You can read it all and decide what you think. He’s right about one thing: I don’t read short stories in Harper’s generally. I mostly read the truly excellent work being done in loads of genre and genre-bending forums, especially online, and at all lengths, including micro-fiction that gets damn close to poetry itself. I also think someone from an earlier century might’ve said, “With the exception of Tennyson/Wordsworth/Frost/Angelou, which has a mass audience, poetry has moved from art to craft. You hypocrites. You don’t even write 15,000 line epics like the Iliad anymore.”

Contemporary, lightning-speed communication allows for increased whimsicalities of style. (And when they bring back the gauchos of the eighties, that’s the hill I will choose to die on.) But I don’t usually conflate trends of delivery method or shifts of activity from one forum to another for abandonment of the underlying form. IMO, the careful crafting of verse and story, whether in the packaging I’m most accustomed to or not, is right here and now powerfully conveying understanding, artistic endeavor, and human elevation.

What do you think of poetry, short stories, and/or elaborate vegetable garnishes? (I’m pretty sure the leading image is photoshopped, but it makes me happy anyway, go figure.)