Pattern and Story

For many years I have had one foot in the world of picture books and another in the world of textiles.

Question: Is this a textile design or a children’s book illustration?

Answer: This is part of a new line of textiles called Hey Diddle Diddle, designed for In The Beginning Fabrics.

Question: Is this a textile design or a children’s book illustration?

Answer: this is the dedication page from my upcoming picture book Vivid: Poems and Notes about Color (I’ll write more about Vivid next month).

I studied weaving in college at the School for American Craftsmen. I was a pretty bad craftsperson – my selvages were always crooked.  I wanted to tell stories with my fabric, but the emphasis was more on technique.

Magpie by Yuri Vasnetsov

I also took a drawing class where the teacher dinged me for excessive pattern and flatness in my work. He asked if I really needed to draw every leaf on every tree. Yes, I did.

I felt like a misfit in all arenas. But luckily I had one class where the teacher told me to consider the things that made me different as strengths and not weaknesses. I was ready to hear that advice, and he helped me find my own direction. 

Since then my patterns have been full of stories and my stories have been full of pattern.

I like to play with the balance between the decorative and narrative, and to search for new directions.

Here is a piece that I made in 2016. Question: How was it made?

Answer: The black was stenciled onto 4 pieces of paper. The colors were painted on. The papers were rotated and stitched together.

Recently I designed some cotton scarves for my webshop Julie Paprika: Menagerie, Be Mine and Yum. The original drawings were ink on paper, painted at full size. I rotated the paper while painting.

Question: Can you tell which side is up? Can you make up stories for them?

In addition to balancing pattern and story, I try to balance having a creative life and making a living. Julie Paprika is my attempt to do both things. It would be peachy if you visited the shop.
Thank you.

P.S. I am currently selling a Zero Tolerance poster at Julie Paprika.
Question: Why is our government treating immigrants with such cruelty?
Answer: There is no good answer.
A small action: Buy this poster and 1oo% of the proceeds will go to United We Dream. Click here. Thank you.

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A Tribute to Ursula K. Le Guin

On June 13, I attended an event in Portland honoring Ursula K. Le Guin. The tribute was organized by the Le Guin family and hosted by Literary Arts. Speakers included writers and artists whom Ursula had worked with, as well as others she had influenced, inspired, and befriended. The spoken tributes alternated with photos and video selections from “Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin”, a feature documentary film by Arwen Curry.

My feelings about Ursula have always been held close in my heart and not something I often talk about. But there, in that auditorium, I felt I was one of many whose hearts Ursula had touched. It was bittersweet, remembering her and missing her.

The event was filmed and is available to watch on the Literary Arts website.

Ursula K. Le Guin was a master of the art of words, but she also was a brilliant  thinker and an outspoken advocate for artists, free speech, and humanity. My admiration for her has only deepened as I have continued to read her writings in the months since her death. I have almost finished her Conversations On Writing with David Naimon, which I recommend if you want to hear more of her thoughts about her craft. It nicely captures Ursula’s relaxed style of speaking and her humor.

I am also about a quarter of the way through Lavinia, in which Ursula gives eloquent voice to a female character from Vergil’s Aeneid.

‘I know who I was, I can tell you who I may have been, but I am now, only in this line of words I write…”

I look forward to reading more of Ursula’s works that I have not yet read, and then maybe I will re-read some of my old favorites of hers that I read years ago. It is a good way to continue to pay tribute to her, and to keep hearing her voice and learning from her.

Scary But Not Too Scary

 

Writing a scary book for young readers is a tricky business. Where is that line between fun scary and scary scary?

With my latest book, The Frightful Ride of Michael McMichael, I’m hoping I found that line. It certainly was fun to write, even though it took forever. I really can’t remember when I jotted down the first few lines:

It was the thirteenth of November, a stormy night
When the Thirteen bus hove into sight.
Something about it didn’t seem right
But Michael McMichael boarded.

It might have been as long as 20 years ago. Long enough that the first drafts are somewhere on a discarded hard disc drive.  It was just a bit of doggerel that kept stumping me because I’d boxed myself into a corner with my rhyme scheme. The story had to make sense and have a satisfying arc, yet the first three lines of every stanza needed to end in perfect rhyme and the last line had to rhyme or near rhyme with “boarded.”

The first three lines rule wasn’t hard. It was that darn “boarded.” I think I managed to find just about every word that rhymes or near rhymes with “boarded”, from the sensible “hoarded” to the desperate and untenable “sore head.”

Years would go by as I worked on other things; The Frightful Ride forgotten only to be rediscovered once in awhile in my files and noodled with a bit more. Finally it occurred to me that I had a complete story and this might be a picture book. Luckily Sarah Ketchersid at Candlewick agreed—with a few changes.

Back to the drawing board for a few more years. Then the completed manuscript went to the marvelous Mark Fearing for illustrations. (Where I suddenly realized that a word I’d used years ago when banishing the villainous bus driver–deported–needed to be changed to “exported.” Deported had become too loaded of a word.) Then a year for printing and distribution. And finally, it is here! The official release date is July 10, 2018.

But all along it was geared to younger readers, so, of course, the scary thing is defeated in the end. But the real key to me between scary but not too scary is humor. And that was my instinct from the get-go. What was really rattling around in my mind was my memory of the macabre, rhyming tall tales of Robert Service, especially his poem The Cremation of Sam McGee.

My father read that to us when I was a kid and I loved its wonderful “chewy” language.

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.

 “The men who moil for gold” or “That night on the marge of Lake Lebarge,” who can beat that?

There’s that kind of juicy language throughout Service’s poem. At the same time it’s a complicated story, but Service doesn’t cheat with easy or obvious rhymes. He reaches for the great instead of the good. (I’ve always wondered if “moil” was made up, but it’s a real word as is “marge.” There’s even a Lake Laberge in the Yukon. Service definitely isn’t a cheater.)

I can’t claim I achieved a “Robert Service” but his macabre humor, his love of words and tall tale format were my inspiration. In these tense times with voices of concern all around us, it’s nice to know that sometimes our stories, even scary ones, can just be for the fun and the love of it.

Here are some more samples of Fearing’s wonderful illustrations. Thanks, Mark and Sarah and all of Candlewick for making this book possible.

 

 

 

Lost Words…?

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I read recently that the British writer Robert Macfarlane – whose work I know primarily through his wonderful adult non-fiction book Landmarks – has published a children’s book titled The Lost Words.  It’s large (11×15), lushly illustrated by Jackie Morris, and it includes twenty acrostic poems (“…not poems but spells,” Macfarlane states in the preface, “of many kinds that might just, by the old, strong magic of being spoken aloud, unfold dreams and songs, and summon lost words back into the mouth and the mind’s eye.”)

The twenty words were selected from a longer list of words deleted in 2007 from the  Oxford Junior English Dictionary “in order to make room for more modern words.” Here is a list of the words Macfarlane singled out, along with a few words from his spells, and some photos I gathered. Imagine kids not growing up with these words…

ACORN

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ADDER

BLUEBELL

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BRAMBLE

CONKER

DANDELION

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(“tick-tock, sun clock”)

dandelion

FERN

HEATHER

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HERON

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IVY

Old house covered by ivy in Paris, France

KINGFISHER 

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(“colour-giver, fire bringer, flame-flicker, // river’s quiver…ripple-calmer, / water-nester, evening angler, weather-teller, rainbringer….” )

LARK

MAGPIE

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NEWT

OTTER

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“Ever dreamed of being otter? That utter underwater thunderbolter, that shimmering twister?”

RAVEN

STARLING

WEASEL

WILLOW

Spring at Dows Lake Park

WREN

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Acorn? Dandelion? Ivy? Otter? Weasel? Kids don’t use these words anymore? I guess many don’t. The words, along with others, were deleted from the OED Junior to make room for high-tech words that kids now use more frequently: block-graph, blog, broadband, bullet-point, celebrity, chatroom, committee, MP-3 player, voicemail.

But herons, ferns, newts – what happens when we lose the names for things? Do we lose the ability bit by bit to notice them? Do we lose the ability to care about them?

One of the best discussions about these deletions/additions (filled with explanations from the OED Junior editors, and protests from people like Margaret Atwood) can be read at the Fact Check page of this Snopes site  – Snopes is where people go to check out stories they can’t be sure are true. Can this story about words from nature being deleted from the dictionary be true? Yes, says Snopes, it’s true.

So – is the real crime the fact that the Junior OED deleted the words, or the fact that we don’t get our kids out into a world where they need to know these words? Where they can collect acorns and make troll faces out of them, where they  recognize what kind of bird is referenced in “Quoth the raven, ‘Nevermore'” where they know what the names of the flowers in their May baskets are, where they walk through a forest and can say to whoever they’re with, “Look at all the ferns…”?

It’s not about going back to word choices that are stiff and archaic. And I don’t want to return to the past and make anything great again. I welcome the word “blog” – here I am, after all, blogging away. So I’m not nostalgic for a lost world. Just for lost words. And for an attitude of inclusion rather than exclusion.

To send you off, here is one of Macfarlane’s spells, written for the tiny acorn – I love both the object and the word (and now, the spell):

Acorn

As flake is to blizzard, as

Curve is to sphere, as knot is to net, as

One is to many, as coin is to money, as
bird is to flock, as

Rock is to mountain, as drop is to fountain, as
spring is to river, as glint is to glitter, as

Near is to far, as wind is to weather, as
feather is to flight, as light is to star, as
kindness is to good, so acorn is to wood.

[As usual, I’m thrilled by both content and technique – love the internal rhymes and near-rhymes – not/net, many/money, flock/rock/drop, river/glitter, weather/feather, flight/light, good/wood – whew! That must have taken blood, sweat and tears to write that, keep it all acrostic, make the structure clean and strong, make the repetitions poetic, and still say something meaningful, from the heart!]

If you would like to follow up about the author or illustrator, here are some links:

ROBERT MACFARLANE is interviewed by a Waterstone’s bookseller  here 

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Robert Macfarlane

JACKIE MORRIS posted a look at how The Lost Words came to be – the collaborative process with Robert Macfarlane – on her blog.

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Jackie Morris

Over at Brainpickings, Maria Popova talks about the link between attentiveness and naming.

And if you’re interested in poetry for children, check out the Poetry Friday round-up this week, hosted by Michelle Kogan.

Alaskan Stories Sewn and Carved

Last week Julie P. wrote about the picture books she discovered on her journey to Portugal. This week, I plan to share some art and stories from our trip to Southeastern Alaska.

We traveled by small boat – an Uncruise – chugging up the inlets of the Inland Passage between Juneau and Ketchikan, everyday kayaking and hiking into the fiords and forests. jkpaddleAKI grew up near Yosemite in California and I think the best way to describe this scenery is to imagine Yosemite – the towering granite cliffs, the waterfalls – filled with salt water. In addition to the animal life you’d find in Yosemite, like bears and mink and eagles, the Southeastern Alaska wilderness is home to whales, sea lions and harbor seals, etc. Yes, it was amazing.

But just as intriguing was the opportunity to learn about the native people of this area – the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian. Our trip included a visit to the Chief Shakes longhouse in Wrangell.

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There, a man named Arthur talked about the history of the Tlingit people and the building of the longhouse, and, more personally, the history of the blanket robe he wore, a garment that had originally been his grandmother’s.

With the robe for illustration, Arthur talked about the two “moieties” in the Tlingit tribe: eagle and raven. Families follow a matrilineal line and marriages are traditionally only allowed between one of each moiety. Arthur’s grandmother was of the eagle clan, thus the eagle at the top front of his blanket.

During his grandmother’s youth, the western government disallowed all tribal regalia as well as the Tlingit language. Grandmother’s robe, made of black and red government-provided blankets and decorated with white buttons, was hidden between the studs of her house.

When Arthur was a young man, his grandmother showed him the robe, then returned it to its hiding place. “It kept us warm, even then,” Arthur said. Thirty years later, Arthur’s family sold the house and the new owner remodeled. A demo crew found the robe and set it aside. The new owner noticed it and stuffed it into a trash bag. When the owner left, workers rescued the robe and gave it to a tribal leader who recognized that it had belonged to Arthur’s grandmother. Five years ago when Arthur left his job as a fisherman to learn more about his Tlingit culture, he took a Tlingit name. The tribal leader gifted him back his grandmother’s robe, which he has altered to fit. Over the years he added an Orca on the front and Wolf and Bear images on the back – each depicting other parts of his family.

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Arthur’s robe is a visual reminder of his family lineage in Tlingit images. In a culture that had no written language, the robe holds the stories.

In Ketchikan at the end of our journey, we met Jason, a Tsimshian guide, in the Totem Heritage Center. He unwound the stories of five ancient totem poles. He told us how totem poles could have a funerary or commemorative use, or tell a family’s history. But this particular one was made to tell a cautionary tale.

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As Jason told us, the face featured is that of a strong and arrogant man who went out fishing. He didn’t want to wait for his partner so he went alone. “That’s when the Alaska weather showed up,” Jason said. Waves capsized the man’s canoe. “The mythological killer whale people saw him. They recognized him as a strong and important person and saved him, bringing him underneath the water to the mythological village of the killer whale people.” They revived him, so he stayed with them for many years to repay them.

Eventually he got homesick. He realized he was not strong enough as a regular man to make it from the bottom of the ocean to the surface. “So he wrapped himself in a sealskin and transformed himself into a seal – until he broke the surface of the ocean and returned to his people.”

Jason added that there are two morals from this story: “Never go out fishing alone, and always take care of those who take care of you.”

This totem pole, unlike most, is carved on all sides. The seal’s skin wraps around the man, with the head of the seal (a little damaged due to age) rising straight above the man, as the seal swims up to the surface of the water.

Stories and storytellers and the beautiful native art that holds the stories surely added to our Southeastern Alaska adventures. These tribes’ oral storytelling traditions relied on art made from materials at hand: fabric, buttons and sewing needles, and huge cedar logs. But the urge to tell a story with words and images is the same urge we picture book people feel. It’s a part of the human condition.

Portugal – Books, Livros, Livres

Ó – it’s a gallery!

Walking on a cobbled street in Porto, Portugal I wandered into the Ó Galeria – a light and airy room filled with the art of Portuguese illustrators.

They were featuring the art of Mariana Malhão. So free and playful!

She just illustrated her first book – poems by Antonio Jose Forte.

In Lisbon, the shop It’s A Book   was chock full of exciting books from Portugal and around the world. If Lisbon is too far, you can visit online here.

A feast!
I bought several books and hungered for more.

Sombras by Marta Monteira shows curious interactions between people, shadows and objects. The shadows have a life of their own. Things happen, sort of.

ABC do CINEMA by Editora Triciclo (Ana Braga, Ines Machado and Tiago Guerreiro is a graphic delight – handprinted (risografia).  Each page features trivia about famous movie directors, made even more intriguing because it is in Portuguese. 

La Visite by Junko Nakamura is a wordless book – subtle and moody. It tells a loose story of cats and christmas and people. Things happen, but the narrative is winding. The story could be interpreted in many ways.

L’Orchestre by Chloe Perarnau is an oversized book. Each page is a postcard from a city somewhere in the world with a member of the orchestra somewhere on the page.

Each page has many stories, plots and subplots. Can you find Lola playing the harp in Porto?

Traveling fills me up with images, ideas, sounds and flavors. Portugal is a visually rich country. The illustration that I saw there is exciting and strong, and grows out of that rich visual history.

This image from 1956 was at the Gulbenkian Museum.

and this is newly published by Planeta Tangerina.

The specific books I bought are filled with evocative imagery and are relatively plotless – a good description of my recent trip and possibly of life.

 

 

So, How Does that Make You Feel?

It took me awhile to understand that creating an emotional experience for the reader is really what my job as a writer is about. And that this is what we all are after when we sit down with a book. Sure we want a good story with clever plots turns. We want language we can relish. We want an intellectual challenge or an exploration of a social issue or of a person or world different from our own.

But bottom line to all of that is the hope/expectation that this will take us on an emotional journey. Books that do this are the ones that we recommend to our friends, that our kids ask us to read over and over, that stay with us sometimes for a lifetime.

Recently I picked up The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass. He makes the same point. Even better, he talks about how you, the writer, can create an emotional journey. Because, as he notes, not every published novel does that. “The sad truth,” he says, “is that television commercials can stir more feelings in thirty seconds than many manuscripts can do in a three hundred pages.”

So how can we best a Charmin ad? Maass offers some ideas and techniques that I thought would be fun to share over my next couple of blog posts.

I strongly agree with Maass’s first point: the reader is the one creating the emotional experience. We writers are giving them the triggers:  “(Readers) don’t so much read as respond. They do not automatically adopt your outlook and outrage. They formulate their own. You are not the author of what readers feel, just the provocateur of those feelings.”

But what those feelings are won’t be universally agreed upon, as anyone who has been in a book club can tell you. Everyone is unique. So, Maass suggests that, “The most useful question is not how can I get across what characters are going through? The better question is how can I get readers to go on emotional journeys of their own?”

 Maass says there are three primary paths to creating an emotional response from the reader. Outer Mode: showing. Inner Mode: telling. And something he calls Other Mode: a combination of showing and telling and other techniques to create something that is emotionally “chewable” for the reader.

So let’s talk about Outer Mode in this post.

Outer Mode is good old showing–showing what the character is feeling through their behavior, dialog and visible responses, rather than the character (or the narrator) telling us what they are feeling.

Most of us pretty much know about telling and showing. It’s the difference between “I was terrified” and “My heart beat a staccato rhythm that said run, run, run, but I couldn’t move. I could only scream.”

Of course, there are a lot of techniques involved in using show or tell well, but the most important trick here, says Maass, is not so much in knowing how to use show. But knowing when to use show. He says showing works best when the character’s feelings are highly painful, including highly painful or difficult for the reader.

I love the example he uses from The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick. Quick’s main character, Pat Peoples, is mentally ill. He’s just been released from a mental health facility to the care of his mother, but he is convinced he will soon be reuniting with his estranged wife, Nikki.

When I finally come out of the basement, I notice that all the pictures of Nikki and me have been removed from the walls and the mantel over the fireplace.

I ask my mother where these pictures went. She tells me our house was burglarized a few weeks before I came home and the pictures were stolen. I ask why a burglar would want pictures of Nikki and me, and my mother says she puts all of her pictures in very expensive frames. Why didn’t the burglar steal the rest of the family pictures? I ask. Mom says the burglar stole all the expensive frames, but she had the negatives for the family portraits and had them replaced. Why didn’t you replace the pictures of Nikki and me? I ask. Mom says she did not have the negatives for the pictures of Nikki and me, especially because Nikki’s parents had paid for the wedding pictures and had only given my mother copies of the photos she liked. Nikki had given Mom the other non-wedding pictures of us, and well, we aren’t in touch with Nikki or her family right now because its apart time.

We know what’s going on even if Pat doesn’t. We don’t have to be inside Pat’s head to feel emotional about this scene. In fact, it might be too painful to be inside Pat’s poor demented head and his determined belief he and his wife are still a thing. Instead, the reader gets a different experience. Not only do we feel Pat’s sad blindness, we feel his mother’s desperate efforts to spare his feelings. And it’s all made more poignant by the fact that it’s funny in a horrible way.

A key ingredient in effective showing of emotion says Maass is “subtext.” When there’s a feeling we’re not being told, but that we can sense. “It’s the unspoken emotional truth. When we discern it, it’s a surprise.”  And a pleasure.

Maass says there’s even a way to describe a character’s inner states without actually telling the emotion. It’s still “showing.” Here’s his example from Ernest Hemingway’s short story, “Now I Lay Me.”

That night we lay on the floor in the room and I listened to the silk-worms eating. The silk-worms fed in racks of mulberry leaves and all night you could hear them eating and a dropping sound in the leaves. I myself did not want to sleep because I had been living for a long time with the knowledge that if I ever shut my eyes in the dark and let myself go, my soul would go out of my body. I had been that way for a long time, ever since I had been blown up at night and felt it go out of me and go off and then come back. I tried never to think about it, but it had started to go since, in the nights, just at the moment of going off to sleep, and I could only stop it by a very great effort. So while now I am fairly sure that it would not really have gone out, yet then, that summer, I was unwilling to make the experiment.

Without even knowing context (this character is a victim of wartime post traumatic stress disorder) we can feel his suffering. Maass says writing with a lot of subtext works especially well for the big feelings—death, deep fear, deep loss, love.

Maass offers a writer’s exercise if you want to bring effective showing into your work. Basically he suggests that you:

– Pick a moment in your story when your main character is moved, unsettled, disturbed. Maybe a moment of choice, of needing something badly, having learned something shocking, feeling overwhelmed. Now write down all the emotions you can think of for this moment—obvious and hidden.

– Now write how your character would behave, act. What’s the biggest, most explosive thing your character could do? What would be symbolic? “Go sideways, underneath or ahead,” Maass advises. “How can your protagonist show us a feeling we don’t expect…?”

– Add a detail in the setting that only your main character might notice or notice in a unique way. (I particularly like this technique. It’s very powerful. Not only can the detail be symbolic, but it replicates the odd disassociation we can feel in an emotionally powerful moment. The funeral is NOT the time to notice the dandruff on the corpse’s shoulders, but, of course, you do.)

– Finally, Maass says to delete all the emotions you wrote down in the beginning and let the actions and dialog do the work. Of the emotions you evoke, he asks, “Do they feel too big, dangerous, or over-the top? Use them anyway. Others will tell you if you’ve gone too far, but more likely, you haven’t gone far enough.” (The italics are mine, because this is what I have to battle time and time again! I have a fear of getting melodramatic, she said between lips trembling like the young leaves of the aspen.)

In the future, I’ll talk about Maass’s ideas about Inner Mode and Other Mode and other techniques for evoking emotion. As Maass says, “I want to feel more as I read. Don’t you?…I don’t care about what you write, how you write it, your choices in publishing, or what you want out of your career. What I want is to feel deeply as I read your work.”

As a writer that’s exactly what I hope to do. Maass’s book is a good start.

 

 

The Art of “Controlled Chaos”

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The Skagit River Poetry Festival is being celebrated this weekend (today through Sunday) in La Connor, Washington. Some big names, along with local hero-poets, are on the list as presenters and guest readers – most notable is the three-time Poet Laureate of the United States, Robert Pinsky. I’ve attended the festival just once, when the organizers invited my sister Mary Cornish to be one of their presenters and workshop leaders. The setting is idyllic, of course – quaint La Connor, a small town on the banks of a slough where the Skagit River approaches the sea. The town sits at the western edge of the Skagit Flats, home to world-famous tulip fields. My father once had a small shop -“The Blue Heron” – of his handmade jewelry on the main street of town.

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La Conner, Washington – Mount Baker in the background, Cascade Range

I’ve been debating with myself whether to attend this year, and still haven’t quite decided. Robert Wrigley is leading one workshop; he’s a wonderful poet, and I worked with him briefly when he came in as a guest to talk to my MFA class at the University of Washington. Love his poetry. But I’m not sure his 2018 workshop interests me enough. Instead, I’m thinking of signing up last minute for a Sunday workshop called “Controlled Chaos: The Long-Armed Poem” with Ellen Bass, simply because I find her description of the workshop irresistible. It speaks to what I believe about poetry, and I want to share the description with readers of Books Around the Table. I’d love to study with someone who says this:

“A certain kind of poem reaches out a long arm and sweeps disparate, unexpected things into its net. It scoops in a great deal of material that is more or less obviously related. It doesnt hug the shore. It doesnt walk a narrow line. It retains a kind of wildness. It can seem untamed. And yet all the elements have enough magnetic or gravitational attraction, enough resonance, that the writing feels organically whole. To write this kind of long-armed poem, to allow the excitement, tension, and passion of chaos into our writing, we have to open the doors. We have to be willing to be surprised, startled, even shocked. We have to be willing to experience the most essential state of creativity, the state of not knowing, of being open, of being willing to be changed. In this workshop, well look at examples of the long-armed poem and I will give some practical suggestions for how you might experiment with bringing more controlled chaos into your own writing.”

“Controlled chaos” – yes! I love that phrase. This is often my goal: to embrace “the state of not knowing.” This holds for my poetry for children, as well as my poetry for adults.

And here is another element of the description of the workshop I like – Bass’s instructions about what participants “might want to bring”:

“….any or all of the following: a snippet of overheard conversation, an image from a dream, a quote from a book you’re reading, a line or two from your journal, a memory that’s been on your mind, a handful of words that have caught your attention, a song that’s been going through your mind, something you saw recently in nature or in a city.”

Like I said, irresistible. So why resist? I’ll drive south on Sunday, across the Skagit Flats, taking along some possibilities. A line in a song. An overheard conversation. A handful of words and a desire to play. Essential: a willingness to experiment with controlling the chaos through poetry.

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To see the Poetry Friday round-up this week, go to Sloth Reads.

Here are my contributions: a poem by Ellen Bass titled “Enough” [see note in comments] and a poem by Robert Wrigley titled “At the Beach.”

Enough

Enough seen….Enough had….Enough…
Arthur Rimbaud

No. It will never be enough. Never
enough wind clamoring in the trees,
sun and shadow handling each leaf, never enough clang
of my neighbor hammering,
the iron nails, relenting wood, sound waves
lapping over roofs, never enough
bees purposeful at the throats
of lilies. How could we be replete
with the flesh of ripe tomatoes, the unique
scent of their crushed leaves. It would take many
births to be done with the thatness of that.

Oh blame life. That we just want more.
Summer rain. Mud. A cup of tea.
Our teeth, our eyes. A baby in a stroller.
Another spoonful of crème brûlée, sweet burnt crust crackling.
And hot showers, oh lovely, lovely hot showers.

Today was a good day.
My mother-in-law sat on the porch, eating crackers and cheese
with a watered-down margarita
and though her nails are no longer stop-light red
and she can’t remember who’s alive and dead,
still, this was a day
with no weeping, no unstoppable weeping.

Last night, through the small window of my laptop,
I watched a dying man kill himself in Switzerland.
He wore a blue shirt and snow was falling
onto a small blue house, onto dark needles of pine and fir.
He didn’t step outside to feel the snow on his face.
He sat at a table with his wife and drank poison.

Online I found a plastic bag complete with Velcro
and a hole for a tube to a propane tank. I wouldn’t have to
move our Weber. I could just slide
down the stucco to the flagstones, where the healthy
weeds are sprouting through the cracks.
Maybe it wouldn’t be half-bad
to go out looking at the yellowing leaves of the old camellia.
And from there I could see the chickens scratching—
if we still have chickens then. And yet…

this little hat of life, how will I bear
to take it off while I can still reach up? Snug woolen watch cap,
lacy bonnet, yellow cloche with the yellow veil
I wore the Easter I turned thirteen when my mother let me  promenade
with Tommy Spagnola on the boardwalk in Atlantic City.

Oxygen, oxygen, the cry of the body—and you always want to give it
what it wants. But I must say no—
enough, enough

with more tenderness
than I have ever given to a lover, the gift
of the nipple hardening under my fingertip, more
tenderness than to my newborn,
when I held her still flecked
with my blood. I’ll say the most gentle refusal
to this dear dumb animal and tighten
the clasp around my throat that once was kissed and kissed
until the blood couldn’t rest in its channel, but rose
to the surface like a fish that couldn’t wait to be caught.

EllenBassbyIreneYoung-e1514703294808

Poet Ellen Bass


Wrigley

Poet Robert Wrigley

Wrigley

NAOMI SHIHAB NYE ON READING AND WRITING

“We read books. We write poems. We belong to ourselves. Does your story have room for me? My story has room for you – ways to enter in, ways to feel our lives reflected or confirmed. Ways of finding greater confidence. We’re all here. We can do it.

“We live on the edges of stories we don’t hear. Every person walking past us on your beautiful Bellingham pier is full of stories…”

Poet, humanist and teacher Naomi Shihab Nye took the stage April 28 at Western Washington University to deliver her Arbuthnot Honor Lecture, REFRESHMENTS WILL BE SERVED – Our Lives of Reading and Writing.

naomiX3It was a luminous presentation, full of stories from her 42 years of working and writing with students from all over the world. Her attitude is ever curious. When a student from Afghanistan asked her why she choses to spend time with kids, she answered, “Because I want to remember what you know.”

She spoke of the importance of asking for stories before they are lost and proposed ways to keep the flow going, like writing on various papers: found papers, round paper placemats, post-its, etc.

She talked about the way writing works: “Nothing is too small to work on.” And “One person’s story encourages another.” And “Each thing gives us something else – another way of thinking, a new thought, more compassion for people who have trouble finishing their work.”

She reminded us that when you feel beleaguered as a writer or a citizen, reading will fortify you.

Near the end, she read her poem KINDNESS. She told us she did not write this poem; it was a gift and she was the scribe. It came to her on her honeymoon, after she and her husband had been robbed. This poem has seen me through hard times and I loved hearing her read it.

KINDNESS

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

–Naomi Shihab Nye, 1995

P.S. Earlier this month, walking around Green Lake, this great heron reminded me of another poem that speaks to us in trying times, from poet, writer, activist and farmer Wendell Berry:

heron

The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

– Wendell Berry, 1998

P.P.S. William Stafford, Oregon’s beloved poet and mentor to Naomi Shihab Nye gets the last line here: “If you are having trouble writing, lower your standards.”

 

 

 

Curious Maps

In her poem The Map Elizabeth Bishop said ” More delicate than the historians’ are the map-makers colors. ”

The Curious Map Book contains many cartographic gems from the British Library.
Some are delicate and some are indelicate.

The Rose of Bohemia, (now the western part of the Czech Republic) was drawn by Christoph Vetter and engraved in 1668 by Wolfgang Kilian. Prague is the center of the rose.

This allegorical map of the Baltic Sea as Charon was created by Olof Rudbeck Jr. of Uppsala in 1701.

Geography Bewitched!  is a series of maps made by Robert Dighton, London in 1793.

This character seems to be suffering from loch jaw.

John Bull  is bombarding the Bum-boats in this  map of England and France by James Gillray of London in 1793.

Dame Venodotia – a map of North Wales is from 1851. Her torso is Gwynedd (the name of the town in Pennsylvania where I grew up.)
Peer closely at this image to see hidden animals and people.

This map, made in 1854 by Thomas Onwhyn shows the four main protagonists of the Crimean War as animals.

Eliza Jane Lancaster (also known by her stage name Lilian Lancaster) created this map of Spain and Portugal in 1868.

In recent times the tradition of allegorical and animate maps has been carried on wonderfully by Peter Sis. Here are some of his drawings.

And the last word on maps goes to Saul Steinberg in this conversation from 1963.

Postscript:
Alice Provensen died yesterday at age 99. You can read her obituary here. Her work is beautiful, smart, real, soul stirring and delightful. Thank you Alice Provensen.

provensen king of cats copy