Monday, July 17, 2017

Larking at the Clark

https://www.marlboromusic.org/visit/clark-art-institute/
Michael and I had a glorious 30th anniversary celebration over the weekend in Williamstown, MA. Two days at the ever-fabulous Clark Art Institute, feasting at Coyote Flaco etc., lots of walks around Williamstown. (If you go and are of a literary bent, St. John's has a splendid Bunyan "Pilgrim's Progress" window, and there are fabulous John Martin mezzotints of "Paradise Lost" hidden away in a little gallery in the Clark cellar.) Special exhibits on Alma-Tadema, Picasso, and Frankenthaler are on at the moment. Bemused by several pieces that suggested how much Sendak learned from Picasso.... The collection is splendid, with wonderful works by Ghirlandaio, the Master of the Embroidered Foliage, Pesellino, Gainsborough, Homer, Inness, Singer Sargent, and many more.

I discovered that a person cannot get away from Cooperstown in Williamstown, and not only because Sterling Clark was brother to Stephen Clark, who founded so much in Cooperstown with their father's share of the Singer fortune. Saw a stone-and-bronze monument to Ulysses Grant (Negro Leagues star) that mentioned The Baseball Hall of Fame, and three paintings by local painter Tracy Helgeson were hanging in the front window of Greylock Gallery. 

That was my third and longest visit to the Clark. If you have not been, it is well worth the trip. And there are now trails and a big reflecting pool and new galleries and study areas. I came home with books about the Clark collection, Dürer, and Owen Jones's The Grammar of Ornament.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Marly at Porter Street


Big thanks to Chris Phillips for featuring "The Wrexham Coverlet" and "At the Fall in Borderlands" (published in the current issue of John Wilson's new Education and Culture) on his podcast, Word from Porter Street (#4 new series.) I'm at 2:45, but listen to the whole thing; it's a quick 15 minutes. Jump just HERE. 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Summer sampler, part two

Named as one of their Favorite Books of 2015
at 
Books and Culture Magazine, Maze of Blood 
(Mercer University Press, 2015), is a visceral
shot to the senses and a fine filament tugging
at the imagination that examines the results
of thwarted dreams and desires in the life
of a young writer. Set in rural Texas
in the 1930’s, Marly Youmans uses language
as both scalpel and wand to conjure a place
and time as real as the abandoned oil wells
and as otherworldly as the magical lands
of the great epic poems.... Suzanne Brazil
The start of the 11th chapter of Maze of Blood...

The girl broke into his house like a wave.
Windows were thrown open to let the breeze in, and the crickets sawed like mad on their dry, chitinous fiddles. Somewhere in the background a radio played a cowboy song about horse thieves and a broken heart. Conall had been rattling the Underwood’s keys and ranting a story to the air when she sailed through the door and splashed against the walls.
His mother and father tried to turn her away, as if pushing with their dried, withered fingers against the blue-and-green swell of a mermaid. But her voice rang out so loudly that she woke him from a tale of bushwhacking across the wilderness, and he came into the living room.
Her brown eyes held his.
    He could feel the walls starting to buckle—could feel some kind of radiance pouring out of her and pushing at the meager room, making the dilapidated couch and chairs stand out in all their cheerlessness. Perfume blossomed in the air that had been stale and smelled faintly of illness. Her presence diminished his mother and father, and they dwindled to toys. She might as well have been a tiger roaming the Sikhote-Alin mountains, and they two little rabbits in the ginseng leaves! Her body moved easily, as if she were more at home in the house than they, with more of a right to be there. Conall felt a ripple of pleasure—or gratefulness—perhaps even joy. Whatever it was, the sensation was so unfamiliar that he could not put a final name to it and knew only that for all his bulk, he felt very light on feet that seemed about to float up from the floor. He wanted to rush to her, wrap his arms around her, and sniff the scent of her hair, and he would have been content to hold her that way for a long time.
“You reminded me of a poem,” he told her, later on in the evening.
“What poem?”
“‘Kubla Khan.’ The way the water goes dancing and diving.”
“Next time I’ll bring my dulcimer,” she said..
“My Abyssinian maid,” he said, and smiled.
“The Abyssinian maid melted away like the poem.”
“I’ll have to hold on tight,” he said.
She dazzled him. A kind of bewitchment was shed from her fingertips as she spoke. In the distance, crickets were chirping, and a few spotted chorus frogs were throat-singing—their vocal sacs emitting a series of rasping trills. Conall said that the frogs had been Mongolians in another life but had been sent to Texas to repent of their sins. He told her that he had called up the moon especially for her and that the harvest moon belonged to Ceres. Soon, he said, the daughter of the goddess would be leaving for the winter kingdom of Hades. He wondered how Persephone, so full of light and life, could endure such a kingdom of darkness.
   Clinging close to the horizon, the enormous autumn moon had taken on the surprising color of a rutabaga. Perhaps they had danced under the moon together. Conall didn’t know how to dance but couldn’t imagine that ignorance would have stopped him. He could not remember, though he could still feel her hand that was small and warm and sweet-smelling. Perhaps the dancing had come later in his dreams.
Her name was Maybelline.

Note: hardcovers of Maze of Blood and Glimmerglass are currently on half-price sale at Amazon.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Summer sampler, part one

"Its themes and the power of its language,
the forceful flow of its storyline and its characters
have earned the right to a broad national audience."
30 July 2012 John M. Formy-Duval.
About.com Contemporary Literature
excerpt mid-way in Chapter 10, A Death at the White Camellia Orphanage. Pip runs away again, and this time he thinks to take Clemmie and her baby.

* * *

Stillness had come over the world; the train had been checked in its flight and was taking on water.
“Come with me,” Pip whispered, the idea so new and bright and large in his mind that he never thought to hold back the words, any more than he could think to keep the orb of sun from cresting the horizon at dawn.  He had grown another inch in the past month.  He bent down and kissed her on the mouth, and under his hand he felt a flutter at her throat.
Clemmie laughed and then kissed back, pressing against him until the baby squalled and she drew away.
“Come with me.”  The words seemed potent and magical, like what he had imagined back in the Emanuel Primitive Baptist Church as Preacher Bell described the peal at the world’s end when souls would be threshed from their husks.  Would it be so different from the two long whistles that meant the brakes had been released and the train was moving?
The locomotive released a head of steam; a black thunderhead sprang from the chimney.  And at once Pip understood that this was what he had been meaning for years:  Come with me.  Had he known all along that the three of them would be standing by the train, that he would draw Clemmie by the sheer force of his own wish, and that they would swarm, laughing, into the shadows of an empty boxcar?  They would be a family, flying across the flatlands, feeling the earth swell under their heels and break from the plains in mountain surges.   It was not anything to do with Bill; it was about him.  In the light of his rapture of need, her earlier bonds looked wrong and weak, would crumble to dust and drift across abandoned farms like ghosts exposed to the dawn.
He could see the double-headed engines now, black boulders crowning a rockslide barely held to the groove of track as it eased to round the curve—then the train was upon him, the rumble quickening and the whistle crying the crossing signal of two long notes, a short, and another long that seemed to pluck at his skin, alerting every inch of his body.  The lead engine shot past, the engineer and fireman towering above him, sparks from the wheels zinging onto his pant-legs like beetles of fire, but he did not stop staring at Clemmie, who was laughing again but not shaking her head.  For once in his life, he was locked onto a woman’s eyes, her pupils widening to take him in.  He grabbed her hand and began to race alongside the train, the baby shrieking in bursts like a small steam whistle.  When he leaped for the boxcar, Pip made it easily, but their hands uncoupled, and he shouted at Clemmie to hurry.
She did start after him, lifting Lanie as if she would throw the child into his arms.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Conundrums of art

In between graduation parties and company and weeding the riot of summer and tidying the hovel and hanging out with the godly (the ones we now call Puritans), I've noticed a few things that seem good for those attracted by the arts.

Creative economy podcast

A lot of this tends toward the usual depressing stuff about the inability of the arts in our day to feed and clothe 99% of its practitioners. But it does sum up a lot of issues. I don't know.... Being a medieval (male) artisan with a lot of family luck in the realm of health and longevity seems more and more attractive.




William Deresiewicz talks about art in our day: the transformation of makers of art from artisans to artist to professional to entrepreneur; the creative economy; online lives and art; digitization; everybody wanting to be an artist; multi-platform creators; craft and creators; the new mode of "creativity."

Seizing ephemera

Jacoba Urist, How Do You Conserve Art Made of Bologna, or Bubble Gum, or Soap?As contemporary artists get more ambitious with their materials, conservators have to find creative ways to preserve the works.

Can we preserve a mayfly as easily as we can a statue carved from basalt? Is the word bologna still applicable to nonsense? Has this bologna risen to the level of art? Should artists who use disposable materials be endlessly curated at high cost? Purchased at high cost? If a work has to be remade every few years, is it not reproduction rather than original work? What happens when the artist dies and somebody else does the reproduction in order to retain the museum or collector's investment? Or are the artist's assistants already doing the work? (If so, can they just continue the artist's work after his/her death, rather as novels are sometimes printed under the name of a dead writer?) Should there be a foundation to do that in perpetuity? Or should the museum get into the manufacturing business? Does common sense suggest that the impossibly ephemeral (bubble gum painting, chocolate sculpture, bologna portraits, styrofoam) should be treated differently from marble, ivory, gold, paint, and "gilded monuments of princes?"

This article fascinates, though it does not address the basic questions that a reasonably intelligent person who had long loved art might have in response to the subject matter.

Psychology of creativity podcast

Exploring the Psychology of Creativity is a conversation between Marc Mayer, Director of the National Gallery of Canada, and Jordan B. Peterson, Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto. March 9, 2017 at the National Gallery of Canada.

Creativity, openness, interest in ideas, art, liberalism and conservatism and temperaments, personality traits and the arts, risk, foolishness, the game of art, tests that select for creativity; employers, systems, and creative people; structures and artists; life as an artist; artistic distribution; winner-takes-all mode in creative domains; aesthetic joy; Jung, archetypes, and artists; deep biological needs to make art; monetizing your art; entrepreneurs; creative children; the genii; art as solving difficult problems; artists as teachers of seeing; the miracle of dreams; mediation between order and chaos; visionaries; art as vanguard; beauty of Europe as infinitely valuable; Canadians, zebras, and standing out.



Ida Nettleship John

I love this review of The Good Bohemian: The Letters of Ida John edited by Rebecca John and Michael Holroyd, though it breaks my heart. The reviewer is clear-eyed and sympathetic to Ida Nettleship John and to her mother. The sketch of her is by Augustus John, c. 1900. Poor Ida, an artist barred at every turn but still amusing and touching in her letters. It's too bad she couldn't climb "outside over there" like Sendak's Ida.


The 2017 Frederick Buechner Workshops, FYI

Fuller Seminary has cancelled the September conference, so I won't be doing talks and workshops there in September. It is a shame because the three annual Buechner Workshop weeks at Princeton have done well, and it would be good to have one on the West Coast. But I understand the reasons and wish Fuller well.

One good thing: The day I found out, I also got a request to publish a version of the talk, so that's something salvaged from the work. Should be out within the year.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Poems: new online


I've just arrived back from more than a week at the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts. As but an Alternate Fellow, I was pleased and grateful to be invited.

Meanwhile, some print magazines with my poems arrived, and a few poems popped up in online magazines. Here are links to the online poems at John Wilson's Education and Culture and Karen Kelsay and Jeff Holt's The Orchards.







https://orchardspoetrycom.files.wordpress.com/2016/02/the-orchards-june-6d.pdf

Print arrivals: requested poems in Trinacria, Artemis. I ought to be  more industrious about sending out. Ought. Somehow am not.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

To make or not to make--

This post is especially for Tim Davis, a retired professor who often visits here, and who just wrote a post about why writers write. He also linked to a Huffington Post article about the same. I started to answer him on his post and then realized my response was not a comment but a post itself and probably could be a book, though luckily I have no desire to write a book about the subject. Out this post goes with best wishes to him for better health.

Of course, I don't know why the group called writers write. I only know why I write, and why I did not stop when having my third book come out at FSG within two weeks after 9-11 destroyed my so-important "numbers," or why I didn't stop when various editors orphaned my books by leaving FSG or LSU or Godine before pub date, or why I'm still writing today. Those things don't make me special; every published writer has a collection of such stumbles and pieces of ill luck, and plenty of us have made wrong choices along the way.

So here it is: my plain truth. No varnish. No trim.

* * *

Making is joy.

Playing with words can feel like joy streaming through the body.

There is little that is stranger, wilder, and more thrilling than to go to what feels like a fount and to bring back a pail brimming with golden water.

The call is to bring a shaped thing out of the welter of things and names: to create using the materials of Creation.

A strange part of all this leaning toward shapeliness is that a writer is also made, enlarged, changed and transformed. She may fly into ethereal realms or trudge through the underworld, may die on the phoenix pyre many times. She experiences redemption, loss, debasement, courage, all wax and wane--a whole gamut of ways of being. She loves the unloveable as well as the much-loved. Like a fantasy object, a writer becomes bigger on the inside through making poems and narratives.

Giving a made thing away in the form of a book and having it be received is also fine. And lovely. And makes a writer pleased and glad. But when the book goes out from the writer, it is just that: gone out. Whatever flame it has may continue to burn elsewhere. Something new needs to be born. Yeats's Wandering Aengus chases his silvery trout lady until he is an old man; he will go on till times and time are done.

You ask about money and writers. Expecting to be rewarded financially for art in our current times is dangerous to the self: see all those annoying studies on black swans for evidence! Almost nobody is rewarded with a consistent living wage; as in many arts fields, a few (and often not the best) take home the main financial reward. I know people who were deeply harmed by not understanding this brute fact. Expectation of financial reward broke them. Expectation of easy publication broke them. Expectation that others would support their work out of love broke them. (Publication is, of course, easier now, with so many new modes, but writers of my generation did not have so many choices. Having many choices presents new problems and unintended consequences, but that's a different rabbit hole to be explored.)

In the comments, you question whether art or "readers and filthy lucre" matter most to the writer. One writer is not all writers, but maybe the life of one writer can shed light on your question. Earlier, you mentioned Hawthorne and Melville; the latter is an especially instructive example. Melville suffered mightily from the withdrawal of readership and encouragement over time, and he lived so very long without it. In the face of people who thought him nigh-mad, in the no-face face of being ignored and forgotten, he kept on making art, writing poems and fiction. He persisted. He died with Billy Budd in the papers on his writing desk. That's courage. Despite whatever flaws a biographer might gleefully unearth, that's human nobility. That's deep-diving devotion to beauty, truth, goodness, and creation.