Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Last Day of Poetry Month

Carl Sandburg's ten definitions of poetry -- and each one is a poem in itself.

1. Poetry is a projection across silence of cadences arranged to break the silence with definite intentions of echoes, syllable, wave lengths.

2.Poetry is the journal of a sea animal living on land, wanting to fly in the air.

3. Poetry is a series of explanations of life, fading off into horizons too swift for explanations.

4. Poetry is a search for syllables to shoot at the barriers of the unknown and the unknowable.

5. Poetry is a theorem of a yellow-silk handkerchief knotted with riddles, sealed in a balloon tied to the tail of a kite flying in a white wind against a blue sky in spring.

6. Poetry is the silence and speech between a wet struggling root of flower and a sunlit blossom of that flower.

7. Poetry is the harnessing of the paradox of earth cradling life and then entombing it.

8. Poetry is a phantom script telling how rainbows are made and why they go away.

9.Poetry is the synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits.

10. Poetry is the opening and closing of a door, leaving those who look through to guess about what is seen in a moment.

As I read these, trying to decide which was my favorite (2, or maybe 5, or possibly 6, oh, wait, 9), it seemed to me that each of these would work equally well as a definition for Life itself.

NOTICE! Today is the last day to leave a comment and ask to be entered in the drawing for the quilt book. Contest closes at 9 pm EST -- winner announced tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Fabric Commentary

My friend Nora, the med student who is spending a year in Mali, sent me a length of this charming fabric which honors our president. Her accompanying note said: "I hope you like this Obama fabric. It's so Malian -- there is a fabric for everything -- a fabric for the gynecology conference, the rotary club, TB prevention week . . . and people make coordinated outfits with all of it and wear it to the prescribed event or during the aforementioned week. Amazing. 200 gynecologist in matching purple skirt/shirt or pant/shirt ensembles."

It's wonderful to think of people so far away celebrating our president, wearing his smiling face and sporting the American flag as they walk along dusty roads under African skies.

I see it as a hopeful sign. . . a very hopeful sign.

And now I have to decide how best to use my bit of cross-cultural material -- some sort of quilted wall hanging . . . hmmm . . .

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Yesterday, when I was fetching an empty sunflower seed bag to use to hold paper for recycling, I found myself absently pulling the string from the strip that had held the bag closed and shoving it into my pocket.

This simple act reminded me of my mentor in matters of mountain economy -- Louise Freeman. Louise was the one who showed me that the sturdy cotton string used to sew shut bags of feed was worth saving. It wouldn't have occurred to Louise not to save it, having lived her life in a culture that couldn't afford wastefulness of any kind.

So I have a little ball of string in my kitchen drawer -- just right for trussing up a chicken to roast or making a toy for a cat to chase.

The saving here is minuscule -- but it always makes me smile when I wind on another piece of string.

Of course, back in the Twenties and well into the Fifties, feed and flour sacks were often made of cloth, not paper or plastic. This cloth, originally a plain unbleached muslin, often with the brand name stenciled on it, was prized for dish towels, undergarments, and the like. Then some marketing genius had the idea to print patterns on the bags. And suddenly, poor countrywomen had 'free' pretty material to make dresses and curtains and the like.

And with the scraps, they made quilts! Quilts of such wild exuberance that they knock your socks off!

This one below is a Nine-Patch. Blocks composed of nine squares -- four of one print and five of another -- are joined with sashing strips of still more different prints. And all of these fabrics, I'm pretty sure, were from feed/flour sacks.

All I know about this quilt (which I bought some years ago in downtown Marshall) is that it was made by a lady named Esta Gentry and she lived in Jupiter -- which is just across the county line.

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As time went on, there was another source of 'free' fabric. Almost everyone had a friend or a relative working in the mills or garment manufacturing industry in the area. I remember Louise giving me stacks of scraps -- literally, stacks, layered with paper in between the fabric -- odd shapes left when a collar or a sleeve was carved from a larger stack of material.

The tied 'quilt' below was made from a combination of flour sack fabric and mill ends. "These were the last squares Mama made," said my friend Grace, handing me a box of strip pieced squares. "Maybe you can do something with them."

The squares were made by sewing strips diagonally across a square of paper (cut from Sears catalogue pages, for the most part -- again, no waste.) I joined the squares in fours to make a diamond pattern then joined these larger squares with blue sashing strips.

I didn't quilt it (honestly, I think I'd have gone blind had I tried to -- it is rather loud), instead I tied it with red crochet thread, put a binding on it and gave it back to Grace.

And then, several years later, she gave it back to me.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Literary Discussion Continued

A few days ago we were talking about what people look for in a protagonist and there were lots of interesting thoughts posted in the comments. One comment, however, came to me via email, from Bo Parker aka The Old Word Cobbler. And since it kind of ties in with an on-going question of my own, I'm posting it (with his permission) here.

Bo says: "As I chewed my way into the craft of writing a mystery novel, creating a main character out of figments of my imagination, I had to stop and ask. Who is this guy? What does he stand for? What makes him tick? Once my mind was fixed on the guy's core values and if I were to keep him true to his core values, I had to consider the scenes into which he would be placed, how he would react to different situations, different people, his actions, reactions, and even dialogue, how he would talk, what he would say."

Bo continues:"I recently read a novel in Susan Wittig Albert's China Bayles series that in my opinion demonstrates how this works, or I should say, did not work, at least for me, and was part of the reason I asked the question via DorothyL about characters staying at home. Over the course of seventeen books, I had come to form an opinion about the character China Bayles, based on her interactions with family and friends in and around the fictional town of Pecan Springs.

However, in the latest book, WORMWOOD, China is pulled out of Pecan Springs, removed from all family, all close personal friends, and put on the road with a person who is more business than personal friend. For the rest of the story, China is in a totally foreign environment, a Shaker Settlement in Kentucky.

"The story is well presented as to how a character would conduct themselves as an outsider. However, in my opinion, she is a totally different in this setting. For me, it created an impression of a character that I did not find as compelling, enjoyable, unique, or as strong as the China Bayles I'd come to know in Pecan Springs. If this book and one of the earlier ones in the series were given to separate groups; each asked to read their book and write an analysis of China Bayles, my bet is that there would be two totally different reactions as to China Bayles' character."

That was what Bo asked. And it got me thinking. As some of you may remember, my first attempt at a novel (never published) featured Elizabeth on vacation at the coast of NC. I think that she stayed pretty true to herself -- after all, she's a bit of an outsider back in Marshall County, being a transplant from Florida - and she's an outsider at the coast. But the question under discussion over on Dorothy L was whether you want your series to stay put or whether you're okay with excursions.

It's just idle curiosity that make me ask. I have, at present, no plans to take Elizabeth out of the mountains. But I'm interested to know what others think. Would you like to read about our girl off some where else -- pony trekking in Paraguay . . . sightseeing in Samoa . . . visiting in Vermont . . . or doing anything, anywhere away from the mountains?

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

I Can See Clearly Now . ..

The flowering quince at the base of the birdfeeder had grown so tall that it was blocking my view of the garden beyond. So on Friday I attacked it with my trusty Felco pruners. The stuff is dense, thorny, interlaced with poison ivy vines, and, to make it more of a challenge, it grows on a steep slope.

It took all morning to beat it into submission, of sorts, but when I was done, once more I could see all the way down to the garden from the kitchen window.

On Saturday, I woke to find every muscle in my body aching from the battle, a huge blister on my thumb, and my right forearm itching with red weals from the poison ivy. I decided to give the pruners a rest ( I have my eye on a forsythia in sore need of radical pruning) but to continue on with improving the view.

As the day was forecast to be warm -- up to the eighties -- I spent my time washing windows and putting up screens.

It's a lovely Spring time thing to do and improves the view immensely.

Here're some more things I saw on this warm day.

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Saturday, April 25, 2009

April in Paris

Sophie sent me some pictures taken in the Jardin du Luxembourg, one of Paris's beautiful public parks.

I asked for pictures of the famous chestnut trees.

Here's a little French music to add to the ambiance -- now if only there were wine and cheese and a baguette or two . . .

Hemingway said, "If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast."

Friday, April 24, 2009

A Day Outside

A day like yesterday -- bright and clear with temperatures in the seventies -- made hoeing in the garden a pleasure. Maggie waited patiently.

And then she suggested a walk in the woods.

You come too.
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Thursday, April 23, 2009

What Do You Look for in a Protagonist??

Last night, in the writing class/critique group that I lead, one of the class members expressed her dislike for the protagonist of the novel under discussion. 'Too weak . . . too indecisive . . . was the chief complaint. Most of the class eventually chimed in, expressing similar reservations about this character.

The character in question had, however, a defendant -- a psychologist who is writing a memoir . . . and whose main characters have also drawn fire for some of the same reasons. The psychologist contends that the personalities are interesting.

And then we got a little way into the question of literary fiction versus genre/popular fiction.

Oy! What a can of worms!

I write and teach popular fiction -- and I'm working from the point of view of one who wants to write something that a lot of people will want to read. In the realm of popular fiction, standard wisdom says that your protagonist should be someone whom the reader will like or admire or, at least, be intrigued by to the point that the reader will want to know more. The protagonist also, according to standard wisdom again, should not be passive, should act rather than be acted on. Sure the protag can observe -- but then those observations should be translated into action.

The psychologist felt that those who demanded a strong competent heroine had unrealistic expectations -- "People aren't perfect," she argued.

And of course they aren't. It's another bit of standard wisdom that the protagonist must have a flaw, a weakness, if you will. But there's a big difference between a flawed but mostly strong character and a character who seems to be just kind of wimpy without even a good flaw.

I'm sure that a good book can be written with an unlikeable set of characters . . . probably has been written.

comes to mind. Humbert Humbert is an ingenious monster; his infatuation with Lo is his flaw and there is such excellence of writing, such artistry with words -- as well as the tantalizing story line -- that people tend to read on. Awful though the characters are, they're interesting.

But, says the psychologist, all people are interesting to me.

So I don't know -- What do you all think? Any opinions on what makes a good protagonist? And do the rules differ for male or female protagonists?

Shrinking violets or in-your-face types or some combination thereof -- what's your fancy?

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earth Day

This seems, to me, a suitable song for the day.

FERN HILL by Dylan Thomas

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
Trail with daisies and barley
Down the rivers of the windfall light.

And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
In the sun that is young once only,
Time let me play and be
Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
And the sabbath rang slowly
In the pebbles of the holy streams.

All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air
And playing, lovely and watery
And fire green as grass.
And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars
Flying with the ricks, and the horses
Flashing into the dark.

And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all
Shining, it was Adam and maiden,
The sky gathered again
And the sun grew round that very day.
So it must have been after the birth of the simple light
In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm
Out of the whinnying green stable On to the fields of praise.

And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house
Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,
In the sun born over and over,
I ran my heedless ways,
My wishes raced through the house high hay
And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows
In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
Before the children green and golden
Follow him out of grace.

Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
In the moon that is always rising,
Nor that riding to sleep
I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

And here's a web album with pictures of Earthly Delights.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009


There are so very many places in the world that I'd like to see -- but see as a resident, not as a tourist passing through. It doesn't seem likely that I'll accomplish this -- after all, there's a garden to tend and a a life to be lived here at the farm. Not to mention more books to write.

Plus, real life travel can be expensive and sometimes uncomfortable. So, while I wait to hear back from Herself about Miss Birdie, I'm enjoying a little virtual voyaging, visiting blogs in other lands -- you may have noticed some recent additions.

Somerset Seasons/Dorset Days

This one's from Leanne in England who seems to share many of my own preoccupations - gardening, chickens, old books, nature and her seasons. . .

Miss_Yves' Photograff is from France -- in French. I can read a bit of it--a very little bit -- but it's mostly photos -- and there's music. If you're checking it out at work, you might want to hit MUTE first.

In the Netherlands Reader Wil
shares pictures from her travels as well as her beautiful homeland.

There are a surprising three blogs from Africa:

The Egypt Experience is from Robyn, a South African who teaches English in Egypt. . .

Millet Love is the infrequent but fascinating journal of Nora, an American med student working in Mali . . .

and Thatchwick Cottage-- Eleanor's lovely words and pictures from South Africa.

Who knows where my travels will lead me next?

Is someone blogging in Mongolia?

Monday, April 20, 2009


Oh, my goodness! Look at this! And thanks to Reader Wil for leading me down this particular primrose path.

I could stare at this for hours. Wait, I guess already have.

As always, click on the imge to biggify.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

National Poetry Month

It's National Poetry month and I urge you to check out this post of Kay Byer's. Her poem sequence "Searcher" has been nominated for the prestigious Pushcart Prize and she shares two poems from the work.

Years ago in England, a searcher was a woman employed to check bodies before burial to ensure that they had been clothed in English wool cloth, rather than in prohibited foreign goods.

Kay takes this dark material and weaves a deeply-felt and beautifully-imaged web of words.

But that's what poets do.

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