“I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too.” ~ Queen Elizabeth I
Saturday afternoon, sunny and milder, 78 degrees.
I’ve been on a British history binge for weeks now, absorbing documentaries and shows about the War of the Roses and the Tudors. Last night I finished watching the series, The White Queen, based on books written by historical novelist Philippa Gregory. I’ve never read any of her books, and she has been criticized for working loosely with history, but hey, the key word here is novelist, not biographer.
I used to know pretty much the entire tree of British monarchy, largely because of my Shakespeare classes, but I’ve had to go back and familiarize myself again since beginning this current binge.
Anyway, today is the birthday of Queen Elizabeth I (September 7, 1533 – March 24, 1603), who ruled England and Ireland for almost 44 years. The grand irony, of course, is that her father, Henry VIII was obsessed with having a son to carry on the Tudor dynasty, yet his son, Edward VI reigned for only six years and died at only 15, and his daughter, Mary (aka Bloody Mary) ruled for only five. Elizabeth, daughter of Henry and second wife Anne Boleyn, was never supposed to be queen, and she was in fact declared illegitimate at one point, yet her rule is referred to as England’s Gloriana, and her long reign brought stability to the country after years of instability and war.
For more on the “virgin queen” you can go here or here.
“And I am all the things I have ever loved: scuppernong wine, cool baptisms in silent water, dream books and number playing. I am the sound of my own voice singing . . . I am not complete here; there is much more, but there is no more time and no more space . . . and I have journeys to take, ships to name, and crews.” ~ Toni Morrison, from the jacket cover of The Black Book
Sunday afternoon, sunny, warmer, 86 degrees.
We recently lost an icon in the literary sphere: Toni Morrison (born Chloe Anthony Wofford February 18, 1931-August 5, 2019). Novelist, essayist, editor and professor emirutus at Princeton University, Morrison (88), was the only African American writer and one of the few women to have received the Nobel prize for literature (1993). Among her other awards were the Pulitzer Prize for Beloved in 1988 and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Song of Solomon in 1977.
The Guardian‘s obituary offers a comprehensive look at her incredible oeuvre, and The Boston Herald ran an op ed by Joyce Ferriabough Bolling on August 11 that focuses more on Morrison’s incomparable literary abilities: “The quiet power of her prose was like a tsunami sweeping you to other dimensions — and sometimes you never saw it coming.”
Newsweek published an article that includes some of the renowned author’s best quotes. Here is a selection from her 1993 Nobel Prize lecture, powerful words that are incredibly significant still today:
The systematic looting of language can be recognized by the tendency of its users to forgo its nuanced, complex, mid-wifery properties for menace and subjugation. Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge. Whether it is obscuring state language or the faux-language of mindless media; whether it is the proud but calcified language of the academy or the commodity driven language of science; whether it is the malign language of law-without-ethics, or language designed for the estrangement of minorities, hiding its racist plunder in its literary cheek – it must be rejected, altered and exposed. It is the language that drinks blood, laps vulnerabilities, tucks its fascist boots under crinolines of respectability and patriotism as it moves relentlessly toward the bottom line and the bottomed-out mind. Sexist language, racist language, theistic language – all are typical of the policing languages of mastery, and cannot, do not permit new knowledge or encourage the mutual exchange of ideas.
. . . Stop thinking about saving your face. Think of our lives and tell us your particularized world. Make up a story. Narrative is radical, creating us at the very moment it is being created. We will not blame you if your reach exceeds your grasp; if love so ignites your words they go down in flames and nothing is left but their scald. Or if, with the reticence of a surgeon’s hands, your words suture only the places where blood might flow. We know you can never do it properly – once and for all. Passion is never enough; neither is skill. But try. For our sake and yours forget your name in the street; tell us what the world has been to you in the dark places and in the light. Don’t tell us what to believe, what to fear. Show us belief s wide skirt and the stitch that unravels fear’s caul. You, old woman, blessed with blindness, can speak the language that tells us what only language can: how to see without pictures. Language alone protects us from the scariness of things with no names. Language alone is meditation.
“How I wanted to be that sky — to hold every flying & falling at once.” ~ Ocean Vuong, from “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous”
Sunday afternoon, partly cloudy, 85 degrees.
It’s a lazy kind of day, but when isn’t it? I’m currently surrounded by sleeping dogs, and both horses are waiting by the front door for treats. Last night in one of my dreams the front porch was wondrously clean, something that isn’t going to happen until the pasture fence is finished. The night before I had couple of dreams in which I was hiding from a bear, same bear in both dreams, but hiding with different people in each. Weird.
Today I’m featuring a SoundCloud from poet/writer Ocean Vuong. Vuong was born in Saigon, Vietnam in 1988; two years later he immigrated to Hartford, CT with six relatives after spending a year in a Philippine refugee camp. Vuong, the first person in his family to read, currently teaches in the M.F.A. program at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. The Guardian ran a detailed article on Vuong and his work in 2017.
Vuong’s debut book of poetry, Night Sky With Exit Wounds, won the coveted T. S. Eliot prize in 2017; he is only the second debut poet to win the T. S. Eliot prize (Sarah Howe was the first in 2016). The poems in this book deal with the war and the fall of Saigon with a mixture of myth and harsh reality.
Vuong’s first novel, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (Penguin Press 2019), was an instant New York Times bestseller, and has been hailed as, “a book of sustained beauty and lyricism, earnest and relentless, a series of high notes that trembles exquisitely almost without break” (Los Angeles Times). The book’s title comes from a poem included in Night Sky, a section of which I’m including here:
In the life before this one, you could tell
two people were in love
because when they drove the pickup
over the bridge, their wings
would grow back just in time.
Some days I am still inside the pickup.
Some days I keep waiting.
~ from “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous”
I still remember the first time that I came across a snippet from one of Vuong’s poems—I was immediately mesmerized and spent hours searching for his poems on the web and then added his book to my wish list. His is the kind of writing to which people can only aspire. It is absolutely luminous.
(Today is the birthday of English Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (August 4, 1792– July 8, 1822)
Like any good son, I pull my father out
of the water, drag him by his hair
through white sand, his knuckles carving a trail
the waves rush in to erase. Because the city
beyond the shore is no longer
where we left it. Because the bombed
cathedral is now a cathedral
of trees. I kneel beside him to show how far
I might sink. Do you know who I am,
Ba? But the answer never comes. The answer
is the bullet hole in his back, brimming
with seawater. He is so still I think
he could be anyone’s father, found
the way a green bottle might appear
at a boy’s feet containing a year
he has never touched. I touch
his ears. No use. I turn him
over. To face it. The cathedral
in his sea-black eyes. The face
not mine – but one I will wear
to kiss all my lovers good-night:
the way I seal my father’s lips
with my own & begin
the faithful work of drowning.
“Time didn’t heal, but it anesthetized. The human mind could only feel so much.” ~ P.D. James, from Innocent Blood
Today is the birthday of one of my favorite authors, P.D. James, born Phyllis Dorothy James on August 3, 1920. She was named Baroness James of Holland Park in 1991, and among her numerous awards, she received an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE), in 1983, and a fellowship from the Royal Society of Literature. She was the author of more than 20 books, 14 of them featuring her detective poet Adam Dalgliesh. James died at the age of 94 on November 27, 2014.
Here are a few quotes from the prolific author:
You can’t teach someone to know how to use words effectively and beautifully. You can help people who can write to write more effectively and you can probably teach people a lot of little tips for writing a novel, but I don’t think somebody who cannot write and does not care for words can ever be made into a writer. It just is not possible.
~ from “P. D. James’s 10 Tips for writing”)
Learn to write by doing it. Read widely and wisely. Increase your word power. Find your own individual voice though practicing constantly. Go through the world with your eyes and ears open and learn to express that experience in words.”
~ from Advice to Writers: A Compendium of Quotes, Anecdotes, and Writerly Wisdom from a Dazzling Array of Literary Lights
“They say I’m a bitch. Or witch. I’ve claimed the same and never winced.” ~ Sandra Cisneros, from “Loose Woman”
Tuesday afternoon, cloudy, 81 degrees.
I awoke this morning to Sarah Bear (named for Corey’s primary school girlfriend) jumping on me; as usual, she was muddy and wet. In the mornings when they first go out, several of the dogs run through the pasture, which is heavy with morning dew. Sarah always seems to be the one who winds up getting the dirtiest, and her favorite thing to do once she comes back inside is to jump on me. So I greet most days smelling of wet dog. It’s very sexy.
There’s so much that I want to do around the house today. Who knows how much of it I will actually be able to accomplish. Just cleaning up after the goats can be a twenty-four-hour chore (I so look forward to the day when the goat boys go outside once Zeke is weaned). One day I won’t have to worry about the constant influx of dirt and mud on the hardwood floors. One day we’ll have crushed shells or gravel on the driveway, and the horses and goats won’t have the front yard as their personal spaces. One day.
Corey comes home tomorrow. I hope that he gets a fairly early start so that he doesn’t get home as late as he did last time. The later it gets, the more that it stresses me out. I can’t wait for him to see how full the apple trees have become. We’re unsure as to what kind each tree is; I just know that the horses and goats are enjoying the apples that I’m giving them as treats, but truly there are way more than we thought we’d get this year as the trees really need to be pruned and fertilized properly.
Also, I made some homemade syrup for the hummingbird feeder, and they are flocking to it. We have about six regulars, including two male ruby-throated hummers. Anyway, that’s today’s news.
Today’s Two for Tuesday features two works, a passage and a poem, by multi-hyphenate Sandra Cisneros. She has won numerous awards, including NEA fellowships in poetry and fiction, and a National Medal of the Arts from President Obama. I have several of her books on my wishlist. If you would like to learn more about this incredibly talented writer, go here.
More later. Peace.
from “A House of My Own”
As a Latina, I don’t want to inherit certain legacies. I don’t want to inherit mothers laying down their lives like a Sir Raleigh cloak and asking everyone to step all over them. I don’t want to inherit my mother’s fear of doing anything alone or her self-destructive anger. I don’t want to inherit my paternal grandmother’s petty jealousies and possessiveness I don’t want to inherit my maternal grandmother’s silence and passivity I don’t want to quedar bien, be nice, with the men around me at the expense of my own dreams and happiness I don’t want to be the mother of twelve children, seven, five, even one, but I do want to write stories for one child, five, seven, twelve, a million children.
I do want to inherit the witch in my women ancestors—the willfullness, the passion, ay, the passion where all good art comes from as women, the perseverance, the survivor skills, the courage, the strength of las mujeres bravas, peleoneras, necias, berrinchudas. I want to be bad if bad means I must go against society—el Papá, el Pápa, the boyfriend, lover, husband, girlfriends, comadres—and listen to my own heart, that incredible witch’s broom that will take me where I need to go.
I’m convinced if we’re to be artists of any worth we must lock ourselves in a room and work. There are no two ways around this one, no shortcut, no magic word to save the day. Take it as a given, you’ll cry, despair, think you’ll die, that you can’t possibly do it, that it’s a lonely task, you’ll lose faith in yourself, especially at night. But when you finish crying and despairing, you can wipe your eyes and . . . the work is still there waiting. So you better roll up your sleeves and get moving, girl! Nobody’s going to do the work for you. If you’re serving others other than your art, then it just takes longer. In the words of Tillie Olsen, “Evil is whatever distracts.”
Night Madness Poem
There’s a poem in my head
like too many cups of coffee.
A pea under twenty eiderdowns.
A sadness in my heart like stone.
A telephone. And always my
night madness that outs like bats
across this Texas sky.
I’m the crazy lady they warned you about.
The she of rumor talked about –
and worse, who talks.
It’s no secret.
I’m here. Under a circle of light.
The light always on, resisting a glass,
an easy cigar. The kind
who reels the twilight sky.
I’m witch woman high
on tobacco and holy water.
I’m a woman delighted with her disasters.
They give me something to do.
A profession of sorts.
Keeps me industrious
and of some serviceable use.
In dreams the origami of the brain
opens like a fist, a pomegranate,
an expensive geometry.
I haven’t a clue
why I’m rumpled tonight.
Choose your weapon.
Mine – the telephone, my tongue.
Both black as a gun.
I have the magic of words,
the power to charm and kill at will.
To kill myself or to aim haphazardly.
And kill you.
“. . . I cannot remember a time when I was not in love with them—with the books themselves, cover and binding and the paper they were printed on, with their smell and their weight and with their possession in my arms, captured and carried off to myself.” ~ Eudora Welty, from “One Writer’s Beginnings”
Monday afternoon, sunny and mild, 82 degrees.
I thought that today I’d complete a survey that I found. I enjoy doing these once in a while. This one is perfect for me as it’s about books and reading. By the way, if you don’t know it, you can find great copies of hardback books from all genres at Ollie’s. I know, a surprise right? Usually the books are $3.99 or less. Whenever we go there, I look for copies of books that I lost with the storage unit.
Another great place to find books is in thrift stores. There were two in Norfolk that I loved to peruse; one of them used to have a bag of books option: as many books as you could fit in a bag for $5. They were very generous in not limiting bag sizes. I really miss that place.
That all for now. More later. Peace.
“A room without books is like a body without a soul.” ~ Marcus Tullius Cicero
What are you currently reading? I’m rereading Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.
How many books have you read this year? I’m behind in my goals, having only read 12.
How have your reading tastes changed from when you were a child? I wouldn’t say they’ve changed as much as they’ve broadened. As a child, I loved pretty much anything I could find in the young section of the library. Now, I still love books from all categories—science fiction/fantasy, mysteries, in particular British mysteries, poetry, action/adventure, sweeping historical fiction, biographies, actual histories, and memoirs. I also like that category known as Young Adult, although I’m not sure why it’s called that.
Physical book or e-book? Only paper for me. I love the way that books smell and feel. You cannot get that from an e-reader.
Where do you love to read? I love to read outside; if I had a hammock again, that would be my preferred place. I did see one of those hanging egg chairs at Sam’s Club that I would give anything to have as that would be ideal.
What is your ideal reading atmosphere? background noise or silent? alone or with others? I don’t want anything going on in the background if I’m reading, and I prefer to be alone. When I was a teen, I would watch TV with my boyfriend while reading. Don’t really know how I did that.
Are you a writer? I like to think so.
What was your very first baby book? The first book that I remember having was A Child’s Garden of Verses.
What was the first book you read on your own? I’m fairly certain that the first things that I read on my own were Superman comics, but the first book was probably The House at Pooh Corner.
How many books have you read in total? A conservative estimate would be about 2,000 books.
What has been the longest gap between books? I went through a really bad depression in which I couldn’t concentrate enough to read. It was almost a year without books.
What are your favorite genres? See number 3. My very favorite would probably be British mysteries. I’ve been reading those kinds of books the longest.
What books make you happy? This is a weird question. Reading in general makes me happy. Books that make me smile tend to be things like comic compilations such as Calvin & Hobbes or The Far Side.
What books have made you uncomfortable? Why? I don’t really like romances, mostly because they are so antithetical to real life, and the writing style tends to be formulaic.
Can you read anywhere? Moving vehicle? Roller coaster? I used to be able to read anywhere, but I can no longer read in a moving vehicle without getting carsick.
How do you bookmark books? I have a collection of bookmarks, but I rarely remember to use them. Usually I just use whatever piece of paper is closest to me.
Policy on book-lending? I only lend books to close friends or family. My other mother and I used to exchange books all of the time.
Do people know you’re a bookworm? If they know me, they do.
How well do you take care of your books? I cherish my books, and I prefer to purchase hardbacks. I hate it if they become damaged.
Can you read in other languages? I can read a bit in French.
What is a total book turn-off for you? I hate books that contain errors in grammar and syntax, and I get really upset if a book has a bad ending.
What is an essential element of a good book? For me, it needs to have good plot and character development, and it needs to be written well.
Genres you rarely read? I don’t read self-help books. They get on my nerves.
Do you read non-fiction? Yes, I like to read biographies, especially those of writers. I also like memoirs and collections of essays.
Do you read reviews on a book before you read it? Not usually, but if I do read a review and it seems intriguing, I will probably order the book.
Do you judge a book by the cover? I try not to. I learned when pursuing my publishing degree that the cover design is not always as closely married to the text as it should be.
Do you read cover to cover or sometimes skim parts? I read cover to cover, and I often reread books I love, in particular series such as Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, both of which I have read multiple times.
Do you always finish a book, even if it is dull? It’s hard for me to leave a book unfinished, and I can count on my hands the number of books that I’ve actually put down without finishing.
How do you organize your books? I organize by last name within genres.
Favorite book this year? This would have to be The Magicians trilogy. I really, really liked those books, and I wish that there were more in the series.
Music by Keane, “Somewhere Only We Know”
Burning of the Books
Typewriters wait at desks,
stories loiter outside hotels.
Far from the boiling pulp of Thunder Bay
starved spruces in wordless bogs
wait to be books.
You who leave the bookstore
will know how the snow waits
for the white fox to venture out
when hunger is spelled in his gut,
how his tracks end in a tuft of fur
and the asterisk of blood
which is the only color on this page;
the unwritten preface to your book.
It will speak to you in your study
like the claviforms on cavern walls
that have kept felling bison
for forty thousand years.
As you open the cover
an axe will strike in the north woods
and teams of draft horses will haul
great logs across the ice.
And if you read well when you read fire
the censor’s match will fail,
the heart of a pinecone will shine.
Incendiary slogans that sleep in libraries
will inspire arsons in the night.
Fireballs will crown the forests,
and in your book-walled room
the sweet smoke of a word’s entrails
will rise from ashes of the page.
“I was returning to my musty court and madness but my kind of madness.” ~ Charles Bukowski, from “Would You Suggest Writing as a Career?”
Monday afternoon, rainy and much cooler, 72 degrees.
It’s a Charles Bukowski kind of day; by that I mean that it’s ordinary, but depressing in its ordinariness. I’m of two minds about Bukowski: I like some of his poetry, but his short stories sometimes get on my nerves because they are so filled with misogyny. I was just perusing the 1983 collection Tales of Ordinary Madness (originally published by Lawrence Ferlinghetti in 1972). Bukowski had a seeming antipathy towards women that I have a hard time getting past. Yet at the same time, he wrote some lines that were real pearls. For example, take the closing line of one of his short stories, “A .45 to Pay the Rent”:
then the beautiful child was asleep and the moon was full.
It’s such a peaceful line, closing a story with such violent undertones.
The truth is, though, that Bukowski was a true curmudgeon: he just didn’t get along with most people, and he found ordinary life hard, taxing. So he drank and smoked and did drugs, none of which I really do; nevertheless, I sometimes feel a real affinity for the man, the writer, and the intense creative force that compelled him.
“‘Would you suggest writing as a career?’ one of the young students asked me. ‘Are you trying to be funny?’ I asked him. ‘No, no, I’m serious. Would you advise writing as a career?’ ‘Writing chooses you, you don’t choose it.’” ~ Charles Bukowski, from “Would You Suggest Writing as a Career?”
I was reminded of the collection when I was prowling the ether looking for quotes that fit my mood for today. I may have over 100 draft posts filled with quotes and poems and songs, but none of them seemed to fit today’s mood. Then I found the quote for this section, which I have always loved, which led me to search for an online copy of the short stories. I found one here as a PDF, if you are so inclined. I actually found a site that has nothing but quotes from the collection. You can find it here if you’re interested.
Anyway, the drastic switch in temperatures and dropping barometric pressure has caused a combination sinus/migraine, which probably accounts for my weird mood. No real surprise there. Intense pressure and pain do not make for a pleasant afternoon under any circumstances, as I am sure you can agree.
One good thing on the horizon, though: Corey was able to borrow a small horse trailer that works with a standard hitch. We should be able to bring Napoleon home today or tomorrow, depending on weather. I am so relieved.
“I like to prowl ordinary places and taste the people— from a distance.” ~ Charles Bukowski, from”59 Cents a Pound”
This section quote comes from a poem contained in the book (epub here) Play the Piano Drunk Like a Percussion Instrument Until the Fingers Begin to Bleed a Bit. I mean, how can you not love something with that title? It’s as if Bukowski was at times two different people. The crass woman-hater in the short stories, and the astute observer of humanity and life in the poems. I mean, he wrote poems about the souls of dead animals and dreaming of injured cats; there’s a remembered section from some poem, “It’s so easy to be a poet | and so hard to be | a man.”
Truthfully, though I have never read a biography on him, so I probably should do so before attempting to analyze the man in any kind of cogent way.
There was actually a point here. The title of the collection reminds me so much of my friend Gail Kelly from the medical school. She came to me one afternoon so excited because she had found the Tom Waits’ song called “The Piano Has Been Drinking.” It was a classic Gail moment. She was a wild woman, and like so many of my friends, I lost touch with her, and that’s really a shame because we had a real connection.
But back to me and my headache.
It hurts. My eyes are throbbing and I’m typing without really focusing on the screen, not just because of the head but also because the pair of glasses that I use during the day is an old pair of prescription sunglasses, and I lost a nose piece the other day. I haven’t pursued getting a new pair of glasses because of the whole cataract thing. I’m hoping to have an eye exam in August, and perhaps then I can get a referral to an eye surgeon; although, I would really prefer to have the operation done in Norfolk, but who even knows if I can swing that.
Allow me to apologize. I know that this post has been all over the place. Like I said in the beginning: a Bukowski kind of day.
That’s about all for now. More later. Peace.
Music by Tom Waits, “The Piano has been Drinking,” what else? I picked one with the lyrics. For Gail.
59 cents a pound
I like to prowl ordinary places
and taste the people—
from a distance.
I don’t want them too near
because that’s when attrition
but in supermarkets
I can look at their bodies
and their faces
and their clothing—
watch the way they walk
or what they are doing.
I’m like an x-ray machine
I like them like that:
I imagine the best things
I imagine them brave and crazy
I imagine them beautiful.
I like to prowl ordinary places.
I feel sorry for us all or glad for us
caught alive together
and awkward in that way.
there’s nothing better than the joke
the seriousness of us
the dullness of us
buying stockings and carrots and gum
buying birth control
and toilet paper.
we should build a great bonfire
we should congratulate ourselves on our
we stand in long lines
we walk about
I like to prowl ordinary places
the people explain themselves to me
and I to them
a woman at 3:35 p.m.
weighing purple grapes on a scale
looking at that scale very
she is dressed in a simple green dress
with a pattern of white flowers
she takes the grapes
puts them carefully into a white paper
that’s lightning enough
the generals and the doctors may kill us
but we have