Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A Postcard from Greece, by A.E. Stallings

A Postcard from Greece

Hatched from sleep, as we slipped out of orbit
Round a clothespin curve new-watered with the rain,
I saw the sea, the sky, as bright as pain,
That outer space through which we were to plummet,
No guardrails hemmed the road, no way to stop it,
The only warning, here and there, a shrine:
Some tended still, some antique and forgotten,
Empty of oil, but all were consecrated
To those who lost their wild race with the road
And sliced the tedious sea once, like a knife.
Somehow we struck an olive tree instead.
Our car stopped on the cliff's brow. Suddenly safe,
We clung together, shade to pagan shade,
Surprised by sunlight, air, this afterlife.


Monday, August 28, 2006

Vladimir Nabokov 1899-1977

"Curiously enough, one cannot read a book: one can only reread it. A good reader, a major reader, an active and creative reader is a rereader....In reading a book, we must have time to acquaint ourselves with it. We have no physical organ (as we have in the eye in regard to a painting) that takes in the whole picture and then can enjoy its details. But at a second, or third, or fourth reading we do, in a sense, behave towards a book as we do towards a painting."

from Lectures on Literature


Sunday, August 27, 2006

Pauline Kael 1919-2001

Pauline Kael was the movie critic for The New Yorker from 1967-1991.

"It is a depressing fact that Americans tend to confuse morality and art (to the detriment of both) and that, among the educated, morality tends to mean social consciousness." from I Lost it at the Movies


Saturday, August 26, 2006

Blue Angel by Francine Prose

I picked up Blue Angel by Francine Prose because I had heard that it was about MFA workshops. It is not. It is about a creative writing teacher at a college that does not even offer an undergraduate major in creative writing. It does, however, feature many delightfully torturous scenes of the undergraduate creative writing workshop. Also, I like Francine Prose's prose style (awkward sentence alert!) and was impressed with her reading at Tin House last summer, where she was the inaugural speaker, and was introduced by Elissa Schappell. I haven't worked with Francine, but I have studied with Elissa, who is an excellent teacher. Anyway, back to the novel.

Blue Angel is a thoroughly enjoyable read, if you like academic novels, or novels about writers, or novels about protagonists who make terrible mistakes and must live with the consequences. I like all of the above. Plus, it is funny, in a dark and wicked way. Also, it is an expose' of the terrifyingly stupid world of the academic witchhunt, told from the point of view of the very guilty witch, in this case a teacher who has had sex with a student. A student who is clearly using the teacher for her own benefit. Did I believe that the poor schlub would actually be so dumb as to fall for her? Yes indeedy.

If you are looking for a sensitive book about how wonderful teaching creative writing is, and how life-enriching it is to be in the classroom, read something else. But if you are ready to be amazed and delighted by the wit and acumen of a clear-sighted writer who has herself taught many many creative writing workshops, and knows their dark side, then this is the book for you, pal.


Thursday, August 24, 2006

E. B. White 1899 - 1985

E.B. White is famous for writing Charlotte's Web, The Elements of Style, and essays for The New Yorker and Harper's, collected in One Man's Meat. He married Katherine Sergeant Angell, one of the founding editors of The New Yorker.

CRITIC (from Definitions)

The critic leaves at curtain fall,
To find, in starting to review it,
He scarcely saw the play at all
For watching his reaction to it.


Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Notes from the dialogue workshop with Martha Gies

If Martha teaches this again next summer, I'm taking it again. I generated so much vibrant raw material for the novel. Wow. Now I have to transcribe it, while I can still read my handwriting.

Here's the structure:
breakfast 8-9
dialogue workshop 9-12
lunch 12-1
critique workshop 3:15-5:30
dinner 6-7
lectures by the faculty 7-8pm.

The dialogue workshop is a method Martha Gies learned from the Cuban-American playwright Maria Irene Fornes, who has won 6 Obies and numerous other drama awards.

The morning session started with 40 minutes of exercises developed by Fornes, using Hatha yoga and exercises from The Actor's Studio originally designed to free the actor's instrument (body and voice) and adapted for playwrights. Then we moved directly and silently into a room with tables and chairs where we had set out our notebooks and pens. We sat, closed our eyes, and Martha would give us a place. One day this was a house from our past; another day it was a staircase; another time it was a place with a phone. We opened our eyes and began to draw a floorplan of the setting, adding in furniture, trees, stairs, whatever made it real to us. Then we drew the people in the room. The crucial thing is that we did not start out writing dialoge. We drew a setting, got grounded in it, and then waited for the characters to speak.

And speak they did.

Later, Martha would give prompts, a line of dialoge, a noun, a verb. "Did you just call someone?" A miraculous bird. To desire, to clamour for, to crave. Around the beginning of the final hour, she would announce a scene change, or time change. "Now it is two weeks later."

The afternoon critique session
was a regular workshop where we read each other's work and offered our notes. We also read an essay, poems, and stories that Martha had handed out to us:
"Close Reading" by Francine Prose, from the current Atlantic Fiction issue.
"New Age" and "Eyes" poems by Czeslaw Milosz.
"What the Doctor Said" poem by Raymond Carver.
"Hills Like White Elephants" by Ernest Hemmingway
"The Lesson" by Toni Cade Bambara.
"White Gardens" by Mark Helprin.

Labels: ,

Friday, August 11, 2006

Blog hibernation until August 22

The blog will be resting in a darkened room, cucumber slices over its bloodshot eyes, while I take a dialogue workshop with Martha Gies at Menucha, in the Columbia Gorge. The workshop is run by the Creative Arts Community.

I've taken several workshops with Martha, and she is an excellent teacher and a generous human being.

from the Creative Arts Community website:
"Martha Gies is the author of dozens of stories, essays and articles published in magazines and newspapers over the last thirty years, and of Up All Night (Oregon State University Press, 2004), a documentary portrait of Portland told through the stories of 23 people who work night shift. She is the recipient of a PEN Syndicated Fiction Award and has received grants from the Regional Arts and Culture Council and Oregon Literary Arts. She teaches at the Northwest Writing Institute and at a summer workshop in Veracruz.

Instruction will be based on a method developed by Cuban-American playwright Maria Irene Fornes, which incorporates physical exercises, visualizations and assigned writing, the aim of which is the creation of dialogue that is both emotionally honest and dramatically charged."

Labels: ,

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Pastiche, Inc

Pastiche specialises in Medieval and Renaissance books, as well as natural fibre fabric for historic re-creation. Their searchable database of books available at Abebooks.

The storage facility is currently in Portland, but will be moving soon to a small town near Scappoose, Oregon. Which is probably good for me, as I could hardly drag myself and my wallet away from the shelves. I was there to pick up the Andrew Dalby book Siren Feasts, which I blogged about on July 26.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


Hedgebrook is a women's writing retreat center on Whidbey Island, in Washington.
from the website:

"The application period is now open. Hedgebrook welcomes applications for the 2007 Writers-in-Residence Program. The upcoming residency season runs from February 8 - November 17, 2007.Application Deadline: postmarked no later than September 30, 2006...

Hedgebrook hosts women writers working in all writing disciplines, and has welcomed to its Pacific Northwest island retreat nearly one thousand women from five different continents since the first residents arrived in 1988...

Writers apply for stays of two weeks to two months. Out of a field of several hundred applicants, approximately forty writers are selected for residency each year by a diverse committee comprised of writers, educators, agents, and editors. There is no residency fee; room and board are provided by Hedgebrook. In return for room and board, each resident is asked to be the best writer she can be while she is with us. Six writers are in residence at a time, each in her own cottage."


Monday, August 07, 2006

Sunday I went to an open house at Soapstone

Soapstone is a writing retreat for women near the Oregon coast, not far from Nehalem, Oregon. It was founded by Judith Barrington and Ruth Gundle about twenty years ago. Once a year they have an open house, and so I went to see what the place was like. Heaven. That's what it was like. A cabin on a river, in the middle of a forest. Royalties from Ursula Le Guin's book Steering the Craft help support the foundation for Soapstone.

from the website:
"Soapstone offers residencies to writers working on fiction, poetry, drama, screenwriting, memoir, essay—every kind of literary writing. Academic, scholarly, journalistic, or research-related writing does not qualify. Our focus is on what is generally understood to be "creative writing," a term of art that does not mean to imply that other writing lacks creativity...

We accept applications once each year, in the summer, for residencies the following calendar year. Applications must be postmarked no earlier than July 1 and no later than August 1. A committee made up of different writers each year reads the applications and selects residents."

Labels: ,

Saturday, August 05, 2006

I went to a book sale today

a really good, cheap book sale, somewhere in the wilds of SW Portland. A buck a book. My kind of prices. I have a $10 limit on book sales, so here are the 10 books I bought, and why:

Better Sailing, Richard Henderson, 1977, (research for the novel)
The Reindeer People: Living with Animals and spirits in Siberia, by Piers Vitebsky, 2005 (I have no idea why! It has great pictures? I'm going to write about Siberia? All I know is that I Needed This Book)
The Norton Book of Light Verse, ed by Russell Baker, 1986 (any regular reader of this blog will already know that I like light verse.)
Nika Hazelton's Way With Vegetables
, 1995 (Greek veggie recipes, delish.)
Forgive the Moon by Maryanne Stahl, 2002 (looked good, I'm in an online group with the author)
The Shell Collector by Anthony Doerr, 2002 (I loved The Hunter's Wife, looking forward to reading the rest, and he was great at Tin House)
The Merry Recluse by Caroline Knapp, 2004 (I like her essays, and I might want to write essays?)
One Foot in Eden by Ron Rash, 2002 (he's on the Queens faculty, I've heard him read, plus he's dishy, as well as terribly talented)
The Life of Greece by Will Durant, 1939 (research for something new? I have no idea, but really really wanted this book)
A Book of Days for the Literary Year, 1984 (tells who was born, died, etc on each day)


Friday, August 04, 2006

The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets

Barbara G. Walker is the editor. This is a must-have, for those of us interested in mythology. Not just Greek and Roman, but Celtic, Egyptian, Sumerian, and Scandinavian.

Walker has the deep background on myths, for instance, here's the entry for Niobe (p.729.)
Snowy One, Anatolian mountain-goddes whose worshippers were destroyed by patriarchal Hellenic tribes. Greek myth therefor made her a mother forever mourning her "children" slain by the Olympian gods.

There are lots of old editions out there, mine is from 1983, the Amazon one listed below is 1996. Good title to look for a book sales!


Thursday, August 03, 2006

Theodore Roethke 1908-1963

There is a fine documentary by Jeanne Walkinshaw called I Remember Theodore Roethke.

"He taught at various colleges and universities, including Lafayette, Pennsylvania State, and Bennington, and worked last at the University of Washington, where he was mentor to a generation of Northwest poets that included David Wagoner, Carolyn Kizer, and Richard Hugo." (from the Academy of American Poets.

"Throughout 1955 and 1956 the Roethkes traveled in Italy, Europe, and England on a Fulbright grant. The following year he published a collection of works that included forty-three new poems entitled Words for the Wind (1957), which won the Bollingen Prize, the National Book Award, the Edna St. Vincent Millay Prize, the Longview Foundation Award, and the Pacific Northwest Writer's Award.

Now at the height of his popularity and fame, Roethke balanced his teaching career with reading tours in New York and Europe, underwritten by another Ford Foundation grant. While visiting with friends at Bainbridge Island, Washington, Roethke suffered a fatal heart attack. During the last years of his life be had composed the sixty-one new poems that were published posthumously in The Far Field (1964)--which received the National Book Award--and in The Collected Poems (1966)." (from Modern American Poetry.


Many arrivals make us live: the tree becoming
Green, a bird tipping the topmost bough,
A seed pushing itself beyond itself,
The mole making its way through darkest ground,
The worm, intrepid scholar of the soil --
Do these analgies perplex? A sky with clouds,
The motion of the moon, and waves at play,
A sea-wind pausing in a summer tree.

What does what it should do needs nothing more.
The body moves, though slowly, toward desire.
We come to something without knowing why.


Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Zadie Smith

On Beauty is a darn good read. Yes, her homage to Forster is clear, yet subtle. Yes, her characters are engaging and varied. The book is thick (I read the hardback from the library, 443 pages) and it is the kind of thick book that is reassuring, in that I looked forward to a chance to read more, felt safe within its covers, did not want it to end.

No. On Beauty is not perfect. Yes. It is a marvellous literary work. I haven't enjoyed a novel so much since I read Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake, or Julia Glass's Three Junes. It was a pleasure to find myself in the world of an author with so much authority, humor, and verve. I applaud Z. Smith's decision to use the omniscent third person POV.

So what is my quibble? Smith is thirty-ish. Her younger characters are believable, but her seriously middle-aged characters are not quite right. She has never been fifty-seven, and this shows. The middle-aged crisis is that of a thirty-something projected forward, not what someone in the middle of their life really feels. This is not going to be a problem for readers who are in their thirties or forties, or for reviewers in that group, but it will be for those of us who have crossed the fifties divide. Do I still recommend this book for the AARP crowd? You betcha. Run right out and get it. Pick up those feet! Honey, we're not quite dead, not yet.