Friday, 25 September 2015

Audience of One (For Bob, Who Wanted to Know How It Worked)

Not actually Brigit OR Mary, but St Lucy wearing a harrow crown

Audience Of One

I belong to a weekly writers workshop that meets through the cooler months, making of a little more than half the year a time that has been for me, for a few years now, focussed on writing poetry to, about, and in honour of Brigit, both as goddess and as saint, in her (their) many, often conflicting, aspects and time periods. This season has just recommenced and much as I’ve enjoyed the summer writing—a longish research paper, some short essays, and portions of an online course—I’m comforted and delighted to be back with the poetic source that I can’t seem to stem.

By which I mean, the number of poems continues to grow. Each fall I say, Yes! Now I will finish editing these Brigit poems and get on to the next project. But the more I edit, the more I am inspired to write. The more I write, the more I refer to materials to be sure I’ve got things straight. And the more I refer to these materials, the more wonders I encounter, flushing up the desire to write (oh, guilty pleasure) yet another poem... Maybe what I am learning from this is that I shouldn’t worry about “finishing”, that though a collection may yet come of it, for me the practice of writing these poems is the most important thing.

Last week, after our first meeting, a new member of the group asked if he could pose a few questions about the process I go through when writing the poems. He offered to pay me for my time by buying me a cup of coffee. (He is much cheaper than you may imagine. Our coffee goes for fifty cents per class.) I agreed, and this is the result. (He may have bitten off more than he can chew. Sorry, Bob.)

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

“Winter on the Plain of Ghosts” by Eileen Kernaghan

A few years ago I read the one and only self-published novel by award-winning writer (Sounds great, doesn't it? Well, it's true. But that doesn't necessarily mean you will ever have heard of her), Eileen Kernaghan.

Winter on the Plain of Ghosts: a Novel of Mohenjo-Daro. The book is set in the Indus Valley, so long ago that all we know of the culture that existed there is what we can divine from a set of clay seals (pictured above and below). Kernaghan does a wonderful job of filling in the world and peopling it with compelling characters.

I have no idea why, of all her lyrical and thoughtful adult and young adult novels, this one failed to find a publisher. After ten years of bouncing it around Kernaghan caved in to her husband's nagging and put it out herself under the imprint Flying Monkey Press.

I am so glad he did keep bugging her. Left to her own devices, would she have thought it was just a lousy novel and gone on to the next beautiful gem? I don't know. What I do know is that I had (for me) a rare experience when reading this book: that of spending the day, while off doing other things, thinking with great pleasure about the writingthe words themselves and the places they were taking meand anticipating somewhat impatiently when I would get to be home again with feet up and Winter on the Plain of Ghosts on my lap.

It has stayed with me as a precious read, but a faded memory, one I don't pull out too often. Recently I glanced at the book again and read the poem that opens it, a poem that is collected with her other delicious speculative offerings in Tales from the Holograph Woods. It reminded me of how much I'd enjoyed the book, and how annoyed I am that so few people have had the chance to enjoy it as I have. So I thought I would introduce you to it and urge you, if you like what you see, to get a copy, read it, pass it around, and let the world know how much you enjoy this novel and this inestimable writer's work.


The salt earth is bleached
and brittle as old bone, in winter
on the plain of ghosts.
Shrill and thin down the grey
millennia, the spirit voices
cry on the parched wind.
Language of a dead land―
the wind’s riddles:
insistent and insinuating
whisper of pale grasses,
tongueless as corpses the slow
suck and hiss
of the river’s mouths
and age-deep in the dust
of empty water-courses
the cryptic dialect
of broken stones.

But on the terraces below the citadel
a flute plays
and ghosts rise in their shining bones
bedecked with jade and lapis lazuli.
Above the luminous pools white birds drift
long-stemmed as water lilies
and terrible in their stripes
behind the broken walls the tigers walk
among the glamorous trees.

This gives you a sense of Eileen Kernaghan's wordcraft and imagination. But let's give you a little of the novel itself. I shall indulge myself by adding a fair dollop of it below. Before we go, I'll add these links, and then leave you in Ms. Kernaghan's capable hands.

To read the review on the Historical Novel Society website, click here.
To order either the print edition or the e-book of Winter on the Plain of Ghosts, click here.
To order Tales from the Holograph Woods, click here.

Winter on the Plain of Ghosts:
A Novel of Mohenjo-Daro

            this morning, when I visited the warehouse, Akalla was breaking the seal on a chest full of luxury goods — among them some jars of unguent imported from the western deserts of Meluhha. I took one home with me and opened it in the privacy of my bedchamber. Released from its stone container, the rich, oily perfume awoke a rush of memories.
            Once again I breathed the fragrance of oleander, growing high up in a desolate hill pass. I heard the throbbing of the skin drums, the wistful music of the reed-pipes; and the shrill voice of the desert wind, crying across the parched, dun-coloured plain. But underneath the scent of spice and sun and flowers there was a hint of something darker, muskier — a cloying, sweet-sour odour of the swamp. And there rose in my mind's eye a vision of the great Meluhhan capitals, those once noble cities of the plains. I saw them crouched behind their crumbling walls like enormous stricken animals, choking on their own poisoned breath.
            Already it is the month of Nisan. The floodwaters are rising, and another year is almost over. I have lived long; have, I believed, sinned no worse than other men; have suffered much, and have received many blessings from the gods. It is, at this moment, as though I am standing on a high terrace, from which it is possible to look down upon my life's beginning, and on its end.
            And so, in this city of Ur, in the reign of the great king Rim-Sin of Larsa, I, the merchant-captain Rujik, set down my history — having instructed my storekeeper to lay in a great quantity of clay.

Friday, 11 September 2015

“Villette” by Charlotte Brontë

I thought that I was safe. Working quietly away in my little room, walking my cat and doing yoga in the yard, tending my community garden plot and visiting, when the moment made itself available, with friends and family.

I did not expect to have my heart broken again.

The last while, in between all those other noble ventures, I have been reading Charlotte Brontë's Villette, a well developed tome with none of the histrionics of, say, Jane Eyre. In turns I was blown away by the writing, irritated by the anti-Catholic diatribes, entranced by the world and annoyed with the protagonist.

Nothing bugs me more than spoilers, so I will be very cagey here. Suffice it to say that this book was to many of the books I piddle my time away on what meatloaf is to potato chips. It fed me, it awakened me, and it broke my heart. I can't think how many times tears have come to my eyes in the day since reading the book. I'll say no more, except, if you have the strength, read it.

“I believe in some blending of hope and sunshine sweetening the worst lots. I believe that this life is not all; neither the beginning nor the end. I believe while I tremble; I trust while I weep.”