A Cappella

March 7, 2020

She perches you
at the edge of a cliff,
leaves you there,
afraid for your life,
afraid for her life,
in fear of the general
and overwhelming
delicacy of life,
takes you back
to that primordial soup —
the thing
that first crawled
out of the ocean,
leaves you clinging
beneath the lip of a wave,
the underside
of a volcano,
the quivering,
cloud from which
lightening is about
to strike, leaves you
hanging there, hanging —
about to fall —
it’s over,
you know it,
and then,
in a beat,
she transports you
back to power,
raw and absolute —
the battle cry,
the victory chant,
the will to break
an unbroken horse.
So throaty and brave,
contralto a cappella,
she empowers you
not through words
but by scats,
tells your story
in the lilt
of a wounded note,
your human story,
the tale of undying
of the race,
of the fittest —
you —
human only
in form,
but really
the unconscious
of a god’s
dreaming eye.
She sings this
into existence —
atom, cell
and DNA strand all –
this magical life.
She sings!
And sunflowers turn
their heads to listen,
and the moon drops
low and early
in the night,
and the voice
settles down
like a boat in the ocean —
faint rain
can still be heard
trailing off,
tapering away,
and you’re in that boat,
anchored by a rope,
at the mercy
of the weather,
but calming,
calmer now,
so still.

Melissa Studdard

History repeating

March 7, 2020

The teaching of history tends to be sanitized and distorted to fit whatever political agenda is currently in style. It is appalling how many people have so little grasp of the reality of their national history, and, indeed, on world history as a whole. It is doubly frightening as history seems, in face of this ignorance, to be repeating itself…



March 7, 2020

language is your medium

March 7, 2020

Any writer who tries to press against the limits of prose, who’s trying to write something genuinely different from what’s come before, is constantly aware of these paradoxes about language’s power and its limitations. Because language is your medium, you become aware of the extent to which language controls and directs our thinking, the extent that we’re manipulated by words—and yet the extent to which words necessarily limit our attention and hence misrepresent the world around us. Orwell dealt with all this in 1984 much better than I’ve been able to when he said, in effect: Let me control the language and I will control peoples’ thoughts. Back in the 1930s the Japanese used to have actual “Thought Police,” who would come around and say to people, “What do you think about our expedition to China?” or something like that. And if they didn’t like what you replied, they’d put you under arrest. What Orwell was driving at, though, goes beyond that kind of obvious control mechanism; he was implying that if he could control the language, then he could make it so that you couldn’t even think about anything he didn’t want you to think about. My view is that this isn’t wholly true. One of the dumber things you see in the comic books occasionally is where, say, Spider Man falls off a building, looks down and sees a flag pole, and thinks to himself, “If I can just grab that flagpole, I’ll be okay.” Now nobody in those circumstances would actually be doing that—if you’re falling off a building, you don’t put that kind of thought into words, even though you’re somehow consciously aware of needing to grab that flagpole. You are thinking below the threshold of language, which suggests there is a pre verbal, sub level of thinking taking place without words. Orwell didn’t deal with this sub level of thinking, but the accuracy of his insights about the way authorities can manipulate people through words is evident in the world around us.

Gene Wolfe
Interview with Larry McCaffery, November 1988

Our farm, Larch Grove (Canada), is a quarter section (160 acres), with 135 acres in untouched old-growth boreal forest and 25 acres in hay, which our neighbour leases for his dairy farm. We decided against clearing the entire quarter because we wanted to see what we could do in terms of small-scale organic farming practices that would work with the land and the unique ecosystem of the boreal forest. We cleared 1.5 acres by hand over the space of several years, and we run a large market garden and a small, unheated greenhouse, in addition to a naturally managed apiary. Our growing area and apiary are surrounded by an eight-foot fence made of larch (tamarack) trees from our land, as we have a healthy population of moose, deer, bears, and even the occasional cougar that we need to keep out of the veg. Early on in the planning for our farm, we took a cue from the fact that the nearest hook-up to the county’s electric grid is half a mile distant and decided to go fully off grid. Our cabin is powered by solar panels, heated through our -30C winters with a catalytic converter wood stove, and lit by beeswax candles. We grow the majority of the food we eat and preserve it for the cold months.

At the farm, we’re fascinated by the borders between the human and the “wild” land: where these borders are, what constitutes “wild,” and whether we can successfully work with the land to get what we need, instead of simply ruining it for our own gain.

We’re continually striving to be low impact and to close loops in our production to make ourselves more self-sufficient by adapting and saving seeds that work well in our harsh climate and digging a 15-foot farm pond to overwinter trout and diversify our food sources. Our future plans include building a straw bale artist residence and teaching studio, opening an off-grid B&B, and running workshops on preserving and beekeeping…

The farm has a definite impact on my poetry, specifically in my concentration on place. I’m used to working outside in all weather, from +38C summers to our worst -50C winter days with windchill that will literally freeze flesh. Working with my hands through such changeable seasons makes me slow down and notice the sky, the light, the animals passing through our farm. The tasks ground me in my body and breath. It’s become the same when I travel to present research or to write in different environments: I become hyper-aware of what surrounds me, and I look for ways in which to slow down the frenetic pace of travelling to more deeply sink into those locales.

Sometimes poems take shape as I’m working, and other times, I find myself “filling up,” as it were, storing images and sensory experiences for months at a time before sitting down to write. At times like those, I’ll often complete a manuscript in one go after weeks or months of not writing, simply working and observing…

Poetry has always struck me as the quickest way into the human system. When the words are just so, it’s as though you’ve been given them intravenously, bang, straight into the bloodstream and on their way to the heart. There’s very little room for words that don’t carry their own weight…Poetry is always compressing itself like rock under pressure. Poetry always seems to be reducing itself to gem form, morphing into these hard, bright, glittering nuggets.

Jenna Butler
Stories from the Wilderness

I must begin with first the illusion of an intention. The poem begins to form from the first intention. But the intention is already breaking into another. The first intention begins me but of course continually shatters itself and is replaced by the child of the new collision…The poem is more than the poet’s intention. The poet does not write what he knows but what he does not know.

W S Graham
Notes on a Poetry of Release


March 7, 2020

Boggies are an unattractive but annoying people whose numbers have increased rather precipitously since the bottom fell out of the fairy-tale market. Slow and sullen, and yet dull, they prefer to lead simple lives of pastoral squalor. They don’t like machines more complicated than a garrotte, a blackjack, or a Luger, and they have always been shy of the ‘big folk’ or ‘biggers’ as they call us. As a rule they avoid us, except on rare occasions when a hundred or so will get together to dry-gulch a lone farmer or hunter. They seldom exceed three feet in height, but are fully capable of overpowering creatures half their size when they get the drop on them … Their beginnings lie far back in the Good Ole Days when the planet was populated with the kind of colourful creatures you have to drink a quart of Old Overcoat to see nowadays.

Henry N. Beard and Douglas C. Kenney
Bored of the Rings

Paul Valéry tells us about perfect objects in nature, flawless pearls, full-bodied, mature wines, and truly complex creatures. He describes them as the “exquisite products of a long chain of causes that resemble each other.” The cumulative effect of such causes has temporal limits only when perfection has been attained. “Nature’s patient way of working,” Valéry continues, “was once a model for humans. Miniatures, ivory carvings crafted to the point of perfection, stones perfectly polished and engraved, lacquered objects or paintings in which thin, transparent layers are put on top of each other — all of these products of sustained effort required sacrifice and have rapidly vanished. The day and age is long gone in which time does not matter, Today people no longer work on anything that does not allow shortcuts.” Today we are witnessing the evolution of the short story, which is no longer connected to oral traditions and no longer allows for the gradual accumulation of thin, transparent sheets that capture the most accurate picture of how a perfect story emerges from the layering of a variety of retellings.

Walter Benjamin
The Storyteller