Orpheus and Eurydice

April 9, 2020

Tongue-tied Orpheus before Eurydice. He loved her
for undoing the knot and setting free dove-sweet sounds, fearful
and terrible
in their beauty. He loved a glimpse
of the tendons in her throat, glistened
with fresh sweat. He adored her
unbound thoughts, squeezed
through a nasally tone. He worshiped at the altar of her
guttural moans.
Her voice was imperfection to his honey-drenched head.
While he could coax a lion into sleep, her shrieks
could wake the dead. But she untied him –
she undid him –
and when death wrapped
her up, he was

Alex Ranieri

it seemed like magic

February 11, 2020

N K Jemisin’s writing process often begins with dreams: imagery vivid enough to hang on into wakefulness. She does not so much mine them for insight as treat them as portals to hidden worlds. Her tendency is to interrogate what she sees with if/then questions, until her field of vision widens enough for her to glimpse a landscape that can hold a narrative. The inspiration for her début novel, “The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms” (2010), was a dream vision of two gods. One had dark-as-night hair that contained a starry cosmos of infinite depth; the other, in a child’s body, manipulated planets like toys. From these images, Jemisin spun out a four-hundred-page story about an empire that enslaves its deities. The book established her as a prominent new voice…

… Jemisin finished “The Fifth Season.” The story defied easy literary categorization. It was sweeping but intimate, multilayered but simply told. It could be read as an environmental parable, or as a study of repression, or as a meditation on race, or as a mother’s post-apocalyptic quest. Jemisin wove in magical elements, but she systematized them so thoroughly that they felt like scientific principles — laws of an alternative nature. She evoked advanced technology, but made it so esoteric that it seemed like magic. (Most of her imagined machines were made of crystal. At some point, the inhabitants of the Stillness eschewed metallurgy; the word “rust” even became an expletive.)

Raffi Khatchadourian
N. K. Jemisin’s Dream Worlds

I was very happy to get your letter, and my mom sent me your story which I want to get to but things have been so busy lately, what with school here and all those demands, and I’ve been flying around doing readings, and always feeling that I’m not devoting enough time to anything, even my cat, I figured I’d better write you soon, even if it was before reading your story, because I guess you’re off across the seas soon. I don’t know if I can really help you through your uncertainties, but I think I understand what you’re feeling, and wondering, and maybe doubting. As far as missing out on life because of devoting your time to writing, I don’t think you need to worry about that: life will happen to you no matter what you do. There will be joys and celebrations. There will be nights crossing bridges you don’t know the name of when some unspeakable beauty envelopes you. There will be nights looking from windows upon the staggered lights of some town when some unspeakable sadness envelopes you. There will be people you love who you can no longer find your way to. There will be new discoveries, new clouds that resemble strange and terrible things, tangerines and hangovers, and long, long telephone calls made of almost entirely silence. There will be enormous pains and small pains that are almost pleasurable. There will be haiku that suddenly make sense, and the feeling that something has been taken from you, and songs, always songs. So don’t worry about missing life, it’s like missing the sky, you can’t, you’ll always be under it and in it and sometimes high in it, but often just on the ground, moving from thing to do to, needing, crying, making people laugh, although it’s hard to tell what they’re laughing about because it seems you were just talking about how terrible life is. But one thing that won’t just happen to you, like life, is teaching yourself to write well. So whatever time you spend doing that, can stand to spend, and need to spend, all that time that seems wasted and those rare moments that seem volcanic and so sure, is the time that must be spent, otherwise you’ll never become the writer you want to become. And there’s a funny thing about that, too. One is that you’ll never become the writer you want to become. You’ll never be satisfied, never really know if you are any good. You’ll never be certain. I mean to you it probably seems I have some sort of certainty, I’ve published some books which sometimes show up in used bookstores right down there with Yeats and John Yau (who?) and just in the last couple of years or so people have started to hear of my work, of me, and now I’m teaching at this la de da writing program and poets who I think of as giants are treating me as a friend, which is, I admit, great, but there is flattery and there is the truth and one can never tell where one stops and one begins. My own sense of my own writing is what have I done lately? It’s the writing-nowness of it that matters, and in that we’re all equals in the fog, each of us with a single flashlight with the batteries only lasting so long and we’re not sure if we should signalling to some landing airplane or is that the galloping of horses we hear coming our way, or should we be just trying to find house again, that place where we were born, where some huge, beneficent force would lift us from our groggy tatters and fit us into a voluminous bed. So don’t worry, Seth, you’re feeling what you have to feel, and as John Ashbery says, The reasons that religions are great is that they are founded on doubt. So you have to be the religion of yourself, which surely Walt Whitman said somewhere, and it sounds like you’re finding your way. Because it has to be YOUR way. Certainly there are teachers who can help you with things like dependent clauses and plot formation and run-on sentences (yikes), but all the hard play and work you must do yourself, which means above all else doing it. In my experience, the people who become writers are the ones who keep writing through the yards of silence and the years of discouragement. I think you may be worrying about things more then I did when I was your age. At least about writing. I knew it was a thing I did. I started writing poems in the third grade, and although I’m disappointed I’m not a lot better, it is something I do and therefore part of who I am, and cannot be reft from me. Perhaps I was too stupid or stoned or drunk or distracted or comfortable, or it was another world of skinny-dipping in the Bloomington quarries with a group of friends most of whom were trying to write well, with stupid jobs, and reading Frank O’Hara. I guess it was something I had faith in. It was later, by the time I was in graduate school, that the real ambitions (and poisons) of trying to get published and all that came into play. By then, well, it was too late. It was what I did. Remember, Seth, you can’t sustain inspiration, you can only court it, and here’s the thing: it happens WHILE you work. It’s not something to wait around for. You have to sweep the temple steps a lot in hopes that the god appears. Go back to college. It is a good place to try to teach yourself to write and to be surrounded by fellow blockheads that love books. Now I must get back to working on a poem I have no hope for because it is important to keep writing even when you aren’t writing worth shit. There’s a lot of luck involved in being struck by lightning, so you want to make sure you’re holding a pen when it happens. Write again soon, dear nephew. Allow yourself to be uncertain, but don’t let your uncertainty turn to despair. It can be wonderful to write when you’re sad and full of the dark bouquet of doubt, but misery leads itself to silence and one must get out of bed every morning and prepare for the great celebration of one’s own imagination, even if it doesn’t happen that day.

Dean Young
Letter to his Nephew Seth Pollins, 17th February 1998

an artist must feel this

February 9, 2019

A writer – and, I believe, generally all persons – must think that whatever happens to him or her is a resource. All things have been given to us for a purpose, and an artist must feel this more intensely. All that happens to us, including our humiliations, our misfortunes, our embarrassments, all is given to us as raw material, as clay, so that we may shape our art.

Jorge Luis Borges
Twenty-Four Conversations with Borges: Interviews by Roberto Alifano 1981-1983

all those poems about women, written by men: it seemed to be a given that men wrote poems and women…inhabited them. These women were almost always beautiful, but threatened with the loss of beauty, the loss of youth…Or they were beautiful and died young, like Lucy and Lenore. Or…cruel…and the poem reproached her because she had refused to become a luxury for the poet…the girl or woman who tries to write… is peculiarly susceptible to language. She goes to poetry or fiction looking for her way of being in the world…she is looking eagerly for guides, maps, possibilities; and over and over…she comes up against something that negates everything she is about… She finds a terror and a dream…a Belle Dame Sans Merci…but precisely what she does not find is that absorbed, drudging, puzzled, sometimes inspiring creature, herself.

Adrienne Rich
When We Dead Awake: Writing as Re-vision

Menton J. Matthews III

Life is fury, he’d thought. Fury — sexual, oedipal, political, magical, brutal — drives us to our finest heights and coarsest depths. Out of fury comes creation, inspiration, originality, passion, but also violence, pain, pure unafraid destruction, the giving and receiving of blows from which we never recover. The Furies pursue us; Shiva dances his furious dance to create and also to destroy. This is what we are, what we civilize ourselves to disguise — the terrifying human animal in us, the exalted, transcendent, self-destructive, untrammeled lord of creation.

Salman Rushdie

listening to the wind

December 16, 2017

listening to the wind

Some people might think Bob is just loafing around and not working at anything at all. But that’s not true. His mind is hard at work. Although he doesn’t get too far from home, he drives around over the country, thinking of stories, talking them out loud to himself. He’ll stop the car on some little hill, get out and walk around, listening to the wind blowing across the prairies. He says that on the wind he hears the tuneless little whistles the cowboys made as they rode, stretching themselves now and then, throwing a leg over the saddle horn to ride sideways to relieve strain, being almost unseated when the horse shied at a prairie-dog or rattle snake. These are the things he wants to write about . . .someday.

While he’s riding around in the country, he may see an old man sitting on a porch by himself. Bob stops the car, gets out and visits with the old man, just to hear his stories of the country when it was new and fresh and uncluttered with the trappings of civilization.

He reads history, too – the history of this country, about the settling of it.

Novalyne Price Ellis
One Who Walked Alone: Robert E. Howard: The Final Years


I’m rather of the opinion myself that widespread myths and legends are based on some fact, though the fact may be distorted out of all recognition in the telling. While I don’t go so far as to believe that stories are inspired by actually existent spirits or powers (though I am rather opposed to flatly denying anything) I have sometimes wondered if it were possible that unrecognized forces of the past or present or even the future work through the thoughts and actions of living men. This occurred to me when I was writing the first stories of the Conan series especially. I know that for months I had been absolutely barren of ideas, completely unable to work up anything sellable. Then the man Conan seemed suddenly to grow up in my mind without much labour on my part and immediately a stream of stories flowed off my pen or rather, off my typewriter almost without effort on my part. I did not seem to be creating, but rather relating events that had occurred. Episode crowded on episode so fast that I could scarcely keep up with them. For weeks I did nothing but write of the adventures of Conan. The character took complete possession of my mind and crowded out everything else in the way of story writing. When I deliberately tried to write something else, I couldn’t do it. I do not attempt to explain this by esoteric or occult means, but the facts remain. I still write of Conan more powerfully and with more understanding than any of my other characters. But the time will probably come when I will suddenly find myself unable to write convincingly of him at all. That has happened in the past with nearly all my rather numerous characters; suddenly I would find myself out of contact with the conception, as if the man himself had been standing at my shoulder directing my efforts, and had suddenly turned and gone away, leaving me to search for another character.

Robert E Howard
Letter to Clark Ashton Smith, December 14th, 1933

demon love

All saints revile her, and all sober men
Ruled by the God Apollo’s golden mean –
In scorn of which I sailed to find her
In distant regions likeliest to hold her
Whom I desired above all things to know,
Sister of the mirage and echo…

Robert Graves stated that ‘the test of a poet’s vision…is the accuracy of his portrayal of the White Goddess and the island over which she rules’, and that ‘he must address only the Muse… and tell her the truth about himself and her.’ His poem ‘The White Goddess’, written in middle age – in the first person, as above: the ‘I’ was later revised to ‘we’ – is by his own standards definitive. But ‘He can’t mean it’ was the most heard comment on his lectures when he was Professor of Poetry at Oxford in the early 1960s – mainly from students reading English and well stuck in what he anachronistically described as ‘Apollo’s golden mean’. But his lectures were always packed, and in the main by students from other disciplines than literature: scientists often took him seriously – as did the faculty of MIT in 1963 when after due acknowledgment that ‘true originality implies a leap taken by the mind across a dark gulf of nothingness into new regions of scientific thought’, he explained that ‘Symptoms of the trance in which poetic composition occurs differ greatly from those in an induced mediumistic trance; though both seem directed by an external power. In a poetic trance, which happens no more predictably than an epileptic fit, this power is traditionally identified with the ancient Muse-goddess.’ For he did mean it, though his language of description could vary between the mythological and the straightforwardly puzzled and down to earth. When I first met him in 1961, I mentioned I had recently heard a reading on the BBC of one of his poems, ‘Lion Lover’, in which he describes ‘gnawing bones in a dry lair’ as well as ‘your naked feet upon my scarred shoulders.’ ‘Read it very sexily, did he?’ Graves asked. Then more seriously, ‘It’s bloody horrible. The awful thing is that you’re in love with someone, even if you know she is completely heartless…There’s this thing – call it the Goddess -always behaving absolutely bloodily. But you’ve got to . . .’ He stopped. ‘It gets worse and worse as you get older.’

Seán Haldane
This Thing: Robert Graves and the Goddess

Egon Schiele

Diary 14th April

So here I am holding on by a toenail and my left bollock. Heavy rain forecast for later in the day…just for a change!

Ah, those wonderful April showers!


Visit to a private hospital yesterday. Not particularly inspiring. The toilet in the main reception area was poky and poorly lighted…Unlike the NHS hospital nearby which has fabulous toilet facilities. However, there was a coffeemaker in reception and you could help yourself to free cups of good coffee. The consultant we saw was helpful, suggesting a course of action which we are now avidly pursuing…


The best thing about influence on yourself by other writers is to realise the fact of it and swallow it, and never throw it away. It’s like throwing away all the advantages of metre or rhyme or music inherent in great works, everything must be grist to your mill. Yes, you should be on your guard, but never afraid of such influences.

Inspiration is a deeply personal thing. Intimately so. And poetry is an artificial art…Artificial from start to finish. But it must be anchored firmly to “life” if it is to last. And if it “works” it will be almost more powerful than life itself!


Tintinnabulation is such a wonderful word, created, some sources suggest, by Edgar Allan Poe for his poem “The Bells”:

“Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells
From the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells –
From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.”

In fact Charles Dickens employed it in “Dombey and Sons” in 1847 slightly before Poe:

“It was drowned in the tintinnabulation of the gong, which sounding again with great fury, there was a general move towards the dining-room”.

Arvo Pärt describes his current style of musical composition as “tintinnabuli.” He explains:

“Tintinnabulation is an area I sometimes wander into when I am searching for answers – in my life, my music, my work. In my dark hours, I have the certain feeling that everything outside this one thing has no meaning. The complex and many-faceted only confuses me, and I must search for unity. What is it, this one thing, and how do I find my way to it? Traces of this perfect thing appear in many guises – and everything that is unimportant falls away. Tintinnabulation is like this. . . . The three notes of a triad are like bells. And that is why I call it tintinnabulation…”


Enough nonsense for now. I must get on. Ciao!