a magical world

July 12, 2020

Some years ago I had a conversation with a man who thought that writing and editing fantasy books was a rather frivolous job for a grown woman like me. He wasn’t trying to be contentious, but he himself was a probation officer, working with troubled kids from the Indian reservation where he’d been raised. Day in, day out, he dealt in a concrete way with very concrete problems, well aware that his words and deeds could change young lives for good or ill.

I argued that certain stories are also capable of changing lives, addressing some of the same problems and issues he confronted in his daily work: problems of poverty, violence, and alienation, issues of culture, race, gender, and class…

“Stories aren’t real,” he told me shortly. “They don’t feed a kid left home in an empty house. Or keep an abusive relative at bay. Or prevent an unloved child from finding ‘family’ in the nearest gang.”

Sometimes they do, I tried to argue. The right stories, read at the right time, can be as important as shelter or food. They can help us to escape calamity, and heal us in its aftermath. He frowned, dismissing this foolishness, but his wife was more conciliatory. “Write down the names of some books,” she said. “Maybe we’ll read them.”

I wrote some titles on a scrap of paper, and the top three were by Charles de lint – for these are precisely the kind of tales that Charles tells better than anyone. The vital, necessary stories. The ones that can change and heal young lives. Stories that use the power of myth to speak truth to the human heart.

Charles de Lint creates a magical world that’s not off in a distant Neverland but here and now and accessible, formed by the “magic” of friendship, art, community, and social activism. Although most of his books have not been published specifically for adolescents and young adults, nonetheless young readers find them and embrace them with particular passion. I’ve long lost count of the number of times I’ve heard people from troubled backgrounds say that books by Charles saved them in their youth, and kept them going.

Recently I saw that parole officer again, and I asked after his work. “Gets harder every year,” he said. “Or maybe I’m just getting old.” He stopped me as I turned to go. “That writer? That Charles de Lint? My wife got me to read them books…Sometimes I pass them to the kids.”

“Do they like them?” I asked him curiously.

“If I can get them to read, they do. I tell them: Stories are important.”

And then he looked at me and smiled.

Terri Windling
Myth & Moor

Alone together

June 29, 2020

Think of this – that the writer wrote alone, and the reader read alone, and they were alone with each other.

A.S. Byatt
Possession

improve your poetry

June 13, 2020

Read the work of a variety of poets. The simplest way to improve your poetry is to read poems. You may be familiar with great poets like William Wordsworth, Walt Whitman, and Emily Dickinson but less familiar with contemporary poets and new poems. Part of becoming a better poet is constantly finding new poetry collections and reading contemporary literary magazines to expose yourself to new voices. There’s no harm in revisiting your favourite poems by great poets in an old poetry book, but part of becoming a better writer is finding new literary journals and expanding your poetry reading to include young poets and diverse voices.

Billy Collins
Tips for Writing Poetry

Falling in love…

June 13, 2020

When I was seven years old, I started going to the library and I took out ten books a week. The librarian looked at me and asked, “What are you doing?”

I said, “What do you mean?”

And she said, “You can’t possibly read all of those before they are due back.”

I said, “Yes, I can.”

And I came back the next week for ten more books.

In doing so, I told that librarian, politely, to get out of my way and let me happen. That’s what books do. They are the building blocks, the DNA, if you will, of you.

Think of everything you have ever read, everything you have ever learned from holding a book in your hands and how that knowledge shaped you and made you who you are today.

Looking back now on all those years, to when I first discovered books at the library, I see that I was simply falling in love. Day, after day, after glorious day, I was falling in love with books.

The library in Waukegan, Illinois, the town where I grew up, was a temple to the imagination. It was built by Andrew Carnegie, the philanthropist, who built libraries all across this great land. I learned to read by studying the comic strips in the Chicago Tribune. But I fell in love with reading at that old Carnegie library. It was this library that served as the inspiration for the library in my 1962 novel, “Something Wicked This Way Comes.”

Ray Bradbury
The Book And The Butterfly
(Introduction to: The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2012)

The pleasure of the text is that moment when my body pursues its own ideas – for my body does not have the same ideas I do.

Roland Barthes
The Pleasure of the Text

Book

May 20, 2020

I begin my writing day with reading poetry and keeping a poetry journal. I write about what moves me, what I notice, and what “wonders me,” as my dad says. What wondered me during this pandemic edition of National Poetry Month was how every poem felt like it had more heft and breadth than it would on a regular April day. And whatever every poem was actually about, it was suddenly about This, about Now, about COVID-19.

Megan Willome
Pandemic Journal: an entry on how we read poetry

Concentration

May 12, 2020

Every good poem begins in language awake to its own connections — language that hears itself and what is around it, sees itself and what is around it, looks back at those who look into its gaze and knows more perhaps even than we do about who are, what we are. It begins, that is, in the mind and body of concentration.

By concentration, I mean a particular state of awareness: penetrating, unified, and focused, yet also permeable and open. This quality of consciousness, though not easily put into words, is instantly recognizable. Aldous Huxley described it as the moment the doors of perception open; James Joyce called it epiphany. The experience of concentration may be quietly physical — a simple, unexpected sense of deep accord between yourself and everything. It may come as the harvest of long looking and leave us, as it did Wordsworth, a mind thought “too deep for tears.” Within action, it is felt as a grace state: time slows and extends, and a person’s every movement and decision seem to partake of perfection. Concentration can also be placed into things — it radiates undimmed from Vermeer’s paintings, from the small marble figure of a lyre-player from ancient Greece, from a Chinese three-footed bowl — and into musical notes, words, ideas. In the wholeheartedness of concentration, world and self begin to cohere. With that state comes an enlarging: of what may be known, what may be felt, what may be done.

Jane Hirshfield
Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry

The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.

Alan Bennett
The History Boys