Monday, January 18, 2016

STILL LIFE WITH DEAD BIRD

STILL LIFE WITH DEAD BIRD
"Little Sister!" he cried out. "Thank you for guiding us here. Thank you for taking care of us all this way. Wherever we go we will remember your kindness. We shall wear your feathers when you give them to us. We will hold your people in regard and tell our people always to treat you well…" The Flicker flew up into the air, flashing the gold beneath her wings one last time, and then flew back into the forest. —Ted Andrews

I found a rare yellow shafted flicker
arranged on my doorstep,
perhaps it was a thoughtful gift
from the neighborhood cats,
perhaps not, but it was so beautiful
nestled in that blue woven rag rug,
I couldn't bear to let it go, or bury it.
I took photos of it, I drew it,
and called it Still Life with Dead Bird.
I thought of Wayne Thiebaud's pastries
and kept that bird deep in my freezer,
wrapped in tinfoil and night.
And whenever I needed solace
I took it out of the freezer
to admire its golden beauty.
It shone like sunrise, I kept it on ice
for decades, in a cabin I later abandoned,
along with the interrupted dreams of a writer's life.
I wonder what the neighbors thought
when they found it covered with hoarfrost?

1/18/2016

Bay Area Generations #42
2/2017


Thursday, January 7, 2016

Get Lucky


After reading some of my Amazon reviews, a writer friend asked: What happened to the great writers? Good question. I keep thinking I'll get lucky. Living writers: who do I admire?

I do like Pat Conroy, but he's a tough read all the way around, I adore Salman Rushdie, Umberto Eco, V.S. Naipaul, Isabel Allende, Paulo Coelho, Barbara Kingsolver, Jane Smiley, John Nichols. 

 Notice that most writers on that list are not American writers. Gabriel García Márquez is dead (I'm keeping this list to living writers, so Edward Abby, Peter Matthiessen, and Bruce Chatwin are also off list). I guess I should toss in Barry Lopez too. But that moves me off fiction and into another realm...

I really don't like Dan Brown, and many other "famous" or best-selling living writers. I will read John Grisham in a pinch, but I can't say I enjoy his work. Nor Mario Vargas Llosa, or Annie Dillard. Has she done anything since Pilgrim at Tinker Creek? Or Michael Cunningham's, The Hours, what a struggle that was to read; AS Byatt, and Milan Kundera, I felt cheated by them. Paulo Coelho could easily join that cheatin' list.

What do I mean by cheatin' list? Author's use of deux ex machina to get out of a story, too much reliance on godtalk—that includes new age spirituality bytes, etc. Sometimes a book is just a chore to read, despite good craft and metaphor.

I don't seek out Stephen King (I hate horror, and most sci-fi). Ditto Ursula le Guin and Margaret Atwood. Hated Earthsea Trilogy, and Handmaiden's Tale. I read Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles, enjoyed them but I would never revisit them.

Yeah, yeah, I read all of J.K. Rowling's Harry Pottery tales, and was momentarily enchanted, but this is supposed to be a list of great writers. Popular, best-selling, or top 100 living writers does not equate to great writers. I used Ranker's Best Living Writers List Criteria: writers who are still alive, in order to compile this list, and then I diverged. It got me to thinking about the process of how we construct lists. So, other types of lists evolved. 

There's the List you need to read for Grad School: Thomas Pynchon, Philip Roth, John Irving, Tom Wolfe, and the ones I'm supposed to like: Neil Gaiman, Nicholas Sparks,Toni Morrison, Alice Munro, etc. This list is thankfully short as I'm limiting it to living writers. Otherwise, there's no telling where this blog post would end.

And then there's the uncategorized list of writers who've jumped ship, the poets I've known, who later became novelists (vs. novelists who became poets:  Edna O'Brien): Margaret Atwood, Michael Chabon, Sherman Alexie, Michael Ondaatje, Colm Tobin, Dave Eggars, etc.

Thank Gawd I'm not compiling a list of 100 best poets. Would I have to limit it to poets who are famous, poets I don't know, poets I've read, poets I've read with, poets I've worked with, poets I've slept with? Now there's an incestuous list. Better to stick to dead poets for that list.

And there are the pulp fiction lists of popular writers I secretly read: James Patterson, and Dick Francis (didn't he die? I know his son's been co-writing books with him, perhaps they've a special arrangement. Adds another dimension to ghostwriting). 

Jim Patterson's a thoroughly nice guy, I like what he does with his money, and long ago, and far away, I once read with him at Book Passages, and because he was interested in young writers, I gave him a CPITS anthology of student poetry.... Not sure of his hack partnerships, they read fast and furious (three-page chapters), but I do love his Maximum Ride series.  (See, I do like some sci-fi.)

I hurt my knee a few years ago, I've had a lot of down time, laid up, don't like TV, and then I discovered free ebooks on Amazon, I devoured them, then had to get the bad taste out of my mouth and wash out my eyes, so I began to write rather warty reviews.

I've read so much utter dross, it's frightening. I'm afraid it will rub off and then I will become complacent, so I hone my skills by reviewing ebooks. As penance, perhaps. Sometimes it's purgatory. More like hell. 

But then, I'm a poet, not a novelist, what do I know? We take leaps of faith with obscure metaphor, nobody reads us, we don't even write in complete sentences...

There are only a handful of "new" Amazon writers, whose serialist work I admire, and will actively seek out: Jinx Schwartz, RP Dahlke, R.E. Donald, Chip Hughes, Mike Faricy, Brian Meeks, MZ Kelly, Steve Gannon, Jennnifer L. Jennings, Bev Pettersen, M. Ruth Myers, Abigail Keam—but her books have gotten sloppy as of late. Children's author, D. B. Patterson's adult novel, Perdido River Bastard, may be a one-hit wonder. Ditto Auburn McCanta's All the Dancing Birds. I'll keep my eye peeled for work by Florence Osmund and Ellis Shuman—they both are writers of promise.

As to how much I read, I read fast, furiously fast. Most of what I read does not require much by way of grey cells. That is not to say that I haven't read most of the classics, I've read most of those too as well. Grad school sort of ruined me for reading escape fiction, in order to escape, as it were, so the review process is my penance for reading so much poorly crafted writing. 

Every little once and a while I get lucky and am sucked in by the storyline. That's what it's all about, isn't it? 

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Last Rope Bridge


We crossed the last remaining Inca rope bridge, across the Apurímac Gorge north of Cuzco. I didn't dare look down. But then, just before I got to the lowest point, I caught my boot in a rope guardrail, I looked down. Watched something fall into the night-dark pool. A pebble? a twig? something from my backpack?

I froze, causing a traffic jam. John yelled: No! Don't Look down. Look to the far pillar. Look at me. He was throwing me a lifeline. The water swirled like a vortex, sucking me down. His eyes were the color of clouded winter skies.

They say the Q'eswachaka rope bridge was the inspiration for Thorton Wilder's novel, "The Bridge of San Luis Rey." I still have an original 1927 copy in my bookshelf, it belonged to my lovely Argentinian Spanish teacher. I feel bad that I never returned it, she's long gone now, having crossed over the bridge decades ago.

Once there were numerous rope bridges in the Andes. It is mid July. Anniversary of the bridge collapse. Am I Doña María or Pepita? Please don't let this one collapse, I prayed to any gods who would listen. If it collapses, it is God's will.

Every June, the rope bridge reinvents itself with renewed braids of ichu feather grass and sedges. Yes, there is also a modern bridge but this is not about convenience, or about the modern world. It is a longstanding cultural tradition dating back 600 years or more, the bridge is a gateway the Inca Trail.

They say this is the last rope bridge of its kind in the Andes. Family clans on both sides of the gorge make bundles of grass-ropes and plait them into long cables, they bind rock pillars on either side of the gorge to honor their ancestors and to honor Pachatata and Pachamama.

On each side of the gorge, the villager twine and plait the ropes carefully, untold lives depend upon their strength and fortitude. Spans that once held the weight of an invading army on horseback. The handrail is the width of a man's waist, the woven floor, punctuated with boards and twigs, grows new grass in the crevices, seed-holds, both its origin and its destruction.

It takes a week to renew the vows of bridge and trail, of sky, water and rock, and it ends with festive rituals honoring the apus, or mountain guardians. They say Apurímac, headwaters of the mighty Amazon, means gods of the laughing river. Or more accurately, divinity oracle.

The oracles in the gurgling river were laughing at us, all right. It seemed like it took a lifetime for me to cross that bridge to get to the other side. There was no thought of turning back. It was also the beginning of the end. We could only go on from there.