As I have been pursuing my new passion of microfiction, I have also been having fun with ekphrastic writing, and my favorite artist to work with is the surrealist Remedios Varo. The amazing journal Bending Genres has published a story I wrote based on a Varo painting; it concerns the idea of writing or art muses that are not complacent “nice” creatures. This story also happens to be completely indebted to Sylvia Plath and her poem, “The Disquieting Muses.” My story is called “Disquieting Muses with Pets and Fruit: A Still Life.”
The Varo painting is called “Vegetarian Vampires.” Here is the Plath poem:
The Disquieting Muses
Mother, mother, what illbred aunt Or what disfigured and unsightly Cousin did you so unwisely keep Unasked to my christening, that she Sent these ladies in her stead With heads like darning-eggs to nod And nod and nod at foot and head And at the left side of my crib?
Mother, who made to order stories Of Mixie Blackshort the heroic bear, Mother, whose witches always, always, Got baked into gingerbread, I wonder Whether you saw them, whether you said Words to rid me of those three ladies Nodding by night around my bed, Mouthless, eyeless, with stitched bald head.
In the hurricane, when father’s twelve Study windows bellied in Like bubbles about to break, you fed My brother and me cookies and Ovaltine And helped the two of us to choir: “Thor is angry: boom boom boom! Thor is angry: we don’t care!” But those ladies broke the panes.
When on tiptoe the schoolgirls danced, Blinking flashlights like fireflies And singing the glowworm song, I could Not lift a foot in the twinkle-dress But, heavy-footed, stood aside In the shadow cast by my dismal-headed Godmothers, and you cried and cried: And the shadow stretched, the lights went out.
Mother, you sent me to piano lessons And praised my arabesques and trills Although each teacher found my touch Oddly wooden in spite of scales And the hours of practicing, my ear Tone-deaf and yes, unteachable. I learned, I learned, I learned elsewhere, From muses unhired by you, dear mother,
I woke one day to see you, mother, Floating above me in bluest air On a green balloon bright with a million Flowers and bluebirds that never were Never, never, found anywhere. But the little planet bobbed away Like a soap-bubble as you called: Come here! And I faced my traveling companions.
Day now, night now, at head, side, feet, They stand their vigil in gowns of stone, Faces blank as the day I was born, Their shadows long in the setting sun That never brightens or goes down. And this is the kingdom you bore me to, Mother, mother. But no frown of mine Will betray the company I keep.
This Plath poem is also an ekphrastic poem, inspired by the Giorgio de Chirico painting, also called “The Disquieting Muses.”
August is the month of The Sealey Challenge. Started by poet Nicole Sealey in 2017, the challenge is to read a book of poetry every day for the month of August. In the past, I have used this time to read poetry books that were sitting unread on my bookshelf. While I know I can’t read a book a day as I have other things going on, I am still going to try to read more than usual this month. Want to join me?
If you join the challenge and need an idea, I would love it if you wanted to add one of my books to your list. Here is a link to all four books. https://www.luannecastle.com/bookstore/ Additionally, if you are interested in a copy of my first collection Doll God, for this month I am offering you a copy for $5 that includes shipping if you have it delivered in the United States. If you are not in the U.S. contact me and let’s see if we can figure it out. Think of it in honor of the Barbie movie. Email me at luanne.castle which is at gmail.com.
I’ve been writing a lot of microfiction lately. Some stories are 50 word, some 100, some 200-300 or so. And then I’ve also been writing flash, around 400-500 words. Here is one that was just published by Friday Flash Fiction. It is called “Bed of Roses” and is 100 words, which is essentially a short paragraph. In case you’ve never heard this, a 100 word story is called a drabble. Hope you enjoy this drabble.
Thought I’d share a cute comic strip created by a fellow blogger. If you like humor, you’ll love it. If you like cats, you’ll doubly love it.
Check it out, read a few for the flavor, and follow Polly’s blog for regular kitty comic humor! Let’s show this dedicated cartoonist some BLOGGER LOVE!!!
Do you know how long it’s been super hot here in Phoenix? It’s been 25 days in a row of temperatures over 110 degrees! This is so bad for humans, especially those at risk, for animals, especially those at risk, and for every other thing–houses, cars, and all the plants and trees. Our tree leaves are dying! I am so lucky to have air conditioning and not have to work outside because I have to wear compression stockings on my legs. My cats are also lucky to live in the air conditioning. I worry so much about animals outside because heat + human stupidity is a deadly combination. People on the Next Door app are complaining about all the idiots forcing their dogs to run on the pavement. Then they probably don’t even look at the paws later and see the damage they have done.
Speaking of air conditioning, don’t think that it alone can cool off an interior enough to be comfortable without taking a toll on the AC unit and possibly causing it to break down. You cool the house to take the edge off and add a nice electric fan :). Took me years of living here to figure that one out, speaking of stupid.
And on that note, what about that Delta flight where they kept the passengers sitting in a plane in Vegas without AC for four hours when it was 115 degrees outside? What made anybody at Delta think that was a good idea? Why didn’t the pilot do something? The pilot is responsible for all those people and should have risked their job and RESISTED. Delta is so lucky that people didn’t die.
OK, hard to think about anything but the heat right now. Hope you have it cooler wherever you may be!
The photo is of the view from my parents’ house back in the early 2000s. When I was growing up we had a little cottage where the house is now (you can see the deck of the house). This lake is three small lakes together, quite shallow, and the portion on our side was very swampy when I was a kid. Over time, my dad did a lot of work on the lots and the water in front of the lots (our lot and then he added two to our right in this photo), so it turned into more of a traditional lake. As a teen I used to be so frustrated to be stuck way out at the lake and not in town with my friends, but we had a lot of fun out there, both in and out of the water. Right now I am feeling nostalgic for it because it never felt hot at the lake!!!!
Since Colleen Chesebro’s weekly #TankaTuesday poetry prompts are so inspiring to me, I bought her book that describes the various types of syllabic poetry so that I could use that as a guide instead of the wonderful links she has on the Wordcraft website. This way, the book is right at my side when I need it.
Ironically, this week’s #TankaTuesday is to write in a form not in the book. We are to write a poem about a bird in the Japanese form Imayo.
The imayo is comprised of four 12-syllable lines. Each line is divided into a 7-syllable and a 5-syllable section, with a hard pause (or caesura) in between. The pause will generally be represented by a comma, semi-colon, or similar punctuation.
4 lines (8 lines permissible)
12 syllables per line divided as 7-5
make a pause space between the 7 and 5 syllables
use comma, caesura or kireji (cutting word) as the pause
no end of line pauses – the whole should flow together as though one long sentence
The Imayo is a literal poem so do not use symbolism, allegory etc.
I decided to write about the Great Blue Heron that showed up in my yard last year. In the photo, the coyote behind the heron is an inanimate metal coyote!
I glanced out the front window — the Great Blue Heron
stood motionless by the pool — it stared straight ahead
perhaps lost in the desert — perhaps it mistook
pool for a swamp or wetland — beauty or sadness?
Hmm not my favorite form. When the description mentions “literal,” it means the form is not to employ figurative imagery. In general, in English language poetry, literal poems tend to be for children whereas figurative poems (using metaphor, simile, etc ) are for adults. In a literal poem the focus is on a plain description or a simple point or philosophy.
In part 3 of my readings, I want to share a few memoirs.
One of my favorite memoir writers is Sheila Morris. She’s witty and smart and involved in social justice issues. She’s also lived a very interesting life as a lesbian who grew up in rural Texas “back in the day” and had to learn how to live her love and her life in a time when people felt they couldn’t be open about their own identities. Furthermore, Sheila was one of the early voices writing about LGBTQ life. Her books are historical landmarks as well as entertaining reads.
Harlan Greene at the College of Charleston writes this about Sheila Morris: “One wonders what is most impressive about her work–the range of it through various formats (nonfiction, blogging, a compiled collection of oral histories), or the range of topics she covers in those formats. What is most apparent, however, is her voice; it is seductive and trustworthy and never falters no matter what topic she is covering–the joys and sorrows of family life, breaking up or falling in love, the restrictions and consolations of religion, the unfairness of our social systems, marriage, racism, travel, and even corporate life. The reader instantly is taken with a no-nonsense . . . depiction of a complex southern lesbian life; no subject is taboo and the writing never fails in honesty or polish. Many people can write of the ups and downs of their daily lives and the gives and takes necessary to weather them, but few match the commonplace (and the transcendent) with such apparently simple but elegant prose. It’s hard to read a few lines without finding something quote-able.”
I recently read two memoirs by writers I had never heard of, books that I had never heard about. They were written by women suffering from chronic medical conditions.
Wired to be Dysfunctional is written by a young woman born with the very rare condition myoclonus dystonia and her mother. They alternate voices in the book, which I found to be very effective. She suffered a lot, not only physically, but emotionally when it took years and years for a diagnosis. My son went through much the same thing. This is the condition that my son has. He was diagnosed in his late 20s although we had taken him to major medical centers since he was a baby.
Drop the Skirt: How My Disability Became My Superpower was written by Amy Rivera. Amy was born with primary lymphedema in one of her legs, which made it huge in comparison with her other leg. She was also blessed with beauty and, as a young person, won a beauty pageant. But that didn’t stop the agony at trying to fit in at school. Amy takes the reader through the process of FINALLY getting diagnosed and finding treatments that would help her. She also became an activist because of her strong personality and what she had gone through, helping to bring about some changes in how insurance companies handle lymphedema claims. Lymphedema is one of the conditions that I was born with. Primary lymphedema like Amy and I have are similar to that brought about by surgery, such as the lymphedema that Kathy Bates, the actor, has, but not exactly the same. And mine is different from Amy’s because she is completely lacking in lymph nodes in that area of her body. Mine are sluggish and my lymph system is tiny. I also have venous insufficiency because, again, the veins are tiny. Mine has plagued me for most of my life, but it’s not as dramatically traumatic as Amy’s is. The title refers to how we all try to wear long flowy dresses and skirts to cover up our legs.
This week’s #TankaTuesday is at the bottom of the post.
This past week we had two new animals show up in our yard. The first was an adolescent javelina. These are not pigs, but peccaries. Because they are very destructive to flowers and cacti, we eventually had to get permission to fence them off our property. But now this little one showed up alone. They travel in herds, called squadrons, and the babies are always twins. I think this one became separated from his people after the @#&*s had to have their fireworks.
Then we were visited by the king snake two days in a row. The first time the snake was climbing a wall. The next day he was near the pool. We love king snakes because they keep rattlesnakes away!
Today’s #TankaTuesday prompt by Colleen is to write a poem with imagery that incorporates the phrase Sun, Sand, & Sea and uses this photograph for inspiration.
This photo taken in San Diego is a far cry from my desert world, but I did used to live in California, not that far from San Diego. At one time, the gardener and I thought we would move to San Diego, but we changed our minds. I wrote a haibun about a different San Diego beach and something that happened not long after we moved to California.
How I Became a Californian
That first year in California, on a sunny late October day, we skipped our grad classes and pulled the kids out of school. The four of us lay on beach towels, mesmerized by the push and pull, the rhythmic crashing, of the waves as they broke upon the beach. My chin rested between my forearms, and the smell of my own warmed skin pleased me. The sun, sand, & sea of California, even enjoyed this late in the season, seemed unreal in comparison with all my Michigan winters. The flowers were so different, I thought, as I spied spiky orange bird-of-paradise flowers along the restroom building. A whistle sounded, and we all looked toward the road. There we saw a train rushing toward us. I only noticed then that the tracks were laid in the sand along the sidewalk. The train slid in to a stop right in front of us. Only three people alighted: young men in board shorts, each carrying a surfboard. They ran past us and straight into the ocean as we watched with our mouths hanging open. The train departed and with it my midwestern innocence.
Think of this as part 2 of the reviews of some non-poetry books. If you’re one of the authors, feel free to drop your BOOK LINK or website and/or blog links in the comments! That’s because I am too lazy to pull together that information . . . . But if you put book link in the comments, I’ll try to add it to the post. How bout that?
HISTORICAL NOVEL ABOUT WOMAN IN 1920S VERMONT
Elizabeth Gauffreau’s novel Telling Sonny puts a few turbulent months in one woman’s life under the microscope. In doing so, the story captures subtle twists and turns in protagonist Faby Gauthier’s personality, character, and outlook on life. This psychological exploration is most akin to the excavations into the psyche as written by Henry James, but without his complicated sentences and repetitions. Instead, the reader’s attention is less focused on the psychology than on the details of the protagonist, Faby Gauthier’s, experience at home and on the road traveling with her new husband, a vaudeville dancer. Gauffreau manages to recreate a lost world of 1920s small-town New England, Atlantic City, the vaudeville circuit, and rail travel. She obviously painstakingly researched the novel, polishing every detail of each scene until it shines with clarity. Gauffreau’s writing style successfully marries the direct nature of contemporary writing with a more graceful syntax that befits the time period, as well as Faby’s upbringing. When I finished the book, I wanted to talk to other readers about the book, especially my thoughts about Faby and Louis, both micro (such as their choices) and macro (relating to history and sociology). So, please, read it and talk to me about it!
I did read Elizabeth Gauffreau’s novel some time ago, but wanted to post it here since it is on sale and is a personal favorite, plus I don’t believe I ever posted a review of the book on this blog. I’m eagerly awaiting Liz’s next novel . . . .
HISTORICAL NOVEL ABOUT JEWISH PIONEERS TO SANTA FE
Santa Fe Love Song, by Amy Bess Cohen, reads like a valentine from Cohen to her great-great grandparents Bernard and Frances (Nussbaum) Seligmann. The story of Bernard, a young immigrant from a small town in Germany to Philadelphia and Santa Fe, though fictionalized, gives a wonderful account of what it would have been like for a German Jewish young man to travel across the ocean by himself, get a job, learn English, and within a matter of months, move across the country to New Mexico via the grueling Santa Fe Trail to meet up with his brother. It’s fascinating to read about Bernard’s acclimation to living out west just before, during, and after the Civil War.
The story is of Bernard’s development as an important pioneer of Santa Fe, and his search for a Jewish wife to bring to a place where there were very few Jews, no Kosher foods, and no synagogue. When he traveled back to Philadelphia to look for a wife, he fell in love with Frances, but would she move to Santa Fe with him? And, if so, would she stay? The story is engaging and the suspense level is well-moderated. When the book ended, I didn’t want to leave the lives of the family of Bernard and Frances. I hope there will be a sequel.
Although the reader first meets Bernard when he is nineteen, he ages throughout the course of the novel, so in this one respect Santa Fe Love Song does not fit the definition of young adult literature. The main character is not a preteen or teen. Nevertheless, half the texts recommended for secondary school students have adult protagonists. The themes and the way mature subjects are handled mean that this book would be suitable for older children, teens, and adults.
Cohen wrote the book, in part, for her own grandchildren to learn about their heritage and the strength of the people who came before them. In keeping with that focus, her grandsons, Nathaniel Jack Fischer and Remy Brandon Fischer, illustrated the book with charming and detailed drawings. They really add to the overall experience of reading this lovely book.
Perhaps the book’s greatest importance lies in how it goes beyond the more often recorded history of Jewish immigrants enriching the eastern American cities where they tended to congregate in the mid to late 1800s and early 1900s. Instead, Santa Fe Love Song has a Jewish protagonist who quickly learns how to ride a horse, shoot a gun, and hold his own against the rough and tumble forces of the early American west.
Marian Longenecker Beaman’s memoir Mennonite Daughter: The Story of a Plain Girl is a fascinating excursion into Marian’s life as a child and young woman who grew up in a Mennonite farm household in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. This is the first time I have been shown what plain and fancy mean to the Mennonites. Marian was brought up plain, wearing no jewelry or makeup and hiding her hair under a cap. Most of the women did not drive, but the families did have cars that the men drove. (I grew up in Michigan, and many of the Michigan/Indiana Mennonites still ride in buggies like the Amish). Secretly, Marian was drawn to what is fancy, symbolized by her dream of wearing red shoes. While Marian does eventually make a move to the fancy world, she stays true to her Christian upbringing. The book is uplifting and inspirational but doesn’t shy away from the negative in the form of her father whose inability to demonstrate affection and harsh punishments of Marian is heart-breaking. You won’t be disappointed by this story of a different time (largely the 50s and early 60s) and a family rooted in a tradition quite different from most Americans.
P.S. This is not part of my review, but I will mention that I wish that Marian Beaman had set the Mennonites in context with the overwhelmingly majority Amish of the region. You might want to look that up before starting the book. She does, though, make some comparisons with Orthodox Jewish traditions. Also: I love the cover with the red shoes! The book can be purchased here: https://marianbeaman.com/
MYSTERY WITH A HISTORICAL AND ART WORLD TWIST
Attribution is not only a fun and riveting read, but it’s a smart one, too. I learned so much about art history (and art politics) along the way. The protagonist, Cate, a doctoral student finds a mystery painting. She decides to seek attribution for the painting. Her search takes her from her New York university to Spain where she meets a romantic descendant of an old aristrocratic family. The further Cate gets into the mess she’s created, the more questions and dangers arise about the painting and the characters who revolve around that painting. I have a feeling that the author, Linda Moore, spent a long time researching and writing this book, but I am ready for the sequel as I did not want the book to end!
NOVEL OF ADVENTURE IN INDIA, FOCUS ON TOPIC OF ADOPTION
Elaine Pinkerton’s novel The Hand of Ganesh took me on a journey to India with such great detail that I felt as if I accompanied Clara and Dottie/Arundati on their quest to find Dottie’s birth mother. The young women also visited India to carry out the wishes of others for the stone hand of Ganesh that had been in Dottie’s adoptive family. The omniscient novel focuses mainly on Clara, an American (and Native American) adoptee whose story was first told in Pinkerton’s novel All the Wrong Places. Clara, who has already searched for her birth mother, acts as a sort of guide for Dottie who was born in India, but she knows very little about her origins. She is the ideal viewpoint for the novel because she is an outsider to India and shares what she learned with the reader. Suspense lies both in the larger issue—will Dottie find the mother of the child Arundati—and in a more subtle question—how do foreigners know who to trust in a country they do not know or understand? Read The Hand of Ganesh for its engaging storyline, meticulous depiction of southern India, and adoptee themes. Read The Hand of Ganesh and you will be eager to plan a trip to India.