Review: Luci Shaw

Every once in awhile, I find a new author (of prose or poetry, whichever) and decide to get as many of his or her books as possible, then read them in a great flurry to form a very clear concept of that writer’s style.  

It usually backfires, because I put off even the activities I enjoy, and fail to read them until they’re all due back at the library.  My tsundoku works against me and I end up reading, like, 2 books of a potential dozen.  

But that fate has been averted, more or less, with Luci Shaw.  I discovered her in trying to find poems about Petoskey stones (which, as you may recall, I adore hunting on the Lake Michigan shoreline).

shaw-petoskeystoneTurning up Polishing the Petoskey Stone: what a boon!  There’s only one poem about Petoskeys in it, but the book’s introduction explains why that title was chosen.  Shaw’s friend showed her how the fossils could be buffed on anything – one’s blue jeans, the arm of a chair, the fabric of a car door interior.  After a road trip’s-worth of rubbing at a stone, the resulting sheen made Luci consider God, polishing each one of us individually; our particular sorrows, joys, dull moments, energetic evenings, manic Mondays are all part of the process of making us shine forth.

Polishing the Petoskey Stone astonished me with its wisdom and imagery.  Every other poem, if not every single one, provided illumination of God’s work through a wealth of natural pictures: frogs, shells, the view from an airplane window, circles, blood.  So much of it provided new and weighty illustrations about the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.

I eventually recognized that the sub-headings within were not simply section titles but the titles of earlier collections.  Polishing the Petoskey Stone contains poems originally published in Listen to the Green, The Secret Trees, The Sighting, and Postcard from the Shore.  Not all of them, but about two-thirds.  

Likewise, a handful from The Secret Trees turn up in The Green Earth and Water Lines; accompanied-by-angelswhole sections of Water Lines in Water My Soul; various selections from this and that book in Accompanied by Angels: Poems of the Incarnation.  Where there is any overlap of theme, there will be an overlap of poems. 

And yet, the introductions to each book, the occasional endnotes, the different structure, and the fact that good poetry is worth re-reading and rumination all add up to a complete lack of regret for getting them all out.  

I tried to read in order, more or less, but the strictures of time and the MelCat system mean that I read certain later books earlier on.  Harvesting the Fog is a later book – published in 2010, not the 70’s or the early aughts.  I didn’t care for it half as much, as it seemed more concerned with simple description than with embodying the intangible.  

I still have six books of hers to read, and 4 more to track down and read thereafter, but I doubt they’ll change my judgment of Shaw: carefully observant, fresh and evocative, somewhat familiar in subject and tone to those fond of CS Lewis (while different in form).  I commend her to you all as a poet who will refresh your soul.

Come Out into the Brainstorm!

The old hands are immensely practical when it comes to the brainstorm.  That man sets out his barrels.  Everything that falls will be caught, examined, measured, and either retained forever or thrown ruthlessly away.  When he is well-prepared, the barrels fill quickly and all within it poured, neatly, tidily, no drops wasted, into a series of jars and pipes and other useful apparatus.  He is practiced at plodding steadily onward in dry seasons, making the most of what he has preserved.  Some of it is years, decades, threescore-and-ten years old; if time hasn’t dried it up, then the interval has probably rendered it sweet and strong: a sensible spirit, distilled by seasons.

Others wrap up tightly and keep safe beneath an umbrella.  They are on a schedule and have no time for any diversion from it.  The sensation of hair wet with forms and cold, clinging clothing disgusts them.  Only the concepts they desire in their heads will be there, only those they select.  Who knows what will happen, if one allows any old idea in one’s head?  A mind full of illusions, that’s what, one that needs to be wrung out (or, perhaps, direr means still)!

rain

But we – we like to take our chances.

Come with me!

We dash through (catching a drop here, a drop there), jumping over a puddle that will take us a bit too deep, but not troubling to cover our heads or duck against the downpour.

Clasp my hand, and we will spin about in it.

Laughing, we will look out on those who, like us, know how to enjoy this most delightful of tempests: they splash in a collection of notions.  They stomp concepts into a muddy puddle that clings to their boots and hems when, eventually, they go indoors.  They lift their faces up to the sky, pleased that images land on their tongue, eager for drips and drops of essence and illusion to fill their mouths like wine.

Watching, we do likewise.  Before the cloudburst ends, we cup our hands to receive one shining vision, clutching it carefully to keep.

In Natales et Pascha concurrentes

It is, for a little while yet, the 25th of March: the day the Church celebrates the Annunciation, whereby the Word was made Flesh.

It is also Friday, and we call this Friday good: for it is the day our Lord Jesus Christ climbed the shameful gallows-tree, transforming its shame to glory, trampling down death by death, bearing all sin in His sinless body to save us from our sin.

That these two great days occur together is apt, and rare; it will not occur again for 141 years.  On that account, John Donne wrote a poem (both here, and in the 2 prior links).  George Herbert also wrote a poem on the subject (item 67), this one in Latin, and that is the one I wanted to share:

Cum tu, Christe, cadis, nascor; mentémque ligavit
Una meam membris horula, téque cruci.
O me disparibus natum cum numine fatis!
Cur mihi das vitam, quam tibi, Christe, negas?
Quin moriar tecum: vitam, quam negligis ipse,
Accipe; ni talem des, tibi qualis erat.
Hoc mihi legatum tristi si funere præstes,
Christe, duplex fiet mors tua vita mihi:
Atque ibi per te sanctificer natalibus ipsis,
In vitam, et nervos Pascha coæva fluet.

Translated the best I can (after years without Latin practice, but with the benefit of some dictionaries):

When you, O Christ, fall, I rise;* it bound both my mind
And one of my members a little while, with you on the cross.
O how unlike, to me, that birth from the divine will now spoken!
Why do you give me life, when for yourself, Christ, you reject it?
I would even die with you: life, which itself you disregard,
Receive: unless you give such, as was given to you.
This would be a sad legacy for me if you would bestow death,
Christ, your death will doubly be made my life:
And yet, when I would be sanctified through your birth itself,
In life, and strength, your Passion coeval will flow.

*Alternately: When you, O Christ, die, I am born…

A friend has offered this (far superior) rendering:

As you die, o Christ, I am born: and my mind is bound
a little while with your limbs, to the Cross.
O what different destinies – of the man born, and the god.
Why do you give me life, which you, O Christ, renounce?
That I might die with you; take from me the life that you misprize [disregard],
unless you give to me a suffering similar to yours [??]
And if you grant to me – miserable creature – such a death,
o Christ, then your death would doubly be made my life.
And thus might my birth be sanctified to you
in life, and strength will flow from your sacrifice.

Holst House

My dears, I have had a dream.

It started with Inspector Lewis.  My roommate and I were binge-watching the first series or three, and came to the episode “Dark Matter.”  Among other things, it features forensic pathologist Laura Hobson playing clarinet in a university orchestra performance of Holst’s “The Planets.”

This percolated in the back of my mind, emerging as a pun: “If I ever got into hotel management, you can bet your bottom dollar there’d be a really dramatic room option called the Planets Suite.”

When Em responded “I want the Jupiter room!” it spawned all manner of thoughts.  Mainly: what if, instead of a hotel suite, this were a house Imagine a house featuring:

Mars, Bringer of War – Entryway / bathroom / bedroom closet – It’s where you suit up for the day and prepare to go out and take on the world.  Hidden speakers blare forth the exhortation of drums and trumpets.  Featuring red colors, iron hooks or handles or accents, and a coat of arms on the foyer wall.  Be sure to get some coffee before you start a war.
Mars bathtub Mars Foyer Stairwell

Venus, Bringer of Peace – Kitchen / bedroom – Bringing peace can be done by foodstuffs…or by sleep et cetera.  Copper accents, a Botticelli print or two, windowboxes of plants, maybe green paint or flowered wallpaper.
Venus kitchen fresh pale Venus kitchen green cabinets Venus kitchen pale greenVenus kitchen wheat

Venus green country Venus Mint Bedroom

Mercury, the Winged Messenger – Living Room – Here, like quicksilver, we meet and we part.  Here, we practice the counterpoint of the mind, and words fly about like birds.  This is the place to sit and talk, read, or perhaps go online to read or write.  There should be a lot of words or stories within arm’s reach.  Mirrors, corresponding colors, and symmetry in the decoration would be appropriate; these echo the same-but-sundered nature of mercury.

Beach Style with accents birds and fluff pillows mercuryyyyy

Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity – Dining room – For those of us without a throne room, the dining room is probably the next best place to sit in tranquility and resplendence (though a den or family room may also suit).  Here may we sit and let our hearts be eased after the weary winter of our work.  Let the room be well-lit, the chairs comfortable, and fear not if anyone happens to spill a bit of wine, for it is but the wound of King Pelles.  Oak furniture, emblems of eagles or lions, ruddy walls or fabric are all appropriate here.

dining room with wine cabinet Dining room golden lit dining area green but good

Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age – Office / study / library – Traditionally, Saturn is associated with philosophy and other such weighty matters.  Here you can also keep your tax returns filed, plan for retirement, and prepare your last will and testament.  It’s the place for any globes, maps, and hourglasses.  Lead-colored walls with a stripey accent.
Saturn Home Library Saturn home office

Uranus, the Magician – Basement or garage workroom / Craft room – Astrologically, Uranus is associated with ingenuity, invention, and radical new ideas.  So this is where some kind of magic is worked, be it ever so tangible in nature.  Blue-gray walls.

Uranus Workshop Uranus Craft Room Uranus sewing room Uranus workroom

Neptune, the Mystic – Garden / in-house chapel / attic – I don’t know where you keep your mystics and mysticism, but if you don’t have a handy tower, hermitage, or folly…I…guess the attic is the place?  I don’t know, I’m picturing Trelawney and her room full of poufs and tea cups.  Or, at the least, blue walls and wind-chimes hung out the window.

Hermit caveIn home chapelIcons in home attic

Devonian Corals

petoskey collection

A friend recommended the poetry of Robert Hass to me, which is why I spent half of a weekend this summer in the library reading his Time and Materials cover to cover. This might not be the best method for poetic appreciation – rather like a boa constrictor swallowing its prey whole for later digestion – but it proves more effective than returning the book unread.

One poem in particular, “State of the Planet,” arrested me mid-read. Composed for a conference of the same name, it meditates on Earth’s history and considers man’s place within it.  The principle focus is certain environmental problems: polluted, overfished, carrying on nonetheless. Hass imagines a Californian schoolgirl, both as an allusion to future generations of stewards, and to ruminate on how one learns about the world. There are friendly textbooks and voices of authority instructing her about the cosmos, as well as the informative delights of experience: raindrops pelting her crimson backpack, copper-colored Japanese plums, leaning into the face of the wind, the possibility of Petoskeys.

That last was what made me pause, the fifth section in:

If she lived in Michigan or the Ukraine,
She’d find, washed up on the beach in a storm like this
Limestone fossils of Devonian coral. She could study
The faint white markings: she might have to lick the stone
To see them if the wind was drying the pale surface
Even as she held it, to bring back the picture of what life
Looked like forty millions years ago: a honeycomb with mouths.

It grabbed me, but oddly: no one ever bothers calling a Petoskey stone a fossil of Devonian coral. Possibly it was his way of including Charlevoix stones, or whatever folks in the Ukraine call their particular coral fossils; theirs wouldn’t be named for Chief Petosogay like ours are.

More than the mention of Michigan, I was caught by she might lick the stone, which squares up so neatly with reality.

Dry petoskeys Wet Petoskeys

However lovely it is to walk a Michigan beach – or swim, or read, or watch a sunset – the rocks are my greatest lure. Peering at them, poring over them, eyes peeled for that particular array of hexagons, those faint lines made distinct by the wash of a wave.

As Hass notes, it’s more difficult when the stones are dry. Licking the stone is the quickest test if you’ve stepped away from the shore.

I love this about them: that they hide, even as you look at them, especially when you take them further from the water. That mute honeycomb cries out, long after the coral has died, to be returned to the sea.

Petoskey stones

Epitaph

ELIZA EVELINE

commander, cellar-keeper, particular,
seamstress, mistress, fortress,
treasurer, stone-hearth-sweeper, and
Wife of
one
A.P. Rodney,
once visited New Orleans,
settling her bonnet lightly
and mouthing wonders at the distance
and decay
and desires to set up in so sunken a city.
She was
A (proud) native of Wilkinson County, Miss.
where rivers don’t float the dead
and every calendar day is
precious, perilous, alive.
but fever or war or accident found her,
and she, settling into the fog,
Died March Sth 1865.
A.P., never to remarry,
buried her in stone three feet over ground,
in a lichen-growing sepulchre that
will not hide the passage of one
Aged 34 yrs. 9 mos., & 7 days
as it eases her into eternity.

image

The White of the Chart

You probably knew this about me (and even if you didn’t, it’s pretty standard human nature in the 21st century), but:

I am a liiiiiittle obsessed with site stats.

In particular, I am fascinated with the fact that WordPress sees fit to give us a map of the countries in which our blog has been viewed. It is super-pleasing to me that such a thing exists, and even more pleasing to see that somehow in the past year we’ve drawn someone in from Kazakhstan and Mali, and a couple more views from China:

2015-01-20 Stats MapBut mostly I wish it were possible to fill in the blank spots.

Like, how do I lure in the folks from Greenland? Technically they’re owned by Denmark or something, so how come the 68 Denmarkian views don’t fill Greenland in too? Same goes for Norway and Svalbard, and France/French Guiana.

And, despite the fact that I post nothing whatsoever in Arabic nor Korean, I find myself wondering about the fact that we’ve never been visited by anyone from Iran nor North Korea.  It’s impossible to tell whether we’re unappealing to the market, if we’re just plain irrelevant to their interests, if the area in question somehow does not have any internet access whatsoever, or if the complete and utter lack of readership reflects a greater degree of censorship and/or governmental control over the internet.

Or, okay, it’s not completely impossible to tell on that last one, at least not where North Korea is involved.

Anyway, one could characterize this desire to color in the map as juvenile.  But is that desire for completeness a bad thing?  I think it reflects a concern with universality: what I really want to write is something worth reading, no matter who you are, where you’re from, or what years you exist.  A lot of the books we read and ideas we discuss here are universal enough, but our interpretation of them comes from a very specific background.  I want to learn more about these places to determine what I’m missing out on when I lack feedback from them.

So there’s Greenland and Svalbard and North Korea, of course, plus Laos, Papua New Guinea, El Salvador, Haiti, most of the former-Soviet –stans, Iran, Madagascar, Suriname and French Guiana, Lesotho, Mauritania, Congo, Tanzania, Senegal, the Gambia, Liberia, et cetera, et cetera.

I know pretty much nothing about most of these countries. Sure, I could point to them; I could name the capital, maybe, and perhaps recite a detail or two (especially where Haiti or Iran’s concerned). But what makes Gabon different from anywhere else? What is it that I don’t know about Niger that I really would like to know, and what’s so worth finding out that someone from Niger would bother consulting me about it? What made Uzbekistan and Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan into different nations when the Soviet Union broke up?

So here’s my plan: this will be a year of those grade-school-type geography projects. You know the sort – you get assigned a country and must figure out how many people it has, what religion(s) those people believe in, how they govern themselves or are governed, their folk traditions, their dress, their crops, their livelihoods. What natural features or edifices are worth looking at if you go there. What animals you want to seek out or avoid. Local news, weather, and traffic.

There is a whole lot of world out there, and while it isn’t necessarily possible to travel to all of it…it’s certainly possible to learn more about it!

(…and then, of course, it’s worth learning more about all the places that HAVE visited us. Silly of me to shun all the other places I don’t know about in favor of their more aloof neighbors, I suppose.)

Corryvreckan

Once, in pursuit of expanding my musical horizons a very little bit, I checked The Best of the Thistle & Shamrock out of the library, and thus added William Jackson’s “Corryvreckan” to my playlists. I never knew what exactly Corryvreckan was, though given all the pictures of Scottish countryside in the video I just linked (after the baffling phoenix at the start), I assumed it was some place that Mr. Jackson found especially inspiring, and never bothered asking why.

Sure, every video YouTube links to it involves whirlpools, but I more or less ignored the implications of that.

Or I did, until a friend on Tumblr shared a post today with some information on Bolton Strid, a river in Yorkshire that kills anyone who tries to cross it and fails (or, worse, tries swimming in it).  Obviously I was fascinated, looked it up, and found a 2.5-year-old Cracked article listing Bolton Strid as one of the “5 Most Spectacular Landscapes on Earth (That Murder You).”

Wouldn’t you know it: said article also lists the Corryvreckan maelstrom. Well. That answers that!

Lured by the promise of some fascinating force of nature, I found the following video. Most of it is a rather soothing video of the Scottish shoreline, accompanied by equally soothing music, but check out 2:20 to 4:15.  If I thought the video from the surface too placid-looking, there’s an animation of the sea bed which somehow impressed upon me the weight and depth of all the water right there.  Go and have a look at the Charybdis Brecani!