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Archive for the ‘Writers and Writing’ Category

Amazon.com: Profile For Anne Rice: Reviews.

I was looking at a recent translation of the Short and Long Texts of the Revelation of Julian of Norwich when I spotted a highly favorable review from an unexpected source: Author Anne Rice, best known for the series of novels that started with Interview with a Vampire.  She calls Fr. John-Julian, OJN’s The Complete Julian of Norwich her favorite book on Julian.

Julian of Norwich and Anne Rice… two great tastes I wasn’t expecting to taste together?  Mother Julian gets around.

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I just helped to process a rush order on a new book here at work: Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson.  It’s a children’s book aimed at middle school readers; it’s also a fictional young black boy’s memoir written entirely in poetry.  It looked so interesting that I decided to share an excerpt with you as the poem of the day:

Ms. Marcus

says

line breaks help

us figure out

what matters

to the poet.

Don’t jumble your ideas

Ms. Marcus says

Every line

should count.

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I first read T.S. Eliot as a precocious teenager already in college; I must have been thirteen or fourteen. I didn’t like his poetry, but it made a deep impression on me all the same. I remember writing at least one long rambling poem full of Biblical and liturgical allusions that was, consciously or no, an imitation of him.

When I re-discovered Eliot on my own, in my late teens and early twenties, I had read Dante’s Divine Comedy and the Revelations of Julian of Norwich, entirely on my own. Now Eliot made sense; I felt that I hadn’t had the tools to grasp him before, especially to grasp something like “Little Gidding” where Julian and Dante are his twin muses and their words interweave with his own from first to last. I had appropriated Julian and Dante for myself, out of a genuine attraction and not because I was required to read them; having done that, I was ready to appropriate Eliot for myself as well. I still love him; I also love the joke that Raissa (or was it Jacques?) Maritain made, when asked if they thought Eliot might become a Roman Catholic: “Oh no, Eliot exhausted his capacity for conversion when he became an Englishman.”

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Verticle Oracle cardCapricorn (December 22-January 19)
When Dante was nine years old, long before he became one of Italy’s supreme poets, he fell in love with Beatrice, an eight-year-old girl he met at a May Day party. They never had a close relationship. In the years after their initial encounter, they met infrequently, and both eventually married other people. But Beatrice played a crucial role throughout Dante’s life, although she died at the age of 24. She was not just his muse, but also his “beatitude, the destroyer of all vices and the queen of virtue, salvation.” Dante even wrote her into his Divine Comedy in the role of a guide. Is there any person or influence in your life equivalent to Beatrice? Any once-upon-a-time blessing that might be ready to give you the fullness of the gifts it has been waiting all this time to deliver?

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I first read Ursula K. LeGuin as a child, when I discovered the Earthsea books, and I still have the same three paperbacks I read before the age of twelve, the Bantam editions with the mostly grey covers and the little woodcut drawings at the head of each chapter.  I’ve been reading LeGuin for most of my reading life, and I just finished reading her latest novel, Lavinia.

Lavinia is a retelling of the last six books of Vergil’s Aeneid, from the point of view of Lavinia, daughter of Latinus, the destined bride of Aeneas.  Lavinia has no words to say in Vergil’s poem; LeGuin allows her to speak for herself, to retell her part of Aeneas’ story and to go on beyond what Vergil had to say, to tell the whole story of her life.

I’m so excited by this novel that I hardly know what to say.  It is simply brilliant, a story by a mature writer at the top of her game.  I found it hard to put down–I could have stayed up half the night to finish it, even though it has no explicit sex and its battle scenes are narrated by someone who doesn’t fight but has to tend the wounded after.  (Yes, I meant that sarcastically.)  I recommend it to anyone who appreciates good prose, rich characterization, a story that creates a whole world you can walk into and lose yourself in.

But I recommend it in particular to anyone who identifies as a pagan, and especially as a reconstructionist pagan.  LeGuin brilliantly, imaginatively re-creates an Italy before the Empire, before the Republic, before Rome as Rome, a Bronze Age world of kings ruling small townships surrounded by their pagus, the farmlands (source of our word “pagan”).  This is a world where the numina of hearth and storehouse, field and boundary and forest are uninfluenced by the stories and the plastic arts of the Greeks, where Vesta is simply the fire, Venus the evening star, and a Vestal is an unmarried woman who tends her father’s hearth for life, as she did when she was a girl, as is the duty of the eldest daughter.  All the fighting and the politicking of the story, all the hardships Aeneas and his Trojans endured, are for one purpose only: that the images of the gods he carried out from burning Troy should be enshrined with the Lares and Penates of Lavinia’s household, on Italian soil.
LeGuin creates a pagan domesticity that wakes in me a hunger to share it.  I don’t want the near-ceaseless work and all too frequent warfare of ancient Italy, but I would love to have the sense–which comes through in another of her recent novels that I just re-read, Voices–that the housework and the fieldwork and even those clashes of arms are part of a ceaseless whole, and all of it sacred.  Lavinia’s hard work of making the sacred salted meal, which starts with purifying the gritty salt clay from the river’s edge, is no less important in the realm of piety than the yearly dance of the Leapers at the Ambarvalia, who shake their spears and dance at the boundary stone and call on Mars and the Lares in a language that was old when Vergil wrote.
If you have any interest in Vergil, Roman culture, the Bronze Age, paganism, Mediterranean history, or just plain good writing, read Lavinia.  It might change your life.

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The Hermit

The Hermit

It’s a pity, a gentleman in refined retirement composing poetry:
He models his work on the classic verse of China,
And his poems are elegant, full of fine phrases.
But if you don’t write of things deep inside your own heart,
What’s the use of churning out so many words?

-Ryoukan, translated by John Stevens

I’ve always been a good writer.  I wrote my first short story in first grade, in red and purple crayon on landscape-oriented writing paper.  I wrote my first poems a few years later and made a little book of them.  Teachers and other grown-ups told me I was a good writer; by the time I was sixteen or seventeen, writing stories steadily and keeping a journal, I knew for myself that I was a good writer.  I knew writing was a gift that had been given me which I wanted to give back to the world.

A gift like writing, however, comes with a condition, a price tag. The requirement is a simple one:  If you want to be a writer, you have to tell the truth.  Greed, fraud, and theft are terrible things that cause far more destruction than they get credit for; anger, violence, murder, war are also terrible things.  But terrible in a different way, like pissing down a well, like polluting one’s own food or water, is using one’s art to lie.  A writer, a painter, a musician, an actor, a dancer–whatever the medium, the condition of being an artist is that one must tell the truth.

I could not come here and post again until I was ready to face and tell the truth.

The truth is that Druidry is not the path for me.  Since early 2005, almost four years, I have explored that path through the Ancient Order of Druids in America, where I have attained the First Degree.  At various times I have called myself a Christian Druid, a Pagan Druid, and even a Buddhist Druid.  But despite my admiration for AODA’s training program, I have not been able to make it work for me.  Despite my respect and affection for the Grand ArchDruid and the other members of the Order, I cannot escape the realization that their path is not mine, and my contribution to the Great Work is of a different sort than theirs.

This does not mean that I will renounce my First Degree and shun my Druid friends!  It does mean that I’ve changed my blog title to reflect my shift in understanding.  It does mean that I have to tell the truth and say I will no longer be writing about specifically “druid” topics.

So what will I be writing about?  Further explorations into Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism, in the Tibetan and Japanese Zen traditions, in practice and in reading.  My magical practice, the New Hermetics, although there I have to be ruled by the Four Powers of the Magician and Keep Silent about a lot of what I do.  What I’m reading, what I’m listening to, and what I’m watching (chiefly, right now, Babylon 5–I am close to the end of the second season).  Stuff that comes up on other folks’ blogs.  Birds, trees, earth, sky, as before.  The life of an urban hermit, a married woman living in the city who has a strong streak of the solitary monastic as well as a love for birds.

I found myself on Christmas Day at Breathe Books, which was open for a few hours with potluck foods and a movie showing.  I bought a copy of Dew Drops on a Lotus Leaf, Zen poems of the solitary monk Ryoukan, translated by John Stevens.  After reading the volume through in two days and starting on it again, entranced by the discovery of a kindred spirit, I wrote the following sort-of haiku:

A grass hut beneath the pines
A cell leaning against the church–
I, too, long for such solitude!

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Very busy at work today–tasks left over from yesterday plus a new shipment to process.  To quote my boss, “YUCK!”

On the plus side, I have a copy of Rilke’s Duino Elegies, as translated by Edward Snow, and three pre-programmed Christmas stations on Pandora.  I was amazed by Rilke’s New Poems and wowed by his Sonnets to Orpheus, but I think the Elegies are going to be a whole new level of awesome.  And you can’t beat hearing “Winter Wonderland” sung by Louis Armstrong and then a totally different performance of the same song by Ella Fitzgerald.  However, no one may sing “Santa Baby” except Eartha Kitt, who makes all other performances unnecessary.

If the weather hereabouts were only cold enough, we’d be having a lot of snow right now, instead of endless rain.  The urban druid is feeling challenged in her love of nature by the sheer dismal outside.  Good thing I brought my lunch.

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