Heart Stone Feathers

Word Nerd – Feather Finder – Heart Stone Hunter – Synchronicity Searcher Winging It While Lovingly Writing Through Life

Strunk and White…Meet Klinkenborg

image

(If you’re short on time, the condensed version of this post (inspired by Verlyn Klinkenborg) is this: If you’re a writer or know someone who is…Buy. This. Book.)

* * * * *

As I mentioned in my last post, “focus” is the word I’ve chosen to incorporate into my life this year. So far, a substantial part of that focus has been aimed inwards on my writing. It’s been a process that’s involved a lot of reading about writing.

Verlyn Klinkenborg’s “Several Short Sentences About Writing” was just one book among several that I ordered a few weeks ago. Although the title didn’t impress me (nor the cover, as shown above), the book itself ended up being 204 pages of what I believe could become a classic – much like Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird,” Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way,” and Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style.”

However, because on the unusual way it’s written – poetically short sentences and a lack of “true” paragraphs – it’s a book people will probably either love or hate. Anyone who’s considering buying it should spend a few minutes reading the available pages for preview on Amazon to decide if it’s something they’d enjoy.

While discussing this book with three of my closest writing friends, I mentioned how the straightforward yet revolutionary ideas Klinkenborg presented completely challenged the way I was taught to write (as I think many people were) and gave me reason to pause, over and over again. It was Paul Gilmore’s Amazon review that actually summarized my thoughts best though. In it, he wrote, “I have a tendency to write in the manner of positively passionate purple prose that is overtly pulchritudinous in written and verbal construct and delivery. This book helped to save my life from choking on my own words.” While I’ve managed to edit several hundred words from this post (I realize how difficult that might be to believe), it’s obvious that I’m still slightly allergic to the use of short sentences.

image

This book isn’t just about brevity though. Klinkenborg poetically discusses what he considers to be the harmful writing methods we were taught in school – arguing, demonstrating, drafting, outlining, persuading, reciting, reiterating, transitioning – and how such a focus leads us to get hung up on the concepts of authority, chronology, discipline, flow, genre, inspiration, logic, order, proof, sincerity, style, voice, and the dreaded writer’s block. Instead, he encourages writers to imagine, listen, name, notice, testify, and think and to focus on the importance of clarity, directness, implication, literalness, patience, presence, revision, rhythm, silence, simplicity, space, and variation.

He also eloquently addresses the all-important relationship between the writer and the reader, as well as various writer’s fears including (but not limited to): has “it” been said before; what if I don’t immediately write down every good sentence I create; if I am my story, where do I get another one; and how much do I have to explain to the reader. As if that wasn’t enough, the last 54 pages are filled with sample sentences and passages to practice reviewing and revising, along with more of Klinkenborg’s helpful insight.

While that might be the succinct synopsis, it doesn’t do justice to what Klinkenborg manages to accomplish in this book. Below are just a few examples (with the writing style kept intact) of what awaits you between the covers. I truly hope they entice you to find a spot on your bookshelf for this inspiring work of written art.

“You’re holding an audition.
Many sentences will try out.
One gets the part.
You’ll recognize it less from the character of the
sentence itself
than from the promise it contains – promise for the
sentences to come.”

“Every word is optional until it proves to be essential…
Every sentence is optional until it proves otherwise.”

“Every piece is an ecosystem of words and structures
and rhythms…
Suddenly you’re looking at [your sentences'] bones and muscles,
the way they’re joined and the kinetics of their
movement.”

“Late in the paragraph you prepare for the transition to
the next paragraph -
The great leap over the void, across that yawning
indentation.
You were taught the art of the flying trapeze,
But not how to write.”

“The writer’s world is full of parallel universes.
You discover, word by word, the one you discover.
Ten minutes later – another hour of thought – and you
would have found your way into a different universe.
The piece is permeable to the world around it.
It’s responsive to time itself, to the very hour of its creation.
This is an immensely freeing thing to understand.”

“…remember that your sentences don’t
acquire their final inertia
Until you release them”

“Don’t preconceive the reader’s limitations.
They’ll become your own.”

“And what happens if you trust the reader?
All the devices of distrust fall away,
The pretense of logic, the obsession with transition,
The creeping, incremental movement of sentences,
Sentences stepping on each other’s heels…
You converse, in a sense, with the voice on the other
side of the ink.”

“You be the narrator.
Let us be the readers.
You’ll discover that being the narrator is not the same as being yourself.
It’s a role, and a dramatic one.
Absorb it and inhabit it.”

image

My Focus for 2014

20131231-121912.jpg

As my first year of blogging comes to an end, I can’t help but look back and notice that I “only” made twenty-two posts, including this one. Instead of being disappointed though, I’m choosing to focus on the fact that I posted throughout the entire year, regardless of the final count.

If 2013 has taught me anything, it’s that I’m done with synopsizing my accomplishments with the use of such words and phrases as “only,” “at least,” and “yes, but….” In fact, I’m quite proud of and honored by the fact that in 2013 – the first year I spread my writing wings – I managed to get four flash fiction pieces, two poems, and two short stories published. I simply refuse to let the dozen or so rejections I also received to taint my thinking otherwise. And by the way – I prefer to think in terms of the other publishers “declining” my offers, not outrightly rejecting them.

As for the purpose of this last blog post for 2013 – for the last few weeks, my Facebook news feed has had quite a few posts from people talking about their “chosen word” for 2014. I had never really heard of such a concept, but I liked the sound of it. I spent a lot of time thinking about what word I might like to focus on for the upcoming year and the word that kept whispering in my ear – no matter how hard I tried to ignore it – was actually “focus.” It seemed too intense for what I had in mind, but it finally dawned on me that it only had to be that way if that’s what I CHOSE to focus on.

I’m not sure why, but once I “had” my word, I went on a Pinterest quest to search for inspiration. I was pleasantly surprised at how much my focus expanded (no pun intended) on that one word. I ended up with 87 pins on my Pinterest Focus board and I’m certain there will be plenty more throughout 2014.

But why choose “focus,” you might wonder? For me, it’s primarily a shift in my writing about everything and anything, to defining a short list of what I’d like to focus on writing. But it extends far beyond just my writing. It’s about focusing on my dreams – not on my doubts; on what I can do – not on what I can’t do; on what I have to gain – not on what I have to lose; on how far I’ve come – not on how far I still have to go; on living – not just on surviving. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg (again a matter of focus).

There truly are layers upon layers to much of what our days present us with. It’s up to each one of us to decide what we need and/or want to focus on. And while we might never solve Edgar Allen Poe’s riddle of why a raven is like a writing desk, we can enjoy the journey of discovery, even if it “only” leads us to more layers vying for our attention and focus.

I’d LOVE to hear what word you might have chosen for yourself to focus on in 2014. I’d also REALLY like to hear your thoughts on the actual word “focus.” Until then, as 2013 fades into the rearview mirror and as 2014 comes into focus above the horizon, may each of you be filled with the joy of peaceful possibilities that patiently await your gaze.

Addendum: For anyone who might be curious about what had my attention for the last month or so, it was my Flash Cards Project, something I might expand – and continue to focus on – in 2014. You can see pictures of the completed project on my Flash Cards Project Pinterest board.

20131231-141147.jpg

A New Type (of) Writer

Underwood Junior Typewriter

One of the topics I was surprised to find myself writing about in my VerbTribe class was my parents’ typewriters. While my mother begrudgingly used hers for working at home, my father prayed over his to help him become a published author (prayers which went unanswered).

Regardless of their different functions, both my mother and father issued a “hands-off-they’re-not-toys” policy to my sister and I. Being a poor listener, I took every opportunity I could find to get my hands on those magical machines. One of the few regrets I have in life was in not keeping my father’s typewriter – and his desk – when it came time to “weed out” his possessions after he passed away in 2001.

Since writing about those typewriters, I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about buying one for myself. Not just for decoration though. I wanted to be able to use my new baby.

My desire grew exponentially after seeing the blue and orange beauties used by Maya Stein and Amy Tingle Williamson to create their “tandem poetry” at the recent Design Your Life Camp I attended. Thinking I was an oddball for wanting such a technological relic, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see so many Facebook posts by my fellow campers about their own adventures finding a typewriter since they returned home.

Due to the seasonality of my husband’s garden center, last weekend was the first one we’ve had to ourselves since February. On Sunday, we headed out to our favorite flea market. Right before we left, I pronounced (quite loudly and confidently) that I was finally going to find my typewriter. Tim knows that’s my weird way of “letting the Universe know my intentions,” but he still thinks I’m a little crazy when I do it.

Truth be told, we’d only seen one typewriter there in the years we’d been going, but it was in pretty rough shape so we walked away. The odds didn’t seem to be in our favor, but a girl’s gotta’ dream, right?

I’m certain you can see where this tale is going, so I’ll just jump to the part where I tell you we not only found one typewriter that day…we found three! While my heart has long been set on owning a red one, we would have needed a wheelbarrow to haul around the IBM Selectric that had a $75 price tag (for those who might be interested, here’s a good photo and article about that exact model). The green and white one was a child’s plastic version, so that was another easy decision to say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

But then….there on the top shelf of a dealer who actually lives just a few miles from us, was the petite treasure in the above photo. It was so pristine looking that I asked if it was a reproduction. She assured me it wasn’t. When she offered to knock the asking price down from $20 to $18, I just knew I had to take “her” home with me.

My husband was as excited as I was, so we went straight home and started Googling to find out what we could about her. It turns out that – not only is she legitimate – she’s actually quite rare.

Tracking her serial number (591,834) revealed that she’s a “four-bank” Underwood Junior Portable, made in 1932. She measures a mere 4-1/4″ tall x 10″ deep x 11-1/2″ wide and weighs only 9.5 pounds.

Like many portable machines made during the pre-war era, she was scaled down to the basics. She has only one shift key (on the left side, which is perfect for this southpaw) and no 1 key, exclamation-mark, or dollar sign. All of those quirks are more than made up for by her glass and steel keys (which are soothing to my old eyes), as well as her ribbon-reverser.

But the story doesn’t end there. When we’d finished Googling, we started to tinker with her. We began by taking the ribbon off to practice “resetting” it. As one might expect, it unrolled more than we had anticipated once it was off. As it did, Tim scared the crap out of me when he suddenly screamed, “Stop!”

Unable to speak coherently, he simply kept pointing at the ribbon. I had to adjust my reading glasses to see what had caught his attention. Stuck to the ribbon – in two separate places – were white feathers (as shown in the photo below).

Typewriter Feathers

Anyone who knows ANYTHING about me, knows that feathers are my “thing.” My symbol…my calling card…my messages from lost loved ones. Over the years, they’ve popped up in my world in the most unusual places and at very poignant moments. This one though left me nearly speechless.

Every time I touch her now, I keep wondering, how long had they been there? How had they ended up there? Why were they there? How come I was the one to find them (well – actually Tim found them, but you know what I mean)?

In the end, I know none of those answers are important. What is, is being grateful and acknowledging their presence. I am and I do. Very much so.

And so the story continues, with me at the helm of writing it. I finally have my own typewriter and you can be certain it WILL be used. In fact, I invite anyone who visits to use it. There is NO hands-off policy in my writing world…and there NEVER will be.

“Please, pull up a chair and join me. Let’s play with letters and see what we can create. Let me begin by introducing you to Matilda (Matty) Underwood…she’s lovingly named after my grandmother-in-law; a solidly built petite woman who lost her eyesight, but not her sense of humor or wonder.”

Addendum: If you’re interested in learning more about Underwood Portable typewriters, this is a great website to start your journey. And yes…that is me in the photo above, sitting next to my mother’s typewriter, aching to “play” with it.

The “Flash Cards” Project

Apian

Flash Card for the word “apian”

One of the many inspiring things that happened while I was at Design Your Life Camp, was being introduced to the world of “Tandem Poetry” created by Maya Stein and Amy Tingle Williamson. All you had to do was give these two amazing poets one word of your own choosing and – in less than five minutes – they each created a poem for you on their manual typewriters and 3″ x 5″ index cards. It was both magical and mesmerizing to watch them in action; it was silent, other than the tap-tap-tapping as they wove their words.

Tandem Poetry Polaroid

Maya Stein (l) and Amy Tingle Williamson (r)

I’ve been home from camp for three weeks and I’m just now beginning to feel that I’ve rejoined the real world. There’s been so much good stuff to process that I’ve often felt overwhelmed. Joyously so.

Moved by Maya’s and Amy’s approach to creating great work with minimal time and small spaces, I’ve begun what I’ve dubbed the “Flash Cards” project. It’s a totally selfish project devised to prompt me to write at least SOMETHING every day. All I do is use a random word generator (I began with the letter “a”) to provide me with my word for the day; a word that I then try to tell a “flash fiction” story within a sentence or two. I jot down what I come up with onto the template of a library card that I scanned into my computer. (And for those who are curious…that’s NOT my handwriting. I use Picmonkey and the La Belle Aurore font.)

I’m only three days into this project, but I have to confess that I’m really enjoying it. I don’t pretend to have any grand illusions that it will lead me to some great new place in my life, but I’m open to following whatever path it does take me on.

Sometimes writing is just about writing. Having fun with the process, creating a practice you love, and starting all over again the next day. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings. All I know is that it will involve at least one word that begins with the letter “d.”

Bliss

Flash Card for the word “bliss”

Choreography

Flash Card for the word “choreography”

If you’re interested in following this project, I’ll be posting my creations on my  Flash Cards Project Pinterest board.

The Stone Path

20131014-114801.jpg

Last Monday, I was schlepping my bulging luggage from Penn Station in New York City to the Port Authority building located ten blocks away. It was the final sweaty stage of my weeklong journey to Atlanta (which actually involved a higher percentage of moisture loss via cleansing tears than it did putrid perspiration). For most people, that might not sound like a big deal, but for this small-town homebody whose last traveling adventure was to Kentucky in 2008, it was HUGE.

I’ve been meaning to blog about all the amazing things I learned at the inaugural Design Your Life Camp, but whenever I sit down to process everything and to journal my thoughts, I find myself staring off into space – sometimes with a little bit of spittle forming at the corners of my gaping mouth. The only conclusion I’ve reached is, to try to summarize the event into one blog post would be impossible. That…and I should keep my mouth closed when I’m thinking.

When people ask me to describe the experience, the one-word synopsis that does easily spill over my lips is “life-altering.” Even that seems like an inadequate definition though.

So why this blog post after having not checked in here for the last ninety days? Because it’s time to get back to my OWN page.

In the last year, I’ve not only completed three levels of the online VerbTribe writing course that forever changed my life for the better, but I’ve had seven pieces accepted for publication. A year ago, I never thought any of that would be possible.

It’s been a year of learning about process and product and finding a balance between the two. Not for one second do I think I’ve mastered anything, but I’m finally at peace with the path of my life. Maybe that’s because I’m now on a path of my own creation – one where I’m no longer embarrassed when I describe myself as a writer.

And that brings me to the stones in the photo above. As part of our goodie bag at camp, each camper received two unique rocks that I like to think are pertinent to where we are in our individual lives. I confess that my first two thoughts about the “let go of judgement” stone were (1) “Oh my God…they misspelled judgement!” (I subscribe to the judgment version) and (2) “Oh dear…it has a chip of paint missing!” [Insert "light bulb moment" here!]

I was home for two days before I even noticed that both rocks had a heart theme – one with a heart painted directly on it and the other heart-shaped. [Insert second "light bulb moment" here!] How does someone who professes to be a heart-stone hunter – so much so that it’s part of the title and tagline of her own blog – MISS such a thing???

What this says to me is I’m entering a much-needed period of refinement and refocusing. For too long I simply refused to acknowledge my desire to write. When I finally did, I reveled in being a part of the big picture – learning, experimenting, reaching out. Camp’s focus on creativity, courage, and community was a massive injection of “you got this” mojo juice.

And now I sit here asking myself, “What do you want to do with all of this?” The key words being “you” and “want.” What I know today is that I will (try to) not be judgmental about any decisions I make and I will (try to) love my life as it continues to unfold. For today, that’s good enough. In fact, it’s damn good…

A Sucky Poem for A Sweet Life

Shelby Miele Angel

A cancer-filled cyst
on the spine of a senior dog
grows exponentially evil during the night
and leaves an entire family paralyzed.

An appointment is made
to ease the pain
and to assist the transition.
An hour before one’s final breath is expected,
rupture brings relief for all
and another sunset is shared.

What started as a day
focused on investing
in things we want to suck well,
has turned into one we offer a prayer Heavenwards
for releasing the death grip
that was sucking the precious life from our home.

Angels appear
when we least expect them,
even when they litter our home
like dog hair tumbleweeds on baseboards.

Some days suck…
gloriously.

Caesuras and Coincidences

Caesura Quote

Sixty-one days have passed since my last blog post. Instead of feeling apologetic about such an absence, I’m ecstatic! How’s that possible, you wonder?

Although it’s been quite a lengthy “caesura,” it’s actually been a VERY productive writing time for me. I not only submitted five poems, eleven flash fiction pieces (which had to be limited to only six words each –  a true miracle of brevity for me!), and one fictional story to several publications, but I also managed to write 4,900 words towards my goal of 13,000 for Camp NaNoWriMo. I also entered one poem and one fiction story in various contests. I’m pleasantly surprised and far-beyond overjoyed to be able to announce that I’ve had three flash fiction pieces and one poem accepted…so far.

For me though, these past few weeks haven’t been about getting things published. They’ve been about routinely “showing up” and doing the work. Work that I’m passionate about and that feels more like “joy in mind motion.” During my time away, I had to remind myself that I didn’t start this blog to simply add to the blogosphere chatter. In my very first post, I had focused on my New Year’s intention to “show up for my life and to give it my all.” Although I’m not showing up HERE as often as I had thought I might, I’m giving it my all in other ways to the writing pages of my life and I simply could NOT be happier.

In the process of laying down so many words, I’m finally learning that shorter truly can be sweeter. And if someone had told me that I would one day succumb to writing poetry and fiction – versus non-fiction, which I had always considered my “calling” – I might have been forever frightened away from picking up a pen. Who knew that I’d be glad to not always have a clue about what’s going to flow from my fingertips?

As a huge fan of synchronicity and/or coincidence – call it whatever you like – I must admit that today left me a little weak in the knees. I’ve been (im)patiently awaiting the arrival of my copies of the flash fiction pieces I had accepted for print in Haunted Waters Press, “From the Depths.” Not only did they finally appear on my doorstep this afternoon, but sitting on top of them was another box. In that package was a fabulously, funky, red purse I had purchased online from a lady who’s on an amazing mission to downsize and declutter her life. That woman is my writing instructor – the one who has forever changed my life for the better. Not only had she enclosed a lovely handwritten note on an index card (her “parchment of choice” for many class assignments), but the pieces I had published were formatted in the journal to also appear as if they were on an index card!

Patti Purse Publication Blog

As someone who has spent years looking for a sign that my life is finally on the “right” path, I heard you loud and clear today dear Universe and I can’t wait to see what lies on the path ahead. I promise to keep showing up and to do the work as best I can.

Addendum: Just as I was getting ready to hit the “publish” button, my husband told me that I might want to look off to the east to witness what was possibly another sign. I’m so blessed to be a part of this wonderful world…

image

Baring (and Sharing) My Heart and Soul

Feathered Heart by Alice Rebecca Potter, Illustrator

Feathered Heart by Alice Rebecca Potter, Illustrator

Posted below is one of the last pieces I submitted in my recent writing class. The entire course had built up to this assignment – one that asked us to remember the written journeys we had taken and to “move from our heart back out into the world.” This is my interpretation of that “synchronous” adventure. As I discussed in my March 5th, 2013 blog post about the discomfort I often feel whenever I encounter poetry, I was extremely surprised at the format this piece was released from the end of my pen.
 

In Synchronous Orbit: Heart to Soul

 
Our mother’s oxygenated blood
is our first taste of this universe.
As her veined-lasso contracts and tears away,
our inaugural breath of freedom
infuses you with our own claret.
Vintage 1966.

Within an ossified and cartilaginous wing-shaped cage,
safely suspended in mid-air,
featherless,
you live under the shadow of our skin.

There is a liquid lushness
to our internal landscape.
One that quenches the thirst
of our membranous microcosm,
from the valley of our shoulder blades,
to the peninsulas of our limbs,
and the snow-covered peak of our true north.

A constricting coil of cyclic rebirth,
you are unable to soar across the threshold of darkness
into the light of life.

You are a blind, wingless co-pilot,
a molten core
to our solitary, drifting continent.

A celestial body
in synchronous orbit with our soul,
I am your desirous interpreter
as we journey into the world.

As we travel the cosmos,
you, the fountain of our youth,
once pure and unscarred,
become tender and tattered,
like a glacier breaking apart under the heat of the sun.
Even tenacious tissue grows road-weary
from trailing unheard messages
in the space between heaven and earth.

I am occasionally lulled into complacency
by the repetition of your words.
When the unfamiliar tempo of your language
suddenly becomes foreign to me,
your voice barely audible,
I realize the need
to lighten the load of our travels.

From the depths of your sinewy existence,
in empty notebooks filled with possibilities,
I revel in recording the details of our adventures,
giving a voice to words
that you cannot breathe life into.

You are a speechless co-author,
mixing the crimson hue of your indigenous ink
with the palette of colors
that flow from my feathered pen.

Like fleeting stardust,
I try to grasp and decipher
the Morse-coded messages
you tap out against the skeletal bars of your prison cell.

Is it fear that causes you to skip erratically
when our brain registers the outline
of a snake amongst the grass?
Do you flutter in longing
as the breeze of a hawk
passes through our parchment carapace?
Does jealousy fill your every chamber
at the mere thought of a migrant gypsy cloud
caressing the sky?
Or do you swell at the sheer vastness of it all?

Regardless of the radius of the galaxy
we find ourselves roaming,
you are forever the most precious element
lining the cave walls.
Walls that record leftover memories
from previous lives shared.

For now,
the other side remains a realm
that we cannot yet venture to.
While there are no guarantees
for how many years we have left
on our entwined exploration of this world,
I can promise you that we will always be together.

Until we embark on that final flight,
under the power of our own long-awaited wings,
we will continue to drink
from the sanguine wellspring of our shared spirit.

The Rookie Poet’s Review of Anis Mojgani’s “The Feather Room”

The Feather Room Book

There is no way for me to hide the fact that I am a rookie when it comes to reading, as well as to writing, poetry. To be honest, had it not been for Patti Digh’s online VerbTribe writing classes that I happily submerged myself in these past few months, I’m certain I wouldn’t even be able to claim the title of rookie.

It’s really not due to a lack of appreciation for poetry, nor a disinterest in it, that I’ve shied away from it for four-and-a-half decades. I simply find it intimidating. Especially when it comes to reading comprehension.

I unexpectedly came face-to-face with that fear on Day 2 of my first VerbTribe class. One of our assignments for the day was to read, as well as to rewrite in longhand, Mark Doty’s “Robert Harms Paints the Surface of Little Fresh Pond.” For those who are unfamiliar with the poem, it reads as follows.

Surface the action of the day,
a means of tracing the dynamic,
so that a jitter of blue’s
sparked by little coals,
sun a glimmer
of the day’s intent. He knows
to trace an alphabet written on water
is to surface the action of the day,
a way of proceeding,
entering into the never-
to-be repeated,
a way of reading
a nearly infinite variety of gestures
legible only to one versed
in surface, the action of the day.
When my eye nearly failed -
the frail foil-back torn,
wild profusion of smoke-curls,
what I saw was just this:
what he sees on and in water,
by his hand
the action of surface notated,
the rhythm of things
discerned and ridden.

As the final part of our assignment, we were asked to answer the question, “What stood out for you in this exercise?” My reply, which in hindsight now sounds pathetically whining, was at least candid.

“Being honest here…no matter how many times I read this, I kept hearing my own personal Negative Nelly whispering in my ear, “You SUCK at stuff like this!” This one truly had my head spinning, even AFTER I rewrote it in longhand. Some of the phrases just left me wondering what he was trying to convey. I was so desperate to figure it out that I Googled it. I found a video of a guy reading it…THAT didn’t help. Then I actually found Mark Doty’s blog that had a post about when he went to an art gallery show that featured work by Robert Harms. Then – and only then – did I “get it.” Or at least I then understood half of what he wrote. Instead of telling myself I can never be a decent writer unless I can understand ALL forms of writing, I’m just going to cut myself some slack and assume that there are others out there that don’t always “get” every word found in works like this. (…slinking off to the back of the class now, feeling somewhat inadequate…)”

Patti, in her infinite teaching wisdom (and concise writing style), simply replied, “I wonder what would happen if there were no right answer.” Well DAMN! What if? That was quite a foreign concept for a perfectionistic, control-freak Virgo such as myself, but there really was no way for me to argue with it. Touché! One writing (and reading) dragon slain on Day 2!

Just a few days later, I surprised myself by purchasing several “generic” and beginner’s level poetry books at a local library sale. My husband almost fainted when he saw them, as he knew I was venturing into a land I had long avoided. Feeling more comfortable after greedily ingesting verse after verse, I decided to go all out and try my hand at deciphering Anis Mojgani’s, The Feather Room.

The only reason I use the term decipher is that, even when Mojgani himself – an international award-winning poet, perhaps best known for his poetry slam presentations (you can view one of his readings below) – is asked to classify his genre of poetry with an original name, his reply is simply, “I wouldn’t want to define a specific genre for this. I just write poems.”

The summary for The Feather Room refers to it as being “storytelling in poetic form while traveling farther down the path of magic realism.” I’m torn between calling it a verse novel or a collection of nearly-narrative poems. Whatever it is, it truly is mind-expanding. Or at least it was for me.

The book is broken into three sections, based on the opening prose that describes three “off limit” rooms a young man ventures into. The first room features a yellow wooden door and a young girl sitting amongst a pile of bicycle parts; a room depicting where the man once was and the girl someone he loved. The second room has a red stone door and a crying elderly man who is trying to encourage a plethora of featherless, screeching birds to leave via an open window. This room symbolizes where the young man currently is, as well as sadness he is “holding on to something long gone and broke.” A blue glass door protects the final room – one simply overflowing with feathers and representative of where the man is going.

I would be lying if I said I understood and liked every single one of the sixty-nine poems in this book, the longest comprising nine pages and the shortest a mere eleven words. In fact, some of the titles even left me slightly confused. Such was definitely the case with “Call it magic call it fish eye call it fish lung call you magic pocket of science.” Kudos for such a creative title though!

Although I wasn’t able to follow every single step along the journey, the path kept beckoning me to continue onwards with luscious lines like those below. (Please forgive me if “luscious” is an inappropriate term to describe poetry – I tried to warn you that I was at the beginning of the learning curve.)

“…the geese…balancing the moon on their backs.”

“…ceiling fans worshipping my skin…”

“Everything has a ghost. The measuring cups my mama used.”

“…the telephone poles do not speak as loudly as they once did.”

“This is what the walls taste like. Cucumbers sliced and salted. Dill growing in the window. The smell of coffee. Lick the wall.”

“March is a long month…Sometimes it stretches through the following winters.”

Would I recommend this book to other rookie poets? I actually would. It’s not overloaded with unfamiliar words or difficult rhythms; it’s simply one that needs to be read slowly – savoring every word to understand its significance to the overall story. I guess that could be said for most poems though.

I personally will gladly be revisiting The Feather Room – perhaps quite often. I have a feeling I’ll discover something new each time. To me, that’s the truest definition of quality poetry. But who am I to say? I’m still just a rookie working on obtaining my junior appreciation status. For today, that’s good enough, especially considering how far I’ve come in just the last few months.

And now I’d love to know…who or what are some of your favorite poets or poems? This newbie would really appreciate any and all suggestions of where to venture next on this odyssey.

Addendum: For those who might be interested, Anis Mojgani’s next book, Songs From Under the River: Early and New Work, is due to be released on March 15, 2013. I foresee it gracing my shelves some day soon thereafter.

No Longer Between Books

Well-loved independent book store unexpectedly closing in Delaware. (Photo taken by Anita Gail)

Well-loved independent book store unexpectedly closing in Delaware. (Photo taken by Anita Gail)

How is it possible to feel such overwhelming guilt for the closing of a bookstore in Claymont, Delaware – one whose shelves I have never even had the privilege of browsing and that is located more than four hours from my home? I actually would have been oblivious to the sad news had my dear friend Anita not posted it on her Facebook page (along with the above photo that she took of the store’s facade and graciously allowed me to use here). Thank you Anita and thank you Facebook….I think.

Between Books, one of the few remaining independently owned bookstores in Delaware, was happily closing in on its thirty-third anniversary. On February 22nd, a few weeks shy of reaching such a milestone, shop owner Greg Schaeur posted what I can only imagine was a very unexpected message on the store’s website. Short – but far from sweet – it simply read, “I have written and rewritten this a million times in my head over the last few days. Words fail me. It is with a heavy heart that I must announce Between Books Going Out of Business sale will begin Saturday, February 23rd. We have lost our lease. More information soon. Please spread the word.” What had been a “closing in” on a joyous event is now a “closing” of the worst kind.

I don’t pretend to have any idea why – after having been in its current location for more than 25 years – the store has lost its lease. I don’t really want to even speculate on the reason. Regardless if it’s financial, personal, or something else, the end result is that the world has one less option when it comes to connecting “hands on” with books.

“Oh well,” some might say. “One less store – the world will go on without it.” Yes – yes it will. But at what price? Chris Van Trump, an “on and off” employee of Between Books since 1997, clarified the answer to that question so much more eloquently than I ever could in his February 23rd blog post entitled, “Do Not Go Gentle.”

“This place, this sanctuary, is fading from the world, and we are all poorer for its passing. All the more so because it is not alone in this fate.

Places like this used to be common, the small businesses that formed the beating heart of the communities that accumulated around them like layers of pearl, slowly growing year by year into lustrous jewels beyond price.

We’ve lost that. We threw it away, in fact, sacrificing community on the altar of savings, trading knowledge for selection, and now we’re left with the rotting carcasses of the warehouse stores, themselves devoured in turn by a flagging economy and an ascendent internet.”

One doesn’t need to be a past or present employee to feel the loss though. The Delaware Liberal’s commentary about the closing got right to the point with its opening remarks of, “This is depressing. Beyond depressing, really.”

A Google search quickly revealed to me how much of a jewel Between Books has become to its community. Without fail, I always expect to see some form of negative review about every “business” I research, whether it’s a restaurant, a doctor, a bookstore, or a mere book review. Such was definitely NOT the case for Between Books. I literally found NONE.

A mere sample of what I did find includes a Yelp review proclaiming, “This bookshop isn’t a fancy Borders or Barnes and Noble type place with fancy wood floors and cappuccino…it’s the type of place where you can get lost in the stacks and spend a whole day browsing and chatting with others. You feel totally welcome when you’re there.” Praises on the Indie Bound website were just as complimentary “…it’s run by people who aren’t like the creatures you’ll find in a Borders. They *know* things. Arcane things. They’ve met authors you’ve heard rumored to exist in some alternate universe. They celebrate new books with writers by putting their book covers on a cake. They throw a party. And their audience is as diverse as the store itself. From children to old crazies like me. This is the store you go into and come out with much of your well-earned boodle turned alchemically into reading material. The draw is unavoidable.”

Even a cartoon drawn to celebrate Between Books’ thirtieth anniversary pays homage to the fact that it was “the” place to be, as far back as the 1970’s and especially on “new comics Thursday.”

Cartoon created for Between Books' 30th anniversary. (Artwork by Steve Ressel)

Cartoon created for Between Books’ 30th anniversary. (Artwork by Steve Ressel)

Back to my original question though – why do I personally feel guilty, as if I was somehow partly responsible for this store’s demise? For far too long now, I must confess that my annual book budget has been spent at local library sales (which I have justified as helping them out, as well as my own personal expense account) and at online sites, primarily Amazon. Truth be told, my latest Amazon book order JUST arrived yesterday; a writing book for myself and a golf techniques one for my husband.

This past Christmas, I actually chose a book I wanted to share with a dozen new friends I met in an online writing course. Unable to purchase it at a local Barnes and Noble – unless I was willing to pay an inordinate amount for shipping – I got desperate. I not only resorted to buying all the copies I could from an Amazon “dealer,” but I (gulp) ordered the last few copies through Wal-Mart. Not my proudest moment.

I am someone who has loudly bemoaned the rise of ebooks at what I believe is at the expense of “real” books. I am also someone who has chanted the mantra for many years to support local small businesses (including those who grow much of my food). That being the case, I simply can’t fathom WHY those beliefs have translated into my now not being able to remember the last time I set foot in an independently owned local bookstore. And yes – there are a number of great ones to choose from. The fact that I am also a writer as well as a local business owner makes the hypocrisy of my actions that much worse. I truly feel so very shameful.

Chris Van Trump’s blog post was the wake-up call I needed. Even though he feels as if the world has ended, I am grateful that he also has hope. “Hope that the small business will see a resurgence in an age where people have begun to realize what they’ve lost, where that intimate relationship between retailer and consumer means more than a handful of shallow reviews from strangers on the web or a massive box full of things that nobody needs.” Per his call to action, I will indeed “rage, before [I] wake up and realize what [I've] lost.”

In what might be described as a haunting precursor to this entire story, Greg Schauer was actually quoted in an August, 2011 article about how Delaware’s independent bookstores were fighting to survive, even as the local Borders was going out of business. He commented how, “I feel bad for the people who are losing their jobs, but I watched so many of my friends lose their businesses. I survived the devastation Borders brought to Delaware bookstores when they moved in to the state and will outlive them.” He did indeed outlive them, but perhaps not as long as he imagined he would.

Will he return after this devastation? Only time will tell. Who knows – it’s possible that the final chapter of this story has yet to be written. I’ll be keeping my eyes open for a sequel, as well as hoping for a happy ending.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 217 other followers

%d bloggers like this: