Friday bletherie

I’ll end the week as I began: by letting you all know that Wise Fools, the new issue of Unsettling Wonder, is newly available to buy. I’m going to keep flogging this one because I love it, and I think its hilarious and sad and beautiful. Listen!

Not in my time, not in your time, nor yet in your grandfather’s time–but in someone’s time, surely–there was and there was not, a boy.

That’s the opening of Austin Hackney’s story ‘The Tale of Tom Fool’, a story that makes me laugh and cry and wonder. It gets better—it’s unexpected and sweet and haunting. And the whole issue’s this good.

The print editions are beautiful even though I designed them, and there are beautiful e-editions designed by Erzebet Yellowboy, and it’s full of beautiful illustrations and beautiful stories and—and you need a copy because you can always have more beauty in your life. Plus it’s got sad fox by Laura Anderson in:


Also, on a similar note I’ve got a fairly momentous announcement related to Paradoxes soon, so you can look forward to that appearing early next week. Which gives you plenty of time to go buy Wise Fools. Do yourself a favour and don’t miss this one.

on writing

a blogalectic

First, two announcements:

1. There is a really utterly amazing contest going on over here. I won’t tell you what it is about because if I say “autographed Claire Massey chapbooks” you’ll all go rushing over there to get some and ignore the rest of my post.

2. unsettling wonder is coming back, and soon. It’s become something completely different, but it’s coming back.

Now, a blogalectic:

Often, we have a mistaken view of the nature of writing. We cling to the “nineteenth-century image of the poet-as-romantic; the lone rebel,..seized by holy imagination” (Kathleen Norris). It is a dangerous and isolating image. The writer is denied his voice – his words no longer have the power to call the community [to a] deeper understanding, because the community cannot see beyond the enjoyment they receive or fail to receive from his work.

–Masha, “Solitary Voices

But this seems to put the cart before the horse. The poet has no responsibility for or control of the community’s actions. Their enjoyment or lack thereof is not his concern. His concern is the poem on the page before him.

Nor is the community his community, as such. His community is his tradition, the company of writers and poets who have followed this path before; the supple words of court poets from centuries ago speak to him with more power an immediacy than the pundits and activists on his neighborhood block.

By all means, let the poet be an active community member, if it suits him. It’s a worthwhile sort of thing to do. But do not let him delude himself into thinking that it does a whit for his poetry. It does not. At best it teaches him compassion, which he can hack up into fuel for poetry. At worst it takes him away from his writing, devouring his time, crowding his mind with other things than the play of vision and colour and words, the light and texture of sound; it lets him flatter himself he is doing well when he has forsaken his true calling.

Yes, of course we live among people, and learn from them, and try to understand them and let them understand us. But this is what makes him a good person; it gives no indication at all whether he will be a good poet. It would be required of him even if he never wrote a word in his life.

The act of writing itself is an act of seclusion, a turning away from speech and community into the solitary, silent voice of the writer.  I know of no other way to write than that Romantic vision: in solitude, in silence, even in isolation. Because that “holy imagination,” the vision that drives the poet into the desert places and into the silence of written words, the sudden burst of fire that does not burn but goads the poet to lift up her voice in the wilderness whether the people choose to listen or no–that’s what it means to write.

blind cat dreams

in blogalectic with Masha and Jenna

The girl dreams she is dangerously ill. Suddenly birds come out of her skin and cover her completely. […] Swarms of gnats obscure the sun, the moon, and all the stars except one. That one star falls upon the dreamer.

~ C.G. Jung

τε καὶ ὥρμησε φύεσθαι ἀπὸ τῆς ῥίζης
ὁ τοῦ πτεροῦ καυλὸς ὑπὸ πᾶν τὸ τῆς ψυχῆς εἶδος:
πᾶσα γὰρ ἦν τὸ πάλαι πτερωτή

Phaedrus §251

One can imagine stories without rational cohesion and yet filled with associations, like dreams; and poems that are merely lovely sounding, full of beautiful words, but also without rational sense and connections—with, at the most, individual verses which are intelligible, like fragments of the most varied things.

Novalis (MacDonald’s translation)

silent winter

In blogalectic with Jenna and Masha

Weary, weary is the world,
But here the world’s desire.

Jenna is right when she says that the road into silence is different for every traveller. So maybe that’s why the road she thinks of looks so different from mine—not strange, though. Because my road into silence meant recognising that the road she talks about wasn’t mine.

Jenna writes: ‘Silence requires lifting a hand to stop the motion and speaking a simple word: no.’ No, to the noise and the clamour and busyness of the world. And there is certainly a point for turning away. But I’ve come to see that the heart of silence is not rejection but embrace.

Silence means saying yes.

Yes, to the sense that tells us that stress and heartache and self-hatred is not the life given to us. Yes, to less travelled roads and strange ways. Yes, to taking down the scaffolding we’ve built around ourselves. Yes, to letting ourselves acknowledge our grief, our pains, and our needs. Yes, to tears, to sorrows, to distances. Yes, to healing. Yes, to laughter. Yes, to the silent chamber where the world seems far away and the veil between grows thin. Yes, to daring to hope again. Yes, to wonder and yes, to beauty. Yes, to the overwhelming presence of a love we don’t think we deserve.

Even amid the clamouring, crowded world that demands our time, our attention, the welcoming place of silence waits for us, ready for us to say no to the constructs and masks and disguises that markets and peer groups and religions and social networks want to put us in—and to say yes to becoming who we are.

This is why the candles are lit in the darkest days of winter, why the extra place is set at the table.  There is something outrageous and beautiful in it, really. And it’s hardly a coincidence that in the silent, most sacred moments of the feast, we burst into song. We say no to the darkness, true, but even more we say yes to the light—yes to the hope of the seasons turning, yes to the outcast strangers at the door.

Mr Pond in Print, and the matter of whimsy

If you’ve not heard already, you might be interested to know that my poem ‘Rampion’ just won the latest contest at Enchanted Conversation. It’s a ‘Rapunzel’ variant, told from the prince’s point of view.

It’s also (surprise!) my first published poetry, so I’m thrilled. I’d be keen to see what sort of critical observations you make—it’s a complex work, and there’s a lot there to find. Please do let me know what you think.

In other news, my esteemed colleague Daniel Gabelman has yet again continued his project of overturning the way we think about the way we think, and imagine. The latest instalment is a short article on whimsy, which not only had me wanting to cheer, but is, I think, quietly restructuring my own theories about writing and related things. Danny’s just that kind of writer—very much a name to watch.

Here’s a quotation to tantalise you into reading the whole article:

Whimsy is the gamesome servant of the imagination.

Generally speaking, whimsy is related to Aristotle’s principle of association or what Coleridge terms ‘fancy’.  It is a frolicsome cousin of memory, the power by which the mind makes connections with the past. Instead of associating the obvious and the similar, however, whimsy combines the unexpected and the disparate.  Whimsy does not connect flies with moths but with children’s toys as in Lewis Carroll’s rocking-horse-fly.

‘Good poets’, says W. H. Auden, ‘have a weakness for bad puns’.

Question, comments, critical analyses, and new ideas are, as always, welcome.