Sunday, December 30, 2012

My Chapbook Beaver Soul Will Be Published

Mikhail Bazankov's Cover Drawing for the Russian Beaver Soul


Not long ago I learned to my delight that my book of poems Beaver Soul will be published in 2013 by Finishing Line Press of Kentucky.  Beaver Soul was written in 1992, the early part along the Haw River in Saxapahaw, on what I called my poetry rock near a beaver dam.  The second part was written in Russia, where I spent two months, July and August, that year, the first month in two Houses for Creativity, Peredelkino, near Moscow, and Komarovo, near St. Petersburg, and the second month in the Kostroma region, in Sharya, then in the Mezha District, in the village of Gorka, and later in Kostroma.  The final poem in the book was written in Devon, near the River Teign, where I was able to spend another month.
The Kostroma Writers’ Organization published Beaver Soul [Bobrinaya Dusha] in Russian translation in 1997.  I had wanted to see it published in English, so finally 21 years after it was written, it will come out in English.  I’m going to give you my Russian editor’s preface and the first poem, to give you a feeling for the book.  It will sell for $12, and if you order ahead of time [Details when I know them], it’s only $2 postage.  Welcome to the world of Beaver Soul.

Russian Editor’s Preface A Smile from Across the Ocean

When he smiles, a person causes kindness to come into being for himself and for others.  People say that a smile helps us be happy.  I’m thinking about this, having received an interesting photograph and trying to see across the ocean a face not yet known to me, using my imagination to fill in what her character is like, what her situation in life is, and it seems to me that somewhere once before I’ve seen this woman from America.  I can hear her voice in the lines of her letter, her speech which brings with it a long ago melody, maybe from the last century.  Just now, on that continent lying on the opposite side of the water, in the state of North Carolina, it’s a different time of day.  Probably Mrs. Judy Hogan is thinking about her children.  There are three of them, already adults now, living in different cities and her responsibilities as a mother haven’t decreased, although in her letters sent to Kostroma, she doesn’t often mention them.  Even once I thought: if my mama composed such long letters, she would definitely have mentioned each one of her eleven children, which one she was happy about, which one she’d reprimanded, which one she worried about, feeling in her heart that all was not okay.  If you will, she wouldn’t have considered or worried her head about journeys, or if so, it would, for her, have been better to visit her grandchildren.  I will think about this again later on when meeting with the mother of Judy Hogan, who is a famous mountain climber.
But Judy’s smile and her confessions about another life and other interests, suggest that there is another psychology, another understanding of the idea of being human.  “When I was young, I was very serious, but, as my life has gone on, I have learned to laugh more and more.  I think my own struggles and my difficulties and troubles have tended to mean I had to laugh more and more.”
A person is always more important and better than other people realize, than what the people immediately around him know, and he himself doesn’t know everything about himself, if he doesn’t manage to break out from a conventional way of life, if he doesn’t take into account, doesn’t realize all his possibilities, and, because of that, he isn’t even able to say what the chief thing about him is.  Obviously, my new acquaintance’s varied activities and communications with others helped her to be self-confident and to feel emancipated.  The letters and books of Judy Hogan share her character, her artistic taste, her organizing ability, attract attention to her reflections about creativity, conceptions of what it is to be a human being enjoying all the signs of freedom and independence, her methods of working with people of different ages interested in creative writing.
The letters, books, collections of poetry of Judy Hogan, and the manuscript of poems only just now appearing to the author of these notes, strengthened his interest and involved him thoroughly in a conversation about “eternal questions,” about creativity, about masters of world literature.  We were tactful and patient, we didn’t have to reproach one another for not understanding or not agreeing as to the value of the authoritative works of the last and present centuries.  We had apparently already mastered the idea in the words of Pushkin from his article on Radishchev: “there is no ability to persuade in slander, and, where there is no love, there is no truth.”  Now I know: in our joyful conversations about “the gift” that is given to others and about how, in getting closer to the truth through getting acquainted with the loved thing, which breaks through in the love for one’s fellow countrymen, we influenced each other.
The distance, the lack of time, and the language barrier slowed down our communication by letter.  But literature ennobled it and made it more complex.  It gave us the possibility to push farther our understanding, the stories about these subjects in our letters, and it determined the orientation of our discussions.  It opened the perspective and inclined us to realistic thoughts of a project for cultural ties between the sister cities.  Now it’s impossible to mention all the subjects of our letter dialogues across the ocean.  Of course, we didn’t neglect to mention Chekhov, Turgenev, Pushkin, Dostoevsky, Bunin, Akhmatova, Esenin, Tsvetaeva.  It turned out that we spoke only of those who are already well known in America, but now she’s probably also oriented to some other authors, because I reminded her of them.
She comforted us, she gave us hope, both in the idea that there are still people with the capacity for reading and understanding Pushkin and who are striving to know some Russian writers besides those famous in America.  There appeared in the dialogue that we had aspirations which united us, in which neither the ocean, nor the language barrier, nor our different styles of life were able to be hindrances.  Judy Hogan agrees with me in this.
So we “closed ranks” in everything, in our individual lives and our past, and what was thought by others, in different decades, in different centuries, on the different shores of the ocean and on different sides of the earth, in villages and cities, in various forms of society.  From one family home we are drawn invisibly to go to another.
Judy’s as free as the sun (she has written about this in her poems).  She confirms:  “We are changed, and we give ourselves up to the joy of living, to the attractive stars.  In the darkness the fireflies are drawn toward the light and they open places where we feel even more at home.”
Mikhail Bazankov
Editor for the Kostroma Writers Organization publication, 1997


THIS RIVER 6 January 6, 1991

Memories are like fish: they rarely break
the surface.  The trick is remembering
they’re there, more active where there’s no air,
where they least appear to move.  The beavers,
too, do more than shows.  I watch for signs
of their nocturnal labors, hold the bites
of wood and bark in my hands, distinguish
the pale orange of fresh wood from the grey
look that follows rain; think I see their
prints.  Definitely deer have passed this
way, and raccoon.  The beaver eludes me
like the fish do–so much so that, when
I did once see her swimming near shore,
it took me days to believe my eyes.
Love is like this.  Lulled among
our memories, it rarely shows itself,
and then we don’t believe what we’ve seen.
Belief.  In the absence of those chance flips
in the air.  Belief.  In the secret life of
the beaver to which she devotes her whole
intelligence in order to preserve her life,
her livelihood, and the lodge where her
children grow fat and strong; the lodge she
has hidden so well that I am baffled: I
can’t read the signs, tell whether the old
lodges are newly inhabited; I think not.
Probably she has a new nest; has outwitted
me; has not only safety on her mind, but
longevity.  She has learned from the river
winds how to fool the eye, how to blind the
heart that isn’t pure and able to believe
what it has seen.  The truth is always there:
it’s in the way the current follows the
river bed, however dammed and held back that
flowing is.  And the beaver’s life leaves
proofs a trusting heart has no trouble taking
for evidence: a few fresh chips of wood,
and she knows the whole story.  So she can build
a world on one sentence she almost didn’t 
hear, which it took her months to believe.
The life of the river birds is known to her,
too.  When they flap off, she knows by
their not having warned the other inhabitants,
that she is recognized, and that, after she
has settled on her chosen stone and begun
to trace the current of the poem across
the page, that they will swing back in
to their favorite fishing shallows soundlessly,
keeping her form in mind, but not thinking
of her; their keen eyes more on the motion
of the water which implies fish are moving
their way.  She always has wanted proofs:
she has been so demanding, she frightened those
who loved her away.  She would force their secrets
from them in order to have what she needed:
their pledge.  Now she understands that she
must not drag the river for proofs;
that every day the river is new for her.
That her memories are not by any means inert, but
feed and grow large, and sometimes, when she
least expects it, leap for pure joy into an
air so foreign to them, and risky, but ultimately
so attractive in its quiescence, because
it asks nothing, is simply there, responsive
to the wind’s tricks and the sun’s showing off,
yet not fooled by either.  Her intelligence
is mobile and ingenious and, like the air, it
buoys up the creature or the man who breathes it
deeply even into his very soul.  It holds the
river smells–mud and old sticks, dead
fish and new eggs, the gradual salting by those
particles worn off rocks and swept from earth.
Water, mud, and air: they are our universe.
Without them we can’t live, much less invent
our lives.  For Life learns to hide herself
not just for safety, but for the pleasure
of those leaps into the welcoming embrace of
air, so soft today, and comforting; as knowing
as old trees that it is wise to surrender
willingly to the teeth of the beaver, to allow
oneself to be as erotically alive as are
the fish, snug in their muddy beds.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Comforts Beyond Your Present Imagining

Zinnias in Penelope Vase, August 2011.


The Telling That Changes Everything XXX. October 14, 2012

For Beatrice and Sharon

To flourish, we allow the mind to
empty, the feelings to experience
hunger.  Then the words and the love 
rush in.  –The Telling That Changes Everything V.

To live well, 
to stay our whole life course and make
our final homeward journey, we have 
only one choice: to pay close attention
to the world within and the world without.
The grain of the universe doesn’t destroy
us unless we let it.
–The Telling That Changes Everything XI.

It took you
seventy-five years to touch this home
truth?  Be grateful you stepped ashore,
however wounded in soul and body.
Comforts beyond your present
imagining lie straight ahead. 
–The Telling That Changes Everything XIII.

The awful, awesome nature of Life!
So much vibrancy and fight in every 
living being.  Without it we die and
make food for a new world rising 
unbidden from our ashes.  No need
to fail before our time of full aliveness,
before knowing that the fate we knew
years ago has reached its ripening.
We are who we longed to be.  Our words 
have the potency to change how other
people see the world.  I knew words 
were the most powerful weapon there
is.  Bombs destroy.  Words transform.
Corporate greed reduces, dehumanizes.
A writer’s vision heals, engenders 
belief in people who feel trapped in
mind-numbing despair.  A children’s
book reminds us: “there is enough
for all.”**  Be known as one who
gives and receives.  Lewis Hyde
called it “the gift-giving circle.”
You may call it Love, or God.
Deeply planted in us lives our Hope.
Do not crush that first flower.  Feed
it, water, nurture, enjoy.  Stop to see
the leaves of the self-heal plant that
finds its place in grass and weeds 
along a busy road.  Notice the 
exuberant sweet potato vines that
overwhelmed even the most obnoxious
weeds.  Then, when you rise to your
full height, believe all those prophetic
words you wrote for years and years.
When you see that your faith in 
yourself was not misbegotten, that
other people see and love what 
your Muse commanded you to tell
as best you knew how, then stand
tall, give to your writing, to your
readers, your creatures and plants,
your best self–everything good
that you can conceive.  If cruelty
comes against you, then fight with
the truth sword you now know how
to wield.  Defend your life and 
your words to the end of Time.

** Rabbit Hill

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Splitting Open the Whole World

My Christmas Cactus in the Kitchen Window--Blooming Now.
Photo from 2011.  Light in winter.


The Telling That Changes Everything XXVII. September 2, 2012

You see, the ecstasy the true self experiences is outside time, and it’s contagious.
–The Telling That Changes Everything II. 

How does one human being help hold back
the woes of desolation and dismay that
descend, despite our best efforts?  By belief
that the More in our human nature’s still 
there, will always be there if we stay 
attuned to that deeper, wiser chord we
have the ears to hear, the vision to 
recognize and obey; that leads us into our 
own imagined promised land either 
before or after we die.  
–The Telling That Changes Everything XVII.

When Susan came to interview me
and pressed me to know where my 
drive came from, I told her it started
early.  By age twenty-seven I knew my
destiny was to do something important.
Vague enough then and sometimes
forgotten–yet, like a hard pebble of
truth inside me, I couldn’t entirely forget.
It kept me on this path I later called
my leyline: doing what I must do,
while I have life and limb.  At age
fifty-four I wanted to fulfill Muriel
Ruykheyser’s dictum: “If one woman
told the whole truth about her life,
the world would split open.”  I worked 
for truth and justice here and abroad, 
wanted people who are different
to overcome their fears and hostilities.
I saw how my words became catalysts
and changed things, though I was often
castigated: “trouble-maker;” hated,
feared, avoided.  I turned to my books:
I’d send their arrows of truth zinging
out into the wider world.  I, a catalyst,
have been giving birth to books, also
catalysts, which carry their passionately
winged words into other minds.  
Some of my arrows may come right
back and wound me.  That’s inevitable
when you once begin the work of
splitting open the whole world.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

A Whole New Place in Your Life

Judy's okra, August 2011


The Telling That Changes Everything XXVI.
August 26, 2012

You have to trust it,
let it take you into a whole new place in your 
life and in the lives of other people, a new room 
where communion is frequent and possible,
where people love the characters you’ve 
created and hunger for the wisdom you’ve
locked into words, made alive in stories
they will search out far into the future, long 
after you are dead. – The Telling That Changes Everything XIV.


What is this new room then?  It’s
a room of my own, but in a different
sense than in Virginia’s sense.  A new
room in the House of Man, in the
dwelling place of human beings.  
I have words to give and a new room
in which to put them down on paper
where they will be read and loved,
where they will shape lives, all this
very quietly.  The potency is in the
words not spoken, yet the words
themselves reassure.  A new role
that yet has been with me from the
beginning, that sense that never left
me once I came of age in a spiritual
sense.  One professor who showed off
and seemed both fake and fierce to me
yet gave me a picture of what has
happened that I’ve never forgotten:
a woman, naked on top of a mountain
not worrying about her nakedness.
Below her, as far as the eye can see, 
people–all kinds and conditions,
all colors, ages, ethnic and economic
backgrounds–in short, the human
race, and the only race we have–
all looking up at her, and in their eyes
hope, while she looks at them and
loves them.  In her soul is pure
compassion.  That is a spiritual
pinnacle I never expected to reach,
much less to be.  Curiously, now,
with a shock, I realize I’m there.
It’s not anything to make a noise 
about, and yet I must say to myself:
yes, this is the new room.  I’ve
known this role at times, but all
the separate pieces have never all
knitted themselves together.  Yet
this new book does it.  I can tell by
what people say, by how it moves 
them, also by what they don’t say.
I have learned to listen to the
silences, too.  I’ve been alone a lot
these last nine months, asking people
to let me be, let me write.  They have.
At times I’ve been lonely, but my
soul grew fast like an okra stalk
in late summer sun, rising higher,
its big leaves stretched out.  Now
it bears me fruit.  I see where I
walked blind and blind-sided.  I’m
still me--in most ways, unremarkable,
and yet my life has shifted into 
perfect focus.  Yes, my new room
has people in it.  It’s about community.
It means accepting my fate, that is
to say, my gift, to go naked into 
the world and heal people because
I see and love them.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Map of an Ungotten Estate

Medicinal Self-Heal plants in my 2011 early spring garden**


The Telling That Changes Everything XVII.
April 15, 2012 

Sometimes we have to be very patient indeed before we can speak our truth. 
–The Telling That Changes Everything I.

Among the heirs of art, as at the division of the promised land, each has to win his portion by hard fighting: the bestowal is after the manner of prophecy, and is title without possession.  To carry the map of an ungotten estate in your pocket is a poor sort of copyhold.  And in fancy to cast his shoe over Edom [Palestine] is little warrant that a man shall ever set the sole of his foot on an acre of his own over there...

The most obstinate beliefs that mortals entertain about themselves are such as they have no evidence for beyond a constant, spontaneous pulsing of their self-satisfaction–as it were a hidden seed of madness, a confidence that they can move the world without precise notion of standing-place or lever.
–Daniel Deronda, George Eliot, p. 213.

You see, the ecstasy the true self experiences is outside time, and it’s contagious.
–The Telling That Changes Everything II. 

Like an Old Testament prophet, I see visions.
Because spring arrived so recklessly early,
in March, no rain mid-April gives me a 
queasy feeling.  How coax seedlings to
fuller life in hot, dry conditions?  If spring
weather makes growing food more difficult, 
what will summer bring?  I water, weed, 
protect from sudden cold.  The same spring
heralds my book five months early.  Farther
out are the skeptics, the small-minded
critics, but near me are people who want 
to be close, know me better through my
book, and even when I teach a chicken
workshop.  What is it I give these readers
and students?  Validation for their human
longings, their desire to live as close as
I do to the world of creatures and plants,
both wild and tamed?  It’s not a passive 
life.  The natural world is very active
and inexplicable.  Why suddenly does
nitrogen-producing clover spring up 
everywhere about this place, or a large
patch of purple flowers that look like
harebells arise from a familiar weed?  
Then there’s the grass I’ve never seen
which has taken over part of the orchard.
I have in my pocket, like George Eliot
did, “the map of an ungotten estate.”  
It makes me both strange and beloved.  It 
gives me sight of trouble brewing like the
ominous black sky that precedes tornadoes,
leaves its path of destruction but no rain.
How does one human being help hold back
the woes of desolation and dismay that
descend, despite our best efforts?  By belief
that the More in our human nature’s still 
there, will always be there if we stay 
attuned to that deeper, wiser chord we
have the ears to hear, the vision to 
recognize and obey; that leads us into our 
own imagined promised land either 
before or after we die.


** Self-heal is a natural astringent, antiseptic, antiviral, and antibiotic.  As a tea, it relieves colds, sore throats, allergies, with no dangerous side-effects.  Can also be used on cuts, wounds, hemorrhoids, and herpes.
Chinese medicine used it in Han Dynasty, 206 BC-AD 23.  In the West it was used to heal inside and outside wounds, called Woundwort and Heal All.