Saturday, March 25, 2017

Casting the Film Bernini from My Novel THE RENAISSANCE CLUB

The Renaissance Club by Rachel Dacus, Fiery Seas Publishing (forthcoming).

That felt good to type! Today I'm handing over my final manuscript to the publisher. It feels like handing over the controls of my airplane in mid-flight. Next, they wrap the book with a cover. Very important element. I can't help but  imagine casting Gianlorenzo Bernini, around whom the story unfolds, for the movie. Here he is in his self-portrait, age 26, an image that was part of my inspiration to write the book. Who could play the temperamental, charismatic artist?


Don't you think McAvoy would be fantastic in the role? I thought of him because of his thrilling portrayal of Jane Austen's love interest in the movie Becoming Jane. But what if they made The Renaissance Club as a musical -- then it must be Chris Pine!! We can darken his hair. I'll write the lyrics, unless Stephen Sondheim wants to. How great is Captain Kirk singing as the Prince in this clip from Into the Woods?



Saturday, March 11, 2017

Which Broadway Musical Illustrates Your Writing Process?

I'm having a Saturday writing morning that's deep into Crazy Lady Writer Head, thanks to too many exciting things to to work on at once. Plus my work-in-progress new novel, I have a novel to edit, a play to finish, a poetry manuscript to edit, and a memoir to edit. I feel like the bride above, who almost wants to call it off when it comes down to really doing the thing.

It's been a wild ride in my writing world since early February, when I had two offers to publish my debut novel The Renaissance Club, an expression of strong interest (with request for changes) for my next poetry collection, Arabesque, and even interest from a publisher in reviewing my memoir, Rocket Lessons. The thing is, I promised a lot to many, and now I'm facing the Saturday morning page like a sweaty-nervous bride.

See the above video for a glimpse of my writing process today. I think we all should talk about our writing processes not in the usual bland narrative terms, but as illustrated by Broadway musicals. Writing is all about the qualities of the Broadway musical: brightness, energy, force, and action. And an insane belief that inspiration --- like love --- will always win.

Here's a more upbeat glimpse of my usual Saturday writing space, which I'm trying to get into today --- Anything Goes:

If you had to pick a Broadway number to illustrate your writing head today, which one would it be?

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

My Favorite Fictional Sweethearts

Valentine's Day approaches, and over on Goodreads, someone asked me what are my favorite fictional couples. I cheated, of course, and managed to get in three pairs of lovers.

First, I'd have to say Romeo and Juliet.
There's nothing like starry-eyed and highly sexed young lovers spouting the world's most enchanting, poetic love lines  as they barrel toward their doom.

Right behind that pair are, for me, Jane Austen and Tom Lefroy in the book and movie BECOMING JANE. I'm a devoted Austenite, and would of course include all her lovers, Emma and Mr. Knightley first among them.

The biodrama about their author, starring the compelling James McAvoy, is based on an imagined (but possible) love affair between Jane and the Irishman. I love that story because the demise of their plan to run away together rests on noble feelings on both sides. They recognize what in the long run would be best for the other. Swooning and spiritual upliftment, quite a combo! They're in some ways the opposite of Romeo and Juliet.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Story with Sisters

Sibling relationships and specifically sisters is what I'm thinking about. I'm finishing a new novel. It's about two half-sisters who feud about an inherited cottage in Italy with its resident ghost of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.

Sisters -- we love to explore these complicated lifetime pairings. In real life and literature, sisters stand out. From Jane Austen with her siblings, to Emily Dickinson and hers, to those fabulous Brontes, the stories of siblings have made a huge impact on us, even if we're only children. We devour the sisters who are subjects of novels, in a sister-craze that isn't new, but seems like a current trend. Reading about sisters makes us consider our connections and how they affect our lives.  

I've been thinking a lot about that, following my brother's death. It's a subject that fascinates me and one I'm going to be exploring as I spend the month of February finishing the first draft of my new book.  

Sense and Sensibility is my favorite sisters story. I love the contrast in personality between the two, the tension hovering around the core of sisterly love, and the way their stories intertwine. I patterned my sisters on Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, because their differences fascinate me. In contemporary language, their story is one of reconciling the values of logic with feeling -- a journey we all have to take. Having your opposite in your family life, while often frustrating, is the magic formula to growth and wholeness. And that's what my story is about. That's what all my stories are about. The journey to that more full existence.

And I threw in a dash of Brontes, so of course my sisters are both writers.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Deaths in Karmic Batches

I've read that when people reincarnate, they may do so in batches, sticking together for their progressive learning. I find the idea mostly pleasing. But I hadn't thought about how that might call for group exits. This fall-winter has knocked me on the head with two deaths. First my beloved brother (my only sibling) on October 10. Now my stepmother, January 19, last week.

Death's absoluteness blindsided me. You can't plead for just one more phone call or visit. You can't ask a departed person to send you an occasional text message saying  they're doing fine in that foreign country called the afterlife. Whatever language they speak there is mostly incomprehensible to me. Grief is in the silence.

To process my karmic batch of exits, I write, of course. Today my stepmother's body is being cremated. It's a hard fact. I awoke into it not happy. But the impenetrable is what writers write to penetrate. We try to write our way behind the curtain, even when that's impossible.

Death Is Not Subjective

You can’t negotiate it, finesse, or spin
it visceral skull-hardness
into soft-sweet resonance. You can’t flex it.

When I touched her folded, white hands,
I felt permanence. And impermanence
seared me in its icicle grip. I forgot to eat
all the rest of that day,

but then I followed it with a binge,
because while I am still alive
I need to learn the lessons of being
by hand, tongue, skin, and muscle.

By illness and overeating,
exercise, and petting my dog’s
silky strands. Chill fog is the right element
today, this day of a disembodiment,

winter tucking deeply in, life whirling
in sharp flakes inward,
behind a white curtain.

The road ahead
unclear, yet I travel
deep into the till then unknown.

I need to cherish even fatigue,
and remember what my brother told me
on his last day: to hug harder.
A hug is not subjective.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

More Embarrassing Riches in Poetry Publishing

The end of 2016 was very lucky for my poetry publishing. In this second installment on an embarrassment of riches, I'm delighted to share my poem, "Bird Bones", which was recently published in the redoubtable Prairie Schooner.

Thanks, editors!

I also had work published in Eclectica's 20th anniversary anthology, Prairie Schooner, Atlanta Review, Panoply (who very kindly nominated my poem for a Pushcart Prize!) and Peacock Journal (where they put beauty first).

Prairie Schooner had published some of my poems before, but as it's a top literary magazine, it's always a thrill when they grab something. And I'm always surprised by what they accept, as I was with the very first set of two poems they took. It's a print-only journal. Here is a photo of the poem page:

The PS issue is full of stellar poets and writers, people I'm proud to be among. I really recommend getting a copy. And not just to read my poem (you just did that). I recommend reading in all these journals. Gorgeous, breathtaking, heartbreaking, soul-awakening work in every one of these magazines. You won't be sorry.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

All My Imaginary Friends Have Superpowers

Because shouldn't we all have a little extra help? And also a friend you can always talk to, who understands everything the way you see it, or even if he doesn't, has wisdom gently offered? Yes, everyone should have this. 

In my completed novel, THE RENAISSANCE CLUB, (watch for announcement of its debut date), Renaissance genius sculptor and architect Bernini provides the magical wisdom and inspiration for young art historian May Gold, stuck in a going-nowhere teaching job, with a stick-in-the-mud boyfriend. As if Italy isn't magic enough on its own, she slips through a crack in time to come face to face with the tempestuous artist, staring straight into Bernini's eyes.

Well, what would you do if you could meet that one person in history who you've always admired-- maybe even studied and fantasized about? That's the way my tale unfolds. And the way May manages to make her not-so-imaginary but slipstream companion a reality in her life. I found the voice of Bernini urging me along as I wrote the story. It's a coming-of-artistic-age tale that rang deeply true for me. If you have to create, have courage and do it boldly. Think of the dynamic Bernini when you put your fingers on those keys, or the camera to your eye. 

My newest work in progress, THE ROMANTICS CLUB, also features an imaginary companion, in the person of a ghost. Two half-sisters clash over a bequest from their father, a cottage in Italy and its resident ghost, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, until an explosion forces one sister to learn the price of putting property ahead of family.

What I love about my imaginary companions with superpowers is the way they tend to support and encourage my main characters. No ill-disposed ghosts or phantoms here! If you want a dark fantasy read, look elsewhere. My ghosts are well-intentioned, creative, and want you to be too.They also want you to be vicariously in Italy as often as possible. That should be classified as a superpower.

Friday, January 06, 2017

An Embarrassment of Riches

My literary stocking overflowed this December. but I was so busy I didn't have time to mention it to anyone but those who saw the stack of magazines on my coffee table. I'm taking it as a sign of the new year, a flowering, perspicacious publication kind of 2017. I also found a late December rose, two blooms that opened up and held for a miraculous week. All good omens for a new year. No matter what November made me feel, I'm feeling optimistic now.

Thanks to Dan Veach, outgoing editor of  The Atlanta Review, for selecting my poem "Rain Dance with Redwood" for this new issue. Judging by California's rainy season, and the impending "monster storm," I think the dancing works. Here's the first of four big print publications I have work in this winter! I'm so jazzed and so hopeful. A good state for January. Happy shiny, new 2017!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Season of Light - This Is Our Family

This is our family every year in December. We're the Hanukkah-Christmas celebrators. My brother and his family are observant Jews, and we celebrate Solstice and Christmas. And we get together and meld our holidays in love.

This particular difficult year, it's nice that Hanukkah and Christmas Eve are one day. Someone in the interfaith community said this coinciding of the two sacred holidays should be taken as a sign that tolerance and brotherhood are what we most need right now.

To me the season of Light is meant to shine with hope. If we can find this sense of the sacredness of one another, we can resist any negative force from within or without, and endure for the symbolic eight nights of holding off the enemies of fear, greed, anger, and selfishness, until we prevail and endure. So I'm lighting candles in my soul for that Light of compassion to descend and cloak the earth. It's what will save the earth and its inhabitants, always. Burn bright with it. This is our family of humanity, its unity. Respect the whole of it. Blessings of the season to you and yours.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

50,000 Words in 30 Days -- Surviving the NaNoWriMo Marathon

It was quite a thing, writing 50,000 words in 30 days. I signed up telling all my colleagues I wouldn't cross the finish line, that I had no intention of it. I wanted to write good words, not fast and plenty words. But guess what? I have a giant competitive streak in my nature. Every day when I checked my writing buddies' progress, a few pulled ahead, of me. It got under my skin. I started writing faster, upping my daily word count. I suddenly felt I COULD finish this marathon, and wouldn't that be a thing?

I began with a head start: a detailed outline and character profiles drawn from working with Lisa Cron's Story Genius book on the craft of fiction. I knew the WHY for my characters, not just the WHAT. I knew what the two sisters each needed to achieve by the book's end and what that was supposed to make the reader feel.

Armed with all that, plus a pre-existing 10,000+ words, I leaped in on November 1. My life, it should be said, was in no way ready for such a venture, and that's why I had to do it. My beloved brother had just died less than a month earlier. I had new family responsibilities as a result. I had a play I'd written in rehearsal, and a novel I'd completed to get an agent or publisher for. I was behind on my client work, swamped with chores and errands left unattended when we plunged into caring for my dying brother, and I was in deep mourning.

And #NaNoWriMo2016 was the best thing that could have happened to me at that time. The daily exercise of writing sharpened my mind and my skills. It focused me in a world - La Spezia in Liguria, Italy -- beyond anywhere familiar, except that I have once been there on the happiest vacation I've ever taken. And it gave me a reachable goal. I'm very goal-oriented, so that was a happy space for, reaching for a new goal.

As it turned out, I got my 50,000 words done by the skin of my teeth, and by dumping raw research into the body of the book, rewriting it, and then deciding to organize chapters later. And now I have two-thirds of THE ROMANTICS CLUB, a novel, roughly drafted. Some of the opening chapters have been polished to a high gloss. I did some editing while I wrote -- can't refrain from wordsmithing, as it's my poetic pleasure to do it -- and I did some organizing and LOTS OF RESEARCH.

In short, I recommend this for all you goal-oriented writers who are wondering how to tackle the next book. You don't have to wait for November. Name your own novel-writing month and try to hit a 1,667-word-a-day pace. Or if you did NaNo, you can use January and February to do some goal-oriented editing, with resources from NaNoWriMo.
National Novel Writing Month

Whatever you do, know you can do more writing than you think you can. That's the message of NaNoWriMo. Go to the website and donate to support this wonderful program that empowers lots of writers -- young and old!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Holidays Are for Writing and Reading As Well as Socializing

In the spirit of the holidays now upon us, I'd like to offer some fodder for those quiet times you find amid the activities and social life. Reading for me leads to writing, so I often start my writing day by either progressing in a novel or reading several poems. Sometimes digging into a craft book. So here are some recommendations for feeding your head.

Story Genius by Lisa Cron. This is the one fiction craft book you have to have! She's the story whisperer, the one who can help you dig into that beautiful plot and set of characters you have brewing in your brain, but which keeps stirring around in confusing ways. I following the "pantsing" way of writing my first novel, resulting in what Anne Lamott calls "shitty first drafts" -- many of them. I know Anne recommends you give yourself permission to draft without editing, but as someone who spent years writing one book, I'd prefer a more sure-footed approach next time. Here's one of my current favorite quotes from the book: "Don't keep secrets secret from the reader." 

Emily Bleeker's When I'm Gone is an engaging love story from a wonderful writer. It touches deeply on themes of loss, love, and emotional reconnection. While I undergo my own grieving process, I found this novel healing and uplifting. The portrayal of a marriage through the process of grieving its loss is poignant and beautifully portrayed. Bleeker is an author to watch and this novel is one that will keep you turning pages.

I'm in the middle of reading and reviewing The Uneaten Carrots of Atonement by Diane Lockward, poet and author of another craft book I love, The Crafty Poet. The color red sears the collection, the seethe of articulate anger and outrage over an undefended childhood and life’s assaults and unfairness. Whether she takes as her subject nine renegade monkeys escaped from a testing lab or the red dress (re-dress) of a child dreaming of freedom from abuse, the poet takes “quick, sharp steps like flint against steel” in every poem. Yet there is beauty in her boldness and defiance, poetry in the grieving and acceptance. 

Hopefully something here will spark your creative juices and give you islands of quiet enjoyment through the hectic social season. Happy and Merry days ahead. 

Friday, November 18, 2016

Day 18 of National Novel Writing Month - Not Yet Halfway

It's a marathon: 50,000 words of prose, the majority of words for an 80,000-word standard mainstream novel. I'm at a little over 24,000 words this morning.

Why am I doing this? Because writing is bliss and marketing a book is hell. Undergoing the process of trying to get a literary agent, who then tries to get your book a publisher, who then takes more than a year to publish it -- that's anyone's definition of hell. It would fit Hieronymous Bosch's picture of hell. And I've been in it for more than two years with a completed novel I'm marketing. It involves extravagant amounts of waiting, laced with copious rejection. It takes persistence and faith beyond what you think you have.

But working on a new story is heaven. It makes hope, inspiration, and excitement surge. Every act of storytelling is a new adventure. It unfolds one day at a time, in the company of people I'm gradually getting to feel are boon companions, my characters. Like the Fellowship of the Ring, we have a purpose. We have a story to tell. We must sustain hope above all. It's exhilarating, like climbing to an impossibly high peak and standing there to survey all the lands of the earth.

Also, running my marathon has been a way to write myself through the dark woods of grief over my brother's death a little more than a month ago. I would adapt the cliché and say that when things get tough, the tough writer gets writing. I know so many poets and writers who write their way forward, especially in difficulty. It's how we learned to cope with our fatal flaws and the curveballs life throws, such as death, poverty, illness, divorce. I'm telling a new story involving all those.

Here's an excerpt from my spirit guide, Lisa Cron's book Story Genius:

"Only by knowing your protagonist's defining misbelief can you craft a story that will test it to the max, opening his eyes along the way." Those are the best stories, the inward adventures that may be occasioned by outward ones, but always lead to new levels of understanding yourself, other people, and the world.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Finding Peace in Uncertain Times: Poetry Reaches Deep

As a woman in a time when the recently elected leader of our country has expressed such raw misogyny, I definitely feel as uncertain of my future as Matisse's "Woman with Hat" looks. So I was honored to have my poem "Wings Clipped" featured by WordPress Discover in an article about poetry in uncertain times: Chaos, Control: Four Poems for Uncertain Times. Four good poems you will want to read.

And speaking of the woman with hat, I'm delighted to announce that my book Femme au Chapeau is now on Kindle for $2.99 --- complete with a Look Inside the Book!

Another of my books, Gods of Water and Air, is on a Goodreads Giveaway. Click that link to enter and possibly win one of five print copies I'm giving away by December 12. "Poems to unravel love, grief, and joy" -- my Amazon subtitle seems right, right now. I think many of us have experienced these feelings in the last couple of weeks, going through the most intense election I've ever experienced.

Added to that intensity was one far more powerful to me personally: the death of my brother on October 10. It put a lot of things in perspective, a very large one being that I am mortal too. Life is incredibly short -- shorter for some than it might be -- and much longer than had been imagined for others, like my 93-year-old mother. These poems and essays -- and even a short play on the imagined afterlife of dogs -- speak to mortality too, and how important it is to cherish all the love, grief, and joy we're given in a life.

As I think about giving thanks in a couple weeks at a family feast where there will be one empty chair, I'm thankful for it all. Here's an excerpt from one of the poems in Gods, "Accept the Invitation":
The million volatile impressions
you are today strung together
on the ribbon of your name
are not enough for me.

I want no careless window-shopping
around your vicinity, but to plumb
the void, make a hair-raising journey
behind personality. To stand together
in the light that streams
from a hidden source in this world
whenever being meets.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Gaining Momentum in Novel Writing Month - Wheeeee!

Update on my #NaNoWriMo2016 -- today I wrote over 3,000 words. It helps to be doing a lot of scene-setting in an exotic location, which for my book is the picturesque Ligurian coast of Northern Italy. It also helps that I love writing descriptions of scenery and towns. I love researching places I've been or been near. I spent time in Santa Margherita and Portofino, and the little town where I'm setting my book is just down the coast. So it feels familliar, and from the pictures, looks much like the Portofino coastline, where steep green-clad cliffs drop to a sparkling blue and aquamarine sea. Many coves ruffle this coastline, as if someone with a giant spoon scalloped it. Tiny communities adorn many of these bays. The roads go up and down the hills, and the ocean breeze is everpresent.

There, I just wrote more words and I might use them. The key for me is that 1) I have a detailed plot outline and character profiles, and 2) I love Italy! Writing about it brings out the poet in me. So if I have a clear day, as I did today, I can crank out a lot of words, and not just padding words, but good words, words advancing the plot and fleshing out characters and the kinds of things they say.

A good writing day. I'm halfway to the 50,000 words mark, but I didn't plan on really counting. Yet I find the marathon stimulating. It wouldn't hurt to make that goal by November 30. While I wait for agents to contact me about The Renaissance Club, I'm still playing in Italy and lining up the next book. They all say it can't hurt in marketing the first. Plus, it's increasingly a lot of fun.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Day Ten of National Novel Writing Month

We've been doing it since before Jane Austen. Girls writing fiction. So in the 2016 National Novel Writing Month, I'm going to guess that a majority of the more than 400,000 participants this year are women. And many will go on to publish their books. Some NYT bestsellers by women that began as NaNoWriMo exercises:
My work-in-progress, The Romantics Club, is a third of the way, if you estimate it by words count. I'm now more than 20,000 words (and 85 pages) drafted on an 85,000-word (goal) novel of roughly 335 pages. That's about the count for my completed novel (available to an interested publisher), The Renaissance Club. And I didn't do it with a quill and ink. Thank goodness for the digital age!

Saturday, November 05, 2016

National Novel Writing Month -- I jumped in with sisterhood

I did it. I signed up to write 50,000 words in the month of November. Partly, I did it because I'm writing a new novel, The Romantics Club, about two half-sisters who inherit a cottage in Italy and along with it, the ghost of the poet Shelley.

I wanted something to distract me from two inevitabilities: death, this one my beloved brother's; and waiting to hear about my completed manuscript, in this case from agents who are reading the whole thing. Death and patience -- of course they seem so similar. Grief and creativity -- who knew they could be aligned.

But I'm writing my way out of grief. The more I feel sad, the more I turn to the blank page and find it blossoming with places I want to go (always Italy!) and people I want to know more about. Sisterhood is a topic in which I can explore my feelings of having been a sister. It makes me cry to write "having been" but I guess I still am a sister to my brother, and to my sister-in-law and a few close friends. Sisterhood fascinates me.

As a child, I always wanted a sister because it seemed like that would make me less lonely. I read about girls I would have like to have as sisters: Dorothy in the Oz books and Nancy Drew. The little girl in Miracles on Maple Hill, and all those fantastic sisters in Little Women.

I now belong to an organization called Women's Fiction Writers Association, and a number of those novelists are participating in NaNoWriMo.

Half a million books will be written in this month -- astounding statistic. Mine won't be finished because my Muse can't be rushed. But the experience feels -- sisterly. And that's a wonderful feeling right now.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Girl Protagonists in Books -- a Literary Trend or Something Bigger?

I spent my morning reading and replying on the Women’s Fiction Writers Association website to a discussion about defining women’s fiction. One of the topics was trends in Women's Fiction, and in that thread the topic of “girl” and “wife” books came up. Bestseller titles tell you much about the trend: Gone Girl, Girl on a Train, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Time Traveller’s Wife, The Kitchen God’s Wife. Girls who are women trying to save themselves, as one commenter on the thread so aptly put it.

Of course, the “girls” are really women. I think it's fiction about women we’re talking about as a “trend.” Women as protagonists in non-romance fiction is becoming a big thing. Goodreads’ Listopia has a list of 749 books with “Girl” in the title! This trend doesn't show any more signs of stopping than books with “Vampire” in the title. 

So what is it about literary trends? They say you shouldn’t write to them because by the time you finish your book, the trend will be dead. They’re actually speaking of agents’ and editors’ ideas about trends, not actual trends in real life or even among readers. I think trends ARE something you should write to, if you feel them and care about them. It’s something you can do beyond voting. It’s a way of speaking up that matters. 

I think the "girl" "wife" trend reflects a big shift underway in our culture -- a mega-trend, if you will, and one I think those of us who want to should chase. It's a re-visioning of what it means to be a woman, and WF is a fantastic medium for exploring these cultural shifts, especially as they pertain to being a young woman in a rapidly changing culture speeded up by technology.

I'm not a young woman, but I like writing about them. I like exploring the way women find themselves, and create or recreate their lives. I'm a rocket scientist's daughter, so I'm fascinated by the impact of technology on cultural shifts and the way women are perceived in the world. These two trends power my fiction and my poetry. I guess growing up in the 60s, when women's roles shifted dramatically, especially in the workplace, has given me a lifelong interest in trends. So I write to the mega-trends and could care less about literary ones.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Notating Nature's Delicate Song

The evanescence in British artist Andy Goldworthy's work is what first caught hold of me. (Click the link for Artsy's wonderful Goldsworthy pages.) He works with nature to make sculptures of the moment, or perhaps the hour, using all natural elements. Ice, water, leaves, twigs, wind, rain are the easel, palette, paints, and media he sculpts with. It's as if he's having a conversation with nature and time, an intense wrestling almost. His work seems to say beauty is all around us but constantly changing, impossible to capture for long. It's as if he's trying to notate Nature's delicate and constant singing.

Rivers and Tides, the splendid documentary on Goldsworthy and his work, actually is part of his work by letting us watch him work with fast disappearing natural elements. He describes his work as capturing something "intangible. It is here and then gone." And Goldsworthy shows how quickly that intangible Something, a spirit of beauty in nature, arrives and departs. It's a metaphor for life, of course. It's about time and the sacredness of being alive.

Watching that documentary moved me to a tribute poem. I often like to write poems about pieces of art, but I think this is my only poem about an artist other than my father. This sonnet originally appeared in Image: Art, Faith, Mystery.

Self-Portrait by Andy Goldsworthy
One must have a mind of winter to regard the frost and the boughs
of the pine-trees crusted with snow – Wallace Stevens

He doesn't appear to have a mind of winter,
this man handling shards of ice between
shaking gloves, tacking hewed splinters
together by flashlight. He has a keen
grasp of water's arctic state. His stone
of a mind feels the light’s first crack
and dazzle through his muscle and bone.
He stakes his art on a pre-dawn slack
tide, hurrying an art’s punctilious making
for a sculpture sun’s full glory
will soon undo. But the camera, quaking,
again freezes art's old story.
He rises satisfied with the dazzling rime.
A mind not of winter, but of time.

Friday, October 21, 2016

My brother's art and service created a beautiful life

This week I lost my dearest brother, David Abramson, one of the kindest, gentlest people I will ever know. Sixty-four years was not nearly enough to be connected, so I'm sure we'll meet again in the next rooms of existence. Among the several arts he pursued -- visual and culinary as well -- was the bliss of making music. He wrote songs, he led several bands, and he was always learning more about his craft. In the last year of his life, he was deprived of the ability to sing, and even to talk much. I'm posting this video generously shared on Facebook by his band mate Paul Henry so we can all hear his voice again. There are many more recorded songs, but few videos. I cherish this one! The guy with the long gray ponytail is David Abramson, my little brother who I recently awarded elder sibling status to for his wisdom and support. Rock on, Davey. I'm sure in the between-life you're in now, there's a band waiting for their lead singer.

Art was something we learned at home, from our painter father and musician mother. How making it, at any level, is bliss. I would watch my father at his easel, contemplating intently the strokes he had just made with the brush, dipping it in the jar of turpentine, and a little in the oils on his palette, maybe remixing a color, and then just a dab or two on the canvas. Then he would step back and observe. Then step in again with another idea, This could go on for hours.

I believe it was from observing a creative mind at work that David and I learned that creating is bliss. Our mother was at the piano, practicing her parts in the Pro Musica Chorale performances. Sometimes she would just play a whole piece for the beauty of it. We observed that same absorption and self-transcendence in those creative moments. He took up painting and I took up dance. He would up with music and I with writing as our main forms of making. I'm sure he will be making music in the next room where he has gone, and in the rooms of life beyond that one. I'm sure at some point we'll again make things together, the way we made support and kindness for each other as siblings.
I'm measuring my grief in memories. 

It feels like homework from God,
remembering you, brother.
Digging deeply into the stream
of memories and feelings as they flow
past the stone pillar I’ve lately become.

I sort and weigh the meaning
of having a brother of such fineness,
seamed with gold
as he served his many communities,
silver-haloed by a fine long mane
as if you were the older one,
which would at least have made a little more
sense of your having to leave first.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Listening to the Paint

Every once in awhile, an author should Google herself. I did my routine check last night and was amazed to discover that Prairie Schooner, one of my longtime favorite literary journals, had reprinted one of my poems. "Listening to the Paint" appeared in their 2012 issue, at a time that coincided with the record-breaking sale of an abstract painting. So PS chose to include my poem in their series of reprints.

The poem is about how my father's being a painter influenced me growing up and deciding to become a writer. Click on the link above to read the poem in its entirety, but the heart of it is in these lines:

How many times he loaded the brush,
swiped on those parallel lines. Strokes now fossilized
in the exhibition room’s angled-down lights.
 I have an idea how long that dry rhythm held
because as I waited for my father to speak
I counted the falling dust motes.
The silence art must bear.

This painting is "Joe Funk" and is of a printmaking friend of my father's, a man he shared a studio with in San Pedro, where I grew up. The Exodus Gallery contained the oddest group of people I ever met. You had to climb an exterior ladder to get into the second floor space -- which is probably why the artists could afford to rent it -- and it was a wonderland of strange canvases, tilted pieces of pottery, and best of all an easel with a blank canvas for me to play on. That rich silence of concentration and inspiration floated around the vast space and started me on this journey. 

Thanks to Prairie Schooner and their "Alberta Clipper" series for selecting my poem. Finding it now is like a tap on the shoulder from Dad, who's been gone for seven years. Here's another of his.