Three Quarters Through the Night

It’s a bird-eat-bird world the young woman with a hawk on her arm tells the kids in my library. The kids ask question after question, from Why is the bird’s head bobbing up and down to Why is that little screech owl in such a big box?

That bird-eat-bird world is a hungry world.

Returning home, my older daughter rolls out pizza dough. The chickens have been squawking at a woodchuck running behind the barn. I eye my newly-planted garden. The younger daughter appears with six eggs in her basket. Overhead, the turkey vultures glide in spirals.

This morning, in the early dark, rain falls. I stand on the porch in the dark, listening, too early yet for even the songbirds to have risen. The darkness smells of wet earth. I think of my bean plant seedlings, their first leaves unfurling, stretching out further, drinking in this June rain.

Green, how much I want you green.

— Lorca

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Break That Cliche: Writing Lesson from the Kids

My ten-year-old came downstairs the other morning dressed in shorts although it was only 39 degrees. No. I immediately said. But it might warm up, she insisted.

In this afternoon’s rain, the kids have headed down the road to the neighbors’ trampoline because it’s fun in the rain, apparently, even in a cold May rain.

These Vermont kids, like the unfurling leaves in my apple trees, are vigorously unstoppable with their own flowing sap. At ten and eleven, the world is as new to them as this magnificently unfolding spring. Lacking rigid expectations, why not leap in the rain? – Although I did notice the girls had the foresight to pull on extra pairs of socks.

 

The artist, and particularly the poet, is always an anarchist in the best sense of the word. He must heed only the call that arises within him from three strong voices: the voice of death, with all its foreboding, the voice of love, and the voice of art.

– Federico Garcia Lorca

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Vermont dusk

Place in Writing

Abbreviated intro to the reading I did tonight at the Greensboro Writers’ Forum, which leads, more importantly perhaps, to Lorca.

The most important thing I can say about place and writing is that we are place. Landscape is not merely green fields dotted with cows. My thinking around place has been significantly influenced by Lorca’s essay on duende: on what he calls this “mysterious force that everyone feels and no philosopher has explained which is… the spirit of the earth.” The power of literature arises from our soulful connection to the earth–with all the light and also all the darkness that encompasses.  My book, set on a rural Vermont farm, unwinds as the characters evolve from a youthful idealism to the day-to-day reality of struggling to earn a livelihood from agriculture. All farms confront failure in one way or another; whether in small doses or wholesale catastrophe–much as we do in our own lives. In the end, perhaps, that’s the rub in this world–that mixed, gray place between intense joy and utter sorrow–where our own human stories unfold, and that’s where literature thrives.

So, then, the duende is a force not a labour, a struggle not a thought. I heard an old maestro of the guitar say: ‘The duende is not in the throat: the duende surges up, inside, from the soles of the feet.’ Meaning, it’s not a question of skill, but of a style that’s truly alive: meaning, it’s in the veins: meaning, it’s of the most ancient culture of immediate creation.

–– Lorca

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Photo by Molly S.