Monday, November 9, 2015

Not Mexican Enough, Nor British Enough

Leonora Carrington in Mexico
I didn't have time to be anyone's muse... I was too busy rebelling against my family and learning to be an artist.  -- Leonora Carrington
The more I learn of Leonora Carrington, the more interested I become in her work. I'm also fascinated by how because she does not "fit" into a neat artistic category --- too feminist to be a surrealist, too Mexican to be a European painter, too British to be Mexican --- Carrington seems to have been left out of many arts narratives. If she has been claimed by any nation, it's Ireland. Carrington's mother was Irish and so was her nanny. Much has been made of the influence of the nanny's stories but I don't think Carrington would have agreed. She seems to have created her own universe of hybrid beasts, gender-mixed people, and shifting perspectives.

What I love about the video I posted yesterday is that we can hear Carrington in her own words as she gets annoyed with her distant relatives line of questioning. "The world is visual" Carrington insists. And yet she also wrote short stories, a novel, and a memoir. The Hearing Trumpet, categorized as "speculative fiction," is worth the read and different from anything else I've recently read -- not a great novel -- but a great read.

I shared some of her paintings with students in my "Women in the Arts" class today. A conversation on perspective, fantasy, and horses ensued. My students will also write ekphrastic poems based on her paintings. It's been a good day.

Detail from Samian

Here's a small window into her work -- much of what my students said in class today. These ideas are from The Art Story. 

Carrington shared the Surrealists' keen interest in the unconscious mind and dream imagery. To these ideas she added her own unique blend of cultural influences, including Celtic literature, Renaissance painting, Central American folk art, medieval alchemy, and Jungian psychology.

Carrington's art is populated by hybrid figures that are half-human and half-animal, or combinations of various fantastic beasts that range from fearsome to humorous. Through this signature imagery, she explored themes of transformation and identity in an ever-changing world.

Carrington's work touches on ideas of sexual identity yet avoids the frequent Surrealist stereotyping of women as objects of male desire. Instead, she drew on her life and friendships to represent women's self-perceptions, the bonds between women of all ages, and female figures within male-dominated environments and histories.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Leonora Carrington -- The Movie -- The Surrealist -- The Writer

The Giantess by Leonora Carrington
"Leonora Carrington (1917-2011) escaped a stultifying Lancashire childhood to run off with Max Ernst and hang out with Picasso and André Breton in 1930s Paris. She fled the Nazis, escaped from a psychiatric hospital in Spain and became a national treasure in Mexico. What happened to one of Britain's finest - and neglected - surrealists?" Here's a compelling video with footage of a young Carrington and an interview with the older Carrington. The more I learn about her, the more I want to know. Here's another piece I did about her that shows more of her work and a bit of biography.

Carrington painted and wrote in a way that seems unprecedented. She states that the only person in her family that painted was her mother who would decorate biscuit tins for jumble sales. A few of her paintings are in the art museum in Dublin and more at West Dean College in West Sussex, former home of Eduard James. James, Carrington's patron,  advocated strongly for her work and she was part of a 1947 surrealist show in the Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York.

The Inn of the Dawn of the Horse, 1939

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Happy Birthday, Stephen Crane --- All This In 28 Years

In 1896, Crane (1871-1900) endured a highly publicized scandal after appearing as a witness in the trial of a suspected prostitute, an acquaintance named Dora Clark. Late that year he accepted an offer to travel to Cuba as a war correspondent. As he waited in Jacksonville, Florida, for passage, he met Cora Taylor, with whom he began a lasting relationship. En route to Cuba, Crane's vessel the SS Commodore, sank off the coast of Florida, leaving him and others adrift for 30 hours in a dinghy[1]. Crane described the ordeal in "The Open Boat". During the final years of his life, he covered conflicts in Greece (accompanied by Cora, recognized as the first woman war correspondent) and later lived inEngland with her. He was befriended by writers such as Joseph Conrad and H. G. Wells. Plagued by financial difficulties and ill health, Crane died of tuberculosis in a Black Forest sanatorium in Germany at the age of 28.

Here's a poem by Stephen Crane

"A Man Said to the Universe"

A man said to the universe:
“Sir, I exist!”
“However,” replied the universe,
“The fact has not created in me
A sense of obligation.”

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Happy Birthday Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath, you would be turning 84 today if you had lived but instead you remain forever young. What if you had not gone to study at Cambridge University in England? If you had not met Ted Hughes --- and then married him?

I was only 4 years old when you took your own life. You were 30. By the time I was in high school you had become the favored poet of all young women. Your intensity and intelligence, your beauty and your bold words --- no matter the subject --- made me read everything I could find of your work. I remember reading your letters --- and that while at Smith College you knew of Adrienne Rich studying at Radcliffe. You wrote that she would be your competition. What different paths you took. And yet, you were my heroes --- both poets I return to again and again.

There's no glory in taking one's own life --- just pain. Yet, I wonder if your poems kept you alive longer than if you had not possessed such verbal acuity -- such finesse?


Nobody in the lane, and nothing, nothing but blackberries,   
Blackberries on either side, though on the right mainly,
A blackberry alley, going down in hooks, and a sea
Somewhere at the end of it, heaving. Blackberries
Big as the ball of my thumb, and dumb as eyes
Ebon in the hedges, fat
With blue-red juices. These they squander on my fingers.
I had not asked for such a blood sisterhood; they must love me.
They accommodate themselves to my milkbottle, flattening their sides.

Overhead go the choughs in black, cacophonous flocks—
Bits of burnt paper wheeling in a blown sky.
Theirs is the only voice, protesting, protesting.
I do not think the sea will appear at all.
The high, green meadows are glowing, as if lit from within.
I come to one bush of berries so ripe it is a bush of flies,
Hanging their bluegreen bellies and their wing panes in a Chinese screen.
The honey-feast of the berries has stunned them; they believe in heaven.   
One more hook, and the berries and bushes end.

The only thing to come now is the sea.
From between two hills a sudden wind funnels at me,   
Slapping its phantom laundry in my face.
These hills are too green and sweet to have tasted salt.
I follow the sheep path between them. A last hook brings me   
To the hills’ northern face, and the face is orange rock   
That looks out on nothing, nothing but a great space   
Of white and pewter lights, and a din like silversmiths   
Beating and beating at an intractable metal.
NOTE: The third line of the third stanza has been corrected to read "Slapping its phantom laundry in my face" instead of "Gapping its phantom laundry in my face." [2/23/11]
Sylvia Plath, “Blackberrying” from Collected Poems. Copyright © 1960, 1965, 1971, 1981 by the Estate of Sylvia Plath. Editorial matter copyright © 1981 by Ted Hughes. Used by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

Source: Collected Poems (HarperCollins Publishers Inc, 1992)

Friday, October 23, 2015

Poets and Writers Highlights WordsWest Literary Series Nationwide!

Please celebrate over one year of literary programming! Our theme this month was "Words In the Air" with radio features journalist Ruby de Luna and playwright Stephanie Timm. We've also hosted Elizabeth Austen, Charles Johnson, January O'Neil, Kelli Russell Agodon, and Lena Khalaf Tuffaha.
Each month we invite two authors --- well, this interview will give you a good idea of how we do what we do --- out of empty pockets and thin air!

WordsWest Literary Series’ co-curators include poets Katy E. Ellis and Susan Rich, and novelist Harold Taw. All three live in West Seattle and came together over their parched need for a reading series in their community. Katy E. Ellis is the author of two chapbooks Urban Animal Expeditions(Dancing Girl Press, 2013) and Gravity (Yellow Flag Press, 2015). Her poetry appears in a number of literary journals and anthologies including Literary Mama, Redheaded Stepchild, MAYDAY Magazine, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Till the Tide: Mermaid Poetry, and the Canadian journals PRISM International, Grain, and Fiddlehead. Susan Rich is the author of four collections of poems including Cloud Pharmacy (White Pine Press, 2014); The Alchemist’s Kitchen (White Pine Press, 2010), a finalist for the Washington State Book Award; Cures Include Travel (White Pine Press, 2006); and The Cartographer’s Tongue (White Pine Press, 2000), winner of the PEN USA Award. Harold Taw’s debut novel, Adventures of the Karaoke King, was published by Lake Union Publishing in 2011. His writing has been featured on NPR, in a New York Times bestselling anthology, and in the Seattle Times. Harold is currently writing a novel about a turbulent adolescence in Southeast Asia and collaborating on a musical adaption of Jane Austen’sPersuasion.
WordsWest Staff

Saturday, October 17, 2015

White Pine Press Poetry Prize is Open!

Now is the time to send your manuscript to the White Pine Poetry Prize contest. You can check out White Pine's track record over the past years. In terms of diversity, there is more gender balance than most presses and some racial diversity as well. In the interest of full disclosure, White Pine is the press that I have published with since 2000. The sustained belief in its authors is another reason to trust your work to White Pine Press. Take a look at past winners, guidelines,  and upcoming deadline. Why not? 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

How to Publish Your Poems --- And Have Fun At the Same Time

When I was little, my family loved to take long road trips. In late summer, my sister, parents and I would load up the Pontiac and head for our cousins in St. Louis --- by way of Niagara Falls. Perhaps to buy themselves some peace, perhaps because the giant cards were free from AAA, my parents taught us to play the license plate game.

I think it was the bright colors on the different plates or the speed with which the cars raced by but somehow I fell in love. It was as if my stamp albums had taken flight. That same sense of adventure and travel. I remember the out-of-body thrill of seeing Alaska soar by --- I saw it first, not my older sister.

Many years later, when I first started sending out my poems, I needed a way to enjoy this somewhat humbling task. I started with journals in states I'd never been -- the Alaska Quarterly Review was one of the first journals to accept my work. Receiving the letter at my apartment in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I was thrilled. Since that time I've moved from the East Coast to Oregon and later, South Africa. I worked in Bosnia Herzegovina and Gaza but I' never stopped playing my own version of license plate poetry.

This version of submitting my work kept me from taking the submission process too seriously; it was just a game! Perhaps the New Yorker said no, but Roger in Rhode Island said yes -- in what looks to be their final issue. I wonder how other writers decide where to send their work? For me,  focusing on the map made sense. It was as if I were traveling my own poetic globe, playing the publishing game in my own way.

As of today, there is one more state to go. Hello, Kansas!

I'll admit to a feeling of dread when I think the game might be up. It's been 18 years since I began publishing poems across the country and I'm not sure what I'll do when the map is complete. Most likely, I'll start on a world map. I've got Canada, Ireland and Slovenia down, just a few more countries to go...

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Happy International Day of the Girl

Today is the 3rd International Day of the Girl

Michelle Obama is grooving to the tunes of Beyonce, Demi Lovato and Esperanza Spalding as she celebrates the International Day of the Girl.

The White House released the first lady's music playlist on Spotify Sunday, which the U.N. has designated annually to promote awareness for gender inequality around the world.

Mrs. Obama's playlist includes pop hits like Alicia Keys' "Girl on Fire" and "Bang Bang" by Jessie J, Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj. The first lady notes "girl power" with songs by girl groups including TLC's "No Scrubs" and "Survivor" by Destiny's Child. The playlist also includes some soulful tunes by Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross and Billie Holiday.

Mrs. Obama is promoting the "Let Girls Learn" campaign to encourage girls' education around the world.
Michelle Obama on International Girls' Day