Reality Defines Itself ( it’s in the habit of coughing loudly when you think you have it all sewn up)
I did not intend to post today. But we have all( perhaps) been rudely interrupted in our collective wailing. The time a reader speaks, and times his entrance perfectly. Lest you misunderstand ( and for those who came late to the discussion) I will simply summarize so that you can pick up the thread.
We, a group of writers ( who write un-commercial books) were making a mountain out of a mountain. The welter, the scrabble, the noise, the heartlessness and the impossibility of finding the odd reader who would value what we write. None of us expect to be mobbed or recognised in the street, no paparazzi called for, just a slim chance of ‘cutting through’.
All of a sardine a perfect reader is netted, and he is called George like the future King: that’s his second name and he writes an article in Mythos Media about my ‘never to be discovered books’.(sniff sniff)
Not so much never to be discovered; more leaving no stone unturned, no quote unquoted, no link unobserved between them and no value undisclosed. So that’s me done. Thy servant can depart in peace according to his final word. Just came to kneel at confession and say Sorry Sir, I occasionally forget that time is not only on Your side but under Your control and you have tripped me up.
We all know that pride comes before a fall, only we seldom expect to fall UP, and be seen clearly from below.
“I used to envy the father of our race, dwelling as he did in contact with the new-made fields and plants of Eden; but I do so no more, because I have discovered that I also live in creation’s dawn.”—John Muir
Philippa Rees has recently published a new edition of her book A Shadow in Yucatan. Many reviewers have already taken note of the near-hallucinatory verbal richness of this free verse novella, whose style contains echoes of such writers as Gerard Manley Hopkins, Hart Crane, Sylvia Plath, and Dylan Thomas, while, at the same time, remaining very vividly the author’s own. “The monocle of light, now focused, flames her hair,/ it lifts, it falls, it curves, it conceals…/ Her open nectar-mouth, now shaded, breathes.” Among her other activities, Philippa is a cellist, and this play of echoes within echoes is what you will often find in a piece of classical music, so that, in listening to Tchaikovsky’sThird Symphony, for example, you can hear Haydn—the disjunctive trickster!—on one side and Stravinsky on the other, in what you had first assumed to be a kind of new and improved Mendelssohn. Yucatan could productively be read, several times over, with only such formal concerns in mind. I am coming somewhat belatedly to the book, however, after wrestling with Philippa’s magisterial opus Involution: An Odyssey Reconciling Science to God, and so I am going to approach it from a different angle. I hope to show how the challenges faced by Stephanie, the protagonist of A Shadow in Yucatan, recapitulate, on an intimate scale, the more supernatural ones faced by Philippa on a beach on the southernmost tip of Florida; at the same time, they prefigure Philippa’s decades-long struggle to give form to her vision. In one moment, prompted by an accident, the whole of a person’s life can change. If a question is posed, does this mean that one has to answer?
Today was the long planned for launch of A Shadow in Yucatan. Timed to co-ordinate with the Great Digital Book Giveaway. Instead it has been deleted from their site. Disaster for me but not for you. For it is ,however, still free (until 31st July) on Smashwords and can be downloaded herehttps://www.smashwords.com/books/view/454809
Instead of promoting I will let the reviews do that instead.
‘I was utterly awestruck by the writing skill and breadth of imaginative
evocation…..poetic, elegiac…almost unbearably intense…sensuous imagery
from both nature and modern urban living…musical, both rhythmic and
assonant…sustained dramatic tension within a simple everyday story….the
superficiality of the beauty salon is a very potent metaphor….’ Alison Jakes (Poetry Circle)
As with a highly literary novel, this ambitious story makes demands
upon its readers. As with most modern poetry it deserves to be read and
The story is a vehicle for some impressive poetry. It is highly emotional
and transforms the ordinary protagonist into an archetypal figure of
‘Speech must now grow from silence and the stones that cockle the
Of women in pre-history, left alone with the consequence of men’
There is religious dimension too. Throughout there are subtle references
to the Christian Nativity, and on another level it tells of Christ’s birth
and Mary’s suffering in modern terms. It contrasts the cruelty of the
girl’s Catholic mother, with the compassion of her Jewish landlady.
There is implicit criticism of the hypocrisy of society as a whole….The
poem has a social purpose. Katherine Knight (Real Writers)
Philippa Rees is as an immediately distinctive and striking poet
who writes with unfashionably – often brilliant – painterly verbal
play and colour, oozing with a sensuous love of language. Rees’s
almost tangible style dazzles with imagistic chiaroscuro; stark
contrasts of light and shade, subtext and texture:
This ripeness of verbiage and intrinsic musicality inevitably
bring comparisons with Dylan Thomas (particularly the densely
descriptive, rumble-tumble list- passages of Under Milk Wood): But this is not to detract from Rees’s individuality which throughout this book of poetic narrative interspersed with colourful dialogue is palpable and often beguiling…
…..A Shadow in Yucatán is disarmingly beautiful (Alan Morrison, Editor The Recusant)
The back blurb calls ‘A Shadow in Yucatán’ a ‘distilled novel’ and it
is –a home brew, raw and omnipotent! Rees makes extraordinary the
sorrowful ordinary of an unwanted pregnancy and the resulting difficult
decisions. She celebrates the sense of community, despairs of family
and counts on the generosity of strangers. She explores problems and
finds solutions – hard through they are to take – in unexpected places
Through it we enter a world as real as we are, but as foreign to us as a
bad dream. This book is a must for any intelligent reader! (Independent Reviews: SP Magazine)
Flowing Forward, Looking Back.- A refreshing interruption.
I was introduced to this touch-tag relay by Ashen Venema, whose blog and website is Course of Mirrorswhere she posts serene and stimulating reflections on what catches her thoughts. In that sense her title is apt (although it is also the title of her novel soon to be published). She is a flashing mirror that concentrates light on an area and helps it catch fire. I never fail to draw something new and quietly inspiring from her occasional posts and beautiful photographs.
I have always avoided blog tours partly because just thinking about waving myself or my book through a daily marathon is exhausting, and its self importance seems inescapable. (Guest posts are different; they seem a kind of marriage of interests.) But I can do it once (and willingly) when writing binds me to others and paying it forward prevails rather than self-promotion. An opportunity to highlight the generous community of writing friends was much more attractive-so this blog baton now falls to me, en passant.
What am I working on?
Right now I work to distract myself from the tarnish of achievement, much more aware of the tarnish than the achievement. Involution- the book just published, has written my life, gone through a series of incarnations, until it cried ‘Enough already’ and forced me to be reconciled both to my inadequacy for the task, and to the compromises that reconciliation required. It forced nose-to-grindstone and whole nights of sleepless note-making (and moments of wondrous uncorrected flow),until it was finally finished. Five years it took to refresh historic research and write; but since publishing I have been beached, like a cuttlefish, empty of inspiration.
To find a structure to the day I am digging out former short stories of both African, and European encounters (Minding the Gap between Old and New World attitudes) and writing blog posts that reveal my restless examination of why the bleedin book chose me ( when there were so many others, better equipped). I am searching through the equivalent of the sock-drawer for answers. The prosaic socks are like fragments of clothes, once loved; my grandparents and their grand disdain for the ordinary; my children and the education they afforded me (instead of the other way round); the country that first nurtured independence and bloody-minded refusal to accept given answers; and above it all, the wonder of the English language in which to convey all this.
My life was written by a book, and nothing in that life was irrelevant. When I have finished sorting I might find an answer, and from that answer new inspiration. Meanwhile this naked life is all relevant to the book’s domination of its author! Those of you who have ventured into the African Quilt posts (below) may have wondered why they were written- blame the hair-shirt itch of the book and pinning its provenance.
How does it (the book or the writing in general) differ from other works?
I think this fence is best taken at a gallop. The history of science written as poetry? Creative non-fiction? I don’t think I need define how this book differs. The ‘why’ is perhaps more interesting. First because the real subject is what lies behind the scaffolding of science—the cathedral of consciousness. Close-knit prose weighted with the necessary evidence would have obscured that subject. Economy: the science is familiar, but used as evidence for a different hypothesis- that science itself has been the recovery of that cathedral, memory through inspiration. Also, addressed to those willing to embrace subjective experience- unlikely to be scientists in the main. Finally, because I have lived with this book for so long and our marriage needed spicing up; the moment I wrote poetically it flowed, impressionistic, broad-brush, and I could tuck the necessary evidence in left brain endnotes. I hoped to entertain; a few readers are beginning to appreciate that. It is not as ‘worthy’ as it may look!
I must now confess to a phobia: I hate being bored by the prosaic or predictable, and the idea of boring other people, and that includes readers. This phobia is now taking the form of searching for a new economy that will not mean minimalism. The richness of language is my greatest joy, using it like a human hand, a tool to shape any kind of construction, hopefully without leaving any traces of effort. Recently that has meant narrative poetry, economical words to tell tall tales. Involution is a poetic journey through Western scientific history, and another work, A Shadow in Yucatán is a simple (and tragic) story, mythical in its echoes , that recaptures not only what happened to the main character, Stephanie, but what happened to the glory of the sixties in which she lived, betrayed by indifference to its promises. Her story was a kind of magnifying fractal of her (and my most fondly remembered) age.
All my work is about eccentrics, or mavericks, individuals rejected, but in their own ways, heroic, courageous outcasts. I seek to sketch them in universal terms, so that what remains (I hope) is the familiarity of recognition, not of their circumstances but their resilience in which the unique calls out and reflects the hunger for meaning ( and meeting). The individual is the face in the fractured mirror, finding itself.
My writing process?
This is much more difficult to answer. I can tell more about what it isn’t than what it is. I have an idea, it might take shape in a dream, in which a whole story is encapsulated, atmospherically. Sometimes there are small details to launch a story, often no more than a smear of sympathy for something not yet formed.
It feels like a current persuading me to swim, so I wade out.
What then happens is the current gathers strength, and tows me into a tide. On a good day, and sometimes for whole weeks, I dive and surf that tide, and follow characters that swim with me, and signal for attention. Sometimes they simply wade out and dry their hair, and the story is done, or they are no longer important and it continues with others. Always the characters take hold of the story, and gain weight, and speak in ways over which I have little influence. Mostly I like them, a lot, but even when I cannot, I come to understand them, and their inhibitions, and if they are smaller people than the ones I like, I try to offer them chances to grow. When they resist it gets explosive, and as surprising as shouting in a cricket pavilion: it should not happen, but it does. Those who read ‘how to write’ books will know this is entirely the wrong way to go about it. I have to be ‘grabbed’ I cannot contrive.
I cannot plan their adventures; they always have ideas of their own. One I am working on at the moment started with a man shaving in a shack in a wood in Vermont. That was very inconsiderate of him, since I have never been to Vermont.
Why do I write what I do?
Involution excepted ( that grabbed me by the collar) I have never thought this through exactly. I think what and how I write is distilled from the things I love, language, people, individuality, and how they reflect the natural world. I like to expose their life, like hatching out ducklings, and watch them waddle and then swim, some better than others.
None of this leads to any continuity, or building a career, because nothing I write follows upon anything else. A reader who might be engaged with one work, will not necessarily read another. Genre and ‘career’ do not find purchase, unfortunately.
This is an obvious disability in a writer, and suggests indifference to readers, but this is rather like suggesting that a cook who has perfected a good lasagne should cook only lasagne, or merely introduce sun-dried tomatoes or anchovies. I suppose everything I write is a form of exploration, of myself and what I feel about what’s happening on the page, and the changing skies of vision. I hope to offer that vision to a reader, as I would meet each person at a party, to present an aspect that might interest them. Different stories wear different clothes, changing language, altered mood. I have never been able to do anything twice.
I am reminded of an interaction; I was once in full spate talking to someone I had only just met. A third person entered the room and said ‘This sounds interesting, what were you talking about?’ Silence followed. He looked at me.
‘Ask her’ I suggested ‘she was listening’.
If you are doing the talking (as a writer) it is only the listener (the reader) that knows what you were talking about and if it met their interests enough to linger or disagree.
That’s enough about me.
My introduced baton followers are:-
Loretta Proctor who first offered me sage advice on the perilous slopes of self-publishing, and continues to reassure me. She has boldly published several novels, blogs, tours and talks without a petticoat of doubt ever showing. We are also linked by a shared genetic connection to Elizabeth Barrett Browning- on opposites sides of her fierce parental forge. I think Loretta got the gentler side (farming and dairies), whereas mine was that slave driver from whom EBB fled at dawn.
Loretta is an Anglo-Greek, born in Cairo, Egypt. Her dual nationality led her to question the theme of belonging to two different and diverse cultures. From this quest came her first published novel: The Long Shadow, set in WW1 Greece, in which the ‘hero’ is also Anglo Greek and makes an odyssey to discover himself. This book is now also being published in Greece and will be out in November 2014. She has since written three more books, the latest, Dying Phoenix a sequel to The Long Shadow. She loves nature and spiritual poetry, art and beautiful gardens. Her blog (Books and Other Things) and all her books can be found here.
Joanna Sormunen I encountered more recently and so much enjoy her courage and passion for the work she does, and the enthusiasm for the landscape and people so far from her home. Her recipes (Finnish tiger cake!) show that longing is present, however. Food always remembers.
Joanna Sormunen is a Finn living in Ecuador. She writes a blogcalled Ecuador Joannan silmin – Ecuador in my eyes, while writing her novel and searching a publisher for it. She is a ‘psycho-pedagogist’, or a special education teacher, and works for the Finnish Free Evangelical Church in their mission with Kichwa indigenous people in Ecuador’s Amazonian region. She is fascinated by their culture and Ecuador in general and wants to document it all in her blog and in her photography.
Susan Scott, a fellow South African who walks the very streets and beaches I long for, has been like finding an old friend that seems familiar. She lives where I can imaginatively call in for a coffee under a Jacaranda and holidays where I can hardly bear to imagine, so hard do the waves crash upon the rocks of nostalgia. Through that familiarity her blog and mine are almost twins, comforting twins who remember the same things, slightly differently, and not a few years apart! Her recent A-Z challenge for posts shared with another Jungian friend are all pithy reflections on a variety of topics.
She offers a verbal ‘selfie’:
‘I’ve lived in Johannesburg South Africa for the last 35 years or so. Is it home? – a question I always ask myself. For most of my life I’ve had a fascination with psyche and soul, consciousness and unconsciousness, dreams as treasure house. The opposites are ever present in life and impact negatively upon us when e.g. we are too fixed on an extreme of the pole. The necessary paradox of them, and their drive towards a closer relationship between non-exclusionary opposites is what is inter alia of interest to me.
I’ve been blogging for the last 3 years, tentatively at first and now more regularly. More recently I took part in the April 2014 A-Z Blog challenge (and last year); this year with Dr. Susan Schwartz, Jungian Analyst in Phoenix Az. We used this year’s challenge to write on ‘Aging & Becoming’. Each letter of the alphabet from A-Z for each day during April except for Sundays, was represented. ‘A’ for Attitude, ‘B’ for Body, ‘D’ for Death etc right through to ‘Z’ for Zero. Our posts were psychological, as have been most of my posts in times past. The 2 Susans are currently writing a book on ‘Aging & Becoming’ and it is by no means a ‘how to’ book. It is a psychological look at Aging – and Becoming.
(Links to the 2014 A-Z blog challenge can be viewed under ‘categories’ further down on right hand side bar.)
I love hiking and walking and the sense of my body inhabiting different spaces in different scapes. I love being at the sea, the bush, the mountains and here at home feeling a part of it all. I read voraciously, one of life’s greatest pleasures. I have two beloved adult sons each self-employed in the arts and loving every moment of it. The younger is a musician, the elder an animator. My hard working husband is a medical specialist.