Today I share another excerpt from my work-in-progress novel portrait of the Victorian poet Christina Rossetti, The Dove Upon Her Branch to mark the birthday – July 25, 1829 – of Elizabeth (Lizzie) Siddall, muse and wife of Christina’s brother and Pre-Raphaelite artist and poet, Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
We found her hidden just behind those screens, that mirror gave back all her loveliness.*
Miss Siddall was sitting slightly hunched, her arms reaching, resting between her knees, just below which her hands were clasped. Thick, mahogany hair was loosely ballooned on the nape of her neck, her chin stretched forward. Her waist, like most of the wicker chair she perched on, was lost in the bunching of her skirt, but even with her torso swallowed in billowing fabric and her shoulders slumped, there was no doubt she…
As the Meet the Author’s series comes to an end, time to catch up with recent releases by authors on the shelves of the Cafe and Bookstore.
Today a showcase for Mary Clark’s poetry collection Into the Fire: A Poet’s Journey Through Hell’s Kitchen
About the collection
A young, aspiring writer comes to St. Clement’s Church on West 46th Street in New York City looking for a job in the theater. Soon she is helping run the church’s poetry program. The New York Poetry Festival at St. Clement’s features many well-known poets of the 1970s and 80s as well as up-and-coming and marginalized poets. The poetry scene, occurring alongside Punk rock and the waning days of experimental dance and theater, is part of the last widespread grassroots artistic era in the United States.
Into The Fire: A Poet’s Journey takes place in the rough-and-tumble Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood on Manhattan’s West…
Like an infant discovering sound after sound
A voice is finding its tongue
And we, in whom earth chose to light
A clear flame of consciousness,
Are only beginning to learn the language—
We who are made of the ash of stars,
Who carry the sea we were born in,
Who spent millions of years learning to breathe,
Who shivered in fear at the reptiles’ feet,
Who trained eyes and hands in the trees
And came down, slowly straightening
To look over the grasses, to see
That the world not only is . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . But is beautiful—
We are Earth learning to see itself,
To hear, touch, and taste. What it wants to be
No one knows: finding a way
In starlight and dark, it begins in beauty, . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . It asks only time.
The Hundred Wells of Salaga, by Ayesha Harruna Attah, Other Press
This remarkable book with its themes of forgiveness and resilience is set in Ghana at the end of the European slave trade. The British, French and Germans no longer participate, but the social and economic fabric of life in the area is being torn apart. One of the complex issues is the involvement of Africans in slavery and the slave trade.
Two women from different backgrounds experience this social, political, and economic upheaval. Their stories illuminate a history largely untold in Europe and America. One of the complex issues is the involvement of Africans in slavery and the slave trade.
Wurche, who belongs to a royal family in Salaga-Kpembe, is wild and restless. She wants to help her father with strategy, but as a woman she is often rebuffed. She has an affair with Moro, a slave raider, but her father wants her to marry another man. When Wurche finds Aminah in a holding cell in Salaga, she sees the reality of slavery. She flees to another town with her son and Aminah to escape impending war. Aminah lives far from the coast in Botu, where camel caravans bring supplies and crafts, and the villagers sell food to the travelers. She is the daughter of a shoemaker who goes with the caravan to sell his shoes in Timbuktu and Salaga. Horsemen raid villages across the land, taking people to sell as slaves. Aminah is kidnapped along with others from her village and marched toward the coast to be sold as a slave. After several ordeals, she is sent to Salaga, where she becomes a servant to Wurche. She meets Moro and they fall in love. In the end, the two women have matured and must make decisions about their freedom and survival.
The writing is clear and straightforward but shows promise of a strong voice as she learns her craft. The subject matter is difficult and has to be pieced together from scarce sources, so it is this combination that makes the book exceptional.
‘I have come hither to tell Of the jurisdiction I have in the North; Every region’s beauty is known to me.’
The Dialogue of Myrddin and his Sister Gwenddydd
Many people have heard of Merlin and a few of the northern British wildman, Myrddin Wyllt. But what of Gwenddydd, Myrddin’s twin sister, who was also an important prophetic figure from the Old North, whose legacy has been overshadowed by her brother’s?
Gwenddydd and Myrddin lived during the 6th century and their father’s name was Morfryn. From the poems attributed to Myrddin in The Black Book of Carmarthen (1350), we can derive that he was a warrior of Gwenddolau. His deep fondness of his lord suggests the twins grew up at Caer Gwenddolau (Liddel Strength) in Arfderydd (Arthuret).
What kind of upbringing did Gwenddydd have? Gwenddolau was renowned as a ‘Bull-Protector’ and cattle-raiding warlord. Many legends surround…
Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens raises several great questions, but also has major flaws. In lyrical language, the child Kya’s relationship with the natural world conveys a sense of wonder and appreciation of life. This is the best part of the book, showing how we are renewed and supported by our natural environment. However, this story is set against a gloomy plot. Some of the main characters are vibrant, but others are hollow and vague.
Two books are being written. One is the story of a child growing up despite a minimum of parenting but with the comfort and lessons of the natural world, who suffers abuse but finds help from other outcasts and compassionate people. The other story is a crass justification for people behaving badly. Love and death are reduced to a non-human level of understanding. People who have good character are sent into the background.
The book tries to have it both ways: that the child Kya matured and excelled intellectually because of a few relationships with other people and with nature, but also never really developed emotionally, morally and ethically for the same reasons. This doesn’t make sense. Kya is shown examples of morality and ethics in her relationships with those few who did help her. There are lessons in compassion and non-violent resilience in the marsh life as well as the cruel ones. She has the ability to read and write. She does reflect, which is essential to making moral and ethical decisions. She relies on certain people, knows they care for her and will accept her gifts.
Do repeated hardships keep her from maturing as a human being, or does she choose which examples and lessons to follow? Either way, she has a thin excuse for the actions she takes with the man who loves her and the man who threatens her. In this view, Kya only understands human behavior well enough to mimic it, and only understands the natural world well enough to mimic it. But that is not the dreaming, loving, artistic and forgiving person who appears in some parts of the book. So which is it?
After the story shows growth from experience and reflection, it reverts to an old paradigm of past mythology (the tragic flaw in the hero) and psychology (irremediable damage from childhood trauma), rather than moving forward into greater understanding, that is, toward an advance in humanity. That would truly be going far beyond—where the crawdads sing.
On 2nd September 2015 an image flashed around the world that saddened and horrified us all. A young boy, later identified as Alan Kurdi, lay motionless on a pristine beach in Turkey, the dawn sun glowing around him. He was dead. During his three young years he knew only war in Syria; a war his parents fled to find safety. The photo of Alan touched everyone and inspired, nay, I would say, drove one famous writer to pen a short book, Sea Prayer.
Within Khaled Hosseini’s Sea Prayer the words and illustrations are intrinsically linked, creating a wondrous work of art.
The first page starts as a letter (quasi-eulogy) to the narrator’s son, Marwan, and it recalls the beauty of life in Homs. The father describes his childhood when he had woken “to the stirrings of olive trees in the breeze/to the bleating of your grandmother’s goat”.
Today marks the birthday (4/25/1917) of one of my all-time favorite female jazz vocalists, EllaFitzgerald. Nearly forty years ago, I had the pleasure of seeing/hearing The First Lady of Song (as she was fittingly known) when she was appearing in San Francisco at a time I happened to be there. Her performance that night confirmed what I’d dug from decades of collecting her records and listening to her sing and interpret lyrics as only she could.
Ella, my musical muse and soulmate in song, for all the ‘spiritual’ pleasure you brought (and continue to…