Love Letters and Tongues Aflame

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“We are animals of language. All the words that were, and all the words that will be, are asleep inside our bodies.”  

Artist Leslie Dill

If you are a lover of letters, of language, if you’ve got a thing for words, if you’re hot for font and a fool for the mesmerizing voluptuousness of phrases writ large and draped about, as if an old monkish scribe got manic, then get thee to the Halsey. thumbs_img_4256_g

Poetic Visions: From Shimmer to Sister Gertrude Morgan, Leslie Dill’s wordy and wondrous exhibition at the Halsey Institute for Contemporary Art, is one good read. And its the perfect cheap date for Valentine’s Day, especially since Valentine’s falls right at the start of Lent. Dill conveys the spiritual mania of New Orleans street preacher, Sister Gertrude Morgan, with a hyper-graphia reminiscent of folk artist Howard Finster, but she also demonstrates tender and fierce reverence for the Word. This exhibit is a visual ode to the power of language. Dill revels in the graceful architecture of letters. She creates a wall of shimmering wire that all emanates from wire-scrolled words. I’m not even sure what they say, but maybe there’s meaning in that mystery alone. There’s a bride, too, if you want a little more Valentine’s tie-in.

To further celebrate Dill’s artistic vision, for which, she says, poetry is the “touchstone” and language is “the pivot point”  the Halsey is hosting a poetry series throughout the exhibition (on display through March 9). Tomorrow night is the second in the “Tongues Aflame” series, and will feature the College of Charleston’s brightest talent.  Last week’s inaugural reading featured local poetry heavy-weights Marjory Wentworth, Katherine Williams, Richard Garcia, Kit Loney and Susan Finch Stevens, and it was as fabulous as the art surrounding it. For those who missed it, I’m pleased to share poet Susan Finch Steven’s prose poem, “How to See Visions at the Halsey.”

thumbs_all-seeing-eye-13337300How to See Visions at the Halsey

by Susan Finch Stevens

Enter the gallery as though entering a book. Come alone so as not to be distracted by someone reading over your shoulder. That shoulder, the one draped with the superfluous sweater, which will unravel here to hang from you like threads, like the words that habitually spin from the dark cave of your mouth. Books change. Marvel at the strange architecture of a child’s pop-up but prepare to be regaled by apocalypse. Turn to the page that shimmers, that becomes a wall like a waterfall, like strands of hair you long to run your fingers through, to braid, to be raised up by like the prince in another book you read long ago. Remain lucid here so you will resist the longing to touch out of fear of waking in a gallery. Perhaps you can stem the urge by becoming the maiden with no hands from that long-ago book. Turn a page with your stump and Allegorical Figures bring memories of the metal hands the king once made for you. Or were they made for someone else? You will not find THE END in this book. You will find an EXIT. And when you exit you will take something that gets lost inside you like your words that have not yet found air.  It is wise to remember that the maiden had to venture out on her own before her hands became flesh.

 

Welcome Home!

 

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If home is where they always have to let you in, then every writer needs a home. An open door. A welcome mat. A stocked cupboard and handmade ceramic coffee cup, or a well-used wine glass is, of course, equally good. Maybe both.

A place where you can spill words on the page and not worry about whether they leave a stain or not. A place where fellow writers and/or wannabe writers will offer encouragement, helpful criticism, a few training tips, a pen if yours runs out of ink, a beer when you come up dry.

Writing is like long distance running — it’s lonely out there, and tiring, and occasionally boring because you get so stuck in your own self-doubts and sore writer’s quads. A good writing group is like finding that coach who cheers you on and makes it somewhat bearable, maybe even fun.

Lucky for you, Charleston, poets Brit Washburn and Bryan Penberthy have created that writers’ home at 107 Ashley Avenue. Added bonus: it’s one of those fabulously wow Charleston homes. With a spectacular curvy curling staircase so you feel like your ascending into a truly magical realm, which of course you are. Poets House South (a nod to the Big Apple’s venerable Poets House) is Brit and Bryan’s brainchild and abode, but it’s also the coolest Charleston salon-with-a-view-and-piazza. A gathering place for poetry readings, wine tastings, musicales, book signings, and tonite, and most every other first Tuesday night of the month, a Writers Group, which is open to you, the writer who needs that friendly little nudge.

It’s for all comers. Just bring your paper and pen, 10 or so copies of a piece (poetry, fiction, non-fiction, recipes, whatever!) that you’re working on, and then the magic begins. Wine and nibbles are welcome if you’re so inspired. But mostly, just bring it on home. Climb those stairs, one a time, curl your way up into that place where words find their place, and you find your place with them. Just like our neighbor Bill Murray does in this clip from Poets House in NYC.

 

Writers Group tonite. 7 p.m.  107 Ashley Ave, Apt A. 

Poets House South.  Built circa 1829. Poeticized in 2012. 

And if you can’t make it on short notice tonite, mark your calendar now for the next Sunday Musicale Soiree on February 24th.  Check out their Facebook page for more info. 

 

A Strange New Thing

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“At first people refuse to believe that a strange new thing can be done, then they begin to hope it can be done, then they see it can be done–then it is done and all the world wonders why it was not done centuries ago.”

Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

I love this quote as I catch my breath here, teetering on the verge of the New Year, peering over cliffs, gaping into holes — in Newtown, in my town, in my heart; pumping myself up for a fresh start despite the unfulfilled intentions now scattered on the floor of 2012, like the bits of ribbon and wrapping I’m still tripping over. “Then they begin to hope it can be done…,” says Burnett’s wise young protagonist. May it be so for the Strange New Things that beckon in 2013.

I also love that this quote is but one line of text embedded in the above graphic image, a poster from Litographs, a brilliant company that creates lovely prints from the ENTIRE text of literary masterpieces. Words into art. Story into image. A strange new thing from something old and preexisting. Exactly what I hope to cultivate in these next 365 days.

And speaking of the New Year’s unfolding days, minutes, hours, seconds…here’s Litograph’s textual illustration of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, along with another apt New Year’s quote, courtesy of Wells. May we indeed face this world, learn it, find its clues, and its beauty. Like lines, words, letters transformed into image, hidden in plain sight.

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“To sit among all those unknown things before a puzzle like that is hopeless. That way lies monomania. Face this world. Learn its ways, watch it, be careful of too hasty guesses at its meaning. In the end you will find clues to it all.”

Sit, Stay, Love

So what do J.K. Rowling and I have in common, you might be wondering?

Hint: it’s not number weeks dominating the best-seller lists (she edges me out), not our royalty income (hers, a tad higher), or even our sultry accents (damn Brits, they always win).

Answer:  We are both Greyhound owners. Or rather, our greyhounds own us. Our muses are elegant, chiseled athletes, pure-bred retired racers. Dignified, sleek, meek, beasts of ripped haunches and silky coat, fast as a flying Quidditch broomstick, gentle as a Sunday afternoon.

Claire and Gus, and above, JK and her greyhound, Sapphire.

Gus, my quite gorgeous Greyhound, is not only the perfect pet, he’s the consummate writer’s companion, everything one wants and needs in a muse. Reliable –always right there, I mean ALWAYS… I don’t have to say “heel” – he’s glued to my heels. Patient. Undemanding. Understanding. He models good writerly traits:  curiosity, an eagerness to sniff everything out, an ability to sit for hours at a time, pensiveness, keeps a regular schedule, doesn’t call attention to himself, playful but well-mannered, wise and wily. And for bonus points, he hails from a breed with an honorable and distinguished literary legacy. Greyhounds are the only dog mentioned in the Bible, were beloved by the ancient Greeks, and waxed poetic by Ovid and Homer. Did he’s adorable and glamorous, too?

But enough about MY pooch. Come to tonight’s book launch for Literary Dogs & Their South Carolina Writers and learn how the tail wags for Jo Humphreys, Dottie Frank, Mary Alice Monroe, Beth Webb Hart and many others. And, here’s an added Milk Bone for you – proceeds from the books benefit the Charleston Animal Society.

Tonight, Tuesday, November 27th

5 to 7 p.m.

Charleston Library Society

Literary Dogs & Their South Carolina Writers

All you Knead

Maybe it was Sandy’s high winds or our recent astronomical tides, I’m not sure, but I do know that Thanksgiving has blown in early this year. About four weeks early by my calculations. Heck, I’m holding out for my husband to make a few more batches of summer gazpacho, and I’ve yet to do my Halloween candy shopping. I’m in denial as boxes of  Stove Top stare me down from the end of the grocery aisles. Stuff it, I say.

I’ve got nothing against Thanksgiving. I’m a huge fan of gratitude mixed with roasted Brussels sprouts, Zinfandel and pecan pie. I love a diverse gathering of pilgrims on various pilgrimages, native peoples in native attire and free range birds of various feathers, with a roasted chestnut or two. I’m just not ready to get sucked into Thanksgiving’s vortex that pulls you in to one end of the little wicker cornucopia then spits you out the other one into full holiday tilt and whirl. Another four weeks and I may be able to stomach snow globes and Bing Crosby, but I’d love to wrap up my August to-do list first.

But the turkey won’t wait, and so, probably like you, my reading of late is of the 1 tablespoon of this and 2 cups of that variety. I’m thumbing through Food & Wine, revisiting forgotten cook books, stumbling upon new ones and generally rummaging through recipes. Which means I’m also lusting after improbably luscious food porn photos where sweet potatoes glisten and pomegranate seeds spill out of their ripe, fleshy fruit in an artsy nonchalance that you don’t want to believe is contrived, much less sprayed with WD-40 for that just-so sheen. More on that in a subsequent post.

But back to the recipes…. one of my favorite of the just-baked batch of cookbooks is Nathalie Dupree’s Southern Biscuits, because like Nathalie, it’s delightfully flakey and much more back-to-basics than frou frou foodie pretense. We’re talking lard, my friends. And gluten. And oh yes, butter and white flour. All the no-n0’s of an increasingly wholier-than-thou whole and artisanal food scene. Now it’s all about sourcing. Whatever happened to just plain good eatin?

Nathalie is a no-nonsense tour de force  in Charleston, both as a hostess and party girl (a die-hard, hell-yeah Democrat), and a dame (literally, a Dame d’Escoffier)  of the Southern culinary front. She’s much more clumsy, classy Julia Child than cutesy Paula Deen, thank gawd, and is more interested in celebrating good food and hospitality than branding herself.

So here’s to adding biscuits and a bit of white fluff to your Thanksgiving table. A nod to tradition, a bite of a simplified era, where a little flour and butter, some just-so kneading and a slather of honey or jam is about all you need. It’s good recession food, actually, and my just take you over the flavor cliff.

Breaking (or blowing?) News… & good news for Book Buddies

The Andre Dubus III presentation tonite at Ashley Hall, covered in my last post, has been cancelled due to Superstorm Sandy’s havoc with airlines, etc. We’ll be sure to let you know when it is rescheduled.

BUT, in the meanwhile… you can spend the time you would have spent at this evening’s event in support of an equally satisfying and highly worthy literary cause.

Today through October 31st, Barnes & Nobles will donate 15% of the purchase price of all sales to a terrific literacy outreach program called Charleston Book Buddies. Book Buddies is a highly effective program that pairs community volunteers with struggling second grade students in Title 1 CCSD schools, to work one-on-one for 45 minute segments twice a week to help improve reading skills. Book Buddies’s kids and tutors develop wonderful relationships and kids’ reading and test scores show that it works.

So go to http://www.bn.com tonight and tomorrow, buy books by Andre Dubus or Andre Dubus III, or get a jump start on your holiday shopping (music, DVDs, games, gifts, etc etc), and feel great about creating the next generation of good readers. And check out the Book Buddies website for more info on the program, or on how you can volunteer to become a Book Buddy.
Shop here through Oct 31st:
Bookfair ID: 10879781  (to support Charleston Book Buddies)

An Early Trick-or-Treat ~ Andre Dubus III

Tomorrow night, on the eve of Halloween, I’ll have the plastic pumpkin bucket of my mind open and ready for sweet offerings. I’ll come wearing the costume of a writer (jeans, v-neck sweater, boots, pen and moleskin notebook) and hope that morsels of wisdom drop in my bucket from that rarest of hyphenated creatures — an award-winning, best-selling, Oprah-endorsed writer, Andre Dubus III. But truthfully, I’ll be paying homage to his father and namesake, the short story writer and essayist Andre Dubus.

I’ve actually not read House of Sand and Fog, nor seen the movie, nor read any other fiction by the handsome and celebrated son, but I have read, and loved, Dubus Senior’s short stories and especially his reflections and meditations on life as a “cripple” as he dubbed himself after being crushed by a car that struck him after he stopped to help two disabled motorists outside of Boston on dark night in 1986. Dubus, with his Ernest Hemingway-rugged good looks, writes with a hard won gravitas and humble wisdom, and my copy of Meditations from a Moveable Chair is dog-eared and pockmarked with marginalia.

From the elder Dubus, in an essay titled “First Books” I’ve underlined this:

“But the writer who endures and keeps working will finally know that writing the book was something hard and glorious, for at the desk a writer must try to be free of prejudice, meanness of spirit, pettiness and hatred; strive to be a better human being than a writer normally is, and to do this through concentration on a single work, and then another, and another. This is splendid work, as worthy and demanding as any, and the will and reliance to do it are good for the writer’s soul. If the work is not published, or is published for little money and less public attention, it remains a spiritual, mental and physical achievement; and if, in public, it is the widow’s mite, it is also, like the widow, more blessed.”

Andre the father was largely absent to his son while young Andre was growing up, according to Dubus III, who writes of their relationship in his memoir Townie. He was a mystery, a vacuum, a hurt. I know what that’s like. And yet father and son shared this DNA of creativity, a writer’s heart, and it shows through for the son. I hope to hear more about that when he speaks tomorrow night as part of Ashley Hall’s Visiting Writers Series.

For now, these nuggets (think of them as Candy Corn for the Writer’s Soul) will hopefully tide you over. Wisdom for writers from Andre Dubus III, as published in Writer’s Digest:

“I really think that if there’s any one enemy to human creativity, especially creative writing, its self-consciousness. And if you have one eye on the mirror to see how you’re doing, you’re not doing it as well as you can. Don’t think about publishing, don’t think about editors, don’t think about marketplace.”

“I think the deeper you go into questions, the deeper or more interesting the questions get. And I think that’s the job of art.”

“I still have my truck, and I still have my carpentry tools, and if this writing thing dries up on a publishing level—it’s never gonna dry up for me on an artistic level because I’m never going to quit—but if all the sudden I were out in the cold in the publishing world, them I’m gonna build you a kitchen. I’m gonna do your roof. I would rather do that than sell my soul to the publishing devil. I just won’t do it.”

“Even a day writing badly for me is 10 times better than a day where I don’t write at all.”

Ashley Hall, Tues Oct 30, 7:00 P.M.
Sottile Thompson Recital Hall

Andre Dubus III is the author of five books: The Cage Keeper and Other Stories, Bluesman, and the New York Times bestsellers,House of Sand and Fog, The Garden of Last Days, and his memoir,Townie, a #4 New York Times bestseller and a New York Times “Editors Choice.” It is named on many “Top Non-fiction Books of 2011” lists, including The New York Times, Publishers Weekly, The Library journal, Kirkus Reviews, and Esquire magazine. His work has been included in The Best American Essays of 1994 and The Best Spiritual Writing of 1999. He has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, The National Magazine Award for fiction, The Pushcart Prize, and was a Finalist for the National Book Award, the Rome Prize Fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and is a 2012 recipient of an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature.

For more information about tomorrow night’s event, contact Dr. Nick Bozanic at 843-720-2855.

For more head to the source at ashleyhall.org.