I was invited to attend a local “author’s forum” at our public library last Saturday. There were seven authors gathered to speak, in total. It was a fascinating forum. All were local writers, and each had diverse experiences of depth. The books they had published were each quite individual and interesting. Those who’d come to listen were a friendly group and quite a good audience, as they listened intently and smiled generously throughout the event, even though, with seven authors, it went on for quite a long while. That we were each limited to ten minutes helped. But still, with such fascinating subject matter there were questions and some discussion.
I wanted to put up the text of the talk that I gave as it provides more background to my new book, Gathered Rain. (Note: the portions in parenthesis were meant to be ad libbed and not read verbatim.) Also, for further information on Flowerwatch about Gathered Rain, please click here. You will find several articles at that link about specific pieces in the book, with back-story and some additional content.
( Hello everyone. )
( I’m grateful to the Library for this opportunity to speak with you about my book and to listen to the experience and wisdom of the authors, and readers, here today. )
( As I don’t imagine anyone here has had the opportunity to read my book, here it is! )
( I have copies here today available for purchase, if you’d like one. I hope I can convince you that it might be worth your time. )
( I hope you won’t mind if I stick closely to my notes from this point on, as there are a number of things I wanted to share with you and I would like to make sure I fit them into the time available. )
CHARACTER OF MY WRITING STYLE
I’ve been writing for about 30 years, prose and poetry. I began way back in college, under the influence of zen and East Asian literature, to write haiku and haiku-like short poems based on my wanderings in the forests and fields of North and Central Indiana. To give you a sense of my writing, I would say it is influenced by a number of authors of Chinese and Japanese poetry, but also by Persian poets such as Rumi, and Hafiz. Thoreau was important for me, in early days.
For a sense of further influences, I’ll just briefly read a list of some of my favorite authors. I imagine you’ve heard of most of them:
Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Shakespeare,
Patrick Rothfuss, Tolkien, Robert Heinlein,
James Joyce, Robert E. Howard,
William Carlos Williams, Yeats, Gary Olsen,
Longfellow, Robert Bly, Rumi, Hafiz, Kabir…
( These are some of the authors whose works I love to pick up when I just want to sit down and enjoy reading something. )
Some of these authors have a particular music in their prose, or in their verse. By that I mean a certain rhythm and movement of sound. This is true especially of Saint-Exupery, Tolkien, Howard and Joyce, when it comes to prose. And of course Yeats, Bly, and Longfellow have a musical quality to their poetry. This is something I find to be a common element of the writing styles that I enjoy. Personally, if the writing doesn’t “sing,” if you will, it’s just not as enjoyable for me to read. There are exceptions on my list. While Rothfuss’s prose doesn’t always sing, there’s a latent music underlying his prose that I admire, and frequently he allows it to burst forth out of its corral and roam freely on the page.
I’d like to share a quote from Longfellow’s Evangeline, by way of moving into a discussion of writing process.
Feeling is deep and still;
and the word that floats on the surface
Is as a tossing buoy,
that betrays where the anchor is hidden.
Therefore trust to thy heart,
and to what the world calls illusions.
When I write, I feel as if I don’t invent so much as transcribe what I’m experiencing inwardly while observing nature or quietly reflecting. I go into the silent observation of the thing, whether it’s thunder shattering on the anvil of a rocky cliff, or the qualities of love, until its attributes feel like old friends. Then, I wait for words that fit those properties to fall into place, much like a key in a lock. After this, it’s a matter of the discipline and practice of arranging these words and their images into a pleasing form.
For example, if I were going to write about the way a cat is curling cozily into a pillow, I would begin by sensing the feeling that cat must have in being so deeply snuggled into that softness; then I’d hear his purr, feel the warmth he must be enjoying, and I’d hear the muffled hushed sound of the experience itself, if you can imagine that. He might be turned on his side, like they so often do when their blissfully zoned out. That adds a whole dimension of happy imagery to the experience. I put myself in the cat’s place, basically, and I inquire into the experience. I see it, but I also hear and feel it. Then, I wait for the words to attach themselves to that imagery and feeling, to kind of grow out of that contemplative mood. So, I might then find something like the following emerging.
Somewhere in the stillness of
the cat’s pillowy comfort
she traverses many worlds
slowly, gracefully unfolding.
Some years ago, while standing near a bed of roses watching a storm come in, noticing how the roses were shuddering in the rising wind, that their delicate blossoms were surging away from the approaching mass of brooding clouds, and using the same basic technique, I wrote the following poem which appears in Gathered Rain:
Thunder rolling in
on waves of blackened clouds —
soft, pink roses turn their heads.
Sometimes, the abstract substance of an experience does not lend itself directly to words. In these instances, I find it is possible to hint at that hidden meaning through the choice and order of the relevant imagery, which can be arranged to lead one to the hidden meaning by a subtle movement of feeling… I think it’s pretty well agreed that this kind of thing is of the essence of Haiku.
Apropos to this, there’s another poem from Gathered Rain, that describes an experience I had some time ago, but for which there were no words other than those to describe its basic external elements. But the trick here, for me, was to arrange the words, their sounds and rhythms, to move the reader toward the subtle feeling within the experience.
frost on blossoms, on purple lilacs
and a comet in the southern sky.
I hesitate to offer an interpretation of a haiku, as one wants to allow the reader to have their own experience, but for me, the poem hints at a delicate, sweet interaction of polarities, of vast distances, of immediacy and the warmth of the flowers (and their implied fragrance). Also, there’s the frost on the lilacs and the icy comet mirroring that quality; the implied motion of the comet, against the stillness of a cold night; the luminous purple of the flowers, and the blackness of the sky. For me, all of this transforms an otherwise lonely night of huge distances, into one of intimate and precious connections.
I’d just like to share one other poem from Gathered Rain. In this piece I combined several experiences which I had, spanning a number of years, to convey the sense of a pleasant evening enjoying the sunset, the softness of the air, the sweetness of the sea, and a comfort and ease with simply being a human person in a body in a place and time.
Across the sprawling boughs
Of the grand old pine
Three egrets dance and fret
To find the perfect spot
For the night.
Sounds of the day settle
Into the soothing ocean,
Sunset sends lavender, gold,
red and purple inks
Into the sky.
Under the hush of day’s folding wings
The distant cry of a baby ready to sleep.
At my window, the velvet drum
Of a fluttering moth.
There’s something moving to me personally about the many ways in which life chooses to articulate its beauty in nature. Quite literally, I feel nourished by it, down to my bones. Writing seems to help me derive the greatest possible insight into these encounters with that living Principle.
One reader of my book called it “Tranquil.” That was a good word. Another reader of the book shared with me that after a rather frenetic day she picked up Gathered Rain and began to browse through the poems and artwork, and that soon she found herself feeling much calmer and more centered. It was really great to hear this because this is what I experienced while writing the pieces in the book, and doing the artwork, and I’d hoped that somehow the book would be able to impart this to others.
I want to read one other item as a kind of teaser as to future works. This is a short poem, which I recently posted on my online journal, Flowerwatch, and which will likely be a part of my next project.
Summer arrived today in his straw hat, smiling.
The air drew close, muffling distant barking of dogs
and children’s laughter.
The stream’s sound became the sweetest music.
The cat in his heavy coat lolls beneath the garden table.
The fountain in which the hummingbird loves to bathe, shimmers.
The ground is showered with fiery spears from the sun,
and the grass withers, while
momentary breezes billow with sweet grace.
Solitude and silence become a crucible;
sifting for the gold, the quest.
( If anyone is interested in hearing about Createspace, which is the online service I used to publish Gathered Rain independently, I’d be willing to stay around after the meeting and discuss that. )