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Monthly Archives: April 2013

A new post, a new dessert (vanilla cupcakes this time!) and a new story (audio or text!) published on Reading and Recipes ! Give it a look at http://readingandrecipes.wordpress.com for sweets and literary treats! 

But even as Reading and Recipes moves on to new subjects (don’t fear–the old stuff is there too, appropriately archived) I’d like to reflect a little further on my last topic–to whom do we write?

I was checking out some poetry from John Milton on a search directory, and the site summary of one of the responses read “So John Milton, one of the great poets of the English language, starts out one of his greatest poems by talking to flowers!” And I laughed and thought–yeah, so? The website was referring to Milton’s great pastoral elegy “Lycidas”–generally regarded as the finest example of that form ever written. The poem starts out: “Yet once more, O ye laurels, and once more ye myrtles brown, with ivy never sere, I come to pluck your berries harsh and crude, and with forced fingers rude, shatter your leaves before the mellowing year.” Yes, he’s starting out this wonderful poem by addressing laurels and myrtles. Got a problem with that?

And John Keats speaks to a season in “To Autumn” and Yeats to a piece of carved stone in “Lapis Lazuli” and Theodore Roethke to a singing bird in “The Reply” and Robert Lowell to a dry fountain in “The Public Garden.” In all of these examples and countless others, these great writers engaged in this most human of expressions–poetry!–are addressing non-human subjects. Are they really?

I think the answer is yes, with an asterisk. Milton follows his opening with further conversation with non-human subjects, including mythological figures as well as another forty lines or so given over to a parade of flowers. And all the poets cited have other poems that address non-human subjects. (It’s interesting to contrast this with music lyrics–to which poetry is often, and rightly, compared–where the subject of address is almost always human.) I don’t think one can dismiss this practice as simply a poetic device or ruse. I think they are actually speaking to these non-human subjects–in order to find their own humanity. By speaking to, and giving voice to, a flower or a season, delving into a sculpture or a bird’s song, metaphorically diving into a dry fountain, these poets are rediscovering and affirming their, and our, human-ness. Milton is mourning the drowning of his classmate, Keats his failing health, Yeats his aging, Roethke his approaching death, Lowell a failed romance–all of these uniquely human emotions fed through, and remade by, these non-human subjects in a mysterious and wonderful alchemy.

But even if the immediate object of address is non-human, surely the underlying subject of address is human–and finally unknown to us. In each case, we might speculate on who in the poet’s life might be the face in his mind as he’s writing. (There’s been centuries of debate over whether Milton was truly bereaved over the drowning of his classmate, Edward King, or simply using the incident as a means of promoting and exploring his prodigious gifts–we’ll never know for sure.) But in the end, that face–the loved one being written to out of love (if you accept my assertion from the previous post)–will never be known. Unless of course the author steps forward (possible but unlikely for all of the above deceased poets) and tells us–and even then, is that statement a truth or simply another device used to explore our humanity: like talking to some plants at the start of the world’s greatest pastoral elegy.

JA

We posted our second Reading and Recipes ( http://readingandrecipes.wordpress.com ) dessert-and-story combo a short time ago. This week it’s all about LEMONS (hope you can see that yellow on your screen)–lemons on your fingers, lemons in the dessert, lemons in Allison’s hair, lemon scent everywhere! You ought to check it out–even if you don’t make the dessert or download the story, you’ll still get the smell of lemons wafting out of your computer (or iPad or Kindle or smartphone or whatever Internet device you’re using)!

Hey, and thanks to your response (Yay for visitors!), Reading and Recipes is slowly climbing the charts at the various search engines, is now high on Google’s list for the query “reading and recipes” and climbing on other directories. So, thanks for your interest and patronage! I hope we continue to give you reasons to visit the website.

Reading and Recipes has brought a new audience to my fiction, with these new readers added to those that have encountered my work on this website or on smashwords (and their third-party sites, including Apple and Sony and Barnes and Noble and Kobo), along with various friends and family members (and some of their friends and family members) that have received my fiction in manuscript form over the last year or so. In short, for someone with no readership a year ago (I’ve had written stories for most of my life, but hadn’t circulated anything for nearly twenty years), I now have a steadily growing readership, and one that is becoming increasingly diverse. I’m very pleased at this development, and can only hope that my writing provides an enjoyable escape to those that take the time to read it.

But this diverse readership casts a new light on an old question. A few years ago while in college (well, O.K., a few decades ago), I wrote an essay titled “To Whom Do We Write?” It won an award and was published in a journal, so I was happy about that. But I didn’t write it to try to win an award or even for a class paper. I wrote it because I wanted to know the answer to the question posed in the title–at the moment of creation, when the words are forming in one’s mind and being transferred by pen to paper or keystrokes to computer text, who is being addressed? In short, during that critical metamorphosis from imagination to reality, who is the author telling the story to? Of course, the answer to this key question will vary from author to author, and from story to story for a particular writer. Further, the audience at the moment of creation may bear little resemblance to the eventual audience for the work. In fact, I’m guessing (based only on personal experience) that the object or plant or animal or person or persons of address at creation has virtually no relation to the eventual audience.

So who, then, is this audience at the story’s birthing? Is it human? Singular or plural? Past, present, or future? Young or old? Stranger or familiar? Supportive or skeptical? Rigorous or easy? The list of possible identifying traits could go on a long time, yet get us no closer to an answer or even a generalization. And as if the potential responses thirty-three years ago weren’t numerous enough, the reach of the Internet–not only in space but in time–induces a quantum leap in possible answers. Emily Dickinson couldn’t have conceived, even with her high-octane imagination, addressing a Nepalese herder or Japanese businessman or Chechen teacher. But today I can. In fact, to publish on the Internet, one must grant such a diverse, virtually boundless, potential audience; otherwise one is simply denying the single defining attribute of the medium. (Now, while I might conceive of such a potential audience, I don’t presume it–and perhaps that’s an important distinction to remember in exploring this question.)

So in the Internet age, my thirty-three-year-old question seems to get only bolder (as in both font size and insistence!) while the answer(s) get only fuzzier. Am I now maybe writing to that Nepalese herder? An eight-year-old Haitian in 2040 listening on an implanted chip? An automated page-view counter on a server in Uzbekistan? If I’m not, maybe I should be. Maybe that’s how I get read, how my humble gifts get used, now or in some impossible to imagine future.

Or maybe I’m still just writing every word to a particular individual out of love. That individual may change from story to story, year to year–or not. But maybe in the end–Internet or not, audio books or not, mass-market paperbacks or not, printing press or not–that critical audience at the creature’s birthing is a loved one, given this precious gift–quality and readability not assured but intent always so–out of love.

Today’s answer, anyway.

JA

Maybe you’re stumbling onto this site blissfully full (stuffed even) after indulging in that XXL Triple Chocolate Cookie and having the first half of “Wyoming” read to you. (Have no idea what I’m talking about? Go to http://readingandrecipes.wordpress.com to check it out!) And in that mood of blissful satiation, let me steer this post toward some idle ruminations about our human need to share stories.

A friend of mine wrote–and repeated to me in many and various ways over thirty years–“A need to tell and hear stories is essential to the species Homo sapiens–second in necessity after nourishment and before love and shelter.” * (See! Reading and Recipes hits the top two!) Since encountering that quote thirty-five years ago, I’ve always simplified those ponderous words into more direct language–We have to tell stories! That compulsion is part of our fundamental make-up. I don’t know if this need is physiological or spiritual or some combination of the two, but there’s no denying its strength and persistence.

Being involved in two blogs and having my fiction published on a third website, I’m just beginning to get a sense of the vast repository of stories out there on the Internet. Smashwords.com (a fairly young website) claims to have published over 7 BILLION words! How many words of narrative and stories–from the briefest of tweets to the longest of ongoing epics–are available on the Internet? How many more added every day, every second? Over the last twenty-five years or so, there’s been much speculation about the best use of the Internet. (In those long-ago days of the late 80s and early 90s, the concept was often dismissed by the pundits as simply a better means of transmitting porn. Well, it seems that it is that, but maybe just a little bit more than that!) Let me add my humble opinion to the mix–the most important use of the Internet is as a means of sharing our stories, in all their infinite number and diversity.

To the young, this concept may seem new and revolutionary. To the old (like me–well, older) this development may seem scary and overwhelming. Or, just maybe, it’s neither of these extremes. Maybe it’s simply a new version of an old–very old–trait. When I first moved to the South (of the US, that is–need to remind myself that these Internet stories reach a global audience) any trip to the drugstore or post office saturated me in stories being told by strangers–the clerk behind the window, your neighbor in line, the old-timer seated on the bench outside, the child riding his bike through the parking lot. A drive through the countryside on a Sunday afternoon or summer evening revealed front porches crowded with family and friends of many generations engaged in sharing stories–some maybe for the thousandth time, but that was O.K.: all part of this absolute need to exchange tales. Now carry this understanding back millenia–to the cave paintings in what is now called Europe, to one proto-human encountering another with sign language and drawings in the sands of what is now central Africa–and you begin to realize that the Internet as a story-sharing forum is only a continuation in different form of a need as old as our species.

And I delight to be part of this vast cacophony, in all its rich diversity and numbing anonymity. One only need consider the alternative–silence, all these words bottled up, locked inside: could you imagine how impossible that would be? the trauma and the explosive destructiveness?–to realize that story sharing is here to stay (long as we’re here, anyway) and that is a very good thing indeed–on the Internet, in print, in pictorial or video or audio, or (sakes alive!) actually person-to-person (like in them olden days).

Write on!

* This quote is taken from A Palpable God by Reynolds Price, published by Atheneum in 1978.

Everybody likes to eat and some people like to read, and some of those who like to read also like to eat while they read. (An old mason I knew would say everyday a few minutes before noon–“A man gots to eat to work and gots to work to eat” then would sit down and open up his lunch that was always bigger and better than mine!)

For those of you who like to both eat and read fiction, I’ve got a website for you! It’s called Reading and Recipes ( http://readingandrecipes.wordpress.com ).

It’s set up like this: each week there will be a new post that offers both a simple recipe for a delicious dessert for one or two people accompanied by a piece of my fiction taken from one of my short stories or novels. The dessert recipe will be chosen and tested by a fine young woman who loves to cook (if you don’t believe me, check out her food blog at http://cooking2perfection.blogspot.com ). And the fiction piece will be available in either text or audio format (an mp3 recording read by yours truly). Further, the fiction will be serialized, with each new post continuing the story started the week before–until that story is finished and we start on a new one!

Initially, the stories will be drawn from mine currently available on smashwords.com; so some of you may already have read one or more of them. But I’m sure you haven’t heard them read by the author while eating a scrumptious dessert!

So stop by Reading and Recipes ( http://readingandrecipes.wordpress.com ) and check it out. What do you have to lose? (You might gain a pound or two, but you can take that off with a brisk walk the next day–all the while thinking about that wonderful story that was read to you!)

Cheers!