Jnana's Red Barn

A Space for Work and Reflection

Tag: Literature

JUST HOW BIG IS THAT TOWN WITH THE MILLS?

When I began drafting Big Inca versus a New Pony Express Rider, I was coming off a two-year stint that had me traveling across the Northeast, including the Atlantic Seaboard from Maine through Virginia. I hunkered down in Baltimore to concentrate on a handful of major writing projects in a very intense year of self-imposed sabbatical. (No university support, if you were wondering.)

While Big Inca marked a sharp departure from my other works, moving into dark subconscious realms and mysterious meanderings, it did incorporate castoffs from some of the other projects. The prompt, though, was a vague dream of restoring landmark mills beside a river, a project that could have happened just about anywhere in the region I’d been traveling.

We think of them as textile mills, and many of them were. But the water power could be employed for just about any kind of manufacturing, as I’ve since learned, from machine-making itself to shoes to clothespins to locomotives, as well as the grain and sawmill operations I’d been introduced to on our trips to historic sites in my childhood, starting with the overshot wheel and grindstones in Carillon Park in Dayton and the reconstructed Spring Mill village in Indiana.

As a youth, I’d also owned a gorgeous volume the duPont company had published to celebrate its history, and my favorite parts were the illustrations of its early mills and supporting waterways and lands in Delaware.

So there was already a degree of romance in my thinking about the use of old-fashioned waterpower.

Then, in my first job after college, I was introduced to the ruins of cigar factories beside a dam in the Susquehanna River, a tangled patch I returned to frequently, as I describe in my set of poems, Susquehanna. Just how would the mills have looked, anyway? And how would they have shaped the adjacent neighborhood, a setting reflected in Riverside, another of my poetry collections?

My more recent employment had me calling on places like Fall River, Massachusetts, with its array of vacant stone mills, as well as towns incorporating the more common red brick versions, large and small.

Add to that mention of the entrepreneurial impact of the many mills that once stood along the Jones Falls in Baltimore itself, before the freeway wound through the sites, and I was quickly writing.

Since releasing the novel, though, I’ve been wondering about scale. Just how big a town are we dealing with? And, for that matter, how big a mill yard?

In the back of my head I’d imagined something along the lines of Binghamton, New York, a city of roughly 50,000 – large enough to move about in inconspicuously but not too big to be, well, anywhere in the corporate radar these days. Or, more accurately, the recent past when the action takes place.

That’s had me looking more closely at old mill towns, of course, and asking if this one or that could be the right setting. Security, by the way, adds another consideration – I wouldn’t want the novel’s mills sitting right downtown, as they do where I now live or in several of the neighboring towns. Somersworth, to the north, has train tracks separating its old mills from the rest of the town, and Binghamton had a freeway.

A smaller town, in contrast, might simply have too many nosy neighbors who would insist on knowing everything about a newcomer like Bill, and that wouldn’t do. Still, there are some beautiful sites for imagining as you move about.

OUT OF OBSESSION INTO THE BLAZE

Words or appearances often mask deeper, contradictory currents. Sometimes, as they tangle, each knot becomes an aching triangle.

In the throes of romantic passion, a participant will choose one line of argument over the evidence of another. To call him or her a victim is hardly accurate, no matter the pain, even after the heart and mind conflict.

The poems of Braided Double-Cross arise in such obsession, the white-hot tension rather than in some cool quietude years later – the pursuit of a golden ideal and then falling. Call them love poems if you dare.

~*~

For these poems and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.

WHO INVITED INCA INTO MY NARRATIVE, ANYWAY?

Why Inca, anyway? For starters, when it came to conceiving my novel Big Inca versus a New Pony Express Rider, I seem to recall an attraction to the wordplay, Inca for Inc., befitting a story about corporate intrigue.

Maybe there was even a sense of llama and alpaca wool as raw materials for the abandoned waterpower textile mills that instead become the front for covert business activity.

I was already aware of how much indigenous lore remained lost or buried in the American inheritance and wondered how much more might be festering somewhere. Even before issues of illegal immigration entered the picture, I was curious about the alternatives lurking in the imagined jungles of Latin America. Maya and Aztec, for example, also had rich imperial cultures that contrasted with the Spanish invaders.

The novel takes on its own meandering along the edges of consciousness and subconscious currents. Just what are we doing in our careers, anyway, at least in the face of ultimate existential purpose? And what is the allure of corporate politics, strategy, and gamesmanship, at least in the higher offices? Bill may be out in the sticks, but he is a puppet of sorts for the Boss. A player. Or maybe just his apprentice. Either way, he’s green and supple.

Here we encounter, however dimly, a darkness conquered by another darkness, perhaps crueler under its Christian veneer. Yet a New World Native undercurrent runs counter the peasantry of Old Europe, and pagan influences infuse both sides in the millpond of Bill’s labors. As for the company paying his Bill’s bills? It’s at least as mysterious as the Inca itself.

IN THE OVERLAPPING KNOTS

What the heart hears and sees may be quite different from what the mind observes and records, much less decides. These may be considered two strands in a braid, into which a third is woven. As for the third? It may be the beloved Other or some Unknown factor or even the undisclosed Rival. Each possibility leads to some distinct  tension in the series of overlapping knots.

The poems of Braided Double-Cross move through sexual attraction and passion into obsession, rejection, even betrayal. In the heated accusations and arguments between lovers, the dialogue – reaching into childhood, history, geography, career aspirations, and the future – invokes an absent, silent third participant, a recognition of the inequality emerging in the core relationship itself. Details of confession mount quietly. Truth becomes unbearable. At times a scream is silent. The braid ultimately becomes a whip. As Diane Wakoski has observed, “Rapunzel and the witch were always one / and the same.”

It’s what Ted Berrigan, in the American sonnets this set emulates, called belly-to-belly white heat.

~*~

Braided Double-Cross

Braided Double-Cross

For these poems and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.

LET’S CAST THE SPOTLIGHT AWAY FROM POOR JOB

Could it be that the Book of Job isn’t so much about the suffering of Job, a man of faith, as it is a critique of conventional religion and religiosity itself?

In my volume Eden Embraced, I approach Job’s plight as if the text were a Hebrew Upanishad, one paralleling a type of classic Hindu writings. Yes, the thread holding the plot together follows one innocent man’s spiritual journey through unspeakable suffering. Blameless as he is – and uncomforting as God’s role is here – Job would have every right to turn in other directions, though he chooses to remain faithful.

The story is endlessly troubling, especially for those who read it from a legalistic perspective. From the outset, God is arrogant, even vain and cruel, rather than compassionate or even all-knowing. And Satan, a member of the sacred council, could be a favored golfing buddy arranging another wager.

The setup can easily lead to contortions as a believer attempts to reconcile other, more conventional, definitions of the Holy One with the action at hand, especially when Job’s buddies begin to weigh in with their platitudes. In many interpretations, Job’s faithfulness is held up as an example to emulate, no matter what. Fat lot of encouragement, right?

As a writer, though, I can see the axiom of trying to address a situation by taking an opposing, uncommon position, which is where I see the story of Job originating. After all, we are faced with the question of just where does evil originate, along with human suffering. Why not blame the Creator?

Is there even a large measure of humor in this? Take the events over the top, asking just what more can happen to poor Job? And that’s where his so-called friends step in, adding misery to his plight and their condemnation rather than comfort.

Would it be nearly as compelling if they did the right thing? If Mother Teresa had showed up instead?

By the way, I delight in the happy ending, which many purists object to as a later revision that doesn’t fit with the general thrust of the plot. Feel free to weigh in as you will.

REFLECTIONS ON MY POETRY AND FICTION

Maybe you’ve seen the adage that you can’t move on in your life if you’re stuck revising the past. (Well, it’s a variation of some more common versions.) I know the message is aimed at an individual’s emotional life, but it hits writers hard, too. No matter our subject or genre, the project in front of us draws on the past – even if it’s nothing more than research we did earlier or our previous drafts. It’s even truer when you’re heeding the counsel, “Write about what you know.”

For an author or poet, moving on typically comes when a project is finally published. Well, one usually moves on into promoting the work, even if the writer’s thinking and work are already on a new project.

Up to that point, the writing can usually be revised – and with poetry, there’s no end, you just have to let it go.

For most of my five decades of writing, my literary efforts – writing, revising, submitting to journals, and attending readings and workshops – came in my “free” time. And for a good portion of that, I was just getting a locale and its people in focus when my job would uproot me and I’d have to move on – just as one big project or another was coming into focus. I’d have to put work aside to complete later.

It also meant that much of my life was stuck in revising the past – meaning the unpublished projects – even I was adding more from the new encounters.

For me, blogging has freed much of that past, weaving it actively into my present. And the book-length releases at Smashwords.com and Thistle/Flinch, especially, have been emotionally liberating.

Seeing the poetry, in particular, as it’s appearing almost daily at the Red Barn gives me a fresh perspective. For all of my repeated honing of the work, compressing to some essence, I also sought a sense of jazzy improvisation and raw edges, an admission of working on the run in contemporary society. A recent essay on graffiti as public art, in contrast to the oil canvas masterpieces of earlier centuries, keeps echoing in my awareness. Yes, I can see many of my poems as graffiti or at least swift sketches or calligraphy.

Yes, there are things I’d revise and other points that leave me wondering just what prompted the line. But they’re up now, in your presence, and I can move on.

What a relief!

At this point in my life and career, I don’t even have to worry about what critics might say, though kind words from perceptive readers and fellow writers are always appreciated.

Not that I’m fishing for compliments …

AND KEY WEST

1

joining me as a bowsprit
on my usual whale-watch vessel
now wintering in Florida, a day trip
en route to Key West

a lonely teen evokes
my lover in college
the year before I met her before

two dolphins leap in front of us and

in his rounds, a crewman explains

“you don’t see that often, especially so far
from shore . you saw them, didn’t you?
you’re very lucky”

an omen, then, to the past

2

in town, roosters in banty yards
on back streets, warning

BEWARE
OF DOG

such a disappointing declaration
to swarming eyeballs
anticipating something more exotic
a gator, perchance, or snakepit
or open voodoo performed with hot sauce
please understand, you’re approaching Haiti

3

acknowledging this is an island of Biblical proportions
I stand outside Hemingway’s veranda
and shout prophetically

KELSEY SENDS
HER REGARDS

meaning her scorn
for required high school reading

this touch of sarcasm gleaned
teaching Sunday school
in New Hampshire

this day, when I’m my own old man of the sea,
is held in the tentacles of Genesis

4

again the Gulf waters roil
and the decision is announced
we’ll be sent back by land (one)
rather than any Paradise Lost
without moonlight
in the dark
road houses and health food
storefronts along the midnight
highway become fragments
of reggae notes, the songs of another
vanished lover, between mangrove

5

even on a subtropical bus
cockroaches climb toilet walls
mimicking addresses I’ve left

Poem copyright 2016 by Jnana Hodson
To see the full set of seacoast poems,
click here.

REINTERPRETING A BIBLICAL TEXT

In fleshing out minor characters in Scripture, performance artist Peterson Toscano shared an insight: “feet” in the text (and I believe he mentioned “thighs,” too) can be a euphemism for “penis” or “genitals.” So when Zepporah tosses her son’s bloody foreskin at Moses’ “feet” (note the parallel), she’s screaming, “What kind of man are you who would place us all in jeopardy!”

Much of the Hebrew Bible is likely far “earthier” than we’re likely to hear from the pulpit. How much do we lose, then, in translation? How much are fundamentalists, too, missing?

A SHELF OF NEW RELEASES

Here are the 12 books released by my Thistle/Flinch imprint in the year 2016. I think it’s an impressive list. Oh, my …

~*~

For these collections and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.

NOT YOUR EVERYDAY LOVE POEMS

Attraction includes conflict. Passion. Suffering. Adjustment. Breakthroughs. Surrender, even.

A tender touch. Renewal. A dance, together. Our song, in the end.

For the full set of poems, click here.

Blue_Rock~*~