Jnana's Red Barn

A Space for Work and Reflection

Tag: Literature

RIDING OUT GRIME AND REJECTION

When one editor dismissed an earlier version of Subway Hitchhikers as “a coming of age” novel, I abandoned chronological development and turned instead to the eventual alternation of past and present tenses. When a New York agent’s brief notes placed Daffodil in Iowa, rather than Indiana, I had to wonder how closely he and his staff read a text, period. And a small press editor responded that this work was too outstanding and deserved better production and distribution than his operation could provide, while others urged self-publication.

At one point, I feared that the subject was becoming too dated – that the period, style, and places were fading from public interest. Since then, however, news developments convinced me otherwise. Who, for instance, would have envisioned a year when Yuppie hoboes would ride the rails for their summer vacation? Or that Subway Surfing would take hold! No matter how much I’ve tried to abstract the events that underpin the presentation in Subway Hitchhikers, there were time I felt overrun by developing news events. Reports, for instance, of finding a Tibetan lama reincarnated as a Spanish boy – a decade and a half after my first draft of the novel. Or a plan considered by Paris officials to build thirty-one miles of subterranean double-decked highway 100 to 165 feet underground.

Subway systems are receiving fresh interest. As public policy makers recognize their importance in the functioning of a major metropolis, the older systems are the focus of major upgrading. (New York’s MTA, for instance, was subsequently cited “as the most improved system on the continent and the man in charge received the manager of the year award. And despite the way the subway is pictured on TV, filmmakers are having a hard time finding the once-familiar graffiti sprayed on subway cars.”) Elsewhere, newer systems flourish, modeled on San Francisco’s BART and Washington, D.C.’s clean, quiet, efficient operations. As new systems, such as Los Angeles, open and expand, we can ask each city: “Where are your Subway Hitchhikers?”

~*~

For more from my more recent THIRD RAIL collection, click here.

READING THE BIBLE AS COMEDY 

There are so many seminal stories that always leave room for fresh discovery and interpretation, if we escape the constraints of conventional explanations. I examine three timelessly provocative Biblical tales in my volume Eden Embraced, where my focus is on the Garden of Eden, followed by short reflections on Noah and the Great Flood and the enigmatic suffering of Job. Put simply, many of the Bible stories taught to children are much grittier and more troubling than we’d like to admit, and the radical dimensions we usually gloss over can challenge our usual assumptions about anything of a religious or spiritual or even political or economic nature. Nothing status quo remains sacred, much less safe.

While scanning a bookshelf the other day, one title jumped out at me – JOB: A Comedy of Justice – and I did a double take. Of course the Biblical drama could be taken as a comedy, especially in a contemporary context where almost nothing is considered sacred. Imagine flipping the usual definitions by blaming God for the bad things that happen, rather than holding him up to an impossibly spotless standard. (I’ll keep the male pronoun for now – the woman gets blamed enough.) Not just God, either, but throw in his golfing partner, Satan, for good measure.

Look at the text, and you can see it’s almost already in scripted format. Or screenplay, if you wish. It’s mostly dialogue, how convenient!

So how would you cast God and Satan, how would you block their opening scene?

For many, since the mere thought of putting the Holy One in a visual image can be sacrilegious, would you consider adapting some amazing stagecraft instead? A play of lights or talking smoke vapors or puppets or masked Tibetan or Tlingit dancers? Even a Greek chorus at the back of the auditorium while dancers move on the stage? As I was thinking, this script demands theatrical treatment. Something 3-D or better.

The concept of comedy – rather than our usual all-too-serious emphases – strikes me as brilliant. Why not try it with the Garden of Eden or the Great Flood as well or any of a range of other Biblical tales. Admittedly, not all will work, but as for others? Well, our local temple did adapt Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific to the Book of Esther for their Purim observance one year. I hear it was a hoot.

By the way, when I reached for the book, I discovered it was a novel by Robert A. Heinlen, and any use of Job and his self-righteous friends seems to be absent or deeply buried. And, yes, I do recall that Archibald MacLeish’s 1958 play J.B. is reputed to have been inspired by Job, but the piece deflects the direct link by casting the leads as Zuss/Zeus and Nichols. Its plot, I would note, glibly veers away from the deeper soulful dimensions of the original.

In the meantime, take a look at my Job essay in Eden Embraced and weigh in with your perspectives. Do you think comedy would enhance its understanding?

WITH AND WITHOUT OUR MASKS

Behind the masks of public life – our occupations, religious affiliations, social status, economic positions, family connections, educational accomplishments, and so on – each of us engages in another struggle, an attempt to find inner balance and direction for our own life. As we do so, we soon face a plethora of interior and exterior forces that must be reconciled. We get glimmers into this struggle – both within ourselves and within others – in statements that begin “I am” and “I am not,” as well as “I have been,” which recognizes the history and habits we accumulate and carry with us. There are also the voices – “he remembers” or “she insists” – that also recur in our lives, defining and redefining ourselves both within, as conscience or the angel or devil on our shoulders, and without, as any of a host of authority figures and friends or family members.

~*~

Village of Gargoyles

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

PRELUDE & FUGUE 24/

there, in thick grass beside a slow stream
a Jersey heifer
wears telescope goggles to observe
a bragging rival

*   *   *

one with horns turns
to observe the huddled two Holsteins
wait for grain

three in thick grass beside a slow stream
four in a high meadow
four on a green slope, still

a Jersey heifer, a bragging rival with horns
turns to the huddled dairy cows awaiting
grain

three in thick grass beside a slow stream
four brown in a high meadow
along a green slope

a Jersey heifer wears telescope goggles
to observe a bragging rival
with long horns turns

the dairy cows, huddle, waiting
for grain beside a slow stream
and the high green meadow

the inertia, meanwhile, is extraordinary
waiting, huddling, bragging rival
mooing, with horns

turning to observe the inertia
meanwhile, a Jersey heifer wears telescope goggles
to stalk a bragging rival

four brown cattle in a high meadow
four on a green slope
two Holsteins waiting for grain

three in thick grass beside a slow stream
the inertia, meanwhile, is
brown, green, mooing, bragging

the wait for grain
huddled beside a slow stream mooing
in the inertia

meanwhile, a Jersey heifer wears telescope goggles
to observe another cow, its bragging
“meow”

~*~

Poem copyright 2016 by Jnana Hodson
To see all 50 Preludes & Fugues, click here.

ALONG WITH A BREAKTHROUGH, FREE TO PLAY AND TINKER

Somewhere in writing poetry I turned to the concept of “working in series.” Quite simply, this meant investigating a subject repeatedly, often in a similar form. The process allowed multiple takes from different angles and in different lighting, as it were. In music, it could be seen as a theme and variations.

As I recall, the practice for me originated with Braided Double-Cross, itself inspired by The Sonnets by Ted Berrigan, and quickly led to Blue Rock and Long Stemmed Roses in a Shattered Mirror, each with its unique structure and inspiration. (Anne Waldman, for the former; Diane Wakoski, the latter.)

Village of Gargoyles is the latest, often with a specific structure for each of the 10 sections. Some forms run longer than others, which introduces variety. And within each, I’m free to play and tinker.

Admittedly, the 200 poems of my Village fall short of John Berryman’s colossal Dream Songs, but it’s still a prolific output.

~*~

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

 

LOOKING FOR AN IDENTITY

How truly does anyone know himself or herself, much less others, in the end? The poems in Village of Gargoyles spring from experiments in self-identification that spread into human interactions.

While many of the individuals within this collection are identified by occupation, their confessions typically reflect the more intimate concerns of their lives – relationships, activities, even the weather. These are, then, overheard snippets more than public proclamations.

What began as an exercise in self-definition breaks out nonetheless into an entire spectrum of personalities. Do we know any of these people? Or are they somehow eluding us, masked by the bits that are revealed? Those we recognize, moreover, happen by accident – none of these are portraits of actual people, as the disclaimer would go, but rather the inventions of the poet’s imagination and craft.

Chaucer had his pilgrims. I have my village.

Like an actor, you’re invited to slip into each of these 200-plus characters.

Tell me. What makes a community?

~*~

Village of Gargoyles

To see the full collection, simply click here.

REAL DEVELOPMENTS IN THE YEARS SINCE I DRAFTED THAT NOVEL

The years since I drafted Big Inca versus a New Pony Express Rider have brought significant, often dramatic, restoration and redevelopment to long neglected historic mills like the ones at the heart of my novel.

One impetus for the renewal appeared in a handful of towns in Maine, where credit-card giant MBNA transformed old mills into attractive call centers that in turn revitalized local economies. Even after being shut down in a later buyout, the benefits linger, and other developers had concrete models to follow.

Visionary entrepreneurs like the late Joseph Sawtelle here in New Hampshire as well as nonprofit agencies or local government-backed councils entered the picture, making mills in other towns emerge as small-business incubators or readily adaptable buildings for new arrivals, especially enterprises growing rapidly.

And, if the location’s right, they can attract artists of all stripes – painters, sculptors, printers, dancers, musicians, craftsmen, bakers and caterers – as an affordable alternative with natural light and high ceilings. (We love the annual studio tours and open houses in the mills in one nearby town.)

Sometimes the downtown locations lend themselves to conversion into residential condos as well. And then there are universities, health-care organizations, and museums that move in for convenience. (Well, one mill in downtown Manchester, New Hampshire, does have a helicopter pad on the roof.)

In other words, there are some fascinating case studies just about everywhere I turn.  But I still haven’t found any where the top of the tower is turned into a tiny penthouse, not the way Bill did at one point in the novel. I’m still quite fond of that touch.

PRELUDE & FUGUE 44/

no clouds except in the sky as yet
snow sits atop cones
in long-needled pine

*   *   *

in long-needled pine, a gray hill
beyond the snow-covered cones
becomes cloudy sky
yet pussy willows are molting

gray clouds of snowy pine
yet the sky covers cones atop long-needled pine
in the primrose sunrise the snow covers
pussy willows before you believe summer is coming

yes, beyond the snow-covered gray hill
wisps of clouds are melting
into pussy willows and pinecones

with the melting snow atop cones
the long-needled primrose sun sets
in a gray hill of pussy willows
you believe summer is coming

no clouds with the melting
wall atop gray cones

beyond the pussy-willow clouds
with the melting gray wall

birch beyond pussy willows, not clouds
melting the gray wall atop long-needled cones
beyond the pussy willows

~*~

Poem copyright 2016 by Jnana Hodson
To see all 50 Preludes & Fugues, click here.

POETRY SPRINGING FROM WITHIN ITSELF

Here’s a section from a collection of contemporary American sonnets I’ve done along the lines of those by the late and wonderful Ted Berrigan. It’s one of 60 from Braided Double-Cross.

~*~

As I said at the time …

In defining poetry, Berrigan’s concept of a windup toy serves well for me. How basic can I make it? (A single word? Maybe two?) As well as how extended or elaborate!

I still don’t like poetry that’s written as code, an intellectual equation of meaning.

Also, I prefer lines that are long enough to have something happen within each one.

I love when literature (or any art, for that matter) opens as a state of awareness – or fullest existence – which also expands into epiphanies of dancing or singing or perhaps, well, just imagine. Think twice about the chemically aided experiences – pinot, martini, pot? Yes, the Zone, when it graces. In a continuum, with differing specifics.

A set of skills and disciplined thought and, I would hope, tradition / culture. Not that every time I read a book or sit to write I’m there. Indeed, there may be good reasons we cannot dwell long in that Zone (Is it too isolated? Too exclusionary? Self-centered even when we find it occurring in Otherness?) …

A break, then. And then back to work.

~*~

CROSSING XXXVI

A green-streaked sentry flanked by thistles
on every town common is more explicit
than any boom box. Please, my darling, please
don’t let carnal memories expire between us.

I set forth at a disadvantage.
Ribbons of baby oil. Snaking Chinese dragons.
One flesh, lagoons. Trembling like the wind
in shrubs and flowers. You chained

criticism on my Academy of St. Martin
in the wallpaper, provoking blatant spice factory
peppers and cinnamon misrepresentations
of common logic, as if you were running for office.

Without proper camouflage, there’s nothing to repulse
destitution overtaking military-issue fortifications.

Poem copyright by Jnana Hodson
(originally appeared in the journal Plungelit)
For more, click here.

Poetry

Poetry

OUT IN THE STICKS AND STONES

Reflecting on the locations of my novels reminds me of the out-of-the-way places I’ve lived. Apart from Baltimore (which shows up in my poetry but none of my fiction), I landed in generally obscure locales.

Fiction, of course, lends itself to abstraction and generalization, and sometimes to a blending of several particular models.

Thus, Prairie Depot in Promise as well as Peel (as in apple) and With a Passing Freight Train of 119 Cars and Twin Cabooses reflects any number of farm centers across the Midwest, not all of them county seats, either. They’re once-thriving communities that have been left behind in the shift to the big cities and global economics. Sometimes there’s a factory or two, plus the rail yards and crossings.

The countryside around the campus in Daffodil Sunrise is more rolling and wooded, a landscape that also appears in sections of Promise, St. Helens in the Mix, and my newest novel-in-the-works. Actually, it’s not that different from the rural places in Ashram, Hippie Drum, and Hippie Love, either. While these, too, are economically and politically bypassed, they are more scenic and present more recreational opportunities to explore.

Rehoboth in Hometown News represents the industrial cities hard-hit by globalization and the loss of unionized labor job – places aptly described as the Rust Belt, from Upstate New York and Pennsylvania westward across the Mississippi.

Big Inca versus a New Pony Express Rider takes place in yrUBbury, a derelict but sufficiently remote mill town somewhere in the Northeast.

Naturally, Subway Hitchhikers and Third Rail run through the big city.

And the desert interior of the Pacific Northwest is the culmination of Promise, Peel (as in apple), St. Helens in the Mix, and Kokopelli’s Hornpipe. It’s a landscape I initially found alien but eventually came to love.

Essentially, I’ve regarded these places as characters in my fiction – as much as the people who move through them.

Popular culture takes place largely in Manhattan, Hollywood, London, Paris, Chicago, or Nashville – with dashes of San Francisco, Seattle, or other trendy backdrops thrown in. I believe the communities where we live influences our outlooks and actions. I want to hear much more from the other places, ones as overlooked as the ones I explore.