Saturday, January 31, 2015

Martha Jane Orlando’s “Revenge!”


Racer, the talking squirrel, is back.

I never imagined I would get attached to a talking squirrel, but I did.

Racer. Once called Gray, is one of the leading characters of Martha Jane Orlando’s Glade series, three children’s books: A Trip, A Tryst, and a Terror; Children in the Garden; and The Moment of Truth. That series began with a boy, Davy Murray, still mourning the death of his military father and resenting his mother Sarah’s remarriage to Jim, facing the prospect of an awful summer away from friends and his computer, “imprisoned” in Jim’s father’s rural home. He’s discovered by Gray, a talking squirrel no one else can see, who lives in the nearby forest with the other “Old Ones” – animals that talk and do other wondrous things.

The focus of the stories was Davy – a special kid, a “chosen one” who is the only human who can see the Old Ones.

Revenge! (Adventures in the Glade) picks up where the trilogy left off – returning home after a celebration in The Glade in the forest for Davy, his family, and all of the Old Ones. What was being celebrating was the upending of plans by Jim’s cousin Ronnie to bulldoze the forest and replace it with homes.

Martha Jane Orlando
Racer isn’t the only one who’s back. So is Cousin Ronnie. You can’t keep a good villain down. Ronnie, suspecting that animals helped Jim and his family stop his plans, takes his two sons into the forest for some mindless hunting – firing at will with aiming at anything in particular. And then things get really interesting, and dangerous.

I love these stories. They’re good in their own right, something any child would enjoy, but they are also quietly filled with Biblical imagery. They are about grace, and redemption, and about the giving of one’s life so that others might live.

My only complaint is that Orlando brings the story to a fever pitch – and then leave me wanting more. I have to wait until the second volume is published in May.

But Racer is back!



Photograph by Larisa Koshkina via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Robert Dugoni’s “My Sister’s Grave”


Tracy Crosswhite is Seattle’s first female homicide detective. Her hometown, Cedar Grove, Washington, is about two hours west. There’s no one left for her in Cedar Grove; her parents are dead, and her only sibling, a younger sister named Sarah, disappeared when she was 18. Her body was never found; but a prison felon, who had just been released for rape of a minor, was arrested and convicted.

Something was wrong, though, and Tracy knew it. Her pursuit what actually happened to Sarah destroyed her marriage. And then 20 years after Tracy disappeared, her body is found. And what’s clear is that the man convicted for her death couldn’t have done it.

Tracy is determined to learn the truth, whatever the cost. And there are people who prefer she do no such thing.

My Sister’s Grave is writer Robert Dugoni’s ninth novel and the first in what is planned as a Tracy Crosswhite series. And he’s a popular writer – My Sister’s Grave has more than 5,000 reviews on Amazon.

Robert Dugoni
His heroine is unusual – over 40 years old, attractive, and tough. She makes mistakes. She sometimes offends people, and especially her boss’s boss. But she’s also relentless, and now she’s coming close to finding the truth, even if it means putting her own life at risk. She runs into a childhood friend who’s moved back to Cedar Grove from Boston, leaving behind a successful law practice and a failed marriage. He becomes Tracy’s ally, and her love interest.

Dugoni skillfully builds the tension, and the story’s crisis begins to happen sooner than expected. He heightens the tension to the point where the reader is tempted to turn to the last page to see if Tracy will survive or not (I did not succumb to the temptation) (but I thought about it).

My Sister’s Grave is part mystery, part police procedural, part legal thriller – all combined into an extremely satisfying story.



Photograph by Junior Libby via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Legend reborn


Erupting from the sands
and scrub, friend of scorpions
and snakes, it bleats
an incessant murmur of muted
mechanization, pulsing,
feeding on electrons streamed
live and in color, coming
to a theater near you as soon
as it finishes its Broadway run

A temple, a pyramid, a ziggurat
of sacrificed doom, exerting
an incessant magnetism,

Osiris steps into his coffin
once again, confident he knows
better, this time. Isis waits,
knowing this time she becomes
the goddess of the underworld,
the sword of the caliphate,
living the nightmare
she creates


Painting: Osiris and Isis, oil and acrylic emulsion by Anselm Kiefer (1985-1987); San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The painting was included in the Royal Academy of Arts exhibition "Anselm Kiefer" in London, which was shown Sept. 27 to Dec. 14, 2014.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Vicar of Baghdad


It seemed to be just another noise from the troubled Mideast, those reports of fighting in Iraq and Syria. If we were aware of them at all, they seem to be the continued sectarian warfare in Iraq and the civil war in Syria. And then an Anglican priest in Baghdad raised the alarm.

ISIS.

We started paying attention, and realized that was something far beyond the norm of what seems to pass for normal life in the Mideast. An army. Atrocities. Massacres. Every bit as bad as Boko Harum in Nigeria. And then Mosul, a city of one million people, fell to ISIS.

The Anglican priest was Andrew White. And he is a vicar – of St. George’s Church in Baghdad. But he’s also known as the Vicar of Baghdad. He’s seen his face on a wanted poster, has to travel with a bodyguard of some two dozen soldiers, has experienced explosions and bombings, and has seen friends and colleagues be kidnapped and never heard from again.

Few Christians have experienced that kind of call to service.

He’s written several books; I’ve now read two of them: The Vicar of Baghdad (2009) and Faith Under Fire (2011). I found the first in the gift shop of Southwark Cathedral in London, where White was ordained, and the second at St. Martins-in the-Fields.

He tells amazing stories. Many read like thriller suspense fiction. Except his are true.

Andrew White was just completing training as an EMT with St. Thomas Hospital (just south of the Thames across from Parliament and Big Ben) when he experienced what he could only describe as a clear call to the Anglican priesthood. He had been attending an Anglican church but had been raised Baptist. He’s become something that’s neither Baptist nor what we expect of Anglicans – a priest who’s seen miracles among the people of his church in Baghdad, experienced and seen angels of protection, and recognizes when believers speak in tongues.

In The Vicar of Baghdad, White describes how he came to be a priest, and the rather surprisingly short route he took from there to his first experience in Middle Eastern politics, working to secure agreement and cooperation among the various faiths represented in Israel and Palestine. Part of that short route including training and study in Israel, and it was there he came to understand the need to study and understand Islam. During this time he also realized that God had called him to mission in the Middle East. From the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, White moved to what was happening in Iraq. He was already involved in Iraq but was in England when 9-11 occurred. The war in Iraq followed in 2003.

White moved, and still moves, easily among household names – leaders in Israel and Hamas, Yassir Arafat (while he was still alive), politicians, church leaders and imams.

In Faith Under Fire, White repeats some of the framework information of The Vicar of Baghdad, but this is more about his faith and the faith of the people he cares for in Baghdad, as it plays out in the day-to-day reality of civil warfare and unrest. I’m glad I read the two books together, because the first is largely an account of what he does while the second is more about what he believes – and how his faith suffuses and motivates what he does.

And while he refers to it only rarely, his service comes with a cost. One is separation from his wife and two sons, who live in England. The other is that he has multiple sclerosis, diagnosed shortly before his first Mideast experience.

Andrew White, the vicar of Baghdad, would tell us that he’s just a man. And he is. But he’s been used by God in amazing ways.



Photograph of Andrew White courtesy of The Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Poets and Poems: David Harsent and “Fire Songs”


Last week I discussed I Knew the Bride by Hugo Williams, shortlisted but not the winner of the T.S. Eliot Prize of the Poetry Book Society, founded in 1953 by T.S. Eliot and friends. In the UK, this is the poetry prize to win, carrying with it a 20,000 pound award (about $36,000). I was so taken with Williams’ poems that I wondered just how good the winner was.

So I read it: Fire Songs by David Harsent.

It begins with what is undoubtedly a fire song – “Fire: a song for Mistress Askew” – a rather graphic account of a woman being burned at the stake, with enough Old English lines worked in to add an air of historic reality. (As it turns out, Mistress Anne Askew, a Protestant poet, was arrested several times, found guilty of heresy and, after torture in the Tower of London, burned at the stake in 1546. She was 26.

You read Harsent’s poem, and you suffer alongside Mistress Askew. And it is a long poem.


To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.

Monday, January 26, 2015

On Being a Writer: Discovering Who You Are


When did I first decide I was a writer?

Perhaps it was when I was 10, and wrote a mystery story longhand.

It might have been the summer before I started journalism school in college, and I had to teach myself to type (it was a required skill for journalism). Or later that same year, when I received a B+ on my first class assignment with the note, “Not bad for a cub.” Or when the grader for my American history class gave me an A on a test, with a scribbled “well written essay” at the top of the first page.

I know that by the time I was writing speeches for other people, around 1975 or 1976, I was also writing short stories.

For more than 35 years of my career, I’ve been involved in speechwriting. It’s perhaps the toughest job in corporate communications (or any other kind of communications). You’re writing for another person. To do your job well, you have to write like that person speaks. That means you have to listen more than you talk.

Speechwriting is also a rather anonymous, despite the tendency of presidential speechwriters to rush out with a memoir as soon as they’ve left the West Wing of the White House. Someone else takes credit for everything you write in a speech. That is, unless the speech doesn’t go well. Then it’s all your fault.

Most people in communications hate speechwriting.

If you’re writing for the CEO, you have to keep reminding yourself you’re not the CEO’s friend, or even his or her colleague, no matter how friendly the CEO might seem. You’re there as a professional writer. I’ve seen several careers flame out because the writer though he or she was the CEO’s friend, chatting the CEO up, repeating things the CEO said, sharing the CEO’s jokes. All of those activities tell everyone that the writer has a bad self-image, and is seeking to inflate his or her importance.

I didn’t mind the anonymity. I did mind being at the CEO’s beck-and-call on nights and weekends. I did like the largely solitary work. I didn’t like the politics surrounding the CEO’s speeches. One CEO I worked for was so sensitive that he had one hard and fast rule: no one in the company could see his speech drafts unless they came and asked him face-to-face for permission.

That cut out a lot of requests from people to “just give the draft a quick read,” usually spoken with an ingratiating smile.

Speechwriting taught me to write with a voice, and that the best speeches were the ones that expressed emotion in the right way and in the right places. It taught me that the most critical part of the job was not the writing but the listening. I learned to listen, and listen hard. Speechwriting also taught me to interpret, and how, for example, to translate a rant that I didn’t know how to write into a CEO’s unspoken fear of speaking to a minority audience. And it taught me know when the time had come to confront the CEO about his abuse (you don’t do something like that lightly or without a lot of forethought about the possible consequences).

I had also been around the speechwriting life long enough to know that it is very rare for a speechwriter to write effectively for both the CEO and his or her successor. Too much baggage can get in the way, and usually does. So you have to know when it’s time to do something else.

In On Being a Writer: 12 Simple Habits for a Writing Life That Lasts, Ann Kroeker (co-author with Charity Craig) says that “writing is more than what I do or coach. I discover who I am.” It teaches you about how you think, how you react, what you believe is important, what cannot be compromised, and what is superfluous.

What you read on a printed page or computer screen, no matter what the subject might be, tells you more about the writer than what is written.


Photograph by Linnaea Mallette via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Better at night


Better at night
than in day that
I come to ask my question
my question to which
I know the answer
but the asking is what
is important, a parched sponge
in need of water.

And the answer comes,
obliterating the question:
I am taken down a path
I did not expect, a path
I did not know
existed.

I ask my question at night,
better at night, He answers
my question with day,
confounding the night.

Can I be reborn in the flesh,
can I be reborn in the spirit,
can I be whitened
in pale linen, cleaned,
my heart restored not
to what it was but to what
it was meant to be;
can I be reborn?

Yes, he says, the possible
is an imperative.


Photograph: Study for Jesus and Nicodemus by Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937); study painted 1898-1899.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Nice Guys Finish…What?


I’m reading the newspaper one Tuesday morning, and there on the obituary page I see a photo with a story about a local retired executive who had died of cancer.

I stared. I could barely comprehend the words.

I wrote speeches for this man for four years, some of the best speeches I’ve ever written. I loved working for him. He was smart, capable, a quiet kind of leader, and somehow he had managed to work his way through the ranks and arrive at the executive building.

To continue reading, please see today’s edition of the Patheos Work and Faith Channel of The High Calling. The article was originally published by The High Calling.


Photograph by Petr Kratochvil via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Cheryl Shireman’s “Cooper Moon: The Calling”


Cooper Moon drinks too much, has trouble holding down a job, and is irresistible to virtually any women in the small town in Michigan he lives in. His long-suffering wife Sally has no illusions about her errant, wandering husband, but she also finds him irresistible, especially when she looks into his eyes. They live in a trailer (mobile home being too fancy a word). Sally works at a local diner. Cooper works wherever he can find employment. 

And then Cooper has an epiphany. He discovers he believes in God, and that God is telling him to build a church. He has no idea where to build it or how to pay for it, but he knows that he’s supposed to build a church. 

Cooper Moon: The Calling by Cheryl Shireman is Cooper Moon’s story. And it’s a surprise. It’s the kind of novel you might expect to find set in the Deep South, like Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop CafĂ© by Fannie Flagg or Crazy in Alabama by Mark Childress. Instead, it’s set in Michigan. Who knew people in Michigan could be as crazy as people in the Deep South? (I can ask that question; I was born and raised in the Deep South.) 

Cheryl Shireman
Shireman keeps us guessing throughout the entire story. Will Cooper build his church? Will he finish it before an irate husband burns it down? And what about the irate wives, none of whom are pleased with Cooper’s new direction? Or the pastor of the big church in town who doesn’t like the idea of competition?  

Carefully and almost joyfully the author weaves these stories together with several others, including the town’s police officer whose wife desperately wants a baby and instead has to deal with her mother-in-law slipping into dementia, and his brother who’s in serious training for a reality TV show, and Sally Moon herself becoming entrepreneurial, and characters (female) trying to dissuade Cooper – some rather strenuously – from his new calling. 

This is one rollicking novel, and you’re never quite sure what’s going to happen next. But there is a sequel – Cooper Moon: The Temptation – and Shireman is working on a third novel in the series. 

When I started reading it, I wasn’t quite sure where this story was going to go. But I held on. And I’m glad I did. (And it's currently free on Amazon Kindle.)

The Deep South arrives in Michigan!

Friday, January 23, 2015

A Community of Four – For a Week


The church had never quite had a short-term mission team like this one.

A chemist. A retired engineer. And a PR guy / writer.

Our assignment: An eight-day trip to Eastern Europe, with a whirlwind itinerary: Budapest, Prague, Dresden, Brno, and back to Budapest. We were to interview missionaries, to help with their support-raising efforts; film the world of the mission underway across cities in Eastern Europe; do a short film to help with fundraising to buy a permanent building for the mission in Budapest. And prepare a series of reports that could be used by the mission agency back in the United States.

None of us had been to Eastern Europe before.

The retired engineer – Jack – manned the video camera. I was the writer and interviewer. The chemist – Steve – was the gaffer, trip manager, equipment manager, and general factotum.

We trained for months – studied, planned, discussed, and met. We practiced interviewing missionaries. We pored over maps and some of the history and background of the places we would be visiting and the people we would be meeting. We also spent time getting to know each other. And somewhere in that time the team became a small community.

Once we landed in Budapest, we would have a fourth member of the team – Gary, one of the permanent missionaries. He would be our guide, chauffeur, teacher, answerer of questions, hotel finder, translator, and church and mission office locator (a sort of human MapQuest).

The mission in Budapest was enthusiastic, we were enthusiastic, and our home church coordinator was enthusiastic. The national mission agency and our own church missions committee were less enthusiastic. We were different. They had never heard of such a team before. Was this more of a vacation than a “real mission trip?” A communications team? Really?

Still, we flew to Budapest. We were waiting for our baggage at the Budapest airport when we learned our overscheduled itinerary had just been thrown out the window. Erfurt in Germany had been added as an itinerary stop, about three to four hours from Dresden (and we drove like Americans, not Germans).

Gary, our driver, slipped right into our little community as if he’d been there all along. He explained what we might see along the roadsides and near border crossings in the two countries with legalized prostitution (he was right). He got us through back streets in the dark of night to find our hotels. As we approached one border crossing, he told us to remove our jackets and throw them across the camera equipment, to discourage confiscation by the border guards.

Four countries, eight days. On our way to Dresden, we stopped for dinner at a restaurant in the Sudeten Mountains, where no one spoke English and all conversation stopped when we walked in. (The menu was, fortunately, in Czech and German; my college German was sufficient to figure out what we could eat.)

We were in cities and suburbs, large towns and small. We filmed interviews with almost 20 missionaries. We filmed the building in Budapest the mission hoped to buy. I wrote story and after story. We ate tomatoes together for breakfast, and had a lunch at the McDonalds in Chemnitz, Germany. We walked down Wenceslas Square together in Prague, and across the Charles Bridge.

Our little community worked. We carried each other’s bags and equipment. We became something of a cohesive news crew, especially when we found ourselves right in the middle of the biggest news story in Europe – the murder of 16 people at a high school in Erfurt. It was at that school and the small church nearby whose pastor was ministering to the bereaved families where we met the Holy Spirit.

Most of the writing and film editing work happened after we were home. Did our community succeed at its task?

Missionaries were helped with support, and their video reports sent to their home churches and supporters. The video for the hoped-for mission building in Budapest succeeded in helping raise the needed funds. The people working in the mission were encouraged.

And we, our little band of three plus one, were changed. Forever.


Over at The High Calling, a community linkup has been posted for the theme of the power of community. If you have a story about community, or even just want to read what others have to say, please visit The High Calling.


Photograph of Budapest traffic by Mick Lissone via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Not listening


I listen, at first,
to a presentation, informal,
on the business climate in Brazil,
and I think Rio, I feel the hot sands
of Ipanema and Copacabana
under my feet and the smells
of carnival’s flamboyance
and excess assault my nose until
I turn to the mountain
with its huge statue of Jesus
welcoming all with his arms
rigidly straight, not unlike
his arms on the cross.


Photograph of the statue of Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, via pixgood.com.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Marilynne Robinson’s “Lila”


She is a small child, perhaps three. She is told to sit on the back steps as a punishment for whining. And so she does, until an older woman comes along and takes her into the woods, and to a home not far away. The woman’s name is Doll; the little girl’s name is Lila. Doll becomes the closest thing to what Lila will remember as a mother. Eventually they leave the house in the woods and become part of a great wave of migrant workers in the 1920s, moving from place to place in the United States, going wherever the work is. 

This is the story of Lila, the latest novel by Marilynne Robinson and the third of her Gilead trilogy, following Gilead (2004) and Home (2008). It’s a remarkable work, traveling the mind of a woman from where she is to where she’s come from. 

Like all "Interior" biographies, nothing happens chronologically. Lila recalls her life in bits and snatches, stories and events, and the people with whom she traveled and grew up with. The references to living and working in St. Louis, for example, happen in seemingly random fashion; while we know it was a bad experience, only gradually do we learn what the experience actually was. 

That is representative of the novel as a whole. The streams of Lila’s life unfold in eddies and ponds, eventually fusing into a whole river of memory. This is all coming together because, despite the decades difference in their ages, she has married John Ames, the local pastor in Gilead, whom she meets when she takes shelter from a storm in his church, and she is carrying his child. 

Marilynne Robinson
It’s not only the substance of her memory and life that’s important, but also how she tells the story. She’s had some schooling, once for almost an entire school year when she and Doll stayed in one place for several months. But she thinks differently, and sees differently, and only rarely does she share those differences. Because of what her life has been, she is always prepared to leave, and she knows that once her husband dies, she will likely leave with their child. This image of loss and potential loss, loss with its implied rootlessness, is a shadow throughout the novel. 

Lila is rather amazed at the goodness and grace John Ames extends to her, and it is through that grace that she finds the ability to extend grace herself, to others as well as herself. 

Christianity Today has named Lila the 2015 Book of the Year for fiction, and the novel is one of five finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction. 

And with good reason. It’s a wonderful story.

Photograph by Ken Kistler via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Poets and Poems: Hugo Williams and “I Knew the Bride”


Last week, the Poetry Book Society in the U.K. announced the winner of the 2014 T.S. Eliot Prize, given to an original work published in English in Ireland and the United Kingdom. It’s Britain’s most prestigious poetry award; this year, winning the prize meant 20,000 pounds (about $35,000); the 10 shortlisted poets got 1,500 pounds. The T.S. Eliot Estate has become the sole sponsor of the prize.

This year’s winner was David Harsent for Fire Songs; this is also the fifth year Harsent has made the short list. The competition was strong; seven of the nominees had been shortlisted for the prize before, and three of them had actually one it. One of the three previous winners was Hugo Williams; he was nominated for the 2014 prize for I Knew the Bride, his eleventh collection of poetry.

I had just finished reading I Knew the Bride when I read about the prize winners. If Harsent’s work could beat the volume by Williams, it must be something extraordinary, because I Knew the Bride is marvelous.

To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.

Monday, January 19, 2015

And the Word is: Platform

The year 2013 was not the easiest for me or my family.

My mother had to be moved from her home of 58 years to a retirement home, which meant the “breaking up” of her house and the breaking up of where her three sons had spent most of their formative years.

Work, normally a state a barely controlled chaos, dropped the “barely controlled” and went through severe regime change and was rather suddenly “under new management.” Work demands on my time escalated, and sharply.

I was trying to get a book manuscript completed (what was eventually published as Poetry at Work) and I know I was driving the editor frantic (on a good day) and off the cliff (on a bad day) as we struggled, or I struggled, to get it done. I was also trying to promote my second novel, A Light Shining, published right at the end of 2012. That was three books published in two years.

I wasn’t think a lot about marketing and promotion.

I don’t have a household name. I don’t have three million people following me on Twitter, or hundreds of thousands of likes on Facebook or Google+. I’m not on the public speaking circuit.

To use the word that is the Holy Grail of agents and publishers everywhere, I don’t have a platform. Or if I do, my platform is barely big enough to hold me and two or three friends.

Publishers like authors with a pre-existing platform – it helps guarantee sales, and publishers like to make money. That’s how they stay in business. It makes perfectly good business sense for a publisher to contract with, say, Justin Bieber, rather than a more literary author. (It also provides an interesting commentary on the state of American culture, but that’s another story.)

For an author, it’s only marginally easier if you write non-fiction rather than fiction. Self-help has been a major publishing category for much of the last 100 years. If you have a method or a formula that will seemingly help lots of people do something they want to do – get hired, lose weight, deal with difficult relatives, conquer depression – then you have a pre-existing platform and audience. And the publisher may help you find it.

But you, the author, have to work at it. I know the writer’s mantra – “I’m a writer not a marketer” and “I’m an introvert not a gifted public speaker” (been there, done that) – but the fact is that self-promotion of what you write isn’t a luxury. Even the best and biggest publishers won’t do that for you, unless your name is Jan Karon, Max Lucado or Karen Kingsbury in Christian publishing or Stephen King and James Patterson in general publishing.

So what about the rest of us?

In On Being a Writer: 12 Simple Habits for a Writing Life That Lasts, Ann Kroeker (co-author with Charity Craig) has something simple yet profound to say about this, and based on her own experience: “Promotion and marketing – whether speaking, radio interviews, social media interaction – are best positioned as an extension of the original book (or story or poem) a writer felt compelled to write down and submit for broader distribution.”

In other words, the promotion and marketing you do for your writing is simply an extension of the story you’ve already written.

I stumbled partially (and rather marginally) into this with A Light Shining. To help promote the book, I interviewed the two lead characters as if they were real people (and for me, they had become essentially real people). While this didn’t result in a massive increase in sales (in fact, I’m not sure of it increased sales at all), it’s this kind of approach – understanding that your story doesn’t stop at the end of the book – that will lead you in the direction of creating and building a “platform.”

And this, too: your reading audience isn’t going to magically find you. You have to find the audience.

Unfortunately, that takes work, work that isn’t strictly writing. Seeing is as an extension of your writing, part of the same creative process, will help.


Photograph by Petr Kratochvil via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The water of anticipation


He still remembers a time
when it was not desert,
not locusts and honey. But
the memory is fading,
blurring around breaking
edges where real meets
imagination

his mother’s touch, soft
voice, his father’s arm
to lean on, the rabbi’s
prayer, men reading
from the scrolls
of parchment, yellow
and brittle

he walked into the desert,
his parents’ eyes on his back,
his tangled hair; he has not
seen them since but
the longing is paired
with contentment, often

he knows his place, what
he is to do, to say, and so he
begins to talk to rocks and
bees and snakes and scorpions
and birds, anything that moves,
at first, until one or two hear
and remain, then the others

after the words come
the words with water, standing
in the river, the one they crossed
for the promise. He watches
the crowds as he talks,

looking, waiting,
anticipating


Photograph by Lila Frerichs via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Mr. Turner: The Movie That’s a Painting


When we visited London in 2012, one of our “sights” was the Tate Britain, and one of our “sights” at the Tate Britain was the collection of paintings by J.M.W. Turner (1775 to 1851), the British artist who changed landscape painting forever. You see his paintings and you think Impressionism, you think contemporary art. You don’t think the first half of the 19th century.

Last fall, when we returned to London, we saw a special exhibition at the Tate Britain – Late Turner: Painting Set Free, which focused on his work from the latter part of his life. It’s a wonderful exhibition, and it’s still on through Jan. 25. Of all the paintings in the show, the one that appealed to me most was the watercolor pictured above – The Blue Rigi, Sunrise.

Last night we went to see Mr. Turner, the movie by Mike Leigh (he also wrote the screenplay). The movie, starring Timothy Spall in the title role, is almost “ekphrastic” – a film (or work of art) about another work of art. In many respects, watching the movie is like watching Turner’s paintings. From what I’ve read of Turner’s life and art, Spall captures the man almost exactly. Turner was not without controversy, some of it well deserved, and Spall plays the artist very well indeed. If you’re interested in Turner, his art, or early Victorian Britain, it’s a movie to see.

Here’s the movie’s trailer:




If you’re interested in reading about Turner, four books I’d recommend are:

Turner by Michael Bockemuhl (1991, republished in 2007)

J.M.W. Turner: The Man Who Set Painting on Fire by Olivier Meslay (2005; reprinted in 2011).

Turner by Peter Ackroyd (2006) (Ackroyd has written about virtually everything else in British history, and he does well with Turner and his art.)

J.M.W.Turner: Painting Set Free (2014) – the book that accompanies the exhibition at the Tate Britain.


Painting: The Blue Rigi, Sunrise, watercolor on paper by J.M.W. Turner (1842), Tate Britain, London.