Anthology: Poetry

Like visual art and music, the world of poetry is also full of seasonally-inspired works, from Frost’s snowy woods to Shakespeare’s summer sonnets. The following represent two sets of seasonal poems examining Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, one set from the northern hemisphere and the other from the southern, in this case exclusively Australian bush poetry. The contrasts are interesting and readily apparent. Where the northern poets described distinct climactic features easily recognisable from the bias of classical canonic art, the bush poets experienced the seasons in terms of rains, crops, the quality of light and the subtle changes in flora and fauna.


NORTHERN HEMISPHERE

Vernal Equinox
Amy Lowell, 1874 – 1925

The scent of hyacinths, like a pale mist, lies

between me and my book;
And the South Wind, washing through the room,
Makes the candles quiver.
My nerves sting at a spatter of rain on the shutter,
And I am uneasy with the thrusting of green shoots
Outside, in the night.

Why are you not here to overpower me with your

tense and urgent love?

 

Summer Song
William Carlos Williams, 1883 – 1963

Wanderer moon
smiling a
faintly ironical smile
at this
brilliant, dew-moistened
summer morning,—
a detached
sleepily indifferent
smile, a
wanderer’s smile,—
if I should
buy a shirt
your color and
put on a necktie
sky-blue
where would they carry me?

 

October
Robert Frost, 1874 – 1963

O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
To-morrow’s wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;
To-morrow they may form and go.
O hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow,
Make the day seem to us less brief.
Hearts not averse to being beguiled,
Beguile us in the way you know;
Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf;
One from our trees, one far away;
Retard the sun with gentle mist;
Enchant the land with amethyst.
Slow, slow!
For the grapes’ sake, if they were all,
Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost—
For the grapes’ sake along the wall.

 

To Winter
William Blake, 1757 – 1827

O Winter! bar thine adamantine doors:
The north is thine; there hast thou built thy dark
Deep-founded habitation. Shake not thy roofs
Nor bend thy pillars with thine iron car.
He hears me not, but o’er the yawning deep
Rides heavy; his storms are unchain’d, sheathed
In ribbed steel; I dare not lift mine eyes;
For he hath rear’d his scepter o’er the world.
Lo! now the direful monster, whose skin clings
To his strong bones, strides o’er the groaning rocks:
He withers all in silence, and in his hand
Unclothes the earth, and freezes up frail life.
He takes his seat upon the cliffs, the mariner
Cries in vain. Poor little wretch! that deal’st
With storms; till heaven smiles, and the monster
Is driven yelling to his caves beneath Mount Hecla.

 


SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE 

September in Australia
Henry Kendall (1839-1882)

Grey winter hath gone, like a wearisime guest,
And, behold, for repayment,
September comes in with the wind of the West
And the spring in her raiment!
The ways of the frost have been filled of the flowers,
While the forest discovers
Wild wings, with the halo of hyaline hours
And the music of lovers.

September, the maid with the swift, silver feet!
She glides, and she graces
The valleys of coolness, the slopes of the heat,
With her blossomy traces;
Sweet month, with a mouth that is made of a rose,
She lightens and lingers
In spots where the harp of the evening glows,
Attuned by her fingers.

The stream from it’s home in the hollow hill slips
In a darling old fashion;
And the day goeth down with a song on its lips
whose key-note is passion;
Far out in the fierce, bitter front of the sea
I stand, and remember
Dead things that were brothers and sisters of thee,
Resplendent September.

The West, when it blows at the fall of the noon
And beats on the beaches,
Is filled with tender and tremulous tune
That touches and teaches;
The stories of youth, of the burden of time,
And the death of devotion,
Come back with the wind, and are themes of the rhyme
In the waves of the ocean.

We, having a secret to others unknown,
In the cool mountain-mosses,
May whisper together, September, alone
Of our loves and our loses.
One word for her beauty, and one for the grace
She gave to the hours;
And then we may kiss her, and suffer her face
to sleep with the flowers.

Oh, season of changes – of shadow and shine –
September the splendid!
My song hath no music to mingle with thine,
And its burden is ended;
But thou, being born of the winds and the sun,
By mountain, by river,
Mayst lighten and listen, and loiter and run,
With thy voices for ever.

 

Summer
Louis Lavater (1867 – 1953)

I am weary,
Weary of bracing myself against the sun’s hot hand;
I am weary, and I dream of cool places . . . .

I see a grassy couch
Under a canopy of leaves;
A reedy river murmers by,
Crooning an old, old melody
Tuned to a long-forgotten scale,
Made when the world was young.

Rolled to the river’s edge the hills lie fast asleep;
Pale stars slip o’er their ledge and sink into the deep:
Down in the deep they sink to slumbrous peace,
Down in the deep they drink the water of peace;
In the quiet deep they quench their fires in sleep
And drown in a cool green dream.

The sun insists his burning hand upon my head;
I am weary, and I dream of cool places.

 

When the Sun’s Behind the Hill
C J Dennis (1876 – 1938)

There’s a soft and peaceful feeling
Comes across the farming hand
As the shadows go a-stealing
Slow along the new-turned land.
The lazy curling smoke above the thatch is showing blue,
And the weary old plough horses wander homeward two ‘n’ two,
With their chains a’clinkin’, clankin’, when their daily toil is through,
And the sun’s behnd the hill.
Then it’s slowly homeward plodding
As the night begins to creep,
And the barley grass is nodding
To the daisies, all asleep,
The crows are flying heavily, and cawing overhead;
The sleepy milking cows are lowing sof’ly in the shed,
And above them, in the rafters, all the fowls have gone to bed,
When the sun&’s behind the hill.
Then it’s “Harry, feed old Roaney!”
And it’s “Bill, put up the rail!”
And it’s “Tom, turn out the pony!”
“Mary, hurry with the pail!”
And the kiddies run to meet us, and are begging for a ride
On the broad old “Prince” and “Darkey” they can hardly sit astride;
And mother, she is bustling with the supper things inside,
When the sun&’s behind the hill.
Then it’s sitting down and yarning
When we’ve had our bite and sup,
And the mother takes her darning,
And Bess tells how the baldy cow got tangled in the wire,
And Katie keeps the baby-boy from tumbling in the fire;
And the baccy smoke goes curling as I suck my soothing briar,
When the sun’s behind the hill.
And we talk about the season,
And of how it’s turning out,
And we try to guess the reason
For the long-continued drought,
Oh! a farmer’s life ain’t roses and his work is never done:
And a job’s no sooner over than another is begun.
For he’s toiling late and early from the rising of the sun
Till he sinks behind the hill.
But it grows, that peaceful feeling
While I’m sitting smoking there,
And the kiddies all are kneeling
To repeat their ev’ning prayer;
For it seems, somehow, to lighten all the care that must be bore
When the things of life are worrying, and times are troubling sore;
And I pray that God will keep them when my own long-day is o’er,
And the sun’s behind the hill.

 

A Ballade of Wattle Blossom
R Richardson

There’s a land that is happy and fair,
Set gem-like in halcyon seas;
The white winters visit not there,
To sadden its blossoming leas,
More bland than the Hesperides,
Or any warm isle of the West,
Where the wattle-bloom perfumes the breeze,
Ant the bell-bird builds her nest.

When the oak and the elm are bare,
And wild winds vex the shuddering trees;
There the clematis whitens the air,
And the husbandman laughs as he sees
The grass rippling green to his knees,
And his vineyards in emerald drest–
Where the wattle-bloom bends in the breeze,
And the bell-bird builds her nest.

What land is with this to compare?
Not the green hills of Hybia, with bees
Honey-sweet, are more radiant and rare
In colour and fragrance than these
Boon shores, where the storm-clouds cease,
And the wind and the wave are at rest–
Where the wattle-bloom waves in the breeze,
And the bell-bird builds her nest.

 

Elise Janes

 

All poems are in the public domain and sourced from http://www.poets.org and http://australianpoems.tripod.com

 

Anthology: Art & Music

The seasons have long inspired artists across all disciplines, both singularly and as a complete cyclic whole. Here is a representation of some of those sets from visual artists and composers around the world and from the Renaissance period through to the Twentieth Century.

 

Giuseppe Arcimboldo
(1526-1593) Italian

Arcimboldo’s portraits are among today’s most recognisable Mannerist paintings, particularly his portrayal of the Four Seasons, two of which are on display in the Louvre. Mannerism was an artistic movement that straddled the Renaissance and Baroque periods and focused on the connection between humans and nature.

“Arcimboldo also tried to show his appreciation of nature through his portraits. In The Spring, the human portrait was composed of only various spring flowers and plants. From the hat to the neck, every part of the portrait, even the lips and nose, was composed of flowers, while the body was composed of plants. On the other hand, in The Winter, the human was composed mostly of roots of trees. Some leaves from evergreen trees and the branches of other trees became hair, while a straw mat became the costume of the human portrait.” (from Wikipedia)

 

Nicolas Poussin
(1594-1665) Italian

Painted only 100 years after Arcimboldo’s portraits, between 1660 and 1664, Poussin’s series portrays the seasons through allegorical landscapes, focusing on the grandeur of nature and it’s power over man rather than the Mannerist depiction of intimate connection. Commissioned for the Duc de Richelieu, the nephew of Cardinal Richelieu, Poussin’s series symbolises the seasons through Old Testament episodes.

 

Antonio Vivaldi
(1678-1741) Italian

Composed a half-century after Poussin’s series, Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons (Le quattro stagioni) are arguably the most recognisable pieces of Art music in the world today. The suite is a set of four violin concertos, each representing a sonnet describing one of the four seasons. Firmly Baroque in style, the concertos are balanced, evocative and virtuosic.

 

Astor Piazzolla 

(1921-1992) Argentinian

Contrasting in style to Vivaldi’s concertos, Piazzolla’s Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas, also known as the The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires, is a modern chamber music suite representing the season’s in Piazzolla’s native Argentina. Composed in the twentieth century, the suite is a set of four tango compositions scored for Piazzolla’s quintet of violin (viola), piano, electric guitar, double bass and bandoneón.

Elise Janes

See the Anthology of Poetry.

On “October”

U2OctoberU2 are arguably one of the biggest rock’n’roll bands in the world. Generally speaking, they behave like one of the biggest rock’n’roll bands in the world without tripping over themselves or their work as humanitarian fact totems. It’s all about the music, and with Bono’s thoroughbred falsetto and the Edge’s signature guitar, U2 have carved out a kind of sonic trademark that can be traced back to their debut album Boy released in 1980. The following year they released October, with a title track that stands out from U2’s stable of songs for being so unremarkably simple and restrained. It’s just the Edge on piano, and Bono. And although it’s not a particularly short song for the format, at two four line verses and no chorus or build or quirky middle-eight to set things off, it feels brief. Like it’s over before it began. Or there’s nothing to it. Bono called October an interlude, a cold, slow, pared back, weighed down, moody evocation of winter. An Irish winter. The indifferent inevitability of it. Its through to your bones and soul.

October

And the trees are stripped bare

Of all they wear

What do I care?

October

And kingdoms rise

And kingdoms fall

But you go on

ImaginationDeadImagineBono’s description of October as an interlude on an album full of songs suggests it hasn’t fully ripened or been written into its full term. That it lacks some pivotal ingredient of song-ness and is no more than a bridge between movements, a phrase. Which asks the question: what is a song? When is a song a song and not an interlude or a jingle? In most of the arts there’s a consensus of definition based on tradition, form and length. So a painting must use or at the very least be about paint to be a painting. A film must be a film. A dance must be a dance. And a novel must be a prose narrative of considerable length with a plot driven by actions, characters, thoughts and speech. Etcetera. But wherever there’s a consensus of definition, there’ll always be those who question how those definitions are made and who they serve. Like Samuel Beckett’s Imagination Dead Imagine which is no more than a pamphlet with next to no plot or characters to speak of but is considered by many to be his greatest novel, a work of such concentrated intensity that all but the pragmatic essentials of narrative have been excised from the text. Or the short story attributed to Ernest Hemingway that reads:

For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.

Or M. Flanigan’s Codeine Dream.

I feel nothing

But pain

By itself, I feel nothing but pain is an anguished but hollow sentence waiting to be framed by what caused the pain in the first place and how the person suffering the pain plans to deal with it. Or not. However, like Hemingway’s shoes, Codeine Dream is a fully realised world as darkly grim and furnished as any conceived by Mishima or Kafka. The line-break gives it compression. What caused the pain or how the pain might be alleviated or endured is overshadowed by the expanse created by the return carriage. The same can be said of October, with its spectral landscape and manifest cold and the vanity of what do I care. In some ways, its distilled brevity holds more abstract significance than many of U2’s more definitive songs for not proclaiming itself with such exuberant sincerity. It is the winter of things, the spring, the bleak evanescence of change. And its line break appears at the end. Its compression is in the reprise.

And on… Bono sings after the final line.

And on. As if addressing something out of reach. The unknowable, perhaps; forever. Yearning, pleading, praying. Holding on to the note for fear it might drift away. So melancholy. Lost. So beautifully forlorn.

 

Like footsteps disappearing in the snow.

 

Sean Macgillicuddy

 

  1. October Recorded 1981 Label Island Lyrics and music Bono and The Edge
  2. Flanagan Codeine Dreams published in The Quarterly 24 1992 Vintage Books New York

 

A Day in the Life

alarmAlarm vibrates. Sensation before first thought. Cold. Am I coming down with the flu? No. Um, possibly. I need to be strong, fight through. Check phone. New emails. Refresh podcasts. Work emails? No. I’ll be there soon enough. Will I write today? Yes, when I get home. What will I have for dinner? How long will it take to prepare and cook? How much time will that suck out of my evening?

Wash. Get dressed. Pack my bag. Will I bring my book today? Yes. Don’t waste time sleeping on the train. Pack notebook. My battered and scribble-filled notebook. Damn, I forgot to read those research articles I printed out at work yesterday. I’ll get to them another time.

Driving to train station. I wonder about my main character. How will he react when demands are made of him? Where will the drama come from? What is his truth? Can I write it well? A reminder to write something down when I get on the train: Rylin Webster wants to tell his story, his way, on his terms. A scene forms fast in my head. I watch the odometer. I check the clock. Train leaves in five minutes. I’m two minutes away from station car park. Trying to hang onto a thread of thought. The scene gets vivid and intense. I speak a line of dialogue out loud.

“Don’t make a promise you can’t keep.”

Who says this?

trainPark car. Hustle to platform. Train comes. Find seat. Flip open notebook. Scrawl and scribble. Thoughts come quicker than I can write. Words are illegible. Will I be able to read this later? Will it make sense or will I lose the gist? PA announcement. Thoughts exhausted. The distraction of landscape speeding by at 100kmph.

Read my book. Can’t focus for more than a page or two at a time. Thoughts beget thoughts. Ideas form but have no place. Context is elusive. Open notebook. Scribble. Empty my brain. Close notebook. Take a few deep breaths. Read some more but don’t absorb what I’m reading.

WTFTrain reaches its destination. Earphone in. Podcasts at the ready. Maybe NBA’s The Starters. Maybe Marc Maron’s WTF. Maybe TOFOP. Twenty minute walk. My mind remains active. Plot lines weave in and out of the audio flowing into my head. Traffic noise on Broadway coming from Harris St drowns out everything.

At work. Put all thoughts of writing and being a writer to one side. Really? Good luck with thtrafficat. Do my job. Earn my keep. Read occasional online articles of interest. Send quotes, links and ideas to myself via email throughout the day. Making a cup of tea, wonder about Rylin Webster’s marriage. Why did his supermodel wife fall in love with him in the first place? Make small talk with a colleague about the upcoming weekend. Day’s end is getting closer.

inceptionWalk back to train station. New thoughts emerge. Links connect. Links miss their mark. Kill the podcast feed. Need music instead. The National? The Shins? No. This story feeds off the energy from movie soundtracks. Hans Zimmer. Interstellar? I know, Inception. Traffic noise. The roar of a motorcycle. The pang of hunger and the yawn of mental, if not physical, tiredness.

Make train ten minutes early. Open notebook. Scribble quickly, furiously, illegibly. Smile to myself that the adverbs I’m using in my notes will not make my manuscript. Why do I care what Stephen King thinks? Bret Easton Ellis, a writer I love, embraces adverbs. Look at Glamorama?Glamorama

As the train pulls out of the station, close notebook. Take out earphones. No music. No novel. No writing. Sydney’s inner-west suburbs slip by. Macdonaldtown. Newtown. Stanmore. Petersham. Lewisham. My eyes start to get heavy. I sit up, get out my book. Red or Dead by David Peace. Read a page. Battle tiredness. Read half-a-page more before my head drops. Strathfield, Epping, Hornsby don’t register.  I wake up with my finger between pages like a bookmark. Read another page. Then jack into another podcast. Pete Holmes laughs then gets deep, questions our understanding of the universe, then asks his guest whether success can come too soon?You-Made-It-Weird

Its six’o’clock. Hunger has full sway over me. That means I won’t be writing until at least seven, maybe eight. I already know what scene I want to write, need to write, if I’m to drive the story forward.

Walk in the front door. Hello to my wife, bear-tackle my son. Get changed and play dinosaurs for half-an-hour. Hunger lingers, distracts me. The desire to write lingers, distracts me. Cook dinner alone. Use the process of flouring a chicken breast, dipping it in egg and covering it in breadcrumbs, to untether my mind from now, from the day that’s been, from myself.

Too full afterdeadmau5-Superliminal-300x300 dinner, I shower and shave. Wash the day away. Start preparing for the day to come. Clothes laid out. Shoes polished. Top up Opal Card. Check work emails. Flick a few away. Exclaim in frustration over a client who is beyond demanding. Turn off phone’s WiFi. Mac on. iTunes is a ‘Go!’ Deadmau5 – Superliminal. Google Docs open. Here it comes. The manuscript loads up. I scroll down to the last page and read the notes I left from the previous day.Timmy-Mallet-with-Malletts-Mallet

I’m writing. Dialogue flows. Too much dialogue. Go back. Insert thoughts, description. Maintain tone. Not enough tension. Too much conflict? Where’s this scene going? Oh, wow. Yes, that works. I could never have planned that. There’s a knock on the door. My son comes in, jumps on my bed. ‘Let’s play Mallet’s Mallett?’

‘Ten minutes, Buddy.’

Where was I? Oh, yeah. Lots of dialogue to finish. Lots of red squiggly lines under misspelt words. Rylin Webster is angry but doesn’t know it. He’s pushing everyone around him away. He thinks this is normal. A lightbulb moment. A new scene. Not the next scene. File it away. The door opens. My wife brings a glass of wine. ‘House of Cards is starting.’

The manuscript automatically savhouse-of-cardses. I shut down the computer. Frank Underwood, my wife and a glass of wine awaits.

Later, sleep beckons. I hold on through a nothing episode of Game of Thrones. I wonder about tomorrow? What will happen? What will I achieve? How long will it be until I get to write again? In bed, before sleep fully takes over, I imagine Rylin Webster on the basketball court. He’s hurting his defender. He’s hurting his team. He’s hurting himself. An idea teases, never fully settles and then, nothing.

Sir P Speaks: Public enemies number one

Dear Sir Partridge

Why are cyclists the way they are? Why are they so scrawny? Lycra seems like a miracle material if you dislike chafing but why can’t it have a proper use? I mean, cyclists aren’t exactly criminals (or are they?) but can’t something be done? Perhaps you should write a book on this urgent issue.

Yours
Nogbert Frump

vintage-cyclist

Hello Nogbert

Firstly, let me congratulate you for making so little effort to disguise the fact that you’re actually me. As a pathological narcissist, it’s a constant relief that since starting this valuable column I have thus far not had to offer advice to anyone but myself.

As it happens I am indeed tempted to write a novel that deals with cycling and the danger it poses. It would be a dystopian vision of life beyond peak oil when bicycles are the only form of transport, and even they are at a premium. Only the rich can afford them and so find it relatively easy to escape the zombies. Fortunately, there emerges from the pedestrian under-herd a visionary quasi-superhero called Partridge Man who leads a successful rebellion against the cyclist overlords. But then here’s the twist, see – he and his fellow non-cycling humans avoid the zombies need to outrun the zombies. How do they do this? Why, cycling of course. Quickly Partridge Man and his minions are scooting about on their Malvern Stars as smugly and vigorously as the very people they overthrew. How ironic! How original! And an original plot requires an original title. Animal Velodrome?

Anyway, the point is that the above plot raises one of the key problems with hating cyclists: that on paper at least cycling is a wonderful thing – it’s good for you (until you fall off) and it’s good for the environment (yawn). So any serious attempt to ban cycling has to find some way to skirt these issues.

The reason it is necessary to take such a harsh line at all is the deep ideological divide that separates cyclists from normal people. This is most evident on so-called shared walkway/cycle-paths, which provide cyclists with countless opportunities to close in on their stealth vehicles of death, whip past you with half an inch to spare and abuse you roundly for using your legs in a manner inconsistent with their world view.

So, the only way for sanity to prevail is for one to yield to the other. This can be achieved through a grand exercise in reverse psychology. Things need to be made mandatory. In effect, a system needs to be introduced in which anyone who does not embrace cycling and all it represents would be purged. All forms of non-cycling transport, including walking, would be banned. Wearing any clothing apart from lycra bib-and-brace onesies with Goretex over-panties would see you straight up against the wall. Dissent along the lines of ‘Christ, my bum and quadriceps are sore’ or ‘Why do these bloody things keep getting punctures?’ or ‘I have nicely developed calf muscles but the rest of me is emaciated’ will result in you being sent to a re-education camp in Coober Pedy.

It is only when we experience the true horror of a state in which the tedious good sense of cycling is taken to its logical extreme that the scales will fall from the eyes of all but the most ardent admirer of that two-wheeled instrument of torture and woe.

And what obese quasi-superhero would lead the people as they rise up against the state and restore civilisation to the utopia it is today? Well, I think we all know the answer to that one.

Gormley

 

Conan Elphicke

Sir Partridge Gormley’s emissions are rendered as coherent as they can be by the ever-patient @ConanElphicke. If you are confused and bewildered, and we suspect you are, by all means send your queries to thecringeblog@gmail.com.

Mythos in Children’s Literature

There is a vast amount of literary technique to be learnt from writers of children’s literature: how to condense character, how to form intimate adventure, how to elucidate on complex issues with simple yet profound illustration. Regarding the symbolism of seasons, in external and internal frames, the following excerpt from Virginia L. Wolf’s article considers what we can learn from their use in classic children’s narratives.

The Cycle of Seasons: Without and Within Time (except)
Virginia L. Wolf

“Seeds grow to plants, yield their harvest, and die, the earth lying dormant and barren until the cycle begins anew. Within a year an animal may also progress from birth to full maturity, producing its own offspring. Similarly dependent upon the natural cycle, people find in the seasons multi-leveled and universal symbols. We see spring as childhood, summer as adolescence, fall as maturity, and winter as old age. On the religious or mythic level, the cycle of the seasons becomes the birth, death, and return of a divine being. In literature, according to Northrop Frye, there are mythoi, or generic plots, associated with the seasons—comedy with spring, romance with summer, tragedy with autumn, and irony with winter (162). The full cycle may suggest permanence, promising transcendence as spring follows winter or threatening endless repetition as summer leads to fall. Or, it may capture continuous change as each season offers new and unique experiences.

“In a children’s novel whose primary setting is home, formal requirements often necessitate the use of the cycle of the seasons. Novels using this setting differ enormously, depending on their individual content, especially the age of their protagonists, but besides their use of the seasons, they share other characteristics. Typically, they concentrate on a very small setting, introduce very little conflict, and celebrate a way of life. They may seem a collection of episodes with no clear-cut order. But, as I intend to demonstrate, the cycle of the seasons gives them form and, in the process, meaning.

“Four such novels are E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods, Eleanor Estes’s The Moffats, and Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, Part I. All four are relatively stationary in space, focusing on their respective protagonists’ homes, and all four have a strong female emphasis. None of them, furthermore, introduces serious conflict. On the other hand, there are many differences among them. Charlotte’s Web runs from spring to spring, The Moffats from summer to summer, Little House in the Big Woods from autumn to autumn, and Little Women from winter to winter. Also differing are the seasons emphasized, Charlotte’s Web and The Moffatsstressing summer and Little House in the Big Woods and Little Women stressing winter. The most significant differences, however, are those created by the age range of the protagonists. Wilbur is one at the end of Charlotte’s Web, Laura six at the end of Little House, Janey nine at the end of The Moffats, and Jo sixteen at the end of Little Women. The age of the protagonist is, of course, an essential factor in determining the age of the child reader of a novel and the form this novel can take. In their similarities and differences, in other words, these novels should provide the critic with the opportunity for increased understanding of the ways children’s novels vary for the sake of audience.

220px-AnatomyOfCriticism“At the same time, they also reveal the potential of the cycle of the seasons for structuring children’s novels set in homes. In Northrop Frye’s terms, Charlotte’s Web and Little House in the Big Woods are romance, both very nearly becoming myth, and The Moffats and Little Women are comedy. Frye uses the term myth to refer to a communal vision controlling a work of literature. “Undisplaced myth, generally concerned with gods or demons” (139) he sees as the center of all literature, which often displaces, or adapts, myth to varying degrees for the sake of plausibility. To the extent that the techniques of mimesis—verisimilitude, fullness and accuracy of description, for example—characterize a literary work, in other words, myth is displaced (51, 139-140, 365-367). Romance Frye defines as “the mythos of literature concerned primarily with an idealized world” (367), and as the one which least displaces myth. Both similar and different, comedy is the mythos of literature in which myth is greatly displaced, resulting in romantic comedy to the extent that the ending represents an ideal, and ironic comedy to the extent that it does not (163-186).”

Writing Seasons

No this will not be a discourse on the figurative seasons of a writer’s life. There are plenty of those oozing around the web and many more hidden in forgotten spiral notebooks on your study shelves.

Right now I’m focused on a much more literal literary problem. I’m interested in the craft of writing seasons.

Weather plays a pivotal role in narrative. Beyond the objective way it motivates plot and action, climate affects mood and tone in both monumental sweeps and incredibly subtle nuance. Seasons define culture, customs, language, symbols and associations in ways that few other narrative features can. It is inevitably a major player in any creative work.

walden_pondImagine, for example, that Thoreau had secluded himself on a Florida beach instead of the woods of New England. Walden would be an altogether different experience (with a different title) and we never would have had such an enlightened discourse on the transformative power of Spring:

The change from storm and winter to serene and mild weather, from dark and sluggish hours to bright and elastic ones, is a memorable crisis which all things proclaim. It is seemingly instantaneous at last. Suddenly an influx of light filled my house, though the evening was at hand, and the clouds of winter still overhung it, and the eaves were dripping with sleety rain. I looked out the window, and lo! where yesterday was cold gray ice there lay the transparent pond already calm and full of hope as in a summer evening, reflecting a summer evening sky in its bosom, though none was visible overhead, as if it had intelligence with some remote horizon.

Consider the brooding danger of To Kill a Mockingbird without the backdrop of a long Southern summer. Hannah Kent’s Burial Rights without the crystalising Icelandic cold. Lian Hearn’s Tales of the Otori without the Japanese fall of winter sakura blossoms. The English Patient without the hot, sandy North African war. A Tale of Two Cities without rainy London streets. The White Tiger without the steaming slums of Delhi. Love in a Time of Cholera without the tropical heat of the Caribbean coastline.

In fact climate does more than simply play a part in a single story: its manipulation in one work forms part of a dense cultural mesh through which all associated narratives are viewed. That is, the way authors and storytellers interact with seasons defines the social discourse of the places they write about and the cultures they inhabit.

As an Australian I am aware of a niggling responsibility to try and build on the sparse cultural mesh of our young, small and (let’s be honest) insecure narrative landscape.

When I was just a little book nerd reading my Richard Scarry and Beatrix Potter I would often find myself wondering where my parents hid those great piles of red leaves in which to jump (preferably with yellow galoshes). I would wait in my backyard hoping to spot a phantom squirrel nibbling an acorn. I would gaze out over green parks trying to imagine where all the spring bunny rabbits were hiding. I would search around our living room in hopes of finding a crackling fireplace, the one I was meant to curl up in front of while snow fell outside.

In short my imagination was genuinely confused by the disparity between the seasonal landscapes of my picture books and the reality that surrounded me.

DPSAnd thanks to narratives like The Groves of Academe, The Secret History, Wonder Boys and Dead Poets Society I find it easier to picture a school year beginning amidst chilly autumn leaves than in a hot, clapboard classroom under a sadly rotating ceiling fan. Apparently we are supposed to camp in immaculate pine forests in the summer instead of at the beach. And overseas vacations should be at the Caribbean or the South of France instead of Fiji.

This phenomenon of seasonal currency also translates directly into the invented worlds of speculative fiction, finding its way into a variety of speculative genres but most obviously into epic fantasy where Northern Hemispherical climates dictate the law of imagined geographies. Middle Earth is modeled on the seasonal terrain of Tolkien’s native England, as is Lewis’s Narnia. American landscape features throughout Jordan’s Wheel of Time and is particularly apparent in the Western flavor of King’s Dark Tower series.

In Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire narrative weather is a major player on a number of levels. It not only creates atmosphere, tone, obstacles, opportunities and cultures, it literally defines the identities of the warring families of Westeros and Essos, and thus the entire backbone of the series.

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I’ve dreamed of the day when I would read (or write) an epic narrative where the climatic world was turned on its head. In my version of A Song of Ice and Fire the Wall would be in the south and Dorne would be in the north. The Iron Islands would be the Sandy Islands, and winter would never be coming.

In my world, pumpkins don’t grow at Halloween. Snow doesn’t fall on Christmas Eve. Beaches are never cold, windy places with wooden piers and taffy. Birds don’t fly south for the winter. Heading west means deserts, not prairies, and north the Equator, not the Arctic Circle. There is never a real reason light a wood fire, or rake leaves, or shovel the sidewalk. We steal mangos not blackberries, and bake pavlova instead of pie. Family picnics are BBQs at the beach, not sandwiches in green meadows.

This is the world I know. This should form the landscape of my imagination and therefore of my imagined worlds. It’s a strange thing to have to work against a preconceived cultural notion of tone and place because the culture, while dominant, is not your own. Yet it is part of my responsibility as an emerging creative voice, and a challenge I submit to all those in the same position: to add to this global lens in our own language and rhythm, and make our own experiences, and that of our Southern-land compatriots, a greater part of the world’s narrative imagery.

 

Elise Janes

The Structure Spectrum

As a writer, I’m curious about other writers. Talking process is something I love to get into with a fellow author. In the way an engineer might admire a building or bridge, I look upon the novel as a technical structure. One that’s supported, reinforced, made possible by many, many intricate working pieces that bring the whole together into one glorious final edifice.

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I’m forever in awe of someone who has the compositional skills to create an opus that delivers on its early promise.

Knowing the struggles of getting from initial idea to finalising a draft, what fuels me is connecting with other writers. Learning how other writers tackle challenges that arise in the writing process helps me understand their mind and also my mind. It often gives me a third perspective on situations I’ve found myself in and only too late realise my approach has been too black and white, too all or nothing.

There’ve been times over the past few years where I thought I understood the type of writer I am. What I never saw at the time and that I see now, is that the blinkers are on. The times when I’ve felt most certain, have too often turned out to be the times when I’ve been very naïve, cocky and even ignorant. Getting caught up in the prestige of being a ‘writer’ I’d forgotten why I write and the type of writing that really jazzes me.

During a moment of reflection a couple of weeks ago I had an epiphany. Such a simple and clear insight, it brought me to a halt and gave me immeasurable peace. This realisation comes at a time when I’m progressing steadily through the first draft of my next novel. For weeks I’d had been having a conversation in the background of my mind, never fully conscious, never fully addressed, all relating to novel structure and planning.

How much time and effort should I put into planning and plotting?
How detailed should my first draft structure be?

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Then it came to me:

As a writer I like to know where I’m going. I just don’t want to know how I’m going to get there.
Destination is important. Landmarks and signposts along the way for me are crucial. But as a writer, I’m happy in my ignorance of how I’ll get from plot-point to plot-point.

I need there to be an element of surprise in the actual writing of each scene. An unexpected discovery.

A character coming a little more to life. Links in the chain of the story connecting, sometimes by design, sometimes by chance.

That’s where the excitement is. That’s where exploration and discovery occur. Struggle and realisation. The magic of writing.

In years gone by my attempts to plan a story down to its final detail prior to starting my first draft have always ended the same way. I’ve half a dozen manuscripts in various states of incompleteness to prove it.

On the flipside of this spectrum, my last novel was written largely as a free-writing exercise.

Signposts to aim for – yes.

An overarching structure with plans as to how to develop both the characters and story – no.

At this stage in my development as a writer, that’s where the project crumbled in my hands. There were so many holes I encountered in the re-writing phases – 5 drafts at last count – that I hadn’t the skills to overcome and fix. Instead, I dug myself deeper and deeper into a formless, shapeless abyss where everything ceased to exist.

This simple realisation about how I approach structuring and planning was both timely and reassuring. And like any spectrum I’m trying to find where my sweet spot is so I can become the best writer I can be.

Where are you on the structure spectrum?

 

Ken Ward