Remembering that it happened once by Wendell Berry

“Remembering that it happened once”
by Wendell Berry

Remembering that it happened once,
We cannot turn away the thought,
As we go out, cold, to our barns
Toward the long night’s end, that we
Ourselves are living in the world
It happened in when it first happened,
That we ourselves, opening a stall
(A latch thrown open countless times
Before), might find them breathing there,
Foreknown: the Child bedded in straw,
The mother kneeling over Him,
The husband standing in belief
He scarcely can believe, in light
That lights them from no source we see,
An April morning’s light, the air
Around them joyful as a choir.
We stand with one hand on the door,
Looking into another world
That is this world, the pale daylight
Coming just as before, our chores
To do, the cattle all awake,
Our own frozen breath hanging
In front of us; and we are here
As we have never been before,
Sighted as not before, our place
Holy, although we knew it not.

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Hill Christmas by R. S. Thomas

“Hill Christmas”
by R. S. Thomas

They came over the snow to the bread’s
purer snow, fumbled it in their huge
hands, put their lips to it
like beasts, stared into the dark chalice
where the wine shone, felt it sharp
on their tongue, shivered as at a sin
remembered, and heard love cry
momentarily in their hearts’ manger.

They rose and went back to their poor
holdings, naked in the bleak light
of December. Their horizon contracted
to the one small, stone-riddled field
with its tree, where the weather was nailing
the appalled body that had asked to be born.

A Scandal in the Suburbs by X.J. Kennedy

A Scandal in the Suburbs
by X.J. Kennedy

We had to have him put away,
For what if he’d grown vicious?
To play faith healer, give away
Stale bread and stinking fishes!
His soapbox preaching set the tongues
Of all the neighbors going.
Odd stuff: how lilies never spin
And birds don’t bother sowing.
Why, bums were coming to the door—
His pockets had no bottom—
And then-the foot-wash from that whore!
We signed. They came and got him.

Let Evening Come by Jane Kenyon

“Let Evening Come”
By Jane Kenyon

Let the light of late afternoon
shine through chinks in the barn, moving
up the bales as the sun moves down.
Let the cricket take up chafing
as a woman takes up her needles
and her yarn. Let evening come.
Let dew collect on the hoe abandoned
in long grass. Let the stars appear
and the moon disclose her silver horn.
Let the fox go back to its sandy den.
Let the wind die down. Let the shed
go black inside. Let evening come.
To the bottle in the ditch, to the scoop
in the oats, to air in the lung
let evening come.
Let it come, as it will, and don’t
be afraid. God does not leave us
comfortless, so let evening come.

Ah, it is the season of Advent

It is the season of Advent. Many years ago, my sister-in-law presented my household with a beautiful, hand-sewn Advent calendar. She said that her daughter did most of the work.

Hanging the Advent calendar is an anticipated part of the season. The family gathers around the dining room table to read selected passages and sing a song. Kidlingers take turns each evening selecting an ornament behind a number and hanging it on the calendar’s tree.

Around the time the hand-sewn Advent calendar was received, I began a search for related, relevant Advent poetry to celebrate the season. This took awhile. But eventually I collected 12 poems and shared them on this blog.[1] It has become the most visited and shared post I have written. A series of Advent podcasts were produced as well,[2] [3] [4] [5] but the list of 12 Advent poems is a perennial favorite.

Slowly I gathered a few more poems for this annual tradition. This year I will share throughout the Advent season poems by Wendell Berry, Patrick Kavanagh, X.J. Kennedy, Jane Kenyon, Mary Jo Salter, and R. S. Thomas.

NOTES:
[1] Advent Poems (or the 12 days of Christmas poetry)
[2] Poems and readings for the First Sunday of Advent
[3] Poems and readings for the Second Sunday of Advent
[4] Poems and readings for the Third Sunday of Advent
[5] Poems and readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

Thursday reminder to keep going


What does one do with old, unpublished artwork? Dozens upon dozens of illustrations remain hidden. Housed in art portfolio cases and cardboard boxes. These sketches, drawings and illustrations remain artifacts of decades of work.

They resurfaced this summer. Drawings and illustrations created with the purpose of advancing a career as a children’s book writer/illustrator, comic book artist and/or cartoonist. Several four-page comic book stories present an exercise toward a full-length comic book. Inspired by the 1990s indie comic scene, a lot of the stories are slice-of-life scenes and dramas. One collection of illustrations is a story written by a friend. Another set of drawings features character drawings for a writer seeking to pitch a proposal to Image Comics.

There is a portfolio case filled with pages of a first issue and half a second issue of an indie comic. It was created for a writer who contacted me to collaborate on the project. The pages display pen and brush illustrations. Think of the early work of David Collier. If he drew every page with his right hand. (He is left-handed. If I recall correctly.) On second thought, maybe it doesn’t look anything like David Collier’s work. The struggle with this indie project was that I learned that I do not illustrate fast and well at the same time. Back in those pre-iPhone/pre-Twitter days, I worked as a graphic designer during the day and an artist by night. A 30-day deadline to complete 22 pages plus cover art was a difficult task. If I had worked eight hours a day on the project instead of two hours a day, maybe the results would have been better. The indie comic was never published.

Another sketch book has pages of comps for a cartoon strip. The idea was that if I cannot draw detailed panels and pages fast, maybe I can draw cartoons faster. So, I created a cartoon character and comic strip and discovered that drawing a cartoon is just as time intensive as illustrating detailed comic pages. I pivoted toward a cartoon style similar to Jim Davis. In short, a comic strip with near static panels and subtle changes in art between one panel and the next. Sort of a pre-Adam Ellis templated four-panel strip. The comic strip was published regularly in a North Carolina alternative newspaper until the paper took an extended sabbatical.

“I like that one,” my bride commented. Dozens of cartoon pages rest on a desk in our bedroom.

“Maybe I should collect these pages into a book,” I offered.

“What do mean?”

“You know, like an artist’s sketchbook or portfolio book. I’ve got several of those type of books.” I think of books like Michael Wm. Kaluta Sketchbook or C. Vess Sketchbook.

“Yeah, but aren’t those more like retrospectives of an artist’s celebrated career?”

“Hm. Yeah. I guess you’re right,” I answered. But why can’t it be used to promote a career, I think to myself.

“Maybe after you’ve published your magnum opus.”

“Yeah. I guess so.”

The illustration boards still rest on the desk I built from salvaged wood. A reminder to keep going.

Strange Throwback Thursday

Comic Stroll 2013

 

After nearly a six-year hiatus, I was excited to see a project that began with notes and sketches transform into a published comic strip. Even if it was a one-off. Even if I had to hand the responsibility of drawing each panel to someone else. It was done.

I had imagined that the creative non-fiction comic story I crafted would earn some interest. Maybe it would open a few doors to an audience. And allow me to write and illustrate. Even earn some money. Maybe I would quit my day job and provide for my household by doing something I loved. Telling stories. And drawing pictures.

That was five years ago.

A few weeks ago I found a box in the garage. It had several copies of a publication that printed my comic strip. I glanced over the pages and then placed them back into the box. I also found several books. Opened one book I remembered enjoying.

“What’s that?” asked one of the children.

“It’s a collection of comic strips.”

“Oh.”

I pulled a copy from the box and gave it to the child.

“There’s a story in there I wrote.” I said. “See if you can find it.”

The child took the copy of Comic Stroll and headed off to the couch in the living room.

I flipped through the pages of the book I had found. Read a few highlights.

Yeah, I resemble that, I thought to myself after reading a few lines at the end of the book. The author referenced a friend of his who gave up an art gig for a corporate job in order to provide for his family.

Yeah. I know what that is like.

How many comic pages might I have written and illustrated if I had. . . Well, what-ifs and might-have-beens are dangerous paths to pursue. What you did, great or small, is what matters.

Watching my progeny spend an afternoon reading comic strips I had a hand in creating was a pleasure.

NOTES:
Comic Stroll, a publication of the Southeast chapter of the National Cartoonist Society, featured a collection of previously unpublished comic strips. You can read the whole journey of what started in November 2005 as a couple drawings and became a creative non-fiction comic strip:
[1] Comics and Narrative Non-Fiction
[2] Comics and Narrative Non-Fiction Continued
[3] Narrative Non-Fiction Comics: part 3
[4] Narrative Non-Fiction Comics: part 4
[5] Narrative Non-Fiction Comics: part 5
[6] Narrative Non-Fiction Comics: UPDATE
[7] Narrative Non-Fiction Comics: UPDATE
[8] Strange Familiar Place comic series
[9] Strange Familiar Place returns
[10] The return of Strange Familiar Place to print

I am supposed to be doing something important right now

To post or not to post. To repeat old habits, or to start new ones.

That is how I concluded last week’s blog post. Further, I revealed that I wrote multiple drafts of the post. From a few different angles. And did not plan on posting them online.

However, a little bird told me it might be worth reading. So, in the tradition of chapbooks, I pulled together the scraps and assembled a small e-book.

The e-book runs 4000 words. Part one is a preface (basically, last week’s blog post). Part two contains five short chapters of blog extras. Consider it bonus material. Like 90s audio CD hidden tracks. Part three is a collection of twelve confessions.

The e-book is available FREE for those who have Kindle unlimited. Otherwise it is a meager $0.99 to download a copy.

Hope you enjoy it. If you like what you find, please leave a comment below or give it a starred review on Amazon. Much gratitude!

Confessions, or to repeat old habits

During the last month I reflected on things I wrote a decade ago. The original idea I had was to simply repost material as a Throwback Thursday blog post. But when I reviewed the writings from those halcyon days before the disruption of iPhones, social media, tweets and posts — I noticed something. The meaning was illusive. I am still pondering it.

The first blog post was about photography. The second was about a poetry reading. The third was about a published essay. The fourth blog post was to be about confessions. Each week I wanted to add nuance and/or context to the original piece. Or at least a different facet of the original. To see it from a different angle. But that week I wrote four different takes on a post time stamped August 23, 2007.

One draft continued after the manner of the previous confessions series. The second draft crafted a meditation on the form and function of the confessions. Another explored the definition. What does the word “confession” mean? And finally, there was a brief homage to the blogger who inspired the confessional series. Ten years ago, there were at least a dozen bloggers (writers, thinkers and artists) I read daily.

To write and post one (but not all) of these different perspectives seemed to me limited in scope and context. To post all seemed unfair to the reader — not to mention indulgent and esoteric. And so, I scrapped the plan. Missed the Thursday deadline. And reflected on a path forward.

And then, during that weekend, I discovered an old spiral notebook from. . . well. . . a long time ago. In those days, my small Southern rental house had no internet, television or air conditioning. The only computer technology I owned at the time was a Brother electric typewriter. The notebook exposed a habit, a pattern, of mine that I have not altered from in years.

The red spiral notebook contained three drafts of a letter to a family member. Each draft was a variance of the previous letter. Each draft removed or altered items regarding hopes, fears and dreams. And the final draft was never mailed. More than one writing teacher and mentor told me that I tend to censor my writing. To hide details. Hide intimacy. This may be the nature of men. It may be my upbringing in a religious household. A home that taught everyone will be accountable to God for every word spoken and written. But failed to offer that if God is sovereign, then he already knows every word and deed I will ever do in my life. And he chose to love me anyway. But I digress.

To post or not to post. To repeat old habits, or to start new ones.

Patience – your writing finds the right audience

Have you ever written something that developed a life — even an audience — unexpected? The final chapter of a literary biography I read recently featured an introductory note that caught my attention. The author stated that of all the essays he had written during his long career the final essay of the book received the most attention. And the most requests for permission to reprint it in various publications.

Those were different days, I reflected. A time when permission was requested to reprint material an effort to share thoughtful writings. Rather than copy, paste, click and post.

In a very small way, a similar observance was made regarding a piece I wrote more than a decade ago.

This was back in the days before iPhones, Facebook, or Twitter. A time when SMS messaging — later texting — was a novelty that would be the most used mobile data service. But that was a couple years away.

A reader of my blog requested a review of a poem. I was suspicious of the request. Thought it might be a college student seeking someone to write his or her literature paper. I accepted the challenge.

At the time, I was writing book reviews, essays, interviews and such. Mostly for local publications. But a few journals and magazines on the West Coast published some of my work. I reached out to Len Fulton of Small Press Review and asked if I could submit the poem review. He graciously agreed.

I wrote a review of Charles Simic’s poem “Old Soldier” in an esoteric manner that could not easily be passed off as a high school literature paper. I sent off the review for publication. And waited. Months went by. Issue after issue of Small Press Review arrived in the mail box. Impatient, I posted an abridged, clumsy version of the review on my blog. A month later I submitted it to editor, publisher, and friend Pasckie Pascua who published it in the September 2005 edition of The Indie. When the November-December 2005 issue of Small Press Review arrived I was surprised to see my review had — in fact — been published.

The review of Simic’s poem “Old Soldier” remains one of the most read posts on this blog. It is embarrassing to me for a couple reasons. One, the lack of virtue in my life. The selfish rush to be published. Patience is a virtue I am still learning to practice. Another reason for the embarrassment is that the online, perennial version of the review is a shadow of the original. The writing that appeared in the Small Press Review has never been released online. And maybe that is best for now.

The review of the poem is the final chapter of a book manuscript I finished. As of this writing it remains unpublished. But maybe one day it will greet an audience of its own. And maybe wander online as well.