February Doldrums & The Land of Counterpane

Here in northern New England, we hit the winter doldrums come February. Too many cold days. Too much dirty, pockmarked snow.  Too much ice on the driveway. Too much time cooped up inside. The pellet stove has left a fine layer of black soot on all the windowsills, and everybody’s sick.

Recently, one of the first emails I opened at work was from a colleague who had decided to work from home because she wasn’t feeling well. When I emailed her back my hope that a day of taking it easy would keep the bug at bay, she responded that she just needed to work from the comfort of her own home.

For some reason, the image of Carina working on outcomes assessment tucked up in her cozy home brought to mind the memory of a poem I had once loved as a child. I couldn’t remember the title, just that it was by Robert Louis Stevenson and had something to do with a counterpane. The memory of how much I’d loved that poem was so vivid, I abandoned my email to search for it. I found the poem  right away on poets.org: “The Land of Counterpane” by Robert Louis Stevenson.

As I read those long-forgotten lines, I was suddenly overcome with joy–not nostalgia, but pure joy. How could this be? How could a simple children’s poem make me so happy on a gray February morning at the end of yet another week of meetings and deadlines and driving home in the dark?

Quite simply, I had been transported to my own land of counterpane, which is, at its heart, the land of imagination, where I am most myself and where anything is possible.

And Now for the Nostalgia . . .

The version of “The Land of Counterpane” that my parents read to me when I was little is from A Child’s Garden of Verses, published in 1929. I would return to it again and again to lose myself in the old-fashioned illustrations and the pleasure of words that rhyme. The fact that this well-worn picture book had been my mother’s when she was little brought an added dimension to the land of imagination.

 

Flight Plans by Susan J. Erickson

I just love the movement of this poem from simple whimsy to something much deeper.

Background photo: Kati Fleming/Wikimedia, CC 3.0.
Manipulation and design layout: Elizabeth Stark

Susan J. Erickson admits to “multiple personality syndrome” having assumed the persona of a host of women while completing the poems in Lauren Bacall Shares A Limousine. The collection, poems in women’s voices, won the Brick Road Poetry Prize.  Poems from the book appear in Crab Creek Review, Literal Latte, The Fourth River, Verse Daily and The Tishman Review. Visit her website at susanjerickson.com where there is a link to view the trailer for the book. Susan is also a collage artist and created a series of cards with postage stamp images of the women in her book and gifted a card with each purchase of her book at readings. Examples of the collage cards appear on her website. She lives in Bellingham where she helped to establish the Sue C. Boynton Poetry Walk and Contest…

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Evening Street Review Publication: A 30-Year Lesson in Perseverance

Spring in the White Mountains of New Hampshire

I am pleased to report that I have a short story, “A Little Madness in the Spring,”  published in the Autumn, 2017 edition of Evening Street Review. I am particularly proud that a story of mine aligns with Evening Street Press’s mission statement:

Evening Street Press is centered on Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s 1848 revision of the Declaration of Independence: “that all men — and women — are created equal,” with equal rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” It focuses on the realities of experience, personal and historical, from the most gritty to the most dreamlike, including awareness of the personal and social forces that block or develop the possibilities of a new culture.1

Note: The Evening Street Press website has not yet been updated with information about the Autumn, 2017 edition of Evening Street Review. I will update today’s blog post when that information is posted.

“A Little Madness in the Spring” is one of several stories I’ve written set in Berlin, New Hampshire in the 1980s, where I lived for a year with my parents while I went through a divorce. My dad was a regular at the Woolworth’s lunch counter, and he got me  a job as a counter girl.

Naturally, I encountered quirky locals I could use in my fiction. Case in point: the two main characters in “A Little Madness in the Spring,” Antoine and his Uncle John. Now, here’s where the perseverance comes in. I wrote the first version of that story in graduate school–and I received my master’s in 1985.

The story was not as well-received in workshop as I’d hoped, the professor deeming its local color clichéd and its quirky characters cartoonish. So I rewrote it. Several times, in fact. Then I began sending it out, and after getting a big enough pile of rejection slips, I rewrote it again.

This time, when the rejection e-mails came rolling in, I didn’t rewrite the story. I continued to send it out. “A Little Madness in the Spring” had reached its full potential, and I believed in it. Fifteen years later, when the editor of Evening Street Review agreed, I was thrilled and gratified. Even so, as the publication date approached, she asked for a change to the ending. My response? To persevere. I spent over an hour reworking the last sentence, and I think the story is better for it.

I’m sharing the history of “A Little Madness in the Spring” as an object lesson in the importance in not giving up on a story after a few rejections. At the same time, however, if someone were to ask me, Well, how will I know when my story is finished? I’m not sure I could give an adequate answer. I have been writing so long that the answer continues to change. As of right now, I know that a story is finished when I feel a certain spark of recognition in my chest that says, I like this; this is good.

Not very helpful, I know, particularly considering the fact that sparks of recognition have been known to be wrong. Here is a good resource I found with actionable suggestions for determining when a story is truly finished:


1“Home.” Evening Street Press. Accessed December 24, 2017. http://www.eveningstreetpress.com/.

Feral by Sheryl St. Germain

I’m greatly moved by Sheryl St. Germain’s expression of loss, and I admire both the honesty and the skill it took to write it.

Background photo: Deco Design Center/Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0.
Manipulation and design layout: Elizabeth Stark

Born and raised in New Orleans, Sheryl St. Germain is of Cajun and Creole descent.  She has published nine books and chapbooks of poetry and essays, and edited two anthologies.  The poem appearing here (“Feral”)  is part of a forthcoming poetry book from Autumn House Press, The Small Door of Your Death, that explores the death of her son from a heroin overdose.  She directs the MFA program in Creative Writing at Chatham University.  Here are some links to other works that explore issues such as video games, teaching, addiction and loss:

What We’re Good At

Blizzard

Creative Writing and Addiction

The author.

Gray and Sheryl in Paris.

Sheryl painting by Catherine Stock.

Sheryl reading in Florida at The Hermitage Artist Retreat.

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Another of My Favorite Words

Several months ago, I allowed myself little verbal self-indulgence by writing about a few of my favorite words. As summer was ending, I encountered another of my old friends on a beach in Kittery, Maine: detritus.

“Detritus” has one meaning for me: seaweed left on the beach by the outgoing tide.

Just conjuring the word in my mind brings the smell of salt and fish and ocean–and the blue, blue sky of a day on the beach when childhood would never end.

Poems for Troubled Times: “The City Burns”

The City Burns

Ann van Wijgerden

Author’s Note: This was an intense ‘overlapping’ of sensation and thoughts; I literally had a split second sense of being swept away. The background: Firstly, being impressed by the acting skills of Andrew Scott and his portrayal of Professor Moriarty in the ‘Sherlock’ TV series. Then, being distressed and perplexed by the constant stream of killings in the Philippines’ ‘War on drugs’ while it would seem many of the public couldn’t care less, seeking distraction in entertainment instead.

First published in Slamchop Poetry: http://www.slamchop.org/ann-van-wijgerden