Critics

For an art scene to flourish, there has to be good critics. I’d bank that they’re as vital to local art thriving as the artists. They criticize when work comes up short and call the artists to better realize their ideas. They also understand the context in which art was created, so the work can be exported to an audience that wouldn’t have otherwise appreciated it.

I don’t know what Tom Mooney thinks of my stories, but I’m glad he has a copy.

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No End To the Making of Books

The wind started blowing again last night. Noise you just can’t get away from. I got up for my usual routine this morning. I stretched. My joints are expressing their age. I drank coffee and read Isaiah 11 aloud. I’m not sure there’s a more beautiful stretch of words in the whole Bible. It’s been hard to believe it lately. That passage. The beauty is something which makes it feel more sad. In the fireplace flue, the wind was blowing. Noise you can’t escape. I used newspaper as tinder. I read Isaiah again and wondered if I ought to get a different translation. Make it new again. A novelty of words.


Once when I was younger, my granny complained that strawberries had lost their flavor. Last summer we grew some and I realized strawberries had never had taste before.


The wind whistles through the windows. We vacuum dust from the sills once a week. Noise.

I was going to mow. I was going to transplant rose bushes for my wife. I was going to write. I write wind. All writing is wind. I got in bed this afternoon. I haven’t taken a nap since my body tried to make me while driving home from work. The rumble strip on the shoulder woke me up. Before that, I don’t remember. Guilt, obligations, promises to keep, wind but not a gentle sweep.


Why write? I’ve read writers who broke something open in me, besides ambition and besides guilt, scratched the germ and set me growing. Isaiah. Why did he write? I’m not sure I get to claim his same inspiration.

Mary Oliver is on my nightstand.

So many notions fill the day! I give them
gowns of words, sometimes I give them
little shoes that rhyme.
What an elite life!
While somewhere someone is kissing a face that is crying.
While somewhere women are walking out, at two in the morning—many miles to find water.
While somewhere a bomb is getting ready to explode.

Notions. Wind. She feels it, too? I guess she solved it. She kept writing.

Next page.

How good
that the clouds travel, as they do,
like the long dresses of the angels
of our imagination,…
…and how good…and how good…and how good…and how good…
and so on, and so on.

List the good. At least that. She ends it there: and so on. There’s too much good to list. There is, I know. But there’s so much wind. The clouds travel like bombs getting ready to explode. I can dress them in gowns, but can my imagination make them angels?

Actual angels visited Isaiah. Angels with live coals seared the buds of his tongue. Did he ever taste strawberries again?

He kept writing. Faith in his hands though he was sawn in two. None of that “heads of characters hammer through daisies” resurrection-as-organic-process noise. Dylan Thomas makes me sing but the song dies windily. The beauty makes it more sad for what he says.

Up the coast of Wales, and Thomas’s own influence:

…striding
High there, how he hung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! Then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding,
Stirred for a bird…

Hopkins, teach me to windhover. For whom did you write?

Donald Mace Williams

When I was a kid, someone wrote a book about my hometown of Umbarger, Texas. It was a big to-do because no one writes books about Umbarger. I read the book and learned a little about my grandparents as young people. It all became the milieu of my growing up.

When I was 30, I read a poem by a teacher down in Lubbock. I liked the poem, then drove down to Lubbock to have coffee with him. He told me to look up Don Williams because he lives in my area. I said, “I read his book when I was a kid.”

Tonight, I had to pleasure of hearing him read. He’s 90 next month. He quoted Robert Frost from memory, then Beowulf in Old English, gave us a clinic in translating Rilke from German. He’s translated all of Beowulf, and he has an adaptation of it set in West Texas that’s written in couplets that’s an exciting adventure and a statement on man’s encroachment into nature.

When I hear people say there’s no culture in Amarillo, I think “Where the hell do you live?”

Nothing In It

He sat leaning forward in the seat with his elbows on the empty seatback in front of him and his chin on his forearms and he watched the play with great intensity. He’d the notion that there would be something in the story itself to tell him about the way the world was or was becoming but there was not. There was nothing in it at all.

McCarthy, Cormac. All the Pretty Horses. Vintage International. Pg 21.

I get stumped each time I read this.

  1. Is John Grady Cole just lacking the critical faculty to understand?
  2. Is his mother (an actress in the play) pursuing something that makes no sense to him, therefore showing the chasm that’s formed between them?
  3. Does Cormac, a playwright himself, think that plays (and other literature) don’t really say anything about the world (because the world is meaningless matter in motion and there is nothing to be found in it and therefore nothing we say actually means anything)?
  4. It was a bad play?

I like option 4 the best.

Selective Naturalism

…it is widely recognized today that a painted landscape, however realistic in appearance, is never a pure copy of nature and therefor can never be rendered value free. Implied in the artist’s choice of motifs and his pictorial representation is a certain view of reality. This is conditioned by the many factors of that make up his working context, including the artist’s personal temperament, prevailing artistic conventions, and other cultural values. Together these provide a conceptual framework that shapes the artist’s perception and representation of nature. Earlier criticism of Dutch landscape painting has taken insufficient account of such matters, both overlooking factors that influenced the artist’s perceptions of nature, and ignoring the attitudes and assumptions of the seventeenth-century beholder.

The tendency in current criticism is to accentuate one of two extremes: while some writers still see Dutch landscape painting in terms of pure description and aesthetic delight, others have confronted this with an iconological approach, in an attempt to retrieve whatever meaning or associations may be embedded within Dutch landscapes. However, it may be that a concern with aesthetic delight and the presence of meaning, or of a particular attitude towards nature, may well prove not so much mutually exclusive as intimately related. It is certainly fitting to ask how deliberately and by what means such attitudes were embodied in paintings, and the problem also remains of how to identify them.

– Walford, E. John. Jacob van Ruisdael and the perception of landscape. Yale University Press, 1991. Pgs 16-17.

I’m interested in the parallels between realistic landscape painting and how a writer renders “reality” hoping to show whatever meaning may be found there. John Walford calls this selective naturalism. I think it would be valuable to study these Ruisdael paintings and his tradition (Dutch landscape painting in a Dutch Reformed culture) alongside Marilynne Robinson or Nathan Poole (I’m working on a review of his fantastic Father Brother Keeper, so his methods are on my mind).

Maybe put Amy Greene in this slot as well. I’m finishing her book Bloodroot and I haven’t gathered my thoughts on it yet. But it is beautiful and utterly engaging.

Invisible Man

And I remember too, how we confronted those others, those who had set me here in this Eden, whom we knew though we didn’t know, who were unfamiliar in their familiarity, who trailed their words to us through blood and violence and ridicule and condescension with drawling smiles, and who exhorted and threatened, intimidated with innocent words as they described to us the limitations of our lives and the vast boldness of our aspirations, the staggering folly of our impatience to rise even higher; who, as they talked, aroused furtive visions within me of blood-froth sparkling their chins like their familiar tobacco juice, and upon their lips the curdled milk of a million black slave mammies’ withered dugs, a treacherous and fluid knowledge of our being, imbibed at our source and now regurgitated foul upon us.

Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. Second Vintage International Edition, March 1995. pg. 112.

That’s a hell of a sentence.

Before she fell silent our mama… told stories about our great-granny and other ancestors…, who called birds down from the sky and healed wounds and made love potions and sent their spirits soaring out of their bodies. When I asked if it was all true, she said, “It’s not for me to tell you what’s true. It’s your choice to believe or not.” I know now it was more than just stories she was talking about. It was a whole world of things I could choose to believe or not.”

– Amy Greene. Bloodroot. First Vintage Contemporaries edition, 2011. Pgs 122-23.