750words Feb 12 2015 ~ Ellen Bass & Me & Two Odes

Because I’m stuck I’m writing words not mine to establish a pattern of sound and rhythm. The initial words belong to Ellen Bass, the poem is:

Ode to the God of Atheists

The god of atheists won’t burn you at the stake
or pry off your fingernails. Nor will it make you
bow or beg, rake your skin with thorns,
or buy gold leaf or stained-glass windows.
It won’t insist you fast or twist
the shape of your sexual hunger.
There are no wars fought for it, no women stoned for it.
You don’t have to veil your face for it
or bloody your knees.
You don’t have to sing.

The plums bloom extravagantly,
the dolphins stitch sky to sea.
Each pebble and fern, pond and fish
is yours whether or not you believe.

When fog is ripped away
just as a rust-red shadow slides across the moon,
the god of atheists isn’t rewarding you
for waking in the middle of the night
and shivering barefoot in the field.

This god is not moved by the musk
of incense or bowls of oranges,
the mask brushed with cochineal,
polished rib of the lion.
Eat the macerated leaves
of the sacred plant. Dance
till the stars blur to a spangly river.
Rain, if it comes, will come.
This god loves the virus as much as the child.


So, the above is the Ellen Bass poem. Now to come up with an appropriate subject other than the god of atheists … and not a god. I think I’ll run with a house. The house of (what?) … The house of love? The house of death? The house of loneliness? The house of happiness?

The House of Happiness

The house of happiness will make your face ache
and drum songs on your sternum. It’s not like the house
of sad, of lonely, of broken,
or wooded with coffins satin-lined.
It makes no promises nor expects
cartoon hearts to float from your eyes.
There are no window curtains, no locks on its doors.
You don’t have to knock your knuckles raw
or ring bloody bells.
You do need to step in.

The rooms are organza,
the decor is vanilla ice cream.
Each sofa and lamp, bed and bowl
is an apple or bon-bon treat.

When day becomes evening,
when lavender spokes wheel the dome of sky,
the house of happiness won’t begrudge you
for walking the shores of midnight, or returning
with sand-glittered feet.

This house welcomes what falls away,
the silica shine of journeys,
the nacre-blushed debris,
totems of chocolate.
Sleep the dreamed sleep
of lambs curled against ewes. Laugh
till stones burble songs down high mountains.
Tears, if they come, will spring.
This house welcomes you, welcomes every lost one.


Ok. It’s done. Unedited, but done for the moment–these words replacing a master poet’s words. Ellen Bass is fantastic. Not to be trifled with, not to be matched. Ode to the God of Atheists is a poem found in Like a Beggar — a book full of exquisite work. An apology seems in order:

Dear Ellen,
Forgive me for trespassing, wandering onto your property, taking the paths you’ve created and redecorating your lovely garden of words with different bouquets. Without permission or invitation, I’ve spent time with a blanket thrown down in your forest. Will it help if I mention Prayer, the poem gracing the back cover of Like a Beggar? The opening line: “Once I wore a dress liquid as vodka.” (Who can resist wanting more?) Will it help if I encourage every reader of this flimsy blog of mine to buy Like a Beggar? Such a feast, this book. Such a feast.

I have no excuse for my actions here, other than a desire to improve my skills as a wordsmith. Who better to follow than you? (Yes, Mary Oliver … but her books are not within reach at the moment.)

Respectfully, lynn


It’s a thing I do, this imitation of other writers. I’m never certain about the right or wrong of my efforts. I don’t want or mean to plagiarize. I try not to directly repeat the words of others. It’s the rhythm, the sounds, the abrupt change of directions, the use of similes and metaphors, adjectives, adverbs, etc. that I go for–or the absence of same. It’s the syllables, the beat, the simplicity or complexity of syntax, the story arc, the movement from A to B to C, the assonance, alliteration, the esses and efs and hisses, the magic of words a maestra has spellbound me with–and I just can’t seem to stop reaching for that.


Creating Emotion in a Reader: Cunningham does it, why can’t I

How does a writer create emotion in a reader?   This was the question tonight on Pat Bertram’s Gather Group: No Whine Just Champagne.  With a Group title like that, who needs anything more, right?  The discussion was a good deal more and the hour spent reading and commenting with other writers well worth the time.  To visit Pat’s blog, click on the link, lower right, of my “blogroll” and find interesting weekly posts on the craft of writing.

In advance of the Live Chat on NWJC, I wrote the following, just so I would have something to offer, and now I offer it here, on my blog, so as not to . . . hmm . . . not to vaporize [I knew I could come up with a good sci-fi-cyberspace verb if I gave it a sec!] so as not to “vaporize” my thoughts on good writing and emotional development of characters, in readers, making us care about those we’d just as soon not care about . . . etcetera.  So, here goes: 

I’ve been rereading The Hours by Michael Cunningham.  The character played by Meryl Streep in the movie is, in the book, the protagonist of the story thread that Cunningham gives the most space/pages.  I think because she is a shallow character, at heart, Cunningham is required to spend considerable time so that we, as readers, can find in her those elements of ourselves that we always hope stay hidden – our envy of what we don’t have; our propensity to go on about “surfaces” of things and people, the artifice, the “pretty” of pretty lives, and find ourselves unhappy, on some level. 

Someone mentioned “deep” pov in pre-discussion, and I wondered if what Cunningham does with the “Mrs. Dalloway”/Clarissa character in The Hours isn’t exactly that . . . an attention to miniscule details and inner thoughts of a woman dissatisfied, yet pretending a vitality and happiness she doesn’t genuinely feel.

As a reader of the Pulitzer winning novel, and viewer of the movie, I can honestly say that in the movie I cared more about the Mrs. Brown (Julianne Moore) character and the Mrs Woolf (Nicole Kidman) character than I did about the modern woman, Clarissa a.k.a Mrs. Dalloway.  But, in the book, it is the Clarissa character that I find myself emotionally involved with, reacting to, caring about more so than the others.  She is not a sympathetic character and yet … I sympathize.

Good job, you, Mr. Cunningham, for taking me where I didn’t expect I might go with this read.

“folklore” is . . .

A certain Mr. Thoms in the middle of the nineteenth century first used the term “folklore” as a substitute for “popular antiquities.”  Popular antiquities?  Wow.  Seven syllables swapped down for two.  Works for me.  The definition of “folklore” according to the Folklore Society of London about 1890 is:  The comparison and identification of the survivals of archaic beliefs, customs, and traditions in modern ages.”  Again – Wow.  That’s a mouthful and then some. 

Another guy, A. H. Krappe, in The Science of Folklore (1930) wrote: “folklore limits itself to a study of the unrecorded traditions of the people as they appear in popular fiction, custom and belief, magic and ritual,” and went on to talk about how folklore reconstructs spiritual histories for people.

In my Handbook to Literature edited by Holman and Holman, folklore includes myths, legends, stories, riddles, proverbs, nursery rhymes, charms, spells, omens, beliefs of all sorts, popular ballads, cowboy songs, plant lore, animal lore, and customs dealing with birth, initiation, courtship, marriage, medicine, work, amusements, and death. 

Wikipedia goes further, stating that “Folklore is the body of expressive culture, including tales, music, dance, legends, oral history, proverbs, jokes, popular beliefs, customs, and so forth within a particular population comprising the traditions (including oral traditions) of that culture, subculture, or group.” 

Now.  Wasn’t that fun?

Crime Story How To Link

No sooner do I put out a request for information on Crime Stories and How To Write Them, but I find a source!  The BBC has any number of wonderful links for writers.  The “source” link provided here connects with Crime fiction and information offered may be found in Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced writing skills areas. 

Reading, Writing, and Sparking Imagination

Benjamin Rosenbaum wrote “The Orange” and the editors of Flash Fiction Forward put it on page 135 when W. W. Norton Company were clever enough to publish the 80 stories Jim and Bob (Thomas and Shapard, respectively) had brought together.  And I, after reading a review by Charles Lennox on Gather.com, and being less dim than on other days, I ordered a copy of Jim and Bob’s anthology from Amazon.  Wonderful short-shorts.  Wonderful small reads of big stories.  Sometimes larger than life.  As in the case of “The Orange.” 

Here’s the thing: right or wrong, I often imitate stories most enjoyed and/or respected.  In B. Rosenbaum’s short-short “The Orange,” the opening line reads: “An orange ruled the world.”   

My world is ruled by whim, not an orange, and the short-short I want to write will not be about oranges, regal or treeless, but about . . . about . . . birds.  Yes.  And a particular bird that . . . hmmm . . . doesn’t rule the world, doesn’t even rule his own roost, but, instead, is, is . . . is (hold on, hold on, I’m thinking here!) is THE bird with the longest beak in the world!   In fact, too long a beak to allow that this bird could or should thrive.  The sort of beak that once a morsel, for instance a seed, is tweezered between top and bottom, the energy required to bobble that seed the whole length of his beak to enter his mouth burns slightly more calories than the morsel provides.  A dim future, indeed.  To be always in decline, generation to generation, until the decline is such that even if there were male birds capable of fertilization, their female counterparts could no longer squeeze out an egg.  And it wasn’t just the one bird (well, at first perhaps, but not for long) or even confined to feathered types for more than half a season.  In the same way that particularly viral influenzas spread between species, this counter-evolutionary process spread.  Laterally, at first, until no eagle could maintain a wingspan as he soared; eagles of all varieties collapsing into fields, trees, granite mountain faces.  Hawks, of course, too.  Plain sparrows.  Yellow canaries.  Bees.  Gnats.  Mosquitoes and flies.  By the time people felt the effects, they cared next to none.  Science forgot how to make anti-depressants and those people that didn’t hang themselves (mostly because they were completely inept with nooses), ran over high cliffs like lemmings.  They could have been mammoth or buffalo herded to fall in just such a way by primitive tribes on Paleo continents.  They could’ve been, but in fact they were modern people gone retro beyond any brain capabilities at all!  The sorriest part, the very most sorriest part of all this Rise and Fall of species is that by the time the “fall” gets underway, we are all too dumb to put the skids on—and, by the time we RE-evolution ourselves into homes and gizmos again, we can’t remember we’ve wrecked it all at least once before or that a species of birds grew beaks too long to be useful just from drinking the water used to cool the gizmo factory uptown. 

The orange in B. Rosenbaum’s story got bought by the narrative voice on page 136 of Flash Forward Fiction.  The n.v. paid 39 cents and after three days ate the orange, the same orange that was, until his departure, ruler of the world.  How do I compare my rare bird of long beak? Never a ruler, certainly never eaten (not by this narrative voice!), is he, was he, in the end, the sum of all of our best intentions?  Or . . . shh . . . . I’m thinking.  

“Scenes” notes from SBWC

From one of the Santa Barbara Writers Conference mystery genre workshops, a couple notes regarding “Scenes.”  I think, in a wider sense, the five points listed below apply to poetry as well as prose.  

A scene is narrative segments that have a shape and every scene must earn its place on the page.   Consider these five points when determining whether to keep or cut:  Purpose.  Direction.  Conflict.  Development.  Closure.

If any of the above are difficult to find in the written scene created, then rethink the work.  If the purpose hasn’t been met, figure out how to meet it.  If the direction meanders to such a degree that it can’t be nailed down, by you, the writer–consider how frustrated your reader will be.   If some conflict, whether internal decision making or external action, whatever, isn’t recognizable, then the prose, while possibly gorgeous and a particular “darling” will lack energy and tension.   Before leaving the scene, check out how well every element has been developed, or over-developed.   Close the scene while the reader is still with you, but bait the hook for what’s to come.