Ursula K. Le Guin, Finding My Elegy

Cover of Ursula Le Guin's Finding My Elegy, showing landscape and sunsetI have to confess, I’ve stalled writing this review because I don’t want to think about reading any elegies for Ursula Le Guin. Ive been reading and treasuring her books and essays and poems since I was child growing up in the 70s in a single-wide trailer on the wind-scoured American Great Plains. Le Guin wrote doors for me to other places, fascinating places, places to dream of visiting and aspire to reach. An elegy traditionally laments someone’s death. In a more contemporary sense, an elegy may be an expression of existential or metaphysical loss, sadness, or yearning. To consider an elegy for Le Guin means having to admit she’s old and cannot live and write forever. I hate that. Not only because it requires facing the realization that I’ve gotten a great deal older as well, but because the notion itself makes me sad, anticipating the inevitable loss of a treasured friend and ally regardless of the fact that she’s not someone I know personally.

There’s no introduction, no forward, no dedication; Finding My Elegy: New and Selected Poems, byUrsula K. Le Guin opens quite simply and immediately after the colophon and table of contents with a short, early poem. Offering serves as both preface and invocation, entreating the reader and invisible gods to judge a poem made of the verge of sleep but then forgotten upon waking, and if finding it good, to accept it as an offering. Taken with the resonance of elegy in the collection’s title, and the clear symbolism of sleep as a metaphor for death, the initial poem is a clear invitation to the reader to explore these inner lands with the writer, then make up our own minds regarding the worth and weight of the journey.

Inner lands are familiar territory for Le Guin. Her essay collection, The Language of the Night, begins with a 1973 essay called “A Citizen of Mondath” in which she opens with a quotation from A Dreamer’s Tales, by Lord Dunsany:

Toldees, Mondath, Arizim, these are the Inner Lands, the lands whose sentinels upon their borders do not behold the sea. Beyond them to the east there lies a desert, for ever untroubled by man: all yellow it is, and spotted with shadows of stones, and Death is in it, like a leopard lying in the sun.

Le Guin concludes her essay with the observation that, “Outer Space, and the Inner Lands, are still, and always will be, my country.” It’s fitting, then, that nearly forty years later, Le Guin is still exploring those Inner Lands with additional maturity, insight, and gravitas.

It’s sometimes difficult to explore big and abstract ideas in prose without sounding pompous and impenetrable, and likewise its hard to express simple daily observations without sounding trite and a little dull and droning on with too many words to convey what was an instant of experience. These are the sorts of insights sometimes better reserved for poetry.

Finding My Elegy offers poems written between 1960 and 2010, so some of them will likely be familiar to the longtime Le Guin reader. Seventy of the poems were selected from earlier volumes, and seventy-seven are presented for the first time. The poems range in length and form, romp with expression and wordplay, and wind about exploring the impossible and inexpressible, the sacred contrasted with the profane.

There are quiet poems about life and work and sleeping cats, here, reminiscent of Emily Dickinson’s gift for juxtaposing the mundane with the profound. There are longer, more structured, careful poems, exploring the faces of god and motherhood and love and sex and despair and sleep.

The poems span the entirety of Le Guin’s career so far, from 1960 to present; collected and presented together, they distill much of Le Guin’s writing life. Finding My Elegy is not so much lament as examination, a recollection of a literary body of work that is rich, evocative, and sometimes whimsical much like any life.

An elegy for such a remarkable body of work and thought must be sought, because theres so very much to recall, sort, and consider, that there are no simple summations. The entire retrospective taken as a whole reads like a single long poem made of many smaller parts.

Nothing about Le Guin’s selection and presentation of these poems is accidental or random, and as a reader its only fitting that we approach this collection with the same attention to detail and mindfulness, both of the parts and of the whole of the book. As Le Guins reader, we seek so that we, too, may find her elegy.

If you haven’t read much poetry,don’t worry: Finding My Elegy is an excellent door into the inner lands for any reader. If you’re a long time poetry lover,you’ll find the journey extraordinarily rewarding and well worth your consideration. Ultimately, the collection, itself, is a long and lovely elegy to be remembered, reconsidered, and revisited again and again.

Previously published on Floccinaucical.

Banned Books Week 2017

ALA 2016 Book Challenges Infographic

This is the first day of Banned Books week. It’s a celebration of the right to read. Books are constantly challenged in the context of the right to read them, the right to sell them, the right for teachers and libraries to include specific books in their curricula and libraries. Book challenges and book bans take place far more often than people realize, and often, the books are challenged by adults who haven’t read the books in question, but want to make sure that others can’t.

Most challenges are made by parents who not only want to stop their children from reading a particular book, they want to stop all children. The second largest group in terms of book challenges in 2016 were challenges made by library patrons who wanted to have a book removed from a library’s collection.

The First Amendment is generally seen as the primary protection regarding the right to read. The First amendment to the Constitution reads:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Increasingly, as you can see from these top ten lists of challenged books, books are challenged (and subsequently removed from school curricula and library collections) because of concerns about reference to sex, or because they include LGBT characters.

Large numbers of books that some people don’t want you to read are classics. Many are children’s books. Increasingly, the challenged and banned books are YA books or books challenged because they feature diverse content, that is:

the work is about people and issues others would prefer not to consider. Often, content addresses concerns of groups who have suffered historic and ongoing discrimination.

The challenged books (and they become banned when schools or libraries remove them from shelves) include books like Maya Angelou’s I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, Heather Has Two Mommies by Lesléa Newman, The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros.

Look at the lists of challenged and banned books, to see if a book that’s meaningful to you, or that you loved reading is there; I’m pretty sure you’ll find an old friend or three there, as well as lots of new friends. Consider participating in the Rebel Reader Twitter Tournament, or Absolute Write’s own local contest described here.

You’ll notice a lot of canon novels are considered worth banning; here are just a few. The books on this list are books from the Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century that have been the target of ban attempts.

  1. F. Scott Fitzgerald. The Great Gatsby.
  2. J.D. Salinger. The Catcher in the Rye.
  3. John Steinbeck. The Grapes of Wrath.
  4. Harper Lee. To Kill a Mockingbird.
  5. Alice Walker. The Color Purple.
  6. James Joyce. Ulysses.
  7. Toni Morrison. Beloved.
  8. William Golding. The Lord of the Flies.
  9. George Orwell. 1984.
  1. Vladmir Nabokov. Lolita.
  2. John Steinbeck. Of Mice and Men.
  1. Joseph Heller. Catch-22.
  2. Aldous Huxley. Brave New World.
  3. George Orwell. Animal Farm.
  4. Ernest Hemingway. The Sun Also Rises.
  5. William Faulkner. As I Lay Dying.
  6. Ernest Hemingway. A Farewell to Arms.
  1. Zora Neale Hurston. Their Eyes Were Watching God.
  2. Ralph Ellison. Invisible Man.
  3. Toni Morrison. Song of Solomon.
  4. Margaret Mitchell. Gone with the Wind.
  5. Richard Wright. Native Son.
  6. Ken Kesey. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
  7. Kurt Vonnegut. Slaughterhouse-Five.
  8. Ernest Hemingway. For Whom the Bell Tolls.
  1. Jack London. The Call of the Wild.
  1. James Baldwin. Go Tell it on the Mountain.
  1. Robert Penn Warren. All the King’s Men.
  1. J.R.R. Tolkien. The Lord of the Rings.
  1. Upton Sinclair. The Jungle.
  1. D.H. Lawrence. Lady Chatterley’s Lover.
  2. Anthony Burgess. A Clockwork Orange.
  3. Kate Chopin. The Awakening.
  1. Truman Capote. In Cold Blood.
  1. Salman Rushdie. The Satanic Verses.
  1. William Styron. Sophie’s Choice.
  1. D.H. Lawrence. Sons and Lovers.
  1. Kurt Vonnegut. Cat’s Cradle.
  2. John Knowles. A Separate Peace.
  1. William S. Burroughs. Naked Lunch.
  2. Evelyn Waugh. Brideshead Revisited.
  3. D.H. Lawrence. Women in Love.
  1. Norman Mailer. The Naked and the Dead.
  1. Henry Miller. Tropic of Cancer.
  1. Theodore Dreiser. An American Tragedy.
  1. John Updike. Rabbit, Run.

There are Absolute Write affiliate links in this post.

Poetry Manifesto

Poetry is the philanthropy of the illuminated mind to the dulled wits of those immured in the tragedy of mundanity. —Aero Gantz of Pampa City.

Poetry is the truest literary, spoken and visualized form of communication. Whether sonnet, haiku or that apex of wit, the limerick. Only the poet can fully immerse themselves in the creative world, from ordering in rhyme at a restaurant to wearing the beret required by Our Muse. Poetry must flow throw your veins, and serve as your soul’s breath. Poets give us words like these noble verses about the Magdalene’s eyes:

Two walking baths; two weeping motions;
Portable, and compendious oceans.

Narrative is the realm of the banal, the pedantic halfwit who thinks himself wise, yet lacks meter and rhyme. Naked prose is harsh, crude and uninspiring, without the adornment offered by poetic figures. True masterpieces speak the language of poetry even when clothed in prose:

Her cheeks were almost as red as her hair already, like red Delicious apples under green leaves which were her eyes and the dark pupils were like little curled up caterpillars in the middle—Travis Tea

Poetry speaks to and from the soul. It tickles and caresses the mind as one mulls over the next word or phrase to imbue the reader with a kaleidoscope of images that flow from each precious verse. Only the poet can engender true rapture in the reader, such that

My ear is open like a greedy shark,
To catch the tunings of a voice divine.

All writing is poetic, to the truly sensitive soul. Never in the history of mankind ever has there ever been a more perfect, more inspiring or more nobler form of communication than poetry. One must aspire to exalt the noble art to its highest incarnation; to bring joy and bliss to the world with wit, rhyme and the perfection of the 5/7/5 haiku, or, in the highest form of poetic art, the limerick.

Pity those unable to grasp and embrace the rich visual beauty of the spoken sonnet. Mourn the barren souls of those bereft of the lyrical gift of rhyme. Know that deep down frankly, you are more perfect, more better and more refined than the mouth-breathing, knuckle dragger who hears a couplet and thinks, that’s it. Buffoons.

If you have so earth-creeping a mind that it cannot lift itself up to look to the sky of poetry . . . thus much curse I must send you, in the behalf of all poets, that while you live, you live in love, and never get favour for lacking skill of a sonnet; and, when you die, your memory die from the earth for want of an epitaph.

Happy April 1. Now go read some good poetry in honor of National Poetry Month.

Absolute Write Forums Upgrade and Brief Outage

We’re going to have a short break in Absolute Write service from 9 am Saturday, May 9 2015, to 9 pm, Sunday, May 10 2015, Pacific Time.

We’re upgrading the software for the forums. It will be a little different, but mostly the same (only better!).

What you can do to help is, just in case, save a copy of your avatar. We expect the have them all lined up properly, but just in case, save your avatar.

While you wait for the forums to be back up, we suggest you write.

If you want to track our progress as we introduce new hamsters to our established server hamsters, you can hang out with us

  • on Twitter:

  • on the Absolute Write Facebook page

  • And of course, AW Chat will still be running. We do Word Wars, weekly writing challenges, occasional sentence workshopping, and the hungrier you are the more likely we are to be talking about food.

Note our special Contest during the server upgrade!

It’s Banned Books Week!


ALAla.org banned books banner

You can read more about it here.

In the meantime, what’s on the ALA banned and challenged list that you’ve read and loved? The books on this list are books from the Radcliffe Publishing Course Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century that have been the target of ban attempts.

  1. F. Scott Fitzgerald. The Great Gatsby.
  2. J.D. Salinger. The Catcher in the Rye.
  3. John Steinbeck. The Grapes of Wrath.
  4. Harper Lee. To Kill a Mockingbird.
  5. Alice Walker. The Color Purple.
  6. James Joyce. Ulysses.
  7. Toni Morrison. Beloved.
  8. William Golding. The Lord of the Flies.
  9. George Orwell. 1984.
  1. Vladmir Nabokov. Lolita.
  2. John Steinbeck. Of Mice and Men.
  1. Joseph Heller. Catch-22.
  2. Aldous Huxley. Brave New World.
  3. George Orwell. Animal Farm.
  4. Ernest Hemingway. The Sun Also Rises.
  5. William Faulkner. As I Lay Dying.
  6. Ernest Hemingway. A Farewell to Arms.
  1. Zora Neale Hurston. Their Eyes Were Watching God.
  2. Ralph Ellison. Invisible Man.
  3. Toni Morrison. Song of Solomon.
  4. Margaret Mitchell. Gone with the Wind.
  5. Richard Wright. Native Son.
  6. Ken Kesey. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
  7. Kurt Vonnegut. Slaughterhouse-Five.
  8. Ernest Hemingway. For Whom the Bell Tolls.
  1. Jack London. The Call of the Wild.
  1. James Baldwin. Go Tell it on the Mountain.
  1. Robert Penn Warren. All the King’s Men.
  1. J.R.R. Tolkien. The Lord of the Rings.
  1. Upton Sinclair. The Jungle.
  1. D.H. Lawrence. Lady Chatterley’s Lover.
  2. Anthony Burgess. A Clockwork Orange.
  3. Kate Chopin. The Awakening.
  1. Truman Capote. In Cold Blood.
  1. Salman Rushdie. The Satanic Verses.
  1. William Styron. Sophie’s Choice.
  1. D.H. Lawrence. Sons and Lovers.
  1. Kurt Vonnegut. Cat’s Cradle.
  2. John Knowles. A Separate Peace.
  1. William S. Burroughs. Naked Lunch.
  2. Evelyn Waugh. Brideshead Revisited.
  3. D.H. Lawrence. Women in Love.
  1. Norman Mailer. The Naked and the Dead.
  1. Henry Miller. Tropic of Cancer.
  1. Theodore Dreiser. An American Tragedy.
  1. John Updike. Rabbit, Run.

Spam for Breakfast!

We talked about SEO and keywords, last time. I’ve got a post I’ve been working on about agents blogging, but in the meantime I’ve been deleting a fair amount of spam from the comments threads since we went live with comments here. (Thank you to HistorySleuth for the heads-up on this morning’s fresh batch.) So I’m looking at turning on more of the anti-spam tools. If you guys get comments hung up in moderation, please feel free to drop me a note and I’ll take a look. Real comments make me grin the rest of the day, so I don’t want to miss any.A smiling George Burns and Gracie Allen from an old SPAM canned meat advertisement.

But I’ll confess to being already a bit grumpy about spam in general, so I got just plain mad when I got to the AW forums to discover that an agent (and a legitimate agent at that) is apparently running a contest on her blog, and one of the rules for entry is to post a link to the contest site on your own blog or site, and two other venues. That means that a half-dozen comment-spam links had been posted all over the forums, already.

So I wrote the agent in question with my objections, and she blew me off with a cheerful but dismissive statement that this is just how it’s done, and “Obviously, I didn’t send them directly to you nor do I have control over where they choose to post.”

No, actually — requiring that people invade other sites with comment spam is NOT how it’s done. It’s a fairly astonishing breach of netiquette, in fact. There’s a good article about comment spam, what it is, and how to deal with it, here.

Requiring that people spam message boards and other people’s blogs? That’s a far cry from asking people to tweet a link, retweet the link, or post on their own blogs/sites. Dealing with spam takes up an awful lot of everyone’s time. Most bloggers, community members, and board moderators are actively hostile — and with good reason.

Why don’t we just ignore spam? Because it interrupts the conversation. When you have to scroll past post after post of links that have nothing to do with what people are actually talking about, it’s disruptive and distracting. It’s also a cheesy attempt to try and cash in on other people’s hard work maintaining a community.

So how does anyone get the word out about a promotion (or a contest) without making site-owners and bloggers actively hostile? That’s dead simple. You build a reputation with your participation, then you spend that reputation carefully. Participation. Real conversation. Posting good links in relevant places will actually enhance your credibility, in fact.

Message boards and blogs are usually equipped to let people link back to their own sites in their signatures and/or profiles. Often, there’s even an appropriate place to post a direct link if you have an announcement or are promoting something. If you’re participating in real conversations, saying interesting things, interacting and engaging with an online community, then people are going to be a good deal more attentive and curious about what you’re doing elsewhere, as well.