Wednesday, August 15, 2018

'The Country' Garden: Please Take a Look at My Novel "The Country/The Country." First Chapters Posted Online

    
       I'm going live with my latest book, rather than waiting around for a traditional publisher to take a chance on me. I'm putting it online, in weekly segments, like an old-fashioned serial novel. 
           Called "The Country/The Country," the novel is a speculative fiction inspired by the catastrophically divisive Presidential election of 2016. The story takes place in a fictional country much like our own, in which a "strong man" candidate seeks to take power using fraud and intimidation.
           Here's the short plot summary that publishers call the "blurb."

            A retired teacher, Keel is an Everyman in "The Commonhope of Uz," content to be a good citizen in a country founded on the rule of law and the guidance of reason. But after a long period of prosperity under a widely admired chief executive, fears of economic stagnation and social change are driving the candidacy of a new kind of leader. Called "Pig" by his supporters, who pack rallies to show their eagerness for vague, sweeping concentrations of power, businessman Karol Pegasso dominates the country's complicated election system. Chance, or something larger, drives Keel to join an opposition formed by young radicals and old-fashioned idealists, and led by an aging psychic who calls herself a witch. Together they summon forces beyond the old understandings of reason and law to build a wall of flesh and stop Pig's march to power. But in the end the country's safety relies on waking the slumbering giants of compassion and care, known as the Ancient Ones, "the bodies," and the Angels of Light. 

          I will be enormously grateful to any and all willing to take a look at the book's first five chapters. I've posted them at 

      The chapters are short. 
       Please leave a comment at the end; even a word or two helps. 
       I'll be posting new chapters every week.  
       It's been fun for me to write. I hope you find it fun to read.  



 

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Garden of Verse: Trees for Me, Wearing Well for All Seasons




    I'm still celebrating trees this month. I don't know how long this fixation will last, but the way I'm feeling these days I may ride it a some considerable time. As the dominant species on the planet Earth -- so dominant that even though we're still newcomers we now have a whole geological period named after us: the Anthropocene -- human beings have to figure out a way to live on earth without living off it to the destructive extent that we are currently indulging in. 
            We have already destroyed most of the world's old forests. Yet all terrestrial life, animals and other plants, depend on climate regulatory and other functions provided by trees. 
             This said, two of my poems in the August 2018 issue of Verse-Virtual.com are celebratory -- at least that's the intent. Gloom and doom in abeyance. The third is something else altogether  
              The poem "This Tree" begins with a quote from an ancient source: 

"For you have five trees in paradise
which do not change,
either in summer or in winter
and their lives do not fall
He who knows them
shall not taste of death."
-- the Gnostic gospel of Thomas

            My poem continues:

This tree
From Adam's garden grew

And fed a world of green plant
eaters, tiny shrews that one day grew
into a race of limber primates,
a hungry crew
that ate green earth down to the bones


Five trees grew in Adam's garden
that do not change their clothes for winter
And their tribe lives on forever...
I would have them in my garden
Would they keep me in their world?


.... Please read the rest of this poem, and find many others, at Verse-Virtual.com http://www.verse-virtual.com/robert-knox-2018-august.html

 The second poem in the August issue, titled "Influence of Earth," also begins with a quote, this one from Thoreau. Then, nothing shy, I jump right in:


Influence of Earth
 "Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink,
  taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth."                                                                                                                                                                                              --Thoreau

 
Build yourself a cathedral in the trees
Hear bluebells ring in "Campanula"
Hear the birds play in the mulberries
            (knowing that it's work for them)
Drink down the shade from roofs of leaf-warp
weaving ceilings for the sky...  


          The third poem, "Hair: The Reunion," is a salute to the 'salon' that trims my personal growth.

           You can find all the poems here:
http://www.verse-virtual.com/poems-and-articles.html


See this poem, and many others, at Verse-Virtual.com http://www.verse-virtual.com/robert-knox-2018-august.html

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Garden of the Seasons: Final Bows From a Star-Studded July


          Friends, have I told you that I love July? I did? Oh, yeah, pretty much every day this month.

            A lot of perennials appeared to be having a good time this month as well.

            And, happily for me, they continued to find their own water. Today was the first time this month I thought about hauling out the old lawn sprinkler to make some of the drier patches of ground (I generally can't see too many because the plants block my view) look happier. This practice probably does the plants some good, especially if their leaves are visibly wilting. More often it just makes me feel better.

            Happily a year of decent rains put enough water into the ground, relieving me (and the plants) from the anxieties of the typical midsummer drought. You know, think brown lawns. That doesn't mean that it won't happen in August.
        July is the big month for daylilies. After the familiar orange native variety finishes their bloom, cultivars such as the  daylilies in the top photo take over the stage. To my shame I gave up trying to keep track of their names years ago. This plant produces blossoms that are big, striking, and numerous. If I had to name it, I might call it 'best seller.'

          The second photo down is a medium tall, white flowering herb called Achillea or, more commonly, yarrow. Herbs tend to be native plants that are hardy and make the best of the situation.
            The third photo down is Balloon Flower, whose formal moniker (I'm told) is Platycodon grandiflorus. It's grand, all right in July. The 'balloon' name comes from the puffy buds, some of which you can see in this photo. It's their color and prolific quantity of blossoms that make them a winner for me. These happy flowers are shown in a tighter close-up in the page's second-to-last photo.            
           The next photo down shows some of Black-Eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) that proliferate this time of year. I've learned they are a member of the sunflower. We have tow varieties, one (pictured here) blooms a few weeks earlier than the second, which has somewhat darker green leaves and stems and has proved a real land-grabber, well adapted to our part-shade growing condition. 
          The sixth photo shows a group of these familiars hanging together. At its center are the Echinacea, sold as Cone Flower, another hardy herb. The violet variety pictured here is Echinacea purpurea. The purple and the white blossoming Echinacea are shown together in the fifth photo down.This grouping of flowering perennials (sixth photo) hangs together for about a month. The balloon flowers, pictured earlier, have begun drop out of the scene, all their splendid little buds having popped and faded in the familiar parade of the seasons. 
          The seventh photo down centers on Liatris, a thistle-like flower growing on tall spikes. Also called Blazing Star, and (a name from an earlier day) Gay flower. Our spikes are not very tall, maybe because the situation gets a lot of shade. It's a another bee-attracter. We get a lot of bees. 
           The back piece of garden gets good light on July afternoons. The eighth photo down pictures a high-noon gathering of the some of the perennials named above. 
          The next photo depicts the angle of the so-called "Gooseneck Loosestrife." Another herbaceous perennial, this one from the Lysimachia family, this gang has expanded its territory in recent years.

          Another shot taken in the high sun hours, the photo to the left centers on the pink-flowering tall phlox (Phlox paniculata), that bloom in July and stay with us all through August. These too eat up a lot of territory and hold on to a lot of color.








Sunday, July 22, 2018

The Garden of Verse: Saluting Home-Grown Truths About Where We All Came From and Other Poems of Our Season

In the patriotic month of July, the idea of 'America' sent Verse-Virtual poets on a thematic dig through symbols, memories, generational retrospectives and hard looks at what I recently heard described as "our cultural moment." 
            Gee, whatever could that mean?
            Maybe Uncle Sam can help. Jim Lewis's bracingly original take on a familiar icon in his poem "shaving america" makes this vivid appeal:
"we need you, uncle sam/ need your rebellious hair/ waving white in the breeze/ need that familiar goatee/ flying like a white badge/ of courage..."
            Lewis's other poem in the July issue, "how long does it take," is a vivid verse essay on what could possibly be meant by the notion of a 'real' American... "not a fake, not an invader/ not an illegal, or undocumented/ but a real, good-as-a-gold-dollar american." Because, clearly, everyone's origins can be challenged on the grounds that we came from somewhere else. Even 'Indians,' the poem notes, are "a figment/ of some explorer's imagination." The implication from these few richly packed stanzas is that being 'real' is not a matter of where you or your ancestors were born.

            Firestone Feinberg's marvelous poem "After School" asks us to confront one of those 'anthem' words that Americans, and the world (at least in other 'cultural moments'), associate with this country. I won't spoil the ending by mentioning it here. A lot gets rolled into this poem's relatively few words and short lines, besides those cigarettes the poet recalls smoking at age fourteen. Consider these lines, curt as a teenage brush-off: "And your mother/ Is dead and you/ Are left with/ A father you/ Can't talk to". The smoking takes place not only after school but "By the/ Waters of Babylon/ And you remember/ The songs of/ Zion." A further deepening context in a very affecting poem.
            In "Honoring Ancestors," Joan Mazza writes of ancestors in Canicatti: "No one learned to read,/ but they knew of schools, saved lira for a steamship to America." Guess what happens "three generations later" to great-grandchildren who graduate from college, teach, speak two languages? They also "go back to the earth," grow basil, buy "semolina flour/ heart of the wheat from Italy,/ to make pannetone and pasta..." Do stories like this one -- regardless of whether these brave ancestors came from Italy or anywhere else in the world -- not make the USA a 'great' country and much richer than it would otherwise be? Why is this history not taught in schools?    

            Too much winning? When it comes to immigrant ancestors you have to take the eccentric with the ordinary, as Michael Minassian's poem "Naked Toes, Naked Stars" suggests. After his Armenian grandfather lost a big toe to a lawnmower, the poet visited him in the hospital and found him "rattling off a litany of complaints/ in a swift combination/ of four languages,/ confusing the hell out of the/ Puerto Rican nurse & Indian doctor ..." They wrap his foot "like some 20th/ century mummy from the Bronx" but fail to cushion his "cursing abilities" among other colorful traits. The poet's search for the missing digit brings the poem wonderfully back to those "naked stars."

          Tricia Knoll's poem "The Value of a Home" addresses the issue named by its title in terms both close to home and close to the heart. How do you put a value, the poem asks, to immaterial assets such as the "Christmas tree corner with green/ lights, a deck where poetry flowed/ into the woods, enough water/ in the creek it might be crying"--? This is a moving poem about the kind of migration we all make at one time or another from one someplace to live to another, and about the unquantifiable human value of 'home' to all of us fortunate to have one.  

          Penny Harter's poem   "Healing the Wound With Honey" flows from one of those scientific findings that reads like a kind of curiously wonderful found artifact. Research, apparently, has shown that "difficult-to-heal wounds respond well to honey dressings." I'd say this sounds like the stuff only poets can make up.
            Harter's poem begins with this perfect jumping off point: "It must have been inflicted in another life,/ this wound we can’t remember, not even sure/ whose it may have been." The poet illustrates those difficult wounds by way of a beautiful image "a wound/ of the spirit that even the heavy blue dressing/ of the sky can’t fix." So we must "learn the names of honey," and where we must offer this healing provides a deeply fitting ending I don't wish to spoil here.

            However strongly we may feel about America, our home is also the earth. Robbi Nestor's "Benediction to the Earth" is a prayer that both cites and summons the enduring blessings of the planet. An Ekphrastic poem accompanying an image by Ira Joel Haber on her V-V page, ("blue as a morpho" butterfly to quote from the poem), "Benediction" asks the rain clouds to "carry our heavy regrets" and drop them harmlessly on desert; and among other requests petitions the sun to bring us "the chambered face of the sunflower."
            I like sunflowers. I don't ask where they came from (earth is answer enough). I bless the rain that falls in New England, without wondering what other country or continent it may have visited. And I am glad that my country births so many wonderful poems. 
            You can find these poems and many others at http://www.verse-virtual.com/poems-and-articles.html

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Shakespeare's Garden: 'Macbeth' in Our Season


            Some aspects of Shakespeare's great political tragedy "Macbeth," director Melia Bensussen writes in her notes to the current production at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Mass., "resonated... with our cultural moment."
            Indeed.
            Would that 'moment' be the one when our current Usurper sells out his country's interests, alliances, values, and national pride to the two-bit totalitarian gangster who currently runs the long-running catastrophe generally known as Russia?
            "I thought about what moves and frightens us as contemporary audiences," Bensussen writes, and cites "how Macbeth's ambition, and belief in his imagination, lead to his destruction."
            She quotes the estimable literary critic Harold Bloom: "(The Macbeths) delight in their wickedness... Shakespeare rather dreadfully sees to it that we are Macbeth; our identity with him is involuntary but inescapable."
            Since 2016 there has been only one dominating influence on our 'cultural moment.' I won't say the name of the devil, but you know who I mean.
            What else can be meant by the 'cultural moment'? Me-too? The sins exposed there don't appear to have a precursor in this play since the only woman who matters, Lady Macbeth, is more actor than victim. You can see the "delight" Bloom speaks of in Bensussen's direction when Lady M. laughs in the course of her encouragement of her husband to murder and usurp. To throw caution to the winds and have the 'courage' to risk all for the prize of royal power, and be ruthless in obtaining it.
            They're playing the game of houses (or "Game of Thrones" as the TV series called it).  Among other contenders for the Scottish crown we must count the head (Duncan's) currently wearing the crown, whose necked is saved by Macbeth's defeat of the rebels. Banquo, Macbeth's comrade in arms, is another rival. When we first meet Macbeth, he is triumphant in a just cause and likable. A furiously competent warrior, he takes pains to share the credit for the victory with Banquo.
            But Banquo must be eliminated because of the witches' prophecy. Though he will not become king himself, they prophesy, his descendants will. Our hero-villain naturally prefers his heirs to sit on the throne (even though he doesn't appear to have any).
            Other threats to his power include Duncan's son Malcolm. Suspecting correctly that he's a likely target of the conspiracy that murdered his father, he flees the castle before the Macbeths can take a run at him. Then there's Macduff. Though he evinces no appetite for the game of thrones power, simply because he is a name, a power center that might some day ally with Macbeth's enemies gathering across the border in England, the logic of tyranny says he must be eliminated.
            Ask any tyrant in our own season. 
            Ask North Korea's Kim. Ask Putin why the oligarchs must be cut down to size before they become too popular or influential. Ask the Chinese Communist Party why no religious groups may operate in their country, no dissenters question their policies.
            Unlike history's more famous tyrants, Shakespeare's Macbeth has something they don't -- a conscience. An unavoidable capacity to experience, to feel, the reality of what he's doing. After he has Banquo murdered, Banquo's ghost ("in his blood") turns up at the dinner table.
            Macbeth's pathetic breakdown at the appearance of this ghost is black humor. Bensussen's production plays it for all that it's worth -- and then some; running the entire scene through twice. First with Banquo's ghostly appearance viewed by the audience. A second time with no 'ghost' on stage; the way, that is, the other guests would have perceived the occasion of Macbeth's mad-guilty ravings.
            The word the play's scholars use for this inconvenient capacity in a ruthless usurper is "imagination." Bensussen writes, "Macbeth too strongly believes in his own imagination..."
            He can, clearly, imagine himself king. But he can't help seeing the cost.
            To go back to that quote from Bloom: "Macbeth suffers intensely from knowing that he does evil, and that he must go on doing ever worse."
            Those last few words nail it. It's not enough to kill Macduff; you must kill his wife and children as well. No potential enemy can be left alive.
            Just as, to take a current instance, it is not enough to deny refuge to frightened people fleeing a threat to their lives. You must separate them from their children when you throw them in jail. That will show them. They won't try coming here again.
            But Macbeth, as I see it, chooses the path he does because he convinces himself that 'destiny' accords with his own desire for the crown.
            And, of course, the three witches help with that convincing. "Hail to thee, thane of Cawdor!" they greet him, before Macbeth has learned that Duncan has bestowed this title on him -- and "All hail, Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter!"
            But the witches are (as they do again in a later scene), "equivocating" -- to use a term of moment. Shakespeare's moment that is. In the aftermath of the infamous "Gunpowder Plot," a terrorist plot to destroy King James I and the leadership of England's Protestant government, investigators  faced the pernicious doctrine of "Equivocation."
            The doctrine taught that it was morally lawful to swear to civil authorities that you are telling the truth, but also to hold back essential information if you have good reason to that accords with your religious faith. So if the sheriff asks you, "Did you hide a priest last night?" you can swear that you did not, because actually it was your son or your wife that hid him. And because, as a believer in the old religion -- Roman Catholicism -- you believe God's law smiles on this deed of withholding truth for a higher cause, rather than forbids it.
            This is why the word shows up in Shakespeare's play and why the director of this "Shakespeare & Company" production has her actors emphasize it so strongly that it becomes a laugh line.
            The witches equivocate to Macbeth by withholding the whole truth with a clear intention to mislead when they tell him that he has nothing to fear until "Birnham Wood comes to Dunsinane" -- an apparent impossibility. Until, in a fashion, it happens. And also when they tell Macbeth that he need fear "no man of woman born."
            Macbeth hears what he wishes to hear instead of considering the source and maintaining a healthy skepticism. It's a fitting fate for a once good man turned tyrant, and hollowed out morally as a result. Duncan's son Malcolm, -- born by Caesarean -- will run him through in the end.
            That's why I missed seeing these telling scenes with the proverbial three witches in this "Shakespeare & Company" production. Bunsussen's show gave us only bare snippets of these encounters, and the three witches were economized to one. This RIFing also cheapens the historic context, since James I, England's new Stuart ruler, was a famous hunter of witches.
            We may not have witches or witch-hunters among us today (though 'witch-hunt' is daily thrown about), but our world has no shortage of 'strongmen' who lust after power. And find confirmation of their greatness everywhere.
            The omission of the witch scenes also slights the historical context because Shakespeare's play connects "Macbeth" to his own day by pointing out that England's new Scottish king is among Banquo's many descendants. The point is made by a daring device as the witches show Macbeth a charmed mirror in which he glimpses portraits of the long line of Banquo's descendants on his country's throne -- including new boy on the throne Jimmy (or 'Hamish') Stuart.
            Macbeth is after all "the Scottish play." It's doubtful that this theme for a play would have occurred to Shakespeare if the throne of England had not recently passed to a Scottish king.
            And revealing a play's connection to its own time helps connect it to our time as well -- because the through-stories in human history are always the same. Shakespeare's time had dynasties, powerful lords, and rule by tyrants called kings or queens.
            We have dynastic families, billionaires -- our last election featured the wife of a former President against a tax-evading oligarch -- and an endless parade of celebrity egos who believe they're hearing destiny's call to greatness.
            Not for nothing did the Constitutional framers create a governmental structure pitted with restraints on power. I questioned the need for so many of these myself when our gentle Duncan sat in the White House and suffered political impotence by a thousand cuts.
            Now, however, we see how easy it is when a monster sits on the throne, surrounded by liars, thieves and toadies, to ignore all restraints simply by denying the claims of reason and fact and moral decency.
            Maybe that's what Bloom meant when he wrote "Shakespeare sees to it that we are Macbeth; our identity with him is involuntary but inescapable."
            Today the Great Equivocator sits on the throne and tells us that what he told the foreign dictator yesterday is not what he meant to say. Today he will say something different that plays better at home.
            His sycophants and enablers will rally around and say, "Yes, boss. Yes, boss."
            History echoes in all our present moments. Will no one rid us of this turbulent beast?