Archive for February, 2013

Where THE WHEELS OF BEING Turn

Wheels of Being 5x8The Wheels of Being is my latest novel. It may be my last as I am not now gripped by any new conception, and continued years to write more are an uncertainty.  However, that could change at any moment of the day or night, and upon the screen of my mind will flash a mural of action, as boisterous with character and plot as a work of Diego Rivera.

I am fond of this story, because it was culled from my childhood growing up in a town called Wheeling, the same name I give my fictional town, although not located in the same area of Illinois as the real town. I wanted to add magical elements to my story because childhood there partook of magic, the magic that the imagination of a child experiences to the fullest. My twins Morgana and Merlin are magical; their mother once a hopeless romantic in young womanhood, as once I was, brings some practicality into her life, as it is incumbent she do so with the responsibilities of single parenthood.  I juxtapose science and arts in the story, suggesting the two fields do not have to be mutually exclusive, for both depend on the imagination. Great scientific inventions and discoveries and great works of literature are created by individuals whose minds can conceive beyond what is visible with the naked eye. They must use the mind’s eye to imagine realms and objects beyond the normal. They are abnormal as are many of the characters in my novel:  Hugh Deforest, Amber Fields and Johnny Deforest are not your ordinary, materialistic Americans. Hugh is a wanderer who returns to Wheeling to take his place as the town’s eccentric, or if you will, mad scientist beloved by the twins who are enthralled with his design of a hovercraft. They accept the fantastical along with the realistic as does Uncle Johnny and Amber. Counterpoised against the Fields and Deforests of the earth is Edwin Musgrove, the ambitious corporate head of the bicycle plant that he wishes to transform into something bigger and better; for in America bigger has always been viewed as better–bigger shopping malls, bigger parking lots, bigger cars, bigger everything.

In the background hovers the real possibility that the drive for ever more development, which I witnessed growing up in the Wheeling of my childhood, will completely destroy our forests and beautiful wilderness areas, those secret groves where children love to play.  Trees were not worshiped in ancient Celtic times for naught. The sacred tree yet exists in isolated preserves around the world. In their branches, children play and imagine, build their hideaway and conceive the ideas that will change the world. In many ways, this book was born of my aversion for suburban sprawl and all that in suburban life is anathema to creativity, expansion of the imagination and preservation of nature. Suburbia is a cookie-cutter life with so many houses the same, so many three-car garages, paved over rich black soil, the mad rush for more material possessions, and the purchase of the latest gadgets.

These are some of the ideas I try to capture in The Wheels of Being. Those wheels form the circle of life, the symbol in many cultures, that life in the wondrous round of the seasons is interconnected, that each part is one with and serves the whole. We see it in the native-American medicine wheel, in Celtic symbolism, and in the Indian tree of life.  The book envisions what I see as both the positive and detrimental sides of American culture and the prospect that a man like Edwin Musgrove could set aside crass materialism for the welfare of humanity. There is always the possibility of insight, of epiphany, for even the most benighted individuals.

But if the reader finds more than this in the novel, I will be extremely gratified.

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Inaugural Parading out the Poet

Ever since I listened to Richard Blanco deliver his poem during the televised inauguration of President Obama on January 21, I have been mulling over the place of poets and poetry in American society.  What overall impact can injection of a written-for-hire poem have on the expansion of poetry’s readership?  After several weeks of digesting Blanco’s poem and other poems written for presidential inaugurations since President Kennedy established the precedent in 1961, and President Clinton revived the custom , my answer is “none.”

None of these inaugural poems represent the poet’s finest works. Fortunately, Robert Frost never read the fusty “Dedication,” 78 lines of awful Augustan couplets that he intended to read as prologue to “The Gift Outright.”  A gust of common sense must have blown through his doddering mind at the last moment and he used the excuse of sun’s glare on the page to skip reading it and proceeded directly to reciting from memory the mercifully short and sweet “The Gift Outright,” the poem he had written years ago. In 1977 President Carter commissioned James Dickey to write an inaugural poem not actually recited at the inauguration but relegated to a post-inauguration party. Dickey’s poem “The Strength of Fields” is forty-nine disjointed lines, too obscure for a poem addressed to the public.  In 1993 Maya Angelou offered “The Pulse of Morning,” much too long, even if the 107 lines are short, to keep an audience from yawning.  In 1997 Clinton chose for his second inauguration the Arkansan poet Miller Williams, whose “Of History and Hope” I have to unkindly call a bad poem.  I rather like as the best of the batch of inaugural offerings Elizabeth Alexander’s “Praise Song for the Day,” delivered for President’s Obama’s first inauguration in 2009.  However, reviewers disagree with me. Written in simple tercets, 14 altogether, her poem ends with a one-line stanza; it is not overblown and just the right length for the occasion.

In 2013, Blanco’s poem “One Today” has a unity of structure, a progression from morning to evening, and a theme that rings well with Obama’s repetition of the word “together,” the last word also of his inaugural address. Although the poem has moments that sparkle, the Whitmanesque listing grows tedious. The poem could have been better with more concision, cutting out the lackluster and preserving what images are fresh to produce a shorter, more pungent poem.

What does it matter that these inaugural poems are forgettable? What matters (to echo Dana Gioia’s 1991 essay “Can Poetry Matter?”)  is that poetry did matter for at least four American presidents in modern history, to the extent they considered it worthy of a place at their inaugurations. Poets are not pop stars, more frequently heard at State occasions, yet to parade a poet on the Capitol steps is wondrous for a lover of poetry to behold.  It has that effect upon me, but does it matter at all to my fellow Americans that a poem is written and recited especially for this historic event? I think not. I think at this juncture, when the poet approaches the podium, the viewer in his living room gets up from his chair and goes to open the refrigerator.