Friday, 2 September 2016

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Twenty five years ago, the library I was working at discarded a copy of  Mine the Harvest, the posthumously published poetry of  Edna St. Vincent Millay (February 22, 1892 – October 19, 1950). She was an American poet and playwright, she had won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1923 and as we found out when we recently visited her home Steepletop in Austerlitz, New York, she filled stadiums when she read her poetry to enthralled audiences during post World War I.

There are many lovely poems in Mine the Harvest, but this untitled one moved me most because it reminded me of somebody I knew:

Who hurt you so,
My dear?
Who, long ago
When you were very young, 
Did, said, became, was...something that you did not know
Beauty could ever do, say, be, become?--
So that your brown eyes filled
With tears they never, not to this day, have shed...
Not because one more boy stood hurt by life, 
No: because something deathless had dropped dead--
An ugly, an indecent thing to do--
So that you stood and stared, with open mouth in which the 
Froze slowly backward toward its root, 
As if it would not speak again, too badly stung
By memories thick as wasps about a nest invaded
To know if or if not you suffered pain.

As it turned out, Edna St. Vincent Millay's home is probably the most complete author's home we have ever visited and I have seen a few, including the Alcott home where  the artistic daughter was allowed to draw pictures on the walls, the hot and humid house where Faulkner wrote and drank and fought with his wife, the place where Mark Twain raised his family and the real House of Seven Gables in Salem, Massachusetts. All Vincent's furniture and knickknacks, including a painting on her bedroom wall of two people skinny dipping, are still there. (Should  I mention that she and husband had an open marriage, that both women and men were drawn to her and that she was a sexually liberated woman long before her time?)

Everything about the renovated Millay farmhouse called Steepletop was fascinating, but Vincent's writing quarters were what really got me. I now have a place to write on the third floor of my house, which is infrequently used because of the palliative, psychiatric and thankfully postpartum help needed by my burgeoning family, but for years I wrote in odd places at odd times. Millay was a professional writer from the word go though, so family members and later on her devoted husband Eugene, all made sure that she got the time she needed. One wing of the second floor of the house seemed to belong to her. She wrote some of her poems in bed, probably while it was still too cold to get up, but the study beyond her private bathroom where she wrote poetry and tracked her tours also had a long writing table and a view and next door was a book lined room with another view and a single, comfortable reading chair. She even had a  writing shed out in the fields, probably to use when they had visitors. Her biographies--Savage Beauty is the one I'm reading now--indicate she had stuck to a regular writing schedule ever since she was an impoverished, overworked teenager and was encouraged by her mother to write. In most of the writers' homes I've visited, female authors were lucky to have one small table by a window with a single drawer where they could hide their papers when a visitor came.

Though she is believed to have had two abortions (or "miscarriages" as they were euphemistically referred to in the hidden past when people rarely spoke of such things) Edna St. Vincent Millay never had children, which for a woman would have rendered even her husband's  help a moot point. 

Monday, 11 July 2016

Updating me

Now that I'm officially "retired" from the library, I'm getting around to doing a few things like updating my author page. Other wonderful stories have also come to me over the years and I hope to distill and write them down too before my age catches up with me or family life completely overwhelms me again:

"Karen E. Black lives in Toronto, Canada. Her debut novel about the Devereux cousins "From the Chrysalis" begged for a sequel, so she wrote "Feeling for the Air" about Dace's escape from a corrupt penitentiary system and his dual mission to clear his name and find out where the Canadian monarch butterflies really made their winter home.

In January 2016, she finally visited Michoacán, Mexico and saw the monarchs' wintering grounds for herself. At the El Rosario colony, high up in the rugged forested mountains, millions of monarchs colored the oyamel trees orange and bent their branches under their collective weight. Black's timing seemed perfect. She could still get on a horse. Also, the monarchs, long threatened by illegal logging, the use of pesticides and the eradication of milkweed, had made a big comeback. However, six weeks later, at least 1.5 million monarch butterflies were hit with a deadly freeze as an unusual ice and wind storm moved through the monarchs' wintering grounds in the Michoacán mountains. The storm hit just as the spring migration to Canada was beginning. Luckily, many butterflies had exited the mountains before the unexpected freeze.

Black is currently working on the the last novel in the Devereux Trilogy,"Take to the Sky" which is set mostly in Toronto. This book also takes its title from the same Emily Dickinson poem as the first two books in this trilogy.

Black did her Master's in Library Science at the University of Toronto (because she loved books and research) and completed several certificates at the Institute for Genealogical Studies (because she also loved family history), but she did her undergraduate degree in sociology with a minor in English at the University of Western Ontario. Though Black's first love was and always will be English literature, she is grateful for the insight she gained into social problems, human social relationships and institutions when she studied sociology."

Friday, 4 March 2016

BB (1947-1991)

The anniversary of my cousin's murder is one of many anniversaries I feel compelled to observe. Twenty-five years have passed since he was murdered while he slept in a third floor bedroom in the same kind of house I raised my family in, on the same street where I grew up,
There's what was written in the newspapers, there's what somebody said in a book, but if you're asking why, we still don't know.There simply is no why, no rhyme, no reason. In spite of the collateral damage and the after effects that ripple down the generations, a tragedy is a tragedy, that's all, something terrible that wasn't supposed to happen, but did. My cousin's family (several of whom are dead or dying now) will never find any answers as to why somebody so charismatic, so gifted, so loved would be born with one fatal flaw that drew him to the dark side and put him in the proximity of people so fundamentally flawed, that they had absolutely no respect for life.
For a time, I thought I knew why, or had an idea anyway. Or that I could at least find out. That I'd understand. I was the only one in my cousin's large extended family with the education and resources to make sense of everything. But I haven't. I can't.
In the past several weeks, three other much loved young men in my extended family have also died--one was murdered while two were in some very dark places in their lives.
All I can do now is worry about the descendants of my cousin and myself, our children, our grandchildren and our nieces and nephews and try and transform their lives into fiction, so the young men my family has lost can have new stories and live again.

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Mariposa Monarca!

At last my husband and I saw the monarchs' overwintering grounds at El Rosario Monarch Butterfly Preserve and what an experience it was. (El Rosario is a World Heritage site and the largest of five preserves open to the public.The preserve is located in the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt pine-oak forests ecoregion on the border of Michoacán and Mexico State, 100 km northwest of Mexico City.)  We drove by rental car three hours out of Mexico City (yes, that's how long it took us), spent three nights at Rancho San Cayetano, a lovely rustic resort near Zitacuaro and then rode horseback nearly 10,000 feet up a mountainside to see these amazing, plucky creatures in their natural habitat. I had written about visiting the monarchs' overwintering grounds in my second novel, Feeling for the Air, but I had only seen them in videos and on an IMAX screen. I think my previous description was adequate, but nothing--no words, no pictures can really do these little characters justice.

Luckily for us, the monarchs (who are threatened by climate changes, illegal logging of their favorite oyamel trees, the use of pesticides and the eradication of the milkweed they are so dependent on) were stronger and more numerous than they have been in previous years. Our Mexican guide, Marcello (who is also a part time migrant worker and as such follows the same migratory routes as the monarchs), told us people were also concerned this year when the first monarchs failed to arrive like they usually do on November 1. But come they did, a few weeks later, robust and healthy, well-prepared to take a long, well-deserved rest before it was time for them to leave in March, mate in Texas and for their descendants to find their way back to Canada. They have been doing this forever.

It was a sunny day when we visited, a real plus.If it isn't sunny, the monarchs cluster together for warmth like huge, sagging bunches of grapes on the oyamel trees. They need the sun to fly. I felt a little like Dr. Fred Urquhart and his wife Nora must have felt the first time they visited. The Urquharts and my husband and myself were about the same ages as they were when they confirmed that Canadian butterflies really do fly so far south. All of us (the Urquharts,  myself and my husband) were almost too old to go.

Riding horseback at my age especially with my lack of experience was definitely daunting, but well worth the experience we had. In a very short time, we were surrounded by butterflies as numerous (at least to my eyes) as the stars in the sky. Visitors, almost without exception, were silent and awestruck except to say inadequate things like "Oh,my." People stood stock-still when the butterflies landed on them, staring at them transfixed. 

We took many pictures, but none of them do the monarchs justice.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

"Feeling for the Air" is in paperback!

Hurrah--after a couple of re-formats, the paperback version of my sequel "Feeling for the Air" has been available on various Amazon sites ( except ! ) for a couple of weeks now. If you do order a copy, I would be thrilled to get your feedback. Please check out the following link:…/…/0987986643/

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