Thoughts . . . by Mark Rich

. . . scribbled . . . scrawled . . . trimmed . . . typewritten . . . grubbed up . . . squeezed from circumstance . . .

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Magazine of Speculative Poetry

Last year at some point arrived the Spring, 2011, issue of The Magazine of Speculative Poetry. At the time I had not too much cluttered the front porch -- for I remember sitting in the venerable stuffed chair out there, reading the issue in the morning sunshine with interest; and out there today in the frigid January cold, when moving around this item and that, I found my copy.

I was about to say this is an excellent issue, but stopped myself, since my contributions were several. Other contributions than mine are excellent, though.

I was, and am on re-reading, particularly taken by the two works by Joanne Merriam: "Tender Aliens (after Gertrude Stein)" and "Love in the Time of Alien Invasion." Both are fresh and direct in their language; and both are informed primarily by everyday and colloquial speech rather than poetic structure or a traditionally poetic sense of language. The Stein-esque poem shows its influence, even for those of us who, like myself, have read less Stein than they would like to do some day. The borrowing is creative, insofar as the approach to language yields up an approach to ideas. It is an "invasion" poem, much as Merriam's other entry in this issue.

Both poems are pessimistic -- the former one more cheerfully so. The latter takes a more jaded if not bitter tone.

And other contributors? ... Andrew Nightingale, Ann K. Schwader, David Greenslade, Robert Borski, Yoon Ha Lee, Mike Alexander, Jessy Randall & Daniel M. Shapiro, P.M.F. Johnson, Geoffrey A. Landis, and Holly Day. Cover, as it happens, by Mark Rich.

The poems of my own in this issue are ones I will not disown. I mean to say that I can re-read them with interest, which is not the case with all my poems, once they see print. The poems are "Falsebook," "Winter in Mirasea" and "As Here, Out There." "Mirasea" remains my favorite of the set, however conventional it might seem, or be.

"Falsebook" should begin:

Careless again -- leaving my face
in an open drawer.
And I have had this face
all my life.

In print the first word appears as "Carless" -- which would aptly describe me for most of the course of my life. The intended word was "careless," even so.

Line 25 of "Winter in Mirasea" I believe should begin with "above" instead of "about," although the reader's eyes likely skim over the difference.

In "As Here, Out There," I find I penciled in a line change, not a correction. The last line of the second section, "any direction but straight," I changed to, "any way there but the straight one." The nature of roads here in the coulee region of Wisconsin helped inspire this piece.

The useful information: five dollars, sent to editor Roger Dutcher at P.O. Box 564, Beloit, Wisconsin 53512, will get you a copy.

Cheers ...

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Poem for a Birthday

This morning I wrote, and this evening over a scotch read aloud to Martha,the following lines (copyright 2012 Mark Rich):

He seizes us by the roots of our hair.
I am not speaking of fear: we pass
beneath an arch of Gothic archness
to Modernity, under the guidance of Poe.
The symbols of the Moderns awaken
in his pages. How to perceive
the shadow culture haunting the century
after his death if not by peering
into the shades of his? Such stirring
we feel in our scalps reveals stirrings
of learning. We, the post-Moderns, thought
we knew it all. How shocking, to love
being forced to learn, and learn better.

This short poem I suppose should bear the title, "Lines Written on Poe's Birthday."

Cheers ...

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Zebrowski's Essay on the Kornbluth Biography

During my lengthy silence here at "Vines, Wines and Lines," a few reviews of C.M. Kornbluth continued appearing. Among them is what may be the single weightiest thus far: "A Sense of Something in Him," by George Zebrowski, in the October-November, 2011, Free Inquiry.

For its title, Zebrowski borrowed a phrase from the likewise thoughtful and emotionally engaged F&SF review by James Sallis.

Zebrowski's quiet, reflective tone suits his expansive approach to his subject. Given a readership at Free Inquiry that might be unfamiliar with Kornbluth's name, and that might be foggily aware, at best, that the practice of writing science fiction may have led to the production of works of art, Zebrowski's approach seems calculated to inform and interest intelligent readers of any stripe. "A Sense of Something in Him" is as much an essay written in defense of science fiction as an examination of the book.

Zebrowski seems to mention more of the thematic strands in the biography than do previous reviewers -- or at least different ones. I was especially pleased that he recognizes the importance of the book's final chapter.

In writing the book, my own realization -- my own ability to embrace the ideas in that last chapter -- came actually too slowly. The understanding I exhibit by the end, as a result, makes little appearance in some earlier chapters, such as in those tracing the split-personality thematic element in Kornbluth's works. Those chapters I wrote at a time when I had meager biographical knowledge of the man.

I am pleased, too, by an observation Zebrowski makes, which some would-be detractors may not want to hear, but should: "Notes covering the vast sourcing of this book fill the oversized pages 383-439," Zebrowski writes. "Pohl's material is drawn from his own papers and letters at the Special Collections Research Center of the Syracuse University Library."

Zebrowski brings to this essay-review a personal note that I, at least, appreciate. This and the Sallis essay-review both seem to validate an observation in my book -- which, as it happens, Zebrowski quotes: "An impassioned curiosity takes hold of readers when they encounter Kornbluth's work." I was moved to assert this after meeting some readers who were deeply intrigued by Kornbluth because of the power of his stories. Being of a later generation than he was, their aesthetic appreciation was not based on commonality of cultural experience. Their life experiences were immeasurably different from his.

There remains much about Kornbluth that may remain forever unknown to us ... thus my "immeasurably." We tap into some of it in a passage I quote late in the book -- one from Algis Budrys, written in the 1970s, looking back and remembering a searingly emotional session of The Five.

Budrys understood completely. What a complex, beautiful human being Cyril Kornbluth was! I am grateful for essayists and reviewers like Zebrowski who have come to recognize this, too.

Cheers ...

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Celebrating King's Day

Martha and I observed Martin Luther King day, yesterday, by reading aloud from a slender paperback.

Back in the middle 1970s I had the opportunity to hear Dick Gregory speak, at University of Ottawa, Kansas. All I can remember is being impressed and entertained ... and lifted. Would I have known Gregory's name had he not appeared there, in Kansas, in person? I am not sure at all: for Cosby's was the dominant voice of Black American comedy on TV and radio.

At some point, much later, I lucked upon Gregory's From the Back of the Bus, an Avon book from the early 1960s.

This was what I trotted out for a little read-aloud over whisky during our evening happy hour.

And this morning, when doing some organizing in the workroom of the house, I came across a small package of items Dick Gregory might have appreciated.

"Colored nails," the package reads.

In the hardware business, colored nails are the ones painted white.

Cheers ...

Four Reasons for Silence

For quite some time it has been on my mind to make mild noises again in my quiescent blog.

A series of situations made it seem more appropriate to keep my thoughts unaired and publicly unshared, however.

Two years ago Martha and I were jointly leaving a job situation that had made the two of us a bit angry. Whatever reasons we may have had, why make uncomfortable protests that benefit no one?

During the same period, one of Cyril Kornbluth's collaborators started making unmeasured statements about my C.M. Kornbluth, and about me. The statements verged on the absurd. To avoid a fruitless war of meaningless pixels, even though observers were poised and eager to witness a war of words, electronic silence on the matter seemed my best option. I had devoted many years and had written hundreds of thousands of words in developing the picture offered by my book.

To have defended my book adequately would have meant repeating it, word for word, footnote by footnote.

Soon after this, "reviews" of my book began appearing on Amazon. The "reviewers" spoke in outrage or disgust about my book's contents while making it obvious they had not read it. In one case the reviewer stated outright that he had not read my book.

While one or two of these were expunged by the Amazon editors, I believe one or two remain.

A hallmark of these literary oddities, by these presuming "reviewers," is their insistence on trotting out the supposed facts of Kornbluth. They note that Kornbluth was a highly prolific writer, and that he drank a lot.

Readers of countless introductions to Kornbluth stories would gather these impressions. Those who gave my book a full reading, however, should feel considerable hesitation about standing behind either statement.

While Cyril was clearly capable of tossing off quality writing under pressure -- true of many among us -- his creative work reflected a studious and careful approach. He developed his capacity for careful literary work during his teen years. Later, in producing the works of his maturity, he labored and sometimes struggled; and he balanced his rough drafts, sometimes quickly produced, by subjecting them to intense and prolonged periods of consideration and revision.

His output per year, in the 1950s, was relatively low.

As to drinking ... Cyril does fall into the category of writers who drink. This category includes a huge group of us. Cyril seems not to fall into the category of writers who need to drink to write, however. His command of prose is durably precise, cogent and clear-headedly rational -- to an intimidating degree.

Worth noting, too, for those who have not read my book: Cyril went through several periods when the meager income that was coming in must have gone in its entirety to home and family expenses. For prolonged periods, drinking money must have been tough to come by. This seems especially, and painfully, to have been true near the end.

Those who trot out such "facts" about Cyril Kornbluth are drawing a picture of the poorly-known man from the image of a widely-known boy. In the small realm of late-1930s science fiction fandom, Cyril was a fairly famous teenager. Cyril's life as an adult, however, was almost entirely unknown until publication of my book.

I hope these "reviewers" are making that mistake. Otherwise they are being a bit too easy about insulting the man's memory.

Returning to silences ... early in 2011 I found that the judgeship for the World Fantasy Awards, which had been proposed to me the previous November, was becoming reality: so suddenly I was doing a great deal of reading which I felt I should not, as judge, be talking about in public. So, again, I felt encouraged to remain mum about matters on my mind.

In the same week that the WFA panel of judges was winding up its work, I accepted work at a vineyard -- eagerly, since between judging and maintaining house and garden I had almost zero income for a period of months.

This work offered perfect fodder for this blog.

The future of matters at the vineyard and winery, however, kept changing from week to week, sometimes day to day, due to the vagaries of the owner's changeable mind ... upsetting me considerably, at times ... making me feel uncomfortable writing about enough matters that I, again, felt ...

Cheers ...

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Empty Davenport

I have been sitting upon this announcement for a week ... after having written it five days after the event occurred that so sadly altered Martha's and my lives.

Around the solstice, Kit Reed sent an e-mail that stated, in part, how lucky Martha and I were, in having Lorna, our Scottiedog, as a part of our household.

Kit never met Lorna. I met Kit at a Readercon, very briefly, years ago -- when I seized the opportunity to express my admiration of her early fantasies of the 1950s. Our science-fictional and fantasy connections led us to discover, many years later, a shared love of Scottiedogs. So she saw photos of our Lorna; we saw others of her latest, named Killer.

Lorna, born almost exactly nine years before Kit Reed's e-mail, died at about 3:30 a.m. on December 23, 2011, with Martha at her side. Martha had been sitting in vigil with Lorna at Lorna's little davenport.

Martha and I had been taking turns, in sitting vigil: and I had just gone to bed when Martha called me back, saying she thought Lorna might be breathing her last.

Her davenport: a child's or toy sofa we found at a flea market. Once re-upholstered by Martha, Lorna made it her own, as her night bed ... before those nights came when she wanted to crawl up with us on "the big bed." After that time, for Lorna, the davenport remained her day bed. She spent no more nights upon it until her last two.

She was not alone, at least, those last two.

Lorna was unusually well-known among humans, in our area ... well-known for a dog, at least. Martha and I attend many local auctions; and over the past few years Lorna joined us at most of them, becoming an acquaintance and friend to many in our regional community of scroungers and antiquers. Her calm demeanor, her intelligence, and not least her cuteness won her many admirers.

Lorna was known, too, in the writing community. We hosted "live dog parties" at a few St. Paul, Minnesota, conventions ... where various local writing luminaries, such as poet John Calvin Rezmerski, Terry Garey and Greg Johnson, met and enjoyed spending time with her. Lorna consorted with science fiction writers William Wu and Rob Chilson, building an especial rapport with the latter; and she spent nearly as much time as I did, earlier this last year over the course of a long weekend, hanging out with renowned editor David G. Hartwell of Tor Books. Her friends in the Minneapolis-area writing community are many. (Because of unfortunately dog-unfriendly policies at Madison hotels, many of our other writing friends had no chance to meet Lorna.)

Lorna worked with us at our jobs ... at an organic maple-syrup bottling and distribution plant; then at a local vineyard and winery.

She was also often at my side during my work on my most recently published book, a biography and critical evaluation of Cyril Kornbluth and his works ... and during work on my still un-finished book relating to toys and Modern society.

Although Martha and I have cut back our performance schedule severely, Lorna was on-stage at Keg Salad performances at Diversicon, in St. Paul, and O'So Brewery, in Plover, Wis. She was certainly with us during our our many antiquing trips, our many gardening sojourns ... during our periodic forays into exploring the driftless region's roads and parks ... during our household's good days, so-so days, bad days, sunny days, foggy days ...

She was with us for the whole of our Lorna days.

Lorna, whom we adopted as a rescue, suffered digestive issues whose severity and intensity were apparent but not quite clear to us until nearly the end.

She loved to play, and was playing with energy until that last, miserable day before she left for the land where she is, we hope, still happily hunting squeak toys.

Her loss has been a devastating one, in this small, village household in Cashton, Wisconsin. As to survivors ... since she apparently had puppies, at a stage of life before she knew us, there may exist in this world Scottiedogs who carry within them some of Lorna's spirit and presence and demeanor, and who may carry on for her the bearing of the torch of tolerance for the shortcomings of humankind. She taught us a great deal. We can only hope that her children are teaching others, as well.

With cheers to loss and memory, endings and beginnings ...