Friday, May 22, 2015

A Novel House

"I may need an editor for this."
"The house became every maze of rooms and hallways Aideen had known. Every haunted turn revealed her mother’s empty death-room, or the lonely darkness of the School Halls, or the muted staircases of the Karver House. Now her breath came in quick snatches—she had forgotten the last trick of weavers. Aideen bent in the darkness with empty hands that once handled oceans of skeins—she had no clew to ravel and so find her way back through this labyrinth! Succumbing to despair, she knelt and cried.

From "Aideen's Story" in The Shadow Well.

There is a large labyrinth I have been walking through for many years now. For a while, it stood on a hill quite some ways away from me. But I finally entered it, mapped it, and moved into it.

I am now in the process of "setting up home" and I am speaking of The Shadow Wellthe next novel in my Hagen chronicles. It takes place largely at a stately home called The Heusermarck where I was employed for some time.

A novel is much like a house. Is it a new one? Old houses can be new stories, and of course new houses may be old ones. This insufferable metaphor could be from the perspective of a reader, but I am talking about writing novels.

Finishing a novel feels much like moving into a house. I do not mean the first draft. There is a lot of ink, both digital and physical spent on the discussion of actually writing down the words. I could post another entire essay about choosing which house, hardwoods or not, neighborhoods, and the investment aspects of a property.

I will not do that. I'm simply talking about this phase, which is actually moving in.

When the first draft of The Shadow Well lay on my desk, it felt like I had moved into a mess. And of course how much of our messes do we bring with us? In the rush to move we throw everything into boxes. Granted, yes, there are conscientious disciplined novelists who actually pack sensibly, and discard unnecessary items before they move. I am not one of them.

I have been throwing out things this whole time. Some of these phrases and passages, once so meaningful, are now in the way. Karl Yangler's grand walk through Hagen? It's a love letter to the City of my Birth, but reading someone else's epic love letters can get rather boring.

And another thing to do is remodeling, and for both getting rid of detritus, specifying demolition, and then guidance in building newer structures it's best to hire a professional to do this.

I am speaking of editors, of course. Some writers may not desire or need an editor. Yes, I know what some of you are thinking. "Everyone thinks that."

That all depends on what sort of house you want. My friend Mel on Orcas Island has a rather eccentrically built house that he designed and crafted all his own. He  plans on dying in it. It is concocted of driftwood, plywood, ply-drift wood, corrugated metal and has an unconventional floorplan wherein his bedroom is tiny ("all I do is sleep in there") and his art studio is massive. Repurposed glass is used extensively, from windows to furniture, but while Mel's house is beautiful in its way, the chair made out of beer bottles is not very comfortable. It's resale value is "0" but Mel doesn't care about that.

Others may want entire houses designed, built and decorated by others. These can range from the formulaic to intricate.

The Shadow Well, has had a number of editors. Aside from David (who is currently illustrating it) Jocelyn MacDonald helped out with redesigning it and eliminating much of the clutter. Kristen Steenbeeke has now taken on the job of finish carpentry and detailing. The novel would have lain in a drawer were it not for these two women.

So if you write, take a moment to just write your editor and say thank you. A message that is out of the blue and with no specific gratitude is best.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Living Waters Reading in Tacoma

Thank you to everyone who came out on Friday, May 15th at 7:00 to hear Troy's Worktable Publishing and Hagengard Studio read from Black Psalms and The Nightingale's Stone, at the Nearsighted Narwhal in Tacoma!

If you're in Tacoma, be sure and stop by the store! There is so indie-press, hand-made literature and artwork available that you'll need to budget at least a couple hours. And if you missed the reading, yes, the above books from the presses are available at the store along with artwork and other titles.

Time: 7:00 for the reading, but the doors are open at 6:00!
Date: Friday, May 15th
Where: The Nearsighted Narwhal  2610B 6th Avenue, Tacoma, WA 98406
Google Map.
Facebook Event Page

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Living Waters: A Reading

In the deepest fathoms of celestial sea
swims the black star octopus 
its many fingered feelers
reaching out from the space in Orion's belt
its cosmic ink spilling out
supernova after supernova as it flees
"Black Star" by Troy Kehm-Goins
* * *
"I wandered through the shapeless Waterlands, my time-mind adrift around me. The being who cares only seeks the shadow in the Water, intangible and therefore stronger than any cast on land. I walked into wide spaces, frozen meres of glass so vast as to be worthless. I walked upon the cold and cutting waves until I reached a shore of iron, rusting and blank…" -from The Nightingale's Stone
On behalf of Ada, I am very pleased to announce that Troy's Worktable Publishing and Hagengard Studio will be reading excerpts from their newest publications: Black Psalms and The Nightingale's Stone, Friday, May 15th at 7:00 at the Nearsighted Narwhal in Tacoma.

While the reading kicks off at 7:00, be sure to come early to browse through their amazing selection of handmade and small press offerings of zines, fiction, non-fiction and poetry and enjoy a little music. Copies of Black Psalms and The Nightingale's Stone will be available along with other offerings from the presses.

Time: 7:00 for the reading, but the doors are open at 6:00!
Date: Friday, May 15th
Where: The Nearsighted Narwhal  2610B 6th Avenue, Tacoma, WA 98406
Google Map.
And the inevitable Facebook Event Page

Saturday, April 25, 2015


Dear Mercutio,

You know that I have dealt with many sorts of beings, adversaries, friends and relations. I have endured both man and troll, woman and dragon. My resolve and equanimity are as strong as the willow bending in the wind. Yet I am I conquered by distractions, even when I have entered a space where my ego has disappeared to the far side of the world and I am nothing but tendon and breath.

Well, it’s one particular distraction—who seems to have more power than any wizard, politician, supernatural being or scientist that I know.

I consider myself beset with distractions and wonder if this morass is an aspect of aging. Or perhaps aging has made me aware of the legion of distractions. And of what sort are they? The bad distractions? We call them as such, or inconveniences, sometimes if they are severe enough we can call them enemies, although that is always a dangerous label.

Good distractions—we call these hobbies. When I was young I occasionally, and somewhat rarely called them lovers. Often these distractions became the bad sort, but now that I am older I find these distractions do not seek me out.

I am unsure of what will distract me next, but I am sure something will. Mercutio, we all have distractions, but do we have a theory of it yet? I am not discussing the nuts and bolts, the pulleys and ropes of our brains as they perambulate through the mechanics of thought. Scientists are very good at exploring such quantifiable wisdom. I shall not argue with them about it. Some of what they say is actually useful, and would be very lucrative if I owned a pharmaceutical concern.

But what does it mean to be on the inside of it all? What language do we use? Is it precise enough, or, as usual with language, is our lack of attention to its flow—our distraction of and by language itself—the cause the problem?

For example, Attention Deficit. I won’t even add the word that usually follows these two, but I have to stop and wonder at the metaphors, or, more precisely how the abstractions abstract themselves. As though “attention” is anything. What is a deficit, exactly? Could the problems surrounding Attention Deficit be a surfeit of something? Why are the problems surrounding it? Does it even occupy space?

These questions of language, I theorize, affected the first people who finally had time to sit down and think about them. This is because the purposes for activity, such as reaping, gathering, hunting, had been taken care of by someone else. And someone figured out that the accounting tool, which was so good for keeping track of cattle and bushels of wheat could also be used to record thoughts about language. Writing became a distraction. The distrust of language one finds in Laozi and Socrates—just to name two—stems from being in an Occasion for Distraction.

My mind shall spin more of this thread, I am sure, if Bertolt would just leave me alone for a moment! Perhaps I’ll even get back to reviewing Spring Reads.


Tuesday, April 21, 2015


Some of you may be familiar with Kobayashi Masaki's film Kwaidan: a gothic anthology of tales from Japanese folklore. Some of these stories were collected, and in many ways first introduced to the West by Lafcadio Hearn, a man whose life is as interesting as the tales he collected in Kwaidan: Stories & Studies of Strange Things.

Hearn was a peregrinating spirit; born in Greece of Irish and Greek parents, he lived in Ireland, the United States (including Cincinnati and New Orleans), Martinique, and eventually settled in Meiji Japan and married a local woman. His translations and appropriations (but all writers steal, of course) from Japanese literature and folklore are perhaps the most famous of his works.

Hearn is somewhat obscure in this day and age because the tides of political and academic criticism are always shifting. Considering him in such light is not the point of this post, nor any of these postings. For just a taste of how widely and thinly he has been considered in academic terms, you can peruse this paper by Rie Askew on Hearn's critical history.

I am more interested in the book itself. I had heard some of the tales before, where I cannot even precisely remember. In some ways, like all good ghost stories, the tales have always been alive in our souls and we are just remembering them, not reading them for the first time.

The tale of "Yuki-Onno" for example has had staying power. There is an (all-too) familiar theme of masculine fear of women that runs through the tale, but Yuki-Onno herself is merciful in the end owing to the fool of a man she married being the father of her children. Like many stories wherein a human man takes a spirit wife, there is some small thing he must not do. He of course fails and she leaves.

But it is not for the story that I re-read "Yuki-Onno." The visual images—of the gracile Snow Spirit in white, the vastness of the mountains—appear in a dream of prose. Like the winter snow, she is perilous, misunderstood, and taken for granted. But oh how dreary the world would be without snow.

The collection also contains the terrifying, but lyrical story of Hoichi the Earless: a biwa player and poet whose art is so beautiful it awakens the spirits of the dead to hear how they got that way. How did Hoichi become earless? You'll have to read it. "Jikininki" reminds me much of the flavor of Ugestu Monogatari in that it involves ruins, Zen priests, and cannibal spirits. And speaking of spirits and demons, there are quite a few: detachably-headless Rokuro-Kubis, willow trees that can take human shape, and egg-faced ghosts are just a few you'll meet.

The structure of Kwaidan, if I may call it that, reminds me of 21st Century collage. The book is not only a collection of ghost stories, but it veers into insect lore. Hearn provides stories and studies of butterflies, mosquitoes and ants from Chinese and Japanese traditions. For me though, the "strangest thing" in the book is a memory of Wales from Hearn's youth... perhaps. There is a harper, magic, nostalgia and the metaphoric consideration of a friend as a sunflower. It is curious and queer (in many senses of that word).

Be forewarned: not all of Hearn's stories are told with the artistry of some of his contemporaries. I can only imagine what M.R. James, Arthur Machen or Algernon Blackwood could have done with the raw source material, but for students looking for their own inspiration, I think Hearn is an excellent place to start. From there it is a matter of course to read Japanese authors who stand alongside James, Machen and Blackwood, such as Akutagawa Ryūnosuke or the poetry of Sakutarō Hagiwara. And through their work, I can read and hear the influence of these stories in the indescribably haunting work of Tada Chimako.

But Tada is for another time!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Curator of The Hourglass Museum: Kelli Russell Agodon

Cover Art: Hourglass Museum*
A museum can be a collection of art, or items of either natural or human history. The idea of museum naturally lends itself to metaphor which is a poet's most familiar realm, and the very name museum etymologically confirms this metaphor. It is a place for muses. When the muse is one's self, the museum houses one's contradictions, worries, loves and memories.

Kelli Russell Agodon is force in the poetic world of the Pacific Northwest. In addition to her own work (which I'll speak of below) she is also a co-founder and editor of Two Sylvia's Press.

Declaration: You may explore her book, Hourglass Museum in your own way. Read it straight through, or perhaps you are one of those museum visitors who drifts through the galleries, following no set chronological or curated path.

I confess. I am one of them. I wander back and forth like a ferry between particular paintings and dioramas.

It is why I stop at, and reread, poems that explore the spaces a woman makes to be alone, especially when she finds herself in a roomful of strangers, relations, family and friends. I have rarely read a book of poetry wherein the title repeatedly makes itself known throughout the text as the central key: a magnificently sad one, like G minor in which Bach wrote the 25th Goldberg Variation.

Agodon makes me aware of the space, and loss that inhabits my own distances. From "Daringly Balanced: The Life of an Artist."
"Ask the artists, who lean
over balconies if lilacs circle
where they dwell and they may
agree: much of life is about loss."
Lilacs. Lost springs, the loss of Whitman's Lincoln, the evanescence of scent. Much of the poems in Hourglass Museum, itself an ancient trope for loss and time, are about loss. But what is in that space?

Agodon  places a horizon before me in "Distant Horizons: An Abstract." In elegantly compressed lines, the poem itself acts as both a guide to being a poet, and reading poets. The fourth strophe-line tells us: "Poem a form of negotiation for what haunts us." The seventh asks us to "Keep the faith and trust in so far as possible," for horizons always lie beyond that space. The ninth offers a Taoist consolation: "We learn not to break, but bend gently."

I believe this philosophy is best experienced in "La Magie Noire."
Sometimes darkness
is the beauty I am made of—

it's January and I've locked the doors,
I'm refusing to answer the phone.

Sometimes when I'm absent
of Vitamin D, the staircase murmurs:

Sorry, the life you ordered
is temporarily out of stock.

Most winters it's easier to hiberante,
clean the windows
in my mind. Imagination:

taking madness and giving it
a loving home.
There is nothing I can to add in this. The lines and language are spare, straightforward and in need no embellishment of mine for they speak thoughts of winter and night. As the poem unfolds, I learn this is not the night of despair. I seek it out in solitude—the darkness of Hyperborea when crowds and light are killing me—and there I find the expansive promise of the night of Novalis.

Named for the Magritte painting, "La Magie Noire" displays one of Agodon's greatest strengths: ekphrastic verse, or, the art of making poetry from art. The duality of Magritte's blue-&-realistic nude woman appears in the inside and outsides you will find in the full poem. And there is dreaming of clouds, of course.

There are other worlds I will return to in Hourglass Museum. I am aware of their different content, context, and composition. There are conté crayon works, charcoal sketches, oil on linen, and found sculptures of poppies, ladders, household appliances, husbands.

And I must mention at the end of this particular reflection that if you are interested in learning how to make poems from art, and perhaps art from poems, Kelli Russell Agodon is teaching an Ekphrastic Class for Field's End on Bainbridge Island on April 21st. Learn more at the Field's End Calendar. It appears that Ms. Agodon has been called away on some sort of urgent business to the Centre du Pompidou in Paris. I can only make speculative guesses as to what this might but will no doubt involve chestnuts in blossom and holiday tables under the trees. Therefore, she will be unable to conduct the Field's End class on April 21st.

In the meantime, I am looking forward to her newest book Letters From The Emily Dickinson Room, because "I am longing for something I cannot name."

*Hourglass Museum is published by White Pine Press. Pick it up at your local independent bookstore or order online.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Ugetsu Monogatari

There are certain books that seem to be part of our destinies. I am deeply suspicious of any cosmic plan that has all intricacies so carefully laid out, so rather than claiming Akinari Ueda's Ugetsu Monogatari is part of my destiny, I prefer to anthropomorphize the book and accept that the book and I are traveling on the same path for a while. Perhaps we will even go on the same pilgrimage together and share a private bath somewhere (I find books are often much less problematic in terms of bathing partners, and in Japan I must be careful of my choice in sentōs owing to my tattoos.)

The translated title is Tales of Moonlight and Rain. If this already sounds dreamlike, you are on your way to the right sort of mood for reading it. The silvery light of the moon and the refractory, veiling power of rain together allow for the mind to see shapes and ghosts. Or does the mind shape the ghosts? In the West, there is always a drive to explain and figure things out. What is beyond it all? In the Tales of Moonlight and Rain, the numinous appears on earth, but its chief mission is not always to deceive, but to reveal, to show and to instruct.

One blurb  describes the collection as being a compendium of gothic tales. What does that mean? Gothic, in this particular sense indicates narratives of expressionistic, often dark, moods. Interestingly, while Akinari was compiling these stories, Horace Walpole had already published the Castle of Otranto. Does this indicate some sort of a Zeitgeist?

I lay the book down and think: no it does not. Akinari wrote during a time of great stability in Edo Japan whereas Europe in the Gothic heyday teetered towards chaos.  Yet careful readers will note some eerie similarities between the styles.

The stories themselves seem simple, but are evocative of something greater, a Beyond if you will. The Beyond manifests itself in different ways. Readers familiar with H. P. Lovecraft, know the Beyond is usually insane, slimy and involves ganglia-driven pseudopods. But in Akinari's work the Beyond comes in familiar form, eventually revealing an unfamiliar place. "The Reed Choked House" is an example, wherein a boor of a husband returns to find his beloved and given-up-for-dead wife are waiting for him, perhaps...

Stories like the "Chrysanthemum Vow" are fascinating studies of homosexual love from beyond the grave, yet told with an understandable restraint that allows for miles of dark sky and speculation. Akinari's storytelling does not careen into the lurid. It slyly darkens, like the night sky deepens from evening.

There is a great deal of travel to desolation in this book and perhaps this is where the tales seem so harmonic with Western Gothic fiction. There are numerous ruins. Insane monks inhabit old temples such as that of Daichūji in "The Blue Hood." Mount Kōya provides the setting for a phantasmagoric party in "The Owl of the Three Jewels." In "Shiramine" the monk and poet Saigyō enters into a night long Buddhist dialectic with a supernatural being, (something I myself have had firsthand experience with).

Behind the mystery and the settings, there is a strong didactic current that runs through the book. I won't ruin it by going into detail here, but Akinari skillfully blends both Chinese and Japanese philosophy to suit his needs, but never at the expense of the story.

The most recent version I picked up is an English translation by Anthony H. Chambers, put out by the University of Columbia Press. The book is scholarly enough, but you can jump right into the stories themselves and read them through before going over the copious notes that fill out the background. It may be a little difficult to find, but you can always order it through your local bookstore. I purchased mine through Elliott Bay Books in Seattle.

I am looking forward to reading through Chamber's scholarship, but at some point but I will enjoy the stories again. Perhaps in some deserted place, where only the empty buildings, the wind, and the moonlight remember the stories. And then they'll speak a little.