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Desert Places

Snow falling and night falling fast, oh, fast

In a field I looked into going past,

And the ground almost covered smooth in snow,

But a few weeds and stubble showing last.

 

The woods around it have it—it is theirs.

All animals are smothered in their lairs.

I am too absent-spirited to count;

The loneliness includes me unawares.

 

And lonely as it is that loneliness

Will be more lonely ere it will be less—

A blanker whiteness of benighted snow

With no expression, nothing to express.

 

They cannot scare me with their empty spaces

Between stars—on stars where no human race is.

I have it in me so much nearer home

To scare myself with my own desert places.

 

                             ~ Robert Frost

 

"Snow Maiden" by Viktor Vasnetsov, 1899

“Snow Maiden” by Viktor Vasnetsov, 1899

Romance

Romance, who loves to nod and sing,

With drowsy head and folded wing,

Among the green leaves as they shake

Far down within some shadowy lake,

To me a painted paroquet

Hath been—a most familiar bird—

Taught me my alphabet to say—

To lisp my very earliest word

While in the wild wood I did lie,

A child—with a most knowing eye.

Of late, eternal Condor years

So shake the very Heaven on high

With tumult as they thunder by,

I have no time for idle cares

Through gazing on the unquiet sky.

And when an hour with calmer wings

Its down upon my spirit flings—

That little time with lyre and rhyme

To while away—forbidden things!

My heart would feel to be a crime

Unless it trembled with the strings.

 

                        ~ Edgar Allan Poe, born on this day in 1809

 

"Un Rêve d'Amour" by Franceso Vinea, 1895 (photo by JoJan)

“Un Rêve d’Amour” by Franceso Vinea, 1895 (photo by JoJan)

To the Dreamer

Hold fast to dreams

For if dreams die

Life is a broken-winged bird

That cannot fly.

 

Hold fast to dreams

For when dreams go

Life is a barren field

Frozen with snow.

 

~ Langston Hughes, “Dreams”

 

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Plaque, Washington, DC (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0)

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Plaque, Washington, DC (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0)

We Are Pleased

Once again, it is January, a favorite month of mine (second only to October, which, let’s be honest, with Halloween, pumpkin lattes, caramel apples, and fall boots and scarves going for it, could never be bested).  Even so, I am finding myself more expectant for the year ahead than usual.

I’ve always loved the freshness and whiteboard vacuity of the year’s first few weeks, particularly after the seemingly endless weeks of merrymaking between Thanksgiving and my January birthday.  While it’s bittersweet to perceive the darkening neighborhood and the now rather austere rooms of my house sans Christmas decorations, I’m always eager to review my aspirations for the year and start filling in the dates on the blank pages of my new planner.

Last January was welcomed with piles of mostly New Projects on the floor of my home office.  The Graduate Record Examination study guides, flash cards, and practice exams; how-to manuals on establishing a freelance writing career; grammar and curriculum materials for a writing class I proposed to create; maps of Europe and travel books on England, Germany, and Russia; Mount Whitney climbing guides; and my crate of marked-up manuscript pages and notes for my developing novel—the lone lingering project—all looked up at me with expectation and hope.  I felt dizzy and sank to the carpet amid the heaps.  I hadn’t a clue how or where to start.  I had been so focused on finishing in-progress endeavors in the previous years, I had forgotten how to begin anything discrete, regardless of its magnetism.

But by March I had figured it out.  To be frank, I had always known the right path but had allowed the naysaying voices in my head to temporarily dampen my dream for What Comes Next.  I consulted my calendar, created an action plan and all the lists that accompany it, and set out to apply to Claremont Graduate University’s Ph.D. in English program.

It was a daunting effort.  Applying to any doctoral program takes months, especially if a recent standardized admissions exam score is required.  From April to December, I studied for the GRE, wrote and presented papers, solicited academic letters of recommendation, ordered various university transcripts, and visited the Claremont campus.  I even attended a class, which made me ache for acceptance even more.  And finally, on December 20, I received a letter that began with the most breathtaking three-word phrase in the English language: We are pleased.  Needless to say, my January calendar is distinctively brimming this year, as I will be commencing my Ph.D. studies in British and American Literature at CGU on the seventeenth.

I still have the Chapman University English department’s marketing flyer from 2008 tacked to my bulletin board above my writing desk.  “Write your own success story,” it urged.  That had done it for me nearly a decade ago, and it still encourages me to this day.  I enrolled at Chapman that fall and proceeded to write my own narrative, both literally with Time of Death and metaphorically with an ongoing academic journey I could then only imagine and with which I, too, am so unbelievably pleased.

Welcome, 2017!

 

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New Millennium Writings is accepting submissions for its forty-third Writing Awards Contest for Fiction, Nonfiction, Flash Fiction, and Poetry between now and midnight on January 31, 2017.

Fiction and nonfiction pieces should not exceed 6,000 words.  Flash (short-short) fiction entries should not exceed 1,000 words.  Poetry submissions may include up to three poems, not to exceed five pages total per entry.  Simultaneous and multiple submissions are welcome.  Previously published work will also be considered, provided circulation did not exceed 5,000 or the piece was published online only.

Winners in each category of fiction, nonfiction, flash fiction, and poetry will receive $1,000 and publication in the journal and on the NMW website.  For more information and detailed submission guidelines, visit the website at http://submit.newmillenniumwritings.org.

 

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As my Scotch, spared the water, blondly sloshes

About its tumbler, and gay manic flame

Is snapping in the fireplace, I grow youthful:

I realize that calendars aren’t truthful

And that for all of my grand unsuccesses

External causes are to blame.

 

And if at present somewhat destitute,

I plan to alter, prove myself more able,

And suavely stroll into the coming years

As into rooms with thick rugs, chandeliers,

And colorfully pyramided fruit

On linened lengths of table.

 

At times I fear the future won’t reward

My failures with sufficient compensation,

But dump me, aging, in a garret room

Appointed with twilit, slant-ceilinged gloom

And a lone bulb depending from a cord

Suggestive of self-strangulation.

 

Then, too, I have bad dreams, in one of which

A cowled, scythe-bearing figure beckons me.

Dark plains glow at his back: it seems I’ve died,

And my soul, weighed and judged, has qualified

For an extended, hyper-sultry hitch

Down in eternity.

 

Such fears and dreams, however, always pass.

And gazing from my window at the dark,

My drink in hand, I’m jauntily unbowed.

The sky’s tiered, windy galleries stream with cloud,

And higher still, the dazed stars thickly mass

In their long Ptolemaic arc.

 

What constellated powers, unkind or kind,

Sway me, what far preposterous ghosts of air?

Whoever they are, whatever our connection,

I toast them (toasting also my reflection),

Not minding that the words which come to mind

Make the toast less toast than prayer:

 

Here’s to the next year, to the best year yet;

To mixed joys, to my harum-scarum prime;

To auguries reliable and spacious;

To times to come, such times being precious,

If only for the reason that they get

Shorter all the time.

 

                                  ~ Timothy Steele

 

"Moulin de la Galette" by Ramon Casas i Carbó (1866-1932)

“Moulin de la Galette” by Ramon Casas i Carbó (1866-1932)

December 31st

All my undone actions wander

naked across the calendar,

 

a band of skinny hunter-gatherers,

blown snow scattered here and there,

 

stumbling toward a future

folded in the New Year I secure

 

with a pushpin: January’s picture

a painting from the 17th century,

 

a still life: Skull and mirror,

spilled coin purse and a flower.

 

~ Richard Hoffman

 

"Self-Portrait with Vanitas Symbols" by David Bailly, 1651

“Self-Portrait with Vanitas Symbols” by David Bailly, 1651

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