Sunday, May 31, 2015

Classical Romanticism

Walter Pater has an interesting point, here, and one that I support: the division between "romantic" and "classical" might have a limited use in criticism, but not much value for those who create. It's possible to have a "romantic" curiosity about life and a love for the strange, while holding, at the same time, a "classical" respect for the beauty and force of self-discipline, of craftsmanship. When I reject the imprecision, the windiness, of Lovecraft or Harlan Ellison, the counter-examples I have in mind are those who mix romantic strangeness with classical control: Ambrose Bierce, George Sterling, Clark Ashton Smith, William Sansom, Avram Davidson (sometimes), along with any number of writers who work beyond the divisions of "romantic" and "classical."

Material for the artist, motives of inspiration, are not yet exhausted: our curious, complex, aspiring age still abounds in subjects for aesthetic manipulation by the literary as well as by other forms of art. For the literary art, at all events, the problem just now is, to induce order upon the contorted, proportionless accumulation of our knowledge and experience, our science and history, our hopes and disillusion, and, in effecting this, to do consciously what has been done hitherto for the most part too unconsciously, to write our English language as the Latins wrote theirs, as the French write, as scholars should write. Appealing, as he may, to precedent in this matter, the scholar will still remember that if 'the style is the man' it is also the age: that the nineteenth century too will be found to have had its style, justified by necessity -- a style very different, alike from the baldness of an impossible 'Queen Anne' revival, and an incorrect, incondite exuberance, after the mode of Elizabeth: that we can only return to either at the price of an impoverishment of form or matter, or both, although, an intellectually rich age such as ours being necessarily an eclectic one, we may well cultivate some of the excellences of literary types so different as those: that in literature as in other matters it is well to unite as many diverse elements as may be: that the individual writer or artist, certainly, is to be estimated by the number of graces he combines, and his power of interpenetrating them in a given work. To discriminate schools, of art, of literature, is, of course, part of the obvious business of literary criticism: but, in the work of literary production, it is easy to be overmuch occupied concerning them. For, in truth, the legitimate contention is, not of one age or school of literary art against another, but of all successive schools alike, against the stupidity which is dead to the substance, and the vulgarity which is dead to form.

-- From Appreciations, With An Essay On Style, by Walter Pater. Macmillan and Co, 1890.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Friday Night, May 29, 2015.

As far as I could tell in the summer moonlight, the figure seated on the curb in the empty parking lot was a young woman, hunched over, with her chin cradled by one hand.

I was on my way home from yet another isolating, six-hour bike ride. It was late on Friday night (eleven o'clock, as it turned out), and the parking lot of my old highschool offered a short-cut from the forest to the street that led to my apartment complex. I had set out in hopes of meeting women, but had ended up, as usual, on empty pathways through deserted parks, and I was, to put it mildly, feeling useless.

For that reason, I biked past the woman, but at the gateway between the parking lot and the street, I paused. Something was not right; should I go back and ask if she wanted help? Of course not. The last thing she could want would be a strange man (or in my case, a very strange man) asking questions. I should respect her privacy.

Yet still, I went back.

The night was mild and clear; the only sound was the science fiction susurrus of the frogs in the nearby creek. I stopped my bike several metres away from where she sat, and said, "Hey there."

"Hi." She had a pleasant voice.

"I've biked a lot over the years, but I've never seen anyone sitting alone, in the dark, in a deserted parking lot. That puts you in a category of one. Just thought I should tell you."

She laughed, and her laugh, too, was pleasant.

I said, "Are you okay?"

"Oh, yeah."

"Good." I turned my bike around for the trip back. "Have a great weekend!"

"You too!"

"We'll see what the weather hurls at us."

As I biked away, she said, "God bless."

Ah, well. I never did believe in gods. And if devils exist, they just might be as lonely as we are.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Beddoes

ATTENDANT: My lord --


VARINI: What are they, sirrah?


ATTENDANT: The palace-keys.
There is a banquet in the inner room:
Shall we remove the plate?


VARINI: Leave it alone:
Wine in the cups, the spicy meats uncovered,
And the round lamps each with a star of flame
Upon their brink; let winds begot on roses,
And grey with incense, rustle through the silk
And velvet curtains: -- then set all the windows,
The doors and gates, wide open; let the wolves,
Foxes, and owls, and snakes, come in and feast ;
Let the bats nestle in the golden bowls,
The shaggy brutes stretch on the velvet couches,
The serpent twine him o'er and o'er the harp's
Delicate chords: -- to Night, and all its devils,
We do abandon this accursed house.

-- From "The Second Brother," in The Poetical Works of Thomas Lovell Beddoes. J. M Dent and Co, London, 1890.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Give Reason For The One Bright Instant

Acquaintances, not seen for thirty years,
Confront me in my dreams. "What have you done
To justify a moment in the sun,
To ask a boon of eyes and hearts and ears,
That we should pay attention to your fears,
Your doubts and dreads? Give reason for the one
Bright instant that was heralded by none
Of your attempts to gain more than our jeers."

I understand their skeptical requests:
They knew me in the past, and watched me fail
A thousand times. Why should they wait for more?
But still, I never shy away from tests.
I work, I learn, I offer each new tale,
And praise the prompt of every slamming door.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Black Wings, Amber Highlights

How do I feel about my writing this year? Like this:

The Champlain Lookout in the Gatineau Park is 270 metres above the floor of the Ottawa Valley, and the road up the mountain is often steep. In the Spring, at several points, I have to get off my bicycle and walk uphill; in the Fall, I can bike all the way -- not with ease, and certainly not with grace, but I can get there.

The view is always worth a pounding heart. The light has a rawness, an intensity, that I never see elsewhere; the Ottawa River gleams like brass or silver far below; the ravens glide and circle over the hillside forests below my feet, or wing their way high above my head.

Sometimes, other cyclists come to a stop near the edge, and I can overhear their conversations. They talk about marathons and races, tennis and squash, skiing. From their appearance, I can see that they not only talk about such things, they do them -- apparently often, and no doubt well.

I do none of these things; I just ride my bike.

And this is how I feel about my writing: I can see the light of evening turn silver and gold. I can see the amber highlights on the black wings. I can bike up to the peak. But the people around me are athletes, and I am not.

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Cry of Autumn Stars

My latest poem has been chosen by the Horror Writers Association for their second horror poetry showcase, and has been posted here.