Wednesday, August 29, 2018

DESTINATIONS


“Our life is a constant journey from life to death. The landscape changes, the people change, but the train keeps moving. Life is the train, not the station.” Paulo Coelho

Border Press announces the publication of Destinations, New and Selected Poems by Diane Marquart Moore. Her 50th book features glimpses of train travel throughout the U.S. and one memorable ride over mountain tracks in Persia. Included are portrayals of characters making trips via rail who convey feelings of escapism and nostalgia and record observations from “the platform” during the actual train rides.

Destinations also features Section III. Of “Everyday Journal” that contains ironic observations about ordinary life in both New Iberia, Louisiana and Sewanee, Tennessee. Photography by Victoria I. Sullivan. Available now at Border Press Books and Amazon.


Wednesday, August 22, 2018

SEASON OF FRIENDS


Vickie and Anne on porch
This summer has been a season of friends, traveling afar to be with them and staying at home to receive them, and the latest visitor was a long-term friend from New Iberia, Louisiana. Yesterday, Anne Simon, author of mysteries called “The Blood Series” — Blood in the Cane Field, Blood in the Lake, and Blood of Believers — sat a spell with us on the small porch facing our woods here in Sewanee, Tennessee. Presently, Anne, a retired district judge, has turned her attention from writing mysteries to telling the story of an African-American woman named Felicit√© who nursed yellow fever victims in New Iberia during the 19th century, and we enjoyed a good writers’ chat concerning the extensive research she has been doing regarding Felicit√©.

We sat on the porch “taking the air,” as we say in south Louisiana, and I was reminded of the essay I wrote for Porch Posts (co-authored with Janet Faulk-Gonzales) a few years ago. This morning, I re-read my last essay in this book entitled “The Ultimate Porch:” 

“It [the porch] would be a place to which people brought peace and conversation, laughter, and their willingness to take time out. For me, the ultimate porch would also be a dual haven, in early morning hours offering me a safe place where I could sit in silence, stilling the storm of some past suffering in my mind, or expressing myself in writing, all my senses effortlessly taking in the scene around me, interrupted only by the squawk of a crow bringing me messages of affirmation.

Mostly, I’d want to bring to it my “belonging”… with friends, family, and community… where, as C.S. Lewis said, we all saw the same truth: love. Evening would be the best time for porch sitting, a time like that of an old memory at early dusk when there was just enough light to read by, and my Grandmother Nell and I sat together in a scaling, green-painted swing, reading from Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verse: “The world is so full of a number of things,/I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.”

In early September, we plan to venture over to LaGrange, Georgia to sit on the new porch of our friend, Mary Ann Wilson, who probably loves porches as much as I do and was laying the foundation for one when we first visited her in June. It’s a screened one overlooking a patch of Georgia woods “in the country,” she says, “a place I’ve never lived.” Every time she writes, she’s on that porch, enjoying a deserved retirement from the English Department at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, her “roofed-in observation post where she can sit to get a clear view of what’s in the world outside and that allows for amiable company…”*

Moon in a Bucket
*Introduction to Porch Posts by Diane Marquart Moore and Janet-Faulk Gonzales. Illustration by Paul Schexnayder in Porch Posts.



Saturday, August 18, 2018

BEING BEAT


Yes, that’s a cover illustration of the beat poet, Allen Ginsberg, but it isn’t the work of Ginsberg. Last week’s mail yielded a collection of poetry by Chuck Taylor, Jr. one of my favorite poets who writes in the genre of what he calls “radical rap." Taylor’s authentic voice resonates with high energy and honesty in Being Beat, bringing readers down to earth from the first “Riff on Allen Ginsberg” to the last “Poetry Is Love — For E.M. Forster” where poems will assemble/ and murmur under your bed/like leaves moved by breezes.” Taylor presents as one of the latter-day beat poets with his iconoclastic lyrics, writing tough, a kind of Bukowski (without the vulgarity)/David Kirby/Charles Simic poet. He says he never had a book published by City Lights Press and that the “best minds of his generation went into physics or developed computers” but that he “searches for the beat in the starry dynamo of the evening light,” and tells challenging anti-war and social justice stories with engaging style. 

Being Beat has been divided into sections with headings derived from Walt Whitman whom Taylor calls “the first American beat poet,” e.g., the section entitled “Never More Inception Than There is Now,” and he dedicates his poetry to writers, national and international, who were inspired by the beat movement. He regards Gerald Manley Hopkins as one of these poets and writes passionately about “The Wasted Land.” My interest was stoked by the first two verses: “Why do thoughts of change wear so heavy, wear/so heavy, wear so heavy in the mind,/wear out these times,/in these times, why does earth, the/Heavy earth, sit on our souls, sit on our hearts,/Earth in its heavy minerals, earth in its slowness,/The deep compacted soil, the dry lack of rain,/No running springs of heart, no ideals to sweep/The dust of fractured soil away, where is the sky…” Taylor laments the land laid waste reminiscent of the great Dust Bowl during Depression years and ends his poem with prophetic lines about environmental changes in the U.S., describing the country’s citizens as “the mad conclave ready for dance and change.”

The last lines of a long prose poem entitled “Used Mobile,” further reflect Taylor’s ability to write hopeful and passionate passages about marginalized culture; e.g. when he speaks of showing his daughter “the broad field in the sun by the luminous river not the dark stained room of red wine, she holds my hand past broken boards old tires filled with water no grass the muck of a world she’s not required as yet to know…” Here is a poet who challenges readers with lines that confront climate change, war, addiction, the corrupt politics of our time, and, in the case of this poem — U.S. poverty.

Like many people born into dysfunctional families, Taylor speaks of escaping the father who is a “shade” within himself. In the poem “Shade of Father,” his voice becomes intense as he tries to convince his dad about the passion and power of a beat poet he admires: Jack Kerouac. While they are riding together in a car, the old man’s indifference to Taylor’s passion spurs him on to a greater praise of this poet. Midway in the poem, his father’s voice comes alive as he reminiscences about his own youth: “He tells me how all four/Brothers slept on the back/ Porch and before they went/To bed they stoked the cast/iron pot-bellied stove till it/Glowed orange, but when/They woke before sunrise/In the sea of winter, then/the stove had thin icicles/Hanging down almost to its/Legs…” 

My favorite among Taylor’s poems is “Zensei,” which is Japanese for "a former life." It stands as the most mystical poem in Taylor’s collection, the recording of a dream of a former life, “not a memory of current troubles or/Of childhood tatters…Who am I to thunder out some/Orthodox argument with a cloud…” The Zensei poem reflects Taylor’s love of the Japanese culture as he writes that in the early 1990’s, inspired by Gary Snyder and his poet mentor, Lucien Stryk, he moved to Japan to teach and to become more engaged in Asian aesthetics.

Chuck Taylor has been in correspondence with me since I wrote a review of Magical, Fantastical, Alphabetical Soup published by Pinyon Publishing in Montrose, Colorado. His work shows evidence of an earthy philosopher and poet devoted to what he calls “rants.” I admire his challenging poems that show no allegiance to any writing form. He can write rhyming verse, prose poems, and mini-fiction, but in free verse or “radical rap,” readers hear the beat of a different drum that just might challenge Walt Whitman, one of his mentors. He possesses a highly original mind that speaks to the condition of the postmodern world. 

Taylor has worked as a janitor, laundry worker, survey taker, magician, nursery school teacher, bookseller, and publisher. He has worked in the National Endowment’s CETA Artist Program and taught Beat Literature and American Nature Writing at Texas A&M, served as a Poet in the Schools Program. He has also taught at St. Angelo State University, the Universities of Texas at Tyler, El Paso, and Austin, Texas. His latest books include the poetry collection Like Li-Po Laughing at the Lonely Moon. Being Beat is available at Hercules Publishing, Albuquerque, New Mexico and at Amazon. 


Thursday, August 16, 2018

FROM ELECTRA, TEXAS TO POTOMAC, MARYLAND


The photograph above is one that Vickie Sullivan snapped of my long-time friend, Jan Grogan, shown reading material for her new manuscript , which is set in Oklahoma, her birthplace. Jan’s last book, All of My Life With You, is a memoir of her adventures with her husband, Gene, who served at the helm of worldwide oil operations of a major U.S. oil company. Their long journey began in Electra, Texas where “at every turn on this sun-scorched plain, oil well pump jacks peck at the earth like Jurassic birds.”* I and my husband, a petroleum engineer with Texaco, happened to live across the street from the Grogans at the same time Gene launched his successful career in the oil patch.

During our recent visit with Jan in her elegant townhouse in Potomac, Maryland (a residence quite unlike the cracker box the Grogans occupied in Electra), we talked about her new manuscript and her inchoate interest in literature and writing, which began with conversations during morning breaks she and I enjoyed in Electra. “The only problem was that we’d be having an inspiring conversation about literature, and you’d get up and say you had to leave,” Jan said. “You timed our visits from 10 a.m. - 11 a.m. exactly. And you seem to have retained that same sense of urgency about time. A one night visit and you’re already leaving!”

She was spot on because I’m OCD about time. In the case of Electra, Texas, the occasions for significant happenings were scant, so I had to think hard to remember why I compartmentalized my social life into hour-long visits. I‘d had only one article published in the Morning Advocate in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and my poetry was still in a box of the bedroom closet, so I wasn’t exactly a literary lion who had to hurry back to my desk to write for a deadline. However, I was revising an article I’d sent to Phoebe Adams at the Atlantic Monthly because she’d written a personal letter of encouragement about its merit after she decided that my prose about defrosting an old refrigerator was a little “contrived.” Thinking back on this rejection, I doubt if Phoebe had ever defrosted an aged refrigerator in a $60 rental located in a small Texas town…but, still, the personal letter had encouraged me. And I was trying to get writing done before the birth of the firstborn daughter I was carrying when Jan and I met. 

Jan moved to Wichita Falls within six months after our meeting when her husband entered the fast track of Cities Service Company, leaving me and my husband to a diminished social life in this West Texas town that had survived the demise of an oil boom involving the Clayco gusher in 1911. I lived on a street named after W.T. Waggoner, one of the oil magnates, whose ranch covered a half million acres in this West Texas area. Water was scarce at the time of the big boom, but W.T. Waggoner’s claim to fame had occurred when he lobbied railroad professionals to build a railroad station at the site then called Beaver Switch and later named Electra after Waggoner’s daughter. Waggoner had actually been dismayed when he drilled for water in his sprawling ranch territory and the sites yielded crude oil that polluted his water wells. He sold part of his land to a developer named Solomon Williams, and in 1911 the Clayco gusher brought in abundant oil, causing the burgeoning of the entire north Texas oil industry.

Years later, Jasper Smith III of Vivian, Louisiana worked in the oil fields of Electra and wrote about this experience as a roustabout in Dinner with Mobutu: A Chronicle of My Life and Times, and I discovered that Suzi Thornton, one of my Fortnightly Literary Club sisters in my hometown of New Iberia, Louisiana, is the sister of this chronicler. By the time Jasper had become an oil field worker in Electra, the town had mushroomed to a population of nearly 5000, and when we lived there in 1959 it had only diminished about four percent. At the time of the boom, citizens had numbered 640, and 10 years later the population had increased to 4700. Today, there are approximately 2700 citizens.

Citizens of Electra say that the town is a place of pump jacks unequaled in number in the world, and its fortunes go up and down like these jacks. Today, the W.T. Waggoner Refinery has become a place of scrap metal, but 14 oil companies still operate in the area. One of the oldest wells drilled in 1911 still pumps oil. From my spare knowledge of oil patch production, I’d say that 80 percent of area wells still producing constitutes a phenomenal record.

In this dry, dusty part of the U.S., Stephanie, my first daughter, was born, and Jan Grogan, my neighbor in Electra, Texas became a lifetime friend who now claims that I sparked her initial interest in the writing craft while we sojourned on the hot plains of the “Pump Jack Capital of Texas.”

*Bernadette Pruitt, Special Contributor to the Dallas Morning News


Photograph by Victoria I. Sullivan

Friday, August 10, 2018

TRAVELING EAST


Yesterday, I stood under a blue tent in 80-degree temps at the side of a gravestone in Evergreen Cemetery delivering a homily for Marilyn Blackwell, aka Toni, Victoria Sullivan’s cousin and a good friend of mine. Toni died a few months ago in Lakeland, Florida, and we had traveled from Sewanee, Tennessee to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania where I performed a burial ceremony to inter Toni’s ashes.



Toni lived most of her life in Babson Park, a small town in central Florida, but she was born in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and her two sisters still reside there; her brother, in Philadelphia. Toni left Gettysburg to attend Webber International College in Babson Park, Florida and never lived in the East again. After she retired from her job as an administrative assistant with Florida Power and Light, Toni took up one-stroke painting, and perfected this art within a few years. She painted almost until the last months of her life, and we have many of her floral pictures, trays, pitchers, and flower pots that she decorated with fruit, flowers, and landscape art, including a lovely Florida sunset. Toni loved beautiful things and claimed that her interest originated with Gacky Thomas, her paternal grandmother. Both liked clothes, jewelry, china, and flowers, and Toni had a closet filled with bracelets, necklaces, rings, and earrings —a regular jewelry store in a corner of a bedroom. She wore colorful, flowing clothes and possessed a style that was definitely flamboyant. But Toni was more than decorative art to Vickie and me. She was a beloved confidante and a woman with inclusive views about all people.




Toni had a high IQ and wasn’t showy with it, but if you ever played a word game with her, as we did during a family getaway for women of the family at the Outer Banks in North Carolina, and you considered yourself a fair wordsmith, you soon learned that she could out-best you in a heartbeat. She suffered deeply at the end of her life, and I think she knew there wasn’t a supernatural remedy for the cancer that ravaged her body, but she opened her arms to her son, Chad, to her brother Ed, and to her sisters, Bev and Chris, dubbing them 'her angels.' Suffering was there for Toni, but so were strength and light. I was privileged to honor her yesterday, and when I came to the last paragraph of my homily, saying that “no love we ever bestow on those we care about is lost; it goes with them to God’s home, and it stays with us,” a great wave of emotion overcame me. It was a Moment.


Tomorrow, I’ll deliver another homily at a wedding reception for Gettysburg-born Thomas Armstrong and his beautiful Turkish-born Seda, here in Gettysburg, and I plan to quote from Rumi, one of my favorite poets. In two weeks, Thomas and Seda will return to Turkey where they're both employed.

The following morning, we’ll move on to Potomac, Maryland for a visit with Janis Grogan, a close friend of 58 years who befriended me in Electra, Texas just before my first daughter, Stephanie, was born. Jan chronicled and published a book entitled All My Life With You: A Memoir about her life and travels abroad with her husband Gene, who was head of operations in the worldwide oil patch — she and Gene moved 19 times and lived on five continents. After Gene’s death, Border Press also published a book of Gene’s love poems to Jan entitled Upon the Walk We Make Each Day. A copy of this book can be found in the Louisiana State Library, Baton Rouge, Louisiana and purchased online at Amazon.

Photographs by Victoria I. Sullivan

Saturday, August 4, 2018

FORTHCOMING…DESTINATIONS


A memorial graveside service and homily for a close friend, followed by a homily I’ll deliver at a reception for an American/Turkish marriage, both in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania… then a visit with an author friend of 60 years’ duration in Potomac, Maryland…August will be a busy month as I’m headed East in two days. I won’t return until after August 15 and should find serendipity in unfamiliar places and people to blog about along the way.

Meanwhile, Border Press is reviewing the proof of a new book of my poetry slated for distribution this month. It’s called Destinations and includes train travel plus another everyday journal within the pages. The cover features an interesting shot Victoria Sullivan took of the ceiling or dome of the old, restored Chattanooga Choo Choo train terminal in Chattanooga, Tennessee. My grandson, Martin Romero, rendered the attractive design for this cover.

Train fans may want to take a ride through new and selected poems, ranging from those based in Bryson City, North Carolina to Tehran, Iran and other destinations enjoyed by a peripatetic poet.

Publication Date: Later this month. Destinations will be distributed by Amazon or can be ordered through Border Press, P.O. Box 3124, Sewanee, TN 37375. 




Wednesday, August 1, 2018

TANKS AHOY



I have a close British friend of over forty years standing whom I befriended during my sojourn in Iran in the 1970’s and with whom I still correspond. She left Iran shortly after the Iranian Revolution erupted and now lives in Bulkington Wiltshire, Great Britain or the United Kingdom or whatever designation is appropriate for what I used to simply call England. Anne is a few years younger than I am and much younger in spirit as you will discover from reading this blog. Not long ago she emailed me explaining that she had made a bucket list (which includes many risk factors) and was trying to “tick off” items before she reached 80 years of age. 

At the top of that list was her desire to drive a tank. Don’t ask me why because she was only a few years old when WWII occurred, and she wasn’t old enough to remember tanks lumbering through England. Anyway, her good friend, the Rev. Maureen Allchin, photographed the tank venture, and Anne forwarded a few of the photos just before she boarded a cruise ship bound for Iceland and Greenland where she promised to wave at me — her favorite gesture associated with her friendship with me, the armchair traveler. This year, she waved from the Arctic Circle, and the year before last, she waved from an around-the-world-in-several-months cruise.

Anne taught me to drive a Paykan automobile with a stick shift on the floor when we were together in Iran because she was the only human calm enough to ride with me through neighborhood roads in Ahwaz. These roads had what seemed to be a dip every other block. I would drive into the dip and pull out with loud gear grinding; however, Anne sat beside me, calmly imitating the Queen’s wave as I startled passersby who glimpsed the Paykan disappearing in the dips noisily and re-appearing with even louder grinding noises. But after three lessons with Anne, I was able to drive alone over the bridge that crossed the River Karun and visit with her on the other side. If you’ve ever had a Brit for a friend, you know that you do what is expected of you and you do it with good humor. 

An example of Anne’s wry humor written during the 1980’s: “Sarah was given an indescribable plastic wind instrument for her birthday. So we spend our afternoons following the score of ‘Mary Had A Little Lamb’ and God Save the Queen.’ (Yes, God Save the Queen from this indescribable plastic wind instrument). Wouldn’t you like for her to cross the pond and bring it with her for a long visit?”

I always look forward to Anne’s e-mails from wherever she is waving. The tank episode was slightly shocking to me, but it’s probably in line with Anne’s indomitable spirit. While we were in Iran, she talked me into joining a party of twelve children and four adults from the congregation of Good Shepherd Church in Ahwaz on a train bound for Tehran’s Garden of Evangelism (described in my books, Iran in a Persian Market and Sophie's Sojourn in Persia). The trip took sixteen hours, and most of our ride took place during the long night that we wove in and out of mountain tunnels on a narrow track between 7,000 - 9,000 ft. high that overlooked deep ravines in which I could see no bottom. Anne slept through the entire trip.

To return to the tank, I’m not sure what items are left on Anne’s “Perils of Pauline” list, but I wouldn’t be surprised if skydiving wasn’t close to the top.


Photographs by the Rev. Maureen Allchin