“What Pecan Light”–A New “Song of the South” Arises in Strict Self-Examination and the Protestant Confessional Tradition of Witnessing, Through the Medium of Poetry

Just this year, the editor/teacher/professional poet Dr. Hannah VanderHart has given us a monumental though deceptively short book of poetry on Southern life, thought, and tradition which belies the suggestion that a book need be long to achieve a worthwhile thesis and goal. The book is What Pecan Light. While the book goes from picture to picture of Southern life, and growing up in a family tradition of ownership of a chicken farm and farming in general, using images of food, daily habits, work forms, recreation times and religious traditions to which the South remains committed, the past with its Civil War history and history of slave-owning is never only a part of the background, but informs in its seriousness and rhetoric the whole.

The lovingly executed papier-mache in the photograph from the front cover with its mythically descended formation of human silhouettes-becoming-trees (by Rachel DiRenna) is a sort of key to the structure of the book as a whole: I too have had Southern relatives wondering what possible shape the South can take next, if it continues to change so much in its traditions and reverences, and being caught up in false notalgias, false because betraying of basic humanity.

Others such as Jessica O. Stark and Joy Katz on the book’s back cover have communicated at succinct and short length the cultural and societal aspects of this book. Though brevity is often said to be the soul of wit, sometimes a book merits greater length and remark where possible, and it is to this end that I devote myself today, while calling to the readers’ attention their deservedly appreciative remarks.

The book is one of tightly woven individual poems taking place in a loosely put-together structure which allows for visiting and revisiting, layering and relayering, of themes and motifs. The traditions and culture of the Southern United States in the states with which the poet is familiar are examined in an elliptical slide going from facts to Southern topoi and from Southern topoi to facts. “Topoi,” of course, in Greek, or “loci” in Latin, are rhetorical places, places where things happen and where facts may or may not reign. Here, the topoi are richly illustrated by Southern images and lifestyle portraits of the daily life of a family whose past is affected by the ancestors whom they have been taught to reverence, but whom more recent documents or examinations expose as flawed by slaving. This experience, when one thinks of it, is a universal experience in the sense that an appreciation of the facts portrayed and the reactions of the present-tense family committed to a more just existence are experienced by anyone who has imperfect human ancestors (which is all of us). That slavery is the issue here in this book makes it particularly rich for an American audience trying to heal the deep divides of our time, many of the roots of which are buried in older times.

VanderHart’s book is a deeply and seriously wrought picture of a family whose traditions are in the process of renovation despite their otherwise deep Southern ties, as the mother-figure in the poem teaches the newest members about the slave-owning past and the attitudes of prejudice, the practices of repression, that have been perennial in the world every time a subject people have sought freedom and self-determination. Thus, the poetic voice throughout, while not denying some degree of nostalgia but treating it both with reverence and due suspicion, makes from her own consciousness a critical voice arising from the midst of these traditions and cultural ties. She examines them both as they stand separate and apart from the greater life of the whole United States, and as they form the source of the root of Southern loyalty to the whole, where it exists.

For Southerners–and this was true in my childhood in the not-quite-South also, in West Virginia where people regularly divide themselves according to whether they have Southern loyalties of a traditional sort or Northern loyalties of the “West Virginia went with the North” sort–loyalty to the United States has in the past been first and foremost loyalty to a Southern-style home atmosphere, welfare, and traditions unless one is a social critic as for example VanderHart is here in her role as poet. Thus, this “monumental” work, as I called it once before, is a new sort of Southern monument, a Southern testament, a testifying of a religious sort, as poetry always has been, of a word structure rather than a stone or metal structure, but in the public forum just as a literal statue of a Confederate general or widow would be. And it is both long overdue for all of us, Northerners and Southerners alike, and most welcome in its overwhelming gift of a new language plinth to stand in our mutual public square.

This book is available from Bull City Press, at 1217 Odyssey Drive, Durham, NC 27713, http://www.BullCityPress.com . It is also available from Amazon.com.

Shadowoperator (Victoria Leigh Bennett)

Leave a comment

Filed under What is literature for?, Articles/reviews, Poetry and its forms and meanings, lifestyle portraits, poetry as societal witnessing

When Does a Textual Riddle Seem to Have a Personality (and When Is a Person Like a “Problem in the Text?”)

In this poem from my book “Poems from the Northeast,” I consider one of my favorite moments in literary classes (and simultaneously an application of textual analysis to psychology): that moment when the professor frowns, pushes his/her/their glasses up on their nose, coughs, then says: “in this passage, there is a problem with the text.”

IN THIS PASSAGE, THERE IS A PROBLEM WITH THE TEXT
I am a problem in the text
     That has never been resolved
A hint, a monstrous suggestion
     Which cannot be confirmed
I trouble the mind that wants
     To settle like a hen over eggs
I ruffle her up, she clucks uneasily
     And pecks at where she thinks I am.
In August, I am an unexpected wind
     That hints of winter
I do not answer, I ask.
     Always I bring them to the question
With troubled faces, angry expressions;
     People clumsily resolve me
To this or that
     Proving their points with good evidence
Which they have misinterpreted.
     The pages around me
Pose no problems--
     My commentary
Is relegated to a footnote here or there,
     A short section in the appendix.
With so much else decided,
     One word or phrase cannot trouble overlong--
They forget me.
     They are happy with the story being told.
But still, inconveniently, I come back,
     I perplex, I mock without mockery;
There may be some treasure in me.
     They think I have a purpose
But they don't know what it is,
     Feeling, suspecting,
That if they did it would make
     All the difference.
And I ask,
     What difference would it make?
I am the corner you didn't turn
     When you could
And couldn't turn when you would,
     Because I too exist,
And not only for the greed and delight
     Your mind has in pictures.
I have the right to live
     Not simply as a point in space
But as myself at that point.
     Yet attack the point how you will,
When you come there
     I am gone and you know nothing.
I evaporate, I drift away
     And you can stand all day
Like a lovelorn schoolboy
     For the date who didn't show up.
You let me be at peace
     And I am with you;
You gain confidence,
     You think this means
That now you will know all--
     You chase and I evade.
You punish and I bow to punishment.
     You walk away in anger
And I go back to what I was doing.
     You have lured me to interpretation
And I have been lured,
     But more and more
I see the trap
     And am impatient with such stupidities.
You always think you know me,
     And even when it seems so,
I slide from your mind,
     And you grope
And reach for the light,
     And wonder what I meant.

Shadowoperator (Victoria Leigh Bennett)

Leave a comment

Filed under Literary puzzles and arguments, Poetry and its forms and meanings

Great News! For Kindle Readers Who’ve Been Inquiring–“Poems from the Northeast” Is Now Live!

Dear Kindle Readers, Just today, the 334 page book of poetry ranging from 1976-2021, “Poems from the Northeast,” has gone live! Thanks to all the Kindle folks who have inquired from me and my publisher and who have helped bring this about! Enjoy getting your poetry fix, and thanks for your interest! Shadowoperator (Victoria Leigh Bennett)

2 Comments

Filed under Full of literary ambitions!, how to order/pre-order my poetry book, ways to buy my book, What is literature for?

The REAL Author at Work, and Her Poem

Dear WordPress and Twitter followers, Sometimes an author or poet has to allow someone else to take credit for her work, due to prejudice and an inability to use the keys of the keyboard. This was so in my case, so I had to allow my human companion and servant to type this poem for me, and unfortunately also to take credit for it. Please excuse any irregularities; I found myself so excited to be given my due attention at last that I couldn’t prevent myself from walking on the keys, which may have occasioned a blank page at the very beginning. Please, advance past it and go on to my poem. Most sincerely, Dr. Lucie-Minou “Kitty” Bennett, C.A.T., P.U.R.R., F.U.R. (My picture below, wrapped in contemplation…)

As I do not smoke, or drink anything but water, you see me here

with only my superior sensibilities in evidence (no pipe, no whiskey).

An Eccleisiastical Furball
(To Christopher Smart and the author of Pangur Ba'n)
copyright Victoria Leigh Bennett, 2021 Olympia Publishers
Why does the kittty cat purr so?
Why does the kitty cat purr?
Because she's feeling so fine, bro,
Because she's licking her fur.

Why does the kitty cat hiss thus,
Why does the kitty cat hiss?
Because she's getting her teeth brushed,
Because she doesn't like this.

Why does the kitty cat stare so,
Why does the kitty cat stare?
Because the birds are outside, love,
Because the birds are out there.

Why does the kitty cat meow thus?
Why does the kitty cat meow?
Because she's been taught not to cuss, friend,
And she's in such a tight spot, and how!

Why does the kitty cat roll there,
With her belly up in the sun?
Because she's joyous and fine, lad,
And her troubles have all been outdone.

Why does the kitty cat sit there
So high up where she can't get down?
Because she was off on a lark, boy,
And wanted to see the town.

Why does the kitty cat fold her paws
Under in front when she sits?
Because she's refraining from slapping you
For asking so much just like this!

Why does the kitty cat look so profound
When it is time to pray?
Because she already knows her god
And has been in prayer all the day.

For her stare and her meow and her purr
And her rolls and her perch and her stance
And her hiss,
Are all celebrations of god's holy name,
So she needn't ask questions like this.

Leave a comment

Filed under What is literature for?

An Adventure in the Innards of Amazon.com, and What Came of It

Well, last night–I should never start anything at night, I know, because lately, my desire to have my poetry read has helped cultivate in me a blatant disregard for time, in other words, I stayed up all night wrestling with perhaps an Amazon, but certainly not an angel–last night, as I was saying before mad parenthetical remarks took over, I tried to find my poetry book on the Amazon site.

Though you might think this was ego, it was only partly so. Oh, well, some. Mainly, I was concerned to judge what difficulty readers were going to have finding my book on that site, since buying things like yarn and wrinkle cream and air fryers is a lot easier on Amazon, usually, than locating a book you’d like to read, unless it’s the latest bestseller. And I felt that I could pretty much anticipate that I didn’t have a great chance of being well-represented yet on Amazon, because 1) it’s only been 4-5 days since my publication date 2) poetry overall, unless it’s one of the “greatest hits” or a recent crowd favorite or critical success, doesn’t sell as well as prose, and 3) I can’t seem to get a consistent price from the different places selling it to report to you for you edification and (I hope) for encouragement to get it for yourself.

I mean, the publisher kindly sent me some bookmarks and flyers the other day to be handed out to people I distribute free copies to and others who might be interested, and the publisher’s price was listed on it as 8.99 pounds (in U.S. dollars, $11.99, though I don’t think that includes shipping costs yet). And on Book Depository, the last price I saw a few days ago was a little above $12, with free worldwide shipping. And now, on Amazon, the price was upward of $14, plus shipping, unless you will buy one of the reduced new or used copies from other sellers listed on Amazon. Obviously, I like money as much as the next person, but someone on Twitter mentioned the other day that brick-and-mortar stores actually return more money to the publisher and to the author than online sellers do, so I’ve no clue what exactly to tell you, except my goal is overall to get as many people reading my book as possible, and if you can afford to get it by ordering it from a brick-and-mortar store or purchasing it outright from one who is already carrying it, then that’s great, and supports local business, which it seems is what everyone is trying to do nowadays. But if on the other hand, you live in an area with an uncooperative book merchant who doesn’t do quality fiction or poetry (which I happen to think mine is), and if Amazon is your only ordering option, then like the man said, “Order and be damned!” Actually, what the man said was “Publish and be damned!” but you get the point. My main interest is in having you embark on the reading adventure through my book and having you trace the footsteps that I took in writing it (so yes, I guess there’s some ego involved, but also a desire for book-companionship).

But what did I find in Amazon, you ask? Well, I had a hard time finding any poetry books, at first, that weren’t among a handful of audiobooks, many of which seemed quite honestly to be more self-help books in verse than anything else. Then, when I got smart (and it takes a while to suss out Amazon’s search terms, they aren’t simply correct author and title, the way they should be and the way you wish they were), I typed in trickier terms. Finally, I was both relieved and dismayed to find my book: relieved because I found it at all, but dismayed because of where it was in the poetry section, on page 69 or so out of 75, after more than about six pages of other sorts of books (notably funeral books for writing in memorials!) had passed several times. And other poetry books were in the same location which looked like pretty good books to me. I like Amazon less than I used to for this experience, I have to say. For your handy information, in case you want to order my book from Amazon, here’s what will turn it up right away, quick and easy, if you type it in exactly this way, caps and all where needed:

paperback poetry books Bennett Poems from the Northeast

That’s all. Uncapped where necessary, no quotation marks or other punctuation. Easy as pie to do, but hard as all get out (at least for me) to have deciphered and figured out on my own.

At any rate, all grousing aside, I’m delighted to be finally in print and able to share these writing experiences with you, and I hope this helps you to get a copy of the book, and to enjoy it. My bewilderment aside, there are probably plenty of you out there who know how to do these things easily. All the best in reading and writing, Shadowoperator (Victoria Leigh Bennett)

Leave a comment

Filed under A prose flourish, Full of literary ambitions!, ways to buy my book

An Apology to Those Whom I’ve Identified Differently from the Difference They Prefer

Dear Readers,

To any of you with whom I’ve been corresponding and whom I’ve spoken of as a different gender/orientation than they prefer, this is my sincere apology. I have a particular friend to thank for recently acquainting me with the correct form(s) of address and reference, and because it’s a recent lesson and I’ve been exhausted lately, I have probably cis-identified or mis-identified some of you who’ve made changes in your lives.

Now, as of this morning, I’ve had a good night’s sleep and some coffee (wonderful clarifier for the bewildered and tired!), and I think I may be back on the track of correct reference. Just to clarify myself for you, I am she/her, and straight. I hark back to the days when so many marvelous forms of notation for allowing people to be their true selves did not exist, and even though I approve of the differences in notation and reference for helping people to maintain their lives and selves as they would wish, I sometimes slip up when using the forms myself.

So, ’nuff said, I hope. Write in if you have anything you would like to discuss or mention further, or feel that others using my site should know, about you or the world of usage in general. Blessings and gratitudes, Shadowoperator (Victoria Leigh Bennett)

2 Comments

Filed under Other than literary days....

Today’s the Day! “Now is the hour/Of our great content/Made uproarious self-advertisement/By this client of WordPress.”

“Wha?” say you, the innocent reader, stepping into the maelstrom of glee and self-congratulation.

Well, the misquote from Shakespeare’s Richard III above is only to confirm and announce that my 334 p. book of poems, “Poems from the Northeast,” about which I’ve been babbling for a few weeks now at least, was in fact released today, amid much hoopla by me and celebrations in a minor way.

The cat (Lucie-Minou, my heart’s darling) started it off today at 2:30 a.m., by agreeing to partake of a Fancy Feast broth to join in the day. Then, at 7:30 a.m., she had her breakfast of Fancy Feast chicken and tuna feast with all sorts of special (read: expensive) stuff in it.

Then, my mom and I ate some ice cream. And I guess, really, that wraps it up for the actual celebrating, but the mood was festive, anyway. So, just posting to let all my readers know that the book has now been released. If you’re wondering where to find it, it may be available in a lot of different places soon, but if you’re looking for a quick copy, try your local Amazon platform, the publisher’s (olympiapublishers.com), or Book Depository.

And share it with someone. Poetry is always better when shared.

All the best, and thanks for your support. Let me know your comments here, if you have any you would like to make to me directly, or if you would like to ask any questions about any of the poems you find in the book.

Namaste, Shadowoperator (Victoria Leigh Bennett)

Leave a comment

Filed under Full of literary ambitions!, how to order/pre-order my poetry book, Poetry and its forms and meanings, What is literature for?

“An Incomplete List of My Wishes”–What a Title Does for a Book, and What a Book Can Do for Its Readers

First of all, let me introduce Jendi Reiter to those of you who may not be familiar with their work, as I must admit shamefacedly I was not myself until recently. To list all the awards and accolades they have received, I think I cannot do better than to quote the short biographical credit on the back of this fine book of short fiction: “Jendi Reiter is the author of the novel Two Natures and four poetry books and chapbooks, most recently Bullies in Love. Awards include a Massachusetts Cultural Council Fellowship for Poetry, the New Letters Prize for Fiction, the Wag’s Revue Poetry Prize, the Bayou Magazine Editor’s Prize in Fiction, and two awards from the Poetry Society of America. Two Natures won the Rainbow Award for Best Gay Contemporary Fiction and was a finalist for the Book Excellence Awards and the Lascaux Prize for Fiction.” Jendi is also one of the editors of the Writer’s Digest acclaimed website winningwriters.com, and a very kind, accommodating, and encouraging model for writers and artists. Their website is at JendiReiter.com and they can be followed at @JendiReiter on Twitter.

Now to the book itself, and that provocative and enticing title: An Incomplete List of My Wishes. How universal the title is, how it speaks to the complete human experience of having many goals, dreams, and wishes, which sadly and tragically sometimes, but also humorously and happily sometimes, we may or may not get to register with whatever recording angel or god we believe in. This book has the greatest virtue of many books which happen to be constructed with at least the permission of the recording angel of the gay experience, that it is accessible to everyone, is for everyone, is inclusive of every truth of the human being, no matter how flawed or partial that person’s individual life is: and it even more explains for everyone who is not a total moral idiot the gay lifestyle and experience, both as it is constituted in itself and as it intersects with the straight ones.

For, this book has one quality in particular which leads even a relatively unfamiliar reader through its maze of situations and conditions, lives and their pitfalls and victories, both major and minor, both saddening and joyous: I can do no better than quote the book itself for the key informing dramatic motif of the whole: “…but she…would henceforth always be someone chosen, someone who had said yes to herself” (p. 99, “The House of Correction”). The sympathetic characters in this book are also those who have said “Yes” to themselves, sometimes at great or even life-changing, life-risking costs. The book overall promotes courage as a feature of human life, as an answer even when the question is dire and unfair.

“Exodus,” the first short short bit of fiction beginning the book, is like the Biblical book that bears its name, a statement about the end of innocence and an objective correlative for the issue of mortality which crops up again and again in the book, not exclusively in relation to the issue of AIDS, but also in conjunction with those issues of indifference, brutality, imperfect love relationships which affect everyone, LGBTQIA+2 or straight. This book bridges the many gaps people imagine they have between them, and this short piece introduces the collection.

Four of the short stories function as an introduction and vade mecum to the novel Two Natures, as they are affecting and short excerpts from the characters’ lives from that novel. The stories are “Two Natures,” “Julian’s Yearbook,” “Today You Are a Man,”” and “Five Assignments and a Mistake.” Though I have not yet had the opportunity to read the novel in which these characters make a main appearance, their short essays in guiding us through the stages of awareness and growth of a gay man and his sister and cohort are fine as they are here, pieces capable of standing alone structurally and rhythmically.

The story from which the title is drawn, “An Incomplete List of My Wishes,” gains part of its sense of incompletion in the fictional element of the story from the fact that a death row inmate appears in it indirectly, who is at the point of ordering his last menu, the last life choice he will be able to make for himself. But the narrator of the story is the woman whose daughter he may or may not have killed, who is also wrapped up in contemplation of choices, last and lasting both.

“Waiting for the Train to Fort Devens, June 17, 1943” is a story “written” by another sort of recording angel, a photograph preserved of men on their way to war, men both doomed to die and fated to come back and live as survivors, their individual conflicts and choices recorded as well in the book of memory.

“Altitude,” as one might expect by the title, deals in clever and short order with the dizzying sweep of differing abilities to scale heights of human endeavor and experience.

The story “Memories of the Snow Queen,” a collection of fictional meditations and variations on a frightening theme from a children’s story in a manner related to that of A. S. Byatt, reveals a grotesque and overwhelmingly dysfunctional secret to a young woman attempting to reconnect with this fragment of her past.

To end off the book, Reiter has chosen a story of an adoption, “Taking Down the Pear Tree,” which along with a finely tuned portrait of all the human actors involved in such an endeavor, is also a meditation upon family, grief, and change as a structural and inevitable part of human life.

All in all, I am delighted to have read this book and to have thus encountered even indirectly the dramas and conundrums some other humans experience, with the residual obligation and joy of developing more understanding and warmth towards these, my fellow beings. That is always of course the point of good fiction, to give its readers a point d’appui for the extension of understanding, but in this book in particular, Jendi Reiter makes it overwhelmingly easy for a reasonable, willing, good reader to comprehend their characters and their own creative reasons for giving them the lives they did. Shadowoperator (Victoria Leigh Bennett)

Leave a comment

Filed under Articles/reviews, lifestyle portraits, What is literature for?

Part II–“Poems from the Northeast”: A Short Reading

Dear WordPress and Twitter followers, today I offered the first part of a two-part short reading from my new book which is coming out on August 26 from Olympia Publishers, “Poems from the Northeast.” This is now the second part, assuming that the first part was something you liked and found sympathetic. So, without more ado, here goes (this part is about 16 minutes long, whereas the first was 9 minutes or so, giving you roughly 20-25 minutes total). I hope you enjoy it. Shadowoperator (Victoria Leigh Bennett)

Leave a comment

Filed under Full of literary ambitions!, Poetry and its forms and meanings, What is literature for?

Part I–“Poems from the Northeast”: A Short Reading

Dear WordPress and Twitter followers, I may be able to offer you here a short video from my new book (if successful, Part II to follow immediately afterwards). I’ve upgraded from http://www.creativeshadows.wordpress.com to having my own domain name, because this was the most economical way of doing two things at once, for WordPress, and for Twitter. My new domain name is: creative-shadows.com . Please enjoy both parts of the reading if you have time (for a total of 20-25 minutes). Best regards, Shadowoperator (Victoria Leigh Bennett)

Coincidentally (and I’m just sayin’, I mean…), I started my site with my old name of https://www.creativeshadows.wordpress.com in July of 2012. Today, when I upgraded my site, I found that someone named Paulina Steele had started a media site in 2015, named creativeshadows as well. Later than. After. I mean, were there no other good names around? Just sayin’…

Leave a comment

Filed under Full of literary ambitions!, Poetry and its forms and meanings, What is literature for?